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Lions Roar : July 2018
and outer bark, or the sapwood, thinking they are heartwood. It is only the one who does not stop midway but presses on to unshakable liberation who wins the final goal. This monk, the Buddha says, is like the man who takes away heartwood. The Buddha laid down a sequential training that proceeds from moral discipline through concentration and insight to liberation. Liberation means the release of the mind from the defilements that lurk in its hidden depths, driving the begin- ningless series of rebirths called samsara. As long as these defile- ments remain intact, we come back to repeated birth and death and the round of suffering continues. When the defilements are uprooted, we realize nirvana, the unconditioned, bringing the round of rebirths to an end. The most fundamental defilements are the three “influxes”: craving for sensual pleasures, craving for continued existence, and ignorance. These flow up from the mind’s depths and drive the round of becoming. The attainment of liberation depends on extricating these defilements, and the structure of the path is governed by the requirements for disabling them. At the base, the defilements are nurtured by ignorance, and thus the task of extricating them falls to wisdom, the direct antidote to ignorance. Wisdom sees into the three marks of existence—the impermanence, deficiency, and lack of selfhood of all conditioned phenomena—and thereby dispels ignorance. True wisdom, however, can arise only in a mind that has achieved sufficient focus to investigate deeply the three marks as they are stamped on our own bodies and minds. Achieving this stable concentration is the work of meditation. By mindful atten- tion to an object, the scattered mind is collected and gains the power and clarity needed to observe accurately the ever-changing stream of bodily and mental phenomena. The attainment of concentration, in turn, rests on a base of moral purity, gained through the observance of the fundamental precepts. The Buddhist path thus unfolds as a series of stages rising up like a ladder, each step depending on its predecessor, each step leading to its successor, until the final goal comes into view. The path begins with faith, with trust in the Buddha and his message. Then, by undertaking the precepts, one achieves moral purity, which serves as the basis for concentration. Concentration in turn supports insight, penetrative wisdom. This wisdom, brought to maturity, dispels the mists of ignorance and debilitates the defilements. When ignorance is fully dispelled, the defilements are dug up at the root, yielding the fruit of liberation. The practice of the path is a long and arduous process requir- ing patience and determination. Although, in the preparatory stages, we must attune our practice to our actual capacities, with- out entertaining unrealistic expectations, we should not lose sight of the ultimate goal. Like the man in the simile, we should not rest content until we take away heartwood. VEN. BHIKKHU BODHI is an American Buddhist monk, translator, and chair of Buddhist Global Relief. LION’S ROAR | JULY 2018 62