Food for the Heart
Venerable Ajahn Chah
Fight greed, fight aversion, fight delusion... these are the enemy. In the practice of Buddhism, the path of the Buddha, we fight with Dhamma, using patient endurance. We fight by resisting our countless moods.
Dhamma and the world are inter-related. Where there is Dhamma there is the world, where there is the world there is Dhamma. Where there are defilements there are those who conquer defilements, who do battle with them. This is called fighting inwardly. To fight outwardly people take hold of bombs and guns to throw and to shoot; they conquer and are conquered. Conquering others is the way of the world. In the practice of Dhamma we don't have to fight others, but instead conquer our own minds, patiently enduring and resisting all our moods.
When it comes to Dhamma practice we don't harbor resentment and enmity amongst ourselves, but instead let go of all forms of ill-will in our own actions and thoughts, freeing ourselves from jealousy, aversion and resentment. Hatred can only be overcome by not harboring resentment and bearing grudges.
Hurtful actions and reprisals are different but closely related. Actions once done are finished with, there's no need to answer with revenge and hostility. This is called "action" (kamma). "Reprisal" (vera) means to continue that action further with thoughts of "you did it to me so I'm going to get you back." There's no end to this. It brings about the continual seeking of revenge, and so hatred is never abandoned. As long as we behave like this the chain remains unbroken, there's no end to it. No matter where we go, the feuding continues.
The Supreme Teacher taught the world, he had compassion for all worldly beings. But the world nevertheless goes on like this. The wise should look into this and select those things which are of true value. The Buddha had trained in the various arts of warfare as a prince, but he saw that they weren't really useful, they are limited to the world with its fighting and aggression.
Therefore, in training ourselves as those who have left the world, we must learn to give up all forms of evil, giving up all those things which are the cause for enmity. We conquer ourselves, we don't try to conquer others. We fight, but we fight only the defilements; if there is greed, we fight that; if there is aversion, we fight that; if there is delusion, we strive to give it up.
This is called "Dhamma fighting." This warfare of the heart is really difficult, in fact it's the most difficult thing of all. We become monks in order to contemplate this, to learn the art of fighting greed, aversion and delusion. This is our prime responsibility.
This is the inner battle, fighting with defilements. But there are very few people who fight like this. Most people fight with other things, they rarely fight defilements. They rarely even see them.
The Buddha taught us to give up all forms of evil and cultivate virtue. This is the right path. Teaching in this way is like the Buddha picking us up and placing us at the beginning of the path. Having reached the path, whether we walk along it or not is up to us. The Buddha's job is finished right there. He shows the way, that which is right and that which is not right. This much is enough, the rest is up to us.
Now, having reached the path we still don't know anything, we still haven't seen anything, so we must learn. To learn we must be prepared to endure some hardship, just like students in the world. It's difficult enough to obtain the knowledge and learning necessary for them to pursue their careers. They have to endure. When they think wrongly or feel averse or lazy they must force themselves before they can graduate and get a job. The practice for a monk is similar. If we determine to practice and contemplate, then we will surely see the way.
Ditthimana is a harmful thing. Ditthi means "view" or "opinion." All forms of view are called ditthi: seeing good as evil, seeing evil as good... any way whatsoever that we see things. This is not the problem. The problem lies with the clinging to those views, called mana; holding on to those views as if they were the truth. This leads us to spin around from birth to death, never reaching completion, just because of that clinging. So the Buddha urged us to let go of views.
If many people live together, as we do here, they can still practice comfortably if their views are in harmony. But even two or three monks would have difficulty if their views were not good or harmonious. When we humble ourselves and let go of our views, even if there are many of us, we come together at the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
It's not true to say that there will be disharmony just because there are many of us. Just look at a millipede. A millipede has many legs, doesn't it? Just looking at it you'd think it would have difficulty walking, but actually it doesn't. It has its own order and rhythm. In our practice it's the same. If we practice as the Noble Sangha of the Buddha practiced, then it's easy. That is, supatipanno — those who practice well; ujupatipanno — those who practice straightly; ñanapatipanno — those who practice to transcend suffering, and samicipatipanno — those who practice properly. These four qualities, established within us, will make us true members of Sangha. Even if we number in the hundreds or thousands, no matter how many we are, we all travel the same path. We come from different backgrounds, but we are the same. Even though our views may differ, if we practice correctly there will be no friction. Just like all the rivers and streams which flow to the sea... once they enter the sea they all have the same taste and color. It's the same with people. When they enter the stream of Dhamma, it's the one Dhamma. Even though they come from different places, they harmonize, they merge.
But the thinking which causes all the disputes and conflict is ditthi-mana. Therefore the Buddha taught us to let go of views. Don't allow mana to cling to those views beyond their relevance.
The Buddha taught the value of constant sati, 3 recollection. Whether we are standing, walking, sitting or reclining, wherever we are, we should have this power of recollection. When we have sati we see ourselves, we see our own minds. We see the "body within the body," "the mind within the mind." If we don't have sati we don't know anything, we aren't aware of what is happening.
So sati is very important. With constant sati we will listen to the Dhamma of the Buddha at all times. This is because "eye seeing forms" is Dhamma; "ear hearing sounds" is Dhamma; "nose smelling odors" is Dhamma; "tongue tasting flavors" is Dhamma; "body feeling sensations" is Dhamma; when impressions arise in the mind, that is Dhamma also. Therefore one who has constant sati always hears the Buddha's teaching. The Dhamma is always there. Why? Because of sati, because we are aware.
Sati is recollection, sampajañña is self-awareness. This awareness is the actual Buddho, the Buddha. When there is sati-sampajañña, understanding will follow. We know what is going on. When the eye sees forms: is this proper or improper? When the ear hears sound: is this the appropriate or inappropriate? Is it harmful? Is it wrong, is it right? And so on like this with everything. If we understand we hear the Dhamma all the time.
So let us all understand that right now we are learning in the midst of Dhamma. Whether we go forward or step back, we meet the Dhamma — it's all Dhamma if we have sati? Even seeing the animals running around in the forest we can reflect, seeing that all animals are the same as us. They run away from suffering and chase after happiness, just as people do. Whatever they don't like they avoid; they are afraid of dying, just like people. If we reflect on this, we see that all beings in the world, people as well, are the same in their various instincts. Thinking like this is called "bhavana," 4 seeing according to the truth, that all beings are companions in birth, old age, sickness and death. Animals are the same as human beings and human beings are the same as animals. If we really see things the way they are our mind will give up attachment to them.
Therefore it is said we must have sati. If we have sati we will see the state of our own mind. Whatever we are thinking or feeling we must know it. This knowing is called Buddho, the Buddha, the one who knows... who knows thoroughly, who knows clearly and completely. When the mind knows completely we find the right practice.
So the straight way to practice is to have mindfulness, sati. If you are without sati for five minutes you are crazy for five minutes, heedless for five minutes. whenever you are lacking in sati you are crazy. Sati is essential. To have sati is to know yourself, to know the condition of your mind and your life. This is to have understanding and discernment, to listen to the Dhamma at all times. After leaving the teacher's discourse, you still hear the Dhamma, because the Dhamma is everywhere.
So therefore, all of you, be sure to practice every day. Whether lazy or diligent, practice just the same. Practice of the Dhamma is not done by following your moods. If you practice following your moods then it's not Dhamma. Don't discriminate between day and night, whether the mind is peaceful or not... just practice.
It's like a child who is learning to write. At first he doesn't write nicely — big, long loops and squiggles — he writes like a child. After a while the writing improves through practice. Practicing the Dhamma is like this. At first you are awkward... sometimes calm, sometimes not, you don't really know what's what. Some people get discouraged. Don't slacken off! You must persevere with the practice. Live with effort, just like the schoolboy: as he gets older he writes better and better. From writing badly he grows to write beautifully, all because of the practice from childhood.
Our practice is like this. Try to have recollection at all times: standing, walking, sitting or reclining. When we perform our various duties smoothly and well, we feel peace of mind. When there is peace of mind in our work it's easy to have peaceful meditation, they go hand in hand. So make an effort. You should all make an effort to follow the practice. This is training.
Maintaining the Standard
Today we are meeting together as we do every year after the annual Dhamma examinations. At this time all of you should reflect on the importance of carrying out the various duties of the monastery, those toward the preceptor and those toward the teachers. These are what hold us together as a single group, enabling us to live in harmony and concord. They are also what lead us to have respect for each other, which in turn benefits the community.
In all communities, from the time of the Buddha till the present, no matter what form they may take, if the residents have no mutual respect they cannot succeed. Whether they be secular communities or monastic ones, if they lack mutual respect they have no solidarity. If there is no mutual respect, negligence sets in and the practice eventually degenerates.
Our community of Dhamma practitioners has lived here for about twenty five years now, steadily growing, but it could deteriorate. We must understand this point. But if we are all heedful, have mutual respect and continue to maintain the standards of practice, I feel that our harmony will be firm. Our practice as a group will be a source of growth for Buddhism for a long time to come.
Now in regard to the study and the practice, they are a pair. Buddhism has grown and flourished until the present time because of the study going hand in hand with practice. If we simply learn the scriptures in a heedless way negligence sets in... For example, in the first year here we had seven monks for the Rains Retreat. At that time, I thought to myself, "Whenever monks start studying for Dhamma Examinations the practice seems to degenerate." Considering this, I tried to determine the cause, so I began to teach the monks who were there for the Rains Retreat — all seven of them. I taught for about forty days, from after the meal till six in the evening, every day. The monks went for the exams and it turned out there was a good result in that respect, all seven of them passed.
That much was good, but there was a certain complication regarding those who were lacking in circumspection. To study, it is necessary to do a lot of reciting and repeating. Those who are unrestrained and unreserved tend to grow lax with the meditation practice and spend all their time studying, repeating and memorizing. This causes them to throw out their old abiding, their standards of practice. And this happens very often.
So it was when they had finished their studies and taken their exams I could see a change in the behavior of the monks. There was no walking meditation, only a little sitting, and an increase in socializing. There was less restraint and composure.
Actually, in our practice, when you do walking meditation, you should really determine to walk; when sitting in meditation, you should concentrate on doing just that. Whether you are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, you should strive to be composed. But when people do a lot of study, their minds are full of words, they get high on the books and forget themselves. They get lost in externals. Now this is so only for those who don't have wisdom, who are unrestrained and don't have steady sati. For these people studying can be a cause for decline. When such people are engaged in study they don't do any sitting or walking meditation and become less and less restrained. Their minds become more and more distracted. Aimless chatter, lack of restraint and socializing become the order of the day. This is the cause for the decline of the practice. It's not because of the study in itself, but because certain people don't make the effort, they forget themselves.
Actually the scriptures are pointers along the path of practice. If we really understand the practice, then reading or studying are both further aspects of meditation. But if we study and then forget ourselves it gives rise to a lot of talking and fruitless activity. People throw out the meditation practice and soon want to disrobe. Most of those who study and fail soon disrobe. It's not that the study is not good, or that the practice is not right. It's that people fail to examine themselves.
Seeing this, in the second rains retreat I stopped teaching the scriptures. Many years later more and more young men came to become monks. Some of them knew nothing about the Dhamma-Vinaya and were ignorant of the texts, so I decided to rectify the situation, asking those senior monks who had already studied to teach, and they have taught up until the present time. This is how we came to have studying here.
However, every year when the exams are finished, I ask all the monks to re-establish their practice. All those scriptures which aren't directly concerned with the practice, put them away in the cupboards. Re-establish yourselves, go back to the regular standards. Re-establish the communal practices such as coming together for the daily chanting. This is our standard. Do it even if only to resist your own laziness and aversion. This encourages diligence.
Don't discard your basic practices: eating little, speaking little, sleeping little; restraint and composure; aloofness; regular walking and sitting meditation; meeting together regularly at the appropriate times. Please make an effort with these, every one of you. Don't let this excellent opportunity go to waste. Do the practice. You have this chance to practice here because you live under the guidance of the teacher. He protects you on one level, so you should all devote yourselves to the practice. You've done walking meditation before, now also you should sit. In the past you've chanted together in the mornings and evenings, and now also you should make the effort. These are your specific duties, please apply yourselves to them.
Those who simply "kill time" in the robes don't have any strength, you know. The ones who are floundering, homesick, confused... do you see them? These are the ones who don't put their minds into the practice. They don't have any work to do. We can't just lie around here. Being a Buddhist monk or novice you live and eat well, you shouldn't take it for granted. Kamasukhallikanuyogo is a danger. Make an effort to find your own practice. Whatever is faulty, work to rectify, don't get lost in externals.
One who has zeal never misses walking and sitting meditation, never lets up in the maintenance of restraint and composure. Just observe the monks here. Whoever, having finished the meal and any business there may be, having hung out his robes, walks meditation — and when we walk past his kuti we see the walking path a well-worn trail, and we see it often — this monk is not bored with the practice. This is one who has effort, who has zeal.
If all of you devote yourselves like this to the practice, then not many problems will arise. If you don't abide with the practice, the walking and sitting meditation, there's nothing more than just traveling around. Not liking it here you go traveling over there; not liking it there you come touring back here. That's all there is to it, following your noses everywhere. These people don't persevere, it's good enough. You don't have to do a lot of traveling around, just stay here and develop the practice, learn it in detail. Traveling round can wait till later, it's not difficult. Make an effort, all of you.
Prosperity and decline hinge on this. If you really want to do things properly, then study and practice in proportion; use both of them together. It's like the body and the mind. If the mind is at ease and the body free of disease and healthy, then the mind becomes composed. If the mind is confused, even if the body is strong there will be difficulty, let alone when the body experiences discomfort.
The study of meditation is the study of cultivation and relinquishment. What I mean by study here is: whenever the mind experiences a sensation, do we still cling to it? Do we still create problems around it? Do we still experience enjoyment or aversion over it? To put it simply: Do we still get lost in our thoughts? Yes, we do. If we don't like something we react with aversion; if we do like it we react with pleasure, the mind becomes defiled and stained. If this is the case then we must see that we still have faults, we are still imperfect, we still have work to do. There must be more relinquishing and more persistent cultivation. This is what I mean by studying. If we get stuck on anything, we recognize that we are stuck. We know what state we're in, and we work to correct ourselves.
Living with the teacher or apart from the teacher should be the same. Some people are afraid. They're afraid that if they don't walk meditation the teacher will upbraid or scold them. This is good in a way, but in the true practice you don't need to be afraid of others, just be wary of faults arising within your own actions, speech or thoughts. When you see faults in your actions, speech or thoughts you must guard yourselves. Attano jodayattanam — "you must exhort yourself," don't leave it to others to do. We must quickly improve ourselves, know ourselves. This is called "studying," cultivating and relinquishing. Look into this till you see it clearly.
Living in this way we rely on endurance, persevering in face of all defilements. Although this is good, it is still on the level of "practicing the Dhamma without having seen it." If we have practiced the Dhamma and seen it, then whatever is wrong we will have already given up, whatever is useful we will have cultivated. Seeing this within ourselves, we experience a sense of well-being. No matter what others say, we know our own mind, we are not moved. We can be at peace anywhere.
Now the younger monks and novices who have just begun to practice may think that the senior Ajahn doesn't seem to do much walking or sitting meditation. Don't imitate him in this. You should emulate, but not imitate. To emulate is one thing, to imitate another. The fact is that the senior Ajahn dwells within his own particular contented abiding. Even though he doesn't seem to practice externally, he practices inwardly. Whatever is in his mind cannot be seen by the eye. The practice of Buddhism is the practice of the mind. Even though the practice may not be apparent in his actions or speech, the mind is a different matter.
Thus, a teacher who has practiced for a long time, who is proficient in the practice, may seem to let go of his actions and speech, but he guards his mind. He is composed. Seeing only his outer actions you may try to imitate him, letting go and saying whatever you want to say, but it's not the same thing. You're not in the same league. Think about this.
There's a real difference, you are acting from different places. Although the Ajahn seems to simply sit around, he is not being careless. He lives with things but it is not confused by them. We can't see this, whatever is in his mind is invisible to us. Don't judge simply by external appearances, the mind is the important thing. When we speak, our minds follow that speech. Whatever actions we do, our minds follow, but one who has practiced already may do or say things which his mind doesn't follow, because it adheres to Dhamma and Vinaya. For example, sometimes the Ajahn may be severe with his disciples, his speech may appear to be rough and careless, his actions may seem coarse. Seeing this, all we can see are his bodily and verbal actions, but the mind which adheres to Dhamma and Vinaya can't be seen. Adhere to the Buddha's instruction: "Don't be heedless." "Heedfulness is the way to the Deathless. Heedfulness is death." Consider this. Whatever others do is not important, just don't be heedless, this is the important thing.
All I have been saying here is simply to warn you that now, having completed the exams, you have a chance to travel around and do many things. May you all constantly remember yourselves as practitioners of the Dhamma; a practitioner must be collected, restrained and circumspect.
Consider the teaching which says "Bhikkhu: one who seeks alms." If we define it this way our practice takes on one form... very coarse. If we understand this word the way the Buddha defined it, as one who sees the danger of samsara, this is much more profound.
One who sees the danger of samsara is one who sees the faults, the liability of this world. In this world there is so much danger, but most people don't see it, they see the pleasure and happiness of the world. Now the Buddha says that a bhikkhu is one who sees the danger of samsara. What is samsara? The suffering of samsara is overwhelming, it's intolerable. Happiness is also samsara. The Buddha taught us not to cling to them. If we don't see the danger of samsara, then when there is happiness we cling to the happiness and forget suffering. We are ignorant of it, like a child who doesn't know fire.
If we understand Dhamma practice in this way..."Bhikkhu: one who sees the danger of samsara"...if we have this understanding, walking, sitting or lying down, wherever we may be, we will feel dispassion. We reflect on ourselves, heedfulness is there. Even sitting at ease, we feel this way. Whatever we do we see this danger, so we are in a very different state. This practice is called being "one who sees the danger of samsara."
One who sees the danger of samsara lives within samsara and yet doesn't. That is, he understands concepts and he understands their transcendence. Whatever such a person says is not like ordinary people. Whatever he does is not the same, whatever he thinks is not the same. His behavior is much wiser.
Therefore it is said: "Emulate but don't imitate." There are two ways — emulation and imitation. One who is foolish will grab on to everything. You mustn't do that! Don't forget yourselves.
As for me, this year my body is not so well. Some things I will leave to the other monks and novices to help take care of. Perhaps I will take a rest. From time immemorial it's been this way, and in the world it's the same: as long as the father and mother are still alive, the children are well and prosperous. When the parents die, the children separate. Having been rich they become poor. This is usually how it is, even in the lay life, and one can see it here as well. For example, while the Ajahn is still alive everybody is well and prosperous. As soon as he passes away decline begins to set in immediately. Why is this? Because while the teacher is still alive people become complacent and forget themselves. They don't really make an effort with the study and the practice. As in lay life, while the mother and father are still alive, the children just leave everything up to them. They lean on their parents and don't know how to look after themselves. When the parents die they become paupers. In the monkhood it's the same. If the Ajahn goes away or dies, the monks tend to socialize, break up into groups and drift into decline, almost every time.
Why is this? It's because they forget themselves. Living off the merits of the teacher everything runs smoothly. When the teacher passes away, the disciples tend to split up. Their views clash. Those who think wrongly live in one place, those who think rightly live in another. Those who feel uncomfortable leave their old associates and set up new places and start new lineages with their own groups of disciples. This is how it goes. In the present it's the same. This is because we are at fault. While the teacher is still alive we are at fault, we live heedlessly. We don't take up the standards of practice taught by the Ajahn and establish them within our own hearts. We don't really follow in his footsteps.
Even in the Buddha's time it was the same, remember the scriptures? That old monk, what was his name...? Subhadda Bhikkhu! When Venerable Maha Kassapa was returning from Pava he asked an ascetic on the way, "Is the Lord Buddha faring well?" The ascetic answered: "The Lord Buddha entered Parinibbana seven days ago."
Those monks who were still unenlightened were grief-stricken, crying and wailing. Those who had attained the Dhamma reflected to themselves, "Ah, the Buddha has passed away. He has journeyed on." But those who were still thick with defilements, such as Venerable Subhadda, said:
"What are you all crying for? The Buddha has passed away. That's good! Now we can live at ease. When the Buddha was still alive he was always bothering us with some rule or other, we couldn't do this or say that. Now the Buddha has passed away, that's fine! We can do whatever we want, say what we want... Why should you cry?"
It's been so from way back then till the present day.
However that may be, even though it's impossible to preserve entirely... Suppose we had a glass and we took care to preserve it. Each time we used it we cleaned it and put it away in a safe place. Being very careful with that glass we can use it for a long time, and then when we've finished with it others can also use it. Now, using glasses carelessly and breaking them every day, and using one glass for ten years before it breaks — which is better?
Our practice is like this. For instance, if out of all of us living here, practicing steadily, only ten of you practice well, then Wat Ba Pong will prosper. Just as in the villages: in the village of one hundred houses, even if there are only fifty good people that village will prosper. Actually to find even ten would be difficult. Or take a monastery like this one here: it is hard to find even five or six monks who have real commitment, who really do the practice.
In any case, we don't have any responsibilities now, other than to practice well. Think about it, what do we own here? We don't have wealth, possessions, and families any more. Even food we take only once a day. We've given up many things already, even better things than these. As monks and novices we give up everything. We own nothing. All those things people really enjoy have been discarded by us. Going forth as a Buddhist monk is in order to practice. Why then should we hanker for other things, indulging in greed, aversion or delusion? To occupy our hearts with other things is no longer appropriate.
Consider: why have we gone forth? Why are we practicing? We have gone forth to practice. If we don't practice then we just lie around. If we don't practice, then we are worse off than lay people, we don't have any function. If we don't perform any function or accept our responsibilities it's a waste of the samana's life. It contradicts the aims of a samana.
If this is the case then we are heedless. Being heedless is like being dead. Ask yourself, will you have time to practice when you die? Constantly ask yourself, "When will I die?" If we contemplate in this way our mind will be alert every second, heedfulness will always be present. When there is no heedlessness, sati — recollection of what is what — will automatically follow. Wisdom will be clear, seeing all the things clearly as they are. Recollection guards the mind, knowing the arising of sensations at all times, day and night. that is to have sati. To have sati is to be composed. To be composed is to be heedful. If one is heedful then one is practicing rightly. This is our specific responsibility.
So today I would like to present this to you all. If in the future you leave here for one of the branch monasteries or anywhere else, don't forget yourselves. The fact is you are still not perfect, still not completed. You still have a lot of work to do, many responsibilities to shoulder. Namely, the practices of cultivation and relinquishment. Be concerned about this, every one of you. Whether you live at this monastery or a branch monastery, preserve the standards of practice. Nowadays there are many of us, many branch temples. All the branch monasteries owe their origination to Wat Ba Pong. We could say that the branch monasteries. So, especially the teachers, monks and novices of Wat Ba Pong should try to set the example, to be the guide for all the other branch monasteries, continuing to be diligent in the practices and responsibilities of a samana.
Right Practice, Steady Practice
Wat Wana Potiyahn here is certainly very peaceful, but this is meaningless if our minds are not calm. All places are peaceful. That some may seem distracting is because of our minds. However, a quiet place can help to become calm, by giving one the opportunity to train and thus harmonize with its calm.
You should all bear in mind that this practice is difficult. To train other things is not so difficult, it's easy, but the human mind is hard to train. The Lord Buddha trained his mind. The mind is the important thing. Everything within this body-mind system comes together at the mind. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body all receive sensations and send them into the mind, which is the supervisor of all the other sense organs. Therefore it is important to train the mind. If the mind is well trained all problems come to an end. If there are still problems it's because the mind still doubts, it doesn't know in accordance with the truth. That is why there are problems.
So recognize that all of you have come fully prepared for practicing Dhamma. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining, the tools you need with which to practice are well-provided, wherever you are. They are there, just like the Dhamma. The Dhamma is something which abounds everywhere. Right here, on land or in water... wherever... the Dhamma is always there. The Dhamma is perfect and complete, but it's our practice that's not yet complete.
The Lord, Fully Enlightened Buddha taught a means by which all of us may practice and come to know this Dhamma. It isn't a big thing, only a small thing, but it's right. For example, look at hair. If we know even one strand of hair, then we know every strand, both our own and also that of others. We know that they are all simply "hair." By knowing one strand of hair we know it all.
Or consider people. If we see the true nature of conditions within ourselves then we know all the other people in the world also, because all people are the same. Dhamma is like this. It's a small thing and yet it's big. That is, to see the truth of one condition is to see the truth of them all. When we know the truth as it is all problems come to an end.
Nevertheless, the training is difficult. Why is it difficult? It's difficult because of wanting, tanha. If you don't "want" then you don't practice. But if you practice out of desire you won't see the Dhamma. Think about it, all of you. If you don't want to practice you can't practice. You must first want to practice in order to actually do the practice. Whether stepping forward or stepping back you meet desire. This is why the cultivators of the past have said that this practice is something that's extremely difficult to do.
You don't see Dhamma because of desire. Sometimes desire is very strong, you want to see the Dhamma immediately, but the Dhamma is not your mind — your mind is not yet Dhamma. The Dhamma is one thing and the mind is another. It's not that whatever you like is Dhamma and whatever you don't like isn't. That's not the way it goes.
Actually this mind of ours is simply a condition of Nature, like a tree in the forest. If you want a plank or a beam it must come from the tree, but the tree is still only a tree. It's not yet a beam or a plank. Before it can really be of use to us we must take that tree and saw it into beams or planks. It's the same tree but it becomes transformed into something else. Intrinsically it's just a tree, a condition of Nature. But in its raw state it isn't yet of much use to those who need timber. Our mind is like this. It is a condition of Nature. As such it perceives thoughts, it discriminates into beautiful and ugly and so on.
This mind of ours must be further trained. We can't just let it be. It's a condition of Nature... train it to realize that it's a condition of Nature. Improve on Nature so that it's appropriate to our needs, which is Dhamma. Dhamma is something which must be practiced and brought within.
If you don't practice you won't know. Frankly speaking, you won't know the Dhamma by just reading it or studying it. Or if you do know it your knowledge is still defective. For example, this spittoon here. Everybody knows it's a spittoon but they don't fully know the spittoon. Why don't they fully know it? If I called this spittoon a saucepan, what would you say? Suppose that every time I asked for it I said, "Please bring that saucepan over here," that would confuse you. Why so? Because you don't fully know the spittoon. If you did there would be no problem. You would simply pick up that object and hand it to me, because actually there isn't any spittoon. Do you understand? It's a spittoon due to convention. This convention is accepted all over the country, so it's spittoon. But there isn't any real "spittoon." If somebody wants to call it a saucepan it can be a saucepan. It can be whatever you call it. This is called "concept." If we fully know the spittoon, even if somebody calls it a saucepan there's no problem. Whatever others may call it we are unperturbed because we are not blind to its true nature. This is one who knows Dhamma.
Now let's come back to ourselves. Suppose somebody said, "You're crazy!", or, "You're stupid," for example. Even though it may not be true, you wouldn't feel so good. Everything becomes difficult because of our ambitions to have and to achieve. Because of these desires to get and to be, because we don't know according to the truth, we have no contentment. If we know the Dhamma, are enlightened to the Dhamma, greed, aversion and delusion will disappear. When we understand the way things are there is nothing for them to rest on.
Why is the practice so difficult and arduous? Because of desires. As soon as we sit down to meditate we want to become peaceful. If we didn't want to find peace we wouldn't sit, we wouldn't practice. As soon as we sit down we want peace to be right there, but wanting the mind to be calm makes for confusion, and we feel restless. This is how it goes. So the Buddha says, "Don't speak out of desire, don't sit out of desire, don't walk out of desire,... Whatever you do, don't do it with desire." Desire means wanting. If you don't want to do something you won't do it. If our practice reaches this point we can get quite discouraged. How can we practice? As soon as we sit down there is desire in the mind.
It's because of this that the body and mind are difficult to observe. If they are not the self nor belonging to self then who do they belong to? It's difficult to resolve these things, we must rely on wisdom. The Buddha says we must practice with "letting go," isn't it? If we let go then we just don't practice, right?... Because we've let go.
Suppose we went to buy some coconuts in the market, and while we were carrying them back someone asked:
"What did you buy those coconuts for?"
"I bought them to eat."
"Are you going to eat the shells as well?"
"I don't believe you. If you're not going to eat the shells then why did you buy them also?"
Well what do you say? How are you going to answer their question? We practice with desire. If we didn't have desire we wouldn't practice. Practicing with desire is tanha. Contemplating in this way can give rise to wisdom, you know. For example, those coconuts: Are you going to eat the shells as well? Of course not. Then why do you take them? Because the time hasn't yet come for you to throw them away. They're useful for wrapping up the coconut in. If, after eating the coconut, you throw the shells away, there is no problem.
Our practice is like this. The Buddha said, "Don't act on desire, don't speak from desire, don't eat with desire." Standing, walking, sitting or reclining... whatever... don't do it with desire. This means to do it with detachment. It's just like buying the coconuts from the market. We're not going to eat the shells but it's not yet time to throw them away. We keep them first. This is how the practice is. Concept and Transcendence are co-existent, just like a coconut. The flesh, the husk and the shell are all together. When we buy it we buy the whole lot. If somebody wants to accuse us of eating coconut shells that's their business, we know what we're doing.
Wisdom is something each of us find for oneself. To see it we must go neither fast nor slow. What should we do? Go to where there is neither fast nor slow. Going fast or going slow are not the way.
But we're all impatient, we're in a hurry. As soon as we begin we want to rush to the end, we don't want to be left behind. We want to succeed. When it comes to fixing their minds for meditation some people go too far... They light the incense, prostrate and make a vow, "As long as this incense is not yet completely burnt I will not rise from my sitting, even if I collapse or die, no matter what... I'll die sitting" Having made their vow they start their sitting. As soon as they start to sit Mara's hordes come rushing at them from all sides. They've only sat for an instant and already they think the incense must be finished. They open their eyes for a peek..."Oh, There's still ages left!"
They grit their teeth and sit some more, feeling hot, flustered, agitated and confused... Reaching the breaking point they think, "it must be finished by now."... Have another peek..."Oh, no! It's not even half-way yet!"
Two or three times and it's still not finished, so they just give up, pack it in and sit there hating themselves. "I'm so stupid, I'm so hopeless!" They sit and hate themselves, feeling like a hopeless case. This just gives rise to frustration and hindrances. This is called the hindrance of ill-will. They can't blame others so they blame themselves. And why is this? It's all because of wanting.
Actually it isn't necessary to go through all that. To concentrate means to concentrate with detachment, not to concentrate yourself into knots.
But maybe we read the scriptures, about the life of the Buddha, how he sat under the Bodhi tree and determined to himself,
"As long as I have still not attained Supreme Enlightenment I will not rise from this place, even if my blood dries up."
Reading this in the books you may think of trying it yourself. You'll do it like the Buddha. But you haven't considered that your car is only a small one. The Buddha's car was a really big one, he could take it all in one go. With only your tiny, little car, how can you possibly take it all at once? It's a different story altogether.
Why do we think like that? Because we're too extreme. Sometimes we go too low, sometimes we go too high. The point of balance is so hard to find.
Now I'm only speaking from experience. In the past my practice was like this. Practicing in order to get beyond wanting... if we don't want, can we practice? I was stuck here. But to practice with wanting is suffering. I didn't know what to do, I was baffled. Then I realized that the practice which is steady is the important thing. One must practice consistently. They call this the practice that is "consistent in all postures." Keep refining the practice, don't let it become a disaster. Practice is one thing, disaster is another.30 Most people usually create disaster. When they feel lazy they don't bother to practice, they only practice when they feel energetic. This is how I tended to be.
All of you ask yourselves now, is this right? To practice when you feel like it, not when you don't: is that in accordance with the Dhamma? Is it straight? Is it in line with the Teaching? This is what makes practice inconsistent.
Whether you feel like it or not you should practice just the same: this is how the Buddha taught. Most people wait till they're in the mood before practicing, when they don't feel like it they don't bother. This is as far as they go. This is called "disaster," it's not practice. In the true practice, whether you are happy or depressed you practice; whether it's easy or difficult you practice; whether it's hot or cold you practice. It's straight like this. In the real practice, whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you must have the intention to continue the practice steadily, making your sati consistent in all postures.
At first thought it seems as if you should stand for as long as you walk, walk for as long as you sit, sit for as long as you lie down... I've tried it but I couldn't do it. If a meditator were to make his standing, walking, sitting and lying down all equal, how many days could he keep it up for? Stand for five minutes, sit for five minutes, lie down for five minutes... I couldn't do it for very long. So I sat down and thought about it some more. "What does it all mean? People in this world can't practice like this!"
Then I realized..."Oh, that's not right, it can't be right because it's impossible to do. Standing, walking, sitting, reclining... make them all consistent. To make the postures consistent the way they explain it in the books is impossible."
But it is possible to do this: The mind... just consider the mind. To have sati, recollection, sampajañña, self awareness and pañña, all-round wisdom... this you can do. This is something that's really worth practicing. This means that while standing we have sati, while walking we have sati, while sitting we have sati, and while reclining we have sati, — consistently. This is possible. We put awareness into our standing, walking, sitting, lying down — into all postures.
When the mind has been trained like this it will constantly recollect Buddho, Buddho, Buddho... which is knowing. Knowing what? Knowing what is right and what is wrong at all times. Yes, this is possible. This is getting down to the real practice. That is, whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down there is continuous sati.
Then you should understand those conditions which should be given up and those which should be cultivated. You know happiness, you know unhappiness. When you know happiness and unhappiness your mind will settle at the point which is free of happiness and unhappiness. Happiness is the loose path, kamasukhallikanuyogo. Unhappiness is the tight path, attakilamathanuyogo. 31 If we know these two extremes, we pull it back. We know when the mind is inclining towards happiness or unhappiness and we pull it back, we don't allow it to lean over. We have this sort of awareness, we adhere to the One Path, the single Dhamma. We adhere to the awareness, not allowing the mind to follow its inclinations.
But in your practice it doesn't tend to be like that, does it? You follow your inclinations. If you follow your inclinations it's easy, isn't it? But this is the ease which causes suffering, like someone who can't be bothered working. He takes it easy, but when the time comes to eat he hasn't got anything. This is how it goes.
So I've contended with many aspects of the Buddha's teaching in the past, but I couldn't really beat him. Nowadays I accept it. I accept that the many teachings of the Buddha are straight down the line, so I've taken those teachings and used them to train both myself and others.
The practice which is important is patipada. What is patipada? It is simply all our various activities, standing, walking, sitting, reclining and everything else. This is the patipada of the body. Now the patipada of the mind: how many times in the course of today have you felt low? How many times have you felt high? Have there been any noticeable feelings? We must know ourselves like this. Having seen those feelings can we let go? Whatever we can't yet let go of we must work with. When we see that we can't yet let go of some particular feeling we must take it and examine it with wisdom. Reason it out. Work with it. This is practice. For example when you are feeling zealous, practice, and then when you feel lazy, try to continue the practice. If you can't continue at "full speed" then at least do half as much. Don't just waste the day away by being lazy and not practicing. Doing that will lead to disaster, it's not the way of a cultivator.
Now I've heard some people say, "Oh, this year I was really in a bad way."
"I was sick all year. I couldn't practice at all."
Oh! If they don't practice when death is near when will they ever practice? If they're feeling well do you think they'll practice? No, they only get lost in happiness. If they're suffering they still don't practice, they get lost in that. I don't know when people think they're going to practice! They can only see that they're sick, in pain, almost dead from fever... that's right, bring it on heavy, that's where the practice is. When people are feeling happy it just goes to their heads and they get vain and conceited.
We must cultivate our practice. What this means is that whether you are happy or unhappy you must practice just the same. If you are feeling well you should practice, and if you are feeling sick you should also practice. Those who think, "This year I couldn't practice at all, I was sick the whole time"... if these people are feeling well, they just walk around singing songs. This is wrong thinking, not right thinking. This is why the cultivators of the past have all maintained the steady training of the heart. If things are to go wrong, just let them be with the body, not in mind.
There was a time in my practice, after I had been practicing about five years, when I felt that living with others was a hindrance. I would sit in my kuti and try to meditate and people would keep coming by for a chat and disturbing me. I ran off to live by myself. I thought I couldn't practice with those people bothering me. I was fed up, so I went to live in a small, deserted monastery in the forest, near a small village. I stayed there alone, speaking to no-one — because there was nobody else to speak to.
After I'd been there about fifteen days the thought arose, "Hmm. It would be good to have a novice or pa-kow here with me. He could help me out with some small jobs." I knew it would come up, and sure enough, there it was!
"Hey! You're a real character! You say you're fed up with your friends, fed up with your fellow monks and novices, and now you want a novice. What's this?"
"No," it says, "I want a good novice."
"There! Where are all the good people, can you find any? Where are you going to find a good person? In the whole monastery there were only no-good people. You must have been the only good person, to have run away like this!"
...You have to follow it up like this, follow up the tracks of your thoughts until you see...
"Hmm. This is the important one. Where is there a good person to be found? There aren't any good people, you must find goodness anywhere else, you must look within yourself. If you are good in yourself then wherever you go will be good. Whether others criticize or praise you, you are still good. If you aren't good, then when others criticize you, you get angry, and when they praise you, you get pleased.
At that time I reflected on this and have found it to be true from that day up until the present. Goodness must be found within. As soon as I saw this, that feeling of wanting to run away disappeared. In later times, whenever I had that desire arise I let it go. Whenever it arose I was aware of it and kept my awareness on that. Thus I had a solid foundation. Wherever I lived, whether people condemned me or whatever they would say, I would reflect that the point is not whether they were good or bad. Good or evil must be seen within ourselves. However other people are, that's their concern.
Don't go thinking, "Oh, today is too hot," or, "Today is too cold," or, "Today is...". Whatever the day is like that's just the way it is. Really you are simply blaming the weather for your own laziness. We must see the Dhamma within ourselves, then there is a surer kind of peace.
So for all of you who have come to practice here, even though it's only for a few days, still many things will arise. Many things may be arising which you're not even aware of. There is some right thinking, some wrong thinking... many, many things. So I say this practice is difficult.
Even though some of you may experience some peace when you sit in meditation, don't be in a hurry to congratulate yourselves. Likewise, if there is some confusion, don't blame yourselves. If things seem to be good, don't delight in them, and if they're not good don't be averse to them. Just look at it all, look at what you have. Just look, don't bother judging. If it's good don't hold fast to it; if it's bad, don't cling to it. Good and bad can both bite, so don't hold fast to them.
The practice is simply to sit, sit and watch it all. Good moods and bad moods come and go as is their nature. Don't only praise your mind or only condemn it, know the right time for these things. When it's time for congratulations then congratulate it, but just a little, don't overdo it. Just like teaching a child, sometimes you may have to spank it a little. In our practice sometimes we may have to punish ourselves, but don't punish yourself all the time. If you punish yourself all the time in a while you'll just give yourself a good time and take it easy either. That's not the way to practice. We practice according to the Middle Way. What is the Middle Way? This Middle Way is difficult to follow, you can't rely on your moods and desires.
Don't think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way then quickly change your thinking! Steady practice is having the attitude of practice while standing, walking, sitting and lying down. When coming out of sitting meditation, reflect that you're simply changing postures. If you reflect in this way you will have peace. Wherever you are you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly, you will have a steady awareness within yourself.
Those of you who, having finished their evening sitting, simply indulge in their moods, spending the whole day letting the mind wander where it wants, will find that the next evening when sitting meditation all they get is the "backwash" from the day's aimless thinking. There is no foundation of calm because they have let it go cold all day. If you practice like this your mind gets gradually further and further from the practice. When I ask some of my disciples, "How is your meditation going?". They say, "Oh, it's all gone now." You see? They can keep it up for a month or two but in a year or two it's all finished.
Why is this? It's because they don't take this essential point into their practice. When they've finished sitting they let go of their samadhi. They start to sit for shorter and shorter periods, till they reach the point where as soon as they start to sit they want to finish. Eventually they don't even sit. It's the same with bowing to the Buddha-image. At first they make the effort to prostrate every night before going to sleep, but after a while their minds begin to stray. Soon they don't bother to prostrate at all, they just nod, till eventually it's all gone. They throw out the practice completely.
Therefore, understand the importance of sati, practice constantly. Right practice is steady practice. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining the practice must continue. This means that practice, meditation, is done in the mind, not in the body. If our mind has zeal, is conscientious and ardent, then there will be awareness. The mind is the important thing. The mind is that which supervises everything we do.
When we understand properly then we practice properly. When we practice properly we don't go astray. Even if we only do a little that is still all right. For example, when you finish sitting in meditation, remind yourselves that you are not actually finishing meditation, you are simply changing postures. Your mind is still composed. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you have sati with you. If you have this kind of awareness you can maintain your internal practice. In the evening when you sit again the practice continues uninterrupted. Your effort is unbroken, allowing the mind to attain calm.
This is called steady practice. Whether we are talking or doing other things we should try to make the practice continuous. If our mind has recollection and self-awareness continuously, our practice will naturally develop, it will gradually come together. The mind will find peace, because it will know what is right and what is wrong. It will see what is happening within us and realize peace.
If we are to develop sila (moral restraint), or samadhi (firmness of mind) we must first have pañña (wisdom). Some people think that they'll develop moral restraint one year, samadhi the next year and the year after that they'll develop wisdom. They think these three things are separate. They think that this year they will develop, but if the mind is not firm (samadhi), how can they do it? If there is no understanding, (pañña) how can they do it? Without samadhi or pañña, sila will be sloppy.
In fact these three come together at the same point. When we have sila we have samadhi, when we have samadhi we have pañña. They are all one, like a mango. Whether it's small or fully grown, it's still a mango. When it's ripe it's still the same mango. If we think in simple terms like this we can see it more easily. We don't have to learn a lot of things, just to know these things, to know our practice.
When it comes to meditation some people don't get what they want, so they just give up, saying they don't yet have the merit to practice meditation. They can do bad things, they have that sort of talent, but they don't have the talent to do good. They throw it in, saying they don't have a good enough foundation. This is the way people are, they side with their defilements.
Now that you have this chance to practice, please understand that whether you find it difficult or easy to develop samadhi is entirely up to you, not the samadhi. If it is difficult, it is because you are practicing wrongly. In our practice we must have "Right View" (sammaditthi). If our view is right then everything else is right: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection, Right Concentration — the Eightfold Path. When there is Right View all the other factors will follow on.
Whatever happens, don't let your mind stray off the track. Look within yourself and you will see clearly. For the best practice, as I see it, it isn't necessary to read many books. Take all the books and lock them away. Just read your own mind. You have all been burying yourselves in books from the time you entered school. I think that now you have this opportunity and have the time, take the books, put them in a cupboard and lock the door. Just read your mind.
Whenever something arises within the mind, whether you like it or not, whether it seems right or wrong, just cut it off with, "this is not a sure thing." Whatever arises just cut it down, "not sure, not sure." With just this single ax you can cut it all down. It's all "not sure."
For the duration of this next month that you will be staying in this forest monastery, you should make a lot of headway. You will see the truth. This "not sure" is really an important one. This one develops wisdom. The more you look the more you will see "not sure"-ness. After you've cut something off with "not sure" it may come circling round and pop up again. Yes, it's truly "not sure." Whatever pops up just stick this one label on it all..."not sure." You stick the sign on..."not sure"... and in a while, when its turn comes, it crops up again..."Ah, not sure." Dig here! Not sure. You will see this same old one who's been fooling you month in, month out, year in, year out, from the day you were born. There's only this one who's been fooling you all along. See this and realize the way things are.
When your practice reaches this point you won't cling to sensations, because they are all uncertain. Have you ever noticed? Maybe you see a clock and think, "Oh, this is nice." Buy it and see... in not many days you're bored with it already. "This pen is really beautiful," so you take the trouble to buy one. In not many months you tire of it again. This is how it is. Where is there any certainty?
If we see all these things as uncertain then their value fades away. All things become insignificant. Why should we hold on to things that have no value? We keep them only as we might keep an old rag to wipe our feet with. We see all sensations as equal in value because they all have the same nature.
When we understand sensations we understand the world. The world is sensations and sensations are the world. If we aren't fooled by sensations we aren't fooled by the world. If we aren't fooled by the world we aren't fooled by sensations.
The mind which sees this will have a firm foundation of wisdom. Such a mind will not have many problems. Any problems it does have it can solve. When there are no more problems there are no more doubts. Peace arises in their stead. This is called "Practice." If we really practice it must be like this.
Not Sure: The Standard of the Noble Ones
There was once a western monk, a student of mine. Whenever he saw Thai monks and novices disrobing he would say, "Oh, what a shame! Why do they do that? Why do so many of the Thai monks and novices disrobe?" He was shocked. He would get saddened at the disrobing of the Thai monks and novices, because he had only just come into contact with Buddhism. He was inspired, he was resolute. Going forth as a monk was the only thing to do, he thought he'd never disrobe. Whoever disrobed was a fool. He'd see the Thais taking on the robes at the beginning of the Rains Retreat as monks and novices and then disrobing at the end of it..."Oh, how sad! I feel so sorry for those Thai monks and novices. How could they do such a thing?"
Well, as time went by some of the western monks began to disrobe, so he came to see it as something not so important after all. At first, when he had just begun to practice, he was excited about it. He thought that it was really important thing, to become a monk. He thought it would be easy.
When people are inspired it all seems to be so right and good. There's nothing there to gauge their feelings by, so they go ahead and decide for themselves. But they don't really know what practice is. Those who do know will have a thoroughly firm foundation within their hearts — but even so they don't need to advertise it.
As for myself, when I was first ordained I didn't actually do much practice, but I had a lot of faith. I don't know why, maybe it was there from birth. The monks and novices who went forth together with me, come the end of the Rains, all disrobed. I thought to myself, "Eh? What is it with these people?" However, I didn't dare say anything to them because I wasn't yet sure of my own feelings, I was too stirred up. But within me I felt that they were all foolish. "It's difficult to go forth, easy to disrobe. These guys don't have much merit, they think that the way of the world is more useful than the way of Dhamma." I thought like this but I didn't say anything, I just watched my own mind.
I'd see the monks who'd gone forth with me disrobing one after the other. Sometimes they'd dress up and come back to the monastery to show off. I'd see them and think they were crazy, but they thought they looked snappy. When you disrobe you have to do this and that... I'd think to myself that that way of thinking was wrong. I wouldn't say it, though, because I myself was still an uncertain quantity. I still wasn't sure how long my faith would last.
When my friends had all disrobed I dropped all concern, there was nobody left to concern myself with. I picked up the Patimokkha 55 and got stuck into learning that. There was nobody left to distract me and waste my time, so I put my heart into the practice. Still I didn't say anything because I felt that to practice all one's life, maybe seventy, eighty or even ninety years, and to keep up a persistent effort, without slackening up or losing one's resolve, seemed like an extremely difficult thing to do.
Those who went forth would go forth, those who disrobed would disrobe. I'd just watch it all. I didn't concern myself whether they stayed or went. I'd watch my friends leave, but the feeling I had within me was that these people didn't see clearly. That western monk probably thought like that. he'd see people become monks for only one Rains Retreat, and get upset.
Later on he reached a stage we call... bored; bored with the Holy Life. He let go of the practice and eventually disrobed.
"Why are you disrobing? Before, when you saw the Thai monks disrobing you'd say, 'Oh, what a shame! How sad, how pitiful.' Now, when you yourself want to disrobe, why don't you feel sorry now?"
He didn't answer. He just grinned sheepishly.
When it comes to the training of the mind it isn't easy to find a good standard if you haven't yet developed a "witness" within yourself. In most external matters we can rely on others for feedback, there are standards and precedents. But when it comes to using the Dhamma as a standard... do we have the Dhamma yet? Are we thinking rightly or not? And even if it's right, do we know how to let go of rightness or are we still clinging to it?
You must contemplate until you reach the point where you let go, this is the important thing... until you reach the point where there isn't anything left, where there is neither good nor bad. You throw it off. This means you throw out everything. If it's all gone then there's no remainder; if there's some remainder then it's not all gone.
So in regard to this training of the mind, sometimes we may say it's easy. it's easy to say, but it's hard to do, very hard. It's hard in that it doesn't conform to our desires. Sometimes it seems almost as if the angels 56 were helping us out. Everything goes right, whatever we think or say seems to be just right. Then we go and attach to that rightness and before long we go wrong and it all turns bad. This is where it's difficult. We don't have a standard to gauge things by.
People who have a lot of faith, who are endowed with confidence and belief but are lacking in wisdom, may be very good at samadhi but they may not have much insight. They see only one side of everything, and simply follow that. They don't reflect. This is blind faith. In Buddhism we call this Saddha adhimokkha, blind faith. They have faith all right but it's not born of wisdom. But they don't see this at the time, they believe they have wisdom, so they don't see where they are wrong.
Therefore they teach about the Five Powers (Bala): Saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi, pañña. Saddha is conviction; viriya is diligent effort; sati is recollection; samadhi is fixedness of mind; pañña is all-embracing knowledge. Don't say that pañña is simply knowledge — pañña is all-embracing, consummate knowledge.
The wise have given these five steps to us so that we can link them, firstly as an object of study, then as a gauge to compare to the state of our practice as it is. For example, saddha, conviction. Do we have conviction, have we developed it yet? Viriya: do we have diligent effort or not? Is our effort right or is it wrong? We must consider this. Everybody has some sort of effort, but does our effort contain wisdom or not?
Sati is the same. Even a cat has sati. When it sees a mouse, sati is there. The cat's eyes stare fixedly at the mouse. This is the sati of a cat. Everybody has sati, animals have it, delinquents have it, sages have it.
Samadhi, fixedness of mind — everybody has this as well. A cat has it when its mind is fixed on grabbing the mouse and eating it. It has fixed intent. That sati of the cat's is sati of a sort; samadhi, fixed intent on what it is doing, is also there. Pañña, knowledge, like that of human beings. It knows as an animal knows, it has enough knowledge to catch mice for food.
These five things are called powers. Have these Five Powers arisen from Right View, sammaditthi, or not? Saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi, pañña — have these arisen from Right View? What is Right View? What is our standard for gauging Right View? We must clearly understand this.
Right View is the understanding that all these things are uncertain. Therefore the Buddha and all the Noble Ones don't hold fast to them. They hold, but not fast. They don't let that holding become an identity. The holding which doesn't lead to becoming is that which isn't tainted with desire. Without seeking to become this or that there is simply the practice itself. When you hold on to a particular thing is there enjoyment, or is there displeasure? If there is pleasure, do you hold on to that pleasure? If there is dislike, do you hold on to that dislike?
Some views can be used as principles for gauging our practice more accurately. Such as knowing such views as that one is better than others, or equal to others, or more foolish than others, as all wrong views. We may feel these things but we also know them with wisdom, that they simply arise and cease. Seeing that we are better than others is not right; seeing that we are equal to others is not right; seeing that we are inferior to others is not right.
The right view is the one that cuts through all of this. So where do we go to? If we think we are better than others, pride arises. It's there but we don't see it. If we think we are equal to others, we fail to show respect and humility at the proper times. If we think we are inferior to others we get depressed, thinking we are inferior, born under a bad sign and so on. We are still clinging to the Five Khandhas, 57 it's all simply becoming and birth.
This is one standard for gauging ourselves by. Another one is: if we encounter a pleasant experience we feel happy, if we encounter a bad experience we are unhappy. Are we able to look at both the things we like and the things we dislike as having equal value? Measure yourself against this standard. In our everyday lives, in the various experiences we encounter, if we hear something which we like, does our mood change? If we encounter an experience which isn't to our liking, does our mood change? Or is the mind unmoved? Looking right here we have a gauge.
Just know yourself, this is your witness. Don't make decisions on the strength of your desires. Desires can puff us up into thinking we are something which we're not. We must be very circumspect.
There are so many angles and aspects to consider, but the right way is not to follow your desires, but the Truth. We should know both the good and the bad, and when we know them to let go of them. If we don't let go we are still there, we still "exist," we still "have." If we still "are" then there is a remainder, there are becoming and birth in store.
Therefore the Buddha said to judge only yourself, don't judge others, no matter how good or evil they may be. The Buddha merely points out the way, saying "The truth is like this." Now, is our mind like that or not?
For instance, suppose a monk took some things belonging to another monk, then that other monk accused him, "You stole my things." "I didn't steal them, I only took them." So we ask a third monk to adjudicate. How should he decide? He would have to ask the offending monk to appear before the convened Sangha. "Yes, I took it, but I didn't steal it." Or in regard to other rules, such as parajika or sanghadisesa offenses: "Yes, I did it, but I didn't have intention." How can you believe that? It's tricky. If you can't believe it, all you can do is leave the onus with the doer, it rests on him.
But you should know that we can't hide the things that arise in our minds. You can't cover them up, either the wrongs or the good actions. Whether actions are good or evil, you can't dismiss them simply by ignoring them, because these things tend to reveal themselves. They conceal themselves, they reveal themselves, they exist in and of themselves. They are all automatic. This is how things work.
Don't try to guess at or speculate about these things. As long as there is still avijja (unknowing) they are not finished with. The Chief Privy Councilor once asked me, "Luang Por, is the mind of an anagami 58 pure yet?"
"It's partly pure."
"Eh? An anagami has given up sensual desire, how is his mind not yet pure?"
"He may have let go of sensual desire, but there is still something remaining, isn't there? There is still avijja. If there is still something left then there is still something left. It's like the bhikkhus' alms bowls. There are "a large-size large bowl; a medium-sized large bowl, a small-sized large bowl; then a large-sized medium bowl, a medium-sized medium bowl, a small-sized medium bowl; then there are a large-sized small bowl, a medium-sized small bowl and a small-sized small bowl... No matter how small it is there is still a bowl there, right? That's how it is with this...sotapanna, sakadagami, anagami... they have all given up certain defilements, but only to their respective levels. Whatever still remains, those Noble Ones don't see. If they could they would all be arahants. They still can't see all. Avijja is that which doesn't see. If the mind of the anagami was completely straightened out he wouldn't be an anagami, he would be fully accomplished. But there is still something remaining.
"Is his mind purified?"
"Well, it is somewhat, but not 100%."
How else could I answer? He said that later on he would come and question me about it further. He can look into it, the standard is there.
Don't be careless. Be alert. The Lord Buddha exhorted us to be alert. In regards to this training of the heart, I've had my moments of temptation too, you know. I've often been tempted to try many things but they've always seemed like they're going astray of the path. It's really just a sort of swaggering in one's mind, a sort of conceit. Ditthi, views, and mana, pride, are there. It's hard enough just to be aware of these two things.
There was once a man who wanted to become a monk here. He carried in his robes, determined to become a monk in memory of his late mother. He came into the monastery, laid down his robes, and without so much as paying respects to the monks, started walking meditation right in front of the main hall... back and forth, back and forth, like he was really going to show his stuff.
I thought, "Oh, so there are people around like this, too!" This is called saddha adhimokkha — blind faith. He must have determined to get enlightened before sundown or something, he thought it would be so easy. He didn't look at anybody else, just put his head down and walked as if his life depended on it. I just let him carry on, but I thought, "Oh, man, you think it's that easy or something?" In the end I don't know how long he stayed, I don't even think he ordained.
As soon as the mind thinks of something we send it out, send it out every time. We don't realize that it's simply the habitual proliferation of the mind. It disguises itself as wisdom and waffles off into minute detail. This mental proliferation seems very clever, if we didn't know we would mistake it for wisdom. But when it comes to the crunch it's not the real thing. When suffering arises where is that so-called wisdom then? Is it of any use? It's only proliferation after all.
So stay with the Buddha. As I've said before many times, in our practice we must turn inwards and find the Buddha. Where is the Buddha? The Buddha is still alive to this very day, go in and find him. Where is he? At aniccam, go in and find him there, go and bow to him: aniccam, uncertainty. You can stop right there for starters.
If the mind tries to tell you, "I'm a sotapanna now," go and bow to the sotapanna. He'll tell you himself, "It's all uncertain." If you meet a sakadagami go and pay respects to him. When he sees you he'll simply say "Not a sure thing!" If there is an anagami go and bow to him. He'll tell you only one thing..."Uncertain." If you meet even an arahant, go and bow to him, he'll tell you even more firmly, "It's all even more uncertain!" You'll hear the words of the Noble Ones..."Everything is uncertain, don't cling to anything."
Don't just look at the Buddha like a simpleton. Don't cling to things, holding fast to them without letting go. Look at things as functions of the Apparent and then send them on to Transcendence. That's how you must be. There must be Appearance and there must be Transcendence.
So I say "Go to the Buddha." Where is the Buddha? The Buddha is the Dhamma. All the teachings in this world can be contained in this one teaching: aniccam. Think about it. I've searched for over forty years as a monk and this is all I could find. That and patient endurance. This is how to approach the Buddha's teaching... aniccam: it's all uncertain.
No matter how sure the mind wants to be, just tell it "Not sure!." Whenever the mind wants to grab on to something as a sure thing, just say, "It's not sure, it's transient." Just ram it down with this. Using the Dhamma of the Buddha it all comes down to this. It's not that it's merely a momentary phenomenon. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, you see everything in that way. Whether liking arises or dislike arises you see it all in the same way. This is getting close to the Buddha, close to the Dhamma.
Now I feel that this is more valuable way to practice. All my practice from the early days up to the present time has been like this. I didn't actually rely on the scriptures, but then I didn't disregard them either. I didn't rely on a teacher but then I didn't exactly "go it alone." My practice was all "neither this nor that."
Frankly it's a matter of "finishing off," that is, practicing to the finish by taking up the practice and then seeing it to completion, seeing the Apparent and also the Transcendent.
I've already spoken of this, but some of you may be interested to hear it again: if you practice consistently and consider things thoroughly, you will eventually reach this point... At first you hurry to go forward, hurry to come back, and hurry to stop. You continue to practice like this until you reach the point where it seems that going forward is not it, coming back is not it, and stopping is not it either! It's finished. This is the finish. Don't expect anything more than this, it finishes right here. Khinasavo — one who is completed. He doesn't go forward, doesn't retreat and doesn't stop. There's no stopping, no going forward and no coming back. It's finished. Consider this, realize it clearly in your own mind. Right there you will find that there is really nothing at all.
Whether this is old or new to you depends on you, on your wisdom and discernment. One who has no wisdom or discernment won't be able to figure it out. Just take a look at trees, like mango or jackfruit trees. If they grow up in a clump, one tree may get bigger first and then the others will bend away, growing outwards from that bigger one. Why does this happen? Who tells them to do that? This is Nature. Nature contains both the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. It can either incline to the right or incline to the wrong. If we plant any kind of trees at all close together, the trees which mature later will branch away from the bigger tree. How does this happen? Who determines it thus? This is Nature, or Dhamma.
Likewise, tanha, desire, leads us to suffering. Now, if we contemplate it, it will lead us out of desire, we will outgrow tanha. By investigating tanha we will shake it up, making it gradually lighter and lighter until it's all gone. The same as the trees: does anybody order them to grow the way they do? They can't talk or move around and yet they know how to grow away from obstacles. Wherever it's cramped and crowded and growing will be difficult, they bend outwards.
Right here is Dhamma, we don't have to look at a whole lot. One who is astute will see the Dhamma in this. Trees by nature don't know anything, they act on natural laws, yet they do know enough to grow away from danger, to incline towards a suitable place.
Reflective people are like this. We go forth into the homeless life because we want to transcend suffering. What is it that make us suffer? If we follow the trail inwards we will find out. That which we like and that which we don't like are suffering. If they are suffering then don't go so close to them. Do you want to fall in love with conditions or hate them?... they're all uncertain. When we incline towards the Buddha all this comes to an end. Don't forget this. And patient endurance. Just these two are enough. If you have this sort of understanding this is very good.
Actually in my own practice I didn't have a teacher to give as much teachings as all of you get from me. I didn't have many teachers. I ordained in an ordinary village temple and lived in village temples for quite a few years. In my mind I conceived the desire to practice, I wanted to be proficient, I wanted to train. There wasn't anybody giving any teaching in those monasteries but the inspiration to practice arose. I traveled and I looked around. I had ears so I listened, I had eyes so I looked. Whatever I heard people say, I'd tell myself, "Not sure." Whatever I saw, I told myself, "Not sure," or when the tongue contacted sweet, sour, salty, pleasant or unpleasant flavors, or feelings of comfort or pain arose in the body, I'd tell myself, "This is not a sure thing"! And so I lived with Dhamma.
In truth it's all uncertain, but our desires want things to be certain. what can we do? We must be patient. The most important thing is khanti, patient endurance. Don't throw out the Buddha, what I call "uncertainty" — don't throw that away.
Sometimes I'd go to see old religious sites with ancient monastic buildings, designed by architects, built by craftsmen. In some places they would be cracked. Maybe one of my friends would remark, "Such a shame, isn't it? It's cracked." I'd answer, "If that weren't the case then there'd be no such thing as the Buddha, there'd be no Dhamma. It's cracked like this because it's perfectly in line with the Buddha's teaching." Really down inside I was also sad to see those buildings cracked but I'd throw off my sentimentality and try to say something which would be of use to my friends, and to myself. Even though I also felt that it was a pity, still I tended towards the Dhamma.
"If it wasn't cracked like that there wouldn't be any Buddha!"
I'd say it really heavy for the benefit of my friends... or perhaps they weren't listening, but still I was listening.
This is a way of considering things which is very, very useful. For instance, say someone were to rush in and say, "Luang Por! Do you know what so and so just said about you?" or, "He said such and such about you..." Maybe you even start to rage. As soon as you hear words of criticism you start getting these moods every step of the way. As soon as we hear words like this we may start getting ready to retaliate, but on looking into the truth of the matter we may find that... no, they had said something else after all.
And so it's another case of "uncertainty." So why should we rush in and believe things? Why should we put our trust so much in what others say? Whatever we hear we should take note, be patient, look into the matter carefully... stay straight.
It's not that whatever pops into our heads we write it all down as some sort of truth. Any speech which ignores uncertainty is not the speech of a sage. Remember this. As for being wise, we are no longer practicing. Whatever we see or hear, be it pleasant or sorrowful, just say "This is not sure!" Say it heavy to yourself, hold it all down with this. Don't build those things up into major issues, just keep them all down to this one. This point is the important one. This is the point where defilements die. Practitioners shouldn't dismiss it.
If you disregard this point you can expect only suffering, expect only mistakes. If you don't make this a foundation for your practice you are going to go wrong... but then you will come right again later on, because this principle is a really good one.
Actually the real Dhamma, the gist of what I have been saying today, isn't so mysterious. Whatever you experience is simply form, simply feeling, simply perception, simply volition, and simply consciousness. There are only these basic qualities, where is there any certainty within them?
If we come to understand the true nature of things like this, lust, infatuation and attachment fade away. why do they fade away? Because we understand, we know. We shift from ignorance to understanding. Understanding is born from ignorance, knowing is born from unknowing, purity is born from defilement. It works like this.
Not discarding aniccam, the Buddha — This is what it means to say that the Buddha is still alive. To stay that the Buddha has passed into Nibbana is not necessarily true. In a more profound sense the Buddha is still alive. It's much like how we define the word "bhikkhu." If we define it as "one who asks," 59 the meaning is very broad. We can define it this way, but to use this definition too much is not so good — we don't know when to stop asking! If we were to define this word in a more profound way we would say: "Bhikkhu — one who sees the danger of Samsara."
Isn't this more profound? It doesn't go in the same direction as the previous definition, it runs much deeper. The practice of Dhamma is like this. If you don't fully understand it, it becomes something else again. It becomes priceless, it becomes a source of peace.
When we have sati we are close to the Dhamma. If we have sati we will see aniccam, the transience of all things. We will see the Buddha and transcend the suffering of samsara, if not now then sometime in the future.
If we throw away the attribute of the Noble Ones, the Buddha or the Dhamma, our practice will become barren and fruitless. We must maintain our practice constantly, whether we are working or sitting or simply lying down. When the eye sees form, the ear hears sound, the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor or the body experiences sensation... in all things, don't throw away the Buddha, don't stray from the Buddha.
This is to be one who has come close to the Buddha, who reveres the Buddha constantly. We have ceremonies for revering the Buddha, such as chanting in the morning Araham Samma Sambuddho Bhagava... This is one way of revering the Buddha but it's not revering the Buddha in such a profound way as I've described here. It's the same as with that word "bhikkhu." If we define it as "one who asks" then they keep on asking... because it's defined like that. To define it in the best way we should say "Bhikkhu — one who sees the danger of samsara."
Now revering the Buddha is the same. Revering the Buddha by merely reciting Pali phrases as a ceremony in the mornings and evenings is comparable to defining the word "bhikkhu" as "one who asks." If we incline towards annicam, dukkham and anatta 60 whenever the eye sees form, the ear hears sound, the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor, the body experiences sensation or the mind cognizes mental impressions, at all times, this is comparable to defining the word "bhikkhu" as "one who sees the danger of samsara." It's so much more profound, cuts through so many things. If we understand this teaching we will grow in wisdom and understanding.
This is called patipada. Develop this attitude in the practice and you will be on the right path. If you think and reflect in this way, even though you may be far from your teacher you will still be close to him. If you live close to the teacher physically but your mind has not yet met him you will spend your time either looking for his faults or adulating him. If he does something which suits you, you say he's no good — and that's as far as your practice goes. You won't achieve anything by wasting your time looking at someone else. But if you understand this teaching you can become a Noble One in the present moment.
That's why this year 61 I've distanced myself from my disciples, both old and new, and not given much teaching: so that you can all look into things for yourselves as much as possible. For the newer monks I've already laid down the schedule and rules of the monastery, such as: "don't talk too much." Don't transgress the existing standards, the path to realization, fruition and nibbana. Anyone who transgresses these standards is not a real practitioner, not one who has with a pure intention to practice. What can such a person ever hope to see? Even if he slept near me every day he wouldn't see me. Even if he slept near the Buddha he wouldn't see the Buddha, if he didn't practice.
So knowing the Dhamma or seeing the Dhamma depends on practice. Have confidence, purify your own heart. If all the monks in this monastery put awareness into their respective minds we wouldn't have to reprimand or praise anybody. We wouldn't have to be suspicious of or favor anybody. If anger or dislike arise just leave them at the mind, but see them clearly!
Keep on looking at those things. As long as there is still something there it means we still have to dig and grind away right there. Some say "I can't cut it, I can't do it," — if we start saying things like this there will only be a bunch of punks here, because nobody cuts at their own defilements.
You must try. If you can't yet cut it, dig in deeper. Dig at the defilements, uproot them. Dig them out even if they seem hard and fast. The Dhamma is not something to be reached by following your desires. Your mind may be one way, the truth another. You must watch up front and keep a lookout behind as well. That's why I say, "It's all uncertain, all transient."
This truth of uncertainty, this short and simple truth, at the same time so profound and faultless, people tend to ignore. They tend to see things differently. Don't cling to goodness, don't cling to badness. These are attributes of the world. We are practicing to be free of the world, so bring these things to an end. The Buddha taught to lay them down, to give them up, because they only cause suffering.