Friday, May 30, 2014

Starving defilements

I've quoted Ajahn Chah here before and no doubt, will again at some future time. The man has a rather amazing ability to get a lot of meaning packed into a few words. I paraphrased this particular quote to a friend yesterday, but I think it deserves proper respect, right here.

Those just beginning often wonder what practice is, he says. Practice occurs when you try opposing the defilements, not feeding old habits. Where friction and difficulty arise, that's the place to work. The defilements in a Buddhist sense are greed, hatred and delusion, with delusion meaning 'not seeing things as they really are'.

Friction and difficulty. Yep. In my experience, that's really where the practice lies. That's where the work is to be found. That's where the effort needs to go. It's a red flag that says 'here -- look at me and learn'.  Not as easy as it sounds -- but most things aren't. First, you need to open your mind and develop enough awareness to realize in the middle of this friction and difficulty that this is a prime learning opportunity, not something to be frazzled about. Being frazzled is so much easier -- so much more normal for most of us, when things don't go the way we want them to.

Ajahn Chah goes on to say: The defilements -- greed,, hatred and delusion -- are at the root of our suffering and our selfishness. We must learn to overcome them, to conquer and go beyond their control, to become masters of our minds. Of course it seems hard. It is like having the Buddha tell you to split up with a friend you have known since childhood.

Defilements are like a cat. If you feed it, it will keep coming around. Stop feeding it, and eventually it will not bother to come around any more.

While it's not easy, it can be done. It takes courage to look honestly at your own mind, see that childhood friend for what it really is and realize you're much better off splitting up with that friend. The defilements are really not our friends -- they're more like enemies that keep us caught up in misery.

Starving defilements works. I've gotten fairly good at it (though far from perfect). When I recognize one arising (or one I'm already caught up in) I sort of mentally shrug it off and let it go, see it for what it is and loosen its hold on my mind. Stop feeding the cat. If you do this enough, they really will stop (or at least slow down) coming to visit.