Two Aspects of Spiritual Cultivation

By Desmond Yeoh SC

woman in yellow sweater while reading a book

There are two aspects of spiritual cultivation. One is doing good deeds and the other is avoiding bad karma. In other words, it is accumulating the causes of happiness while not gathering the causes of suffering at the same time.

A famous monk in Thailand, Ajahn Chah, commented that many of his followers only focused on doing good deeds but neglect the other aspect. They frequently offered basic requisites to the monks but still carried on with their vices. Some of them just drop by to leave food at the temple and leave without learning the Dharma (Spiritual Truths) from the monks. He likened this to dying a cloth without first washing it. The results will not be good. It is like a robber who donates a part of his loot to a temple with the hope of washing away all his bad karma. It just does not work this way.

Avoiding negative deeds in action, speech and mind is much harder but much more fruitful. When we do this, doing good comes naturally. Avoiding bad actions mean not harming or hurting others through our physical actions. Avoiding bad speech means not telling lies, speaking bad about others or engage in useless gossip. The toughest part, the mind, involves removing negative thoughts or tendencies from our minds. These negative mental habits are referred to as defilements. Spiritual practitioners spend their entire lifetime trying to remove these mental defilements bit by bit from their mind until they are left with a pure mind; which is enlightenment.

There are also two types of spiritual study. One is external and the other internal. The external study involves reading books and listening to spiritual teachers. The internal study involves observing or meditating on our thoughts to catch the mental defilements that we are habitually burdened with. Again, just doing external study without engaging in internal study is incomplete. Many scholars can recite entire scriptures and tell interesting stories but they are not able to tell how they apply them in their own lives. This is often likened to a ladle in a pot of wonderful soup. The ladle is just not capable of tasting the soup and this is a very sad scenario.

So we must always keep in mind the two types of spiritual cultivation and study as we progress along our spiritual path towards enlightenment.



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