The Defilements in dualist (e.g. Sravaka) Buddhism are straightforward:
They are 3 Unwholesome elements - lust, aversion, and ignorance - which are eliminated in the process of awakening. The entire Eightfold Path is a life plan to eliminate these defilements, first by removing gross defilements manifest in action (sila), then temporarily detaching and excising them through the training of concentration (samadhi), until their final elimination by penetrating insight (panna).
However, how does one conceptualize the defilements (kleshas) within a non-dualistic framework?
I'm especially curious about their conceptualization within a yogacara framework, such as the Chan Buddhist school.
Observe how all their defining elements in Sravakayana above are invalid in yogacara:
- You can't call anything "unwholesome". In fact, labeling or perceiving anything as unwholesome is a mark of ignorance, since it violates basic principles of non-dualism.
- Nor can you separate anything out, or aim to eliminate it, or even just believe such elimination is at all possible. The idea that anything can be "eliminated" at any level more profound than physical reality is ignorant Wrong View.
In short, the very concept of "defilements" as taught in Sravaka is Wrong View in yogacara, or more charitably - skillful means (Upaya).
As a sidenote, I do believe it's hard to reconcile a dualist approach with the Pali Canon, since it's unclear how anything can be truly separate - let alone eliminated - in a huge system of conditioned phenomena that affect each other eternally and without fail. For example, we can burn a wooden cottage, but that doesn't "eliminate" anything: it just modifies a form. So the matter of the wood was transformed to ash, heat, and gas. The latter two we don't see, but it's ignorant even at a mundane level to believe they don't exist.
It's not easy to explain how anything can be "unwholesome", and I believe it is indeed never quite explained in the Canon. I vaguely recall that the question of "what are the kleshas, why do they exist?" was one of the questions the Buddha refused to answer. Either way, I believe it is unanswered.
Non-dualism eliminates the whole question; a radical, powerful answer to irreconcilable questions that plagued not just Eastern, but Western philosophers as well. In Yogacara, there can be nothing "bad", no "defilements". However, then we have to explain Buddhism again, since the "purifying defilements" narrative can no longer serve us.
This is what this questions is about.
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