Fixing the Dharmic plumbing

Two terms which get bandied about are outflows, or leaks. This is something that I only rarely encountered in Nichiren Buddhism, and it wasn’t something that was explained in any depth, typically being grouped under illusions or defilements. While this is not incorrect, it is somewhat vague because, let’s face it, a lot of what we do is based on illusion and defilement. Since my change in practice, I have come to understand more of what leaks and outflows refer to.

In the Mahacattarisaka Sutta (Discourse on the Great Forty), the Buddha teaches the causes and accompanying factors that support Right Concentration, a practice of the Eightfold Noble Path. Being in harmony with non-self, Right Concentration is said to depend upon all other seven practices that comprise the Eightfold Noble Path.

When he gets to Right View, he says this;

What, bhikkhus, is Right View? Bhikkhus, there are two kinds of Right View. There is Right View in which not all the leaks have been stopped. It gives rise to merit but still results in attachment. Then there is Right View that is noble in which the leaks have been stopped. It is supramundane and an element of the Path. What is Right View in which not all the leaks have been stopped? It is the view that there is a point in giving alms, offering alms, and ceremonial offerings. That there is ripening of the fruit of wholesome and unwholesome actions. That this world exists and so does the other world. That there is birth from parents, and there are beings who are born spontaneously. That monks and brahmans have perfected the Path, are going in the right direction, have experienced for themselves the special understandings, and are able to illuminate our understanding of this world or the other world.

What is Right View in which the leaks have been stopped? It is understanding, understanding as one of the Five Faculties, understanding as one of the Five Powers, understanding as the enlightenment factor called investigation of phenomena in someone whose mind is noble, whose mind has no leaks, who has been provided with the Noble Path, and who is practicing the Noble Path. That, bhikkhus, is Right View that is noble, without leaks, supramundane, and a limb of the Path.

The Sutta goes on to explain, I think, how Right View – while interdependent upon the other seven practices – lies at the base of our suffering. People who follow a spiritual path often believe they hold right view. They want to help end their own and the suffering of others. As the Buddha says, there is merit in this. But when we fall into the trap of thinking such merit depends on adherence to a particular set of precepts, a doctrine or dogma, or depends upon monks and brahmans (a priestly class might be essential, but can not be viewed as sufficient) to show us the way, then we experience attachment, and therefore further suffering. This is leakage or outflow. Our views drive our thoughts, actions, livelihood and every other element of our lives, and so if our views are not right, then we will continue to have outflows – we continue to create further seeds of suffering.

Even the Dalai Lama has confessed, in his typical self effacing fashion, to realising his own attachment to Buddhism. He has said:

I know a physicist from Chile who told me that it is not appropriate for a scientist to be biased towards science because of his love and passion for it. I am a Buddhist practitioner and have a lot of faith and respect in the teachings of the Buddha. However, if I mix up my love for and attachment to Buddhism, then my mind shall be biased towards it. A biased mind, which never sees the complete picture, cannot grasp the reality. And any action that results from such a state of mind will not be in tune with reality. As such it causes a lot of problems.

I think he also alludes to this during an interview in the film Dalai Lama Renaissance at These musings seem to precede more recent posts on his Dalai Lama Facebook page, supporting the idea of spirituality and ethics moving beyond religion altogether. Bold stuff indeed, but surely founded in right view. He’s seriously sticking a finger in his leaks there!

The prevention of leaks and outflows, for us lay practitioners, would seem practically impossible to eliminate. This is why I think teachings like the Heart Sutra and Diamond Sutra are so important as they contain much of the core DNA of Right View.

We all like to think of ourselves as Bodhisattvas and Buddhas, but we often become addicted or attached to the fruit of the Arhat – we achieve insight into the Dharmas, but fail in our hearts to behave in accordance with the truth that all Dharmas are conditioned. Having crossed the sea of suffering upon a raft we have spent many years constructing, we become attached to it – even when we have completed our journey, we do not want to let go of our prized possession. The teachings of Buddhism are like the raft, and can become a hindrance if used wrongly.

In the Alagaddupama Sutta (Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake) the Buddha teaches:

Bhikshus, a person who studies that way can be compared to a man trying to catch a poisonous snake in the wild. If he reaches out his hand, the snake may bite his hand, leg, or some other part of his body. Trying to catch a snake that way has no advantages and can only create suffering.

Bhikshus, understanding my teaching in the wrong way is the same. If you do not practice the Dharma correctly, you may come to understand it as the opposite of what was intended. But if you practice intelligently, you will understand both the letter and the spirit of the teachings and will be able to explain them correctly. Do not practice just to show off or argue with others. Practice to attain liberation, and if you do, you will have little pain or exhaustion.

Therefore if we believe that Buddhism itself has made us into a nice people, and therefore everyone else can be made into nice people through Buddhism, then we’re missing the point – particularly if we think we “get it” – because in all likelihood, we don’t.


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