2021-05-25-Kusala (2 of 10): Discering Wholesome and Unwholesome
2:54PM May 25, 2021
Continuing on this topic of wholesome and unwholesome
and it's such a central orientation and the teachings of the Buddha. So much so that one of the short pithy sayings from the early tradition to kind of encapsulate the teachings of the Buddha goes like this. Avoid doing what's harmful, cultivate what is wholesome, purify the mind. This is the teachings of the Buddha. And we could all do this, they were for harming it's translated many ways in English. It could be a wicked, sometimes it's translated as evil. But it has to do with causing harm in the world. And could be just said to be abandoned, what is unwholesome, don't do what's unwholesome, cultivate the wholesome, and purify the mind. This is the teachings of the Buddha. So this idea that, that at the heart of the Buddhist practice is this distinction and dichotomy. Some people will say, duality between two different directions to go. And to make it pragmatic, which it is, we could say what works and what doesn't work. And if something works, even if it partially works in the right direction, great. Let's do it. And if it if it doesn't work in the direction we want to go, then don't do it. And to be able to distinguish between what works and what doesn't work, what's helpful, and what's not helpful, is at the center of this, you know, what mindfulness is about. Mindfulness is meant to place us in the center of our experience, so that we can make these pragmatic choices in this direction. To illustrate a little bit more, how important this is in the Buddhist teachings. I'm gonna paraphrase Now, some of my examples are not going to be quite, as I said, in the text, but that
so Buddho says, somebody said, to compensate, to come to the Buddha and say, do you teach that we should avoid all pleasure? And the Buddha would answer, no, I teach, that we should avoid pleasure which is unwholesome, but we should cultivate pleasure which is wholesome. Do you say that we should always speak the truth? No, I say that we should speak the truth. When it's wholesome and beneficial to do so. Not when it's unwholesome and harmful to do so. Do you say that we should always be x, y believe in this or that? Is it always one way and the Buddho keeps coming back? And says no, if it's wholesome, we do it if it's not wholesome, we don't do it. So this has centralizing and absolute sizing of behavior, beliefs, ideas, seems to be something that Buddha was very reluctant to do. In fact, there's a whole discourse in the middle length discourses, where the whole discourse is based in idea, what should be cultivated and what should not be cultivated. And, and they go through all these different categories of which be cultivated, through actions through speech through mind and different categories. And, and the answer always is, we cultivate what is wholesome, we abandon what is unwholesome. And the, and in discussing the wholesome. The Buddha says that these are qualities that lead to a sense of abundance, they grow, we thrive. There's a thriving with them there. So we want to take the wholesome and make them abundant and thriving and increase them to grow. Very kind of dramatic language, emphasizing the value and importance of what is wholesome. Now I think when we're early years of Buddhist practice, I'm, especially when I was doing Zen practice. This kind of message was, I think, not something that I understood or picked up from the teachings that I heard and was engaged in. In fact, I kind of got the opposite that quite the opposite. But more like any attempt to try to cultivate intentionally your orient towards what's wholesome, was somehow missing the boat, that what we should do is just sit in emptiness sit in, as if we are Buddha, without trying to do anything or make something happened. And I kind of sat that way in Zen and it was very beneficial for me, it's, there's a whole Zen dermology, or approach to life that where that's coherent, and if you understand it works really well. But also felt that that's as time went along, that it was also limiting. If that was all I did, but rather sit meditate that way when it's wholesome, but not when it's unwholesome. And so in this in this making this distinction between wholesome or not or unwholesome, we become our own teacher. It isn't that we're supposed to go into the books to the manual, and what should I do? What should I not do, but where my were using our own inner intent, our own psychosomatic apparatus for sensing and feeling and knowing our own wisdom, to recognize the impact that our behavior has behavior and body speech in mind? And if it is, healthy, wholesome, if it brings a sense of goodness, for brings joy and happiness well being? Then, yes, do it develop that you're allowed to develop that? If it does the opposite, abandon it, avoid it. Now, another criticism that I would have had in my early years for this is it lends itself to selfishness, that lead lends itself to kind of pursuit of hedonic to, you know, just pleasure and and hedonism kind of,
I think that it doesn't, when what we're doing is practicing real mindfulness, real careful attention, really sensing and feeling what's happening in here. And what we'll feel, we're going to recognize that if it's selfish, if it's hedonistic, that that itself is unwholesome, unhealthy, and we can feel that we can feel the impact that have that it actually debilitates actually deflates and undermines us, it's not such a good thing to do. And so part of what this practice is about is starting to become kind of sore of the impact or of our behavior, not whether it's good or bad in some abstract way, not that it's right or wrong in some abstract way. But what we know from the inside out, will be learned to recognize directly, it's almost like we feel the wholesomeness, the unwholesomeness, we feel that out, should we feel that? Ah, that's going in a good way. And the importance of doing that, for oneself being one's own teacher this way, is that that there is no divine authority in Buddhism, that's judging us. There is no external source for what is right and wrong. It's all mediated here, this in our own psychophysical being Can we really find, you know, the, the wisdom, the deep understanding for exactly how this works. And in this way, early Buddhism is a tremendous trust in the human beings capacity, provided they are, have a heightened mindfulness, height, heightened sensitivity, maybe even a heightened ability to be still and peaceful. So we can really tune in to what happens. So when you do that, you start feeling like when we're hostility, that we're hurting ourselves. When we're greedy, we're hurting ourselves. When we're caught in delusion. There's that that very tightness and contraction and being lost and delusion is a kind of feels also like something's being lost here. And the obscuring going on or confusion. And, and to feel that, Oh, look at that. There it is. And sometimes the early warning sign that we're going in the wrong direction does not come from our abstract ideas, but rather from our body and in the felt sense the movement of what are that's noticed. It's looks like what's happened just now I feel diminished, contracted, I feel drained a little bit. I feel like there's a there's a tension building up. And so then we look more closely is this wholesome or unwholesome, healthy or unhealthy in terms of the unwholesome, the Buddha described the unwholesome as something which harms the very thing that is producing the unwholesome. So and the analogy he used was that of a some kind of read some kind of plant nature in India, in India, that when the fruit ripens, the it takes all the nutrients from the plant the rest of the plant, and the plant dies. And so the unwholesome is like that, that it takes the energy from the person and so kind of way of being in something gets diminished something even at times can even die. If the unwholesome thing we do is really dramatic. Neck, we really harm someone in terrible ways. And so, so in this way, there's a possibility to not get caught up in old ideas that we've inherited from our society, our religions and all that about that were good or that were bad, that we're right or wrong. Rather, we just kind of lovingly caringly, evaluate, look, consider, is this wholesome? Or is it unwholesome? Is it helpful or not helpful? does it lead to growth of wholesomeness or diminishment of our wholesome qualities, and what we're looking for in the path to liberation is a growth in our wholesome qualities. And we'll talk more about those over these next couple of weeks. And the diminishment of the unwholesome ones.
And because on the path to liberation, the unwholesome qualities agitate the mind, obscure the mind and heart makes it very hard to be on the path of liberation, the cultivation of the wholesome qualities, looking for what's more and more wholesome, leads to a deep sense of well being and subtleness and peace, that allows us to move into freedom and deliberation, freedom from all unwholesomeness. So So, tomorrow I'll talk a little bit more specifically about the unwholesome and because, in a sense, we're supposed to become a connoisseur of the unwholesome, so we can recognize it and not be caught by it. And so in the meantime, please, study yourself and see what you know what you recognize how you recognize this distinction between healthy and unhealthy, wholesome and unwholesome and what it means for you right now. And maybe over these next days, you will maybe come to a more refined understanding of what these concepts are. Thank you.