The Tangle

This story sets the stage for entry into a large volume of practices and teachings which form the foundation of the Theravadin tradition of Buddhism. Written by Buddhaghosa in Sri Lanka in approximately 430 CE, this comprehensive manual is called The Path of Purification or Visuddhimagga.
When a wise man (person), established in virtue,
Develops consciousness and understanding,
Then as a bikkhu (student) ardent and sagacious,
He (she) succeeds in untangling the tangle.
This was said, but why was it said? While the blessed one was living in Savatthi, a deity came to him in the night, and in order to do away with his doubts, he asked this question:
The inner tangle and the outer tangle —
This generation is entangled in a tangle.
And so I ask of Gotama this question:
Who succeeds in untangling the tangle?
The image used by the Buddha of an inner and outer tangle seems amazingly contemporary. “This generation” is clearly entangled in the same human tangles that existed 2,400 years ago. We usually think of our tangles as problems which are to be solved, so we adopt a “How to” approach to enlightenment as if practice is a method of problem-solving. I notice two broad approaches using this perspective:

If I could only solve all my problems and work out all of my limiting conditioning, then the truth of who I am could shine through.


If I could only practice fully, then I would be transformed by the mystical alchemy of enlightenment and all of my problems would fall away.

Both are “problem-solving” approaches: (a) get rid of personal problems and you can achieve enlightenment, or (b) accomplish enlightenment to take care of all of your personal problems. Inquiry and practice then become, “How do I do either a) or b)?”

The true practitioner comes to realize that it is possible to be at ease in the world for no reason—an ease that is beyond conditions—beyond solving personal problems or solving spiritual problems. This freedom exists prior to our desires being satisfied and exists despite life’s difficulties.

The corollary to this realization and the softening of the two problem-solving approaches is that you can come to realize a love that is not based on emotion and that is strangely not personal. In fact, it flowers in the absence of self-concern. This is a love that is a simple fact and which is realized as we see through the illusion of an individual self. There is no thinker doing the thinking. No problem solver to be freed of his or her problems. Self-concern abates while joy for the happiness of others increases. Envy, jealousy, competition, fear, aggression either do not arise, seem irrelevant, or pass away without creating more of a tangle.

Back to the initial story for a moment. Here are a few brief notes that I am including from my own thinking and because they showed up in the Inquiry session itself. How do they open in your life?

When a wise man (person), established in virtue: Practicing with the Precepts
Develops consciousness and understanding: Self Study in Mindfulness
Then as a bhikkhu (student) ardent and sagacious: Diligent, wise care — Appamada
He (she) succeeds in untangling the tangle: Life as it is — Everything belongs

Inquiry recording: