Fistful of Sand
Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 1999 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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summer of 1989, Larry Rosenberg -- one of the guiding teachers
at the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) in Barre, Massachusetts
-- invited Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco to lead a two-week retreat
at IMS the following spring. Ajaan Suwat had been living in
the United States for several years at that point, founding
monasteries for the Thai communities in the Seattle and Los
Angeles areas, but this was his first opportunity to teach
large numbers of non-Asian Americans. The retreat was held
in the first two weeks of May, 1990, with approximately 100
people attending. I was brought from Thailand to serve as
of the retreat was simple. The retreatants did sitting and
walking meditation from early morning to late at night. There
had been a plan to encourage them to do walking meditation
in the stately forest behind the center, but the weather was
so chilly and rainy throughout the retreat that everyone was
confined to the building. One pleasant exception was the evening
of Visakha Puja -- the holiday celebrating the Buddha's birth,
Awakening, and final passing away. This occurred toward the
beginning of the retreat, and provided an opportunity for
the retreatants to perform a candlelit circumambulation of
the IMS complex as a full moon rose in the clear, cold, twilit
sky over the pines.
the retreat, Ajaan Suwat led small group interviews in the
afternoon and then met with all the gathered retreatants in
the evening, either to give a Dhamma talk or to answer questions.
Larry, meanwhile, led individual interviews in the mornings
and afternoons. Sadly, the taping of Ajaan Suwat's teachings
was rather haphazard. None of the afternoon sessions were
taped, and as for the evening sessions, there were days when
both the Thai and the English were recorded; other days when
only the English was; and other days, nothing. Thus our record
of the retreat is fairly incomplete.
what was recorded is extremely valuable, as this sort of opportunity
-- for a Thai ajaan to speak directly to Westerners in their
own environment, and for them to ask him questions -- is rare.
A number of Ajaan Suwat's students have transcribed the Thai
portion of the tapes, and this translation is taken from that
transcription. I haven't gone back to listen to the English
passages on the tapes -- which are available for anyone who
is interested -- partly out of embarrassment at my own shortcomings
as an interpreter, but also because I wanted to present the
retreat as it sounded to Ajaan Suwat himself: what he heard
in the questions as they were translated to him, and what
points he was trying to get across.
of the teachings he gave during the retreat are etched indelibly
in my memory and yet didn't make it onto the tapes, so I'd
like to record them here. One was the comment he made to me
after the second day of the retreat, on how grim the retreatants
were in their approach to the meditation. He admired their
dedication, but was worried that they weren't finding any
joy in the practice. He attributed this to their coming directly
to meditation without having first gained the sense of joyful
confidence in the Buddha's teachings and in themselves that
can come with a good foundation in generosity and morality.
His attempts to lighten the mood of the retreat are obvious
in his talks.
in the question and answer sessions also have remained vividly
in my mind. One was from an afternoon session. A man new to
the practice commented, "You guys would have a good religion
here with this Buddhism if only you had a God. That way people
would have some sense of support in their practice when things
aren't going well." Ajaan Suwat responded, "If there were
a God who could arrange that, by my taking a mouthful of food,
all the beings in the world would become full, I'd bow down
to that God. But I haven't yet found anyone like that."
exchange was during an evening session. A woman who had sat
several retreats complained to the effect: "I'm finding myself
frustrated in my practice of meditation. Now that I've gotten
started, I can't turn back, and yet I don't seem to be getting
anywhere." Ajaan Suwat's simple response: "Where are you trying
a brief moment of silence, the woman laughed and said she
was satisfied with the answer.
that the talks and discussions translated here will provide
satisfaction for you, the reader, as well.
-- Thanissaro Bhikkhu
all come here through a sense of conviction, intent on studying
and practicing the Dhamma that will bring happiness and fulfillment
to our hearts. We should understand that the Dhamma taught
by the Lord Buddha doesn't lie anywhere far away. As the Canon
says, skillful and unskillful dhammas arise right here in
the heart. If we want to study the Dhamma, we have to study
our own heart. When we're well acquainted with the heart,
we'll be well acquainted with the Dhamma. When we're well
acquainted with the Dhamma, we'll be well acquainted with
are times when the heart is in bad shape. Bad mental qualities
get mixed up with it, making it even worse, making us suffer
both in body and mind. These bad mental qualities are said
to be "unskillful" (akusala). The Buddha teaches us
to study these qualities so that we can abandon them.
are other times when the heart is in good shape: at ease with
a sense of well being. We feel at ease whether we're sitting
or lying down, whether we're alone or associating with our
friends and relatives. When the heart gains a sense of ease
in this way, it's said to be staying with the Dhamma. In other
words, skillful (kusala) mental qualities have appeared
in the heart. The skillful heart is what gives us happiness.
This is why the Buddha taught us to develop these skillful
qualities, to give rise to them within ourselves.
were to list these skillful qualities, there would be lots
of them. But even though there are lots of them, they all
arise in our one heart. So if we want to know and see the
Dhamma, we have to develop mindfulness and alertness, keeping
watch over our heart. If the heart isn't at peace, if it's
distracted and turbulent, we should realize that, at that
moment, the heart is out of shape. Unskillful qualities have
arisen within it. So we should try to be mindful and alert
to put it back into good shape. We have to keep watch over
the heart to see whether, at this moment in time, it's in
good or bad shape.
see that the heart isn't yet in satisfactory shape, we should
let go of our unskillful preoccupations and make ourselves
mindful of what's good. We want to be happy, so we don't want
the things that will make us suffer. We should try to put
the mind into good shape, convinced in the practice of the
Dhamma that will develop our mindfulness. We have to look
after the heart so that it's confident and content in our
practice. We should remind ourselves that in following this
practice we're following in line with the Buddha: one who
knows, who sees, an arahant free from defilement, released
from suffering in the cycle of death and rebirth. The fact
that we're practicing in line with the Dhamma taught by the
Buddha means that we're studying in an institution of highest
learning, with the Buddha as our foremost teacher.
mindful to keep your heart in good shape. Be mindful of your
meditation word, buddho. Or if you want, you can focus
on the in-and-out breath. When the breath comes in, keep your
mind at ease. When it goes out, keep your mind at ease. Don't
be tense, don't force things, don't get caught up in any desire
to know or see beyond reasonable bounds. If we give rise to
this kind of desire, this kind of defilement, it'll distract
the heart. So we should be careful to be mindful, to look
after the mind, to meditate well. Simply be mindful of the
breath. When the breath comes in, let it come in with ease.
When it goes out, let it go out with ease. Let the mind be
at ease, too. If anything comes along to disturb you, don't
get involved with it. Just keep that sense of ease going.
If your mindfulness can keep maintaining your sense of contentment,
your sense of confidence in the practice, the mind will separate
from its outside preoccupations and gather into a sense of
stillness. There will be a sense of lightness. Comfort. A
feeling of contentment with that comfort.
so happens that while we're trying to maintain that sense
of ease in the heart, disturbances come in to interfere, making
the mind distracted and restless, we should remember that
we don't have to look for that lost sense of ease anywhere
else. Remember: wherever there's restlessness is where there
is stillness. We have to be alert to the preoccupations that
have put the mind out of shape: we don't want them, so we
shouldn't pay them any attention. We should try to remember
the good preoccupations that have given us a sense of peace
and calm in the past. When we can put the mind at ease in
this way, the things disturbing that ease will disappear right
there, right where the bad preoccupation was. This is like
darkness: no matter how long the darkness has reigned, when
we realize that it's darkness and that we want light, we don't
have to look anywhere else. If we have a lantern, then as
soon as we've lit it, light will appear right where there
was darkness before. We don't have to look anywhere else.
The darkness will disappear right there where there's light.
In the same way, when the mind isn't at peace, we don't have
to look for peace anywhere else. Restlessness comes from an
unskillful preoccupation; peace comes from a skillful preoccupation
right in the same place.
we've developed a good preoccupation that puts the mind at
peace, we should look after it and maintain it well. As long
as this sort of preoccupation is in charge of the heart, the
heart will maintain its sense of ease. So we don't have to
look for goodness anywhere else, for that would simply distract
and deceive the heart. We have to keep looking at our own
heart, to see if it's in good shape yet or not. Everyone has
a heart, and every heart has skillful and unskillful qualities.
So use the quality of dhamma-vicaya, your powers of
discriminating analysis, to observe the heart, this sense
of awareness right here within yourself.
you're sitting here listening, focus your attention exclusively
on your own heart. The sound of the talk will come into the
heart of its own accord. You don't have to focus your attention
outside on the sound, or to analyze what's being said. Establish
your mindfulness right at the heart. When the person speaking
mentions this or that quality, the awareness of that quality
will arise right in your own heart. If it doesn't arise immediately,
then give rise to it. Say, for example, that the mind is in
bad shape. When the person speaking mentions goodness, try
to give rise to a good mood within the heart. Make yourself
confident, content in the practice. Arouse your efforts to
give rise to knowledge of things you've never before known,
to attain things you've never before attained, to see the
subtle things you've never before seen, step by step within
your own mind.
his lifetime, the Buddha taught the Dhamma fully knowing the
capabilities of his listeners, aware of the level of their
intelligence and potential, and of which aspect of the Dhamma
they'd understand most easily. He then would teach them that
Dhamma. As for his listeners, they would focus their attention
on their own hearts and minds, and would understand in line
with the practices they had done in the past. When the corresponding
qualities appeared in their own hearts, they were able to
know in line with the truth appearing within them. When the
Dhamma appeared in their hearts, they experienced peace and
calm, or gained an understanding into the truths that the
Buddha taught. For example, when he taught about stress and
suffering, his listeners focused on the stress and suffering
in their own hearts. They tried to understand to the point
where they saw that things couldn't be otherwise than what
the Buddha taught. They really saw suffering and stress.
When the Buddha taught that the flaw called the origination
of stress should be abandoned, they saw the suffering that
comes from craving. They saw how these things are always related.
Whenever craving arises, suffering always follows in its wake.
result, they made an effort totally to abandon the origination
of stress. The more they were able to abandon craving, the
weaker their suffering grew. When they were able to cut craving
totally away, suffering and stress totally disappeared. They
then knew clearly in line with the truth. The state of their
minds didn't deteriorate or fall away, because they had entered
into the truth. They had listened to the Dhamma and focused
on their own minds in the proper way, so that they could see
the basic principles of the truth with their own mindfulness
those whose mental faculties weren't yet fully strong, who
had developed their faculties only to a moderate level, even
though they didn't reach the Dhamma while they were sitting
there listening to it, the Buddha taught the noble eightfold
path for them to put into practice. This enabled them to gain
knowledge and understanding step by step, to the point where
their mindfulness and discernment were strong enough to bring
them to the Dhamma at a later point, in line with the merit
and potential they had developed on their own.
us: even though we may not reach the Dhamma while listening
to it, the Buddha laid down the path to the cessation of stress
for us to develop by putting it into practice. This path is
nothing other than the noble path: right view, right resolve,
right speech, right activity, right livelihood, right effort,
right mindfulness, and right concentration. Having taught
about the right path that we should develop, he also taught
about the wrong path that should be avoided. In other words,
he taught us:
abandon wrong view and to develop right
to abandon wrong resolve and to develop
to abandon wrong speech and to develop
to abandon wrong activity and to develop
to abandon wrong livelihood and to develop
to abandon wrong effort and to develop
to abandon wrong mindfulness and to develop
to abandon wrong concentration and to
develop right concentration.
reason, we should acquaint ourselves with both the right path
and the wrong path. What sort of view ranks as the wrong view
we should abandon? Wrong view starts with views about the
body, or physical form in general. If we view physical form
in line with what the Buddha taught -- that rupam aniccam,
physical form is inconstant; rupam dukkham, physical
form is stressful; rupam anatta, physical form is not-self
-- that's called right view. But if we see physical form as
constant -- or try to make it constant -- that's wrong view,
and runs counter to the Buddha's teachings. In other words,
if we see that rupam niccam, physical form is constant;
rupam sukham, physical form -- the body -- is easeful;
rupam atta, physical form is our self or really our
own, that's wrong view.
really look at the body in line with its truth, we'll see
that it really is inconstant. From the moment it's born we
can easily see the changes it undergoes. It ages and wears
down every day. This inconstancy is why we have to keep struggling
under the desire to make it constant and lasting. The nature
of the body is that it's always lacking one thing or another
-- like a water tank that's continually leaking: we have to
keep adding water to it to keep it from running dry; if we
forget to add water, it'll dry out for sure. In the same way,
the body is genuinely inconstant, genuinely stressful. If
it were constant, we wouldn't have to struggle, we wouldn't
have to keep looking for things to keep it going; we wouldn't
have to work. The reason we work for money is so that we can
nourish this body, which is continually wasting away. The
Buddha saw clearly that this work and struggle is stressful,
that it's intimately tied up with the inconstancy of the body.
Wherever there's inconstancy, there's stress. And because
of that stressfulness, it's inconstant. These qualities are
dependent on each other.
we've contemplated so that we see this truth, then we see
the Dhamma. We have right view. The more the mind understands
stress and suffering, the more it can grow still and let down
its burdens. Its greed will decrease. Its anger will decrease.
Its delusion about physical form will decrease. Its burdens
will decrease. This will make it brighter and more peaceful:
a skillful mental state arising in such a way that we can
see it clearly when we contemplate the events appearing in
the mind in line with their truth.
the Buddha explained right view, he started with stress and
suffering: jatipi dukkha -- birth is stressful; jarapi
dukkha -- aging is stressful; maranampi dukkham
-- death is stressful. These are truths found within each
and every one of us -- every person, every living being. Whether
or not we study the matter, this is the way things are in
actuality, ever since who knows when. For hundreds and thousands
of years in the past, wherever there has been birth, there
has had to be aging, illness, and death in its wake. The same
thing is true in the present and even on into the future:
every person who takes birth will have to meet with these
things. This teaching is the genuine truth. It will never
change into anything else. No matter how many hundreds or
thousands of people will be born, they will all have to meet
with illness, will all have to age, will all have to die,
each and every one of them. Not one of them will remain. No
matter what knowledge they attain, what weapons they invent,
they won't be able to win out over this genuine truth. So
once we've developed right view in this way, we have to eliminate
our defilements -- in other words, our intoxication with our
youth, our intoxication with being free from disease, our
intoxication with being alive. We'll then be able to behave
in a way that will be to our own true benefit as long as we
are still alive.
develop mindfulness in contemplating the body in and of itself,
seeing its true nature and developing right view, our heart
will get more and more convinced of this reality, and will
grow farther and farther away from wrong view. We'll be able
to develop right view more continually. This is the path that
will lead us to attain the Dhamma, the ultimate peace.
develop right view, then right resolve will be no problem,
because our resolve to meditate so as to develop right view
is, in and of itself, right resolve: the resolve to see the
Dhamma, to know the Dhamma, in line with the truth that appears
in our own body, beginning with the truth of stress and suffering.
Our body is composed of birth: As soon as there's birth, there
has to be suffering. We suffer because of birth. Hunger, desire,
intense heat and cold: all of these things come from birth.
And no matter how carefully and adequately we look after the
body, it has to keep on aging and wasting away. No matter
how much we plead with it, it won't listen to us. It just
keeps on aging. And on top of that, it has all kinds of diseases.
If you really look at the body, you'll see that diseases can
arise at any time at all. It's a home for diseases. It has
eyes, and so there are eye diseases. It has ears, and so there
are ear diseases. It has a nose, and so there are nose diseases.
It has a tongue, and so there are tongue diseases. Diseases
can arise in each and every one of its parts. This is a genuine
truth -- which is why there are doctors and hospitals in every
country. All people of all races have to depend on medicine.
Even the person telling you this has diseases, just like everyone
else. When we look to really see the truth, we'll see that
the Buddha's teachings aren't in the least bit mistaken: they're
right here in each and every one of us.
develop our minds properly in line with the truth so that
its views are right, our restlessness and distraction will
grow calm. We'll see that the greed we've felt in the past
has served no real purpose. When anger arises toward other
people, we'll see that it serves no real purpose, that it's
nothing but stress and suffering. We'll see that our only
way out is to make the mind still: this is the way to true
happiness. We'll gain disenchantment, seeing -- given the
true nature of things -- that what we've busied ourselves
with has served us no real purpose. It's tired us out to no
real purpose, created difficulties to no real purpose, and
has left us with nothing at all that we can truly call our
own. Think about all the things you've sought and amassed
from your birth up to the present moment: is there anything
there that you can really depend on? Anything you can really
call your own? Nothing at all. None of those things can really
help you. They may help you a bit, but not enough to give
you any real happiness.
ask that you all work at developing right view. Meditate on
the four frames of reference (satipatthana) so as to
develop discernment. As you meditate -- sitting, standing,
walking, and lying down -- stay mindful of the body, which
is filled with inconstancy. No matter where you look, it's
inconstant. It's also full of stress. Wherever you look, you
see that diseases and pains can arise at any time. It can
age at any time. There's no part of it that's totally free
of aches and pains. If you don't believe me, take a sharp
spike and stab any part of the body, and you'll see that it
hurts wherever you stab. You can see clearly in line with
the truth that the whole body is stressful. As for buddho,
the awareness in the mind, it'll be aware that what's really
important is not the body: it's the mind. When you see the
drawbacks and stresses of the body, then discernment, clarity,
and calm will arise in the heart, freeing it from its burdens
and karma debts related to the body. In this way we let go
of our heavy burden: nicchato parinibbuto, free from
hunger, unbound, reaching a bliss and peace that is lasting.
ask all of you -- who have conviction, who want peace, who
want happiness in your day-to-day life -- to develop mindfulness,
to develop right view. Look at the body in and of itself.
The body in and of itself is mentioned in the Great Frames
of Reference Discourse (Maha-satipatthana Sutta), but it's
not in the words. It's not there in the book. It's right here.
When we practice, we don't have to recite the words. We look
right at our own body, at what's already here. Mindfulness
is something we already have; all we need to do is apply it
to the body. If we're not mindful of the body, then it's not
right mindfulness. When we're mindful of the body, there's
our mindfulness: the mindfulness that will enable us to practice,
that will enable us to know. If we keep observing the body,
we're sure to see what's here.
we observe, the more proficient we'll become. We'll understand
clearly and correctly. The more clearly we see, the more effort
-- right effort -- we'll put into knowing and seeing even
more fully. Right mindfulness will be more continually mindful;
and right concentration, more firmly established. Right speech
and right activity will follow in their wake. So develop right
view in your hearts by developing the frames of reference.
Keep track of the body in and of itself, train in line with
the truth, by day and by night, whether you're sitting, standing,
walking, or lying down. When you practice correctly, no one
with any true wisdom will be able to take issue with you,
for you're focused on the genuine truth: the inconstancy,
the stress and suffering, all four of the four noble truths
that can be seen right here in this body. These things can't
be seen anywhere else. If we really develop right view with
regard to these things, results will arise within us. When
results arise, the nature of the mind is that it will know
on its own. It won't have to be told. All that's necessary
is that you practice rightly. Begin trying from this moment
on. Don't get distracted by this person saying that or that
person saying this. There's nowhere else you have to look.
The evidence is your own body. How inconstant it is, you'll
know for yourself. It won't lie to you. How stressful it is
-- how many diseases, aches, and pains -- you'll know for
yourself. It won't lie to you. The truth is always there for
you to see.
to see in line with the truth in this way is called seeing
the Dhamma, the nature of reality in and of itself. We'll
come to see the truth all the way through and gain release
from suffering and stress. So keep at it. When you gain any
understandings of any sort, we can discuss them as they arise,
step by step, until you gain genuine release from suffering
and stress. But this will be enough for now.
& Answers (1)
I understand that Tibetan monks use visualization when
they meditate. Have you ever used visualization in your meditation?
Suwat: Visualization of what?
I'm not really sure. Maybe of the unattractiveness of
Suwat: Visualization, if it's done in the proper way,
can be useful. If it's done in the wrong way, it can lead
to delusion. The process of visualization, in the language
of the Dhamma, is called sankhara, or fabrication.
The Buddha taught us to be wise to the true nature of fabrication,
that it's inconstant and undependable. When we know this truth,
we don't get attached to the things that arise. When knowledge
arises and we don't get attached to it, then we don't get
deluded by it. That's when it can be useful.
the principles of the Dhamma is that if you visualize anything
in your meditation, you should visualize only things lying
within you, so that you see physical fabrication in the body
and mental fabrication in the mind in line with their true
nature. For example: at present you're not yet old, but you're
taught to visualize yourself as growing old in the same way
you've seen other people grow old. Remind yourself that as
the years pass, you'll have to age in just the same way. Aging
is stressful. Your eyes won't be able to see as clearly as
when you were young. Your ears won't be able to hear in the
same way as when you were young. It'll be painful to sit down,
to stand, to walk. There will be all kinds of obstacles. So
now, before you grow old, you should accelerate your efforts
at developing goodness so that it will be a refuge for the
heart when old age comes. In other words, accelerate your
efforts at practicing the Dhamma and training the mind to
the Ten Recollections (anussati) taught by the Buddha
is recollection of death: When you see other people dying,
other animals dying, you should reflect on the fact that you
will have to die just like everyone else. Repeat the word
maranam, maranam (death, death) in the mind and
look at yourself: you're going to have to die for sure. As
you reflect maranam, maranam, it may happen that as
your mind grows still, a vision of your own death will appear
within you. If your mindfulness is good and you have your
wits about you, then the more clearly you see death in this
way, the more the mind will grow still with an even greater
sense of well being. As you watch death clearly, seeing the
body decay, concentration grows even stronger. If you visualize
death so that you can see it clearly, you'll realize that
there's nothing to be gained by growing attached to the body.
When you see the truth in this way, you'll see that your past
greed for things served no real purpose. The anger you've
felt in the past: what purpose did it serve? You'll see that
greed, anger, and delusion are stressful and serve no purpose
-- for ultimately, we'll have to let go of everything that
comes along with them. You'll see that this sense of peace
and ease in the mind is what serves a real purpose. When the
mind is at peace in this way, it doesn't want anything else.
All it wants is peace, and that's enough.
tell you a story. It's time you listened to something light
for a change, so that you won't be so tense and grim. It's
important that you first let yourself relax. Once Ajaan Funn,
my teacher, was wandering through the forest in Baan Phyy
district, Udorn Thani province, and stopped to spend the night
not far from a certain village. He saw that it was a congenial
place and so stayed on there to practice meditation. A woman
living in the village would often come in the morning to give
him alms, and then again in the evening to hear his Dhamma
talks. Ajaan Funn taught her to meditate, something she had
never done before. It so happened that she was afraid of ghosts.
Wherever she went, she was afraid of ghosts, and so she never
went anywhere alone. Especially at night, she was really afraid.
When Ajaan Funn taught her to meditate, she didn't want to,
because she was afraid that she'd see a corpse or a ghost.
On following days, Ajaan Funn asked her how her meditation
was going, and she couldn't answer him because she hadn't
meditated. After a while she began to feel embarrassed: "He
keeps teaching me to meditate and yet all I do is hold onto
my fear of ghosts." So she decided, "Whatever may happen,
I'm going to meditate." So she started to meditate.
she simply focused on repeating the word buddho as
she watched her breath come in and out. As her mind began
to relax, it began to drift a bit and a vision arose: she
saw a corpse lying stretched out in front of her. When she
saw the corpse, she began to feel afraid. Then the corpse
moved in so that it was lying on her lap. With the corpse
on her lap, she couldn't get up to run away. And that's when
she remembered her buddho. She wanted buddho
to come and help her. So she kept thinking, buddho, buddho,
more and more intensely. As she was doing this, one part of
her mind was afraid, the other part kept recollecting buddho,
buddho, until the corpse disappeared from her lap and
turned into herself. That was when she had a vision of her
chest bursting wide open. Her heart was bright, very bright.
In the brightness of her heart she could see all kinds of
things. She could see what other people were thinking, what
animals were thinking. She knew all kinds of things and felt
really amazed. From that point on her fear of ghosts disappeared.
Her heart grew peaceful and at ease.
day she went to see Ajaan Funn. Ajaan Funn was sick with a
fever, but he forced himself to get up to greet her and give
her a Dhamma talk, as he had on previous days, just as if
he wasn't sick at all. After the talk, she immediately said
to him, "Than Ajaan, your heart isn't bright and blooming
at all. It looks withered and dry. You must be very sick."
Ajaan Funn was surprised: "How does she know the state of
my mind?" But he had noticed that her manner was different
from what it had been on previous days. She was very composed
and polite. She had bowed down very politely, her words had
been gentle and very respectful. When she commented on his
heart that way, he wondered: "Does she really know the state
of my mind?" So when she returned to the village, he forced
himself to sit and meditate to the point where the fever broke
and went away. His heart grew peaceful, bright, and at ease.
The next day, when the time came that the woman would come,
he decided to play sick in order to test her. When she arrived,
he didn't get up to greet her and stayed lying down as if
he was sick. After she bowed down, she sat to meditate for
a moment, and then said, "Why, your lotus" -- meaning his
heart -- "your lotus is really blooming!" That was when Ajaan
Funn realized that she was really meditating well.
that point on, she could come in the evening without the slightest
fear of ghosts or spirits. And she continued to meditate well.
Her mind never deteriorated. To tell the truth, she had never
studied in school and didn't know much of the Dhamma, but
because of her respect for Ajaan Funn, when he taught her
to meditate she followed his instructions. Whether it was
because of her past merit or what, I don't know, but she gained
peace of mind, developed her discernment, and was able to
know her own heart and the hearts of other people. So those
of you who have come here to meditate: don't underestimate
yourselves, thinking that you won't gain anything or come
to any insights. Don't be so sure! If you keep up your efforts
and practice correctly, it might very well happen that you'll
gain insight. If things come together properly, the day will
come when you know, when you see the Dhamma. It could very
up your efforts. After the retreat is over, when you go back
home, keep using your mindfulness to keep watch over yourself.
In your comings and goings, keep training your mindfulness
as you do while you're here, as a means of maintaining the
state of your mind through practicing restraint of the senses.
This will develop your mindfulness and give it power. That
way, you'll find that things go more smoothly when the time
comes to train the mind to be still.
any other questions?
I'm finding that my mind is beginning to settle down somewhat
in my meditation, and I'm surprised at the sense of comfort
and ease that comes when it does settle down.
Suwat: A sense of ease arises when there's peace and calm.
Stress and suffering arise when there's no peace and calm.
These things always go together. You can observe in yourself
that whenever the mind isn't at peace, when there's a lot
of disturbance and turmoil, there's a lot of stress and suffering
as well. When there's only a little disturbance, there's only
a little stress and suffering. When there's a lot of peace,
there's a lot of ease. If you're observant, you'll notice
that wherever there's peace, there's also a sense of comfort
compare it to a nation at peace, with no war, no strife, no
conflicts, no crime. That nation will have the sense of ease
that comes with being at peace. If a family lives in harmony,
with no quarreling, that family will have the sense of ease
that comes with being at peace. If the body is free from disease,
strong enough to be used for whatever work you want to do,
it's called a body at peace, and has the sense of ease that
comes with being at peace. If the mind isn't disturbed by
the defilements that would put it into a turmoil, it's at
peace in line with its nature. Even nibbana is peace -- a
peace that lasts and can never be disturbed. That's why nibbana
is the ultimate ease.
When I meditate and see the changes in my body and mind, there
seems to one part of the mind that's simply the observer,
which doesn't change along with the things it watches. When
I catch sight of this observer, this sense of awareness, what
should I do next?
Suwat: One part of the mind is fabrication. As for this
sense of awareness itself, this is very important. We should
try to know fabrications in line with their true nature. These
things are inconstant, and so we should know their inconstancy.
These things change and grow. When they appear, we should
know that they're appearing. When they disappear, we should
know that they're disappearing. When we know the appearing
and disappearing of fabrications, we'll realize: Before we
didn't understand fabrications, which was why we felt desire
for them. We thought they would make us happy. But fabrications
are inconstant. They arise and change in this way and so serve
no real purpose at all. We've struggled to acquire them for
a long, long time, but have never gained enough happiness
from them to satisfy our wants. But when we train the mind
so that our sense of awareness knows in this way, we gain
a sense of peace, happiness, satisfaction. This sense of happiness
doesn't involve any struggle, doesn't depend on anyone else
at all. When we experience this sense of peace and ease, we'll
gain discernment and insight. We'll see the sense of peace
and ease coming when our discernment is wise to the nature
of fabrications and can cleanse the mind so that it feels
no greed for fabrications. The mind then becomes clean and
Is this sense of awareness the self? Here we're taught that
there is no self, and so I'm confused.
Suwat: Don't be in a hurry to label this sense of awareness
self or not-self. The discernment that makes
us aware of every aspect of fabrication will tell us on its
own in line with the truth. It's the same as when you fix
food. As you're fixing it, don't ask what the taste is like
or where it resides. At that moment you can't tell where the
taste is. But once you've fixed it and eaten it, you'll know
the taste and where it lies. In the same way, this issue of
self and not-self is very refined. When you've practiced until
you've reached that level, it'll be clear to you in the same
way that the taste of food is clear to you when it touches
your tongue. You know immediately, for the nature of these
things is to know on their own.
at present is to know the process of fabrication as it appears
in the body and mind. We shouldn't let ourselves be deluded
by the fabrications of the body. We should know their true
nature. The same holds true with the mental fabrications,
issues of good and bad, that affect the mind: we shouldn't
be deluded by them, shouldn't fall for them. When we're wise
to them and can't be fooled by them, we'll gain the discernment
that puts an end to suffering and stress because we're no
longer misled by what fabrication keeps telling us.
when the eye sees a beautiful form, a form that we've liked
in the past, we tend to fall for it. We want it. This greed
of ours creates a disturbance, defiles the mind all over again.
When the ear hears a beautiful sound we've liked, that we've
fallen for in the past, the process of fabrication will make
us like it again. Greed arises, desire arises, the mind gets
disturbed all over again. When a good smell comes into the
nose, we fall for it. When the tongue touches a flavor we
like, we fall for it again. When our mindfulness and alertness
aren't up on what's happening, we like these things. We fall
for them. We search for them. This is what gives rise to craving
in the mind: the origination of suffering and stress. And
so we suffer.
reason, our discernment has to be fully aware of this aspect
of fabrication as well. Once discernment is trained, then
when we see a form, hear a sound, smell an aroma, taste a
flavor, we can recall that these things are fabrications.
They're inconstant. When fabrication is inconstant, the pleasure
that comes from fabrication is undependable. We shouldn't
get carried away by the pleasures that come from those fabrications.
Otherwise, when they change, we'll keep experiencing pain
again and again until those fabrications have disappeared.
When they disappear, we struggle to gain them again, come
into conflict with other people again, fall out with them,
quarrel with them, develop animosities, develop bad kamma
with them -- all because we've fallen for fabrications. So
we have to reflect on the fact that fabrications are inconstant.
We shouldn't latch onto them, grow attached to them, or fall
for them so much.
Just now while I was meditating I had this feeling that
the body was simply sitting there on its own, breathing all
on its own, and the mind seemed to be something separate.
It separated out for a moment, and then came back into the
body. When the mind separates out in this way, is it the first
step in contemplating the body?
Suwat: There wasn't any pain, was there?
No, no pain at all. It was as if the body didn't have to rely
on the mind. It kept breathing on its own, while the mind
was something separate.
Suwat: That's because your mindfulness was good. You weren't
holding onto the body. You were able to let go, so that feelings
weren't making contact with the mind. This is the way it always
is with a quiet mind. A quiet mind like this is a really good
thing to have. This is why monks out meditating in the forest,
when they grow sick, don't suffer, and can instead find a
great deal of bliss. They take their illness as a means of
developing mindfulness, reminding themselves that it's not-self,
and so they shouldn't latch onto it. The mind is the mind;
the feeling is not-self. When you repeat the notion, not-self,
not-self, and then investigate the feeling, taking it
apart, you can keep investigating until the mind grows quiet
and at ease, with no suffering at all. The body grows light.
The mind grows light, with a great deal of happiness. You
begin to marvel and gain conviction in the practice, because
you've seen a happiness that has arisen from within your very
own heart. Suffering stops, even though the body may still
should keep making an effort at training the mind, using various
techniques to look after it so that it'll settle down and
be still. That way we'll gain the strength that will help
us when pain and discomfort arise in the heart. We'll have
our hideout -- for when we stay with this sense of stillness,
we'll have an excellent hideout from danger.
meditators go wandering through the forest, their teachers
usually have them stay in places that are scary. If there's
a place where tigers are known to frequent, the teachers will
have their students go stay there. There are cases where meditators
have gained mindfulness, gained concentration, gained rapture
and ease, all from their fear of being eaten by tigers. But
you have to be brave. Even though you may be afraid, you have
to be brave at the same time. If you're simply afraid and
run away instead of meditating, it won't accomplish anything.
There are quite a few meditation masters who, when they heard
tigers closing in on them at night, grew so afraid that they
couldn't bear it. There was no way for them to escape, because
it was nighttime, and they were staying in a place where...
& Answers (2)
In the frames of reference that we're practicing, we're taught
to reflect on the food we eat, the other necessities of life
we use, to see that they're simply things for us to depend
on for a short while. Don't grow attached to them. You can
choose the things you buy and store up for your use, but the
mind should keep reflecting that they fall under the Three
Characteristics. They're uncertain. When we want to use these
things for our benefit, we should look after them, but we
shouldn't let ourselves suffer when they deteriorate and change.
Sometimes, when I'm meditating to relax and settle the mind,
the desire for results gets in the way. What should I do to
keep my intention pure so that desire doesn't become an obstacle?
Suwat: This desire is a form of craving. It really is
an obstacle. Craving is something the Buddha taught us to
abandon. If the desire serves a purpose, you should go ahead
and desire. But if it doesn't, you should focus on what will
get results. In other words, you should act without desire.
Even when there's no desire, you can still act. You want to
gain awareness, of course, so the task in front of you is
to focus your awareness on a single object. When your meditation
object appears to your awareness, you should focus on staying
there with it in a single spot. As you stay there longer and
longer, the mind will grow still and refined, all on its own.
That's because stillness comes from being mindful -- simply
from being mindful without lapses of forgetfulness -- and
not from desire.
Tell yourself: this is a task you have to do with mindfulness,
discernment, and correct awareness. You don't have to depend
on desire. When you do the work correctly, the results will
come on their own.
When doubts arise in the mind, are they of any help in the
Suwat: As long as the level of discernment called ñana-dassana
-- knowledge and vision -- hasn't yet arisen within us, all
of us are bound to have doubts. But if we simply sit there
doubting, it doesn't serve any purpose. When doubts arise,
we should study and practice so as to give rise to knowledge.
If we can't give rise to knowledge on our own, we should go
ask those who know, teachers with correct knowledge. If we
practice correctly, the things we wonder about will appear,
and that will be the end of our doubts. For instance, the
questions you're asking are all an affair of doubt. When you
get a correct answer, you gain knowledge that helps unravel
your doubts -- and in this way doubts serve a purpose, in
that getting answers to your questions can resolve your doubts
on some levels.
Suppose that the Thai government tried to change the religion
in the country and began to oppress Buddhist monks or to drive
them out of the country. Would the monks resist -- should
they resist -- if the government were to oppress the monks
Suwat: One of the basic principles laid down by the Buddha
is that monks shouldn't get involved in politics. They should
focus instead on the practice, exercising restraint over their
words and actions so as to stay within the correct bounds
of the Dhamma and the precepts. As long as the monks practice
properly, there are people who will be inspired by them and
who will respect them. The people who respect them would resist
of their own free will -- the monks wouldn't have to resist.
Even if people with no religion were to take over the government
or were to gain the power to oppress the monks and people
at large, they'd be able to hold power only temporarily --
because the type of power that knows no religion or morality,
that would govern in an unfair way, can't really maintain
peace and order in a country. There are ideologies that, when
they take over the government, give no freedom to the people,
don't allow them to practice religion or to hold other beliefs.
And as we've seen, they can stay in power only temporarily.
As time passes, the people get rid of them, push them out.
We can see this clearly at present: in almost every country
where unfair ideologies are in power, people are demanding
the freedoms that we have here in America, where the government
gives weight to human rights and where the people are pleased
with this system.
Suppose that some groups were to try to change this system.
The vast majority of the people wouldn't go along with them
for sure. In the same way, ninety percent of the people in
Thailand are Buddhist. If the government showed no respect
for Buddhism, the people wouldn't go along with it for sure.
There have been times in the past when the government thought
somewhat along those lines, but they never succeeded, because
the majority of the people didn't go along with them. The
current king is widely loved and respected because of his
reputation for developing the country and helping the people
in the proper way. He holds fast to Buddhist principles, both
in his own personal behavior and in his dealings with the
people. For this reason, the power of the Buddha's teachings
is still deeply embedded in the hearts of the Thai people.
They are deeply appreciative of the fact that the king respects
the Buddha's teachings and practices in line with them, strictly
observing the precepts and staying firmly established in the
practice of meditation.
In light of the precept against killing, what does Buddhism
have to say about having armed forces to protect the nation?
Suwat: This sort of thing is an affair of the world. There
have been armed forces since time immemorial. When the Buddha
was alive, there were battles, police forces, armies, governments,
just like today. The Buddha taught only the people who were
able to practice his teachings. Armed forces and so forth
are a necessary part of having a society, which is why we
don't get involved in them.
Under the first precept, if someone comes to kill us or
to kill members of our family, do we have the right to fight
Suwat: In cases like that you have the right to use your
intelligence, to figure out what will work so that you and
your family will escape from danger, and then you can fight
in self-defense. But if you're ordained as a monk, you try
to avoid fighting in that way. The Buddha saw the danger that
lies in harming and killing one another, and so he laid down
the principles that will prevent these things from happening
in the first place -- in other words, by observing the five
precepts. When we don't harm other people, don't kill them,
the good kamma coming from that will give results: i.e., other
people won't harm or kill us, either.
This is why the Buddha started out teaching these basic principles
-- the five precepts -- to lay people, so as to release them
from this sort of thing.
When we see injustice in our country -- as in the problem
of the homeless that we see all around us in America -- do
we have the duty to fight that injustice?
Suwat: One of the basic principles of the Buddha's teachings
is attahi attano natho -- you should make yourself
your own mainstay. The Buddha taught people to help themselves.
When you're born as a human being, you can't abandon your
duties. You have to make an effort. Our parents all raised
us so that we know how to take care of ourselves, so that
we'll understand the drawbacks of laziness, of not going to
school; they taught us to study so as to gain knowledge and
then find work to do so that we can depend on ourselves and
not go looking for help from others.
But when we see their suffering, when we see the injustices
they're subjected to, don't we have to help them?
Suwat: The injustice is when we expect to depend on other
people to do our work for us.
But these homeless people are poor because they've been
treated unjustly by society.
Suwat: This is a very subtle matter, dealing with the
question of where we should look to for justice. If we're
able to work, so that we have a place to live and food to
eat, what more should we expect from other people? If everyone
were to observe the five precepts, there would be no injustice.
Suppose that in Thailand the government didn't oppress
monks, but cruelly oppressed the general populace instead.
If the monks were to see the sufferings of the people, would
they have any duty to help them?
Suwat: The issues of the monks' life are very subtle.
The Buddha laid down rules forbidding us from even talking
about these things, so I'd rather not go into these matters
in detail. My main concern is what I can do so that you can
depend on yourselves to attain peace and happiness of mind.
That's what concerns me: how each of us can learn how to depend
on ourselves, so that our minds are solid and don't waver
in line with events, so that we can look after ourselves in
a way that allows us to escape the dangers of the sufferings
arising within us. Every person has suffering, and every
person is only one person. There's nobody who's two. If
each of us looks after our one person, without oppressing
anyone or harming anyone, there would be no problems. The
problem is that we don't look after ourselves, and expect
help to come from outside. That means that we abandon our
responsibilities, and that's why there's injustice in the
world -- oppression, corruption, inequality. If every person
were to listen to the Buddha's teachings and be responsible
for him or herself, we'd see that everyone else is just like
us. If we curse them, they'll curse us back. If we show them
respect, they'll show us respect in return. This is why we
shouldn't oppress them or harm them. We should treat them
with justice, because if there are things that we don't like
having done to us and yet we go do them to other people, it
creates dangers for ourselves. When we can see these dangers,
we should look after our own behavior. Then these dangers
won't exist. This is the basic principle at which the Buddha's
teachings aim. And this is why monks are not involved with
worldly affairs. We have to study this principle until we
understand it, and that way there will be no oppression.
I have two questions about rebirth. The first is: what is
it that gets reborn?
Suwat: When you were born, do you know what it was that
Suwat: If you don't know, how is it that you were still
able to be born? What led you to be born?
moment of dead silence)
My second question has to do with channeling spirits. There
seem to be a lot of people in America who are interested in
contacting spirits, to the point where books have been written,
giving advice on how to get in touch with spirits in this
way. What does Buddhism have to say about this?
Suwat: Buddhism for the most part teaches us to be mindful
so as to get in touch with ourselves. This is because the
unawareness (avijja) that gives rise to fabrication
and suffering is an unawareness concerning our own minds,
and it lies within our own minds, too. So Buddhism teaches
us to learn about our own minds, and not to get involved with
spirits or people who channel spirits, because that sort of
thing doesn't serve any purpose, can't help us give rise to
the awareness that will put an end to our defilements.
When I leave meditation and go walking outside or have work
to do, I sometimes have to use a lot of thought. How can I
be mindful and think at the same time? Where should I focus
mindfulness? What techniques do you recommend?
Suwat: When we begin meditating we want mindfulness so
that it'll keep our body and mind still and at peace, but
the body has to keep changing positions -- sitting, walking,
lying down. The way to practice, given in the Maha-satipatthana
Sutta, is that when we sit, we're alert to how we're sitting.
When we walk, we're alert to the fact that we're walking,
and we walk in a composed way. Don't let the mind be mindful
of anything outside its proper bounds. Keep it within bounds,
i.e., within the body. Be alert to the way you step, place
your foot, all your various movements. If you can stay aware
of these things, you're on the right path. Or if you don't
focus on the body, focus on the mind. Be alert to whatever
mood or preoccupation is arising in the present. Love? Hatred?
Is it focused on visual objects? Tastes? The past? The future?
Then notice which preoccupations serve no purpose, and tell
yourself not to focus on things that serve no purpose. Focus
only on things that do serve a purpose. When the mind settles
down, be alert to the fact. Give yourself a sense of pleasure,
satisfaction, and peace in the present. When you do this,
you're practicing in line with the Maha-satipatthana Sutta
as a way of training your mind to gain concentration. Then
when you sit in meditation, focus the mind on more refined
levels of stillness -- for the sitting posture allows you
to be less concerned about keeping the body in position. When
you're standing or walking, you have to pay more attention
to maintaining your posture.
I've had some practice in developing good will and loving-kindness,
but I don't know how to develop sympathetic joy. Do you have
Suwat: Sympathetic joy is a feeling of happiness at the
good fortune of others. When other people are happy or gain
wealth, we wish them well. We aren't jealous or envious of
them. This is a quality we develop to get rid of the defilement
of envy. When other people gain good fortune, we practice
feeling happy for them. If we suffer from the defilement of
envy, we can't stand to see other people doing well in life.
We get jealous because we feel we're better than they are.
This is why the Buddha taught us to develop sympathetic joy.
Is there any technique for developing sympathetic joy?
Suwat: The technique is to spread this thought to people
in general: "If anyone is suffering, may they experience happiness.
As for people experiencing happiness, may they maintain that
happiness. May they not be deprived of the good fortune they've
gained, the wealth they've gained, the status they've gained,
the praise they've gained, the happiness they've gained. May
their happiness increase." We're not jealous of their happiness
and we don't try to compete with them in underhanded ways.
The Buddha's purpose in teaching sympathetic joy is so that
our minds won't be consumed with envy over other people's
good fortune. When we feel no envy toward others and can train
our hearts to reach stillness using this theme as our preoccupation,
then we've completed our training in sympathetic joy. The
phrase we repeat when we chant every day -- "May all living
beings not be deprived of the good fortune they have attained"
-- that's sympathetic joy.
When I meditate on my breath, I notice that at the end
of the in-breath there's a brief rest. The same thing happens
at the end of the out-breath. As time passes, this momentary
rest grows longer and longer, and is very comfortable. Is
this the right way to practice?
Suwat: When we're mindful, we get to see things we've
never seen before, we experience things we've never experienced
before, in a way that we'll never forget. A mind that has
never experienced peace and stillness will come to experience
peace and stillness. A mind that's never been aware will come
to be aware. This is part of correctly following the right
path: you begin by getting the mind to enter a subtle level
of concentration. You should continue what you're doing, but
don't get complacent. If your concentration isn't yet solid,
it can deteriorate. So you should tend to the mind that's
at stillness and keep it there. Remember how you got it there.
Keep practicing continually, and you'll find that there are
even more refined levels of the still mind. There are levels
even more refined and pleasurable than this. So don't content
yourself with stopping just there. See if you can make the
stillness and sense of comfort even more refined.
like walking up the stairs to your house. The stairs have
five steps: the five levels of jhana. The first time the mind
reaches a subtle level of stillness is the first step. When
you haven't yet started climbing the stairs, you should content
yourself with getting to the first step. But when you've reached
the first step, you should content yourself simply with the
fact that you've gotten up off the ground and stop right there
-- for the first step isn't your house. So you should remind
yourself of the fact that it's not your house, you haven't
yet reached shelter, and then look for the second step. When
you've reached the second step, you should remind yourself
that you still haven't reached shelter, so you have to take
the next step.
same way, when you've reached a subtle level of stillness
and experienced just this level of pleasure and ease, you
should ponder this ease to see that it's not yet constant.
It can still change. There are still higher levels of ease.
Today you've gotten this far; the next step will be to keep
moving up until you reach genuine ease.
I've explained so far should be enough for today. Talking
a lot can get you confused, for you're still new to this training.
Your memory can handle only so much. Like students just beginning
their studies: if they study a lot of advanced material and
stuff it into their brains, it won't all stay there.
the same when we practice meditation. Your mindfulness and
discernment can take only so much. Listen to just a little
bit and then put it into practice, so as to strengthen your
mindfulness and discernment, so as to strengthen your concentration.
In that way you'll be able to take in more refined levels
of Dhamma. At this stage I want you to stop listening and
to go back to look at your mind: is it willing to accept the
training? Is it able to follow it? Or is it still stubborn?
If the mind isn't yet willing to accept and follow the training,
reason with it until it is. Get the mind to reach what you've
been hearing about, so that it sees the results clearly within
itself. Your knowledge on this level isn't knowledge from
the mind. It's knowledge from concepts. As for the mind, it
hasn't yet taken these things in. If, when you meditate, you
find that your mind is still restless and distracted, unwilling
to do what you want it to do, that's a sign that it hasn't
yet accepted the teachings. So you have to reason with it
over and over again.
the other hand, you can remember only one concept but can
train the mind so that it can take in the truth of that concept,
then learning about concepts serves a purpose. If the mind
isn't willing to take in the truth of that concept, then knowing
concepts doesn't serve any purpose.
ask to stop today's question-and-answer session here.
I was wondering if you could explain inconstancy and the emptiness
of the mind.
Suwat: Inconstancy is one of the three characteristics,
a teaching on the level of insight and discernment.
The word inconstancy (anicca), for the most part, is
used in connection with fabrications (sankhara): sankhara
anicca -- fabrications are inconstant. The word "fabrications"
here carries a very broad meaning on the level of theoretical
Dhamma, but in terms of the practice for giving rise to discernment,
"fabrications" means the body and mind. So while you listen
to this talk on inconstancy, focus your attention on your
own body, for it's something easy to know and to see. Then
I'll explain the changes and inconstancy in it.
What is the purpose of studying inconstancy? This is something
we should look into. Studying inconstancy has many benefits.
In particular, the Buddha taught us to be mindful of the body,
mindful of the fact that once the body is born it has to keep
changing day in and day out. The happiness and pleasures we
get from the body on a daily basis are inconstant. If they
were constant, we wouldn't have to look for happiness and
pleasure anywhere else. But the fact is that the pleasure
we have, as soon as we've experienced it for a while, gives
out -- regardless of what kind of pleasure it is. This is
why the Buddha says it's inconstant: it requires us to stir
ourselves to search, to store things up.
The things we stir ourselves to search for: if we gain things
that are good, that we like, we get possessive. And when there
are things we love and like, other people like them, too.
Many people who see what we have will want it as well. This
gives rise to competition, to cheating and swindling, as people
try to get what they want. From this comes hatred, animosity,
and vengeance. This shows the inconstancy within the body,
the constant changes in the happiness we want. The mind suffers
negative impacts from the pleasure and pain that are such
a confusing turmoil within it.
When we realize this truth, the Buddha taught us to develop
the discernment needed to comprehend it. And he laid down
another principle: Natthi santi param sukham -- there
is no happiness higher than peace. The peace here is peace
in the Dhamma, the peace that comes from practicing the Dhamma.
He pointed out that peace is the highest happiness and showed
us the path to that peace, which we're practicing right now:
developing tranquillity and insight, exercising restraint
over our words and deeds, and training our mind.
So we should turn in to look at ourselves. When we understand
that the body and the pleasures we experience are inconstant,
the mind state that used to feel attachment, that used to
deceive itself into thinking that it was in possession of
happiness... We try to change things so that our pleasure
will be constant. We don't see the drawbacks of the suffering
we've been through. Delusion and misunderstanding thus arise
in the mind that hasn't seen the peace offering a happiness
more subtle and refined than what we're generally used to.
This is why we have to depend on the Dhamma, depend on our
conviction in the Buddha. If we look at the fabrications that
the Buddha said are inconstant and stressful, we'll see that
what he said is really true. The pleasures we've experienced
don't really suffice. We have to study, to look for knowledge,
to find a refuge more dependable than what we've known. This
is why we have to depend on the teachings of the Buddha. When
we've heard them, we train our minds to be still, to let go.
We have to give ourselves the opportunity to make our minds
empty and still.
When we say the mind is empty, that means that it's disengaged.
It's not restless and distracted. It doesn't have a lot of
preoccupations. The same as when we do demanding work: if
we keep at it a lot, the body gets tired. When it's tired,
we disengage it from the work. We sit down or lie down to
rest. When it has rested at normalcy, the tiredness goes away.
We regain our strength. When we've regained our strength,
we can resume our work. We see that working uses up energy.
When our energy is used up, resting gathers energy. The resting
is part of the pleasure and ease that comes when the body
is "empty": in other words, disengaged from its work.
It's the same with the mind. We look for happiness all the
time because we want precisely this sense of ease. When the
mind isn't empty and disengaged, we keep looking. We should
train the mind to be still. When the mind is still, here in
this sense of awareness itself, it's empty and disengaged.
It's not thinking about anything. It's empty through its stillness.
But we can't keep it empty and still like this all the time.
We still have our clinging-aggregates. We still have our eyes,
and the mind wants to see things. We still have our ears,
nose, tongue, and body. There are still sounds, smells, tastes,
and tactile sensations. We still have feelings of pleasure
and pain. These things are always disturbing us. So this is
why the Buddha teaches us, once we've gotten the mind to settle
down and be still, to contemplate the inconstancy of the body.
That way we'll come to understand that the body is really
inconstant and stressful. As long as we're still attached
to the body as "me" or "mine", we'll have to suffer from aging,
illness, and death at all times.
So we should let go of these things and hold onto the Dhamma,
making the mind still. That way we'll give rise to stillness
and ease. We'll see that the body is inconstant, aging and
wasting away; that stress and suffering arise because of this
inconstancy. Ultimately the whole body falls apart. When it
falls apart, what is it like? It grows putrid and decays.
It doesn't belong to anyone. This is why the Buddha taught
us to yathabhutam sammappaññaya datthabbam:
to see things as they are with right discernment, to let them
go, to have no attachment to the aggregates, not to view them
as self. When this is the case, the mind won't feel any greed,
for it sees that greed serves no purpose. When we've seen
this truth, the angers we've felt in the past will grow weaker.
Knowledge will arise in the place of our past delusions. When
the mind contemplates and develops discernment to the point
where it's able once and for all to make itself pure, totally
abandoning the defilements of greed, anger, and delusion --
or passion, aversion, and delusion -- then that's called a
mind truly empty: empty of defilement, empty of greed, anger,
and delusion, because it's no longer carrying anything around.
If you carry things, they're heavy. They defile the mind.
If you don't hold on and carry them, the mind is empty. Pure.
It doesn't have to look for anything ever again.
This emptiness of the mind comes from our understanding inconstancy.
So if you aspire to this emptiness, you should contemplate
inconstancy to see it clearly, to make your discernment alert
and wise to the truth. The mind -- whose defilements depend
on inconstant things to give rise to greed, anger, and delusion
-- won't be able to give rise to them any more, because it's
grown disenchanted. It doesn't want them. It will grow empty
and enter into stillness. The mind is empty because its defilements
To summarize: the three characteristics of inconstancy, stress,
and not-self exist only in the mind with defilements. When
the mind has the discernment to kill off the defilements for
good, there's nothing inconstant, stressful, or not-self within
it. That's why it's empty. As for our minds, at present
they're not empty because they haven't been able to chase
the defilements all out. Even though we're able to develop
mindfulness and meditate to the point where we experience
stillness and ease, that's only a little bit of temporary
emptiness. As soon as mindfulness lapses, things come in to
disturb us all over again. That's because we're not empty
The ultimate defilement is unawareness. Every defilement,
whether blatant, moderate, or subtle, has unawareness mixed
in with it. This is why the Buddha taught us to train
our minds to give rise to awareness, the opponent of unawareness.
Whichever side is stronger will win out and hold power over
the mind. If awareness wins out, the defilements have no place
to stay. If unawareness wins out, there's no peace and ease.
No purity. The mind isn't empty. Stress and suffering arise.
To know the unawareness already in the mind is awfully difficult.
It's like using darkness to illuminate darkness: you can't
see anything. Or like two blind people leading each other
along: they'll have a hard time escaping from dangers and
reaching their goal. This is why we have to depend on people
with good eyes: in other words, mindfulness and discernment.
These are the crucial factors that will lead us to the end
of the path.
An example of how we can put mindfulness to use: suppose we
aren't yet acquainted with anicca. We don't know where
it is. When we hear that anicca refers to the inconstancy
of the five aggregates, beginning with physical form, we apply
mindfulness to keeping these things in mind, to see if they
really are inconstant. Or suppose we feel that we gain pleasure
from holding onto the body as our self; we keep on providing
for it and fixing it, so that we don't see its stress and
inconstancy. In this way we've gone astray from the Buddha's
teachings. So we use mindfulness to keep the body in mind.
For example, we're mindful of hair. Is our hair constant?
Does it always stay the same, or not? Think of the first strand
of hair that grew on your head. It was cut off long ago. The
hair we have now is new hair. It keeps changing. The first
strand of hair no longer serves us any purpose. We don't even
know where it's gone. This is one way of contemplating inconstancy.
As for anatta, or not-self: The hair that, in the past,
we thought was ours -- where is it now? If we think in this
way we'll come to understand the teaching on not-self. If
we contemplate the things that the Buddha said are not-self,
we'll see that what he said is absolutely true. We'll see
the truth, and our own mind is what sees the truth in line
with what the Buddha said: our body doesn't have any essence;
it just keeps sloughing away. And as for what he said about
the body's being unclean: when it dies, no one can dress it
up to make it really clean. As soon as it falls down dead,
everyone detests it. When we reflect more and more profoundly
on this, the mind will come to accept that what the Buddha
taught is the genuine truth. When the mind accepts this, its
ignorance will gradually disappear. Discernment -- knowledge
in line with the Buddha's teachings -- will gradually take
shape in our minds.
So when the mind contemplates hair profoundly until it knows
the truth and its ignorance disappears, knowledge -- beginning
with knowledge about the true nature of our hair -- will arise.
The unawareness with which we clung to the hair as us or ours,
seeing it as beautiful, dressing it up with perfumes, making
it lovely and attractive: we'll see that all that was an act
of self-delusion. If the true nature of these things was really
good, we wouldn't have to do any of that, for it would already
be good. It's because it's not good that we have to make it
good. That's one way in which our own views have deluded us.
The Buddha told us to know the truth of this matter so that
the mind will be able to let go. When the mind lets go, all
its defilements lighten and disappear because our views are
right. Defilements arise because of wrong views, because of
ignorance or unawareness of the truth. Ignorance gives rise
to delusion and mistaken assumptions, which turn into wrong
views. This is why we have to make an effort to give rise
For example: suppose we aren't aware that the hair, nails,
teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones in our body are composed
of the properties of earth, water, wind, and fire. Actually,
this physical form of ours is nothing more than the four properties.
The water property includes all the liquid parts of the body,
such as bile, phlegm, lymph, mucus, urine, blood, fat, oil.
The earth property includes all the hard and solid parts,
such as hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth,
skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, etc. The wind property
includes the breath, the breath energy in the stomach, the
energy that rises up in the body, the energy that goes down,
the energy that flows all over the body. The fire property
includes the warmth that keeps the body from decaying, the
warmth that helps with the digestion, and the warmth that
keeps the body alive at the right temperature. Altogether,
the body is nothing but these four properties. When we don't
realize this, that's called unawareness. We aren't acquainted
with the body, the aggregates. When we learn about this, awareness
can begin to arise.
This is why we're taught to contemplate the parts of the body:
kesa, hair of the head; loma, hair of the body;
nakha, nails; danta, teeth; taco, skin.
New monks are taught these things from the very day of their
ordination so that they can eliminate unawareness and give
rise to awareness through the light of mindfulness and discernment.
I ask that you develop a lot of mindfulness and discernment
in this area so that your minds will reach the emptiness and
freedom you want.
Discernment here means the awareness that comes from studying
the five aggregates. No other knowledge can destroy this defilement
of unawareness. So when you want to destroy the defilement
of unawareness, you have to carefully study the five aggregates,
beginning with the body, until you see the four noble truths
right here in the five aggregates. Actually, the five aggregates
are things whose true nature is well within our power to study
and know. First there's the aggregate of form, or the physical
body. Then there are the mental aggregates: feeling, perception,
mental fabrications, and consciousness. These are things we
can know. We have to study and practice so that we can know
all four of these mental aggregates in line with their true
nature. Each of these aggregates covers a lot of aspects.
For instance, physical form: yankinci rupam atitanagata-paccuppannam
ajjhattam va bahiddha va -- there are all kinds of forms
that can fool and delude us: internal and external; blatant
and subtle; past, present, and future. But when insight arises
in full strength, it'll show us the way to see without much
difficulty. All that's needed is that you first start with
the basic meditation themes, such as the hair of the head,
and see them clearly in line with their nature. Then discernment
will gradually arise.
Do you understand this? You can say that the Dhamma is subtle,
but you can also say that it's right here within us, within
our own bodies. All the things I've discussed here: when you
haven't yet put them into practice but would like to see these
truths, you shouldn't let mindfulness wander outside the body.
Contemplate things in line with their true nature. Don't let
prejudice get in the way. Remind yourself that this is the
That's enough explanation for now. When you study things but
don't put them into practice, your knowledge doesn't get you
anywhere. So now that you know the path, I'd like you to focus
your intention on practicing a lot. I'll ask to stop here
so that you can put your knowledge into practice and benefit
May you all meet with well being.
Body of Mine"
meditators' minds have reached genuine happiness in the Dhamma
through their mindfulness and discernment, clearly seeing
the four noble truths, none of them -- not one -- will revert
to looking for happiness in the world or in material things.
That's because happiness in the Dhamma is a lasting happiness:
solid, refined, and genuinely pure. If you compare worldly
happiness with the happiness of the Dhamma, you'll see that
there's not even the least real happiness to it. It offers
nothing but stress, nothing but drawbacks. So why do we think
it's happiness? Because we're burning with pain. We look to
worldly happiness and pleasures to relieve the pain, which
then goes away for a while but then comes back again.
the Buddha said that birth is stress, but ordinary people
regard it as something happy. We don't see that stress and
pain involved. Yet once the mind has reached the happiness
of the Dhamma, it can see that birth is really stressful,
just as the Buddha said. The reason we have to look after
ourselves, take care of ourselves, and still can't find any
peace, is because these things that have been born come to
disturb us. We sit down and get some pleasure and ease from
sitting down, but after a while it becomes painful. We say
that it's pleasant to lie down, but that's true only at the
very beginning. After we've lain down for a long time, it
begins to get unpleasant. So we have to keep changing postures
in order to gain pleasure. We look for this thing or that,
but as soon as we've gained just a little pleasure from them,
stress and pain come in their wake. If we have a family and
home to live pleasantly together, there are only little pleasures,
which have us fooled and deceived, while there are hundreds
and thousands of unpleasant things. The happiness and pleasure
that come from external things, material things, is never
enough. It keeps wearing away, wearing away, and wearing us
out, to no purpose at all. This is why those who have reached
the Dhamma don't return to this world so filled with sorrows
is why I want you to put an effort into meditating, contemplating
in line with the Dhamma. Even if you aren't yet convinced
of the Dhamma, at least take the teachings of the Buddha as
your working principles. For example, when the Buddha teaches
about the Three Characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and
not-self, we should train our minds to see in line with what
he said. Give him a try. For example, he says that this body
of ours is filled with all sorts of unclean things. We may
not agree, but at least give it a try to see what happens
when you look at things in line with what he says. He says
it's not clean. Atthi imasmim kaye -- in this body
there is: hair of the head, and it's not clean; hair of the
body, and it's unclean; nails, and they're not clean. Don't
be in a hurry to reject the Buddha's teachings. Take a look
to see whether these things really are unclean or not. When
the mind focuses on these things more and more steadily, and
begins to feel quiet and at ease, the truth of these things
will gradually appear more and more clearly. Conviction in
the Dhamma, in the practice, will arise. Energy will arise
as we want to see more. As this awareness grows greater, the
mind will grow more luminous and still. This is the way of
the practice. When you go back home, remember this simple
principle: practice meditation by observing your body, observing
mindfulness to keep track of the body in and of itself, so
as to know it in line with its truth. If you don't look at
the body, then look at the mind in and of itself. When you
observe the movements of the body and mind, the pleasures
and pains that arise so often, you'll develop awareness and
skill. You'll learn how to handle things in line with the
Buddha's teachings. You'll gain the discernment that sees
and knows the truth. You'll see things more and more clearly.
The more clearly you see things, the stronger and more quiet
the mind will grow. You'll see the body as stressful and unclean,
but you'll have to look after the mind, keeping yourself wise
to the fact that the stress and uncleanliness are an affair
of the body, not of the mind.
has been unclean all along. We've lived with it all this time,
so there's no need to be afraid of seeing these things, no
need to reject them. We should contemplate the body so as
to give rise to a sense of chastened dispassion. When you
let go of the body, let go in a discerning way. Don't let
go in a way in which delusion and misunderstanding overcome
the mind. Don't get disgusted with the body so that the mind
becomes restless and agitated and stops meditating. That kind
of dislike is wrong. When we look at things we don't like
-- such as the inconstancy, the stressfulness, and the unattractiveness
of the body -- remember that they're part of the noble truths.
The Buddha said that they're very beneficial. Contemplating
the unattractiveness of the body is very beneficial because
it serves an important purpose. If we see the body properly
in this way, it helps the mind grow still with a sense of
disenchantment. And that's what will cure our delusions and
misunderstandings. This is why, when ordaining a monk, the
very first step is to teach him the five meditation themes
-- kesa, hair of the head; loma, hair of the
body; nakha, nails; danta, teeth; taco,
skin -- as a way of developing discernment and knowledge of
onto these themes and keep contemplating them, regardless
of whether the mind is still or not. Whenever you have any
free time, contemplate them. You can contemplate them even
while you're working. Contemplate them until you get down
to the minute details in a way that gives rise to a sense
of stillness and ease.
similar to when we do physical work. We get wages for each
hour we work. The more hours we work, the higher our pay.
But if you get greedy and keep working without rest, then
the body wears out, the mind grows weak, and you can't work
any more. So you have to rest and eat to regain the strength
of your body and nerves. Even though you don't get paid for
the time you rest, you're willing to take the loss for the
sake of your strength of body and mind, so that you can contend
with the work after you've rested.
the same when you meditate: if you just keep contemplating
and investigating, it won't be long before the mind gets restless
and agitated. So you have to bring the mind to stillness to
avoid its getting restless. If it gets restless, it'll have
no peace. It'll get all tied up in knots and will grow weary
of the meditation. So contemplate for a while until you can
sense that the mind wants to stop and rest; then focus back
on the in-and-out breath or anything else that will serve
as a gathering point for the mind. Gradually let go of your
contemplation, gradually let the mind settle down, so as to
gain strength from the sense of pleasure and ease that come
in this way. Don't worry about how long you should stay there.
Even though the mind doesn't seem to be gaining any knowledge,
don't worry about it. It's as when you're resting from physical
labor: even though your boss doesn't give you anything for
the hour you rest, you're willing for the sake of gaining
energy -- in this case, strength of mind.
is why the Noble Disciples constantly practice concentration,
constantly get the mind to settle down. After they're contemplated
to the point where the mind gets weary, they let the mind
grow still. After it's had enough stillness, they go back
to their contemplation. This is how we should practice. If
we practice in this way, the mind will gain energy and strength,
will gain discernment to the end point of all suffering and
stress, seeing things for what they actually are. The question
asked the other day -- how to practice when you go back home
-- was a very good question. The answer is: keep looking after
your mind in the way I've described here. Practice exercising
your own mindfulness and discernment.
You've spoken of the five topics that should be contemplated
every day: that we're subject to aging, subject to illness,
subject to death, subject to separation from the things and
people we love, and that we're the owners of our karma. This
fifth topic is the most difficult of the five to understand.
I was wondering if you could explain karma, and in particular
the role of mindfulness at the moment of death.
Suwat: Listen carefully. I'm going to explain the karma
in line with the principles the Buddha's Awakening. When the
Buddha explained karma, he did so in line with one of the
knowledges he attained on the night of his Awakening: recollection
of past lives. In becoming the Buddha, it wasn't the case
that he had been born only once and had practiced only one
lifetime before attaining Awakening. He had been developing
his goodness, his perfections, for many lifetimes. That was
how he had been able to build up his discernment continually
over the course of time to the point where he could awaken
to the subtle Dhamma so hard for anyone to recollect, so hard
for anyone to awaken to. He had been developing his mindfulness
until it was fully powerful, his discernment until it was
fully powerful, so that he could come to know the truth. For
this reason, our understanding of karma has to depend both
on our study and on our practice, training our own minds as
the Buddha did so as to gain discernment step by step.
the Buddha spoke about karma after his Awakening to the truth,
he was referring to action. There's physical karma, i.e.,
the actions of the body; verbal karma, the actions of speech;
and mental karma, the actions of the mind. All human beings,
all living beings, experience good things and bad, pleasure
and pain, from karma -- their own actions.
is something very subtle. When you ask about rebirth and how
you'll experience pleasure and pain in future lives, you should
first study karma in your present life, your actions in your
present life. Understand your actions in the present life
clearly. Once you understand them, once you know the truth
of action in the present, then when you train the mind further
you'll gradually come to the end of your doubts. There's no
one who has ever resolved doubts about rebirth simply through
reading or hearing the spoken word. Even among those who've
practiced a long time: if their discernment isn't up to the
task, they'll still have their same old doubts. The texts
tell us that doubt is ended only with the attainment of the
first of the noble paths, called stream-entry. Stream-enterers
have cut away three defilements: self-identity views, doubt,
and attachment to precepts and practices. When the discernment
of the noble path arises, knowledge of birth and death, rebirth
and redeath, arises together with it. As for our current level
of discernment: if we want to know about these things, we
need to do the preliminary work. We need to study the nature
of action in the present. So today I won't speak of future
lifetimes. I'll teach about the three kinds of action -- physical
action, verbal action, and mental action -- in the present.
three kinds of action are divided into two sorts: good and
bad. Bad actions give rise to suffering. Good actions give
rise to good results: happiness, prosperity, mindfulness,
and discernment, both in the present and on into future days,
future months, future years.
are called unskillful karma. The Buddha taught that we should
abandon this kind of karma. In the area of physical action,
that includes tormenting and killing living beings, whether
large or small. This kind of action is unskillful because
it lacks good will and compassion. All living beings love
their life. If we kill them, it's unskillful because we have
no compassion, no pity, no regard for their lives. This is
why the Buddha told us not to do it. If we kill other human
beings, we get punished in the present both by the civil law
and by the Dhamma.
three things -- killing, stealing, and illicit sex -- are
all called unskillful physical karma. We should contemplate
them to see why the Buddha told us not to do them. When we've
contemplated them, we'll see that they really aren't good
things to do because we wouldn't want anyone to do them to
us. For example, the wealth that we've earned is something
we're possessive of. It's something we want to use as we like.
If someone were to steal it from us or cheat us out of it,
then even if that person used to be our friend, that's the
end of the friendship. We can't live with that person any
longer. We're sure to have a quarrel and a falling out. That
person might even have to go to jail for the theft. This is
crude karma, the kind whose results are visible in the immediate
holds true with the third precept. Once we've decided to get
married, to live with another person, then if that person
cheats on us, think of how much suffering there will be for
both sides. People who want peace or who are established in
morality won't praise the other person as being a good person.
All of these things are unskillful physical actions that the
Buddha taught us to abandon.
verbal karma, there are four kinds of unskillful action: lying,
divisive speech, harsh speech, and idle chatter. And in the
area of mental karma, there are three: greed, ill will, and
does any of these ten kinds of unskillful actions -- the three
kinds of unskillful physical karma, the four kinds of unskillful
verbal karma, and the three kinds of unskillful mental karma
-- is an unskillful person. This is why we're taught that
we're the owners of our actions. If we act in these mistaken
ways, we become mistaken people. We're the ones who are defiled
by those actions: no one else is defiled by what we do. This
is why we're taught to reflect every day that we're the owner
of our actions. If we do something bad, we become bad people
and we have to reap the bad results, the suffering that arises
from that action. That's why we're taught that we're the heirs
to our actions. If we don't abandon those actions, if we keep
doing them often, the results of those actions will follow
us wherever we go. There's no way we can be regarded as good
people. This is why we're taught that we're followed by our
actions. Wherever we go, if we don't give up that kind of
behavior we'll be mistrusted by society.
the Buddha has us reflect on these things -- that we're the
owners of our actions, heirs to our actions, followed by our
actions -- is so that we'll pay attention to our actions every
day, so that we'll see them clearly for what they are. If
we don't clearly see the nature and results of our actions,
we should contemplate them further: Why does killing result
in suffering? When a person kills, why is that person a bad
person? The same holds true with stealing and illicit sex.
If we examine these actions carefully, making our minds impartial
and fair, we'll see that these actions really are bad. They
really result in suffering. We'll see for ourselves in line
with what the Buddha taught. We don't have to look at anyone
else. We just look at ourselves. If we see that what we're
doing isn't good, then when other people do the same things,
the same holds true for them. Whoever does these things is
a bad person. If a lot of people do these things, then there's
trouble for a lot of people. If everyone in the world were
to do these things, the whole world would be troubled. The
peace and happiness the world does experience comes totally
from the good actions of good people.
things we've been talking about are karma on the unskillful
side, but there are also ten kinds of skillful karma -- three
physical, four verbal, and three mental -- in just the same
way. These are the actions that bring us happiness and prosperity.
In terms of the three kinds of skillful physical karma, we
use our discernment and compassion to consider things. We
have compassion for animals that are about to be killed. If
we see something belonging to someone else that we'd like,
we have compassion for them so that we wouldn't want to steal
that thing or cheat the other person out of it. If we see
an opportunity for some illicit sex, we reflect on the fact
that we're already married and should have only one heart,
one love. We should have compassion for the person we live
with. If we cheat on that person, we'll create suffering for
him or her. Having only one heart, one love, is meritorious,
for it allows us to live together for life. So if we learn
to abandon the pleasures that come from taking life, stealing,
and illicit sex, we benefit. We become good people. Society
doesn't mistrust us. The society of good people recognizes
us as good people, as clean people, pure in body because our
virtues are pure. This is where purity comes from.
time, I'll condense the remainder of the discussion. The ten
kinds of skillful actions are the opposite of the ten kinds
of unskillful ones. In terms of the three kinds of skillful
physical karma, we abstain from the three kinds of unskillful
karma. We resolve not to do them, and we follow through absolutely
in line with that resolve. The same holds for the four kinds
of skillful verbal karma. We resolve firmly not to lie, not
to engage in divisive speech, in harsh speech, or idle chatter.
We also resolve not to be greedy, not to feel ill will for
anyone, and to straighten out our views -- i.e., to hold to
the principle of karma, seeing that if we do good, we'll become
good; if we do bad, we'll become bad. When we see things in
this way, our views are right in line with the truth.
actions comes from the mind's being affected by the defilements
of greed, anger, and delusion. People kill and steal out of
greed, engage in illicit sex out of greed, steal or kill out
of anger. Sometimes they engage in illicit sex out of anger,
as a way of getting even. Sometimes they do these things out
of delusion, as when they're tricked into doing them along
with other people. That's why these three defilements -- greed,
anger, and delusion -- are so important. And this is why we
develop mindfulness, so that we'll see how these three defilements
are the root of unskillfulness. If they arise, they can cause
us to misbehave in various ways, to engage in unskillful karma.
So when they arise, we have to use our discernment to hold
them in check.
skillful mental states: When we understand how unskillfulness
comes from these three defilements -- when we've heard these
teachings and considered them on our own -- the mind comes
to feel shame at the idea of misbehaving in any of those ways.
It realizes why they shouldn't be done. It also develops a
sense of moral dread, realizing that if we do those things,
we'll become bad people. Our friends -- anyone who knows us
-- will criticize us, won't want to associate with us, will
despise us. When we feel this kind of dread, we can abandon
our discernment reaches the stage where we have this sense
of shame and moral dread, when we resolve not to do wrong
in terms of our physical, verbal, and mental karma, then skillful
mental states have arisen within us. These states will then
lead us to do all sorts of good. We'll feel compassion for
others. We'll want to help them. This in turn becomes one
of our perfections, causing other people, other beings, to
love us in return. The happiness that comes from this goodness
is called merit (puñña). When we have
a sense of shame and moral dread, we exercise restraint over
our physical actions so that we don't do anything wrong. This
means that our body is pure. We exercise restraint over our
speech, not breaking our precepts, and in this way our speech
is pure. We exercise restraint over the mind, an in this way
our mind is pure. When we exercise restraint and don't do
anything wrong, we'll know for ourselves that we're good people
-- good because what we do is good.
the good things that come from doing good: our friends will
love us, people trust us, we pose no threat to anyone anywhere.
People are happy to welcome us into their society. When we
act in this way, we're not mistrusted wherever they go. Thus,
when we do good, that good karma is ours. We'll be skillful
people. If other people do good, that good karma is theirs.
As for people who don't restrain themselves in this way, they
don't have a share in that goodness. This is why the Buddha
said that we're the owners of our actions.
do good, we'll experience good results. If we keep doing good,
that goodness will keep following us wherever we go. For example,
if a monk observes his precepts, exercises restraint over
his words and deeds in Thailand, the people there recognize
him as a good person. When he comes to America, we see that
he's a good person who poses no danger to us. The same holds
true with us. If we behave in a skillful way, we're good people.
If we go to Thailand, the people there will welcome us. Wherever
we go, people will welcome us. It's when we do evil that people
want to keep us out.
can see clearly in line with what the Buddha said: Living
beings are what they are in line with their actions. If we
do good, we're good people and experience happiness. Society
welcomes us. We help bring pleasure to the world. When we
see the good we've done, we'll feel happy with ourselves.
Esteem for ourselves. We can guarantee our own purity. Wherever
we go, we can go with confidence, for there are no hidden
weak points in our behavior or hearts. We're not afraid of
being found out for anything, for we have nothing to hide.
It's because of our purity that we can be confident and brave.
Wherever we go, we know that good people will welcome us.
Moreover, we can help them become better people, too. They
can take us as an example, and in this way we serve a beneficial
purpose. The activities of good people are much more beneficial
than those of people who aren't good. This is because their
minds tend toward self-sacrifice for the sake of the world,
the sake of the common good. In this way they win honor, praise,
wealth, and happiness. Society spreads their name far and
wide for the goodness they've done.
you've heard about the pleasure and pain that come in the
present from good and bad karma we've done, do you understand
what I've said? Do you agree?
What about when you're about to die? What's the influence
of the karma you've done? And what's the role of mindfulness
at that point?
Suwat: I'm not yet talking about death. I'm talking about
the present to make sure that we first understand the present.
at the point of death, though, is related to present karma.
It's a form of skillful karma. If we've done good, then our
mindfulness will have the strength to recollect the goodness
when people are about to die, two kinds of signs can appear.
The first is a karma-sign (kamma-nimitta), dealing
with actions they've done in the past. If a person has done
evil, then there may be a sign making him relive that action.
When I was a child, there was a man in the village who had
slaughtered a lot of cattle. When he was about to die, he
started screaming and sounded just like a cow being slaughtered.
This is called a sign of unskillful karma. The person relives
the karma he did, although this time it's being done to him:
in the case of the man who slaughtered cattle, he sees someone
coming to kill him. When that sort of vision appears, the
mind will fall in line with it and be reborn in a state of
deprivation to suffer the consequences of its evil deeds.
kind of sign is a destination-sign (gati-nimitta).
You see where you're going. You may see hell, the realm of
the hungry ghosts -- everywhere you look you see things corresponding
to the bad things you've done. If you die at that point, the
mind will go to that sort of destination.
of these bad things. Let's talk about some good ones, all
done good things and skillful things, then when you're about
to die... Especially if you've practiced meditation and attained
jhana, then when you're about to die the mind can enter
one of the rupa jhanas and be reborn on the level of
the rupa brahmas. If you've attained any of the arupa
jhanas, then you can enter jhana and reach the
levels of the arupa brahmas, in line with the mind's
strength. As for more ordinary levels of skillfulness -- called
kamavacara-kusala, skillfulness on the sensual level
-- as when you practice generosity, observe the precepts,
and meditate, abstaining from the ten forms of unskillful
karma we've mentioned: when you're about to die, a karma-sign
will arise and you'll remember meditating in the past. You'll
find yourself meditating again, being mindful, gaining the
same sense of ease you had before. The mind then holds onto
its concentration and experiences rebirth in a pleasurable
direction in one of the good destinations. Or you may remember
the happiness you felt in doing good -- paying respect to
the Buddha, lighting candles and incense, giving donations
in one way or another. You may get a karma-sign that you're
doing those things again together with your friends, in the
same way as we're meditating together here: paying respect
to the Buddha, sitting in meditation, doing walking meditation.
If you pass away at that moment, the mind will experience
birth in one of the good destinations. In this way, whatever
actions you did in the course of your life will appear to
you -- as if you're doing them again -- as you're about die.
the good destination-signs, you may see gold and silver palaces,
riches, things that delight you and give you pleasure, things
corresponding to the skillful things you've done. If you die
at that point, you'll go to a good destination.
a story in the Dhammapada Commentary about a very virtuous
lay disciple who liked to listen to the Dhamma and made a
practice of generosity, virtue, and meditation. As he grew
older and was on his deathbed, he asked his children to invite
some monks to come recite some suttas to him. As the monks
were chanting -- most likely the Mangala Sutta, the Girimananda
Sutta, or the Satipatthana Sutta -- devas from all the various
directions came with their royal chariots to take the lay
disciple back to their different heavens. This one said, "Come
with me." That one said, "No, come with me." So the devas
started fighting over him. The lay disciple, seeing this,
said, "Stop!" As soon as he said that, the monks -- who didn't
see the devas -- stopped chanting and went back to their monastery.
Soon after, the lay man asked his children, "What happened
to all the monks?" The children answered, "Well, you told
them to stop, so they stopped chanting and went back to the
monastery." "No," the lay disciple said, "I didn't tell them
to stop. I told the devas to stop fighting." The children
didn't believe him that any devas had come. All they could
think was that he was losing his mind. He insisted, though,
that the devas had come to welcome him to their heavens. "If
you don't believe me, take that garland and throw it in the
air." So they threw the garland in the air and it caught on
the edge of one of the deva's chariots as it was about to
leave. The children didn't see the chariot, all they could
see was the garland whizzing through the air. The only person
who could see the devas was their father.
is one of the rewards of acting skillfully, or serving a useful
purpose in life. When you're about to die, the devas come
to take you to their heavens. They want you to join them --
for there's happiness in living with wise people, in associating
with people who are good.
the three types of skillfulness that lead to a good destination
are danamaya, generosity, helping other people to live
in pleasure and happiness; silamaya, virtue, observing
the five precepts and ten forms of skillful action; and bhavanamaya,
meditation, developing the mind. I ask that you have conviction
in meditation, that you set your minds on doing it. Whether
or not your minds settle down doesn't really matter. Even
if you don't gain release from suffering in this lifetime,
you're developing good habits that will act as supporting
conditions in future lifetimes. The reward of your meditation
is that you'll be mindful, discerning, and intelligent. You'll
live long and feel mental well-being. If you get to hear the
Dhamma in the future, you'll more easily gain Awakening. These
are some of the rewards of meditating.
let yourselves grow weary of the meditation. Don't tell yourselves
that you don't get anything from doing it. At the very least,
you gain skillfulness on the sensual level; you develop awareness,
understanding, and intelligence as supporting conditions for
your future happiness, both in this life and on into the next.
enough explanation for now. May each and every one of you
meet with peace and prosperity.
& Answers (3)
The Bhikkhuni Sangha
Please excuse me for asking this question, but from what
I've heard you say, you feel that it's all right for lay people
to practice meditation if they want to, but those who are
really intent on the practice, who really want to get full
results, should ordain. But women don't have the opportunity
to ordain the way men do. So my question is why. When
a woman gets good results from practicing concentration and
insight meditation, she gains a sense of self-confidence.
Yet when she sees that women no longer have the chance to
ordain as they did in the time of the Buddha, it destroys
Suwat: Please listen carefully, for this is an important
matter that we should all be informed about.
is a ceremony that the Buddha laid down, both for the Bhikkhu
Sangha and for the Bhikkhuni Sangha. When he had allowed women
to ordain, there were many women who, on practicing the Dhamma,
reached arahantship, some of them with special abilities like
the Buddha's famous male disciples. For example, the Buddha
praised Sister Khema as foremost among the bhikkhunis in terms
of her discernment, just as he praised Sariputta as foremost
in discernment among the bhikkhus. He praised Sister Uppalavanna
as foremost among the bhikkhunis in terms of her psychic powers,
just as he praised Moggallana as the foremost bhikkhu in terms
of his psychic powers. For a long time afterwards, women continued
ordaining and practicing the Dhamma, but for what reason I
don't know, they weren't able to maintain their lineage all
the way up to the present.
the Buddha decreed that any man who wants to ordain must have
a preceptor, and that there must be at least five members
of the Sangha sitting in on the ordination. One of the Sangha
members is agreed upon by the group as the person who will
question the candidate concerning his qualifications, to see
if he will be able to practice the Buddha's teachings on becoming
ordained. When all the Sangha members see that the candidate
is qualified, they make a public announcement of his ordination.
requirements were laid down for the Bhikkhuni Sangha. The
candidate has to have a bhikkhuni as her preceptor, and the
Bhikkhuni Sangha has to question her concerning her qualifications.
When they see that she is qualified, they admit her into the
the life of both Sanghas, the Buddha laid down rules and requirements,
called the vinaya. In laying down these rules, it wasn't the
case that the Buddha called a meeting and laid them down all
in advance. Only when an individual bhikkhu had misbehaved
did the Buddha call a meeting of the Sangha to question the
offender about what he had done. When the offender admitted
his wrong-doing, the Buddha would lay down a training rule,
one at a time. If someone else misbehaved in another way,
the Buddha would call another meeting and add another rule.
He continued doing this in response to the actual misdeeds
of the bhikkhus.
held true for the bhikkhunis. If an individual bhikkhuni misbehaved,
the Buddha would call a meeting of the Sangha, over which
he would preside. When he had questioned the offender and
she had admitted to her wrong-doing, he would lay down a rule
to prevent that kind of behavior from being repeated in the
future. As this happened many times -- as members of the Sangha
misbehaved in various ways, causing trouble in the Sangha
-- the Buddha kept adding more and more rules. After he passed
away, no one knows why but there's no report of the Bhikkhuni
Sangha in the account of the First and Second Councils. The
account of the Third Council reports that bhikkhunis were
involved at that time, and some of them were sent to Sri Lanka.
The bhikkhunis continued their ordination lineage for centuries
after that, but for some unknown reason the lineage no longer
exists in the present.
there are no longer any bhikkhunis, there's no way that women
can simply become bhikkhunis on their own, for no one would
dare certify that they'd be acting in line with the Buddha's
promulgations. There are no preceptors to train them, no Bhikkhuni
Sangha to join. The requirements set down for women to ordain
are that there must be a bhikkhuni to act as preceptor, there
must be a bhikkhuni to question the candidate as to her qualifications,
and there must be a quorum of bhikkhunis who agree to admit
the candidate into the Sangha. Then they send someone to inform
the Bhikkhu Sangha that the woman of this-and-this name has
been ordained. When the bhikkhus are formally informed, then
the candidate would count as a bhikkhuni, on an equal footing
in the training with all the other bhikkhunis.
right here that I would like to express my sympathy. Why weren't
the bhikkhunis able to maintain their lineage? If they had
maintained their lineage, then women would be able to ordain
just like men. No one would be able to stop them. After all,
the Buddha gave his permission for women to ordain. This is
why I feel sympathy for those who would like to ordain.
I've said so far applies to the Theravadin tradition. The
Theravadin Bhikkhuni Sangha no longer exists. The Mahayanists
say that their bhikkhuni lineages still exist, but if you
look at their behavior and practices, they've strayed very
far from the vinaya. This is why the Theravadin tradition
doesn't recognize them as bhikkhunis. The Mahayanists say
their way is right, but we don't get involved in that discussion.
If, on studying the matter, you feel conviction in the practice
of the Mahayana bhikkhunis, that's one opportunity for ordination.
ordination is simply a formality, a customary procedure in
line with the rules of the Sangha. In the area of meditation,
the Buddha didn't forbid anyone -- man or woman -- from practicing.
If you're really convinced of the value of the practice, you
don't have to put on ochre robes in line with monastic customs.
Once you've developed a correct understanding of the Buddha's
teachings -- when you have strong conviction and want to practice
the noble eightfold path in full -- I'm thoroughly convinced
that you can practice without having to put on monastic robes.
You can go off on your own and practice to the point of developing
the mindfulness and discernment needed to gain release from
suffering. It's said that if lay people reach arahantship,
they can simply start wearing white, observing the eight precepts,
and live apart from lay people in general. In this way, they
can live out their full life span without any difficulty.
Lay people can attain arahantship if they're really firmly
convinced and courageous.
I'm glad to hear you say that, for I was under the impression
that ordaining was supposed to be better than lay life in
the area of the practice.
Suwat: I'm in no position to give any opinion as to whether
being ordained is better or not. We simply practice in line
with the Dhamma and Vinaya laid down by the Buddha. We don't
claim to be better than anyone else.
was once a person who asked the Buddha, "Do those who are
able to reach nibbana exist only in the Buddha's monastic
Sangha, or are other groups of people able to reach arahantship
as well?" The Buddha answered, "Anyone -- no matter what group
he or she belongs to -- who practices correctly in line with
the noble eightfold is able to reach nibbana." This shows
that lay people, if they practice correctly, can reach nibbana
as well. So you can rest assured that the Buddha wasn't prejudiced
in any way.
I never thought that the Buddha was prejudiced, just that
the Theravadin tradition in its practice has been prejudiced
Suwat: The Buddha taught nothing but the truth. If something
wasn't true, he wouldn't say it. He taught the Dhamma in such
a way that anyone who contemplated it could confirm what he
was saying. If there were things that other people, on consideration,
couldn't see or know, he wouldn't teach them or lay them down
as rules. This is why his teachings are sanditthiko,
visible here and now. If people who listen to them practice
correctly in line with them, they can see the truth of his
every word for themselves. This way they can develop self-confidence.
when the Buddha had come to a river, he picked up a fistful
of sand and asked the monks who were following him, "Which
is greater, this fistful of sand or the sand in all the rivers
and oceans?" The monks answered, "The sand in the Blessed
One's fist is a small amount, lord. The sand in all the rivers
and oceans is far more."
then responded, "In the same way, monks, those things that
I have known with direct knowledge but have not taught are
like the sand in all the rivers and oceans. The things I have
taught are like this fistful of sand."
that was true but wouldn't serve a purpose -- in other words,
things that his listeners couldn't confirm for themselves
-- the Buddha wouldn't teach. And he wouldn't deceive the
world by teaching anything useless or untrue. He taught only
the genuine truth that his listeners could understand and
confirm for themselves through the practice.
explained quite a lot already. When there's a lot of speaking,
there's simply a lot of breath. My hope is that you all will
learn from listening, in line with your mindfulness, and then
take what you've learned and put it into practice so that
it will serve a purpose. Even though it may not be much, my
hope is that it's enough to serve a purpose.
sacrificed a lot -- your work, all kinds of things -- in coming
here to practice. Coming together like this doesn't happen
easily. Our interpreter has sacrificed his time, too, inspired
by his sense that you want to practice. The organizer, Larry
Rosenberg, has given a lot of his time and energy to the arrangements
that have enabled us to come together to practice, out of
a similar desire: the desire that all of you learn and practice
the correct way to lead your lives, so that you'll reach purity
in line with the principles of the Buddha's teachings -- the
same teachings he taught his disciples in the past, so that
they too were able to reach purity. The teachings of the Buddha
are still with us. Those of us in the present should listen
to them and put them into practice so as to serve a purpose,
just like the people in the past. That way we'll find happiness
and prosperity in our lives.
ask that you remember what you've learned here, contemplate
it, and put it into practice so that all of you -- each and
every one -- will benefit in line with your aims.
That's enough for now, so I'll ask to stop here.