: What is the biggest problem of your new disciples?
A : Opinions. Views and ideas about all things. About themselves, about practice, about the teachings of the Buddha. Many of those who come here have a high rank in the community. There are wealthy merchants or college graduates, teachers and goverment officials. Their minds are filled with opinions about things. They are too clever to listen to others. It is like water in a cup. If a cup is filled with dirty, state water, it is useless. Only after the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your minds of opinions, then you will see. Our practice goes beyond cleverness and beyond stupidity. If you think, "I am clever, I am wealthy, I am important, I understand all about Buddhism." You cover up the truth of anatta or no-self. All you will see is self, I, mine. But Buddhism is letting go of self. Voidness, Emptiness, Nibbana.
Q : Are defilements such as greed or anger merely illusory or are they real?
A : They are both. The defilements we call lust or greed, or anger or delusion, these are just outward names, appearances. Just as we call a bowl large, small, pretty. or whatever. This is not reality. It is the concept we create from craving. If we want a big bowl, we call this one small. Craving cause us to discriminate. The truth, though, is merely what is. Look at it this way. Are you a man? You can say 'yes'. This is the appearance of things. But really you are only a combination of elements or a group of changing aggregates. If the mind is free, it does not discriminate. No big and small, no you and me. There is nothing: Anatta, we say, or non-self. Really, in the end there is neither atta nor anatta.
Q : Could you explain a little more about karma?
A : Karma is action. Karma is clinging. Body, speech, and mind all make karma when we cling. We make habits. These can make us suffer in the future. This is the fruit of our clinging, of our past defilement. All attachment leads to making karma. Suppose you were a thief before you became a monk. You stole, made others unhappy, made your parents unhappy. Now you are a monk, but when you remember how you made others unhappy, you feel bad and suffer yourself even today. Remember, nor only body, but speech and mental action can make conditions for future results. If you did some act of kindness in the past and remember it today, you will be happy. This happy state of mind is the result of past karma. All things are conditioned by cause --both long term and, when examinded, moment to moment. But you need not bother to think about past, or present, or future. Merely watch the body and mind. You must figure karma out for yourself. Watch your mind. Practise and you will see clearly. Make sure, however, that you leave the karma of others to them. Don't cling to and don't watch others. If I take poison, I suffer. No need for you to share it with me! Take what is good that your teacher offers. Then you can become peaceful, your mind will become like that of your teacher. If you will examine it, you will see. Even if now you don't understand, when you practise, it will become clear. You will know by yourself. This is called practising the Dhamma.
When we were young, our parents used to discipline us and get angry. Really they wanted to help us. You must see it over the long term. Parents and teachers criticize us and we get upset. Later on we can see why. After long practise you will know. Those who are too clever leave after a short time. They never learn. You must get rid of your cleverness. If you think yourself better than others, you will only suffer. What a pity. No need to get upset. Just watch.
Q : Sometimes it seems that since becoming a monk I have increased my hardships and suffering.
A : I know that some of you have had a background of material comfort and outward freedom. By comparison, now you live an austere existence. Then in the practice, I often make you sit and wait for long hours. Food and climate are different from your home. But everyone must go through some of this. This is the suffering that leads to the end of suffering. This is how you learn. When you get angry and feel sorry for yourself, it is a great opportunity to understand the mind. The Buddha called defilements our teacher.
All my disciples are like my children. I have only loving kindness and their welfare in mind. If I appear to make you suffer, it is for your own good. I know some of you are well-educated and very knowledgeable. People with little education and worldly knowledge can practise easily. But it is as if you Westerners have a very large house to clean. When you have cleaned the house, you will have a big living space. You can use the kitchen, the library, the living room. You must be patient. Patience and endurance are essential to our practice. When I was a young monk I did not have it as hard as you. I knew the language and was eating my native food. Even so, some days I despaired. I wanted to disrobe or even commit suicide. This kind of suffering comes from wrong views. When you have seen the truth, though, you are free from views and opinions. Everything becomes peaceful.
Q : I have been developing very peaceful states of mind from meditation. What should I do now?
A : This is good. Make the mind peaceful, concentrated. Use this concentration to examine the mind and body. When the mind is not peaceful, you should also watch. Then you will know true peace. Why? Because you will see impermanence. Even peace must be seen as impermanent. If you are attached to peaceful states of mind, you will suffer when you do not have them. Give up everything, even peace.
Q : Did I hear you say that you are afraid of very diligent disciples?
A : Yes, that's right. I am afraid. I am afraid that they are too serious. They try too hard, but without wisdom. They push themselves into unnecessary suffering. Some of you are determined to become enlightened. You grit your teeth and struggle all the time. This is trying too hard. People are all the same. They don't know the nature of things (sankhara). All formations, mind and body, are impermanent. Simply watch and don't cling.
Others think they know. They criticize, they watch, they judge. That's OK. Leave their opinions to them. This discrimination is dangerous. It is like a road with a very sharp curve. If we think others are worse or better or the same as us, we go off the curve. If we discriminate, we will only suffer.
Q : I have been meditating many years now. My mind is open and peaceful in almost all circumstances. Now I would like to try to backtrack and practise high states of concentration or mind absorption.
A : This is fine. It is beneficial mental exercise. If you have wisdom, you will not get hung up on concentrated states of mind. It is the same as wanting to sit for long periods. This is fine for training, but really, practice is separate from any posture. It is a matter of directly looking at the mind. This is wisdom. When your have examined and understood the mind, then you have the wisdom to know the limitations of concentration, or of books. If you have practised and understood not-clinging, you can then return to the books. They will be like a sweet dessert. They can help you to teach others. Or you can go back to practise absorption. You have the wisdom to know not to hold on to anything.
Q : Would you review some of the main points of our discussion?
A : You must examine yourself. Know who you are. Know your body and mind by simply watching. In sitting, in sleeping, in eating, know your limits. Use wisdom. The practice is not to try to achieve anything. Just be mindful of what is. Our whole meditation is looking directly at the mind. You will see suffering, its cause and its end. But you must have patience; much patience and endurance. Gradually you will learn. The Buddha taught his disciples to stay with their teachers for at least five years. You must learn the values of giving, of patience and of devotion.
Don't practise too strictly. Don't get caught up with outward form. Watching others is bad practice. Simply be natural and watch that. Our monks' discipline and monastic rules are very important. They create a simple and harmonious environment. Use them well. But remember, the essence of the monks' discipline is watching intention, examining the mind. You must have wisdom. Don't discriminate. Would you get upset at a small tree in the forest for not being tall and straight like some of the other? This is silly. Don't judge other people. There are all varieties. No need to carry the burden of wishing to change them all.
So, be patient. Practice morality. Live simply and be natural. Watch the mind. This is our practice. It will lead you to unselfishness. To peace.