Monday, September 13, 2010

Pure Mind, Pure Heart

Learning From Zen, About Purification Practice.

Reluctantly, I dragged myself out of bed to make the one plus hour drive to Green Gulch Farm. I was to spend the whole day with fellow Zen Hospice volunteers for a silent retreat, with Victoria Austin as our teacher. Once there, there was no escaping the unpleasantness that had been with me for the past few days. Mindfully sitting, or walking all morning, mind had nowhere else to turn but to the hotness, and the hard ice coldness permeating my whole body. I had been quick to jump to conclusion, finding a convenient hook out there for the stuff. Someone else was responsible, I was convinced. 

After lunch, walking the path through the gardens, I had plenty of time to contemplate between each step. There had to be another way. I remembered Ayya Khema's wisdom, and started tracing back the source of such discontent. Down the ladder of emotions, and thoughts, I went. Until, poof, the light went on, just as I was coming around a curve in the road.

Green Gulch - Path Through the Gardens.
Of course, the real trigger was not outside. No, it was to be found inside, deep in some old part of my personality, same one that had caused me troubles in the past. I almost leaped with joy, as I felt the relief from clear seeing. I started feeling love for the object of my previous ill-will, and for myself. There was a completely new feeling also towards the young one inside. A sense of welcoming, that it could teach me exactly what I needed to know next. I continued to walk until I reached the beach. And picked up a black pebble in the shape of a heart. 

Late, I returned to the zendo where Victoria had started giving her talk already. I had not bothered to check the topic ahead of time, and was struck by the synchronicity. Victoria's talk was about purification and the 3 Pure Precepts
"The traditional version of the Pure Precepts is "Renounce all evil, Practice all good, Keep the mind pure, Thus have all Buddhas taught." . . . One way that Suzuki-Roshi translated them was, "With purity of heart, I vow to refrain from ignorance. With purity of heart, I vow to reveal beginner’s mind. With purity of heart, I vow to live, and be lived, for the benefit of all beings." . . . The Pure Precepts also are related to Right Effort, the sixth aspect of the Eight-fold Path. The traditional meaning of Right Effort is one’s endeavor or energetic will to abandon unwholesome states and to develop wholesome states. Wholesome states are those which have what in Buddhism is referred to as wholesome roots. The three unwholesome roots are greed, hate, and delusion, and so their opposites, non-greed or generosity, non-hate or lovingkindness, and non-delusion or wisdom are the roots of wholesome states. In Buddhism, volition, or the mind with which we act, determines whether an action is "good" or "bad," wholesome or unwholesome, rather than the activity itself being inherently good or bad . . . When I think of "evil," I think of some really extreme situation like Hitler or a fairy tale-like evil stepmother. If our vow is to "Renounce all evil," it is pretty easy to think, "Of course I renounce Hitler, or I renounce evil"; but if our vow is to abandon unwholesome activity or to refrain from actions leading to attachment, this suggests much more subtle and pervasive activity. We really have to look at, and be present with, our actions and intentions in order to find how attachment and defensiveness set in, and to be aware of self-centered motivation. If I try to refrain from evil, it seems pretty easy since almost nothing I have ever done do I consider "evil." On the other hand, if I try to refrain from action that is motivated by greed, aversion, or delusion, i.e., unwholesome activity, I need to pay a lot of attention to what I am doing and thinking."
~ Josho Pat Phelan, 'Taking and Receiving the Precepts', Part 3 ~
I was struck by Victoria's story of how she came to Buddhism. She told us about her near-death experience as a young woman, of her car being thrown into the air, and her whole life flashing before her eyes. "I felt I had led such a petty life. I was ashamed."Victoria realized she had to lead her life differently. This is what the Pure Precepts are about, living life out of a pure heart, and with great clarity.

Victoria asked us to come up with a purification ritual. We ended up each writing our unwholesome thought on a piece of paper and burning them with a stick of incense. Then we gathered in a circle in the four-gated meadow, removed our shoes, then placed our hands on our heart, bowed and held hands. 

Which mind states do you need to purify?


  1. Marguerite,

    Wonderful to read this... did I ever tell you that Vicki is my teacher? I received jukai from her in 2008, and have known her since 2001. She's a dharma treasure, for sure.

    Thank you, once again, for another beautiful post.


  2. How sweet to see your name here :)

    No, I didn't know! I was very impressed by Vicki's feminine earthiness, and her ability to bring warmth to zen practice.

  3. Yes, indeed! I find I get something very different from women teachers, and I strive to maintain a balance that way, between men and women teachers.