The five afflictive views
The five afflictive views
Part of a series of teachings on The Easy Path to Travel to Omniscience, a lamrim text by Panchen Losang Chokyi Gyaltsen, the first Panchen Lama.
- The four distortions cause problems in our life and underlie the root afflictions
- The five afflictive views
- View of a personal identity or jigta
- View of extremes
- Wrong views
- View holding wrong views as supreme
- View of ethical conduct and observances
Good evening, everybody. Let’s start with our meditation on the Buddha like we usually do. Before we do that, do a little bit of meditation on the breath, letting the mind relax and release at least some of the distracting thoughts by watching our breath. We’ll do that for a couple of minutes and then we’ll visualize the Buddha and do the short meditation.
In the space in front of you visualize the Buddha seated on a throne with lotus sun and moon seats. The entire visualization is made of light, very bright and beautiful. The Buddha is in the center and he’s surrounded by many different buddhas and bodhisattvas. Really feel like you’re in the presence of a great multitude of holy beings. Then reflect that you’re also sitting in the midst of a huge congregation of sentient beings all around you, as far as the eye can see, and just like us they want to be happy, they don’t want to suffer, and they’re looking for a method to alleviate their misery and bring about the peace and joy that they want. So we imagine leading them in taking refuge in the Three Jewels, as that is a way to lead them on the path to the alleviation of suffering and the attainment of peace and joy.
Then, as you’re saying the four immeasurables reflect on the meaning of the words and really wish that for them and for yourself. Then to purify and accumulate merit we do the seven limbs and the mandala offerings.
A replica of the Buddha the friend comes and sits on the crown of your head facing the same way you do and also replicas of the Buddha on the heads of all the other beings around you. We petition the merit field in front.
As we say the Buddha’s mantra, incredible light comes from the Buddha into us and into all the sentient beings. This comes from the buddhas on our head and purifies our negativities and resistance and obstacles to understanding the Dharma and brings with it an open receptive mind that understands the teachings.
Contemplating the Buddha on the crown of your head, think about the relationship to I and mine: first arises the thought that they are inherently established. Then, on the basis of this mode of apprehension of the I, arise various kinds of wrong thinking, such as attachment to what is on my side, anger towards what is on the other side, conceit that deems me superior to others. On their basis arises doubt and wrong views that deny the existence of the guide who taught selflessness, of his teaching, [and] that deny the existence of karma and its effects, the four truths of the aryas, the Three Jewels, and so forth.
Based on these all the other afflictions develop. Having accumulated karma under their influence, I am obliged to experience a wide variety of dukkha—our unsatisfactory conditions in cyclic existence. Therefore, ultimately the root of all dukkha is ignorance. Then appeal to the Guru Buddha on your head. “May I by all means attain the state of a Guru Buddha that frees me from the root of all samsara’s dukkha. For that purpose, may I correctly train in the qualities that are the three precious higher trainings. In particular, may I correctly guard the ethical disciplines to which I have committed myself even at the cost of my life, since guarding them is beneficial and failing to do so is extremely harmful.”
In response to your requesting the Guru Buddha, five-colored light and nectar stream from all the parts of his body and into you through the crown of your head. [silence] The light and nectar absorb into your body and mind and into those of all the sentient beings around you, purifying all negativities and obscurations accumulated since beginningless time [silence] and especially purifying all illnesses, interferences, negativities, and obscurations that interfere with correctly developing the good qualities that are the three higher trainings.
Then think that, having generated the aspiration to liberation, a superior realization of correct cultivation of the three higher trainings, ethical conduct, concentration, and wisdom, have arisen in your mindstream and in the mindstreams of others.
Last week we were talking about the second of the four truths of the aryas, the noble ones. The first one being true dukkha or the unsatisfactory conditions and the second being the causes or origin of that dukkha. The third and fourth are true sensations and then the path to that cessation of dukkha and its causes. In talking about the causes, we talked about attachment, our old pal attachment; our friend anger that protects us from all those horrible people; conceit; ignorance; and doubt. And then the sixth one, because the sixth from that set called the sixth root afflictions, are called afflictive views.
Before getting into afflictive views, I want to talk about what we call the four distortions, the four distorted conceptions. I’m going to read you a verse from the Anguttara Nikaya. It’s a collection of sutras. This sutra is called Distortions of Perception in the Pali canon. It says:
“Those who perceive the changing to be permanent, suffering or dukkha as bliss, a self in the selfless and those who see the foul as the mark of beauty, such folks resort to wrong views, mentally deranged, subject to illusions, caught by Mara [Mara is the personification of hindrances], not free from bonds, they are still far from the secure state. Such beings wander through the painful round of cyclic existence and go repeatedly from birth to death. But when the buddhas appear in the world, the makers of light in a mass of darkness, they reveal this teaching, the noble Dharma, that leads to the end of dukkha. When people with wisdom listen to these teachings, they at last regain their sanity. They see the impermanent as impermanent, they see the unsatisfactory as unsatisfactory, they see the selfless as empty of self and in the foul, they see the foul. By this acceptance of right view, they overcome all dukkha.”
I was talking at the beginning about these four distorted ways of seeing things. One is seeing what is changing or impermanent by nature as permanent. Second is (this is the order in the sutra) seeing what is by nature unsatisfactory as blissful, third is seeing a self in what actually lacks a self. Then the fourth one here, which is often in other listings the first one, is seeing the foul as having the mark of beauty, seeing what is foul as beautiful.
Let me describe them and you can check if you have these in your mind, and then think about how they cause you to apprehend things, how they cause you to feel the effect that that they have on your life. Let’s start actually with that fourth one, which actually comes first in many lists. In what is foul, we see beauty. This is shocking for people at the beginning. Take the body, for example. We see the body as beautiful, isn’t it?
I mean that in advertising, the body is beautiful. We do everything we can to make our body beautiful. Dye our hair and put on good clothes and try and gain weight if you’re too thin, lose weight if you’re too fat. Wear nice clothes, comb your hair in the right way. We try and make the body very, very attractive. Now not only for sexual partners, but just because we think that if our body is attractive, people will like us and if our body isn’t attractive, people won’t like us. Of course, we all want to be liked. Right? That’s true. Yes.
It’s not just high school kids that think this way, it’s adults as well. But what is the body? Is the body by its own nature something beautiful? If you look just on the outside of the body, anything that comes out of any of the bodies orifices, we want to clean away ASAP. So none of what the body produces is exceptionally lovely and if we were to peel away the skin and see what was under the skin, then is that something beautiful?
You peel it, peel it away. You see the muscles; you see the tissues. There’s the bones underneath and the ligaments. Then in your belly, you have your liver and your gallbladder, what a beautiful gallbladder, and your pancreas and your spleen and those intestines, my golly, beautiful intestines. Reminds me of that song you wrote, I should get you to sing it. And then the blood, the liver, the brain, beautiful brain, the esophagus, lungs. Beautiful or not beautiful?
Well when we look at it that way, it’s not so beautiful. But when we are cover it up with skin, then we think it’s beautiful. If you just took the skin alone and put it in a pile over here, would that skin be beautiful? When we look at people, your eyes are like diamonds and your teeth are like pearls. They’re the two eyes. Are they still so beautiful? You take the teeth out, line them up here, maybe put the eyelashes somewhere, then the hair, a clump of hair, or maybe attached to the scalp? A couple of ears, and that neck that is not flabby, when you just take the face and you put it out there, is it beautiful?
So is our usual way of relating to the body seeing it as something beautiful? Is that a correct conception? Or is that a distorted mode of apprehension? You kind of say that reluctantly destroyed it. “But really, but really, it’s beautiful.” But really when you look at it, it’s not beautiful, is it? The mind that sees these things is beautiful, is distorted, it’s not in line with reality.
Shantideva has a great section in Chapter 8 of A Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life, having you look at the body, and what is it you want to embrace in somebody else’s body? That liver, wow, that really turns me on? When you look, it’s like, what’s going on with us, so much distortion?
The second one is when you practice mindfulness of the body, this is what you hone in on and you meditate on. Seeing what is changing, what is impermanent; impermanent means not remaining the same in the second moment; and then seeing what is impermanent as unchanging, as static, as always there, secure, guaranteed, there. When we look at our friends and relatives, we think that they’re always there. Our relationships with them are permanent.
Our job is permanent, so you think, the world is permanent, and so is everything else. I mean things, they kind of change but actually they don’t. That’s the way we see things. We’re so surprised when people die, because somehow they aren’t supposed to. We thought that people were stable and eternal, so how can death happen? Even when somebody’s terminally ill for months and months, and on the day they die, people are surprised. They weren’t supposed to.
They’re supposed to always be there. Yet, all these things, because they’re produced by causes and conditions, by their very nature are changing in every split second. It causes us a lot of problems because we don’t really accept that changeable nature of things and we want everything to be stable and secure and unchanging, so let alone we’re surprised when people die. When we spill spaghetti sauce on our new furniture, we’re also surprised because somehow that new furniture is supposed to be permanently clean. You ever thought about that: how surprised we are when things change. That distortion also causes us a lot of grief and then we see things that are unsatisfactory by nature as blissful, as pleasurable.
We see eating as like, so pleasurable, but if it were really pleasurable, the more you ate, the happier you would be. Is that true? The more you eat, you just keep eating and eating and eating to get happier and happier and happier, or do you get a stomach ache? We see eating as something pleasurable, but actually by its own nature, it isn’t. Because if we keep doing it, it becomes painful.
We see going to Disneyland as pleasurable. Imagine being in Disneyland five days straight, no break, morning till night, night till morning. Is it going to be pleasurable? Are you going to be screaming for some quiet? All the things in cyclic existence that we look at, that we think will bring us pleasure: this relationship, finally the right partner, this one’s going to make me happy. We say that with every single one of them; every single one is going to be the person that we are everlastingly happy, but of course that changes after a while. Or every job is the perfect job. but again, if it were really pleasurable, then working all day and working all night you would just be happier and happier.
Something’s wrong with our perception there. We see things that by nature are not pleasurable—because if you keep doing them, they bring you outright discomfort and pain—we see them as pleasurable.
Then fourth, we see things that do not have a self as having a self. There are many definitions of what self can mean. I’m going to use the one from that Prasangika system, self here meaning inherent existence. Everything appears to us as if it has its own essence, its own inherent nature, independent of causes, conditions, parts, the mind that conceives and labels it.
We see people and things as self-enclosed, identifiable units. Yet they aren’t like that at all. Because when you search to find out what anything is, you can’t really find it. When you ask yourself, who am I? Then you go through every single identity that you’ve ever had, from girl scout to plagiarist. Every identity you have, are you that? Is your body you? Is your mind you? We can’t find any sort of identity there that we can say, this for sure is the essence of me.
Also, that misperception causes us a whole lot of problems because when we grasp onto these different identities and think, “I am that,” then when other people don’t agree that we’re that identity, or when other people don’t treat us as we think we should be treated if we have that identity, or if other people are prejudiced against that identity, then we’re up at arms about it. We get attached to, for example, “I’m American.” Therefore, everywhere I go the world should meet what I want. Or whatever ethnic group you belong to because each ethnic group has its own story about itself. I am this ethnic group, therefore other people see me like this and our ethnic group has these kinds of traits.
Then when somebody doesn’t agree with that, we get upset. Any kind of identity, if somebody is prejudiced against our ethnic group, or our gender, or our sexual orientation, or our nationality, or our religion, or anything like this, then we are very offended and hurt and enraged and we’re going to go fight back. That’s just because of thinking that I am those identities. I am this, therefore people should treat me like this. If they don’t, well by golly, I’m going to clobber them.
These four distortions cause us a lot of trouble in our lives and they set the foundation for the arising of many of the afflictions. For example, because we see what is foul, such as the body, as beautiful then we generate a lot of attachment to the body. We see things that are unsatisfactory by nature, such as romantic relationships, [as satisfactory]. Now you’re going to look at me like romantic relationships are not unsatisfactory by nature, they’re wonderful. If they were wonderful, then how come Hollywood makes so many movies about them and the people are always fighting. If they’re so wonderful, how come the divorce rate is so high? We see things that are unsatisfactory by nature as being pleasurable and then again we suffer as a result of it.
As we see things that are by nature arising and ceasing, disintegrating in each moment, like our body getting older every moment but yet we see it as permanent. Then that causes us a lot of grief too because when we look in the mirror and we’re old, it’s such a surprise. “How did this happen to me? That only happened to my parents and grandparents, but now they’re all dead and I’m the oldest generation, oh my golly what’s happening? I remember being the kids’ generation. But now all the kids look at me and I’m part of the dinosaurs.”
Not accepting change and impermanence also causes us much unhappiness. When things change and we don’t expect that change or want that change, we’re unhappy. Then afflictions arise, things change that we don’t want, we’re unhappy because we’re attached to those things, so we get angry. Or we get jealous of people who still have those things because impermanence hasn’t happened there but not grossly for them yet. They still think that they have it. We get jealous, or we get arrogant because we think we have something better than others because we’re thinking that what is by nature unsatisfactory is fantastic. Then we get proud of our career over our music ability or athletic ability or artistic ability, whatever ability we have—we get arrogant over that.
Audience: Is the feeling aggregate perceived as a positive when it are not necessarily?
Venerable Thubten Chodron (VTC): No, the feeling aggregate just experiences pleasure, displeasure, and neutrality, but with all these four distortions, it’s the mental. I mean, it’s not just the consciousness aggregate because it’s actually that there are elements of the other aggregates in there too because you have attention and some concentration and then there’s feeling and discrimination. So there’s other things in there too, to make that whole distortion.
These distortions lay the foundation for the afflictions and then we can see in our life when the afflictions come up, then we act. and because the afflictions are disturbing, because they are not based on an accurate perception of reality, then the actions we do are not actually fitting for the situation because they’re not based on a real sense of the reality of the situation. Then a lot of negative karma can ensue.
Sometimes there’s some positive karma we create as well, but very easy to have the negative karma and then that becomes the source for the different situations we encounter in which we experience grief and distress and so forth. This kind of teaching can be a little bit shocking, it doesn’t match our image of, I’m a happy carefree person. When we look, it’s true, don’t you think?
Spend some time really thinking about these four and see if you have these four distorted minds, or apprehensions or conceptions in your mind and then see how they function in your life. Then we get some from that, we get some energy to be free of them because we see the pain they bring us. Then that gives us the wish to be free of cyclic existence, the renunciation of being born again and again and again in a body and mind like this, that are caused by ignorance, afflictions, and polluted karma.
You can make this kind of teaching depressing or you can realize that this is the way things are, whether you accept it, whether you like it or not. It’s like, this is the way it is. There’s no sense getting depressed about it. There is some sense about trying to counteract it and so then we go about learning the Dharma and the Dharma methods and how to understand reality correctly because that will help us counteract these distorted mental states. Now we’re going to go back to the afflictive views. We finished deluded doubt last time, didn’t we? Now we’re going to go back to the afflictive views.
The six root afflictions that we’ve been going through and the four distortions [that] underlie them—these six can be categorized into views and non-views. Some of these six are views, they are ways of perceiving or apprehending ourselves and the things around us, and other ones are non-views and they’re more emotional. For example, attachment, anger, conceit, doubt, these things are more on the emotional side. Ignorance is more on the view side, but some people don’t consider it so much a view, they just see it as an obscuration in general—cloudiness—so for them, part of it may be like a little bit on the non-view side.
The first one is called the view of a personal identity. Some people translate this—actually, the Sanskrit term is very difficult to translate accurately—but view of personal identity is kind of okay. When they translated the term into Tibetan, they really changed it so so that when the Tibetan term is translated into English, it means view of the perishing aggregates. Whether you hear view of the perishing aggregates, or sometimes view of the transitory collection, meaning the collection of aggregates, or view of a personal identity, they’re all referring to this first one, the Tibetan term for it is jigta. That’s easy to remember, not so many words.
Then the second of the afflictive views is the view of extremes.
Fourth is the view holding wrong views as supreme.
Audience: The fifth is?
VTC: Rules and practices or it could be precepts and observances, or the Tibetans call it, I forget how they translate it sometimes. These five are not reliable cognizers, they misapprehend things. However, because they have their own kind of “logic” (and logic is in quotation marks here), they develop their own erroneous convictions that they’re sure are true because they use reasoning, even though it’s incorrect reasoning, and because they distinguish their object and know its qualities, even though they misapprehend the object.
These afflictive views are—actually they have a term for them—afflictive intelligence, or afflictive wisdom. It sounds really weird when you translate it into English because how can you have afflictive intelligence, or afflictive wisdom? Intelligence should be correct, and wisdom should be correct, but it’s because these use reasoning, because they distinguish their object and know something about it, even though they misapprehend it, it’s an afflictive or deluded form of intelligence or wisdom.
They are not emotions, so to speak, and you can see that a view is different from an emotion. In Buddhism, when you talk about all these different mental factors, though they throw emotions and views and attitudes and mental factors that perform other all sorts of different functions, they throw them all together, they’re all considered mental factors.
Sometimes it’s interesting when you have Western psychologists dialoguing with Buddhist practitioners, because in Buddhism when they talk about the mind and these mental factors, it’s done from the perspective of what causes cyclic existence and what brings liberation from the psychological view. They don’t usually talk about views when they talk about minds that make you unhappy, they talk about emotions and not that they don’t necessarily see the kind of views that underlay the emotions.
Like if you went to a therapist, would they say “You’re seeing the impermanent as permanent, you’re seeing the foul as beautiful, and what is unsatisfactory by nature as satisfactory, what doesn’t have a self as having a self?” Would your therapist question your perceptions or your emotions at that level? No.
Audience: They may even argue if you brought it up.
VTC: Yes, they may even argue if you brought it up. And also when they’re talking about emotions, they see all those emotions usually as, you take those for granted. That’s what being a human being means, you have some greed, you have attachment, you have anger and resentment and arrogance, and all these things.
Mental health is just learning to navigate those so that they don’t go in the direction of being extreme and overpowering, but having a little bit of them, each of them is normal and natural, and maybe even beneficial because if you’re not attached to your own welfare, people are going to step on you. If you’re angry, anger lets you think that’s something good and helps you defend yourself. And if you’re conceited, okay don’t go to extremes, but kind of be happy that you’re better than other people. It’s a very different take so we shouldn’t confuse therapy and Buddhist psychology.
Anyway, back to the views. Ignorance, when we talk about ignorance according to the Prasangikas, ignorance has two aspects. Part of it is a non-view. Part of it is the view. The part that is the non-view, is just ignorance obscuring, the mind cannot see things clearly. There’s obscuration, it’s clouded. It can’t discern things clearly. That’s the part of ignorance that’s a non-view. The part that is a view is that the ignorance not only is obscured regarding reality, but it actively apprehends things as existing in the opposite way from how they really exist. Ignorance is definitely a view and it’s a completely upside down one, because it perceives the opposite of reality.
Let’s go through these five views:
“The view of the personal identity, it’s an afflictive intelligence which having apprehended the nominally or conventionally existent I or mine grasps the I or mind to exist inherently.”
Sometimes we talk about the two self-graspings: self-grasping of persons, and self-grasping of phenomena. Both of those fall under the category of ignorance, but view of a personal identity is a specific form of self-grasping of persons. Self-grasping of persons is a mental factor or mental state that looks at all persons and grasps them as inherently existent.
View of a personal identity from the Prasangika view only looks at oneself and grasps oneself as inherently existent. Why do we want to actually free ourselves from all self-grasping, be it self-grasping of phenomena, things that are not persons, or self-grasping of persons? The one that is the most troublesome for us is this view of a personal identity because this is the one that says, “me” or “I”, or “mine” or “my.”
This is because what we’re grasping at here is our own I and mine. It becomes a very loaded mental state. We don’t get nearly as worked up about what happens to other people as what happens to us, do we? That beautiful person who’s going to bring me everlasting happiness is truly existent, but when it comes down to it, who’s most important? Who do I think about day and night? Me, I and this I, me and mine, all of them are grasped as having their own essential identity, own essential existence.
The way this mind arises is first to have the appearance of the aggregates, our body and mind. In persons and phenomena our aggregates are considered phenomena. So we talk of the five aggregates: form, feeling, discrimination, volitional factors, and consciousness. Those five appear, or any of those five appear, then on the basis of that, we give the label I and there’s nothing wrong with that because the I is something imputed in dependence upon the body and mind, but then we are not satisfied with just a merely imputed I, just a nominally existent I.
We think that I has its own nature from its own side, it’s independent of everything else and we apprehend it that way. That’s this view of a personal identity, looking at the I, and here I is referring to the agent, the one who’s doing things, I’m walking, I’m talking, I’m seeing things, I’m evolving in cyclic existence, I’ve attained liberation, that I.
When we talk about mine, mine is a funny kind of concept, because mine is like the owner of the aggregates. It’s still got to be a person. Usually when we say mine, we think of the aggregates, the aggregates are mine, the body is mine, the feelings are mine. Here it’s not talking quite that way. It’s mine as like the owner. So mine is also as a person, the person in the form of the owner and we’re very attached to the I that does things and the mine that holds on to everything, that owns everything.
Among the different tenet systems, they don’t all agree on what the view of a personal identity is. Some of them say that what the focal object of this view is the aggregates and the Prasangika say actually, the focal object is the nominally existent person, it’s not the aggregates. Some of the tenet systems say, when it comes to grasping what the view is perceiving, the view is perceiving a substantially existent person, or a self-sufficient substantially existent person. The Prasangika say, no, it’s perceiving a truly existent or inherently existent person. There’s a lot of debate here. It gets really kind of interesting and juicy because according to how you define what this mental factor is, that’s going to influence how you meditate on emptiness.
What is the object of negation when you’re meditating on emptiness? Is it a self-sufficient substantially existent person? Is it a permanent partless independent person? Is it an inherently existent person? It’s going to influence that.
Then the next, the second one is “the view of extremes.” This second afflictive view, which is an afflictive intelligence, refers to the self apprehended by the view of the personal identity.
That in the view of the Prasangikas our inherently existent self and holds that self to be permanent and eternal, or it gets completely extinguished and becomes nonexistent at death. This view of extremes is focused on what the view of a personal identity is apprehending. Like there’s a real me, or there’s a real soul, or there’s a real controller that’s me. Whatever you’re defining, whatever you’re clinging on to in the view of the personal identity. And then you think that that one at the time of death, either is eternal and permanent, and goes on into the next life without changing without any break and is actually the same person in the next life as it is in this life.
Or, flip view, you think at the time of death, the person completely becomes nonexistent. You see those two views in society a lot, don’t you? Most, theistic religions, there’s a soul and what’s interesting in many of them, it’s like the soul is the body and that’s why you don’t cremate in Judaism and Islam, you do not cremate because, and some branches of Christianity you don’t cremate, because on the day of resurrection or whatever it is, your body which is you gets resurrected, and you are there again, just as you were in this life before you died. That’s the view of heaven, isn’t it?
It’s kind of you’re the same person with the same family for eternity. Is that heaven or is that hell? I’m not sure, but somehow you’re exactly the same in the next life. That’s wrong view, you can’t be exactly the same in the next life or the way this view functions, if you can’t be exactly the same person in the next life, then it’s because who you are now completely disintegrates, you are finished, nonexistent at death.
What’s missing in this view is the idea of a continuity, that there can be a continuity of the person without the person in the future life being exactly the same person, as the person in this life. It’s a continuity of this person but it’s not the same person, but you find these two views a lot: theistic religions, there’s an eternal person who never goes out of existence, science, some scientific views, materialistic views. When there’s death, there’s death, finished, nothing. Here your brain at the time of death, your brain ceases, you cease, finished, there’s no continuity of the person. Here we have right in our very own society, these two wrong views, that people really grasp at, very, very strongly, and debate over and argue over.
Then the third one wrong view is an afflictive intelligence that either denies the existence of something that exists or asserts the existence of something that does not exist. Here it’s not talking about kind of superficial things, but actual like the Three Jewels. For example, the Three Jewels exist, but this view denies the existence of the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha don’t exist, full awakening does not exist or this view asserts the existence of something that doesn’t exist, like, people are inherently selfish forever and ever.
According to these kinds of views that people hold, it really shapes one’s whole way of relating to the world, whole way of thinking about yourself, whole way of living, it affects your ethical conduct and so on. Because for example, if you think there’s no such thing as awakening, and people are inherently selfish, then are you going to try and overcome your self-centeredness? No. Are you going to do a spiritual practice aimed at awakening? No. Are you going to have a view of sentient beings that is positive, that sentient beings actually have great potential or are you going to have a view that sentient beings are inherently selfish, full of ignorance, anger, and attachment? And there’s no way to free them from it? Yes, this is really going to influence how you see the world, isn’t it?
If you have the view that people are just inherently selfish, and they’re always going to have anger in them, they’re always going to have attachment, it’s futile to try and liberate them because those things are inherent parts of people, then your whole way of relating to people is going to be very different than if you think that these people have the potential to become fully awakened because you’re going to look at every sentient being and just think that they’re all hopeless, a hopeless case.
You’re going to think you yourself are a hopeless case. Then you’re going to get depressed because there’s nothing that can be done about our state of existence, because this is who we inherently are. These kinds of views can really influence our life very strongly, whereas if you see people as having the Buddha nature, the potential to become fully awakened, then even if they do outrageous things, you think okay, but that’s not who they really are. They can purify that, they can be completely different. That’s not the real nature. Then your whole attitude towards people is much more hopeful, much more positive.
Whereas if you think they’re full of all these afflictions, they’re all terrorists, so they can’t be anything but terrorists. The only thing you do is kill him. Views are only thoughts, but boy are they powerful ones! Another wrong view is there are no past or future lives. Now the difficulty with that one is that if we think there’s no past and future lives, then we’re also likely to think that there’s no such thing as karma and its effects. In other words, what I do now is not going to have any effect on me after I die because it doesn’t exist, or I won’t even exist after I die.
You have the second one, the extreme view, I won’t even exist. What I do now is not going to effect what happens after I die. What use is ethical conduct? Well, ethical conduct is helpful for having a good reputation. I can put on a good show of looking like I’m ethical, but actually going around getting everything I want, and harming other people while I’m doing it and that doesn’t matter so much because anyway, they’re inherently stupid, sentient beings, no use caring about them and my actions are not going to have any kind of results after I die, so long as I don’t get caught by the police, doesn’t matter what I do.
I mean, how many people before they go off and have an affair with somebody who’s already in a relationship, how many of them think this could impact how I die and where I’m reborn? Nobody thinks like that. The image of the potential of pleasure is so strong, people don’t think about that. Yet, that kind of action is really going to influence what we’re reborn as.
Most times, when people get involved in negative actions, they aren’t thinking of the long-term results of their actions because just the present situation seems so overpoweringly real, thinking of even in this life going to prison doesn’t even enter the mind because the view of this life is so strong, the greed is so strong, the anger is so strong. And the wrong views are just there supporting it: it doesn’t matter what I do as long as I don’t get caught, it’s okay. I used to think like that. Did you think like that? I did a lot of terrible things under the influence of that view.
I’m going to read you a little part from The Supreme Net Sutra also called the Brahmajala Sutra. This is also in the Pali canon, where the Buddha talks about there being 62 kinds of wrong views. Actually there are not just 62, but he categorizes them in there so that the sutra at least had an end and didn’t keep going and going.
- There are the eternalists, who proclaim the eternity of the self in the world. So the self continues unchanged, the world continues unchanged.
- Those who are partly eternalists, and partly non-eternalist, who proclaim the partial eternity and the partial non-eternity of the self and the world. Half, half.
- The finitists and the infinitists, who proclaim the finitude or infinitude of the world. People can get really hung up with the words finite and infinite.
- There’s also the non-eternalists who say nothing, nothing exists.
- Then there’s a group called the ear wigglers who resort to evasive statements: well, it’s not like this, not exactly like that.
- Then there’s another group called the chance or rigidness, who proclaim the chance origin of the self and the world is very scientific, random. No cause, just random arising of things.
- Then there are those who are speculators about the past, having fixed views about the past. Of course, those having fixed views about the present and fixed views about the future.
- Those who claim the doctrine of conscious post-mortem survival and those who proclaim the doctrine of unconscious post-mortem survival.
- Those who proclaim the doctrine of neither consciousness nor unconsciousness, post-mortem survival.
- The annihilationist who proclaim the annihilation, destruction, and non-existence of beings.
- There are those that say, there’s one supreme, cosmic mind and we’re all chips off the old block.
- There are those who say that there’s one primal substance that we’re all created out of. There are any kind of number of views, infinite views.
- There are those who are proclaimers of Nirvana here and now.
The Buddha, when he talked about the eternalist views, things go on, and then the nihilistic views, he also talked about three different kinds of them, we put them all in three different categories. There are many kinds.
- One that denies the continuity of the person after death. At death time, finished, no person, darkness.
- That’s it, one kind of nihilism that denies the existence of constructive and destructive actions, that says that our actions have no ethical dimension to them whatsoever.
- Then one that denies that things come about due to causes, and due to concordant causes. A concordant cause is a cause that has the ability to produce that kind of event, or that kind of thing. Some people deny causality, it’s just random, it’s just chance due to causes.
The Buddha didn’t call these wrong views because they contradicted his ideas. He’s not that egotistical but because these views were based on misunderstanding, misapprehension, limited knowledge, distorted ways of thinking and because these kinds of views lead people to do a lot of negative actions or to have a view on life that is really unhealthy and makes you very unhappy.
Then the fourth of these wrong views is the view of holding wrong views as supreme. This one is a view that thinks that all the wrong views, it’s an afflictive intelligence again, that regards any or all of the first three views, the view of the personal aggregate, view of the extremes and wrong views, as correct and the best view to have. It’s a view that’s kind of proud of your wrong views. Because it’s really foolish, isn’t it to be proud of our wrong views and yet we meet many people who are.
It’s like, “This is what I believe, and I’m sure it’s right. You people who believe in past and future lives here, are just living in la la land, there’s no proof for it.” Then you start talking about reasons, you start reasoning, you start talking about cases of people remembering, “Oh, no, that’s just all made up.”
Then the fifth, wrong view, the fifth afflictive view, is view of ethical conduct and observances or view of, what did I say before, rules and practices? This is a view that holds bad ethics and modes of conduct as supreme. It’s a view that is mistaken about what is constructive and destructive. So, for example, people who think animal sacrifice is the way to create merit, you kill these animals and offer them to the gods and that’s the way to create merit and the way to be happy. It’s the wrong view about ethical conduct.
Or people who think that dying in battle against the heretics is virtuous, and is going to lead you to heaven, being a martyr. There are so many martyrs nowadays, aren’t there, of almost any religion. “I’m willing to die for my religion and if I kill other people who were averse to my religion, then I even create more good karma and I’m definitely going to get reborn in heaven.” I mean, what kind of horrible wrong view is that? That’s definitely a wrong view about ethical conduct, isn’t it? Because they’re thinking that, like, that guy from ISIS, who’s beheading people? He thinks he’s creating virtue. He thinks he’s doing something good for the world. I mean, this is what afflictive intelligence does, what wrong views and ignorance do to us.
Or in ancient India, and even nowadays, too, there may be people with some kind of limited clairvoyance. They’ll see that so-and-so in a previous life was a dog, now they’re a human being. Then they’ll draw the conclusion, “Oh, being a dog, and acting like a dog, is the cause for being born as a human being”.
At the time of the Buddha, there would be human beings, some of these recluses, wanderers, renunciates from other sects, who would act like dogs. They would come and visit the Buddha crawling on all fours, eat by putting their nose down like dogs eat, they would curl up in a ball, the way dogs curl. Instead of sitting down and talking to the Buddha, like a human, they will curl up in the dirt.
Even nowadays, you have people in India standing on one foot for years, or keeping a hand raised above their head for years, people who do very severe ascetic practices, I mean in the church the way it used to be self-flagellation, thinking that that purified one’s sins or stopped your afflictions or something like that. All these kind of wrong views about ethical conduct about precepts and observances.
Or you get people like the Brahmins, who are very meticulous about how they do a ceremony and it’s like, the value of the ceremony is, you have to pronounce all the words correctly, the melody has to be correct. You can’t forget anything, so very kind of almost fundamentalist about how you do a ceremony. The value of the ceremony is not about transforming your mind. It’s in how well and accurately you do the ceremony.
Or people who think that drinking blessed water is going to purify you of your negativities. Now, you’re going to say, “Oh, wait a minute. We just did that during Nyung Ne anyway, whoo. The water got passed out and we drank it. We’re supposed to think that all of our afflictions are gone. All of our cognitive obscurations are gone. Are you sure that’s not this one, this afflictive intelligence?” Well, except the difference is that we’re imagining this. Now granted, some Buddhists do have this wrong view. That’s why, at certain initiations or whatever, they will climb over other people to get to the water.
When there is a White Tara initiation, and they pass out the longevity pills, people go crazy. Actually, these pills are meant to help you meditate as an accessory to your meditation, to help you think in a certain way, but people misapprehend. They think, “Oh, that pill in and of itself, if I get that pill, I am going to live to be 100.” There are all sorts of wrong views. I can’t say that all Buddhists are immune to these. Not the case.
Audience: Then why are we using them?
VTC: Because when you when you take one of those pills, if you think, “this was made by my teacher, and this was blessed with recitation of a lot of mantras,” you think, “oh, then it has some special energy.” Whether it has special energy or not is irrelevant, because this is a tool that’s helpful to you. You think it has some special energy and then when you eat it, you imagine the negative karma that would make you have a sudden death, that would be negative karma that would prevent you from living your whole karmic lifespan in this body, you think that’s purified.
Then you think of wrong deeds that you might have done to shorten your life and you think, I’m very sorry, and I purify those kinds of things. You imagine yourself filled with light. It becomes a whole meditation that changes your mind. That’s very different than thinking this physical object has some special power. It’s like our blessing cord. Where’s my blessing cord? The idea behind a blessing cord is that it has a knot in it, and you think the knot represents emptiness and dependent arising and it makes you think about that. When you tie the two parts, the ends of the string together, you think about wisdom and compassion.
As one lama put it, we call this a protection cord, actually because the wisdom thinking about dependent arising and emptiness and the mind thinking about wisdom and compassion, they are our real protection. That’s what really is going to protect us. He said, “If you think this cord is going to protect you, you’ve got it all wrong. You have to protect this cord because otherwise it’s going to fall off and it’s going to get shredded and it’s going to get dirty. Don’t think that it’s going to protect you; you have to protect it.”
VTC: Oh, the different afflictive views that we have all have their different objects. The first one’s focused on the nominally existent I, the second one’s focused on that wrong conception, the third one’s focused on the Three Jewels or something like that. The one that is supreme views is focused on all the other wrong views and says they’re the best way to think.
Audience: It’s being mistaken and proud.
Audience: It’s believing a mistaken view without doubt.
VTC: [laughter] I think there’s actually a lot of debate within Buddhism, about the first one, the view of a personal identity and some people say that the Prasangikas are nihilists because they don’t. These people don’t understand the Prasangika view so they think that because the Prasangika negate an inherently existent person, that then there’s nothing, there’s no person at all that exists.
Actually, that’s not what the Prasangikas are saying and that’s not what is entailed by negating inherent existence, but based on their misunderstanding, then they think the Prasangikas are nihilists. Yes, so there’s a lot of debate. I mean, from the time in ancient India until now, [there’s been] debate and discussion about these kinds of things and the debate and discussion is seen as a really healthy thing because it helps you think, it helps you grow, it helps the tradition expand and really think about things instead of adhering to some kind of dogmatic view as well. The Buddha said this, it’s true, no use discussing it because it’s right. No, that’s not the Buddhist way.
Audience: [inaudible] I am wondering how you can do good deeds and virtues to overcome these wrong views.
VTC: His Holiness, sometimes in the West, will tell people, there’s no need to become Buddhist, you can practice your own religion and sometimes he even recommends that, but be a good Christian or good Jew or a good Muslim or good Hindu or good Zoroastrian and keep good ethical conduct. And so you’re asking, that helps them keep good ethical conduct because as they say, if sentient beings are created in God’s image or Allah’s image or whatever, then if you treat sentient beings well, it’s a way of respecting God or Allah. That helps some people to develop kindness and to not harm other living beings and that really benefits them.
You’re saying at the same time, they’re getting more and more familiar with the wrong views, such as how there is a creator god? So what’s the story here? I think in this specific case, because the people, if they believe in a creator, it prevents them from doing so much negative karma and it helps them to create so much positive karma, that that outweighs the detrimental influence of habituating yourself with a negative view or with a wrong view because it’s considered far worse, to be nihilistic than it is to be theistic because somebody who says, there’s no karma, there are no past and future lives, they’re going to go to anything and not think at all of the ethical ramifications of their actions. Whereas the person who believes in a creator god, then they will modify their actions and try and restrain some of their impulses in order to please God and that benefits them. So they say, if you have to choose between being an eternalist or an absolutist and being a nihilist, be an eternalist, don’t be a nihilist.
Audience: [inaudible] For some people, that is confusing. It confuses them more, it is not good for them.
VTC: Right. Some people, if you start undermining their idea about God, they become very confused and it’s not at all good for them. So many times, people ask me, “I’m helping a friend or a relative who believes in another religion, what do I do?” and I say, “You talk according to the tenets of that religion, because that’s what the person has faith with. That’s what they’re familiar with, that will help them to have a positive mental state when they die and that’s what they need when they die is a positive mental state.”
Audience: [inaudible] I talk to my mother about that, but when I talk to her I create more chaos. I don’t have a connection to her and I just want to do nothing.
VTC: Yes. That’s why, if people aren’t receptive, then it doesn’t do much good to talk to them about specifically Buddhist ideas. What I always do in that kind of situation is I talk about the parts in Buddhism that agree with what that person already believes and they say, “Do you believe in God” and I don’t look at that question. I say, “we practice ethical conduct, and we believe in being kind and we believe in forgiving others, and we believe in having compassion” and then people have a good view of Buddhism, and they’re kind of encouraged in their own spiritual practice.
Audience: [inaudible] Can you talk about a little bit how ignorance perceives all these things.
VTC: They say that ignorance accompanies all these mind states in the sense that none of these afflictive mental states are going to rise unless ignorance is there. Unless there’s this basic misapprehension of how we exist, how phenomena exist, then you aren’t going to get the arising of all these other afflictions. Ignorance isn’t always manifest, but almost always. Remember that you can have ignorance manifest, and still have a virtuous mind that ignorance itself is not nonvirtuous because you see, at our level, when we think of creating merit, “I want to create merit”, there can be some I-grasping in there, but it can still be a virtuous mental state. That karma is still polluted karma because it will ripen as a rebirth in samsara, but it’s definitely virtuous, even though there’s the self-grasping underlying it.
Audience: [inaudible:] How do we know when we have distorted views?
VTC: How do we know when we have distorted views? The problem is that sometimes we believe so much in something that we’re totally unaware. If you have some faith in the Buddha’s teachings, and you learn about the four distortions and the five afflictive views and you think about them, and you make many examples of them from your life, so that you really understand what these things are, then there’s a better chance when you have one of them, that you’ll say, “Oh, this is what I was contemplating after I heard that teaching.”
If you don’t contemplate this teaching, and you just take your notes and don’t study them, or you don’t even take notes, or you don’t even think about it afterwards, then it’s going to be very hard to identify those wrong views. So that’s why it’s really good to think about these things and make many examples, either from your own way of thinking or think of the wrong views that you see in the world around you and even sometimes in your family and friends.
Audience: [inaudible] How can we stop grasping at self and what psychological tools can we use to navigate life?
VTC: Compare and contrast in 25 words or less. The grasping at self, and then the healthy sense of self. As His Holiness often says, that to practice the bodhisattva path, you need a healthy sense of self. You need to have self-confidence. You can have self-confidence without having self-grasping. For us, when we just have a sense of our own confidence in our own good abilities, and we’re not conceited or arrogant about it, we just recognize what is there as being there. Then we’re still not free of ignorance, but we have a healthy self-confidence.
When we look at our good qualities, and we get kind of egotistical about them, “I’m really better than other people when it comes to this and I have an advantage over other people because I’m smarter” and this kind of thing, then that’s definitely going to be afflictive views, ignorance. It just depends on the extent to which you are reifying the self. At our level, not having realized emptiness, we don’t see the self as a dependent arising so we may not have a correct view of the self, but there are three ways to view the self: one is as inherently existent; one is as empty and like an illusion, and one is neither.
Seeing the self as inherently existent is grasping at the me, grasping at the I. That one is held by sentient beings, but not held by buddhas and not present in the mind of aryas in meditative equipoise. The second view, seeing the self as empty or as like an illusion—that is only in buddhas or in aryas, those who have realized emptiness directly. Then the one which is neither, is just a mixture of the conventionally existent self with an inherently existent self, but you’re not grasping that self as inherently existent.
So it’s the way that you see the I when you’re just sitting somewhere and there’s no strong emotion and you just say, “I’m sitting” and there’s no strong emotion, there’s no strong anything and you’re “I’m sitting” or “I’m walking.” That way of viewing the I as reliable—you can distinguish a person and on the basis of that you can create some good karma by generating, saying I want to create merit and I want to practice the Dharma. So you can do that without grasping at an inherently existent person.
VTC: I’m not familiar with those. Maybe if the person can send me some more information and explanation about that, then I can help interpret that for them. So, we end? Okay.
Venerable Thubten Chodron
Venerable Chodron emphasizes the practical application of Buddha’s teachings in our daily lives and is especially skilled at explaining them in ways easily understood and practiced by Westerners. She is well known for her warm, humorous, and lucid teachings. She was ordained as a Buddhist nun in 1977 by Kyabje Ling Rinpoche in Dharamsala, India, and in 1986 she received bhikshuni (full) ordination in Taiwan. Read her full bio.