Evil springs from the mind;
Then it turns on the mind and robs it.
Evil is like rust on iron;
Slowly it destroys the form.
— The Bei Sutra Discoursed by the Buddha
The Mahaparinirvana Sutra says:
The mind controls the body. The body does not control the mind. The mind can fool the body and it can kill the body. The mind can choose to be an arhat or it can choose to be in Heaven. It can choose to be a person, an animal, an insect, a wild bird, or it can choose to be in hell. The mind can choose to be a hungry ghost and it can choose the appearance of its body. The mind can do anything.
In a mere moment our minds are capable of taking us from heaven to hell and back again. The basis of the mind is Buddha nature. In our deepest “selves” all of us are Buddhas already. However, due to the defilements of greed, anger and ignorance our minds are deluded; rather than enjoy liberation in the resplendent truth of the Tathagata, they seek their own bondage in the delusions of samsara.
As soon as we decide to overcome our ignorance by striving to realize our Buddha nature, we will begin to overcome the defilements that bind us to delusion. Once this change occurs within us, our minds will become our greatest allies and not our greatest enemies. Rather than lead us away from the truth, they will begin to lead us toward the Buddha with every thought we think and everything we feel. Such is the joy of Buddhism and the joy of learning the Dharma.
Use the Mind’s Goodness to Overcome Its Evil
When the Buddha spoke about the mind, he meant all acts of sentience or potential sentience, including thought, emotion, perception, movement of the body, desires, instincts, basic proclivities, basic tendencies and so forth. All of these functions and aspects are fundamentally functions and aspects of the mind as this word is used in Buddhism.
Our minds are characterized by their changeability and by their tendency to leap from one emotion or idea to another. In the mind good mixes with bad, and if we are not careful our attention will be guided by fascination more than by truth or by what is best for us. The Buddha said that his teachings are like medicine because they are able to cure us of our chronic misuse of the mind. The Buddha compared the Dharma to water because it is able to cleanse the mind of its defilements.
The Dharma should be our basic tool for overcoming the evil tendencies of the mind. By constantly exposing ourselves to the wisdom of the Dharma, we will gradually learn to actively value truth and morality over delusion and indulgence.
The Dharma helps us reveal to ourselves the Buddha who lives within us at all times. Inklings of the purity and perfection of this indwelling Buddha nature are manifested in the mind as faith, morality and a desire to help others. We can best learn to overcome evil tendencies by allowing ourselves to be instructed by the purity of the Buddha within us. Once we have seen how much better it is to do good than to do evil, we will begin to have even greater trust in our own inherent goodness. Once this trust becomes fully developed, the possibility of being drawn into evil thinking will be greatly reduced. The warm glow of the Buddha within can only grow brighter and warmer as we learn to rely on it more and more.
The Avatamsaka Sutra mentions ten characteristics of the mind of a bodhisattva. When one’s intuitive comprehension of the Buddha within has grown to absolute certainty, one’s mind will be bathed in these ten good qualities. They are: helping others, compassion, peaceful joy, steadiness, comforting others, concentration, protecting others, feeling that others are part of oneself, having the ability to teach and having the ability to lead others to the good.
No sooner do we overcome our own selfish delusions than we must realize that the delusions and selfishness of others are ours too. All sentient beings are one with us and all of them deserve our undivided attention. When we focus on others and really try to help them, we also help ourselves.
How to Use the Mind to Overcome Doubt
Doubt is one of the most basic of all of the defilements. Many tragedies happen only because one person doubted another. When friends doubt each other, often their friendship is irreparably harmed. When husbands and wives begin to doubt each other, the forces of love and caring which brought them together quickly begin to weaken. Doubt chains us to our own mistakes and contorts everything that we do. Doubt is a poison that pollutes every thought that rises around it. Doubt ruins communications between people as it simultaneously demeans both self and others.
The way to overcome doubt, as with all defilement, is to assert its opposite, positive quality. When we find ourselves becoming suspicious or doubtful, we should turn our minds toward trust and a firm belief in the truth. This does not mean that we should allow ourselves to be abused by other people, but it does mean that we should not abuse them because of unwarranted suspicion. If you find that you have a tendency to become suspicious of others, it is good to remember that what they do will produce their karma and what you do will produce your karma. If their behavior really is bad, it will not harm you if you have been trusting. If their behavior really is good, it will harm you if you have not been trusting.
At its deepest levels trust is an aspect of the Buddha mind which knows already that everything is just as it should be and that nothing whatsoever needs our interference, much less our anger, suspicion or doubt.
The worst form of doubt is doubt about the Buddha. If we do not believe that the Buddha spoke the truth, we will not study the Dharma and we will not be able to make any progress in this life. The surest cure for this kind of doubt is to study the Dharma and apply it in your life. No one who studies the Dharma and applies it in his life will doubt it for long.
The Mahasamnipata says, “The greatest and most beautiful form of wisdom is to be beyond doubt.”
The Mahaprajnaparamita Sastra says, “The Dharma is a great ocean which we enter by faith and cross by the power of wisdom.”
All suffering and all defilement are nothing but delusion. They have no self-nature of their own and they persist from beginningless time only because they have not yet established meaningful interaction with the Tathagatagharba.
— Treatise on the Awakening of Faith in Mahayana
How to Cure the Mind of Pettiness and Intolerance
Small-mindedness is the antithesis of the Buddha mind. Being small-minded can be likened to looking through the wrong end of a telescope; the obvious becomes hard to see while the greatness of all of life is lost in a selected detail. One of the best reasons to study the Dharma every day is the Dharma has the ability to open our minds, to stretch them and to expand them to their greatest potential. Why hold yourself back? Why be intolerant when you can be open-minded?
The Avatamsaka Sutra compares the mind of a bodhisattva to a great and expansive land that can hold all beings and nurture all forms of life. The sutra also compares the mind of a bodhisattva to a great ocean that is constantly being infused with the even greater wisdom and compassion of all of the Buddhas.
Our true mind is as vast as all space, brighter than the sun and as wise as all of the Buddhas in the universe. Why settle for less? That mind is yours. It is your inheritance and it is the source of your being. You can only keep yourself from it by willful acts of pettiness and closed-mindedness. Recognition of this truth coupled with sincere study of the Dharma eventually will cure the mind of all narrow tendencies.
The Bei Sutra Discoursed by the Buddha says:
There are four basic ways that you can hurt yourself in this world. The first is to break off the branch of your own tree when it is flowering and laden with fruit. The second is to act like a poisonous snake that bites itself. The third is to act like a dishonest official who harms his own country. The fourth is to not be a good person and thus be reborn in hell.
We can always cure negative tendencies by asserting their positive opposites while keeping in mind the examples set for us by Sakyamuni Buddha and the great bodhisattvas. At the same time it is a very good practice to contemplate often the Four Immeasurable States of Mind of the Tathagata: boundless kindness, boundless compassion, boundless joy and boundless equanimity.
Avalokitesvara Bodhisattva is compassion.
Mahasthamaprapta Bodhisattva is joyful renunciation.
Sakyamuni Buddha is complete purity.
Maitreya Bodhisattva is equanimity.
— Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch