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The Light of Discernment
The Light of Discernment
translated from the Thai by
Ajaan Suwat Suvaco
Phra Bodhidhammacariya Thera
August 29, 1919 - April 5, 2002
We've all come with a sense of conviction, intent on studying and practicing the Dhamma so as to train our minds, so that the Dhamma will appear within our minds and give them refuge. Even though the Dhamma is always present, it hasn't yet become the property of the heart and mind. As long as the Dhamma is simply the property of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, it's a Dhamma that isn't genuine, a Dhamma that isn't pure, a Dhamma that isn't polished, a Dhamma that can get in the way of our seeing the truth. It can let us get deceived by the preoccupations created by the process of fabrication from things the eye sees, the ear hears, and so on. After all, the knowledge that comes from what the eye sees or the ear hears: almost everyone has eyes and ears. If the knowledge that comes just from these things were enough to give rise to the most significant benefit of the Dhamma, then everyone would have already experienced that significant wellbeing. They would have experienced a happiness that's genuine, certain, and complete. This is because all living beings with eyes can see, all those with ears can hear, all those with a nose, tongue, and body can know through these things. But to know the skillful Dhamma taught by the Buddha requires more than just eyes and ears. It requires mindfulness — the ability to keep something in mind — along with a mind equipped with the right views that have come from training in the right principles of the Buddha's teachings.
This is because the Buddha's teachings are the well-taught Dhamma that people throughout the world have acknowledged as right and complete, leading to peace, leading to happiness, leading to mental, verbal, and physical actions that are masterful, seamless, with nothing lacking. Even the devas have acknowledged that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. Countless people with confidence in the Dhamma, practicing it earnestly, have attained the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana. They've gained release from suffering through the principles of the Dhamma that they've studied and trained themselves in. All of us here are people of discernment just like them, so we should take hold of these things and make them our heart's possession in a full and complete way, just like them. We shouldn't content ourselves simply with hearing about or learning about the Dhamma, for our knowledge on that level can still be deceived, can still change, so that our hearts can become uncertain and unsure, so that we can make mistakes, putting the heart in a position where it suffers from the impact of the things it sees or hears, or from the wrong decisions it makes.
We've made these mistakes and suffered from these things countless times already. This is a fact we can't deny. This is why we can't win out over our moods and preoccupations as we would like to. We see the defects in our hearts — in our thoughts, words, and deeds — which is why we can't maintain our peace of mind as consistently as we'd like to.
So try to make use of the mind's skillful qualities. What are those qualities? You already know them: virtue, concentration, and discernment. Maintain them so that they become clear and blatant in the heart. Come to see clearly what sufferings virtue can drive out of the heart, what obstacles to happiness and peace it can drive out of the heart — to see what sorts of benefits it can bring.
Ask yourself: if you didn't observe this or that precept, what would appear in your physical or verbal actions? A life composed of those actions: in what direction would it pull you? This is something you have to see clearly, you know. If you're a Buddhist meditator, you're a student of the Buddha, one who knows — not one who is stupid! The Buddha was never heedless or careless with life. He never let time go to waste. You should make up your mind that, aside from when you sleep, you want your every movement to serve a purpose you can depend on. You should live with awareness, with right views. You shouldn't get infatuated with things coming in by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body. We've all been using these things for the purpose of delusion for a long time — it's not that we've just started using them for that purpose recently. So are we going to follow along in the same way forever? This is an area where we should take responsibility and come to our senses, to straighten ourselves out.
We have to look after our words and deeds so that they're perfectly blatant to us. This is called keeping the precepts in line with the principle, silena sugatim yanti: it's through virtue that beings go to the good destinations. The Buddha didn't say this without firm evidence, or simply as propaganda for people to believe or put into practice in a deluded way. He said this through right discernment. Those who practice have to understand with right discernment in just the same way so as to conform to the principle of uju-patipanno, those who practice straight in line with the Dhamma. If you're the sort of person who simply believes what people say, right when they're right, wrong when they're wrong, then you can still be deceived. You need to develop the mind to a solid level, seeing the Dhamma in a way that's blatant, clear, and informed. That's when you'll be undeceivable.
As for concentration, you have to see clearly what suffering it drives out of the heart, what benefits it brings. This is something you have to learn and understand so that you'll really know. If you understand concentration, it'll bring its benefits to you. It'll make the mind genuinely clear, bright, and pure, because mindfulness will remember to choose only good preoccupations for the mind. Discernment will contemplate them and drive out from the mind any lack of stillness or peace.
Discernment on the level of concentration practice — when concentration has fostered a sense of wellbeing and seclusion in the mind — will drive out any disturbance that used to cause stress for the mind. It will see the dangers and drawbacks of those disturbances. This sort of discernment will arise when we've practiced concentration correctly to the point of giving rise to peace and wellbeing.
Conviction will arise when we see these results clearly in the mind. We won't have any doubts. We won't have to ask anyone what concentration is like, what a still mind is like, what the rewards of concentration are. We won't have to ask, for the mind knows. It has entered into these things. This is what happens when we really practice, using our mindfulness and persistence, using our discernment correctly, so as to serve a true purpose.
Meditation is simply a matter of looking at what's in the heart and mind, for all good and evil come from the mind. They're fabricated by the mind. When we use right views to look at the mind, when we keep right mindfulness right at the mind, when we apply right effort continually in our mindfulness without lapse, the mind will have to be firmly established in right concentration and won't go anywhere else. That's when we'll see how much rightness is arising right there. When we don't lose focus or look anywhere else, when we keep on trying to be continuous in our gaze — in the same way we read a book — we'll be able to see the entire story of what's going on. If we forget and go looking elsewhere, we'll lose whole chunks of the story. We won't be able to connect the beginning with the end. It won't have any shape.
But when the mind stays firmly in place, it'll enter concentration. The word “concentration” means the firm stillness that comes from training the mind with our Dhamma theme. For example, buddho: we have to stay right with the word buddho. Our effort is devoted to keeping buddho in mind. Don't let it slip away to other things. Keep your efforts focused right there. Keep your mindfulness gathered right there. Don't let it forget and go elsewhere. When you keep trying to do this, the counterfeit things in the mind — the defilements that deceive us — won't be able to arise, for mindfulness is all there, so the defilements can't establish themselves, can't deceive us. This is because of the power of the mindfulness, concentration, and discernment that our mind has gathered together to chase away the enemies of our stillness, the enemies of our happiness and wellbeing. We used to see these enemies as our friends and benefactors. But once we've studied the Buddha's teachings, we realize that they're nothing but defilements.
Defilements don't have any substance to them. What do they come from? From the mind. They're shadows of the mind that dwell in the mind. When in any mental moment there's a thought that goes contrary to the Dhamma, that gives rise to no true knowledge or intelligence, that brings us danger and suffering: that thought is called a defilement. Thoughts of this sort don't come from anywhere else. Of course, there are aspects of defilement that take their inspiration from outside the mind, but we shouldn't trace them back in that direction, or send attention outside in that direction. We're here simply for the sake of stillness, for the sake of concentration. We have to focus right here in front of us. We don't have to want to know anything else — for example, where the defilements come from, how they can arise, or where they stay. It's the same as when we come down with a sudden lethal disease. If we waste time asking the doctor where his medicine comes from or what it contains, we could easily die first. We have to trust the doctor and take the medicine as he prescribes it, in line with the principles he has used with good results in the past.
In the same way, when we're training the mind to be still, we don't have to track down where things come from. We have to abstain from our desire to track things down, to know in ways that will distract us from our stillness. When you want to center the mind on buddho, you only have to be aware of buddho. Don't let your awareness slip away. Have the mind hold onto buddho as its refuge at all times. That's your task, the task you have to do. The same holds true when you're focusing on the breath, or whatever the focus of your meditation. They're all Dhamma themes. How is the breath a Dhamma theme? It's a physical dhamma — the breath or wind element here in the body. Without the breath, the body wouldn't last.
This isn't something we have to explain, because we're already aware of it. We understand it rightly. We don't have to contemplate the ways in which the breath is important. We simply use the breath to train the mind. We're not here to train the breath. We use the breath to make the mind still, which is why we don't have to analyze the body in any other way. When we want the mind to be still, to settle down and rest, or when we want mindfulness to work with full agility in overcoming delusion, we have to exercise mindfulness fully in the duty at hand. When our effort is right, our mindfulness is right, and our concentration is right, then they give crucial strength to the skillfulness of the mind, so that it has the power and authority it needs to drive away the demons of defilement: i.e., its own lack of skill and intelligence, its delusions, its tendency to float along after the preoccupations that deceive it, thinking that it gains true happiness through the help of things outside. Actually, those things endanger the mind. Why? Because they're nothing but fabrications that are inconstant. There's nothing constant about them at all. Visual forms are inconstant, sounds are inconstant, all those phenomena are inconstant. They're the Dhamma of Mara, come to deceive us.
But even when we understand this, we shouldn't yet go thinking about them. Only when we've developed enough strength of mind to contend with them should we go out and fight with them. When our mindfulness isn't yet firmly based in concentration, we can't fight them off. We're sure to get demolished by them. We've been demolished by them many, many times before, because our base of operations — our concentration — isn't solid enough. We keep losing out to the enemy. Do you want to keep on losing out? When are you going to gather your forces? In other words, when are you going to make your conviction solid, your persistence solid, your mindfulness, concentration, and discernment all solid? These are the forces that will overcome the things that have been deceiving the mind as they like.
So I ask that we all be earnest in watching over this mind of ours. As we're taught, cittam dantam sukhavaham: the mind when trained brings happiness. The Buddha has already done this, has already succeeded in gaining this happiness. His many noble disciples have succeeded in the same way, providing evidence for the truth of what he has taught.
When we train ourselves so that our foundation is solid, we'll have our own evidence, the Dhamma that appears blatantly in our heart. We'll gain confidence, accepting the fact that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. We'll no longer have any doubts, because it will have become blatant in the heart. It's not simply that we've heard other people teach it or seen it in books. The evidence has appeared clearly in the heart that has accepted the truth within it. The mind will become solid in a way that no defilement will be able to deceive.
So I ask that we all practice truly. When we practice truly, the truth will truly appear to us. Practice so that these things appear clearly. When we've made virtue blatantly clear, concentration blatantly clear, and discernment blatantly clear, where will any ignorance or craving be able to fabricate more states of being or birth for us? We'll have had enough. We won't want anything more. There won't be any more craving, because we've gained a sense of the word, “enough.” This is how we reach enough — not by struggling to amass material things. The world has tried to reach “enough” in that way for a long time now, but there's never been enough of those things. So turn around and watch over your mind so that it all becomes blatantly clear.
Now that you've heard this, try to remember it. You can always put it to use, from this day forward. The Buddha's teachings have never grown old or worn. They're always brand new, which is why we can put them to use at all times, in all places. When we always keep them in mind, we'll have a safe and secure refuge, an auspicious refuge. Whoever attains this refuge will gain release from all suffering and stress.
When we meditate, we're training the mind, for we hold the mind to be very important. But training the mind is really difficult if we don't develop the right character habits. We have to depend on refined inner qualities for the training really to go straight to the heart, because the heart itself is subtle and sensitive. We have to make our character meticulous, pliant, tractable, respectful, inoffensive. We have to be willing to follow the example already set by someone who knows, who's already taken the path, who — on examination — we've found to be above us in terms of his training in mindfulness and discernment, above us in terms of the purity of his actions. Who is this person? The Buddha — someone to whom no one else can legitimately be compared. We can't legitimately compare our views and opinions with him, for he is someone who truly trained himself, who sacrificed everything, with no thought for his survival.
The fact that we're still left hanging on in samsara after this long, long time is all because of our character habits. It's because of our character habits that we keep missing the path, falling off the path, straying away from the path all the time. It's because of our habit of finding excuses for ourselves that we aren't willing to follow the path set out by the Buddha. What sort of path has he set out for our actions? What sort has he set out for our words? For our mind? He set out standards for us to respect, to obey, to put into practice. Sages have said that the Buddha's path is an easy one to follow correctly, for it creates no dangers. It doesn't require that we do anything hurtful or hard.
We have to examine the Buddha's teachings to see if they're worthy of obedience or not, to see if they're worthy to be followed or not. Do they have any defects that we should try to avoid, that we shouldn't accept? Can we find any inconsistencies in the Buddha that would justify our giving more credence to our own opinions, that would justify our disobeying his teachings? And what do we have that's so special? When you look carefully, you can't find anything to fault him with. So what harm would it do to listen to him and to obey his teachings?
We have to study to see where our own defects lie. It's as if we're going on a journey. Our body may be in good shape, but if the workings of our car are defective they can take us right off the road. So we have to meditate to examine the workings of our car, in other words, the preoccupations that we create in the mind and that act as views. The Buddha gave a great deal of importance to the issue of views, for our views can make us defective. When our views are defective, they can make our virtues defective. They can make our practice defective, taking us off the path. Our views get defective when the mind is infected with delusion. There's very little alertness. There may be a lot of knowledge, a lot of information, but very little alertness. We may think that we're knowledgeable, that we're intelligent, but we don't know that our views are defective. Only those who know, who've gotten past this stage, can recognize what's defective in our views.
So we have to make a point of training the aspect of our character related to our views, to practice making our views straight (ditth'uju-kamma). Only then will we free ourselves from defective views and replace them with impeccable ones. In order to do this, we have to be scrupulous in being observant. And we have to be scrupulous in reflecting on our past actions, both the things we've done right and the things we've done wrong. For the most part, we don't observe our actions carefully. We make the same mistakes over and over again. We cause ourselves suffering but don't take it to heart to prevent it from happening again. This is why we keep spinning around endlessly in the cycles of samsara. We keep making mistakes but we don't recognize them as mistakes. We do things right from time to time but don't recognize why they're right. So everything gets all confused.
But if we train ourselves to be observant, to keep cleansing the heart so that we won't repeat our mistakes a second time, won't cause ourselves to suffer in that way a second time, we'll be able to make choices that really benefit us. When we look at our past beliefs and actions, and then compare them with the actions of those who are wise, we'll see which things are useless and we'll stop doing them. But if we don't let go of our old views, we won't be able to stop doing the things we should stop. We won't be able to give up the things we should give up. As long as we hold onto our old views, the same old sufferings will keep shadowing us. We'll never be able to find the path leading to the end of suffering.
This is why the noble eightfold path begins with samma-ditthi, or right view. Right view correctly describes things right around us — within and without us — that have always been that way from time immemorial. So when you see the Dhamma — the truth of things as they already are — you'll be willing to let go of your old opinions and follow the path taught by the Buddha. For the Buddha taught these truths so that we could study and know the genuine truth. It doesn't hurt to believe the Buddha. It can only help us. His Awakening was for the benefit and happiness of the beings of the world, for the purification of the beings of the world who have the wisdom and discernment to follow the path that he followed. The arising of a Buddha leads to suffering only for those whose pride prevents them from following his path. They're the only ones who don't benefit from his Awakening.
We should be open and honest with ourselves about our pride, our views. We shouldn't hide them from ourselves. We should bring them out and flush them out. Don't keep feeding them. For the most part, they're not the sort of friends who will help make us bright, clean, and pure. Don't go thinking that the ideas we like will necessarily help make us bright, clean, and pure. We should pry them out, unfurl them, clean them out so that all our defective views can be cut away. When we're free of defective views, we'll be left with impeccable views, views that are a treasure in terms of our thinking. When our views are impeccable, our virtues will be impeccable. And when our virtues form a good, solid foundation, training the mind becomes easy and free from difficulties.
The problem right now is that our views run contrary to the truth and are always ready to make false assumptions. We see stressful things as pleasurable, short things as long, things that should be done as things not to be done. We see things that are filthy, that should be straightened out to put them in line with the truth, and we simply leave them as they are, at odds with the truth. So how can we hope to gain release from suffering? How can we hope to reach purity?
The mind is something subtle and sensitive, easily misled by subtle misunderstandings, to say nothing of blatant ones. This is why the Buddha set out a training regime for our character habits, to make us compliant and respectful toward the truth, even in the smallest matters, seeing danger in even the slightest faults. In other words, he pointed out even the slightest faults that we should avoid, should abandon, but we feel that we can't do without them. We don't see them as faults. This means we don't see the frightening dangers that will arise from our own wrong actions. So we're audacious in doing what's wrong. As for the things the Buddha told us to do, we're not willing to do them, not willing to follow him, all because of our views and our pride. This is why we can't reach the stream to nibbana.
If we want to practice so as to abandon our pride, so as to enter the stream to the transcendent, we have to straighten out our views — in particular, self-identity views (sakkaya-ditthi). These are the very first door. If we can't straighten out these sorts of wrong views, we won't be able to find the door through the wall that separates us from the Deathless. We'll simply circle around the outside perimeter. No matter how many lifetimes we practice, we'll just keep walking around the perimeter of the wall if we can't straighten out these views. So we should train ourselves to examine our many subtle views in all their elaborations. We should give rise to conviction that's stronger than what we already have. We should make our respect stronger than what it already is, and be willing to follow the Buddha's instructions. When he says to renounce something, we should renounce it, even if it means putting our life on the line, even if it means dying. Only then will we come out victorious, making an opening in the wall of our views. If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed.
So remember this: If we're not willing to make that level of sacrifice, there's no way we'll succeed. If you want to get through the final wall so as to gain total release from dying and birth, you have to stop circling around the outside perimeter like this. If you keep acting the way you are, you'll never gain release from suffering and stress. So try to be observant, try to evaluate the preoccupations that lie buried in your heart. What are the obstacles, the defilements, you have to undo so that you can come out victorious? If you can't overcome them using one method, try other methods until you can. Don't let them become “you.” Don't let them become your self, making you engage in I-making and my-making and self-identity views. Once there are self-identity views, the stupidity of the mind will lead to uncertainty (vicikiccha), so that you can't come to any clear and genuine conclusions. You'll grasp at external things — this is what's called “grasping at precepts and practices” (silabbata-paramasa) — like the Jains in the time of the Buddha, who thought they would succeed in gaining release through external practices, without training the mind to give rise to discernment. They felt that if they followed their practices, external forces would come and save them, some god would come and save them. But the purity of our external actions is something only we can know. As the Buddha taught, there's no one else who can come and save us. Only we can save ourselves. There's no god greater than the help we give ourselves.
So don't let yourself be misled. Vanquish your wrong views so that you can be genuinely compliant toward the Buddha, genuinely believing in his teachings with genuine respect.
Keep on meditating.
When we meditate, we let go of our present preoccupations. Normally the mind is always preoccupied with the various objects that the eye sees, the ear hears, the nose smells, the tongue tastes, and the body comes into contact with. But when we want peace of mind, we have to see these objects as coarse and gross. We try to let go of things that are gross, things that are sensual. We focus instead on things that are more refined and of more lasting value, step by step.
We keep on getting the mind to gather in stillness, keep on letting go of everything else. It's like when we go to sleep: we have to let go of distracting thoughts, we have to stop thinking, have to cut those things away if we're going to sleep in comfort. As long as the mind is in a turmoil over those things and can't let them go, it won't be able to fall asleep. It'll have no sense of ease, won't gain any strength. Even more so when we meditate: we have to cut away all our other preoccupations, let them all go, leaving only buddho.
Adjust your attitude so that you can find a sense of ease at the same time you're repeating buddho to yourself. Don't let yourself get bored or tired of the meditation. How do you develop a sense of ease? Through your conviction in what you're doing. No matter what the job, if you can do it with a sense of conviction, a sense of respect for your work, you can keep at it continuously. Even if the sun is beating down and you're all tired and worn out, you can keep on doing it. If you do it with a sense of desire (chanda) for the results, a sense of persistence (viriya), intentness (citta), and circumspection (vimansa), you can keep on doing it without getting tired. When you do your work with this attitude, you can keep at it always.
This is why our teachers were able to live with a sense of contentment even when they were out in the mountain wilds. They put effort into their meditation with a sense of ease and wellbeing in the peace of mind they were able to maintain through restraining the mind with mindfulness. If their hearts were already inclined to stillness and seclusion, then as soon as the mind had developed its foundation, they were able to keep it going without any difficulties. It became automatic, and they were able to experience a sense of wellbeing — the stillness, the fullness, the brightness of the mind.
So adjusting the mind properly in this way is something very important for anyone who wants peace of mind. Keep reminding yourself to develop an attitude of conviction, and this will give energy and encouragement to your efforts. If your conviction, persistence, and mindfulness are strong, you'll be able to win out over any restless, anxious, sleepy, or lazy states of mind. You'll be able to win out over these things through the qualities of mind you develop.
The qualities of mind we're developing are like strategic weapons. We develop mindfulness. We develop alertness. We pick out our one object of meditation — “This is what I'm going to fasten on” — and then we both keep it in mind and stay aware of it. When we refuse to let go of it, when we hold on tight to a single object, it becomes the quality called singleness of preoccupation. When this singleness of mind arises, it can cut through restlessness, cut through anxiety. It includes both mindfulness and persistence, and can keep the mind firmly gathered in one place.
When this singleness of mind arises, it turns into firm concentration. The mind gets more refined and can let go of everything else, step by step. This singleness is the refined part that holds through all the levels of right concentration. In the first level you have to have singleness of preoccupation in charge. Even though there's also directed thought, evaluation, rapture, and pleasure, singleness of preoccupation has to be there. Directed thought and evaluation are the coarser parts of the concentration. You'll know as the mind gets more refined because it lets go of them, leaving just singleness of preoccupation, rapture, and pleasure. Rapture is the coarsest of these three, so you let go of it, leaving just pleasure and singleness of preoccupation. Pleasure is the coarser of these two, so you let go of it, leaving just singleness of preoccupation and equanimity.
When the mind has a sense of steady equanimity, firm and unwavering… If you want to call it tender, it's tender in that it doesn't put up any resistance to the Dhamma, doesn't resist the truth of things as they are. It doesn't dispute. It's willing to accept that truth. But if you want to call it tough, it's tough in that it's firm and unwavering. Normally, when things are soft and tender they waver and move when they're struck by anything. But when the mind is tender in this way, it becomes tough instead. No one can fool it. It doesn't waver, it's not affected by anything. This is the nature of the mind in concentration. Why doesn't it waver? Because it's seen the truth. It's full. It's not hungry in any way that could make it waver, that could let it get tempted. It doesn't want anything else. We human beings: when we have a sense of enough, we're free.
For this reason, meditators need a solid theme that they can hold to. If you don't know or haven't studied much Dhamma, you can simply remember in brief that this body of ours is Dhamma. Every part of it is Dhamma. Conventional Dhammas, formulated Dhammas, all the way up to absolute Dhammas all can be found in this body. So we should pay attention to the body as it's actually present right here. When we know our own body, we won't have any doubts about other people, other bodies. So to give strength to the mind, we should repeat to ourselves any of the meditation themes dealing with the body so that the mind will settle down and come to rest.
If repeating buddho, buddho is too refined for you — if you can't find anything to hold to, or don't know where to focus — you can focus on the breath. It's blatant enough for you to fix your attention on it — when it comes in, you know it's coming in; when it goes out, you know it's going out. Or if that's too refined, you can focus on the 32 parts of the body. If you want to focus on hair of the head, repeat kesa, kesa (hair of the head, hair of the head) to yourself. You've seen head hairs, you can remember them, so fix the memory in your mind and then repeat kesa, kesa. For hair of the body, you can repeat loma, loma, and so on. Repeat the names of any of the 32 parts until your awareness gathers in with the repetition and settles down into stillness.
If you want, you can focus on any one of the bones. Repeat atthi, atthi. Where is the bone you're focusing on? It's really right there. What kinds of features does it have? It really has them — after all, you've seen bones before. You can remember what the big bones and little bones are like. So call them to mind, focus on them, and repeat their names so as to build a firm foundation for concentration and mindfulness in the mind.
Once your foundation is firm and steady from the practice of repetition, you move on to investigation, to insight meditation. You analyze these things to see them as aniccam, or inconstant. Why does the Buddha say they're inconstant? We want them to be constant. We don't want them to change. The Buddha teaches us to let go of them, but we can't let them go — because our views run contrary to the Dhamma. That's why we can't let go.
The word “let go” here means that we don't hold onto them. Even though we still live with them, we just live with them, nothing more. Even though we make use of these things, we simply use them, nothing more. Even though we make the body move, it's just movement. You have to keep this understanding in mind so that wrong views don't overwhelm you. So that delusion doesn't overwhelm you. As long as these things exist, we make use of them. After all, they're here to use. The Buddha and his noble disciples all made use of these things without any thought of their being anything other than what they are — that they might be constant, that they might give rise to true pleasure, that they might be “us” or “ours.” We use these things in line with our duties as long as they're here for us to use. When they change into something else, they change in line with their duties, in line with the laws of the Dhamma.
The Buddha thus taught us to familiarize ourselves with what's normal in life: aging is normal, illness is normal, death is normal, separation from the people and things we love is normal. When we analyze them, we realize that they're all going to have to leave us. They won't stay with us forever. When even these five khandhas that we're looking after all the time aren't really ours, how can our children really be ours? How can our parents really be ours? How can our possessions really be ours? They're all anatta: not-self.
We train and exercise our minds in this way until they're adept in the same way that we memorize our lessons in school. Once they're firmly imbedded in the mind, the mind won't go against the truth of the Dhamma. It will believe the truth of the Dhamma, be inclined to follow the truth of the Dhamma. It won't suffer, for it follows in line with the laws of truth. When we don't struggle against the truth of the Dhamma, there won't be any sorrow or distress when things change, for we've come to know and accept the truth.
So all we have to do is come and know the truth. It doesn't lie far away. The things that will cure our sufferings, the most important things that will help us cross over birth and becoming, all come simply from making our knowledge of what's truly here firm and unwavering so that it can push the mind, lift the mind, over and above any influences that might come to make an impact on it — so that it will gain release from defilement, release from sorrow, release from distress. The meditation we're practicing here is simply for the purpose of knowing the truth as it actually is. As long as we haven't yet reached it, we won't see it. When we don't see it, all we know about it is news: what we've read in books or heard on tapes or heard our teachers describe. That's simply news. The mind hasn't seen it. The ears have simply received it, the eyes have simply taken it in from books, but they're simply passive receptors, holding it as labels and memories, that's all.
The “reaching” has to be done by the heart. The heart is what reaches the truth. And once the heart has reached it, you don't have to worry. It'll be the heart's own treasure. So we have to train the heart to be intelligent, so that it will gain true happiness, true release from danger, from suffering and stress. Practice so that your mind reaches it, so that it will see it. At the moment, it hasn't gotten there yet. So far, it's all only in your ears and eyes.
So we all have to put our hearts into the meditation. Focus on what's truly here so that the heart will reach the truth — the noble truths. Whatever suffering or stress is here in your body and mind is all part of the dukkha sacca, the noble truth of stress. Whatever delusion, passion, or delight that depends on delusion — however much, whatever the object, within or without — is all samudaya sacca, the noble truth of the origination of stress. All the things that we like, that give rise to desire to the point of clinging: when we get them, we latch onto them. When we lose them, we look for them again. When we don't have them, we suffer. This is what makes the mind travel through all the levels of being, great and small.
In the teaching on dependent co-arising, the Buddha said that it all comes from not knowing. We don't discern contact, don't discern feeling, don't discern craving, don't discern clinging, don't discern becoming, don't discern birth: all of this is called avijja, or unawareness. So do you discern these things yet, or not? When sights strike the eye, day in and day out: is your mindfulness ready to handle them or not? Is your discernment up on the tricks of the defilements or not? If not, you have to be observant, to gather and restrict all your attention to what's right here, for when defilements arise, they arise right here. If discernment is to see the defilements to the point of giving rise to right view, it'll have to see and know right here.
If we gather and restrict our attention to what's right here, we're sure to know and see. If we want to be mindful and alert, we can't do it anywhere else. Remember this point well, and put it into practice. When these words are spoken you hear them, but when you get up you forget them. Then when the time comes to meditate again, you don't know what to pick as your theme of practice. You forget everything, throw it all away. So there's nothing but “you” — no Dhamma to know, no Dhamma to see, no Dhamma to put into practice. It's all “you” and “yours”: your body, and when the body is yours, feelings are yours, perceptions are yours, thought constructs are yours, consciousness is yours. So you get possessive of what's yours, and there's nothing left to be Dhamma. That's why your practice doesn't progress.
All progress has to come from a point of “one.” Once “one” is firmly established, then there can be “two” and “three.” If “one” is lacking, everything else will be lacking. Actually, when we separate things out, there is no “two” or “three.” When we don't lump things together, there's only “one.” Even groups of ten or twenty people are all made up of one person — that one person, this one person, that one person over there.
So in our practice we first have to establish “one” — this body of ours. What's here in the body? We have mental events and physical phenomena: that's two. Then there's feeling: pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain: that's three. When we separate things out, there's lots of them, but it's all this one person, this one lump sitting here encased in skin. But when you analyze things out, you have hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin… Here it's already a lot. Then you can analyze the eye, consciousness, forms. It's a lot of things, but all one thing: one mass of suffering and stress. Nothing else. Just know this one thing until it's all clear. You don't have to know a lot of things, just this one body. Once you really see the truth, the mind will let go of its burdens. We suffer because we keep piling things on — “That's us, that's ours, that's them, that's theirs” — through the power of attachment, clinging to things, not wanting them to change. When the mind starts meditating by mentally repeating its theme, it can let things go for a while. You hold onto buddho or any of the other themes. You don't take refuge in the body. You take refuge in buddho, buddho, until the mind settles down. That gives you a greater sense of wellbeing than you could get from these other things.
When you can let go even of this level of wellbeing, you'll reach the real buddha. That's where there's purity, that's where there's true wellbeing, with no more need to go swimming through birth and death, no more need to torment yourself by having to sit and meditate like this again — because there will be nothing to torment, nothing to meditate on any more. When you let go of everything, there are no more issues.
So we meditate to give rise to the discernment that sees the drawbacks of things and lets go of them all. That's when there are no more burdens, no more kamma. It sounds easy, but you have to let go of everything. If you haven't let go of everything, there's more kamma to do, more work to do. So we're taught cago — renunciation; patinissaggo — relinquishment; mutti — release; analayo — no place for the defilements to dwell.
So. Keep on meditating.
We'll 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 practice.
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 by defilement.
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 irritable.
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 nekkhamma-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 to disenchantment.
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 of stillness.
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 then 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 of behavior.
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 to.
And that's the end of its problems.
… “Knowing the Dhamma” means knowing the truth. Where does the Dhamma lie? Not far off at all. Where are rupa-dhammas (physical phenomena)? Are there any physical phenomena within us? Are any nama-dhammas (mental phenomena) within us? They're both within us, but we don't know how to read them, to decipher them, because we haven't yet studied them. Or even when we have tried to study them, we still can't decipher them in line with the standards set by the Buddha. So let's try to decipher our body, our actions in thought, word, and deed. Our actions don't lie anywhere else. They show themselves in the activity of the body. So we use the body in line with the Dhamma, abstaining from the activities that defile it: killing, stealing, engaging in illicit sex. When we abstain from these things, we've begun practicing the Dhamma. We abstain from telling lies, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, from idle chatter. When we're mindful to show restraint in what we say, we won't encounter any dangers coming from our speech. There are no dangers when we practice in line with the Buddha's way.
As for the mind, we cleanse it by meditating. We use mindfulness to look after the heart, to make sure it doesn't get involved in anything defiling or unclean. We keep it cheerful, blooming and bright in its meditation, in investigating the Dhamma, knowing the Dhamma, seeing the Dhamma, until it settles down in the stillness that we've developed and kept composed. We keep it blooming and bright. Wherever you go, this is how you should practice. Make your composure continuous. The mind will then gain strength, so that it can let go of its external preoccupations and stay focused exclusively within: at peace and at ease, bright and clear, staying right here.
Then when you want to gain discernment, you can investigate. Focus mindfulness on keeping the body in mind, and then investigate it. This is called dhamma-vicaya, investigating phenomena. You investigate the physical phenomena in the body to see them in line with the four noble truths. You look at the arising of physical phenomena right here. You look at the aging, the illness, the death of phenomena right here within you. If you really look for it, you'll see that the body is full of death.
How do we see death when the body is still breathing and able to walk around? We can see it if our discernment is subtle and precise. The Buddha saw death with every in-and-out breath, so why can't we? He once asked Ven. Ananda how often he paid attention to death in the course of a day, and Ananda answered, “One hundred times.” The Buddha's response was: “You're still too complacent. You should pay attention to death with every in-and-out breath.” What kind of death can you look at with every in-and-out breath? Whatever fades away, ends, and disappears: that's death. As for the death of the whole body, that comes closer every day, closer with each in-and-out breath. This runs down, that wears out. We have to keep creating things to replace what gets worn out. And whatever we create keeps wearing out, too.
So we should keep track of the wearing out — what's called vaya-dhamma, degeneration. The Buddha saw this with every moment. This is the sort of seeing that allows us to see the noble truth that birth is stressful, aging is stressful. There's no ease in aging. Look so that you see this clearly. Pain and illness are stressful, death is stressful, all the affairs that come with birth create hardships, turmoil, and stress.
When you investigate in line with the Buddha's Dhamma, you'll see the truth for yourself in every way just as the Buddha did. For it's all right here. You'll gain discernment and intelligence, no longer deluded into grasping hold of suffering and making it your self, no longer grasping hold of inconstant things and making them your self. Whatever's inconstant, leave it as inconstant and don't make it you. Whatever's stressful, leave it as stressful and don't make it you. There's no you in any of those things. When you aim your investigation in the direction of seeing this clearly, the mind will let go and attain peace, inner solitude, free from clinging.
It's as when we carry something heavy on our shoulder. We know it's heavy because it's weighing on our shoulder. But when we put it down, it's no longer heavy on us. In the same way, when we see that birth is stressful, aging is stressful, illness is stressful, death is stressful, then we should examine those things as they arise to see that they're not us. Then we'll be able to let them go. We should look after our mind to make sure that it doesn't give rise to the assumption that any of those things are us or ours, or that they lie within us. Those things are just objects, elements, and we leave them at that. Stress then has no owner on the receiving end. It's just like when you put down a burden: there's nothing heavy about it at all.
So stress is nothing more than things coming together to make contact. Suppose that we have a big hunk of limestone. When we lift it up, it's heavy. But if we burn it in a fire, pound it into dust, and the wind blows it away, then where's the heaviness? It's nowhere at all. Before, when the limestone was still in the ground, they had to use explosives to get it out. It was so heavy that they needed cranes to lift it up. But now that it's pulverized, the heaviness is gone.
It's the same with suffering and stress. If we investigate them down to the details, so that we can see them clearly for what they truly are, there's no self there at all. We get down to the basic elements of experience, and we see that they're not our self in the least little bit. If we look at the hair of the head, it's not self. Fingernails and toenails are not self. Look at every part of the body in detail. Or look at its elementary properties. Exactly where are you in any of those things? There's no you in there at all.
The same is true when you look at feelings. There's no you in there at all. There's simply contact, the contact of objects against the senses, that's all. If you let go so the mind can come to rest, none of these things will touch it in a way that weighs on it. Only deluded people grab hold of these things, which is why they feel weighed down. If we let them go, we don't feel weighed down at all.
When we let go of the aggregates (khandhas), they're not stressful. But we don't know how to let them go because of birth. Like the mental state you've given rise to here: you've created it so that it will take birth. Once you've given rise to it, then — unless you're given a good reason — there's no way you'll be willing to let it go. It's the same as when someone suddenly comes to chase us out of our home. Who would be willing to go? We'd go only if we were offered a better place to stay — a safer, more comfortable place to stay. If we were offered such a place, who would be willing to stay? If we had a better place to go, we could abandon our old home with no problem. In the same way, if we're going to let go of the blatant aggregates, we need a better place to stay, a home for the mind: a state of concentration. Just like the Buddha and his noble disciples: when they let go of the blatant aggregates, they entered cessation, they entered jhana. When they fully let go of all aggregates, they entered nibbana.
We, however, don't yet have anything else to depend on, which is why we can't let go. We first have to create a refuge for ourselves. At the very least, we should try to keep buddho, buddho, in mind. When we really reach buddho — when the mind is really a mind awake — then we can depend on it.
At the moment, though, we haven't reached the mind awake. We've reached nothing but the demons of defilement, and they keep haunting us. We're embroiled with nothing but demons; we lie under their power. For instance, maccu-mara: the demon of death, whose followers — aging and illness — we fear so much. Kilesa-mara: delusions and defilements. These are all demons. Khandha-mara: our attachments to the five aggregates are all demons. Abhisankhara-mara: the thoughts we create, good or bad, are all demons if we fall for them — meritorious creations, demeritorious creations, imperturbable creations. These are the subtle demons, the demons that bedeviled the Buddha on the way to Awakening, dressing themselves up as this and that. If we're going to let go of these things, we first need something better to hold onto. At the very least we need jhana, levels of mental stillness more refined than what we have at present.
So we should all try to give rise to the refined levels of peace and ease I've mentioned here. When we get disenchanted with turmoil, we can enter a state of stillness. When we get disenchanted with defilement, we can cleanse the heart and make it bright with the Dhamma. We'll have our home in the Dhamma, in concentration. The heart can then delight, with rapture and ease as its food. We'll have no desire for coarse food. When we let go of the blatant aggregates, we enter the Brahma level of refined rapture and ease.
Even the sensual devas don't eat coarse food like ours. As for the Brahmas, they're even clearer than that, more radiant within themselves. Their jhana is pure, and their concentration radiant. The food of this concentration is the rapture and ease they experience. Even here on the human level, when we gain rapture from concentration, we feel full and happy. If we abandon the blatant aggregates, leaving just the mind in its attainment of concentration, imagine how much pleasure and ease there will be. We'll no longer have to be involved in these heavy burdens of ours. We won't have to worry about the five or the eight precepts because we'll be in a pure state of jhana with no thought of getting stuck on anything defiling. The mind will be bright.
When you understand this, focus back on your heart. Examine it carefully. Be intent on practicing heedfully, and you'll meet with prosperity and ease.
In general terms, Right Concentration means establishing the mind rightly. On one level, this can apply to all the factors of the path. You have to start out by setting the mind on Right View. In other words, you use your discernment to gather together all the Dhamma you've heard. Then when you set the mind on Right Resolve, that's also a way of establishing it rightly. Then you set it on Right Speech, speaking only things that are right. You set it on Right Action, examining your actions and then forcing yourself, watching over yourself, to keep your actions firmly in line with what's right. As for Right Livelihood, you set your mind on providing for your livelihood exclusively in a right way. You're firm in not making a livelihood in ways that are wrong, not acting in ways that are wrong, not speaking in ways that are corrupt and wrong. You won't make any effort in ways that go off the path, you won't be mindful in ways that lie outside the path. You'll keep being mindful in ways that stay on the path. You make this vow to yourself as a firm determination. This is one level of establishing the mind rightly.
But what I want to talk about today is Right Concentration in the area of meditation: in other words, Right Meditation, both in the area of tranquillity meditation and in the area of insight meditation. You use the techniques of tranquillity meditation to bring the mind to stillness. When you make the mind still, firm in skillful qualities, that's one aspect of Right Concentration. If the mind isn't firmly established in skillful qualities, it can't grow still. If unskillful qualities arise in the mind, it can't settle down and enter concentration. This is why, when the Buddha describes the mind entering concentration, he says, “Vivicceva kamehi”: Quite secluded from sensual preoccupations. The mind isn't involved, doesn't incline itself toward sights that will give rise to infatuation and desire. It doesn't incline itself toward sounds that it likes, toward aromas, tastes, or tactile sensations for which it feels infatuation through the power of desire. At the same time, it doesn't incline itself toward desire for those things. Before the mind can settle into concentration, it has to let go of these five types of preoccupations. This is called vivicceva kamehi, quite secluded from sensual preoccupations.
Vivicca akusalehi dhammehi: quite secluded from the unskillful qualities called the five Hindrances. For example, the first Hindrance is sensual desire. When you sit in meditation and a defilement arises in the mind, when you think of something and feel desire for an internal or an external form, when you get infatuated with the things you've seen and known in the past, that's called sensual desire.
Or if you think of something that makes you dissatisfied to the point of feeling ill will for certain people or objects, that's the Hindrance of ill will. Things from the past that upset you suddenly arise again in the present, barge their way in to obstruct the stillness of your mind. When the mind gets upset in this way, that's an unskillful mental state acting as an obstacle to concentration.
Or sloth and torpor: a sense of laziness and inattentiveness when the mind isn't intent on its work and so lets go out of laziness and carelessness. It gets drowsy so that it can't be intent on its meditation. You sit here thinking buddho, buddho, but instead of focusing the mind to get it firmly established so that it can gain knowledge and understanding from its buddho, you throw buddho away to go play with something else. As awareness gets more refined, you get drowsy and fall asleep or else let delusion overcome the mind. This is an unskillful mental state called sloth and torpor.
Then there's restlessness and anxiety, when mindfulness isn't keeping control over things, and the mind follows its preoccupations as they shoot out to things you like and don't like. The normal state of people's minds is that, when mindfulness isn't in charge, the mind can't sit still. It's bound to keep thinking about 108 different kinds of things. So when you're practicing concentration you have to exercise restraint, you have to be careful that the mind doesn't get scattered about. You have to be mindful of the present and alert to the present, too. When you try to keep buddho in mind, you have to be alert at the same time to watch over your buddho. Or if you're going to be mindful of the parts of the body — like hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin — you should focus on only one part at a time, making sure that you're both mindful and alert to your mindfulness, to make sure you don't go being mindful of other things. That's how you can cut off restlessness and anxiety.
As you keep being mindful of the same thing for a long time, the body will gradually calm down and relax. The preoccupations of the mind will calm down, too, so that the mind can grow still. It grows still because you keep it under control. You weaken its unruliness — as when you pull fuel away from a burning fire. As you keep pulling away the fuel, the fire gradually grows weaker and weaker. And what's the fuel for the mind's unruliness? Forgetfulness. Inattentiveness. This inattentiveness is the fuel both for restlessness and anxiety and for sloth and torpor. When you keep mindfulness and alertness in charge, you cut away forgetfulness and inattentiveness. As these forms of delusion are subdued, they lose their power. They gradually disband, leaving nothing but awareness of buddho or whatever your meditation object is. As you keep looking after your meditation object firmly, without growing inattentive, restlessness will disappear. Drowsiness will disappear. The mind will get firmly established in Right Concentration.
This is how you enter Right Concentration. You have to depend on both mindfulness and alertness together. Right Concentration can't simply arise on its own. It needs supporting factors. The first seven factors of the path are the supporters for Right Concentration, or its requisites, the things it needs to depend on. It needs Right View, Right Resolve, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness. As you keep developing the beginning factors of the path, concentration becomes more and more refined, step by step. When the mind is trained and suffused with these qualities, it's able to let go of sensual preoccupations, able to let go of unskillful mental qualities. Vivicceva kamehi vivicca akusalehi dhammehi. When it's secluded from sensual preoccupations, secluded from unskillful qualities, it can enter concentration. It experiences stillness, rapture, pleasure, singleness of preoccupation. Both body and mind feel light.
In the first stage, the mind isn't totally refined because it still has directed thought and evaluation in the factors of its concentration. If your mindfulness is in good shape and can keep its object in mind without pulling away, if your effort is right and alertness keeps watching over things, the coarser parts of your concentration will drop away and the mind will grow more refined step by step. Directed thought and evaluation — the coarser parts — will drop away because they can't follow into that more refined stage. All that's left is rapture, pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation. As you keep on meditating without let-up, things keep growing more refined step by step. Rapture, which is coarser than pleasure, will drop away, leaving the pleasure. Pleasure is coarser than equanimity. As you keep contemplating while the mind grows more refined, the pleasure will disappear, leaving just equanimity. As long as there's still pleasure, equanimity can't arise. As long as the mind is still feeding off pleasure, it's still engaged with something coarse. But as you keep up your persistent effort until you see that this pleasure still comes under the Three Characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, that it's part of the aggregate of feeling, the mind will let go of that coarser aspect and settle down with equanimity. Even though equanimity, too, is part of the feeling aggregate, it's a feeling refined enough to cleanse the mind to the point where it can give rise to knowledge of refined levels of Dhamma.
When the mind reaches this level, it's firm and unwavering because it's totally neutral. It doesn't waver when the eye sees a form, the ear hears a sound, the nose smells an aroma, the tongue tastes a flavor, the body feels a tactile sensation, or an idea comes to the mind. None of these things can make the mind waver when it's in the factors of jhana. It maintains a high level of purity. This is Right Concentration.
We should all develop tranquillity meditation, which can give temporary respite from suffering and stress. But in a state like this, you simply have mindfulness in charge. Discernment is still too weak to uproot the most refined levels of defilement and latent tendencies (anusaya). Thus, for our Right Concentration to be complete, we're taught not to get carried away with the sense of pleasure it brings. When the mind has been still for an appropriate amount of time, we should then apply the mind to contemplating the five aggregates, for these aggregates are the basis for insight meditation. You can't develop insight meditation outside of the five aggregates — the aggregates of form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness — for these aggregates lie right within us. They're right next to us, with us at all times.
So. How do you develop the aggregate of form as a basis for insight meditation? You have to see it clearly in line with its truth that form is inconstant. This is how you begin. As you develop insight meditation, you have to contemplate down to the details. What is form? Form covers hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, and all the four great elements that we can touch and see. As for subsidiary forms, they can't be seen with the eye, but they can be touched, and they depend on the four great elements. For example, sound is a type of form, a type of subsidiary form. Aromas, flavors, tactile sensations are subsidiary forms that depend on the four great elements. The sensory powers of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are subsidiary forms — they're physical events, not mental events, you know. Then there are masculinity and femininity, which fashion the body to be male or female, and create differences in male and female voices, manners, and other characteristics. Then there's the heart, and then viññati-rupa, which allows for the body to move, for speech to be spoken.
So the Buddha taught that we should contemplate form in all its aspects so as to gain the insight enabling us to withdraw all our clinging assumptions that they're us or ours. How does this happen? When we contemplate, we'll see that yam kiñci rupam atitanagata-paccuppannam: all form — past, future, or present; internal or external; blatant or subtle; common or sublime; far or near — is inconstant, stressful, and not-self. It all lies under the Three Characteristics. When we remember this, that's called pariyatti-dhamma, the Dhamma of study. When we actually take things apart and contemplate them one by one to the point where we gain true knowledge and vision, that's called the practice of insight meditation, the discernment arising in line with the way things actually are.
This is a short explanation of insight meditation, focused just on the aggregate of form. As for feeling — the pleasures, pains, and feelings of neither pleasure nor pain within us — once we've truly seen form, we'll see that the same things apply to feeling. It's inconstant. When it's inconstant, it'll have to make us undergo suffering and stress because of that inconstancy. We'll be piling suffering on top of suffering. Actually, there's no reason why the mind should suffer from these things, but we still manage to make ourselves suffer because of them. Even though they're not-self, there's suffering because we don't know. There's inconstancy because we don't know. Unless we develop insight meditation to see clearly and know truly, we won't be able to destroy the subtle, latent tendency of ignorance, the latent tendency of becoming, the latent tendency of sensuality within ourselves.
But if we're able to develop insight meditation to the point where we see form clearly in terms of the Three Characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, then disenchantment will arise. When the latent tendencies of ignorance and becoming are destroyed, the latent tendency of sensuality will have no place to stand. There's nothing it can fabricate, for there's no delusion. When ignorance disbands, fabrications disband. When fabrications disband, all the suffering that depends on fabrication will have to disband as well.
This is why we should practice meditation in line with the factors of the noble eightfold path as set down by the Buddha. To condense it even further, there are three trainings: virtue, concentration, and discernment. Virtue — exercising restraint over our words and deeds — is part of the path. tranquillity meditation and insight meditation come under concentration. So virtue, concentration, and discernment cover the path. Or if you want to condense things even further, there are physical phenomena and mental phenomena — i.e., the body and mind. When we correctly understand the characteristics of the body, we'll see into the ways the body and mind are interrelated. Then we'll be able to separate them out. We'll see what's not-self and what isn't not-self. Things in and of themselves aren't not-self, for they each have an in-and-of-themselves. It's not the case that there's nothing there at all. If there were nothing there at all, how would there be contact? Think about it. Take the fire element: who could destroy it? Even though it's not-self, it's got an in-and-of-itself. The same holds true with the other elements. In other words, these things still exist, simply that there's no more clinging.
So I ask that you understand this and then put it correctly into practice so as to meet with happiness and progress.
That's enough explanation for now. Keep on meditating until the time is up.
Survey your body. Survey your mind. You've been practicing meditation continuously, so even if your mind isn't yet quiet, even though it hasn't reached a level of concentration as solid as you'd like it to be, meditation is still a skillful activity in terms of developing conviction, developing persistence. At the very least it will give results on the sensory level, making you an intelligent person, at the same time developing the perfections of your character on into the future. So try not to get discouraged. Don't let yourself think that you haven't seen any results from your meditation. When you come right down to it, what do you want from your meditation? You meditate to make the mind quiet, and the mind becomes quiet from letting go. That's what the meditation is: letting go. If you meditate in order to “get” something, that's craving, the cause of suffering. Meditation isn't an affair of craving. The Dhamma is already here, so all we have to do is study it so that we'll know the truth. The truth isn't something new. It's something that's been here from time immemorial.
All the Buddhas of the past have awakened to this very same Dhamma, this very same truth. Even though the cosmos has changed from one aeon to another, the Dhamma hasn't changed along with the cosmos. No matter which aeon a particular Buddha was born in, he awakened to the same old truth. He taught the same old truth. The same Dhamma, the same truth, is always right here all the time. It's simply that we don't recognize it. We haven't studied it down to its elemental properties. All I ask is that you be intent on studying it. The truth is always the truth. It's always present.
The truth the Buddha taught starts with the principle that stress-and-suffering is a truth. Do you have any stress and suffering? Examine yourself carefully. Is there any stress and suffering within you? Or is there none at all? As long as there's suffering within you, the truth of the noble truths taught by the Buddha is still there. When you're mindful to keep your eye on the suffering appearing within you, you're studying the truth in line with what it actually is.
But in addition to pointing out the truth of suffering, the Buddha also taught the path to the end of suffering. This, too, is a truth. The Buddha has guaranteed that when we develop it in full measure, we'll gain release from stress and suffering. It's not the case that suffering is the only truth, that we have to lie buried in stress and suffering. The Buddha found a way out of suffering, like an intelligent doctor who not only understands diseases but also knows a miraculous medicine to cure them.
This is why the truth of the path is so important, for many, many people who have put it into practice have gotten results. The truth of the path is something we put into practice to gain release from suffering — as we chanted just now:
Ye dukkham nappajanati,
Those who don't discern suffering,
Atho dukkhassa sambhavam
Tañca maggam na janati
Who don't understand the path,
The way to the stilling of suffering…
Te ve jati-jarupaga
They'll return to birth and aging again.
If we don't comprehend suffering and the way to the end of suffering, we'll have to experience birth, aging, and death, which are the causes not only of suffering but also of the craving leading to more suffering.
We should take joy in the fact that we have all the noble truths we need. We have suffering, and the path to the end of suffering doesn't lie far away. When we look into the texts, we find that the Buddha and his noble disciples didn't practice anything far away. They purified the actions of their bodies and minds. They did this by knowing their own bodies and minds in line with what they actually were. When we don't know our own bodies and minds as they actually are, that's a cause of suffering. When we practice knowing our own bodies, our own minds, as they actually are, that's the path to release from suffering. Aside from this, there's no path at all.
We already have a body. We already have a mind — this knowing property. So we take this knowing property and put it to use by studying the body in line with its three characteristics: aniccata, inconstancy; dukkhata, stressfulness; and anattata, not-selfnessness. Inconstancy and stressfulness lie on the side of suffering and its cause. We have to study things that are inconstant in order to see who they are, who's responsible for them, who really owns them. This issue of inconstancy is really important. Rupam aniccam: form is inconstant. Who owns the form? Rupam dukkham: form is stressful. Who's on the receiving end of the stress? Stress is something that has to depend on causes and conditions in order to arise. It doesn't come on its own. Just like sound: we have to depend on contact in order to hear it. If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any sound. In the same way, stress depends on contact. If there's no contact, we won't know where there's any stress. If stress and suffering were able to burn us all on their own, the Buddha would never have been able to gain release from them. There would be no way for us to practice, for no matter what, suffering would keep on burning us all on its own. But the fact of the matter is that when we practice, we can gain relief from suffering, because suffering isn't built into the mind, it's not built into this knowing property. It has to depend on contact through the sense media in order for it to arise.
This is why sages study the truth. As when we chant:
Ayam kho me kayo,
This body of mine,
From the soles of the feet on up,
From the crown of the head on down,
Surrounded by skin.
Within this body we have all five aggregates: form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness. Form is the coarsest of the aggregates, for we can touch it with our hand and see it with our eyes. As for feeling, perception, thought-fabrications, and consciousness, they're mental phenomena. Even though we can't touch them with the body, we can still know them and experience them. For instance, we constantly have feelings of pleasure, pain, or neither pleasure nor pain. Perception: we remember things and label them. Thought-fabrication creates thoughts, and consciousness notices things. We all notice things, label them, fabricate thoughts about them, and experience pleasure and pain because of them.
The primary issue is the form of the body. The Buddha taught us to study it in order to know the noble truths in both form and mental phenomena. When he taught that birth is suffering, aging is suffering, death is suffering, he was referring to the birth, aging, and death right here at the form where the five aggregates meet — this form we already have. And yet most of us don't like to reflect on the truth of these things. We think that birth is pleasurable. We get pleasure and stress all confused. It's because we don't realize the truth of these things that we don't search for a way out. The Buddha, however, knew this truth, which was why he practiced contemplating it. He tested to see if birth is pleasurable by noticing if the mind could stay quiet with birth: “Are there any pains? Anything disturbing the mind? And what's paining and disturbing the mind aside from the birth, the arising of things?” It's because of the birth of the body that we have to keep finding food for it, requisites to keep it going. Greed, anger, and delusion arise because of birth. And once there's birth, there's aging, deterioration, wearing down, wearing down all the time. Whatever we get runs out, runs out every day, wears down every day.
The Buddha awakened to the truth that birth isn't pleasurable at all. The only pleasure is when, if we get hungry, we eat enough to make the hunger go away for a little while. But soon we get hungry again. When we get hot out in the sun, we take cover in the shade to cool down a bit, but then we start feeling hot again. When we get tired, we rest. But then if we lie down for a long time, we start feeling stiff. If we walk for a long time, we get weary. When this is the way things are, the mind can't find any peace or rest. It gets disturbed and gives rise to defilement because of birth. And that's not the end of it. Once birth takes place, it's followed by aging and deterioration. No matter how much you look after the body, it won't stay with you. In the end, it all falls apart. And once it dies, there's no one who can stay in charge of it. If we come to our senses only at that point, and realize only when it's already dead that it has to die, it's too late to do anything about it.
But if we gain conviction in these truths now in the present before death comes, we won't be complacent about our youth or life. If we can be mindful at all times that death is inevitable, that — even though we may be as strong as a bull elephant — a disease could come along at any time and oppress us to the point where we can't even sit up, can't do anything to help ourselves: when we realize this, we're said not to be complacent in our health. Then we can act in ways truly benefiting ourselves, providing us with the refuge we'll need when we can no longer take refuge in our youth, health, or life. Wherever you look in the body you see it wearing down. Wherever you look you see diseases. Wherever you look you see things that are unclean. Nothing at all in the body is really strong or lasting. When you see this clearly, you'll no longer be fooled into clinging to it. You can analyze the body into its parts and see that they're all inconstant, stressful, and not-self. When you develop clear insight into not-self, you'll be able to shake free of stress and inconstancy. That's because inconstancy is a not-self affair; stress is a not-self affair. They're not our affairs. So what do we hope to gain by letting ourselves struggle and get defiled over them?
This is why the noble ones, when they see these truths, call them the dangers in the cycles of samsara. You have to understand what's meant by the term, “cycle.” There's the cycle of defilement, the cycle of action, and the cycle of the results of action. The cycle of defilement is the ignorance that makes the mind stupid and defiled. These defilements are the cause of stress, suffering, and danger. Then there's the cycle of action. Any actions we do under the influence of defilement keep us spinning in the cycle, acting sometimes in skillful ways, sometimes in unskillful ones. Even skillful actions can lead to delusion, you know. When we experience good sights, sounds, status, or wealth as a result of our skillful actions, we can turn unskillful, careless, and complacent, because we get deluded into investing our sense of self in those things. When they start changing against our desires, we grow frustrated and start acting in evil ways. When they leave us, we act in unskillful ways. This causes the cycle of action in terms of both our physical and verbal acts. When we act in ways that are unskillful, this causes the cycle of results to be painful. When we experience this pain and suffering, the mind becomes defiled. Our vision gets obscured because the suffering overcomes us. This gives rise to anger as well as to greed for the things we want, and this starts the cycle of defilement again.
For this reason, if we can comprehend suffering as part of this cycle, we can block the cycle of defilement that would give rise to new cycles of action and results. So let's study the truth of suffering so that we can cut these cycles through discernment in the form of right view, which is a factor of the noble path. Let's foster and strengthen the path by knowing the suffering in birth, aging, illness, and death. When we comprehend suffering for what it actually is, we don't have to worry about the cause of suffering, for how can it arise when we see the drawbacks of its results? Once true knowledge has arisen, how can ignorance arise? It's as when we're in the darkness. If we try to run around tearing down the darkness, it can't be torn down. If we try to run around snatching away the darkness, it can't be snatched away. The darkness can't be dispersed by us. It has to be dispersed by light. When we light a fire, the darkness disappears on its own. The same with ignorance: it can't be dispersed through our thinking. It has to be dispersed through clear-seeing discernment. Once we give rise to discernment, the cause of suffering disappears on its own, without our having to get involved with it.
So try to give rise to clear-seeing discernment in full measure, and you'll gain release from suffering without a doubt. Be really intent.
That's enough for now. Keep on meditating.