The Seven Stages of Purification
“The Buddhist path of freedom, is like a river flowing to the ocean, it slopes gently to enlightenment.”
1- Purification of Virtue
It is the purification of morality. This is the most gross purification, that removes the most gross forms of impurity, those that show themselves in our actions and speech. When we say or do unwholesome things, this is because of a very impure mind.
Many times we may only think bad things, but not act on them. When it becomes too coarse, we act, and speak in unwholesome ways. We make effort to purify our actions and speech, not killing, stealing, cheating, lying or taking intoxicants. It is not that there is anything magical about these actions, just that they are very coarse expressions of impurity.
So, we have to refrain from them, and many other minor impure acts, like violence, harsh speech, etc. Once our morality is pure on whatever level we can manage, at least the five precepts, then we can start to develop concentration. This is because our mind is not even moral, let alone concentrated. Once we practice for a while, our mind does not want to kill, etc. so then it starts to focus. It starts to calm down.
2- Purification of Concentration
Concentration actually purifies the mind completely… but only temporarily. We can sit in meditation without any impure thoughts, and then have them all come back again when we stop. So, they say concentration removes moderate impurity, but not the most subtle.
The development of concentration, right concentration, in Buddhism is the removal of the five hindrances:
- sensual desire (wanting or liking)
- aversion (disliking, anger, boredom, fear, sadness, etc.)
- sloth and torpor (drowsiness, laziness, etc.)
- worry and restlessness
- doubt and confusion
Basically all sorts of stressful states of mind, we have to overcome in meditation. But if we really want to root out the subtle defilements, we must not repress even the negative emotions. Because the most subtle defilements are due to ignorance, so we have to create understanding. Understanding cannot come through repression. So, when we have negative mind states of craving or aversion or doubt, etc., we have to use them as our teachers… we have to learn all about them.
Once we come to understand them, they will have no power over us; we will not be interested in them. And so our minds will really be pure. But in the beginning, we start simply by calming the mind down; before real understanding comes, we are still just repressing the feelings temporarily. This is a good start, because when our minds are pure, we can see things clearer.
When our minds are not clouded by defilement, we can see every little defilement clearly as it arises. So momentary repression is an important tool in the beginning. Once we are good at keeping our emotions in check, our minds will be free from the five hindrances.
3- Purification of Self-View
In Buddhism we have to go deeper, and so we have to actually look at the defilements. Once we start to look, we will start to see that actually there is no “I” that is greedy, angry, etc. We will remove all views and conceits about self and ego. We will not cling to views and opinions, because we will see that reality is just the way it is… phenomena arising and ceasing incessantly. This is called purification of view.
4- Purification by Overcoming Doubt
Once our view is pure, we will start to see how these phenomena work together, as cause and effect. When we want something, for instance, we give rise to actions and speech for the purpose of attaining the object of our desire. when we act and speak thus, it leads us to suffer and stress when we don’t get what we want. and so on.
So, we overcome doubts about things like karma and rebirth. This is called purification by overcoming doubt.
5- Purification by Knowledge and Vision of What is and What is not the Path
Because we see cause and effect clearly, we know that the future will only be the same. We have no reason to think otherwise, because we see the nature of the reality around and inside ourselves. Soon, we start to sort out what is useful and what is not useful. We come to see through even positive meditation states like peace and calm and happiness, bright lights, etc.
We see that simple bare attention and understanding of things as they are is the path; chasing after certain experiences is not. This is called “purification by knowledge of what is the path and what is not”
6- Purification by Knowledge and Vision of the Way
From this point on, insight can arise unimpeded, now we are no longer judgmental about reality. This is called purification by following the path.
7- Purification by Knowledge and Vision
As a result of following the path, we come to see that everything around and inside of ourselves is changing, unsatisfying and uncontrollable. We become bored of clinging to it, chasing after it. And soon the mind lets go, seeing perfectly clear that there is nothing worth clinging to. This is called “purification by knowledge and vision”
Once the mind lets go, it comes to see the cessation of all things; that whatever arises must inevitably cease. This realization is the wisdom that does away with any tendency to give rise to unwholesomeness.
It is still gradual, though. Slowly, through repeated realization, the mind lets go of all sensual desire, aversion, views, conceit, doubt, desire for becoming or ignorance. These are the seven proclivities that rest in the mind, waiting for something to entice them into action. Once these are gone, the mind will never give rise to defilement again.
This is the path of purification. This is the realization of Nibbana.
Adapted by, G Ross Clark