Sometimes I'd go to see old religious sites with ancient monastic buildings, designed by architects, built by craftsmen. In some places they would be cracked. Maybe one of my friends would remark, "Such a shame, isn't it? It's cracked." I'd answer, "If that weren't the case then there'd be no such thing as the Buddha, there'd be no Dhamma. It's cracked like this because it's perfectly in line with the Buddha's teaching." Really down inside I was also sad to see those buildings cracked but I'd throw off my sentimentality and try to say something which would be of use to my friends, and to myself. Even though I also felt that it was a pity, still I tended towards the Dhamma.
"If it wasn't cracked like that there wouldn't be any Buddha!"
I'd say it really heavy for the benefit of my friends . . . or perhaps they weren't listening, but still I was listening.
This is a way of considering
things which is very, very useful. For instance, say someone were to rush in
and say, "Luang Por! Do you know what so and so just said about you?"
or, "He said such and such about you . . . " Maybe you even start
to rage. As soon as you hear words of criticism you start getting these moods
every step of the way. As soon as we hear words like this we may start getting
ready to retaliate, but on looking into the truth of the matter we may find
that . . . no, they had said something else after all.
And so it's another case of "uncertainty." So why should we rush in and believe things? Why should we put our trust so much in what others say? Whatever we hear we should take note, be patient, look into the matter carefully . . . stay straight.
It's not that whatever pops into our heads we write it all down as some sort of truth. Any speech which ignores uncertainty is not the speech of a sage. Remember this. As for being wise, we are no longer practicing. Whatever we see or hear, be it pleasant or sorrowful, just say "This is not sure!" Say it heavy to yourself, hold it all down with this. Don't build those things up into major issues, just keep them all down to this one. This point is the important one. This is the point where defilements die. Practicers shouldn't dismiss it.
If you disregard this point
you can expect only suffering, expect only mistakes. If you don't make this
a foundation for your practice you are going to go wrong . . . but then you
will come right again later on, because this principle is a really good one.
Actually the real Dhamma, the gist of what I have been saying today, isn't so mysterious. Whatever you experience is simply form, simply feeling, simply perception, simply volition, and simply consciousness. There are only these basic qualities, where is there any certainty within them?
If we come to understand the true nature of things like this, lust, infatuation and attachment fade away. why do they fade away? Because we understand, we know. We shift from ignorance to understanding. Understanding is born from ignorance, knowing is born from unknowing, purity is born from defilement. It works like this.
Not discarding aniccam, the Buddha -- This is what it means to say that the Buddha is still alive. To stay that the Buddha has passed into Nibbana is not necessarily true. In a more profound sense the Buddha is still alive. It's much like how we define the word "bhikkhu." If we define it as "one who asks," [*] the meaning is very broad. We can define it this way, but to use this definition too much is not so good -- we don't know when to stop asking! If we were to define this word in a more profound way we would say: "Bhikkhu -- one who sees the danger of Samsara."
* [That is, one who lives
dependent on the generosity of others.]
Isn't this more profound? It doesn't go in the same direction as the previous definition, it runs much deeper. The practice of Dhamma is like this. If you don't fully understand it, it becomes something else again. It becomes priceless, it becomes a source of peace.
When we have sati we are close to the Dhamma. If we have sati we will see aniccam, the transience of all things. We will see the Buddha and transcend the suffering of samsara, if not now then sometime in the future.
If we throw away the attribute
of the Noble Ones, the Buddha or the Dhamma, our practice will become barren
and fruitless. We must maintain our practice constantly, whether we are working
or sitting or simply lying down. When the eye sees form, the ear hears sound,
the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor or the body experiences
sensation . . . in all things, don't throw away the Buddha, don't stray from
This is to be one who has come close to the Buddha, who reveres the Buddha constantly. We have ceremonies for revering the Buddha, such as chanting in the morning Araham Samma Sambuddho Bhagava . . . This is one way of revering the Buddha but it's not revering the Buddha in such a profound way as I've described here. It's the same as with that word "bhikkhu." If we define it as "one who asks" then they keep on asking . . . because it's defined like that. To define it in the best way we should say "Bhikkhu -- one who sees the danger of samsara."
Now revering the Buddha is the same. Revering the Buddha by merely reciting Pali phrases as a ceremony in the mornings and evenings is comparable to defining the word "bhikkhu" as "one who asks." If we incline towards annicam, dukkham and anatta [*] whenever the eye sees form, the ear hears sound, the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor, the body experiences sensation or the mind cognizes mental impressions, at all times, this is comparable to defining the word "bhikkhu" as "one who sees the danger of samsara." It's so much more profound, cuts through so many things. If we understand this teaching we will grow in wisdom and understanding.
* [Transience, Imperfection, and Ownerlessness.]
This is called patipada. Develop this attitude in the practice and you will be on the right path. If you think and reflect in this way, even though you may be far from your teacher you will still be close to him. If you live close to the teacher physically but your mind has not yet met him you will spend your time either looking for his faults or adulating him. If he does something which suits you, you say he's no good -- and that's as far as your practice goes. You won't achieve anything by wasting your time looking at someone else. But if you understand this teaching you can become a Noble One in the present moment.
That's why this year [*] I've distanced myself from my disciples, both old and new, and not given much teaching: so that you can all look into things for yourselves as much as possible. For the newer monks I've already laid down the schedule and rules of the monastery, such as: "don't talk too much." Don't transgress the existing standards, the path to realization, fruition and nibbana. Anyone who transgresses these standards is not a real practicer, not one who has with a pure intention to practice. What can such a person ever hope to see? Even if he slept near me every day he wouldn't see me. Even if he slept near the Buddha he wouldn't see the Buddha, if he didn't practice.
* [2522 of the Buddhist Era, or 1979 CE.]
So knowing the Dhamma or seeing the Dhamma depends on practice. Have confidence, purify your own heart. If all the monks in this monastery put awareness into their respective minds we wouldn't have to reprimand or praise anybody. We wouldn't have to be suspicious of or favor anybody. If anger or dislike arise just leave them at the mind, but see them clearly!
Keep on looking at those things. As long as there is still something there it means we still have to dig and grind away right there. Some say "I can't cut it, I can't do it", -- if we start saying things like this there will only be a bunch of punks here, because nobody cuts at their own defilements.
You must try. If you can't yet cut it, dig in deeper. Dig at the defilements, uproot them. Dig them out even if they seem hard and fast. The Dhamma is not something to be reached by following your desires. Your mind may be one way, the truth another. You must watch up front and keep a lookout behind as well. That's why I say, "It's all uncertain, all transient."
This truth of uncertainty, this short and simple truth, at the same time so profound and faultless, people tend to ignore. They tend to see things differently. Don't cling to goodness, don't cling to badness. These are attributes of the world. We are practicing to be free of the world, so bring these things to an end. The Buddha taught to lay them down, to give them up, because they only cause suffering.`
When the group of five ascetics [*] abandoned the Buddha, he saw it as a stroke of luck, because he would be able to continue his practice unhindered. With the five ascetics living with him, things weren't so peaceful, he had responsibilities. And now the five ascetics had abandoned him because they felt that he had slackened his practice and reverted to indulgence. Previously he had been intent on his ascetic practices and self-mortification. In regards to eating, sleeping and so on, he had tormented himself severely, but it came to a point where, looking into it honestly, he saw that such practices just weren't working. It was simply a matter of views, practicing out of pride and clinging. He had mistaken worldly values and mistaken himself for the truth.
* [The pancavaggiya, or "group of five", who followed the Buddha-to-be (Bodhisatta) when he was cultivating ascetic practices, and who left him when he renounced them for the Middle Way, shortly after which the Bodhisatta attained Supreme Enlightenment.]
For example if one decides to throw oneself into ascetic practices with the intention of gaining praise -- this kind of practice is all "world-inspired," practicing for adulation and fame. Practicing with this kind of intention is called "mistaking worldly ways for truth."
Another way to practice is "to mistake one's own views for truth." You only believe yourself, in your own practice. No matter what others say you stick to your own preferences. You don't carefully consider the practice. this is called "mistaking oneself for truth."
Whether you take the world or take yourself to be truth, it's all simply blind attachment. The Buddha saw this, and saw that there was no "adhering to the Dhamma," practicing for the truth. So his practice had been fruitless, he still hadn't given up defilements.
Then he turned around and
reconsidered all the work he had put into practice right from the beginning
in terms of results. What were the results of all that practice? Looking deeply
into it he saw that it just wasn't right. It was full of conceit, and full of
the world. There was no dhamma, no insight into anatta (not self) no emptiness
or letting go. There may have been letting go of a kind, but it was the kind
that still hadn't let go.
Looking carefully at the situation, the Buddha saw that even if he were to explain these things to the five ascetics they wouldn't be able to understand. It wasn't something he could easily convey to them, because those ascetics were still firmly entrenched in the old way of practice and seeing things. The Buddha saw that you could practice like that until your dying day, maybe even starve to death, and achieve nothing, because such practice is inspired by worldly values and by pride.
Considering deeply, he saw the right practice, samma patipada: the mind is the mind, the body is the body. The body isn't desire or defilement. Even if you were to destroy the body you wouldn't destroy defilements. That's not their source. Even fasting and going without sleep until the body was a shrivelled-up wraith wouldn't exhaust the defilements. But the belief that defilements could be dispelled in that way, the teaching of self-mortification, was deeply ingrained into the five ascetics.
The Buddha then began to take more food, eating as normal, practicing in a more natural way. When the five ascetics saw the change in the Buddha's practice they figured that he had given up and reverted to sensual indulgence. One person's understanding was shifting to a higher level, transcending appearances, while the other saw that that person's view was sliding downwards, reverting to comfort. Self-mortification was deeply ingrained into the minds of the five ascetics because the Buddha had previously taught and practiced like that. Now he saw the fault in it. By seeing the fault in it clearly, he was able to let it go.
When the five ascetics saw the Buddha doing this they left him, feeling that he was practicing wrongly and that they would no longer follow him. Just as birds abandon a tree which no longer offers sufficient shade, or fish leave a pool of water that is too small, too dirty or not cool, just so did the five ascetics abandon the Buddha.
So now the Buddha concentrated on contemplating the Dhamma. He ate more comfortably and lived more naturally. He let the mind be simply the mind, the body simply the body. He didn't force his practice in excess, just enough to loosen the grip of greed, aversion, and delusion. Previously he had walked the two extremes: kamasukhallikanuyogo -- if happiness or love arose he would be aroused and attach to them. He would identify with them and wouldn't let go. If he encountered pleasantness he would stick to that, if he encountered suffering he would stick to that. These two extremes he called kamasukhallikanuyogo and attakilamathanuyogo.
The Buddha had been stuck on conditions. He saw clearly that these two ways are not the way for a samana. Clinging to happiness, clinging to suffering: a samana is not like this. To cling to those things is not the way. Clinging to those things he was stuck in the views of self and the world. If he were to flounder in these two ways he would never become one who clearly knew the world. He would be constantly running from one extreme to the other. Now the Buddha fixed his attention on the mind itself and concerned himself with training that.
All facets of nature proceed according to their supporting conditions, they aren't any problem in themselves. For instance, illnesses in the body. The body experiences pain, sickness, fever and colds and so on. These all naturally occur. Actually people worry about their bodies too much. That they worry about and cling to their bodies so much is because of wrong view, they can't let go.
Look at this hall here. We build the hall and say it's ours, but lizards come and live here, rats and geckoes come and live here, and we are always driving them away, because we see that the hall belongs to us, not the rats and lizards.
It's the same with illnesses in the body. We take this body to be our home, something that really belongs to us. If we happen to get a headache or stomach-ache we get upset, we don't want the pain and suffering. These legs are "our legs," we don't want them to hurt, these arms are "our arms," we don't want anything to go wrong with it. We've got to cure all pains and illnesses at all costs.
This is where we are fooled and stray from the truth. We are simply visitors to this body. Just like this hall here, it's not really ours. We are simply temporary tenants, like the rats, lizards and geckoes . . . but we don't know this. This body is the same. Actually the Buddha taught that there is no abiding self within this body but we go and grasp on to it as being our self, as really being "us" and "them." When the body changes we don't want it to do so. No matter how much we are told we don't understand. If I say it straight you get even more fooled. "This isn't yourself," I say, and you go even more astray, you get even more confused and your practice just reinforces the self.
So most people don't really see the self. One who sees the self is one who sees that "this is neither the self nor belonging to self." He sees the self as it is in Nature. Seeing the self through the power of clinging is not real seeing. Clinging interferes with the whole business. It's not easy to realize this body as it is because upadana clings fast to it all.
Therefore it is said that we must investigate to clearly know with wisdom. This means to investigate the sankhara [*] according to their true nature. Use wisdom. To know the true nature of sankhara is wisdom. If you don't know the true nature of sankhara you are at odds with them, always resisting them. Now, it is better to let go of the sankhara or to try to oppose or resist them. And yet we plead with them to comply with our wishes. We look for all sorts of means to organize them or "make a deal" with them. If the body gets sick and is in pain we don't want it to be, so we look for various Suttas to chant, such as Bojjhango, the Dhammacakkappavattana-sutta, the Anattalakkhanasutta and so on. We don't want the body to be in pain, we want to protect it, control it. These Suttas become some form of mystical ceremony, getting us even more entangled in clinging.
This is because they chant them in order to ward off illness, to prolong life and so on. Actually the Buddha gave us these teachings in order to see clearly but we end up chanting them to increase our delusion. Rupam aniccam, vedana anicca, sanna anicca, sankhara anicca, vinnanam aniccam . . . [**] We don't chant these words for increasing our delusion. They are recollections to help us know the truth of the body, so that we can let it go and give up our longing.
* [Sankhara: conditioned phenomena. The Thai usage of this term usually refers specifically to the body, though sankhara also refers to mental phenomena.]
This is called chanting to cut things down, but we tend to chant in order to extend them all, or if we feel they're too long we try chanting to shorten them, to force nature to conform to our wishes. It's all delusion. All the people sitting there in the hall are deluded, every one of them. The ones chanting are deluded, the ones listening are deluded, they're all deluded! All they can think is "How can we avoid suffering?" Where are they ever going to practice?
Whenever illnesses arise, those who know see nothing strange about it. Getting born into this world entails experiencing illness. However, even the Buddha and the Noble Ones, contracting illness in the course of things, would also, in the course of things, treat it with medicine. For them it was simply a matter of correcting the elements. They didn't blindly cling to the body or grasp at mystic ceremonies and such. They treated illnesses with Right View, they didn't treat them with delusion. "If it heals, it heals, if it doesn't then it doesn't" -- that's how they saw things.
They say that nowadays Buddhism in Thailand is thriving, but it looks to me like it's sunk almost as far as it can go. The Dhamma Halls are full of attentive ears, but they're attending wrongly. Even the senior members of the community are like this, so everybody just leads each other into more delusion.