What’s a defilement?

The conclusion of Bhikkhu Bodhi’s essay, Purification of Mind:
Since all defiled states of consciousness are born from ignorance, the most deeply embedded defilement, the final and ultimate purification of mind is to be accomplished through the instrumentality of wisdom, the knowledge and vision of things as they really are. Wisdom, however, does not arise through chance or random good intentions, but only in a purified mind. Thus in order for wisdom to come forth and accomplish the ultimate purification through the eradication of defilements, we first have to create a space for it by developing a provisional purification of mind ā€” a purification which, though temporary and vulnerable, is still indispensable as a foundation for the emergence of all liberative insight.

The achievement of this preparatory purification of mind begins with the challenge of self-understanding. To eliminate defilements we must first learn to know them, to detect them at work infiltrating and dominating our everyday thoughts and lives. For countless eons we have acted on the spur of greed, hatred, and delusion, and thus the work of self-purification cannot be executed hastily, in obedience to our demand for quick results. The task requires patience, care, and persistence ā€” and the Buddha’s crystal clear instructions. For every defilement the Buddha in his compassion has given us the antidote, the method to emerge from it and vanquish it. By learning these principles and applying them properly, we can gradually wear away the most stubborn inner stains and reach the end of suffering, the “taintless liberation of the mind.”

Complete essay here: http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/bodhi/bps-essay_04.html

The language of defilement and purification sounds archaic to our ears. One of the Thai Ajahns described working with the defilements as “war”. Well, we can take that attitude if it suits us, but many of us prefer to see our own impurities as parts of ourselves that are difficult to see and hard to accept. If we set our intention to discover exactly what obstructs our clear understanding of things as they are, we will start to notice patterns. What are the things we “cannot stand” and what are the things we “have to have”?

The other day I was attending a live, professional tennis tournament. There were so many things about it that were exciting and fun, absorbing and enjoyable. At the same time, there were people doing things I found distracting or distasteful. There were slow lines and big crowds. I registered these ups and downs in my mind, in close proximity to each other, overlapping with remarkable speed. I could almost see my mind being tossed about on these wavelets of liking and not liking. At the same time, noticing how the mind moved helped me maintain a balance – not getting overly concerned with annoyances and not thinking the world was perfect when things were nice. This is how practice works for me.

We can have a pretty good idea of what our most destructive defilements are, and with that knowledge, we can work on opposing them, wearing them away, or letting them go without picking them up. More on this in coming posts…

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