The Ugly Pole of Lobha

On retreat recently I found myself near the back of the lunch queue which stretched out of the dining hall way into the corridor. I was aware (but not aware enough as it turns out) of some restlessness and impatience as I neared the massive saucepans of hot food which were laid out on a small table. I was eager for my turn and as I stood in line more of my interest resided in some near future tucking into lunch than with what was happening in the present moment within my own mind.

What prompted a return of awareness to the present was noticing the mind had focused on a particular person at the food table. He was slow to pick up his plate and so there was already a gap opening up in the queue leaving the pans of food unattended. My mind huffed a little; how inefficient, couldn’t he hurry up a bit so we could all get our food. Then this person realised he’d forgotten to pick up cutlery so he moved backwards leaning over the person following him, apologising as he did so.

The impatience in my mind dialled up a few notches but to some degree this went unnoticed in my awareness. I was more focused on the object (always a mistake); what was this guy doing? Wasn’t he aware that he was in a queue and others were waiting behind him? What sort of person was he – bumbling around and obviously not very aware!

At this point there was enough agitation in my mind for the habit of being with the mind rather than the object to kick back in. I noticed the strong judgements about this person from just 30 seconds observation. I’d already decided what sort of person he was (unmindful and dawdling) . Next I noticed the craving in the mind and how it felt thwarted by the perceived leisureliness of him. I realised it was craving that was colouring how I saw this person and affecting how I interpreted his actions.

In that moment it was very clear that I was noticing not the desired thing or outcome (fast moving queue to a tasty lunch) which the mind usually experiences as very pleasant, but the ugly pole of lobha (wanting or craving).

Usually we generally hang out at the pleasant end of ‘wanting’ experiencing the seductive promise of the desired thing, whether a person, a taste or sight or smell. We rarely take a look behind the scenes at what the mind in craving or aversion (its flip side) feels like and how it acts.

My thought in the moment of seeing the lobha mind grumbling and pushing, and looking to make someone else wrong in order to try and get what it wanted, was “how ugly is this mind, this process”. There was no judgement in this thought, simply that craving was unmasked and seen for what it was.

There is a Dhamma List called the Viparyasas. This is generally translated into English as the ‘Topsy Turvies’! This last word needs its own translation for those of you for whom English is a second language. When something is topsy turvy it’s upside down and this is how the Buddha said we generally experience our world. We fail to understand the true nature of our our being and everything around us. We see what is impermanent as permanent, what is insubstantial as substantial, what we believe to be the causes of happiness are actually what will lead to suffering.

There is one more TopsyTurvy and this is known as asubha or subha. We mistake what is ugly and call it beautiful. We make our desires synonymous with what’s beautiful and blow the pleasant aspects of sense objects out of proportion. Doing this we fail to see the darker side of the mind that is going all out to get what it wants for itself.

It was satisfying to have seen craving for what it is. Some wisdom in the mind immediately let go of the impatience and desire to be at the front of the queue. It was fascinated with this new view.

It takes wisdom in the moment to recognise the true face of lobha. And it’s not pretty!