Purifying non-virtues of mind

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Part of a series of teachings given at the Winter Retreat from December 2011 to March 2012 at Sravasti Abbey.

  • The importance of understanding karma
  • Tips on the visualization to purify non-virtues of mind
  • What underlies each of the three non-virtues of mind
  • The karmic results of mental non-virtue

Vajrasattva 24: Purification of mind, part 1 (download)

24 Vajrasattva – Purification of Mind, part 1 2-8-12

We’ve been working through the different purifications and today we are moving on to the purification of mind. In the ten non-virtues, we’ll be doing the non-virtues of the mind over the next few times.

Ten non-virtues: Speaking from personal experience

I think the most important thing that I could say, at least coming from my own experience, is that I had the experience of spending time every day for about a year, once a day, I would go through these ten non-virtues. That is when I was fairly new to Buddhism. I found without any intention on my part that a lot of confusion cleared up in my mind and in my life. I felt like, in retrospect, that I’d gone through decades of my life “not really getting it.” To me the understandings from looking at the ten non-virtues and the ten constructive actions, they just make sense—because they’re so tied in with karma.

They make sense about how things work, how people work, how society works. I really think what I was taught, that everything I was around had a lot of confusion in it. One example would be, “If you don’t get caught it doesn’t really matter.” You know we kind of have that idea. We have all these things like this—and when you feel in your heart it doesn’t really work, and yet there are so many things like that that we experience in the world. So I think that this certain level of confusion or ignorance about cause and effect, just by going through every day and looking at my life, “Oh, what did I do today? How does this feel? How how do I feel about it? How do I want to be?” Something just lifted and it was one of the things that helped me early on to develop some conviction in this path. So that’s just what I can say from my own experience.

Purification of mind in the sadhana

Now talking about the purification of mind the text says:

Your disturbing attitudes and imprints of mental negativities appear as darkness at your heart. When struck by the forceful stream of light and nectar the darkness instantly vanishes. It’s like turning a light on in a room; the darkness does not go anywhere it simply ceases to exist. Feel that you are completely empty of all these problems, they are nonexistent.

That’s quite clear. There are two things I would say about this visualization. One is, if you are anything like me and you focus too much attention to your heart, when it starts to get any kind of discomfort there, you should change a little bit how you do this visualization. I often tend to have that heavy sensation at my heart if I focus on it. I had this before I came to Buddhism but I didn’t really know what it was. Now I’ve learned from my teacher that I just [need to] make everything more expansive. So if the light comes into me, instead of just focusing my attention on my heart, I just wash it through my whole body. I keep everything more expansive and I don’t focus my attention at my heart. That works.

The other thing about this is this last line:

Feel that you are completely empty of all these problems, they are nonexistent.

This is just the aspect of how healthy it is for us to feel that our negativities are purified. It gives us this feeling of our positive qualities going forward; and that we can actually, though this practice, do something with our life and who we are. We can enhance our good qualities. We can abandon our negative qualities. We can become the kind of people that, in our heart, we want to be. Personally, when I purify these non-virtues, I often do a purification where I look at the constructive actions too. I try to purify any obstacles to those qualities arising. This gives me a little more balance—to think about where I’m going rather than just always abandon, abandon, abandon.

General ideas about non-virtues of the mind

Of the ten non-virtues the last three are of the mind. They are coveting, maliciousness and wrong views. Now we’re moving into the area of the mind and as the Buddha said in the Dhammapada:

The mind is the forerunner of all actions. All deeds are led by mind, created by mind. If one speaks or acts with a corrupt mind, suffering follows as wheels follow the hoof of an ox. Mind is the forerunner of all actions. All deeds are led by mind, created by mind, if one speaks or acts with a serene mind happiness follows as surely as ones shadow.

That pretty much says it, that’s how things work. Our mind is what’s driving our actions; and these things aren’t inherently good or bad. They just either lead to suffering or lead to happiness. That’s how it works.

These three non-virtues (coveting, maliciousness, and wrong views) are all like the results, the full-out expression of the three poisons. If you categorize all the afflictions down to the simplest categories, it would be three. These would be attachment, anger and ignorance. And so you’ve taken each one of those three poisonous afflictions to its fullest and what do you end up with? Coveting, maliciousness, and wrong views. These are completely mental actions or mental activity. We don’t have to do or say anything. We don’t have to move a muscle. We can do them anywhere. So it’s very important to observe the mind, and learn about the mind, and learn about these things coming up. This helps us to see how important our motivation is. These thoughts flow very rapidly through the mind. The great thing about doing meditation practice, and especially retreat, is that you really get to see your mind and you can really start working with it.

These three non-virtues can’t exist in your mind at the same time. They’re different moments of mind. The thoughts move from one to the other. In a minute you could have all three of these come up, but you aren’t going to have each of the three in one moment. That’s just how it works. They come up quite easily and they’re the motivation often times that led to other actions. Of these pathways of actions that we talked about previously, the body, the speech—and of course the mind, the mind is the hardest of the three to control. So we work first with the body, and then with the speech. It’s good to know about how this works so then we can’t be so hard on ourselves. Even the great masters, you read in the all the sutras, they talk about their mind as a wild elephant—it’s hard to control. We need to be realistic.

Of the three non-virtues of the mind, considering their weight, the worst of the three is wrong views. That’s followed by malice and then covetousness. This is said because the wrong views really set you up for everything else. In fact of the ten non-virtues, it is the worst. It’s worse than killing. Killing comes next, but wrong views are considered the worst because it sets you up for every kind of negativity.

As we’ve been talking about these ten non-virtues, we’ve been using this frame work of karma. I wanted to spend some time talking about that first. We’ve been using the four branches of what is a complete karma or a complete action. The four are: the object, the complete intention, the actual action, and the completion of the action. I just want to talk a little bit about that second one, the complete intention because there is a lot that goes on there. Remember as we’ve gone through this that complete intention has three parts. There was the correct recognition of the object, there was the motivation, and there was the affliction.

So these afflictions, these three poisonous attitudes, say for example attachment. With attachment we are superimposing something that isn’t really there or we’re exaggerating. Like when we say, “Falling in love with someone,” or “I have to have this!” or “I have to have that!” We’re thinking that there’s something there that actually isn’t really there— like there’s happiness in that thing. It’s a distortion of the mind. Our mind is deluded then.

We cling to that object as if there’s happiness in it, and that’s what’s going on with attachment.

Then with anger, it’s similar in that we’re exaggerating or superimposing. But now we’re flipping over to the negative. We see both in psychology and Nagarjuna’s Buddhist teachings, it’s pretty much 90 percent exaggeration when you’re angry. That’s how far away you are from reality. Anger has a spectrum of states like irritation and annoyance, being critical and judgmental, hostile, holding grudges, belligerence, rebellion, and rage. All of those states are categorized as anger and they are all unrealistic. They exaggerate and they project.

Then with ignorance, there are two kinds. There is this kind of foggy obscuration, the fundamental ignorance, where we’re actually projecting on to things that they’re really solid, that they exist from their own side, they’re inherently existent. And then there’s the one which is what we’re dealing with more within most of these non-virtues—which is this ignorance of cause and effect. Like what I was talking about at the very beginning, we just don’t get how things work. We don’t realize that there’s an ethical dimension to our actions, and so you may do something that you don’t think is going to have any repercussions later. It’s just like I was saying, “If I don’t get caught it doesn’t matter.” Well, that isn’t really how it works. It’s not how it works. You can think it’s that way but that isn’t how it works and that’s what the teaching about karma is about.

We’re just talking in general here. It’s interesting for me as I like to understand how the mind works. They say that any of the non-virtues, any of the ten, could be started with any of these three poisons. So things shift in your mind. You might first covet something, and you might even do that out of anger, but you’re going to end up with attachment. Some of them always end with a certain one because that’s the one that really takes you over the edge, but they could start with any of them.

They say that things like killing, harsh words, and malice are always completed with the motivation of anger, although they may start with something else. When we spend time thinking about this, it takes a while, but it’s helpful. It gives us a different kind of perspective on our actions. It helps us to understand when an action is complete and when it’s not. It’s a useful thing to know because it can help you modify your behavior. Say you can find yourself in the middle of something, and you have some sense just from learning a little bit about this that this action has parts to it. “Here I am. I’m at this part and I’m about ready to really make this complete.” You can actually have some time and some wherewithal sometimes to modify how you’re doing things because you have this understanding of karma. We’ve learn about these things and we can realize, “No, I don’t want to rejoice in these negative things. I don’t want to let my mind go there,” and you can stop yourself.

The last point for today about karma is about a result that’s similar to the cause. This has come up in the previous talks. We’ve been saying, “If I do this, then I’m going to have this experience.” It makes it sound like it’s “A” goes to “B.” But it’s really more complex than that. Everything is a dependent arising. So yes, there are these connections in our experience, but there are many factors that are contributing. Don’t take it like things are that simplistic when we say that the result is similar to the cause, as we’ve been talking about this. There are many factors that go into everything that we experience.

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