1. Mind precedes all mental states. Mind is their chief; they are all mind-wrought. If with an impure mind a person speaks or acts suffering follows him like the wheel that follows the foot of the ox.
7. Just as a storm throws down a weak tree, so does Mara overpower the man who lives for the pursuit of pleasures, who is uncontrolled in his senses, immoderate in eating, indolent, and dissipated. 1
8. Just as a storm cannot prevail against a rocky mountain, so Mara can never overpower the man who lives meditating on the impurities, who is controlled in his senses, moderate in eating, and filled with faith and earnest effort. 2
19. Much though he recites the sacred texts, but acts not accordingly, that heedless man is like a cowherd who only counts the cows of others â€” he does not partake of the blessings of the holy life.
20. Little though he recites the sacred texts, but puts the Teaching into practice, forsaking lust, hatred, and delusion, with true wisdom and emancipated mind, clinging to nothing of this or any other world â€” he indeed partakes of the blessings of a holy life.
This is one of the better known sutras, I think. I've read it before, superficially, thinking of it as a series of counsels of perfection, more or less unrelated to each other. Upon reflection, though, I think there's a much clearer rhetorical plan to this sutra.
I think the first two verses are key:Â Nothing can be accomplished, the Buddha says, without reforming our mind.
What is our mind, from a Buddhist perspective? I like the formulation in Thich Nhat Hanh's book Understanding Our Mind:Â Mind is a field in which every kind of seed is sown -- seeds of enlightenment, but also seeds of suffering. The seeds are sown by our genetics, by the physical environment in which we develop, and by our social environment as well. What we do with the seeds determines whether we will have (in the words of this sutra) a pure or an impure mind. And this, in turn, determines whether we will experirence happiness or suffering (vs. 1-2.)
Given this framework, the remainder of the sutra goes on to discuss several particularly unwholesome seeds, which can lead to suffering. How do we deal with these unwholesome seeds?
The first seed discussed is hatred (vs. 3-6). If we feel we have been wronged, a seed of hatred will sprout. If we cultivate this seed by dwelling on the wrongs done to us (vs. 3), hatred will grow, further contaminating our mind and increasing suffering. If we do not cultivate the seed (vs. 4), it will not grow. But we have to go further, cultivating the opposing, wholesome seed of non-hatred (vs. 5). How do we do that? Verse 6 suggests that we keep in mind that both we and our enemy are destined to die.
How does that help? Well, in other contexts I've seen two answers to this question. First, recognizing that both of us will die can help us broaden our perspective. In a hundred years, will my grievance really be important? This is a useful thing to think about, not least because occasionally, the answer may be YES! (Think, for instance, of the grievance of African slaves brought to this country against their will and treated as less than human.) In most cases, though, it will be clear that a particular grievance is really not worth continuing to think about.
A second answer is that recognizing our common death can also entail recognizing our common humanity. If we can see that our "enemy" is very much like us, then even if our grievance must be addressed, we have a sane way of thinking about the problem, a basis for approaching our adversary, and a confidence in our own understanding. Without those things, how can anyone resolve their quarrels?
I think I will leave off this discussion for today.
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