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Four defilements

From Tibetan Buddhist Encyclopedia
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1 - Human Defilements

1. There are two kinds of worldly passions that defile and cover the purity of Buddha-nature.

The first is the passion for analysis and discussion by which people become confused in judgement. The second is the passion for emotional experience by which people's values become confused.

Both delusions of reasoning and delusions of practice can be thought of as a classification of all human defilements, but really there are two original worldly predicaments in their bases. The first is ignorance, and the second is desire.

The delusions of reasoning are based upon ignorance, and the delusions of practice are based upon desire, so that the two sets are really one set after all, and together they are the source of all unhappiness.

If people are ignorant they cannot reason correctly and safely. As they yield to a desire for existence, graspings, clingings and attachments to everything inevitably follow. It is this constant hunger for every pleasant thing seen and heard that leads people into the delusions of habit. Some people even yield to the desire for the death of the body.

From these primary sources all greed, anger, foolishness, misunderstanding, resentment, jealousy, flattery, deceit, pride, contempt, inebriety, selfishness, have their generations and appearances.

2. Greed rises from wrong ideas of satisfaction; anger rises from wrong ideas concerning the state of one's affairs and surroundings; foolishness rises from the inability to judge what correct conduct is.

These three - greed, anger and foolishness - are called the three fires of the world. The fire of greed consumes those who have lost their true minds through greed; the fire of anger consumes those who have lost their true minds through anger; the fire of foolishness consumes those who have lost their true minds through their failure to hear and to heed the teachings of Buddha.

Indeed, this world is burning up with its many and various fires. There are fires of greed, fires of anger, fires of foolishness, fires of infatuation and egoism, fires of decrepitude, sickness and death, fires of sorrow, lamentation, suffering and agony. Everywhere these fires are raging They not only burn the self, but also cause others to suffer and lead them into wrong acts of body, speech and mind. From the wounds that are caused by these fires there issues a pus that infects and poisons those who approach it, and leads them into evil paths.

3. Greed rises in want of satisfaction; anger rises in want of dissatisfaction; and foolishness rises from impure thoughts. The evil of greed has little impurity but is hard to remove; the evil of anger has more impurity but is easy to remove; the evil of foolishness has much impurity and is very hard to overcome.

Therefore, people should quench these fires whenever and wherever they appear by correctly judging as to what can give true satisfaction, by strictly controlling the mind in the face of the unsatisfactory things of life, and by ever recalling Buddha's teachings of good-will and kindness. If the mind is filled with wise and pure and unselfish thoughts, there will be no place for worldly passions to take root.

4. Greed, anger and foolishness are like a fever. If a man gets this fever, even if he lies in a comfortable room, he will suffer and be tormented by sleeplessness.

Those who have no such fever have no difficulty in sleeping peacefully, even on a cold winter night, on the ground with only a thin covering of leaves, or on a hot summer's night in a small closed room.

These three - greed, anger and foolishness - are, therefore, the sources of all human woe. To get rid of these sources of woe, one must observe the precepts, must practise concentration of mind and must have wisdom. Observance of the precepts will remove the impurities of greed; right concentration of mind will remove the impurities of anger; and wisdom will remove the impurities of foolishness.

5. Human desires are endless. It is like the thirst of a man who drinks salt water: he gets no satisfaction and his thirst is only increased.

So it is with a man who seeks to gratify his desires; he only gains increased dissatisfaction and his woes are multiplied.

The gratification of desires never satisfies; it always leaves behind unrest and irritation that can never be allayed, and then, if the gratification of his desires is thwarted, it will often drive him "insane."

To satisfy their desires, people will struggle and fight with each other, king against king, vassal against vassal, parent against child, brother against brother, sister against sister, friend against friend; they will fight and even kill each other to satisfy their desires.

People often ruin their lives in the attempt to satisfy desires. They will steal and cheat and commit adultery, and then, being caught, will suffer from the disgrace of it and its punishment.

They will sin with their own bodies and words, sin with their own minds, knowing perfectly well that the gratification will ultimately bring unhappiness and suffering, so imperious is desire. And then, the various sufferings in the following world and the agonies of falling into it follow.

6. Of all the worldly passions, lust is the most intense. All other worldly passions seem to follow in its train.

Lust seems to provide the soil in which other passions flourish. Lust is like a demon that eats up all the good deeds of the world. Lust is a viper hiding in a flower garden; it poisons those who come in search only of beauty. Lust is a vine that climbs a tree and spreads over the branches until the tree is strangled. Lust insinuates its tentacles into human emotions and sucks away the good sense of the mind until the mind withers. Lust is a bait cast by the evil demon that foolish people snap at and are dragged down by into the depths of the evil world.

If a dry bone is smeared with blood a dog will gnaw at it until he is tired and frustrated. Lust to a man is precisely like this bone to a dog; he will covet it until he is exhausted.

If a single piece of meat is thrown to two wild beasts they will fight and claw each other to get it. A man foolish enough to carry a torch against the wind will likely burn himself. Like these two beasts and this foolish man, people hurt and burn themselves because of their worldly desires.

7. It is easy to shield the outer body from poisoned arrows, but it is impossible to shield the mind from the poisoned darts that originate within itself. Greed, anger. foolishness and the infatuations of egoism - these four poisoned darts originate within the mind and infect it with deadly poison.

If people are infected with greed, anger and foolishness, they will lie, cheat, abuse and be double-tongued, and, then will actualize their words by killing, stealing and committing adultery.

These three evil states of mind, the four evil utterances, and the three evil acts, if added together, become the ten gross evils.

If people become accustomed to lying, they will unconsciously commit every possible wrong deed. Before they can act wickedly they must lie, and once they begin to lie they will act wickedly with unconcern.

Greed, lust, fear, anger, misfortune and unhappiness all derive from foolishness. Thus, foolishness is the greatest of the poisons.

8. From desire action follows; from action suffering follows; desire, action and suffering are like a wheel rotating endlessly.

The rolling of this wheel has no beginning and no end; people cannot escape such reincarnation. One life follows another life according to this transmigrating cycle in endless recurrence.

If one were to pile the ashes and bones of himself burnt in this everlasting transmigration, the pile would be mountain high; if one were to collect the milk of mothers which he suckled during his transmigration, it would be deeper than the sea.

Although the nature of Buddhahood is possessed by all people, it is buried so deeply in the defilements of worldly passion that it long remains unknown. That is why suffering is so universal and why there is this endless recurrence of miserable lives.

But, just as by yielding to greed, anger an(] foolishness, evil deeds are accumulated 'and condition rebirth, so, by following the Buddha's teaching, the evil sources will be cleared away and rebirth in the world of suffering will be ended.

II - Man's Nature

1. Man's nature is like a dense thicket that has no entrance and is difficult to penetrate. In comparison, the nature of an animal is much easier to understand. Still. we can in a general way classify the nature of man according to four outstanding differences.

First, there are those who, because of wrong teachings, practise austerities and cause themselves to suffer. Second, there are those who, by cruelty, by stealing, by killing, or by other unkind acts, cause others to suffer. Third, there are those who cause other people to suffer along with themselves. Fourth, there are those who do not suffer themselves and save others from suffering. These people of the last category, by following the teachings of Buddha, do not give way to greed, anger or foolishness, but live peaceful lives of kindness and wisdom without killing or stealing.

2. There are three kinds of people in the world. The first are those who are like letters carved in rock; they easily give way to anger and retain their angry thoughts for a long time. The second are those who are like letters written in sand; they give way to anger also, but their angry thoughts quickly pass away. The third is those who are like letters written in running water; they do not retain their passing thoughts; they let abuse and uncomfortable gossip pass by unnoticed; their minds are always pure and undisturbed.

There are three other kinds of people. The first are those who are proud, act rashly and are never satisfied; their natures are easy to understand. Then there are those who are courteous and always act after consideration; their natures are hard to understand. Then there are those who have overcome desire completely; it is impossible to understand their natures.

Thus people can be classified in many different ways, but nevertheless, their natures are hard to understand. Only Buddha understands them and, by H; wisdom, leads them through varied teachings.

III - Human Life

1. There is an allegory that depicts human life. Once there was a man rowing a boat down a river. Someone one on the shore warned him, "Stop rowing so gaily down the swift current; there are rapids ahead and a dangerous whirlpool, and there are crocodiles and demons lying in wait in rocky caverns. You will perish if you continue."

In this allegory, "the swift current" is a life of lust; "rowing gaily" is giving rein to one's passion; "rapids ahead" means the ensuing suffering and pain; "whirlpool" means pleasure, "crocodiles and demons" refers to the decay and death that follow a life of lust and indulgence; "Someone on the shore," who calls out, is Buddha.

Here is another allegory. A man who has committed a crime is running away; some guards are following him. so he tries to hide himself by descending into a well by means of some vines growing down the sides. As he descends he sees vipers at the bottom of the well, so he decides to cling to the vine for safety. After a time when his arms are getting tired, he notices two mice, one white and the other black, gnawing at the vine.

If the vine breaks, he will fall to the vipers and perish. Suddenly, on looking upward, he notices just above his face a bee-hive from which occasionally falls a drop of honey. The man, forgetting all his danger, tastes the honey with delight.

"A man" means the one who is born to suffer and to die alone. "Guards" and "vipers" refer to the body with all its desires. "Vines" means the continuity of the human life. "Two mice, one white and the other black" refer to the duration of time, days and nights, and the passing years. "Honey" indicates the physical pleasures that beguiles the suffering of the passing years.

2. Here is still another allegory. A king places four vipers in a box and gives the box into the safekeeping of a servant. He commands the servant to take good care of them and warns that if he angers even one of them he will be punished with death. The servant, in fear, decides to throw away the box and escape.

The king sends five guards to capture the servant. At first they approach the servant in a friendly manner, intending to take him back safely, but the servant does not trust their friendliness and escapes to another village.

Then, in a vision, a voice tells him that in this village there is no safe shelter, and that there are six bandits who will attack him, so the servant runs away in fright until he comes to a wild river that blocks his way. Thinking of the dangers that are following him, he makes a raft and succeeds in crossing the turbulent current, beyond which he finally finds safety and peace.

"Four vipers in a box" indicate the four elements of earth, water, fire and air that make up the body of flesh. The body is given into the charge of lust and is an enemy of the mind. Therefore, he tries to run away from the body.

"Five guards who approach in friendly manner" mean the five aggregates - form, feeling, perception. volition and consciousness - which frame body and mind.

"The safe shelter" is the six senses, which are no

safe shelter after all, and "the six bandits" are the six objects of the six senses. Thus, seeing the dangers within. the six senses, he runs away once more and comes to the wild current of worldly desires.

Then he makes himself a raft of the Buddha's good teachings and crosses the wild current safely.

3. There are three occasions full of perils when a son is helpless to aid his mother and a mother cannot help her son: - a fire, a flood and a burglary. Yet, even on these perilous and sad occasions, there still exists a chance for aiding each other.

But there are three occasions when it is impossible for a mother to save her son or a son to save his mother. These three occasions are the time of sickness, the period of growing old, and the moment of death.

How can a son take his mother's place when she is growing old? How can a mother take her son's place when he is sick? How can either help the other when the moment of death approaches? No matter how much they may love each other or how intimate they may have been, neither can help the other on such occasions.

4. Once Yama, the legendary King of Hell, asked a man who had fallen into hell about his evil deeds in life, whether, during his life, he had ever met the three heavenly messengers. The man replied: "No, my Lord, I never met any such persons."

Yama asked him if he had ever met an old person bent with age and walking with a cane. The man replied:

"Yes, my Lord, I have met such persons frequently." Then Yama said to him: "You are suffering this present punishment because you did not recognize in that old man a heavenly messenger sent to warn you that you must quickly change your ways before you, too, become an old man."

Yama asked him again if he had ever seen a poor, sick and friendless man. The man replied: "Yes, my Lord, I have seen many such men." Then, Yama said to him: "You have come into this place because you failed to recognize in these sick men the messengers from heaven sent to warn you of your own sickness."

Then, Yama asked him once more if he had ever seen a dead man. The man replied: "Yes, my Lord, I have been in the presence of death many times." Yama said to him: "It is because you did not recognize in these men the heavenly messengers sent to warn you that you are brought to this. If you had recognized these messengers and taken their warnings you would have changed your course, and would not have come to this place of suffering."

5. Once there was a young woman named Kisagotarni, the wife of a wealthy man, who lost her mind because of the death of her child. She took the dead child in her arms and went from house to house begging people to heal the child.

Of course, they could do nothing for her, but finally a follower of Buddha advised her to see the Blessed One who was then staying at jetavana, and so she carried the dead child to Buddha.

The Blessed One looked upon her with sympathy and said: "To heal the child I need some poppy seeds; go and beg four or five poppy seeds from some home where death has never entered."

So the demented woman went out and sought a house where death had never entered, but in vain. At last, she was obliged to return to Buddha. In his quiet presence her mind cleared and she understood the meaning of his words. She took the body away and buried it, and then returned to Buddha and became one of his disciples.

IV - Reality Of Human Life

1. People in this world are prone to be selfish and unsympathetic; they do not know how to love and respect one another; they argue and quarrel over trifling affairs only to their own harm and suffering, and life becomes but a dreary round of unhappiness.

Regardless of whether they are rich or poor, they worry about money; they suffer from poverty and the suffer from wealth. Because their lives are controlled b greed, they are never contented, never satisfied.

A wealthy man worries about his estate if he has one; he worries about his mansion and all other possessions. He worries lest some disaster befall him, his mansion burn down, robbers break in, kidnappers carry him off. Then he worries about death and the disposition of his wealth. Indeed, his way to death is lonely, and nobody follows him to death.

A poor man always suffers from insufficiency and this serves to awaken endless desires - for land and a house. Being aflame with covetousness he wears out both his body and mind, and comes to death in the middle of his life.

The whole world seems pitted against him and even the path to death seems lonesome as though he has a long journey to make and no friends to keep him company.

2. Now, there axe five evils in the world. First, there is cruelty; every creature, even insects, strives against one another. The strong attack the weak; the weak deceive the strong; everywhere there is fighting and cruelty.

Second, there is the lack of a clear demarcation between the rights of a father and a son; between an elder brother and a younger; between a husband and a wife; between a senior relative and a younger; on every occasion each one desires to be the highest and to profit off the others. They cheat each other, there is deception and a lack of sincerity.

Third, there is the lack of a clear demarcation as to the behavior between men and women. Everyone at times has impure and lascivious thoughts and desires that lead them into questionable acts and often into disputes, fighting, injustice and wickedness.

Fourth, there is the tendency for people to disrespect the rights of others, to exaggerate their own importance at the expense of others, to set bad examples of behavior and, being unjust in their speech, to deceive, slander and abuse others.

Fifth, there is the tendency for people to neglect their duties toward others. They think too much of their own comfort and their own desires; they forget the favors they have received and cause annoyance to others that often passes into great injustice.

3. People should have more sympathy for one another; they should respect one another for their good traits and help one another in their difficulties; but, instead, they are selfish and hard-hearted; they despise one another for their failings and dislike others for their advantage: These aversions generally grow worse with time, and after a while, become intolerable.

These feelings of dislike do not soon end in acts of violence; yet they poison life with feelings of hatred an, anger that become so deeply carved into the mind that people carry the marks into the cycle of reincarnation.

Truly, in this world of lust, a man is born alone an: dies alone, and there is no one to share his punishment in the life after death.

The law of cause and effect is universal; each man must carry his own burden of sin and must go along to its retribution. The same law of cause and effect controls good deeds. A life of sympathy and kindness will result in good fortune and happiness.

4. As years go by and people see how strongly they are bound by greed, habit and suffering, they become very sad and discouraged. Often in their discouragement they quarrel with others and sink deeper into sin and give up trying to walk the true path; often their lives come to some untimely end in the very midst of their wickedness and they suffer forever.

This falling into discouragement because of one's misfortunes and sufferings is most unnatural and contrary to the law of heaven and earth and, therefore, one will suffer both in this world and in the worlds after death.

It is true that everything in this life is transitory and filled with uncertainty, but it is lamentable that anyone should ignore this fact and keep on trying to seek " enjoyment and satisfaction of his desires.

5. It is natural in this world of suffering for people to think and act selfishly and egoistically and, because of it, ` it is equally natural for suffering and unhappiness to follow.

People favor themselves and neglect others. People let their own desires run into greed and lust and all manner of evil. Because of these they must suffer endlessly.

Times of luxury do not last long, but pass away very , quickly; nothing in this world can be enjoyed forever.

Therefore, people should cast away, while they are young and healthy, all their greed and attachment to worldly affairs, and should seek earnestly for true Enlightenment for there can be no lasting reliance or happiness apart from Enlightenment.

6. Most people, however, disbelieve or ignore this law of cause and effect. They go on in their habits of greed and selfishness, being oblivious of the fact that a good deed brings happiness and an evil deed brings misfortune. Nor do they really believe that one's acts in this life condition the following lives and implicate others with regard to the rewards and punishments for their sins.

They lament and cry about their sufferings, entirely misunderstanding the significance their present acts have upon their following lives and the relation their sufferings have to the acts of their previous lives. They think only of present desire and present suffering.

Nothing in the world is permanent or lasting. everything is changing and momentary and unpredictable. But people are ignorant and selfish, and are concerned only with the desires and sufferings of the passing moment. They do not listen to the good teachings nor do they try to understand them; they simply give themselves up to the present interest, to wealth and lust.

7. From time immemorial, an incalculable number o' people have been born into this world of delusion an( suffering, and they are still being born. It is fortunate however, that the world has the Buddha's teachings and that men can believe in them and be helped.

Therefore, people should think deeply, should keep their minds pure and their bodies well, should keep away from greed and evil, and should seek good.

To us, fortunately, the knowledge of the Buddha's teachings has come; we should seek to believe in them and wish to be born in the Buddha's Pu