When we meditate, we're training the mind, for we hold the mind to be very important. But training the mind is really difficult if we don't develop the right character habits. We have to depend on refined inner qualities for the training really to go straight to the heart, because the heart itself is subtle and sensitive. We have to make our character meticulous, pliant, tractable, respectful, inoffensive. We have to be willing to follow the example already set by someone who knows, who's already taken the path, who — on examination — we've found to be above us in terms of his training in mindfulness and discernment, above us in terms of the purity of his actions. Who is this person? The Buddha — someone to whom no one else can legitimately be compared. We can't legitimately compare our views and opinions with him, for he is someone who truly trained himself, who sacrificed everything, with no thought for his survival.
The fact that we're still left hanging on in samsara after this long, long time is all because of our character habits. It's because of our character habits that we keep missing the path, falling off the path, straying away from the path all the time. It's because of our habit of finding excuses for ourselves that we aren't willing to follow the path set out by the Buddha. What sort of path has he set out for our actions? What sort has he set out for our words? For our mind? He set out standards for us to respect, to obey, to put into practice. Sages have said that the Buddha's path is an easy one to follow correctly, for it creates no dangers. It doesn't require that we do anything hurtful or hard.
We have to examine the Buddha's teachings to see if they're worthy of obedience or not, to see if they're worthy to be followed or not. Do they have any defects that we should try to avoid, that we shouldn't accept? Can we find any inconsistencies in the Buddha that would justify our giving more credence to our own opinions, that would justify our disobeying his teachings? And what do we have that's so special? When you look carefully, you can't find anything to fault him with. So what harm would it do to listen to him and to obey his teachings?
We have to study to see where our own defects lie. It's as if we're going on a journey. Our body may be in good shape, but if the workings of our car are defective they can take us right off the road. So we have to meditate to examine the workings of our car, in other words, the preoccupations that we create in the mind and that act as views. The Buddha gave a great deal of importance to the issue of views, for our views can make us defective. When our views are defective, they can make our virtues defective. They can make our practice defective, taking us off the path. Our views get defective when the mind is infected with delusion. There's very little alertness. There may be a lot of knowledge, a lot of information, but very little alertness. We may think that we're knowledgeable, that we're intelligent, but we don't know that our views are defective. Only those who know, who've gotten past this stage, can recognize what's defective in our views.
So we have to make a point of training the aspect of our character related to our views, to practice making our views straight (ditth'uju-kamma). Only then will we free ourselves from defective views and replace them with impeccable ones. In order to do this, we have to be scrupulous in being observant. And we have to be scrupulous in reflecting on our past actions, both the things we've done right and the things we've done wrong. For the most part, we don't observe our actions carefully. We make the same mistakes over and over again. We cause ourselves suffering but don't take it to heart to prevent it from happening again. This is why we keep spinning around endlessly in the cycles of samsara. We keep making mistakes but we don't recognize them as mistakes. We do things right from time to time but don't recognize why they're right. So everything gets all confused.
But if we train ourselves to be observant, to keep cleansing the heart so that we won't repeat our mistakes a second time, won't cause ourselves to suffer in that way a second time, we'll be able to make choices that really benefit us. When we look at our past beliefs and actions, and then compare them with the actions of those who are wise, we'll see which things are useless and we'll stop doing them. But if we don't let go of our old views, we won't be able to stop doing the things we should stop. We won't be able to give up the things we should give up. As long as we hold onto our old views, the same old sufferings will keep shadowing us. We'll never be able to find the path leading to the end of suffering.
This is why the noble eightfold path begins with samma-ditthi, or right view. Right view correctly describes things right around us — within and without us — that have always been that way from time immemorial. So when you see the Dhamma — the truth of things as they already are — you'll be willing to let go of your old opinions and follow the path taught by the Buddha. For the Buddha taught these truths so that we could study and know the genuine truth. It doesn't hurt to believe the Buddha. It can only help us. His Awakening was for the benefit and happiness of the beings of the world, for the purification of the beings of the world who have the wisdom and discernment to follow the path that he followed. The arising of a Buddha leads to suffering only for those whose pride prevents them from following his path. They're the only ones who don't benefit from his Awakening.
We should be open and honest with ourselves about our pride, our views. We shouldn't hide them from ourselves. We should bring them out and flush them out. Don't keep feeding them. For the most part, they're not the sort of friends who will help make us bright, clean, and pure. Don't go thinking that the ideas we like will necessarily help make us bright, clean, and pure. We should pry them out, unfurl them, clean them out so that all our defective views can be cut away. When we're free of defective views, we'll be left with impeccable views, views that are a treasure in terms of our thinking. When our views are impeccable, our virtues will be impeccable. And when our virtues form a good, solid foundation, training the mind becomes easy and free from difficulties.
The problem right now is that our views run contrary to the truth and are always ready to make false assumptions. We see stressful things as pleasurable, short things as long, things that should be done as things not to be done. We see things that are filthy, that should be straightened out to put them in line with the truth, and we simply leave them as they are, at odds with the truth. So how can we hope to gain release from suffering? How can we hope to reach purity?
The mind is something subtle and sensitive, easily misled by subtle misunderstandings, to say nothing of blatant ones. This is why the Buddha set out a training regime for our character habits, to make us compliant and respectful toward the truth, even in the smallest matters, seeing danger in even the slightest faults. In other words, he pointed out even the slightest faults that we should avoid, should abandon, but we feel that we can't do without them. We don't see them as faults. This means we don't see the frightening dangers that will arise from our own wrong actions. So we're audacious in doing what's wrong. As for the things the Buddha told us to do, we're not willing to do them, not willing to follow him, all because of our views and our pride. This is why we can't reach the stream to nibbana.
If we want to practice so as to abandon our pride, so as to enter the stream to the transcendent, we have to straighten out our views — in particular, self-identity views (sakkaya-ditthi). These are the very first door. If we can't straighten out these sorts of wrong views, we won't be able to find the door through the wall that separates us from the Deathless. We'll simply circle around the outside perimeter. No matter how many lifetimes we practice, we'll just keep walking around the perimeter of the wall if we can't straighten out these views. So we should train ourselves to examine our many subtle views in all their elaborations. We should give rise to conviction that's stronger than what we already have. We should make our respect stronger than what it already is, and be willing to follow the Buddha's instructions. When he says to renounce something, we should renounce it, even if it means putting our life on the line, even if it means dying. Only then will we come out victorious, making an opening in the wall of our views. If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed.
So remember this: If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed. If you want to get through the final wall so as to gain total release from dying and birth, you have to stop circling around the outside perimeter like this. If you keep acting the way you are, you'll never gain release from suffering and stress. So try to be observant, try to evaluate the preoccupations that lie buried in your heart. What are the obstacles, the defilements, you have to undo so that you can come out victorious? If you can't overcome them using one method, try other methods until you can. Don't let them become "you." Don't let them become your self, making you engage in I-making and my-making and self-identity views. Once there are self-identity views, the stupidity of the mind will lead to uncertainty (vicikiccha), so that you can't come to any clear and genuine conclusions. You'll grasp at external things — this is what's called "grasping at precepts and practices" (silabbata-paramasa) — like the Jains in the time of the Buddha, who thought they would succeed in gaining release through external practices, without training the mind to give rise to discernment. They felt that if they followed their practices, external forces would come and save them, some god would come and save them. But the purity of our external actions is something only we can know. As the Buddha taught, there's no one else who can come and save us. Only we can save ourselves. There's no god greater than the help we give ourselves.
So don't let yourself be misled. Vanquish your wrong views so that you can be genuinely compliant toward the Buddha, genuinely believing in his teachings with genuine respect.
Keep on meditating.