Starving the defilements

A discussion on all aspects of Theravāda Buddhism
befriend
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Starving the defilements

Post by befriend » Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:37 pm

could Buddhism be theoretically described as the practice of starving the defilements? This seems like a simple theory of practice that I can wrap my head around. Having restraint of the six senses starves greed, generosity starves greed, loving kindness and refraining from ill will starves hatred, being energetic starves sloth and torpor, etc..wisdom starves delusion so I can see Dhamma practice as a way of letting go of all that is not beautiful and well.
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.

sunnat
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by sunnat » Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:55 pm

. Sort of. It is the equanimous observation, mindfulness, of the defilements, or rather everything that is composed, that starves them. Or rather, when reality, as it manifests, moment to moment, is simply observed it behaves as it should. It decays (is starved).

Then there are various helpful tools to use to stay on the path.

2600htz
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by 2600htz » Thu Jun 06, 2019 4:57 am

Hello:

Yes it can be described that way.
But its more like starving from poisons, and eating only the good stuff.
Not just "don´t do this".

Regards.

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Dan74-MkII
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Dan74-MkII » Thu Jun 06, 2019 5:05 am

What sunnat said agrees more with my experience. For me, at least, it doesn't tend to work to just say 'I will abstain from such and such behaviour', except in a retreat situation or a major change of scenery. What does work is cultivating this attention and spacious awareness around the behavior and its arising. Then things go fall by the wayside. Or at least some of them.

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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Polar Bear » Thu Jun 06, 2019 6:24 am

befriend wrote:
Wed Jun 05, 2019 11:37 pm
could Buddhism be theoretically described as the practice of starving the defilements?
Yes, see the below sutta which talks about feeding and starving the hindrances and factors of awakening.

https://suttacentral.net/sn46.51/en/sujato

:anjali:
"I don't envision a single thing that, when developed & cultivated, leads to such great benefit as the mind. The mind, when developed & cultivated, leads to great benefit."

"I don't envision a single thing that, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about such suffering & stress as the mind. The mind, when undeveloped & uncultivated, brings about suffering & stress."

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Sam Vara
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Jun 06, 2019 8:21 am

I think it's an excellent and practical way of undertaking the practice. Here's Ajahn Chah:
You may think that practicing like this involves hounding yourself, but it doesn't really. Actually it's hounding craving and the defilements. If defilements arise within you, you have to do something to remedy them. Defilements are like a stray cat. If you give it as much food as it wants it will always be coming around looking for more food, but if you stop feeding it, after a couple of days it'll stop coming around. It's the same with the defilements, they won't come to disturb you, they'll leave your mind in peace. So rather than being afraid of defilement, make the defilements afraid of you.Those just beginning often wonder what practice is. Practice occurs when you try opposing the defilements, not feeding old habits. Where friction and difficulty arise, that's the place to work.
(Living Dhamma)

Apparently he liked to use the "stray cat" analogy:
When you pick mushrooms to eat, you do not do so blindly; you have to know which kind is which. So too with our practice-we must know the dangers, the snake's bite of defilements, in order to free ourselves from them.

The defilements-greed, hatred and delusion-are at the root of our suffering and our selfishness. We must learn to overcome them, to conquer and go beyond their control, to become masters of our minds. Of course it seems hard. It is like having the Buddha tell you to split up with a friend you have known since childhood.

The defilements are like a tiger. We should imprison the tiger in a good strong cage made of mindfulness, energy, patience, and endurance. Then we can let it starve to death by not feeding its habitual desires. We do not have to take a knife and butcher it.

Or defilements are like a cat. If you feed it, it will keep coming around. Stop feeding it, and eventually it will not bother to come around any more.

We will unavoidably be hot and distressed in our practice at first. But remember, only the defilements are hot. People think, '1 never had problems like this before. What's wrong?" Before, when we fed our desires, we were at peace with them, like a man who takes care of an internal infection by dressing only the external sores.

Resist defilements. Do not give them all the food or sleep they want. Many people consider this the extreme of self-torture, but it is necessary to become inwardly strong. See for yourself. Constantly watching the mind, you may think you are seeing only effects and wonder about the causes. Suppose parents have a child who grows up to be disrespectful. Distressed by his behaviour, they may ask, 'Where has this child come from?" Actually, our suffering comes from our own wrong understanding, our attachment to various mental activities. We must train our mind like a buffalo: the buffalo is our thinking, the owner is the meditator, raising and training the buffalo is the practice. With a trained mind, we can see the truth, we can know the cause of our self and its end, the end of all sorrow. It is not complicated, you know.

Everyone has defilements in his practice. We must work with them, struggling when they arise. This is not something to think about but to do. Much patience is necessary. Gradually we have to change our habitual ways of thinking and feeling. We must see how we suffer when we think in terms of me and mine. Then we can let go.
And here is Upasaka Kee Nanayon:
We have to be strong in fighting off defilements, cravings, and illusions of every sort. We have to test our strength against them and bring them under our power. If we can bring them under our power, we can ride on their backs. If we can't, they'll have to ride on our backs, making us do their work, pulling us around by the nose, making us want, wearing us out in all sorts of ways.

So are we still beasts of burden? Are we beasts of burden because defilement and craving are riding on our backs? Have they put a ring through our noses? When you get to the point when you've had enough, you have to stop -- stop and watch the defilements to see how they come into being, what they want, what they eat, what they find delicious. Make it your sport -- watching the defilements and making them starve, like a person giving up an addiction....See if it gets the defilements upset. Do they hunger to the point where they're salivating? Then don't let them eat. No matter what, don't let them eat what they're addicted to. After all, there are plenty of other things to eat. You have to be hard on them -- hard on your "self" -- like this...."Hungry? Well go ahead and be hungry! You're going to die? Fine! Go ahead and die!" If you can take this attitude, you'll be able to win out over all sorts of addictions, all sorts of defilements -- because you're not pandering to desire, you're not nourishing the desire that exists for the sake of finding flavor in physical things. It's time you stopped, time you gave up feeding these things. If they're going to waste away and die, let them die. After all, why should you keep them fat and well fed?

No matter what, you have to keep putting the heat on your cravings and defilements until they wither and waste away. Don't let them raise their heads. Keep them under your thumb. This is the sort of straightforward practice you have to follow. If you're steadfast, if you put up a persistent fight until they're all burned away, then there's no other victory that can come anywhere near, no other victory that's anywhere near a match for victory over the cravings and defilements in your own heart.

This is why the Buddha taught us to put the heat on the defilements in all our activities -- sitting, standing, walking, and lying down. If we don't do this, they'll burn us in all our activities....

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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Srilankaputra » Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:25 am

Sila and samadhi part of the practice is all about that. Then when this thorny and poisonous thicket is cut down sufficiently we can find the root that makes it grow again and again and remove it. Which is tha panna part of the practice.
O seeing one,we for refuge go to thee!
O mighty sage do thou our teacher be!

Paccuppannañca yo dhammaṃ,
Tattha tattha vipassati

“Yato yato mano nivāraye,
Na dukkhameti naṃ tato tato;
Sa sabbato mano nivāraye,
Sa sabbato dukkhā pamuccatī”ti.

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Bundokji
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Bundokji » Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:33 am

I think trying to rely on a simple theory to understand the teachings can be useful because we need a starting point, but comes at an expense, because it might ritualize the practice by reducing it to a simple formula to follow, which might make us feel good, but do not necessarily lead to wisdom.

A lot of humans both in the east and the west engage in ascetic practices, which involves starving the senses, but are they wise? I live in a Muslim country where people practice fasting in Ramada, and if there is anything to be noticed, it would be a general increase in stupidity and public neurosis.

Yesterday, i listened to an audio-book titled "the art of being" by Erich Fromm who was a psychoanalyst influenced by Zen Buddhism especially the teachings of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. He began his book by making an interesting distinction between two modes of existences:

1- of being
2- of having

I think understanding the defilements from the vantage point of their relationship to "having" could be a better approach than seeking to starve them which implies an over-reliance on the will rather than understanding. Keeping in mind that the Buddha likened wisdom to be escaping from the net can be beneficial in my opinion in the sense that it presents the structure of our being (and therefore our dilemma) to be the outcome of the interrelation between wide range of causes and effects.

All in my opinion.
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:28 am

Bundokji wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 10:33 am

A lot of humans both in the east and the west engage in ascetic practices, which involves starving the senses, but are they wise? I live in a Muslim country where people practice fasting in Ramada, and if there is anything to be noticed, it would be a general increase in stupidity and public neurosis.
All true, but starving the senses and asceticism are very different practices from the process of starving the defilements as illustrated in the quotes I gave above. The latter is perfectly compatible with living a normal householder life and enjoying pleasures and comfort.

It is closely linked to the practice of maintaining constant awareness so that we know immediately when a harmful impulse enters the mind. We don't give the defilements any "house room" and make sure that they are recognised and stopped before they proliferate and take hold. The starving aspect is refusing to nurture greed, hatred and delusion (or their more specific manifestations) and cutting off their mental sustenance.

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Bundokji
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Bundokji » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:40 am

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:28 am
All true, but starving the senses and asceticism are very different practices from the process of starving the defilements as illustrated in the quotes I gave above. The latter is perfectly compatible with living a normal householder life and enjoying pleasures and comfort.
Grateful if you could share your understanding on the similarities and differences between starving the senses and starving the defilements because this would be relevant to the OP and beneficial to me and to those who read it.

Thanks :anjali:
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by befriend » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:44 am

Would spiritual joy such as jhana, brahma viharas, bliss of blamelessness, and rapture be considered other worldly pleasure which starves worldly greed?
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.

befriend
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by befriend » Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:56 am

Starving the defilements can mean sitting with your anger and doing a feelings scan through out your whole body and seeing the angers hot sensations moving and morphing changing into different sensations and seeing the other sensations in the body this gives a feeling of equanimity not caring about the sensations so much cause you see there so incredibly unstable and impermanent and not yours even. Feeding the defilement of anger would be indulging in angry thoughts or lashing out verbally.
Take care of mindfulness and mindfulness will take care of you.

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Sam Vara
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Sam Vara » Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:26 pm

Bundokji wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:40 am
Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 11:28 am
All true, but starving the senses and asceticism are very different practices from the process of starving the defilements as illustrated in the quotes I gave above. The latter is perfectly compatible with living a normal householder life and enjoying pleasures and comfort.
Grateful if you could share your understanding on the similarities and differences between starving the senses and starving the defilements because this would be relevant to the OP and beneficial to me and to those who read it.

Thanks :anjali:
I would see "starving the senses" as a kind of asceticism whereby the practitioner deliberately avoids sensory stimulation as a way of avoiding trouble. Examples would be walking with one's head down to avoid seeing things that might trigger interest, avoiding contact with the opposite sex, forgoing entertainments, restricting one's diet, etc.

Starving the defilements (at least as far as referred to by the quotes - I don't think it is formally defined) is to not nourish those defilements by indulging them. One resolves to be alert to the arising of defilements, and then to deal with them appropriately to prevent them gaining ground. For example, we watch the mind so as to "catch" anger as it arises. Giving in to it by kammically effective actions, words, and thoughts gives it power over us and guarantees it's return. So we starve that anger. We cut off its food supply by refusing to act it out, denying it proliferating thoughts, and doing whatever else is required to prevent its growth.

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Dan74-MkII
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Dan74-MkII » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:12 pm

Perhaps an obvious point needs to be made that defilements arise because we believe we enjoy them or consider them important. Typically what we do is we start putting importance on the Dhamma and develop a self-image of a good Buddhist (like in the recent thread) which then comes into conflict with defilements, resulting in a tug-o-war of sorts, which is both stressful, saps energy and confidence since we generally tend to lose it or add more self-deception to pretend otherwise. Until the defilements lose their attraction.

The Buddha tells is that indulging in defilements is something that results in lower rebirth. Those with deep faith may be persuaded by these teachings and win in the tug-o-war, but most of us today lack such deep faith.

He also teaches that what we consider to be pleasures and something worth chasing is akin to a leper cauterising his sores, which points us inwards to the source of the sores needing to be cauterised. This is where the effort should be applied, if possible, IMO.

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Bundokji
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Re: Starving the defilements

Post by Bundokji » Thu Jun 06, 2019 1:43 pm

Sam Vara wrote:
Thu Jun 06, 2019 12:26 pm
I would see "starving the senses" as a kind of asceticism whereby the practitioner deliberately avoids sensory stimulation as a way of avoiding trouble. Examples would be walking with one's head down to avoid seeing things that might trigger interest, avoiding contact with the opposite sex, forgoing entertainments, restricting one's diet, etc.

Starving the defilements (at least as far as referred to by the quotes - I don't think it is formally defined) is to not nourish those defilements by indulging them. One resolves to be alert to the arising of defilements, and then to deal with them appropriately to prevent them gaining ground. For example, we watch the mind so as to "catch" anger as it arises. Giving in to it by kammically effective actions, words, and thoughts gives it power over us and guarantees it's return. So we starve that anger. We cut off its food supply by refusing to act it out, denying it proliferating thoughts, and doing whatever else is required to prevent its growth.
Thanks Sam :anjali:

The interrelationship between sensuality and defilements is subtle and not easy to grasp. If we take heedfulness for example, which is often presented as preventive, then to deliberately avoid trouble would make sense. Why should i encounter what triggers the senses then struggle controlling my feelings. Conversely, if it is not avoiding what triggers trouble, then why not watching porn and investigating how sensual stimuli turns into a defilement would not be a good practice?

The issue of sensuality and its relationship to the defilements, while rarely addressed directly, is an underlying motive behind a lot of discussions i came across on this forum. In many cases, there appears to be a division between what is an expected behavior from a good Buddhist, and the inner reality of the individual practitioner, then claims such as "the Buddha is asking for the impossible" is to be expected!

There seems to be a difference in the mindsets of the more advanced practitioners and beginners when approaching the issue of defilements. For instance, when the advanced practitioner speaks of starving the defilements, his/her statement is born out of deep understanding and conviction of what is the best way of being in the world, and cannot be separated from the context of which the statement is uttered. In the case of the beginner, however, starving the defilements becomes a recipe to be followed literally, and often driven by ignoring context, hence doomed to fail.

The above might also raise interesting questions on what constitutes right effort. Would an effort born out of understanding and conviction be the same as an effort born out of imitating and suppressing?
And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: "Behold now, bhikkhus, I exhort you: All compounded things are subject to vanish. Strive with earnestness!"

This was the last word of the Tathagata.

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