Correcting Conduct and Purifying the Mind

By Ven. Bhikkhu Bodhi

The Buddha said that the motivation in practicing his teaching is to promote our own benefit and to benefit others. Both these motivations ideally should be held in balance. Just as we each want to be well and happy, so we should reflect that others, too, want to be well and happy, and with a broad mind of love and compassion, we should act to promote their well-being and happiness.

To practice in this way requires above all that we learn how to train our minds. The Buddha teaches that all harm and suffering originates from the defilements of the mind—from our greed, hatred, and delusion. These defilements are also the cause for the harm and suffering we inflict on others. If we can control our defilements, we will experience inner happiness and our relationships with others will become much more harmonious.

We can see how the defilements bring suffering in our personal lives. When greed arises, we immediately feel discontent. Even if we are living in the most beautiful environment, in a lovely house, with all conveniences at our fingertips, with a loving family and wonderful friends, we won’t be satisfied, but will always crave for things to be different. When hatred arises, the mind will boil with anger or simmer with resentment, and we will act for the harm of others. When delusion arises, we will be deceived by prejudices and wrong views, which will bring misery to ourselves and misery to others.

If we want to live a life that is truly worthwhile, a life that is truly meaningful, we must think and act in ways that are truly beneficial to ourselves and others. To achieve this requires that we purify our minds. Our words and actions originate from the mind. If our minds are defiled, our words and actions will be defiled. if our minds are purified, our words and actions will be purified. A defiled mind, the Buddha says, leads to suffering; a purified mind leads to well-being and happiness.

Buddhism teaches many methods for purifying our conduct and our minds. All these methods fall into the three stages of moral conduct, meditation, and wisdom. By undertaking precepts, we purify our conduct of body and speech. By meditation, we weaken the mental defilements of greed, hatred, anger, selfishness, vanity, and resentment. By wisdom, we cut off delusion, the most fundamental of all defilements, and win the highest liberation of mind.

The practice of the Dharma will equip us to live for our own true happiness and for the benefit of our family, our community, our society, and even the whole world. As we gradually cleanse our minds of greed, hatred, and delusion, we will experience a greater capacity for joy even under difficult circumstances. Our relations with others will be more harmonious, and we will be able to exert a positive influence on everyone we encounter.  

At this year’s summer camp, I hope you will learn a few of the practical methods the Buddha taught for correcting your conduct and purifying your minds. It is not enough, however, just to hear about these methods during the few days of the camp. What is most important is to take these tools home with you and practice them in your daily life. Then you will find your lives gradually changing for the better. As defilement gives way to purity, your joy and happiness will become ever more abundant, ever more contagious.

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