Vows, commitments and modern life:  Purifying your consciousness

The three commitments of the family of Buddha Amitabha

The commitments of Buddha Amitabha function to purify our aggregate of discrimination and transform it into the wisdom of individual realization.  The aggregate of discrimination is not a mind that discriminates against other people, rather it is a mind that knows the distinctions between different objects.  It is explained in Understanding the Mind that the way in which we “know” an object is by realizing its “uncommon characteristic.”  If someone were to ask, “who is John” and the reply was “the human being standing over there in that group,” we wouldn’t know who is John.  But if we said, “the bald, fat, white guy on the right” then we could clearly distinguish John from everybody else, and thus know him.

Venerable Tharchin explains that our samsaric problem is, quite simply, we have the wrong discriminations.  We discriminate objects as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  On the basis of this mistaken discrimination, we then experience objects as being inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  On the basis of these experiences, we then generate attachment, aversion and ignorance towards objects.  Motivated by these delusions, we then engage in contaminated actions which plant contaminated karma onto our consciousness.  When this karma ripens, it does so in the form of contaminated karmic appearances.  Due to these contaminated appearances, we then once again discriminate objects in a contaminated way, namely as inherently pleasant, unpleasant or neutral.  This cycle is samsara.  Understood in this way, we can see clearly that contaminated discriminations are the very root of samsara.  If we are to break the cycle of samsara, we must do so primarily here.  It is the weak link, it is the first domino, it is the thing we can most easily change.  By changing our discriminations, we change how we conceive of things, this changes how we experience things, this changes what minds we generate towards things, this changes the actions we engage in, which then changes the karma we plant on our mind, which finally changes the world that appears to us.  Pure discriminations lead to pure feelings which lead to pure minds which lead to pure actions which leads to pure karma which results in a pure world.

Seen in this light, all of our Dharma study and contemplation is, in effect, a systematic assault on our wrong discriminations.  It is likewise a comprehensive rebuilding of correct discriminations.  We can incorrectly view people as friend, enemy or stranger; or we can correctly view people as our kind mothers.  We can incorrectly view difficult circumstances as adversities or we can correctly view them as opportunities to grow and to train our mind.  We can incorrectly view those who criticize us as mean or we can view them as our kind benefactors who help us identify our faults and do even better.  We can incorrectly view external circumstances as good or bad; or we can view them all equally as opportunities to put the Dharma into practice.  We can incorrectly view our world as samsara or we can correctly view it as the pure land.  Correct and incorrect in a Dharma context does not means “objectively true” or “objectively untrue.”  Something is objectively true if and only if the truth of the object can be established on the side of the object itself.  But since no object exists from its own side, nothing is objectively true.  Epistemologically speaking, according to the Prasangika’s truth is established on the side of the mind, not the object.  If the mind knowing an object is a valid mind, the object known by that mind is considered an existent.  “Correct” or “incorrect” refers to whether a particular discrimination is beneficial or not.  Beneficial, in this context, means conceiving of the object in this way is conducive to our enlightenment.  Any object can be discriminated in countless different ways, each more or less beneficial.  What is conventionally true for a Prasangika, therefore, is the way of discriminating things that is the most beneficial – the way most conducive to our swiftest possible enlightenment.

In short, objects are inherently nothing, they are what we discriminate them to be.  Discriminate wisely.

One thought on “Vows, commitments and modern life:  Purifying your consciousness

  1. Oh boy, that teaching has appeared just as I most needed to hear it. Yesterday I experienced a situation at work that really shook me up and activated some very disturbed and judgemental thoughts in me. It was so uncomfortable and I could really feel a contamination of my mind that was contaminating the way I was engaging with others and altering what I began to pay attention to. It was like being poisoned and in my confusion Instead of reaching for the antidote I was submitting to its effects. So horrible, so sick. I woke up this morning, and it had lingered in my mind in my heart like a mental hangover threatening to cloud the day.
    Then something wonderful happened some extraordinary blessing took me to this post and its as if an emanation has appeared to provide exactly the medicine needed to counteract the poisoning occurring in my mind and body. This instruction was exactly what was needed.

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