Ati Marga header
Books Online
Reading List
Senge Bio
Contact Us

An Overview
The Practice of Virtue
The Development of Insight
An Overview

Section 3: Motivation

The Purpose
With an overview of the teaching it becomes clear that cultivating virtue is essential. Without the discipline of virtue we do not have a sure foundation for the development of higher consciousness.

Thus it is stated in the Visuddhimagga:
"Discipline is for the purpose of restraint of body, speech and mind” so that the unwholesome states no longer dominate the life continuum.

"Restraint is for the purpose of non-remorse," in the sense that there are no longer conflicting emotions created by regret and guilt.

"Non-remorse is for the purpose of gladdening," in the sense that a person who is in a wholesome state of mind lives in a continuum of ongoing well being.

"Happiness is for the purpose of tranquility." When we reside in this continuum of well-being, tranquility is present because it is a natural state and the result of a good life.

"Tranquility is for the purpose of bliss." This natural state or easeful ongoing continuum, when aroused by interest and investigation, produces great bliss in the body and mind.

"Bliss is for the purpose of concentration." When this blissful interest becomes highly focused, great concentration can be achieved.

"Concentration is for the purpose of correct knowledge and vision.” Concentration is a tool in the sense that a mind that is capable of delving into any object upon which it focuses would develop correct knowledge and vision. In this way we would come to see and know for ourselves how karma gives rise to phenomenal existence. This vision is essential for deliverance and true compassion.

"Correct knowledge and vision are for the purpose of dispassion.” Seeing into the nature of things and seeing them as they really are produces dispassion in the sense that we no longer cling to, nor try to make permanent, that which is impermanent and also in the sense that we are freed from desires that propel us into actions of limited understanding.

"Dispassion is for the purpose of fading away.” Dispassion produces the fading away of greed, hatred and delusion. It is the dispassionate person who sees the play of Samsara, the play of arising and passing away, as being empty.

"Fading away is for the purpose of deliverance." The fading away of greed, hatred and delusion is deliverance. Deliverance is the state of true freedom in the mind and residing in the fulfillment of our potential as human beings.

"Deliverance is for the purpose of knowledge of deliverance." This freedom of mind must come to know the full range of its potentials. It is this knowing that all beings are in search of.

"Knowledge and vision of deliverance is for the purpose of the complete extinction of craving through not clinging." The whole of Buddha Dharma can be summed up in two words - "non-clinging awareness." The mind is liberated when it no longer clings to previous formations. It truly has the freedom of all its potential because craving for a particular form of becoming no longer propels it. Clinging to an identity via patterns of thinking and behavior is the source of all suffering. Letting go of this clinging, dropping all preconceived views and residing in the confidence of the direct and true perception of what is - this is the super-mundane.

"The super-mundane brings about the escape from becoming and the plane of reviewing knowledge." The super-mundane is freedom from being subject to becoming and in this sense there is true choice. ‘The plane of reviewing knowledge’ is the vista from which one can now view all the various forms of becoming that have been, that are now, or that will ever be. This is the super-mundane.
{ back to top }

Inferior, Medium and Superior
Again the teaching is divided into three categories: inferior, medium and superior. The motivation we have in following the path of awakening determines which is which. For instance, a person could practice in order to achieve fame; this would be considered inferior. Another may undertake the practice for its fruit of merit; this would be considered medium. Manifesting the noble state for its own sake would be considered superior. Looking at it from another point of view, the first follows the path out of a craving for a higher existence; this is inferior. When the practice is done for the purpose of our own deliverance it is medium. When it is practiced for the benefit of all sentient beings it is superior. In the Mahayana schools of Buddhism we find great emphasis placed on these three levels of practice. It is the intent that determines the level, not necessarily the activity. For instance, we could be practicing in a Theravaden monastery following all of the rules of behavior and way of life advocated by that particular branch of Buddha Dharma, however, if our motivation were to share the merit of our practice with all sentient beings, then we would be in effect practicing Mahayana Buddhism. It seems to me that many of the distinctions arising over time between Vajrayana, Mahayana and Hinayana were present in the early teachings of Buddha Dharma. But for whatever reasons, these differences became divisive, creating different schools of thought. However I must say, looking at it from the advantage of our present day historical perspective, I greatly appreciate the richness and diversity that has arisen due to these different interpretations of the Buddha's teaching.

When virtue is the base for the attainment of Buddhahood it is practiced along with the Parami. In particular, virtue is developed so that we will know what is beneficial for others. The merit of this practice is shared with all sentient beings to alleviate their suffering.
{ back to top }

Altruism and Virtue
The Parami are the qualities developed and brought to maturity by the Buddha whilst he was a Bodhisattva in his past existences. His way of practicing them is illustrated in many of the birth stories also know as the Jataka tales. When we look to the Parami for our unfoldment it can be summed up in one unshakable commitment: "May I serve to be perfect, may I be perfect to serve.” The ten stages of development are as follows: The first Parami is to be generous and helpful. The second is to develop pure and virtuous behavior. The third, renunciation, is to develop selflessness and to become self-sacrificing. The fourth is to develop wisdom and to give the benefit of our knowledge to others. The fifth is to be strenuous, energetic and persevering in our practice. The sixth is to be patient and to be able to forebear the wrongs of others. The seventh is to keep our promise to work for the benefit of all sentient beings. The eighth is to be completely firm and resolute in attaining our goal. The ninth is to be loving, kind and compassionate to all sentient beings. The tenth Parami is to develop equanimity, to become calm, quiet, unruffled and serene.
{ back to top }

Again the practice can be divided into three categories. The first type of person is ignorant of transgressions and sees no fault in being slack or having an unguarded mind. Such a person's commitment diminishes over time and they lose the desire to continue. The second type of person - possessed by pride - sees virtue as an end in itself and does not make an effort to arouse their energy to cultivate a meditation subject. In other words, they don't use virtue as a base for higher development. Such a person becomes stagnant and does not progress on the path. The third type of person develops virtue using it as a base to establish concentration and holds to the goal of realizing dispassion. Such a person, with the clarity of their inspiration, goes to the very core of understanding through penetrative insight.
{ back to top }

The Rules
There are books available that delineate the rules of the Buddhist order and how they should be kept. The Vinaya Pitaka is a history of this order and it gives detailed information about how each rule was created. Some, in my opinion, seem to be culturally specific. In other words, they were created by the Buddha to safeguard the practitioner in that particular time and culture. Others, however, have a much greater range of applicability and are more fundamental to the teaching. I will not go into all the rules here because it would be too detailed and may just lead to confusion. On the other hand, I think something should be said about the basic principles and the spirit in which we should practice.

If we look at the training from a modern day point of view we will see that the many restrictions and rules of the order can be broadly categorized in four divisions: food, clothing, sex and sleep. These are explained in the ascetic practices and rules of behavior. For now I would like to point out that the training occurs on a very physical and mundane level, it is not a study of ideology. It may be helpful to question the reasons for any one of the many restraints, but the five precepts, as prerequisites for the spiritual life, seem to be obvious. What is not obvious is how, when they are implemented properly, the precepts curb and redirect our basic instincts.
{ back to top }

If we examine the rules of behavior given by the Buddha it will become apparent that their primary function is to free us from unconscious, habitual and automatic behavior. When we take up the discipline it is proper to have an attitude of study. It should be obvious that we will be the ones least likely to recognize our own unconscious behavior. In this way we must rely on our elders who have superior insight to help us by pointing out our faults. If we are not fortunate enough to be in the company of such individuals, we indeed have a difficult task ahead of us.

Precepts are a study and training, not commandments to be blindly followed. If used properly to govern our lives and provoke questions about our unconscious instinctual tendencies, they can be of great benefit. However, if we look at the average student in the West, it is clear most would find it offensive for their elders to dictate their code of dress or behavior. In our society we seem to be in a great rush to be sure of ourselves and to assert our independence, especially in matters pertaining to the persona, or how others perceive us. In this training, we consciously put down these impulses and take up a humble and simple attitude of study. We are receptive to criticism from our elders - thus our mind is supple, permeable and open, not rigid and opinionated.
{ back to top }
Terms of use: You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved.