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Purification and merit

Purification and merit

This talk was given during the White Tara Winter Retreat at Sravasti Abbey.

  • Purification and creating merit are significant parts of our practice
  • Looking at specific destructive acts when doing purification practice
  • Examining how we use our energy

White Tara Retreat 16: Purification and merit (download)

When I first started with the Dharma I was going to classes and I heard someone, probably Venerable Chodron, say something like, “The most important thing we can do is purification and creating virtue, creating merit. It’s the most significant part of your practice.” In the back of my mind I thought, “Oh yes, well you do that for a couple of years and then you really get into practice.” Of course the more I’ve studied and the more I have really examined the very nature of my mind, I see that purification and creating merit is what I’m going to be doing all the way to enlightenment. Our minds, my mind—I think probably our minds—are so obscured. It is just stunning to really look at all the ways that I distort reality moment by moment by moment, just in simple ways.

Like Venerable Semkye was saying last time, I’m really appreciating the opportunity to do this White Tara practice and do some very serious purification. It’s been very strong to use it in that way. Also know that we’re creating merit as well and to really rejoice in that opportunity. I, too, have been looking at having created the causes for a short life. Not so much looking at past lives, but looking at the killing I’ve done in this very life and following the recent direction we’ve had from Khensur Wangdak to really look carefully. Like, “What was in my mind when I was digging those razor clams?” You know, “What kind of attachment am I anticipating in digging up those clams and then putting them under the broiler?” And then, “What kind of rebirth is a direct result of actually watching a shellfish broil?” I mean the images of the hell realms get quite vivid when you think about that. So that’s been very useful to think about really detailed purification of my own acts of killing.

There’s one avenue that this has taken me into that I hadn’t really gone to before, and that’s mostly what I want to talk about, is this idea of “life force.” The definition of what is life force, “All the life force that has been scattered or lost,” when Venerable answered that question. The technical response is quite complicated and I don’t get it. But I do have a sense of what “life energy” is. The idea of ki or chi that comes up in Chinese medicine, or in Aikido, martial arts, things like that, is this idea of the energy that kind of vitalizes and propels in our life. So, this is not a Dharma technical term—I want to be very clear about that—but it is helping me look at how I have used my life energy. And I dare say, how I have squandered my life energy in this life and really looking at purifying some of those kinds of actions.

So, how many hours, months, years—if I added them up—have I spent hanging out with good friends in idle talk? Just shooting the breeze and having a good time. Then it slides into … oh, and then there’s this person we both don’t like and then we kind of trash that person for a little while, and then it comes into not something that’s just idle talk, which is definitely one of the ten negative actions. But now we’re into harsh speech. Now we’re into maybe divisive speech. Now I’ve got a grudge, or I’m kind of feeding something, an underlying distaste or hatred for a person that’s brewing and brewing and brewing that’s coming up in my meditation now! This is years old!

Now, I have squandered my precious human life in this way, which is something I want to purify. In the course of doing that, I’ve created these negative actions that I haven’t really thought of, because they’re not so big. But actually, moment to moment they’re quite big. And now, even in a really kind of “this life” way, you think about some of the studies which say that our resentments or our angers contribute terribly to our disease or our lack of health in this very life. So it’s not just kind of fantasy, using my imagination to purify karma, which is helpful. But I’m also really looking at, “What am I doing to my own body that this resentment, that I didn’t even know was still there, is festering in my system?” So, there’s so much richness in our purification practices that we can use these for.

I also am so taken here with the way this sadhana describes that, “White Tara looks at you and all sentient beings with complete acceptance and compassion.” I’m sure Venerable Chodron will talk about this when she gets to this part of the sadhana, but we have to be looking at ourselves with complete acceptance when we go into all these things. Because I could really spend a lot of time trashing myself, for wasting a lot of my life, which I have. I have wasted a lot of life in worldly concerns out of ignorance and just not knowing. But that’s not the point of doing this. The point is to actually look with a clear mind and a clear eye at what I’ve done; to own it, to accept that there are consequences, and to rejoice that I have an opportunity to purify. And so here I’ve taken refuge, I am going to have regret for what I’ve done, I’m going to use this practice of White Tara as the remedial action and then make a strong determination that I’m not going to spend my time doing that. Then in the break time watching my mind moment to moment to know how I am really using my life energy right now, today. So, this life energy analogy has been very helpful for me and I hope it’s useful.

Venerable Thubten Chonyi

Ven. Thubten Chonyi is a nun in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. She has studied with Sravasti Abbey founder and abbess Ven. Thubten Chodron since 1996. She lives and trains at the Abbey, where she received novice ordination in 2008. She took full ordination at Fo Guang Shan in Taiwan in 2011. Ven. Chonyi regularly teaches Buddhism and meditation at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Spokane and, occasionally, in other locations as well.