Defilements disguising themselves as Buddhist values

I used to think of myself as an exceptionally good person. Then I had to realize that I had a lot of defilements that were actually just unskillful actions in disguise . It’s easy to deceive ourselves into thinking that we are always doing good, especially if our actions are aligned with some cherry-picked teachings. There is nothing more pleasing to the ego than being a “nice person”. Here are some behaviors and ideas I’ve found to be not as pure as I wanted to believe. It’s also a list of things I find to be implicitly taught in western-Buddhism, but are not ultimately true or helpful.

  • Being a martyr. You do other’s work and do more than what is healthy, because you are making good karma. Without you the whole place would fall apart, so it is your moral obligation to keep working. Look at me, how selfless I am, working overtime, not expecting anything. Sure, I get to control others with guilt, because I only ask them small things to return all my efforts, but they just seem to not care at all! Well maybe, I just don’t like myself that much, so I’m okay with working myself to the bone as a punishment, but hey, I am making good karma with my selfless service so it must be okay!

  • Running away from happiness. I mean getting attached is wrong right? Getting attached to the pleasant feelings in meditation is also bad. I should keep up with my martyrdom, I mean generating good karma, instead of wasting my precious time enjoying myself. The benefit I will get afterlife will be even greater!

  • Not stating your wants and needs but still expecting people to figure them out. I mean, saying you want things is selfish isn’t it? Others might want different things, and you would only upset them. If people are taking constant advantage on you, you should invite them to do so continuously - otherwise you are not good enough. How could you want things as a good Buddhist anyway? They are suffering and would become better people if you would instead showed them how a good person would act.

  • Staying in horrible relationships, because Buddhists stay together. All boyfriends/girlfriends are the same anyway just with different dukkha. If your significant other is a horrible person, it is your responsibility as a good Buddhist to spend your life fixing them. After all, material lives aren’t that important, so you can surely sacrifice it to make someone else’s better. If you can’t fix them, you have failed to show them good Buddhist examples. See? They show small signs of change, I am pretty sure they are getting better, it’s just that I am not patient enough. Patience is also an important value.

  • Sacrificing yourself for every being, because they aren’t as smart as you are. Poor deluded beings in Samsara don’t know how to take care of themselves, so I should be the one who saves them all. I am smart enough to do practice, unlike them. I hope they will be once on my level and be able to share all this wisdom that they are yet unable to comprehend.

  • Being a white knight in shiny armor. You are saving women from all the horrible man out there. Listening to their problems because you are a really nice guy. But you are just might be too weak to show your real intentions and accept your own unholy desires.

  • Not saying no to parents. No matter how narcistic or manipulative a parent is, one should always heed to their needs, as doing bad things to parents is extremely bad karma. One should not even discuss any dissatisfaction in their lives caused by their parents, as making them sad is also bad karma. Disagreeing with them or setting boundaries is also a bad karma if it makes them sad. Trying to break free is also bad karma, because they might want you to stay home longer and help them. Are you really that unthankful and evil to refuse help after all that martyrdom they have done for you? You should guide them to enlightenment and do things that allows them to be proud of you and show off to other parents.

  • Not believing in science. I mean, we all know that there are 4 basic elements and how the universe comes to existence and then disappears. It’s physics that is trying to catch up with the Suttas. The professors are just too ignorant to ever check them. So whenever there is a scientific discovery, I can be sure that it’s either something I already know, or something that is still false because they still don’t have the whole picture. And also, there is this special holy diet that cures-…

  • Being weak and afraid as morality. Look at all these wealthy, powerful people doing bad things. I don’t do the things they do. I don’t have the means to do them, so I can’t even do the things they do even if I wanted to. That doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do them if I had the means of course. But hey, I am a better person, I am free to criticize them. I did not ask out that girl, because I respect her privacy and all feminist values. It’s not that I was simply too scared to do so.

  • Thinking wealth is the result good karma. I mean there are good doctors who are doing good things and become wealthy. Sure, there are some powerful mob leaders dealing drugs and trafficking people, but they must be good deep inside, if we took the time to understand them better. There are no bad people with bad intentions, who actually enjoy torturing others. People should also be allowed to exploit you in business, because they are deluded and suffering and this is the only way they can get any happiness in this miserable world. After all, not letting them exploit you would mean you are rather materialistic. Maybe they will let you get what you want once they feel they have had enough!

  • Being a radical left-winger as a prerequisite of being Buddhist. All left-wing politics on equality is good and everything opposing it is always bad. Kings like Ashoka became kings as a result of their good karma (after committing a few genocides on the way to the throne, but they have converted to Buddhism afterwards so it’s okay). Trump however, did not become the president as a result of his good karma, but instead he alone has used a series of evil tricks! Monarchy with beloved kings (even if they get killed by their only children in the Suttas) is good, capitalism is evil! Sure capitalism is evil, but when the Dalai Lama says things like " Of all the modern economic theories, the economic system of Marxism is founded on moral principles, while capitalism is concerned only with gain and profitability" I always wonder why he escaped Chinese terror. Would he have stayed, he could have experienced the morality of socialism in its fullest.

  • Thinking people were somehow better in the past, yet we are all so selfish today. Violence is down, and living a human life has never been so safe. I would argue that we are just as selfish as ever - it’s just that we have find ways to actually use our selfishness in ways that benefit others. Through creating and buying stuff in an interconnected world governed by laws. Disregarding all that, and thinking that people were somehow more saintly in the past, is just pure speculation and willful blindness towards human history (and all the continuous wars between nations).

  • Constant existential guilt. Everyone should always be loved and held to be good enough. You should love yourself and feel you are good enough. Except you are not because you are still not enlightened. You still feel anger instead of limitless love, that’s not good enough. Others can hate you but you shouldn’t hate them. You still feel craving instead of disattachment, and would probably cry if you’ve lost someone or got diagnosed with a terminal illness. That’s not what a good Buddhist should do. But then again, guilt isn’t something a good Buddhist should feel either, so there you are, with your double-guilt.

  • You are a wise stream-enterer. Again. Pretty sure I’ve got it this time. I’ve got a lot of the teachings this time! Apart from spiritual materialism, thinking you are a stream-enterer will also make you afraid to go against the teachings or point out contradictions, because it means you most likely aren’t.

  • Feeling bad for horrible events that happened to you, because they might be the result of past karma. All children were worse back then when they didn’t have vaccines, so more died during infancy. Bonus points if you do not fix anything or help others, because karma will solve it out. I have suffered so much, surely something nice will come as a result of my selfless suffering. Like a prize or something, I do not know, but I really deserve it by now.

  • Being angry about all these things is bad. Even going so far to open a topic is bad. I should have just let go all the anger these realizations have caused me. Or rather explain them away and repress them.

I hope these also help others to reflect on themselves, in case they are feeling similarly. If there are more skillful Buddhist ways to actually solve these issues, I would really like to hear them. I am pretty sure many practitioners suffer from these points also, and proper explanations and teachings would be beneficial to them as well.


Well done! :clap:…! Quite articulate, too.

Being a martyr is of value in theistic religions. Metta towards oneself (and others, in balance) is at the core of Sila, without which we would be all jains (to which they might argue that our ‘balance’ is, skewed…)

with metta, :facepunch:

Ps- this might be something that does better in the ‘Watercooler’.


@richard.nagyfi You’ve obviously put a lot of thought into these issues, and I feel you’ve articulated various issues from my conditioning that as a Western Buddhist it’s easy for me to hang onto and weave in semiconsciously to my new emerging world view.

A lot of food for thought and consideration here - and as Mat says - applying metta to, for the sake of oneself and others.

I think Mat is right that this discussion would sit better in the Watercooler as we try to keep the Discussion section for discussion of the Suttas and other EBTS. I’ll move it now.


There was a term for this, the bad mimicking the good. It was popularised in Sri Lanka by Ven Rerukanne Chamdrasimala. It’s called vanchanika dhamma! It’s Sinhala for ‘deceptive thoughts/defilements’.

Hi Richard!

I understand you so much!
I’ve felt most of the things you’ve described.

I had so many layers of deeply ingrained views and positions, that I think that to walk this Path, I’ve had to untangle that huge mess in my mind before doing the things the Buddha recommend us to do. I’m pretty sure that following the suttas would be enough, but I felt the impulse to take a long route to deconstruct all of these ideas.

One of the hardest (and most important things to do, in my opinion) is be honest to yourself about your thoughts, motivations, intentions and feelings. Only by openly acknowledge the lights and shadows to yourself, you’ll be able to decide the wisest way to do with them. Recognition is not the same as accepting everything as equally useful, because there’s a distinction between what helps in perpetuating dukkha, and what prepares the soil to the seed of the Dhamma.

Philosophy has helped me a lot with this. In the past few years, reading the Dao De Jing and some of Nietzsche’s works have had a deep impact on me. I started becoming aware of my values, and started to question them all; after that (or along with it), I’ve had to become increasingly honest each day to recognize the true intentions and underlying values behind my deeds and thought patterns. As far, this has been a rollercoaster of emotions and self-discovery, seeing things that I would’ve never thought I’d discover about myself. But during all this “philosophical” and “psychological” journey, the Buddha’s teachings were the filter through which see everything else, and it had worked wonders so far. But there’s still a lot to walk and to discover about this deceitful “self” of “ours”. Who knows what may the future offer…

I wish you the best, fellow in the Path!
Have a wonderful day!

That sounds somewhat judgemental! … Could we just call it conditioning? :blush: :wink:

When you posted this I doubt you’re asking for criticism, so …

… but if I can comment on something based on personal experience or hindsight though, it was this one which leapt off the page at me.

If what you’re prescribing is, “get a better boyfriend/girlfriend”, I’m not sure that’s right either.

I won’t recommend a horrible relationship – but your view of it i.e., “your significant other is a horrible person” might be wrong – maybe they’re great, and if they’re finding it hard to communicate it’s because you are a horrible person – or perhaps other people have been horrible to them and they’re traumatised, e.g. as described here.

The theory that it’s you that’s horrible, there is some evidence for that, see e.g. …

… and so on and so on.

So anyway instead of “it is your responsibility as a good Buddhist to spend your life fixing them”, perhaps you should “fix yourself” – or to the extent that the self is dependently originated and depends on good friends, maybe try to improve the premise of the relationship.

There was a bit somewhere in this where the speaker said his wife dislikes his adoring her, because she “sees through” that as being an illusion/delusion on his part, a temporary one which will be followed by his equally illusory disappointment.

Good though he may be, it reminded me of the dictum that one’s spouse is called one’s “better half” – to some extent they may be less deluded than you are by your egoistic views.

Maybe you know this already.

As for “skillful Buddhist ways to actually solve these issues” I don’t know what to prescribe for your relationships. That talk I referenced mentioned the “12 step” program for addiction, a Buddhist equivalent might be (I haven’t tried it)

If your spouse were alcoholic I might recommend e.g. it’s easy to think “they are the alcoholic who needs fixing, I am not the one with the problem” but if someone advises you to go perhaps you should go, you might learn something.

On Access to insight that’s called the “near enemy” of something – “near” because it’s close.

So for example “pity” is given as a near enemy of metta – perhaps that’s because a characteristic of pity is conceit or something.


Yes, another is being very good, but it’s driven by conceit. Proclaiming attainment could be another one.

Practice! practice!practice!

I am practising too and laugh my a** off at myself everytime I am overcoming similar situations that you have mentioned above. Developing wisdom to laugh at your own conditioned views I think is the most skillfull way of overcoming them.