For this reason, the principles of
the Dhamma that the Buddha taught in the area of meditation for developing and
modifying the heart are very appropriate for helping us as meditators to escape
from all the things in our hearts that exert a pull on us or weigh us down.
These things are hard to remove, hard to remedy, hard to sever, which is why
we need a Teacher to guide us. If we had no Teacher, the living beings in the
three realms of the cosmos -- no matter how many thousands or millions of forms
and levels there are -- would all be as if deaf and blind. Not one of them would
be able to escape from this darkness and blindness. This is why we should have
a heartfelt sense of the awesomeness of the arising of a Buddha, who leads living
beings to escape from this gravitational pull, from this oppressiveness, safely
and in large numbers -- to the point where no one else can compare -- beginning
with each Buddha's foremost disciples and on to the end of his dispensation,
when his teachings no longer exist in the hearts of living beings, which is
the final point in his work of ferrying living beings from all sorts of blindness,
darkness, suffering, and stress.
Our present Buddha performed these duties with the full mindfulness and discernment of his great mercy and compassion, beginning with the day of his Awakening. It's as if he took a large ship and cast anchor in the middle of the ocean in order to gather the living beings of various kinds and strengths adrift in the water on the verge of death and bring them on board stage by stage. Those who take an interest in the Dhamma are like beings who struggle to get on board the Buddha's ship that has cast anchor in the middle of the sea. They keep climbing on board, climbing on board, until the day when the beings of the world have no more belief in the teachings of the religion. That's when the ship will no longer have any function. Those who are still left in the sea will have to stay there adrift, with no more way of escape. They are the ones who are to become food for the fishes and turtles.
Those who have come on board, though, are the various stages of those who have been able to escape, as mentioned in the four types of individuals, beginning with the ugghatitannu, vipacitannu and neyya. These are the ones who have come on board. How high or low they are able to go depends on their individual capabilities. There are those who escape completely -- those free of defilement; there are those on the verge of escape -- the non-returners (anagami); those in the middle -- the once-returners (sakidagami); and then the stream-winners (sotapanna); and finally ordinary good people. Here we're referring to the Buddha's ship in its general sense. He uses it to salvage living beings, beginning from the day of his Awakening until the point when the teachings of the religion have no more meaning in the world's sensibilities. That's the final point. Those who remain are the diseased who can find no medicine or physician to treat their illnesses and are simply awaiting their day to die.
So now we are swimming and struggling toward the Buddha's large ship by making the effort of the practice. In particular, now that we have ordained in the Buddha's religion and have developed a feel for his teaching, this makes us even more moved, even more convinced of all the truths that he taught rightly about good and evil, right and wrong, hell, heaven, the Brahma worlds, and nibbana, all of which are realities that actually exist.
We have followed the principles of the Buddha's Dhamma, and in particular the practice of meditation. Try to build up your strength and ability without flagging, so as to resist and remove all the things that coerce or exert a gravitational pull on the heart. Don't let yourself become accustomed to their pull. They pull you to disaster, not to anything else. They're not forces that will pull you to what is auspicious. They'll pull you to what's inauspicious, step by step, depending on how much you believe, give in, and are overcome by their pull. Suffering will then appear in proportion to how much you unconsciously agree, give in, and are overcome by their pull. Even though there are the teachings of the religion to pull you back, the mind tends to take the lower path more than the path of the religion, which is why it is set adrift. But we're not the type to be set adrift. We're the type who are swimming to release using the full power of our intelligence and abilities.
Wherever you are, whatever you do, always be on the alert with mindfulness. Don't regard the effort of the practice as tiring, as something wearisome, difficult to do, difficult to get right, difficult to contend with. Struggle and effort: These are the path for those who are to gain release from all stress and danger, not the path of those headed downward to the depths of hell, blind and in the dark by day and by night, their minds consumed by all things lowly and vile.
The Noble Ones in the time of the Buddha practiced in earnest. With the words, 'I go to the Buddha for refuge,' or 'I go to the Sangha for refuge,' we should reflect on their Dhamma, investigating and unraveling it so as to see the profundity and subtlety of their practice. At the same time, we should take their realizations into our hearts as good examples to follow, so that we can conduct ourselves in the footsteps of their practices and realizations.
'I go to the Buddha for refuge.' We all know how difficult it was for him to become the Buddha. We should engrave it in our hearts. Our Teacher was the first pioneer in our age to the good destination for the sake of all living beings. Things were never made easy for him. From the day of his renunciation to the day of his Awakening, it was as if he were in hell -- there's no need to compare it to being in prison -- because he had been very delicately brought up in his royal home. When he renounced the household life, he faced great difficulties in terms of the four necessities. In addition, there were many, many defilements in his heart related to his treasury and to the nation filled with his royal subjects. It weighed heavily on his heart at all times that he had to leave these things behind. He found no comfort or peace at all, except when he was sound asleep.
As for us, we don't have a following, don't have subjects, have never been kings. We became ordained far more easily than the Buddha. And when we make the effort of the practice, we have his teachings, correct in their every aspect, as our guide. Our practice isn't really difficult like that of the Buddha, who had to struggle on his own with no one to guide him. On this point, we're very different. We have a much lighter burden in the effort of the practice than the Buddha, who was of royal birth.
Food, wherever we go, is full to overflowing, thanks to the faith of those who are already convinced of the Buddha's teachings and are not lacking in interest and faith for those who practice rightly. For this reason, monks -- wherever they go -- are not lacking in the four necessities of life, which is very different from the case of the Buddha.
All of the Noble Disciples who followed in the Buddha's footsteps were second to him in terms of the difficulties they faced. They had a much easier time as regards the four necessities of life, because people by and large had already begun to have faith and conviction in the teachings. But even so, the disciples didn't take pleasure in the four necessities more than in the Dhamma, in making the single-minded effort to gain release from suffering and stress. This is something very pleasing, something very worthy to be taken as an example. They gave their hearts, their lives -- every part of themselves -- in homage to the Buddha and Dhamma, to the point where they all became homage to the Sangha within themselves. In doing so, they all encountered difficulties, every one of them.
Because the Dhamma is something superior and superlative, whoever meets it has to develop and prosper through its power day by day, step by step, to a state of superlative excellence. As for the defilements, there is no type of defilement that can take anyone to peace, security, or excellence of any kind.
The defilements know this. They know that the Dhamma far excels them, so they disguise themselves thoroughly to keep us from knowing their tricks and deceits. In everything we do, they have to lie behind the scenes, showing only their tactics and strategies, which are nothing but means of fooling living beings into falling for them and staying attached to them. This is very ingenious on their part.
For this reason, those who make the effort of the practice are constantly bending under their gravitational pull. Whether we are doing sitting meditation, walking meditation -- whatever our posture -- we keep bending and leaning under their pull. They pull us toward laziness and lethargy. They pull us toward discouragement and weakness. They pull us into believing that our mindfulness and discernment are too meager for the teachings of the religion. They pull us into believing that our capacities are too meager to deserve the Dhamma, to deserve the paths, fruitions, and nibbana, or to deserve the Buddha's teachings. All of these things are the tactics of the pull of defilement to draw us solely into failure, away from the Dhamma. If we don't practice the Dhamma so as to get above these things, we won't have any sense at all that they are all deceits of defilement. When we have practiced so as to get beyond them step by step, though, they won't be able to remain hidden. No matter how sharp and ingenious the various kinds of defilement may be, they don't lie beyond the power of mindfulness and discernment. This is why the Buddha saw causes and effects, benefits and harm, in a way that went straight to his heart, because of his intelligence that transcended defilement.
For this reason, when he taught the Dhamma to the world, he did so with full compassion so that living beings could truly escape from danger, from the depths of the world so full of suffering. He wanted the beings of the world to see the marvelousness, the awesomeness of the Dhamma that had had such an impact within his heart, so that they too would actually see as he did. This is why his proclamation of the Dhamma was done in full measure, for it was based on his benevolence. He didn't proclaim it with empty pronouncements or as empty ceremony. That sort of thing didn't exist in the Buddha. Instead, he was truly filled with benevolence for the living beings of the world.
His activities as Buddha -- the five duties of the Buddha we are always hearing about -- he never abandoned, except for the few times he occasionally set them aside in line with events. But even though he set them aside, it wasn't because he had set his benevolence aside. He set them aside in keeping with events and circumstances. For example, when he spent the rains alone in the Prileyya Forest, he had no following, and none of the monks entered the forest to receive instruction from him, which meant that this activity was set aside. Other than that, though, he performed his duties to the full because of his benevolence, with nothing lacking in any way.
This is a matter of his having seen things clearly in his heart: the harm of all things dangerous, and the benefits of all things beneficial. The Buddha had touched and known them in every way, which is why he had nothing to doubt. His teaching of the Dhamma regarding harms and benefits was thus done in full measure. He analyzed harm into all its branches. He analyzed benefits into all their branches and completely revealed the differing degrees of benefits they gave. The beings of the world who had lived drearily with suffering and stress for untold aeons and were capable of learning of the excellence of the Dhamma from the Buddha: How could they remain complacent? Once they had heard the teachings of the religion truly resonating in their very own ears and hearts -- because of the truth, the honesty, the genuine compassion of the Buddha -- they had to wake up. The beings of the world had to wake up. They had to accept the truth.
That truth is of two kinds. The truth on the side of harm is one kind of truth: It really is stressful, and the origin of stress really creates stress to burn the hearts of living beings. As for the path, it really creates ease and happiness for living beings. Those who listened to these truths, listened with all their hearts. This being the case, the strength of will they developed, their conviction, and their clear vision of both harm and benefits all gathered to become a strength permeating the one heart of each person. So why shouldn't these things reveal their full strength and manifest themselves as persistence, effort, earnestness, and determination in every activity for the sake of gaining release from all dangers and adversity by means of the Dhamma?
This is why the disciples who heard the Dhamma from the Buddha, from the mouth of the foremost Teacher, felt inspired and convinced. Many of them even came to see the Dhamma and gain release from suffering and stress, step by step to the point of absolute release, right there in the Buddha's presence. As we've seen the texts say: When the Buddha was explaining the Dhamma for the sake of those who could be taught, his followers -- such as the monks -- attained the Dhamma to ultimate release, nibbana, in no small numbers. This is what happens when truth meets with truth. They fit together easily with no difficulty at all. Those who listened did so by really seeing the benefits and harm, really convinced by the reasons of the Dhamma taught by the Buddha, which is why they gained clear results right then and there.
The Dhamma -- both the harm and benefits that the Buddha explained in his day and age, and that existed in the hearts of his listeners in that day and age: In what way is it different from the truths existing in our hearts at present? They're all the same nature of truth, the same Noble Truths. They don't lie beyond the four Noble Truths, either in the Buddha's time or in the present.
The Buddha's instructions were the truth of the path, teaching people to have virtue, concentration, and discernment so that they could truly understand the affairs of stress straight to the heart and remove the cause of stress, which is a thorn or a spear stabbing the heart of living beings, creating suffering and stress that go straight to the heart as well. The truth of stress exists in our bodies and minds. The truth of the origin of stress reveals itself blatantly in our hearts in our every activity. What can reveal itself only intermittently, or not at all, is the path -- even though we are listening to it right now.
What is the path? Mindfulness and discernment. Right View and Right Attitude: These things refer to the levels of discernment. If we add Right Mindfulness, then when we have these three qualities nourishing the heart, Right Concentration will arise because of our right activities. Right Activity, for those who are to extricate themselves from stress, refers primarily to the work of removing defilement -- for example, the work of sitting and walking meditation, the work of guarding the heart with mindfulness, using mindfulness and discernment continually to investigate and contemplate the different kinds of good and bad things making contact with us at all times. This is called building the path within the heart.
When we bring the path out to contend with our adversary -- the origin of stress -- what facet is the adversary displaying? The facet of love? What does it love? What exactly is the object it loves? Here we focus mindfulness and discernment in on unraveling the object that's loved. What is the object in actuality? Unravel it so as to see it through and through, being really intent in line with the principles of mindfulness and discernment. Reflect back and forth, again and again, so as to see it clearly. The object that's loved or lovable will fade away of its own accord because of our discernment. Mindfulness and discernment wash away all the artifice, all that is counterfeit in that so-called love step by step until it is all gone. This is the discernment we build up in the heart to wash away all the artifices, all the filth with which the defilements plaster things inside and out.
Outside, they plaster these things on sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Inside, they plaster them on labels -- sanna -- that go out our eyes. . . . They plaster things beginning with our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, stage by stage. There's nothing but the plaster of defilement. When we meet with these things, seeing them or hearing them, sanna -- labels and interpretations -- and sankhara -- thought-formations -- appear in the mind. These continue plastering layer on layer.
For this reason, we must use discernment to investigate. Whatever is plastered outside, wash that plastering away. Then turn around to wash away the plastering inside. When we have seen these things clearly with discernment, how can discernment help but turn to find the important culprit, the deceiver inside? It has to turn inside. In using mindfulness and discernment, this is how we must use them. When we investigate, this is how we investigate -- and we do it earnestly. This is Right Activity in the area of the practice.
Right Speech: As I've said before, we speak in line with the ten topics of effacement (sallekha-dhamma). We don't bring matters of the world, politics, commerce, matters of women and men, matters of defilement and craving to converse among ourselves so as to become distracted and conceited, piling on more defilement and stress, in line with the things we discuss. With the topics of effacement -- that's what the Buddha called them -- we speak of things that will strengthen our will to make persistent effort, making us convinced and inspired with the Dhamma. At the same time, these topics are warnings against heedlessness and means of washing away the various kinds of defilement when we hear them from one another. This is Right Speech in the area of the practice.
Right Livelihood: Feed your heart with Dhamma. Don't bring in poison -- greed, anger, delusion, or lust -- to feed the heart, for these things will be toxic, burning the heart and making it far more troubled than any poisonous substances could. Try to guard your heart well with mindfulness and discernment. The savor of the Dhamma, beginning with concentration as its basis, will appear as peace and calm within the heart in proportion to the levels of concentration. Then use discernment to unravel the various things that the mind labels and interprets, so as to see them clearly step by step. This is called Right Livelihood -- guarding the heart rightly, feeding it correctly with the nourishment of the Dhamma, and not with the various kinds of defilement, craving, and mental effluents that are like poisons burning the heart. Reduce matters to these terms, meditators. This is called Right Livelihood in the practice of meditation.
Right Effort, as I've said before, means persistence in abandoning all forms of evil. This covers everything we've said so far. The Buddha defines this as persistence in four areas, or of four sorts, [*] but since I've already explained this many times, I'll pass over it here.
[*] Making the effort (1) to prevent evil from arising, (2) to abandon evil that has arisen, (3) to give rise to the good, and (4) to maintain and perfect the good that has arisen.