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"On Denying Defilements" by Ven. Thanissaro

I transcribed this talk a few days ago because I thought it would be useful to some friends. Might be useful to some one here, too. MP3 file is here. Corrections welcome, there are a couple of places where his meaning wasn't totally clear to me, though I did some light editing where I thought it improved readability. (Actual transcription in next comment, because it's too long to fit in this one.)

Comments

  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    In my sangha we talk about defilements, but there is the additional teaching that defilements underneath them are bodhicitta. For example if you get angry or say an angry word it is because you are hurt by something. Since it is defiled bodhicitta it only makes things worse. But you cannot conclude that a teacher is not aware of defilements simply because they teach that the mind is luminous. I feel that is an error. The lojong slogans purpose is to uproot whatever is inhibiting seeing and they are very much about views and behaviour and defilements though they are also a teaching of ultimate bodhicitta. Views to uproot views. Trungpa says that the lojong is training the mind rather than pacifying the mind. My teacher also specifically mentioned in a personal e-mail that avoiding the 10 wrong actions and cultivating the 10 wholesome could interest me because I was asking a question where that came up.

    As far as looking into and explaining my teacher has a unique method called reflecting on the heart wish. Inside the defilement is the wish to be happy. You don't just chop off the defilement you see what the problem is that is upsetting you. Once you see an error that error loses power.

    The second noble truth in my family of teachers refers to turning away from experience because it is too raw. Not turning away is the whole point. We have to work with our experience whatever it is.

    This is pretty much like my sangha teaches, but the defilements are viewed as distorted Buddha qualities. When we reach more confidence and insight and working with the uncomfortable parts of our life (not turning away) we get away from samsara. Samsara is always distracting us with ways to make this life better rather than attain the deathless.
  • SilouanSilouan Veteran
    This was an observation and concern of mine as a Western Buddhist that was influenced by commentaries by the Dalai Lama. Not that he was addressing or identifying a particular problem in the West, but rather on the importance of dealing with defilements in preparing the mind for enlightenment. It was his emphasis on its importance along with a lack thereof that I experienced as a Buddhist in the West as one of the motivating factors that eventually lead to my conversion to Eastern Christianity. It remains very much a part of its spiritual tradition and practice even in the West.


    I firmly believe what the Dalia Lama has said is true, and I'm also learning through practice that working with these defilements is like peeling a never ending union layer by layer, and since the heart is deep, with no limit to our spiritual development, we are going to be spending our entire lifetimes learning to work with them from the most obvious to the most subtle.
    lobsterkarmablues
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    One of the reasons we support, bow and have high expectations of the sangha, is for their example of working on clearing defilements

    It is a hard, dedicated example. Worthy of deep reverence and respect.
    Lock them in a small room until enlightened. Let them out occasionally for food and watering . . .

    :bowdown:
    karmablues
  • In a way Hui Neng's (6th Chan Patriarch) contemporary was correct when he said:

    Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
    And our mind a mirror bright.
    Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
    And let no dust alight.
    It says the mind is luminous, but it is defiled by visiting defilements. And if you don't notice, there's no training of the mind. Then you look at the Buddha's teachings, and one of the basic analogies that he uses is that the practice is a kind of cleansing, it's a kind of purification. So if you don't appreciate the importance of the defilements, you can't really train the mind.
    This is the work (right effort) until emptiness is realised. So this famous quote:

    There is no Bodhi-tree,
    Nor stand of a mirror bright.
    Since all is void,
    Where can the dust alight?

    ["You are already enlightened. Only that you don't know it yet." which is an unfortunate misrepresentation.]
    Jeffrey
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    I consider the never-ending war against the mind's defilements to be one of the thousand doorways to the Dharma. Like any expedient teaching, it can be liberating or it can become an obstacle in itself. It's like someone rushing around the house checking and rechecking the doors and windows and locking and bolting them over and over, to make sure nothing bad gets in. Sure, the house remains pure. But the defilements are still there, waiting for the day you let your guard down. And if your entire focus is on this, you begin to see defilements everywhere, until the entire world becomes one huge cesspool of forbidden acts.

    What do you say to that?
    Vastmind
  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    Cinorjer said:

    What do you say to that?

    Are you talking dirty to us?

    SilouanVastmindCinorjer
  • SilouanSilouan Veteran
    edited May 2013
    I see the condition you describe as being based on grasping and attachment but even more subtle and also a defilement. Working with defilements is only part of one's practice, and what you describe is a very real possibility if not for the understanding that the defilements are rooted in pride or egoism and that they are all transient. They are not the self or hypostasis (person) as they say in my spiritual tradition.


  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited May 2013
    I'd say it is a certain perspective on the path that's not wrong but also not the only possible perspective. In one sense it is about going against the defilements, but in another way it is about being contented and not constantly interfering with the process. From the big view "battling defilements" and "being contented" are just parts of the elephant. In the end they come down to the same thing, but in my experience, if I approach the path from a "battling" point of view, the mind doesn't get really peaceful. To constantly try to find a way around things is not what produces contented states of mind for me. So my approach is to be contented with whatever arises.

    I'd say a better description is to starve the defilements. I don't have to go against them, I just should refrain from feeding them. If I have a perspective of trying to purify the mind, it's also easy to fall into the trap of identifying with the defilements as "mine" or craving for them to go away; two things that I find not productive as they are founded on defilements themselves. So one could wonder why one wants to be without defilements; chances are it is based on yet another defilement, like craving for happiness.


    I don't know what Thanissaro uses as his definition of the "West", however, because I've heard about this quite often.
    JeffreyMaryAnne
  • @Jeffrey, I like lojong practices, too, use them all the time. I think the deathless is precisely what's left when all defilement is abandoned.

    @Cinorjer, there is no enlightenment as long as there is greed aversion or delusion.

    @Sabre, I think the "denying defilements" in the title is more about denying that they exist, or denying that they are a problem. He talks about knowing the defilements in order to let them go, not so much about battling them. The hindrances are a different story, though obviously they arise out of the defilements. I don't think he means every dharma talk in the West, because he was giving this talk in the West. :) I can think of a few lineages, teachers and practitioners where his criticisms make sense, though.
  • karmablueskarmablues Veteran
    edited May 2013
    I love dhamma talks on defilements, can't get enough of them.

    It is also useful to be mindful of the Upakilesa which are also considered as defilements or sometimes translated as corruptions of the mind. We should fight these as well!

    The following 16 Upakilesas are found in the Vatthupama Sutta:

    1. Covetousness and unrighteous greed (abhijjhāvisamalobha): Ps: Covetousness is desire for and attachment to one’s own belongings; unrighteous greed is (desire for and attachment to) the belongings of others. Or else: Covetousness is attachment to an object that is suitable and has been obtained; unrighteous greed is the same for an object that is unsuitable and has not been obtained. One Elder says that there is no greed that is not unrighteous, therefore greed itself is covetousness in the sense of longing and also unrighteous in the sense of contrary to what is right. The meaning is one though the expressions are different.

    2. Ill will (byāpāda): Ps. = the nine cases of aversion.

    3. Anger (kodha): Vbh. = Anger, being angry, angriness, hatred, hating, hatefulness, irritation, irritability, irascibility; opposition, resistance, … displeasure of mind.

    4. Malice (upanāha): Vbh. = In the past there was anger, later there is malice. It is the accumulation, persistence, strengthening of anger. Ps.: It is anger after it again and again envelops the mind.

    5. Contempt (makkha): Ps. It is the disregard of favors done towards oneself. In the case of lay people, if one is poor and someone, out of compassion, sets one up in a high position, later one disregards the favor done, thinking, “What did he do for me?” In the case of a monk, after one becomes famous and respected, one disregards the instruction and guidance one’s elders gave to one when one was a junior monk.

    6. Insolence (paḷāsa): Ps. The sense of competitiveness that arises overpowering someone else, for example, towards a learned person one thinks, “What is the difference between you or me?”

    7. Envy (issā): Vbh. The envy, envying, enviousness, that arises towards the gain, honor, respect, esteem, veneration, and reverence shown towards others.

    8. Miserliness (macchariya): Vbh. Miserliness, meanness, stinginess, unwillingness to share; Miserliness regarding dwellings, families, gains, praise, and Dhamma. Ps. Inability to endure sharing one’s own fortune with others.

    9. Deceit (māyā): Vbh. Someone misbehaves with the body, by speech, by mind. For the purpose of concealing it, he forms the evil wish, “May others not know this of me!” Such deceit, deceptiveness, excessiveness, crookedness, craftiness, hiding, concealment, etc., is called deceit.

    10. Craftiness (sāṭheyya): Vbh. Someone is crafty, utterly crafty, etc., this is called craftiness. Ps. Kerāṭikabhāva (trickiness?). For a trickster is like a long-fish. For a “long-fish” is said to show its tail to fish and its head to snakes, to make them think, “I am just like you.” So a trickster shows himself to others and says to them, “I will be your companion, your benefactor, and I will never desert you.” And they think, “He is devoted to us, loyal to us.”

    11. Obstinacy (thambha): Vbh. Stiffness, harshness, single-mindedness, inflexibility. Ps. Unyieldingness, rigidity, high-headedness; being like a bellows filled with air.

    12. Rivalry (sārambha): Ps. A layman sees another person dressed up in ornaments and there arises in him the thought of surpassing the other person twofold; a monk hears of another who has learned so much Dhamma or preaches so much and, by way of conceit, thinks to outdo the other twofold or threefold.

    13. Conceit (māna): Ps. elevation of the mind on account of social class, etc.

    14. Arrogance (atimāna): Ps. Extreme elevation of the mind.

    15. Vanity (mada): Vbh. defines mada almost in the same terms as māna; it concerns social class, clan, etc.; in suttas, related to youth, health, life (as opp. to age, sickness, death). Ps. The aspect of grasping vanity (madaggaha5ākāra; not so helpful).

    16. Heedlessness (pamāda). Ps. Letting the mind roam among the objects of sensual pleasure. Also translated as negligence which in social behavior, this leads to lack of consideration.
    lobster
  • maartenmaarten Veteran
    What do you say to that?
    @Cinorjer, I have a more optimistic view, because I see battling the defilements as a process of refinement. First, you tackle the gross suffering by learning not to be purposely deceitful, arrogant, stingy etc. Once you have left one of these gross defilements and its associated suffering behind you, I think there is no danger of it returning, but then you realize that you are still causing yourself suffering, because you are still deceiving but in a more subtle manner. This refinement is a never-ending process, but at least things improve along the way.
    Cinorjer
  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited May 2013
    fivebells said:


    I can think of a few lineages, teachers and practitioners where his criticisms make sense, though.

    Could be. Perhaps I'm just lucky to have come across the teachers who do mention it, although sometimes in different words. For example when somebody speaks of compassion, they automatically also speak of its opposite, anger. And when someone speaks of right understanding or seeing truth, in a way they also speak of delusion. And of course non-craving is the absence of greed. If you see it like this, I think dharma talks that are not about defilements are quite rare. Or again, perhaps I was lucky.
  • It depends on how the opposites are spoken of. If compassion, right understanding and non-craving are presented as intrinsic qualities of mind which don't need to be developed, that is denial.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2013
    Again sectarianism, fivebells. The mahayana teaches that the mind is clear, luminous, and unimpeded. The kleshas are essenceless as the prajnaparamitas show us. The kleshas are distortions but underneath is always a movement of heart, bodhicitta.

    It's actually double sectarianism. I think a Tibetan rangtongpa might agree with you. The distinction is between action bodhicitta and ultimate bodhicitta. What you are talking about is action bodhicitta but the nature of a Buddha (and us) is 'awareness' or openness, clarity, and sensitivity ie ultimate bodhicitta.

    This is related to refuge because you are taking refuge in the Buddha which you have Buddha nature so some where along the line you have to have faith in your insight otherwise you would be unable to make progress whatsoever if you couldn't sense anything including whether something is a klesha.
  • In case it wasn't clear, I was responding to @Sabre's argument that someone who speaks of compassion implicitly refers to anger. I was saying that if they speak of compassion as an intrinsic quality of mind, then any implicit reference to anger in what they're saying is actually a denial. If anger is then pasted on top of that as a distortion or whatever, then obviously that's not a denial.

    It doesn't really bolster an accusation of sectarianism to follow it up with a rant about your own creed. Also, keep in mind that I am a Tibetan Buddhist too. :) I have a lot of time for (and have invested a lot of time in) Mahayana practices.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    I was pointing out that compassion is an intrinsic quality of mind. Are you contradicting that?

    I meant the discussion is sectarian. You or I are just practitioners talking about what we learned. Rangtongpa says we build up good qualities. Yogacara says we clear away the kleshas and underneath there is compassion etc.
  • SabreSabre Veteran
    edited May 2013
    fivebells said:

    It depends on how the opposites are spoken of. If compassion, right understanding and non-craving are presented as intrinsic qualities of mind which don't need to be developed, that is denial.

    True in a way, but I think it is very generalized. One could say one has to develop compassion, or one could say let go of anger leaves compassion. One could say the mind is intrinsically bright or intrinsically cloudy. In my eyes both can be good as teachings, but either way is not ultimately correct because "mind" is just a concept.

    I'll leave it at that for now. I think the talk is quite good in general and just wanted to say I think it mainly depends on what our perspective is. Some times the perspective of "there are defilements in the mind" can be helpful, some times the perspective of "the mind is already bright" can be helpful.
  • @Jeffrey, No, I do not take a position on qualities of awakened mind. That would be wrong view, as this conversation is starting to demonstrate. :)

    To the extent that I have a sect, I learned it from Ken McLeod, and I tend to think its creed revolves around determining which practices and beliefs lead to the ending and the proliferation of suffering, based on personal experience. That is, I don't think my end of the conversation is really sectarian, unless pragmatism is a sect.
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2013
    From a mahayana perspective everything is empty and when you drop prapanca you are free of suffering. From my teacher's message (shentongpa) if you aren't manifesting the limitless ungraspable buddha qualities including compassion then you haven't dropped prapanca. The tantric path is to go that last bit.
  • @Sabre, Yes, I think it would be better if he just hadn't said the second paragraph, and if I had left it out of the transcript here. The talk would be much better without it.
    Sabre
  • JeffreyJeffrey Veteran
    edited May 2013
    I consider my view pragmatic because it makes sense to me and helps me in my life and I believe it is going to full enlightenment eventually. There are 100s of Ken McLeods and 100000s of students who believe they are being pragmatic.

    Another way of saying it would be 'can you produce a buddhist (or Christian or Muslim) who says "I am not pragmatic"? :)
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    lobster said:

    Cinorjer said:

    What do you say to that?

    Are you talking dirty to us?

    Hee!
  • CinorjerCinorjer Veteran
    maarten said:

    What do you say to that?
    @Cinorjer, I have a more optimistic view, because I see battling the defilements as a process of refinement. First, you tackle the gross suffering by learning not to be purposely deceitful, arrogant, stingy etc. Once you have left one of these gross defilements and its associated suffering behind you, I think there is no danger of it returning, but then you realize that you are still causing yourself suffering, because you are still deceiving but in a more subtle manner. This refinement is a never-ending process, but at least things improve along the way.

    I think that is a perfectly valid response.
  • zenffzenff Veteran
    pegembara said:

    In a way Hui Neng's (6th Chan Patriarch) contemporary was correct when he said:

    Our body is the Bodhi-tree,
    And our mind a mirror bright.
    Carefully we wipe them hour by hour,
    And let no dust alight.
    ...

    Yes, I think the problem here is that of gradual enlihtenment versus sudden enlightenment.

    I think it is a Zen-cliché that pursuing gradual improvement only gets you so far and at some point a more fundamental realization is possible; “seeing ones true nature” or “dropping off body and mind”.

  • lobsterlobster Veteran
    Behaviour is important as it prepares the likelihood that the container will not break, leak, tip over or be so full of gunk that the 'ambrosia' just pours over the sides . . .

    It is also true that the Amrita is a little more cleansing than our symbolic Buddhist 'Eucharistic' rituals
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Amrita
    In essence, Amrita is the very stuff of the eternal, unborn, Buddha yummyness . . .

    Where is it? Strangely enough, in the behaviour of the enlightened . . .
    :thumbsup:
    zenff
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