In the 10-day course of S.N Goenka, he said that the Buddha gave a simile for the proses of getting liberated from the defilements.
He says that the Buddha compared it to a twisted rope that gets untwisted when one just stops twisting it!
Have you ever seen such or similar simile in the suttas?
Hmm. Although stopping twisting is important, quite often, as with tangled hair, a cut is required to be done in this very life.
SN7.6:4.1: Those in whom greed, hate, and ignorance have faded away; the perfected ones with defilements ended— the tangle has been untangled. Where name and form cease with nothing left over; and impingement and perception of form: it’s there that the tangle is cut.”
An infant is born without tangled hair, yet the underlying tendency to greed, hate and delusion lies within them.
MN64:3.3: For a little baby doesn’t even have a concept of ‘identity’, so how could identity view possibly arise in them? Yet the underlying tendency to identity view still lies within them.
along with perception
of impingement & form,
totally stop without trace:
that’s where the tangle
‘Name and form’ refers to conventional reality, which begins when the baby is named, an arbitrary label, yet the future is constructed around it. Conventional reality is merely a support system for the body, yet purports to be ultimate reality. The way the tangle is cut is to reverse the priority and restore ultimate reality to its rightful position. Note this does not mean rejection of conventional reality entirely, which has the limited authority of human consensus developed over civilization.
What is it that overwhelmed everything? What is it that nought else excels? What is it that to which one thing Everything else its course doth bend? 'Tis name that has overwhelmed everything Nought else exists that excels name And Name itself is that one thing Beneath whose sway all others came.
— SN 1.61
See note 19.
This is what the Buddha says, the place where the tangle is cut is the recognition of conventional reality and its separation from ultimate reality.
I’m perhaps a bit late to the party, but I just happened to see this thread, and the question reminded me of another simile with, well, not a rope, but thread. It’s the simile of craving, the weaver:
AN4.199:1.1: The Buddha said this: “Mendicants, I will teach you about craving—the weaver, the migrant, the ubiquitous, the clinging. This world is choked by it, engulfed by it. It makes the world tangled like yarn, knotted like a ball of thread, and matted like rushes and reeds, not escaping the places of loss, the bad places, the underworld, transmigration.
Searching for “like a ball of thread” returns 4 suttas: AN 4.199, DN 15, SN 12.60, and SN 35.229.
Buddhaghosa begins the Visuddhimagga with a reference to SN 7.6 The Tangle:
“When a wise man, established well in virtue,
Develops consciousness and understanding,
Then as a bhikkhu ardent and sagacious
He succeeds in disentangling this tangle.”
My task is now to set out the true sense,
Divided into virtue and the rest (sila, samadhi, panna),
Of this same verse composed by the Great Sage.
There are here in the Victor’s Dispensation
Seekers gone forth from home to homelessness,
And who although desiring purity
Have no right knowledge of the sure straight way
Comprising virtue and the other two,
Right hard to find, that leads to purity—
Who, though they strive, here gain no purity.
To them I shall expound the comforting Path
Of Purification, pure in expositions,
Relying on the teaching of the dwellers
In the Great Monastery;2
let all those
Good men who do desire purity
Listen intently to my exposition."
I couldn’t agree more that the way out of the tangle is the discerning of the separation between conventional and ultimate reality:
“Knowledge and understanding are very often associated with words and concepts, so much so that if one knows the name of a thing, one is supposed to know it. Because of this misconception the world is in a tangle (SN 7.6). Names and concepts, particularly the nouns, perpetuate the ignorance in the world.”—-Nibbana Sermon 1
“The Sutta (SN 1.61) highlights the power of ‘name.’ Everything comes under its sway. The Comm. observes: ‘There is no being or formation without a name, whether this be attached primordially or by convention. Even when people do not know a particular tree or stone by this or that name, it will still be called a ‘no-namer’ (anaamako).’ This over-riding power of name has been recognized by Lao-tse too, when he calls it the ‘mother of all things.’ In magic, one’s knowledge of the secret names of spirits is deemed a weapon effective in itself against their evil influence. In panegyric, the ability to muster a wide range of epithets is considered a rewarding skill.
Everything comes under the sway of name as a result of man’s urge to familiarize himself with the world. Sorting out, naming and defining things, are practical necessities in ordinary life, since they help us avoid ‘tripping-over,’ just as in the case of one groping in the dark. There is a constant need to re-cognize things and the easiest way of doing it, is by putting a sign on them. While the five senses have their own separate modes of indentation, mind largely relies on the labeling-mode of attaching a name, in the course of its own groping. Since mind partakes of the ‘range’ (visaya) and pasture (gocara) of the other five senses as well (M. I. 295.), its own mode of indentation has a preponderating influence over the rest. Thus, perceptual data of the five external senses, in all their permutations and combinations, finally come to be assigned names and pigeon-holed as ‘things.’ This convenient but superficial indentation beclouds the mind and prevents the immediate understanding of sense-contact (phassa). Its mode of apperception, therefore, is largely a process of ‘imagining’ and ‘figuring-out’ of objects located in the darkness of ignorance, and in its blind groping, the phenomenon of sense-contact as such, hardly receives any serious attention.”—-Samyutta Nikaya- an Anthology, Nanananda, SN 1.61 note 19