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Purifying non-virtue: Wrong views

Purifying non-virtue: Wrong views

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

  • Wrong views and why they are the considered the strongest non-virtue
  • Four branches of actions of wrong views
  • The karmic results of holding wrong views
  • Removing subtle obscurations with the simultaneous purification visualization

Vajrasattva 27: Purification of mind, part 4 (download)

The third of the mental destructive non-virtues is distorted wrong views. This means holding really strongly to cynical views that deny the existence of important things. In this context, it means pretty much that we’re denying something that’s true, or we’re asserting something to be true that actually isn’t, in fact, true. Mostly this is about philosophical beliefs and our outlook on life. It’s not about our political views or how we vote.

The non-virtue of wrong views

When they say important things here they’re talking more about your outlook on life. This would include things like denying that cause and effect exists, or that the Buddha and Dharma and Sangha exist, or that there’s the possibility of or the existence of enlightenment. As I said before, this is considered the strongest non-virtue, or I would say the worst of the ten non-virtues. This is because it sets the stage to get involved in all the other ones. With this kind of mind you can throw your sense of ethics out the window. It then gives you free rein because you’re not really seeing that there’s an effect to your actions. You’ve denied that.

In fact, even somebody I know quite well told me once that he thought everything happens randomly. That was his basic view on life—he couldn’t figure out how things worked and decided they were just random. With that kind of thinking, where you don’t see the effects of actions, then you can do all sorts of things because there are no repercussions. It’s basically the mind of, “If I don’t get caught, it’s okay.”

To have something actually be a distorted view it has to be more than a passing thought. It’s actually actively thinking about something and making real strong decisions on it. It’s not the same thing as doubt. We all bring doubt into the path. There’s a kind of doubt that’s good because it’s like an inquiring mind. Many of the things in the Dharma path we don’t really understand at first. So we might start off thinking, “Well, maybe this is the case, but I’m not so sure. I don’t really think it works that way.” But we aren’t closed. We’re just like, “Hmm, I can’t see it.” Then after we study more, we think, “Well, maybe. But I’m not really so sure.” And then after we study more, and more obscurations are removed from our mind due to our practice, we might go, “Well, maybe, I’m not so sure. But it could be so.” Our thinking progresses along that way often. That’s quite common and natural. And so, that’s a good kind of doubt to have. It makes you ask questions. It makes you get involved and participate and have a real inquiring mind. You’re hearing the teachings and thinking about them. So this is quite different from a mind that’s stubborn, strong, closed.

Four branches of karma for wrong views

When you talk about the four branches from the point of what’s a complete karma, the object is something that’s true, that exists, and that we’re denying. For example, cause and effect, or the Triple Gem, past lives, anything of an important nature. The complete intention has the recognition that you know what you’re thinking and denying, and your motivation is like, “I don’t believe this.” The affliction is ignorance. At least it always ends as ignorance. The action is like, “Oh, I don’t believe this. I definitely don’t believe in cause and effect,” that kind of thinking. And then the completion would be really deciding, “Yes, I’m absolutely certain there’s no cause and effect; and not only am I going to think that, but I’m going promote that and teach that to others.” So it’s a very firm, kind of obstinate view at that point.

Result similar to the cause for wrong views

In terms of the result similar to the cause for having wrong views, when we try to study and practice the Dharma we feel dull. This is one of the results. An example would be as if you’re going along energetically; your day’s just normal and good, and then you get into the meditation hall and “Boom,” your mind goes dull. Or you sit down, you go to a teaching and “Boom,” your mind just can’t take it in. You can’t hold it all together. That’s a karmic obscuration and that’s the result of past wrong views.


When we do these kinds of lamrim (gradual path to enlightenment) reflections we like to have conclusions that are in accord with the Dharma. I’ll leave you with two. The first one is really more my own. It’s really to think about how we need to evaluate our thoughts—because we have all kinds of thoughts. They switch back and forth. All day long they’re recurring. They’re like this one moment and another way another moment.

So with our Dharma practice our great opportunity is to identify our thoughts and to recognize, “This is when I’m being considerate of others, and this is when I’m not being considerate of others.” And, “This is what mindfulness is.” And, “This is what a real, genuine, useful kind of confidence is.” And “This is anger,” and “Now I’m holding a grudge.” Seeing these things and then evaluating them in light of the teachings.

I often think of it like pouring the teachings into me—I need to filter out, throw my thoughts through them, and just filter it out. Throw out all the stuff that needs to be abandoned and then just let the Dharma go through and try to get my thoughts in line with the Dharma. That’s one conclusion: to not be so solidly thinking that just because I think this, it’s true—especially because our thoughts change all the time.

The other one is, just from looking at these non-virtues in our lives, is to actually have a sense of relief because we’re being honest. You know, we’re being honest with ourselves. And that really is helpful to be honest about our past, to lay it open, purify things, and know that we’re getting rid of our future suffering by doing this. That’s what these things lead to. And then make this resolve to continue this purification, have constructive thoughts; and then all of it so that we’re not harming ourselves and others.

Vajrasattva simultaneous purification

In the Vajrasattva sadhana after we’ve done the purification of mind, there’s the simultaneous purification. This is when we do the three purifications of body, speech, and mind altogether. The text says:

Do the three above visualizations simultaneously. This sweeps away the subtle obscurations that prevent you from seeing correctly all that exists. Feel completely free of these obscurations.

I looked but couldn’t find a commentary about this part where they talk about the “subtle obscurations.” But in my own mind when I do this practice and I do the three simultaneously—the body, speech, and mind purifications—I feel like I’m getting rid of the stains. I couldn’t find this in a text to confirm this but that’s what I do in my own mind and practice. It’s like I’m getting rid of the gross obscurations when I do the body, speech, and mind. And then I’m getting rid of all the stains of the coarse obscurations when I do the simultaneous one. And “poof,” I’m going to be fully enlightened someday!

When you do the simultaneous purification I have been taught that you can either focus on all three visualizations at once, or sometimes you might feel like in that particular session what’s kind of up, what you’re working with, is more related to one of the three. Then you can focus on that visualization, say of the body, or the speech, or the mind more. So there are a couple of different ways to do this: You either visualize all the three visualizations at once, or you go back and focus on one.

May we all take this practice to its fullest extent, and benefit ourselves and others, and become fully enlightened someday.

Venerable Thubten Tarpa

Venerable Thubten Tarpa is an American practicing in the Tibetan tradition since 2000 when she took formal refuge. She has lived at Sravasti Abbey under the guidance of Venerable Thubten Chodron since May of 2005. She was the first person to ordain at Sravasti Abbey, taking her sramanerika and sikasamana ordinations with Venerable Chodron as her preceptor in 2006. See pictures of her ordination. Her other main teachers are H.H. Jigdal Dagchen Sakya and H.E. Dagmo Kusho. She has had the good fortune to receive teachings from some of Venerable Chodron's teachers as well. Before moving to Sravasti Abbey, Venerable Tarpa (then Jan Howell) worked as a Physical Therapist/Athletic Trainer for 30 years in colleges, hospital clinics, and private practice settings. In this career she had the opportunity to help patients and teach students and colleagues, which was very rewarding. She has B.S. degrees from Michigan State and University of Washington and an M.S. degree from the University of Oregon. She coordinates the Abbey's building projects. On December 20, 2008 Ven. Tarpa traveled to Hsi Lai Temple in Hacienda Heights California receiving bhikhshuni ordination. The temple is affiliated with Taiwan's Fo Guang Shan Buddhist order.

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