THE WORK OF A CONTEMPLATIVE
October 31, 1978
Here in this monastery we practice
not in line with people's wishes and opinions, but in line for the most part
with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya, the principles of the religion.
We do this for the sake of the public at large who rely on the religion as a
guiding principle in what is good and right, and who rely on the good and right
behavior of monks and novices, the religious leaders for Buddhists at large.
For this reason, I'm not interested in treating anyone out of a sense of deference
over and above the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya that are the basis of
the religion. If our minds start to bend under the influence of the views and
opinions of any one person or of the majority -- who have no limits or standards
-- then monasteries and the religion will come to have no limits or standards.
Monasteries that bend under the influence of the world, without any sense of
reason as an underlying support, will have no order or standards, and will become
monasteries without any of the substance of the religion remaining in them at
all. Those who look for things of value to revere and respect -- in other words,
intelligent people -- won't be able to find anything good of any substance that
will have a hold on their hearts, because there will be nothing but worthless
and counterfeit things filling the monasteries, filling the monks, the novices,
the nuns, filling everything everywhere. In homes as well as in monasteries,
in the area of the world as well as the Dhamma, everything will get mixed into
being one with what is counterfeit and lacking in any value or worth.
For this reason, we have to keep things in their separate places. The religion and the world, even though they may dwell together, are not the same thing. A monastery -- whether it's located in a village, outside of a village, or in a forest -- is not the same as a village. The people who come to stay there are not the same as ordinary people. The monastery has to be a monastery. The monks have to be monks with their own independent Dhamma and Vinaya that don't come under or depend on any particular individual. This is an important principle that can have a hold on the hearts of intelligent people who are searching for principles of truth to revere and respect or to be their inspiration. I view things from this angle more than from any other. Even the Buddha, our Teacher, viewed things from this angle as well, as we can see from the time he was talking with Ven. Nagita.
When a crowd of people shouting and making a big racket came to see the Buddha, he said, 'Nagita, who is that coming our way, making a commotion like fish-mongers squabbling over fish? We don't aspire to this sort of thing, which is a destruction of the religion. The religion is something to guard and preserve so that the world will find peace and calm -- like clear, clean water well-guarded and preserved so that people in general can use it to drink and bathe at their convenience. The religion is like clear, clean water in this way, which is why we don't want anyone to disturb it, to make it muddy and turbid.' This is what the Buddha said to Ven. Nagita. He then told Ven. Nagita to send the crowd back, telling them that their manner and the time of day -- it was night -- were not appropriate for visiting monks who live in quiet and solitude. Polite manners are things that intelligent people choose to use, and there are plenty of other times to come. This is a time when the monks want quiet, so they shouldn't be disturbed in a way that wastes their time and causes them difficulties without serving any kind of purpose at all.
This is an example set by our Teacher. He wasn't the sort of person to mingle and associate with lay people at all times without any reasonable limits or rules, the way things currently are -- as if the religion were a distillery, and we monks and novices were distributing liquor so that the public could be drunk without ever sobering up for a day. Actually, the religion is medicine for curing drunkenness. Monks and novices are supposed to be doctors for curing their own drunkenness and that of the world. They're not supposed to sell liquor and intoxicants to the point where they have no sense of shame.
Whenever people set foot in the monastery, we say that they come in good faith -- and so we make allowances and compromises until we forget ourselves, forget the Dhamma and Vinaya, and forget the good standards of monasteries and monks to the point where we destroy ourselves, the monastery, and the religion bit by bit, day by day, and everything turns into mud. Home-dwellers and monastery-dwellers can't find any principles to hold to. Monks are full of excrement -- i.e., the worthless things in the monasteries and in the monks and novices themselves.
For this reason, each of us who has ordained in the religion should reflect a great deal on these matters. Don't see anything as having greater value than the Dhamma and Vinaya, which are the major principles for uniting the hearts of Buddhists in confidence, conviction, and peace. If the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya are lacking or deficient, the benefits received by Buddhists will have to be deficient in turn, until there is nothing to which their hearts can hold. Even though the teachings of the religion fill the texts, and copies of the Canon fill every monastery, still the important essence that should be put into practice so that people can be inspired to take this essence into their hearts and put it into practice themselves for the sake of what is beneficial and auspicious, doesn't exist -- even though the religion still exists. This is something we can clearly see at present.
The important factors that can make the religion prosper and can serve as witnesses to the people who become involved with it for the sake of all things meritorious and auspicious are the monks and novices. If the monks and novices are intent on behaving in line with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya as taught by the Buddha, they are the ones who will preserve the good pattern of the religion and of the paths, fruitions, and nibbana without a doubt. People will be able to take them as their standard -- because there are still plenty of intelligent people left in the world. As for stupid people, even though they may overflow the world, they have no sure standards. If they feel pleased, they praise you. That praise simply comes out of their stupidity and serves no purpose. If they feel displeased, they criticize you. That criticism serves no purpose, either for them or for you. If intelligent people praise you, though, that can be taken to heart and benefits both parties, them as well as you. If they praise the Sangha, they praise it in line with the principles of the truth and of their intelligence. At the same time, those members of the Sangha who hold to reason can make themselves a field of merit for them as well, so that they too can benefit. Even if they criticize us, they have their reasons that should be taken as food for thought. Thus we who practice should make ourselves well aware of this point.
Wherever you go, don't forget that you are a practitioner of the religion, a representative of our Teacher in following the religion and proclaiming it through your practice. This doesn't mean that you have to teach the public to understand the Dhamma. Even the practices you follow rightly are a visible example that can make them feel conviction in the religion from what they see. Even more so when you can explain the Dhamma correctly in line with the principles of the practice following the teachings of the Buddha: This is all the more the right and proper proclamation of the religion for good people to hold to in their hearts. The religion will come to flourish more and more in the hearts of Buddhists.
Wherever you go, wherever you stay, don't forget the basic principles -- virtue, concentration, and discernment -- which are the basic principles of our work as contemplative. These are the essential principles of each monk's work. This is where we become 'sons of the Sakyan (sakya-putta) , of the victorious Buddha,' disciples of the Tathagata, and not when we simply shave our heads and don the yellow robe. That's something anyone can do and isn't important. What's important is behaving in line with our duties.
Virtue. We should be careful to maintain our precepts so that they aren't broken or stained. We should be careful, using mindfulness and discernment in our every activity. Whatever else may get broken, don't let your precepts get broken, for they are the invaluable treasure of your status as a monk, something on which you can truly stake your life.
Concentration. If it hasn't yet arisen, try to train the heart and bring it under control, coming down hard on its unruliness caused by the power of defilement, so that you can have it in hand in your efforts with the practice. Use mindfulness and discernment to block its recklessness so that it can settle down in peace and quiet. This is our samadhi treasure as monks.
Discernment is intelligence and ingenuity. Discernment is of use in all places at all times. Both in your internal and in your external activities, always make use of your discernment. Especially in your internal activities, when you're investigating the various kinds of defilements and mental effluents, discernment becomes especially important. Discernment and mindfulness shouldn't be separated. They have to perform their duties together. Mindfulness is what keeps watch over the work discernment is doing. Whenever mindfulness lapses, that work won't accomplish its full aims. For this reason, mindfulness is a necessary quality that must always be kept fastened on your work.
These things are our work as contemplatives. Remember them and always take them to heart. Don't be apathetic, or you'll become a shameless monk, callous to the fact that the world is bowing down to you at all times.
Now that the Rains Retreat is over, we'll each go our separate ways in line with duty and necessity and the laws of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. These are things we can't prevent, because they are big matters, the way of nature. Even I myself: I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to stay with you all, because I lie under the law of inconstancy, too. So while we are still living together, I want you to be intent on training yourselves with your full hearts, in keeping with the fact that you've come to study, to train yourselves, and to practice.
The word 'discernment,' which I mentioned a moment ago, means to investigate and unravel the various factors that become involved with us within and without. (And here I have to ask forgiveness of the men and women interested in the Dhamma who fall under the condition I'm about to discuss. Please reflect on it in all fairness.) The body: Usually it's the body of the opposite sex. As the Dhamma says, there is no sight that's a greater enemy to the state of a contemplative than the sight of the opposite sex. The same holds true for the voice, the smell, the taste, and the touch of the opposite sex. These are the foremost dangers that face contemplatives, so we have to show greater care and restraint toward these things than toward anything else. Mindfulness and discernment have to unravel these important points more than they have to deal with any other work.
The body. We should analyze it with our discernment so as to see it clearly. The words 'the body of a woman' or 'the body of a man' are simply names given in line with convention. Actually, it's not a woman or a man. It's simply an ordinary body just like ours, covered all over with skin. If we look inside, there's flesh, tendons, and bones. It, like us, is all full of filthy and repulsive things. There's no part that's basically any different from our own body. There's simply the label in our mind that says 'woman' or 'man.' This word 'woman' or 'man' is engraved deeply within the heart by the heart's own suppositions, even though it's not a truth, and is simply a supposition.
The same with the voice: It's just an ordinary sound, and yet we label it the voice of the opposite sex and so it stabs deep into the heart -- especially for those of us who are ordained -- and goes clear through, to the point where we forget ourselves. The heart gets cut at the stem, even though we continue to live. The stem of the heart is torn, rotten, and putrid, and yet we don't die. Instead, we listen with pleasure to the song of our heart's being cut at the stem, without ever wearying of it or having enough.
The smell: It's an ordinary smell, just like ours, because it's the smell of a person. Even if we bring perfumes and scents from the realms of the devas and Brahmas to rub down that body, the smell is the smell of those things, not the smell of a woman or man, not the least little bit. So analyze this and make careful distinctions.
The taste is simply the touch. The touch of that body is no different from one part of our own body touching another part. Each of the parts is just earth, water, wind, and fire, just like ours. We can't see that there's any difference. So we have to investigate clearly like this and then make comparisons, comparing the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch of the woman or man with our own sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. There's no difference in terms of the principles of nature and of the truth, aside from the mind's conferring titles in line with its thoughts.
For this reason, we must use discernment to unravel things. Don't let suppositions of any kind that will be your enemies infiltrate or destroy your heart. Shake them off using discernment, which is a truth, coming down to the truth that these things are just sights, just sounds, just smells, just tastes, just tactile sensations, all of which pass by and disappear like other things. This is without a doubt the right way to contemplate that can gradually uproot our attachments and misconceptions concerning these matters.
Whatever object you may investigate in the world, it's full of inconstancy, stress, and lack-of-self. There's nothing lasting to be found. All things depend on one thing or another, and then fall apart. Whatever the object: If it exists in the world, it has to fall apart. If it doesn't fall apart, we will. If it doesn't break up, we'll break up. If it doesn't leave, we'll leave -- because this world is full of leaving and separation through the principles of nature. So investigate in this way with discernment to see clearly before these things leave us or we leave them, and then let them go in line with their truth. When we can do this, the mind will be at its ease. Here we've been talking about discernment on the level of investigating sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Whether within or without, on the blatant or the subtle level, this is how all of these things are investigated.
Concentration I've already explained to some extent. Concentration refers to the stability and solidity of the heart, beginning with its small moments of stillness and peace, all the way up to the refined and stable levels of stillness and peace. If the mind isn't trained, isn't improved, isn't forced with various tactics backed up by mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence, it won't be able to attain peace till its dying day. It will die in vain. It will die restless and confused, straying off to 108 different preoccupations. It won't have any mindfulness or self-awareness. It will die without any principles or standards to hold to. It will die just as a kite whose string is cut when it's up in the air floats wherever the wind blows. Even while it's still living, it lives without any principles or standards, because of its absent-mindedness and heedlessness, its lack of any sense of reason for it to follow. It lives simply drifting. If we live simply drifting, without any good principles to hold to, then when we go, we'll have to go simply drifting. What purpose will it serve? What goodness and certainty can we have for our destination? So as long as we're alive and aware as we currently are, we should build certainty for ourselves in our hearts by being strong and unflinching in matters that are of solid worth. Then we can be certain of ourselves both as we live and when we die. We won't be upset or affected by life or death, by being separated from other beings or our own bodies -- something we all have to meet with, because these are things lying within us all.
It's not the case that discernment arises automatically on the heels of concentration when the mind has been centered. It has to be exercised and trained to think, explore, and investigate. Only then will discernment arise, with concentration as its support. Concentration on its own can't turn into discernment. It has to remain as concentration. If we don't use discernment to investigate, concentration simply makes the mind refreshed and calm, content with its preoccupation in tranquility, not hungering to think here or there, not confused or straying -- because once the mind is still, it's calm and refreshed with the Dhamma in line with the level of its stillness. We then take the mind that has been refreshed by tranquility and use it with discernment to investigate and unravel various things, none of which in this world lie over and beyond inconstancy, stress, and not-self. All things are filled with these same conditions, so use discernment to contemplate -- from whatever angle most suits your temperament -- by investigating these things with interest, with the desire really to know and see them as they truly are. Don't simply investigate without any intention or mindfulness in control.