My thanks go to all the nuns, anagarikas,
laymen and women who have listened time and again to my
expositions of the Buddha's teachings.
Without them, these talks would not have
happened and this little booklet would not be possible.
A very special "thank you" to my friends, who
have encouraged and supported my work and the publication of
this book by their continued understanding and generosity.
Those who have typed the manuscript from
tapes made during the talks, have given freely of their time,
energy and love to the propagation of the Dhamma.
May everyone connected with this joint
undertaking reap the excellent kamma caused by their gift.
Sister Ayya Khema
Parappuduwa Nuns Island
Dodanduwa, Sri Lanka
January 1, 1987
This little volume is offered to all people
everywhere, who know dukkha which is not only suffering,
pain and grief, but all the unsatisfactoriness all of us
experience during our lifetime.
It is that unfulfilled striving in heart and
mind which keeps pushing us in so many directions to find the
When we have realized that all the avenues we
have tried have brought us to a dead end, then the time has come
to turn to Lord Buddha's teachings and see for ourselves whether
"There's only one thing I teach
And its end to reach"
can be experienced within ourselves and
whether fulfillment is possible.
As practice progresses, we will find that by
letting go of our preconceived ideas on how and where dukkha
can be avoided, we come upon uncharted landscapes within
ourselves, which provide a totally new concept of life, its
purpose, its value and its ultimate reality.
May there be many "with little dust in their
eyes" who can turn the tide on dukkha and be liberated.
Sister Ayya Khema
The following Pali words encompass concepts
and levels of ideas for which there are no adequate synonyms in
English. The explanations of these terms have been adapted from
the Buddhist Dictionary by Nyanatiloka Mahathera.
Anagami - the "nonreturner" is a noble
disciple on the 3rd stage of holiness.
Anatta - "No-self," non-ego,
egolessness, impersonality; "neither within the bodily and
mental phenomena of existence nor outside of them can be found
anything that in the ultimate sense could be regarded as a
self-existing real ego-identity, soul or any other abiding
Anicca - "Impermanence," a basic
feature of all conditional phenomena, be they material or
mental, coarse or subtle, one's own or external.
Anusaya - The seven "proclivities,"
inclinations or tendencies.
Arahat/arahant - The Holy One. Through
the extinction of all cankers he reaches already in this very
life the deliverance of mind, the deliverance through wisdom,
which is free from cankers and which he himself has understood
Ariya - Noble Ones. Noble Persons.
Avijja - Ignorance, nescience,
unknowing, synonymous with delusion, is the primary root of all
evil and suffering in the world, veiling man's mental eyes and
preventing him from seeing the true nature of things.
Bhavaraga - Craving for continued
existence; one of the seven tendencies.
Citta-viveka - Mental detachment, the
inner detachment from sensuous things.
Devas - Heavenly Beings, deities,
celestials are beings who live in happy worlds, but are not
freed from the cycle of existence.
Dhamma - The liberating law discovered
and proclaimed by the Buddha, summed up in the Four Noble
Ditthi - View, belief, speculative
opinion. If not qualified by "right," it mostly refers to wrong
and evil view or opinion.
Dukkha - (1) In common usage: "pain,"
painful feeling, which may be bodily or mental.
(2) In Buddhist usage as, e.g., in the Four
Noble Truths: suffering, ill, the unsatisfactory nature and
general insecurity of all conditioned phenomena.
Jhana - Meditative absorptions.
Kalyanamitta - Noble or good friend is
called a senior monk who is the mentor and friend of his pupil,
wishing for his welfare and concerned with his progress, guiding
his meditation; in particular the meditation teacher.
Kamma/Karma - "Action" denotes the
wholesome and unwholesome volitions and their concomitant mental
factors, causing rebirth and shaping the character of beings and
thereby their destiny. The term does not signify the result of
actions and most certainly not the deterministic fate of man.
Kaya-viveka - Bodily detachment, i.e.,
abiding in solitude free from alluring sensuous objects.
Khandha - The five "groups" are called
the five aspects in which the Buddha has summed up all the
physical and mental phenomena of existence, and which appear to
the ordinary man as his ego or personality, to wit: body,
feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.
Lokiya - "Mundane," are all those
states of consciousness and mental factors arising in the
worldling, as well as in the noble one, which are not associated
with the supermundane.
Lokuttara - "Supermundane," is a term
for the four paths and four fruitions.
Magga-phala - Path and fruit. First
arises the path-consciousness, immediately followed by
"fruition," a moment of supermundane awareness.
Mana - Conceit, pride, one of the ten
fetters binding to existence, also one of the underlying
Mara - The Buddhist "tempter" figure,
the personification of evil and passions, of the totality of
worldly existence and of death.
Metta - Loving-kindness, one of the
four sublime emotions (brahma-vihara).
Nibbana - lit. "Extinction," to cease
blowing, to become extinguished. Nibbana constitutes the highest
and ultimate goal of all Buddhist aspirations, i.e., absolute
extinction of that life-affirming will manifested as greed, hate
and delusion and clinging to existence, thereby the absolute
deliverance from all future rebirth.
Nivarana - "Hindrances," five
qualities which are obstacles to the mind and blind our mental
vision, and obstruct concentration to wit: sensual desire,
ill-will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and
Papańca - "Proliferation," lit.
expansion, diffuseness, detailed exposition, development,
manifoldness, multiplicity, differentiation.
Paticcasamuppada - "Dependent
Origination" is the doctrine of the conditionality of all
physical and psychical phenomena.
Puthujjana - lit. "one of the many
folk," worldling, ordinary man, anyone still possessed of all
the ten fetters binding to the round of rebirths.
Sacca - Truth, such as the "Four Noble
Sakadagamami - The once-returner,
having shed the lower fetters, reappears in a higher world to
Sakkaya-ditthi - Personality-belief is
the first of the fetters and is abandoned at stream-entry.
Samatha - Tranquillity, serenity, is a
synonym of samadhi (concentration).
Samsara - Round of rebirth, lit.
"perpetual wandering," is a name by which is designated the sea
of life ever restlessly heaving up and down.
Sangha - lit. Congregation, is the
name for the community of monks and nuns. As the third of the
Three Gems and the Three Refuges, it applies to the community of
the Noble Ones.
Samvega - "The sources of emotion," or
a sense of urgency.
Sankhara - Most general usage:
formations. Mental formations and kamma formations. Sometimes:
bodily functions or mental functions. Also: anything formed.
Silabbata-paramasa - Attachment to
mere rules and rituals is the third fetter and one of the four
kinds of clinging. It disappears on attaining to stream-entry.
Sotapatti - Stream-entry, the first
attainment of becoming a noble one.
Vicikiccha - Sceptical doubt is one of
the five mental hindrances and one of the three fetters which
disappears forever at stream-entry.
Vipassana - Insight into the truth of
the impermanence, suffering and impersonality of all corporeal
and mental phenomena of existence.
Yatha-bhuta-ńana-dassana - The
knowledge and vision according to reality, is one of eighteen
chief kinds of insight.
I. The Dhamma of
the Blessed One
is Perfectly Expounded
"The Dhamma of the Blessed One
is perfectly expounded,
to be seen here and now,
not a matter of time."
The first line of this chant proclaims real
faith in the Dhamma. Not believing everything without inquiring,
but an inner relationship of trust. When one is faithful to
someone, then one also trusts that person, one gives oneself
into his or her hands, has a deep connection and an inner
opening. How much more is this true of the faith in the teaching
of the Buddha. Those aspects of the Dhamma which we don't
understand yet can be left in abeyance. Yet that doesn't shake
our faith and trust.
If we feel that it is "perfectly expounded,"
then we are very fortunate, for we know one thing in this
universe which is perfect. There's nothing else to be found
that's without blemish, nor is there anything that is becoming
perfect. If we have that trust, faithfulness and love towards
the Dhamma and believe it to be perfectly expounded, then we
have found something beyond compare. We are blessed with an
"To be seen here and now," is up to each of
us. the Dhamma has been made clear by the Enlightened One who
taught it out of compassion, but we have to see it ourselves
with an inner vision.
"Here and now," needs to be stressed, because
it means not forgetting but being aware of the Dhamma in each
moment. This awareness helps us to watch our reactions before
they result in unskillful words or actions. Seeing the positive
within us and cultivating it, seeing the negative and
substituting it. When we believe all our thoughts and claim
justification for them, we're not seeing the Dhamma. There are
no justifications, there are only arising phenomena which cease
"Not a matter of time," means that we are not
dependent upon a Buddha being alive in order to practice the
Dhamma; though this is a wide-spread belief, it is quite
possible to practice now. Some people think there has to be a
perfect situation or a perfect teacher or perfect meditation.
None of that is true. Mental and physical phenomena (dhammas)
are constantly coming and going, changing without pause. When we
hang onto them and consider them ours, then we will believe any
story our mind will tell us, without discrimination. We consist
of body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations and
consciousness, which we grip tightly and believe them to be "me"
and "mine." We need to take a step back and be a neutral
observer of the whole process.
"Inviting one to come and see,
The understanding of the Dhamma leads us into
our inner depth. We are not invited to come and see a meditation
hall or a Buddha statue, a dagoba or a shrine. We are invited to
come and see the phenomena (dhammas) arising within us.
The defilements as well as the purifications are to be found
inside one's own heart and mind.
Our minds are very busy, always remembering,
planning, hoping or judging. This body could also be very busy
picking up little stones and throwing them into the water all
day long. But we would consider that a foolish expenditure of
energy, and we direct the body towards something useful. We need
to do the same with the mind. Instead of thinking about this and
that, allowing the defilements to arise, we could also direct
the mind towards something beneficial such as investigating our
likes and dislikes, our desires and rejections, our ideas and
When the mind inquires, it doesn't get
involved in its own creations. It can't do both at the same
time. As it becomes more and more observant, it remains
objective for longer periods of time. That's why the Buddha
taught that mindfulness is the one way for the purification of
beings. The clear and lucid observation of all arising phenomena
eventually shows that there are only phenomena manifesting as
mind and body, which are constantly expanding and contracting in
the same way as the universe does. Unless we become very
diligent observers, we will not see that aspect of mind and body
and will not know the Dhamma "here and now," even though we have
been "invited to come and see."
"To be known by the wise,
each for themselves."
No one can know the Dhamma for another. We
can chant, read, discuss and listen, but unless we watch all
that arises, we will not know the Dhamma by ourselves. There's
only one place where Dhamma can be known, in one's own heart and
mind. It has to be a personal experience which comes about
through constant observation of oneself. Meditation helps.
Unless one inquires into one's own reactions and knows why one
wants one thing and rejects another, one hasn't seen Dhamma.
Then the mind will also get a clear perception of impermanence
(anicca) because our desires and dislikes are constantly
changing. We'll see that the mind which is thinking and the body
which is breathing are both painful (dukkha).
When the mind doesn't operate with an
uplifted, transcending awareness, it creates suffering
(dukkha). Only a measureless, illumined mind is free from
that. The body certainly produces dukkha in many ways
through its inability to remain steady. Seeing this clearly will
give us a strong determination to know Dhamma by ourselves.
Wisdom arises within and comes from an
understood experience. Neither knowledge nor listening can bring
it about. Wisdom also means maturity, which has nothing to do
with age. Sometimes aging may help, but it doesn't always do
that either. Wisdom is an inner knowing which creates
self-confidence. We need not look for somebody else's
confirmation and good-will, we know with certainty.
When we chant anything at all, it is vital
that we know the meaning of the words and inquire whether they
have any connection to ourselves.
pamadamulako lobho, lobho vivadamulako,
dasabyakarako lobho, lobho paramhi petiko,
tam lobham parijanantam vande'ham vitalobhakam
Greed's the root of negligence, greed's the
root of strife,
Greed enslavement brings about, and in the future ghostly
vihańńamulako doso, doso virupakarako.
vinasakarako doso, doso paramhi nerayo,
tam dosam parijanantam vande'ham vitadosakam
Hate's the root of turbulence, of ugliness
Hate causes much destruction and in the future hellish birth;
That One who's known hate to the end, I honor Him who's free
sabbaghamulako moho, moho sabbitikarako,
sabbandhakarako moho, moho paramhi
svadiko tam moham parijanantam vande'ham vitamohakam
Delusion's root of every ill, delusion's a
All blinding from delusion comes and in the future birth as
That One who's known delusion's end, I honor Him,
The Buddha said:
"Though a thousand speeches
are made of meaningless lines,
better the single meaningful line
by hearing which one is at peace."
(Trans by: Ven. Khantipalo)
If we can practice one line of Dhamma, it's
so much more valuable than knowing the whole chanting book by
The arising and ceasing phenomena, which are
our teachers, never take a rest. Dhamma is being taught to us
constantly. All our waking moments are Dhamma teachers, if we
make them so. The Dhamma is the truth expounded by the
Enlightened One, which is the law of nature surrounding us and
imbedded within us.
Once the Buddha said: "Ananda, it is owing to
my being a good friend to them that living beings subject to
birth are freed from birth." (S. III, 18, XLV, 2).
Everyone needs a good friend, who has enough
selflessness, not only to be helpful, but also to point out when
one is slipping. Treading the Dhamma path is like walking a
tightrope. It leads along one straight line and every time one
slips, one hurts. If we have a painful feeling inside, we're no
longer on the tightrope of the Dhamma. Our good friend (kalyana
mitta) might say to us then: "You stepped too far to the
right, or to the left, (whatever the case may be). You weren't
careful, that's why you fell into depression and pain. I'll
point out to you when you're slipping next time." We can only
accept this from someone whom we trust and have confidence in.
One can be fooled by a person's beautiful
words or splendid appearance. The character of a person is shown
not only in words, but in the small day-to-day activities. One
of the very important guidelines to a person's character is how
they react when things go wrong. It's easy to be loving, helpful
and friendly when everything goes well, but when difficulties
arise our endurance and patience are being tested as well as our
equanimity and determination. The less ego-consciousness one
has, the easier one can handle all situations.
At first, when one starts to walk on the
tightrope of the Dhamma path, it may feel uncomfortable. One
isn't used to balancing oneself, but rather to swaying all over
the place, going in all directions, wherever it's most
comfortable. One may feel restricted and coerced, not being
allowed to live according to one's natural instincts. Yet in
order to walk on a tightrope, one has to restrict oneself in
many ways with mindfulness. These restrictions may at first feel
irksome, like fetters or bonds, later they turn out to be the
To have this perfect jewel of the Dhamma in
our hearts, we need to be awake and aware. Then we can prove by
our own watchfulness that "the Dhamma of the Blessed One is
perfectly expounded." There is no worldly jewel that can match
the value of the Dhamma. Each one of us can become the owner of
this priceless gem. We can call ourselves most fortunate to have
such an opportunity. When we wake up in the morning, let that be
our first thought: "What good fortune it is for me to practice
It's a strange phenomenon how difficult
people find it to love themselves. One would think it is the
easiest thing in the world, because we're constantly concerned
with ourselves. We're always interested in how much we can get,
how well we can perform, how comfortable we can be. The Buddha
mentioned in a discourse that "oneself is dearest to oneself."
So with all that, why is it so difficult to actually love
Loving oneself certainly doesn't mean
indulging oneself. Really loving is an attitude towards oneself
that most people don't have, because they know quite a few
things about themselves which are not desirable. Everybody has
innumerable attitudes, reactions, likes and dislikes which
they'd be better off without. Judgment is made and while one
likes one's positive attitudes, one dislikes the others. With
that comes suppression of those aspects of oneself that one is
not pleased with. One doesn't want to know about them and
doesn't acknowledge them. That's one way of dealing with
oneself, which is detrimental to growth.
Another unskillful way is to dislike that
part of oneself which appears negative and every time it arises
one blames oneself, which makes matters twice as bad as they
were before. With that comes fear and very often aggression. If
one wants to deal with oneself in a balanced way, it's not
useful to pretend that the unpleasant part doesn't exist, those
aggressive, irritable, sensual, conceited tendencies. If we
pretend we are far from reality and put a split into ourselves.
Even though such a person may be totally sane, the appearance
given is that of not being quite real. We've all come across
people like that, who are too sweet to be true, as a result of
pretense and suppression.
Blaming oneself doesn't work either. In both
instances one transfers one's own reactions to other people. One
blames others for their deficiencies, real or imagined, or one
doesn't see them as ordinary human beings. Everyone lives in an
unreal world, because it's ego-deluded, but this one is
particularly unreal, because everything is considered either as
perfectly wonderful or absolutely terrible.
The only thing that is real is that we have
six roots within us. Three roots of good and three roots of
evil. The latter are greed, hate and delusion, but we also have
their opposites: generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom. Take an
interest in this matter. If one investigates this and doesn't
get anxious about it, then one can easily accept these six roots
in everybody. No difficulty at all, when one has seen them in
oneself. They are the underlying roots of everyone's behavior.
Then we can look at ourselves a little more realistically,
namely not blaming ourselves for the unwholesome roots, not
patting ourselves on the back for the wholesome ones, but rather
accepting their existence within us. We can also accept others
more clear-sightedly and have a much easier time relating to
We will not suffer from disappointments and
we won't blame, because we won't live in a world where only
black or white exists, either the three roots of unwholesomeness
or their opposites. Such a world doesn't exist anywhere, and the
only person to be like that is an arahant. It's largely a
matter of degree in everyone else. These degrees of good and
evil are so finely tuned, there's so little difference within
the degrees in each one of us, that it really doesn't matter.
Everybody has the same job to do, to cultivate the wholesome
tendencies and uproot the unwholesome ones.
Apparently we're all very different. That too
is an illusion. We're all having the same problems and also the
same faculties to deal with them. The only difference is the
length of training that one has had. Training which may have
been going on for a number of lifetimes has brought about a
little more clarity, that's all.
Clarity of thinking comes from purification
of one's emotions, which is a difficult job that needs to be
done. But it can only be done successfully when it isn't an
emotional upheaval, but clearcut, straightforward work that one
does on oneself. When it is considered to be just that, it takes
the sting out of it. The charge of "I'm so wonderful" or "I'm so
terrible" is defused. We are neither wonderful nor terrible.
Everyone is a human being with all the potential and all the
obstructions. If one can love that human being, the one that is
"me" with all its faculties and tendencies, then one can love
others realistically, usefully and helpfully. But if one makes a
break in the middle and loves the part which is nice and
dislikes the part which isn't nice enough, one's never going to
come to grips with reality. One day we'll have to see it, for
what it is. It's a "working ground," a kammatthana. It's
a straightforward and interesting affair of one's own heart.
If we look at ourselves in that manner, we
will learn to love ourselves in a wholesome way. "Just as a
mother at the risk of life, loves and protects her child..."
Become your own mother! If we want to have a relationship with
ourselves that is realistic and conducive to growth, then we
need to become our own mother. A sensible mother can distinguish
between that which is useful for her child and that which is
detrimental. But she doesn't stop loving the child when it
misbehaves. This may be the most important aspect to look at in
ourselves. Everyone, at one time or another, misbehaves in
thought or speech or action. Most frequently in thought, fairly
frequently in speech and not so often in action. So what do we
do with that? What does a mother do? She tells the child not to
do it again, loves the child as much as she's always loved it
and just gets on with the job of bringing up her child. Maybe we
can start to bring up ourselves.
The whole of this training is a matter of
maturing. Maturity is wisdom, which is unfortunately not
connected to age. If it were, it would be very easy. One would
have a guarantee. Since it isn't it's hard work, a job to be
done. First comes recognition, then learning not to condemn, but
to understand: "This is the way it is." the third step is
change. Recognition may be the hardest part for most people,
it's not easy to see what goes on inside of oneself. This is the
most important and the most interesting aspect of contemplation.
We lead a contemplative life, but that does
not mean we sit in meditation all day long. A contemplative life
means that one considers every aspect of what happens as part of
a learning experience. One remains introspective under all
circumstances. When one becomes outgoing, with what the Buddha
termed "exuberance of youth," one goes to the world with one's
thoughts, speech and action. One needs to recollect oneself and
return within. A contemplative life in some orders is a life of
prayer. In our way it's a combination of meditation and
life-style. The contemplative life goes on inside of oneself.
One can do the same thing with or without recollection.
Contemplation is the most important aspect of introspection. It
isn't necessary to sit still all day and watch one's breath.
Every move, every thought, every word can give rise to
This kind of work on oneself will bring about
deep inner security, which is rooted in reality. Most people are
wishing and hoping for this kind of security, but are not even
able to voice their longing. Living in a myth, constantly hoping
or being afraid is opposed to having inner strength. The feeling
of security arises when one sees reality inside of oneself and
thereby the reality in everyone else and comes to terms with it.
Let us accept the fact that the Buddha knew
the truth when he said everybody had seven underlying
tendencies: sensual desire, ill-will, speculative views,
sceptical doubt, conceit, craving for continued existence,
ignorance. Find them in yourself. Smile at them, do not burst
into tears because of them. Smile and say: "Well, there you are.
I'll do something about you."
The contemplative life is often lived
heavy-handedly. A certain lack of joy is compensated for by
being outgoing. This doesn't work. One should cultivate a
certain light-heartedness, but stay within oneself. There's
nothing to be worried or fearful about, nothing that is too
difficult. Dhamma means the law of nature and we are manifesting
this law of nature all the time. What can there be to get away
from? We cannot escape the law of nature. Wherever we are, we
are the Dhamma, we are impermanent (anicca), unfulfilled
(dukkha), of no core-substance (anatta). It
doesn't matter whether we sit here or on the moon. It's always
the same. So we need a light-hearted approach to our own
difficulties and those of everyone else, but not exuberance and
outpouring. Rather a constant inwardness, which contains a bit
of amusement. This works best. If one has a sense of humor about
oneself, it is much easier to love oneself properly. It's also
much easier to love everybody else.
There used to be a television show in
America, called "People are Funny." We do have the oddest
reactions. When they are analyzed and taken apart, they are
often found to be absurd. We have very strange desires and
wishes and unrealistic images of ourselves. It's quite true,
"people are funny," so why not see that side of oneself? It
makes it easier to accept that which we find so unacceptable in
ourselves and others.
There is one aspect of human life which we
cannot change, namely, that it keeps on happening moment after
moment. We've all been meditating here for some time. What does
the world care? It just keeps on going. The only one who cares,
who gets perturbed, is our own heart and mind. When there is
perturbance, upheaval, unreality and absurdity, then there is
also unhappiness. This is quite unnecessary. Everything just is.
If we learn to approach all happenings with more equanimity by
being accepting, then the work of purification is much easier.
This is our work, our own purification, and it can only be done
by each one for himself.
One of the best aspects about it is that if
one remembers what one is doing, keeps at it day after day
without forgetting and continues to meditate, not expecting
great results, little by little it does happen. That, too, just
is. As one keeps working at it, there is a constant chipping
away at the defilements and at the unreal thinking, because
there is no happiness in that and few want to hang on to
unhappiness. Eventually one runs out of things to do outside of
oneself. The books are all saying the same things, the letters
have all been written, the flowers have all been watered,
there's nothing left except to look inside. As this happens
again and again, a change takes place. It may be slow, but when
we have been here so many lifetimes, what's a day, a month, a
year, ten years? They're all just happening.
There's nothing else to do and there's
nowhere else to go. The earth is moving in a circle, life is
moving from birth to death without us having to move at all.
It's all happening without our help. The only thing we need to
do is to get to reality. Then when we do, we will find that
loving ourselves and loving others is a natural outcome of that.
Because we are concerned with reality and that is the heart's
real work -- to love. But only if we've also seen the other side
of the coin in ourselves and have done the work of purification.
Then it is no longer an effort or a deliberate attempt, but it
becomes a natural function of our inner feelings, inward
directed but shining outward.
The inward direction is an important aspect
of our contemplative life. Whatever happens inwardly has direct
repercussions on what takes place outwardly. The inner light and
purity cannot be hidden, nor can the defilements.
We sometimes think we can portray something
we are not. That is not possible. The Buddha said that one only
knows a person after having heard him speak many times and
having lived with him for a long time. People generally try to
show themselves off as something better than they really are.
Then, of course, they become disappointed in themselves when
they fail, and equally disappointed in others. To realistically
know oneself makes it possible to truly love. That kind of
feeling gives the light-heartedness to this job in which we're
engaged, which is needed. By accepting ourselves and others as
we truly are, our job of purification, chipping away at the
defilements, is made much easier.
III. To Control
Our old friend, dukkha, arises in the
mind as dissatisfaction caused by all sorts of triggers. It can
be triggered by bodily discomfort, but more often it is caused
by the mind's own aberrations and convolutions. The mind creates
dukkha, and that's why we must really watch and guard our
Our own mind can make us happy, our own mind
can make us unhappy. There is no person or thing in the whole
world that will do this for us. All happenings act as triggers
for us, which constantly catch us unawares. Therefore we need to
develop strong awareness of our own mind-moments.
We have a good chance to do that in
meditation. There are two directions in meditation, calm (samatha)
and insight (vipassana). If we can achieve some calm,
that indicates that concentration is improving. But unless that
valuable skill is used for insight, it's a waste of time. If the
mind becomes calm, joy often arises, but we must observe how
fleeting and impermanent that joy is, and how even bliss is
essentially still only a condition which can be easily lost.
Only insight is irreversible. The stronger the calm is
established, the better it will withstand disturbances. In the
beginning any noise, discomfort or thought will break it up,
especially if the mind has not been calm during the day.
Impermanence (anicca) needs to be seen
quite clearly in everything that happens, whether it is in or
out of meditation. The fact of constant change should and must
be used for gaining insight into reality. Mindfulness is the
heart of Buddhist meditation and insight is its goal. We're
spending our time in many different ways and some portion of it
in meditation, but all our time can be used to gain some insight
into our own mind. That's where the whole world is happening for
us. Nothing, except what we are thinking, exists for us.
The more we watch our mind and see what it
does to us and for us, the more we will be inclined to take good
care of it and treat it with respect. One of the biggest
mistakes we can make is taking the mind for granted. The mind
has the capacity to create good and also evil for us, and only
when we are able to remain happy and even-minded no matter what
conditions are arising, only then can we say that we have gained
a little control. Until then we are out of control and our
thoughts are our master.
"Whatever harm a foe may do to foe,
or hater unto one he hates,
the ill-directed mind indeed
can do one greater harm.
What neither mother, nor father too,
nor any other relative can do,
the well-directed mind indeed
can do one greater good."
Dhp. 42, 43
(Trans: by Ven. Khantipalo)
The above words of the Buddha show quite
clearly that there is nothing more valuable than a controlled
and skillfully directed mind. To tame one's mind does not happen
only in meditation, that is just one specific training. It can
be likened to learning to play tennis. One works out with a
trainer, again and again, until one has found one's balance and
aptitude, and can actually play in a tennis match. Our match for
taming the mind happens in day-to-day living, in all situations
The greatest support we can have is
mindfulness, which means being totally present in each moment.
If the mind remains centered then it can't make up stories about
the injustice of the world or one's friends, or about one's
desires, or one's lamentations. All these mind-made stories
would fill many volumes, but we are mindful such verbalizations
stop. "Mindful" is being fully absorbed in the moment, leaving
no room for anything else. We are filled with the momentary
happening, whether that may be standing or sitting or lying
down, being comfortable or uncomfortable, feeling pleasant or
unpleasant. Whichever it may be, it is a non-judgmental
awareness, "knowing only," without evaluation.
Clear comprehension brings evaluation. We
comprehend the purpose of our thought, speech or action, whether
we are using skillful means or not and whether we have actually
achieved the required results. One needs some distance to
oneself in order to be able to evaluate dispassionately. If one
is right in the middle, it's very difficult to get an objective
view. Mindfulness coupled with clear comprehension provides one
with the necessary distance, the objectivity, the dispassion.
Any dukkha that one has, small, medium
or large, continuous or intermittent, is all created by one's
mind. We are the creators of all that happens to us, forming our
own destiny, nobody else is involved. Everybody else is playing
his own role, we just happen to be near some people and farther
away at other times. But whatever we are doing, all is done to
our own mind-moments.
The more we watch our thoughts in meditation,
the more insight can arise, if there is an objective viewing of
what is happening. When we watch mind-moments arising, staying
and ceasing, detachment from our thinking process will result,
which brings dispassion. Thoughts are coming and going all the
time, just like the breath. If we hang on to them, try to keep
them, that's when all the trouble starts. We want to own them
and really do something with them, especially of they are
negative, which is bound to create dukkha.
The Buddha's formula for the highest effort
is worth remembering: "Not to let an unwholesome thought arise,
which has not yet arisen. Not to sustain an unwholesome thought
which has already arisen. To arouse a wholesome thought which
has not yet arisen. To sustain a wholesome thought which has
The quicker we can become a master of this
effort, the better. This is part of the training we undergo in
meditation. When we have learned to quickly drop whatever is
arising in meditation, then we can do the same with unwholesome
thoughts in daily living. When we are alert to an unwholesome
thought in meditation, we can use the same skill to protect our
mind at all times. The more we learn to shut our mind-door to
all negativities which disturb our inner peace, the easier our
life becomes. Peace of mind is not indifference. A peaceful mind
is a compassionate mind. Recognizing and letting go is not
Dukkha is self-made and
self-perpetuated. If we are sincere in wanting to get rid of it,
we have to watch the mind carefully, to get an insight into
what's really happening within. What is triggering us? There are
innumerable triggers, but there are only two reactions. One is
equanimity and one is craving.
We can learn from everything. Today some
anagarikas had to wait quite a long time in the bank, which
was an exercise in patience. Whether the exercise was successful
or not, doesn't matter as much as that it was a learning
experience. Everything we do is an exercise, this is our purpose
as human beings. It's the only reason for being here, namely to
use the time on our little planet for learning and growing. It
can be called an adult education class. Everything else we can
think of as the purpose of life, is a mistaken view.
We're guests here, giving a limited guest
performance. If we use our time to gain insight into ourselves
utilizing our likes and dislikes, our resistances, our
rejections, our worries, our fears, then we're spending this
lifetime to the best advantage. It's a great skill to live in
such a way. The Buddha called it "urgency' (samvega), a
sense of having to work on ourselves now and not leave it for
some future unspecified date, when one may have more time.
Everything can be a learning experience and the only time is
When we meet our old friend dukkha, we
would ask: "Where did you come from?" When we get an answer, we
should inquire again, getting deeper into the subject. There's
only one true answer, but we won't get it immediately. We have
to go through several answers until we get to the bottom line,
which is "ego." When we've come to that one, we know we have
come to the end of the questioning and to the beginning of
insight. We can then try to see how the ego has produced
dukkha again. What did it do, how did it react? When we see
the cause, it may be possible to let go of that particular wrong
view. Having seen cause and effect by ourselves, we'll never
forget it again. Single drops fill a bucket, little by little we
purify. Every moment is worthwhile.
The more we experience every moment as
worthwhile, the more energy there is. There are no useless
moments, every single one is important, if we use it skillfully.
Enormous energy arises from that, because all of it adds up to a
life which is lived in the best possible way.
IV. Be Nobody
Being happy also means being peaceful, but
quite often people don't really want to direct their attention
to that. There is the connotation of "not interesting" about it,
or "not enough happening." Obviously there would be no
proliferations (papańca) or excitement. Peace is thought
of as an absolute in this world, from a political, social and
Yet peace is very hard to find anywhere. One
of the reasons must be, not only that it's difficult to attain,
but also that very few people work for such an achievement. It
seems as if it were a negation of life, of one's own supremacy.
Only those who practice a spiritual discipline would care to
direct their minds towards peace.
A natural tendency is to cultivate one's own
superiority which also often falls into the other extreme, one's
own inferiority. When one has one's own superiority in mind,
it's impossible to find peace. The only thing that one can find
is a power game, "Anything you can do, I can do better." Or, at
times, when it's quite obvious that this isn't so then "anything
you can do I can't do as well." There are moments of truth in
everyone's life, when one sees quite clearly that one can't do
everything as well as the next person, whether it's sweeping a
path or writing a book.
This kind of stance, which is very common, is
the opposite of peacefulness. A display of either one's own
abilities or the lack of them, will produce restlessness rather
than peace. There's always the reaching out, the craving for a
result in the form of other people's admittance of one's own
superiority or their denial of it. When they deny it, there is
warfare. When they admit it, there is victory.
Victory over other people has as its
underlying cause a battle. In war there is never a winner, there
are only losers. No matter who signs the peace-treaty first,
both sides lose. The same applies to this kind of attitude.
There are only losers, even though one may have a momentary
victory, having been accepted as the one who knows better, or is
stronger or cleverer. Battle and peace do not go well together.
One wonders in the end, does anybody really
want peace? Nobody seems to have it. Is anybody really trying to
get it? One does get in life what one strongly determines. It is
important to inquire into our innermost heart whether peace is
really what we want. The inquiry into one's heart is a difficult
thing to do. Most people have a steel door of thick dimensions
which is covering the opening of their heart. They can't get in
to find out what's going on inside. But everyone needs to try to
get in as far as possible and check one's priorities.
In moments of turmoil, when one is either not
getting the supremacy one wants or one feels really inferior,
then all one desires is peace. Let it all subside again and
neither the superiority nor the inferiority is very distinct,
then what happens? Is it really peace one wants? Or does one
want to be somebody special, somebody important or lovable?
A "somebody" never has peace. There is an
interesting simile about a mango tree: a king went riding in the
forest and encountered a mango tree laden with fruit. He said to
his servants: "Go back in the evening and collect the mangoes,"
because he wanted them for the royal dinner table. The servants
went back to the forest and returned to the palace empty-handed
and told the king: "Sorry, sir, the mangoes were all gone, there
wasn't a single mango left on the tree." the king thought the
servants had been too lazy to go back to the forest, so he rode
out himself. What he saw instead of the beautiful mango tree
laden with fruit, was a pitiful, bedraggled tree, that had been
beaten and robbed of its fruit and leaves. Someone, unable to
reach all the branches, had broken them and had taken all the
fruit. As the king rode a little farther, he came upon another
mango tree, beautiful in all its green splendor, but not a
single fruit on it. Nobody had wanted to go near it, since there
were no fruits, and so it was left in peace. The king went back
to his palace, gave his royal crown and scepter to his ministers
and said: "You may now have the kingdom, I am going to live in a
hut in the forest."
When one is nobody and has nothing, then
there is no danger of warfare or attack, then there's peace. The
mango tree laden with fruit didn't have a moment's peace:
everybody wanted its fruit. If we really want peace, we have to
be nobody. Neither important, nor clever, nor beautiful, nor
famous, nor right, nor in charge of anything. We need to be
unobtrusive and with as few attributes as possible. The mango
tree which didn't have any fruit was standing peacefully in all
its splendor giving shade. To be nobody doesn't mean never to do
anything again. It just means to act without self-display and
without craving for results. The mango tree had shade to give,
but it didn't display its wares or fret whether anyone wanted
its shade. This kind of ability allows for inner peace. It is a
rare ability, because most people vacillate from one extreme to
another, either doing nothing and thinking "let them see how
they get along without me" or being in charge and projecting
their views and ideas.
It seems to be so much more ingrained in us
and so much more important to be "somebody," than to have peace.
So we need to inquire with great care what we are truly looking
for. What is it that we want out of life? If we want to be
important, appreciated, loved, then we have to take their
opposites in stride also. Every positive brings with it a
negative, just as the sun throws shadows. If we want one, we
must accept the other, without moaning about it.
But if we really want a peaceful heart and
mind, inner security and solidity, then we have to give up
wanting to be somebody, anybody at all. Body and mind will not
disappear because of that, what disappears is the urge and the
reaching out and the affirmation of the importance and supremacy
of this particular person, called "me."
Every human being considers himself or
herself important. There are billions of people on this globe,
how many will mourn us? Count them for a moment. Six, or eight,
or twelve or fifteen out of all these billions? This
consideration may show us that we have a vastly exaggerated idea
of our own importance. The more we can get that into the proper
perspective, the easier life is.
Wanting to be somebody is dangerous. It's
like playing with a burning fire into which one puts one's hands
all the time and it hurts constantly. Nobody will play that game
according to our own rules. People who really manage to be
somebody, like heads of state, invariably need a solid bodyguard
around them because they are in danger of their lives. Nobody
likes to admit that someone else is more important. One of the
major deterrents to peace of mind is the "somebody" of our own
In the world we live in, we can find people,
animals, nature and man-made things. Within all that, if we want
to be in charge of anything, the only thing we have any
jurisdiction over, is our own heart and mind. If we really want
to be somebody, we could try to be that rare person, the one who
is in charge of his own heart and mind. To be somebody like that
is not only very rare, but also brings with it the most
beneficial results. Such a person does not fall into the trap of
the defilements. Although the defilements may not be uprooted
yet, he won't commit the error of displaying them and getting
involved with them.
There is a story about Tan Achaan Cha, a
famous meditation master in North-East Thailand. He was accused
by someone of having a lot of hatred. Tan Achaan Cha replied:
"That may be so but I don't make any use of it." An answer like
this comes from a deep understanding of one's own nature, that's
why we are impressed with such a reply. It's a rare person who
will not allow himself to be defiled by thought, speech or
action. That one is really somebody, and doesn't have to prove
it to anyone else, mainly because it is quite obvious. In any
case, such a person has no desire to prove anything. There's
only one abiding interest and that's one's own peace of mind.
When we have peace of mind as our priority,
everything that is in the mind and comes out in speech or action
is directed towards it. Anything that does not create peace of
mind is discarded, yet we must not confuse this with being right
or having the last word. Others need not agree. Peace of mind is
one's own, everyone has to find his through his own efforts.
V. War and Peace
War and peace are the epic saga of humanity.
They are all that our history books contain because they are
what our hearts contain.
If you have ever read Don Quixote,
you'll remember that he was fighting windmills. Everybody is
doing just that, fighting windmills. Don Quixote was the figment
of a writer's imagination, a man who believed himself to be a
great warrior. He thought that every windmill he met was an
enemy and started battling with it. That's exactly what we are
doing within our own hearts and that's why this story has such
an everlasting appeal. It tells us about ourselves. Writers and
poets who have survived their own lifetimes have always told
human beings about themselves. Mostly people don't listen,
because it doesn't help when somebody else tells us what's wrong
with us and few care to hear it. One has to find out for oneself
and most people don't want to do that either.
What does it really mean to fight windmills?
It means fighting nothing important or real, just imaginary
enemies and battles. All quite trifling matters, which we build
into something solid and formidable in our minds. We say: "I
can't stand that," so we start fighting, and "I don't like him,"
and a battle ensues, and "I feel so unhappy," and the inner war
is raging. We hardly ever know what we're so unhappy about. The
weather, the food, the people, the work, the leisure, the
country, anything at all will usually do. Why does this happen
to us? Because of the resistance to actually letting go and
becoming what we really are, namely nothing. Nobody cares to be
Everybody wants to be something or somebody
even if it's only Don Quixote fighting windmills. Somebody who
knows and acts and will become something else, someone who has
certain attributes, views, opinions and ideas. Even patently
wrong views are held onto tightly, because it makes the "me"
more solid. It seems negative and depressing to be nobody and
have nothing. We have to find out for ourselves that it is the
most exhilarating and liberating feeling we can ever have. But
because we fear that windmills might attach, we don't want to
Why can't we have peace in the world? Because
nobody wants to disarm. Not a single country is ready to sign a
disarmament pact, which all of us bemoan. But have we ever
looked to see whether we, ourselves, have actually disarmed?
When we haven't done so, why wonder that nobody else is ready
for it either? Nobody wants to be the first one without weapons;
others might win. Does it really matter? If there is nobody
there, who can be conquered? How can there be a victory over
nobody? Let those who fight win every war, all that matters is
to have peace in one's own heart. As long as we are resisting
and rejecting and continue to find all sorts of rational excuses
to keep on doing that there has to be warfare.
War manifests externally in violence,
aggression and killing. But how does it reveal itself
internally? We have an arsenal within us, not of guns and atomic
bombs, but having the same effect. And the one who gets hurt is
always the one who is shooting, namely oneself. Sometimes
another person comes within firing range and if he or she isn't
careful enough, he or she is wounded. That's a regrettable
accident. The main blasts are the bombs which go off in one's
own heart. Where they are detonated, that's the disaster area.
The arsenal which we carry around within
ourselves consists of our ill will and anger, our desires and
cravings. The only criterion is that we don't feel peaceful
inside. We need not believe in anything, we can just find out
whether there is peace and joy in our heart. If they are
lacking, most people try to find them outside of themselves.
That's how all wars start. It is always the other country's
fault and if one can't find anyone to blame then one needs more
"Lebensraum," more room for expansion, more territorial
sovereignty. In personal terms, one needs more entertainment,
more pleasure, more comfort, more distractions for the mind. If
one can't find anyone else to blame for one's lack of peace,
then one believes it to be an unfulfilled need.
Who is that person, who needs more? A figment
of our own imagination, fighting windmills. That "more" is never
ending. One can go from country to country, from person to
person. There are billions of people on this globe; it's hardly
likely that we will want to see every one of them, or even
one-hundredth, a lifetime wouldn't be enough to do so. We may
choose twenty or thirty people and then go from one to the next
and back again, moving from one activity to another, from one
idea to another. We are fighting against our own dukkha
and don't want to admit that the windmills in our heart are
self-generated. We believe somebody put them up against us, and
by moving we can escape from them.
Few people come to the final conclusion that
these windmills are imaginary, that one can remove them by not
endowing them with strength and importance. That we can open our
hearts without fear and gently, gradually let go of our
preconceived notions and opinions, views and ideas, suppressions
and conditioned responses. When all that is removed, what does
one have left? A large, open space, which one can fill with
whatever one likes. If one has good sense, one will fill it with
love, compassion and equanimity. Then there is nothing left to
fight. Only joy and peacefulness remain, which cannot be found
outside of oneself. It is quite impossible to take anything from
outside and put it into oneself. There is no opening in us
through which peace can enter. We have to start within and work
outward. Unless that becomes clear to us, we will always find
Imagine what it was like in the days of the
crusades! There were those noble knights who spent all their
wealth on equipping themselves with the most modern and advanced
weapons, outfitting horses and followers, and then setting off
to bring religion to the infidels. They died on the way because
of hardships and battles and those who reached the end of the
journey, the Holy Land, still did not get any results, only more
warfare. When we look at this today, it seems utterly foolish,
to the extent of being ridiculous.
Yet we do the same in our own lives. If, for
instance, we wrote something in our diary that upset us three or
four years ago and were to read it now, it would seem quite
absurd. We wouldn't be able to remember for what reason it could
possibly have been important. We are constantly engaged in such
foolishness with minor and unimportant trifles, and spend our
energies trying to work them out to our ego-satisfaction.
Wouldn't it be much better to forget such mental formations and
attend to what's really important? There is only one thing
that's important to every being and that is a peaceful and happy
heart. It cannot be bought, nor is it given away. Nobody can
hand it to someone else and it cannot be found. Ramana Maharshi,
a sage in southern India, said: "Peace and happiness are not our
birthright. Whoever has attained them, has done so by continual
Some people have an idea that peace and
happiness are synonymous with doing nothing, having no duties or
responsibilities, being looked after by others. That's rather a
result of laziness. To gain peace and happiness one has to make
unrelenting effort in one's own heart. One can't achieve it
through proliferation, by trying to get more, only by wanting
less. Becoming emptier and emptier, until there is just open
space to be filled with peace and happiness. As long as our
hearts are full of likes and dislikes, how can peace and
happiness find any room?
One can find peace within oneself in any
situation, any place, any circumstance, but only through effort,
not through distraction. The world offers distractions and sense
contacts, and they are often quite tempting. The more action
there is, the more distracted the mind can be and the less one
has to look at one's own dukkha. When one has the time
and opportunity to introspect, one finds one's inner reality
different from what one imagined. Many people quickly look away
again, they don't want to know about that. It's nobody's fault
that there is dukkha. The only cure is letting go. It's
really quite simple, but few people believe this to the point of
trying it out.
There is a well-known simile about a monkey
trap. The kind used in Asia is a wooden funnel with a small
opening. At the bigger end lies a sweet. The monkey, attracted
by the sweet, puts his paw into the narrow opening and gets hold
of the sweet. When he wants to draw his paw out again, he can't
get his fist with the sweet through the narrow opening. He is
trapped and the hunter will come and capture him. He doesn't
realize that all he has to do to be free is to let go of the
That's what our life is all about. A trap,
because we want it nice and sweet. Not being able to let go,
we're caught in the ever recurring happiness-unhappiness,
up-down, hoping-despairing cycle. Instead of trying it out for
ourselves, whether we could let go and be free, we resist and
reject such a notion. Yet we all agree that all that matters are
peace and happiness, which can only exist in a free mind and
There is a lovely story from Nazrudin, a Sufi
Master, who was gifted in telling absurd tales. One day, the
story goes, he sent one of his disciples to the market and asked
him to buy him a bag of chilies. The disciple did as requested
and brought the bag to Nazrudin, who began to eat the chilies,
one after another. Soon his face turned red, his nose started
running, his eyes began to water and he was choking. The
disciple observed this for a while with awe and then said: "Sir,
your face is turning red, your eyes are watering and you are
choking. Why don't you stop eating these chilies?" Nazrudin
replied: "I am waiting for a sweet one."
The teaching aid of chilies! We, too, are
waiting for something, somewhere that will create peace and
happiness for us. Meanwhile there is nothing but dukkha,
the eyes are watering, the nose is running, but we won't stop
our own creations. There must be a sweet one at the bottom of
the bag! It's no use thinking, hearing or reading about it, the
only effective way is to look inside one's own heart and see
with understanding. The more the heart is full of wanting and
desiring, the harder and more difficult life becomes.
Why fight all these windmills? They are
self-built and can also be self-removed. It's a very rewarding
experience to check what's cluttering up one's own heart and
mind. As one finds emotion after emotion, not to create
allowances and justifications for them, but to realize that they
constitute the world's battle-grounds and start dismantling the
weapons so that disarmament becomes a reality.
Truth occupies a very important position in
the Buddha's teaching. The Four Noble Truths are the hub of the
wheel of the Dhamma. Truth (sacca) is one of the ten
perfections to be cultivated in order to purify oneself.
Truth can have different aspects. If we want
to find an end to suffering, we have to find truth at its
deepest level. The moral precepts which include "not lying" are
a basic training without which one can't lead a spiritual life.
To get to the bottom of truth, one has to get
to the bottom of oneself, and that is not an easy thing to do,
aggravated by the problem of not loving oneself. It naturally
follows that if one wants to learn to love oneself, there must
be hate present, and we are caught in the world of duality.
While we are floating around in the world of
duality, we can't get to the bottom of truth, because we are
suspended in a wave motion going back and forth. There is an
interesting admonition in the Sutta Nipata, mentioning
that one should not have associates, which prevents attachments.
This would result in neither love nor hate, so that only
equanimity remains, even-mindedness towards all that exists.
With equanimity one is no longer suspended between good and bad,
love and hate, friend and enemy, but has been able to let go, to
get to the bottom where truth can be found.
If we want to find the basic, underlying
truth of all existence, we must practice "letting go." This
includes our weakest and our strongest attachments, many of
which aren't even recognized as clinging.
To return to the simile of the truth to be
found at the bottom, we can see that if we are clinging to
anything, we can't get down to it. We're attached to the things,
people, ideas and views, which we consider ours and believe to
be right and useful. These attachments will keep us from getting
in touch with absolute truth.
Our reactions, the likes and dislikes, hold
us in suspense. While it is more pleasant to like something or
someone, yet both are due to attachments. This difficulty is
closely associated with distraction in meditation. Just as we
are attached to the food that we get for the body, we are
equally attached to food for the mind, so the thoughts go here
and there, picking up tidbits. As we do that, we are again held
in suspense, moving from thought to breath and back again, being
in the world of duality. When our mind acts in this way, it
cannot get to rock bottom.
Depth of understanding enables release from
suffering. When one goes deeper and deeper into oneself, one
finds no core, and learns to let go of attachments. Whether we
find anything within us which is pure, desirable, commendable or
whether it's impure and unpleasant, makes no difference. All
mental states owned and cherished keep us in duality, where we
are hanging in mid-air, feeling very insecure. They cannot bring
an end to suffering. One moment all might be well in our world
and we love everyone, but five minutes later we might react with
hate and rejection.
We might be able to agree with the Buddha's
words or regard them as a plausible explanation, but without the
certainty of personal experience, this is of limited assistance
to us. In order to have direct knowledge, it's as if we were a
weight and must not be tied to anything, so that we can sink
down to the bottom of all the obstructions, to see the truth
shining through. The tool for that is a powerful mind, a weighty
mind. As long as the mind is interested in petty concerns, it
doesn't have the weightiness that can bring it to the depth of
For most of us, our mind is not in the
heavy-weight class, but more akin to bantam weight. The punch of
a heavy-weight really accomplishes something, that of a bantam
weight is not too meaningful. The light-weight mind is attached
here and there to people and their opinions, to one's own
opinions, to the whole duality of pure and impure, right and
Why do we take it so personal, when it's
truly universal? That seems to be the biggest difference between
living at ease and being able to let the mind delve into the
deepest layer of truth, or living at loggerheads with oneself
and others. Neither hate nor greed are a personal manifestation,
nobody has a singular claim on them, they belong to humanity. We
can learn to let go of that personalized idea about our mind
states, which would rid us of a serious impediment. Greed, hate
and impurities exist, by the same token non-greed and non-hate
also exist. Can we own the whole lot? Or do we own them in
succession or five minutes at a time for each? Why own any of
them, they just exist and seeing that, it becomes possible to
let oneself sink into the depth of the Buddha's vision.
The deepest truth that the Buddha taught was
that there is no individual person. This has to be accepted and
experienced at a feeling level. As long as one hasn't let go of
owning body and mind, one cannot accept that one isn't really
this person. This is a gradual process. In meditation one learns
to let go of ideas and stories and attend to the meditation
subject. If we don't let go, we cannot sink into the meditation.
The mind has to be a heavy-weight for that too.
We can compare the ordinary mind to bobbing
around on the waves of thoughts and feelings. The same happens
in meditation, therefore we need to prepare ourselves for
becoming concentrated. We can look at all mind states arising
during the day and learn to let go of them. The ease and
buoyancy which arises from this process is due to being
unattached. If we don't practice throughout the day, our
meditation suffers because we have not come to the meditation
cushion in a suitable frame of mind. If one has been letting go
all day, the mind is ready and can now let go in meditation too.
Then it can experience its own happiness and purity.
Sometimes people think of the teaching as a
sort of therapy, which it undoubtedly is, but that's not its
ultimate aim, only one of its secondary aspects. The Buddha's
teaching takes us to the end of suffering, once and for all, not
just momentarily when things go wrong.
Having had an experience of letting go, even
just once, proves beyond a shadow of a doubt that it means
getting rid of a great burden. Carrying one's hate and greed
around is a heavy load, which, when abandoned, gets us out of
the duality of judgment. It's pleasant to be without thinking;
mental formations are troublesome.
If we succeed even once or twice during a day
to let go of our reactions, we have taken a great step and can
more easily do it again. We have realized that a feeling which
has arisen can be stopped, it need not be carried around all
day. The relief from this will be the proof that a great inner
discovery has been made and that the simplicity of non-duality
shows us the way towards truth.
In order to embrace the spiritual path fully,
be able to grow on it and walk along it with a feeling of
security, one has to renounce. Renunciation doesn't necessarily
mean cutting off one's hair or wearing robes. Renunciation means
letting go of all ideas and hopes that the mind would like to
grasp and retain, be interested in and wants to investigate. The
mind wants to have more of whatever is available. If it can't
get more, then it makes up fantasies and imaginings and projects
them upon the world. That will never bring true satisfaction,
inner peace, which can only be won by renunciation. "Letting go"
is the key word of the Buddhist path, the fading away of desire.
One must realize once and for all that "more" is not "better."
It is impossible to come to an end of "more," there is always
something beyond it. But it is certainly possible to come to the
end of "less," which is a much more sensible approach.
Why sit in seclusion in meditation and spoil
one's chances at all the opportunities the world offers for
enjoyment? One could go on trips, work at a challenging job,
meet interesting people, write letters or read books, have a
pleasant time somewhere else and really feel at ease -- one
could even find a different spiritual path. When the meditation
does not succeed, the thought may arise: "What am I really
doing, why am I doing it, what for, what's the good of it?" Then
the idea comes: "I can't really do this very well, maybe I
should try something else."
The world glitters and promises so much, but
never, never keeps its promises. Everyone has tried a number of
its temptations and not one of them has really been fulfilling.
The real fulfillment, the completeness of peace, lacking
nothing, the totality of being at ease and not wanting anything,
cannot be fulfilled in the world. There's nothing that can fill
one's wants utterly and completely. Money, material possessions,
another person, some of these can do so. And yet there's that
niggling doubt: "Maybe I'll find something else, more
comfortable, easier, not so demanding and above all something
new." Always that which is new promises fulfillment.
The mind has to be understood for what it is,
just another sense, that has as its base the brain, just as
seeing has as its base the eye. As the mind-moments arise and
contact is made with them, we start believing what we are
thinking and even owning it: "It's mine." Because of that, we're
really interested in our thoughts and want to look after them.
It's a foregone conclusion that people look after their own
belongings much better than they look after other people's
things, so that one follows one's own mind-moments and believes
them all. Yet they will never bring happiness. What they bring
is hope and worry and doubt. Sometimes they supply entertainment
and at other times depression. When doubts arise and one follows
through on them, goes along with them, they can lead us to the
point at which there is no practice left at all. Yet the only
way to prove that the spiritual life brings fulfillment is to
practice. The proof of the pudding lies in the eating. Nobody
else can prove it to us; wanting outside proof, so that all one
has to do is grab a hold of it and nourish oneself is a wrong
The fulfillment we are looking for is not
what we can get and stuff into this mind and body. The gaping
hole is much too large to fill. The only way we can find
fulfillment is to let go of expectations and wanting, of
everything that goes on in the mind, so that there is nothing
lacking. Then there's nothing left to fill.
The misunderstanding, which recurs over and
over again is this typical attitude of: "I want to be given. I
want to get knowledge, understanding, loving-kindness,
consideration. I want to receive a spiritual awakening." There
is nothing that one can be given, except instructions and
methods. One needs to do the daily work of practice, so that
purification will result. The lack of fulfillment cannot be
remedied by wanting to be given something new. We're not even
clear about where this is to come from. Maybe from the Buddha,
or from the Dhamma, or we might want it from our teacher.
Possibly we would like to get it from our meditation, or from a
book. The answer is not in getting something from outside of
ourselves, but rather lies in discarding everything.
What do we need to get rid of first?
Preferably the convolutions of the mind that constantly tell us
stories which are fantastic and unbelievable. Yet when we hear
them, we ourselves believe them. One way to look at them and
disbelieve them, is to write them down. They sound absurd when
they're written down on paper. The mind can always think up new
stories, there's no end to them. Renunciation is the key. Giving
up, letting go.
Giving up also means giving in to that
underlying, subconscious knowing that the worldly way doesn't
work, that there is a different way. We cannot try to remain in
the world and add something to our life, but rather give our
ambitions up completely. To stay the way one is and then add
something to that -- how can it possibly work? If one has a
non-functioning machine and adds another part to it, it's not
going to make it function. One has to overhaul the whole
That means accepting our underlying
understanding that the old ways of thinking aren't useful.
There's always dukkha again and again. It keeps coming,
doesn't it? Sometimes we think: "It must be due to a particular
person, or maybe it's due to the weather." Then the weather
changes or that person leaves, but dukkha is still
present. So it wasn't that and we have to try to find something
else. Instead we need to become pliable and soft and attend to
that which is truly arising without all the convolutions,
conglomerations, proliferations of the mind. That which arises
may be either pure or impure and we need to know how to handle
Once we start explaining and rationalizing,
the whole process breaks down again. We mustn't think that we
can add anything to ourselves in order to make us whole. All has
to be taken away, the whole identifiable lot, then we become a
whole person. Renunciation is letting go of ideation, of the
mind-stuff that claims to be the person who knows. Who knows
that person who knows? These are only ideas churning around,
arising and ceasing. Renunciation is not an outward
manifestation, that's only its result. The cause is an inward
one, which is the one we need to practice. If we think of a
nunnery as a place for meditation, we will find that meditation
cannot happen without renunciation.
In the Sutta Nipata we find a
discourse by the Buddha entitled "The Rhinoceros Horn" in which
he compares the one horn of the rhinoceros with the sage's
solitude. The Buddha praises being alone and the refrain to
every stanza of the sutta is: "One should wander solitary as a
rhinoceros horn." (K.R. Norman transl. P.T.S.)
There are two kinds of solitude, that of the
mind (citta-viveka) and that of the body (kaya-viveka).
Everyone is familiar with solitude of the body. We go away and
sit by ourselves in a room or cave or tell the people we are
living with, that we want to be left alone. People usually like
that sort of solitude for short periods. If this aloneness is
maintained, it is often due to people not being able to get
along with others or being afraid of them because there isn't
enough love in their own hearts. Often there may be a feeling of
loneliness, which is detrimental to solitude. Loneliness is a
negative state of mind in which one feels bereft of
When one lives in a family or community, it
is sometimes difficult to find physical solitude, it's not even
very practical. But physical solitude is not the only kind of
aloneness there is. Mental solitude is an important factor for
practice. Unless one is able to arouse mental solitude in
oneself, one will not be able to be introspective, to find out
what changes in oneself are necessary.
Mental solitude means first and foremost not
to be dependent on others for approval, for companionable talk,
for a relationship. It doesn't mean that one becomes unfriendly
towards others, just that one is mentally independent. If
another person is kind to us, well and good. If that isn't the
case, that's fine too, and makes no difference.
The horn of a rhinoceros is straight and
solid and so strong that we can't bend it. Can our minds be like
that? Mental solitude cuts out idle chatter, which is
detrimental to spiritual growth. Talking about nothing at all,
just letting off steam. When we let the steam go from a pot, we
can't cook the food. Our practice can be likened to putting the
heat on oneself. If we let off steam again and again, that inner
process is stopped. It's much better to let the steam accumulate
and find out what is cooking. That is the most important work we
Everybody should have occasion each day to be
on her own physically for some time, so that we can really feel
alone, totally by ourselves. Sometimes we may think: "People are
talking about me." That doesn't matter, we are the owners of our
own kamma. If somebody talks about us, it's their kamma. If we
get upset, that's our kamma. Getting interested in what is being
said is enough to show that we are dependent on people's
approval. Who's approving of whom? Maybe the five khandha
(body, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness)
are approving. Or possibly the hair of the head, the hair of the
body, nails, teeth and skin? Which "self" is approving, the good
one, the bad one, the mediocre one, or maybe the non-self?
Unless one can find a feeling of solidity in
oneself, from the center, where there is no movement, one is
always going to feel insecure. Nobody can be liked by everyone,
not even the Buddha. Because we have defilements, we are always
on the lookout for everybody else's pollutions. None of that
matters, it's all totally unimportant. The only thing that is
significant is to be mindful; totally attentive to each step on
the way, to what one is doing, feeling, thinking. It's so easy
to forget this. There's always somebody with whom to talk or
another cup of tea to be had. That's how the world lives and the
inhabitants are mostly unhappy. But the Buddha's path leads out
of the world to independent happiness.
Letting off steam, idle chatter and looking
for companionship are the wrong things to do. Trying to find out
what people are thinking about one, is immaterial and irrelevant
and has nothing to do with the spiritual path. Solitude in the
mind means that one can be alone in the midst of the crowd. Even
in a large and agitated crowd of people, one would still be able
to operate from one's own center, giving out love and
compassion, and not being influenced by what is happening around
That can be called ideal solitude and means
one has removed oneself from the future and past, which is
necessary in order to stand straight and alone. If one is
attached to the future, then there is worry, and if one is
hankering for the past, there is either desire or rejection.
That is the constant chatter of the mind, not conducive to
Solitude can only be fully experienced when
there is inner peace. Otherwise loneliness pushes one to try and
remedy a feeling of emptiness and loss. "Where is everybody?
What can I do without some companionship? I must discuss my
problems." Mindfulness is able to take care of all that because
it has to arise in the present moment and has nothing to do with
future and past. It keeps one totally occupied and saves one
from making mistakes, which are natural to human beings. But the
greater the mindfulness, the fewer mistakes. Errors on the
mundane level also have repercussions on the supermundane path,
because they are due to a lack of mindfulness, which will not
allow us to get past our self-inflicted dukkha. We will
try again and again to find someone who is to blame or someone
who can distract us.
Ideal solitude arises when a person can be
alone or with others and remain of one piece, not getting caught
in someone else's difficulties. We may respond in an appropriate
manner, but we are not affected. We all have our own inner life
and we only get to know it well when the mind stops chattering
and we can attend to our inner feelings. Once we have seen what
is happening inside of us, we will want to change it. Only the
fully Enlightened One (arahant) has an inner life which
needs no changing. Our inner stress and lack of peace push us
outward to find someone who will remove a moment of dukkha,
but only we, ourselves, can do it.
Solitude may be physical, but that's not its
main function. The solitary mind is one which can have profound
and original thoughts. A dependent mind thinks in cliches, the
way everybody else does, because it wants approval. Such a mind
understands on a surface level, just like the world does, and
cannot grasp the profundity and depth of the Buddha's teaching.
The solitary mind is at ease because it is unaffected.
It's interesting that a mind at ease, which
can stand on its own, also can memorize. Because such a mind is
not filled with the desire to remove dukkha, it can
remember without much trouble. This is one of its side benefits.
The main value of a solitary mind is its imperturbability. It
can't be shaken and will stand without support, just as a strong
tree doesn't need a prop. Because it's powerful in its own
right. If the mind doesn't have enough vigour to stand on its
own, it won't have the strength and determination to fulfill the
Our practice includes being on our own some
time each day to introspect and contemplate. Reading, talking
and listening are all communication with others, which are
necessary at times. But it is essential to have time for
self-inquiry: "What is happening within me? What am I feeling?
Is it wholesome or not? Am I perfectly contented on my own? How
much self-concern is there? Is the Dhamma my guide or am I
bewildered?" If there's a fog in one's mind, all we need is a
searchlight to penetrate it. The searchlight is concentration.
Health, wealth and youth do not mean no
dukkha. They are a cover-up. Ill-health, poverty and old age
make it easier to realize the unsatisfactoriness of our
existence. When we are alone, that is the time to get to know
ourselves. We can investigate the meaning of the Dhamma we've
heard and whether we can actualize it in our own lives. We can
use those aspects of the Dhamma which are most meaningful for
The solitary mind is a strong mind, because
it knows how to stand still. That doesn't mean not associating
with people at all, that would lack loving-kindness (metta).
A solitary mind is able to be alone and introspect and also be
loving towards others. Living in a Dhamma community is an ideal
place to practice this.
Meditation is the means for concentration,
which is the tool to break through the fog enveloping everyone
who is not an arahant. At times, in communal living,
there is togetherness and lovingness and service. These should
be the results of metta not of trying to get away from
dukkha. Next time we start a conversation, let's first
investigate: "Why am I having this discussion? Is it necessary,
or am I bored and want to get away from my problems."
Clear comprehension is the mental factor
which joins with mindfulness to give purpose and direction. We
examine whether our speech and actions are having the right
purpose, whether we are using skillful means and whether the
initial purpose has been accomplished. If we have no clear-cut
direction, idle chatter results. Even in meditation the mind
does it, which is due to lack of training. When we practice
clear comprehension, we need to stop a moment and examine the
whole situation before plunging in. This may become one of our
skillful habits, not often found in the world.
An important aspect of the Buddha's teaching
is the combination of clear comprehension with mindfulness. The
Buddha often recommends them as the way out of all sorrow, and
we need to practice them in our small every-day efforts. These
may consist of learning something new, a Dhamma sentence
remembered, one line of chanting memorized, one new insight
about oneself, one aspect of reality realized. Such a mind gains
strength and self-confidence.
Renunciation is the greatest help in gaining
self-confidence. One knows one can get along without practically
everything, for instance food, for quite some time. Once the
Buddha went to a village where nobody had any faith in him. He
received no alms-food at all, nobody in the village paid any
attention to him. He went to the outskirts and sat down on a bit
of straw and meditated. Another ascetic came by who had seen
that the Buddha had not received any food and commiserated with
him: "You must be feeling very badly not having anything to eat.
I'm very sorry. You don't even have a nice place to sleep, just
straw." The Buddha replied: "Feeders on joy we are. Inner joy
can feed us for many days."
One can get along without many things when
they are voluntarily given up. If someone takes our belongings,
we resist, which is dukkha. But when we practice
self-denial, we gain strength and enable the mind to stand on
its own. Self-confidence arises and creates a really strong
back-bone. Renunciation of companionship shows us whether we are
The Buddha did not advocate exaggerated and
harmful ascetic practices. but we could give up -- for instance
-- afternoon conversations and contemplate instead. Afterwards
the mind feels contented with its own efforts. The more effort
one can make, the more satisfaction arises.
We need a solitary mind in meditation, so we
need to practice it some time during each day. The secluded mind
has two attributes; one is mindfulness, full attention and clear
comprehension and the other is introspection and contemplation.
Both of them bring the mind to unification. Only in togetherness
lies strength; unification brings power.
IX. Dukkha for
Knowledge and Vision
The "twelve-point-dependent-origination" (paticcasamuppada)
starts with ignorance (avijja) and goes through kamma
formations (sankhara), rebirth consciousness, mind and
matter, sense contacts, feeling, craving, clinging, becoming,
birth, and ends with death. Getting born means dying. During
that sequence there is one point of escape -- from feeling to
While this is called the mundane (lokiya)
dependent-origination, the Buddha also taught a supermundane,
transcendental (lokuttara) series of cause and effect.
That one starts with unsatisfactoriness (dukkha).
Dukkha needs to be seen for what it really is, namely the
best starting point for our spiritual journey. Unless we know
and see dukkha, we would have little reason to practice.
If we haven't acknowledged the over-all existence of dukkha,
we wouldn't be interested in getting out of its clutches.
starts out with the awareness and inner knowledge of the
inescapable suffering in the human realm. When we reflect upon
this, we will no longer try to find a way out through human
endeavor, nor through becoming more informed or knowledgeable,
or richer, or owning more or having more friends. Seeing
dukkha as an inescapable condition, bound up with existence,
we no longer feel oppressed by it. It's inescapable that there
is thunder and lightning, so we don't try to reject the weather.
There have to be thunder, lightning and rain, so we can grow
Dukkha is equally inescapable. Without
it, the human condition would not exist. There wouldn't be
rebirth, decay and death. Having seen it like that, one loses
one's resistance to it. The moment one is no longer repelled by
dukkha, suffering is greatly diminished. It's our
resistance which creates the craving to get rid of it, which
makes it so much worse.
Having understood dukkha in this way,
one may be fortunate enough to make contact with the true
Dhamma, the Buddha's teaching. This is due to one's own good
kamma. There are innumerable people who never get in touch with
Dhamma. They might even be born in a place where the Dhamma is
being preached, but they will have no opportunity to hear it.
There are many more people who will not be searching for the
Dhamma, because they're still searching for the escape route in
the human endeavor, looking in the wrong direction. Having come
to the conclusion that the world will not provide real
happiness, then one also has to have the good kamma to be able
to listen to true Dhamma. If these conditions arise, then faith
Faith has to be based on trust and
confidence. If these are lacking, the path will not open. One
becomes trusting like a child holding the hand of a grown-up
when crossing the street. The child believes that the grown-up
will be watching out for traffic so that no accident will
happen. The small child doesn't have the capacity to gauge when
it's safe to cross, but it trusts someone with greater
We are like children compared to the Buddha.
If we can have a child-like innocence, then it will be possible
for us to give ourselves unstintingly to the teaching and the
practice, holding onto the hand of the true Dhamma that will
guide us. Life and practice will be simplified when the judging
and weighing of choice is removed. No longer: "I should do it
another way, or go somewhere else, or find out how it is done by
others." These are possibilities, but they are not conducive to
good practice or to getting out of dukkha. Trust in the
Dhamma helps to keep the mind steady. One has to find out for
oneself if this is the correct escape route, but if we don't
try, we won't know.
If dukkha is still regarded as a
calamity, we will not have enough space in the mind to have
trust. The mind will be full of grief, pain, lamentation,
forgetting that all of us are experiencing our kamma resultants
and nothing else. This is part of being a human being, subject
to one's own kamma.
Resistance to dukkha saps our energy
and the mind cannot stretch to its full capacity. If dukkha
is seen as the necessary ingredient to spur one on to leave
samsara behind, then one's positive attitude will point in
the right direction. Dukkha is not a tragedy, but rather
a basic ingredient for insight. This must not only be a thinking
process, but felt with one's heart. It's too easy to think like
that and not to do anything about it. But when our heart is
truly touched, trust and confidence in the Dhamma arise as the
way out of all suffering.
The Dhamma is totally opposed to worldly
thinking, where suffering is considered to be a great
misfortune. In the Dhamma suffering is seen as the first step to
transcend the human condition. The understanding of dukkha
has to be firm, in order to arouse trust in that part of the
teaching which one hasn't experienced oneself yet. If one has
already tried many other escape routes and none of them actually
worked, then one will find it easier to become that trusting,
child-like person, walking along this difficult path without
turning right or left, knowing that the teaching is true, and
letting it be one's guide. Such faith brings joy, without which
the path is a heavy burden and will not flourish. Joy is a
necessary and essential ingredient of the spiritual life.
Joy is not to be mistaken for pleasure,
exhilaration or exuberance. Joy is a feeling of ease and
gladness, knowing one has found that which transcends all
suffering. People sometimes have the mistaken idea that to be
holy or pious means having a sad face and walking around in a
mournful way. Yet the Buddha is said never to have cried and is
usually depicted with a half-smile on his face. Holiness does
not stand for sadness, it means wholeness. Without joy there is
no wholeness. This inner joy carries with it the certainty that
the path is blameless, the practice is fruitful and the conduct
We need to sit down for meditation with a
joyous feeling and the whole experience of meditation will
culminate in happiness. This brings us tranquillity, as we no
longer look around for outside satisfaction. We know only to
look into ourselves. There's nowhere to go and nothing to do,
it's all happening within. Such tranquillity is helpful to
concentrated meditation and creates the feeling of being in the
right spot at the right time. It creates ease of mind, which
facilitates meditation and is conducive to eliminating sceptical
Sceptical doubt is the harbinger of
restlessness, joy begets calm. We need not worry about our own
or the world's future, it's just a matter of time until we
fathom absolute reality. When the path, the practice and effort
mesh together, results are bound to come. It is essential to
have complete confidence in everything the Buddha said. We can't
pick out the ideas we want to believe because they happen to be
in accordance with what we like anyway and discard others. There
are no choices to be made, it's all or nothing.
Tranquillity helps concentration to arise.
Dukkha itself can lead us to proper concentration if we
handle it properly. But we mustn't reject it, thinking that it
is a quirk of fate that has brought all this grief to us, or
think that other people are causing it. If we use dukkha
to push us onto the path, then proper concentration can result.
Right concentration makes it possible for the
mind to stretch. The mind that is limited, obstructed and
defiled cannot grasp the profundity of the teaching. It may get
an inkling that there is something extraordinary available, but
it cannot go into the depth of it. Only the concentrated mind
can extend its limitations. When it does that, it may experience
The Buddha often used this phrase
This is distinct from the way we think they are or might be, or
as we'd like them to be, hopefully comfortable and pleasant. But
rather birth, decay, disease and death, not getting what one
wants, or getting what one doesn't want, a constant perception
of what we dislike, because it fails to support our ego-belief.
In knowing and seeing things as they really are, we will lose
We will come to see that within this realm of
impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and corelessness (anicca,
dukkha, anatta), there is nothing that can be grasped and
found to be solid and satisfying. No person, no possession, no
thought, no feeling. Nothing can be clung to and found to be
steady and supportive.
This is right view, beyond our ordinary
every-day perception. It results from right concentration and
comes from dealing with dukkha in a positive, welcoming
way. When we try to escape from dukkha by either
forgetting about it, running away from it, blaming someone else,
becoming depressed by it or feeling sorry for ourselves, we are
creating more dukkha. All these methods are based on
knowledge-and-vision-of-things-as-they-really-are is the first
step on the noble path, everything else has been the preliminary
Sometimes our understanding may feel like one
of those mystery pictures that children play with. Now you see
it, now you don't. When any aspect of Dhamma is clearly visible
to us, we must keep on resurrecting that vision. If it is
correct, dukkha has no sting, it just is. Decay, disease
and death do not appear fearful. There is nothing to fear,
because everything falls apart continually. This body
disintegrates and the mind changes every moment.
Without knowledge and vision of reality, the
practice is difficult. After having this clear perception, the
practice is the only possible thing to do. Everything else is
only a side-issue and a distraction. From the
knowledge-and-vision arises disenchantment with what the world
has to offer. All the glitter that seems to be gold turns out to
be fool's gold, which cannot satisfy. It gives us pleasure for
one moment and displeasure the next and has to be searched for
again and again. The world of the senses has fooled us so often
that we're still enmeshed in it and still experiencing
dukkha, unless the true vision arises.
There's a poster available in Australia which
reads: "Life, be in it." Wouldn't it be better if it said,
"Life, be out of it?" Life and existence is bound up with the
constant renewal of our sense contacts, seeing, hearing,
tasting, touching, smelling and thinking. Only when we have
clear perception, will disenchantment set in and then the most
wonderful sense contact will no longer entice us to react. It
just exists, but doesn't touch our heart. Mara, the
tempter, has lost his grip and has been shown the door. He's
waiting at the doorstep to slip in again, at the first possible
opportunity, but he isn't so comfortably ensconced inside any
This brings a great deal of security and
satisfaction to the heart. One won't be swayed to leave this
path of practice. When Mara is still calling, there's no
peace in the heart. One can't be at ease and satisfied, because
there's always something new to tempt us. With
knowledge-and-vision-of-things-as-they-really-are and subsequent
disenchantment, we realize that the Buddha's path leads us to
tranquillity, peace and the end of dukkha.
Dukkha is really our staunchest
friend, our most faithful supporter. We'll never find another
friend or helpmate like it, if it is seen in the right way,
without resistance or rejection. When we use dukkha as
our incentive for practice, gratitude and appreciation for it
will arise. This takes the sting out of our pain and transforms
it into our most valuable experience.
X. Our Underlying
Most people are inclined to blame either
themselves or others for whatever they consider wrong. Some
people like to blame mostly others, some prefer to blame
themselves. Neither way is profitable, or will bring peace of
mind. It may help to really get a grip on the facts that prevail
within each human being by knowing the underlying tendencies
(anusaya) within us.
If we understand that every human being has
these tendencies, then we may be less inclined to blame or be
upset or take offence and more inclined to accept with
equanimity. We may be more prone to work on these negatives when
we become aware of them in ourselves.
The underlying tendencies are more subtle
than the five hindrances (pańca nivarana): the hindrances
are gross and exhibit themselves in that way. Sensual desire:
wanting that which is pleasing to the senses. Ill-will: getting
angry, upset. Sloth and torpor: having no energy whatsoever.
Sloth refers to the body, torpor to the mind. Restlessness and
worry: being ill-at-ease, no peacefulness. Sceptical doubt: not
knowing which way to turn. These five are easily discernible in
oneself and others. But the underlying tendencies are more
difficult to pinpoint. They are the hidden sources for the
hindrances to arise, and in order to get rid of them, one needs
keen mindfulness and a great deal of discernment.
Having worked with the five hindrances in
oneself and to a certain degree having let go of their grossest
aspects, one can begin work on the underlying tendencies. The
word itself suggests their characteristic, namely, that their
roots are deeply imbedded and therefore hard to see and
The first two tendencies are similar to the
hindrances sensuality and irritation, being the underlying bases
for sensual desire and anger. Even when sensual desire has been
largely abandoned and anger no longer arises, the disposition to
sensuality and irritation remain.
Sensuality is part and parcel of a human
being and shows itself in becoming attached and reacting to what
one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches and thinks. One is
concerned with what one feels and has not yet come to the
understanding that the sense objects are only impermanent
phenomena arising and passing away. When this lack of profound
insight is still prevalent, one ascribes importance to the
impressions which come in through the senses. One is drawn to
them and seeks pleasure in them. When the senses are still
playing an important part in a person, there is sensuality. Man
is a sensuous being. There is a verse which describes the noble
Sangha as having "pacified senses." The Loving-Kindness Sutta
(Karaniyametta Sutta) describes the ideal monk as "with
senses calmed." In many a sutta the Buddha said that getting rid
of sense desire is the way to Nibbana.
Sensuality as an ingrained part of being
human has to be transcended with great effort and cannot be done
without insight. It's impossible to succeed just by avowing:
"sensuality isn't useful, I'll let go of it." One has to gain
the insight that these sense contacts have no intrinsic value in
themselves. There is a coming together of the sense base (eye,
ear, nose, tongue, skin, mind) with the sense object (sight,
sound, smell, taste, touch, thought) and the sense consciousness
(seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, thinking) to form
an impingement. That's all that's happening. As long as one
reacts to these contacts as if they had importance, there is
sensuality. Where there is sensuality, there is also irritation,
the two go hand in hand. Sensuality is satisfied when the sense
contact impingement was pleasant. Irritation arises when the
sense contact was unpleasant. It doesn't have to issue as anger,
shouting, fury, hate or even resistance. It's just irritation,
which results in being displeased, feeling ill-at-ease and
restless. It goes together with being a sensuous human being.
Sensuality and irritation only disappear for
the nonreturner (Anagami). The last stage before full
Enlightenment: one who does not return to this realm, but
attains Nibbana in the "Pure Abodes'. Even the
stream-enterer (Sotapanna) and the once-returner (Sakadagami),
the first and second stage of noble attainment, are still beset
by the dukkha of sensuality and irritation.
If one imagines that the impulse creating
sensuality or irritation is outside of oneself, one hasn't seen
the beginning of the path yet. It is necessary to realize that
the reaction is our own, so that we may start work on ourselves.
If we don't even notice it happening, how can we do anything
about it? It's occurring constantly, without let-up, so that we
have innumerable occasions to become aware of our inner world.
Becoming aware doesn't mean yet that we can
get rid of our reactions. There also has to be an understanding
of the futility of an unwholesome response and an effort to
investigate the causes. It's easy to see that sensuality and
irritation are the underlying tendencies which creates sensual
desire and ill-will. This insight should arouse a little
acceptance and tolerance towards one's own difficulties and
those of other people. If this is happening to everyone
constantly, then what is there to get upset about? The only
thing to do is to work with it, to use it as one's subject for
contemplation (kammatthana) and introspection. It's well
worthwhile to use one's difficulties as one's method for the
task of purification.
Our tendencies and hindrances are all
interconnected. If one is able to diminish one, the others also
become a little less obstructive, lose their heaviness and cease
to be so frightening. People generally fear their own reactions.
That is why they often feel threatened by others; they're not so
much afraid of the other person's reaction, but far more so of
their own. They're unsure of themselves, fearing to become
aggressive, angry and then losing some of their own self-image.
Having a self-image is very detrimental,
because it is based on the illusion of permanence. Everything
constantly changes, including ourselves, while a self-image
presupposes stability. One moment we may be a sensual being, the
next moment an irritable one. Sometimes we are at ease, at other
times we are restless. Which one are we? To have an image of
oneself creates a concept of permanence which can never have any
basis in fact. It blocks one's insight into the underlying
tendencies because one will be blind to those which do not fit
The third underlying tendency is doubt or
hesitation. If one has doubts, one hesitates: "What am I going
to do next?" One doubts one's own path and abilities, and how to
proceed. Due to hesitation, one doesn't use one's time wisely.
At times one may waste it or overindulge in activities which are
not beneficial. Doubt means that one doesn't have an inner
vision to guide one, but is obsessed by uncertainty. Doubts and
hesitation lie in our hearts because of a feeling of insecurity.
We are afraid of not being safe. But there's no safety anywhere,
the only one that can be found is Nibbana. This fear and
insecurity in the heart cause doubt and hesitation to arise. If
we were to leave them behind and not pay any attention to them,
we could step ahead so much more easily and could accomplish
many times more.
Doubt and hesitation are abandoned with
stream-entry. The one who has attained the first Path and Fruit
no longer doubts, because that person has had a personal
experience of an unconditioned reality, totally different from
the relative reality in which we live. He can now forge ahead
without worry or fear. There can be no doubt about a direct
experience. If we tell a small child: "Please don't touch the
stove, you might get burned," it's quite likely that the child
will nevertheless touch the stove. Having once touched it and
experienced the painful feeling of being burned, he will surely
never touch it again. The experience removes doubt and
The next underlying tendency is the wrong
view (ditthi) of relating all that happens to a "self."
This goes on constantly and we can verify that easily, as it
happens to everybody. Very few people realize: "This is just
mental phenomena." They believe: "I think." When there is pain
in the body, few will say: "It's just an unpleasant feeling."
They'll say: "I'm feeling very badly," or "I have a terrible
pain." This reaction to whatever happens as "self" is due to an
underlying tendency so deeply imbedded that it takes great
effort to loosen its hold.
To lose the wrong view of self does not
simply mean to intellectually understand that there is no real
"self." What is required is an inner view of this whole
conglomeration of mind and body as nothing but mere phenomena
without ownership. The first step is taken at stream-entry, when
right view of "self" arises, though all clinging to
self-concepts is abandoned only at arahant level.
Next comes pride and conceit (mana),
which here means having a certain concept of ourselves, such as
being a man or a woman, young or old, beautiful or ugly. We
conceive of what we want, feel, think, know, own and what we can
do. All this conceptualizing creates ownership and we become
proud of possessions, knowledge, skills, feelings, being someone
special. This pride may be deeply hidden in ourselves and hard
to find and may need some introspective digging. This is due to
the fact that so much of our whole being is involved. When we
say: "Now find that concept about being a woman," the answer
often is: "Of course, I am a woman, what else am I?" But as long
as "I am" anything, woman, man, child, stupid or intelligent, "I
am" far from Nibbana. Whatever I conceptualize myself to
be stops me in my tracks.
The underlying tendency of pride and conceit
is only uprooted for the