Phra Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
© 2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu
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now start meditating, just as we've been doing every day.
We have to look at this as an important opportunity. Even
though our practice hasn't yet reached the Dhamma to our satisfaction,
at the very least it's a beginning, an important beginning,
in gathering the strength of the mind so that our mindfulness,
concentration, and discernment will become healthy and mature.
We should try to gather these qualities together so that they
can reinforce one another in washing away the stains, the
defilements, in our minds -- for when defilements arise, they
don't lead to peace, purity, or respite for the mind. Just
the opposite: they lead to suffering, unrest, and disturbance.
They block any discernment that would know or see the Dhamma.
There's no defilement that encourages us to practice the Dhamma,
to know or see the Dhamma. They simply get in the way of our
So whatever mental state gets in the way of our practice we
should regard as a defilement -- for defilements don't come
floating along on their own. They have to depend on the mind.
Any mental state that's sleepy or lazy, any mental state that's
restless, angry, or irritable: these are all defilements.
They're mental states under the influence of defilement, overcome
If any of these mental states arise within us, we should be
aware of them. When the mind is sleepy, we should get it to
keep buddho in mind so that it will wake up and shake
off its sleepiness. When the mind is restless and irritable,
we should use our discernment to reflect on things to see
that these states of mind serve no purpose. Then we should
quickly turn back to our concentration practice, planting
the mind firmly in our meditation theme, not letting the mind
get restless and distracted again.
We focus the mind on being aware of its meditation word, buddho
-- what's aware, what's awake. We keep it in mind as if it
were a post planted firmly in the ground. Don't let the mind
wander from the foundation post on which you've focused. But
whatever your focus, don't let your focus be tense. You have
to keep the mind in a good mood while it's focused. Do this
with an attitude of mindfulness and discernment, not one of
delusion, wanting to know this or to see that or to force
things to fall in line with your thoughts. If that's the way
you meditate, your mood will grow tense and you won't be able
to meditate for long. In no time at all you'll start getting
So if you want to meditate for a long time, you have to be
neutral, with equanimity as your foundation. If you want knowledge,
focus firmly on what you're already aware of. Keep your mind
firmly in place. Find an approach that will help you stay
focused without slipping away. For example, make an effort
to keep your mind firmly intent and apply your powers of observation
and evaluation to the basis of your buddho. All of
these things have to be brought together at the same spot,
along with whatever thinking you need to do so that mindfulness
won't lapse, letting unskillful outside issues come barging
in, or leaving an opening for internal preoccupations to arise
in the heart, or letting yourself get disturbed by thoughts
of the past -- things you knew or saw or said or did earlier
today, or many days, many months, many years ago. You have
to focus exclusively on the present.
If you've taken buddho as your meditation theme, keep
coming back to it over and over again. Buddho stands
for awareness. If you can maintain awareness without lapse,
this will make an important difference. If you've taken the
breath as your theme, you have to be aware each time the breath
comes in and out. You can't let yourself wander off. You have
to take nothing but the breath as the focal point for mindfulness.
The same principles hold in either case. You do the same things,
the only difference is the theme of your awareness.
Why does the Buddha teach us to focus on the breath? Because
we don't have to look for it, don't have to guess about it,
don't have to think it into being. It's a present phenomenon.
There's no such thing as a past breath or a future breath.
There's simply the breath coming in and out in the present.
That's why it's appropriate for exercising our mindfulness,
for gathering our mindfulness and awareness in a single place,
for firmly establishing concentration.
So you can focus on either theme -- whichever one you've already
meditated on and found that mindfulness can quickly get established
without lapsing and can quickly produce a sense of stillness
and peace. Set that theme up as your foundation. When you're
starting out, focus on keeping that theme in mind.
Once the mind has had enough stillness, if you simply want
it to become more still, the mind will get into a state where
it isn't doing any work because it's not distracted in any
way. If this happens, you have to start contemplating. In
the foundations of mindfulness we're taught to contemplate
the various aspects of the body in and of themselves. We don't
have to contemplate anything else. If you want to contemplate
from the angle of inconstancy, it's here in this body. If
you want to contemplate from the angle of stress, it's here
in this body. You can contemplate it from any angle at all.
If you want to contemplate from the angle of eliminating passion
and craving, you can look at things that are dirty and disgusting
-- and you find that they fill the body. This is something
requiring you to use your own intelligence. Whatever angle
you use, you have to look into things so that they get more
subtle and refined. Contemplate them again and again until
you see things clearly in a way that gives rise to nibbida,
or disenchantment, so that you aren't deluded into latching
onto things and giving them meanings the way you used to.
Turn over a new mind, turning your views into new views. You
no longer want your old mistaken views. Turning from your
old views, give rise to right views. Turning from your old
ways of thinking, give rise to right resolves -- to see the
body as repulsive and unattractive. This is nekkhama-sankappa,
the resolve for renunciation, the resolve to escape from sensual
passion. We don't go thinking in other directions or roaming
off in other directions. We try to go in the direction of
escaping from the view that the body is beautiful. What the
eye sees of the body is just the outer skin. It's never seen
the filthy things inside. Even though it may have seen them
from time to time, as when someone dies in an accident or
when a patient is opened for surgery, there's something in
the mind that keeps us from taking it to heart and giving
rise to discernment. There's something that keeps us from
contemplating things down to a level more subtle than what
the eye sees. We see these things and then pass right over
them. We don't get to a level profound enough to give rise
So contemplate the body. If the mind has developed a strong
enough foundation, it shouldn't stay stuck just at the level
of stillness. But if you haven't yet reached that level of
stillness, you can't skip over it. You first have to make
the mind still, because a firm foundation of stillness is
absolutely essential. If you try to contemplate before the
mind has grown still, you'll give rise to knowledge that lasts
only as long as you're in meditation. When you leave meditation
and the mind is no longer firm, your new understandings will
disappear. Your old understandings will come back, just as
if you had never meditated. Whatever way you've been deluded
in the past, that's how you'll be deluded again. Whatever
views you've had before won't change into anything else. Whatever
ways you've thought, you'll end up deluded just as before
as long as your new ways of thinking aren't based on a foundation
This is why stillness is so essential. We have to get the
mind to gain strength from stillness and then let it contemplate
the body in and of itself in terms of its 32 parts. You can
choose any one of the parts, focusing on it until it's clear.
Or you can focus on the parts in sets of five. When you reach
the liquid parts, you can focus on them in sets of six, for
there are 12 of them in all. You can contemplate them back
and forth -- if your mindfulness hasn't yet been exercised
to the point were it's firm, contemplate these things back
and forth just as a preceptor teaches a new ordinand: kesa,
loma, nakha, danta, taco (hair of the head, hair of the
body, nails, teeth, skin), and the turning them around to
taco, danta, nakha, loma, kesa. Then you can go onto
the next set of five -- mansam, nharu, atthi, atthimiñjam,
vakkam (muscle, tendons, bones, bone marrow, spleen).
This is called contemplating them in sets of five.
This is how we start out exercising mindfulness. If, while
you're practicing mindfulness in this way, a visual image
of any of these five parts appears, catch hold of it and contemplate
it so that it grows deeper and more refined. Contemplate it
until you can divide the body into its parts, seeing that
each part is just like this. Get so that you know the body
inside and out, realizing that other living beings are just
like this, too. If you're looking to see what's unclean, you'll
find it here. If you're looking to see what's not-self, you'll
find it here. Turn these things over in your mind and question
yourself as to whether they're constant. What kind of pleasure
is there in these things? Is it worthwhile or not? Focus on
these issues often, look at them often until you're adept,
and the mind will finally be willing to accept the truth,
changing from its old wrong ways of seeing things, and seeing
them instead in line with the Dhamma as taught by the Buddha.
When your views change often in this way, the mind will experience
a new kind of stillness and peace. It will turn away from
the fevers of the fires of passion, aversion, and delusion;
and turn into mindfulness, concentration, and discernment
instead. Its knowledge and views will become clear. It will
no longer waver. It will become brave and no longer afraid
in the way it used to be -- for it has come to know the truth:
that nothing gets pained aside from the aggregates; nothing
dies aside from the elements. The mind gets firmly planted.
It can meditate with a snug sense of confidence, with no fear
of pain or illness or anything at all. You can separate things
out all the way down. Even if death were to come at that point,
you'd be content, for even though death hasn't yet come, these
things have separated out of their own accord. You've contemplated
them and seen them for what they are, each and every one.
So I ask that we all have firm principles in our contemplation.
Be genuine in doing it -- don't just go through the motions
-- for all these things are genuine. If we don't meditate,
defilements will inhabit our thoughts, deceiving us so that
we don't see things as they genuinely are. If we depend just
on our eyes, they can fool us. The eye can see only the outside
of things. It sees skin, and the skin can be made up to deceive
us. It sees hair of the head, and hair can be made up to deceive
us. It sees hair of the body -- things like eyebrows and beards,
which can be dressed to deceive us. It sees fingernails and
toenails, which can be made up to deceive us. It sees teeth,
which can be treated to deceive us, so that we make all sorts
of assumptions about them. The eye has no discernment. It
lets us get deceived -- but it isn't what does the deceiving.
The mind is what deceives itself. Once it deceives itself,
it makes all sorts of assumptions about itself and falls for
itself. When it makes itself suffer in this way, there's no
help for it. This is the genuine truth. Know clearly that
the mind is what deceives itself. When it doesn't have
a refuge, it can deceive itself all the time.
So we have to develop qualities that the mind can hold to
and take refuge in, so that defilements won't be able to keep
on deceiving it. Look so that you can see more deeply through
things. Try to analyze things to see what's not genuine, what's
dressed and disguised. Then as soon as you look at anything,
you'll see what's fake and made up. You'll know: "The real
thing doesn't have this color, this smell, this shape." You'll
see how things are always changing. This is called having
the qualities of the Dhamma as your refuge, as something to
hold to as you look, hear, smell, taste, and make contact
with things. You'll have the qualities that know and see things
as they actually are -- so they won't be able to deceive you.
You won't be able to deceive yourself, for you'd be ashamed
to. The heart grows disenchanted with itself, with its
old ways -- and why would it want to deceive itself any more?
It's seen that it doesn't gain any benefit from that kind
Instead, you'll see how it really benefits from its new views.
They make the mind still. Clear. Set free with a sense of
wellbeing. All its heavy old burdens fall away. It has no
greed for gaining a lot of things, for there's no more indulging.
It doesn't use anything to indulge itself. All it needs is
the four necessities to keep life going -- that's enough.
It doesn't have to invest in anything. It finds its happiness
and wellbeing in the stillness that comes from meditating.
The things around it that it used to fall for and build up
into ignorance without realizing it: when it focuses on really
knowing these things, its delusions disband. Ignorance disappears.
The mind gains knowledge from these things in line with what
they actually are. It wises up and doesn't fall for these
things as it used to, doesn't misunderstand them as it used
And that's the end of its problems.