Digging Into the Old Defiling Cabinet

Our guiding teacher, Tuere Sala, is away on a teen meditation retreat this week, so she asked that I post something for contemplation in advance of our sangha meeting Thursday night.  In the coming weeks, we’ll be working with a small text entitled Don’t Look Down on the Defilements, They Will Laugh at You by Sayadaw U Tejaniya.  Let’s see what ideas we can collectively generate for practicing with the defilements (Pali: kilesa), with an aim to avoid their dependently conditioned laugh track.

In her blog post of last week, Tuere wrote, “Greed is what causes us to lean into what we like and hatred is what causes us to push away what we don’t like.  Generally, the mind resides in delusion, which obscures the push and pull of the other two.  It is in the defilements that [the] true nature [of these tendencies] can be questioned.”  In addition to greed (lobha), hatred (dosa), and delusion (moha), 7 other defilements are classically listed.  They are as follows: (4) conceit or pride (māna); (5) speculative views (diṭṭhi); (6) skeptical doubt (vicikiccha); (7) mental torpor (thīna); (8) restlessness (uddhacca); shamelessness (ahirika); (10) lack of moral dread or unconscientiousness (anottappa).  The Pali original terms are included (parenthetically) above not to be highfalutin or pretentious—if there’s any “falutin” involved in practice with the defilements, it’s lowly rather than elevated, and keeping things grounded in the playfield of direct experience is essential to the work—but rather, the Pali is offered to perhaps allow and encourage those curious yogis to cast about in cyberspace for other, less clunky English equivalents.

Ashin Tejaniya’s text offers a way into practice with the defilements in a truly practical way.  For example, point #50 in the section entitled “Food for Thought” advises: “Holding on to a preconceived idea or view [speculative views (ditti)] of what insight should be like is dangerous, as it leads to pride [conceit (māna)] when you have an experience that seems to fit such an idea.”  The more one can recognize not only what defilement is arising, but also sense into the suffering it brings in a tactile and directly felt way, the easier it is to let go of its unskillful and habitually conditioned/reactive go-to option.  Let’s keep it real tomorrow night, and talk from personal practice experience about just what a bummer it is to be blindsided kilesa-style.

—Daniel Comiskey


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