A talk given by Ajahn Chah at Wat Nanachat in 1977
Whatís important is
not staying or going, but our thinking. So all of you, please work
together, cooperate and live in harmony. This should be the legacy
you create here at Wat Pah Nanachat Bung Wai, the International
Forest Monastery of Bung Wai District. Donít let it become Wat Pah
Woon Wai, the Forest Monastery of Confusion and Trouble (one of ACís
favorite plays on words). Whoever comes to stay here should be
helping create this legacy.
The way I see it, the laypeople are providing robes material,
almsfood, the dwelling place, and medicines in appropriate measure.
Itís true that they are simple country folk, but they support you
out of their faith as best they can. Donít get carried away with
your ideas of how you think they should be, such as, ďOh, I try to
teach these laypeople, but they make me upset. Today is the
observance day, and they came to take precepts. Then tomorrow
theyíll go casting their fishing nets. Theyíll drink their whiskey.
They do these things right out there where anyone can sees. Then the
next observance day, theyíll come again. Theyíll take the precepts
and listen to the Dharma talk again, and then theyíll go to put out
their nets again, kill animals again, and drink again.Ē
You can get pretty upset thinking like this. Youíll think that your
activities with the laypeople donít bring any benefit at all. Today
they take the precepts, and tomorrow they go cast the fishing nets.
A monk without much wisdom might get discouraged and feel heís
failed, thinking his work bears no fruit. But itís not that his
efforts have no result; itís those laypeople who get no result. Of
course there is some good result from making efforts at virtue. So
when there is such a situation and we start to suffer over it, what
should we do?
We contemplate within ourselves to recognize that our good
intentions have brought some benefit and do have meaning. Itís just
that the spiritual faculties of those people arenít developed. They
arenít strong yet.
Thatís how it is
for now, so we patiently continue to advise them. If we just give up
on such people, they are likely to become worse than they now are.
If we keep at it, they may come to maturity one day and recognize
their unskillful actions. Then they will feel some remorse and start
to be ashamed of doing such things.
Right now, they have the faith to support us with material
offerings, giving us our requisites for living. Iíve considered
this: itís quite a big deal. Itís no small thing. Donating our food,
our dwellings, the medicines to treat our illnesses, is not a small
thing. We are practicing for the attainment of Nirvana. If we donít
have any food to eat, that will be pretty difficult. How would we
sit in meditation? How would we be able to build this monastery?
We should recognize when peopleís spiritual faculties are not yet
mature. So what should we do? We are like people selling medicine.
Youíve probably seen or heard them driving around with their
loudspeakers touting the different medicines they have for different
maladies. People who have bad headaches or poor digestion might come
We can accept money from those who buy our medicine; we donít take
money from someone who doesnít buy anything. We can feel glad about
the people who do buy something. If others stay in their houses and
donít come out to buy, we shouldnít get angry with them for that. We
shouldnít criticize them.
If we teach people but they canít practice properly, we shouldnít be
getting angry with them. Donít do that! Donít criticize them, but
rather keep on instructing them and leading them along. Whenever
their faculties have ripened sufficiently, then they will want to do
it. Just like when we are selling medicine, we just keep on doing
our business. When people have ailments that trouble them, they will
buy. Those who donít see a need to buy medicine probably arenít
suffering from any such conditions. So never mind.
Keeping at it with
this attitude, these problems will be done with. There were such
situations in the Buddhaís time too. We want to do it right, but
somehow we canít get there yet; it means that our own faculties are
not sufficiently mature. Our spiritual perfections (parami) are not
complete. Itís like fruit thatís still growing on the tree. If you
want to force it to be sweet, you canít. Itís still unripe, itís
small and sour, simply because it hasnít finished growing. You canít
force it to be bigger, to be sweet, to be ripe-you have to let it
ripen according to its nature. As time passes and things change,
people may come to spiritual maturity. As time passes, the fruit
will grow and ripen and become sweet of its own. With such an
attitude, you can be at ease. But if you are impatient and
dissatisfied, if you keep asking, ďWhy isnít this mango sweet yet?
Why is it sour?Ē when it isnít ripe, then what can be done? Itís
still sour because itís not ripe. Thatís the nature of fruit.
The people in the world are like that. It makes me think of the
Buddhaís teaching about four kinds of lotus. Some are still in the
mud, some have grown out of the mud and are in the water, some are
at the surface of the water, and some have come out of the water and
bloomed. So the Buddha was able to give his teachings to so many
various beings, because he understood their different levels of
spiritual development. We should think about this and not feel
oppressed by what happens here. Just consider yourselves to be like
someone selling medicine. Your responsibility is to advertise it and
make it available. If someone gets sick, they are likely to come and
buy it. Likewise, if peopleís spiritual faculties mature
sufficiently, one day they are likely to develop faith. Itís not
something we can force them to do. Seeing it in this way, we will be
Living here is certainly meaningful. Itís
not something without benefit. All of you, please practice together
harmoniously and amicably. When you experience obstacles and
suffering, recollect the virtues of the Buddha. What was the
knowledge the Buddha realized? What did the Buddha teach? What does
the Dharma point out? How does the Sangha practice? Constantly
recollecting the qualities of the Three Jewels brings a lot of
Whether you are Thais or people from other countries is not
important. Itís important to maintain harmony and work together.
People come from all over to visit this monastery. When folks come
to Wat Pah Pong, I urge them to come here, to see the monastery, to
practice here. Itís a legacy you are creating. It seems that the
populace have faith and are gladdened by it. So donít forget
yourselves. You should be leading people rather than being led by
them. Make your best efforts to practice well and establish
yourselves firmly, and the good results will come.
Are there any doubts about practice you need to resolve now?
Q: When the mind isnít thinking much, but is in a sort of dark and
dull state, is there something we should do to brighten it? Or
should we just sit with it?
AC: Is this all the time, or when you are sitting in meditation?
What exactly is this darkness like? Is it a lack of wisdom?
Q: When I sit to meditate, I donít get drowsy, but my mind feels
dark, sort of dense or opaque.
AC: So you would like to make your mind have wisdom, right? Change
your posture, and do a lot of walking meditation. Thatís one thing
to do. You can walk for three hours at a time, until youíre really
Q: I do walking meditation a couple of hours a day, and I usually
have a lot of thinking when I do it. But what really concerns me is
this dark state when I sit. Should I just try to be aware of it and
let go, or is there some
means I should use
to counter it?
AC: I think maybe your postures arenít balanced. When you walk, you
have a lot of thinking. So you should do a lot of discursive
contemplation, then the mind can retreat from thinking. It wonít
stick there. But never mind. For now, increase the time you spend on
walking meditation. Focus on that. Then if the mind is wandering,
pull it out and do some contemplation, such as investigation of the
body. Have you ever done that continuously, rather than as an
When you experience this dark state, do you suffer over it?
Q: I feel frustrated because of my state of mind--Iím not developing
samadhi or wisdom.
AC: When you have this condition of mind, the suffering comes about
because of not knowing. There is doubt as to why the mind is like
this. The important principle in meditation is that whatever occurs,
donít be in doubt over it. Doubt just adds to the suffering. If the
mind is bright and awake, donít doubt that. Itís a condition of
mind. If itís dark and dull, donít doubt about that. Just continue
to practice diligently without getting caught up in reactions to
that state. Taking note and being aware of that state, donít have
doubts about it. It is just what it is. When you entertain doubts
and start grasping at it and giving it meaning, then it is dark.
As you do your practice, these states are things you encounter as
you progress along. You neednít have doubts about them. Notice them
with awareness, and keep letting go.
How about sleepiness? Is your sitting more sleepy or awake?
Maybe itís hard to recall if youíve been sleepy! If this happens,
meditate with your eyes open. Donít close them. Instead, you can
focus your gaze on one point, such as the light of a candle. Donít
close your eyes! This is one way to remove the hindrance of
When youíre sitting, you can close
your eyes from time to time, and if the mind is clear, without
drowsiness, you can then continue to sit with your eyes closed. If
itís dull and sleepy, open your eyes and focus on the one point.
Itís similar to kasina meditation. Doing this, you can make the mind
awake and tranquil. The sleepy mind isnít tranquil; itís obscured by
hindrance and itís in darkness.
We should talk about sleep also. You canít simply go without sleep.
Thatís the nature of the body. If youíre meditating and you get
unbearably, completely sleepy, then let yourself sleep. Thatís also
one way to quell the hindrance when itís overwhelming you.
Otherwise, you practice along, keeping the eyes open if you have
this tendency to get drowsy. Close your eyes after a while and check
your state of mind. If itís clear, you can practice with eyes
closed. Then after some time you take a rest. Some people are always
fighting against sleep. They force themselves not to sleep, and the
result is that when they sit, they are always drifting off to sleep
and falling over themselves, sitting in an unaware state.
Q: Can we focus on the tip of the nose?
AC: Thatís fine. Whatever suits you, whatever you feel comfortable
with and helps you fix your mind, focus on that.
Itís like this: in teaching meditation, if we get attached to the
ideals and take the guidelines too literally, it can be difficult to
understand. When doing a standard meditation, such as anapanasati,
first we should make the determination that right now, we are going
to do this practice, and we take anapanasati as our foundation. We
turn our attention to only focusing on the breath, at three points,
as it passes through the nostrils, the chest, and the abdomen. When
the air enters, it first passes the nose, then through the chest,
then to the end point of the abdomen. As it leaves the body, the
beginning is the abdomen, the middle is the chest, and the end is
We merely note it.
This is a way to start controlling the mind, tying awareness to
these points at the beginning, middle, and end of the inhalations
Before we begin, we should sit and let the mind relax first. Itís
similar to doing something like sewing on a machine. When we are
learning to use the sewing machine, first we just sit in front of
the machine to get familiar with it and feel comfortable. Here, we
just sit and breathe. Not fixing awareness on anything, we merely
take note that we are breathing. We take note of whether the breath
is relaxed or not and how long or short it is. Having noticed this,
then we begin focusing on the inhalation and exhalation at the three
We practice like this until we become skilled in it and it is going
smoothly. Then the next stage is to focus awareness only on the
sensation of the breath at the tip of the nose or the upper lip. At
this point we arenít concerned with whether the breath is long or
short, but only focus on the sensation of entering and exiting.
There may be different phenomena contacting the senses, or thoughts
arising. This is called initial thought (vitakka). It brings up some
idea, be it about the nature of compounded phenomena (sankhara),
about the world, or whatever. Once the mind has brought it up, the
mind will want to get involved and merge with it. If itís an object
that is wholesome, then let the mind take it up. If it is something
unwholesome, stop it immediately. If it is something wholesome, then
let the mind contemplate on it, and gladness, satisfaction, and
happiness will come about. The mind will be bright and clear as the
breath goes in and out, these initial thoughts appear, and the mind
takes them up. Then it becomes discursive thought (vicara). The mind
develops familiarity with the object, exerting itself and merging
with it. At this point, there is no sleepiness.
After an appropriate period
of this, take your
attention back to the breath. Then as you continue on, there will be
the initial thought and discursive thought, initial thought and
discursive thought. If you are contemplating skillfully on an object
such as the nature of sankhara, then the mind will experience deeper
tranquility, and rapture is born. There is the vitakka and vicara,
and that leads to happiness of mind. At this time, there wonít be
any dullness or drowsiness. The mind wonít be dark, if we practice
like this. It will be gladdened and enraptured.
This rapture will start to diminish and disappear after a while, so
you can take up the initial thought again. The mind will become firm
and certain with it, undistracted. Then you go on to discursive
thought again, the mind becoming one with it. When you are
practicing a meditation that suits your temperament and doing it
well, then whenever you take up the object, rapture will come about,
the hairs of the body standing on end, the mind enraptured and
When itís like this, there canít be any dullness or drowsiness. You
wonít have any doubts. Back and forth between initial and discursive
thought, initial and discursive thought, over and over again, and
rapture comes. Then there is bliss (sukha).
This takes place in sitting practice. After sitting for a while, you
can get up and do walking meditation. The mind can be the same in
the walking. Not sleepy, it has the vitakka and vicara, vitakka and
vicara, then rapture. There wonít be any of the hindrances
(nivarana: desire, anger, restlessness and agitation, sloth and
torpor, doubt), and the mind will be unstained. Whatever takes
place, never mind; you donít need to doubt about any experiences you
may have, be they of light, of bliss, or whatever. Donít entertain
doubts about these conditions of mind. If the mind is dark, if the
mind is illumined, donít fixate on these conditions, donít be
attached to them. Let go, discard them. Keep walking, keep noting
what is taking place, without getting bound
Donít suffer over these conditions of mind. Donít have doubts about
them. They are just what they are, following the way of mental
phenomena. Sometimes the mind will be joyful. Sometimes it will be
sorrowful. There can be happiness or suffering, there can be
obstruction. Rather than doubting, understand that conditions of
mind are like this, and that whatever manifests is coming about due
to causes ripening. At this moment, this condition is
manifesting-thatís what you should recognize. Even if the mind is
dark, you donít need to be upset over that. If it becomes bright,
donít be excessively gladdened by that. Donít have doubts about
these conditions of mind, or about your reactions to them.
Do your walking meditation until you are really tired, then sit.
When you sit, determine your mind to do it; donít just be playing
around. If you get sleepy, open your eyes and focus on some object.
Walk until the mind separates itself from thoughts and is still,
then sit. If you are clear and awake, you can close your eyes. If
you get sleepy again, open your eyes and look at an object.
Donít try to do this all day and all night. When youíre in need of
sleep, let yourself sleep. Just as with our food: once a day we eat.
The time comes, and we give food to the body. The need for sleep is
the same. When the time comes, give it some rest. When youíve had an
appropriate rest, get up. Donít let the mind languish in dullness,
but get up and get to work--start practicing. Do a lot of walking
meditation. If you walk slowly and the mind becomes dull, then walk
fast. Learn to find the right pace for yourself.
Q: Are vitakka and vicara the same?
AC: Youíre sitting and suddenly the thought of someone pops into
your head-thatís vitaka, the initial thought. Then you take that
idea of the person and start thinking about them (in detail).
Vitakka is picking it up, vicara is investigating it.
For example, we
pick up (the idea of) death, and then we start considering it: ďI
will die, others will die, every living being will die, when they
die where will they goÖ? ď Stop! Stop and bring it up again. When it
gets running like that, stop it again, then go back to mindfulness
of the breath. Sometimes the discursive thought will wander off and
not come back, so you have to stop it. Keep at it until the mind is
bright and clear.
If you practice vicara with an object that you are suited to, you
may experience your hairs standing on end, tears pouring from your
eyes, a state of extreme delight, many different things as rapture
Q: Can this happen with any kind of thinking, or is it in a state of
tranquility that it happens?
AC: Itís when the mind is tranquil. Itís not ordinary mental
proliferation. You sit with a calm mind and then the initial thought
comes. For example, I think of my brother who just passed away. Or I
might think of some other relatives. This is when the mind is
tranquil-the tranquility isnít something certain, but for the moment
the mind is tranquil. After this initial thought comes, then I go
into discursive thought. If itís a line of thinking thatís skillful
and wholesome, it leads to ease of mind and happiness, and then
there is rapture, with its attendant experiences. This rapture came
from the initial and discursive thinking that took place in a state
of calmness. We donít have to give it names such as first jhana,
second jhana, and so forth. We just call it tranquility.
The next factor is bliss (sukha). Eventually, we drop the initial
and discursive thinking as tranquility deepens. Why is that? The
state of mind is becoming more refined and subtle. Vitakka and
vicara are relatively coarse, and they will vanish. There will
remain just the rapture, accompanied by bliss and one-pointedness of
mind. And when it reaches full measure, there wonít be
the mind is empty. Thatís absorption concentration.
We donít need to fixate or dwell on any of these experiences. They
will naturally progress from one to the next. At first there are
initial and discursive thought, rapture, bliss, and one-pointedness.
Then initial and discursive thinking are discarded, leaving rapture,
bliss, and one-pointedness. Rapture is discarded (note: the suttas
usually say, ďwith the fading of raptureÖĒ), then bliss, and finally
only one-pointedness and equanimity remain. It means the mind is
becoming more and more tranquil, and its objects are steadily
decreasing, until there is nothing but one-pointedness and
When the mind is tranquil and focused, this can happen. It is the
power of mind, the state of the mind that has attained tranquility.
When itís like this, there wonít be any sleepiness. It canít enter
the mind; it will disappear. And the other hindrances of sensual
desire, aversion, doubt, and restlessness and agitation wonít be
present. Though they may still exist (latent) in the mind of the
meditator, they wonít occur at this time.
Q: Should we be closing our eyes so as to shut out the external
environment, or should we just deal with things as we see them? Is
it important whether we open or close the eyes?
AC: When we are training newly, itís important to avoid too much
sensory input, so itís better to close the eyes. Not seeing objects
that can distract and affect us, we build up the mindís strength.
When the mind is strong, then we can open the eyes, and whatever we
see wonít sway us. Open or closed wonít matter.
When you rest, you normally close your eyes. Sitting in meditation
with eyes closed is the dwelling place for a practitioner. We find
enjoyment and rest in it. This is an important fundamental for us.
But when we canít close our eyes, will we be able to deal with
things? We sit with eyes closed and we profit from that. When we
open our eyes, we can handle whatever we
wonít get out of hand-we wonít be at a loss. But basically we are
just handling things. Itís when we go back to our sitting that we
really develop greater wisdom.
This is how we develop the practice. When it reaches fulfillment,
then it doesnít matter whether we open or close our eyes, it will be
the same. The mind wonít change or deviate. At all times of the day,
morning, noon, or night, the state of mind will be the same. We
dwell thus. There is nothing that can shake the mind. When happiness
arises, we recognize, ďItís not certain,Ē and it passes. Unhappiness
arises and we recognize, ďItís not certain,Ē and thatís that. You
get the idea that you want to disrobe-this is not certain. But you
think itís certain. Before you wanted to ordain, and you were so
sure about that. Now you are sure you want to disrobe. Itís all
uncertain, but you donít see it because of your darkness of mind.
Your mind is telling you lies: ďbeing here, Iím just wasting time.Ē
If you disrobe and go back to the world, wonít you waste time there?
You donít think about that. Disrobing to work in the fields and
gardens, to grow beans or raise pigs and goats, wonít that be a
waste of time?
There was once a large pond full of fish. As time passed, the
rainfall decreased and the pond became shallow. One day a bird
showed up at the edge of the pond. He told the fish, ďI really feel
sorry for you fish. Here you barely have enough water to keep your
backs wet. Do you know that not very far from here thereís a big
lake, several meters deep, where the fish swim happily?Ē
When the fish in that shallow pond heard this, they got excited.
They said to the bird, ďIt sounds good. But how could we get there?Ē
The bird said, ďNo problem. I can carry you in my bill, one at a
discussed it among themselves. ďItís not so great here anymore. The
water doesnít even cover our heads. We ought to go.Ē So they lined
up to be taken by the bird.
The bird took one fish at a time. As soon as he got out of sight of
the pond, he landed and ate the fish. Then he would return to the
pond and tell them, ďYour friend is right this moment swimming
happily in the lake, and he asks when you will be joining him!Ē
It sounded great to the fish. They couldnít wait to go, and they
started pushing to get to the head of the line.
The bird finished off the fish like that. He went back to the pond
to see if he could find any more. There was only one crab there. The
bird started his sales pitch about the lake.
The crab was somewhat skeptical. He asked the bird how he could get
there. The bird told him he would carry him in his bill. But this
crab had some wisdom. He told the bird, ďLetís do it like this: Iíll
sit on your back, with my arms around your neck. If you try any
tricks, Iíll choke you with my claws.Ē
The bird was frustrated by this, but he gave it a try, thinking he
might still somehow get to eat the crab. So the crab got on his
back, and they took off.
The bird flew around, looking for a good place to land. But as soon
as he tried to descend, the crab started squeezing his throat with
his claws. The bird couldnít even cry out-he just made a dry,
croaking sound. So in the end he had to give up and return the crab
to the pond.
I hope you can have the wisdom of the crab! If you are like those
fish, you will listen to the voices that tell you how wonderful
everything will be if you go back to the world. Thatís an obstacle
people meet with. Please be careful about this.
Q: Why is it that unpleasant states of mind are difficult to see
clearly, while pleasant states are easy to see? When I experience
happiness or pleasure, I can see that itís something impermanent,
but when Iím unhappy, thatís harder to see.
AC: You are thinking in terms of your attraction and aversion and
trying to figure it out, but actually, delusion is the predominant
root. You feel that unhappiness is hard to see while happiness is
easy to see. Thatís just the way your afflictions work: Aversion is
hard to let go of, right? Itís a strong feeling. Happiness is easy
to let go of. Itís not really easy; itís just that itís not so
overpowering. Pleasure and happiness are things people like and feel
comfortable with-theyíre not so easy to let go of. Aversion is
painful, but people donít know how to let go of it. The truth is
that they are equal. When you contemplate thoroughly and get to the
point, you will quickly recognize that theyíre equal. If you had a
scale to weigh them, their weight would be the same. But we incline
towards the pleasurable.
So are you saying that you can let go of happiness easily, while
unhappiness is difficult to let go of? And you think that the things
we like are easy to give up, but youíre wondering why the things we
dislike are hard to give up-but if theyíre not good, why are they
hard to give up? Itís not like that. Think anew-they are completely
equal. Itís just that we donít incline to them equally. When there
is unhappiness, we feel bothered, and we want it to go away quickly,
so we feel itís hard to get rid of. Happiness doesnít usually bother
us, so we are friends with it and we feel we can let go of it
easily. Itís not like that; itís not oppressing and squeezing our
hearts, thatís all. Unhappiness oppresses us. We think one has more
value or weight than
the other, but in
truth they are equal. Itís like heat and cold. We can be burned to
death by fire. We can also be frozen stiff by cold, and we die just
the same. Neither is greater than the other. Happiness and suffering
are like this, but in our thinking we give them different value.
Or take praise and criticism. Do you feel that praise is easy to let
go of, and criticism is hard to let go of? They really are equal.
But when we are praised, we donít feel disturbed; we are pleased,
but itís not a sharp feeling. Criticism is painful, so we feel itís
hard to let go of. Being pleased is also hard to let go of, but we
are partial to it so we donít have the same desire to get rid of it
quickly. The delight we take in being praised and the sting we feel
when criticized are equal. They are the same. But when our minds
meet these things, we have unequal reactions to them. We donít mind
being close to some of them.
Please understand this. In our meditation we will meet with the
arising of all sorts of mental afflictions. The correct outlook is
to be ready to let go of all of it, whether pleasant or painful.
Even though happiness is something we desire and suffering is
something we donít desire, we recognize they are of equal value.
These are things that we will experience.
Happiness is wished for by people in the world. Suffering is not
wished for. Nirvana is something beyond wishing or not wishing. Do
you understand? There is no wishing involved in Nirvana. Wanting to
get happiness, wanting to be free of suffering, wanting to transcend
happiness and suffering-there are none of these things. It is peace.
As I see it, realizing the truth doesnít happen by relying on
others. You should understand that all doubts will be resolved by
our own efforts, by continuous, energetic practice. We wonít get
free of doubt by asking others.
We will end doubt
through our own unrelenting efforts.
Remember this! It is an important principle in practice. The actual
doing is what will instruct you. You will come to know all right and
wrong. ďThe Brahmin shall reach the exhaustion of doubt through
unceasing practice.Ē Wherever we go, it doesnít matter--everything
can still be resolved through our own ceaseless efforts. But we
canít stick with it. We canít bear the difficulties we meet, and we
find it hard to face up to our suffering and not try to run away
from it. If we do face it and bear with it, then we gain knowledge,
and the practice starts instructing us automatically, teaching us
about right and wrong and the way things really are. If our thinking
is wrong, our practice will show us the fault and ill result of that
of itself. It really happens like this. But itís hard to find people
who can see it through. Everyone wants instant awakening. Rushing
here and there following your impulses, you only end up worse off
for it. Be careful about this.