The inner demon
you can’t name [recognise],
is the one you are tormented by.
A toddler nephew is undergoing a strange yet understandable phase of growing up. Barely a month ago, his baby sister was born. Suddenly, his behaviour became a little incomprehensibly moody and anger-prone… even to himself! He seemed to be experiencing a form of existential anguish that he couldn’t articulate with his limited vocabulary. When asked ‘Are you alright?’, he would reply ‘Okay…’ in an unsure and listless manner. When asked, ‘What’s wrong?’, he says ‘I don’t know!’ – probably to his surprise as much as ours. In the further angst of being unable to express his angst, he bit himself on his arm. I was wondering if this is the time to teach him a ‘new’ word to help him name the elusive inner demon that could be haunting him… jealousy… due to the subtle beginnings of sibling rivalry and some fear of how the future will change for him?
He obviously relished in the arrival of his sister. In this sense, there is no real animosity. Yet, simultaneously, he probably felt displaced in terms of the shift of attention away from him. Come to think of it, jealousy is quite a complex emotion. One that is perhaps too paradoxical for young kids to grasp. In jealousy is the element of attachment, of wanting something, mixed with the element of aversion, of not wanting something else. He could be wanting more attention for himself, while not wanting the sister to have more. It’s not just plain greed or hate, but an almost even balance of them. And of course, the duo arises from delusion. How do you explain this to a kid? ‘Welcome to Samsara (again)… welcome to a full experience of the three poisons! It’s okay… I think… Please take it easy! Don’t be too hard on yourself!’
‘Abhidharmically’ speaking, greed (tanha) always arises with hatred (lobha), while the couple always arises from delusion (moha). Without moha, there will be neither tanha nor lobha. (Moha is the root of the three poisons.) In the case of jealousy, the play of tanha and lobha is more obviously intertwined, seemingly fluctuating rapidly between themselves. I think it is this quality that makes kids confused as to what they are really experiencing. The truth is, most feelings, be they pleasant, unpleasant or neutral, are as the Buddha described, like effervescent bubbles – impermanent and insubstantial, easily formed, but also easily popped and replaced with new ones. Cling to fleeting feelings and you will suffer. Just watch to know and see their transient nature and one regains composure. I still don’t know how to tell that to the kid. Looks like the usual reasoning, reassuring and coaxing with hugs and kisses will have to do for now.
Because of our unresolved feelings for Samsara,
we have returned to it.
Do we return out of compassion or delusion?