Purifying Kleshas

@rgyatso, @cjrock and myself were having a Twitter discussion regarding “Purifying Klesho” and has been gracious enough to come up with the posting below.    I feel honored that @rgyatso took the time to write this thoughtful essay, thank you.

Purifying Kleshas

I am going to try explaining this by covering a few basics that I am sure you already have a handle on, but a few things may come up that you haven’t thought about. Also, I don’t want to do an insanely complex dissertation or compilation of AbhiDharma, rather just a few points that might pertain to developing the discussion.

I should point out, just for completeness, that when we practice, we should do it “good at the beginning, good in the middle, and good at the end.” This means that we first do a short Refuge, even if it is just “Om Ah Hung” three times, to define our intention to do a Buddhist practice, and if we are Mahayana, a short Bodhicitta verse to define our motivation, even if it is only “I work to save all beings.” Then in the middle, we try to avoid distraction and do the practice (in this case, meditation) seriously and with intention and integrity. Then at the end we do a short Dedication of Merit, even it is just “Any merit that I may have accumulated through doing this practice of BuddhaDharma, I completely give to all sentient beings so that they may attain Enlightenment more quickly.”

As we sit and practice meditation we work with the mind and with our individual preconceived illusions and preprogrammed scripts. Meditation as Mind Training. We learn and develop techniques and strategies to quiet the mind, or ideally, allow the mind to relax and approach its rest state. A metaphor that is often used in BuddhaDharma teachings includes likening the mind to a pond of water that has been disturbed muddy, and meditation is about allowing the water to be still until it again becomes clear.

Our technique may include breathing or counting the breath, eyes open or eyes closed, focusing on an external, defocusing on an external, all sorts of things.

Buddhism has a number of meditational forms. The main and foundational ones that are taught are Shamatha, and Vipashyana (Vipassana in Pali). (One of the other forms that might be useful for this discussion is the Shamanic-style technology of the meditation used in Tantra for the Visualizations in Deity-Yoga or Guru-Yoga.)

Shamatha is the “concentration” meditation, very similar to the basic sitting that we do with Zen or Tibetan practice, it is the one we learn first. It is the sort of meditation where we sit and try to stay where we are, right where we are, and rest in the present moment without spacing out or fantasizing. Paying attention to our internal mental environment, not wandering. Feeling whatever we feel. In the beginning this can be very hard, and often leads to outbursts of “what the F**K am I doing this for!!” and white knuckle tension and our skin crawling with itches while we wait…wait…wait for the master to signal the end of the session of seeming torture. If we don’t give up in frustration we will eventually get past it. Honest. Patience; it will take some time.

So after sitting down-and-dirty with our grubby and petty prejudices and our twitchy, violent, aggressive, passive-aggressive, or worthless-feeling semi-suicidal horror-show of impulses, we come to recognize this internal neurotic mental environment for what it is: normal human behaviour. By sitting with these, eventually the revulsion and guilt subside, and the mind begins to quiet and rest. Or at least, it will not fight with itself so much to maintain the false splintery veneer or grotesque smiling mask of how we want to present our (we have convinced ourselves) hidden shittyness to others. We come to have some understanding of ourselves as we really are.

Then we are exposed to Vispashyana meditation, which sort of translates as “Insight Meditation.” This looks within, not at what is there, but rather at the structure and texture of the mind, and through this at the foundations of reality. This meditation may be physically keyed, hand-position/Mudra or eye-position. For eye position it is suggested to look slightly upwards, about 10 degrees above the horizon, in contrast to the 10 degrees below the horizon, or “along the nose” suggested by some instructions for Shamatha. The main mental instruction for Vipashyana is to see any situation or form as an example of Impermanence.

Where Shamatha is dark, primal, dirty and earthy, Vipashyana is bright and airy-fairy in comparison; Vipashyana is very much more comfortable, and the mind starts to rest in the light. Vipashyana examines the mind as the representative of the primordial and fundamental nature of the universe and reality: Emptiness or Shunyata. The universe as it really is, impermanent and in flux, arising and disintegrating, but always manifesting Primordial Wisdom.

In Practice, the teacher will often guide the meditation experience in a combination or a cycle of both of these types, so we may develop both of these together. In Tibetan practice, when meditation is not about visualization, this combination of Shamata and Vipashyana is often practiced together. But the individual forms are frequently differentiated and taught individually so we can recognize what is going on.

Trungpa 11th Rinpoche, when he helped design teaching programs for Naropa Institute way back in the day, insisted his students commit to whole semesters of the torturous brutality of Shamatha Meditation, without variation. Trungpa always did have a strange sense of humor.

At Naropa, often you could tell Trungpa’s students at a glance; they were dirty, with grubby-jeans, unshaven, haggard, hollow-eyed and twitchy. If you were concerned and asked how they were doing, a typical response might be “Get AWAY from me!! Leave me ALONE!!” By the end of semester a significant number of students seemed to be verging on alcohol abuse.

In contrast, students of teachers of Hindu Yoga and Vedanta would be upbeat, clean, dressed in tie-dyed flowing garb, smelling flowers, dancing, laughing and having loads of fun.

This also shows the Hindu and Buddhist approaches to reality. Hinduism focuses on Atman, and the concept of Ultimate Godhead, Parusha. The Buddha accomplished these Hindu Vedic systems, five of them, and got gold-stars in each one. He felt that although a person could go a long way and develop awesome accomplishments, these systems did not directly address his fundamental questions in a consistent and satisfactory way, so he worked out his own reformed method and technology, and upon examination, he found it was more effective to examine true reality from the point of view of Impermanence and Anatman, than from the traditional Vedic point of view of reality as concrete and eternal Purusha and Atman, as codified in the Upanishads and commentaries.

It is not that one system is superior or inferior, or that one is “True” and one is “False,” rather it is that one system is more accessible and verifiable from our individual everyday perceptions of reality, and is more likely to lead to trust in the method, and thus to attainment. The final attainment in most situations is identical.

First Movement

So the deal is that as we meditate (and also follow the other Two Elements of practice, Learning and Contemplating), we gain a clearer perception of our reality and gain insights into some of the underlying principles of how the local and nonlocal universe moves and works. (With this are the mind-training exercises in compassion, in combination with refining our behaviour and practicing the Ten-Virtues.)

The intended goal is to unify Shamatha and Vipashyana meditation, which is said to automatically lead to the Ultimate Realization, also called Mahamudra, (the Goal is the Path).

Certain of the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools have worked out a shortcut, though, on the “Fake It until you Make It” model of practice. Aspects of this are the roots of the potentially controversial practice of Devotion to the Guru/Teacher which I intend to talk about in a guest-post that I have promised to Jack Daw.

The idea is that through actively cultivating positive elements of emotional energy and manifesting them, a considerably useful, if temporary, advance on the normally slow and methodical meditation process can be attained.

* By utilizing things like Purity and Bliss a Dzogchen-like practice can be followed (very similar in nature, actually, to Hindu Yogic and Vedanta practices). By utilizing things like Compassion and Devotion, a Mahamudra-like practice arises.

* Purification is usually undertaken as a visualization of expelling all impure or defiling materials and mental constructs from a person in a controlled manner. This is an essential and daily practice for most Vajrayana practitioners.

* Clarity or Clear-Light is a stage of practice and meditative visualization that is common to all higher Tantra practices and commonly experienced in Buddhist meditation of all schools.

In any case, as the mind approaches or enters a stage of satori or of the experience of Emptiness, the mind expands to encompass or syncretically combine with the Universe as Emptiness.

This is a stage of peace, tranquility, and quiet joy that often characterizes the period of rest at the end of the sitting-meditation practice.

At this time, the mind is free of almost all distractions; it just rests. In this state, the Kleshas or “defilements” do not have purchase on the mental environment; it is as if they do not exist, they are purified. As we return to normal consciousness and normal neurotic mental function, they will re-manifest, but in the interim we have had a space where they did not attempt to modify our behavior in non-virtuous and karmically harmful directions. We have had a space of time when we are FREE of them. And we have this temporary space of time as an example to guide our complete practice and lifestyle, so that in not too long a time we will live in this sane and mature mental environment virtually full-time. And we now know what it feels like and what we are striving for.

“Letting the mind rest in the Clarity of Emptiness, all impurities and their results disappear.” This line in liturgy implies that this also acts to purify ALL karmic problems, not just those that arise from the Kleshas. Again, depending on the student’s level of accomplishment in mind-training, as they return to normal consciousness, greater or lesser Karmic influence may re-emerge.

Bit by bit, we work towards resting in the awareness of Emptiness and Compassion until it is our natural state of mentality and existence.

Robert rGyatso

@rgyatso Vancity Canada
Guerilla Ontologist. Mystic and indifferent Yogi. Buddhist Text editor. Bishop Blackie to HH the Rimay Rinponator.



2 responses to “Purifying Kleshas

  1. @rgyatso – thank you very much for the overview of forms of meditation and the path/goal of Mahamudra. The simple phrase in our Twitter conversation that arose – “purifying kleshas” -seems to embody the substance (or non-substance!) of much of the practice and underlying concepts of Buddhism. Thank you very much for this elucidation I am sure I will go back to your passage at various points to remind me of the precepts contained within.

  2. Pingback: emedist.com

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