This talk was recorded in my home in Kansas City, Missouri
Awakening and freedom.
That’s what the path is all about. Enlightenment really just means awareness, seeing things as they really are. Reality unfiltered. The world as it is instead of as we think it is.
We come to enlightenment by freeing ourselves of the three poisons; greed, hatred, and delusion. We free ourselves by transforming these poisons. We transform them to virtue, meditation, and wisdom.
The truth is that enlightenment is simply not creating delusions. When we’re in delusion we think we have to escape it. When we dwell in awareness we realize these poisons, the things we cling to, are empty. By realizing things are empty we come to enlightenment.
But we can’t grasp it with the logical mind. We have to use intuition and direct experience. And you get there by realizing you’re already there.
Practicing the dharma is powerful and it can bring us great benefit. When we are practicing we are engaging in a different way of thinking and seeing the world. I don’t mean to say that we are seeing the world in a magical or supernatural way. We are seeing the world in a way that’s beyond delusion.
We are engaging the truth, reality as it really is. When we tune in to the dharma, we are entering the stream. The stream represents the Buddha and all of the other people on the path who have come before us, the scholars, masters, noble ones, and renegades who have made the dharma what it is. Getting in touch with the dharma is getting in touch with the real flow of things, reality as it is. Our practice is our way of tuning in to reality as it is. It’s special because the dharma changes us.
In our practice we are working on our minds. We are turning our focus inward to try to deal with fundamental problems that exist in our minds. We want to understand our minds and how they work. This is the power of the dharma. We are capable of discriminating awareness.
In our normal awareness we experience duality, both attachment and aversion. When we engage in our meditation practice our minds become harmonious. Meditation is how we free ourselves from delusion. We see through delusion and we see another way of looking at the world. Our minds can uncover this world of nonduality.
This is the power of dharma practice.
If you like this post, please consider leaving a small donation:
“Flow with whatever may happen.”
~ Tao Te Ching
Our true self is always open and free—the only thing stopping us from realizing that truth is ourselves.
This applies not just to our spiritual practice, but to many of our goals in life, the big goals and the smaller goals. We are the cause of many of our own problems—not all of our problems, but a lot more of them than we realize.
The number one way of getting out of our own way is simply becoming aware. We meditate to train our awareness. We want to become more aware of ourselves and the things we do.
If we simply can understand what we are doing to get in our own way, then solutions become easier.
How do we get in our own way?
In Buddhism, we talk about the Three Poisons—greed, aversion and delusion. These three poisons all come from within us and they cause a lot of our suffering. When we are guided by these poisons, we are causing ourselves to suffer.
The first poison is greed or desire: I want, I need, give it to me, please, please please I really want it. I need to get it and I need to figure out a way to get it. Maybe I can just take it.
Greed interrupts the natural flow of things. Adding my desire into the equation of life, trying to change or alter the way things are to bring me satisfaction, ultimately can lead to suffering. We often want things that we don’t need and we sometimes want them so much that we get upset.
We also sometimes want things that are incredibly unrealistic.
Aversion or hatred is the second poison. Aversion is essentially rejection—get that thing away from me. Hatred and aversion arise in response to something we don’t like or want to happen to us. It often leads us to push away, at worst culminating in violence. Hatred and anger can overwhelm us, causing us to act in negative ways in order to get relief from these feelings.
Sometimes, pain can’t be avoided, of course, but we make things worse for ourselves when we get angry or stressed out about it. Obviously bad things are going to happen and we want to avoid them and we should try, but at the same time, we shouldn’t become obsessed about bad things.
We tend to worry about things that are unrealistic too. And we tend to magnify things. If something bad happens and we get angry, we are making ourselves suffer more. Anger doesn’t help. It only contributes to our negative feelings.
The third poison is ignorance or delusion—this poison follows directly from the other two. Our greed and anger leads us to a sense of separation. To live with that separation I make up a story or narrative to explain who I am and why my greed and anger are justified. More and more of my true self is lost and I live in the dream of my narrative.
This is a fundamental delusion. The more rigid we become trying to justify and bolster our story, the more we suffer, and the more we cause suffering for those around us.
So what can we do about this?
Awareness. Moment-to-moment awareness is what we talk about in Buddhism. If my mind is here and now, living in this moment instead of in some kind of delusional fantasy, then I am not polluted by the three poisons. Things are going to happen—the universe is going to unfold however it unfolds. We can’t control everything.
The only thing we can really and truly control is ourselves. We can control how we respond to things. Sometimes, it can be very difficult.
Understanding our own actions and responses is the first step in getting out of our own way.
It is a big step.
If we practice meditation, we can learn to be more aware of our minds.
This is important.
There is a teaching in Buddhism called the three kleshas. Sometimes these are called the three afflictions. Usually their called the three poisons. These are said to be the three negative emotions that cause us the most suffering. They are the ones that prevent us from realizing our Enlightened true nature.
They are usually called Greed, Hatred, and Delusion. Sometimes they’re called Attachment, Aversion, and Ignorance.
Greed is our selfishness. Our desire, attachment, and yearning for happiness and satisfaction from external sources.
Hatred is our anger, aversion toward things we don’t want, where they are unpleasant people, circumstances, or even toward ourselves.
Delusion is our confusion, our misperception of reality.
The three poisons are caused by ignorance, ignorance of our true nature. Ignorance of our Enlightenment. Coming from ignorance, these poisons motivate us to make mistakes and act in ways that are outside our own interest and cause harm to ourselves and others.
Many of our actions are tainted by these poisons. They exist within us lust, craving, anger, jealousy, and confusion. These poisons can ruin us.
This seems negative, but the teachings of the Four Noble Truths really tell us that when we come to understand suffering and the causes of suffering, that’s when we can suffer less. We can takes the steps necessary to overcome these causes.
I’ll go over them one by one.
Greed is our impulse to always want more. We want the objects of our desire, regardless of what those are, to bring us permanent satisfaction so we can feel complete. It helps to think about the accumulation of wealth. Money is made up of numbers and numbers never end, so we can chase that forever if we are obsessed with how much is in our bank account.
When we believe that our fulfillment is dependent on what we have, then we come to realize that we don’t really get the same satisfaction we were expecting. We always want more. Greed can affect our relationships, our jobs, and everything else.
Greed can also manifest as a lack of generosity.
Hatred can manifest as anger, but also as impatience, ill-will, annoyance, and hostility. We habitually resist and avoid feelings, circumstances, and people that we don’t like. We really want everything in our lives to be pleasant. This is nothing but a reinforcement of our illusion of duality and separation. Hatred puts us in a cycle of always finding something wrong.
When we are carrying hatred, our minds are frantic. We can’t be calm. We have a very easy time getting obsesses with whatever conflicts we are in. We can also have a conflict within, a hatred for our own feelings that we don’t like. With hatred we create enemies out of those around us and out of ourselves.
Delusion is our lack of understanding about reality. This is our lack of ability to understand the nature of things as they are, free of our labels and preconceptions. Under delusion we aren’t in harmony with the world around.
Without right perception, we don’t understand the way things are interdependent and impermanent. Because of this we are always looking outside ourselves for satisfaction. Because of our delusion we don’t understand our true nature.
The teachings of the Buddha tell us that our true nature is Enlightened, that this will be realized if we can just see through our layers of ignorance. The goal of our practice is to free ourselves from these three poisons so we can see our true nature.
To overcome these poisons we have to first learn to notice them when they arise. When we are mindful and aware, we can recognize these things coming into our minds.
In addition to just being mindful, there are things that are called antidotes to the three poisons. These are states of mind that we can cultivate that are said to help us overcome the three poisons.
To overcome greed: we cultivate generosity, service, and equanimity. We can reflect on how impermanent all the things we want are. We can practice giving away things we don’t need. We can also practice acts of service.
To overcome hatred: we cultivate loving-kindness, compassion, and patience. We want to learn how to embrace our life experiences with out aversion. We want to do practices that help us soften and open our hearts. We can also practice compassion for ourselves to deal with our own unpleasant feelings. Our feelings of insecurity and inadequacy require us to show ourselves patience and kindness.
To overcome delusion: we cultivate wisdom, insight, and understanding. Our meditation practice can help us learn how to experience reality as it is and free ourselves from delusion. Perceiving and acting in harmony with the interdependent nature of things, realizing that all beings and things are one, we free ourselves from delusion.
By studying the Dharma and trying to live up to the Buddha’s teachings, we can overcome the three poisons. When we overcome these three poisons, our true nature can shine forth like the sun.
If we can just see through the veil of delusion that clouds our minds, even for only a short time, then we can see our true nature, our Buddha nature which is luminous emptiness.
With this single deep insight we can see that our Buddha nature is our true self. This makes the path easier, it makes witnessing our true self something we can come to again and again. If we come to this realization, then our Buddha nature ceases to be something theoretical, a philosophy we adhere to, and becomes our real, direct experience.
This is what separates and individual on the path of Awakening from one that is not on the path.
“Should one look for a teacher with a perfect physical body?”
“No, we should not be attached to appearances. Like everything else, appearances are temporary and illusionary.”
We shouldn’t be attached to things like appearance. It’s said that the Buddha had a very striking appearance. He is making sure Subhuti is not attached to him because of this.
Subhuti then asked the Buddha, “World-Honored One, may I ask you a question again? If virtuous individuals wish to attain the Highest Perfect Wisdom, what should they do to help quiet their minds and master their thoughts?”
The Buddha replied:
“Subhuti, a virtuous individual who wants to give rise to the highest awakened mind must create this resolved attitude: ‘I must help to lead all beings to awakening, but, after these beings have become liberated, in truth I know that not even a single being has been liberated.’ Why is this the case? If a disciple is attached to the idea of a separate self or a universal self, then that person is not awakened. Why? Because in fact there is no independently existing object of mind called the highest awakened mind.”
“In ancient times, when I was living with Dipankara Buddha, did I attain anything called the highest awakened mind?”
“No. There is no attaining of anything called the highest awakened mind.”
The Buddha said:
“You are correct.
“A true disciple knows that there is no such thing as a separate self or a universal self. A true disciple knows that all things are one with all other things, not separate.”
This is a serious and profound teaching. We perceive ourselves to be individual beings that are separate from our environment. This is a delusion. We don’t come into the world. We come out of it. We are connected to other beings and to the world around us in countless ways. Everything contains everything else and everything is connected to everything else. If I buy a carrot at the grocery store, it didn’t really come from the grocery store. A person put labor into it to pull it out of the ground and it was transported there. But, before that it was a seed. That seed was planted in the ground. Rain and sunlight caused it to grow. And, of course, before that it came from a previous carrot. So, when I eat a carrot, it could be said that I am eating the sky. This is what we mean when we say that everything is connected.
“All living beings, regardless of of their birth; whether they have form or not; whether they are aware or unaware, all living beings will eventually come to Enlightenment. And when this infinite number of beings have all been liberated, in truth not even a single being has actually been liberated.”
“Why Subhuti? Because if a disciple still clings to notions of duality such as ego, self, or separation, that disciple doesn’t see their own Enlightenment.”
The Buddha is telling Subhuti that everyone has the seed of Buddha nature within themselves. We have Enlightenment already and it’s only our clouded delusions that prevent us from realizing this. The Buddha is extending this idea, not just to all humans, but to all living beings.
Form, the first aggregate, is something we grasp at that doesn’t have real inherent existence. We tend to have the deluded view the permanent, but nothing has a permanent nature. Everything is empty if we think in terms of how everything is made up of things and has no inherent nature. Our deluded minds may think that our bodies are permanent, but the truth is that we are all subject to birth, old age, sickness, and death. So, that is why we say there is no difference between form and void.