* [The Truth of Suffering, the Truth of its Cause, the Truth of its Cessation and the Truth of the Way (leading to the cessation of suffering): The Four Noble Truths.]
The Buddha taught us to "run away" using wisdom. For instance: suppose you had stepped on a thorn or splinter and it got embedded in your foot. As you walk it occasionally hurts, occasionally not. Sometimes you may step on a stone or a stump and it really hurts, so you feel around your foot. But not finding anything you shrug it off and walk on a bit more. Eventually you step on something else, and the pain arises again.
Now this happens many times. What is the cause of that pain? The cause is that splinter or thorn embedded in your foot. The pain is constantly near. Whenever the pain arises you may take a look and feel around a bit, but, not seeing the splinter, you let it go. After a while it hurts again so you take another look.
When suffering arises you
must note it, don't just shrug it off. Whenever the pain arises . . . "Hmm
. . . that splinter is still there." Whenever the pain arises there arises
also the thought that that splinter has got to go. If you don't take it out
there will only be more pain later on. The pain keeps recurring again and again,
until the desire to take out that thorn is constantly with you. In the end it
reaches a point where you make up your mind once and for all to get out that
thorn -- because it hurts!
Now our effort in the practice must be like this. Wherever it hurts, wherever there's friction, we must investigate. Confront the problem, head on. Take that thorn out of your foot, just pull it out. Wherever your mind gets stuck you must take note. As you look into it you will know it, see it and experience it as it is.
But our practice must be unwavering and persistent. They call it viriyarambha -- putting forth constant effort. Whenever an unpleasant feeling arises in your foot, for example, you must remind yourself to get out that thorn, don't give up your resolve. Likewise, when suffering arises in our hearts we must have the unwavering resolve to try to uproot the defilements, to give them up. This resolve is constantly there, unremitting.
Eventually the defilements
will fall into our hands where we can finish them off.
So in regard to happiness and suffering, what are we to do? If we didn't have these things what could we use as a cause to precipitate wisdom? If there is no cause how will the effect arise? All dhammas arise because of causes. When the result ceases it's because the cause has ceased. This is how it is, but most of us don't really understand.
People only want to run away from suffering. This sort of knowledge is short of the mark. Actually we need to know this very world that we are living in, we don't have to run away anywhere. You should have the attitude that to stay is fine . . . and to go is fine. Think about this carefully.
Where do happiness and suffering lie? Whatever we don't hold fast to, cling to or fix on to, as if it weren't there. Suffering doesn't arise. Suffering arises from existence (bhava). If there is existence then there is birth. Upadana -- clinging or attachment -- this is the pre-requisite which creates suffering. Wherever suffering arises look into it. Don't look too far away, look right into the present moment. Look at your own mind and body. When suffering arises . . . "Why is there suffering?" Look right now. When happiness arises, what is the cause of that happiness? Look right there. Wherever these things arise be aware. Both happiness and suffering arise from clinging.
The cultivators of old saw their minds in this way. There is only arising and ceasing. There is no abiding entity. They contemplated from all angles and saw that there was nothing much to this mind, nothing is stable. There is only arising and ceasing, ceasing and arising, nothing is of any lasting substance. While walking or sitting they saw things in this way. Wherever they looked there was only suffering, that's all. It's just like a big iron ball which has just been blasted in a furnace. It's hot all over. If you touch the top it's hot, touch the sides and they're hot -- it's hot all over. There isn't any place on it which is cool.
Now if we don't consider these things we know nothing about them. We must see clearly. Don't get "born" into things, don't fall into birth. Know the workings of birth. Such thoughts as, "Oh, I can't stand that person, he does everything wrongly", will no longer arise. Or, "I really like so and so . . . ", these things don't arise. There remain merely the conventional worldly standards of like and dislike, but one's speech is one way, one's mind another. They are separate things. We must use the conventions of the world to communicate with each other, but inwardly we must be empty. The mind is above those things. We must bring the mind to transcendence like this. This is the abiding of the Noble Ones. We must all aim for this and practice accordingly. Don't get caught up in doubts.
Before I started to practice,
I thought to myself, "The Buddhist religion is here, available for all,
and yet why do only some people practice while others don't? Or if they do practice,
they do so only for a short while then give up. Or again those who don't give
it up still don't knuckle down and do the practice? Why is this?" So I
resolved to myself, "Okay . . . I'll give up this body and mind for this
lifetime and try to follow the teaching of the Buddha down to the last detail.
I'll reach understanding in this very lifetime . . . because if I don't I'll
still be sunk in suffering. I'll let go of everything else and make a determined
effort, no matter how much difficulty or suffering I have to endure, I'll persevere.
If I don't do it I'll just keep on doubting."
Thinking like this I got down to practice. No matter how much happiness, suffering or difficulty I had to endure I would do it. I looked on my whole life as if it was only one day and a night. I gave it up. "I'll follow the teaching of the Buddha, I'll follow the Dhamma to understanding -- Why is this world of delusion so wretched?" I wanted to know, I wanted to master the Teaching, so I turned to the practice of Dhamma.
How much of the worldly
life do we monastics renounce? If we have gone forth for good then it means
we renounce it all, there's nothing we don't renounce. All the things of the
world that people enjoy are cast off: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings
. . . we throw them all away. And yet we experience them. So Dhamma practicers
must be content with little and remain detached. Whether in regard to speech,
in eating or whatever, we must be easily satisfied: eat simply, sleep simply,
live simply. Just like they say, "an ordinary person", one who lives
simply. The more you practice the more you will be able to take satisfaction
in your practice. You will see into your own heart.
The Dhamma is paccattam, you must know it for yourself. To know for yourself means to practice for yourself. You can depend on a teacher only fifty percent of the way. Even the teaching I have given you today is completely useless in itself, even if it is worth hearing. But if you were to believe it all just because I said so you wouldn't be using the teaching properly.
If you believed me completely
then you'd be foolish. To hear the teaching, see its benefit, put it into practice
for yourself, see it within yourself, do it yourself . . . this is much more
useful. You will then know the taste of Dhamma for yourself.
This is why the Buddha didn't talk about the fruits of the practice in much detail, because it's something one can't convey in words. It would be like trying to describe different colors to a person blind from birth, "Oh, it's so white", or "it's bright yellow", for instance. You couldn't convey those colors to them. You could try but it wouldn't serve much purpose.
The Buddha brings it back down to the individual -- see clearly for yourself. If you see clearly for yourself you will have clear proof within yourself. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you will be free of doubt. Even if someone were to say, "Your practice isn't right, it's all wrong", still you would be unmoved, because you have your own proof.
A practicer of the Dhamma must be like this wherever he goes. Others can't tell you, you must know for yourself. Sammaditthi, Right View, must be there. The practice must be like this for every one of us. To do the real practice like this for even one month out of five or ten rains retreats would be rare.
Our sense organs must be constantly working. Know content and discontent, be aware of like and dislike. Know appearance and know transcendence. The Apparent and the Transcendent must be realized simultaneously. Good and evil must be seen as co-existent, arising together. This is the fruit of the Dhamma practice.
So whatever is useful to yourself and to others, whatever practice benefits both yourself and others, is called "following the Buddha." I've talked about this often. The things which should be done, people seem to neglect. For example, the work in the monastery, the standards of practice and so on. I've talked about them often and yet people don't seem to put their hearts into it. Some don't know, some are lazy and can't be bothered, some are simply scattered and confused.
But that's a cause for wisdom to arise. If we go to places where none of these things arise, what would we see? Take food, for instance. If food doesn't have any taste is it delicious? If a person is deaf will he hear anything? If you don't perceive anything will you have anything to contemplate? If there are no problems will there be anything to solve? Think of the practice in this way.
Once I went to live up north. At that time I was living with many monks, all of them elderly but newly ordained, with only two or three rains retreat. At the time I had ten rains. Living with those old monks I decided to perform the various duties -- receiving their bowls, washing their robes, emptying their spittoons and so on. I didn't think in terms of doing it for any particular individual, I simply maintained my practice. If others didn't do the duties I'd do them myself. I saw it as a good opportunity for me to gain merit. It made me feel good and gave me a sense of satisfaction.
On the uposatha [*] days I knew the required duties. I'd go and clean out the uposatha hall and set out water for washing and drinking. The others didn't know anything about the duties, they just watched. I didn't criticize them, because they didn't know. I did the duties myself, and having done them I felt pleased with myself, I had inspiration and a lot of energy in my practice.
* [Observance days, held roughly every fortnight, on which monks confess their offenses and recite the disciplinary precepts, the Patimokkha.]
Whenever I could do something in the monastery, whether in my own kuti or others', if it was dirty, I'd clean up. I didn't do it for anyone in particular, I didn't do it to impress anyone, I simply did it to maintain a good practice. Cleaning a kuti or dwelling place is just like cleaning rubbish out of your own mind.
Now this is something all of you should bear in mind. You don't have to worry about harmony, it will automatically be there. Live together with Dhamma, with peace and restraint, train your mind to be like this and no problems will arise. If there is heavy work to be done everybody helps out and in no long time the work is done, it gets taken care of quite easily. That's the best way.
I have come across some other types, though . . . although I used it as an opportunity to grow. For instance, living in a big monastery, the monks and novices may agree among themselves to wash robes on a certain day. I'd go and boil up the jackfruit wood. [*] Now there'd be some monks who'd wait for someone else to boil up the jackfruit wood and then come along and wash their robes, take them back to their kutis, hang them out and then take a nap. They didn't have to set up the fire, didn't have to clean up afterwards . . . they thought they were on a good thing, that they were being clever. This is the height of stupidity. These people are just increasing their own stupidity because they don't do anything, they leave all the work up to others. They wait till everything is ready then come along and make use of it, it's easy for them. This is just adding to one's foolishness. Those actions serve no useful purpose whatsoever to them.
* [The heartwood from the jackfruit tree is boiled down and the resulting color used both to dye and to wash the robes of the forest monks.]
Some people think foolishly like this. They shirk the required duties and think that this is being clever, but it is actually very foolish. If we have that sort of attitude we won't last.
Therefore, whether speaking, eating or doing anything whatsoever, reflect on yourself. You may want to live comfortably, eat comfortably, sleep comfortably and so on, but you can't. What have we come here for? If we regularly reflect on this we will be heedful, we won't forget, we will be constantly alert. Being alert like this you will put forth effort in all postures. If you don't put forth effort things go quite differently . . . Sitting, you sit like you're in the town, walking, you walk like you're in the town . . . you just want to go and play around in the town with the laypeople.
If there is no effort in the practice the mind will tend in that direction. You don't oppose and resist your mind, you just allow it to waft along the wind of your moods. This is called following one's moods. Like a child, if we indulge all its wants will it be a good child? If the parents indulge all their child's wishes is that good? Even if they do indulge it somewhat at first, by the time it can speak they may start to occasionally spank it because they're afraid it'll end up stupid. The training of our mind must be like this. You have to know yourself and how to train yourself. If you don't know how to train your own mind, waiting around expecting someone else to train it for you, you'll end up in trouble.
So don't think that you can't practice in this place. Practice has no limits. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, you can always practice. Even while sweeping the monastery grounds or seeing a beam of sunlight, you can realize the Dhamma. But you must have sati at hand. Why so? Because you can realize the Dhamma at any time at all, in any place, if you ardently meditate.
Don't be heedless. Be watchful, be alert. While walking on almsround there are all sorts of feelings arising, and it's all good Dhamma. When you get back to the monastery and are eating your food there's plenty of good Dhamma for you to look into. If you have constant effort all these things will be objects for contemplation, there will be wisdom, you will see the dhamma. This is called dhamma-vicaya, reflecting on Dhamma. It's one of the enlightenment factors. [*] If there is sati, recollection, there will be dhamma-vicaya as a result. These are factors of enlightenment. If we have recollection then we won't simply take it easy, there will also be inquiry into Dhamma. These things become factors for realizing the Dhamma.
*[Bojjjhanga -- the Seven Factors of Enlightenment: sati, recollection; dhamma-vicaya, inquiry into dhammas; viriya, effort; piti, joy; passadhi, peace; samadhi, concentration; and upekkha, equanimity.]
If we have reached this
stage then our practice will know neither day or night, it will continue on
regardless of the time of day. There will be nothing to taint the practice,
or if there is we will immediately know it. Let there be dhamma-vicaya within
our minds constantly, looking into Dhamma. If our practice has entered the flow
the mind will tend to be like this. It won't go off after other things . . .
"I think I'll go for a trip over there, or perhaps this other place . .
. over in that province should be interesting . . . " That's the way of
the world. Not long and the practice will die.
So resolve yourselves. It's not just by sitting with your eyes closed that you develop wisdom. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are constantly with us, so be constantly alert. Study constantly. Seeing trees or animals can all be occasions for study. Bring it all inwards. See clearly within your own heart. If some sensation makes impact on the heart, witness it clearly for yourself, don't simply disregard it.
Take a simple comparison: baking bricks. have you ever seen a brick-baking oven? They build the fire up about two or three feet in front of the oven, then the smoke all gets drawn into it. Looking at this illustration you can more clearly understand the practice. Making a brick kiln in the right way you have to make the fire so that all the smoke gets drawn inside, none is left over. All the heat goes into the oven, and the job gets done quickly.
We Dhamma practicers should experience things in this way. all our feelings will be drawn inwards to be turned into Right View. Seeing sights, hearing sounds, smelling odors, tasting flavors and so on, the mind draws them all inward to be converted into Right View. Those feelings thus become experiences which give rise to wisdom.
THE STANDARD OF THE NOBLE ONES
There was once a western monk, a student of mine. Whenever he saw Thai monks and novices disrobing he would say, "Oh, what a shame! Why do they do that? Why do so many of the Thai monks and novices disrobe?" He was shocked. He would get saddened at the disrobing of the Thai monks and novices, because he had only just come into contact with Buddhism. He was inspired, he was resolute. Going forth as a monk was the only thing to do, he thought he'd never disrobe. Whoever disrobed was a fool. He'd see the Thais taking on the robes at the beginning of the Rains Retreat as monks and novices and then disrobing at the end of it . . . "Oh, how sad! I feel so sorry for those Thai monks and novices. How could they do such a thing?"
Well, as time went by some of the western monks began to disrobe, so he came to see it as something not so important after all. At first, when he had just begun to practice, he was excited about it. He thought that it was really important thing, to become a monk. He thought it would be easy.
When people are inspired it all seems to be so right and good. There's nothing there to gauge their feelings by, so they go ahead and decide for themselves. But they don't really know what practice is. Those who do know will have a thoroughly firm foundation within their hearts -- but even so they don't need to advertise it.