Negative thoughts and feelings are a bane of human life. They are the downside of the great gift of imagination. A person insults one in some way and one finds oneself riling with unwanted emotions. Thoughts of vengance, or bitterness, or guilt, or many other unedifying purposes buzz around like a cloud of mosquitoes that are seeking one’s blood. At such a moment, even if one remembers one’s high purpose as a good spiritual person, one finds one cannot banish them at will. Perhaps when the mind’s attention is drawn to something important they temporarily disappear, but as soon as the mind idles back into neutral, there they are again. So, although a good first line of defense against such thoughts is to strongly turn the mind toward some other more wholesome matter, this does not constitute a complete solution.
For many people, the plague of negative thoughts is a continual struggle. Either they give in to a bitterness of character or they alternate between entertaining criticism, envy, resentment, avarice, and so on, and feeling guilty about doing so, believing that the presence of such negativity marks them out as a bad person. This alternation can then generate confusion and anxiety and provoke an inner struggle toward a restoration of self-respect that never can fully succeed and only manifests as more conceit or projection of badness onto others. Thus is set up a vicious circle that can be real torture.
Buddhist faith and practice does tend to reduce this problem. Over the years one may develop habits of mind and if the mind repeatedly turns toward positive things, one tends, increasingly, only to see the good in others and not the harm. This, perhaps, makes one less effective as a social combatant, but it makes for a happier life.
This process is, however, greatly helped by gradually gaining the conviction in relation to one’s thoughts and feelings that “This is not me, this is not mine, this is not myself”. In other words, when one identifies less with what is happening in one’s mind one is less likely to multiply up the problem by adding guilt toward oneself and vindictiveness toward others over what is happening.
We can call this the matter of secondary thought. The primary thought might be, to quote the Dhammapada, “He hurt me, he abused me, he beat me, he robbed me’” but what is the secondary thought? The secondary thought might be “I am a bad person for having this kind of primary thought,” Or, the secondary thought might be “My mind is producing these thoughts in order to try to protect me. It wants to rehearse possible responses if I were to be attacked in a similar fashion again.” In the first kind of secondary thought, one identifies with the mind and thus with the negativity and this ends making matters worse. One then seeks to suppress or hide the bitterness but this is a self-defeating procedure, adding new energy to what is already bad. In the second type of secondary thought, however, one does not identify with one’s mind, one treats the mind as an impersonal organ that is doing its job, just as one might think of one’s lungs or liver. This way of thinking tends to the gradual fading of the primary thoughts rather than to their multiplication. It also allows one the possibility of some better humour. One can accept that, consciously or unconsciously, the mind is going to go on complaining for a while, but one may then think, “And while it does so, I’ll say a few nembutsu,” or take up some other worthwhile activity.
In this way one “Lets mind fall away” in the sense of not identifying. This makes it possible for one to be friendly with the mind as an other. One can be respectful or tolerant without falling into identification. Such identification is the “pride and conceit” that is the target of much of the teaching of Shakyamuni.
When we think about primary and secondary thoughts in this way we can see the meaning of the texts that say “When the practitioner has a hateful thought, he know ‘there is a hateful thought’, and when there is no hateful thought, he knows, ‘there is no hateful thought’, and he know what leads to the arising of such thought and he knows what leads to the diminution and passing away of such thought.”
This is all useful practical advice. Buddha’s teaching includes so much good practical advice and it can give us an easier life. However, even if we remain tormented by our swarm of self-generated mosquitoes, Buddha will still love and accept us just as we are, because he has allowed his own body and mind to fall away and does not take our negativity personally. Thus we can always turn to the Buddhas, no matter what mischief our mind may seem to be up to, and there we always find a perfect refuge whatever our own body and mind are going through at the time.