Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Virtue, Delusion and Mental Awareness: A Buddhist Perspective

"I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing."
The question of virtue - doing what is right and true to one's inner being - was tackled, and masterfully explained by Geshe Kelsang Gyatso in his landmark book, "Understanding the Mind." Essentially, he says, virtuous action results from a virtuous mental awareness rooted in our Buddha nature, while non-virtuous action is the result of a delusionary mindset. End the delusions, he notes, and one will end all non-virtuous action. But that is where it gets somewhat complicated. . . .

"All non-virtue arises from delusions," Geshe Kelsang observes, "and delusions arise from four causes: the root, the seed, the object, and inappropriate attention."

"The root of all delusions" he notes, "is self-grasping, the seed of a delusion is a potential left on the mental continuum by similar delusions in the past that acts as the substantial cause of that delusion; the object is any contaminated object; and inappropriate attention is a mental factor that focuses on the object in a mistaken way and acts as a co-operative cause of delusions. For a delusion to arise," he states, "all four causes are necessary."

"In reality," Geshe Kelsang notes, "the causes of delusion exist within the mind, not the body. For this reason Nagarjuna said that physical asceticism is not very important. To overcome delusions we need the mental asceticism of practices such as meditation and patience."

"The easiest way to prevent delusions from arising," he observes, "is to stop inappropriate attention by not allowing our mind to dwell on and exaggerate the attractive or unattractive features of contaminated objects. In this way," he says, we shall be able temporarily to prevent delusions."

"However," he notes, "to eradicate (delusions) completely we must abandon their root, self grasping, by attaining (to be) a yogic direct perceiver realizing emptiness. Once we have attained a direct realization of emptiness, we shall gradually eradicate the seeds of all the delusions."

"We eradicate the seeds of all intellectually-formed delusions on the path of seeing," Geshe notes, "and the seeds of all innate delusions on the path of meditation."

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