The Intricacies of Ignorance
There are many layers to self-deception. The more you practice and the more you investigate things, the
less you feel like claiming to know. Instead, you’ll simply see the harm of your own many-faceted ignorance and foolishness. Your examination of the viruses in the mind gets more and more subtle. Before, you didn’t know, so you took your views to be knowledge — because you thought you knew. But actually these things aren’t real knowledge. They’re the type of understanding which comes from labels. Still we think they’re knowledge, and we think we know. This in itself is a very intricate self-deception.
So you have to keep watch on these things. You have to keep contemplating them. Sometimes they fool us right before our eyes: That’s when it really gets bad, because we don’t know that we’ve got ourselves fooled, and instead think that we’re people who know. We can deal thoroughly with this or that topic, but our knowledge is simply the memory of labels. We think that labels are discernment, or thought-formations are discernment, or the awareness of sensory consciousness is discernment, and so we get these things all mixed up. As a result, we become enamored with all the bits of knowledge that slip in and fashion the mind — which are simply the illusions within awareness. As for genuine awareness, there’s very little of it, while deceptive awareness has us surrounded on all sides. We thus have to contemplate and investigate so as to see through these illusions in awareness.
This is what will enable us to read the mind. If your awareness goes out, don’t follow it out. Stop and turn inward instead. Whatever slips in to fashion the mind, you have to be wise to it. You can’t forbid it, for it’s something natural, and you shouldn’t try to close off the mind too much. Simply keep watch on awareness to see how far it will go, how true or false it is, how it disbands and then arises again. You have to watch it over and over again. Simply watching in this way will enable you to read yourself, to know cause and effect within yourself and to contemplate yourself. This is what will make your mindfulness and discernment more and more skillful. If you don’t practice in this way, the mind will be dark. It may get a little empty, a little still, and you’ll decide that that’s plenty good enough.
But if you look at the Buddha’s teachings, you’ll find that no matter what sort of correct knowledge he gained, he was never willing to stop there. He always said, “There’s more.” To begin with, he developed
mindfulness and clear comprehension in every activity, but then he said, “There’s more to do, further to
go.” As for us, we’re always ready to say, “Enough,” always ready to brag. We work at developing this or that factor for a while and then say we already know all about it and don’t have to develop it any further. As a result, the principles in our awareness all go soft because of our boastfulness and pride.
Opening the Way in the Heart
Once you can read your mind correctly, you can catch hold of defilements and kill them off: That’s insight meditation. The mind becomes razor sharp, just as if you have a sharp knife which can cut anything clear through. Even if defilements arise again, you dig them up again, cut them off again. It’s actually a lot of fun, this job of uprooting the defilements in the mind There’s no other work nearly as much fun as getting this sense of “I” or self under your thumb, because you get to see all of its tricks.
Whenever it shows its face in order to get anything, you just watch it — to see what it wants and why it
wants it, to see what inflated claims it makes for itself. This way you can cross-examine it and get to
the facts. Once you know, there’s nothing to do but let go, to become disengaged and free. Just think of how good that can be! This practice of ours is a way of stopping and preventing all kinds of things inside
ourselves. Whenever defilement rises up to get anything, to grab hold of anything, we don’t play along.
We let go. Just this is enough to do away with a lot of stress and suffering, even though the defilements feel the heat. When we oppress the defilements a lot in this way, it gets them hot and feverish, you know. But remember, it’s the defilements that get hot and feverish. And remember that the Buddha told us to put the heat on the defilements because if we don’t put the heat on them, they put the heat on us all the time.
So we must be intent on burning the defilements away, even though they may complain that we’re mistreating them. We close the door and imprison them. Since they can’t go anywhere, they’re sure to complain: “I can’t take it! I’m not free to go anywhere at all!” So simply watch them: Where do they want to go? What do they want to grab hold of? Where? Watch them carefully, and they’ll stop — stop going, stop running. It’s easy to say no to other things, but saying no to yourself, saying no to your defilements isn’t easy at all — but it doesn’t he beyond your discernment or capabilities to do it. If you have the mindfulness and discernment to say no to defilement, it will stop. Don’t think that you can’t make it stop.
You can make it stop — simply that you’ve been foolish enough to give in to it so quickly that it’s become
second nature. So we have to stop. Once we stop, the defilements can stop, too. Wherever they turn up, we can extinguish them. And when this is the case, how can we not want to practice? No matter how stubbornly they want anything, simply watch them. Get acquainted with them, and they won’t stay. They’ll disband.
As soon as they disband, you realize exactly how deceptive they are. Before, you didn’t know. As soon as they urged you to do anything, you went along with them. But once you’re wise to them, they stop. They disband. Even though you don’t disband them, they disband on their own. And as soon as you see their disbanding, that opens the path wide for you. Everything opens up in the heart. You can see that there’s a way you can overcome defilement, you can put an end to defilement, no matter how much it arises. But you’ve got to remember to keep on watching out for it, keep on letting it go.
So I ask that you all make the effort to keep sharpening your tools at all times. Once your discernment is sharp on any point, it can let go of that point and uproot it. If you look after that state of mind and
contemplate how to keep it going, you’ll be able to keep your tools from growing too easily dull.
And now that you know the basic principles, I ask that you make the effort to the utmost of your strength and mindfulness. May you be brave and resilient, so that your practice for gaining release from all your sufferings and stress can reap good results in every way.