27. Work with the greatest defilements first
This is a great slogan for procrastinators. It is all about looking into those things we avoid, that we put off, that we somehow never end up dealing with. In particular it is about defilements. But what are defilements?
According to this slogan, defilements refer to patterns of thought, habits, and emotions that sap our energy and keep us from thriving. Defilements prevent us from awakening our wisdom or compassion. They pollute what is by nature pure, and block our instinct to grow and develop. They are powerful inner obstacles. Of course we may have outer obstacles, as well, but the idea is to start with what is close at hand, something we could actually have some influence over.
On a mundane level, you may notice that some things always seem to end up at the bottom of your to do list, and just stay there. Sometimes they migrate to a new improved to-do list, but once again they end up on the bottom. This slogan is a reminder to shake this pattern up and to go straight to the most difficult task. Although we may have a variety of things to do, it is pretty easy to figure out what that particular task might be. We can feel the quality of avoidance in our bodies.
At a deeper level, this slogan challenges us to analyze what really sets us back. We need to do so persistently enough to expose our core obstacles, to try to get to the root of what holds us down. It challenges to dig deeply enough to uncover our greatest defilements. And having done so, we need to stick with that defilement and keep working on it until we are free of it.
This slogan also points to an on-the-spot way of working with our situation in which we do not put anything off, but we deal with whatever defilement arises simply and directly. That is, in cooking up compassion, nothing is moved to the back burner.
What patterns of thought or habit do you have that block your development of wisdom and insight? What is your most consistent and frequent roadblock? Take some time to reflect on this and on how you might begin to work with it.
Thank you for subscribing to Tricycle! As a nonprofit, we depend on readers like you to keep Buddhist teachings and practices widely available.