This is a passage from a teaching by Master Han Shan called “The Maxims.”
Our mind and body are by nature pure; but we sully them with sinful thoughts and deeds. In order to restore ourselves to our original purity, we need only to clean away the accumulated dirt. But how do we proceed with the cleansing process? Do we put a barrier between us and the occasions of our bad habits? Do we remove ourselves from the places of temptation? No. We cannot claim victory by avoiding the battle. The enemy is not our surroundings, it is in ourselves. We have to confront ourselves and try to understand our human weakness. We have to take an honest look at ourselves, at our relationships and our possessions, and ask what all our self-indulgence has gotten us. Has it brought us happiness? Surely not.
This is the concept of Buddha Nature. Our minds are pure. At our core we are good and awakened. Some people think of the spiritual path as gaining more and more awareness and awakening, finding more and more truth.
But that’s not what this path is about. This path is about cutting away delusion to find the truth that’s already there.
Han Shan is describing the Bodhisattva path here. He’s saying we don’t run away from our weaknesses and temptations. We don’t want to hide from our delusion. Our neuroses and bad mental habits aren’t things to hide from or get rid of. They are things to work with. Pretending we don’t have weaknesses doesn’t not work.
We’re all a little broken and it’s important to note that we don’t have to be perfect. This isn’t about perfection, but about trying our best. We can acknowledge our weaknesses and pay attention to them rather than judging ourselves harshly for having them.
If we are ruthlessly honest we’ll have to admit that it was our own foolish egotism that soiled us. This admission is painful to make. Well, if we want to melt ice we have to apply heat. The hotter the fire, the quicker the ice melts. So it is with wisdom. The more intense our scrutiny, the quicker we will attain wisdom. When we grow large in wisdom we dwarf our old egotistical self. The contest is then over.
Giving into our temptations and delusions hasn’t made us happy. For most of us, that’s why we’re on the path. These are really the things that have caused to struggle so much. Our idea of the way things should be is what stops us from appreciating the way things are. We are so often our own worst enemies.
But if we cultivate wisdom and awareness, we can manage these issues. We can make things better for ourselves.