如何消除煩惱 How to Remove Defilements?

煩惱為何義    何故欲消除    能擾亂其心    不得安樂住    發動諸惡業    令招感苦果    故一切佛子    應除滅煩惱

What is the meaning of ‘Defilement’,

For what reason (that we) desire its eradication?

(Defilements) can agitate the mind,

causing it not to abide in happiness (at ease),

evoking various harmful karma (actions through body, speech or mind),

causing (one) to experience painful fruits (results),

Hence all disciples of the Buddha, should eradicate defilements.

During Group Practise @ SBF yesterday, I shared the above verses and we discussed what defilements were.  The Chinese word “煩惱” captures the meaning rather succinctly, but it appeared to the group that the word ‘defilement’ seem quite alien to most people.  When quizzed for a meaning of ‘defilement’ outside of the Buddhist teachings, we found that most people (within the group) do not use it frequently enough.  We later settled for “that which ‘soils’, ‘dirties’ ” … ‘tarnish’ perhaps?

Defilements literally means ‘that which defiles’, or the impurities within or without (outside of) an object that makes the object impure, dirty, soiled etc.  The pali word is ‘kilesa’, ‘klesa’ in Sanskrit and is typically translated as defilement.

The group described defilements as troubles, problems, anxiety, anger, stress, jealousy etc.  While all these describes what defilements are or at least situations linked to it,  they are more like types of defilements, than describing what defilement really is.  I like the above Chinese verses as it quite nicely captures the common qualities of ‘defilements’.

In forty characters, the above verses describes the two question about defilement, what it is and why we should remove it, then it describes the qualities of defilements, and finally leading to the conclusion that henceforth, all disciples of the Buddha should eradicate defilements.

So what are the defilements you see either in yourself or people around you?  Care to share?

7 thoughts on “如何消除煩惱 How to Remove Defilements?”

  1. I have finally made a decision to move out of in-laws flat, with my husband & I, 3 kids squeezing in a room. the first 6 years waiting for the eldest divorced sis in law to move out, the next 7 years waiting for the younger divorced sis in law to move out.
    never expected the old folks cry, chided me for changing schools without telling them. thing is, my husband have paid 3 times for this flat, at one time I thought this flat is ours. No longer I think this way, this is always father’s house, mother’s house and very soon people will start moving in.
    I have already given up my right to this flat, why can’t the old folks think that my kids are old enough and should have space for their own?
    I feel bad too, but after that indignant look on MIL, I felt angry they always think that there is nothing wrong in 5 people squeezing in a room.
    This must be it – defilement.

  2. Dear Venerable sir,

    Thanks for sharing. However I would like to suggest that 煩惱 is better translated as “mentally troubled”, or even more vaguely as “suffering”. For example 我很煩惱 can be translated as “I am very mentally troubled”. It is less appropriate to translate it as “I am very defiled”.

    Conversely I would like to suggest that “defilement” is better translated as 濁, as in the five defilements: 劫濁、眾生濁、見濁、命濁、煩惱濁.

    I feel that the word “defilement” did not touch on suffering. It describes the causes of suffering (the impurities themselves) but not the effect of suffering. Conversely 煩惱 describes more on the effect of suffering (e.g. the pain and stress) and not so much on the causes of suffering. Hence 煩惱 more succinctly describes certain things that “defilement” cannot.

    What do you think Venerable?

    With Metta.

  3. For most of us (Asian), English is an acquired or learned language unless it also happens to be our mother tongue. Normally, I would reach for the dictionary meaning of a word but since it was supposed to be GP@SBF,
    then what comes immediately to my mind or my understanding of defilement is – unclean, tainted, spoiled (by wilful destruction). This coincides with the group’s meaning of ‘soiled’ and ‘dirty’. I also have ‘flaws’ in mind which I shall relate later. The word defilement is not commonly used because of its strong negative connotation. It pertains to defect (flaw, impurity) in human character more so than to inanimate objects. I don’t know what the Chinese word for it mean though it is succinct and whether the Pali translation of ‘kilesa’ into English is adequate. I had found that the ‘buddhist’ meaning of English words used in translating the pali text is different from the layman or dictionary definition. For instance: suffering, ignorance, kamma and etc. So, if you say anger is ‘defilement’, it can be quite perplexing for non-Buddhists. The group attributed troubles, anxiety, jealousy and so forth as defilements. To these may be added hatred, selfishness, covetousness, bad-temper, disobedience, misconduct and the likes. These attributes are no doubt undesirable, i.e. not ‘good’ in that sense.
    For me, I like to start with ‘perfection’ in the context of human character. Anything that diminishes, blemishes, chipped away ‘perfection’ can be considered defilement. That is, perfection can be ‘defaced’ thus defiled. An analogy: if books in the library are placed correctly according to the Dewey catalogue classification, we say the arrangement is in order (perfection). If a book is wrongly placed, it is ‘misfiled’ – not FILED correctly. That implies ‘deFILEment’ to a ‘perfect’ system of classification.
    If perfection is taken to mean ‘purity’, then defilement aptly mean the destruction of purity. In the context of human behaviour: if someone misbehave (in the conventional sense of good conduct), it is defilement. Attributes like those mentioned before and including vexation, envy, and lust but not least in a way diminish the good quality of a person, a blemish to an otherwise perfect character – the flaws you see in a person.
    The verses:
    (Defilements) can agitate the mind,
    causing it not to abide in happiness (at ease),
    evoking various harmful karma (actions through body, speech or mind),
    causing (one) to experience painful fruits (results),
    Hence all disciples of the Buddha, should eradicate defilements.
    …… gave the definition of defilement as anything that agitates the mind, causing unhappiness (to oneself as well as others?). If that leads to harmful action(s), the consequence cannot be good, never mind the law of kamma.
    This brings to mind the ‘buddhist’ concept of defilement – impurity of mind. Mind is the fore-runner of all (good & bad) conditions. With an impure mind (defilement) one cannot be happy and it may lead to harmful action(s), the consequence (fruit, experience) of which can be painful.
    In contrast with the Buddhist concept of defilement is the Christian concept of sin or transgression. I hardly come across Buddhist literature mentioning sin and conversely hardly any Christian literature talking about defilement. The contrast is striking and showed the different philosophy between Buddhism and Christianity – defilement originates from the human Mind whereas sin originates from Satan. Adam did not ‘disobey’ God when he wanted (desired) to taste (sense) the apple. It was Satan who instigated (tempted, agitated?) Adam! So, Adam didn’t have a Mind of his own. That much for Intelligent Design that was associated with a Creator-God?
    Tiger Woods has been in the news recently and what many tabloids caddied are par for the course. While he is good at the fairway he wasn’t quite good at the driveway. Nonetheless the Tiger was brave enough to make a public announcement of his transgressions and apologised. He said: “I have not been true to my values and the behaviour my family deserves. I am not without faults and I am far short of perfect.” I think he scored a hole-in-one as far as
    definition of defilement is concerned. Swings like the Buddhist precepts need to be practiced to be perfect. Now and then a shot may land in the bunker or water. For Tiger his stripes may be soiled but he certainly come clean when he said “I have let my family down and I regret those transgressions with all my heart.”

  4. The verses described the two questions about defilement, what it is and why we should remove it. Buddhist texts and Google searches produced many explanations and illustrations of defilements – mental hindrances, number of poisons and types of defilements. However, the verses make no mention about “How to remove defilements?” which is the title of the thread. This question begs an answer. What are the conditions that lead to the destruction of defilements? In a sense, what purifies our mental state, pacifies our disturbing emotions or depresses our unwholesome behaviours? How do we get rid of the hindrances or poisons?

  5. A way to categorize defilement 烦恼 is as follow:
    1) defilement due to understanding 见烦恼
    2) defilement due to emotional love 爱烦恼

    Category 1 corresponds to the first three links of the twelve links of dependent origination: ignorance无明, karmic activity行 and consciousness识. All unenlightened sentient beings have this category of defilement (but we hardly aware this). This category of defilement can only be eradicated via enlightenment.

    Category 2 corresponds to the eighth to tenth links: emotional love/craving爱, grasping取 and becoming有. This category of defilement can be tamed via meditation, contemplation of impurities e.t.c. However, they can only be eradicated after the attainment of stream-enterer enlightenment.

    Total eradication of both categories of defilement are only achieved upon attaining Arhatship.

  6. So, the way to remove defilement (regardless of types or categories) is to attain Enlightenment? I thought one has to get rid of defilements first before one can attain Enlightenment. Hmm .. I am confused.

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