We’ve been talking about developing our generosity and kindness, definitely worthy activities, and necessary if we intend to reduce our own suffering and the suffering of others. But there are two ways to go about this good work: (1) to increase our wholesome actions by making them habitual, and (2) to acknowledge, and do what we can to eliminate, our unwholesome actions and intentions.
As Sayadaw U Tejaniya said, “When the defilements are absent, the brahmaviharas (sublime states) are present.”
What are these defilements he’s talking about?
The simple answer is the three unwholesome motivations lurking in all humans: greed, hatred and delusion (in Pali: lobha, dosa, and moha). But let’s take a look at the bigger picture.
From an essay called Purification of Mind by Bhikkhu Bodhi:
An ancient maxim found in the Dhammapada sums up the practice of the Buddha’s teaching in three simple guidelines to training: to abstain from all evil, to cultivate good, and to purify one’s mind. These three principles form a graded sequence of steps progressing from the outward and preparatory to the inward and essential. Each step leads naturally into the one that follows it, and the culmination of the three in purification of mind makes it plain that the heart of Buddhist practice is to be found here.
Purification of mind as understood in the Buddha’s teaching is the sustained endeavor to cleanse the mind of defilements, those dark unwholesome mental forces which run beneath the surface stream of consciousness vitiating [impairing or contaminating] thinking, values, attitudes, and actions. The chief among the defilements are the three that the Buddha has termed the “roots of evil” — greed, hatred, and delusion — from which emerge their numerous offshoots and variants: anger and cruelty, avarice and envy, conceit and arrogance, hypocrisy and vanity, the multitude of erroneous views.
Full essay is here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_04.html
This blog is mainly concerned with the first two guidelines referenced above: “to abstain from all evil, to cultivate good”. The third one, “to purify the mind”, is most often understood to mean learning and practicing meditation. Since there are so many different ways to pursue this training, and so many well-qualified meditation teachers, I feel it’s important for some of us to focus on the first two efforts, which are often neglected as part of the Buddha’s path. I’m also firmly convinced that by cultivating wholesome actions, words and thoughts, and relinquishing our unwholesome impulses, everyone can benefit – not just meditators.
Of course, if you feel inclined to begin or develop a meditation practice, please do!