Spiritual Work means Cultivating Away the Five Delusive Views or Five Errant Perspectives
People tend to think that spiritual cultivation is sitting there meditating with some meditation technique, practicing yoga, reciting mantra (japa meditation practice) or striving to attain the nine samadhi absorptions and various states of kung-fu.
Don't kid yourself! That's just the form of the path.
The actual process of cultivation is the work of purifying the defiling behavioral patterns, or energy streams, that are entrenched in the thought patterns of your mind ... and not acting on them. It's the process of turning negative states into virtuous states along with realizing your true nature.
You are not in a position to purify these errant streams completely until you break through the skandhas of form, sensation and then conception. In the volition skandha, which you can understand AFTER spiritual enlightenment, you can see all your habit patterns very clearly and can then start devoting yourself to clear these obstructions from your conceptual habit energies. That's why the stage of practice after seeing the Tao is called the "Path of True Cultivation practice" for THIS is true practice (along with deepening your experience of the Tao). It's the path of perfecting your behavior and deepening your realization.
The mundane AND transcendental path of spiritual cultivation (the use of transcendental meditation techniques) is the task of trying to purify these habitual energy streams so that they are always clear, compassionate and virtuous. You are ultimately trying to purify your behavior when you cultivate while staying in tune with the formless Tao. You must learn to match emptiness with phenomena.
Ultimately, that is all there really is in the universe--the job of changing your behavior to a more perfect state and acting to master phenomena, yourself and to bring about perfection because there's nowhere ultimate in the universe to go. Appearance and function always exist along with the dharmakaya so your job, or life purpose, becomes one of taking on tasks of great merit making, mastering perfections and mastering your behavior as you cycle through the Three Realms of existence.
What else is there to do except purify your behavior, devote yourself to great deeds of merit, and collect perfections and develop mastery of phenomena? That's why I tell you you have to master meditation, psychology, medicine, the arts, linguistics, politics, business and technology. You have to master everything to be a Buddha or Bodhisattva. If you just get enlightenment and leave, that's an Arhat.
Now if you sink into all the transformational changes talked about by the school of Tibetan Esoteric Buddhism or yoga or Taoism, and become attached to secret supernatural teachings of miracles and marvels, you have poisoned the path of real spiritual cultivation work. Mysterious and mystical cultivation schools appeal to people, but these people succumb to the false notion that this is true cultivation, and miss the point of the spiritual path entirely.
The sages were so kind to give all these teachings on kung-fu, chakras, kundalini, skandhas, samadhi, elements, and so on, but this job of changing your deep-seated habitual afflictions is the true and actual spiritual path! Christian meditation, Buddhist meditation, Jewish, Taoist, Hindu meditation or spiritual practice, vipassana and so forth ... they're all about cultivating and perfecting your behavior. They are about positive, virtuous engagement in the world of phenomena.
Did you ever notice that the stage where you finally break through the conception skandha because you have cultivated wisdom, samadhi and kung-fu is called "seeing Tao," or "seeing the path"? In Tantric Buddhism this is called "attaining the clear light," but no matter the name, what is in front of you is the challenge of changing your behavior; abandoning your bad habits and choosing virtuous acts at all times. When you realize the emptiness of the self, you "see the Path" and can then know that while everything is empty, there is still appearance and function in the universe defined by interdependence, and what's left is perfecting your behavior. To perfect your behavior you must transform negative thoughts to positive thoughts, and then liberate even positive thoughts into emptiness. When thoughts are born you let them be born but if they're negative you don't act on them.
How not to act on bad thoughts? One thing to get rid of is the five errant or deviant perspectives. If you get rid of them, you're halfway home to seeing the Tao but most people are caught by these things and cannot break free.
The five erroneous, delusive or deviant views ...or "five incorrect perspectives" include: (1) holding onto the view of being a body, (2) holding one-sided extreme views, (3) holding wrong, deviant or misguided views, (4) holding subjective views (being opinionated, or holding views that cling to self-views), and (5) holding views of improper discipline.
Here's a short introduction to these five deviant views or perspectives. You can find more information in our manual, How to Measure and Deepen Your Stage of Spiritual Realization:
(1) The perspective of taking the body (or any of the skandhas) as the real self. This means thinking your physical body is the real you. It is also the false notion of being a body at all, which is holding onto a body as a self. The perspective of possessing a body, to which you cling, is the incorrect notion of holding onto the perspective of form. Tibetan Buddhism, Taoism and yoga emphasize the body too much and the proponents end up amplifying this false perspective rather than getting rid of it.
To hold the notion of "I" and "mine" is entertaining the view of a personal independent existence. This view is "belief in a self," a fundamentally mistaken notion which is actually centered around the perishable five skandhas. The Heart Sutra says that the five aggregates (skandhas) are no different than emptiness, and if you can accomplish that realization, you can truly be rid of the view of the self.
Since this is hard to accomplish, most sentient beings mistakenly believe they have a self because they cling to the view of having a body. In clinging to the idea of being a body, they never even attain the first samadhi. That is why Buddha told people to offer their body to others through charity work, for in so doing one can learn how to be selfless and empty, and thereby can make real progress in getting rid of this mental entanglement.
(2) Entertaining views that are one-sided or extreme. This perspective should be called the perspective of limitation because it refers to an edge, demarcation, or parameter that you establish with your thoughts. For instance if you were to believe that the skandhas exist permanently, you would be holding a one-sided view that postulates an extreme.
When, through cultivation, you free yourself from this perspective of limitation, your mind will become open and infinite. When you really achieve this level of emptiness, the kung-fu that matches with it will even allow you to walk through a mountain. People usually achieve some minor experiential realm of emptiness through meditation and say, "I'm really clear," but this is usually a false emptiness because they are still just experiencing a concept of emptiness that is defined by the perspective of one-sidedness. Real emptiness is infinite, whereas any concept of emptiness is still subject to the perspective of one-sided limitation.
Black people, white people, Frenchmen, Germans--all these ways of labeling people also constitute the entanglement or perspective of parameters and one-sided extremes. Humans, for instance, think they are the highest beings in the world, and this viewpoint is being one-sided as well. Look at the cruelty and indifference with which we treat the animals that work for us--we take their milk, eat their meat, wear their skins
look how we behave! We talk about human rights, but how about animal rights? The view of one-sided extremes is seeing and attaching to only one side of an issue, such as the human side, and most all philosophical thinking falls into this category because it involves the perspective of limitation.
As another example, we always say we are working for mankind, but what about the other beings in the world? Buddha worked for the benefit of all sentient beings, so he did not hold to ideas of culture, race, humanity, caste or sex--he broke down all these barriers for the benefit of all life. The Buddha taught that all beings are equal, not just that humans are equal, and so he was free of this one-sided perspective. When you become free of one-sided views you can achieve the Middle Way.
(3) Holding misguided, false, deviant, inverted or perverse views. In other words, this is denying what is authentic and real, which is holding the opposite view from the truth. Believing in superstitions is an example of false or errant views, and this error has to do with doubt and pride. The answer for why people jump from one cultivation school to another also lies here. They doubt teachings, and they doubt teachings because they do not have a clear perspective. They do not have clear perspective in turn because they lack correct perception.
Let us look at a more complicated example. Some Christian sects claim that a person must believe to be saved. If you do not believe, does that mean you have no hope? If that's the case, are you saying this is God? The Bodhisattvas say that the good people need to be saved but even more so, the bad people need to be saved, too. If your purpose is only to save the good who are going to be saved anyway, then why bother? Christians are supposed to help the people that need the most help, not the least. This type of illogical dogma is an example of perverted views that are astray.
(4) Holding your own views as supreme. This entails clinging to your own perspectives because of self-cherishment. In other words, it is the entanglement of clinging onto one's own subjective perspective.
You can also call this opinionatedness, which is being opinionated or clinging to your own subjective views because you consider them the best or the most excellent. Whether it is because of your scholastic achievements, your experiences in life, or due to your cultural upbringing, this fourth affliction entails fallaciously insisting (holding) that some particular view of yours is the truth against which all other things should be measured.
People grasp onto all sorts of mental models as the truth or supreme view. Whether they cling to democracy, Communism, Keynesianism, Judaism, industrialization, globalization, or any other pre-formed set of beliefs, people take their views as if they are the one truth. Actually, these opinions are all just reactions created in response to situations, and it cannot be that any one of these views is supreme. Thus, the view of holding onto self-views is just holding onto whatever perspective people think is right. For example: some people might insist that it is absolutely necessary to wash your face twice a day. They might be so certain of their definition that they view people as dirty who do not exactly follow their notions.
Generally, religion and politics are the two strongest opinionated perspectives people get stuck in. They say, "I am a Republican while you are not. This makes me better than you because my set of beliefs is better than any other." Or, "I am a Christian and you are not. This means that I am better and will be saved because my religion is true, while you have no hope since you do not share the same beliefs." Or, "I'm studying Tantra and you are not, and since this is the most supreme way to cultivate practice, I feel sorry for you." This perspective of holding your own views as supreme therefore means holding the idea that everyone else is wrong, and your view is correct. This is the perspective of holding onto views.
(5) The perspective of grasping onto rituals and rules means clinging to rules of morality, conduct or discipline and taking them as supreme when they are just expedient constructions without any absolutist universal standing. They were simply invented because of someone's skillful means, but if we erroneously take them as absolutes then we have the view of holding conduct based on them as supreme.
Common people often mistakenly hold onto religious rules and codes of conduct as being holy or ultimate when they have no standing in the ultimate reality. They are not actually the spiritual path, for the cultivation path ultimately rests in the mind. Nevertheless, some people will insist that Friday is the holy day, others Saturday and yet others Sunday, and an insistence that this day must be conducted in a certain way, or that one is in error and destined to be punished, is the perspective of grasping onto rules and regulations.
For instance, a vegetarian might say that a person who eats meat is not a real Buddhist, or even a good person. They do not realize that vegetarianism has to do with the diet, and not Tao! People who refuse the medical treatment they need to save their lives, because it goes against their beliefs, are also grasping onto rules and rituals rather than seeing everything as expedient function and guiding themselves by prajna wisdom.
If you pray to Allah five times a day and think that not doing it means you will not go to heaven, this is also the perspective of grasping onto rituals and rules. If you think you have violated some religious ultimate because you turned a light switch on during the Sabbath, you have also tied yourself up in artificial rules and regulations. Friday is the Holy day (Islam) ... no it's Saturday (Judaism)... no it's Sunday (Christianity)... these are all errant perspectives if you think any of this is the truly real. Where's the original mind in all this, where's the original nature?
Life is always moving and changing, so every moment is a new situation to which you must respond. If you learn to respond with adaptability and full awareness, this is what is important. You must not let external rules and regulations rule you but simply help guide you when you need guidance, for a course of action has to come out a situation itself, not some prefabricated book of conduct. Even to act out of habits is a form of conditioned response rather than the true freedom of spiritual liberation.
If you do not let go of these self-imposed veils-even though they might come from religion--you will never cultivate the prajna wisdom that leads to enlightenment. But if you attain the necessary wisdom, then you can outwardly abide by all these rules and regulations yet be internally free of all these artificial things. You can become free of them and yet still follow them without their controlling you, and no external authority will be the wiser. It is an exercise in skillful means to conform to society in this way, rather than ranting against it or even ostracizing yourself because of rebellious behavior. This is what a Bodhisattva does: they adapt to local conditions and accord with virtuous norms in society while going about their enlightening function. They practice spontaneous accord with conditions and conventions.
All of these erroneous perspectives represent entanglements, barriers and byword paths on the road of spiritual cultivation. They represent adhesive entanglements that must be abandoned as you climb the spiritual ladder.
Don't get confused by all the experiential realms you encounter in meditation for this is the path of cultivation -- freeing yourself from the five errant perspectives. Cultivation is the effort of trying to become a real human being and trying to transform your mental behavior and activity in society so that it is virtuous and effects a virtuous response that lives on. When you are working on your everyday, every moment behavior, this is the path of cultivation--not when you sit in motionless meditation using some meditation technique. That's just part of the story.
True cultivation is to be without greed, anger, ignorance or any of the other six root afflictions in your mind and behavior. It is to be in the present moment and to act properly and compassionately in response to sentient beings and events.
When can you finally reach this point in its truest sense, which is when you are really practicing the Tao? When you finally reach the volition skandha and see all these hidden impulses behind your behavior. First you must break through the Form, then Sensation and Conception skandhas and then you're at the Stage of True Cultivation Practice. Working on purifying these impulses is the path of cultivation, and there is no way around this definition. If we turn to Confucius, we can find that he always described the cultivation path as one of purifying your behavior for that's the real process of cultivation.
Cultivation is not apart from the world but is connected to it, and so it must involve perfecting your behavior because that's purifying your relationship with the world. Normally the mind is caught up in unusual entanglements and strange perspectives, and so you have to free yourself from these things, and all the bad behaviors that have become your deep-seated habits, if you want to succeed in this and accomplish the Tao. This is the actual work of the path; this is the path of perfection on which you have to work every day.