Reading the Mind
Translated from the Thai by
© Khao Suan Luang Dhamma Community 1995
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" Discernment vs. Self-Deception
" A Difference
in the Knowing
" The Balanced Way
" The Uses of Equanimity
A Glob of Tar
" When Conventional Truths Collapse
" The Intricacies
" Emptiness vs. the Void
" Opening the Way to the
Discernment vs. Self-Deception
It's important that we discuss
the steps of the practice in training the mind, for the mind has all sorts of
deceptions by which it fools itself. If you aren't skillful in investigating and
seeing through them, they are very difficult to overcome even if you're continually
mindful to keep watch over the mind. You have to make an effort to focus on contemplating
these things at all times. Mindfulness on its own won't be able to give rise to
any real knowledge. At best, it can give you only a little protection against
the effects of sensory contact. If you don't make a focused contemplation, the
mind won't be able to give rise to any knowledge within itself at all.
is why you have to train yourself to be constantly aware all around. When you
come to know anything for what it really is, there's nothing but letting go, letting
go. On the beginning level, this means the mind won't give rise to any unwise
or unprofitable thoughts. It will simply stop to watch, stop to know within itself
at all times. If there's anything you have to think about, keep your thoughts
on the themes of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. You have to keep the mind
thinking and labeling solely in reference to these sorts of themes, for if your
thinking and labeling are right, you'll come to see things rightly. If you go
the opposite way, you'll have to think wrongly and label things wrongly, and that
means you'll have to see things wrongly as well. This is what keeps the mind completely
hidden from itself.
Now, when thoughts or labels arise in the mind, then if
you focus on watching them closely you'll see that they're sensations -- sensations
of arising and disbanding, changeable, unreliable, and illusory. If you don't
make an effort to keep a focused watch on them, you'll fall for the deceptions
of thought-formation. In other words, the mind gives rise to memories of the past
and fashions issues dealing with the past, but if you're aware of what's going
on in time, you'll see that they're all illusory. There's no real truth to them
at all. Even the meanings the mind gives to good and bad sensory contacts at the
moment they occur: If you carefully observe and contemplate, you'll see that they're
all deceptive. There's no real truth to them. But ignorance and delusion latch
onto them all, and this drives the mind around in circles. In other words, it
doesn't know what's what -- how these things arise, persist, and disband -- so
it latches onto them and gets itself deceived on many, many levels. If you don't
stop to focus and watch, there's no way you can see through these things at all.
But if the mind keeps its balance or stops to watch and know within itself,
it can come to realize these things for what they are. When it realizes them,
it can let them go automatically without being attached to anything. This is the
knowledge that comes with true mindfulness and discernment: It knows and lets
go. It doesn't cling. No matter what appears -- good or bad, pleasure or pain
-- when the mind knows, it doesn't cling. When it doesn't cling, there's no stress
or suffering. You have to keep hammering away at this point: When it doesn't cling,
the mind can stay at normalcy. Empty. Undisturbed. Quiet and still. But if it
doesn't read itself in this way, doesn't know itself in this way, it will fall
for the deceits of defilement and craving. It will fashion up all sorts of complex
and complicated things that it itself will have a hard time seeing through, for
they'll have their ways of playing up to the mind to keep it attached to them,
all of which is simply a matter of the mind's falling for the deceits of the defilements
and cravings within itself. The fact that it isn't acquainted with itself -- doesn't
know how mental states arise and disband and take on objects -- means that it
loses itself in its many, many attachments.
There's nothing as hard to keep
watch of as the mind, because it's so accustomed to wrong views and wrong opinions.
This is what keeps it hidden from itself. But thanks to the teachings of the Buddha,
we can gain knowledge into the mind, or into consciousness with its many layers
and intricacies that, when you look into it deeply, you'll find to be empty --
empty of any meaning in and of itself.
This is an emptiness that can appear
clearly within consciousness. Even though it's hidden and profound, we can see
into it by looking inward in a way that's quiet and still. The mind stops to watch,
to know within itself. As for sensory contacts -- sights, sounds, smells, tastes,
and that sort of thing -- it isn't interested, because it's intent on looking
into consciousness pure and simple, to see what arises in there and how it generates
issues. Sensations, thoughts, labels for pleasure and pain and so forth, are all
natural phenomena that change as soon as they're sensed -- and they're very refined.
If you view them as being about this or that matter, you won't be able to know
them for what they are. The more intricate the meanings you give them, the more
lost you become -- lost in the whorls of the cycle of rebirth.
The cycle of
rebirth and the processes of thought-formation are one and the same thing. As
a result, we whirl around and around, lost in many, many levels of thought-formation,
not just one. The knowledge that would read the heart can't break through to know,
for it whirls around and around in these very same thought-formations, giving
them meanings in terms of this or that, and then latching onto them. If it labels
them as good, it latches onto them as good. If it labels them as bad, it latches
onto them as bad. This is why the mind stays entirely in the whorls of the cycle
of rebirth, the cycle of thought-formation.
For this reason, to see these
things clearly requires the effort to stop and watch, to stop and know in an appropriate
way, in a way that's just right. At the same time, you have to use your powers
of observation. That's what will enable you to read your own consciousness in
a special way. Otherwise, if you latch onto the issues of thoughts and labels,
they'll keep you spinning around. So you have to stop and watch, stop and know
clearly by focusing down -- focusing down on the consciousness in charge. That
way your knowledge will become skillful.
Ultimately, you'll see that there's
nothing at all -- just the arising and disbanding occurring every moment in emptiness.
If there's no attachment, there are no issues. There's simply the natural phenomenon
of arising and disbanding. But because we don't see things simply as natural phenomena,
we see them as being true and latch onto them as our self, good, bad, and all
sorts of other complicated things. This keeps us spinning around without knowing
how to find a way out, what to let go of -- we don't know. When we don't know,
we're like a person who wanders into a jungle and doesn't know the way out, doesn't
know what to do...
Actually what we have to let go of lies right smack in
front of us: where the mind fashions things and gives them meanings so that it
doesn't know the characteristics of arising and disbanding, pure and simple. If
you can simply keep watching and knowing, without any need for meanings, thoughts,
imaginings -- simply watching the process of these things in and of itself --
there won't be any issues. There's just the phenomenon of the present: arising,
persisting, disbanding, arising, persisting, disbanding... There's no special
trick to this, but you have to stop and watch, stop and know within yourself every
moment. Don't let your awareness stream away from awareness to outside preoccupations.
Gather it in so it can know itself clearly -- that there's nothing in there worth
latching onto. It's all a bunch of deceits.
To know just this much is very
useful for seeing the truth inside yourself. You'll see that consciousness is
empty of any self. When you look at physical phenomena, you'll see them as elements,
as empty of any self. You'll see mental phenomena as empty of any self, as elements
of consciousness -- and that if there's no attachment, no latching on, there's
no suffering or stress...
So even if there's thinking going on in the mind,
simply watch it, simply let it go, and its cycling will slow down. Fewer and fewer
thought-formations will occur. Even if the mind doesn't stop completely, it will
form fewer and fewer thoughts. You'll be able to stop to watch, stop to know more
and more. And this way, you'll come to see the tricks and deceits of thought-formation,
mental labels, pleasure and pain, and so on. You'll be able to know that there's
really nothing inside -- that the reason you were deluded into latching onto things
was because of ignorance, and that you made yourself suffer right there in that
So you have to focus down on one point, one thing. Focusing
on many things won't do. Keep mindfulness in place: stopping, knowing, seeing.
Don't let it run out after thoughts and labels. But knowing in this way requires
that you make the effort to stay focused -- focused on seeing clearly, not just
on making the mind still. Focus on seeing clearly. Look on in for the sake of
seeing clearly... and contemplate how to let go. The mind will become empty in
line with its nature in a way that you'll know exclusively within.
Difference in the Knowing
What can we do to see the aggregates -- this mass
of suffering and stress -- clearly in a way that we can cut attachment for them
out of the mind? Why is it that people studying to be doctors can know everything
in the body -- intestines, liver, kidneys, and all -- down to the details, and
yet don't develop any dispassion or disenchantment for it -- why? Why is it that
undertakers can spend their time with countless corpses and yet not gain any insight
at all? This shows that this sort of insight is hard to attain. If there's no
mindfulness and discernment to see things clearly for what they are, knowledge
is simply a passing fancy. It doesn't sink in. The mind keeps latching onto its
But if the mind can gain true insight to the point where it can
relinquish its attachments, it can gain the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana.
This shows that there's a difference in the knowing. It's not that we have to
know all the details like modern-day surgeons. All we have to know is that the
body is composed of the four physical elements plus the elements of space and
consciousness. If we really know just this much, we've reached the paths and their
fruitions, while those who know all the details to the point where they can perform
surgery don't reach any transcendent attainments at all...
So let's analyze
the body into its elements so as to know them thoroughly. If we do, then when
there are changes in the body and mind there won't be too much clinging. If we
don't, our attachments will be fixed and strong and will lead to further states
of being and birth in the future.
Now that we have the opportunity, we should
contemplate the body and take it apart for a good look so as to get down to the
details. Take the five basic meditation objects -- hair of the head, hair of the
body, nails, teeth, skin -- and look at them carefully, one at a time. You don't
have to take on all five, you know. Focus on the hair of the head to see that
it belongs to the earth element, to see that its roots are soaked in blood and
lymph under the skin. It's unattractive in terms of its color, its smell, and
where it dwells. If you analyze and contemplate these things, you won't be deluded
into regarding them as your hair, your nails, your teeth, your skin.
these parts are composed of the earth element mixed in with water, wind, and fire.
If they were purely earth they wouldn't last, because every part of the body has
to be composed of all four elements for it to be a body. And then there's a mental
phenomenon, the mind, in charge. These are things that follow in line with nature
in every way -- the arising, changing, and disbanding of physical and mental phenomena
-- but we latch onto them, seeing the body as ours, the mental phenomena as us:
It's all us and ours. If we don't contemplate to see these things for what they
are, we'll do nothing but cling to them.
This is what meditation is: seeing
things clearly for what they are. It's not a matter of switching from topic to
topic, for that would simply ensure that you wouldn't know a thing. But our inner
character, under the sway of ignorance and delusion, doesn't like examining itself
repeatedly. It keeps finding other issues to get in the way, so that we think
constantly about other things. This is why we stay so ignorant and foolish.
why is it that we can know other things? Because they fall in line with what craving
wants. To see things clearly for what they are would be to abandon craving, so
it finds ways of keeping things hidden. It keeps changing, bringing in new things
all the time, keeping us fooled all the time, so that we study and think about
nothing but matters that add to the mind's suffering and stress. That's all that
craving wants. As for the kind of study that would end the stress and suffering
in the mind, it's always getting in the way.
This is why the mind is always
wanting to shift to new things to know, new things to fall for. And this is why
it's always becoming attached. So when it doesn't really know itself, you have
to make a real effort to see the truth that the things within it aren't you or
yours. Don't let the mind stop short of this knowledge: Make this a law within
yourself. If the mind doesn't know the truths of inconstancy, stress, and not-self
within itself, it won't gain release from suffering. Its knowledge will simply
be worldly knowledge; it will follow a worldly path. It won't reach the paths
and fruition leading to nibbana.
So this is where the worldly and the transcendent
part ways. If you comprehend inconstancy, stress, and not-self to the ultimate
degree, that's the transcendent. If you don't get down to their details, you're
still on the worldly level...
The Buddha has many teachings, but this is what
they all come down to. The important principles of the practice -- the four foundations
of mindfulness, the four Noble Truths -- all come down to these characteristics
of inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness. If you try to learn too many principles,
you'll end up not getting any clear knowledge of the truth as it is. If you focus
on knowing just a little, you'll end up with more true insight than if you try
knowing a lot of things. It's through wanting to know a lot of things that we
end up deluded. We wander around in our deluded knowledge, thinking and labeling
things, but knowledge that's focused and specific, when it really knows, is absolute.
It keeps hammering away at one point. There's no need to know a lot of things,
for when you really know one thing, everything converges right there...
In practicing the Dhamma, if you don't foster a balance between
concentration and discernment, you'll end up going wild in your thinking. If there's
too much work at discernment, you'll go wild in your thinking. If there's too
much concentration, it just stays still and undisturbed without coming to any
knowledge either. So you have to keep them in balance. Stillness has to be paired
with discernment. Don't let there be too much of one or the other. Try to get
them just right. That's when you'll be able to see things clearly all the way
through. Otherwise, you'll stay as deluded as ever. You may want to gain discernment
into too many things -- and as a result, your thinking goes wild. The mind goes
out of control. Some people keep wondering why discernment never arises in their
practice, but when it does arise they really go off on a tangent. Their thinking
goes wild, all out of bounds.
So when you practice, you have to observe in
your meditation how you can make the mind still. Once it does grow still, it tends
to get stuck there. Or it may grow empty, without any knowledge of anything: quiet,
disengaged, at ease for a while, but without any discernment to accompany it.
But if you can get discernment to accompany your concentration, that's when you'll
really benefit. You'll see things all the way through and be able to let them
go. If you're too heavy on the side of either discernment or stillness, you can't
let go. The mind may come to know this or that, but it latches onto its knowledge.
Then it knows still other things and latches onto them, too. Or else it simply
stays perfectly quiet and latches onto that.
It's not easy to keep your practice
on the Middle Way. If you don't use your powers of observation, it's especially
hard. The mind will keep falling for things, sometimes right, sometimes wrong,
because it doesn't observe what's going on. This isn't the path to letting go.
It's a path that's stuck, caught up on things. If you don't know what it's stuck
and caught up on, you'll remain foolish and deluded. So you have to make an effort
at focused contemplation until you see clearly into inconstancy, stress, and not-self.
This without a doubt is what will stop every moment of suffering and stress...
The Uses of Equanimity
The sensations of the mind are subtle and
very volatile. Sometimes passion or irritation can arise completely independent
of sensory contact, simply in line with the force of our character. For instance,
there are times when the mind is perfectly normal, and all of a sudden there's
irritation -- or the desire to form thoughts and get engrossed in feelings of
pain, pleasure, or equanimity. We have to contemplate these three kinds of feeling
to see that they're inconstant and always changing, and to see that they are all
stressful, so that the mind won't go and get engrossed in them. This business
of getting engrossed is very subtle and hard to detect. It keeps us from knowing
what's what because it's delusion pure and simple. Being engrossed in feelings
of pleasure is something relatively easy to detect, but being engrossed in feelings
of equanimity: That's hard to notice, because the mind is at equanimity in an
oblivious way. This oblivious equanimity keeps us from seeing anything clearly.
So you have to focus on seeing feelings simply as feelings and pull the mind
out of its state of being engrossed with equanimity. When there's a feeling of
equanimity as the mind gathers and settles down, when it's not scattered around,
use that feeling of equanimity in concentration as the basis for probing in to
see inconstancy, stress, and not-self -- for this equanimity in concentration
at the fourth level of absorption (jhana) is the basis for liberating insight.
Simply make sure that you don't get attached to the absorption.
If you get
the mind to grow still in equanimity without focusing on gaining insight, it's
simply a temporary state of concentration. So you have to focus on gaining clear
insight either into inconstancy, into stress, or into not-selfness. That's when
you'll be able to uproot your attachments. If the mind gets into a state of oblivious
equanimity, it's still carrying fuel inside it. Then as soon as there's sensory
contact, it flares up into attachment. So we have to follow the principles the
Buddha laid down: Focus the mind into a state of absorption and then focus on
gaining clear insight into the three characteristics. The proper way to practice
is not to let yourself get stuck on this level or that -- and no matter what insights
you may gain, don't go thinking that you've gained Awakening. Keep looking. Keep
focusing in to see if there are any further changes in the mind and, when there
are, see the stress in those changes, the not-selfness of those changes. If you
can know in this way, the mind will rise above feeling, no longer entangled in
this level or that level -- all of which are simply matters of speculation.
important thing is that you try to see clearly. Even when the mind is concocting
all sorts of objects in a real turmoil, focus on seeing all of its objects as
illusory. Then stay still to watch their disbanding. Get so that it's clear to
you that there's really nothing to them. They all disband. All that remains is
the empty mind -- the mind maintaining its balance in normalcy -- and then focus
in on examining that.
There are many levels to this process of examining the
diseases in the mind, not just one. Even though you may come up with genuine insights
every now and then, don't just stop there -- and don't get excited about the fact
that you've come to see things you never saw before. Just keep contemplating the
theme of inconstancy in everything, without latching on, and then you'll come
to even more penetrating insights...
So focus on in until the mind stops,
until it reaches the stage of absorption called purity of mindfulness and equanimity.
See what pure mindfulness is like. As for the feeling of equanimity, that's an
affair of concentration. It's what the mindfulness depends on so that it too can
reach equanimity. This is the stage where we gather the strength of our awareness
in order to come in and know the mind. Get the mind centered, at equanimity, and
then probe in to contemplate. That's when you'll be able to see...
Glob of Tar
An important but subtle point is that even though we practice,
we continue to fall for pleasant feelings, because feelings are illusory on many
levels. We don't realize that they're changeable and unreliable. Instead of offering
pleasure, they offer us nothing but stress -- yet we're still addicted to them.
This business of feeling is thus a very subtle matter. Please try to contemplate
it carefully -- this business of latching onto feelings of pleasure, pain, or
equanimity. You have to contemplate so as to see it clearly. And you have to experiment
more than you may want to with pain. When there are feelings of physical pain
or mental distress, the mind will struggle because it doesn't like pain. But when
pain turns to pleasure, the mind likes it and is content with it, so it keeps
on playing with feeling, even though as we've already said, feeling is inconstant,
stressful, and not really ours. But the mind doesn't see this. All it sees are
feelings of pleasure, and it wants them.
Try looking into how feeling gives
rise to craving. It's because we want pleasant feeling that craving whispers --
whispers right there at the feeling. If you observe carefully, you'll see that
this is very important, for this is where the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana
are attained, right here at feeling and craving. If we can extinguish the craving
in feeling, that's nibbana...
In the Solasa Pañha, the Buddha said
that defilement is like a wide and deep flood, but he then went on to summarize
the practice to cross it simply as abandoning craving in every action. Now, right
here at feeling is where we can practice to abandon craving, for the way we relish
the flavor of feeling has many ramifications. This is where many of us get deceived,
because we don't see feeling as inconstant. We want it to be constant. We want
pleasant feelings to be constant. As for pain, we don't want it to be constant,
but no matter how much we try to push it away, we still latch onto it.
is why we have to focus on feeling, so that we can abandon craving right there
in the feeling. If you don't focus here, the other paths you may follow will simply
proliferate. So bring the practice close to home. When the mind changes, or when
it gains a sense of stillness or calm that would rank as a feeling of pleasure
or equanimity, try to see in what ways the pleasure or equanimity is inconstant,
that it's not you or yours. When you can do this, you'll stop relishing that particular
feeling. You can stop right there, right where the mind relishes the flavor of
feeling and gives rise to craving. This is why the mind has to be fully aware
of itself -- all around, at all times -- in its focused contemplation to see feeling
as empty of self...
This business of liking and disliking feelings is a disease
hard to detect, because our intoxication with feelings is so very strong. Even
with the sensations of peace and emptiness in the mind, we're still infatuated
with feeling. Feelings on the crude level -- the violent and stressful ones that
come with defilement -- are easy to detect. But when the mind grows still -- steady,
cool, bright, and so on -- we're still addicted to feeling. We want these feelings
of pleasure or equanimity. We enjoy them. Even on the level of firm concentration
or meditative absorption, there's attachment to the feeling...
This is the
subtle magnetic pull of craving, which paints and plasters things over. This painting
and plastering is hard to detect, because craving is always whispering inside
us, "I want nothing but pleasant feelings." This is very important,
for this virus of craving is what makes us continue to be reborn...
to see how craving paints and plasters things, how it causes desires to form --
the desires to get this or take that -- and what sort of flavor it has that makes
you so addicted to it, that makes it hard for you to pull away. You have to contemplate
to see how craving fastens the mind so firmly to feelings that you never weary
of sensuality or of pleasant feelings, no matter what the level. If you don't
contemplate so as to see clearly that the mind is stuck right here at feeling
and craving, it will keep you from gaining release...
We're stuck on feeling
like a monkey stuck in a tar trap. They take a glob of tar and put it where a
monkey will get its hand stuck in it and, in trying to pull free, the monkey gets
its other hand, both feet, and finally its mouth stuck, too. Consider this: Whatever
we do, we end up stuck right here at feeling and craving. We can't separate them
out. We can't wash them off. If we don't grow weary of craving, we're like the
monkey stuck in the glob of tar, getting ourselves more and more trapped all the
time. So if we're intent on freeing ourselves in the footsteps of the arahants,
we have to focus specifically on feeling until we can succeed at freeing ourselves
from it. Even with painful feelings, we have to practice -- for if we're afraid
of pain and always try to change it to pleasure, we'll end up even more ignorant
This is why we have to be brave in experimenting with pain --
both physical pain and mental distress. When it arises in full measure, like a
house afire, can we let go of it? We have to know both sides of feeling. When
it's hot and burning, how can we deal with it? When it's cool and refreshing,
how can we see through it? We have to make an effort to focus on both sides, contemplating
until we know how to let go. Otherwise, we won't know anything, for all we want
is the cool side, the cooler the better... and when this is the case, how can
we expect to gain release from the cycle of rebirth?
Nibbana is the extinguishing
of craving, and yet we like to stay with craving -- so how can we expect to get
anywhere at all? We'll stay right here in the world, right here with stress and
suffering, for craving is a sticky sap. If there's no craving, there's nothing:
no stress, no rebirth. But we have to watch out for it. It's a sticky sap, a glob
of tar, a dye that's hard to wash out.
So don't let yourself get carried away
with feeling. The crucial part of the practice lies here...
In making yourself quiet, you have to be quiet on all fronts
-- quiet in your deeds, quiet in your words, quiet in your mind. Only then will
you be able to contemplate what's going on inside yourself. If you aren't quiet,
you'll become involved in external affairs and end up having too much to do and
too much to say. This will keep your awareness or mindfulness from holding steady
and firm. You have to stop doing, saying, or thinking anything that isn't necessary.
That way your mindfulness will be able to develop continuously. Don't let yourself
get involved in too many outside things.
In training your mindfulness to be
continuous so that it will enable you to contemplate yourself, you have to be
observant: When there's sensory contact, can the mind stay continuously undisturbed
and at normalcy? Or does it still run out into liking and disliking? Being observant
in this way will enable you to read yourself, to know yourself. If mindfulness
is firmly established, the mind won't waver. If it's not yet firm, the mind will
waver in the form of liking and disliking. You have to be wary of even the slightest
wavering. Don't let yourself think that the slight waverings are unimportant,
or else they'll become habitual.
Being uncomplacent means that you have to
watch out for the details, the little things, the tiny flaws that arise in the
mind. If you can do this, you'll be able to keep your mind protected -- better
than giving all your attention to the worthless affairs of the outside world.
So really try to be careful. Don't get entangled in sensory contact. This is something
you have to work at mastering. If you focus yourself exclusively in the area of
the mind like this, you'll be able to contemplate feelings in all their details.
You'll be able to see them clearly, to let them go.
So focus your practice
right at feelings of pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain. Contemplate
how to leave them alone, simply as feelings, without relishing them -- for if
you relish feelings, that's craving. Desires for this and that will seep in and
influence the mind so that it gets carried away with inner and outer feelings.
This is why you have to be quiet -- quiet in a way that doesn't let the mind become
attached to the flavors of feelings, quiet in a way that uproots their influence.
The desire for pleasure is like a virus deep in our character. What we're
doing here is to make the mind stop taking pleasant feelings into itself and stop
pushing painful feelings away. Our addiction to taking in pleasant feelings is
what makes us dislike painful feelings and push them away, so don't let the mind
love pleasure and resist pain. Let it be undisturbed by both. Give it a try. If
the mind can let go of feelings so that it's above pleasure, pain, and neither-pleasure-nor-pain,
that means it's not stuck on feeling. And then try to observe: How can it stay
unaffected by feelings? This is something you have to work at mastering in order
to release your grasp on feelings once and for all, so that you won't latch onto
physical pain or mental distress as being you or yours.
If you don't release
your grasp on feeling, you'll stay attached to it, both in its physical and in
its mental forms. If there's the pleasure of physical ease, you'll be attracted
to it. As for the purely mental feeling of pleasure, that's something you'll really
want, you'll really love. And then you'll be attracted to the mental perceptions
and labels that accompany the pleasure, the thought-formations and even the consciousness
that accompany the pleasure. You'll latch onto all of these things as you or yours.
So analyze physical and mental pleasure. Take them apart to contemplate how
to let them go. Don't fool yourself into relishing them. As for pain, don't push
it away. Let pain simply be pain, let pleasure simply be pleasure. Let them simply
fall into the category of feelings. Don't go thinking that you feel pleasure,
that you feel pain. If you can let go of feeling in this way, you'll be able to
gain release from suffering and stress because you'll be above and beyond feeling.
This way, when aging, illness, and death come, you won't latch onto them thinking
that you are aging, that you are ill, that you are dying. You'll be able to release
these things from your grasp.
If you can contemplate purely in these terms
-- that the five aggregates are inconstant, stressful, and not-self -- you won't
enter into them and latch onto them as "me" or "mine." If
you don't analyze them in this way, you'll be trapped in dying. Even your bones,
skin, flesh, and so forth will become "mine." This is why we're taught
to contemplate death -- so that we can make ourselves aware that death doesn't
mean that we die. You have to contemplate until you really know this. Otherwise,
you'll stay trapped right there. You must make yourself sensitive in a way that
sees clearly how your bones, flesh, and skin are empty of any self. That way you
won't latch onto them. The fact that you still latch onto them shows that you
haven't really seen into their inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness.
you see the bones of animals, they don't have much meaning, but when you see the
bones of people, your perception labels them: "That's a person's skeleton.
That's a person's skull." If there are a lot of them, they can really scare
you. When you see the picture of a skeleton or of anything that shows the inconstancy
and not-selfness of the body, and you don't see clear through it, you'll get stuck
at the level of skeleton and bones. Actually, there are no bones at all. They're
empty, nothing but elements. You have to penetrate into the bones so that they're
elements. Otherwise, you'll get stuck at the level of skeleton. And since you
haven't seen through it, it can make you distressed and upset. This shows that
you haven't penetrated into the Dhamma. You're stuck at the outer shell because
you haven't analyzed things into their elements.
When days and nights pass
by, they're not the only things that pass by. The body constantly decays and falls
apart, too. The body decays bit by bit, but we don't realize it. Only after it's
decayed a lot -- when the hair has gone grey and the teeth fall out -- do we realize
that it's old. This is knowledge on a crude and really blatant level. But as for
the gradual decaying that goes on quietly inside, we aren't aware of it.
a result, we cling to the body as being us -- every single part of it. Its eyes
are our eyes, the sights they see are the things we see, the sensation of seeing
is something we sense. We don't see these things as elements. Actually, the element
of vision and the element of form make contact. The awareness of the contact is
the element of consciousness: the mental phenomenon that senses sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and all. This we don't realize, which is why
we latch onto everything -- eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, intellect -- as being
us or ours. Then, when the body decays, we feel that we are growing old; when
it dies and mental phenomena stop, we feel that we die.
Once you've taken
the elements apart, though, there's nothing. These things lose their meaning on
their own. They're simply physical and mental elements, without any illness or
death. If you don't penetrate into things this way, you stay deluded and blind.
For instance, when we chant "jara-dhammamhi" -- I am subject to death
-- that's simply to make us mindful and uncomplacent in the beginning stages of
the practice. When you reach the stage of insight meditation, though, there's
none of that. All assumptions, all conventional truths get ripped away. They all
collapse. When the body is empty of self, what is there to latch onto? Physical
elements, mental elements, they're already empty of any self. You have to see
this clearly all the way through. Otherwise, they gather together and form a being,
both physical and mental, and then you latch onto them as being your self.
we see the world as elements, however, there's no death. And once we can see that
there's no death, that's when we'll really know. If we still see that we die,
that shows that we haven't yet seen the Dhamma. We're still stuck on the outer
shell. And when this is the case, what sort of Dhamma can we expect to know? You
have to penetrate deeper in, to contemplate, taking things apart.
at the end of your lease in this burning house and yet you continue latching onto
it as your self. It tricks you into feeling fear and love, and when you fall for
it, what path will you practice? The mind latches onto these things to fool itself
on many, many levels. You can't see through even these conventions, so you grasp
hold of them as your self, as a woman, a man -- and you really turn yourself into
these things. If you can't contemplate so as to empty yourself of these conventions
and assumptions, your practice simply circles around in the same old place, and
as a result you can't find any way out.
So you have to contemplate down through
many levels. It's like using a cloth to filter things. If you use a coarse weave,
you won't catch much of anything. You have to use a fine weave to filter down
to the deeper levels and penetrate into the deeper levels by contemplating over
and over again, through level after level. That's why there are many levels to
being mindful and discerning, filtering on in to the details.
And this is
why examining and becoming fully aware of your own inner character is so important.
The practice of meditation is nothing but catching sight of self-deceptions, to
see how they infiltrate into the deepest levels and how even the most blatant
levels fool us right before our very eyes. If you can't catch sight of the deceits
and deceptions of the self, your practice won't lead to release from suffering.
It will simply keep you deluded into thinking that everything is you and yours.
To practice in line with the Buddha's teachings is to go against the flow.
Every living being, deep down inside, wants pleasure on the physical level and
then on the higher and more subtle levels of feeling, such as the types of concentration
that are addicted to feelings of peace and respite. This is why you have to investigate
into feeling so that you can let go of it and thus snuff out craving, through
being fully aware of feeling as it actually is -- free from any self -- in line
with its nature: unentangled, uninvolved. This is what snuffs out the virus of
craving so that ultimately it vanishes without a trace.
There are many layers to self-deception. The more you practice
and investigate things, the less you feel like claiming to know. Instead, you'll
simply see the harm of your own many-faceted ignorance and foolishness. Your examination
of the viruses in the mind gets more and more subtle. Before, you didn't know,
so you took your views to be knowledge -- because you thought you knew. But actually
these things aren't real knowledge. They're the type of understanding that comes
from labels. Still we think they're knowledge and we think we know. This in itself
is a very intricate self-deception.
So you have to keep watch on these things,
to keep contemplating them. Sometimes they fool us right before our eyes: That's
when it really gets bad, because we don't know that we've got ourselves fooled,
and instead think we're people who know. We can deal thoroughly with this or that
topic, but our knowledge is simply the memory of labels. We think that labels
are discernment, or thought-formations are discernment, or the awareness of sensory
consciousness is discernment, and so we get these things all mixed up. As a result,
we become enamored with all the bits of knowledge that slip in and fashion the
mind -- which are simply the illusions within awareness. As for genuine awareness,
there's very little of it, while deceptive awareness has us surrounded on all
We thus have to contemplate and investigate so as to see through these
illusions in awareness. This is what will enable us to read the mind. If your
awareness goes out, don't follow it out. Stop and turn inward instead. Whatever
slips in to fashion the mind, you have to be wise to it. You can't forbid it,
for it's something natural, and you shouldn't try to close off the mind too much.
Simply keep watch on awareness to see how far it will go, how true or false it
is, how it disbands and then arises again. You have to watch it over and over
again. Simply watching in this way will enable you to read yourself, to know cause
and effect within yourself, and to contemplate yourself. This is what will make
your mindfulness and discernment more and more skillful. If you don't practice
in this way, the mind will be dark. It may get a little empty, a little still,
and you'll decide that's plenty good enough.
But if you look at the Buddha's
teachings, you'll find that no matter what sort of correct knowledge he gained,
he was never willing to stop there. He always said, "There's more."
To begin with, he developed mindfulness and clear comprehension in every activity,
but then he said, "There's more to do, further to go." As for us, we're
always ready to brag. We work at developing this or that factor for a while and
then say we already know all about it and don't have to develop it any further.
As a result, the principles in our awareness go soft because of our boastfulness
Emptiness vs. the Void
To open the door so that you can
really see inside yourself isn't easy, but it's something you can train yourself
to do. If you have the mindfulness enabling you to read yourself and understand
yourself, that cuts through a lot of the issues right there. Craving will have
a hard time forming. In whatever guise it arises, you'll get to read it, to know
it, to extinguish it, to let it go.
When you get to do these things, it doesn't
mean that you "get" anything, for actually once the mind is empty, that
means it doesn't gain anything at all. But to put it into words for those who
haven't experienced it: In what ways is emptiness empty? Does it mean that everything
disappears or is annihilated? Actually, you should know that emptiness doesn't
mean that the mind is annihilated. All that's annihilated is clinging and attachment.
What you have to do is to see what emptiness is like as it actually appears and
then not latch onto it. The nature of this emptiness is that it's deathless within
you -- this emptiness of self -- and yet the mind can still function, know, and
read itself. Just don't label it or latch onto it, that's all.
There are many
levels to emptiness, many types, but if it's this or that type, then it's not
genuine emptiness, for it contains the intention trying to know what type of emptiness
it is, what features it has. This is something you have to look into deeply if
you really want to know. If it's superficial emptiness -- the emptiness of the
still mind, free from thought-formations about its objects or free from the external
sense of self -- that's not genuine emptiness. Genuine emptiness lies deep, not
on the level of mere stillness or concentration. The emptiness of the void is
something very profound.
But because of the things we've studied and heard,
we tend to label the emptiness of the still mind as the void -- and so we label
things wrongly in that emptiness... Actually it's just ordinary stillness. We
have to look more deeply in. No matter what you've encountered that you've heard
about before, don't get excited. Don't label it as this or that level of attainment.
Otherwise you'll spoil everything. You reach the level where you should be able
to keep your awareness steady, but once you label things, it stops right there
-- or else goes all out of control.
This labeling is attachment in action.
It's something very subtle, very refined. Whatever appears, it latches on. So
you simply have to let the mind be empty without labeling it as anything, for
the emptiness that lets go of preoccupations or is free from the influence of
thought-formations is something you have to look further into. Don't label it
as this or that level, for to measure and compare things in this way blocks everything
-- and in particular, knowledge of how the mind changes.
So to start out,
simply watch these things, simply be aware. If you get excited, it ruins everything.
Instead of seeing things clear through, you don't. You stop there and don't go
any further. For this reason, when you train the mind or contemplate the mind
to the point of gaining clear realizations every now and then, regard them as
simply things to observe.
Opening the Way to the Heart
Once you can
read your mind correctly, you can catch hold of defilements and kill them off:
That's insight meditation. The mind becomes razor sharp, just as if you have a
sharp knife that can cut anything clear through. Even if defilements arise again,
you can dig them up again, cut them off again. It's actually a lot of fun, this
job of uprooting the defilements in the mind. There's no other work nearly as
much fun as getting this sense of "I" or self under your thumb, because
you get to see all of its tricks. It's really fun. Whenever it shows its face
in order to get anything, you just watch it -- to see what it wants and why it
wants it, to see what inflated claims it makes for itself. This way you can cross-examine
it and get to the facts.
Once you know, there's nothing to do but let go,
to become unentangled and free. Just think of how good that can be! This practice
of ours is a way of stopping and preventing all kinds of things inside ourselves.
Whenever defilement rises up to get anything, to grab hold of anything, we don't
play along. We let go. Just this is enough to do away with a lot of stress and
suffering, even though the defilements feel the heat.
When we oppress the
defilements a lot in this way, it gets them hot and feverish, you know. But remember,
it's the defilements that get hot and feverish. And remember that the Buddha told
us to put the heat on the defilements, because if we don't put the heat on them,
they put the heat on us all the time.
So we must be intent on burning the
defilements away, even though they may complain that we're mistreating them. We
close the door and imprison them. When they can't go anywhere, they're sure to
complain: "I can't take it! I'm not free to go anywhere at all!" So
simply watch them: Where do they want to go? What do they want to grab hold of?
Where? Watch them carefully, and they'll stop -- stop going, stop running. It's
easy to say no to other things, but saying no to yourself, saying no to your defilements,
isn't easy at all -- and yet it doesn't lie beyond your discernment or capabilities
to do it. If you have the mindfulness and discernment to say no to defilement,
it'll stop. Don't think that you can't make it stop. You can make it stop -- simply
that you've been foolish enough to give in to it so quickly that it's become second
So we have to stop. Once we stop, the defilements can stop, too. Wherever
they turn up, we can extinguish them. And when this is the case, how can we not
want to practice? No matter how stubbornly they want anything, simply watch them.
Get acquainted with them, and they won't stay. They'll disband. As soon as they
disband, you realize exactly how deceptive they are. Before, you didn't know.
As soon as they urged you to do anything, you went along with them. But once you're
wise to them, they stop. They disband. Even though you don't disband them, they
disband on their own. And as soon as you see their disbanding, the path opens
wide before you. Everything opens wide in the heart. You can see that there's
a way you can overcome defilement, you can put an end to defilement, no matter
how much it arises. But you've got to remember to keep on watching out for it,
keep on letting it go.
Thus I ask that you all make the effort to keep sharpening
your tools at all times. Once your discernment is sharp on any point, it can let
go of that point and uproot it. If you look after that state of mind and contemplate
how to keep it going, you'll be able to keep your tools from growing too easily
And now that you know the basic principles, I ask that you make the
effort to the utmost of your strength and mindfulness. May you be brave and resilient,
so that your practice for gaining release from all your sufferings and stress
can reap good results in every way.