We have gone forth from the household
life and are abstainers from all things that are our own enemies and enemies
of the common good. That's why we're said to have gone forth: It means that
we abstain. 'Abstaining' here means refraining from the things that work to
our detriment. Once we have gone forth, our duty is to abstain from things that
are unwise and to develop wisdom -- intelligence -- as much as we can until
it is enough to carry us past our obstacles: the entire mass of suffering.
At present we all know that we have gone forth. The world calls us 'people who have gone forth,' so be conscious of your status at all times and in your every movement in thought, word, and deed. You are ordained in the Buddha's religion and have his teachings as your guide. His teachings have both a fence and an open way. The fence is the Vinaya, which prescribes penalties for our errors -- major, intermediate, and minor. This is the fence that blocks the wrong paths so that we won't stray down them, and that opens the right path -- the Dhamma -- so that we can follow it to the goal to which we aspire. The Vinaya is a fence on both sides of the path. If we go astray, it means we've gone wrong. If we go just a little astray, we've gone just a little bit wrong. If we go far astray, we've gone far wrong. If we go so far astray that we can't get back on the path, we've gone absolutely wrong. This is like a person who loses his way: If he gets just a little lost, he can quickly get back on the path. If he gets more lost, it wastes a lot of his time. If he gets really lost, he has no chance of reaching his goal. Thus the Vinaya is like a fence to prevent those who have gone forth from going wrong. This fence has various levels -- in line with the differing levels of lay people and those who have ordained -- for us to observe in line with our moral duties, beginning with the five precepts and going up to the eight, the ten, and the 227 precepts.
As for the Dhamma, which is the path to follow as taught by the Buddha, it has conviction as its basis -- in other words, conviction in the path to be followed for good results -- and persistence in making the effort to follow the path unflaggingly. Mindfulness is what guides our efforts as we follow the path. Concentration is firmness of the heart in following the path, in addition to being food for the journey -- in other words, mental peace and ease along the way before we reach the goal. And discernment is circumspection in following the path step by step from beginning to end. These qualities support and encourage us to stay on the right path. When we have these five qualities -- conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration, and discernment -- constantly with us, there's no need to doubt that the results will appear as our reward, clear to the heart, in line with our strength and abilities. If we develop these five qualities so that they are powerful within our hearts, the results that the Buddha proclaimed as lying at the end of the path -- release and nibbana -- won't be able to elude us, because all of these qualities aim at these results.
So I ask that you as meditators nourish your conviction in the Dhamma and in your own capabilities. Make your persistence adequate to the task. Concentration will then appear as a result, so try to make it adequate, and take mindfulness and discernment as your guardians. The results will then appear to your full satisfaction. You don't have to worry about where the paths, fruitions, and nibbana lie. Try to nourish the causes I have explained here and make them adequate. Nothing will then be able to prevent the results that will arise from those causes.
These five qualities -- principles in following the path -- are called the five indriya or five bala. 'Indriya' means dominant factor. 'Bala' means strength. As for the Vinaya, it's a fence guarding both sides of the path to keep us from straying from the way to the paths, fruitions, and nibbanay. The Buddha closed off both sides and then opened the way -- the five strengths -- for us to follow as much as we like.
Kaya-viveka: physical seclusion in your dwelling place. The place where we are staying now is fairly conducive in this respect. Citta-viveka: mental seclusion. Those of you aiming for inner seclusion in line with the levels of your concentration have already attained a fair amount. Those of you who are just beginning, who don't have any mental seclusion in your hearts, should try to nourish the five strengths to make them solid. Inner seclusion will gradually appear step by step. Those of you who have attained an adequate amount of inner seclusion should try to make it more and more refined, at the same time developing discernment or circumspection with regard to your seclusion. As for those of you at the higher stages of the practice, you should urgently gather up persistence with discernment so as to make it adequate, and it will bear fruit as upadhi-viveka -- absolute seclusion from the defilements -- appearing clearly to your hearts.
Physical seclusion means finding peace in solitary places. You don't get embroiled in external matters; you don't latch on to work to disturb the body to the point where you turn your temporary dwelling place into a factory, viewing physical work as the basis of the religion and as your occupation as a monk -- as we see happening everywhere -- to the point where you no longer have any interest in the inner effort of the practice that is a monk's true duty. Mental seclusion refers to the peace of mind endowed with the inner effort of the practice to keep it from running wild with the things that make contact. You rein it in so as to keep it still with watchfulness and restraint at all times. The nature of this level of mental peace is that even though external things may not be making any disturbance, there are still some enemy preoccupations lurking within the mind. This is why this level is termed simply mental seclusion, seclusion from the disturbance of external objects.
As for seclusion from the defilements, this refers to peace with regard to such external things as sights, sounds, smells, and tastes, as well as to peace with regard to internal preoccupations that are the particular enemies of the mind. In other words, yyou are free both from external enemies and from internal enemies. This is absolute seclusion from the defilements, without even the least thing infiltrating the heart. The heart is in this state at all times. Even though various things may come and make contact, or the khandhas may do their work in line with their duties, these things can't permeate into the heart to cause it any difficulties.
These are the results that come from the basis of physical and mental seclusion. These three qualities -- physical seclusion, mental seclusion, and seclusion with regard to the defilements -- are qualities that all of you as meditators should be capable of developing fully within yourselves. There should be nothing blocking your way. All I ask is that you don't abandon your efforts. Be courageous and enthusiastic in searching out lonely, isolated places: places where you can shed your foolishness with regard to yourselves once and for all. This is the way through which the Buddha and all his Noble Disciples passed before reaching the land of nibbana -- so how could these places turn into the enemies of those of us who are following the Buddha's example? Don't be worried that you'll lose your lives in such places. If that were to be the case, the Buddha would have had to change his preliminary instructions to us after our ordination from rukkhamula-senasanam -- living in the forest -- to something else, in keeping with his compassion for all living beings, human and divine. If living in lonely, solitary places, making the effort in line with the Buddha's example, were to give results other than those corresponding to the Dhamma he taught, he would have had to modify his various teachings to be in keeping with the demands of time and place. The 37 wings to Awakening (bodhi-pakkhiya-dhamma) -- which are like the Buddha's very heart that he gave to us so rightly -- would have had to be completely altered.
But these truths are constant and unwavering. The Buddha never changed them. We as meditators should thus modify our thoughts, words, and deeds to fit in with this Dhamma. It would be highly inappropriate for us to modify the Dhamma to conform with the influence of our hearts with their defilements. If we were to do such a thing, we would become Devadatta's in our thoughts, words, and deeds, and our Teacher -- the Buddha's right teachings -- would be lost to us without our even realizing it.
So try to be persistent, in line with the teachings given by the Buddha. Be brave in contending with the enemies of the heart -- both those that come from within and those that come from without -- together with the results they bring. Always take an interest in seeing where suffering and stress come from and how they arise. Don't abandon this work or get bored with it. Try to know the causes and effects of the things that come into contact or become involved with the heart to see how they give rise to stress, until you can ultimately see the causes clearly -- and in that same moment, you will clearly understand the results.
The most important points, no matter when I teach you -- and they are teachings that lie close to my heart -- are mindfulness and discernment. These qualities are very important. If you lack mindfulness and discernment, the results of your practice will be erratic. The progress of your efforts will be interrupted and uneven. The techniques of your intelligence for curing defilement will be lacking, and the results -- peace and ease -- will be sporadic. If mindfulness and discernment are interrupted, you should know that all the efforts of your practice have been interrupted in the same instant. So I ask that each of you realize this. Every time I've given a talk, I've never omitted the topics of mindfulness and discernment. You could almost say that I give them the limelight more than any other topic, for I've considered the matter to the best of my ability, from the time I first started the practice until today, and I have never seen any qualities superior to mindfulness and discernment in being able to unravel things within or without so as to make them clear to the heart. For this reason, I teach you these two qualities so that you'll know: To put them in terms of wood, they're the heartwood or the tap root of the tree. In terms of the Dhamma, they're the root, the crucial tools for eliminating all defilements and mental effluents (asava), from the blatant to the most extremely refined levels, once and for all.
If you lack mindfulness, you can't even give rise to concentration. If you lack discernment, your concentration might turn into wrong concentration -- for the word 'concentration' is a neutral term. There's no assurance as to what sort of concentration it may be. If it lacks discernment as its guardian, it's sure to turn into concentration that deviates from the principles of the Dhamma without your realizing it. There are many levels of wrong concentration -- those that appear blatantly to the world, as well as intermediate and subtle levels -- but here I'll discuss only those forms of wrong concentration that can occur to us in the area of the practice without our realizing it.
For example, when we enter concentration, the mind may gather and rest for a long or a short time, but when we withdraw, we're still attached to that concentration and not at all interested in developing discernment. We may feel that the concentration will turn into the paths, fruitions, or nibbana; or else we are addicted to the concentration and want the mind to stay gathered that way for long periods of time or forever. Sometimes, after the mind gathers into its resting place, it then withdraws a bit, going out to know the various things that make contact, becoming attached and engrossed with its visions. Sometimes it may float out of the body to travel to the Brahma worlds, heaven, hell, or the world of the hungry shades, without a thought for what's right or wrong, as we become engrossed in our visions and abilities, taking them as our amazing paths, fruitions, and nibbana, and those of the religion as well. When this happens, then even if someone skilled and experienced in this area comes to warn us, we won't be willing to listen at all. All of these things are termed wrong concentration that we don't realize to be wrong.
So what is right concentration like, and how should you practice for the sake of rightness? This is where a few differences lie. When you sit in concentration and the mind gathers to rest -- no matter what the level of concentration -- how long it stays there depends on the particular strength of that level of concentration. Let the mind rest in line with its level of concentration. There's no need to force it to withdraw. Let it rest as long as it wants, and then it will withdraw on its own. Once it withdraws, try to train yourself to explore with your discernment. Whatever level of discernment corresponds to that level of concentration, use it to investigate and contemplate the physical properties (dhatu) and khandhas. Whether you investigate these things within or without is not an issue. All that is asked is that you investigate for the sake of knowing cause and effect, for the sake of curing or extricating yourself: Just this much is what's right. Use your discernment to investigate conditions of nature (sabhava dhamma) both within and without, or else exclusively within or exclusively without. Contemplate them in terms of any one of the three characteristics (ti-lakkhana) until you are experienced and astute, until you can find the openings by which you can extricate yourself step by step. When you have investigated to the point where you feel tired, and the mind wants to rest in its home of concentration, let it rest as much as it wants. Whether it rests for a long or a short time is not an issue. Let it rest until it withdraws on its own. As soon as it withdraws, continue with your investigation of such phenomena as the body, as before.
This is right concentration. Be aware of the fact that concentration is simply a temporary resting place. When you have investigated a great deal in the area of discernment and feel mentally tired, rest in concentration. Once the mind is strong again, it'll withdraw. If it's in shape to investigate, then continue investigating. Keep practicing this way constantly. Your concentration will go smoothly, and your discernment will always be astute. Things will go evenly, both in the area of concentration and in the area of discernment, because concentration is beneficial in one way, and discernment in another. If you let yourself follow only the path of discernment, you'll go wrong because you won't have concentration as a support. If you let yourself follow only the path of concentration, you'll go even more wrong than by simply following the path of discernment.
To summarize: These two qualities are like a right arm and a left arm, a right leg and a left leg. Wherever a person walks or whatever he does, he needs both arms and both legs. Concentration and discernment are necessary in just the same way. If you feel that concentration is better than discernment, or discernment better than concentration, then you should have only one arm or one leg, not two arms and two legs like everyone else. In other words, you don't fit in with the rest of the world. Whoever doesn't fit in with the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha -- criticizing discernment and praising concentration, or criticizing concentration and praising discernment -- is the same sort of person.
What's right is that when you are developing concentration, you have to do your duties in terms of concentration and really see the value of concentration. When you are contemplating with discernment, you have to do your duties in terms of discernment and really see the value of discernment. Let each side rest at the right time. Don't get them mixed up together. It's the same as when you walk: When your right foot takes a step, your left foot has to stop. When your left foot takes a step, your right foot has to stop. They don't both step at the same time. Thus both concentration and discernment have their benefits. But when mindfulness and discernment develop enough strength from being trained together, concentration and discernment will then step together -- it's not the case that they'll always take turns -- in the same way that your right arm and left arm work together.
Here we've discussed the relationship between concentration and discernment for those who tend to develop concentration first, who are usually in danger of their concentration's going out of bounds without seeing discernment as the other side of the practice. If it's a necessary quality, you should use it at the appropriate times. As for those who tend to have discernment fostering their concentration, their minds can't settle down into stillness simply through the power of concentration practice alone. They need to use discernment to put brakes on the mind -- which is restless and running wild with its various preoccupations -- by keeping track of the restlessness of the heart so as to see why it is restless and what there is that encourages it to be that way. Discernment has to go ferreting out the various things the mind is labeling and interpreting until the mind surrenders to its discernment and is able to enter stillness. This sort of stillness of mind is said to be still through discernment.
Some people, even when their minds have entered stillness, can at the same time use discernment to investigate and form thoughts without these things being an enemy to that stillness. Perhaps you may think, 'If the mind is concentrated, how can it form thoughts?' and then become doubtful about your concentration. This is called not understanding your own tendencies. These doubts are normal for those who aren't experienced and don't know -- since no one has given them any directions that they can hold to as authoritative -- so they may become uncertain about their practice when this sort of thing happens to them. So here I'd like to take the opportunity to explain: The mind that attains stillness through the method of using discernment as its guardian can continue having thought processes occurring on one level of concentration, but when we reach a fully refined level, no matter which way our concentration is fostered, all thought-formations will cease. No labeling of things will be left in that refined concentration; no thought-formations or cognizance of various things will appear.
To summarize: The intermediate level of concentration for those whose minds gather quickly -- namely, those who start out with concentration -- won't have any thought processes, because the moment thoughts forms, their minds will begin to withdraw from concentration. The concentration attained through the guardian power of discernment, though, can still form thoughts without the mind's withdrawing from concentration -- and both types of concentration must have mindfulness alert as they gather inward.