Two kinds of beings inhabit this universe: inanimate beings and animate ones. Inanimate refers to beings that have no mental feelings, like rivers and mountains and so forth, while animate refers to humans and all other beings that have mental feelings. We humans belong to the animate class of beings, and our mental feelings are very powerful. There are many different kinds of human beings in numerous races and various cultures, each with their own views and beliefs, but there is one thing common to all: the wish to be free from suffering and to experience happiness. Furthermore, there is no disagreement to be found on this; everyone agrees on this aim. Regardless of our race, or whether we are believers or nonbelievers, everyone strives to be free from suffering and to attain happiness. Every individual, society, government, and country aims for this.
For the sake of human happiness, humankind has made enormous progress in science and technology. We have gained great benefit from these advances. However, it is quite clear that material progress alone cannot secure for us the true peace and happiness we seek. In order to attain true happiness, it is important that we undergo internal or spiritual development. To attain happiness, it is important that we make both material and spiritual progress.
"Material progress alone cannot secure for us the true peace and happiness we seek."
How then can we progress in the spiritual field? The basis for our spiritual development is our buddha nature. The Buddha said that every sentient being possesses buddha nature. This means that the true nature of our mind is pure—naturally pure—right from the beginning. However, at the moment, we do not see the true nature of our mind, which is covered with delusions and obscurations. These obscurations are not in the nature of the mind. They are only temporary, and we can free ourselves from them. If they were in the nature of the mind, then we would not be able to eliminate them. No matter how much we try to wash coal, for example, it will never become white. Yet with the right remedies, we can remove our mental obscurations. For example, a white cloth covered with dirt will not reveal that it is white until the proper method of washing it with soap and water is applied and all of the dirt is washed away. That is to say, our mind is naturally pure and the obscurations are only temporary. Fortunately, there are methods for eliminating the defilements permanently.
Therefore, if we apply the correct methods and efforts, even as ordinary people, we can eliminate our obscurations and thus realize the true nature of our mind. We can attain the absolute goal, which is real peace and happiness. Even if we do not reach the ultimate realization of our goal, our ongoing efforts to progress spiritually will bring us many benefits, and can give us experiences of deep peace and happiness.
"Even as ordinary people, we can eliminate our obscurations and thus realize the true nature of our mind."
The very first condition that will allow us to grow spiritually is faith; specifically, faith in the teachings. By faith, we do not mean blind faith. Faith means that through our own careful investigations, we come to the irrefutable conclusion that the teachings are genuine. Without this first condition, it is impossible for us to develop any virtuous qualities or to accomplish any virtuous deeds. We are like a roasted seed, unable to sprout even when placed in soil. So too we cannot develop any virtuous qualities without faith.
According to the teachings, there are three kinds of faith: clear faith, aspiring faith, and trusting faith. The first is called “clear faith.”
When we perceive the great qualities of the Buddha, his teachings, and the community, all of our confusion is cleared and our mind is refreshed. Clear faith is similar in nature to that of a person who, suffering from heat, remembers mountain snow or a cold landscape and so experiences refreshment.
The second kind of faith is called “aspiring faith.”
At this point, one aspires to achieve spiritual attainment and to acquire virtuous qualities for one’s own sake as well as that of others. Just as the only goal of a thirsty elephant in a hot climate is to find water, so our only aspiration is to attain spiritual realization.
Finally, the third kind of faith is called “believing faith” or “trusting faith.”
This refers to belief in the teachings of the Buddha, particularly in the law of cause and effect, and in the good qualities of the Buddha, Dharma, and Saṅgha. This is like a mother and child who meet after a long separation and still instinctively trust each other.
"By faith, we do not mean blind faith."
A human being endowed with these three kinds of faith has developed unshakable faith in the teachings through investigation and analysis, and will not be tempted to forsake the teachings of the Buddha due to the usual causes of abandoning the spiritual path.
There are four causes of abandoning the spiritual path.
First, the desire for worldly attainments like wealth or fame can lead us to leave the spiritual path. The second cause is hatred: the rise of anger toward someone can move us to abandon the path. Fear is the third cause of leaving the spiritual path. For example, if remaining on the spiritual path might cause the loss of our lives, this could cause us to abandon the path. The fourth and last cause is ignorance. By this we mean the ignorance of not knowing what to adopt and what to abandon. This lack of clarity takes us away from the spiritual path.
In order to eliminate these four causes of abandoning the spiritual path, we need to fully realize their futility and the harm that they cause us. In the case of the first cause, desire, we need to remember that no matter how much we attain in our worldly lives, or how high a position we reach, this is only temporary and is not really beneficial. There is no comparison to be made between material benefit and spiritual benefit. As for the second cause, hatred, this is the worst defilement that we can harbor. Even merits that have been accumulated over thousands of eons can be lost by giving way to anger even for a single moment. By always remembering the terrible harm that anger can cause, we can eliminate it. Fear, the third cause, can be eradicated by realizing that no matter what harm we face by remaining on the spiritual path—even if it results in the loss of our own life—it can never be as dire as the fall into the lower realms caused by abandonment of the spiritual path. To eliminate the fourth cause, ignorance, we need to always be conscious of what keeps us on the path, and what takes us away from it, and to abide by these criteria. Therefore, the very first thing that we must do on the spiritual path is to establish faith, unshakable faith that will utterly subdue these four causes. This immovable faith will become the basis for all our virtuous qualities.
This article is an excerpt from the book Freeing the Heart and Mind, Part 3.
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