Sunday, June 7, 2015

Purification of Mind?

Bhikkhu Bodhi (BPS); Dhr. Seven, Crystal Quintero (editors), Wisdom Quarterly
Buddha statue reclining into nirvana, Wat Pa Phu Kon, hailand (Sasin Tipchai/Bugphai)
Is this going to take long? Like, I'm kind of busy right now. How about we start manana?
Free your mind and the rest will follow.
An ancient maxim found in The Dhammapada ("Dharma Path") sums up the practice of the Buddha's teaching, known as the Dharma, in three simple guidelines to training:
  1. to abstain from all harm,
  2. to cultivate what is beneficial,
  3. 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
Minds at War: Poetry
Purification of mind as understood in the Buddha's teaching is the sustained endeavor to cleanse the mind (heart) of defilements, those dark unwholesome mental forces which run beneath the surface stream of consciousness vitiating our thinking, values, attitudes, and actions.

Chief among the defilements are three the Buddha termed the "roots of unwholesomeness" -- greed, hatred, and delusion -- out of which emerge numerous offshoots and variants:
  • anger and cruelty,
  • avarice and envy,
  • conceit and arrogance,
  • hypocrisy and vanity,
  • and the multitude of erroneous views.
Contemporary attitudes look unfavorably on such notions as "defilement" and "purity," and on first encounter they may strike us as throwbacks to an outdated moralism.

Defilements and Purity
I don't really look like this inside, do I?!
Perhaps they were valid in an era when prudery and taboo were dominant, but they have no claim on us as emancipated torchbearers of modernity. Admittedly, we may not all wallow in the mire of gross materialism. Many among us seek our enlightenments and spiritual highs, but we want them on our own terms!

As heirs of some new freedom, we believe they are to be won by an unbridled quest for experience without any special need for introspection, personal change, or self-control.
However, in the Buddha's teaching, the criterion of genuine enlightenment lies precisely in purity of mind.

The purpose of all insight and enlightened understanding is to liberate the mind from the defilements. Nirvana itself, the ultimate 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 mere postulates of a rigid authoritarian moralism. Instead, they real and solid facts essential to a right understanding of the situation of living beings in the world.
Mindfulness of Breathing (Ven. Nanamoli)
As facts of lived experience, defilement and purity pose a vital distinction having a crucial significance for those who seek final deliverance from all suffering. They represent the two points between which the path to freedom unfolds — the former its problematic and starting point (suffering), the latter its resolution and liberation.

The defilements, the Buddha declares, lie at the bottom of all human suffering.

They burn within as craving and lust, as rage and resentment, as delusion and blindness. They lay to waste hearts, lives, hopes, and civilizations. They drive us thirsty, frustrated, and blind through the unending round of birth and death.

The Buddha describes the defilements as bonds, fetters, hindrances, and knots. The path to freedom (unbonding), release, and liberation is likened to untying the knots. At the same time self-discipline is aimed at inward-cleansing.
The work of purification is undertaken where the defilements arise -- in the mind (heart) itself. The main method the Dharma offers for purifying the mind is meditation (bhavana, literally, "bringing into being," figuratively, "cultivation," "development"). 
Meditation in the Buddhist training is neither a quest for self-effusive ecstasies (jhanas, dhyanas, zens) nor a technique of home-applied psychotherapy.

"Meditation" (the Buddhist cultivation of serenity-and-insight) is a carefully devised method of mental development -- theoretically precise and efficiently practical -- for attaining inner purity and spiritual freedom.

The principal tools of Buddhist meditation are the core wholesome mental factors of
  • energy,
  • mindfulness,
  • concentration, 
  • and understanding.
In the systematic practice of Buddhist meditation, these are strengthened and brought together in a program of self-purification that aims at radically extirpating the defilements, uprooting them so that not even the subtlest unwholesome stirrings remain.
Since all defiled states of consciousness are born from a single root cause, ignorance, which is the most deeply embedded defilement, the final and ultimate purification of mind is to be accomplished through wisdom, the knowledge and vision (knowing and seeing) of things as they really are.
Wisdom, however, does not arise by chance or random good intentions. It only arises in a purified mind. So in order for wisdom to come gushing forth to accomplish the ultimate purification (enlightenment, bodhi) through the eradication of defilements, we first have to create a space for it by developing a provisional purification of mind -- a purification which, although temporary and vulnerable, is still indispensable as a foundation for the emerging of final 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 and know them, to detect them at work as they being to arise and infiltrate and dominate our everyday thoughts and lives.

For countless aeons in a countless number of former existences we have acted on greed, hatred, and delusion. So the work of self-purification cannot be executed hastily, in obedience to our demand for quick results.
The task requires patience, care, and persistence -- blessed by the good fortune of a human rebirth, so rare in the round of rebirths -- and the Buddha's crystal clear instructions, which are far rarer than life as a human.
Now I see it myself, relying on no one!
For every defilement the Buddha -- not only an enlightened being but an enlightened teacher -- out of compassion for living beings has given us the antidote, the method to emerge from it and vanquish it.

By learning these principles and applying them properly, usually with the help of someone with experience, we can gradually wear away the most stubborn inner stains and reach the final end of suffering, the "taintless liberation of the mind."

(It does not happen overnight, nor does it take more than this very life. What at first seems a struggle to establish then takes on momentum of its own. We till the soil, plant the seed, water and tend. Then suddenly what grows grows all by itself as we allow it, removing impediments and supplying it with calm and sustaining persistence until it reaches its full expression.)

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