Sunday, February 7, 2010

Purification of Suffering?

Whenever an obstacle strikes, some Buddhists comfort themselves or others by saying that it is a purification of suffering. I myself have heard these words coming out from Buddhist friends. They like to say, "rejoice!'s purification!". At first I thought that these people are merely trying to give a positive outlook to an otherwise negative situation, but later I realised that these people really believed that it is a purification. Two fridays ago I found out that this is not so. Most negative situations encountered are really just obstacles or sufferings. The teaching I heard it from explained that it is NOT a purification unless at the time of experiencing it, you apply the four opponent powers. If so, then those people who believed that the sufferings they encounter are purifications and that they should rejoice, are merely fooling themselves.

But then... you wouldn't want to make people feel even worse when they are already feeling bad, do you? I guess it's better to just say, "you can turn it into a purification if you apply the 4 opponent powers." If he/she doesnot know what it is, you need to explain these are Regret, Reliance, Remedy and Resolve. Or, you may use other methods to ease the person's pain/suffering...such as relying on the power of mantras or deities' blessings.

added on 8.2.10
When we suffer due to karma from the past, it does mean that at least that amount of karma has reduced and hence we are suffering the effects of it now. However, as I heard during the teaching recently, very often we create even more new karma while suffering the effects of that previous karma. So, the net effect is our karma is not rduced at all, but in fact increase even more. In that way, we are caught in the vicious cycle of karmic causes and condition again and again. I heard this during a teaching on the Bodhisattvacaryavatara, chapter 4. We will not escape until we stop identifying with this "I". That's when we have some hope of breaking the vicious karmic cycle. I suppose the point to learn from this is to realise that Ripening of Karma does not equal to Purification of Karma. We must know the difference between these two and the characteristic of karma. There is also the different types of karma such as the one called, "immutable karma".

There are many sources that we can elarn about karma, one source is this link: -

I am writing this so that I won't forget about it, and it is something new I have not heard before. Moreover I want to share it with others here.


s said...

actually didn't know whether it is suitable to discuss matters of karma since only the Buddha can really elucidate this here.

However, I do feel that i should give my opinion. When we go thru bad circumstances, whether it becomes a purification can be seen on two levels: If we learn a good lesson or if the incident wakes us up to impermanence or the illusory nature of things, whether or not karma is purified, certainly our habitual patterns of looking at things has been cleansed somewhat. In our minds, there is maybe more compassion for others etc. This is one level of purification that occurs without the need for the four powers. And largely, it depends on the insight the person has into the situation.

On the second more subtle level. whether an incident IS the ripening of a karmic seed or not is very hard to say, and having exhausted that, of course, one has finished up the results of that particular karmic seed, and there is no teaching that says one needs the four powers to make sure that the karmic ripening of a seed is complete. It is just a pure working of the law of cause-and-effect. In that sense, the karma is purified w/o the four opponent powers.

I believe it is said by a Gelukpa master that if one regards a suffering as purification, then it becomes that. All that is needed is regarding it as purification, not the four powers. I feel that the reason for this is that when one undergoes some hardship for practice and so on and regards that as purification, one automatically invokes the factor of rejoicing and the change of motivation from a negative fedup or complaining attitude to a positive attitude which, coupled with the intensity of the situation, becomes a very strong reinforcement of bodhichitta and a cause of great merit. This is just my conjecture on why purification works when one views the suffering as purification.

The four powers are relevant when one wishes to purify karma that is still DORMANT. Usually it is said that karma that has already ripened is very hard to purify halfway through. When i say "purify" here, i mean any means that can relieve the suffering. Of course one is already automatically purifying the karma by going through the suffering, although it is the long and difficult way of purification.

This is my understanding.

Mahabodhiyana said...

By what you stated in your comments, purification is not what you stated as "automatically purifying by going through it". It gets exhausted by goung through it but not purified. The professor of Buddhist studeis that I heard the teaching fom was quoting a Geshe-la who had onced stayed in US. Ididnot really got the name of that Geshe-la that he was told us. And the Geshe-la is right. Purification happens either by reciting the Vajrasattva mantra, doing the prostrations to the 35 Buddhas, etc but in eevry of these practices, we are always told to infuse our thoughts with the four opponent powers of regret, reliance, etc.

Also in the tradition of Master Hsuan Hua's monasteries, when he talked about repentances, he always emphasised the disciple must truely repent. And during repentance ceremonies, it is not uncommon for disciples to cry (tears of regret) opening. And he advised that the disciples to continue doing those repentances until he/she receives a spiritual "sign". It need not necessarily be a dream. Refer my Dorje Khadro puja, in which one manifestation came out as a "black looking pus", the size of sesame on my finger. I was sure I didnot cut my finger accidentally or anything like that.

Conclusion is, the four opponent powers is still needed for purification. And these 4 are needed for good reasons. Think about it.

s said...

I dun know if you have read my comments thoroughly. Anyway, purification needs the four opponent powers when doing Vajrasattva n 35 Buddhas etc. This is a well-known fact. I'm not referring to that. I'm referring to if people meet suffering circumstances. Then it is NOT WRONG to consider that purification too.

Serkong Tsenshab Rinpoche also mentioned, during pilgrimages, anything negative that happens to the pilgrim is great purification. It doesn't matter if u apply the 4 powers then or not.

Anyway, why i am commenting on this topic is because viewing their suffering as purification is traditionally used as a kind of lojong or mind-training, to help people turn negative circumstances into the path and by telling people that it is not purification doesn't help them at all.

Anyway, whether it truly purifies or not is not up to anyone to say unless he can give an authoritative quote from the scriptures cos workings of karma is within the province of Enlightened Buddhas, not ordinary beings, no matter how learned they are.

s said...

also another point i wish to make is that u seem to have a different idea of what purification is. What i stated in my first comment covers many different kinds of purification. If a person goes through a suffering that is finished up in that life like Nagajuna letting his head be cut off by the grass to complete that karma, isn't that considered purification.

When a person suddenly wakes up to impermanence or suffering or feels compassion, isn't that a purification of the habitual patterns of looking at things?

Maybe u need to define your term "purification" then people can understand. Cos for me, the above are purifications, whether they are COMPLETE purifications or not is not the point.

Regarding the point on the four opponent powers, if we look at it clearly, the opponent powers include the power of the antidote,reliance, regret and not-doing again I feel that for a person who realises that his present suffering is due to past karma and purifying past karma, he feels some sense of regret and a greater sense of refuge in the dharma and laws of cause-and-effect. He may resolve to watch his actions more. It is subtle but it is there. When this happens, the 4 powers have been applied automatically.

Whether the 4 powers have been applied completely or not determines if the karma is completely purified or not, but here I feel it safe to say that some elements have definitely been applied and thus there may be some purification. In any case, one cannot conclude there is NO purification at all.

s said...

sorry for separated comments, but the things just come to my head now.

To share my friend's experience with you, when she did Vajrasattva practice, she just chanted and she couldn't visualise, never think of all the bad things she has done in the past etc. Yet, with Vajrasattva, she cured her diabetes, increased her learning ability, and had many experiences. I have similar experience and other friends too.

The power of faith is incredible. Sometimes, the teachings say you need this or that factor. I believe they enhance. But really, dharma is not dead, it is alive and flowing. It is not based on text-book rules. Situations are very very varied and changing. Sometimes, just simple faith in the deity accomplishes alot.

But those without a background of faith, all the teachings help alot, intellectual understanding helps alot. There's no doubt about that.

Mahabodhiyana said... really have a lot to say!

Anyway, regarding the Nagarjuna incident, in my opinion, at least, that is Not purification. It is ripening of karma.

But as for persons suddenly waking up to impermanence, I agree with you that it IS purification in this case. And I agree with you that there could be some amount of the 4 opponents powers being present automatically within (even though we may not be aware of it) - but as long as it IS there, it is still purification due to the 4 opponent powers. It doesnot matter whether we are doing vajrasattva or circumambulating holy sites, or whatever, the 4 opponent powers could be there sub-consciously as you mentioned.

Asking people to view their suffering as a purification for mind training purposes is another matter altogether. This is using skillful means to help others. But without the regret element, reliance, etc, diseases could be healed and whatever, but the seeds of purification are not truly planted. It is only due to the power of the mantra or deity. The power of mantra or deity is not equal to or depend on purification.

In order to truly turn over a new leaf, in common language term, and for real change in a person, there must be a true change in the person's attitude, etc. And true change can only happen if the person really regret whatever he did in the past, rely completely on the Three Jewels, etc....and whether these are automatically present or not, as long as they are there, then only true purification happens.

This point that I brought up was a result of the teaching on Bodhicaryavatara, as I mentioned, and the "teacher" was elaborating on one or two of the paragraphs by quoting one Gelug Geshe-la's comments on this suffering topic.

It's okay to disagree. I got your point. No problem. ....Cheers! Be happy!

Mahabodhiyana said...

By the way, reciting Vajrasattva mantras, and doing prostrations are actually part of putting one of the four opponent powers to action, i.e. REMEDY. And how can you recite something if you do not RELY on it?? Some sense of REGRET must also have been present too, otherwise, why is the person reciting it? So, some of the components of the four opponent powers are definitely present…it’s only a matter of how much and whether you RESOLVE not to do it again is another million dollar question. Hence by your comments, you have brought up a good point that it’s how much of the four opponent powers that we have that determines the strength of the purification.

Mahabodhiyana said...

Please write in English next time. Thank you. But I agree with you that the meaning of life should be grasped and death not to be feared. If you have done evil actions, however, it is proper to fear, not death but fear to be reborn in the lwoer realms... because you know you will be going to the lower realms after death. In this case, only when you fear, will you repent and regret. Then hopefully you will start doing the purification practices and repentances.