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As a general simile for the entire process of removing defilements I prefer likening it to ‘peeling an onion’, layer by layer until the white undefiled core is reached (not a self of course). As a simile to depict the levels at which defilements ought to be tackled at I would say it’s like cutting down a tree- small branches, big branches, tree trunks, and roots all have to be cut. The root is ignorance but it’s not possible to get to it straight away. Sometimes the defilement is like a mushroom - hiding its root. The defilement is so intense and agitating that we cannot see the ignorance subtilely working behind it. We are blinded by the defilement and believe the distortion it shows about the world. It also invariably points us to the external object rather than internally. So defilements should be held in check by sila, and worked on by right effort using various methods of effacement. Mindfulness alone helps reduce them but not completely so sati has to be complemented by other factors of the N8FP. No defilement AFAIK is biologically ‘hardwired’ to always stay on, but rather can be turned off as what turns them on is the way the world is viewed by the organism (ie wisdom or with ignorance) rather than any specific object. Old habits may need a push to derail and they die down quickly if there’s no ignorance supporting them. For example the Wrong intension of wanting to enjoy may scupper one’s efforts at overcoming a particular craving though not specifically related. Renunciation is the right leaning one needs to strike, to overcome many defilements as many of them are about entangling oneself with the world. So the intention to disentangle, simply, desires, be rich in time, value seclusion, value physical and mental rest, ie all the qualities of the karaniyametta sutta, are essential to easily progress. You will know your defilements are fading when you notice the way you used to react to an object changes and you have equanimity in it’s face. Valuing the peace, the lack of a defilements enables, is important to have as something to look forward to. Such cravings are helpful! We often find it hard to acknowledge defilements in ourselves. This has to be overcome and being completely honest with oneself becomes important, if not with others. Sometimes it’s possible to fool ourselves thinking a defilement is a virtue- excessively cherishing other or trying to extra kind/sentimental etc. The Self is often hiding behind the kind persona we wish to show others and crave to become. Excessive virtue should fade by itself and along with it attachment to sila ( sila upadana ). This doesn’t however mean that it’s an excuse to be unkind. It’s just a natural outcome of reducing the ego and ‘visibility’ and relevance in the world. Samadhi also shows up the defilements as they are a disturbing the tranquility. Defilements can be seen as floods, hindrances, fetters, yokes etc. Mindfulness in itself might be able to overcome weak defilements. I see it’s effects like the effect of a warm fan blower on a steamy window. Mindfulness overcoming mild worry, for example. Sometimes the effects are like a general slowing down: calming of anxiety which must happen first. Sometimes it’s like picking a weed from the ground: like when a single unwholesome thought manifests, when it hasn’t overcome the remaining aspects of the mind. Insight itself helps to overcome āsava increasingly, big by bit.

Your comments are welcome :pray:!!


Greetings @Mat
It’s interesting to see how different people each frame/approach the Noble 8 fold path when putting it in practice :slight_smile:
May I just clarify your purpose for this post, what is it that you are wanting people to comment on?



Additions, disagreements, techniques that worked, relevant EBTs and so on.


I sometimes wonder if Western Buddhism pays enough attention to this. Exhortations to perfect sila are perhaps likely to be unwelcome to modern western ears.

Or the effects of sati are like a searchlight or torch that illuminates things that we need to work.

‘As mindfulness springs up in his heart, O king, he searches out the categories of good qualities and their opposites, saying to himself: “Such and such qualities are good, and such bad; such and such qualities helpful, and such the reverse.” Thus does the recluse make what is evil in himself to disappear, and keeps up what is good. That is how keeping up is the mark of mindfulness.’


Observing sila becomes a necessary dynamic when it is realized how it contributes to mental seclusion, which is the main criterion for successful practice. Seclusion means detachment from the cycles of conventional reality, and thoughts of desire can easily assume a proportion greater than the background thoughts and this scale places them into the context of CR’s cycles by means of common consciousness. The feeling of mental seclusion is recognized by the absence of stress, there is no subtle feeling of guilt when the mind is detached from CR.
"Wander, monks, in what is your proper range, your own ancestral territory. In one who wanders in what is his proper range, his own ancestral territory, Mara gains no opening, Mara gains no foothold. "—SN 47.6, 47.7


For progress on the Path this is absolutely true; failure to develop sila is an obstacle for sure.

And what is a mendicant’s own territory, the domain of the fathers? It’s the four kinds of mindfulness meditation. What four? It’s when a mendicant meditates by observing an aspect of the body—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. They meditate observing an aspect of feelings … mind … principles—keen, aware, and mindful, rid of desire and aversion for the world. This is a mendicant’s own territory, the domain of the fathers.” SN47.7 SC4


So defilements are like weeds, to be dug up or burned away?


I would use many similes to explain defilements. The really subtle ones can be treated like weeds. Other might require a tree surgeon :peacock:! When the intention to weed out a defilement is arisen, often by seeing that the drawbacks are greater than any little benefit it might bestow upon you, the first knee-jerk reaction is sila. Or more specifically, avoidance. So when an angry person sees that their short fuse is causing more harm than being useful, the first step is to avoid people/situations that cause the problems so much so that some people who repetitively come to police attention don’t like to leave the house. Temporarily suppressed food cravings is another example, as opposed to anger, on the side of craving. Suppressing defilements don’t work. But it’s part of the process, or skill at recognition, forming an intention to work with it, etc.


From experience I don’t agree with this. It is also the last of five methods recommended in the suttas:

“If evil, unskillful thoughts continue to arise in a bhikkhu in spite of his reflection on the removal of a source of unskillful thoughts, he should with clenched teeth and the tongue pressing on the palate, restrain, subdue and beat down the (evil) mind by the (good) mind. Then the evil, unskillful thoughts connected with desire, hate and delusion are eliminated; they disappear.” —MN 20

“And what are the fermentations to be abandoned by destroying? There is the case where a monk, reflecting appropriately, does not tolerate an arisen thought of sensuality. He abandons it, dispels it, & wipes it out of existence.”—MN 2

The fundamental method for removing the defilements is starvation:
"Now, what is lack of food for the arising of unarisen sensual desire, or for the growth & increase of sensual desire once it has arisen? There is the theme of unattractiveness. To foster appropriate attention to it: This is lack of food for the arising of unarisen sensual desire, or for the growth & increase of sensual desire once it has arisen.—SN 46.51


The methods for removing defilements relate to the second endeavor of right effort, the effort to overcome unwholesome states already arisen. But the first endeavor should not be overlooked, the development of sense restraint in avoiding unwholesome states not yet arisen:

(1) “And what, bhikkhus, is striving by restraint? Here, having seen a form with the eye, a bhikkhu does not grasp its marks and features. Since, if he left the eye faculty unrestrained, bad unwholesome states of longing and dejection might invade him, he practices restraint over it, he guards the eye faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the eye faculty. Having heard a sound with the ear … Having smelled an odor with the nose … Having tasted a taste with the tongue … Having felt a tactile object with the body … Having cognized a mental phenomenon with the mind, a bhikkhu does not grasp its marks and features. Since, if he left the mind faculty unrestrained, bad unwholesome states of longing and dejection might invade him, he practices restraint over it, he guards the mind faculty, he undertakes the restraint of the mind faculty. This is called striving by restraint.

(2) “And what is striving by abandonment? Here, a bhikkhu does not tolerate an arisen sensual thought; he abandons it, dispels it, terminates it, and obliterates it. He does not tolerate an arisen thought of ill will … an arisen thought of harming … bad unwholesome states whenever they arise; he abandons them, dispels them, terminates them, and obliterates them. This is called striving by abandonment.”— AN 4.14 SC

Sense restraint:
“Mindfulness holds the hindrances in check by keeping the mind at the level of what is sensed. It rivets awareness on the given, preventing the mind from embellishing the datum with ideas born of greed, aversion, and delusion. Then, with this lucent awareness as a guide, the mind can proceed to comprehend the object as it is, without being led astray.”—'The Noble Eightfold Path’, Bikkhu Bodhi.