Replacing Unskillful Thoughts

When troubling images arise in the mind, the first thing to try is replacing it with an uplifting one; so the Buddha advises in today’s Pali exercise:

Idha, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno yaṃ nimittaṃ āgamma yaṃ nimittaṃ manasikaroto uppajjanti pāpakā akusalā vitakkā chandūpasaṃhitāpi dosūpasaṃhitāpi mohūpasaṃhitāpi, tena, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā tamhā nimittā aññaṃ nimittaṃ manasi kātabbaṃ kusalūpasaṃhitaṃ. Tassa tamhā nimittā aññaṃ nimittaṃ manasikaroto kusalūpasaṃhitaṃ ye pāpakā akusalā vitakkā chandūpasaṃhitāpi dosūpasaṃhitāpi mohūpasaṃhitāpi te pahīyanti te abbhatthaṃ gacchanti. Tesaṃ pahānā ajjhattameva cittaṃ santiṭṭhati sannisīdati ekodi hoti samādhiyati. Seyyathāpi, bhikkhave, dakkho palagaṇḍo vā palagaṇḍantevāsī vā sukhumāya āṇiyā oḷārikaṃ āṇiṃ abhinihaneyya abhinīhareyya abhinivatteyya ; evameva kho, bhikkhave, bhikkhuno yaṃ nimittaṃ āgamma yaṃ nimittaṃ manasikaroto uppajjanti pāpakā akusalā vitakkā chandūpasaṃhitāpi dosūpasaṃhitāpi mohūpasaṃhitāpi, tena, bhikkhave, bhikkhunā tamhā nimittā aññaṃ nimittaṃ manasi kātabbaṃ kusalūpasaṃhitaṃ.

Bhikkhus, when an image arises in a bhikkhu’s mind which gives rise to wicked, unskillful thoughts – thoughts marked by desire, marked by anger, and marked by delusion – in response, he should replace that image by reflecting on another image, one marked by skillfulness. By keeping in mind the other image marked by skillfulness, that wicked, unskillful thought, marked by desire, marked by anger, and marked by delusion, vanishes and goes away. Once it is removed, the heart and mind is stilled, quieted, focused and concentrated.

Bhikkhus, just as a skilled carpenter or carpenter’s apprentice replaces a bad peg by knock-knock-knocking it out with a good one, so too, bhikkhus, when an image arises in a bhikkhu’s mind which gives rise to wicked, unskillful thoughts – thoughts marked by desire, marked by anger, and marked by delusion – in response, he should replace that image by reflecting on another image, one marked by skillfulness.
Vitakkasaṇṭhāna Suttaṃ MN 20

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