Purity and Defilement

The second dualism-"neither pure nor impure"-refers both to phenomena, and to judgments people make about phenomena. For example, you may choose not to brush your teeth, not to wash, not to change clothes, in which case you may look dirty and smell bad to others. On the other hand, you may clean up, shower, brush your teeth, and change your clothes. Then you will look clean to others. Either way, you are the same person. Some people appear clean most of the time and dirty some of the time; others look dirty most of the time and clean only some of the time. Furthermore, the criteria for cleanliness are not absolute. You may think you are clean while others judge you to be unclean. You may think you are unkempt, but another might find you attractive.

Therefore, there is no objective standard for purity and defilement. lf you think something is pure, it might be good practice to reflect on why you think it is. Perhaps you think I am pure and clean. Maybe so, but what about my breath after waking up, my body odor after I have worked hard in the summer heat, my excretions and bodily fluids? Would you be willing to ingest my phlegm? Consider these things before you label something pure or impure.

A waiter in a restaurant once brought plates to our table with his thumb in the food. Upon removing his thumb from the dish, he licked it. The person who ordered the dish told the waiter to take it back. He said, “It’s not clean.” The waiter asked, “Why isn’t it clean?” The diner said, “Because you stuck your thumb in the food.” The waiter replied, “I’m sorry about that, but, you know, I cooked the food myself. My hands touched all of the food on your plate.” Was the food pure or impure? This is a very mundane example, but it shows that people’s ideas of purity change from person to person and from moment to moment. It is not in phenomena, but in the mind, that we find purity and impurity. The question is whether one’s mind is stained by vexation.

--There Is No Suffering p.0057-0058

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