I wonder about purity. In Germany, in the 1930’s, Purity was everything. The country destroyed itself in its search for Purity.

My coffee cup when I reach for it must be pure. If it is not, I no longer want the coffee or must wash the cup. When I have finished, the cup is no longer pure until I have washed it. If my lover drinks from my cup I am delighted, but no one else may drink. If I drink from my lover’s cup, I am in bliss because they are my lover, but from no one else’s cup will I derive bliss.

Spiritually we all pursue purity.  Who practises constantly to achieve impurity? So then who is pure and who is impure? A tradition is pure if it transmits exactly a pure teaching. What makes a teaching pure, and if it is transmitted wrongly has the tradition become impure?  A teaching is pure if it is given by a pure teacher. What constitutes a pure teacher? Each aggregate is pure. Pure Mind, pure body, pure karma. If my mind is not pure what am I? If my body is pure how amazing am I? And how can I my karma be pure? Buddha then, pure in mind and body and actions. Would Buddha agree? His body became sick. Yet nobody would say Buddha was impure. We judge each other so hastily.

In the space of wisdom all things are pure. Every utterance, every breath. Find then that purity and none other.


5 Comments on “Purity”

  1. tenpel says:

    I hope you don’t mind if I add some thoughts?

    Prof. Jay Lifton found that a thought of “purity” lies at the heart of any type of fundamentalism. Hence, I think, this subject should be treated with care.

    If one establishes the thought or “pure German Aryan blood” this invites also indirectly the thought of “impure blood.” As a result of this a clinging for keeping the “purity of the Aryan blood” and a longing or fear of “not mixing it” with “impure German Aryan blood” will arise. These thoughts create space for the arisal of attachment, aversion and pride (to be better than others). They invite clinging, fear, pride and hostility. I think you realized where this has led the Germans and Europe, even the world to in the past?

    The same applies to the Dharma. If one speaks of “pure Dharma” the concept and the assumed existence of “impure Dharma” is also established. Then a clinging for keeping the “purity of the Dharma” and a longing or fear of “not mixing it” with “impure Dharma” will arise. I don’t know if you realize where this has led some Buddhists to?

    The problem is, that the Dharma is pure, hence there is no need to speak of “pure dharma”. To speak of “pure Dharma” is redundant and leads astray because per definition Dharma “is pure”. What is the meaning of “pure” in that context of Dharma being labelled as “pure”?

    The Uttaratantrashastra by Maitreya / Asanga says:

    »The Dharma is that imbued with the very characteristics of the two truths; that which is,
    and that which causes, freedom from bondage. Inconceivable, not two and conceptfree,
    purity, clarity and the remedy.

    Inconceivable, free from the two [veils] and from thought, being pure, clear and playing
    the part of an antidote, it is free from attachment and frees from attachment. This is the
    Dharma with its features of the two truths.«

    The master Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche comments:

    »Dharma is free from confused mind. Dharma is
    pure from emotions. Dharma is the illuminating wisdom itself. Dharma is the
    antidote to the three poisons.«

    So purity usually means free from the three poisons or free from the causes of Samsara, ignorance, the conception of inherent existence.

    So if you say:

    »Spiritually we all pursue purity. Who practises constantly to achieve impurity?«
    Then it would mean in such a context: Whoever strives for purity is striving to be free from the three poisons.

    »So then who is pure and who is impure?«
    We could say, a mind defiled by the three poisons is impure, a mind free of it is pure.

    »A tradition is pure if it transmits exactly a pure teaching.«
    Here seem to lie a basis for confusion. If you refer to the Dharma, the Dharma is pure. If you refer to a discrimination between pure teachings and impure teachings, then actual it would be a discrimination between Dharma and non-Dharma. Non Dharma is what increases the three mind poisons of aversioan, attachement and ignorance (or the other delusions like pride).

    »What makes a teaching pure, and if it is transmitted wrongly has the tradition become impure?«

    I think this question is redundant if one has the correct discrimination (as it is seen by the Buddhist masters) between Dharma and non-Dharma. Either one transmitts or explains the Dharma or one does not transmitt or explain the Dharma. What is the Dharma?

    »If one looks at the texts of the Prajñāpāramitā Sūtras and in particular the mother Sūtra, the Eight Thousand Line Prajñāpāramitā. When that text asks: “What is Buddhavajana? What is the speech of the Buddha?” The answer is given: “The speech of the Buddha is anything spoken directly by the Buddha, anything inspired directly by the Buddha, anything spoken in the presence of the Buddha and approved of by the Buddha or anything that is fully consistent with the intent of the Buddha.”« [this paragraph has been taken from an unpublished transcript by Jay Garfield]

    If it were true that only »A teaching is pure if it is given by a pure teacher.« then it follows all teachings given by non-Arhats (be it even stream enterers or once returner, no returners) or even Bodhisattvas up to the eight level are impure because all of them have still delusions or mind poisons. Also the Dharma teachings of ordinary persons would be impure because they have mental defilements. However, this contradicts even the (Gelug) Lamrim which states that one should regard even an ordinary person who serves as a qualified Dharma teacher as a Buddha. It also contradicts the Sutras where Bodhisattvas even on lower levels than the eight level are teaching or are mentioned to have taught the Dharma. According to your understanding their Dharma must have been impure because of not being pure teachers because not being free from the afflictions.

    »What constitutes a pure teacher?«
    Only an Arhat, a Pratekya Buddha or a fully enlightend Buddha would be a “pure teacher” because only them are free from the mind poisons. Actual the concept of pure teacher is not stressed in the scriptures but to “purify one’s mind (from the afflictions)”.

    »Each aggregate is pure.«
    The aggregates of an Arhat who has not yet died is impure. The visible physical body aggregate of the Buddha’s emanation body also appeared to be impure (Ananda had to give it even massage, blut came out of the food of the Buddha when Devadatta throw a rock on the Buddha and harmed him … )

    »Pure Mind, pure body, pure karma. If my mind is not pure what am I?«

    You are a person who has not yet attained a pure body, mind and speech.

    »If my body is pure how amazing am I?«

    An amazing Buddha 😉

    »And how can I my karma be pure?«

    Actual this is not possible I think because usually if one has severed the root of cyclic existence the workings of Karma cease.

    »Buddha then, pure in mind and body and actions. Would Buddha agree?«


    »His body became sick.«

    Yes, the emanation body, showing the signs of a human body.

    »Yet nobody would say Buddha was impure.«
    I think Theravadins would say that his body aggregate was still impure until he entered into Parinirvana.

    »We judge each other so hastily.«
    Yeah …

    »In the space of wisdom all things are pure. Every utterance, every breath. Find then that purity and none other.«

    In the final sphere of complete enlightenment or Arhatship without reminder (ordinary physical aggregates) all things are pure because the mind is utter free from the three poisons and all types of afflictions and their seeds. One finds this purity by using the Dharma to purify the own mind from the afflictions, especially the root of them, ignorance.

    I hope this is of benefit.
    Love t

  2. tenpel says:

    Hi maitreyaeditor1,
    I was thinking this morning that this issue of “purity” is more complex and that misunderstanding arises because in Buddhist teachings the term means in different contexts different things – though the meanings are somewhat related.

    Since I was myself quite confused about this term when I was following the NKT, I though it might be good to share some other thoughts / investigations on this subject matter.

    The term “purity” is also used in contexts like “pure motivation”, “pure monk/nun”, “pure practitioner” or “pure lineage”. In each of these contexts they have a different meaning and a different basis.

    >>> “pure motivation”

    If one speaks of “pure motivation” the meaning can be a motivation free from worldly clinging or desires for fame, reputation etc (the eight worldly Dharmas for instance) and can refer to a mind of renunciation which is very strong due to being undefiled to a high degree from such worldly concerns.

    It can also refer to a mind that is free from selfishness and has developed a genuine concern / compassion for others or which is free from clinging to a non-existent inherent self.

    >>> “pure monk/nun”

    this usually refers to the ethics of an ordained person. in the context of a fully ordained monk or nun it means (according to His Holiness the Dalai Lama) that the person is pure in his or her ethics of avoiding the 10 non-virtues, in keeping the 4 Parajikas and 13 Sanghadisesas without transgressing them. This is also true for a novice monk or nun because they are encouraged or even committed to keep also most of the trainings of a fully ordained person. Transgressions of can be purified in front of a Sangha of at least 4 fully ordained monks during the fortnightly confession ritual (tib. Sojong). (However, its more complex when there is a Sanghadisesa offense; and the 3 existing Vinaya lineages deal nowadays with it also differently). Then–after having undergone the purification ceremony–one speaks of “having restored the purity”. However, a Parajika can not be restored. (However, it can be purified by other means in the Indo-Tibetan Buddhist (Sanskrit) tradition but one is no longer an ordained person.)

    >>> “pure practitioner”
    This usually refers to a person who practices the Dharma with a motivation free from the eight worldly Dharmas. Actual this is no that easy, though the mind is naturally pure from defilements (they are not a intrinsic part of the mind but adventitious) due to bad habits, conditioning and cycling since beginningless time in Samsara, pure states of mind are rare and a great accomplishment. To judge if a “practitioner is pure” is very hard because one must know that persons mind, however, there can be outer signs that indicate “this could be a pure practitioner”, however, one should treat such judgement with care. Until one has not attained clairvoyance that has no obstructions to see such facts clearly, one cannot have certainty about this.

    Then there is an important point: Someone who has attained the path of seeing / or has become a stream enterer, has “natural purity”, this means among other things, that he has natural undefiled ethics, which means he does not commit any negative deed like the 10 non virtues and keeps perfect ethical restrained. [In the past (during Buddhas time) the 5 ascetics became fully ordained by entering the path of seeing (there were ten ways to become fully ordained at the time of the Buddha).] However, only a Bodhisattva from the 8th ground onwards, Arhats and Buddhas have completely abandoned afflictions and their seeds.

    >>> “pure lineage”
    What actual does this mean? Not only NKT speaks of “pure lineage” also practitioners of different Tibetan Buddhist traditions use that term from time to time.

    If it refers to a lineage which is unbroken (there is no gap in the transmission of the teachings), then it would be better of speaking of an unbroken lineage. If it refers to having kept the essential meaning of the methods and meanings of the lineage this would be ok but difficult to judge by common persons, only high realised masters know what the “essential meaning” of a particular lineage might be. This term “essential meaning” is also a bit fuzzy and it might be difficult to pin point to any (conventional) essence, ultimately there is no essence at all.

    If the term “pure lineage” is used to claim one has a lineage which is “unmixed” with other lineages, then there will be a lot of problems. Why? All lineages in the Tibetan Tradition are mixed lineages of different origin, they are bundles of different lineages, like a Vinaya lineage, a Lojong, Lamrim, Vajrayana lineage and all of them have again different lineages and ordigins too. There has been always willingness and creativity to incorporate different lineages into one’s personal practice which then became even a new lineage. For instance, Gampopa was trained by the Kadampas and learned among others Vinaya, Lojong and Larmrim, then he left the Kadampas and he met Milarepa, and from him he received the instructions of Mahamudra. It was Milarepa who said that due to combining all of these practices his lineage will be very powerful and long lasting. And also in the Gelug lineage there was this creativity to incorporate practices from other lineages into the Gelug school. e.g. Vajrayogini practice which derives from Sakya school. The Gelug school itself as one of the youngest (main) Tibetan Buddhist schools (the Jonangpa school and some others are younger) actual is a synthesis of Kaygü, Sakya, Kadam, Nyingma lineages and the understandings of Tsongkhapa, and his successors. It would be very hard to pin point any type of “unmixed” purity there 😉

    I think some masters want to emphasize with “purity of lineage” that one should practice a certain practice of a certain school according to its transmitted meaning, without mixing misunderstandings or wrong understandings into it because then the practice might loose the power to effectivly purify the mind from the afflictions. But this doesn’t mean one cannot practice Lamrim from the Kagyu, Lojong from the Kadampas, Dzogchen from the Nyingmas, Vinaya from the Buddha, Bodhisattva Ethic according to Asanga’s Bodhisattvabhumi etc. When I asked Khenchen Thrangu Rinpoche, a lineage master of the Karma Kamtsang Kagyu school: “Is it really ok to practice Lamrim according to Gelug, Mahamudra according to Kagyue, Vajrayogini according to Sakya?” He replied: “Why not? This all comes from the Buddha.” And this is brings us back to the point, that the Dharma is “pure” per definition, and there is no fault to practice Dharma when it is Dharma no mater from which school it is coming. Actual, all the Mahayana Sutras emphasize that a Bodhisattva must receieve and transmitt limitless “doors of Dharma” from countless Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, he cannot be satisfied with just one Dharma, because he must know all the Dharmas in order to liberate sentient beings from Samsara.

    (However, I would be interested in what a master like Dzongzar Khyentse Rinpoche would say to the term “pure lineage”. There is still a lot to be investigated …)

  3. maitreyaeditor1 says:

    Dear Tenpel, ‘Purity’ does stir ideas. The piece was written in relation to a comment from a practioner on ‘Sayings of the Mad Yogi’ who asked “Define pure and I will define tradition”.

    The principle point of the piece was to illustrate how purity arises in different contexts within buddhist practice. My favourite is the question of whether my coffee is pure or not, since that is so practical for overcoming aversion.

    The question arises out of the political debate going on over whether a teacher can be ‘impure’. All your points are taken up in the laughable statement (from a bodhisattva’s viewpoint) of the idea that anyone is impure. All people are progressing, all must be loved, and helped. Questions of purity are ephemera. The bodhisattva ignores all questions of purity: themselves and others. As to dharma, whether it is pure, it is dependent upon its fruit as are all practices. Dharmas, or practices, are relevant to the time and practitioner.

    The question of purity in teaching here, comes from mixing dharmas. Not giving the prescribed teaching. Dogma which cannot be changed, added to, or altered.

    In ‘Joyful Path of Good Fortune’ Geshe Kelsang lists the 10 Qualities of a Mahayana spiritual guide as given in ‘Ornament for the Mahayana Sutras’. They all refer to the qualities of the person, none to the teaching. Therefore, a teacher is pure in dependence upon their own accomplishments not those of someone else.

    In ‘Understanding the Mind’ Geshe Kelsang quotes Dharmakirti’s ‘Commentary to Valid Cognition’, “A valid Teacher knows fully and without error what objects are to be abandoned and what objects are to be practised, and who, out of compassion, reveals this knowledge to others”. Again, “we need only a teacher who has a clear understanding of the four noble truths and the ability to explain them well”. Nothing about the lineage.

    • tenpel says:

      Thank you. I see my thoughts are out of context of what you have referred to.

      Actual as you think that “The question arises out of the political debate going on over whether a teacher can be ‘impure’.”, I would like to add, I think, also NKT’s emphasize on “pure lineage” is a political debate. The term purity or impurity can be easily abused.

      Still, I hope some of the thoughts on purity might be useful to some …

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