anthology of teachings by
English-speaking disciples of Ajahn Chah
Hard to elude is the reach of Death;
Hard to pass beyond.
But they who accord with the Dhamma well taught,
they will pass beyond
of teachings is an offering of gratitude to The Venerable Ajahn Chah.
In 1977, when
this much-loved Thai Theravada meditation master visited the United
Kingdom, he brought with him two of his senior Western-born disciples.
Shortly afterwards, on invitation, two more joined them. These four
monks remained in London whilst their teacher returned to the East.
In 1981 two
other Westerners were invited to go from their mother monastery in
North-East Thailand to take up residence in Perth, Australia.
represents the teachings of a now international community -- the first
generation of monks and nuns proceeding from this Theravada 'Forest
The book begins
with an introduction and dedication to Ajahn Chah and follows on with
two sessions of instruction given to Western students. The remainder is
a collection of transcribed talks, letters, and essays by 20 teaching
monks of this tradition. Some have remained as abbots of monasteries in
Thailand; others are now living in England, Switzerland, Australia and
In keeping with
the Buddha's own Teachings, these reflections on Dhamma -- the Truth of
the Way Things Are -- are not intended to be accepted too readily.
Neither are they to be rejected. Rather, they are offered for
They are also
offered as an on-going expression of gratitude for what has been
received -- the living example of the Way of Truth itself. For these
monks it has been the opportunity to witness the life of a great Master,
who awakened the 'heart of true faith' in so many. It is sincerely
wished that these teachings bring to fruition true happiness, true
'Refuge', and true peace in the hearts of those who look into them.
Each morning in Theravada Buddhist monasteries
around the world, the above stanza is chanted as part of 'The Homage
to the Triple Gem'. It could just as well be said of the teaching
example of Meditation Master, The Venerable Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn Chah, or Luang Por as his disciples called
him, possessed that uniquely beautiful quality of being: a quality
visible only to a heart seeking The Way of Truth.
'Beautiful in the beginning', in Ajahn Chah's
case, was his commitment to the life of a renunciant monk (dhutanga
bhikkhu). He cultivated impeccable discipline and displayed
consistent, daring effort to confront all situations, especially
those from which he was inclined to turn away. He gave himself
completely to the training and eventually the Way became clear.
'Beautiful in the middle' was the selfless
sharing of his realisation with all who came to be near him.
Regardless of personal discomfort, he ceaselessly offered his body,
speech and mind to assist his disciples, lay and ordained alike, to
enter the Way. He said of his own teaching method, that it is the
example that counts -- not just the words. Those who were able to
spend time with him know full well that this is so.
And 'beautiful in the end' remains. It is that
radiant confidence of heart in thousands of individuals who now walk
the Way; that verified faith which most profoundly expresses Dhammam
Saranam Gacchami -- 'I go for refuge to the Truth of the Way Things
Are.' Without having seen an example of the Way in another, such
awakening of confidence might not have taken place; hence it is said
'No gift excels the gift of Dhamma.'
|This book is about a community of people
endeavouring to do justice to the gift they have received. More
precisely, it is a collection of transcribed talks, letters and
essays offered by disciples of Luang Por Chah, who are now living at
various monasteries around the world. These teachings have been
gathered specifically for this publication. It seemed appropriate
that a book published in the West to honour the Venerable Ajahn
Chah's life should reflect the results of his years of teaching.
These are some of the fruits of what he spent his life nurturing.
Although some editing was required so that the oral teachings might
be accessible in the written form, it is hoped that the spirit of
the original presentation has been preserved: that is, the spirit of
the living Truth.
The Buddha said that nobody else can walk the
Way for us -- but they can point out the way we should go. The
directions given will be different for each of us, depending on how
far we must go and from where we are starting. There were occasions
when people questioned Ajahn Chah about apparent contradictions in
his advice. He replied that if he was standing at the end of a road
and saw someone coming towards him veering off to the left, he would
tell them to go right. If they were veering to the right he would
tell them to move left. The instructions were different, but the
ultimate direction was the same.
Style and emphasis also vary when the Teaching is presented by
different individuals. This will become obvious as the reader
progresses through this book. The reader may also come across
inconsistencies and contradictions. If this is so, it should be
remembered that such discrepancies are in appearance only. These
words are not presented as the Truth itself but as reflections
offered for consideration.
Many people have benefitted from Ajahn Chah's ability to point
out the Way; and many of these same people have participated in
offering this book in commemoration of their teacher. One of the
deepest forms of gratitude is that which springs forth from a true
appreciation for the beauty of the Way; it is with such gratitude
that this offering is made. It is the wish of all who have
contributed, that the readers may see, understand, and follow the
Way about which all these words have been written.
E V A
note on hierarchy and the order of presentation:
The Buddha instructed that repect should always be shown to those
monks who have been in the Order the longest. This holds true
regardless of other qualities any individual may possess. Hence, the
sequence of this presentation is determined solely with respect for
seniority in the bhikkhu-sangha. These talks are not offered as a
progressive teaching. Accordingly, it is recommended that readers
feel free to select and read, re-read or omit as they wish.
VENERABLE AJAHN CHAH was born on June 17, 1918 in a
small village near the town of Ubon Rajathani, North East Thailand.
After finishing his basic schooling, he spent three
years as a novice before returning to lay life to help his parents on
the farm. At the age of twenty, however, he decided to resume monastic
life, and on April 26, 1939 he received upasampada (bhikkhu ordination).
Ajahn Chah's early monastic life followed a
traditional pattern, of studying Buddhist teachings and the Pali
scriptural language. In his fifth year his father fell seriously ill and
died, a blunt reminder of the frailty and precariousness of human life.
It caused him to think deeply about life's real purpose, for although he
had studied extensively and gained some proficiency in Pali, he seemed
no nearer to a personal understanding of the end of suffering. Feelings
of disenchantment set in, and finally (in 1946) he abandoned his studies
and set off on mendicant pilgrimage.
He walked some 400 km to Central Thailand, sleeping
in forests and gathering alms food in the villages on the way. He took
up residence in a monastery where the vinaya (monastic discipline) was
carefully studied and practised. While there he was told about Venerable
Ajahn Mun Buridatto, a most highly respected Meditation Master. Keen to
meet such an accomplished teacher, Ajahn Chah set off on foot for the
North East in search of him.
At this time Ajahn Chah was wrestling with a crucial
problem. He had studied the teachings on morality, meditation and
wisdom, which the texts presented in minute and refined detail, but he
could not see how they could actually be put into practice. Ajahn Mun
told him that although the teachings are indeed extensive, at their
heart they are very simple. With mindfulness established, if it is seen
that everything arises in the heart-mind . . . right there is the true
path of practice. This succinct and direct teaching was a revelation for
Ajahn Chah, and transformed his approach to practice. The Way was clear.
For the next seven years Ajahn Chah practised in the
style of the austere Forest Tradition, wandering through the countryside
in quest of quiet and secluded places for developing meditation. He
lived in tiger- and cobra-infested jungles, using reflections on death
to penetrate to the true meaning of life. On one occasion he practised
in a cremation ground, to challenge and eventually overcome his fear of
death. Then, as he sat cold and drenched in a rain storm, he faced the
utter desolation and loneliness of a homeless monk.
In 1954, after years of wandering, he was invited
back to his home village. He settled close by, in a fever-ridden,
haunted forest called 'Pah Pong'. Despite the hardships of malaria, poor
shelter and sparse food, disciples gathered around him in increasing
numbers. The monastery which is now known as Wat Pah Pong began there,
and eventually branch monasteries were also established elsewhere.
In 1967 an American monk came to stay at Wat Pah
Pong. The newly ordained Venerable Sumedho had just spent his fist vassa
('Rains' retreat) practising intensive meditation at a monastery near
the Laotian border. Although his efforts had borne some fruit, Venerable
Sumedho realised that he needed a teacher who could train him in all
aspects of monastic life. By chance, one of Ajahn Chah's monks -- one
who happened to speak a little English! -- visited the monastery where
Venerable Sumedho was staying. Upon hearing about Ajahn Chah, he asked
to take leave of his preceptor, and went back to Wat Pah Pong with the
Ajahn Chah willingly accepted the new disciple, but
insisted that he receive no special allowances for being a Westerner. He
would have to eat the same simple alms food and practise in the same way
as any other monk at Wat Pah Pong.
The training there was quite harsh and forbidding.
Ajahn Chah often pushed his monks to their limits, to test their powers
of endurance so that they would develop patience and resolution. He
sometimes initiated long and seemingly pointless work projects, in order
to frustrate their attachment to tranquillity. The emphasis was always
on surrender to the way things are, and great stress was placed upon
strict observance of the vinaya.
In the course of events, other Westerners came
through Wat Pah Pong. By the time Venerable Sumedho was a bhikkhu of
five vassas, and Ajahn Chah considered him competent enough to teach,
some of these new monks had also decided to stay and train there.
In the hot season of 1975, Venerable Sumedho and a
handful of Western bhikkhus spent some time living in a forest not far
from Wat Pah Pong. The local villagers there asked them to stay on, and
Ajahn Chah consented. Thus Wat Pah Nanachat ('International Forest
Monastery') came into being, and Venerable Sumedho became the abbot of
the first monastery in Thailand to be run by and for English-speaking
In 1977, Ajahn Chah was invited to visit Britain by
the English Sangha Trust, a charity with the aim of establishing a
locally-resident Buddhist Sangha. He took Venerable Sumedho and
Venerable Khemadhammo along, and seeing the serious interest there, left
them in London at the Hampstead Vihara (with two of his other Western
disciples who were then visiting Europe).
He returned to Britain in 1979, at which time the
monks were leaving London to begin Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in
Sussex. He then went on to America and Canada to visit and teach.
After this trip, and again in 1981, Ajahn Chah spent
the 'Rains' away from Wat Pah Pong, since his health was failing due to
the debilitating effects of diabetes. As his illness worsened, he would
use his body as a teaching, a living example of the impermanence of all
things. He constantly reminded people to endeavour to find a true refuge
within themselves, since he would not be able to teach for very much
Before the end of the 'Rains' of 1981, he was taken
to Bangkok for an operation; it, however, did little to improve his
condition. Within a few months he stopped talking, and gradually he lost
control of his limbs until he was virtually paralysed and bed-ridden.
From then on, he was diligently and lovingly nursed and attended by
devoted disciples, grateful for the occasion to offer service to the
teacher who so patiently and compassionately showed the Way to so many.
following message by Venerable Ajahn Chah was sent to his disciples in
England whilst he was resident at a branch monastery called 'The Cave of
Diamond Light', just prior to the serious decline in his health during
the Rainy-Season Retreat (Vassa) of 1981. A photograph taken at the time
of recording this message on tape, appears on the back cover. 'Wat Pah
Pong', referred to near the end of the text, is the name of Ajahn Chah's
I HAVE COME UP TO WAT TUM SAENG PET for the 'Rains' Retreat this year --
mostly for a change of air as my health has not been so good. With me
are a few Western monks: Santa, Pabhakaro, Pamutto, Michael and Samanen
Guy; also some Thai monks and a small number of lay people who are keen
to practice. This is a pleasant and fortunate time for us. At the moment
my sickness has subsided, so I feel well enough to record this message
for you all.
Because of this ill-health I cannot visit England, so
hearing news of you, from some of your supporters who are staying here,
has made me very happy and relieved. The thing that pleases me most is
that Sumedho is now able to ordain monks; this shows that your efforts
to establish Buddhism in England have been quite successful.
It is also pleasing to see the names of the monks and
nuns whom I know, who are living with Sumedho at Chithurst: Anando,
Viradhammo, Sucitto, Uppanno, Kittisaro, and Amaro. Also Mae Chees
Rocana and Candasiri. I hope you are all in good health and living
harmoniously together, co-operating and proceeding well in Dhamma
There are supporters, both in England and here in
Thailand, who help keep me up to date with your developments. I gather
from them that the building work at Chithurst is complete, and that it
is now a much more comfortable place to live. I often enquire about
this, as I remember my stay of seven days there was quite difficult!
(laughter) I hear that the shrine-room and the other main areas are now
all finished. With less building work to be carried out, the community
will be able to apply itself more fully to formal practice.
I understand also that some of the senior monks have
been moved off to start branch monasteries. This is normal practice, but
it can lead to a predominance of junior monks at the main monastery;
this has been the case in the past at Wat Pah Pong. This can bring
difficulties in the teaching and training of monks, so it is very
important in these situations that we help one another.
I trust that Sumedho is not allowing these sort of
things to burden him! These are small matters, quite normal, they are
not a problem at all. Certainly there are responsibilities -- but it can
also be seen that there are none.
To be the abbot of a monastery can be compared to
being a rubbish bin: those who are disturbed by the presence of rubbish
make a bin, in the hope that people will put their rubbish in there. In
actual fact what happens is that the person who makes the bin ends up
being the rubbish collector as well. This is how things are -- it's the
same at Wat Pah Pong, it was the same at the time of the Buddha. No-one
else puts the rubbish into it so we have to do it ourselves, and
everything gets chucked into the abbot's bin!
One in such a position must therefore be far-sighted,
have depth, and remain unshaken in the midst of all things; they must be
consistent -- able to persevere. Of all the qualities we develop in our
lives, patient endurance is the most important.
It is true that the establishment of a suitable
dwelling place at Chithurst has been completed -- the construction of a
building is not difficult, a couple of years and it is done. What has
not been completed, though, is the work of upkeep and maintenance -- the
sweeping, washing and so forth have to go on forever. It is not
difficult to build a monastery, but it is difficult to maintain it;
likewise, it is not difficult to ordain someone, but to train them fully
in the monastic life is hard. This should not be taken as a problem,
though, for to do that which is hard is very beneficial -- doing only
that which is easy does not have much use. Therefore, in order to
nurture and maintain the seed of Buddhism which has been planted at
Chithurst, you must now all be prepared to put forth your energies and
I hope that what I have said today has conveyed
feelings of warmth and support to you. Whenever I meet Thai people who
have connections in England, I ask if they have been to visit Chithurst.
It seems, from them, that there is a great deal of interest in a branch
monastery being there. Also, foreigners who come here will frequently
have visited Wat Nanachat and have news of you in England as well. It
makes me very happy to see that there is such a close and co-operative
relationship between Wat Pah Pong, Wat Nanachat and Wat Chithurst.
That is all I have to say, except that my feelings of
loving-kindness are with you all. May you be well and happy, abiding in
harmony, co-operation and togetherness. May the blessings of the Buddha,
the Dhamma and the Sangha always be firmly established in your hearts --
may you be well.
following teaching is taken from a session of Questions and Answers that
took place at Wat Gor Nork monastery during the Vassa of 1979, between
Venerable Ajahn Chah and a group of English-speaking disciples. Some
rearrangement of the sequence of conversation has been made for ease of
"The knowing that arises is above and beyond the
process of thinking.
It leads to not being fooled
by thinking any more."
Q: When you teach about the value of contemplation,
are you speaking of sitting and thinking over particular themes, the
thirty-two parts of the body, for instance?
A: That is not necessary when the mind is truly
still. When tranquillity is properly established the right object of
investigation becomes obvious. When contemplation is 'True', there is no
discrimination into 'right' and 'wrong', 'good' and 'bad'; there is
nothing even like that. You don't sit there thinking, 'Oh, this is like
that and that is like this,' etc. That is a coarse form of
contemplation. Meditative contemplation is not merely a matter of
thinking -- rather it's what we call 'contemplation in silence'. Whilst
going about our daily routine we mindfully consider the real nature of
existence through comparisons. This is a coarse kind of investigation
but it leads to the real thing.
Q: When you talk about contemplating the body and
mind, though, do we actually use thinking? Can thinking produce true
Insight? Is this vipassana?
A: In the beginning we need to work using thinking,
even though later on we go beyond it. When we are doing true
contemplation all dualistic thinking has ceased; although we need to
consider dualistically to get started. Eventually all thinking and
pondering comes to an end.
Q: You say that there must be sufficient tranquillity
(samadhi) to contemplate. Just how tranquil do you mean?
A: Tranquil enough for there to be presence of mind.
Q: Do you mean staying with the here-and-now, not
thinking about the past and future?
A: Thinking about the past and future is all right if
you understand what these things really are, but you must not get caught
up in them. Treat them the same as you would anything else -- don't get
caught up. When you see thinking as just thinking, then that's wisdom.
Don't believe in any of it! Recognise that all of it is just something
that has arisen and will cease. Simply see everything just as it is --
it is what it is -- the mind is the mind -- it's not anything or anybody
in itself. Happiness is just happiness, suffering is just suffering --
it is just what it is. When you see this you will be beyond doubt.
Q: I still don't understand. Is true contemplating
the same as thinking?
A: We use thinking as a tool, but the knowing that
arises because of its use is above and beyond the process of thinking;
it leads to our not being fooled by our thinking any more. You recognise
that all thinking is merely the movement of the mind, and also that the
knowing is not born and doesn't die. What do you think all this movement
called 'mind' comes out of? What we talk about as the mind -- all the
activity -- is just the conventional mind. It's not the real mind at
all. What is real, just IS, it's not arising and it's not passing away.
Trying to understand these things just by talking about them, though,
won't work. We need to really consider impermanence, unsatisfactoriness
and impersonality (anicca, dukkha, anatta); that is, we need to use
thinking to contemplate the nature of conventional reality. What comes
out of this work is wisdom; and if it's real wisdom everything's
completed, finished -- we recognise emptiness. Even though there may
still be thinking, it's empty -- you are not affected by it.
Q: How can we arrive at this stage of the real mind?
A: You work with the mind you already have, of
course! See that all that arises is uncertain, that there is nothing
stable or substantial. See it clearly and see that there is really
nowhere to take a hold of anything -- it's all empty. When you see the
things that arise in the mind for what they are, you won't have to work
with thinking any more. You will have no doubt whatsoever in these
matters. To talk about the 'real mind' and so on, may have a relative
use in helping us understand. We invent names for the sake of study, but
actually nature just is how it is. For example, sitting here downstairs
on the stone floor. The floor is the base -- it's not moving or going
anywhere. Upstairs, above us is what has arisen out of this. Upstairs is
like everything that we see in our minds: form, feeling, memory,
thinking. Really, they don't exist in the way we presume they do. They
are merely the conventional mind. As soon as they arise, they pass away
again; they don't really exist in themselves.
There is a story in the scriptures about Venerable Sariputta examining a
bhikkhu before allowing him to go off wandering (dhutanga vatta). He
asked him how he would reply if he was questioned, 'What happens to the
Buddha after he dies?' The bhikkhu replied, 'When form, feeling,
perception, thinking and consciousness arise, they pass away.' Venerable
Sariputta passed him on that. Practice is not just a matter of talking
about arising and passing away, though. You must see it for yourself.
When you are sitting, simply see what is actually happening. Don't
follow anything. Contemplation doesn't mean being caught up in thinking.
The contemplative thinking of one on the Way is not the same as the
thinking of the world. Unless you understand properly what is meant by
contemplation, the more you think the more confused you will become.
The reason we make such a point of the cultivation of mindfulness is
because we need to see clearly what is going on. We must understand the
processes of our hearts. When such mindfulness and understanding are
present, then everything is taken care of. Why do you think one who
knows the Way never acts out of anger or delusion? The causes for these
things to arise are simply not there. Where would they come from?
Mindfulness has got everything covered.
Q: Is this mind you are talking about called the
A: What do you mean?
Q: It seems as if you are saying there is something
else outside of the conventional body-mind (five khanda). Is there
something else? What do you call it?
A: There isn't anything and we don't call it anything
-- that's all there is to it! Be finished with all of it. Even the
knowing doesn't belong to anybody, so be finished with that, too!
Consciousness is not an individual, not a being, not a self, not an
other, so finish with that -- finish with everything! There is nothing
worth wanting! It's all just a load of trouble. When you see clearly
like this then everything is finished.
Q: Could we not call it the 'Original Mind'?
A: You can call it that if you insist. You can call
it whatever you like, for the sake of conventional reality. But you must
understand this point properly. This is very important. If we didn't
make use of conventional reality we wouldn't have any words or concepts
with which to consider actual reality -- Dhamma. This is very important
Q: What degree of tranquillity are you talking about
at this stage? And what quality of mindfulness is needed?
A: You don't need to go thinking like that. If you
didn't have the right amount of tranquillity you wouldn't be able to
deal with these Qs at all. You need enough stability and concentration
to know what is going on -- enough for clarity and understanding to
arise. Asking questions like this shows that you are still doubting. You
need enough tranquillity of mind to no longer get caught in doubting
what you are doing. If you had done the practice you would understand
these things. The more you carry on with this sort of questioning, the
more confusing you make it. It's all right to talk if the talking helps
contemplation, but it won't show you the way things actually are. This
Dhamma is not understood because somebody else tells you about it, you
must see it for yourself -- paccattam.
If you have the quality of understanding that we have been talking
about, then we say that your duty to do anything is over; which means
that you don't do anything. If there is still something to do, then it's
your duty to do it. Simply keep putting everything down, and know that
that is what you are doing. You don't need to be always checking up on
yourself, worrying about things like 'How much samadhi' -- it will
always be the right amount. Whatever arises in your practice, let it go;
know it all as uncertain, impermanent. Remember that! It's all
uncertain. Be finished with all of it. This is the Way that will take
you to the source -- to your Original Mind.
(Robert Jackman) was born in Seattle, Washington in 1934. On
graduating from university, he joined the U.S. Navy as a medical
officer and served in the Korean War. Returning to academic life, he
took an M.A. in South Asian Studies from the University of
California (Berkeley) in 1963. After a short spell working for the
Red Cross, he went out to the Far East and spent two years teaching
English with the Peace Corps in Borneo.
His growing interest in Buddhism took him (in 1966) to Thailand,
where he sought to enter monastic life. He became a novice in Nong
Khai and a bhikkhu one year later in 1967, with Chao Khun
Rajapreechayamuni as preceptor. Soon after his ordination, he was
taken to meet Ajahn Chah, with whom he stayed and trained for ten
years. Following a -- tudong -- pilgrimage in India in 1974, he
helped establish Wat Pah Nanachat and became its abbot.
In 1977 Ajahn Chah was invited by the English Sangha Trust to visit
Britain. He brought Ajahn Sumedho with him, and seeing the interest
there, left him in London (at the Hampstead Vihara) in charge of a
small group of bhikkhus. In 1979 the monks were able to move to
Sussex, which marked the beginning of Chithurst Buddhist Monastery.
Interest flourished, and under Ajahn Sumedho's guidance Amaravati
Buddhist Centre near London was established in 1984, in addition to
branch monasteries in the north and south-west of England, and also
in Switzerland and New Zealand.
In 1981 Ajahn Sumedho was appointed an -- Upajjhaya -- (preceptor).
He was also president (1983--87) of the London-based Buddhist
The following teaching is taken from the first two talks given by
Venerable Ajahn Sumedho to the monastic community of Amaravati
during the winter retreat of 1988.
"The mind of an enlightened human being is
the mind of an ignorant person is fixed."
TODAY IS THE FULL MOON OF JANUARY and the beginning
of our winter retreat. We can have an all-night meditation sitting
tonight to commemorate the auspiciousness of the occasion. It's very
fortunate to have an opportunity such as this to devote ourselves
for two months to one-pointed reflection on Dhamma.
The teaching of the Buddha is the understanding of
The Way Things Are -- being able to look, to be awake. It means
developing attentiveness, brightness, and wisdom -- developing the
Eightfold Path, which we call bhavana.
Now when we're reflecting on things as they are,
we're 'seeing', rather than interpreting through a veil of
self-view. The big obstacle all of us have to face is this insidious
belief in the 'I am' -- attachment to self-view. It's so ingrained
in us that we're like fish in the water: water is so much a part of
the fish's life that it doesn't notice it. The sensory world we've
been swimming in since our birth is like that for us. If we don't
take time to observe it for what it really is then we'll die without
getting any the wiser.
But this opportunity as a human being has the great
advantage for us of our being able to reflect -- we can reflect on
the water we're swimming in. We can observe the sensory realm for
what it is. We're not trying to get rid of it. We're not
complicating it by trying to add to it -- we're just being aware of
it as it is. We're no longer deluding ourselves by appearances, by
fears, desires and all the things we create in our mind about it.
This is what we mean when we use such terms like:
'It is as it is.' If you ask someone who is swimming in water, 'What
is water like?', then they simply bring attention to it and say,
'Well, it feels like this. It's this way.' Then you ask, 'How is it
exactly? Is it wet or cold or warm or hot...?' All of these words
can describe it. Water can be cold, warm, hot, pleasant,
unpleasant... But it's just like this. The sensory realm we're
swimming in for a lifetime is this way! It feels like this! You feel
it! Sometimes it's pleasant. Sometimes it's unpleasant. Most of the
time it's neither pleasant nor unpleasant. But always it's just this
way. Things come and go and change, and there's nothing that you can
depend on as being totally stable. The sensory realm is all energy
and change and movement; all flux and flow. Sensory consciousness is
Now we're not judging it; we're not saying it's good
or it's bad, or you should like it, or you shouldn't; we're just
bringing attention to it -- like the water. The sensory realm is a
realm of feeling. We are born into it and we feel it. From the time
the umbilical cord is severed we're physically independent beings;
we're no longer physically tied to anybody else. We feel hunger; we
feel pleasure; we feel pain, heat, and cold. As we grow, we feel all
kinds of things. We feel with the eyes, the ears, the nose, the
tongue, the body; and with the mind itself. There is the ability to
think and remember, to perceive and conceive. All this is feeling.
It can be lots of fun and wonderful, but it can also be depressing,
mean and miserable; or it can be neutral -- neither pleasant nor
painful. So all sensory impingement is The Way It Is. Pleasure is
this way; pain is this way. The feeling of neither pleasure nor pain
is this way.
To be able to truly reflect on these things, you
have to be alert and attentive. Some people think that it is up to
me to tell them how it is: 'Ajahn Sumedho, how should I be feeling
right now?' But we're not telling anybody how it is; we're being
open and receptive to how it is. There's no need to tell someone how
it is when they can find out for themselves. So this two months of
finding out how it is, is a valuable opportunity. Many human beings
it seems, are not even aware that such a development of wisdom is
What do we mean when we use this word wisdom? From
birth to death, this is the way it is. There's always going to be a
certain amount of pain, and discomfort, unpleasantness and ugliness.
And if we're not aware of it as it really is -- see it as Dhamma --
then we tend to create a problem out of it. The span between birth
and death becomes all very personal; it becomes fraught with all
kinds of fears and desires and complications.
We suffer a lot in our society from loneliness. So
much of our life is an attempt to not be lonely: 'Let's talk to each
other; let's do things together so we won't be lonely.' And yet
inevitably, we are really alone in these human forms. We can
pretend; we can entertain each other; but that's about the best we
can do. When it comes to the actual experience of life, we're very
much alone; and to expect anyone else to take away our loneliness is
asking too much.
When there's physical birth, notice how it makes us
seem separate. We're not physically joined to each other, are we?
With attachment to this body we feel separate and vulnerable; we
dread being left alone and we create a world of our own that we can
live in. We have all kinds of interesting companions: imaginary
friends, physical friends, enemies, but the whole lot of it comes
and goes, begins and ends. Everything is born and dies in our own
minds. So we reflect that birth conditions death. Birth and death;
beginning and ending.
During this retreat, this kind of reflection is
highly encouraged: contemplate what birth is. Right now we can say:
'This is the result of being born; this body. It's like this: it's
conscious and it feels, there's intelligence, there's memory,
there's emotion.' All these can be contemplated because they are
mind objects; they are dhammas. If we attach to the body as a
subject, or to opinions and views and feelings as 'me' and 'mine',
then we feel loneliness and despair; there's always going to be the
threat of separation and ending. Attachment to mortality brings fear
and desire into our lives. We can feel anxious and worried even when
life is quite all right. So long as there's ignorance -- avijja --
regarding the true nature of things, fear is always going to
But anxiety is not ultimately true. It's something
we create. Worry is just that much. Love and joy and all the best in
life, if we are attached to them, are going to bring the opposite
along also. That's why in meditation we practise accepting the
feeling of these things. When we accept things for what they are,
we're no longer attached to them. They just are what they are; they
arise and cease, they're not a self.
Now from the perspective of our cultural background,
how does it appear? Our society tends to reinforce the view that
everything is 'me' and 'mine'. 'This body is me; I look like this; I
am a man; I am an American; I am 54 years old; I am an abbot.' But
these are just conventions, aren't they? We're not saying I'm not
these things; rather we're observing how we tend to complicate them
by believing in the 'I am'. If we attach to them, life becomes so
much more than it actually is; it becomes like a sticky web. It gets
so complicated; whatever we touch sticks to us. And the longer we
live the more complicated we make it. So much fear and desire comes
from that commitment to 'I am' -- to being somebody. Eventually they
take us to anxiety and despair; life seems much more difficult and
painful than it really is.
But when we just observe life for what it is, then
it's all right: the delights, the beauty, the pleasures, are just
that. The pain, the discomfort, the sickness, are what they are. We
can always cope with the way life moves and changes. The mind of an
enlightened human being is flexible and adaptable. The mind of the
ignorant person is conditioned and fixed.
Whatever we fix on is going to be miserable. Being a
man, or being a woman, as a permanent belief, is always going to
make life difficult. Any class we identify with -- middle class,
working class, American, British, Buddhist, Theravadin Buddhist --
grasping to any of these will produce some kind of complication,
frustration and despair.
Yet conventionally, one can be all these things -- a
man, an American, a Buddhist, a Theravadin; these are merely
perceptions of mind. They are adequate for communication; but
they're nothing more than that. They're what is called
sammuttidhamma -- 'conventional reality'. When I say, 'I'm Ajahn
Sumedho,' that's not a self, not a person; it's a convention. Being
a Buddhist monk is not a person -- it's a convention; being a man is
not a person, it's a convention. Conventions are as they are. When
we attach to them out of ignorance, we become bound and limited.
That's the sticky web! We're blinded; being deluded by the
When we let go of the conventions, we don't throw
them away. I don't have to kill myself or disrobe; the conventions
are all right. There's no suffering involved in any of these if
there is the awakened mind seeing them for what they are; they just
are as they are. They're merely a convenience; expedient to time and
With the realisation of 'ultimate reality' (paramatthadhamma),
there is the freedom of Nibbana. We are free from the delusions of
desire and fear; this freedom from conventions is the Deathless. But
to realise this we have to really look at what attachment is. What
is it all about? What is suffering, and attachment to the 'I am'
process? What is it? We're not asking anybody to deny themselves;
attachment to the view of being nobody is still somebody. It's not a
matter of affirmation or negation but of realisation; of seeing. To
do this we use mindfulness.
With mindfulness we can open to the totality. In the
beginning of this retreat, we open to the whole two months. On the
first day, we've already accepted in full awareness all
possibilities: sickness and health, success and failure, happiness
and suffering, enlightenment or total despair. We're not thinking,
'I'm only going to get..., I only want to have..., I want to have
only the nice things happen to me. And I've got to protect myself so
that I'll have an idyllic retreat; be perfectly safe and
tranquillised for two months.' That in itself is a miserable state,
isn't it? Instead, we take all the possibilities, from the best to
the worst. And we're doing this consciously. That means: everything
that happens during these two months is part of the retreat -- it's
a part of our practice. The Way Things Are is Dhamma for us:
happiness and suffering, enlightenment or total despair --
If we practise this way, then despair and anguish
take us to calm and peace. When I was in Thailand I had a lot of
these negative states -- loneliness, boredom, anxiety, doubt, worry
and despair. But accepted as they are, they cease. And what's left
when there's no more despair?
The Dhamma that we're looking at now, is subtle. Not
subtle in the sense that it's high up -- it's so ordinary, so very
much here and now that we don't notice it. Just like the water for
the fish. Water is so much a part of its life the fish doesn't
notice it; even though it's swimming in it. Sensory consciousness is
here, now. It's this way. It's not distant. It's not really
difficult. It's just a matter of paying attention to it. The way out
of suffering is the way of mindfulness: mindful-awareness or wisdom.
So we keep bringing our attention to the way things
are. If you have nasty thoughts, or feel resentful, bitter or
irritated, then notice what it feels like in your heart. If we're
frustrated and angry during this time, it's all right because we've
already allowed for that to happen. It's a part of the practice;
it's the way things are. Remember, we're not trying to become angels
and saints -- we're not trying to get rid of all our impurities and
coarseness and just be happy. The human realm is like this! It can
be very coarse and it can be pure. Pure and impure are a pair. To
know purity and impurity is mindfulness-wisdom. To know that
impurity is impermanent and not-self is wisdom. But the minute we
make it personal -- 'Oh, I shouldn't have impure thoughts!' -- we're
stuck again in the realm of despair. The more we try to have only
pure thoughts, the more the impure thoughts keep coming. That way we
make sure we're going to be miserable for the whole two months;
guarantee it. Out of ignorance we create a realm for ourselves that
can only be miserable.
So in mindfulness, or full mindedness, all misery
and all happiness are of equal value: no preferences. Happiness is
this way. Misery is this way. They arise and they cease. Happiness
is still happiness; it's not misery. And misery is still misery;
it's not happiness. But it is what it is. And it's nobody's and it's
only that much. And we don't suffer from it. We accept it, we know
it and we understand it. All that arises ceases. All dhamma is not
So I offer this for your reflection.
Venerable Santacitto (Stephen Saslav) was born of
Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York City in 1947. He excelled at
mathematics in high school and went on to study at university.
In 1967, just after the Six Day War, he went to Israel to work on a
kibbutz. Continuing but not completing his university studies in
Jerusalem, he left and went hitch-hiking through Africa, where he
was drawn to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. Travelling on
through the Seychelles, India and Nepal, he ended up working as an
English teacher in Bangkok, where he took a meditation course with
Sister Sudhamma. Through her he met an American disciple of Ajahn
Chah, Dr. Douglas Burns, whose clever persuasion induced him to
visit Wat Pah Pong. Although he was unable to speak Thai, he was
deeply affected by meeting Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho, recognising
in them the self-actualisation that had profoundly inspired him in
Abraham Maslow's book, Toward a Psychology of Being.
The existence of a path to self-actualisation motivated him to
become a samanera for a short experimental period. Finding himself
unable to leave, however, he went on to receive upasampada in 1971
at Wat Benjamabopitr under Chao Khun Buddhivongsamuni. His twelve
years in Thailand were punctuated by seven months back in Brooklyn,
and nine months in France. In 1985, at Ajahn Sumedho's invitation,
he moved to Amaravati in England, where he established the
multi-faith Christmas Humphreys Memorial Library, and was
instrumental in setting up an exhibition on lay people's practice in
He is now senior incumbent of the Devon Vihara.
The following teaching has been adapted from a session of
questions and answers which took place during a retreat led
by Venerable Santacitto at Amaravati, September 1988.
"Probably the easiest way to outgrow
through the response of compassionate action."
QUESTION: Could you speak on the differences and
similarities of love and compassion?
ANSWER: Compassion is a sensitivity to the
experience of suffering, or dukkha: a sensitivity of heart to the
suffering of others. It's a 'non-separation' from our own heart's
response on sensing suffering in another. And because it is a kind
of suffering in itself, it impels action. However, since it's not a
suffering arising out of selfishness -- that is, from our own sense
of separateness -- it doesn't impel blind action. In taking one
beyond oneself, the experience of compassion is a very powerful
opportunity for the arising and development of wisdom. Probably the
easiest way to outgrow ourselves is through the response of
Love is a more directly positive quality. With a positive response
of heart we thoroughly accept another's reality, with an acceptance
that encompasses any resistance we might feel. Again there is the
sense of 'non-separation', but this time it is in relationship to
With love, because it often involves highly positive feelings, one
can easily become lost in it. Hence we have the expression, 'Love
blinds.' Compassion, being more in touch with suffering, tends to
keep us grounded better than the sometimes eruptive energies
involved in love. One can see how, without care and attention, love
can easily drift from being a selfless sensitivity, to becoming an
attachment. It slowly becomes 'self-interested'.
The best example of selfless love -- and we are all familiar with it
-- is the self-sacrificing love of a mother for her child. But it is
also a good example of how attachment creeps in. In its original
purity of complete acceptance, love is an extremely pleasant
experience. But unless we are very clear about feelings of 'getting
something out of it', attachment does slowly creep in. And where
attachment arises, love is blocked. By limiting our acceptance, the
completeness of love disappears.
Though compassion mightn't be as conducive to attachment as love,
'self' can still get involved if we are not careful. That which
might have been compassion to begin with can turn into pity --
'feeling sorry for someone' -- which doesn't bridge the sense of
separateness. Looking down on others doesn't help us grow beyond
If we make the effort to intentionally cultivate love, we find it's
a quality that can be directed towards all people, including those
who we don't necessarily even consider friends. In such cases,
rather than feeling euphoric ecstasy, we experience a simple
kindness, a sort of grandheartedness -- a willingness to coexist.
We must remember, however, that talking about 'pure love' and 'pure
compassion' is not with the idea of creating absolutes, but to help
guide us in our practice. By recollecting in this way, we can come
to appreciate how, the less we allow personal gain to become mixed
in, the more all beings benefit.
Q: Is devotion another kind of love? Can it be a
form of cultivating love?
A: Yes; I would say the experiences of devotion
and love are very similar. We could say, devotion is a love directed
towards someone for whom we feel respect. It includes a sense of
gratitude also for the benefits that we have received.
Q: Would you say that it's possible to experience
a devotional heart quality without a human being as the object --
maybe towards a tree?
A: Yes; and there also you are feeling gratitude
for what the tree gives you by its existence.
Q: When I see nature, I am so full of gratitude,
but that seems to be a kind of attachment. I try to see the
attachment, but it's difficult. Someone once told me: 'If you go on
like this, you will never be free.' [Laughter] I just love trees and
birds and nature . . . and I find I'm having to change . . . I don't
know how to deal with it.
A: It's true that some of these positive
qualities of heart may come under the classification of
'attachments', but they can be pretty darned healthy attachments. I
sometimes like to look at the practice path as being similar to
climbing a ladder; so long as what we're holding on to doesn't
obstruct our ability to pull ourselves further upwards, then a
so-called attachment might be serving a useful function. However, if
we're holding on to a higher rung of the ladder but won't let go of
a lower one, then we're stuck. We've got a problem. So holding on to
something that is keeping us from going on, even if it's
pleasurable, is blocking progress.
Q: Yes, but I'm not sure that I want
enlightenment to be like that. [Laughter]
A: Eventually, we have to let go of everything --
but in the right time. We shouldn't try to force ourselves to let go
of things! It's just that from time to time life happens to present
us with opportunities where we can either let go or not let go.
Q: Is 'letting go' a necessary part of
A: It's entirely up to the individual. There is
no need to feel that you have to let go of your devotion towards
nature. But later on, you may begin to sense something more valuable
in your life, the development of which could be aided by a more
balanced relationship with nature. For example, you may begin to
feel a greater need for the power of equanimity, finding that always
gushing outwards towards nature is something that is preventing you
from further blossoming. So you may realise that equanimity need not
be a negation or rejection. It's more a matter of allowing the
appreciation of nature to settle to a deeper level. It's starting to
recognise the nature within ourselves as well as the nature 'out
Generally though, as far as trees are concerned, I would say they
are a rung of the ladder which pulls us up; especially in our modern
materialistic society. To a large extent we have lost touch with our
ability to really be with nature. We've forgotten how it functions
to help us tune in to our inner nature. Remembering that, simply
being with nature can be a very beautiful stepping-up point.
Appreciating trees and birds and external nature, definitely doesn't
have to be an obstacle to get rid of. We can learn to use such
appreciation as a point of balance in our lives -- not only for
ourselves, but to share with others also. This is something we need
a lot of.
Q: It's so sad to hear people always complaining
about everything. If only they would just walk outside . . .
A: Yes, we tend to get lost into our personal
space and limit the mind. Just walking outside and opening up can be
a way of letting things free.
Q: Do you think that there is symbolic meaning to
the Buddha's getting enlightened under a tree? Maybe it means that
we can learn from nature. Trees can teach us how to refine
ourselves. We can come to understand how important it is to give
back to nature what has been taken away.
A: That is a very good point; the Buddha was born
under a tree, enlightened under a tree, and died under a tree. And
he said that sitting under trees was a good thing to do. His
recommendation to his bhikkhus was: 'There are these trees, go,
Our particular monastic tradition here comes from what is known as
the 'forest tradition' of Thailand. There's an emphasis in this
tradition which says that if one really wishes to practise under
ideal conditions, then the forests provide these conditions. In
their simplicity we can discover an invaluable reflection of our
To a large extent, Ajahn Chah's teachings were influenced by his
vast experience of living in forests. Many of the similes that he
used came out of this. His own practice was simply a matter of being
a totally open and aware human being in natural surroundings,
watching both inwardly and outwardly to see what was happening. Out
of such practice came a very deep understanding of himself. But he
wasn't trapped by nature. When he needed to go to the city, he could
do that quite comfortably without yearning for the forests. He could
make the most out of the forest, without becoming dependent upon it.
If we become attached to being in the forests -- as monks sometimes
do -- then that's a sign that there's still something to learn from
Venerable Pabhakaro (Gordon Kappel) was born in
Seattle, Washington in 1948. he joined the U.S. Army in 1967 and was
sent to Vietnam in 1969, where as a captain in the 1st Cavalry
Division (Air Mobile) he piloted helicopters. He came into contact
with Buddhism while on rest-and-relaxation (R&R) in Bangkok, where
he visited several monasteries and met some of the Western monks
In 1970 he was sent back to the U.S., to Alabama, where he began
seriously studying Buddhism, lived by the eight precepts and began
experimenting with teaching himself meditation. Having decided he
wanted to become a bhikkhu, he applied for and was granted an
honourable discharge from the service on conscientious grounds. On
returning to Thailand he became a novice a Wat Bovornives, and in
due course received bhikkhu ordination at Wat Pah Pong in 1972.
When Ajahn Sumedho left for England in 1977, Venerable Pabhakaro
took over as senior monk at Wat Pah Nanachat until he himself went
with Ajahn Chah to Europe and the U.S. on a visit in 1979. On
returning to Thailand he spent an 18-month period walking on tudong
and living in solitude, before going back to live with Ajahn Chah,
whose health was deteriorating. As one of Ajahn Chah's principle
nursing attendants, he took responsibility for setting up a
purpose-built clinic at Wat Pah Pong.
Venerable Pabhakaro went to England in 1984 and assisted with the
establishment of Amaravati Buddhist Centre. He is currently the
senior incumbent at Harnham Vihara, and was featured recently in the
TVS television programme 'Almsbowls to Newcastle'.
The following teaching is adapted from a talk given by
Venerable Pabhakaro during a retreat in Scotland in August
"Ultimately, what we are bowing to is
human potentials -- peace, love and understanding."
WHEN WE STOP TO INVESTIGATE THE TEACHINGS, we can
see the importance of personal responsibility: of taking
responsibility for what we do, what we say, and eventually for what
we think. We see the possibility of developing something -- of
cultivating our body, speech and mind. I personally felt very
attracted to this way particularly because there was room to doubt
and question. I was very inspired by the thought of not having to
take anything on board just because it was written down; one was
being encouraged to explore through meditation and self-enquiry.
Now I'm in the position where I have the
opportunity to share my experience; to teach. The way I was taught
and trained was to open in the present moment, to the best of one's
ability, and speak from the heart -- to speak from one's own
experience. My intention is to make an offering. Sometimes this
feels comfortable and one is very confident. At other times I have
to question and reconsider: maybe that's not what people need or
what they can relate to. In such questioning I always try to come
back to this intention and to look with an attitude of openness and
honesty, asking myself: 'Where am I coming from?'
Honesty to me seems to be one of the most
beneficial things that we as human beings can develop. It is one of
the Buddhist Perfections -- sacca parami -- truthfulness or honesty.
Whether we consider ourselves spiritual or religious or not, if we
aren't honest with ourselves then there is a deception that we pass
on to others. It may be very subtle, but if we deceive ourselves,
how can we not deceive others?
When I try to be honest I feel humble. There is a
feeling of meekness and sinking down with humility. Now, reflecting
on these words, in popular culture we sometimes say that humiliation
is one of the most degrading experiences we can have -- 'That was
one of the most humiliating experiences of my life' -- which is very
negative. In one sense it is the lowest of the low to be put down
physically or verbally; especially verbally, as something someone
says can make us feel degraded and belittled. Usually the feeling
that comes up when this happens is revenge: 'I've been made a fool
of, I'll get them!' What is really happening in that situation is
that ego is being threatened. All our defence mechanisms are
triggered into a kind of red alert to defend ourselves.
In the religious life, however, we talk about
'developing' a quality of humility, because, by taking a positive
attitude towards it, we can turn situations around and grow from
them. Maybe you question this, thinking: 'Wouldn't this make us weak
and servile?' But it's not to say that we have to let everybody walk
all over us: that we lie prone on the street and let people trample
on us so we can be humiliated and therefore become humble. Rather we
see how we can refrain from reacting or over-reacting in situations
by learning to lay down our pride and opinions.
Consider what happens if we don't react when
someone verbally attacks us. What they're usually looking for is
some sort of reaction that they can feed on. It's like practising
tennis and hitting a ball against a wall; you can do it because
there's a reaction. If someone throws verbal abuse at us and we
don't react with aversion, aggression, or anything, but just absorb
it, then it deflates and fizzles out. When this happens in our
daily-life situations, try to see how we can move towards
not-reacting by just being able to absorb.
I try to practise this when I travel, although
it's not usually verbal abuse that I receive -- even though people
can sometimes yell something once you've passed by. It's a more
subtle physical reaction that one feels, an aggressive energy that
you sense when people walk by. When this happens, my instinctive
reaction is to meet it with aggression, but what I try to practise
is simply absorbing that aggressiveness. It's incredible what this
different attitude does to one's physical and mental state. It
changes from a tightening of the abdomen with clenched fists ready
for defence, to a softening and absorbing reception. So this is a
way of learning to use these situations and energies skilfully. It
results in a feeling of humility.
Most of my life I've been amongst the biggest and
the strongest, having to live up to an image of being six foot three
and weighing 200 pounds, so there's never been the problem like the
wee lads had of always trying to prove themselves. Softening that
image felt very foreign, especially when everything inside me was
saying: "Puff out your chest, bulge out your arms and be a man." But
whether we're large, middling or small, practising like this is
This is why I find the religious form a very
beautiful thing to have. It gives one a skilful means to work with.
We have devotional practices like bowing and chanting. Of these, one
of the most difficult is bowing. No matter what we bow towards, it
doesn't come naturally for us; there's a great deal of resistance to
doing it. A lot of it comes from our conditioning about bowing to
idols. But really, what is it that doesn't want to bow?
In my own practice I recognised quite early on
this resistance to bowing. I was fortunate in meeting Venerable
Ajahn Chah, a man whom I considered to be a genuine Master. It was
quite easy to humble myself and bow at his feet. Not because he
said: 'Bow at my feet,' but because that was the form and I wanted
to do it. It was so nice to take this large frame and prostrate it
on the ground instead of standing tall, thinking: 'Hey! look at me;
ain't I tough. Big Mean ME.' I felt a softening take place, and
putting it on the ground brought a great joy into my heart.
Those not familiar with our way may find it
difficult to understand. In Western culture we tend to form strong
opinions, often judging immediately by the appearance of things.
Visitors come to the monastery and see those who have been around
for a number of years bowing and acting in a humble way, and may
think that we systematically brain-wash people and are out to boost
our egos. It might look like we have whipped and beaten them into
doing these things and they appear to be servile. To be honest, when
people actually bow to me -- as is the Thai custom -- it brings up a
feeling of wanting to lower myself in a similar way, so I bow in
return with my heart. It's like the hand gesture of anjali (bringing
one's palms together) which comes from the Indian tradition and
means Namaste: 'I revere the Highest or Divinity within you.' Here
in the West, especially America, you hold out your hand and give the
other guy's paw a big squeeze: 'How are ya! Glad to meet ya!' Now I
find anjali a nicer gesture.
A number of years ago we had an English Tibetan
nun staying with us at Ajahn Chah's home monastery in Thailand. One
evening Ajahn Chah went over to the nuns' community to offer a
teaching. He asked me to come along in order to do the translating
for her benefit. After he had finished talking and I had translated,
we stayed on for a while answering questions.
Earlier in the day, Ajahn Chah had observed the
nun as she was circumambulating the main Uposatha Hall doing
full-length Tibetan-style prostrations. He now asked her if she
would demonstrate it for us and the other nuns. After agreeing, she
stood up, requesting plenty of room, and explained each action as
she went along. She showed how the hand gesture meant an offering of
first one's body, then speech, and finally one's mind. Continuing,
she moved her arms out to the side and over the head in a wide
sweeping motion, symbolising the inclusion of all sentient beings in
the act. Once she was completely prone on the floor, the arms and
hands did a sweeping motion one more time, with the hands finishing
over the back of the head directed skywards in anjali. As she lay
prone for the second time and her hands came over the head in the
final gesture, Ajahn Chah pointed and exclaimed: 'That is
surrender!' I'll never forget that. He was emphasising the beauty in
the physical gesture of 'I give up. I surrender.' If seen with
proper understanding, it's the most humble bodily expression of
human devotion. Even the most proud and ego-centred person cannot
So in the monastery I can be a stickler for
training the new monks in proper bowing, and have been known on
occasions to give people a hard time for not doing it correctly. We
train in it because it's a way of stopping: taking time to collect
and compose ourselves, learning to put our hearts into it.
Ultimately what we are bowing to is not a golden image but that
which it symbolises -- the highest human potentials of peace, love
Each night before I bed down I bow six times and
again first thing on arising. It doesn't matter where I am, I still
do it. When I stay in people's houses I still bow, which is always
an interesting reflection if the room they offer me has posters on
the walls of celebrities like Boy George. Whether there is an image
of the Buddha or not makes little difference if we are humbling
ourselves to the Highest Quality within. This is something that each
of us can work on.
Whether we wish to use these forms and traditions
or not is our own choice. They are here for our benefit to be used
skilfully. When I notice people not bowing I don't get upset, I just
feel a bit of sadness. When I see you doing it this brings a good
feeling to my heart. I know how difficult it is, but because you are
willing to work with it, it's very uplifting. This is what makes the
struggle of cultivating humility worth our effort.
Venerable Khemadhammo (Alan Adams) was born in
Portsmouth, England in 1944, and trained at drama school to become
an actor. In his seven-year acting career he travelled worldwide
(including a 14,000-mile tour of the U.S.) and spent three years
with the National Theatre Company. Becoming interested in Buddhism,
he eventually decided to go to Thailand to become a bhikkhu.
In 1971 he became a samanera at Wat Mahathat with Tan Chao Khun Demp
Siddhumani. One year later he went to Wat Pah Pong, and received --
upasampada -- (1972). He accompanied Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho to
England in 1977, taking up residence at the Hampstead Vihara. During
this time he developed an interest in working with prisoners, which
Ajahn Chah encouraged. This work has developed steadily over the
years, and in 1984 Venerable Khemadhammo formed a Buddhist prison
chaplaincy organization, 'Angulimala'. Officially recognized by the
Home Office, its patrons include Venerable Dr. Saddhatissa,
Venerable Sangharakshita, Ajahn Sumedho and Lord Avebury.
Venerable Khemadhammo spent five years at a vihara which he founded
on the Isle of Wight, during which time he featured in the BBC
television documentary 'In More Ways Than One'. In 1985 he moved to
his current residence, the Forest Hermitage, in Warwickshire. A
stupa was built there in 1988, known as the 'English Shwe Dagon'.
Presently he lives with several other bhikkhus, continuing to visit
prisons, teach meditation, and lecture regularly on Buddhism for
Warwick University's Open University Programme.
This article was prepared by Venerable Khemadhammo at the request of
'Caduceus' magazine and appeared
in their December 1987 issue.
"Insight practice uses everything;
it turns everything to an advantage."
PAIN AND SUFFERING ARE ONLY TOO WELL KNOWN to
require much of an introduction. Suffering describes the experience
of varying degrees of discomfort, and pain is the alarm which forces
us to attend to that discomfort. Neither the experience nor the
alarm are pleasant and, naturally, we would all prefer a world in
which neither existed. The search for perfect health, or for a
system whereby perfect health might be attained, is a response to
this wish for a more satisfactory state of affairs.
Let us think of a house in which many important
and valuable objects are kept and which is equipped with the very
latest electronic alarm system. While all is left undisturbed the
system remains quiet. There may be the minor irritation of having to
check and maintain it and it may occasionally raise a false alarm,
but essentially it is silent and of no trouble to the owner. Then
suddenly, quite unexpectedly, after months or years of inactivity,
one is wrenched from one's slumber by the searing pain of bells,
sirens and flashing lights and one knows that something is wrong --
one's treasure is being plundered. How do you respond to that? Some
people turn over and go back to sleep; some reach for the bottle,
and drug themselves into oblivion; some panic; and some quietly set
about dealing with the intrusion. The last is the proper response to
Now there are two basic approaches: you can fight
to get your valuables back, the intruder captured and removed, the
status quo restored and the alarm reset; or you can try to accept
and understand what has happened. If you only do the former, the
best you can achieve is simply to get back to where you started, but
with less security. Despite your efforts, your attachments have been
threatened and it could happen again -- you've not only gained
nothing, but you're losing ground. Conversely, if you choose the
latter response, you're bound to benefit. You may not restore your
possessions, but you will be encouraging a healthy attitude which,
if fully developed, will mean that never again can alarm bells spoil
your repose. Tempting, isn't it?
My Buddhist monastic training, which has included
detailed contemplation of the body, has led me to have little
sympathy with health regimes, special diets and the like, and in the
past I've occasionally enjoyed tweaking a few attachments with
dietary advice based on plenty of jam doughnuts. The Buddha has
pointed out that it is sheer foolishness to claim that one's body is
healthy even for a moment -- in this ever-changing phenomenon, there
is always something not quite right. Nevertheless, you will find
that the Buddha is referred to as the 'peerless physician', whose
concern is the cure of all greed, hatred, and delusion -- the ending
of real suffering.
That analogy is frequently played on and
extended. At the opening ceremony of The Forest Hermitage, one of
our most senior monks took it up again and compared this place to a
small hospital, with myself as the house surgeon. What I am saying,
then, is that there is health and Health: the former has its place,
but in the long run is futile; while the latter must surely become
the purpose of living.
Of course, by all means take care of your body,
but reflect that whatever you do it may still be easily broken and
one day it is sure to die. Of the two, a healthy mind is of much
more use than a healthy body. If you're in wondrous physical shape,
but your mind is disordered, you're in bad trouble. But if your body
is wasted, eaten up with disease or otherwise beyond repair, and
your mind is bright with wisdom, you'll be all right.
Let's go back to the analogy of the house: to sit
in your house, jealously guarding its contents, polishing and
improving the alarm system, equates with the ordinary health of the
special diets and fitness regimes; to understand, to develop a
healthy attitude, is real Health. Real Health is worthy of us. It
comes through facing up to life, including pain and suffering,
observing it, investigating it and comprehending its nature and its
source. I think it's often obvious that those who've suffered have
grown; but we must be careful, as it's not necessarily the case.
It's not pain alone that generates the growth, it's how you view and
use your experience. You must have the proper response -- then and
only then, will wisdom emerge out of suffering.
I remember being told once by an experienced
burglar that he enjoyed the challenge of an elaborate alarm system;
and I suspect he might also have said that where there was an alarm,
he knew there was something worth having -- and the more complex the
alarm, the more valuable and desirable were the things to steal.
Think about it: if you haven't got anything or if you have no
attachment to things surrounding you, you don't need any protection.
If they're there, fine; if they're not there, fine! And you sit
undisturbed, content with things as they are. A healthy attitude,
then, is found in a mind that has matured and grown out of desire
and attachment -- the mind is cool and there are no more alarms to
ring. In other words, there is no more pain and suffering.
The Buddha referred to twelve kinds of suffering,
which may be reduced to three, and ultimately to one. The twelve
are: birth, decay, death, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, despair,
association with the unpleasant, separation from the beloved, not to
get what one desires, and the Five Aggregates. Reduced to three,
there are: the ordinary suffering of aches and pains, the suffering
dependent on impermanence, and the discomfort of attachment to the
Five Aggregates. Reduced to one, it is conditioned existence or just
the Five Aggregates that is suffering.
Most of this is quite obvious, but perhaps I'd
better enlarge on these mysterious Five Aggregates, which is how
Buddhism analyses a person. They are: Form, Feeling, Perception,
Habitual Tendencies, and Consciousness, none of which are stable,
lasting or possessed of any inherent self-hood. We sometimes refer
to them as a psycho-physical process. Form obviously corresponds to
the body: it is just matter, numerous particles vibrating together,
in the process of becoming and breaking up, but without any ability
to know an object. The remaining four -- feeling, perception,
habitual tendencies and consciousness -- correspond to mind, and are
capable of knowing an object. These Five Aggregates are all
dependent on other things, and exist in interdependence with each
other; as a human being, you don't have one without the others.
Together they create a formation -- a formation, which, like that of
geese or aircraft in the sky, is continually in a state of forming
as the components interact and respond to conditions.
Thus mind affects body and body affects mind.
This formation arise dependent on conditions, it grows or develops
according to conditions and persists where the conditions persist.
For example, sight-consciousness or seeing and the pleasure or pain,
perception and other mental factors that accompany a consciousness,
depend on there being an object to be seen, eyes and a contact
between the two. You don't see without eyes, you don't see what's
behind you and you can't see anything if there's nothing to be seen.
If you develop awareness and the meditation that produces insight,
you will see that your world, the entire range of your experience,
is just the Five Aggregates; and that suffering depends on your
attachment to them -- an unhealthy attitude.
Our experiential world is a complex play of these
aggregates: consciousness, resting on its physical base, arise where
there is an object, and is always accompanied by feeling (liking,
disliking or indifference), and perception (recognising and marking
the object), as well as a variety of other habitual tendencies that
colour the experience. This all happens so quickly that an illusion,
analogous to that produced when still pictures or sound vibrations
are run at a certain speed, results. This is the illusion of self.
To be aware, you will need to slow down and watch
yourself carefully; then as you go on you will perceive that the
phenomena that flow unceasingly before you have no intrinsic
substance, are constantly on the move, and that to try to attach,
grasp or reject them is bound to be frustrating. Watching the
procession of thoughts, feelings and other experiences, self begins
to drop out of the picture and attachment to self is correspondingly
reduced. There is a shift in attitude and a disengagement. You are
beginning to see things in their true nature. This insight
accumulates and this is how wisdom is established. Understanding the
way things are, there is contentment; you neither want them to be
otherwise nor are you attached -- thus, a healthy attitude.
In his first sermon, the Buddha spoke of Four
Noble Truths which he had to understand fully, work with and realize
before his attainment of enlightenment was complete. They are:
suffering; craving, the origin of suffering; the end of suffering;
and the way to realise the end of suffering. Buddhist therapy is
essentially a response to suffering and the complete method includes
morality, mental training and wisdom.
For us, meditation is the principal exercise in
mental training, and means the process of calming and clarifying the
mind. If you can imagine a precious jewel at the bottom of a lake:
when the waters are turbulent, whipped up by the violence of the
storm and the confusing patterns of the wind, there's no chance of
your being able to look over the side of your boat and admire the
brilliance of that jewel. The water's stained with mud and sand,
frothing and tipping your boat this way and that, and the jewel is
totally obscured. But when the storm is over and the waters have
become calm, and the mud and sand has settled, then without
difficulty you may pull across the lake and looking over the side,
be dazzled by the luminous intensity that now shines forth
In the same way, the confused and turbulent mind
obscures one's inherent wisdom. Of course, working with the mind is
not quite as simple as the analogy of the jewel in the lake. After
all, the absence of wisdom encourages the turbulent mind and we
cannot afford to sit back and wait for nature to take its course and
the mind to quieten of itself. But, nevertheless, the training is
composed of concentration and insight, or calm and clear, which
working together support each other. At the Forest Hermitage the
general advice that I give is to calm the mind by concentrating on
loving-kindness; followed by the practice of vipassana, or insight
meditation, which is developed through the cultivation of
When sitting in meditation, you will experience
pain. It may be pins and needles or aching knees, or it may be an
unpleasant thought or memory. The way you use it depends on whether
it is concentration or insight that you are emphasising in your
practice. In both cases the pain is recognised, but when simply
trying to concentrate and calm your mind your duty is to avoid
dwelling on that pain, by returning to your meditation subject with
greater and more intense concentration.
Using the loving-kindness practice, it may be
helpful to view the pain with loving-kindness; this softens your
attitude to the pain and brings you back to your meditation subject.
Your use of the pain in the concentration practice is simply as a
resistance. You will appreciate that working against resistances
brings energy and sharpens your attitude to whatever you are doing.
Please be quite clear that this is not a case of repression -- you
do not try to deny your pain nor even get rid of it -- you simply
concentrate with greater intensity on your meditation subject,
spurred on by the resistance that your pain has set up.
When developing insight, however, you use your
pain by being mindful of it and watching it. The insight practice is
essentially one in which a concentrated awareness is developed, with
each and every experience being subject to a bare knowing. There are
various techniques which help this process and it is best to
familiarise yourself with such a practice, if it interests you,
under proper guidance. As soon as pain is seen in this way it loses
its power. Sometimes it disappears altogether, but if not, as soon
as you start relating to it as just feeling, only sensations, you
relax and the discomfort reduces. You then start to examine it and
you will find out that it's not PAIN, not a static thing, but rather
a shifting, ever-moving succession of experiences that flow into and
out of each other. You are now on the way to realising insight. As
you work with pain in this way, so you cope with it better and you
learn from it. Your pain can teach you a great deal: you will see
that it is never still for an instant, that you contribute to it
through your fear and dislike of it, that you even attach to it, and
that lurking behind it is that ignorant mind that always wants
things to be other than they are -- the unhealthy attitude. Suddenly
such awfulness is being turned to your advantage and you're winning.
This is the wonderful thing about insight
practice; it uses everything, brings everything alive and turns
everything to advantage. Whatever arises, it is your duty to observe
it with bare attention. Not doing anything with it, not giving in to
the mind of desire and wishing it were otherwise, but content with
things as they are, mindful and watchful. In daily life too, be
mindful, watchful and content. Things are as they are, they can't be
otherwise. They might have been, but they're not. They are as they
are. In the future it might all be different, but right now it's as
it is and it's wonderful. The present is all we really have and here
we will find wisdom. So give up that gaining mind, rest content, be
mindful, and understanding the true nature of things, be possessed
of a healthy attitude. Let go and be happy.
Venerable Jagaro (John Cianciosi) was born in
Southern Italy in 1948. When he was 10 years old his family
emigrated to Australia. He studied chemistry at the Melbourne
Institute of Technology, but later, while working as a research
chemist, he felt the need to broaden his horizons. So, like many
young Australians, he set off travelling -- through Bali, Indonesia
and Malaysia, and ending up in Thailand, where he encountered
Buddhism. He decided to become a monk and received bhikkhu
ordination, aged 24, under Venerable Phra Khru Nanasirivatana, at
Wat Pleng Vipassana, in 1972.
In 1973 he moved to Wat Pah Pong to train under Ajahn Chah. In due
course, he succeeded Venerable Pabhakaro as senior incumbent of Wat
Pah Nanachat. At the invitation of the Buddhist Society of Western
Australia, he went to Perth in 1982 with Venerable Puriso to start a
monastery there. Initially, the monks lived in a house in the
suburbs of Perth while a more rural setting was sought, and
eventually a 97-acre site south of the city was purchased.
Venerable Jagaro, assisted by Venerable Brahmavamso, has since
guided the development of the Bodhinyana Forest Monastery, the monks
doing much of the construction of the buildings themselves. The
monastic community has since grown to ten. A wide range of teaching
activities are conducted at the new monastery and at the thriving
Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre in Perth. Venerable Jagaro continues to
visit Thailand frequently, where he is well known and respected as a
teacher of Dhamma.
The following teaching by Venerable Jagaro is adapted from a Friday
night Dhamma talk
at the Perth Vihara, 7th June 1985, in response to the question,
'What is happiness?'
"Through enlightenment, you gain nothing at
the big difference is that
there is real and lasting happiness. "
HAPPINESS IS SOMETHING CLOSE TO THE HEART of
everybody. We all want to be happy. Happiness in the normal sense
means that you always get what you want, when and how you want it.
This is very difficult, because so many things are beyond our
control: the weather, one's appearance, health, relationships, one's
meditation so many things we cannot control. One's striving for
worldly happiness seems constantly hindered. Where is this
happiness? How can we possibly be happy when everything is in this
state of uncertainty and constant change? We may spend all our lives
seeking it and finding disappointment. If you are a fortunate person
with good conditioning and positive states of mind, you may be happy
most of the time. However , there is always the opposite when things
are not as you want them to be, when the mind doesn't do what you
want it to do, when people are not as you want them to be and
naturally the opposite emotions and feelings which we call
unhappiness will arise. Unhappiness has to be there so long as there
It is like Nasrudin, the wise man who acted like
a fool; or maybe he was a fool who acted like a wise man. He was
sitting with this big bag of little red chillies very hot! Tears
were streaming down his face and he was panting and crying and
eating chillies. An old friend came by and asked, 'Nasrudin, what
are you doing there eating all those really hot chillies?' Nasrudin,
between gasps for air and wiping away his tears and blowing his
nose, managed to say, 'I'm looking for the sweet one.'
And so we continually look for the sweet one,
continually seek happiness in the conditioned, and we haven't found
a sweet one yet. Even when you are getting what you want maybe you
can be 90% happy, but still there is that at the back of the mind
that is a little bit concerned, a little bit afraid, a little bit
possessive. Underneath you know it can't last! That nagging fear
leads us to a spiritual path, to seek an alternative source of
In Buddhism we are striving for a different sort
of happiness. Do you think there can be happiness and joy in the
mind which is self-contained, independent of all conditions and
perceptions, completely independent of anything whatsoever? This is
the happiness of the Buddha. This is Nibbana, the happiness of
Enlightenment and non-attachment, the happiness of no limitations,
the happiness of no self.
When you stop having an invested interest in
conditions and results, you are not burdened by anything. When you
are not burdened the mind is at peace. It is naturally joyful and
happy. The Buddha was a shining example of this happiness. From my
own experiences of having met many great meditation Masters, they
share this quality of inner tranquillity, despite the inability to
control conditions and events.
When I went to live with Ajahn Chah, at first I
was amazed, and then I was quite upset, to see how he ran his
monastery. I expected him to have a really tight control over
everything: keep the monks in line, keep the lay people out of the
way, have a regular timetable. Ajahn Chah didn't do anything like
that at all. Things would continually change in the monastery:
sometimes we would meditate in the morning; sometimes we would
chant; then for a month or so we would do a lot of formal practice;
then we would work continually flowing with the conditions. I began
to realise that Ajahn Chah didn't go out of his way to control and
regulate conditions. Everybody wanted him to have a timetable, but
he just never kept to it. He would just sit there, and if people
came he received them; he never turned them away . If they didn't
come, then he was perfectly happy to be alone. He didn't bother to
control events, yet if I have ever met a joyful happy person, it was
Venerable Ajahn Chah. It wasn't that he was always laughing although
he did laugh a lot but he just had this joy about him, whatever he
was doing. He wasn't seeking anything from anybody , wasn't trying
to control things in order to be happy .
In Buddhism we are interested in freedom the
freedom of non-attachment. W e carry around an immense burden of
attachment to everything we consider 'me' and 'mine' , like a big
heavy stone on our shoulders. When a wise person points out to us
that we could throw off this burden, we regard them with suspicion.
'Throw it off? Then I wouldn't have anything left! I couldn't do
that!' Thinking they will bring us happiness, we continue to lug
around our personal investments and self interests this great big
heavy burden! The Buddha taught that nothing is worth attaching to.
Do not attach to anything: that will bring true peace and happiness.
Reflect on the process of what we call suffering: what it really is
how it arises. Only then can one begin to appreciate what attachment
really is, what the result of attachment is, and begin to glimpse
the idea and the possible results of non-attachment.
Attachment is something we create in the mind.
When we let it go, we begin to experience the silent empty mind.
This still, peaceful mind can be found when sitting in meditation.
Is it possible to bring it also into our daily lives? Can we live as
ordinary people with this non-attachment? There is one vital factor
needed if we wish to live skilfully, and that factor is mindful
awareness. This factor of knowing, of being present, is essential if
we wish to go beyond our continual stream of thinking, projecting,
analysing and reacting. It is difficult, isn't it? Without
awareness, we are locked into our stale conditioning, like a monkey
with its paw stuck in the biscuit jar . All it has to do to become
free is let go, but this is just what it won't do. Actually ,
non-attachment is not something you have to do: all you have to do
is stop attaching. This is natural for the enlightened mind, and it
is awareness which makes this a real possibility in our lives.
The Buddha taught a Path, gave us a method of
skilful means. Meditation is the tool to help us with the process of
being present, of seeing attachment and tensions arising, of knowing
when to relax and let go. The practice of meditation is very highly
emphasised. The more you become aware, the more you can begin to
experience true peace and happiness. There is no need to have
anything else, no need to achieve anything.
Through Enlightenment, you gain nothing at all:
all you do is get rid of the extras; you just put down your burden.
Life is still life, there are still relationships, and there is
still action. The big difference is that you are perfectly at peace,
and there is a real and lasting happiness.
So we should all make an effort with our
practice. Without meditation, life is very difficult, and progress
on the spiritual path is very hard. I once knew a German who even at
that time had been a monk for fifteen years, and I asked him, 'Do
you still meditate?' and he said, 'Yes, I meditate regularly . I
don't think it is possible to lead a spiritual life without
meditation.' I have always remembered that, and I have always
reflected on how true it is. Without the ability to calm the mind,
without the ability to clear the mind, without the ability to
sustain awareness and reflect and observe the nature of the mind and
body , it is not possible to develop in the spiritual direction the
ultimate direction which enables us to let go, to stop seeking
happiness from anything or anybody.
Venerable Pasanno (Reed Perry) was born in La
Pas, Manitoba in Canada. He studied History at the University of
Winnipeg. After graduating he spent some time travelling in India,
and from there went to Thailand.
In 1974, primarily as a means to extend his stay in Thailand, he
became a bhikkhu at Wat Pleng Vipassana with Phra Khru
Nanasirivatana as preceptor. However, he started to develop a
genuine interest in monastic life, and during his first year as a
monk was taken by his teacher to meet Ajahn Chah, with whom he asked
to be allowed to stay and train.
One of the early residents of Wat Pah Nanachat, Venerable Pasanno
became its abbot in his seventh year. During his incumbency Wat Pah
Nanachat has developed considerably, both in physical size and in
reputation, and Venerable Pasanno has become a very well known and
highly respected Dhamma teacher in Thailand.
This Teaching is translated from a discourse given in the Thai
language by Venerable Pasanno at Buddhamonton (Buddhamandala) near
Bangkok in September, 1987. It was offered during a week of formal
meditation instruction and practice dedicated to His Majesty King
Bhumibol on the occasion of his 60th birthday.
"If we are lacking the richness of truth in
then when we die and they cremate us, our lives
will be worth no more than the handful of ashes we produce."
THE BUDDHA OFFERED HIS TEACHING TO THE WORLD with
the intention of showing a way to know Truth -- Dhamma. His
life-long gesture of renunciation was made so we could personally
know this Truth. The fact that these Teachings are still with us
shows that they have been put to good use by both lay and ordained
people alike. It is important, however, that we understand the need
for personal contemplation of these Teachings for their true value
to arise. With such personal contemplation, if it is right, we can
come to sense the completeness, coolness and calm that they offer.
As a foreigner living here in Thailand, I find
life as a Buddhist monk extremely beneficial. Sometimes people
visiting our monastery, Wat Nanachat, ask me how long I've been a
monk. 'Over ten years,' I tell them. 'Is it good?' they like to ask.
'If it wasn't any good,' I reply, 'why would I have spent over ten
years living this way? I could be doing all sorts of other things.'
It is because I personally see the value of this Way that I live it.
Without clear understanding of the processes of
our hearts, we create all kinds of problems. We become hot and
bothered and are dragged about by emotional states. For there to be
personal and global peace, these states need to be understood: the
ways of the heart need to be seen clearly. This is the function and
value of Dhamma.
In contemplating the Buddhist Way, it is
important to see that there is absolutely no obligation or
intimidation involved. Whether we take it up or not is our choice,
we have complete freedom in this regard -- the Buddha only offered
us an introduction to the Path. There is no external judge checking
up on us. He pointed out that which leads to true success, to
liberation, peace and wisdom; and also that which leads to failure
and confusion. No external authority is making absolute statements
about what is good and bad, right and wrong, and nobody is going to
punish us if our preference is not to follow. However, observe that
there is always that within our own hearts that knows what we are
So it is important that we consider together how
to actually use the Buddha's Teachings and realise for ourselves
their true value. We have all heard many times about the Four Noble
Truths and The Eightfold Path. Maybe we have heard about them to the
point where we take them for granted; we don't think they are so
important any more. But these Teachings are actually referred to as
'The Heart of the Buddha's Way'. Throughout the forty-five years of
his teaching the Buddha never changed or abandoned them.
Last week in our monastery I was unable to do
walking meditation because I had sprained my ankle. I would join the
community for the sitting period and then when it came time for
walking I would go back to my hut. I made use of the time to go over
some of the chanting that we do. Many times I went over the Buddha's
first Discourse -- the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta -- which contains
The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. As a result I
discovered many valuable points.
Let us first consider the context in which these
Teachings were offered. The Buddha had spent six long years striving
to see for himself the Truth. He had undergone an incredible amount
of hardship -- not like meditators these days, who make a lot of
fuss if conditions are not exactly how they want them. When the
Perfect Enlightenment eventually took place he carefully considered
exactly how to go about sharing his realisation. He was thirty-five
years of age at the time, not old and senile -- and, as he had been
brought up a prince he had had the best education available. He was
in the prime of his life and fully capable of articulating his
understanding. So he wasn't going to hand out the Teachings to just
He decided that his five companions during the
time of his asceticism were most suited. They were totally sincere
in their efforts, well experienced and intelligent. He then spent
several weeks walking to where they were staying. When eventually he
reached them, he gave the Teachings of the Four Noble Truths and the
Eightfold Path. So these Teachings are not common and insignificant.
The fact that we have heard and talked about them
many times means we run the risk of their becoming mere theory for
us. However, if we were to talk in a worldly sense about achieving
something, we would understand that it would of course require
effort; likewise in the case of the Eightfold Path. If we make the
right effort then realisation can take place.
Now let us consider what we mean by 'right
effort'. The Buddha gave an example of throwing a stick into a
river. If that stick didn't run aground on either the right bank or
the left, and if it didn't sink, then it would definitely reach the
sea. In terms of our practice, the left and right banks are the
extremes of clinging to pleasure -- kamasukhallikanuyogo -- and
clinging to pain -- attakilamathanuyogo. Not sinking means not
relinquishing effort. If it wasn't for becoming caught in
sensuality, indulging in negativity and giving up making effort, we
would reach Nibbana -- Peace. This is one of the laws of nature. A
true appreciation and honest accordance with the Way shows us that
it must be like that.
The Eightfold Path is called the Middle Way,
which means our effort must be in the right amount. If our actions
of body and speech are not in harmony with this Way; if we are
getting caught up in seeking sense pleasure and really indulging in
states of anger and irritability, then definitely it is impossible
to see things as they actually are.
We must constantly endeavour to make the right
kind of effort or we will end up like the stick, and sink. When we
are feeling enthusiastic we can easily give ourselves to the
practice. But it can also happen that at times we are totally
disillusioned, even to the extent that we forget completely the
original confidence and faith we had. But that is natural. It is
like swimming a long way; we become tired. We don't need to panic;
simply be still for a while. Then when we have regained strength,
continue. Just don't sink ! Understand that much: in accordance with
nature, that state will change. Despair, if that is what has arisen,
will pass. Just keep practising. Observing our minds and seeing how
our attitudes are continually changing shows us that impermanence is
Understand how necessary this kind of
contemplation of Dhamma is in our lives. It is like nourishment to
the heart. If we don't have clear understanding, then it is as if
something is missing. Often people who visited Ajahn Chah would say
they didn't have time to practise. They'd say they had too many
commitments. He would ask them: 'Do you have enough time to
breathe?' They always replied, 'Oh yes! It's natural to breathe.'
Isn't cultivating Dhamma as important as
breathing? If we stop breathing then we die. If we are not
established in a right understanding of the Truth of the Way Things
Are, then also we die; we die from that which is truly good, from
true ease and true meaning. If we are lacking the richness of truth
in our hearts, then when we die and they cremate us, our lives will
be worth no more than the handful of ashes we produce -- and that's
not much! We must investigate how to live in a way that truly
accords with what the Buddha taught. Surely then we could live in
harmony without conflicts, difficulties and problems to resolve.
Sila (morality) is that which shows us this
Middle Way. It points to the avoidance of the extremes of pleasure
and pain -- it means knowing the right amount. When we live in the
Middle Way regarding action of body and speech then we don't cause
offence to others; we do what is appropriate for human beings. The
practice of formal meditation is to train our minds and hearts to
stay in the Middle Way.
These days, many people who meditate try to force
their minds to be as they want them to be. They sit there arguing
with their thoughts; if their attention wanders they forcibly bring
it back to the breath. Too much forcing is not the Middle Way. The
Middle Way is the ease that arises naturally in the mind when there
is the right effort, right intention and right awareness. When
practice is 'right' and there is ease of mind, we can simply watch
the different states that arise and consider their nature. We don't
need to argue with anything. Arguing only causes restlessness.
Whatever emotion arises is within the domain of our awareness, and
we simply watch. Whether it's joyful or the absolute opposite, all
experiences are within the boundaries of our awareness. We just sit,
watch, contemplate and recognise them; they will naturally cease.
Why do they cease? Because that is their nature. It is this
realisation of the true nature of change that strengthens and stills
the mind. With such insight (pa there is tranquillity (samadhi)
The Buddha's wisdom is knowing the right amount.
It doesn't mean knowing everything about everything, but knowing
impermanence, knowing suffering, knowing selflessness. The reason we
get caught in seeing things as other than they really are is our
lack of wisdom. With wisdom we know how to let go; to let go of
craving, let go of clinging, let go of beliefs. We let go of the
tendency to always see things in relation to a self.
What we call 'Me' is merely a convention; we were
born without names. Then somebody gave us a name and after being
called it for a while, we start to think that a thing called 'me and
mine' actually exists. Then we feel we have to spend our lives
looking after it. The wisdom of the Buddha knows how to let go of
this 'self' and all that pertains to it: possessions, attitudes,
views and opinions. It means letting go of the opportunity for
suffering (dukkha) to arise. It means giving occasion for seeing the
true nature of things.
So cultivating the Eightfold Path develops what
is 'right' for human beings. Through the practice of discipline,
tranquillity and wisdom (sila, samadhi, pa we can live in harmony.
Continually being caught up in extreme states is the result of
selfishness; of not knowing the right amount; of not knowing the
Middle Way. This Eightfold Path is a job that we need to do. If done
carefully and correctly the right result will appear.
On reciting the Buddha's First Discourse last
week I was reminded of how the Eightfold Path actually takes effect.
It says in the sutta: Cakkhukarani, karani, upasamaya, abhia,
sambodhaya, nibbanaya samvattati. Which means that this Path
functions by opening the 'Eye of Dhamma' -- cakkhukarani; 'giving
rise to insight' -- karani; 'giving rise to peace' -- upasamaya;
'giving rise to knowing accurately' -- abhia; 'to knowing fully'
-- sambodhaya; and to 'realising perfect freedom' -- nibbanaya
samvattati. This is the complete Path that the Buddha teaches. It is
a Path that, when cultivated, opens the eye that sees the Dhamma,
knows the Dhamma, and becomes the Dhamma. This is the eye that sees
that any condition that arises also ceases.
In the scriptures we read, that when the 'Eye of
Dhamma' is opened, when we see clearly the way things are, then we
'Enter the Stream of Dhamma'. It is only this knowledge that arises
from the practice of the Eightfold path which causes defilements to
diminish, brings peace to the heart, and eventually frees us from
all suffering. Therefore it is of supreme importance to all of us.
The Eightfold Path has this function -- it is something that really
How we practise the Buddha's Teachings depends on
how we view them. It depends on what we consider as having value.
Please do try to investigate and see that your lives accord with the
Venerable Anando was born in Buffalo, New York in
1946, and grew up near Niagara Falls. Upon leaving high school he
joined the U.S. Marines and served in Vietnam as a radio operator.
Severely wounded in combat, he was flown back to the U.S., where he
eventually made a remarkable recovery. Decorated and invalided out
of the service, he enrolled at Buffalo University to study
Psychology and French, and spent one semester at a Catholic
During this period he became disillusioned with U.S. involvement in
Vietnam, and took part in the growing anti-war demonstrations,
eventually deciding to go abroad again. While spending a year in
France studying in Nice, he came across a book on Zen by Alan Watts,
which fuelled his interest in travelling to the East. Journeying
overland through Turkey and Afghanistan, he spent six months in
Nepal and India, where he first encountered meditation.
In 1972, a requirement by the U.S. military that he undergo a
medical check-up fortuitously took him to Thailand. While at a
monastery in Pattaya, he was taken to meet Ajahn Sumedho, who was
staying at Wat Kow Chalok in Chonburi. He became a samanera there,
and later went to Wat Pah Pong where he took bhikkhu ordination.
After five years in Thailand, Venerable Anando went back to the U.S.
in 1977 to visit his family. Instead of returning to the East, he
was asked by Ajahn Chah to join Ajahn Sumedho at the Hampstead
Vihara in London. Since then, he has helped establish the
monasteries at Chithurst and Harnham. He is presently abbot of
Chithurst Buddhist Monastery.
The following talk and meditation instruction have been taken from
teachings given by
Venerable Anando on metta bhavana -- meditation on kindness.
"... Breathing in, being energised;
breathing out, wishing others well."
THERE IS A STORY IN THE SCRIPTURES (suttas),
regarding a period in the Buddha's life about 20 years after his
enlightenment. By that time the monastic community had grown quite
large. And it happened that the monks living around the town of
Kosambi became involved in an argument over the rules. The dispute
got so intense that a schism in the community was about to form.
This is something which the Buddha considered very serious indeed.
Hearing of the situation he immediately went to where they were, in
an attempt to re-establish peace. But each time he tried to talk
with the monks they dismissed him. They told him to 'Abide in peace
and inactivity here and now,' which is a euphemism for 'Get lost!'
After a few attempts at re-establishing concord
in the Sangha and being dismissed or ignored, the Buddha left.
He made his way to a park where another three
bhikkhu disciples were living and practising: the Venerables
Anarudha, Nandiya and Kimbila. Now these three disciples were all
fully enlightened beings arahants.
When the Buddha arrived the monks greeted him in
the traditional manner. He asked if they were living in harmony and
comfort; did they have any problems with alms food? Venerable
Anarudha said, 'We have no problems Lord. Indeed we are well
supported and live in harmony.' The Buddha asked, 'How is this so?'
Anarudha responded, saying how he considered it a great blessing to
have such companions and that he had decided to give up personal
preferences; he would do what was conducive to harmony within the
community. The Buddha praised Anarudha and asked further, 'Do you
live diligently?' Anarudha said, 'Yes Lord, we do.' And the Buddha
asked, 'What is it that you do Anarudha?'
Anarudha described briefly ways in which they
took care of each other. For example: the first one back from the
alms-walk set out the mats for sitting upon and would see that the
bowls for drinking and washing were in place. And after the meal,
the last to finish would put everything away and clean up. They
helped each other fill the jars with drinking water and also carry
water for the toilets.
Once a week they sat up all night discussing the
Dhamma and practising meditation. But the most significant point,
and it is emphasised several times in this sutta, is where Anarudha
says, 'I dwell with a heart of loving-kindness for my companions,
both in public and in private. My mind is attuned to theirs, to the
extent that there is only one mind.' The other two bhikkhus when
asked, responded in the same way. The Buddha again praised and
encouraged them to continue.
It's inspiring to see how perfectly enlightened
beings found that the practice of metta or loving-kindness was what
brought harmony and peace. It was manifest in the world by their
being sensitive to the needs of those they lived with. Even from the
perspective of an arahant, mundane and obvious gestures of help are
very important. These are the things which lead on to concord. I've
found reflecting on this quite helpful over the years.
Also in the suttas it mentions 'eleven benefits'
from practising metta bhavana. The first benefit is that one falls
asleep easily and contented. The second is that one wakes easily,
contented and happy. The third is that one is loved by other human
beings, and the fourth is that even non-human beings love one. And
there is a list of all the harmful and poisonous things from which
one is protected. Also it' s said that metta bhavana makes the mind
easily concentrated, and that the face of one who practises metta is
serene and radiant. The tenth benefit is that one dies unconfused.
The eleventh benefit states that if one has not penetrated with
insight the nature of the mind, then the power of metta bhavana will
bring about birth in the heavenly realms.
A very significant thing about this practice for
me is the tolerance for oneself that develops. Some of the questions
asked on this retreat indicate that people are still being trapped
by the same old syndrome, the struggle with not wanting what is. W e
set up what we like against what we dislike. Thoughts and fantasies
become the enemy that which we feel we have to get rid of and escape
How we react in each case depends on the nature
of the particular condition. If we perceive it as threatening, then
we try to run away from it. When fear arises, for example, we always
react with wanting to get away; we want to get some space between us
and it. And, of course, as soon as we do that, we empower that
condition, we give it life. And it stays with us and disturbs us
until we stop reacting.
As a result of what happened to me in Vietnam I
have suffered from what they call 'post-trauma syndrome'. They've
done tests on Vietnam veterans and found that a lot of them have
this particular anxiety reaction as a result of past trauma. Now it'
s very nice having a label for it, but that doesn't make it go away.
I know from years of experience that as long as there is resistance
to fear then it has power over us. Metta bhavana is wonderful when
dealing with such conditions. W e become less adamant about trying
to get rid of them. There is a willingness to befriend them and to
see that they are just feelings we are experiencing even the ugly,
gruesome, terrifying aspects of the mind.
So, for several days now we have been practising
with 'May I be well, may others be well,' and perhaps you have
noticed that a feeling of goodwill, of metta, begins to arise. When
that feeling happens, we can let go of the thought 'May I be
well...' and pay closer attention to those actual feelings. Then we
can take it a step further and direct those feelings outwards;
radiate feelings of goodwill. That word 'outwards' is used quite
carefully. One can experience feelings of loving-kindness pervading
all directions, filling our world with friendliness, with care, with
loving concern. That which was previously troublesome, suddenly in
those moments is not. And over a period of time, our attitudes
towards ourselves slowly change. There is greater patience and
merciful self-forgiveness. In this way, metta bhavana can be used as
a skilful means for calming the mind and clearing our attitudes, to
provide a suitable base for the practice of vipassana, insight
When I was last in Thailand at Wat Pah Pong, I
had a conversation with Ajahn Liam, who is now the abbot there. We
were talking about practice, and he mentioned that metta bhavana has
certain limitations. One is that we can easily become attached to
it, and thereby create an obstacle. There is no question about the
benefits of this practice, but sometimes people get really quite
high. It can be a very joyful and powerful experience, but that' s
not liberation. That which brings about insight and understanding is
the practice of looking into the mind investigation, or vipassana.
So for the remainder of this retreat, I want to
introduce what might be called the 'wisdom factor'. Having practised
metta bhavana for several days, we can begin to investigate the
mind. The purpose of this practice is to be able to see what is
actually happening here and now; to discern the changeability of
what is happening, and to see that it is not going to give us the
satisfaction we are seeking. Another thing we realise is that all
that is happening can be observed. Seeing this is something of
enormous importance to us. We see clearly that it is not ours.
The 'skilful means' I would like to introduce
tonight, and link with what we have been doing, is to simply ask the
question, 'Who?' 'Who is it that is practising metta bhavana? Who is
it that is listening now? Who is it that is sitting, who is in pain,
who is wondering, who is confused, who is doubting, who is happy,
who isn't happy? Who is this?'
Intentionally bring up the question 'Who?' and
notice clearly what state of mind follows. The mind stops! We can
struggle to find some intellectual answer; maybe our name comes to
fill in the gap or maybe an exalted, inspired idea like 'The
Original Mind'. But the Original Mind is not the thought 'Original
Mind'. Buddha-nature is not the thought 'Buddha-nature'. Thinking is
just thinking. Thought does not really answer the question 'Who?'
Now if we are not careful we could use the
question 'Who?' like a club or a sledge-hammer. W e could try to
pulverise any thoughts that arise in the mind. The questioning needs
to be pursued with a sense of inquiry; an almost childlike
curiosity. When we see children investigating something new, we see
their delight and inquisitiveness. Such an attitude would be
wonderful for inquiring into the nature of 'Who?'
In this way we can get another perspective on
those things that disturb us. Restlessness, for instance: 'Who is
restless?' The answer comes: 'I am.' Who is that? 'Who is walking?
Who is sitting?' This practice can cut away very effectively at our
thinking, speculating and fantasising.
I know, however, from personal experience that
not everyone can immediately make use of this technique. So don't
feel that it is being offered as THE practice. It is a skilful means
with particular benefits. It has a simplicity and clarity that I
personally like. If you find you can't do it, or it doesn't make any
sense, then go back to the practice of metta bhavana. Continue to
nurture that sense of goodwill. This will provide a suitable
ambience for the skilful means of asking 'Who?', if or when you
choose to use it.
Sometimes asking 'Who?' can become rather dry
even stark and barren whereas metta bhavana can be very uplifting
and inspiring. Hopefully, these two skilful means combined will be a
good recipe for insightful practice and lead to understanding and
Venerable Tiradhammo (Ian Adams) was born in New
Westminster, British Columbia, in 1949. He spent some time at
university, but left to undertake a long overland trip in the Middle
East, which culminated in a cycle ride from Pakistan to Sri Lanka.
He stayed for a fortnight at the Island Hermitage in Sri Lanka, and
spent a further month practising meditation at Kanduboda Meditation
Centre with Bhikkhu Sivoli.
Back in Canada, he completed his university studies, after which he
returned to India and later went on to Thailand, where he became a
novice in 1973. He took upasampada one year later at Wat Meung Man
in Chiang Mai with Venerable Tong.
In 1975 he moved, in order to be with Ajahn Chah, staying at Wat Pah
Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat. He went on several tudong journeys
through the north-east of Thailand and the mountains of Chiang Mai,
visiting many famous forest meditation masters.
Venerable Tiradhammo was invited to England in 1982 to help with
developments there. He spent two years at Chithurst Monastery, and
three years in charge of Harnham Vihara in Northumberland. He is
presently the senior incumbent of a newly opened vihara near Bern,
Switzerland, and is engaged in writing a book on Vinaya, the
monastic code of conduct.
The following teaching has been adapted from a talk given by
Venerable Tiradhammo on the seventh day of a ten-day retreat in
Switzerland, in May 1988. The 'Seven Factors of Enlightenment'
referred to in the talk are mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy,
relaxation, concentration and equanimity.
"When there is joy,
we are ready to discover new things....
If we have already decided 'Life is suffering,'
then we won't look any further."
WE CAN SOMETIMES MAKE THE MISTAKE in practice of
thinking that the religious life means some sort of
self-flagellation. Or, we tend to believe that spiritual practice
should result in some special kind of purity. With this idea we look
at ourselves and, of course, all we see is impurity; having
developed a concept of enlightenment, we examine our own minds and
see just the opposite -- confusion and conflict.
But the point is, these ideas we have about
practice are just ideas. Thinking: 'I'm here and Nibbana is over
there; I'm just a confused idiot and Nibbana is all purity and
profundity,' is merely projecting onto concepts. When it comes down
to real practice, enlightenment means actually being aware of
confusion itself. Wisdom is that which is aware of ignorance. It's
not a matter of knowing our wisdom, but of using wisdom to know
The whole practice of mindfulness is about
realising the true nature of this being right here. We're not trying
to plug into some kind of 'Nibbanic Wisdom' that's floating around
in space or waiting for wisdom to fall into our laps. We are being
aware of the nature of the human condition as it is. Once we really
understand life as it is, then we can begin to transcend it. If we
try to transcend it before we actually know it, we're merely caught
up in illusion.
Ajahn Chah used to say: 'First we have to pick
things up before we can realise how heavy they are.' When we see how
heavy they are, then that's seeing 'dukkha'. Having seen dukkha, we
let go. When we've let go of things then we realise how light it
actually is. 'Ah! What a relief.' And this is where joy comes in --
or piti as it's called in the 'Factors of Enlightenment'.
There are various translations of this term piti.
As there are various kinds of joy. We were talking yesterday about
how, having been motivated by dukkha to seek the 'Way', we arrive at
trust -- and this trust in turn conditions joy.
So we have these various kinds of joy arising in
practice from different causes, and, personally I've found
reflecting upon them very useful. The point of joy and its function
often seems to be missed when talking about spiritual training.
Now piti is not just the pleasure of having a
good time. But it's the kind of experience that leads to opening up
to life -- to awakening. When there is joy, we are ready to discover
new things. On the other hand, if we have already decided, 'life is
suffering' and judged it as 'miserable', then we won't look any
Consider children: notice how they observe and
want to find out -- the fascination they have about things. Sadly,
as adults, we've become too sophisticated to go around looking into
flowers and little things. We function on a much more conceptual
level. When we see a flower we think 'flower'. And then, 'Yes, I
know all about flowers. I've seen flowers all my life and this is
just another flower.' Actually, each flower is a unique flower: it
is here, at this moment, this time, this place, this flower.
If we can truly listen, for instance, to a bird
singing; there is just sound. And that's quite different from
thinking, 'Oh, another bird singing.' If we really listen, there is
simply sound happening right in this moment, in this place, in this
situation; and there is a knowing of that -- there's hearing. And
that's a completely different reality from thinking 'bird singing'.
If we are always falling back into concepts, then
the internal dialogue goes chattering on: 'Bird singing. Flower over
there. This person talking. I wish they'd be quiet. Candle
burning...' and so on. And we think we know all about life! We
continually juggle these concepts around in our heads and all they
ever do is move from one side of the brain to the other -- out of
the memory to be verbalised, then back again. If we live with only
concepts of life, it can get pretty boring -- it's the same old
words -- 'flower, bird, tree'.
While it's natural that we learn and understand
through language, and express our understanding through language,
many of us have become prisoners of language. With meditation we
have the opportunity now to bring about a profound change in our
Western civilisation. We are trying to understand on a
'non-conceptual' level. In meditation we are realising the nature of
People who are completely identified with words
may find this threatening, but we're not talking about by-passing
words altogether; we still have to express ourselves; we still need
to communicate. But we should recognise that the words we use in
communication are not the same as the experience we are attempting
Such little space is given in our society to
silence. Words have become so loud and so powerful these days that
sometimes that is all we hear. But it is the very space of silence
that gives us access to, and nurtures, another way of relating. How
wonderful to be like a child again and not be limited by words!
In the beginning, children don't have a word for
a flower. 'What is this?' they enquire. And we tell them: 'It's a
flower.' So okay, they have to learn to communicate, but maybe we
should try saying, 'Well, it's called a flower, but that's not what
it really is. It has it's own perfect nature which is
just-the-way-it-is.' To know this 'just-the-way-it-is' is to know
joy. And knowing joy means we can bring back to life many of those
beautiful qualities that have become drained out of us. We have a
secret key now that will help free us from our habits.
The quality of joy can also be developed further.
Beyond piti or spiritual joy there is a much more stable quality
known as sukha. Generally, this term sukha is translated merely as
happiness -- the opposite of dukkha -- but that's not enough.
Momentary happiness in like a butterfly that flitters around. It's
certainly OK, but it's not the profound quality of well-being that
is meant by sukha. Through having lived so much in concepts, our
life has become boring, and fleeting excitement has come to appear
as important to us.
Sukha, on the other hand, means: 'Everything is
just fine.' It's a sense of calm and well-being which pervades our
whole body and mind. It makes the mind peaceful and collected,
providing a firm foundation for samadhi -- concentration.
But coming back to joy: joy is spontaneous. You
can't preconceive it. You can't make it. It just arises in the
moment. When there is true joy, you are in the moment. And joy in
this way becomes a valuable reference point for us: if there is true
joy, then we know we're in the moment, and if we are really in the
moment, then there is true joy.
So try to discover where joy comes from. See what
supports it and what causes it to pass away. When we are doing this,
we are beginning to cultivate joy as one of the 'Factors of
It becomes one of the qualities that leads us to
Venerable Viradhammo (Vitauts Akers) was born at
Esslingen in Germany in 1947 to Latvian refugee parents. They moved
to Toronto, Canada, when he was 5 years old. He studied engineering
at the University of Toronto but became disillusioned with academic
life, and left in 1969 to go and work in Germany. Later, while
living in India, he encountered Buddhism, meeting the late Samanera
Bodhesako, who introduced him to the writings of Venerable Nyanavira
Thera. He eventually travelled to Thailand to become a samanera at
Wat Mahathat and took -- upasampada -- in 1974 at Wat Pah Pong. He
was one of the first residents at Wat Pah Nanachat.
Having spent four years in Thailand, he went back to Canada and
Germany to visit his family in 1977. Instead of returning to
Thailand, he was asked by Ajahn Chah to join Ajahn Sumedho at the
Hampstead Vihara, in London. In subsequent years, he was involved in
the establishment of both Chithurst and Harnham monasteries.
In 1985, on invitation by the Wellington Theravada Buddhist
Association, he moved to New Zealand, accompanied by Venerable
Thanavaro. At first they lived in the city of Wellington itself,
moving two years later to a 43-acre site in Stokes Valley, 29 km
away. The monastery was named 'Bodhinyanarama' by Ajahn Sumedho, who
conducted the first -- upasampada -- ceremony there in 1989.
Venerable Viradhammo undertakes a wide range of teaching activities,
including monthly visits to a vihara which has been established in
Auckland. On occasion he also teaches in the South Island.
The following teaching on the 'Four Noble Truths' is taken from a
talk given by Venerable Viradhammo during a ten-day retreat
conducted in Bangkok for Thai lay people, in June 1988.
"This teaching is not aimed at just getting
another kind of experience.
It is about complete freedom within any experience."
THIS EVENING WE MIGHT BEGIN by considering the
legend of the life of the Lord Buddha. Now we could consider this
story as factual history. Or, we could also look at it as a sort of
myth -- a story that reflects back on our own development as beings
In the story we are told that before his
enlightenment, the Bodhisatta (Buddha-to-be) lived in a royal family
with a lot of power and influence. He was a very gifted person, and
had all that any human being could wish for: wealth, intelligence,
charm, good looks, friendship, respect, and many skills. He lived
the princely life of luxury and ease.
The legend has it that when the Bodhisatta was
first born, his father the king received a prediction from the
wisemen. They said there were two possibilities: either this son
would become a world-ruling monarch, or he would become a perfectly
enlightened Buddha. Of course the father wanted his son to carry on
the business of being a monarch; he didn't want him to become a
renunciant. So everybody in the palace was always trying to protect
the prince. Whenever anyone grew vaguely old or sick they were taken
away; nobody wanted the prince to see anything unpleasant that might
cause him to leave.
But then at the age of twenty-nine, curiosity
struck. The prince wanted to see what the world outside was like. So
off he went out with his charioteer and --what did he see? The first
thing he saw was a sick person -- all covered with sores, in pain,
and lying in his own filth. A thoroughly wretched human condition.
'What's that?' the prince asked his attendant.
The attendant replied: 'That's a sick person.' After a discussion
the prince realised, for the first time, that these human bodies can
become sick and painful. The attendant pointed out that all bodies
had this potential. This came as a great shock to the prince.
The following day he went out again. This time he
saw an old person: all bent over with age, shaking, wrinkled,
grey-haired, barely able to hold himself up. Again, shocked by what
he saw, the prince asked: 'What's that?' 'That's an old person,' the
attendant replied. Everybody grows old.' So the prince realised that
his body too had this potential to become old. With that he went
back to the palace quite bewildered by it all.
The third time he went out, and saw a dead
person. Most of the townsfolk were busy, happily waving at their
attractive prince, thinking he was having a great time. But behind
the crowds, there were people carrying a stretcher with a corpse on
it, going to the funeral pyre. That was a really powerful one for
him. 'And what is that?!' he asked. So the attendant replied:
'That's a corpse. All bodies go that way; your body, my body, they
all die.' That really shocked him.
The next time the Bodhisatta went out he saw a
mendicant monk -- sitting under a tree meditating. 'And who is
that?' he asked. The attendant replied: 'That's a sadhu -- someone
who is seeking the answers to life and death.'
So we have this legend. Now what does this mean
for you and me? Is it just a historical tale to tell our children, a
tale about a person who didn't see old age, sickness or death until
he was twenty-nine?
For me, this story represents the awakening of a
human mind to the limitations of sensory experience. Personally I
can relate to this from a time when I was at university. I
questioned life a lot: 'What is it all about?' 'Where is this all
going to?' I used to wonder about death, and started thinking: 'What
is the point of getting this university degree? Even if I become a
famous engineer, or if I become rich, I'm still going to die. If I
become the best politician, or the best lawyer, or the best
whatever... Even if I was to become the most famous rock star that
ever existed... Big deal.' At that time, I think Jimi Hendrix had
just taken too much heroin and died.
Nothing I thought of could answer the question of
death. There was always: 'So what?... So if I have a family? So if I
am famous? So if I'm not famous? So if I have a lot of money? So if
I don't have a lot of money?' None of these things resolved this
doubt: 'What about death? What is it? Why am I here? Why seek any
kind of experience if it all goes to death anyway?'
Questioning all the time like this made it
impossible for me to study. So I started to travel. I managed to
distract the mind for a time, because travelling was interesting:
Morocco, Turkey, India... But I kept coming back to this same
conclusion: 'So what? So if I see another temple, if I see another
mosque, if I eat yet another kind of food -- so what?'
Sometimes this doubt arises for people when
somebody they know dies, or if they become sick, or old. It can also
come from religious insight. Something in the mind clicks, and we
are awakened to the fact that no matter what experiences we have,
they all change, they come to an end, they die. Even if I'm the most
famous, powerful, richest, influential person in the world, all that
is going to die. It's going to cease. So this question 'So what?' is
an awakening of the mind.
If we were to do this ten-day retreat with the
idea of getting 'a meditation experience', then 'So what?' We still
have to go back to work, still have to face the world, still have to
go back to Melbourne, still have to go back to New Zealand.... So
what! What is the difference between 'a meditation experience' and
doing a cruise on The Queen Elizabeth II? A bit cheaper maybe!
The Buddhist teaching is not aimed at just
getting another kind of experience. It is about understanding the
nature of experience itself. It is aimed at actually observing what
it means to be a human being. We are contemplating life, letting go
of delusion, letting go of the source of human suffering and
realising truth, realising Dhamma. And that's a different process
When we're doing 'mindfulness of breathing' --
anapanasati -- we're not doing it with the effort to get something
later. We're doing it to simply be with what is: just being with an
in-breath, being with an out-breath. And what is the result when
we're being mindful in this way? Well, I think we can all see. The
mind becomes calm, our attention is steady -- we are aware and with
the way things are.
So already we are able to see that calming the
mind is a healthy and compassionate thing to do for ourselves. Also,
notice how this practice creates space in the mind. We can see now
the potential for really 'being attentive' to life. Our attention is
not caught up. We're not being 'kidnapped' all the time. We can
really work with attention.
If we're obsessed with something, then our
attention is absorbed into the object of obsession. When we're
worried, exhausted, upset, excited, desiring, depressed and so on,
our attention energy is lost. So by calming the mind we're creating
space and 'freeing' attention.
And there is a beauty in that. When we go outside
after this meditation period, maybe we'll notice things in a
different way -- the green trees, the smells, what we're walking on,
the little lotuses in bloom. These pleasant experiences calm and
relax us and are very helpful -- the same as going on a cruise. In
New Zealand they go trekking in the mountains for relaxation.
But this kind of happiness, or sukha, is not the
full potential of the Buddha. A lot of joy can come with this level
of practice, but that is not enough. The happiness of a relatively
calm mind is not complete freedom. This is still just another
experience. It's still caught in 'So what!'
The complete freedom of the Buddha comes from the
work of investigation --dhammavicaya. It is completely putting an
end to all conflict and tension. No matter where we are in life,
there are no more problems. It's called 'the unshakable deliverance
of the heart' -- complete freedom within any experience.
One of the wonderful things about this Way is
that it can be applied in all situations. We don't have to be in a
monastery, or even to have a happy feeling, to contemplate Dhamma.
We can contemplate Dhamma within misery. We often find that it is
when people are suffering that they start coming to the monastery.
When they're happy and successful it probably wouldn't occur to
them. But if their partner leaves home, or they lose their job, get
cancer, or something, then they say, 'Oh, what do I do now?'
So for many of us, the Buddha's teaching begins
with the experience of suffering -- dukkha. This is what we start
contemplating. Later on we find that we also need to contemplate
happiness -- sukha. But people don't begin by going to the Ajahn,
saying: 'Oh Venerable Sir, I'm so happy! Help me out of this
Usually we begin when life says: 'This hurts.'
Maybe it's just boredom; for me it was the contemplation of death --
this 'So what?' Maybe it's alienation at work. In the West we have
what's called 'the middle-age crisis'. Men around the age of
forty-five or fifty start to think: 'I've got it all,' or, 'I
haven't got it all, so what?' 'Big deal.' Something awakens and we
begin to question life. And since everybody experiences dukkha, in
its gross and refined aspects, it's beautiful that the Teaching
begins here -- the Buddha says, 'There is dukkha.' No one can deny
that. This is what the Buddhist teaching is based upon -- actually
observing these experiences we have -- observing life.
Now the worldly way of operating with dukkha is
to try to get rid of it. Often we use our intelligence to try and
maximise sukha and minimise dukkha. We are always trying to figure
out how to make things more convenient. I remember a discourse that
Luang Por once gave about this.
In the monastery we used to all join in hauling
water from the well. There would be two cans of water on a long
bamboo pole, and a bhikkhu at each end to carry them. So Ajahn Chah
said: 'Why do you always carry water with the monk that you like?
You should carry water with the monk you dislike!' This was true. I
was a very speedy novice and would always try to avoid carrying
water with a slow old bhikkhu in front. It drove me crazy. Sometimes
I'd get stuck behind one of them, and be pushing away...
So having to carry water with a monk I disliked
was dukkha. And, as Ajahn Chah said, I would always try to figure
out how to have things the way I wanted. That's using intelligence
to try to maximise sukha and minimise dukkha. But of course even if
we do get what we want, we still have dukkha; because the pleasure
of gratification is not permanent -- it is anicca. Imagine eating
something really delicious; in the beginning it would feel
pleasurable. But if you had to eat that for four hours! It would be
So what do we do with dukkha? The Buddhist
teaching says: use intelligence to really look at it. That's why we
put ourselves in a retreat situation like this with the Eight
Precepts. We're actually looking at dukkha rather than just trying
to maximise sukha. Monastic life is based on this also; we're
trapped in these robes. But then we have an incredible freedom to
look at suffering -- rather than just ignorantly trying to get rid
Wearing these robes in the West can be really
difficult. It's not like wearing a robe in Thailand! When we first
moved to London I felt so out of place. As a lay person I always
dressed to not be noticed, but in that situation we were up front
all the time. That was dukkha for me; I felt very self-conscious.
People were looking at me all the time. Now, if I had had the
freedom to maximise sukha and minimise dukkha, I would have put on a
pair of jeans, a brown shirt, grown a beard and been one of the mob.
But I couldn't do that because I had renunciation precepts.
Renunciation is giving up the tendency to always try to maximise
pleasure. I really learned a lot in that situation.
We all have responsibilities: family, job, career
and so on. And these are kinds of limitations, aren't they? What do
we do with them? Rather than resent these limitations and say: 'Oh
if only it were different, I would be happy,' we can consider: 'Now
this is a chance to understand.' We say: 'This is the way it is now.
There is dukkha.' We actually go towards that dukkha; we make it
conscious -- bring it into mind. We don't have to create dukkha
especially, there's already enough suffering in this world. But the
encouragement of the teachings is to actually feel the dukkha that
we have in life.
Maybe on this retreat you find during a sitting
that you are bored and restless, and waiting for the bell to ring.
Now you can actually notice that. If we didn't have this form, then
we could just walk out. But what happens if I walk out on
restlessness? I might think I've gotten rid of restlessness, but
have I? I go and watch T.V. or read something -- I keep that
restlessness going. And then I find my mind is not peaceful: it's
filled with activity. Why? Because I've followed sukha and tried to
get rid of dukkha. That is the constant, painful, restlessness of
our lives. It is so unsatisfactory, so unpeaceful -- not Nibbana.
The First Noble Truth of the Buddhist teaching is
not saying, 'Get this experience.' It says look at the experience of
dukkha. We are not expected to merely believe in Buddhism as a
'teaching', but to look at dukkha -- without judging. We are not
saying I shouldn't have dukkha. Nor are we just thinking about it.
We're actually feeling it -- observing it. We're bringing it to
mind. So, there is dukkha.
The teaching then goes on to consider that dukkha
has a cause and also that it has an end. A lot of Westerners think
that Buddhism is a very negative teaching, because it talks about
suffering. When I first had the inspiration to become a Buddhist
monk, I was in India. Then my grandfather died so I went back to
Germany for the funeral. I tried to talk to my mother about
ordination. But when I mentioned suffering, she got quite upset; she
took it quite personally. She didn't understand what I was saying:
that this is simply what human beings have to go through.
So the Buddha wasn't just talking about dukkha.
He was also talking about the cause of dukkha, the end of dukkha and
a path to that end. This teaching is about enlightenment -- Nibbana.
And that is what this Buddha-image is saying. It's not an image of
the Buddha suffering. It's of his enlightenment; it's all about
But to be enlightened we have to take what we've
got, rather than try to get what we want. In the worldly way we
usually try to get what we want. All of us want Nibbana -- right? --
even though we don't know what it is. When we're hungry, we go to
the fridge and get something, or we go to the market and get
something. Getting, getting, always getting something.... But if we
try to get enlightenment like that, it doesn't work. If we could get
enlightenment the same way as we get money, or get a car, it would
be rather easy. But it's more subtle than that. It takes
intelligence --pa It takes investigation, dhammavicaya.
So now we're using intelligence not to maximise
sukha and minimise dukkha, but to actually look at dukkha. We're
using intelligence to consider things skilfully. 'Why am I
suffering?' So you see, we're not dismissing thought, thought is a
very important faculty. But if we can't think clearly then it's not
really possible to use the Buddhist teachings. However, you don't
need a Ph.D. in Buddhism either.
Once when I was in England, we went to go see a
chap in Lancaster. He had just finished a 'Master's' thesis on
sunyata -- ten thousand words on emptiness. He wanted to make us a
cup of coffee. So he put the coffee in the cups with the sugar and
milk, and offered them to us -- forgetting to put in the water. He
could do a 'Master's' degree on emptiness, but it was more difficult
to mindfully make a cup of coffee. So intelligence in Buddhism isn't
just an accumulation of ideas. It's more grounded than that. It's
grounded in experience.
Intelligence is the ability to observe life and
to ask the right questions. We're using thought to direct the mind
in the right way. We're observing and opening the mind to the
situation. And it is in this openness, with the right questions,
that we have vipassana practice: insight into the way we are. The
mind is taking the concepts of the teaching, and channelling
intelligence towards human experience. We're opening, being
attentive, and realising the way things are. This investigation of
the Four Noble Truths is the classic application of intelligence in
So simply observing dukkha is not trying to get
an experience, is it? It is accepting responsibility for our dukkha
-- our inner conflict. We feel the inner conflict -- 'I am
suffering.' And we ask: 'What is the cause?'
The teaching says, dukkha begins and ends -- it's
not permanent. Suppose I'm feeling uncomfortable during the sitting,
and I turn to that dukkha and ask: 'What is the cause of this
suffering?' 'It's because the body is uncomfortable,' comes the
answer. So I decide to move. But after five minutes, I find the body
is uncomfortable again. So this time, I look at the feeling a little
more closely. And I notice something more: 'I don't want discomfort.
I want pleasant feeling.' Ah! So it's not the painful feeling that's
the problem -- it's the not wanting the painful feeling. Now that is
a very useful insight, isn't it? That's a bit deeper. I find that
now I can be at peace with painful feeling and don't have to move. I
don't get restless and the mind becomes quite calm.
So I've seen that the cause of the problem isn't
the painful feeling --it's the 'not wanting' that particular
feeling. 'Wanting' is quite tricky stuff. It comes in many forms.
But we can always apply this same investigation: 'What is it I want
now?' The Second Noble Truth -- samudaya -- says that the cause of
suffering is attachment to wanting -- tanha. It makes us feel that
if we get what we want we'll be fulfilled: 'If I have this' or 'If I
become that' or 'If I get rid of this and don't have that'.... And
that's samsara rolling on. Desire and fear, pushing beings into
always becoming: always seeking rebirth, leading endless busy lives.
But the Buddha says that there is also 'a way
out'. There is an end to suffering. The end of suffering we call
nirodha -- cessation -- or Nibbana. When I first read about Nibbana,
I understood it to mean no greed, no hatred and no delusion. So I
thought if only I can get rid of all greed, hatred and delusion,
then that would be Nibbana -- it seemed that way. I tried and it
didn't work. I got more confused.
But as I continued to practise, I found that the
'cessation of suffering' meant the ending of these things in their
own time -- they have their own energy. I couldn't say to myself:
'OK, Tomorrow I'm not going to be greedy or afraid.' That was a
ridiculous idea. What we have to do is to 'contain' these energies
until they die -- until they cease. If I felt angry and were to act
on it, maybe I would kick someone in the shins. Then they'd kick me
back, and we'd have a fight. Or, I'd go back to my hut and meditate,
and hate myself. It goes on and on because I've reacted to it. If
I'm either following it or trying to get rid of it, then it doesn't
cease. The fire doesn't die.
The Teaching of the Four Noble Truths says then:
we have suffering --dukkha; there is a cause -- samudaya; there is
an end -- nirodha; and a path to that end -- magga. This is such a
practical teaching. In any situation of inner conflict we can take
responsibility for what we're feeling: 'Why am I suffering. What am
I wanting now?' We can investigate -- using dhammavicaya.
It is important that we actually apply these
Teachings. Luang Por used to say: 'Sometimes people who are very
close to Buddhism are like ants that crawl around on the outside of
the mango. They never actually taste the juice.' Sometimes we hear
the structure of the teachings and think we understand -- 'It's just
a way of observing life,' we say. But the teachings are not just an
intellectual structure. They are saying that experience itself has a
structure which must be understood.
So we're not merely using intelligence to
maximise sukha and minimise dukkha. We are using it to free the
mind, to go beyond, to realise the unshakeable deliverance of the
heart, to realise Nibbana. We're using intelligence for freedom, not
just frivolity; to liberate the mind, not just to be happy. We're
going beyond happiness and unhappiness. We're not just trying to get
another experience -- it is a different attitude altogether.
I'll leave you with that for tonight.
Venerable Brahmavamso (Peter Betts) was born in
London in 1951. His first contact with Buddhism came while browsing
in a book shop in London while still at school. He went to Cambridge
University to study physics, during which time he became a member of
the local Buddhist society and started to practise meditation. After
graduating with First Class Honours, he taught physics for a while
at a secondary school in Devon. However, his contact with Thai
bhikkhus in London inspired him to go to Thailand to take up the
bhikkhu life himself, and he received bhikkhu ordination at Wat
Sraket at the age of 23, with Tan Chao Khun Prom Gunaphorn.
From 1975, he trained under Ajahn Chah, being one of the first
residents at Wat Pah Nanachat. In 1983 he joined Venerable Jagaro at
the newly established Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Western
Australia, where he still lives. He has been actively involved in
the major building programme, and teaches Buddhism to a wide and
varied audience, ranging from children to local prisoners.
Venerable Brahmavamso is known amongst the community of Western
monks for his erudition in the Vinaya, the monastic code of conduct,
and his work in this area currently provides the foundation for
Vinaya instruction to Westerners in the monasteries in England,
Switzerland, Australia and New Zealand.
Venerable Brahmavamso offers some reflections on his spiritual
journey over the years.
"So there I was, in a foreign land, trying so
giving up so much -- and for what? I wasn't quite sure."
WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG I WANTED DESPERATELY to
become a train driver. My grandfather had taken my brother and me to
Euston Station in London where I began an infatuation with those
massive, black and green steel machines that hissed, with so much
strength. Wouldn't it be wonderful, I dreamt, one day ... if...
Some years later I wanted desperately to become
enlightened. I had read all about it in the books. To a starry-eyed
young man, the idea of living in permanent bliss and saving humanity
at the same time was irresistibly appealing. Wouldn't it be
wonderful, I used to dream, one day ... if...
When I first heard the story of the Lord Buddha's
enlightenment, I was still many glasses of beer away from being a
monk. I was a student, doing most of those outrageous activities
students enjoyed in the late sixties -- and regretted in the late
seventies. But I had been meditating off and on -- mostly the former
-- for some time, and I had begun to notice some unmistakable
changes in my daily life. I was attending the Vesak celebration at
the local Buddhist Society and as the Venerable Sri Lankan monk was
reading out the Enlightenment Story, I became more and more inspired
and excited. I especially relished the bit where the Buddha-to-be
sat at the root of the Bodhi Tree and made that earth-shaking
'Though my blood dries up and my bones turn to dust, I will not move
from this spot until I have penetrated to Supreme and Complete
Wow! As the story moved on, a thought began to solidify in my mind.
I could hardly wait until the end of the chanting. I impatiently
gulped down the cup of tea which was all but obligatory at the
occasion, and then I hurried back to my room at college. I had heard
enough talks on Buddhism, I had read plenty of books on the subject.
I had been meditating for a whole year now, at least once a week --
well most weeks anyway. If the Buddha could do it, why not me?
Thus it was that I, in the arrogant stupidity of
youth, a novice meditator who could hardly manage to sit still for
thirty minutes, decided that it was time to become enlightened. It
was now or never, I resolved, for the next day I had an exam. I
locked the door of my room. I sat down on my meditation cushion. I
collected myself. Then I pronounced in a low, clear, solemn voice:
'Though my blood dries up and my bones turn to dust, I will not move
from this very cushion until I, also, become enlightened.'
That was it. No more mucking about. I was dead serious.
Forty minutes later I was in extreme agony.
Though my blood appeared as liquid as ever and no disintegration of
my bones was discernible yet, my knees were giving me hell! What was
really worrying me though, was that over half an hour had gone by
and I hadn't seen the anticipated brilliant and flashing lights yet.
There hadn't even been a twinkle to suggest that I was getting near.
It was very depressing -- and very painful. I gave in. I got up very
disappointed. Not becoming enlightened had spoiled the whole day.
A few years later and a little more sensible --
though only a little -- I was at London airport being sent off to
Thailand by two Thai bhikkhus. I was going to Bangkok to be
ordained. I still remember the parting words of the senior bhikkhu,
who was my teacher then: 'Please come back when you become
enlightened.' I was planning to be a monk in Thailand for two years
at most. I had told my relatives and friends that I'd be back within
two summers. After all, two whole years as a Buddhist monk in
Thailand -- surely that is long enough even for those of slow
intelligence to become enlightened. As for me, I had a degree from
university, so there was no doubt in my mind that I would be back in
England within two years, enlightened. Once I had got that out of
the way, I planned to get married and go live in a commune -- in
Wales of course. I had made enquiries before I left.
Two years down the track, it was becoming obvious
that this enlightenment business might not be so easy. For some
reason, though I was a Westerner with a good degree from a top
university, I was acting more stupidly than the Thai monks who had
barely finished grade four in village schools. My conceit was taking
a fair hammering. The strange thing was that, even though I still
wasn't enlightened, I was enjoying the peace, simplicity and
morality of monastic life. I didn't want to leave. What I had in
mind to do on the commune in Wales had lost its appeal.
In my fourth Rains Retreat I was pulling out all
the stops. Word had come to Thailand that Chithurst House had been
bought, a Sangha was being established in England and they needed
more bhikkhus. This would be a great time to become enlightened. I
was in a very quiet monastery. My meditation practice was in high
gear. All the omens were favourable. Then it happened!
Walking on my meditation path one evening, my
mind already calm from many hours of sitting, I suddenly understood
the cause of all problems and my heart immediately felt the joy of
release. All around seemed brilliant. Bliss filled my whole being.
Energy and clarity were there in abundance. Though it was late at
night I sat in meditation perfectly mindful, perfectly still. Then I
lay down to rest, sleeping oh-so-lightly for just a few hours. I
rose at 3 a.m. and was first in the grass Meeting Hall for the
morning meditation. I sat through until dawn as if without effort
and without the slightest drowsiness. That was it! It was
immeasurable joy being enlightened. Pity it didn't last long.
The monastery where this happened was very poor
and the food was very coarse. It was the sort or North-eastern Thai
monastery where you were happy to eat just one meal a day -- facing
such an ordeal twice in one day being beyond the pale! The morning
after my experience of 'release', though, the fare was more
reasonable. Along with the staple 'rotten-fish curry', which is
actually made from stewing small fish which have been kept most
unhygienically until they go 'off', there was a saucepan of pork
curry. That day even the Thai abbot visibly reacted at the sight of
the reeking fish stew and took a whopping big helping from the pot
of pork curry. I didn't mind; I was second in line and there was
plenty left for me. However, the pot of pork never reached me.
Instead, the abbot poured what was left of the pork curry into the
mess of rotten fish stew and stirred it all up saying that it all
gets mixed up in the stomach anyway. I was incensed! Of all the
hypocrites! If he really thought that, then why didn't he mix the
curries before he took out his share. I peered angrily into the
saucepan he handed me -- rotten smelly pieces of rubbery fish
swimming alongside my delicious pork -- my one lucky meal ruined.
Oooh, that abbot, was I mad at him! Was I angry! Then a thought
struck me with a depressing thud, or rather a sickening squelch --
maybe I wasn't enlightened at all. Enlightened beings aren't
supposed to get angry. Arahants don't care if they eat putrid fish
or delicious pork. I had to admit I was angry -- therefore I had to
own up that I wasn't enlightened. What a let-down. Utterly
depressed, I scooped a ladle of rotten fish cum pork into my bowl. I
was too disappointed to notice the taste of what I ate that day.
In spite of these spiritual hiccups coming from
Dhamma-indigestion (a poor ability to assimilate the Teachings), my
following years as a bhikkhu were definitely producing results of
more tranquillity, clarity and joy. It was the humble insights, the
sort which arrive without a fanfare, which were proving the more
effective. My wish to become enlightened now appeared suspiciously
akin to my childish wish to become a train driver, or to my later
ambitions to become the first English astronaut ... a professional
footballer ... a lead guitarist in a rock band ... the greatest
lover in my college ... (I am too embarrassed to mention my other
aspirations). In a way, wanting to become enlightened was even more
foolish. At least I had some idea of what driving a train was about.
As for enlightenment, I wasn't quite sure what that was! And
whenever I would try to find out by asking one of the senior monks,
I would never get a straight answer. So there I was in a very
foreign land, eating rotten fish and things much worse, enduring
ravenous mosquitoes and unending heat, trying so hard and giving up
so much -- and for what? I wasn't quite sure. So the only rational
thing to do was to give up trying to become enlightened until I knew
what enlightenment was! I didn't want to give up being a bhikkhu, I
understood that and it made sense. I just had to let go of chasing
my fantasies, and my idea of enlightenment was the ultimate fantasy.
On the other side of insight one seldom thinks
that one is now wise, for one is overwhelmed by the thought of how
stupid one has been. How could I have been so thick? It is written
in so many of the Buddhist scriptures, and it is emphasized by so
many fine teachers, that BECOMING IS SUFFERING -- becoming anything.
The Buddha, speaking as plain as ever, thundered that he didn't
recommend ANY becoming. Becoming is what the ego does all day.
Becoming fashions the identity. Becoming is the 'skin' which holds
together the bubble of self. Stop all becoming and the illusion is
So that was the end of my becoming enlightened. I
focused instead on the question of WHO it was who wanted to become
enlightened, if there was anyone there at all? I investigated
no-self, which is much more illuminating than trying to become
enlightened. But still people ask me, as they do of other bhikkhus,
the bottom-line question: Are you enlightened? Now I have a splendid
answer, which I plagiarise from the late Venerable Ananda Mangala
Mahanayakathera (I know he won't mind) who, terrific teacher that he
was, gave the perfect reply to this very question:
'No sir!', replied the venerable Sri Lankan thera, 'I am not
enlightened. But I am highly eliminated!'
Venerable Gavesako (Mitsuo Shibahashi) was born
in Japan in 1951. An experienced mountaineer, he formed part of a
team planning to climb in the Himalayas. Having arrived in India
before the rest of his party in order to acclimatise, he decided to
stay at an Indian ashram. By the time the party arrived, his
interest in meditation had eclipsed his former interest in climbing,
and he decided to stay on at the ashram, spending two years there in
all. As it turned out, the climbing party met with disaster when
some of its members were killed in an avalanche.
Eventually visa difficulties forced him to move to Thailand, where
he hoped to continue to develop his meditation practice. Having met
Western monks in Bangkok he went up to Wat Pah Pong and was ordained
as a bhikkhu by Ajahn Chah in 1975. He has done many periods of
tudong practice, and has spent long periods looking after Ajahn Chah
in the later years of his illness.
In 1989 he was invited back to Japan to spend several months
This is a collection of notes taken during periods of reflection on
working with suffering. They were collected by a lay disciple from
Bangkok who was visiting Venerable Gavesako.
"We see how desire and attachment are Mara...
and when we are no longer deceived by these things,
then that is the Buddha."
Taking suffering as our teacher.
DON'T DESPISE SUFFERING; DON'T RUN A WAY FROM IT
or be afraid. Suffering warns us not to be complacent. Be wise. Know
and see things as they really are; see the truth. If we can bear
with it, then the more suffering the better. This way we won't have
to be afraid of anything, but we must be patient and persistent. We
must be daring. Wherever there is suffering, observe it closely.
Suffering needs to be recognised. We must study it and look into it.
If we observe like this we will become aware of desire tanha and
attachment upadana. Desire and attachment are what cause suffering,
and this same desire and attachment blind us to suffering. We suffer
but we don't see suffering. So we must make our minds resolute, go
right inward in order to see suffering. When we see it we will know
it clearly. There will arise -dassana, knowledge and vision
according to reality; knowledge that it is only suffering that
arises, only suffering that exists, and only suffering that ceases.
Other than suffering, nothing arises and nothing ceases.
Sabbe dhamma nalam. abhinivesaya: all things are
not worthy of clinging to. Sabbe dhamma anatta: all things are not
Whatever arises must in time cease. If we can
leave things be, let suffering go, neither delighting nor despising,
there will be no suffering; or if there is, it will be just as if
Depression is a guest.
This feeling of depression has just come for a
visit; soon it will leave. Having gone it will come again. If we
don't attach to it, it won't stay. So we don't delight in following
our moods. When guests come, if we drive them away they'll become
angry; but we mustn't be too welcoming either, or they will settle
down to stay! Just let them be and they will leave of their own
accord. They're only visitors, they are not residents. If they come,
we know thus: 'Oh, they've come. ' We note it and then leave them
be. We establish our mind in equanimity. Centre your mind, not
delighting, not despising, not being frightened; neither taking nor
rejecting, just keep knowing. The goal is non-suffering: a mind that
is calm, clean and clear.
Have you ever experienced so much suffering that
you wanted to die?
If we're suffering or depressed, we simply know
that suffering or depression exists. It' s not necessary for
thoughts to proliferate on it. We are patient and observe those
feelings not taking delight in them, and not rejecting them either.
Holding our mind still, not letting it lean to the right or to the
left. Centring our mind. Just knowing. Sitting, just know; walking,
just know. If we keep observing we will begin to understand more
clearly. We will see that these things in themselves are empty. We
will see that both suffering and depression are merely sensations;
they are not our self nor do they belong to us. It is only clinging:
clinging to the idea that one is depressed, to the idea that one is
suffering. Actually those things can change, and they will change of
themselves when new sensations arise. They are all aniccam.,
dukkham., anatta uncertain, unsatisfactory and not-self.
We suffer because we cling.
We experience suffering and depression only
because of clinging and attachment. We must lift our minds to do the
work of enquiry using patience and forbearance. If we closely
observe the impermanent nature of these feelings, in due course we
will see they do change. When we see this, we will know what is
meant by sabbe dhamma anatta all things are not-self. Then we will
Don't think that it' s you that is suffering.
Suffering is not you; you are not suffering.
Suffering doesn't abide within you, and you do not abide in
suffering. Suffering arises, exists and ceases. We have the task of
simply knowing that suffering arises, knowing that suffering exists,
and knowing that suffering ceases. Regardless of however much
suffering there may be, if we can observe in this way we will be
able to bear with it; we must endure. A wise person can endure
Dhamma is taking things 50%.
If we have thoughts like: 'That person is wrong;
they shouldn't have done such a thing;' remember first that we may
also be wrong; they may not be wrong at all. Take it only 50%.
Considering like this we won't allow our thoughts to cause us to
If someone tells us: 'They've been saying
horrible things about you,' or 'Such and such a person is really
awful,' don't believe it 1 00% but don't reject it either. Take it
only 50%. Don't get caught in reacting and feeling unhappy. They may
not have actually said such things; the person relating the stories
may just be giving their own version. Don't act on other people' s
thoughts. Often we become angry and upset for no reason other than
our own thinking. Be mindful and consider carefully before taking
If you are doing something for your partner and
at the same time thinking: 'This is totally unreasonable. Why did
they ask me to do such a thing... ?', this is not right. Don't react
like that. Don't hold onto such feelings just because it appears
unreasonable. They may not have meant what you thought they meant.
Thoughts are all aniccam, uncertain; they change. Your partner may
change their mind; they may have misinterpreted their own thoughts
or have not meant what they said. Don't allow these feelings to
confuse you. If we are mindful, we won't suffer. Don't believe
anything 100%; not ourselves, not another, not any condition. Don't
be upset or frightened. Don't be surprised at anything you hear or
see. Remember: everything is uncertain; only take it 50%.
If you are still suffering, you must look even
Contemplate the Four Noble Truths regularly. If
we are still suffering it means we still don't have Right View. When
suffering arises, we look inward, not outwards and we don't blame
others. We just look at our own body and mind. Look and see how
desire and attachment are the cause of suffering. They are Mara; our
most bitter enemies. Tackle those thoughts with persistence. Know
those thoughts. When we know them for what they are, we will be
untroubled. We won't become upset. We will no longer be deceived by
these things and won't cling to them. Instead, there will be
established the One Who Knows, the Awakened One, the Radiant One.
There! That's the Buddha. You don't have to search elsewhere. Even
if you have to pay for this with your life, it' s worth it.
We must have Right Thought and Right View.
Whatever we are doing, we must have mindfulness,
clear comprehension, and satisfaction. If we are sweeping the floor,
the act of sweeping the floor is the most important thing in the
world; anything else is of no importance. When we are sweeping the
floor, we know we are sweeping the floor we are mindful of the act
of sweeping the floor. We must do it with total satisfaction.
If we are squeezing the juice from oranges, the
act of squeezing the juice from oranges is the most important thing
in the world; anything else is of no importance. When we are
squeezing the juice of oranges, we know that we are squeezing the
juice of oranges. We are mindful of the act of squeezing the juice
of oranges. We must do it with total satisfaction.
Whatever it is that we are doing, sweeping the
floor, squeezing juice, cleaning the bathroom; this is our practice.
We must not think that we do what we do just to please others. Do
not think that we have to do it. Do not be worried by what other
people might think. We do that which it is our duty to do. And we
always do our best. If we look at things this way, if we think in
this way, then we won't suffer. We will know peace. We will have
great happiness all the time. This is Right Thought and Right View.
Venerable Sucitto was born in London in 1949,
but moved to the small town of Dunstable in his teens. His first
encounter with Buddhism came through an interest in Japanese
literature while at grammar school, but he found nothing to follow
it up in his local town. The continuing interest in literature
carried him through a B.A. in English and American Literature at
Warwick University in 1971. After that, the search for a
meaningful direction in life eventually attracted him to take an
overland trip through the East, heading for Australia. Following a
period in India, he went to Thailand in 1975, where he happened
across a class in Buddhist meditation in Chiang Mai. After a few
days' practice, he decided to make a tentative commitment to the
He spent three years in Thailand, mostly at Wat Kiriwong in Nakhon
Sawan. During a short sojourn in Chiang Mai, however, he met Ajahn
Sumedho, before the latter left for England. When Venerable
Sucitto himself returned to England in 1978 to visit his family,
he met Ajahn Sumedho again at the Hampstead Vihara, and decided to
stay and train with him. During the past ten years he has lived
for the most part with Ajahn Sumedho, and has been responsible for
editing and publishing his talks, as well as other Sangha
Venerable Sucitto was the first senior incumbent of the Harnham
Vihara. Since 1983 he has been involved with establishing a
training for ten-precept nuns, and in 1984 he moved to Amaravati
Buddhist Centre where he still resides.
In the winter of 1986-87, Venerable Sucitto was in Thailand; during
that time he went wandering (tudong) with Venerable Gavesako. Most
of the time was spent in the Isan -- the provinces of North East
Thailand -- but in the following piece, he reflects on another part
of the trip, in Siraja and Ko Sichang....
"Something in me let go and listened
to the sounds of the world ... and the silence behind it all
seemed to encompass everything.
No sound could stain the silence of the listening mind."
SIRAJA IS NOT A PARTICULARLY BEAUTIFUL TOWN. It's
part of that urban overspill to the east of Bangkok that flows along
the coast through Samut Pakhan and down to Chonburi, oozing along in
the wake of the oil and shipping developments around the Gulf of
Thailand. Ajahn Gavesako and I had decided to go there as part of
our tudong trip, in order to get out to an island called Ko Sichang
-- The Island of the Noble Elephant. This would be around Christmas
time, which like most festive occasions in Thailand is very noisy,
at least in the more Western-influenced cities. Accordingly, we
planned to stay a night or two at a small monastery that Ajahn
Gavesako knew, and then go out to the island for a few days of
living very simply, away from the hustle and bustle.
It seemed like a good idea: even before the
festival began, life in the city was noisy compared with the forests
of the Isan. The little monastery that we were staying in occupied a
few acres squashed up against a hillside on the outskirts of the
city of Siraja; it wasn't exactly in the heart of town, but it
certainly wasn't outside of it. There was a lot of noise from the
streets and from Christmas music being played very loudly; so after
the initial pleasantries with the resident monks, I for one was
quite eager to get away. But of course one has to wait until someone
gets to know of one's wishes and offers to buy a ticket -- which may
take a few days.
So one evening we went down to the seafront and
walked out to a small island that was connected the mainland by a
pier. On this island there was one of those Chinese Buddhist
temples, of which there are very many in Thailand, which go in for
the more ritualistic side of Buddhism. In order to obtain good
fortune one can make offerings at shrines in such temples -- to the
Buddha or to one of the bodhisattvas, particularly to the
Bodhisattva of Compassion, The One Who Listens to The Sounds Of The
World -- or Kwan Yin, as she is known in Chinese. I must admit this
supplication to divine agencies has never fitted in with my ideas
about Buddhism; my mind kept turning away from the painted images
and the decorative shrines to the sea, bathed in sunset gold. The
serene horizon hinted of sublime planes, and I found myself more
eager than ever to get out to a place where I could apply myself
whole-heartedly to meditation.
By the next afternoon, unseen wheels had turned
and we were able to get a ferry boat out to the island of Ko Sichang.
We landed at a little harbour and walked along the coast of the
island until we came to a more remote area. There we found a
fantastic old ruined temple that had been built in the reign of King
Mongkut. It wasn't like the Chinese temple. Its very decay gave it a
certain air of sanctity: there was a bodhi tree growing up through
the roof, and the cracked walls inside were bear except for a few
photographs of tudong bhikkhus, like Venerable Ajahn Mun. To be in
the presence of such images of austerity and dedication to Dhamma
practice was very encouraging. This was the right place, sure
We walked on down to the rocky seashores, the
beaches and the sparkling water. We decided to make the best use of
the situation by separating and practising on our own most of each
day. I had already resolved to fast for the five days that we'd be
out there, because whenever I fast then I find that this gives a
clarity to my mind, and a greater refinement to my attention. The
physical energies calm down and level out and there is less need to
The weather was beautiful. December in Thailand
is a lovely time of year, hot but not stuffy and sticky; and then
being on an island there were pleasant breezes, so it was quite
idyllic. At night it was warm and balmy and I would sit underneath
the measureless stars meditating with the moon as my only companion.
Time stretched itself out and went to rest....
So after a few days of this I was getting pretty
blissed out. Then, I think it was on the third clear day, I came
across a beautiful old wooden palace structure that was half burnt
down, set in grounds with frangipani trees -- and that was quite
amazing. It was near the ruined temple, and exploring further I
found a cave which opened into the ground. You could walk down
inside this great cleft in the ground, which then opened out to
reveal long galleries where you could do walking meditation, and
niches in the rock where you could sit and meditate. Then you could
go down even further until you couldn't see or hear anything; so you
could be completely enfolded in the earth's womb. A hermit's dream!
I thought, 'This is amazing, this is really
wonderful!' And it was the day of the full moon. My mind immediately
constructed the evening confrontation with Mara: I was near the
ruined temple, so I could sit there with Ajahn Mun, or I could go
down into the cave and practise, or I could do walking meditation
out under the frangipani trees with the cool evening breezes blowing
and the full moon beaming down. 'This is it,' I thought, 'this is
going to be the night when I really get into some samadhi.'
I was feeling very light, almost skipping up the
slope with expectation, when I noticed some people coming along --
which was kind of strange. They were all dressed in white; then I
recognised that it was one of the anagarikas from the monastery in
Siraja we'd been staying at, and he had some lay women with him who
were also dressed in white. I quickly realised that they must have
come to see us; but I didn't want to be bothered with polite
conversation -- particularly as I couldn't speak the language.
However, they'd seen me: I couldn't ignore that, so I decided to
make the best of it, come over, be nice, and hopefully it wouldn't
last too long. We sat down by a big bodhi tree outside the ruined
temple and they had one of those refrigerated boxes with some Coca
Cola in it, so I accepted a bottle and drank some. They started
asking questions and talking and I couldn't get very much of what
they were saying. I just smiled and said I didn't understand and
thought that sooner or later Ajahn Gavesako would happen along. Then
he could talk to them, and I could go off and sit somewhere and get
into some samadhi.
But somewhere in the back of my mind was an
anxious voice: 'Why have they come? I wonder what it is?'
Then Ajahn Gavesako came along. I sat with him
for a while, but he seemed quite at ease listening and talking to
them, so I thought: 'Well I'll just move off.' I started to slip
away; but as I was slipping away he turned around and said: 'Oh,
Tuhn Sucitto, pack your bag, will you? We're going back.'
My mind stopped: 'Back, what?' He said, 'We're
going back to Siraja.' And I said, 'What for? What are we going back
for?' Suddenly my evening of samadhi dropped away. 'Oh, they've
invited us.' I looked at him questioningly, and he added, 'I don't
know what for. It doesn't matter. They've invited us so we'd better
go. It wouldn't be polite to refuse.'
At that point something in me stopped. I turned
round and walked off and went to where my bowl bag was and packed my
alms bowl with my mind going: 'What do they want? What are we doing?
I suppose we're going back to chant something or another, do some
ritual. Why can't we stay here? We came here for a few days. We were
going to go back in a couple of days anyway. We came here for a few
days to practise and now we've got to go back to the town. What for?
What do they want?' But I knew enough to recognise that resistance
in the mind and not to follow it. So I packed my bag. We walked back
from that haven to a road where they'd got a motorbike taxi to give
us a ride out to the little harbour village. We waited there. I
stared glumly at the sea, and then when the ferry came we all packed
into it. The boat lingered for a few minutes, then turned and
carried us away from the Noble Elephant back to the reeking harbour
We returned to the temple in the city not knowing
what for. I went to my kuti, unpacked my bag and sat there waiting
for something to happen. And I sat and waited; and nothing happened
except the sounds of the city swelled as the duskfall turned into
night. Sounds of the traffic, sounds of the world -- and I had to
listen to it as night turned into day. And it being Christmas Eve
and Thai people, Christians as well as Buddhists, enjoying loud
music, there were lots of loud Christmas songs -- in English.
Perhaps it was because they were in English that it didn't seem to
matter what they were about, because they weren't even Christmas
carols that you could be inspired by. What came rolling into my kuti
was Christmas Muzak, like 'White Christmas' and 'Rudolph the
Red-Nosed Reindeer' -- again and again. I sat there in the night and
I sat there in the morning; listening, waiting and listening to
'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer', remembering the full moon, the
ruined temple, Ajahn Mun, and samadhi.
But I did listen; and something in me got the
point. Something in me stopped resisting and became at one with the
way things are. 'Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer' is quite a
reasonable song actually, when you listen to it a few times; it's
got a moral to it. And when something in me let go and listened to
the sounds of the world, it seemed there was a vibrant silence
behind it all. And the silence behind the sound of the world seemed
to encompass and listen to everything. Profound or petty or inane,
no sound could stain the silence of the listening mind; and in that
acceptance was timeless compassion.
Nobody came for us; nor did anyone come to take
us anywhere. They didn't want me to give a talk, do any chanting,
bless anything, go anywhere, say anything. Maybe they were worried
that we were getting lonely. Perhaps they thought we were not
getting enough to eat; I expect the whole event arose out of
compassion. But in the end I was grateful. Whatever the Law or
compassionate Bodhisattva that arranges these events -- I have a lot
to thank them for. They've always managed to catch me out; always
turned me away from my attachments, and ideas of practice to make me
listen to the way things are. Their emissaries are everywhere. They
never let up.
And perhaps I learnt something about the Noble
Elephant, the symbol of Dhamma practice. The Buddha himself is
likened to the elephant: it's the symbol of the unstoppable
aspiration to Nibbana that keeps going through anything. It is with
such an aspiration that a tudong monk establishes his practice -- he
inclines to be enduring, to be resilient, and to be tested by wild
and lonely places. In fact for me it's always been a great pleasure
to go to remote places, where I could be alone and independent. Yet
I've also noticed that when I interpret the aspiration too
literally, a mahout climbs on the back of the Noble Elephant. This
mahout is always saying things like: 'I'm going to get into jhana
tonight. This is the real place for practice, if I could stay in
this place forever, I'd really develop.' And he's always asking the
practice to come up with something fancy; like a mahout that wants
his elephant to dance and prance and perform tricks. He's always
been a burden, this mahout; and as long as he's driving the elephant
I've never felt that satisfied, even in blissful circumstances.
Instead my attitudes get caught up in trying to prove or attain or
hold on to something -- a rather self-conscious striving that
finally does not lead to coolness, detachment or liberation.
Of course, when one lives as a bhikkhu there are
chances to undertake austerities and live alone sometimes, but the
basic standard always entails a relationship with the society. The
life is one of dependence; it's an interface. Yet if the Buddha
established the bhikkhu life for liberation then we should trust the
opportunity for selflessness that it presents. It's a bumpy ride at
times, but I've learned to appreciate the tests of Sangha life, and
the enigmatic compassion of The Way It Is: they always create
predicaments where I have to let go.
When I came down from my kuti on Christmas Eve
morning, Ajahn Gavesako was reading a newspaper. 'It says here there
are four babies born in the world every second!' 'Better get used to
group practice,' I commented.
Sometimes we need austerities, sometimes we need
isolation, and sometimes it takes a Red-Nosed Reindeer to awaken us
Venerable Munindo (Keith Morgan) was born in
1951, and brought up in Morrinsville, New Zealand (North Island). He
is the son of a Presbyterian lay preacher, and grandson of two
He first came across Buddhism during some time spent at university.
On moving to Australia in 1972, he met some bhikkhus from the Sydney
Thai Vihara; while living in northern New South Wales he attended a
meditation retreat with Ajahn Khantipalo.
He left Australia in 1973 bound for Indonesia, with the idea of
ultimately reaching Japan to practise Zen. He taught English for a
while in Bangkok and met Ajahn Sumedho and some Western monks from
Wat Bovornives, where he eventually decided to become a samanera. He
received upasampada there from Phra Somdet ѡnasamvara in 1974, and
spent his first vassa with Ajahn Thate at Wat Hin Mark Peng, on the
After spending some time spent in a Bangkok hospital with serious
health problems, he met Ajahn Sumedho again, and went to Wat Pah
Pong. He was reordained there by Ajahn Chah in 1975.
Ill health caused a return to New Zealand for six months in 1979.
During his time there, interest grew -- both in Auckland and
Wellington -- in having monks living locally on a more permanent
In 1980 he travelled to England to join the community at Chithurst;
three years later, he was given the responsibility of establishing a
vihara in Devon, in the south-west of England. Presently, he lives
at Chithurst, assisting the abbot with teaching and training of new
The following teaching is taken from a Friday night talk given by
Venerable Munindo at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre in Perth, during a
visit to Bodhinyana Monastery of Western Australia.
"The Middle Way means gently bearing things
exactly as they are in their raw condition."
IT HAS BEEN VERY PLEASANT spending time with
Ajahn Jagaro after not having seen each other for eight years. We've
been talking over some of the developments that have taken place in
practice and in our various communities. A rewarding reflection has
come out of this as to just how steadily the Path does develop.
It's wonderful to see how the quality of effort
that we are able to make in practice naturally grows. I remember
how, when I was first ordained in Thailand, the formal 'going for
refuge' and 'taking precepts' didn't mean very much to me -- Buddham.
saranam. gacchami, Dhammam. saranam. gacchami, Sangham. saranam.
gacchami.... But although this formality didn't mean much to me
then, I was attracted to these teachings because they spoke somehow,
in a meaningful way, of 'True Refuge'.
My first contact and inspiration with Buddhism
had come from reading a book at university. I had a feeling at the
time of, 'Great! there is something real -- something of true
quality which doesn't require compromising what I feel most deeply
to be right.' And that was wonderful. It often is this way in the
beginning when we make contact with something we can really trust
in; we have a wonderful feeling about our discovery.
Then we find the Teaching says that realising
this 'true quality', or to make this quality real in one's life,
requires the cultivation of awareness. We are already 'kind of'
aware, but our awareness doesn't do what it needs to do, which is to
see the facts clearly. The Buddha said that when we see the facts of
life -- when we see what is, as it is -- then there are no more
problems. The Buddha had no problems because he could always see the
facts. If it's not like that for us, then it's not because of life,
but because of the way we see it; and that's a very helpful
reflection. When I'm having problems, I can consider: the Buddha's
Way meant he had no problems, whereas 'my way' means I have.
Therefore, one way has to go: either 'my way' or the Buddha's Way.
So we take up this training, or the Way of Dhamma, to be free from
And this way of Dhamma begins with this first
sense of trust; we feel that Truth is accessible, and verifiable to
us as human beings. We don't have to wait until we die until we know
We often find in life, that we are faced with a
difficult situations which we want to work with, but we're not up to
it. The point of such meetings as this is to actually do something
about our ability to work; we have awareness, and we are choosing to
work with it. We are not just to using awareness as we do in daily
life, but we have set this time aside to directly cultivate it; to
sit, to be still, to train the mind.
When our community in England first moved to
Chithurst House, it was not an easy situation. One hundred and
twenty acres of forest had been given to us, with a lake and an old
derelict mansion. But the local council said we had to apply for
'change of use'. So that was done -- but the answer was 'No!' So
there we were with a wonderful forest in beautiful West Sussex and a
potentially ideal house to live in, and yet....
Fortunately, because of a technical point, we
were able to apply again; but it meant we had to wait for many
months to know the result. There was tremendous doubt; would we be
able to stay or not? You could get caught up in the doubt and not do
any work, thinking, 'Well, they might throw us out. What's the
point?' Or, you could deny doubt, work like a Trojan and get angry
at anybody who dared to display any doubt. The training, however, is
about seeing just the facts -- and thankfully, Ajahn Sumedho was
very clear about that. The fact, then, was that that particular
situation was very doubtful -- uncertain. So with right awareness,
with balanced awareness, we could simply bear that uncomfortable
feeling. We could bear the feeling of insecurity or doubt.
Insecurity is a very unpleasant feeling. When we
are children and feel that way, we seek reassurance from mum and
dad. Then as we grow up, we see this feeling of insecurity as a fact
of life, and learn to abide in the knowledge of the insecurity of
all existence; that is, if we really grow up! If we don't really
grow up, we find substitutes for our parents: a partner,
possessions, belief systems, philosophies and so on.
Our training is to actually feel this insecurity,
and see it as 'just like this'. But without being balanced we cannot
do it. In those early days at Chithurst, it was 'just like that',
but there was a real temptation to get caught in an extreme position
of either indulging in doubt or repressing it.
In the Buddhist Way, it is clearly stated that
the two extremes of 'blindly believing' on the one hand, and
'repression and denial' on the other, are false. The way that is
Real is the Middle Way -- the way of gently bearing things, exactly
as they are, in their raw condition. To do this, we have to train
the mind until we are no longer pushing and pulling at the states
that we experience.
Pushing and pulling is the way of contending. And
it's very easy to contend with life when it's not going the way that
'I' think it should. There was a very difficult period in my
training in Thailand after I had already been a monk for about four
years. As a result of a motor bike accident I had had before I was
ordained, and a number of years of sitting in bad posture, my knees
seized up. The doctors in Bangkok said it was severe arthritis, but
nothing that a small operation couldn't fix. They said it would take
two or three weeks. But after two months and three operations I was
still hardly walking. There had been all kinds of complications:
scar tissue, three lots of general anaesthetic and the hot season
was getting at me; my mind was really in a state. I was thinking:
'My whole life as a monk is ruined. Whoever heard of a Buddhist monk
who can't sit cross-legged.' Every time I saw someone sitting
cross-legged I'd feel angry. I was feeling terrible, and my mind was
saying, 'It shouldn't be like this; the doctor shouldn't have done
it like that; the monks' rules shouldn't be this way....' It was
really painful, physically and mentally. I was in a very
Then I heard that Ajahn Chah was coming down to
Bangkok. I thought if I went to see him he might be able to help in
some way. His presence was always very uplifting. When I visited him
I couldn't bow properly; he looked over at me and asked, 'What are
you up to?' I began to complain: 'Oh Luang Por,' I said, 'It's not
supposed to be this way. The doctors said two weeks and it has been
two months....' I was really wallowing. With a surprised expression
on his face he said to me, very powerfully: 'What do you mean, it
shouldn't be this way? If it shouldn't be this, way it wouldn't be
That really did something to me. I can't describe
how meaningful that moment was. He pointed to exactly what I was
doing that was creating the problem. There was no question about the
fact of the pain; the problem was my denying that fact, and that was
something I was doing. This is not just a theory. When someone
offers us the reflection of exactly what we are doing, we are
incredibly grateful, even if at the time we feel a bit of a twit.
The pushing away is the distortion of awareness
that makes problems out of life. Life can be very painful, but with
right awareness there can be a discerning of the facts. When
awareness, or mindfulness, matures into truth-discerning awareness (satipa,
we can bear the state we are experiencing and discern the facts.
With intelligence free to consider what can be done and our human
sensitivity unhindered, we don't have to deny what we feel -- we can
learn from life.
But if our ability to feel is numbed, if our
hearts are closed, intelligence simply can't operate. We can go
through so many difficult situations in life, thinking: 'Wow! I
survived that one. I'll never have to go through that again,' yet
before long we do. So whether we learn or not has very much to do
with just how accurate our awareness is. It depends on whether we
are working with 'right awareness', or the common-or-garden-variety
awareness. This practice then is to train awareness -- to balance
it, to gentle it, to tame it, until the pushing and pulling
tendencies are gone.
Just as we make problems out of difficult
experiences, we can also make problems out of pleasant ones. There
was an occasion when I was in New Zealand and visiting a good friend
who used to be a monk with us in England. Now he is a doctor in
Christchurch. He spends a lot of time in the very beautiful
mountains of the South Island. At his invitation I joined him for a
few days walking in the Alps. I hadn't been in the mountains for a
long time. The air was good, the weather was good and it was
particularly nice to be walking with a good friend. We spent time
trekking, walking, talking over practice, sitting meditation ... it
was wonderful. There was one morning I remember vividly. We had left
very early the forest hut where we'd spent the night. It was dawn as
we walked down a big stony mountain river bed. The magic light of
sunrise was tipping the snow-capped mountains gold. It was so
beautiful ... drinking the stream water, breathing crisp mountain
air, and being in good company. Then something in my mind started
up... a feeling started arising ... and it was beginning to spoil
the situation. So gently paying attention to that ... carefully
turning towards it and being with that feeling ... the constriction
of energy that was taking place ... I could see there was a feeling
of ... trying to hold on to the experience -- the experience of
simple human enjoyment. I was saying to myself, 'This is how it
should be.' In that moment, I could see how I was creating a
problem. I was already beginning to imagine how it would be back in
the English drizzle saying, 'It shouldn't be this way.'
So even around pleasure we create problems by not
relating directly, truly; by not relating to that which is true, but
relating to that which is false, or to our fantasies. With pleasure,
we can feel afraid of losing it, and fantasise in an attempt to hold
on to it. With pain, we tend to dwell in memories of when it wasn't
there, in an attempt to avoid it. This is how it often is in broken
relationships. (And death is a kind of broken relationship.) Rather
than seeing the fact of the pain, there is a tendency to go into
memories of 'how it used to be' or fantasise about 'how it could
be'. That is dwelling in what's not real.
There is a verse in the Dhammapada:
Mistaking the false for the real, and the real for the false,zxwe
remain stuck in the false.zxSeeing the real as real, and the false
as false,zxwe attain to the Truly Real.
To be able to do the work of seeing the false as
false and the real as real, we need to cultivate this
truth-discerning awareness. We need to operate in a mode whereby we
can accept the offerings of life and death completely,
whole-heartedly, and discern the facts -- the Truth.
So being whole-hearted means being wholly and
completely sensitive; not being sensitive merely to what we like,
which is 'my way', and denying what we don't like. The Buddha's Way
means being single-minded about our consideration of life. And it
results in an agility of mind which is intelligence; the mind is not
merely conditioned; it is free to perform its proper function.
This is the training, and we can be very grateful
that we've been offered this training. The Buddha described this Way
as being 'Well-Expounded', Svakkhata Dhamma. In other words, he
said, 'You've got what you need to do what needs to be done.' We
don't have to make shots in the dark hoping that we'll come across
something meaningful. Here we have a complete training -- the
training of body, speech and mind. We cultivate moral responsibility
and work at developing the mind. We make the effort to concentrate
the mind and really be in the present. All the difficulties and
pitfalls that we experience along the way, we share with each other.
We have Good Companions -- Kalyanamitta, members of the Sangha, and
Dhamma friends, who can come together for discussion and reflection
-- listening to talks and going on retreats. We can actually do what
the Buddha wanted us to do.
The quality of trust we have in the beginning is
wonderful. It says: 'Yes, there is something to be realised. Life
isn't merely an ordeal that we tolerate until we die. There is a
true quality that can be seen and known.' And then, having given
ourselves to the training, we find that we begin to go beyond the
habitual tendencies of pushing and pulling at the experiences of
pleasure and pain. And we continue until we come upon a new way of
seeing. We see in a way that we've never seen before. We have a new
perspective of things. 'Trust' is now verified. We need no longer be
concerned with doubt about the possibility of the Way; we simply get
on with it.
All the training we do, including the traditions
that we use, are for this purpose. They make our life situations
workable. Anger becomes workable; greed, jealousy, pleasure, pain,
all become something to help us grow in the direction of True
Understanding. 'I go for refuge to Dhamma -- the way things actually
are' takes on a new meaning for us.
Then finally, and thankfully, there are beings in
the world who teach from the perspective of complete trust. The
Buddha's Teachings come from the perspective of complete trust. That
is where life itself is something that we give ourselves into with
an attitude of complete trust. There is no longer any doubt, any
confusion, any despair. All that remains is complete trust in
QUESTION: Would you comment on the statement:
'Accepting things the way they are is a passive avoidance of taking
ANSWER: If it's avoidance of taking
responsibility, then it has nothing at all to do with the spiritual
life. This Way means becoming completely responsible -- it means
developing the ability to respond whole-heartedly and
single-mindedly to whatever situation we may be in. That is far from
being passive. It's being perfectly active. It means acting in a
complete and perfect way -- doing what is appropriate to the
situation. That may mean doing nothing. It may mean doing something.
The principle means whatever you do, do completely. Then you can be
truly responsible for the outcome. Our sensitivity is right there
with us and intelligence isn't hindered; you can say or act as is
called for. If nothing is called for, we don't do anything. Even if
we get it wrong, which often happens, and we become caught in the
false, as soon as we see it, we're real again: no pushing or
pulling, just feeling it as it is. This is the vision of the
Venerable Puriso (Bruce Evans) was born in
Melbourne, Australia in 1951. As a young man he became involved in
the music business and made a record. Through contact with a Zen
teacher in Melbourne he was inspired to go to Japan to study Zen.
En route, he stopped over in Bangkok and met some Western bhikkhus,
but was put off training in the Theravada tradition because of the
restrictions on music in the monks' discipline. Nonetheless, he
decided to attend a Vipassana meditation retreat in Nong Khai. While
attending the retreat his guitar was stolen. This made him decide to
abandon his plans to train in Japan, and he started to investigate
more closely what opportunities might be available in Thailand.
Having heard about Ajahn Chah, he visited Wat Pah Pong, and
eventually took upasampada there in 1975, with Ajahn Chah as his
preceptor. In 1982 he went back to Australia with Venerable Jagaro
to help found a monastery in Perth. After some time he returned to
Thailand. He is now senior incumbent at Wat Wana Potiyahn (Wat Keurn),
not far from Wat Pah Pong, and close to the Lao/Cambodian border,
where he is actively engaged in working to preserve the dwindling
forests in the area. This work was featured in a very successful
television documentary, which was broadcast nationwide in Thailand.
In the meditation monasteries of North-East Thailand it is a
tradition for the village people to spend the new moon and full moon
uposatha days in the monastery. They keep the eight precepts and
practise meditation alongside the monks and nuns until dawn of the
following day. On such evenings a Dhamma talk is given especially to
encourage laity. The following talk, translated from the Thai by the
speaker, was given by Venerable Puriso during the Rainy-Season
Retreat (Vassa) of 1987.
"When you bring light into a dark place,
the darkness disappears,
no matter how long the darkness has been there."
FOR YOU WHO HAVE COME TO THE MONASTERY, leaving
your homes for the observance day, it is a good opportunity to stop
and reflect on your lives. Where are you going? Are you travelling
the worldly path or the path of Dhamma? If you are travelling the
path of Dhamma, are you making progress? In the practice of Dhamma,
one should constantly try to improve oneself; don't just go about
things in a perfunctory way -- move ahead. To make the Dhamma
meaningful, you have to make it relevant to your life, reflecting on
your actions in the light of Dhamma.
For example, when developing sati, recollection.
In any one day, how much time do you spend with sati, being aware of
yourself? We develop sati in our meditation practice. At first, one
may only be able to keep one's attention on the breath for two or
three seconds before it wanders. Especially if you don't establish
your mind when sitting, you may not even follow the breath for even
two or three seconds. You may end up just sitting there, passing the
When sitting in meditation, you should really,
consciously, sit in meditation. What is our task when sitting
meditation? We must bring the breath to mind, to recollect on,
contemplate around, or notice the in- and out-breaths. This is
developing the ability to recollect or be mindful -- sati. Using
repetition, we can improve our ability in this area.
With all the practices in the forest monastery
here, there is room for improvement and refinement. What are our
practices here? Firstly, for instance, there is eating one meal a
day. This is one of our basic practices. In forest monasteries this
standard should be observed firmly. Another one is the practice of
not lying down in the evenings of the observance days. For those who
have the strength, this should also be observed -- although if one's
health is not good, one may not be able to go all through the night.
Even so, one can still make the effort to be especially diligent on
Listening to Dhamma is another one of our
practices. Listening to Dhamma is something one must train in. If
one has never listened to Dhamma, one won't really know how to do
it. One's mind will wander and one will get caught up in thoughts of
criticism or praise, approval or disapproval, and so on. As for
those who have trained in listening to Dhamma, when they hear the
Dhamma they feel pleasure. Likewise, if we can practise the Dhamma
in our everyday lives, we should experience lightness and ease as a
result. We should experience the 'disbanding' or 'dissolving' of
suffering. The suffering of this world arises through clinging and
attachment. The world is the sphere of 'me' and 'mine'.
Now in this world there are many people, so it's
necessary to share things around. But in fact, there isn't much
sharing, there's more grabbing going on. People are struggling
against each other to make a living, raise a family, set themselves
up securely, and so on. In other words, they're suffering. Generally
speaking, people manage to get by, but there are times when things
get rough, problems arise in the form of disputes, quarrels,
fighting, and so on. It's just as if people were blinded by
So what should we do? We must listen to the
Dhamma, contemplate the Dhamma. We must learn to look at all these
things in the light of Dhamma, bringing light into our minds. When
you bring light into a dark place, the darkness disappears. No
matter how long the darkness has been there, it dissipates the
instant we bring light into that place. The 'light' here is the
understanding of things in the light of Dhamma. What is the light of
Dhamma? When we know how to let go of 'me' and 'mine', and see
things as they are -- this is seeing things in the light of Dhamma.
For instance, in Buddhism we talk about the
'Eight Worldly Dhammas': gain and loss, praise and criticism, fame
and obscurity, happiness and suffering. These are the things most
people are running after or from. People look for wealth and
possessions. Praise is another thing people look for. We like to
hear people say we are good and clever. Words like that please us.
If we hear words of criticism or abuse, we don't feel so good.
Another kind of worldly Dhamma is status. Some people aren't so
interested in wealth as such, but they like rank and power.
Politicians may spend lots of money to get political power and
If we look into all these worldly Dhammas, we
will notice that they all tend to swell up one's self-image.
However, the practice of Dhamma tends to work towards cutting it
down, towards giving up pride. 'Self building' is contrary to the
way of things, because in the end we lose all those things anyway.
I've noticed the monkeys here in the forest.
Sometimes I've seen them playing a game, something like 'King of the
Castle'. One of the monkeys will run to the top of a termite mound.
He's the King of the Castle. Then all the other monkeys down below
will compete with each other to pull him down and get up there
themselves. All of the monkeys want to get on top, they want to be
big, they want to show their stuff. But being on top doesn't
necessarily guarantee happiness. In fact, the monkey on top of the
mound suffers more than all the others. He's got to be constantly on
guard against the other monkeys jumping up and pulling him off the
mound. The others are much better off, they've got nothing to lose.
There's something we can learn from this, too.
'Make yourself small.' To say 'Make yourself small' doesn't mean to
make yourself stupid, lazy or cowardly, but to know how to let go:
to be humble, respectful, easily contented and appreciative.
These four qualities are contrary to the normal
way of the world. In the world, people don't usually aim for these
sorts of things -- they normally seek to make themselves big. The
Buddha said this is contrary to nature.
So whatever practice is a vehicle to help us let
go of 'me' and 'mine' is a correct practice, as well as being the
way to happiness. This is because letting go is happiness; clinging
is suffering. Regarding this point here, one who has never studied
or thought about the Dhamma won't like to hear it, because most
people tend to cling. There are many things people cling to as being
their own. Seeing things as being one's own in an absolute sense is
called 'clinging'. If one isn't clinging, one will see that 'our'
things are ours only in a relative sense. As long as supporting
conditions are there, then those things will also be there; but when
supporting factors no longer exist, then those things also cease.
Thinking in this way is thinking in the light of Dhamma. And
thinking in the light of Dhamma will make us cool and peaceful; we
will experience the disbanding of clinging. When clinging is
disbanded, we will experience lightness.
That we come to practise in the monastery is not
so that we can simply run away from home, but so that we can step
back a bit from our everyday lives and look at things more clearly.
If we were to practise only at home, there would be difficulties.
One might feel embarrassed to sit or walk meditation. But all of you
who come to the monastery come with the single intention of studying
and practising the religion. So you can all relax. If somebody wants
to practise walking meditation, that person won't have to feel
embarrassed or afraid that people will look askance at him, because
walking meditation is one of our duties here. If you tried doing
walking meditation in the market place, they might think you were
crazy, and lock you up! So we come to practise in the monastery
where we can relax, practise meditation, read Dhamma books or simply
spend the day quietly. Keeping the precepts is already a meritorious
action, because actually it's quite difficult to do, especially the
eight precepts. If one keeps the eight precepts, one is living like
a renunciant, especially here in this monastery where it's very
peaceful, and removed from the bustle of house hold life. Living
here for a day and a night is like ordaining for a day and a night.
If you were to try living like this at home, it wouldn't be easy --
sounds of radio, television, people coming and going -- these things
don't help meditation practice.
However, having come to stay here, we should look
into suffering. There will be suffering arising within our bodies
and minds. Our duty is to understand the truth of suffering. What
does suffering arise from, how does it arise? We must study these
things. The Buddha taught, 'Suffering is something that should be
recognised,' but most people don't want to recognize it. If
suffering arises, the only thing they can think of doing is to try
to run away from it. They don't want to look into it. They are not
real Dhamma practisers. A Dhamma practiser must look into problems
as they arise in order to understand their causes.
Sometimes, some incident may arise which we
instantly react to -- for instance, when people criticise us. But if
we look into what they say, we may find some truth there. Our
getting angry was simply a defence-reaction based on fear. If we
accept what they say, that is, we recognise their right to say what
they wish, then no incident arises.
If we practise so as not to give rise to any
'incidents' in our lives, we will have some peace. If any incidents
do arise, we dare to look into them in the light of Dhamma, with
openness, clarity and honesty. But seeing things in the light of
Dhamma is not easy. We have our habits. This is what makes seeing in
the light of Dhamma so difficult. We see things not as they are but
coloured by our habitual reactions and value judgements.
We must depend on Dhamma practice to further
train ourselves. We must develop moral discipline (sila) and mental
discipline (samadhi) in order to give rise to understanding (pa.
Sila and samadhi are the tools with which we calm our actions,
speech and thoughts. If our actions, speech ;and thoughts are not
restrained, everything is agitated, we can't see things the way they
are. In other words, we can't see in the light of Dhamma. We must
firmly take hold of the practices which the Buddha has bequeathed
us: moral precepts, the dhutanga practices, making merit and giving
offerings; these are all tools in our practice. They give us the
strength to overcome the hindrances and develop clarity.
How can we give up hindrances? Take the example
of giving offerings. Whether offering of material goods or offering
of one's time and energy, these are all aspects of dana, and they
are one way of giving up mental hindrances and cleansing our mind.
Don't think that making offerings is in order to go to heaven.
That's not a sure thing. If one makes offerings and yet does bad
actions, one may end up going to hell. Making merit through good
deeds ;and making offerings are done in order to cleanse one's mind.
You can see the fruit of your action in the present moment, you
don't have to go looking off into a future life. Future lives are an
uncertainty, we should consider this life. If you give offerings
wholeheartedly, without a trace of doubt or regret, giving fully
with one's whole heart, one will experience happiness right there, a
sense of well-being and fulfilment. Right there is the fruit of
giving, you don't have to look for it in the future.
Keeping the precepts is the same. If one keeps
the precepts wholeheartedly, without doubts on one hand or
self-pride on the other, one will experience a feeling of strength
in one's heart. The mind will be firm and strong. If one takes such
a mind and trains it further in concentration practice, that
firmness will increase until the mind becomes unified. This is our
path of practice.
This is how the forest monasteries teach the
Dhamma. They teach us to practise the Dhamma, to actually put it
into practice, to the best of our ability, and to see the fruits of
the practice in the present, right before your eyes. For instance,
if you practise meditation and calm the mind, the fruit of your
efforts will be plainly there before you. You don't have to think of
practising meditation for some future result, you can see the fruit
right there. Goodness is its own reward. This point is one that
people don't seem to understand. They see people going to the
monastery for years and never getting rich, so they conclude that
they've done good deeds and received no result. This is a
misunderstanding. If one really does virtuous deeds, there must be
virtue within one at that time. The fruit of the action is right
there within one. The same applies to bad actions. Sometimes we may
see others doing bad things and seeming to get away with it, and so
conclude that they've done bad actions and received no bad result.
This is still not seeing clearly.
In Buddhism we say, 'Good actions bring good
results, bad actions bring bad results.' This isn't a theory, an
idea, an ideal, or some form of wishful thinking -- it is the way
things are, whether one sees it or not. People who commit evil acts
become evil people. Their minds, their speech and their actions
become evil. This is the result of their evil actions, in keeping
with the Buddha's instruction, 'We are the owners of our kamma.'
Moreover, good and bad actions reap future
results as well, such as when a thief steals something. At the time
of stealing, he may even feel pleasure of a sort -- even if it is a
shoddy sort of pleasure -- and it may last for many days. He may get
a lot of money and spend it lavishly, but when the police catch him,
all that pleasure he experienced is as nothing -- it disappears
without a trace -- leaving him alone with the consequences of his
actions. This is the fruit of bad kamma. If we really practise and
contemplate, we should see that this is so.
When I went to Australia with Ajahn Jagaro, the
day we arrived at Perth Airport we were approached by a man as we
were going through Customs. He was a little drunk, but he must have
been something of a philosopher as well. Seeing us monks aroused his
curiosity, so he came to ask about our religion. We told him we were
'Oh, Buddhists. You revere the Buddha, is that
'They tell me, the Buddha was such a pure being, living such an
exemplary life, giving up himself for the sake of others, revered by
the world as a great sage .... But eventually he died, didn't he?'
'Yes, that's right.'
'Now suppose we take the example of someone who committed untold
evil -- such as Hitler, for example. He was responsible for the
deaths of so many people, so much suffering, so many heinous deeds
... but in the end, he also died, right?'
'Yes, that's right.'
'Well then, what's the difference? One man practises so virtuously,
one commits so much evil -- but in the end they both died just the
same. What's the use of virtue, if that's the case?'
I answered, 'They both died, it's true, but it
wasn't the same thing. The Buddha understood death. He lived his
life fully aware of the fact of death and was unshaken by it. When
the time came for him to die, he died peacefully, without doubts,
without regrets, having lived a 'true' life, one that was lived in
accordance with the truth.
'Hitler, on the other hand, didn't understand
death. His life was lived with fear and suspicion, his mind was
wrought with untold sufferings and a view that was ignorant of the
truth, which is why he could commit such evil actions anyway. His
life was lived out of fear, and he died in confusion and darkness.
His life was full of ignorance and falsehood. This is the important
difference: one of them understood, the other didn't.'
This is the important point. We Buddhists should
have this understanding in our hearts. What does 'Buddha' mean?
Buddha means 'knowing', Buddho means 'the one who knows'. This
Buddhist Religion is the religion of knowing and understanding the
way things really are.
Now, the knowledge of the Buddha and the
enlightened disciples is not the knowledge of so much -- it's
basically to know oneself. If you want to be a true Buddhist, you
must cultivate that knowing in your heart. This knowing is not like
worldly knowledge, which is an amassing of facts and ideas. It is
simply to know ourselves.
If you know how to practise like this, then it's
just like planting a Bodhi-tree in your mind. All the bad,
unwholesome qualities will be like fertiliser to feed the Bodhi-tree,
the tree of knowing. You will be able to use the defilements of mind
as objects of awareness, as vehicles to see the true state of your
mind, and seeing the true state of greed, hatred and delusion.
For example, if you happen to get angry, then
know that anger has arisen. Don't fool yourself by saying, 'No, I'm
not angry, it's just that so-and-so is such a dirty rat....'
Sometimes when we are angry, we fail to recognise it because we put
all our attention onto the object of anger rather than on our own
minds. We are always watching others, rarely ourselves.
The Buddha said that, no matter what happens,
accept it and investigate it. Such as when anger arises: know that
this is anger and investigate it. How does it feel to be angry? Do
you feel happy when you're angry? If you do this, then you are
looking at things in the light of Dhamma. Eventually you will learn
to let go of anger, because you will know that it causes suffering.
If it causes suffering, why cling to it?
But this is easy to say ... hard to do. Even so,
listening to a discourse can remind us of our direction and
encourage us to practise. If we practise hard not to get deluded by
the conditions of mind, then we are behaving as real Buddhists.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
It hadn't rained for many days. Walking around, I
saw the forest parched, some trees seemed to be dying. Now that it's
rained, the frogs are all out revelling in the water. They find
themselves a puddle, and croak away so happily -- they probably
think those puddles are always going to be there. But when the rain
stops in no long time they will all dry up, and the frogs will be
dying of the heat.
Our human lives are similar. When conditions are
conducive, we are able to live fairly comfortably. When conditions
change, we may not be able to continue. These days, people seem
intent on destroying nature. They don't seem to realize that human
beings are parts of nature, born of nature, just like those frogs.
If human beings destroy nature, it is just like destroying
themselves -- because we don't exist separate and above nature, we
live dependent on it, as part of it. Destroy nature and we destroy
So, on that note, I'll finish off the Dhamma
talk. I hope that some things I've said may be of use. At least you
may have some good food for reflection, so that you take what you've
heard and examine it, using it to develop your own wisdom.
Venerable Kittisaro (Randolph Weinberg)
was born in 1952 in Tennessee. He went to a military high
school and excelled at wrestling, becoming Mid-South
Wrestling Champion five times, and winner of the 'National
Tournament' championship. At Princeton University he studied
History and Philosophy of Science, and graduated with high
honours (Phi Beta Kappa) in 1974. He intended to go on to
study medicine, but studied English at Oxford instead, after
winning a Rhodes scholarship. While working on a thesis
about Aldous Huxley, he started to yearn for some sense of
His search for quiet places took him to the Buddhist Centre
at Oakenholt near Oxford. At a retreat there with Dr. Rewata
Dhamma, a Burmese monk, he met Dr. Douglas Burns, a disciple
of Ajahn Chah. Hearing about Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho,
he decided to go to Thailand to become a monk himself. He
became a samanera at Wat Pah Pong in February 1977, and
received upasampada from Ajahn Chah four months later.
During his second year in Thailand, Venerable Kittisaro
contracted typhoid and nearly died. Still not fully
recovered, he was called back to the U.S. because of family
illness. Instead of returning to Thailand, he went on to
England, and joined the monks who were then moving to
Chithurst. His physical condition continued to deteriorate,
however; eventually he was diagnosed to have Chrone's
Disease. After several years of serious illness, his health
began to improve slowly, and he has now made a reasonable
From 1985 to 1988 he was senior incumbent of the Devon
The following questions and answers with Venerable Kittisaro are
taken from a public talk given in Bath, and a session with religious
education teachers who visited the Devon Vihara -- both in 1986.
"When our mind is open and in the state of
that's the state of love -- truly being with something as it is,
whether it is horrible or pleasant."
Q: Could you outline for us your daily routine?
IN THE MONASTERY WE RISE AT 4 O'CLOCK. From then
until about 4.45 a.m., we get energised doing exercise and so on. At
5 o'clock, there is morning chanting, with an offering of candles,
incense, flowers and bowing. The idea is to begin the day by
offering that which is beautiful. These actions are a way of
pointing our whole being towards Buddha, being collected and awake.
So we're setting a direction for the day. Then we make the
dedication: 'May my life today be of benefit to all beings.'
The sitting meditation that follows is usually
for an hour. At 6.30 we clean the house, then have tea and a drink
of gruel (like liquidy porridge). I do a reading from the Teachings,
or give a talk. Then the monks go on 'alms round' through the
villages. As 'alms mendicants', it's our duty just to be visible:
not to bother people, not to harass them, but to let it be known
there's a monk about. If anybody wants to make offerings or talk to
us, then we are available. We now have about fifteen houses in the
area where they make regular invitation. So we just walk about
quietly with our bowl. We have our meal for the day at 10.30 a.m.
This is made up of what's been offered, either on the alms round or
by other supporters who have visited the monastery. Then we have a
In the afternoon there's work. I do a lot of
receiving guests and travelling to give talks, leading retreats and
study. There's always a lot of work to do on the property. We have
tea in the afternoon at about five. Then another service, or
chanting, at 7.30 p.m., which anyone can come to. On at least two
evenings a week I give a formal talk on some aspect of the teaching.
Once a week there's an all-night vigil, when we practise sitting and
walking meditation until just before dawn.
It takes years to learn how to live in a
community: how to learn to live with one another, how to live as a
celibate, how to live with simple possessions. We emphasise learning
how to let go of status, seeing it as just a form of self-conceit.
For the rest of my life I will always bow to those who have been in
the Order longer than I. That doesn't mean I have to believe they're
better than I am just because I'm in that relationship to them;
that's how the conventional relationship is with those who are
senior. I can use the situation to learn to be humble. In a
monastery everyone merges; there are no limits on who can be wise!
Now I find a sense of beauty in bowing to the elders.
Q: Do lay Buddhists adapt these principles to
There are five principles to follow: refrain from
killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, lying and intoxicants. These
guidelines enable us to look into our life and see that which causes
conflict: to see the impulse which is always wanting something. We
look into our heart and see that which exploits and is bound by
sexual energy, which doesn't use it wisely. We see the impulse to
distort the truth. And recognise how drugs and alcohol are unskilful
ways of avoidance. When someone is not living by these principles
their ability to endure hardships is wasted away. But if we do
accord with them, then the result of that spiritually is that we
become able to bear with things. If we're not able to bear with
things, we're not able to understand suffering.
Q: What does Buddhism teach about love?
Buddhism teaches that love has to be understood.
Generally we attach to an idea of love: love is liking something. We
tend to use the word very loosely. However in the Buddhist sense, to
really love something, means to allow it to be, to know it as it is:
a willingness to listen and be attentive. When a mother loves her
child, she is attentive to that child's needs. That doesn't mean she
always likes it -- for instance, when the child is screaming and not
sleeping at night -- but she's willing to be with that child. For
the mother, the child just is the way it is. As I understand it, the
Buddha taught that the purest form of love is to not fight
something: not struggling against something, but allowing it to
live, to be present in our consciousness. Then we can be attentive
Then you say: 'Well, gosh, that seems pretty cold
-- that won't change the world!' But when you give attention to
something without demanding that it be different, that very
attentiveness has a profound transforming effect. This is what I
found with my own body and illness. For some reason I didn't die,
and now I'm at least able to go around and meet people. For many
years all I could do was just be with the body, be with the
discomfort, be with the pain as it was. But allowing all that to be
in the mind, just as it was, caring for it -- gave so much
We find in physics now that they don't talk about
an 'objective observer' and 'the observed' any more. Physicists have
come around to seeing in terms of 'the participant'. The mere fact
of looking at something means you start to change it. Now if you
look at someone you love and you see something you don't like and
try to make them be different, you're actually forcing -- and that
can be quite cruel. So the Buddha would say that hatred can never be
stilled by hatred. Aversion won't cease by fighting it: only through
kindness, through not hating something, can a condition live, and
then die, naturally. Hatred has to die a natural death. As soon as
we try to kill hatred we actually reproduce it all over the place.
And when hatred ceases, love remains.
Q: What do you think about doctrinal statements
on such things as how the world began and so on?
They're just endless speculation -- even though
they may be fun to sit down and talk about! The Buddha had a simile
that relates to this. He talked about a man who had been shot by a
poisonous arrow. Before allowing the arrow to be removed this man
demanded to know: 'Who shot me? What kind of bow was it? What kind
of arrow was it? Which direction did it come from?' The doctor said:
'If I answer all those questions, you'll be dead.'
People used to come to the Buddha and ask, 'Is
the world finite or infinite? What happens to an enlightened being
after they die? What was the beginning of the world?', and all of
these marvellously intriguing questions. The Buddha said: 'If you
talk about these questions, you're going to be dead, and miss this
wonderful opportunity as a human being to be free.'
We need to be free from ignorance, to taste
freedom itself -- freedom from imagining that we're a body, freedom
from that which ties us down to the finite. The Buddha's teaching
always comes back to that which frees you from ignorance and
suffering. It's not skilful to spend a lot of time on such doctrinal
statements. Time is precious! Pull out the poisoned arrow. Go
straight to the root of the problem.
Q: What is the Buddhist attitude to social work
and engagement in social issues -- doing practical things to help?
Is Buddhism entirely impractical?
First of all, I think the idea that 'people who
are just contemplating don't have any effect on the world', needs to
be considered. I know that in our monastery when
someone is peaceful, it has an effect on the others; when someone is
being very irritable all the time, that also has an effect on the
Then there's this idea that a great gap exists
between action and contemplation. Again in physics, they're
beginning to see that the act of looking at something has a
tremendous effect. The way we look at things creates our world, our
whole attitude. All our indignation, all our liking and disliking
comes from our attitude.
A Buddhist contemplative approach would be
considering the Four Noble Truths. The First Noble Truth says:
'There is suffering.' Normally we think, 'I am suffering. I want to
get out of suffering,' and so we focus on hope, on wanting to get
out. The pain looks like something we want to get away from. The
Buddha says you'll never get away from it that way. We like to grab
hold of pleasure -- but the pleasure changes, because it's a
relative truth. Buddhism swings you right out -- the First Noble
Truth -- to look right at pain or unhappiness.
It is the same thing as when Jesus said: 'Pick up
your cross.' We've got to bear the cross: the whole symbol of
surrendering, rather than using his powers to fly up into the sky.
We turn to pain and look right at it, feel it and investigate it:
'What is it?' Notice how thoughts say, 'This is pain, this is
horrible, I can't take this any more.' We begin to watch the nature
of these ideas that we tack onto the pain: making it my pain, and
Mysteriously, once we start to look at pain it
changes too, because it's not a solid thing. So this is what the
physicists are learning: just the act of observing something is
actually participating in changing it. By looking at suffering,
we're actually part of the transformation of it. Understanding it,
standing under it, bearing with it, we become free from false
notions of pain and pleasure. By investigating it, already we see it
as something that appears to us, and then dispassion arises.
Now, what about the kind of action you're talking
about? Buddhists are encouraged to be open and see what needs to be
done, but not to look too far away too soon. It's easy to get fired
up about doing something 'important', but what about the ordinary
things like getting along with our family, and business companions?
If we do not have time for these things, then our work becomes
misguided. We may be talking about harmony and peace, but have not
yet dealt with the basic problem.
So yes: as we meditate and learn a proper
perspective on things, we learn to do whatever we can do. Depending
on our abilities and the situation we're in, we dedicate our lives
to being of benefit to the whole. As a Buddhist monk there are
certain things I can do and certain things I can't. My job as a monk
is to learn to live simply: eating very simply, having simple robes,
learning to rely on that which is offered. Also learning to be
available for whoever comes, to develop a willingness to be
interrupted. That's being just one tiny cog in this whole cosmos.
When each person starts to contemplate what Right
Speech is, and what Right Livelihood is, they find from their own
heart the most appropriate way to be of benefit to the whole. And at
the same time, they're not forgetting to be mindful and attentive.
Mindfulness is that which sees that what we do is kept in balance --
sees that we're not being guided by Wrong View.
It's a slow process maybe, but it encourages each
of us to grow up. We learn to use the wisdom we have, to open up
from being concerned with just this body or just this family, or
just this country, or just this political party. If we just take
sides with one little group, it can lead to so much trouble. But the
open mind simply senses suffering wherever it happens to be, and
makes an effort to alleviate it.
Yes, it's a crime that the world has so much
suffering in it now. We have so much power and yet we haven't
alleviated a lot of the basic problems. But the problems are not
going to be solved by trying to force people. They'll be solved by
really giving attention to them and each person doing what they can.
Q: Is it really a question of understanding
yourself before you can help anybody else?
There's a problem in the logic in that. When you
write it down in a sentence it sounds like you have to do all the
self-understanding first, and then, after you've become a Buddha, go
out and help people; and before that you can't do anything. Really
it doesn't work that way. Both aspects work together all the time.
In my own case when I was in Thailand I used to feel really good
being someone who was helpful in the monastery -- helping my
teacher, helping all the monks do yoga, always running around doing
something 'helpful'. Then when I became ill and unable to do
anything, I was totally incapable of being at peace with things.
There was no real wisdom. A lot of my action had been coming from
desperation. This desperation had actually tainted some of what I
This is why in Buddhism we always talk about
balance, and the importance of having a regular time for real
quietude. Just how much time one spends being quiet is up to each
person -- a minute, or just five minutes of sitting down and being
still is useful. Then we can notice the pull of what we think we
have to do; the guilt of thinking we're being selfish -- or whatever
there is. Getting those feelings in perspective -- seeing that which
is running us around all the time, puts us in a better position for
If we wait around until we're perfectly
enlightened -- I tell you what, I wouldn't be here tonight talking
to you all! You'd have to wait until the cows come home, and they
wouldn't be coming home! Because there's always another doubt that
comes in: maybe I'm not ready, yet.
If the thought comes: 'Am I ready yet?', I see
that as a thought -- right here and now. If, when I'm meditating
that thought comes, I see that it has a beginning ... 'Am I ready
yet?'... and that that thought has an end; and noticing that when
that thought ends, there's peace in the mind. When I can see that
the thought is just a thought which comes and goes, I can see it as
a changing condition in the mind. I don't have to make a problem out
of it any more. I don't have to wait for the time when there are no
more doubting thoughts. I just know it's a doubting thought and
I can offer what I'm able to. This brings forth
patience and equanimity. And this is what we can do in an immediate
How many times has someone passed us on the road
too quickly and we've let out a whole chain of profanities? So we
start with the little things. If we want to be like Jesus and save
the world, that's fine, but where have we got to start? The Buddha
started with the little things; he said, let's be honest, climb the
tree from the bottom, you don't jump into Nibbana, you don't jump
into God; you first learn to be patient with what's already
happening -- like a headache. Then one is building up mindfulness in
this present moment.
Q: Is it going to lead to a universal
impracticality if we take up Buddhism? ... How do you feel about
going into our technological world and making the changes that are
One thing I need to say is that it isn't really
for me to make proclamations about what 'Buddhists' think and feel.
Are such statements really useful? In Buddhism the whole teaching is
about a path towards Awakening. Each of us is seeing this room from
a different perspective, and so for me to tell others what they
should see or do is basically impossible.
As a general reflection, though, I feel we have
tremendous power now to manipulate things. We have the ability to
create all sorts of things through science, and we're beginning to
understand some of the laws of how materials -- what we call the
'aggregate of form' -- how these operate. We have great power to
change things, to move things, to dig up the earth, to send people
to the Moon, to blow up the planet. We have tremendous abilities to
produce. Our language and society is all about being productive.
Well, the religious impulse realises that we have
gone too far into the world of manipulating things to become as we
want them. There's an idea that if we eradicate enough diseases
through this marvellous science then we'll be disease-free,
pain-free, trouble-free, and then we'll be happy. But that's a
materialistic extreme. And when we go to an extreme we only see life
as it could be -- through concepts. There's tremendous power in the
desire to create. But this desire to make things be as we want them
can also become very cruel. Although we have this tremendous power,
we have still hardly moved in our ability to get along with one
another -- we're still fighting, getting separated, and
misunderstanding each other.
So the religious impulse tells us how to
appreciate things. It talks about opening the heart. When we were
children and went to the seashore we would look at the vastness with
our eyes wide open. Wind blowing in ... thousands of waves ... the
roar of the sea ... The mind had no way to manipulate that vastness.
So when our mind is open, we're just listening and watching. And in
that state of wonder, the state of awe, the state of communion,
we're actually appreciating. Now that's the state of love, the state
of truly being with something as it is, whether it's horrible or
pleasant. And in that state we are a part of the whole thing -- we
are connected to the whole.
But that can also become an extreme! What are we
going to do about all that needs to be done if we're attached to
being in a state of awe? So it's not a matter of one extreme or the
There's nothing good or evil about modern
medicine, or nuclear technology, or any of these things. But often
the human minds that are using them have become divorced from
reality. So rather than make proclamations about what people should
do in the active sense, I'd encourage everyone to open up to life
... and then we start to see how we actually feel about pain -- 'I
don't like it.' When compassion arises we are able to suffer with
others; we actually vibrate with them. We truly realize that they're
suffering and then we're simply not inclined to do things that hurt.
But if you just tell someone 'don't do that', 'be compassionate',
such issuing proclamations is using force. You might get people to
act the way you want them to, but there would still be avijja --
ignorance. So the Buddha taught that the source of the entire
problem is ignorance. We point at that, and out of awareness
naturally comes forth compassion -- that being at one with the
Venerable Bodhipalo (Michael Markham) was born in Nottingham,
England, in 1948. When he was young, his family moved around quite a
lot, and he spent 18 months in Canada when he was eight years old.
After leaving school he did various jobs, but was unable to find
anything that really interested him; eventually, he decided to go
travelling. He went overland through Europe to the Middle East, and
on to India and Nepal. In Kathmandu, he read a book about
meditation, which sparked off his interest; later, while staying in
Benares, he heard about a meditation course being held in Bodh Gaya,
and travelled there to attend.
He returned to the U.K. in 1972 and worked on a farm, but, still
feeling unable to settle, he went back to India in 1974. At Bodh
Gaya he became a samanera, travelling later that year to Wat Pah
Pong, where he received bhikkhu ordination. However, uncertain about
making a long-term commitment to the Holy Life, he disrobed and
returned to the U.K. in 1976. After a short time back in lay life he
realised that it still did not suit him, and with fresh resolve he
went back to Thailand and received upasampada again, this time with
Ajahn Chah as preceptor.
He visited the U.K. in 1986 for health reasons, spending a few
months at Chithurst Monastery, before setting out on a pilgrimage to
the Buddhist holy places in India.
He is currently living in Thailand.
Venerable Bodhipalo returned to England from Thailand in 1986, to
spend time with his family and at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery. On
the journey back to Thailand he decided to undertake a lone
pilgrimage in India to the Buddhist holy places. After a few months
a letter was received by the community at Chithurst. Here are some
"People told me all the terrible things
that might happen... so I thought of all the good things,
and decided to walk to Lumbini."
I LEFT SAVATTHI ON 4TH DECEMBER and was glad I had
the chance to see it. I wanted to walk to Lumbini but met with a lot
of negativity from people. They told me all the terrible things that
might happen -- I might starve, or get lost, or be robbed or killed,
and it was too cold to sleep out at nights. Although it's easy to
travel from place to place by bus with the pilgrims, and they're
quite willing to take you, I wouldn't have enjoyed that at all.
Originally, I was not going to use roads at all and go cross-country
from village to village, but this proved impracticable. Fifteen
years ago when I was here, the paddy fields were empty all winter,
but now they're full of crops: winter wheat, rape, tapioca, sugar
cane, vegetables. And here in Nepal they're still harvesting the
rice in some places.
Anyway, in spite of other people's negativity, I
thought I should at least give walking a try. So I thought of all
the good things that might happen, the kind, helpful people I might
meet, etc., and decided to walk to Lumbini.
On my first attempt at pindapata (almsround) in
Bulrampur, I did quite well -- not a square meal, but enough to keep
me going. One problem was trying to explain to people that I didn't
accept money or raw rice. Also I think perhaps some people thought I
was broke -- a hard-up hippie. So then I got a monk to write a note
(in Hindi) saying something like, 'I am a Buddhist monk on
pilgrimage to the holy places. I do not accept money. I depend on
alms food and eat only between dawn and midday. I am grateful for
your help.' With this note things have been easier. I stand in front
of a shop or house for a while -- maybe half a minute -- and if they
don't say anything, I move on to the next. If they ask what I want,
then I give them the note to read. In most cases the response has
been very good. Sometimes someone will walk along with me and chivvy
their friends into giving me something. I usually look like the pied
piper with a great gaggle of ragged children on my tail. One day I
had quite a good meal of chapatis and sabjees and sweets. Other
times I had small bits and pieces.
I've slept in a variety of places; by the road in a
small copse of trees with a stream running through it (plenty of
streams in this area, so no problem bathing); one night in a straw
stack. The villagers wanted me to sleep in a house in the village,
but there were too many women and children around, so I slept
outside the village in the threshing area on a heap of straw, under
a large mango tree. That was one of the warmest nights. Sleeping out
is very cold and it is usually impossible to sleep lying down. But I
remembered my experiences in Kanchanaburi (in Thailand), and found
that I could make more economical use of my robes, and keep warmer
by sitting up. One night I found an abandoned grass hut near the
road. Daytime is pleasantly warm, but it gets a bit hot in the sun
around midday, if you're walking or exerting yourself.
I regret I can't speak the language. I think it
would be even more fruitful if I could. I've decided to carry on the
rest of the pilgrimage in this way, going next to Kushinara, then
Varanasi and Bodh Gaya. Of course, some of the dangers that people
have pointed out might happen, but I'm sure they were just as likely
in the Buddha's day, and I could probably more easily be killed by a
taxi in London than by robbers in India.
I'm sure that my greatest protection is keeping the
Vinaya-discipline. The parami (virtue) of keeping good Vinaya is
very powerful; especially important are rules about food and money.
If I kept food or money, I could not go pindapata with a clear
conscience. Many people have done their best to persuade me to
accept money or carry food with me, but I know if I did that then
pindapata wouldn't work, I would not get any of the help or respect
that usually go to a samana (renunciant).
I'm now in Lumbini. I stopped at Kapilavastu for one
day, but there's not much to see. It doesn't appear to have been a
very big place -- nothing like Savatthi -- but it's hard to say, as
so little has been excavated. You can see the Himalayas from here.
At Savatthi you couldn't see them. On the second day's walk I looked
up in the late afternoon, and there they were; quite took my breath
away. Green fields and trees stretching into the distance and
beyond, the purple brown foothills, beyond this the snowcapped peaks
against a vivid blue sky. The best time to see them is early
morning, before eight; especially at sunrise, when the snow is
I had a lot of doubts about doing this while I was
still in England. When I first arrived in India I had doubts too.
Sometimes I thought I was completely crazy, or that it was just a
waste of time, a distraction, or just ego. But now I'm very glad I'm
able to do this trip. I consider myself very lucky to have the
opportunity. I hope more monks will do the same....
I hope all goes well with everyone at Chithurst.
Excuse my terrible writing, but I'm not used to writing so small.
Venerable Amaro (Jeremy Horner) was born
in Kent, England in 1956. He studied Psychology and
Physiology at Bedford College, University of London. His
first spiritual interest arose on reading the works of
Rudolph Steiner. Upon completing his degree, he had the
chance to travel to Asia -- a friend offered him work as a
groom on a cargo plane transporting racehorses to Malaysia.
He visited North-East Thailand on the recommendation of some
people he met while travelling. Looking for a place to stay
a few nights (before going on to Japan), he heard about Wat
Pah Nanachat and its Western monks. The visit was eventful
-- he took an instant liking to the monks, felt immediately
at home, and decided to stay. He became an anagarika, and
then a samanera four months later (in 1978). The following
year he received upasampada from Ajahn Chah.
Venerable Amaro stayed in Thailand for two years before
family illness called him back to England. He then joined
Ajahn Sumedho at the newly established Chithurst Monastery.
Once while in London, he decided to look up a cousin of his
whom he had never met: the illustrious scholar, translator
and president of the Pali Text Society, I.B. Horner.
Unfortunately, she died before a meeting between them could
In 1983 Ajahn Sumedho asked him to take up residence at
Harnham Vihara, and he requested (and was given permission)
to make his way there on foot. He wrote a book about the
830-mile walk: Tudong -- the Long Road North, in 1984.
This talk was given by the Venerable Amaro during a retreat
conducted for lay people at
Amaravati Buddhist Centre in April 1986.
"What 'Buddha' means in our lives is more
than whether the Buddha Gotama actually lived,
taught and did all the things he is said to have done."
BEING ON A RETREAT LIKE THIS, a great sense of
fellowship develops: a sense of everybody being on the same journey.
Even though we come from an enormous variety of backgrounds, men and
women, young and old, we are all heading for the same place. This is
something we know in our hearts is true that even though we may have
different names for the goal of the spiritual life, something in us
knows we are all heading in the same direction.
The most important thing about religious practice
of any sort is that it is to be a process of awakening; it must not
get trapped into being an empty ideal that we worship, instead of
being a reality we open to. Many rivers of blood have been shed
arguing about different names for the goal: 'The Holy City', 'Union
with Brahma', 'Kismet', 'Nibbana'. As long as there have been people
there have been ways of symbolising the state of peace, security and
fulfilment. So, if we can avoid getting caught up with the wording
of the signpost ending up hanging onto the signpost itself as long
as there is the resolution to make the journey, we will arrive,
regardless of the name of the destination we have used.
How could the goals be different? Whether one is
brought up a Christian, a Hindu or a Jew, as an English or an Asian
person, how could the fundamental nature of the mind be different?
How could it possibly be affected just by what we believe? Just as
the nature of water is not affected by the shape of the vessel into
which it is poured, so too the nature of Ultimate Truth the
nationality and the conditioning of the person in whom it is
realised does not affect the way it actually is.
It is very important to remain determined to make
the journey, to follow the signposts to awakening. The Buddha was
extremely careful in the way he taught, to account for the human
tendency to wander off the path. Our minds are so active and bright
that we will always find some fascinating things to get involved in
along the way: interesting palaces to visit, plants to investigate,
people to chat with by the road. So he kept pointing out to people
the crucial need to make the journey, rather than to just talk or
think about it.
Around any religious teaching, over the years,
there seem to grow up an enormous quantity of metaphysical and
philosophical ideas; rites and rituals; traditions of what to eat,
how to arrange marriages and funerals; how to talk about the
different qualities of our minds and the different factors that
influence our lives. Although we might start off with basic symbols
to represent simple truths, in time they become things we worship in
themselves. The institution becomes more important than the people
who comprise it, and it is forgotten what the institution, and the
symbol, were actually for. We end up worshipping the signpost rather
than allowing it to point out the way to us.
To avoid this the Buddha kept his teaching very
simple. One day he was walking through a forest with his monks; he
picked up a handful of leaves and said: 'What do you think, bhikkhus,
are there more leaves in my hand or more leaves in the forest?' 'The
leaves in your hand are few and the leaves in the forest are many,
'they replied. 'So too, 'said the Buddha, 'the things that I know
are comparable to the leaves in the forest, but that which I teach
you is just as much as I hold in my hand.'
All the Buddha knew in terms of how the world
works, the history of the universe, the astral realms, the mechanics
of nature in all its multifaceted complexity all this he laid aside.
He kept his teaching simply to that which was crucial to liberation.
Because of this he refrained from getting into
any kind of metaphysical discussion; he would never engage in that.
Whenever anyone would try to draw him on such a point 'What was the
Ultimate beginning?', 'What happens to an enlightened being when he
dies?' he would remain silent. He simply would not pursue it.
Firstly, because these things are all unimportant, in that they do
not lead directly to liberation; and secondly, to avoid compounding
the wrong views of the questioner. He used a very good simile to
explain this once: 'If I had a fire and put it out, and then I asked
you: Where has the fire gone north, south, east or west?, what would
you answer?' 'Well, it's a foolish question, because those things do
not apply. It's just gone out, it hasn't gone anywhere. 'The Buddha
replied: 'Exactly so the way you phrase the question assumes a
particular kind of answer. So to give any answer is to go along with
your mistaken view.'
So he would only teach that which related
directly to what a person can do in order to realise the Truth.
Whenever he did talk about Ultimate Reality, he would use the most
impersonal and open terms: 'It is wonderful; immanent, peaceful; the
Unoriginated, Unconditioned' which do not give a great deal to grab
a hold of! It is not some 'thing' one can externalise and idealise,
but a quality one can open to and realise.
The essence of all spiritual practice, in our
human condition, is to learn to look beyond the sensory world, learn
to abide beyond perception. One way that we can do this is to look
upon life as something that flows through the mind. Rather than
thinking of oneself as a person who is going places, consider these
as images going through the mind. Right now we have the image of the
meditation hall, Amaravati; this is what we can perceive. The sound
of this voice; the feeling of sitting on a cushion; the sense of
sight; see that all these things flow through the mind like a
current. When Ajahn Sumedho went travelling recently he said he made
the determination before he left that he wasn't going to go around
the world, he was just going to let the world go through his mind.
Afterwards he said the result was very peaceful: he went everywhere,
saw everyone, did everything, but the sense of movement, of a person
heading towards somewhere, was absent; there was stillness in its
If we stop looking upon our sensory experience as
being so solid and absolute, we see that there are just these
perceptions, and the knowing the sense of awareness and being. This
is the way that the mind is liberated, the way beyond birth and
death. There was a woman staying here in January who had terminal
cancer, she came to die here as a nun. This was during a monastic
retreat period so we had a lot of opportunity to contemplate the
dying process. One afternoon, as I was doing some walking
meditation, it struck me very clearly that when you look upon your
life as a succession of images that the mind is aware of, then why
should that be broken by the moment of death? The body is something
that is perceived in the mind so, at the moment of death, if there
has been awareness of the body alive, then surely there will just be
awareness of the body dead. The body dies just another perception in
the mind. What that mind is attached to, where it goes, who it
belongs to are all the north, south, east and west of the matter.
They are questions which do not really apply.
This is being with the mind that is beyond birth
and death being that knowing, being Buddha. When you see a thought
arising in your mind, it appears, has its life span, and then it's
gone. Though the birth and death of the body are probably the most
powerful experiences we have in a human life, fundamentally there is
no difference between them and the perception of a thought. With
meditation practice there is the development of understanding how
things come out of the void and go back into the void again. The
more familiar we get with this process, the more the mysteries of
existence resolve themselves. So it's not as though you know the
answer, in so many words, to, 'Where do I come from, where do I
go?', but you don't need to put it into words. You know the mind out
of which everything arises and into which everything disappears.
By training yourself to just be that knowing, be
that which is the source and goal of all things, you see the fear of
the unknown dissolve. Death is frightening when we don't understand;
but the more one knows the mind, the more it' s no longer the
unknown. There is no more fear because you realise, with the death
of the body, what is there fundamentally different that could
happen? How could it not just be another thing that comes into the
mind, that we bear with and then see vanish? Since we know the mind
before and after things have been born into it, we know there is
nothing to be frightened of.
In order to be able to deal with life this way we
have to develop an undiscriminating attitude, welcoming everything
that we experience. Welcoming the pleasant is very easy; pleasure is
what we like. But there are unpleasant qualities that keep arising
too: feelings of irritation and pride, desire, one's inability to be
a perfect human being welcoming all of that is a different story,
I remember talking with Ajahn Sumedho one day
about the practice of loving-kindness. 'It' s those foolish and
petty, childish emotional reactions I find hard to deal with.
'Right,' he replied, 'but notice the way we describe them petty,
foolish, childish does that sound to you like metta? Does that set
things up for you to accept life wholeheartedly? Or does it show
that you have already prejudged the whole experience? Because that'
s what I used to do. You have to welcome it all sincerely.'
As I began to apply this advice I realised how
much of my time had been trying to fend off all those little imps
and demons. All those wavelets of desire, fear and discomfort;
subtle feelings that had never been very clear. Every time anything
arose which brought a dismissive reaction up in my mind, I would
say, very carefully and deliberately: 'Oh, jealousy, how nice of you
to come! Have a seat. Pride! Hello... cup of tea?' The effect on my
mind was astonishing. I realised how much of a problem I had been
making out of my life so much judging and choosing over what I
wanted to arise in my thoughts.
I realised also that every time I reacted
negatively, pushing things away, that action implied that there was
something to fear. That this feeling or this thought was dangerous;
that it was going to really hurt me, or invade me; that it was
something that was really me and mine. As I began to welcome it all
I realised that when you accept everything, only then can you sense
that, after all, there is nothing to fear. None of it really belongs
to a self or comes from a self. It cannot touch the mind which
knows, cannot affect its nature. Whatever shape of vessel you pour
the water into, with this same total accommodation, the water
changes to the shape of the bottle. It doesn't say: 'I will not be
poured into a square bottle, square bottles are not my scene. Round
bottles only, please!'
To push away or grasp a hold of the beautiful and
the ugly, the noble and the sordid, is just as absurd really, isn't
When there is complete acceptance, there is just
the sense of being the knowing, being that which is aware of all
that comes through the mind. This is what the image of the Buddha at
the moment of enlightenment symbolises one often sees pictures of
the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree, with an aura of light
around him. Very still. Awake. And all about him there is every kind
of alluring, terrifying, heart-rending form imaginable the hordes of
Mara. Despite all his efforts, however, Mara fails to move the
Buddha, and this is the moment of the Buddha's enlightenment. He
knew: the beautiful, the terrifying, the sense of duty all of these
were just images in the mind. There is nothing one can grasp, there
is nothing to fear, none of it can really touch the mind.
Now this is a symbol, and whether or not the
incident occurred exactly as it is described is not as important as
what it symbolises. For one who practises the teaching, what
'Buddha' means in our lives is more important than whether the
Buddha Gotama actually lived, taught and did all the things he is
said to have done. 'Buddha' is that awakened nature of the mind, the
heart of the mind. That in you which is wise, which knows, which is
clear and bright. And that is what the Buddha on the night of his
enlightenment represents that knowing.
All the hordes of Mara these are just the
thoughts and feelings, hopes and fears, memories, pleasures and
pains of daily activity. These may not be as grand as the alluring
daughters, the terrifying demons or the tears of old King Suddhodana
getting the children to school, trying to please the boss, brushing
your teeth but for us these are the hordes of Mara. The images of
daily life come pouring through the mind but, if we are awake, we
can see that none of it affects the mind' s true nature that sense
of stillness, knowing, spaciousness and clarity which the Buddha
Most of the time, however, we find ourselves
moving away from that point. That's our habitual reaction to the
world grasping after things or running away from things. I remember,
when I was a very small child, often trying to jump into the middle
of my shadow, but however hard I jumped I just landed on the shadows
feet. And I would run after my shadow and then jump but where would
I land up? Just in the same place all over again. And this is what
we do with our lives the things that we desire, it' s like running
after shadows. You try to catch hold, reaching for the desire so
close, so close, and then you grasp it and then... and you haven't
really got it. Somehow it's not what you expected, it's different,
not what you really wanted.
And then to run from your shadow to be afraid,
you keep turning around: 'It's still behind me, run faster, got to
get away. 'When we stop and look though, we realise: 'Well, it's
just my shadow. 'You can't get away from it, but there's nothing in
it to be afraid of, it's just a shadow.
So when we stop and rest in the stillness of
knowing, we know in our hearts that all we desire, all we fear, are
just shadows. There is no substance there nothing which can make us
more complete and nothing which can threaten us. This is the real
freedom of mind.
So being Buddha, being that still, aware, noble
being, is both the goal and the practice that we follow the goal of
the practice and the substance of the practice are the same. The
religious path is thus one of simply learning to rest in being that
Knowing, being Buddha, awake and aware.
Venerable Thanavaro (Giuseppe Proscia)
was born in the north-east of Italy in 1955. Having shown a
keen interest in the arts from an early age, he studied
music, dance and drama. Conscripted into the Italian army,
he met a disciple of a Tibetan lama, who introduced him to
Buddhism. After serving his year's national service, he
spent a while in London studying music, and worked in a
fast-food restaurant. Some time later, back in Italy, he
read (in a Christmas Humphreys book) about Buddhist centres
in England, and in a casual conversation in a cafe heard
about Ajahn Sumedho. Returning to England, he went to meet
Ajahn Sumedho at the Oakenholt Buddhist Centre near Oxford,
where the monks were temporarily residing.
In October 1977, he became an anagarika at the Hampstead
Vihara, and a samanera one year later. He received
upasampada in 1979 on a boat on the River Thames, his
preceptor being Venerable Dr. Saddhatissa. Thus he was the
first Western monk training in Ajahn Chah's monasteries to
be ordained in England.
Venerable Thanavaro spent six years at Chithurst Monastery
and Harnham Vihara, before accompanying Venerable Viradhammo
to New Zealand in 1985, to help establish a vihara in
The following teaching by Venerable Thanavaro has been taken from a
response to a question asked at a public talk in Palmerston North,
New Zealand, 1988. The classic Buddhist text being commented upon is
known as the Mahamangala Sutta -- 'The Discourse on Great Blessings'
-- from the Sutta Nipata.
"Because the truth is 'inside' and
not just 'outside', it is a source of blessings."
MEDITATION IS THAT WHICH ENABLES US TO BE AWARE
of the process of change. And this process of change is the process
of life. If we're not able to acknowledge this process then we
resist it. We act in habitual ways and lose our spontaneity. We pile
up all kinds of problems in our minds.
It would be nice if in the morning when we wash
our face we could give a good scrub to our mind also -- you know,
somehow everything that was worrying us was left behind -- we could
come out feeling really fresh and new! But it doesn't work like
that, does it?
However, there is a way that does cleanse the
mind. It is the way of bringing blessings into our life. Now do you
know how to bring blessings into your life? I'm sure most of us have
tried to do this. Some people try to bring blessings into their
lives by bringing more money into their pockets, but money is not
necessarily always a blessing. The blessings that I am talking about
are blessings that come through understanding; they are brought
about by right motivation. Whenever we have right motivation we
bring blessings into our life -- we bring happiness into our life.
So first of all -- 'to associate with good
friends and not be caught up with foolish people' -- that is a way
of bringing blessings into our life. The company of the wise is a
source of blessings. Also, the way we relate to those good and wise
friends brings blessings. Whenever our heart is humble, and we are
able to give homage, that very attitude is a source of blessing.
'To live in a good place' -- that means a place
which is conducive to peacefulness and calm -- is a source of
blessings. For example, living in the centre of New York City
doesn't exactly facilitate a cascade of blessings into your life.
'Taking care of our parents, our children, our
partner, and friends' is a source of blessings. 'To have a skill'
and 'to work with others without conflict' is a source of blessings.
'To listen continuously' and therefore be
attentive is a source of blessings. Through listening and being
attentive we recognise the truth of what is being said -- the truth
is awakened 'within' us. Because the truth is 'inside' and not just
'outside', it is a source of blessings. And 'discussion on the
truth' -- sharing of one's experiences -- is a source of blessings.
This is not the sharing of gossip about each other, that's not a
source of blessings -- but this is a sharing in the light of giving.
[To the audience] Do you know of any other source
of blessings -- anything else that brings happiness into your life?
Meditation ... contentment ... gratitude ...
giving ... giving of oneself....
So, yes! Meditation and the ability to clear the
mind: are you all familiar with this skill? If the mind is not clear
then it is obstructed, isn't it? And whenever the mind is obstructed
we experience problems. One after another they pile up. Since the
mind in its true nature is like empty space, we can stack all the
problems in until there's a nervous breakdown. That means you've had
enough! A nervous breakdown is a way of releasing the accumulated
dirt of the mind -- all the daily irritations and frustrations.
My teacher, Ajahn Sumedho, describes meditation
as a kind of 'controlled nervous breakdown'. That means that you are
in control, you are the master, observing this process of gradual
release. And all sorts of stuff will come up, you know. I won't tell
you some of the things that have come up in my mind.
In Buddhism we say that before the mind is
restored to its pristine awareness it is obstructed by three
poisons. The three poisons that continually contaminate the stream
of consciousness are greed or lust, aversion -- which culminates in
hatred -- and stupidity. And they say you can have eighty-four
thousand variations on this theme of greed, hatred and stupidity. So
you can really be creative!
Now you know some people are striving to
transcend these tendencies. Transcending these tendencies is the
process of meditation -- the process that liberates us. Any
questions about this?
Venerable Jayasaro (Shaun Chiverton) was
born on the Isle of Wight, England, in 1958. At school he
excelled academically, but a spell of three weeks in Morocco
with the Venture Scouts when he was 14 had whetted his
appetite for travel, and when he left school he decided to
go overland by bus to India.
For the next 18 months he travelled extensively throughout
India, acquiring an interest in Eastern religion and
meditation practice along the way. Hitch-hiking back in
1977, he spent three months in Iran teaching English.
Declining the offer of a place at Sussex University, he went
to work for his father who was an engineer.
During the following year he started visiting the Hampstead
Vihara, and in 1978 he became an anagarika, spending the
vassa with Ajahn Sumedho at Oakenholt, near Oxford. He then
went to Thailand with the intention of becoming a bhikkhu,
and he received upasampada from Ajahn Chah in 1980.
Currently he lives at Wat Pah Nanachat, where he assists
with the training of monks. In 1988, he accompanied Tan Chao
Khun Paanda on a visit to England.
asked by the senior monks of Wat Pah Pong to prepare Ajahn Chah's
biography. In 1988 the former visited the U.K. as a translator for
Venerable Chao Khun Pannananda also to spend time with his family.
The following reflections on Ajahn Chah's life are taken from a talk
given at Amaravati Buddhist Centre in June of that year.
"In later times when Ajahn Chah had disciples,
he excelled in skilful means for helping them;
he had had so many problems himself. "
MY OWN FIRST MEETING WITH AJAHN CHAH was on the
full moon of December 1978. I had spent the 'Rains' retreat of that
year as an eight-precept lay person with Ajahn Sumedho at Oakenholt
here in England. After the retreat I went out to Thailand. When I
arrived at Wat Pah Pong, Venerable Pamutto, an Australian monk
resident there at the time, took me to see Ajahn Chah. He was
sitting under his kuti having a drink. He looked at me and smiled
very warmly. He held out the drink he had in his hand so I crawled
over and took it. As I returned to my place I found there were tears
welling up in my eyes. I was emotionally overcome for quite a while.
Since that day I don't think I have ever wanted to leave the
monastery or do anything except be a disciple of Ajahn Chah.
People often presumed there would be a problem
with language for Westerners who wanted to stay at the monastery,
but this was not the case. Someone once asked Ajahn Chah: 'Luang Por,
how do you teach all your Western disciples? Do you speak English or
French? Do you speak Japanese or German?'
'No,' replied Ajahn Chah.
'Then how do they all manage?' he asked.
'Householder,' Ajahn Chah enquired, 'at your home do you have
water-buffaloes?' 'Yes Luang Por,' was the reply.
'Do you have any cows, or dogs, or chickens?' 'Yes Luang Por.'
'Tell me,' Luang Por asked,' do you speak water-buffalo; do you
speak cow?' 'No,' the householder replied.
'Well, how do they all manage?'
Language was not so important to Luang Por. He
knew how to see through the exterior trappings of language and
culture. He could see how basically all minds revolve around the
same old centres of greed, hatred and delusion. His method of
training was one of pointing directly at the way our minds work. He
was always showing us how craving gives rise to suffering actually
allowing us to see directly the Four Noble Truths. And for him, the
way of exposing desires was to frustrate them. In his vocabulary,
the words 'to teach' and 'to torment' were more or less
Such training as this can only take place if
everyone in the monastery has great confidence in the teacher. If
there is the slightest suspicion that he might be doing it out of
aversion, or desire for power, then there wouldn't be any benefit.
In Ajahn Chah's case everyone could see that he had the greatest
courage and fortitude and so could trust that he was doing it out of
Primarily he would teach about letting go. But he
also taught a lot about what to do when we can't let go. 'W e
endure,' he would say. Usually people could appreciate
intellectually all about letting go, but when faced with obstacles
they couldn't do it. The teaching of patient endurance was a central
aspect of the way that he taught. He continually changed routines
around in the monastery so you wouldn't become stuck in ruts. As a
result you kept finding yourself not quite knowing where you stood.
And he would always be there watching so you couldn't be too
heedless. This is one of the great values of living with a teacher;
one feels the need to be mindful.
In looking into Ajahn Chah's early life it was
inspiring for me to find just how many problems he had. Biographies
of some great masters leave you with the impression that the monks
were perfectly pure from the age of eight or nine that they didn't
have to work at their practice. But for Ajahn Chah practice was very
difficult; for one thing he had a lot of sensual desire. He also had
a great deal of desire for beautiful requisites bowl and robes, etc.
He made a resolution in working with these tendencies that he would
never ask for anything even if it was permitted to do so by the
Discipline. He related once how his robes had been falling to bits;
his under-robe was worn paper-thin so he had to walk very carefully,
lest it split. Then one day he heedlessly squatted down and it tore
completely. He didn't have any cloth to patch it but remembered the
foot-wiping cloths in the Meeting Hall. So he took them away, washed
them and patched his robe with them.
In later times when he had disciples, he excelled
in skilful means for helping them; he had had so many problems
himself. In another story, he related how he made a resolution to
really work with sensual desire. He resolved that for the
three-month 'Rains' retreat he would not look at a woman. Being very
strong-willed, he was able to keep to it. On the last day of the
retreat many people came to the monastery to make offerings. He
thought: 'I've done it now for three months, let's see what
happens.' He looked up and at that moment there was a young woman
right in front of him. He said the impact was like being hit by
lightning. It was then that he realised mere sense restraint,
although essential, was not enough. No matter how restrained one may
be regarding the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind, if there
wasn't wisdom to understand the actual nature of desire, then
freedom from it was impossible.
He was always stressing the importance of wisdom:
not just restraint, but mindfulness and contemplation. Throwing
oneself into practice with great gusto and little reflective ability
may result in a strong concentration practice but eventually end up
in despair. Monks practising like this usually come to a point where
they decide that they don't have what it takes to 'break through' in
this lifetime, and disrobe. He emphasised that continuous effort was
much more important than making a great effort for a short while
only to let it all slide. Day in, day out; month in, month out;
year, in year out: that is the real skill of the practice.
What is needed in mindfulness practice, he
taught, is a constant awareness of what one is thinking, doing or
saying. It is not a matter of being on retreat or off retreat, or of
being in a monastery or out wandering on tudong ; it's a matter of
constancy.' What am I doing now; why am I doing it?' constantly
looking to see what is happening in the present moment. 'Is this
mind-state coarse or refined?' In the beginning of practice, he
said, our mindfulness is intermittent like water dripping from a
tap. But as we continue, the intervals between the drips lessen and
eventually they become a stream. This stream of mindfulness is what
we are aiming for.
It was noticeable that he did not talk a lot
about levels of enlightenment or various states of concentration
absorption (jhana). He was aware of how people tend to attach to
these terms and conceive of practice as going from this stage to
that. Once someone asked him if such and such a person was an
arahant was enlightened. He answered: 'If they are then they are, if
they're not then they're not; you are what you are, and you're not
like them. So just do your own practice.' He was very short with
When people asked him about his own attainments,
he never spoke praising himself or making any claim whatsoever. When
talking about the foolishness of people, he wouldn't say:' You think
like this and you think like that,' or' You do this and you do
that.' Rather, he would always say:' W e do this and we do that.'
The skill of speaking in such a personal manner meant those
listening regularly came away feeling that he was talking directly
to them. Also, it often happened that people would come with
personal problems they wanted to discuss with him, and that very
same evening he would give a talk covering exactly that subject.
In setting up his monasteries, he took a lot of
his ideas from the great meditation teacher Venerable Ajahn Mun, but
also from other places he encountered during his years of wandering.
Always he laid great emphasis on a sense of community. In one
section of the Mahaparinibbana Sutta ('Dialogues of the Buddha,'
sutta 16) the Buddha speaks about the welfare of the Sangha being
dependent on meeting frequently in large numbers, in harmony, and on
discussing things together. Ajahn Chah stressed this a lot.
The Bhikkhu-Discipline Vinaya was to Ajahn Chah a
very important tool for training. He had found it so in his own
practice. Often he would give talks on it until one or two o'clock
in the morning; the bell would then ring at three for morning
chanting. Monks were sometimes afraid to go back to their kutis lest
they couldn't wake up, so they would just lean against a tree.
Especially in the early days of his teaching
things were very difficult. Even basic requisites like lanterns and
torches were rare. In those days the forest was dark and thick with
many wild and dangerous animals. Late at night you could hear the
monks going back to their huts making a loud noise, stomping and
chanting at the same time. On one occasion, twenty torches were
given to the monastery. But as soon as the batteries ran out, they
all came back into the stores as there weren't new batteries to
Sometimes Ajahn Chah was very harsh on those who
lived with him. He admitted himself that he had an advantage over
his disciples. He said that when his mind entered samadhi
(concentration) for only thirty minutes it could be the same as
having slept all night. Sometimes he talked for literally hours.
Going over and over the same things again and again, telling the
same story hundreds of times. For him, each time was as if the
first. He would be sitting there giggling and chuckling away and
everybody else would be looking at the clock and wondering when he
would let them go back.
It seemed that he had a special soft spot for
those who suffered a lot; this often meant the Western monks. There
was one English monk, Venerable Thitappo, whom he gave a lot of
attention to; that means he tormented him terribly. One day there
was a large gathering of visitors to the monastery and, as often
happened, Ajahn Chah was praising the Western monks to the Thais as
a way of teaching them. He was saying how clever the Westerners
were, all the things they could do and what good disciples they
were. 'All,' he said 'except this one,' pointing to Venerable
Thitappo. 'He's really stupid.' Another day he asked Venerable
Thitappo: 'Do you get angry when I treat you like this?' Venerable
Thitappo replied: 'What use would it be? It would be like getting
angry at a mountain.'
Several times people suggested to Ajahn Chah that
he was like a Zen Master. 'No I'm not,' he would say, 'I'm like
Ajahn Chah.' There was a Korean monk visiting once who liked to ask
him koans. Ajahn Chah was completely baffled; he thought they were
jokes. You could see how it was necessary to know the rules of the
game before you could give the right answers. One day this monk told
Ajahn Chah the Zen story about the flag and the wind and asked: 'Is
it the flag that blows or is it the wind?' Ajahn Chah answered:
'It's neither; it's the mind'. The Korean monk thought that was
wonderful and immediately bowed to Ajahn Chah. But then Ajahn Chah
said he'd just read the story in the Thai translation of Hui Neng.
Many of us tend to confuse profundity with
complexity, so Ajahn Chah liked to show how profundity was in fact
simplicity. The truth of impermanence is the most simple thing in
the world, and yet it is the most profound. He really emphasised
that. He said the key to living in the world with wisdom is a
regular recollection of the changing nature of things. 'Nothing is
sure,' he would constantly remind us. He was always using this word
in Thai 'Mai-naa!' meaning 'uncertain'. This teaching: 'It's not
certain,' he said, sums up all the wisdom of Buddhism. In
meditation, he emphasised, 'We can't go beyond the hindrances unless
we really understand them.' This means knowing their impermanence.
Often he talked about 'killing the defilements',
and this also meant 'seeing their impermanence'. 'Killing
defilements' is an idiomatic expression in the meditative Forest
Tradition of North East Thailand. It means that by seeing with
penetrative clarity the actual nature of defilements, you go beyond
Whilst it was considered the 'job' of a bhikkhu
in this tradition to be dedicated to formal practice, it didn't mean
there wasn't work to do. When work needed doing you did it. And you
didn't make a fuss. Work is not any different from formal practice
if one knows the principles properly. The same principles apply in
both cases, as it's the same body and mind.
And in Ajahn Chah's monasteries, when the monks
worked, they really worked. One time he wanted a road built up to W
at Tum Saeng Pet mountain monastery, and the Highways Department
offered to help. But before long they pulled out. So Ajahn Chah took
the monks up there to do it. Everybody worked from three o'clock in
the afternoon until three o'clock the next morning.
A rest was allowed until just after five when
they would head off down the hill to the village on alm sround.
After the meal they could rest again until three, before starting
work once more. But nobody saw Ajahn Chah take a rest; he was busy
receiving people who came to visit. And when it was time to work, he
didn't just direct it. He joined in the heavy lifting and carrying
of rocks alongside everyone else. That was always very inspiring for
the monks to see: hauling water from the well, sweeping and so on,
he was always there right up until the time his health began to
Ajahn Chah wasn't always popular in his province
in North East Thailand, even though he did bring about many major
changes in the lives of the people. There was a great deal of
animism and superstition in their belief systems. Very few people
practised meditation, out of fear that it would drive them crazy.
There was more interest in magical powers and psychic phenomena than
in Buddhism. A lot of killing of animals was done in the pursuit of
merit. Ajahn Chah was often very outspoken on such issues, so at
first he had many enemies.
Nevertheless, there were always many who loved
him. And it was clear that he never played on that. In fact, if any
of his disciples were getting too close, he would send them away.
Sometimes monks became attached to him, and he promptly sent them
off to some other monastery. As charismatic as he was, he always
stressed the importance of Sangha, of community spirit.
One New Year's Eve I remember how, in accordance
with custom, a vast number of people had come to the monastery.
After the evening chanting Ajahn Chah gave a talk, and this was
followed by meditation. Just before midnight someone came in and
announced that a senior monk from the village monastery had arrived.
I remember how Ajahn Chah went out and received the monk himself:
came in carrying his bag and proceeded to lay out his sitting-cloth.
He then made the three most beautiful bows of respect that I have
ever seen. In every way he displayed heartfelt humility: as if he
were a monk just newly ordained. In the middle of many hundreds of
his disciples it was as though he were completely immune to all the
unskilful feelings that many of us may have felt.
I think it was because Ajahn Chah was 'nobody in
particular' that he could be anybody he chose. If he felt it was
necessary to be fierce, he could be that. If he felt that somebody
would benefit from warmth and kindness, then he would give that. You
had the feeling he would be whatever was helpful for the person he
was with. And he was very clear about the proper understanding of
conventions. Someone once asked him about the relative merits of
arahants and bodhisattvas. He answered: 'Don't be an arahant, don't
be a bodhisattva, don't be anything at all. If you are an arahant
you will suffer, if you are bodhisattva you will suffer, if you are
anything at all you will suffer.' I had the feeling that Ajahn Chah
wasn't anything at all. The quality in him that one was inspired by
was the light of Dhamma he reflected; it wasn't exactly him as a
So since first meeting Ajahn Chah, I have had an
unshakeable conviction that this way is truly possible it works it
is good enough. And I've found a willingness to acknowledge that, if
there are any problems, it's me who is creating them. It's not the
form and it's not the teachings. This appreciation has made things a
It's important that we are able to learn from all
the ups and downs we have in practice. It's important that we come
to know how to be 'a refuge unto ourselves' to see clearly for
ourselves. When I consider the morass of selfishness and foolishness
my life could have been.... And then reflecting on the teachings and
benefits I've received, I find I really want to dedicate my life to
being a credit to my teacher. Such reflection has been a great
source of strength. This is one form of sanghanusati 'Recollection
on Sangha' recollection of the great debt we owe our teachers.
So I trust that you may find this is of some help
in your practice.
Venerable Vajiro (Phil Gunton) was born
in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1953. He was educated at
Lancing College in England, and went on to study Economics
at Bath University. Upon graduating in 1974, he took up a
career in accountancy. During this period, a friend
encouraged him to go on a ten-day meditation retreat with
John Coleman at the Oakenholt Buddhist Centre near Oxford.
He attended further retreats there in 1976 and 1977.
Hearing about the visit Ajahn Chah and Ajahn Sumedho made to
Oakenholt in 1977, he went to meet them at the Hampstead
Vihara. He eventually moved next door to the vihara, while
continuing his training as an accountant. In 1978, however,
he asked to join the community as an anagarika; he then
stayed a while at Chithurst, before travelling to Wat Pah
Pong in Thailand. He became a samanera there in 1979, and
received upasampada from Ajahn Chah the following year.
Venerable Vajiro returned to England in 1984, and assisted
with the establishment of Amaravati Buddhist Centre. He
presently resides at Chithurst Monastery.
The following teaching has been taken from a talk given by Venerable
Vajiro at Chithurst Buddhist Monastery in 1988.
"'Giving' is the beginning
and the end of the religious life."
THE FEELING OF SEPARATION is an experience that
all living beings have. We come across it within ourselves and can
see it in animals also. There's a recognition that 'this' is
separate from 'that'; this body is separate from that one. And we
make various attempts to get over this sense of separation. Perhaps
the most primitive reaction to it, is 'taking'. We take from the
environment around us -- absorbing into ourselves. We take food and
we take power. This 'taking' can be one way of trying to cope with
the sense of separation.
A slightly more refined way of trying to cope
with this experience is 'making a bargain', one being with another
-- a sort of agreement. We give something to get something in
return: 'If I give this much, then I expect that much back'. Using
such bargaining structures is perhaps the most common way we relate
with each other as humans -- the shopping we do, agreements we make
with our spouse, or with the children: 'I'll give you this and you
give me that.' So this can be another way of dealing with this
feeling of separateness.
Then there is sharing. That's a little bit more
open, isn't it? There's a recognition of the separation of one being
from an other, and a willingness to share. In this way both parties
are benefiting from the arrangement. It's akin to a bargain, but
it's a little more spacious, both expecting some sort of enjoyment
from it -- some sort of gratification.
But with each of these ways of relating, there's
always reinforcement of the sense of separateness. With taking, with
bargaining, and even with sharing there's still a sense of one being
separate from the other. So its not really transcending or getting
beyond our separateness. This is where dana works so well. With dana
or real giving, real generosity, there is no expectation of return.
It's not a bargain, it's not even a sharing. It's not that we share
something with another, and keep some for ourselves. We actually
give completely, without expecting anything back.
A lot of our giving is not giving completely. Its
imperfect giving. But this is something that can be worked on. We
can consider how to perfect giving over a period of time. It is the
first of the 'Ten Paramitas'*. We understand from the texts that it
was the last of the ten that the Buddha perfected, but as Theravadin
Buddhists, we have it first on the list.
I think Ajahn Buddhadasa once said that if we
perfect one of the paramitas fully, then all the others are
perfected also. That's very helpful when considering dana. We can
see how if we practise giving without expecting anything in return,
all the paramitas can be fulfilled at that moment.
One has to use wisdom -- pa-- to know for
example, the right time and place and the right things to give. And
to give honestly -- sacca -- requires that we look at our intention
clearly. And patience -- khanti: we must be patient in the act of
giving, and with our limitations in learning to give. There's
renunciation there too: we give something that we perceive as being
'ours'. And we have to use energy -- viriya. Also, whenever we give,
there's the chance that our offering could be rejected, so we must
develop metta and upekkha. And we have to 'resolve' to do it; it
requires a determination to give -- this is developing adhitthana.
Also, resolving to share the merit of the act of generosity --
making a dedication.
Now how can we notice these qualities -- giving,
renunciation, honesty -- the whole spectrum of perfections that can
exist in that simple act of giving? How do we really work with
giving? When I was first in Thailand, I remember that receiving
generosity was not easy. As a strong young man, walking on alms
round and having the old village people come running out to offer a
little bit of rice, a piece of fruit, a couple of pieces of palm
sugar or whatever.... At times I thought: 'What on earth have I done
to deserve this? I should really be helping these old villagers.'
And yet, for those people practising generosity,
they felt it was a privilege. You know, they'd be more annoyed if we
didn't come on alms round. They would be round at the monastery
saying: 'Well, why didn't you come today? Are you ill or something?'
or 'You haven't been doing your duty.' I remember talking to Ajahn
Jagaro at the time about how I felt, and he said: 'You'll never
really learn how to give until you learn to receive, and you'll
never learn how to receive until you learn to give.'
There are two sides to giving; there's receiving
also. The gratitude -- the appreciation of the spirit of giving.
That doesn't necessarily mean liking what is offered; but
appreciating the loveliness of the act of generosity -- the act of
giving without expecting anything in return. The humbling quality
which comes with this gratitude is very helpful in transcending the
sense of separation. This helps in going beyond the feeling of
selfishness, of being separate.
We can give in many ways, of course: give
materially, food, shelter, medicine, clothing, money.... We can give
time, encouragement, kindness, love.... And all of these can be
bargained with, taken, shared, or given. But it's not the quantity,
or the thing itself that's important. It's the attitude of not
expecting anything in return or not making some sort of agreement
about it. When we do give in this way, then we find that there's no
disappointment, and there's no fear either. There's no conceit and
no arrogance. There's just giving.
Eventually, we come to recognise the 'giving of
attention' -- giving attention to 'this' moment and not expecting
anything from it. We say that in Buddhist practice, all you have to
do is 'be mindful'. What this actually means is that that is all we
are doing; mindfulness is all that is happening. We're not expecting
something back. To expect a return would be striking a bargain;
'giving' would not be perfected, and the sense of separation would
not be transcended.
Giving attention to the moment is what we can
practise all the time. Giving attention to the breath, not expecting
anything from the breath. Giving attention to the posture, to the
movements of the body. Giving attention throughout our life is a way
of practising generosity: not expecting anything in return, not
bargaining, not taking anything, not even sharing, just giving. That
giving doesn't indulge and doesn't repress. It doesn't seek anything
or try to get rid of anything. With such generosity, with dana, we
can see the possibility of the perfection of humanity.
Classifying these ways of relating into taking,
bargaining, sharing and giving may not come directly from the
scriptures, but I hope it is helpful in your practice. To me,
'giving' is the beginning and the end of the religious life.
*The Ten Paramitas ['virtues' or 'perfections']
are: generosity, moral discipline, renunciation, wisdom, energy,
honesty, determination, patience, loving-kindness, and equanimity.
This letter from Venerable Kittisaro was previously printed in
the Devon Vihara Newsletter, in September 1987
"...master these great efforts so that
and actions are conditioned by wisdom rather than ignorance."
DEAR FRIENDS ON THE PATH,
Greetings. Though I've seen many of you this summer
here at the Vihara or away at one of the public talks I've given, I've
not had the opportunity for quite a while to write a letter to you all.
I think it's important that occasionally we reflect upon ourselves as a
part of a larger community of beings all united in our inclination to
Nibbana, peace. The transforming effect of a virtuous community is the
power of Sangha. Though literally the word can mean any sort of group or
gathering, its usage in Buddhist practice is quite specific.
Sangha is one of the precious Triple Gems, one of the
Three Refuges to which Buddhists continually go in their skilful effort
to return and re-establish themselves on the Way, moment to moment. I go
to Buddha, I go to Dhamma, I go to Sangha.
What is this 'going to Sangha', Sangham saranam
gacchami, and what does it have to do with Nibbana? In its strictest
sense, Sangha refers to those beings who have had true insight and are
firmly established in Right View. This Ariya Sangha, or group of Noble
Ones, can be made up of men and women, ordained people and laity, young
and old beings alike. Ariya Sangha don't even have to be 'Buddhists'!
Members of this virtuous order are dedicated to practice: practising
goodness, practising straightly -- avoiding the extremes of sensory
indulgence or repressive self-mortification -- practising direct insight
into the way things are, and endeavouring to master these great efforts
so that thoughts, speech, and actions are conditioned by wisdom rather
The members of the Ariya Sangha have had insight into
the Four Noble Truths. They know the cessation of suffering, the
experience of true peace. Though they may still be fooled by beguiling
conditions of mind and body (except in the case of arahants, who are
never fooled), they can return to the Path, re-establishing Right View
from the perspective of knowing this moment as it is. They can begin
again. Members of this Noble Sangha can 'let go'. This is wisdom.
Basically, the Ariya Sangha is that group of wise
beings. Why then is the third refuge 'I go to the Sangha'? Because wise
beings are alive, flesh and blood, here and now, living examples of the
Way. Their earthiness and tangibility often touches our heart when
Buddha-Dhamma seems remote and abstract. Sangha brings the Teachings to
We need not, though, be obsessed with designating
'who knows' and 'who doesn't', 'who's truly wise' and 'who isn't'. 'Will
the REAL Sangha members please stand up!' Even if we do hear or think
that he or she is attained, we still need to be able to deal with the
doubt arising in our own mind. 'Does he really know?'
More importantly, however, we need to develop that
inner sense of what is wholesome and what isn't, what rings true and
what doesn't. This discernment will tell us whether to trust someone or
not. We don't need to rely on some official stamp of ecclesiastic
authority -- 'He's a stream enterer,' 'She's fully realised,' 'He's a
non-returner,' etc. In fact, if we are moved by such claims, then we
tend to blindly follow others' opinions, and never get beyond doubt.
Though it's impractical to designate 'Who's Who', the
principal importance of a wise being remains. If we know individuals who
inspire us with their presence, their practice, their insight, their
goodness, then we should make an effort to respect them, learn from
them, support them. The Buddha praised the great blessing of seeking out
the wise rather than the foolish as companions. This is not to say
blindly follow them. But just beginning to sense what is wise and what
is not is the birth of the reflective mind. Then, to raise up that
goodness in our hearts through various actions, we begin to bring those
Sangha qualities into consciousness. After all, from a wise being we
hear the true teaching. From the ignorant beings in our lives (and in
our own minds) we hear about ME and YOU, TIME, I MUST HAVE, I MUST GET
RID OF, and all the other 84,000 assorted delusions of greed, hatred and
'I go for refuge to the Sangha' means I will seek out
a wise friend. The Buddha teaches that the wise ones are 'worthy of
gifts, worthy of hospitality, worthy of offerings, worthy of respect.
They give occasion for incomparable goodness to arise in the world.'
Sangha is a true refuge. Let's remember that.
Traditionally, Sangha refers to those ordained
bhikkhus and bhikkhunis, who are giving their lives to the practice of
the Way. But strictly speaking, the Noble Sangha is open to all beings
who have had true insight. Having a robe and a shaven head is no
guarantee whatsoever of wisdom and virtue. When the monastic life is
lived sincerely and earnestly it is conducive to developing virtue,
insight and true accomplishment. In fact, in any lifestyle how we
practise determines whether Sangha is present -- not our robe, sex,
occupation, or religious title.
In a broader and quite practical sense, Sangha can
and should include all beings inclining towards peace, virtue, wisdom
and compassion. As opposed to the worldly stream carrying groups of
beings into whirlpools of passion, dogmatic views and despair, the power
of Sangha is that counter-current and flow of beings towards the oceanic
calm of kindness, compassion, joy and serenity -- metta, karuna, mudita,
upekkha. Good friends are so important for reminding us when we go
astray, for inspiring and encouraging us, empowering us to begin again.
These definitions of Sangha all focus on outer
beings, wise teachers, virtuous friends. When there is doubt, wavering,
confusion within, the outer manifestations of wisdom illumine the way.
Friends and wise beings in our lives, however, are part of this mind,
our mind. Our worldly habits say HE and SHE OUT THERE, but really those
beings are arising in our own minds, just as do our thoughts -- and the
thoughts of reading this letter as well. The qualities of wisdom and
virtue that we recognise in others are also part of this mind that we
call our own. Eventually we must realise that Sangha is essentially the
boundless virtue within.
Our refuge in Sangha, our contact with wise beings,
keeps directing our hearts to seeing the Buddha within, that in us which
knows, which is aware now, which is not deluded by our experience. Our
contact with Sangha reminds us, encourages us, in effect offers us
occasions conducive to using this Buddha Nature within so the Dhamma is
revealed, so that Truth -- How Things Are -- becomes clear in our minds.
Our contact with Sangha outside, as manifested in our wise friends and
virtuous companions, reminds us to cultivate these very same qualities
unshakeably within our hearts. True Sangha does not point to itself --
'We are the special ones' -- but rather it points to the virtuous heart,
to that skilful effort which brings us back again and again to practise
This summer I've had the good fortune to experience
the power of Sangha in many ways: leading retreats; participating in
discussion groups; attending an ordination ceremony with fellow monks
and nuns, and our teacher Venerable Sumedho; and learning from other
spiritually-oriented groups. In the most ordinary and immediate sense, I
live with monks and anagarikas who are dedicated to developing the Way.
We are supported by our many generous friends. This humbles us, for we
know that as alms mendicants we cannot live alone, and yet it inspires
and warms our hearts to receive. Those conditions then generate a new
round of Sangha virtue as we naturally feel motivated to make ourselves
worthy of offerings, to practise well, to offer what we can.
Sangha generates Sangha generates Sangha: swelling
spheres of goodness that meet and merge, leaving only joy and gratitude,
the sense of inner and outer melted into one mind. These moments
disappear when the overlapping spheres shrink down, the contracting
power of identifying with ME and MINE collapsing space into independent
alienated bubbles of being this or that. Trapped in our own private
worlds, space is further splintered and fragmented into a maze of jagged
beings, caught in a current of time, competing with one another for
happiness. Life becomes very complicated and anxious, as we feel
compelled to protect our fragile niche, or improve it, or take over
someone else's. I think we have all felt like that.
Now remember how you felt when you encountered
Sangha, a wise being, one who is at ease. When we hear the Truth or see
it, or feel its peaceful manifestation, we can relax. Faith and trust
are born. Suddenly, miraculously, the myriad divided beings begin to
awaken to the truth of this moment; and where there was separation, a
unifying universality begins to pervade our heart as we come together in
attentiveness, wise reflection, virtuous effort. The differences are
still apparent, but they do not divide us, for we stand together
inspired by the Way itself. Many times I've seen this miracle happen and
then dissolve. Coming together often with our dhamma friends helps to
generate and sustain this 'right seeing' and dissolve that habitual
tendency to contract our spacious heart into rigid self views.
Obviously, in our normal lives we will encounter many
not-so-wise beings within and without. Learning to cope in this world
with its many faces is painful and difficult, but with our refuge in
Sangha we learn to find joy in Right Effort, no matter who's around.
Then Sangha is established in our hearts, and all beings are our family,
giving us precious teachings. Sangham saranam gacchami takes us home to
the wise and virtuous one within. The virtuous ones 'without' remind us
of the Way, and in gratitude we honour them and remember our true home:
One Heart, One Knowing.
May all beings find a good friend.
"Buddhism is a religion of the heart.
Only this. One who practises to develop
the heart is one who practices Buddhism"
This meditation could be used in a group, with one person reading
the instructions slowly and quietly. A series of dots at the end of
a paragraph (. . . .) indicate a brief period of silence before
continuing with the next instruction. It is suggested that the
meditation take approximately half an hour.
This will be a meditation on loving-kindness. It
will incorporate a simple visualisation using a faculty of mind that
we use quite routinely. For instance, if I suggest bringing to mind
the image of a flower, we can do that. It doesn't matter if it's a
rose or a lily, or what colour it is, or even how clear that mental
image is something fleeting is adequate.
Now sitting upright, notice if there's any
tension in the face. Relaxing around the eyes, around the jaw and
mouth. Let the attention come down to the heart area an area in the
middle of the chest, around the sternum, the breastbone. We breathe
in, experiencing the breath energy. It's almost as if it's possible
to breathe in and out from that area in the middle of the chest. Now
as we breathe in, saying to ourselves: MAY I BE WELL wishing
ourselves well, let there be a sense of well-being, a subtle gesture
of mercy directed towards ourselves. Let the past be; letting it go:
and for this moment in time, just keep letting the mind come to the
breath, and the heart, and the thought, in an harmonious whole.
Breathing in: MAY I BE WELL. . . . . .
and then breathing out, directing that same
merciful energy outwards, saying: MAY OTHERS BE WELL.
Continue letting a simple rhythm develop Breathe
in: MAY I BE WELL, breathe out: MAY OTHERS BE WELL. . . . . .
If the mind has wandered off, gently, with great
patience, bring the attention back. It's a soft movement, coming
back to the heart, to the breath, to the thought breathing in: MAY I
BE WELL, breathing out through the heart: MAY OTHERS BE WELL. . . .
What we are doing is beginning to attune
ourselves to that which is loving and compassionate in the universe.
Opening up to that caring energy and allowing it to energise us,
nourish us, using the breath and the thought as a channel, as a
vehicle for that energy. Breathing in: MAY I BE WELL. And then
channel that energy out to others: MAY OTHERS BE WELL. . . . . .
Keeping the breath soft and steady, letting the
breath energy nourish us; breathing in to the heart, breathing out
through the heart. . . . . .
Opening up to that which is compassionate in the
universe. Breathing in, letting the heart become more sensitive and
receptive to that energy. Breathing out, the heart becoming more
open and expansive, giving out: MAY OTHERS BE WELL. . . . . .
And when we are ready. . . . . .
take a slow, deep breath into the heart, letting
the thought and breath energy fill us. Holding it for a while
keeping it comfortable. Allowing the thought to deepen that sense of
well-being. Letting it saturate us, permeate the body. Breathing
out, slowly, quietly, back out through the heart: MAY OTHERS BE
WELL. Doing that a few times deep breath in, hold it, and out. . . .
Now we begin to use the visualisation, working
more with the out-breath. On the in-breath continue as before,
breathing into the heart with the thought: MAY I BE WELL. And on the
out-breath, we first bring to mind the image of our parents it
doesn't matter where they are, near or far, alive or dead. Bringing
them up one at a time, or together whichever is easier. Seeing them
a few feet in front of us, and each time we breathe out bringing up
that image and directing our thoughts of kindness and acceptance
towards them. So breathing in with the thought: MAY I BE WELL. . . .
and breathing out, with the mental image of our
parents. As we breathe out: MAY THEY BE WELL. . . . . .
Next: bringing to mind our spiritual teachers,
those who have helped us, guided us, encouraged us, instructed us
throughout our life. With the out-breath, a gesture of gratitude,
using the thought: MAY THEY BE WELL. . . . . .
Bringing to mind now our family; partner,
children, brothers and sisters one at a time, or in a group. With
the out-breath, a gesture of affection: MAY THEY BE WELL. Breathing
into the heart: MAY I BE WELL, breathing out through the heart: MAY
THEY BE WELL. . . . . .
Now bringing to mind a special friend or friends
those whom we feel would benefit from thoughts of kindness. With the
out-breath, bringing them into the mind and wishing them well; a
subtle embrace, a gesture of caring. . . . . .
Breathing into the heart: MAY I BE WELL.
Breathing out through the heart: MAY THEY BE WELL. . . . . .
Bringing to mind now those whom we practise with,
those in our immediate environment; directing our thoughts out,
including all of them: MAY THEY ALL BE WELL AND AT PEACE. . . . . .
Now bringing to mind an image of the Earth as if
seen from outer space. Towards that beautiful blue, white, green,
brown image, directing our thoughts: MAY ALL BEINGS BE WELL.
Breathing out: MAY ALL BEINGS BE WELL. . . . . .
And now bringing to mind an image of
spaciousness, emptiness. Into that vastness directing our thoughts:
MAY ALL BEINGS BE WELL. Letting the mind open up, open out; letting
the heart open up, open out. The body drops away no boundaries
vastness spaciousness. . . . . .
Now carefully, in a slightly more focused way,
bringing our attention back to the heart, a point in the middle of
the chest, and breathing in slowly and deeply with the thought: MAY
I BE WELL. Holding it for a while.... Letting that thought spread as
a sense of well-being throughout the body, energising and nourishing
us. With the out-breath, slowly and quietly, back out through the
heart. Doing that once or twice deep breath in, hold it, and out. .
. . . .
Now bringing to mind an image of someone you
hurt, intentionally or not, alive or dead... and using their name,
saying: PLEASE FORGIVE ME. . . . .
Calling to mind someone you hurt. . . . . .
using their name saying: PLEASE FORGIVE ME.
Paying very close attention to the heart. Keeping
it open. . . . . .
and now bringing to mind an image of someone who
hurt you. Using their name saying: I FORGIVE YOU. . . . . .
Bringing to mind someone who hurt you. Using
their name saying: I FORGIVE YOU.
Now using our own name, we say: I FORGIVE YOU. .
. . . .
Using our own name, we say: I FORGIVE YOU. . . .
and. . . . . .
YOU ARE FORGIVEN. . . . . .
YOU ARE FORGIVEN.
Being with those feelings of caring. Bringing
them into the heart; holding them gently. . . . . .
Now carefully coming back to the breath the
breath energy coming into the heart with the thought: MAY I BE WELL.
Being nourished, filled. And back out, out through the heart for
others: MAY OTHERS BE WELL.
So simple breathing in, being energised.
Breathing out, wishing others well. Breathing out for others. . . .
Bell to end meditation.
The following words are mostly in Pali, the
language of the Theravada Buddhist scriptures and chants (if not
Pali, the language of the word is noted). They are brief
translations for quick reference these are not exhaustive or
refined definitions. Not all of the foreign words found in the
talks are listed below, as many are defined at the point of use.
Note most Pali diacritics have been omitted here and within the
book, as few people are familiar with the specialised
ajahn: (Thai) 'teacher'. Often used as the title of
the senior monk or monks at a monastery.
anagarika: 'homeless one'. An anagarika, still
technically a lay person, lives in a monastery and follows the Eight
anatta: 'not-self', i.e. impersonal, without
anicca: impermanent, transient (and by implication,
ephemeral), having the nature to arise and pass away.
arahant: an enlightened being, free from all
bhavana: practice, cultivation. Used in a specific
way (e.g., metta bhavana), or more generally (as in the bhavana which
the spiritual life itself entails).
bhikkhu: alms mendicant. In Buddhism, it is the term
for a monk, who lives on alms and abides by training precepts which
define a life of renunciation and simplicity.
bodhisatta: As used in the Theravada school, this
refers to a being destined for enlightenment, and sometimes specifically
to Gotama Buddha before his enlightenment.
bodhisattva: (Sanskrit) A term from Mahayana
Buddhism, referring to one who 'delays complete enlightenment' for the
sake of helping other beings reach enlightenment first.
Buddha: The Understanding One, the One who is awake,
who knows things as they are; a potential in every human being. The
historical Buddha, Siddhattha Gotama, lived and taught between 563 and
Chao Khun: (Thai) title of honour for a monk, which
confers responsibility for the Sangha of a district.
dana: generosity. Hence, often used to refer to an
offering, especially of food, to a monastic community.
dhamma: This word is used in several ways. It can
refer to the Buddha's Teaching, as contained in the scriptures; to the
Ultimate Truth, towards which the teaching points; and to a discrete
'moment' of life, seen as it really is. (Sanskrit 'dharma'.)
dhutanga (Thai tudong): special strict monastic
observances. Dhutanga bhikkhus are noted for their diligence and
impeccability. In Thailand, such monks often undertake the mendicant's
wandering practice of the Buddha's time -- hence the phrase, 'to wander
(or 'go') tudong'.
dukkha: 'hard to bear'; dis-ease, restlessness of
mind, discontent or suffering, anguish, conflict, unsatisfactoriness.
jhana: meditative absorption or trance.
kamma: action or cause (and by extension, the result
or effect) which is created or recreated by habitual impulse, volitions,
natural energies. (Sanskrit 'karma'.)
khandha: 'heap'; the term the Buddha used to refer to
each of the five components of human psycho-physical existence.
koan: (Japanese) meditation riddle, often used in the
Zen form of Buddhism.
kuti: (Thai) hut; typical abode of a forest monastery
Luang Por: (Thai) difficult to translate; literally,
'Venerable Father', but very much conveying a sense of affection as well
Mara: a being of Buddhist mythology who is the
adversary of the Buddha; hence, the one who tempts, deludes or destroys.
Mara is also the Pali word for 'death'.
metta: goodwill, 'loving-kindness'.
mudita: 'sympathetic' joy (the opposite of jealousy).
Nibbana: freedom from attachments. The basis for the
enlightened vision of things as they are. (Sanskrit 'Nirvana'.)
pa discriminative wisdom.
paramita (Thai parami): 'Perfections' or 'superlative
virtues', qualities especially recommended by the Buddha for those
Phra Khru: (Thai) title of honour for a monk,
recognizing his service as a teacher.
Precepts (Five/Eight/Ten): The basic codes of conduct
recommended by the Buddha for his followers. The Five Precepts pertain
to the ordinary 'household' life, and the Eight or Ten Precepts form the
foundation for the renunciant life (which is then further elaborated in
the vinaya). A list of the Precepts is given at the end of this
samadhi: concentration or one-pointedness of mind.
samana: one who has entered the Holy Life; a
samanera (Thai samanen): The novice stage for a
bhikkhu. A samanera lives within the Ten Precepts, but does not yet
follow the complete bhikkhu-vinaya.
samsara: the unenlightened, unsatisfactory experience
sila: moral virtue.
sangha: the community of those who practise the
Buddha's Way. Often, more specifically, those who have formally
committed themselves to the lifestyle of a mendicant monk or nun.
sati: mindfulness, recollection.
sutta: a Buddhist scripture.
tudong: see 'dhutanga' above.
upajjhaya: 'preceptor', a bhikkhu who may admit
others into the monastic order.
upasampada: ceremony of entering the bhikkhu-sangha;
upekkha: equanimity, serenity.
uposatha: the Buddhist 'Sabbath', a day which lay
people often spend at a monastery, observing the Eight Precepts. The
uposatha days occur according to the lunar phases.
vassa: the 'Rains' retreat period. As established by
the Buddha, it occurs during the Asian monsoon season.
vihara: a residence; often used as the name for a
vinaya: the monastic discipline, or the scriptural
collection of its rules and commentaries.
vipassana: the penetrative insight of meditation, as
distinguished from simple mental tranquillity.
wat pah: (Thai) forest monastery (typically, a place
of dhutanga observance).
The Five, Eight or Ten Precepts are guidelines which
encourage mindfulness and selfless action. They are best understood as
the proper standards of behaviour for a human being, to be respected and
cultivated. Shortcomings with regard to the precepts do not necessarily
constitute sin or evil, but rather they point out where greater effort
and awareness are needed. The practice of the precepts is beneficial
both to the one who uses them and to those who encounter such a person.
The first five are recommended for all people:
1: Not intentionally taking the life of any living creature.
2: Not taking anything which is not given.
3: Refraining from irresponsible sexual conduct. (As part of the Eight
or Ten Precepts, this is observed as complete chastity, i.e. refraining
from any sexual behaviour.)
4: Not speaking falsely, abusively or maliciously.
5: Not taking any intoxicating drink or drug.
The next three are the traditional renunciations
helpful to those engaged in serious spiritual practice:
6: Not taking solid food after mid-day.
7: Not singing, playing music, dancing, or attending games and shows;
not beautifying or adorning one's body.
8: Not using a high or luxurious sleeping place.
To arrive at ten precepts (which form the basis of
mendicancy), one divides the seventh into two precepts, and then adds
10: Not handling or controlling money.