Seeking Defilement

Written by American Bhiksu Heng K'ung
Translated by Upasaka William Yang

      "Seeing the North Star by looking in the South" is a Ch'an slogan. To realize original purity is not obtained by an effort to see the purity of our own nature. We cannot search directly for our enlightened nature, because it cannot be the object of mental perception or thought. It is ever present within us, but we fail to recognize it because of deluded and defiled views which cover it over.

      These defiled views are created when we conduct our lives in an improper manner. If we do not discipline our desires, if we become greedy for self-benefit, and if our behavior is not in accord with the moral precepts, we cannot hope to realize the fruit of meditative practice no matter how hard we work, for these faults cover over and defile the basic enlightenment that each of us already possesses. Therefore, to realize enlightenment, we must search out our faults and truly recognize them. If we can find our faults, see them clearly and get rid of them, the inherently pure self nature within us will automatically reveal itself. This is just seeing the North Star by looking in the South.

      In Yung Chia's "Song of Enlightenment" it says, "Obtaining the fruit of enlightenment depends on long endurance." We must learn to live in constant awareness of our faults. If our so-called natural instincts are well disciplined, our spirit will quite naturally guide our actions in a direction productive of wholesome karma. Not only must we govern our animal instincts, but we must also take care to control the stress and strain of karmic retribution from past bad actions when it gets churned up by our diligent endeavors to do what is proper. For as soon as we seek the good, other forces which previously had sway over our nature will assert themselves ever so strongly. What we had long since forgotten will appear once again causing us to doubt and encouraging us to leave the Path. This is a natural burden that we have to bear. We must not allow ourselves to become discouraged and seek release from the stress in ways that will produce still more unwholesome karma.

      This is a most important point. If under the burden of stress we cannot do what is productive of wholesome karma for eradicating offenses, we should at least find rest in neutral karmic activity such as the arts, or study, or a hobby. Never should we allow ourselves to find a sense of freedom in idle conversations or entertainment, such as a ballroom, or worse, where we are only likely to churn up old desires. It is easy to become pleased with what is not wholesome, and take this sense of pleasure as relief from our stress, but this pleasure will become the source of anxiety in the future.

      Nor should we fear the heightened awareness of our inadequacies that this discipline often brings, which manifests as a sense of doubt. Freedom is obtained only by leaning against our faults with a constant awareness of them, and the freedom will be obtained without direct effort on our part. By just leaning against the faults and the feeling of doubt without getting tangled up in the specific reasons for our faults and without a direct effort to solve them will naturally mold conditions for enlightenment.

      Indeed seeking defilement is the road to purity. An effort to become pure by seeking the pure directly cannot be but rooted in a desire for self-benefit. Thus the wise person gains freedom without directly seeking it, and sees the North Star by looking in the South.