Negligence vs. diligence

The last of the imperfections (defilements) of the mind is negligence. The Pali word is pamāda, meaning heedlessness or negligence. It’s opposite is appamāda, meaning heedfulness, diligence, or zeal — the cornerstone of all skillful mental states.

So to counteract negligence, diligence must be applied to all of the previously mentioned defilements of the mind. If we are diligent, we know when the imperfections are present and we can look for ways to work with them so they don’t overwhelm us. If we are negligent, the defilements use our minds as playgrounds. Every time we interrupt or block a defilement, we strengthen our wisdom. Every time we allow a defilement to roam freely in our minds, that defilement is strengthened.

Vigilance is the path to the Deathless,
Negligence the path to death.
The vigilant do not die;
The negligent are as if already dead. (21)

Through effort, vigilance,
Restraint, and self-control,
The wise person can become an island
No flood will overwhelm. (25)

Unwise, foolish people
Give themselves over to negligence.
The wise
Protect vigilance as the greatest treasure. (26)

- Dhammapada verses, translated by Gil Fronsdal

The Buddha praised diligence for its ability to support the essential ingredients of awakening, the five spiritual faculties:

Bhikkhus, when a bhikkhu is established in one thing, the five faculties are developed, well developed in him. In what one thing? In diligence.
And what, bikkhus, is diligence? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu guards the mind against the taints and against tainted states. While he is guarding the mind thus, the faculty of faith goes to fulfilment by development; the faculty of energy…the faculty of mindfulness…the faculty of concentration…the faculty of wisdom goes to fulfilment by development.
It is in this way, bhikkhus, that when a bhikkhu is established in one thing, the five faculties are developed, well developed in him.

- SN 48.56, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

So, the mental activity of “guarding the mind” is key to making progress against our own defilements. When we bring this knowledge to mind again and again, we are doing the work of awakening.

The Buddha’s final words in this world were about diligence:
All conditioned things are subject to decay. Strive on with heedfulness.
- from DN 16, translated by John Kelly

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (māna)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Vanity

Vanity defined: Excessive pride in or admiration of one’s own appearance or achievements; narcissism.

There are so many things about which we can be vain: youth, health, physical beauty, academic accomplishments, particular talents, family heritage, social skills, etc. We can easily grab onto a quality that we consider special and build an identity around it. Then we have to keep the idea of our greatness intact with regular reinforcement and defense against criticism. Vanity can act as a wall between ourselves and others.

Being vain about anything requires that we participate in “comparing mind”.

…The Blessed One then said to Sona the householder’s son:
Sona, when any ascetics and brahmins, on the basis of form – which is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change – regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior’, or ‘I am equal’, or ‘I am inferior’, what is that due to apart from not seeing things as they really are?
When any ascetics and brahmins, on the basis of feeling…[repeated as above. Also on the bases of perception, volitional formations, and consciousness]…regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior’, or ‘I am equal’, or ‘I am inferior’, what is that due to apart from not seeing things as they really are?

Sona, when any ascetics and brahmins do not, on the basis of form – which is impermanent, suffering, and subject to change – regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior’, or ‘I am equal’, or ‘I am inferior’, what is that due to apart from seeing things as they really are?
When any ascetics and brahmins do not, on the basis of feeling…[repeated as above; likewise with perception, volitional formations, and consciousness] regard themselves thus: ‘I am superior’, or ‘I am equal’, or ‘I am inferior’, what is that due to apart from seeing things as they really are?

…Therefore, Sona, any kind of form [feeling, perception, volitional formations, or consciousness] whatsoever, whether past, future, or present, internal or external, gross or subtle, inferior or superior, far or near, all form [feeling, perception, mental formations, consciousness] should be seen as it really is with correct wisdom thus: ‘This is not mine, this I am not, this is not my self.’
- from SN 22.49, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

So we are invited to check ourselves: how often do thoughts of our superiority or inferiority arise? How deeply do we believe these thoughts when they come up? Can we see that the activity of separating ourselves from others with this attitude is a product of not understanding how things are in the world? Anything that we lay claim to is a form of grasping and will lead to unhappiness.

Again, one remedy is humility; not that we are in any way less than anyone else, but that we are not competing with anyone. We are only trying to be present and open, with all of our attention, right now. And right now. And right now.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (māna)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Arrogance vs. humility

“There are two kinds of pride, both good and bad. ‘Good pride’ represents our dignity and self-respect. ‘Bad pride’ is the deadly sin of superiority that reeks of conceit and arrogance.”
- author John C. Maxwell

Arrogance is the third to last quality that the Buddha identified as an imperfection or defilement of the mind. Depending on where we spend our time, and with whom, we may encounter arrogance often or rarely. Some environments may exacerbate the tendency to arrogance that most of us harbor; other environments may bring out our humbler tendencies.

Some years ago, I had a dramatic awakening to my own arrogance. The scene: a scheduled lunch date with the proprietor of a small services company. I knew that the vendor had hoped to lunch with someone else who had more control over whether his firm would be contracted by my office. As time passed and it became clear to me that this fellow wasn’t going to turn up, I fumed. I ordered my lunch, steam (figuratively) rising from my ears, and the thought popped into my head: “He’s a nobody, he’s nothing.” Immediately after that thought arose, a powerful stench appeared, as if from nowhere; it clearly had nothing to do with the external environment. The odor made me gag, and I understood it to be generated by my angry, dismissive thought. The arrogance in my mind at that moment almost made me vomit.

It’s fair to say that I came by my arrogance honestly, both through genetics and early environmental factors. It is only thanks to the Buddha’s teachings and practice that I was able to recognise and release that particular defilement. It’s still there as a residue, but it’s not permitted mind-space anymore.

What’s the opposite of arrogance? What quality can we cultivate to counteract our karmic tendency to arrogance (if any)? There may be other remedies, but the general direction we want to move in is towards humility. If we remember that every person, regardless of their skills, attractiveness, health or any other factor, deserves our respect and politeness, we will be doing well.

Reverence and humility,
Contentment and gratitude,
Timely hearing of the Dhamma;
This is the greatest blessing.

from SN II.4, translated by John Kelly

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (māna)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Conceit

Conceit (“māna” in Pali) has a special meaning in the Buddha’s teachings; it has a broader and more profound definition than “stuck up”. Conceit is the delusion that our experiences ARE ourselves, and that our self has boundaries and substance and continuity. According to the Pali canon, conceit is the last defilement to fall away before full awakening. Freedom from this delusion is an insight into anattā, that is, the fact that any idea of a self we might claim is insubstantial and temporary.

This is an advanced lesson, so I hope if you find it more confusing or upsetting than interesting, you’ll just skim it and file it away for later investigation.

At the root of conceit is our strong tendency to mentally create and re-create, incessantly re-create, our sense of self. If we pause in this self-creating activity, even briefly, the self disappears entirely, and at some point we notice this disappearance and easily start up the I-making again. If you sometimes get absorbed in doing an activity, especially an artistic project, you have some sense of what I’m referring to.

Then the Venerable Ananda approached the Blessed One, paid homage to him, sat down to one side, and said to him:
“Bhante, could a bhikkhu obtain such a state of concentration that (1) he would have no I-making, mine-making, and underlying tendency to conceit in regard to this conscious body; (2) he would have no I-making, mine-making, and underlying tendency to conceit in regard to all external objects; and (3) he would enter and dwell in that liberation of mind, liberation by wisdom, through which there is no more I-making, mine-making, and underlying tendency to conceit for one who enters and dwells in it?”
[The Buddha replies] “He could, Ananda.”
[The Buddha goes on to say this is possible through the stilling of all activities, i.e., nibbana]

from AN 3.32, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

As a further explanation, the Buddha described three specific ways in which we create a sense of self:

And what are the three kinds of conceit that are to be abandoned? (1) Conceit, (2) the inferiority complex, and (3) arrogance: these are the three kinds of conceit that are to be abandoned.
from AN 6.106, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

In this sutta, the Buddha points out conceit (in our usual sense) and its opposite, an inferiority complex. Any mental judgment that we are better than or worse than other people is a form of conceit; it’s a way we place boundaries and say to ourselves, “this is me”. Arrogance is next on the list of imperfections, so we’ll get to it next time.

Meanwhile, consider how these three activities solidify our sense of self and are entirely unnecessary: “I am superior to X”, “I am inferior to X”, and “I am more important than X”. Try to imagine what it would be like if these thoughts either didn’t come up at all, or if they did come up, we passed over them as soon as they appeared. In this way, we could reduce or eliminate an important source of our self-inflicted suffering.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Entitlement

From our list of imperfections (also called defilements), presumption is next. There are a few different ways we can understand this unwholesome quality, but they can be summarized as “to take for granted”. In court we are presumed innocent until proven guilty; we generally presume that people will be a certain way (like us); we may presume to the throne if that’s in our lineage. Underlying presumption is the idea that we might very well be wrong in assuming whatever it is we’re assuming. Presuming is what we sometimes do if we don’t know.

In developed countries, we might presume that we’ll have a comfortable life, untroubled by danger, deprivation or inconvenience. When our presumption is thwarted by the vicissitudes of an ordinary life, we may feel we’ve been cheated. This is one way we can check ourselves for a sense of entitlement. Do we think it’s unfair to us personally when illness or uncertainty come to us? If we unexpectedly lose a lot of money or have a car crash that wasn’t (entirely) our fault? If we get laid off from our job or rejected by someone we care for? Where’s the boundary of what we feel is our due?

It’s easy enough to see examples of people who get themselves into trouble through their sense of entitlement. Some public figures believe that they need not obey the basic rules of society (or the law), and then are embarrassed to discover the limits of this presumption. Adult children who take advantage of their parents without some kind of reciprocity become stunted in their growth. In extreme situations, domestic violence can come about because of presumed roles of controlled and controller.

Of course, we have to presume that tomorrow will come, we’ll be expected at work or at school or somewhere else, and that when we get into our car in the morning it will start. And then, sometimes, it doesn’t. Can we say to ourselves, “Oh, dear. Change of plans.”, and just get on with it?

If we study our situation closely, we will discover that nothing is guaranteed to us, or to anyone else. Unless we are fully awakened, we are all living with some mix of satisfactory and unsatisfactory conditions. Overcoming our tendency to make presumptions is a step towards awakening.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Stubbornness

One use of “obstinacy” in the Pali canon is to refer to monks or nuns being resistant to hearing or practicing the Buddha’s teachings, especially the rules governing how to live in harmonious community (the vinaya). The opposite of obstinacy in this case is “easy to admonish”; that is, willing to be corrected, open to learning.

Some of us have an unreasonable fear of “being wrong”, or a deep need to “be right”. These attitudes can be roadblocks to learning. In the Pali canon, some followers of other teachers (not the Buddha) were obstinate in clinging to a particular view even when the Buddha had carefully dismantled it.

Also, we are often sensitive (or over-sensitive) to what we perceive as criticism. It can be so painful to think that others see our flaws that we react angrily to real or imagined negative comments.

When this is the state of mind we carry, it’s easy to see how it works as a defilement: we go into defensive mode, we shut down. If we can recognise this obstinacy when it rises in our experience, we can correct for it. We can stop, breathe, and keep quiet while we consider our situation and our options.

What are our options? What can we ask ourselves?
- What is this experience right now? (anger, shock, etc.)
- Did I hear and understand correctly what the other person said?
- Did the person’s comment reveal something about the speaker?
- Is there any truth in what the other person said?

In all cases, it is better to listen and consider before responding. Sometimes untoward comments can be safely (and wisely) ignored. Sometimes they require a response, which may be an opportunity for us to correct ourselves, or maybe learn something about the other person. It’s never useful to respond with anger or irritation. If we take a few breaths before speaking, it can be amazing how quickly irritation subsides.

Stubbornness and determination are related qualities, but are not the same thing. We may be determined in pursuing wholesome goals; if we are stubborn, we have stopped listening. In one case we are moving forward; in the other we are immovable. We can ask ourselves: are we trainable? Are we open to working on our imperfections, even when it’s uncomfortable?

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud
(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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Deceit vs. integrity

On our list of imperfections (or defilements), we now come to deceit and fraud. These are not feelings but actions, so they rely on our intentions. If we intentionally misrepresent ourselves or anything else to others, regardless of our motives, we are participating in fraud or deceit.

The most common way we indulge in these vices is to exaggerate our accomplishments, skills or other attributes. Some of us lie about our age, or our children’s virtues; we might exaggerate our troubles to garner sympathy; we might under-report our income on our tax returns.

Deceit and fraud may sometimes be motivated by avarice, or envy, or revenge. The imperfections can be related to each other in circular ways.

The Buddha defined fraud or deceit in this way:
[A person in training] abstains from false weights, false metals, and false measures. He abstains from cheating, deceiving, defrauding, and trickery.
- from MN51.14, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

If everyone undertook the training described above, it would be very different world. There would be no hidden dumping of toxic waste, no accounting misrepresentation, no manipulation of markets, no lies about financial or other products, and people wouldn’t be vulnerable to cons of all sorts. The whole advertising industry might just collapse, because it seems to be based on promising results that the products advertised can never deliver.

But not everyone has undertaken the Buddha’s training, and sometimes we justify to ourselves things like an over-polished CV (resume) or the pretense that we are not living beyond our means. We all want to present our best face to the world, and sometimes what we’ve got just doesn’t seem good enough.

Truthfulness and integrity, in our actions and speech, are opposite principles to these imperfections. They cannot be improved upon – they are perfections.

How would it feel to value our own truthfulness and integrity more than what other people thought? What if we were staunch in our determination never to allow anyone else to suffer unnecessarily because of our actions? The rewards of deceit are fleeting; the comfort we can take in our own integrity has more substance.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud

(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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