Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
from the Thai by
© 2002 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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your body. Survey your mind. You've been practicing meditation
continuously, so even if your mind isn't yet quiet, even though
it hasn't reached a level of concentration as solid as you'd
like it to be, meditation is still a skillful activity in
terms of developing conviction, developing persistence. At
the very least it will give results on the sensory level,
making you an intelligent person, at the same time developing
the perfections of your character on into the future. So try
not to get discouraged. Don't let yourself think that you
haven't seen any results from your meditation. When you come
right down to it, what do you want from your meditation? You
meditate to make the mind quiet, and the mind becomes quiet
from letting go. That's what the meditation is: letting
go. If you meditate in order to "get" something, that's
craving, the cause of suffering. Meditation isn't an affair
of craving. The Dhamma is already here, so all we have to
do is study it so that we'll know the truth. The truth isn't
something new. It's something that's been here from time immemorial.
All the Buddhas of the past have awakened to this very same
Dhamma, this very same truth. Even though the cosmos has changed
from one aeon to another, the Dhamma hasn't changed along
with the cosmos. No matter which aeon a particular Buddha
was born in, he awakened to the same old truth. He taught
the same old truth. The same Dhamma, the same truth, is always
right here all the time. It's simply that we don't recognize
it. We haven't studied it down to its elemental properties.
All I ask is that you be intent on studying it. The truth
is always the truth. It's always present.
The truth the Buddha taught starts with the principle that
stress-and-suffering is a truth. Do you have any stress and
suffering? Examine yourself carefully. Is there any stress
and suffering within you? Or is there none at all? As long
as there's suffering within you, the truth of the noble truths
taught by the Buddha is still there. When you're mindful to
keep your eye on the suffering appearing within you, you're
studying the truth in line with what it actually is.
But in addition to pointing out the truth of suffering, the
Buddha also taught the path to the end of suffering. This,
too, is a truth. The Buddha has guaranteed that when we develop
it in full measure, we'll gain release from stress and suffering.
It's not the case that suffering is the only truth, that we
have to lie buried in stress and suffering. The Buddha found
a way out of suffering, like an intelligent doctor who not
only understands diseases but also knows a miraculous medicine
to cure them.
This is why the truth of the path is so important, for many,
many people who have put it into practice have gotten results.
The truth of the path is something we put into practice to
gain release from suffering -- as we chanted just now:
Those who don't discern
Atho dukkhassa sambhavam
Tañca maggam na janati
Who don't understand
The way to the stilling
of suffering ...
Te ve jati-jarupaga
They'll return to
birth and aging again.
If we don't comprehend suffering and the way to the end of
suffering, we'll have to experience birth, aging, and death,
which are the causes not only of suffering but also of the
craving leading to more suffering.
We should take joy in the fact that we have all the noble
truths we need. We have suffering, and the path to the end
of suffering doesn't lie far away. When we look into the texts,
we find that the Buddha and his noble disciples didn't practice
anything far away. They purified the actions of their bodies
and minds. They did this by knowing their own bodies and minds
in line with what they actually were. When we don't know our
own bodies and minds as they actually are, that's a cause
of suffering. When we practice knowing our own bodies, our
own minds, as they actually are, that's the path to release
from suffering. Aside from this, there's no path at all.
already have a body. We already have a mind -- this knowing
property. So we take this knowing property and put it to
use by studying the body in line with its three characteristics: aniccata, inconstancy; dukkhata, stressfulness;
and anattata, not-selfnessness. Inconstancy and stressfulness
lie on the side of suffering and its cause. We have to study
things that are inconstant in order to see who they are,
who's responsible for them, who really owns them. This issue
of inconstancy is really important. Rupam aniccam: form
is inconstant. Who owns the form? Rupam dukkham: form
is stressful. Who's on the receiving end of the stress? Stress
is something that has to depend on causes and conditions
in order to arise. It doesn't come on its own. Just like
sound: we have to depend on contact in order to hear it.
If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any sound.
In the same way, stress depends on contact. If there's no
contact, we won't know where there's any stress. If stress
and suffering were able to burn us all on their own, the
Buddha would never have been able to gain release from them.
There would be no way for us to practice, for no matter what,
suffering would keep on burning us all on its own. But the
fact of the matter is that when we practice, we can gain
relief from suffering, because suffering isn't built into
the mind, it's not built into this knowing property. It has
to depend on contact through the sense media in order for
it to arise.
This is why sages study the truth. As when we chant:
kho me kayo,
This body of mine,
From the soles of
the feet on up,
From the crown of
the head on down,
Surrounded by skin.
this body we have all five aggregates: form, feeling, perception,
thought-fabrications, and consciousness. Form is the coarsest
of the aggregates, for we can touch it with our hand and
see it with our eyes. As for feeling, perception, thought-fabrications,
and consciousness, they're mental phenomena. Even though
we can't touch them with the body, we can still know them
and experience them. For instance, we constantly have feelings
of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain. Perception:
we remember things and label them. Thought-fabrication
creates thoughts, and consciousness notices things. We
all notice things, label them, fabricate thoughts about
them, and experience pleasure and pain because of them.
The primary issue is the form of the body. The Buddha taught
us to study it in order to know the noble truths in both form
and mental phenomena. When he taught that birth is suffering,
aging is suffering, death is suffering, he was referring to
the birth, aging, and death right here at the form where the
five aggregates meet -- this form we already have. And yet
most of us don't like to reflect on the truth of these things.
We think that birth is pleasurable. We get pleasure and stress
all confused. It's because we don't realize the truth of these
things that we don't search for a way out. The Buddha, however,
knew this truth, which was why he practiced contemplating
it. He tested to see if birth is pleasurable by noticing if
the mind could stay quiet with birth: "Are there any pains?
Anything disturbing the mind? And what's paining and disturbing
the mind aside from the birth, the arising of things?" It's
because of the birth of the body that we have to keep finding
food for it, requisites to keep it going. Greed, anger, and
delusion arise because of birth. And once there's birth, there's
aging, deterioration, wearing down, wearing down all the time.
Whatever we get runs out, runs out every day, wears down every
The Buddha awakened to the truth that birth isn't pleasurable
at all. The only pleasure is when, if we get hungry, we eat
enough to make the hunger go away for a little while. But
soon we get hungry again. When we get hot out in the sun,
we take cover in the shade to cool down a bit, but then we
start feeling hot again. When we get tired, we rest. But
then if we lie down for a long time, we start feeling stiff.
If we walk for a long time, we get weary. When this is the
way things are, the mind can't find any peace or rest. It
gets disturbed and gives rise to defilement because of birth.
And that's not the end of it. Once birth takes place, it's
followed by aging and deterioration. No matter how much you
look after the body, it won't stay with you. In the end,
it all falls apart. And once it dies, there's no one who
can stay in charge of it. If we come to our senses only at
that point, and realize only when it's already dead that
it has to die, it's too late to do anything about it.
But if we gain conviction in these truths now in the present
before death comes, we won't be complacent about our youth
or life. If we can be mindful at all times that death is inevitable,
that -- even though we may be as strong as a bull elephant
-- a disease could come along at any time and oppress us to
the point where we can't even sit up, can't do anything to
help ourselves: when we realize this, we're said not to be
complacent in our health. Then we can act in ways truly benefiting
ourselves, providing us with the refuge we'll need when we
can no longer take refuge in our youth, health, or life. Wherever
you look in the body you see it wearing down. Wherever you
look you see diseases. Wherever you look you see things that
are unclean. Nothing at all in the body is really strong or
lasting. When you see this clearly, you'll no longer be fooled
into clinging to it. You can analyze the body into its parts
and see that they're all inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
When you develop clear insight into not-self, you'll be able
to shake free of stress and inconstancy. That's because
inconstancy is a not-self affair; stress is a not-self affair.
They're not our affairs. So do we hope to gain by letting
ourselves struggle and get defiled over them?
This is why the noble ones, when they see these truths, call
them the dangers in the cycles of samsara. You have to understand
what's meant by the term, "cycle." There's the cycle of defilement,
the cycle of action, and the cycle of the results of action.
The cycle of defilement is the ignorance that makes the mind
stupid and defiled. These defilements are the cause of stress,
suffering, and danger. Then there's the cycle of action.
Any actions we do under the influence of defilement keep
us spinning in the cycle, acting sometimes in skillful ways,
sometimes in unskillful ones. Even skillful actions can lead
to delusion, you know. When we experience good sights, sounds,
status, or wealth as a result of our skillful actions, we
can turn unskillful, careless, and complacent, because we
get deluded into investing our sense of self in those things.
When they start changing against our desires, we grow frustrated
and start acting in evil ways. When they leave us, we act
in unskillful ways. This causes the cycle of action in terms
of both our physical and verbal acts. When we act in ways
that are unskillful, this causes the cycle of results to
be painful. When we experience this pain and suffering, the
mind becomes defiled. Our vision gets obscured because the
suffering overcomes us. This gives rise to anger as well
as to greed for the things we want, and this starts the cycle
of defilement again.
For this reason, if we can comprehend suffering as part
of this cycle, we can block the cycle of defilement that
would give rise to new cycles of action and results. So let's
study the truth of suffering so that we can cut these cycles
through discernment in the form of right view, which is a
factor of the noble path. Let's foster and strengthen the
path by knowing the suffering in birth, aging, illness, and
death. When we comprehend suffering for what it actually
is, we don't have to worry about the cause of suffering, for
how can it arise when we see the drawbacks of its results?
Once true knowledge has arisen, how can ignorance arise? It's
as when we're in the darkness. If we try to run around tearing
down the darkness, it can't be torn down. If we try to run
around snatching away the darkness, it can't be snatched away.
The darkness can't be dispersed by us. It has to be
dispersed by light. When we light a fire, the darkness
disappears on its own. The same with ignorance: it can't be
dispersed through our thinking. It has to be dispersed through
clear-seeing discernment. Once we give rise to discernment,
the cause of suffering disappears on its own, without our
having to get involved with it.
So try to give rise to clear-seeing discernment in full measure,
and you'll gain release from suffering without a doubt. Be
That's enough for now. Keep on meditating.