Updated: Mar 22, 2022
Last Saturday during the snowfall we were having, I was looking at the weather forecast for the following week and saw the warmth and rain that was predicted. I felt an, “Oh no” come up in the mind (I love snow) and was aware of the contraction in the body and mind. This clearly was a moment of suffering. Not huge suffering, but suffering nonetheless.
After feeling and experiencing this for a few moments, I remembered (Sati, the Pali word that gets translated into the English word Mindfulness literally means, “to remember”) that all things must change. If they arise, they must pass away. Of course the snow was going to melt, it had to. If not next week, then at some other time. With this remembering in my mind, it, and the body relaxed. I stopped resisting the nature of things, and could just enjoy the snow as it was right in that moment.
I offer this foray in to the contents of my mind as an example of the two different ways that we practice. Neither of these two ways of practice are better than the other. With mindfulness, they both are onward leading to the freedom of heart and mind.
One way that we practice is when the heart and mind are free from that which causes suffering. You can say it’s when there is an absence of wanting and not wanting in the mind. Not only is there an absence, but we are mindful that there is an absence. We are aware of being temporarily free from suffering. This is called practicing in the realm of Purity. When I remembered and reflected on the truth of impermanence and was able to be OK with the fact that the snow was going to melt at some point, I was in the Purity mode of practicing.
Before that, the mind was temporarily visited by resistance and fear. When I noticed it, and the suffering that the resistance produced, I was practicing in the purification realm. That is, when we are experientially aware of how it is we create our own suffering.
It can be very easy to think that the purity mode of practice is somehow better than the purification mode. It’s more pleasant and so we can tend to think it’s better. But, the Buddha said that the first Noble Truth of Dukkha, or suffering, must be experienced. Those were his instructions. So when we are mindful of suffering and how it is that it comes about, we are practicing the Buddha’s teachings. This is really important to get, because if we think that it’s somehow wrong (and that we’re wrong) to get angry, sad, desirous, jealous, etc. then we’re not going to pay attention to it, and won’t be able to practice what the Buddha taught. We’ll just stuff it, because we think it’s and/or we’re bad.
Our practice will flow back and forth between the modes of Purity and Purification. This is natural and inevitable. Both are necessary experiences for us to have and be mindful of, if we are to cultivate the Noble Eightfold Path.