This episode is a talk given by the Thai forest meditation master Ajahn Tate and is titled “Reflection on Nibbana”. In this dhamma talk, Ajahn Tate reflects upon the profound peace and infinite benefit of the highest possible achievement – Nibbana.
This teaching was translated by Steven Towler and was made available for free distribution in the publication “Words of the Master” which was published in 2023. You can find links to the original text in the show notes to this episode.
This audio version is narrated by Sol Hanna. If you’d like to support my work by making a donation to help cover the costs of hosting and other services that make this possible, click on the “Buy me a coffee” link below (or go to https://ko-fi.com/solhanna ). Or you can become a regular patron via Patreon (https://www.patreon.com/SolHanna).
Reflections On Nibbana by Ajahn Tate Upasamānusati is the recollection of the tranquillity of Nibbāna. Some amongst us may think this is too lofty an ambition. The Lord Buddha was not able to display His tranquillity 17 so we are not able to gauge the subtlety of His level of peacefulness, right up to Nibbāna. He did, however, bid us to reflect on the serenity of Nibbāna, as follows. We must all endeavour to become peaceful! To be aware of complete freedom from all objects, everything. If you grasp the meaning of this right now, you will reach Nibbāna. Whatever happens is fine. It’s up to you whether you reach Nibbāna or not, however, I implore you to recollect peacefulness because recollecting peacefulness makes the mind rock solid. This is what the Lord Buddha meant when he beseeched us to recollect in this way. If your reflection is not peaceful, confusion will set in. When we are calm, but not as calm as the Lord Buddha, we experience a fraction of His Nibbāna. That said, we are happy with this, which is enough for the time being. This is just freedom from Ārammaṇa (the six sense objects). It is peacefulness by temporary relief from the five Nivaraņa (hinderances). This kind of tranquillity is still associated with Loba (greed), Dosa (ill-will) and Moha (delusion). The defilements are plentiful. When we are peaceful in this manner, we have no idea of the depth of our tranquillity. But this is still good. The Lord Buddha still referred to this as being tranquil. Lord Buddha said to reflect on Nibbāna as your object (Ārammaṇa). “The peace of Nibbāna is probably like this 18 . Nibbāna is void of Loba, Dosa and Moha.” It is that moment and no other, when one is free from greed, ill-will and delusion that real peacefulness and tranquillity arises. This is what the Lord Buddha meant by Nibbāna. This is why He implored one to ponder on tranquillity. Nibbāna is hard to make sense of, but we believe in our own peacefulness. We know we can achieve at least some level of calmness. Even if we cannot reach the same level of tranquillity as the Lord Buddha, we may be able to come close to Nibbāna. If you can sustain peacefulness, your reflection on Nibbāna will be sustained. If your peacefulness is fleeting, your reflection on Nibbāna will be fleeting. The Lord Buddha’s Nibbāna was truly the pinnacle of tranquillity. His only thoughts were Nibbāna. He had no thoughts of Kilesa (defilements). Any thoughts He did have were about tranquillity and that’s it. Typically, the Citta tends to think, constantly. But Sati (mindfulness) keeps the mind protected, allowing the Citta to be observed at every level. The Lord Buddha’s Citta did not stray outside its boundaries. It was under His control. It was not a source of Kilesa. All thoughts were equanimous. It is apposite for us all to emulate Him, at least somewhat, even if we only achieve a tiny amount of peacefulness. We will accept this for the time being and we will guard this tranquillity so that it becomes solid. We will then see for ourselves, that, if peacefulness is sustained for long periods, great tranquillity and happiness will be experienced. The same is true for Nibbāna 19 . If the mind is calm, both Nibbāna and unwholesome states can be teachers. If the mind is disturbed, then neglect has set in. Hell and Nibbāna are at opposite ends of the spectrum, polar opposites. The battle between them is what it is all about 20 . Wherever we come from, after we are born, we are met with nothing but a vast array of confusion, such as countless thoughts and imaginings. When we get tranquillity, even just a little bit, we feel relaxed and comfortable. This state is worth preserving, making it a permanent fixture (of one’s mind). That way, it will be for our own happiness and happiness is what everyone around the world desires. When this level of happiness arises, we must look after it. Things are easy to seek but difficult to maintain. With regard to this happiness, those who will obtain it will do so moment by moment, those that do not, won’t. Maintaining this level of happiness for long periods is the hardest thing to do. Why is this? Well, for a start, our mood is constantly changing. Standing, walking, sitting or lying down; speaking, chatting, eating, every activity, it is all about what contacts the Āyatana (senses). The Citta chases after what makes contact with the Āyatana and this what makes maintenance difficult. If someone is experienced and masterful (in this practice), they will know its ins and outs. They will be able to keep pace with everything they know and see, no matter how these things arise. The surveying Citta will be Dhamma. Thinking will be Dhamma. Imagining and formulating will be Dhamma. If you know what is going on, it is all Dhamma, everything. One who practises will see their own virtue and their own vice right there. What is Dhamma and what is worldly will be seen right there . If your thinking is worldly, everything becomes about the world. There is no Sati to cocoon and protect the Citta. On the other hand, if your focus is on Dhamma, you will follow cause and effect constantly and that focus will remain as long as you wish. Thinking will not exceed boundaries. You can withdraw into this stillness, this peace, at any time. This can be compared with raising cattle. The farmer feeds them in a wide pasture. He climbs a tree to observe each one. He knows the location of them all. In the evening, he brings them into the barn and locks the barndoor. Their owner then sleeps soundly because he knows he does not have to mind them. This is it, Upasamānusati, recollection of the peace of Nibbāna as the object. No matter what the Lord Buddha’s object was, we first need to settle for (the limited peacefulness that has been detailed here). If you do manage to reach the same object as the Lord Buddha, you will know this for yourself 21 . No one can tell you or instruct you (that this is the case). You cannot make a comparison. Whoever experiences this will know for themselves. If you think this is going to be as you learned from the text and manuals, you will realise that reality is something else. However, when you have studied, then doing a comparison is not wrong. When you do this, you realise that (actually) there is not the slightest difference 22 . All practitioners want to achieve (increased) levels of practice. They want these stages to be firmly established. They want to achieve Sotāpanna, Sakidāgāmi and Anāgāmi. They can close their eyes and, momentarily, envision this. However, when they withdraw from Samādhi, they find that various Kilesa still trouble them. The Kilesa are all still there, just as they were in the beginning. The Lord Buddha, on the other hand, did not engage with the Kilesa once He had seen (the truth). For Him every Kilesa was expunged. He said, a Sotāpanna is like one who has fallen into the stream of Nibbāna and taken a vague look but has not reached Nibbāna. A Sakidāgāmi has gotten closer and sees Nibbāna much clearer. An Anāgāmi sees it at an even closer distance. They see it vividly. It is only clearer when the stage of Arahant is reached. At this stage, Nibbāna is seen with absolute clarity. The Arahant sees clearly that it is following the Dhamma that has made him/her an Arahant, without the need to believe in or listen to anyone else. They see everything is in perfect alignment with what the Lord Buddha taught. Most people would like to be Sotāpanna, Sakidāgāmi, Anāgāmi or Arahant. People think that if they forsake some Kilesa they will be a Sotāpanna. If they forsake some more, they will be a Sakidāgāmi or an Arahant just like the Lord Buddha. But they do not abandon the Kilesa as He did. Instead, they collect them, while extolling the Lord Buddha. How on earth will they reach the Lord Buddha? Even at this stage they still do not want to give up craving. As the ancients said, “Those who want, don’t eat. Those who are eating, don’t want.”
This episode is based on a talk given by esteemed forest meditation master Ajahn Chah and is titled No Abiding. It was published as part of the Collected Teachings of Ajahn Chah published by Aruna Publications.
This audio version is narrated by Sol Hanna. If you’d like to support my work by making a donation to help cover the costs of hosting and other services that make this possible, click on the “Donate” link below (or go to https://ko-fi.com/solhanna ).
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No Abiding by Ajahn Chah WE HEAR SOME of the teachings and can’t really understand them. We think they shouldn’t be the way they are, so we don’t follow them, but really there is a reason to all the teachings. Maybe it seems that things shouldn’t be that way, but they are. At first I didn’t even believe in sitting meditation. I couldn’t see what use it would be to just sit with your eyes closed. And walking meditation, walking from this tree to that tree, turning around and walking back again. `Why bother?’ I thought, `What’s the use of all that walking?’ I thought like that, but actually walking and sitting meditation are of great use. Some people’s tendencies cause them to prefer walking meditation, others prefer sitting, but you can’t do without either of them. The scriptures refer to the four postures: standing, walking, sitting and lying down. We live with these four postures. We may prefer one to the other, but we must use all four. The scriptures say to make these four postures even, to make the practice even in all postures. At first I couldn’t figure out what it meant to make them even. Maybe it means we sleep for two hours, then stand for two hours, then walk for two hours . . . maybe that’s it? I tried it couldn’t do it, it was impossible! That’s not what it meant to make the postures even. `Making the postures even’ refers to the mind, to our awareness, giving rise to wisdom in the mind, to illumine the mind. This wisdom of ours must be present in all postures; we must know, or understand, constantly. Standing, walking, sitting or lying down, we know all mental states as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. Making the postures even in this way can be done, it is possible. Whether like or dislike are present in the mind, we don’t forget our practice, we are aware. If we just focus our attention on the mind constantly then we have the gist of the practice. Whether we experience mental states which the world knows as good or bad we don’t forget ourselves. We don’t get lost in good or bad, we just go straight. Making the postures constant in this way is possible. If we have constancy in our practice, when we are praised, then it’s simply praise; if we are blamed, it’s just blame. We don’t get high or low over it, we stay right here. Why? Because we see the danger in all those things, we see their results. We are constantly aware of the danger in both praise and blame. Normally, if we have a good mood the mind is good also, we see them as the same thing; if we have a bad mood the mind goes bad as well, we don’t like it. This is the way it is, this is uneven practice. If we have constancy just to the extent of knowing our moods, and knowing we’re clinging to them, this is better already. That is, we have awareness, we know what’s going on, but we still can’t let go. We see ourselves clinging to good and bad, and we know it. We cling to good and know it’s not right practice, but we still can’t let go. This is fifty to seventy per cent of the practice already. There still isn’t release but we know that if we could let go, that would be the way to peace. We keep seeing the equally harmful consequences of all our likes and dislikes, of praise and blame, continuously. Whatever the conditions may be, the mind is constant in this way. But if worldly people get blamed or criticized, they get really upset. If they get praised it cheers them up, they say it’s good and get really happy over it. If we know the truth of our various moods, if we know the consequences of clinging to praise and blame, the danger of clinging to anything at all, we will become sensitive to our moods. We will know that clinging to them really causes suffering. We see this suffering, and we see our very clinging as the cause of that suering. We begin to see the consequences of grabbing and clinging to good and bad, because we’ve grasped them and seen the result before no real happiness. So now we look for the way to let go. Where is this `way to let go’? In Buddhism we say `Don’t cling to any- thing.’ We never stop hearing about this `don’t cling to anything!’ This means to hold, but not to cling. Like this flashlight. We think, `What is this?’ So we pick it up, `Oh, it’s a flashlight,’ then we put it down again. We hold things in this way. If we didn’t hold anything at all, what could we do ? We couldn’t do walking meditation or do anything, so we must hold things rst. It’s wanting, yes, that’s true, but later on it leads to parami (virtue or perfection). Like wanting to come here, for instance. Venerable Jagaro came to Wat Pah Pong. He had to want to come first. If he hadn’t felt that he wanted to come he wouldn’t have come. For anybody it’s the same, they come here because of wanting. But when wanting arises don’t cling to it! So you come, and then you go back. What is this? We pick it up, look at it and see, `Oh, it’s a flashlight,’ then we put it down. This is called holding but not clinging, we let go. We know and then we let go. To put it simply we say just this, `Know, then let go.’ Keep looking and letting go. `This, they say is good; this they say is not good’ . . . know, and then let go. Good and bad, we know it all, but we let it go. We don’t foolishly cling to things, but we `hold’ them with wisdom. Practising in this `posture’ can be constant. You must be constant like this. Make the mind know in this way; let wisdom arise. When the mind has wisdom, what else is there to look for? We should reflect on what we are doing here. For what reason are we living here, what are we working for? In the world they work for this or that reward, but the monks teach something a little deeper than that. Whatever we do, we ask for no return. We work for no reward. Worldly people work because they want this or that, because they want some gain or other, but the Buddha taught to work just in order to work; we don’t ask for anything beyond that. If you do something just to get some return it’ll cause suffering. Try it out for yourself! You want to make your mind peaceful so you sit down and try to make it peaceful you’ll suer! Try it. Our way is more refined. We do, and then let go; do, and then let go. Look at the Brahmin who makes a sacrifice. He has some desire in mind, so he makes a sacrifice. Those actions of his won’t help him transcend suffering because he’s acting on desire. In the beginning we practise with some desire in mind; we practise on and on, but we don’t attain our desire. So we practise until we reach a point where we’re practising for no return, we’re practising in order to let go. This is something we must see for ourselves, it’s very deep. Maybe we practise because we want to go to Nibbana1 right there, you won’t get to Nibbana! It’s natural to want peace, but it’s not really correct. We must practise without wanting anything at all. If we don’t want anything at all, what will we get? We don’t get anything! Whatever you get is a cause for suffering, so we practise not getting anything. Just this is called `making the mind empty’. It’s empty but there is still doing. This emptiness is something people don’t usually understand; only those who reach it see the real value of it. It’s not the emptiness of not having anything, it’s emptiness within the things that are here. Like this flashlight: we should see this flashlight as empty; because of the flashlight there is emptiness. It’s not the emptiness where we can’t see anything, it’s not like that. People who understand like that have got it all wrong. You must understand emptiness within the things that are here. Those who are still practising because they have some gaining idea are like the Brahmin making a sacrifice just to fulfill some wish. Like the people who come to see me to be sprinkled with `holy water’. When I ask them, `Why do you want this holy water?’ they say, `we want to live happily and comfortably and not get sick.’ There! They’ll never transcend suffering that way. The worldly way is to do things for a reason, to get some return, but in Buddhism we do things without the idea of gaining anything. The world has to understand things in terms of cause and effect, but the Buddha teaches us to go above and beyond cause and effect. His wisdom was to go above cause, beyond effect; to go above birth and beyond death; to go above happiness and beyond suffering. Think about it, there’s nowhere to stay. We people live in a `home’. To leave home and go where there is no home, we don’t know how to do it, because we’ve always lived with becoming, with clinging. If we can’t cling we don’t know what to do. So most people don’t want to go to Nibbana, there’s nothing there; nothing at all. Look at the roof and the oor here. The upper extreme is the roof, that’s an `abiding’. The lower extreme is the floor, and that’s another `abiding’. But in the empty space between the oor and the roof there’s nowhere to stand. One could stand on the roof, or stand on the floor, but not on that empty space. Where there is no abiding, that’s where there’s emptiness, and Nibbana is this emptiness. People hear this and they back up a bit, they don’t want to go. They’re afraid they won’t see their children or relatives. This is why, when we bless the laypeople, we say, `May you have long life, beauty, happiness and strength.’ This makes them really happy, `sadhu’! they all say. They like these things. If you start talking about emptiness they don’t want it, they’re attached to abiding. But have you ever seen a very old person with a beautiful complexion? Have you ever seen an old person with a lot of strength, or a lot of happiness? No, but we say, `Long life, beauty, happiness and strength’ and they’re all really pleased, every single one says sadhu! This is like the Brahmin who makes oblations to achieve some wish.
In our practice we don’t `make oblations’, we don’t practise in order to get some return. We don’t want anything. If we want something then there is still something there. Just make the mind peaceful and have done with it. But if I talk like this you may not be very comfortable, because you want to be `born’ again. All you lay practitioners should get close to the monks and see their practice. To be close to the monks means to be close to the Buddha, to be close to his Dhamma. The Buddha said, `Ananda, practise a lot, develop your practice! Whoever sees the Dhamma sees me, and whoever sees me sees the Dhamma.’ Where is the Buddha? We may think the Buddha has been and gone, but the Buddha is the Dhamma, the Truth. Some people like to say, `Oh, if I had been born in the time of the Buddha I would have gone to Nibbana.’ Here, stupid people talk like this. The Buddha is still here. The Buddha is truth. Regardless of whoever is born or dies, the truth is still here. The truth never departs from the world, it’s there all the time. Whether a Buddha is born or not, whether someone knows it or not, the truth is still there. So we should get close to the Buddha, we should come within and find the Dhamma. When we reach the Dhamma we will reach the Buddha; seeing the Dhamma we will see the Buddha, and all doubts will dissolve. To give a comparison, it’s like teacher Choo. At rst he wasn’t a teacher, he was just Mr. Choo. When he studied and passed the necessary grades he became a teacher, and became known as teacher Choo. How did he become a teacher? Through studying the required subjects, thus allowing Mr. Choo to become teacher Choo. When teacher Choo dies, the study to become a teacher still remains, and whoever studies it will become a teacher. That course of study to become a teacher doesn’t disappear anywhere, just like the Truth, the knowing of which enabled the Buddha to become the Buddha. So the Buddha is still here. Whoever practises and sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha. These days people have got it all wrong, they don’t know where the Buddha is. They say, `If I had been born in the time of the Buddha I would have become a disciple of his and become enlightened.’ That’s just foolishness. Don’t go thinking that at the end of the Rains Retreat you’ll disrobe. Don’t think like that! In an instant an evil thought can arise in the mind, you could kill somebody. In the same way, it only takes a split-second for good to ash into the mind, and you’re there already. And don’t think that you have to ordain for a long time to be able to meditate. The right practice lies in the instant we make kamma. In a flash an evil thought arises and before you know it you’ve committed some heavy kamma. In the same way, all the disciples of the Buddha practised for a long time, but the time they attained enlightenment was merely one thought moment. So don’t be heedless, even in minor things. Try hard, try to get close to the monks, contemplate things and then you’ll know about monks. Well, that’s enough, huh? It must be getting late now, some people are getting sleepy. The Buddha said not to teach Dhamma to sleepy people.
At this time please determine your minds to listen to the dhamma. Today is the traditional day of dhammasavana. It is the appropriate time for us, the host of Buddhists, to study the dhamma in order to increase our mindfulness and wisdom. Giving and receiving the teachings is something we have been doing for a long time. The activities we usually perform on this day, chanting homage to the Buddha, taking moral precepts, meditating and listening to teachings, should be understood as methods and principles for spiritual development. They are not anything more than this.
Let Your Aim Be Nibbana by Ajahn Chah At this time please determine your minds to listen to the dhamma. Today is the traditional day of dhammasavana. It is the appropriate time for us, the host of Buddhists, to study the dhamma in order to increase our mindfulness and wisdom. Giving and receiving the teachings is something we have been doing for a long time. The activities we usually perform on this day, chanting homage to the Buddha, taking moral precepts, meditating and listening to teachings, should be understood as methods and principles for spiritual development. They are not anything more than this.
When it comes to taking precepts, for example, a monk will proclaim the precepts and the laypeople will vow to undertake them. Don’t misunderstand what is going on. The truth is that morality is not something that can be given. It can’t really be requested or received from someone. We can’t give it to someone else. In our vernacular, we hear people say ‘The venerable monk gave the precepts” and “We received the precepts.” We talk like this here in the countryside, and it has become our habitual way of understanding. If we think like that, that we come to receive precepts from the monks on the lunar observance days, and that if the monks won’t give precepts then we don’t have morality, that is only a tradition of delusion that we have inherited from our ancestors. Thinking in this way means that we give up our own responsibility, not having firm trust and conviction in ourselves. Then it gets passed down to the next generation, and they too come to ‘receive’ precepts from the monks. And the monks come to believe that they are the ones who ‘give’ the precepts to the laity. In fact, morality and precepts are not like that. They are not something to be ‘given’ or ‘received’; but on ceremonial occasions of making merit and the like, we use this as a ritual form according to tradition and employ the terminology.
In truth, morality resides with the intentions of people. If you have the conscious determination to refrain from harmful activities and wrongdoing by way of body and speech, then morality is coming about within you. You should know it within yourself. It is OK to take the vows with another person. You can recollect the precepts by yourself. If you don’t know what they are, then you can request them from someone else. It is not something very complicated or distant. So really, whenever we wish to ‘receive’ morality and dhamma, we have them right then. It is just like the air that surrounds us everywhere. Whenever we breathe, we take it in. All manner of good and evil are like that. If we wish to do good, we can do it anywhere, at any time. We can do it alone, or together with others. Evil is the same. We can do it with a large or small group, in a hidden or open place. It is like that.
These are things that are already in existence. But as to morality, it is something that we should consider normal for all humans to practice. A person who has no morality is no different from an animal. If you decide to live like an animal, then of course there is no good or evil for you, because an animal doesn’t have any knowledge of such things. A cat catches mice, but we don’t say it is doing evil, because it has no concepts or knowledge of good or bad, right or wrong. These beings are outside the circle of human beings. It is the animal realm. The Buddha pointed out that this group is just living according to the animal kind of kamma. Those who understand right and wrong, good and evil, are humans. The Buddha taught his Dhamma for humans. If we people don’t have morality and knowledge of these things, then we are not much different from animals, so it is appropriate that we study and learn about them and make ourselves able. This is taking advantage of the precious accomplishment of human existence and bringing it to fulfillment.
The profound dhamma is the teaching that morality is necessary. Then when there is morality, one should pursue dhamma. Morality means the precepts as to what is forbidden and what is permissible. Dhamma refers to nature and to humans knowing about nature, how things exist according to nature. Nature is something we do not compose. It exists as it is, according to its conditions. A simple example is animals. A certain species, such as peacocks, is born with its various patterns and colors. They were not created like that by humans or modified by humans; they are just born that way, according to nature. This is a little example of how it is in nature.
All things of nature are existing in the world – this is still talking about understanding from a worldly viewpoint. The Buddha taught Dhamma for us to know nature, to let go of it and let it exist according to its conditions. This is talking about the external material world. As to namadhamma, meaning the mind, it can not be left to follow its own conditions. It has to be trained. In the end, we can say that mind is the teacher of body and speech, so it needs to be well trained. Letting it go according to its natural urges just makes one an animal. It has to be instructed and trained. It should come to know nature, but should not merely be left to follow nature.
We are born into this world, and all of us will naturally have the afflictions of desire, anger and delusion. Desire makes us crave after various things and causes the mind to be in a state of imbalance and turmoil. Nature is like that. It will just not do to let the mind go after these impulses of craving. It only leads to heat and distress. It is better to train in dhamma, in truth.
When aversion occurs in us, we want to express anger towards people, and it may get to the point of physically attacking or even killing people. But we don’t just ‘let it go’ according to its nature. We know the nature of what is occurring there. We see it for what it is, and teach the mind about it. This is studying dhamma.
Delusion is the same. When it happens, we are confused about things. If we just leave it as it is, then we remain in ignorance. So the Buddha told us to know nature, to teach nature, to train and adjust nature, to know exactly what nature is.
For example, people are born with physical form and mind. In the beginning these things are born, in the middle they change, and in the end they are extinguished. This is ordinary; this is their nature. We cannot do much to alter these facts. We train our minds as we can, and when the time comes we have to let go of it all. It is beyond the ability of humans to change this or get beyond it. The dhamma that the Buddha taught is something to be applied while we are here, for making actions, words and thoughts correct and proper. It means he was teaching the minds of people so that they would not be deluded in regard to nature, to conventional reality and supposition. The Teacher instructed us to see the world. His dhamma was a teaching that is above and beyond the world. We are in the world. We were born into this world; he taught us to transcend the world, not being prisoner to worldy ways and habits.
It is like a diamond that falls into a muddy pit. No matter how much dirt and filth covers it, that does not destroy the radiance, the hues, and the worth of it. Even though the mud is stuck to it, the diamond does not lose anything, but is just as it originally was. There are two separate things.
So the Buddha taught to be above the world, which means knowing the world clearly. By ‘the world’ he did not mean so much the earth and sky and elements, but rather to the mind, the wheel of samsara within the hearts of people. He meant this wheel, this world. This is the world that the Buddha knew clearly; when we talk about knowing the world clearly, we are talking about these things. If it were otherwise, then the Buddha would have had to be flying everywhere to ‘know the world clearly.’ It is not like that. It is a single point. All dhammas come down to one single point. Like people, which means men and women. If we observe one man and one woman, we know the nature of all people in the universe. They are not that different.
Or learning about heat. If we just know this one point, the quality of being hot, then it does not matter what the source or cause of the heat is, the condition of ‘hot’ is such. Knowing this one point, then wherever there may be hotness in the universe, it is like this. So the Buddha knew a single point, and his knowledge encompassed the world. Knowing coldness to be a certain way, when he encountered coldness anywhere in the world, he already knew it. He taught a single point, for beings living in the world to know the world, to know the nature of the world…. Just like knowing people…. Knowing men and women, knowing the manner of existence of beings in the world. His knowledge was such. Knowing one point, he knew all things.
The dhamma which the Teacher expounded was for going beyond suffering. What is this ‘going beyond suffering’ all about? What should we do to ‘escape from suffering’? It is necessary for us to do some study; we need to come and study the thinking and feeling in our hearts. Just that. It is something we are presently unable to change. If we can change it, we can be free of all suffering and unsatisfactoriness in life, just by changing this one point, our habitual world view, our way of thinking and feeling. If we come to have a new sense of things, a new understanding, then we transcend the old perceptions and understanding.
The authentic dhamma of the Buddha is not something pointing far away. It teaches self. It teaches about atta, self, and that things are not really self. That is all. All the teachings that the Buddha gave were pointing out that ‘this is not a self, this does not belong to a self, there is no such thing as ourselves or others.’ Here, when we contact this, we can’t really read it, we don’t ‘translate’ the Dhamma correctly. We still think ‘this is me, this is mine.’ We attach to things and invest them with meaning. When we do this, we can’t yet disentangle from them; the involvement deepens and the mess gets worse and worse. If we know that there is no self, that body and mind are really anatta, as the Buddha taught, then when we keep on investigating, eventually we will come to realization of the actual condition of selflessness. We will genuinely realize that there is no self or other. Pleasure is merely pleasure. Feeling is merely feeling. Memory is merely memory. Thinking is merely thinking. They are all things which are ‘merely’ that. Happiness is merely happiness; suffering is merely suffering. Good is merely good, evil is merely evil. Everything exists ‘merely’ thus. There is no real happiness or real suffering. There are just the merely existing conditions. Merely happy, merely suffering, merely hot, merely cold, merely a being or a person. You should keep looking to see that things are only so much. Only earth, only water, only fire, only air. We should keep on ‘reading’ these things and investigating this point. Eventually our perception will change; we will have a different feeling about things. The tight conviction that there is self and things belonging to self will gradually come undone. When this sense of things is removed, then the opposite perception will keep increasing steadily.
When the realization of anatta comes to full measure, then we will be able to relate to the things of this world, to our most cherished possessions and involvements, to friends and relations, to wealth, accomplishments and status, just the same as we do to our clothes. When shirts and pants are new, we wear them; they get dirty and we wash them; after some time they are worn out and we discard them. There is nothing out of the ordinary there; we are constantly getting rid of the old things and starting to use new garments.
So we will have the exact same feeling about our existence in this world. We will not cry or moan over things. We will not be tormented or burdened by them. They remain the same things as they were before, but our feeling and understanding of them has changed. Now our knowledge will be exalted and we will see truth. We will have attained supreme vision and authentic knowledge of that Dhamma which we ought to know. The Buddha taught the Dhamma that we ought to know and to see. Where is the dhamma that we ought to know and see? It is right here within us, this body and mind. We have it already; we should come to know and see it.
For example, all of us have been born into this human realm. Whatever we gained by that we are going to lose. We have seen people born and seen them die. We just see this happening, but don’t really see clearly. When there is a birth, we rejoice over it; when someone dies, we cry for them. There is no end. It goes on in this way, and there is no end to our foolishness. Seeing birth, we are foolhardy; seeing death, we are foolhardy. There is only this unending foolishness. Let’s take a look at all this. These things are natural occurrences. Contemplate the dhamma here, the dhamma we should know and see. This dhamma is existing right now. Make up your minds about this. Exert restraint and self-control. Now we are amidst the things of this life. We shouldn’t have fears of death. We should fear the lower realms. Don’t fear dying; rather, be afraid of falling into hell. You should be afraid of doing wrong while you still have life. These are old things we are dealing with, not new things. Some people are alive but don’t know themselves at all. They think, what’s the big deal about what I do now, I can’t know what is going to happen when I die. They don’t think about the new seeds they are creating for the future. They only see the old fruit. They fixate on present experience, not realizing that if there is fruit, it must have come from a seed, and that within the fruit we have now are the seeds of future fruit. These seeds are just waiting to be planted. Actions born of ignorance continue the chain in this way, but when you are eating the fruit, you don’t think about all the implications.
Wherever the mind has a lot of attachment, just there will we experience intense suffering, intense grief, intense difficulty. The place we experience the most problems is the place we have the most attraction, longing and concern. Please try to resolve this. Now, while you still have life and breath, keep on looking at it and reading it, until you are able to ‘translate’ it and solve the problem.
Whatever we are experiencing as part of our lives now, one day we will be parted from it. So don’t just pass the time. Practice spiritual cultivation. Take this parting, this separation and loss, as your object of contemplation right now, in the present, until you are clever and skilled in it, until you can see that it is ordinary and natural. When there is anxiety and regret over it, have the wisdom to recognize the limits of this anxiety and regret, knowing what they are according to the truth. If you can consider things in this way, then wisdom will arise. But people generally do not want to investigate. Whenever suffering occurs, wisdom can arise there, if we investigate.
Wherever pleasant or unpleasant experience happens, wisdom can arise there. If we know happiness and suffering for what they really are, then we know the Dhamma. If we know the Dhamma, we know the world clearly; if we know the world clearly, we know the Dhamma.
Actually, for most of us, if something is displeasing, we don’t really want to know about it. We get caught up in the aversion to it. If we dislike someone, we don’t want to look at their face or get anywhere near them. This is the mark of a foolish, unskillful person; this is not the way of a good person. If we like someone, then of course we want to be close to them, we make every effort to be with them, taking delight in their company. This is foolishness, also. They are actually the same, like the palm and back of the hand. When we turn the hand up and see the palm, the back of the hand is hidden from sight. When we turn it over, then the palm is not seen. Pleasure hides pain, and pain hides pleasure from our sight. Wrong covers up right, right covers wrong. Just looking at one side, our knowledge is not complete.
Let’s do things completely, while we still have life. Keep on looking at things, separating truth from falsehood, noting how things really are, getting to the end of it, reaching peace. When the time comes, we will be able to cut through and let go completely. Now we have to firmly attempt to separate things, keep trying to cut through.
The Buddha taught about hair, nails, skin and teeth. He taught us to separate here. A person who does not know about separating only knows about holding them to himself. Now while we have not yet parted from these things, we should be skillful in meditating on them. We have not yet left this world, so we should be careful. We should contemplate a lot, make copious charitable offerings, recite the scriptures a lot, cultivate a lot: cultivate impermanence, cultivate unsatisfactoriness, cultivate selflessness. Even if the mind does not want to listen, we should keep on breaking things up like this and come to know in the present. This can most definitely be done, people. One can realize knowledge that transcends the world. We are stuck in the world. This is a way to ‘destroy’ the world, through contemplating and seeing beyond the world so that we can transcend the world in our being. Even while we are living in this world, our view can be above the world.
In a worldly existence, one creates both good and evil. Now we try to practice virtue and give up evil. When good results come, then you should not be ‘under’ that good, but be able to transcend it. If you do not transcend it, then you become a slave to virtue and to your concepts of what is good. It puts you in difficulty, and there will not be an end to your tears. It does not matter how much good you have practiced, if you are attached to it, then you are still not free, and there will be no end to tears. But one who transcends good as well as evil has no more tears to shed. They have dried up. There can be an end. We should learn to use virtue, not to be used by virtue.
To put the teaching of the Buddha in a nutshell, the point is to transform one’s view. It is possible to change it. It only requires looking at things, and then it happens. Having been born, we will experience aging, illness, death and separation. These things are right here. We don’t need to look up at the sky or down at the earth. The dhamma that we need to see and to know can be seen right here within us, every moment of every day. When there is a birth, we are filled with joy. When there is a death, we grieve. That’s how we spend our lives. These are the things we need to know about, but we still have not really looked into them and seen the truth. We are stuck deep in this ignorance. We ask, when will we get the chance to see the Dhamma; but it is right here to be seen in the present..
This is the Dhamma we should learn about and see. This is what the Buddha taught about. He did not teach about gods and demons and nagas, protective deities, jealous demigods, nature spirits and the like. He taught the things that one should know and see. These are truths that we really should be able to realize. External phenomena are like this, exhibiting the three characteristics. Internal phenomena, i.e., this body, are like this, too. The truth can be seen in the hair, nails, skin and teeth. Previously they flourished. Now they are diminished. The hair thins and becomes gray. It is like this. Do you see? Or will you say it is something you can’t see? You certainly should be able to see with a little investigation.
If we really take an interest in all of this and contemplate seriously, we can gain genuine knowledge. If this were something that could not be done, the Buddha would not have bothered to talk about it. How many tens and hundreds of thousands of his followers have come to realization? If one is really keen on looking at things, one can come to know. The Dhamma is like that.
We are living in this world. The Buddha wanted us to know the world. Living in the world, we gain our knowledge from the world. The Buddha is said to be Lokavidu, one who knows the world clearly. It means living in the world but not being stuck in the ways of the world; living among attraction and aversion, but not stuck in attraction and aversion. This can be spoken about and explained in ordinary language. This is how the Buddha taught.
Normally we speak in terms of atta, self, talking about me and mine, you and yours, but the mind can remain uninterruptedly in the realization of anatta, selflessness. Think about it. When we talk to children, we speak in one way; when dealing with adults, we speak in another way. If we use words appropriate to children to speak with adults, or use adults’ words to speak with children, it won’t work out. In the proper use of conventions, we have to know when we are talking to children. It can be appropriate to talk about me and mine, you and yours, and so forth, but inwardly the mind is Dhamma, dwelling in realization of anatta. You should have this kind of foundation.
So the Buddha said that you should take the Dhamma as your foundation, your basis. Living and practicing in the world, will you take yourself, your ideas, desires and opinions, as a basis? That is not right. The Dhamma should be your standard. If you take yourself as the standard, you become self-absorbed. If you take someone else as your standard, you are merely infatuated with that person. Being enthralled with ourselves or with another person is not the way of Dhamma. The Dhamma does not incline to any person or follow personalities. It follows the truth. It does not simply accord with the likes and dislikes of people; such habitual reactions have nothing to do with the truth of things.
If we really consider all of this and investigate thoroughly to know the truth, then we will enter the correct path. Our way of living will become correct. Thinking will be correct. Our actions and speech will be correct. So we really should look into all of this. Why is it that we have suffering? Because of lack of knowledge, not knowing where things begin and end, not understanding the causes; this is ignorance. When there is this ignorance, then various desires arise, and, driven by them, we create the causes of suffering. Then the result must be suffering. When you gather firewood and light a match to it, and then you expect not to have any heat, what are your chances? You are creating a fire, aren’t you? This is origination itself.
If you understand these things, then morality will be born here. Dhamma will be born here. So prepare yourselves. The Buddha advised us to prepare ourselves. You needn’t have too many concerns or anxieties about things. Just look here. Look at the place without desires, the place without danger. Nibbana paccayo hotu – the Buddha taught, let it be a cause for Nibbana. If it will be a cause for realization of Nibbana, then it means looking at the place where things are empty, where things are done with, where they reach their end, where they are exhausted. Look at the place where there are no more causes, where there is no more self or other, me or mine. This looking becomes a cause or condition, a condition for attaining Nibbana. Then practicing generosity becomes a cause for realizing Nibbana. Practicing morality becomes a cause for realizing Nibbana. Listening to the teachings becomes a cause for realizing Nibbana. Thus we can dedicate all our Dhamma activities to become causes for Nibbana. But we are not looking towards Nibbana. We are looking at self and other and attachment and grasping without end. This does not become a cause for Nibbana.
When we deal with others and they talk about self, about me and mine, about what is ours, then we immediately agree with this viewpoint. We immediately think, “Yeah, that’s right!” But it’s not right. Even if the mind is saying, right, right, we have to exert control over it. It’s the same as a child who is afraid of ghosts. Maybe the parents are afraid, too. But it won’t do for the parents to talk about it; if they do, then the child will feel he has no protection or security. “No, of course Daddy is not afraid. Don’t worry, Daddy is here. There are no ghosts. There’s nothing to worry about.” Well, the father might really be afraid, too. If he starts talking about it, then they will all get so worked up about ghosts that they’ll jump up and run away, father, mother and child, and end up homeless.
This is not being clever. You have to look at things clearly and learn how to deal with them. Even when you feel that deluded appearances are real, you have to tell yourself that they are not. Go against it like this. Teach yourself inwardly. When the mind is experiencing the world in terms of self, saying, ‘it’s true’, you have to be able to tell it, ‘it’s not true’. You should be floating above the water, not be submerged by the floodwaters of worldy habit…. The water is flooding our hearts… if we run after things, do we ever look at what is going on? Will there be anyone ‘watching the house’?
Nibbana paccayam hotu – one need not aim at anything or wish for anything at all. Just aim for Nibbana. All manner of becoming and birth, merit and virtue in the worldly way do not reach there. Making merits and skillful kamma, hoping it will cause us to attain to some better state, we don’t need to be wishing for a lot of things; just aim directly for Nibbana. Wanting sila, wanting tranquility – we just end up in the same old place- it’s not necessary to desire these things – we should just wish for the place of cessation.
It is like this. Throughout all our becoming and birth, all of us are so terribly anxious about so many things. When there is separation, when there is death, we cry and lament. To me, oyyy, I can only think, how utterly foolish this is. What are we crying about? Where do you think people are going anyhow? If they are still bound up in becoming and birth, they are not really going away. When children grow up and move to the big city of Bangkok, they still think of their parents. They won’t be missing someone else’s parents, just their own. When they return, they will go to their parents’ home, not someone else’s. And when they go away again, they will still think about their home here in Ubon. Will they be homesick for some other place? What do you think? So when the breath ends and we die, no matter through how many lifetimes, if the causes for becoming and birth still exist, the consciousness is likely to try and take birth in a place it is familiar with. I think we are just too fearful about all of this. So please don’t go crying about it too much. Think about this. Satte kammam vipassati – kamma drives beings into their various births – they don’t go very far. Cycling back and forth through the round of births, that is all, just changing appearances, appearing with a different face next time, but we don’t know it. Just coming and going, going and returning in the round of samsara, not really going anywhere. Just staying there. Like a mango that is shaken off the tree/ like the snare that does not get the wasps’ nest and falls to the ground: it is not going anywhere. It is just staying there. So the Buddha said, Nibbana paccayam hotu; let your only aim be Nibbana. Strive hard to accomplish this; don’t end up like the mango falling to the ground and going nowhere.
Transform your sense of things like this. If you can change it, you will know great peace. Change, please; come to see and know. These are things one should indeed see and know. If you do see and know, then where else do you need to go? Morality will come to be. Dhamma will come to be. It is nothing far away; please investigate this.
When you transform your view, then you will realize that it is like watching leaves fall from the trees. When they get old and dry, they fall from the tree. And when the season comes, they begin to appear again. Would anyone cry when leaves fall or laugh when they grow? If you did, you would be insane, wouldn’t you? It is just this much. If we can see things in this way, we will be OK. We will know that is just the natural order of things. It doesn’t matter how many births we undergo, it will always be like this. When one studies dhamma, gains clear knowledge, and undergoes a change of world-view like this, one will realize peace and be free of bewilderment about the phenomena of this life.
But the important point, really, is that we have life now, in the present. We are experiencing the results of past deeds right now. When beings are born into the world, that is the results of past actions appearing. Whatever happiness or suffering beings have in the present are the fruits of what they have done previously. It is born of the past and experienced in the present. Then this present experience becomes the basis for the future, as we create further causes under its influence, and the future experience becomes the result. The movement from one birth to the next also happens in this way. You should understand this.
Listening to the dhamma should resolve your doubts. It should clarify your view of things and alter your way of living. When doubts are resolved, suffering can end. You stop creating desires and mental afflictions. Then, whatever you experience, if something is displeasing to you, you will not suffer over it, because you understand its changeability. If something is pleasing to you, you will not get carried away and become intoxicated by it, because you know the way to let go of things appropriately. You maintain a balanced perspective, because you understand impermanence and know how to resolve things according to Dhamma. You know that good and bad conditions are always changing. Knowing internal phenomena, you understand external phenomena. Not attached to the external, you are not attached to the internal. Observing things within yourself or outside of yourself, it is all completely the same.
In this way, we can dwell in a natural state, which is peace and tranquility. If we are criticized, we remain undisturbed. If we are praised, we are undisturbed. Let things be in this way, not being influenced by others. This is freedom. Knowing the two extremes for what they are, one can experience well-being. One does not stop at either side. This is genuine happiness and peace, transcending all things of the world. One transcends all good and evil. Above cause and effect, beyond birth and death. Born into this world, one can transcend the world. Beyond the world, knowing the world – this is the aim of the Buddha’s teaching. He did not aim for people to suffer. He desired people to attain to peace, to know the truth of things and realize wisdom. This is dhamma, knowing the nature of things. Whatever exists in the world is nature. There is no need to be in confusion about it. Wherever you are, the same laws apply.
The most important point is that while we have life, we should train the mind to be even in regard to things. We should be able to share wealth and possessions. When the time comes, we should give a portion to those in need, just as if we were giving things to our own children. Sharing things like this, we will feel happy; and if we can give away all our wealth, then whenever our breath may stop, there will be no attachment or anxiety because everything is gone. The Buddha taught to ‘die before you die’, to be finished with things before they are finished. Then you can be at ease. Let things break before they are broken, let them finish before they are finished. This is the Buddha’s intention in teaching the Dhamma. Even if you listen to teachings for a hundred or a thousand eons, if you do not understand these points, you won’t be able to undo your suffering and you will not find peace. You will not see the Dhamma. But understanding these things according to the Buddha’s intention and being able to resolve things is called seeing the Dhamma. This view of things can make an end of suffering. It can relieve all heat and distress. Whoever strives sincerely and is diligent in practice, who can endure, who trains and develops themselves to the full measure, those persons will attain to peace and cessation. Wherever they stay, they will have no suffering. Whether they are young or old, they will be free of suffering. Whatever their situation, whatever work they have to perform, they will have no suffering, because their minds have reached the place where suffering is exhausted, where there is peace. It is like this. It is a matter of nature.
The Buddha thus said to change one’s perceptions, and there will be the Dhamma. When the mind is in harmony with Dhamma, then Dhamma enters the heart. The mind and the Dhamma become the indistinguishable. This is something to be realized by those who practice, the changing of one’s view and experience of things. The entire Dhamma is paccatam. It can not be given by anyone; that is an impossibility. If we hold it to be difficult, then it will be something difficult. If we take it to be easy, then it is easy. Whoever contemplates it and sees the one point does not have to know a lot of things. Seeing the one point, seeing birth and death, the arising and passing away of phenomena according to nature, one will know all things. This is a matter of the truth.
This is the way of the Buddha. The Buddha gave his teachings out of the wish to benefit all beings. He wished for us to go beyond suffering and to attain peace. It is not that we have to die first in order to transcend suffering… We shouldn’t think that we will attain this after death… we can go beyond suffering here and now, in the present. We transcend within our perception of things, in this very life, through the view that arises in our minds. Then, sitting, we are happy; lying down, we are happy; wherever we are, we are have happiness. We become without fault, experiencing no ill results, living in a state of freedom. The mind is clear, bright, and tranquil. There is no more darkness or defilement. That is someone who has reached the supreme happiness of the Buddha’s way. Please investigate this for yourselves. All of you lay followers, please contemplate this to gain understanding and ability. If you have suffering, then practice to alleviate your suffering. If it is great, make it little, and if it is little, make an end of it. Everyone has to do this for themselves, so please make an effort to consider these words. May you prosper and develop.