Saturday, June 21, 2014

Purifying the Mind/Heart (Bhikkhu Bodhi)

Bhikkhu Bodhi, "Purification of Mind" (BPS/ATI); Dhr. Seven (ed.), Wisdom Quarterly
The Buddha at Battambang, Cambodia (Kim Seng/
Mind matters: materiality and mentality, kalapas and cittas (
Free your mind; the rest will follow.
An ancient maxim found in the Dhammapada sums up the practice of the Buddha's teaching in three simple guidelines to training: to abstain from all harm, to cultivate good, and to purify one's mind.
These three principles form a graded sequence of steps progressing from the outward and preparatory to the inward and essential. Each step leads naturally into the one that follows it, and the culmination of the three in purification of mind makes it plain that the heart of Buddhist practice is to be found here.
Purification of mind as understood in the Buddha's teaching is the sustained endeavor to cleanse the mind (citta, heart) of defilements, those unwholesome mental forces that run beneath the surface stream of consciousness vitiating our intentions, thinking, values, attitudes, and actions.
(Inquiring Mind)
The chief among the defilements are the three that the Buddha has termed the "roots of [all] harm" -- greed, hatred, and delusion -- from which emerge their numerous offshoots and variants: anger and cruelty, avarice and envy, conceit and arrogance, hypocrisy and vanity [pride, personality view, wrong view regarding ego], the multitude of erroneous views.

The "defilements" are heart-defiling, unwholesome qualities of mind: "There are ten defilements, so called because they are themselves defiled and because they defile the mental factors associated with them:
(1) greed, (2) hate, (3) delusion, (4) conceit, (5) speculative views, (6) skeptical doubt, (7) mental torpor, (8) restlessness, (9) shamelessness,(10) lack of moral dread or unconscientiousness (Vis.M. XXII, 49, 65)." (For further information on 1-3, see mūla; 4, see māna; 5, see ditthi; 6-8, see nīvarana; 9 and 10, see ahirika-anottappa.
   These ten are explained in the Commentaries, but no classification of them is found in the sutras even though the term occurs frequently. The "impurities" (upakkilesa) are: 16 moral impurities of the mind mentioned and explained in MN 7 and MN 8 (The Wheel #61/62): (1) covetousness and harmful greed, (2) ill will, (3) anger, (4) hostility, (5) denigration, (6) domineering, (7) envy, (8) stinginess, (9) hypocrisy, (10) fraud, (11) obstinacy, (12) presumption, (13) conceit, (14) arrogance, (15) vanity, and (16) negligence.
Contemporary attitudes look unfavorably on such notions as "defilement" and "purity." On first encounter they may strike us as throwbacks to an outdated morality, valid perhaps when prudes and taboos were dominant, but having no place now. Not all of us wallow in the mire of gross materialism; many among us seek our enlightenments and spiritual highs, but we want them on our own terms. And as heirs of the new freedom we believe they are to be won through a hungry quest for experience without any need for introspection, personal change, or self-control.
However in the Buddha's teaching, genuine enlightenment lies precisely in purity of mind. The purpose of all insight and enlightened understanding is to liberate the mind from the defilements (taints, fetters, distortions). Nirvana itself, the goal of the teaching, is defined quite clearly as freedom from greed, hatred, and delusion.
From the perspective of the Dharma, defilement and purity are not postulates of authoritarian moralism but real and solid facts essential to an objective understanding of the human situation in the world.
As facts of lived experience, defilement and purity pose a vital distinction with crucial significance for those who seek liberation from suffering. They represent the two points between which the path to liberation unfolds -- the starting point of the problem and its resolution in the end. The defilements, the Buddha declares, reside beneath all human suffering. Burning within as lust and craving, as rage and resentment, delusion and wrong views, they lay to waste hearts, minds, lives, hopes, and civilizations. They drive us blind and thirsty over and over again through the round of birth and death.

Cultivate constant mindfulness.
The Buddha describes the defilements as bonds, fetters, hindrances, and knots. So the path to liberation, unbonding, release, to untying the knots is a discipline aimed at inward cleansing.
The work of purification is undertaken where the defilements arise, in the mind, and the main method the Dharma offers for purifying the mind is meditation.

What is meditation not? Meditation in Buddhist training is neither a quest for ecstasies (forms of bliss derived from concentration and absorption) nor a technique of DIY psychotherapy, stress reduction, or relaxation. What is it? Meditation is a systematic method of mental development -- precise, practical, and efficiently leading to an objective -- to attain inner purity and complete freedom.
The principal tools of Buddhist meditation are the core skillful mental factors: energy, mindfulness, concentration, and understanding. In the systematic practice of meditation, these are strengthened and brought together in a program of self-purification that aims at rooting out the defilements so that not even the subtlest unwholesome stirrings remain.
All defiled states of consciousness are born of ignorance. The most deeply embedded defilement is undone, with the final and ultimate purification of mind being accomplished through wisdom -- the knowledge and vision of things as they really are.
Wisdom, however, does not spontaneously arise through chance or random good intentions. It only arises in a purified mind. In order for wisdom to come forth and accomplish the ultimate purification of eradicating the defilements, we first have to create a space for it.

Big Buddha, Tian Tan (
This is done by developing a provisional purification of mind -- a purification which, although temporary and vulnerable, is still indispensable as a foundation for the emergence of all liberating-insight.
The achievement of this preparatory purification of mind begins with the challenge of self-understanding. To eliminate defilements we must first learn to recognize them, to detect them at work infiltrating and dominating our everyday thoughts and lives.

For countless aeons we have acted on the spur of greed, hatred, and delusion. So the work of self-purification cannot be executed hastily with our demand for quick results. The task requires care, patience, and persistence -- and the Buddha's clear instructions.

For every defilement the Buddha out of compassion gave an antidote, a method to emerge from it and vanquish it. By learning these principles and applying them properly, we gradually cleanse the most stubborn inner stains and reach the end of suffering, the "taintless liberation of the mind."

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