Andrew Olendzki (trans.) Vipallasa Sutra (AN 4.49) edited by Seven Dhr., Wisdom Quarterly
Assuming "self" where there's no self,
Gone astray with wrong views, such beings
Misperceive with distorted minds.
Bound in the bondage of Mara,
Such people are far from safety [nirvana].
They are beings who go on flowing:
Going again from death to rebirth.
But when in the world of darkness
Buddhas arise to make things bright,
They present this profound teaching
Which brings suffering to an end.
When those with wisdom have heard this,
They recuperate their right mind:
They see change in what is changing,
Suffering where there's suffering
"Non-self" in what is without self,
They see the unlovely as such.
By this acceptance of right view,
These verses from The Numerical Discourses of the Buddha (Anguttara Nikaya) give the traditional list of the "distortions of mind" (vipallasas).
This Pali term is composed of a prefix (vi-), which carries the sense of division, separation, or removal, and another prefix (pari-) meaning around, or complete (as in our related word perimeter), and a verb (-as), which can be taken as meaning "to throw."
Together, we have the image of the mind taking something up, turning it around, and throwing it back down -- a perversion or distortion of reality by the perceptual and cognitive apparatus of the brain.
The distortions are fundamental to what Buddhism refers to as ignorance, delusion, and wrong views. It is not that we are inherently flawed by nature, but rather just that we make some serious errors on many levels as we attempt to make sense of the world around us.
As we come to recognize -- through practicing meditation -- some of the ways we misconstrue things about our experience, we become more able to correct for these errors and gain greater clarity on what is real.
The distortions of the mind work on three levels of scale: First, distortions of perception (sañña-vipallasa) cause us to misperceive the information coming to us through the sense doors. For example, we might mistake a rope on the ground as a snake. Normally such errors of vision are corrected by more careful scrutiny, but sometimes these sensory mistakes are overlooked and remain.
Distortions of thought (citta-vipallasa) have to do with the next higher level of mental processing, when we find ourselves thinking about or pondering over things. The mind tends to elaborate on perception with these thought patterns, and if our thoughts are based on distortions of perception then they too will be distorted.
Eventually such thought patterns can become habitual and evolve into distortions of view (ditthi-vipallasa). We might become so convinced that there is a snake on the ground that no amount of evidence to the contrary, from our own eyes or from reasoning or the advice of others, will shake our beliefs and assumptions. We are stuck in a mistaken view (or thicket of views).
Furthermore, these three levels of distortion are cyclical in that our perceptions are formed in the context of our views, which are strengthened by our thoughts, and all three work together to build the cognitive systems which make up our unique personality.
The particular distortions mentioned in this sutra correspond to the Three Characteristics of Existence: Taking what is impermanent as permanent, what is inherently unsatisfactory (dukkha) as a source of satisfaction, and regarding what is impersonal (without a self, anatta) as constituting a self.
These are the primary ways we distort reality to the profound disadvantage of ourselves and others. Seeing the un-lovely (asubha) as lovely rounds out the traditional list of four vipallasas.
These verses say that when we are under the influence of these distortions, we have "lost our senses" (vi-saññino) and our mind is "broken" or "thrown" (khitta-citta).
When the distortions are corrected by right view, clear thinking and careful perception, then the text says that we have "gotten back" (pacca-latthu) our "true mind" (sa-citta).
This is the Buddhist view of mental disease and mental health. Delusion is a "mental illness" that causes all sorts of suffering. Mental health can be restored by correcting the flaws in how the mind operates.
Fortunately, "Buddhas [fully enlightened teachers] arise to make things bright" and explain in detail how this recovery of our natural health is accomplished. More
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