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
there is joy, we are ready to discover new things. ...If we
have already decided 'Life is suffering,' then we won't look
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: 'Iím 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 ignorance!
The whole practice of mindfulness is about realizing 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 realize 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 realize
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
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 further.
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
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,
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 verbalized, 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 civilization. We are trying to understand on a
'non - conceptual' level. In meditation we are realizing the
nature of experience directly.
People who are completely identified with words may find
this threatening, but we're not talking about bypassing words
altogether; we still have to express ourselves; we still need
to communicate. But we should recognize that the words we use
in communication are not the same as the experience we are
attempting to convey.
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 its 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
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 is like a butterfly that flitters
around. It's certainly 0. K., 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
Enlightenment'. It becomes one of the qualities that leads us