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

Section 3: Understanding the Disorder

The Seven Illnesses and their Antidotes
We spoke earlier about the five methods by which we can abandon clinging to the unwholesome. Now we will explore positive forms that can be used as antidotes to the unwholesome states. As we have said before, when we rid ourselves of an unwholesome, spontaneously a wholesome state is present. When we cultivate a state as an antidote we are taking this principle a step further and using it as a cure for the illness of the defilement.

9) Lust
When we deal with sensuous desire or lust as an illness the most obvious meaning is in regards to sexual appetite, but there are other connotations. We may lust after an experience, an object, money, or power. Lust implies that we are swept away in the passion of desire. Of course this is also true in the case of sexual lust. The hallmark of sexual lust is that we become self-involved and do not perceive another human being but only whether or not they fulfil our desire. This denotes a passion that is insatiable and that can never be satisfied because it is internalized. Even when we attain our desires the lust still remains. Lust drives us to extremes, and this invariably manifests as repetitive and obsessive fantasy. Lust is a very focused state of mind that usually manifests in one area of our personality. Because of this, it also has great power that can make it an extremely destructive force in our lives. It is a hot passionate state that consumes enormous quantities of energy. If we remove this from the sexual realm we will see that however innocent these passions may appear on the surface, when we are being consumed by them we loose a sense of the multidimensional aspect of our being. Our minds become focused on the desire to the exclusion of everything else. When we are cool and clear, free of the passions, we are open to many other possibilities and can see our selves as interactive and communal, a part of the whole flow of existence.

When we ask ourselves what the antidote to this illness is we find the answer in one of the definitions of virtue. When the ancients defined virtue they did not use a philosophical definition they used a tactile one. "Coolness", the definition they gave it, is the state in the body-mind when there is virtue present. Coolness is the essence of "dispassion" and because of this we can say that the more we cultivate wholesome states of consciousness the less power the passions will have upon us. So we should see the antidote to lust or passion as the cultivation of purity. Dispassion and goodwill are cultivated until there is no more room left for lust. When we know the passion desires as an illness we make haste to cultivate the antidote.
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10) Ill Will
When we deal with ill will as an illness, the antidote is to be kind and friendly. Ill will comes about because we have aversion to the object. In other words, we are repelled in some way by the perception of an object, and in the case of a person it might be some quality in them that produces this aversion. When this is unconscious we say we don't like that person, but we are not clear as to why. If we do not check and investigate this impulse, it will develop into a conscious intention to harm the other person. If we are dominated by such states, and do not become aware of them and their causes, ill will has a tendency to grow. One who views their survival as dependent upon another person's destruction sees ill will as a benefit and lives clinging to this state. When this illness is known, when it is clearly acknowledged as a destructive force within us, then we can then begin to apply the antidote. Cultivating the state of loving-kindness heals us from the warring states within our selves. When we are in a state of loving-kindness, peace and joy are easily accessible to us. We are the first to benefit from cultivating this state and when it is extended to others the medicine has taken hold. This transforms our entire life and becomes evident as others respond by supporting us in innumerable ways.
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11) Dullness
When we deal with psychological illness in general, the body is a gauge by which we can evaluate our states. Just as virtue results in a cool state of the body, conflicts in the mind result in stiffness and torpor. In the West, we have diagnosed this as depression and it has many degrees of severity. This torpidity, a sluggish and dull state, is experienced directly in the body as lethargy and heaviness. The ancients were very practical in finding antidotes to any given state of suffering. In this case they tell us that the perception of light cures this lethargy in the body. Many negative states of mind are supported and provoked by our environment. Freedom from stiffness and torpor comes through regulating our environment or focusing on one aspect of it. The lack of light or not being aware or focused on light contributes to the dull heaviness we experience. In this way when we wish to be free of dullness the best thing to do is to focus on light.

When we live in cities and are not in contact with the elements of nature it is much more likely that we will be plagued by this kind of negativity. An example is the North American office worker in winter. They leave for work at six o'clock and the sun has not yet risen, they go home at five and the sun has set. They may spend months without seeing natural light except for short periods of time. It is difficult to imagine how we could function anywhere near our potential in this kind of an environment. In one sense, you could say that people who live under those conditions and remain relatively sane are heroic.

The positive point to remember here is that we do not have to be passive even in negative circumstances, we can use our focus of mind to clear negative states. In this case the ancients said we should focus on natural light, for instance light streaming through a tree or dappled light as it strikes the ground. It is not good however to focus directly on artificial light and obviously we could go blind if we were to look directly at the sun. So we focus on natural reflected light.

As a child I remember sitting in a room with light streaming in the window and I could see the dust motes floating in the air, this seemed to bring about a wonderful state of peace and happiness in my being. Try to find a place in your environment where you can do this kind of reflection. If this is not possible, and you are stuck in an office, merely bringing to mind a memory of such an instance will help.
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12) Agitation
When we deal with agitation as an illness the first and most important thing is recognition: very often when we are agitated we are not aware of this fact. When we recognize agitation as a hindrance, and are disgusted with it, we can then apply the antidote. In this case non-distraction, or focus, is the key. In a way this presents us with a problem, because in order for us to be concentrated we have to focus on something that genuinely interests us. Agitation so often arises when we are frustrated and can not respond naturally to those around us. For instance, if we are working at a job merely for the money, it will be difficult for us to focus on the immediate surroundings. In such a case we may have to create a mental image that allows us to focus the mind. It's a wonderful thing to experience for the first time the ability to reshape our mind and let go of agitation merely by focusing on something wholesome. So much of our stress comes from situations where we can not in good conscience express our anger or frustration to those around us and yet we do not have a productive or wholesome activity that we can use as a refuge. The key to freedom here is to be genuinely interested in our activities and not merely concerned with the secondary results. When it comes to agitation, the antidote is to focus on a clear and wholesome object of mind.
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13) Uncertainty
When dealing with the state of uncertainty as an illness, the antidote is the investigation of the laws that govern coming into being and passing away: to know the causality of states of being and their interdependent nature. There will come a time in our practice when we will find it necessary to analyze ourselves and the Teaching and put them in very clear terms. It is only through this dissection and analysis that we will have a real understanding. This is how we free our selves of uncertainty. Becoming certain about the path is to know directly for one's self what is wholesome and what is unwholesome. To have clear insight into these as causes for our happiness or suffering. Once we are free of uncertainty then we know that we are on the right path, and we are sure of it because of our own experience.
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14) Ignorance
When dealing with ignorance as an illness the antidote is knowledge. Knowledge arises in one who fulfills virtue, concentration and understanding. We have knowledge of the wholesome and the unwholesome through the development of virtue. We have knowledge of elevated states of consciousness through the development of concentration. We have knowledge of causality through the development of insight. When we fulfill the path, knowledge is the result.
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15) Boredom
When boredom is the illness the antidote is interest. Boredom only arises in us when our natural interest has been frustrated and not allowed to run its course. The cause of this can often be found in our childhood, where overprotective parents did not allow us to interact with our environment. In our meditative life we have the responsibility to deal with boredom quickly and this is achieved by focusing directly on what is occurring at the moment. Any given moment has within it an almost infinite number of explorations that could be embarked upon. It is only when we reject the present and hanker after a non-existent fantasy that boredom sets in. When we remove ourselves from the direct experience boredom is the result because we have limited our perspective to a narrow field of possibilities.
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