Diminishing Mental Afflictions

We all have our share of headaches and heartaches. Physically, we all have to face aging, sickness and death. Mentally, we have to deal with problems arising from greed, hatred and ignorance. The Chinese have a saying that aptly describes our predicament: “Heaven and hell sometimes end; the threads of sorrow continue forever.” Our afflictions are as deep as the dark blue sea and are as dense as the trees in the forest. Our afflictions are the source of our delusions and unwholesome karma, propelling us through the cycle of birth and death.

Mental afflictions, however numerous and varied, all stem from one cause—
attachment to the self.

Because of wrong views stemming from this attachment, countless mental afflictions are generated. To cultivate Dharma, we first need to learn how to overcome these mental afflictions. The main source of all mental afflictions are greed, hatred, and ignorance. To eliminate mental afflictions, we must be concerned with how to eliminate the three poisons of greed, hatred, and ignorance.

Wang Yangming, a famous Confucian scholar of the Ming dynasty, once said,

“To catch the bandit in the hills is easy; to arrest the thief in ourselves is tough.”

Fortunately, the Buddha teaches that we should “diligently practice precepts, meditative concentration and wisdom in order to extinguish the fires of greed, hatred and ignorance.”

Because of the habit pattern of our mind, we tend to focus on our own interests rather than that of others. But if we apply the power of upholding precepts, we will refrain from harming others, even at the expense of sacrificing our preferences. Thus, we can see that upholding precepts can be an antidote to greed.

As for our various inner desires, and our doubts and resentments in our day-to-day life, we need to apply the practice of “meditative concentration” in order to maintain an unbiased and pure mind and to be free from the snares of our mental afflictions.

With regards to ignorance, the antidote is wisdom. The wisdom we speak of here is not the same as worldly knowledge, because knowledge is not always wholesome. When we do not allow our inner prajna-wisdom to manifest, when our dealings in the day-to-day affairs are in discord
with the Dharma, and all our actions are driven by emotions and a selfish worldly understanding, that is called ignorance.

———————————————————————————————–

In Buddhism, wisdom is cultivated by listening, contemplation, and experiential practice. It is a method of observation and reflection on reality. Only through this method can we extinguish the great ills of greed, hatred, and ignorance.

————————————————————————————————-

Many of us have heard of the saying, “Do no evil, hear no evil and speak no evil.” This is a good start. Our sensory organs—eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind—constantly make contact with the outside world and make discriminations; consequently, we develop many mental afflictions. When we are vigilant of the three doors of karma, we are removing the conditions for the three poisons to arise. In this way, our actions can be more wholesome, and mental afflictions can gradually decrease.

My maternal grandmother was a very religious woman. She began her lifelong vegetarian practice when she was seventeen—the same time she began her practice of reciting Amitabha’s name. She was a very compassionate woman and had a lot of influence on my decision to join the sangha. She had three sons with families of their own, but unfortunately all of their children died very young, around three or four years of age. My grandmother was never bitter about this misfortune, but this was not because she did not feel the loss. She was a Buddhist in the truest sense of the word. She realized that when there is birth, there is also death, and we reap what we sow.The birth of her grandchildren was the culmination of causes and conditions; their departure, too, was the result of conditionality.

The human lifespan is not that long to begin with, and we should not excessively grieve over the loss of our loved ones. Many of us choose to believe in the law of conditionality when things are going well for us, but we question its validity when tragedy strikes. My grandmother truly knew how to put sorrows into perspective. She was an inspiration to me.

From Ten of Life’s Common Concerns, written by Venerable Master Hsing Yun.

Image from Pixabay.

More Featured Articles

I once copied out a sutra in blood by pricking myself, and once I also burned my arm as an offering. I once remained silent for a year without speaking, and once I also kept my eyes closed for three months without seeing. Later on, I would occasionally open my Read more
Though sitting meditation was given to us from the ancient past it is a way for modern people to lead happy lives. Sitting meditation allows us to dispel the pressures of daily life that come from the mind’s confusion and a mistaken understanding of phenomena. Practicing sitting meditation quiets the Read more
Buddhism says we should see friends and enemies as equal. This means we should learn to tolerate unfriendly people, unideal environments, and language that is hard on the ears. Read more
It seemed that I had to do every­thing for Buddhism. For Buddhism, I have to only set the tone and not be­come the master, hand over my physi­cal body to the temple and give my life to the Dharma protectors, heav­enly beings and nagas, and making the aspiration to head Read more
Most people regard the Buddhist religion as conservative and passive. Many think that Buddhism only teaches people to meditate, recite mantras and be vegetarians. They do not associate the religion with active and progressive ideas such as environmental protection. In truth, Buddhism is a religion that embodies the spirit of Read more
We should not look at life just as the limited span of one person’s life; we should look at the larger life of the universe. While a person’s life may only span a limited number of years, its value is everlasting. Read more
We need to change and transform ourselves continuously: In order to achieve eventual perfection, we need to work on correcting our bad habits. Read more
Lessen desire and be without any wishes and the body and mind will be at ease.When our desires are balanced and reasonable, we can be content. The Buddha taught that deep wisdom can be found only by following a “middle way” between dualistic extremes. The middle way can always be Read more
It is only through loving-kindness and compassion that we can find room in our hearts to forgive others. It is only through our willingness to let go of resentment that we can find a way to magnanimity.  Read more
In the Sutra of Forty-Two Sections, the Buddha asked his disciples, "How long is one's life?" One of the monks replied, "A few years." The next one answered, "A few days!" Another one said, "Less than one day!" Another responded, "Between meals!" Finally, the Buddha said, "Life lasts for the Read more
Many of us think that after undertaking the precepts life will become a matter of you-can’t-do-this and you-can’t-do-that. We wonder if that isn’t limiting us even more. We worry that it will mean a loss of freedom. This is why some people will question: Why should I receive the precepts Read more
Dharma is for people. There is one thing about the Dharma that I am completely sure of: the Dharma is for people. The Buddha’s teachings are not a cold philosophy designed merely to rearrange the concepts in our minds, they are a living act of compassion intended to show us Read more