FOOD FOR THOUGHT:
Eighteen Talks on the Training of the Heart
Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
(Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya)
Translated from the Thai by
Metta Forest Monastery
PO Box 1409
Valley Center, CA 92082
Transcription: David Savage
Proofreading: Thanissaro Bhikkhu
Formatting: John Bullitt
* * *
This work may be freely copied, printed, and redistributed
provided it is offered free of any charge.
Otherwise, all rights reserved.
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1995
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the translator.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
Taking the Long View
An Inner Mainstay
Trading Outer Wealth for Inner Wealth
Nightsoil for the Heart
The Honest Truth
The Mind Aflame
Food for the Mind
First Things First
Getting Acquainted Inside
Stop & Think
Respect for the Truth
Serving a Purpose
Free at Last
* * * * * * * *
This book is an introduction to the Buddhist practice of training the
heart. It is taken from the talks of Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo, a
teacher in the Thai forest tradition of meditation, and is called
//Food for Thought// because it invites the reader to fill in the
spaces suggested by the talks -- to reflect on how the images and
teachings they contain relate to one another and to one's own
situation in life.
Two of the talks included here, 'Quiet Breathing' and 'Centered
Within', briefly describe a technique of breath meditation aimed at
giving rise to a centered and discerning state of mind. The rest of
the talks deal with how to use such a state of mind in dealing with
the problems of life: the day-to-day problems of anger, anxiety,
disappointment, etc., and the larger problems of ageing, illness, and
In other words, this is a book concerned less with the techniques of
meditation than with its meaning and worth: the questions of why
should one train the heart to begin with, what personal qualities are
involved in its training, and how to make the best use of it as it
becomes trained. Readers interested in more detailed instructions in
the techniques of formal meditation can find them in Ajaan Lee's other
books -- especially //Keeping the Breath in Mind// and //Inner
Strength// -- although it is wise to reflect on the sorts of questions
raised by this book before actually sitting down to the practice.
The talks translated here are actually reconstructions of Ajaan
Lee's talks made by two of his followers -- a nun, Arun Abhivanna, and
a monk, Phra Bunkuu Anuvaddhano -- based on notes they made while
listening to him teach. Some of the reconstructions are fairly
fragmentary and disjointed, and in presenting them here I have had to
edit them somewhat, cutting extraneous passages, expanding on
shorthand references to points of formal doctrine, and filling in gaps
by collating passages from different talks dealing with the same
topic. Aside from changes of this sort, though, I have tried my best
to convey both the letter and spirit of Ajaan Lee's message.
I have also tried to keep the use of Pali words in the translation
to a minimum. In all cases where English equivalents have been
substituted for Pali terms, I have chosen to convey the meanings Ajaan
Lee gives to these terms in his writings, even when this has meant
departing from the interpretations given to these terms by scholars. A
few Pali terms, though, have no adequate English equivalents, so here
is a brief glossary of the ones left untranslated or unexplained in
ARAHANT: A person who has gained liberation from mental defilement and
the cycle of death and rebirth.
BRAHMA: An inhabitant of the heavens of form and formlessness
corresponding to the levels of meditative absorption in physical
and non-physical objects.
BUDDHO: Awake; enlightened. An epithet of the Buddha.
DHAMMA (DHARMA): The truth in and of itself; the right natural order
of things. Also, the Buddha's teachings on these topics and the
practice of those teachings aimed at realizing the true nature
of the mind in and of itself.
KAMMA (KARMA): Intentional acts, which create good or bad results in
accordance with the quality of the intention. Kamma debts are
the moral debts one owes to others for having caused them
hardships or difficulties.
NIBBANA (NIRVANA): Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from mental
defilement and the cycle of death and rebirth. As this term
refers also to the extinguishing of fire, it carries
connotations of stilling, cooling and peace. (According to the
physics taught at the time of the Buddha, a burning fire seizes
or adheres to its fuel; when extinguished, it is unbound.)
SANGHA: The followers of the Buddha who have practiced his teachings
at least to the point of gaining entry to the stream to
Liberation. To take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
means to take them as the guide in one's search for happiness
and to make the effort to give rise to their qualities within
* * *
My hope is that the teachings in this book will serve as more than
just food for thought, and that they will inspire the reader to search
for the inner worth and happiness that come with the practice of
training the heart.
* * * * * * * *
TAKING THE LONG VIEW
August 4, 1957
Most of us tend to concern ourselves only with short, small, and
narrow things. For instance, we think that there isn't much to human
life -- we're born and then we die -- so we pay attention only to our
stomachs and appetites. There's hardly anyone who thinks further than
that, who thinks out past death. This is why we're short-sighted and
don't think of developing any goodness or virtues within ourselves,
because we don't see the truth and the extremely important benefits
we'll gain from these things in the future.
Actually, the affairs of each person are really long and drawn out,
and not at all short. If they were short, we'd all know where we came
from and how we got where we are. The same would hold true for the
future: If our affairs were really a short story, we'd know where
we're going and what we'll be after death.
But the truth of the matter is that almost no one knows these things
about themselves. The only ones who do know are those whose minds are
strong in goodness and virtue, and who have developed purity to the
point where they gain the intuitive understanding that enables them to
see where they've come from and where they're going. These people have
the inner eye, which is why they are able to see things past and
future. Sometimes they can see not only their own, but also other
people's affairs. This is what makes them realize the hardships and
difficulties suffered by human beings and other living beings born
into this world. They see the cycle of birth, ageing, illness, and
death. They see their past lives, both good and bad, and this makes
them feel a sense of dismay and dispassion, disenchanted with the idea
of ever being born again. As a result, they try to develop their
goodness and virtues even further so that they can reduce the number
of times they'll have to be reborn. For example, Stream-enterers --
those who have entered the stream to Liberation (nibbana) -- will be
reborn at most only seven more times and then will never have to be
reborn again. Once-returners will be reborn in the human world only
once more, while Non-returners will be reborn in the Brahma worlds and
gain Liberation there.
As for Stream-enterers, even though they have to be reborn, they're
reborn in secure places. They aren't reborn in states of deprivation,
such as the realms of hungry shades, angry demons, or common animals.
They're reborn as human beings, but as special human beings, not like
the rest of us. How are they special? They have few defilements in
their hearts, not thick defilements like ordinary people. They have a
built-in sense of conscience and scrupulousness. Even though they may
do wrong from time to time, they see the damage it does and feel a
sense of shame, so that they won't want their various defilements to
lead them into doing wrong ever again.
People disenchanted with rebirth make an extra effort to build up
their virtues so that they won't have to come back and be reborn. If
you want to cut down the number of times you'll take rebirth, you
should steadily increase your inner quality and worth. In other words,
make your heart clean and bright with generosity, moral virtue, and
meditation. Keep your thoughts, words, and deeds at equilibrium,
secluded from evil both inside and out. If you have no vices in word
and deed, that's called being secluded from outside evil. If your mind
is firmly centered in concentration and free from obstructing
distractions, that's called being secluded from inside evil. This way
you can be at peace and at ease both within and without. As the Buddha
said, 'Happy is the person content in seclusion.'
When this kind of seclusion arises in the mind, all sorts of
worthwhile qualities will come flowing in without stop. The heart will
keep growing higher and higher, until it no longer wants anything at
all. If you used to eat a lot, you won't want to eat a lot. If you
used to eat in moderation, there'll be times when you won't want to
eat at all. If you used to talk a lot, you won't want to talk a lot.
If you used to sleep a lot, you'll want to sleep only a little.
However you live, the heart will be entirely happy, with no more
danger to fear from anyone. This is how you cut down the number of
times you'll take rebirth.
* * *
If you see any areas in which you're still lacking in inner worth, you
should try to fill in the lack right away. Be steady in your practice
of meditation and make your mind clear, free from the distractions
that will drag it down into the dirt. Dirt is where animals live --
pigs, dogs, ducks, chickens, and cows. It's no place for human beings.
If you're really a human being, you have to like living in clean
places, free from danger and germs. This is why the Buddha praised
seclusion as the well-spring of happiness. So try to find a secluded
spot for yourself to stay within the mind, secluded from hindering
distractions. Make your mind as bright as a jewel, and don't let
temptation come along and try to trade garbage for the good things
you've got. You have to be mindful at all times, so don't let yourself
be absent-minded or forgetful.
* * *
If your mind doesn't stay with your body in the present, all sorts of
evil things -- all sorts of distractions -- will come flowing in to
overwhelm it, making it fall away from its inner worth, just as a
vacant house is sure to become a nest of spiders, termites, and all
sorts of animals. If you keep your mind firmly with the body in the
present, you'll be safe. Like a person on a big ship in the middle of
a smooth sea free from wind and waves: Everywhere you look is clear
and wide open. You can see far. Your eyes are quiet with regard to
sights, your ears quiet with regard to sounds, and so on with your
other senses. Your mind is quiet with regard to thoughts of
sensuality, ill will, and harm. The mind is in a state of seclusion,
calm and at peace. This is where we'll let go of our sense of 'me' and
'mine', and reach the further shore, free from constraints and bonds.
* * * * * * * *
AN INNER MAINSTAY
August 28, 1957
Normally, our hearts can hardly ever sit still. They have to think
about all kinds of thoughts and ideas, both good and bad. When good
things happen, we keep them to think about. When bad things happen, we
keep them to think about. When we succeed or fail at anything, we keep
it to think about. This shows how impoverished the mind is. When it
thinks about things it likes, it develops sensual craving. When it
thinks about things that are possible, it develops craving for
possibilities. When it thinks about things that are impossible, it
develops craving for impossibilities, all without our realizing it.
This is called unawareness. It's because of this unawareness that we
have thoughts, judgments, and worries that form the well-spring for
likes, dislikes, and attachments.
Sometimes the things we think about can come true in line with our
thoughts; sometimes they can't. While there's at least //some// use in
thinking about things that are possible, we like to go to the effort
of thinking about things that are out of the question. I.e., when
certain things are no longer possible, we still hold onto them to the
point where we feel mistreated or depressed. We keep trying to get
results out of things that can no longer be. When our hopes aren't
satisfied, we latch onto our dissatisfaction; when they //are//
satisfied, we latch onto our satisfaction. This gives rise to likes
and dislikes. We latch onto thoughts of the future and thoughts of the
past. Most of us, when we succeed at something, latch onto our
happiness. When we don't succeed, we latch onto our disappointment.
Sometimes we latch onto things that are good -- although latching onto
goodness leaves us //some// way to crawl along. Sometimes we actually
latch onto things that are clearly bad.
This is what made the Buddha feel such pity for us human beings. In
what way? He pitied our stupidity in not understanding what suffering
is. We know that red ants can really hurt when they bite us, yet we go
stick our heads in a red ant nest and then sit around in pain and
torment. What good do we get out of it?
When we see good or bad sights with our eyes, we latch onto them.
When we hear good or bad sounds with our ears, we latch onto them.
When we smell good or bad odors, taste good or bad flavors, feel good
or bad sensations, or think good or bad thoughts, we latch onto them
-- so we end up all encumbered with sights dangling from our eyes,
sounds dangling from both of our ears, odors dangling from the tip of
our nose, flavors dangling from the tip of our tongue, tactile
sensations dangling all over our body, and thoughts dangling from our
mind. This way, sights are sure to close off our eyes, sounds close
off our ears, odors close off our nostrils, flavors close off our
tongue, tactile sensations close off our body, and thoughts close off
our mind. When our senses are completely closed off in this way, we're
in the dark -- the darkness of unawareness -- groping around without
finding the right way, unable to go any way at all. Our body is
weighed down and our mind is dark. This is called harming yourself,
killing yourself, destroying your own chances for progress.
Thoughts are addictive, and especially when they're about things
that are bad. We remember them long and think of them often. This is
delusion, one of the camp-followers of unawareness. For this reason,
we have to drive this kind of delusion from our hearts by making
ourselves mindful and self-aware, fully alert with each in-and-out
breath. This is what awareness comes from. When awareness arises,
discernment arises as well. If awareness doesn't arise, how will we be
able to get rid of craving? When awareness arises, craving for
sensuality, craving for possibilities, and craving for impossibilities
will all stop, and attachment won't exist. This is the way of the
Most of us tend to flow along in the direction of what's bad more
than in the direction of what's good. When people try to convince us
to do good, they have to give us lots of reasons, and even then we
hardly budge. But if they try to talk us into doing bad, all they have
to do is say one or two words and we're already running with them.
This is why the Buddha said, 'People are foolish. They like to feed on
bad preoccupations.' And that's not all. We even feed on things that
have no truth to them at all. We can't be bothered with thinking about
good things, but we like to keep clambering after bad things, trying
to remember them and keep them in mind. We don't get to eat any meat
or sit on any skin, and yet we choke on the bones.
'We don't get to eat any meat:' This means that we gather up
imaginary things to think about, but they don't bring us any
happiness. A person who opens his mouth to put food in it at least
gets something to fill up his stomach, but a person who clambers
around with his mouth open, craning his neck to swallow nothing but
air: That's really ridiculous. His stomach is empty, without the least
little thing to give it weight. This stands for thoughts that have no
truth to them. We keep searching them out, gathering them up and
elaborating on them in various ways without getting any results out of
them at all, aside from making ourselves restless and distracted. We
never have any time to sit still in one place, and instead keep
running and jumping around until the skin on our rears has no chance
to make contact anywhere with a place to sit down. This is what is
meant by, 'We don't get to sit on any skin.' We can't lie down, we
can't stay seated -- even though our bodies may be seated, our minds
aren't seated there with them. We don't get to eat any meat and
instead we choke on the bones. We try to swallow them, but they won't
go down; we try to cough them up, but they won't come out.
When we say, 'We choke on the bones,' this refers to the various bad
preoccupations that get stuck in the heart. The 'bones' here are the
(1) Sensual desire: The mind gets carried away with things it likes.
(2) Ill will: Things that displease us are like bones stuck in the
heart. The mind fastens on things that are bad, on things we dislike,
until we start feeling animosity, anger, and hatred. Sometimes we even
gather up old tasteless bones that were thrown away long ago -- like
chicken bones that have been boiled to make stock: The meat has fallen
off, the flavor has been boiled away, and all that's left are the
hard, brittle bones they throw to dogs. This stands for old thoughts
stretching back 20 to 30 years that we bring out to gnaw on. Look at
yourself: Your mind is so impoverished that it has to suck on old
bones. It's really pitiful.
(3) Torpor & lethargy: When the mind has been feeding on trash like
this, with nothing to nourish it, its strength is bound to wane away.
It becomes sleepy and depressed, oblivious to other people's words,
not hearing their questions or understanding what they're trying to
(4) Restlessness & anxiety: The mind then gets irritable and
distracted, which is followed by --
(5) Uncertainty: We may decide that good things are bad, or bad
things are good, wrong things are right, or right things are wrong. We
may do things in line with the Dhamma and not realize it, or contrary
to the Dhamma -- but in line with our own preconceptions -- and not
know it. Everything gets stuck in our throat, and we can't decide
which way to go, so our thoughts keep running around in circles, like
a person who rows his boat around in a lake for hours and hours
without getting anywhere.
This is called harming yourself, hurting yourself, killing yourself.
And when we can do this sort of thing to ourselves, what's to keep us
from doing it to others? This is why we shouldn't let ourselves harbor
thoughts of envy, jealousy or anger. If any of these five Hindrances
arise in the heart, then trouble and suffering will come flooding in
like a torrential downpour, and we won't be able to hold our own
against them. All of this is because of the unawareness that keeps us
from having any inner quality as a mainstay. Even though we may live
in a seven- or nine-storey mansion and eat food at $40 a plate, we
won't be able to find any happiness.
People without any inner quality are like vagrants with no home to
live in. They have to be exposed to sun, rain, and wind by day and by
night, so how can they find any relief from the heat or the cold? With
nothing to shelter them, they have to lie curled up until their backs
get all crooked and bent. When a storm comes, they need to scurry to
find shelter: They can't stay under trees because they're afraid the
trees will be blown down on top of them. They can't stay in open
fields because they're afraid lightning will strike. At midday the sun
is so hot that they can't sit for long -- like an old barefooted woman
walking on an asphalt road when the sun is blazing: She can't put her
feet down because she's afraid they'll blister, so she dances around
in place on her tiptoes, not knowing where she can rest her feet.
This is why the Buddha felt such pity for us, and taught us to find
shelter for ourselves by doing good and developing concentration as a
principle in our hearts, so that we can have an inner home. This way
we won't have to suffer, and other people will benefit as well. This
is called having a mainstay.
People with no mainstay are bound to busy themselves with things
that have no real meaning or worth -- i.e., with things that can't
protect them from suffering when the necessity arises. //A person
without the wisdom to search for a mainstay is sure to suffer
hardships//. I'll illustrate this point with a story. Once there was a
band of monkeys living in the upper branches of a forest, each one
carrying its young wherever it went. One day a heavy wind storm came.
As soon as the monkeys heard the sound of the approaching wind, they
broke off branches and twigs to make themselves a nest on one of the
bigger branches. After they had piled on the twigs, they went down
under the nest and looked up to see if there were still any holes.
Wherever they saw a hole, they piled on more twigs and branches until
the whole thing was piled thick and high. Then when the wind and rain
came, they got up on top of the nest, sitting there with their mouths
open, shivering from the cold, exposed to the wind and rain. Their
nest hadn't offered them any protection at all, simply because of
their own stupidity. Eventually a gust of wind blew the nest apart.
The monkeys were scattered every which way and ended up dangling here
and there, their babies falling from their grasp, all of them
thoroughly miserable from their hardship and pain.
//People who don't search for inner worth as their mainstay are no
different from these monkeys.// They work at amassing money and
property, thinking that these things will give them security, but when
death comes, none of these things can offer any safety at all. This is
why the Buddha felt such pity for all the deluded people in the world,
and went to great lengths to teach us to search for inner quality as a
mainstay for ourselves.
People who have inner quality as their mainstay are said to be kind
not only to themselves but also to others as well, in the same way
that when we have a house of our own, we can build a hut for other
people to live in, too. If we see that another person's hut is going
to cave in, we help find thatch to roof it; make walls for the left
side, right side, the front and the back, to protect it from storm
winds; and raise the floor to get it above flood level. What this
means is that we teach the other person how to escape from his or her
own defilements in the same way that we've been able, to whatever
extent, to escape from ours. When we tell others to practice
concentration, it's like helping them roof their house so that they
won't have to be exposed to the sun and rain. Making walls for the
front and back means that we tell them to shut off thoughts of past
and future; and walls for the left and right means that we tell them
to shut off thoughts of likes and dislikes. Raising the floor above
flood level means we get them to stay firmly centered in
concentration, keeping their minds still with their object of
Once people have a house with good walls, a sound roof, and a solid
floor, then even if they don't have any other external belongings --
just a single rag to their name -- they can be happy, secure, and at
peace. //But if your house is sunk in the mud, what hope is there for
your belongings?// You'll have to end up playing with crabs, worms,
and other creepy things. Your walls are nothing but holes, so that
people can see straight through your house, in one side and out the
other. Even from four to five miles away they can see everything
you've got. When this is the case, thieves are going to gang up and
rob you -- i.e., all sorts of bad thoughts and preoccupations are
going to come in and ransack your heart.
As for your roof, it's nothing but holes. You look up and can see
the stars. Termite dust is going to sift into your ears and eyes, and
birds flying past will plaster you with their droppings. So in the
end, all you can do is sit scratching your head in misery because you
haven't any shelter.
When this is the case, you should take pity on yourself and develop
your own inner worth. Keep practicing concentration until your heart
matures, step by step. When you do this, you'll develop the light of
discernment that can chase the darkness of unawareness out of your
heart. When there's no more unawareness, you'll be free from craving
and attachment, and ultimately gain Liberation.
For this reason, we should all keep practicing meditation and set
our hearts on developing nothing but inner goodness, without
retreating or getting discouraged. Whatever is a form of goodness,
roll up your sleeves and pitch right in. Don't feel any regrets even
if you ram your head into a wall and die on the spot. If you're brave
in your proper efforts this way, all your affairs are sure to succeed
in line with your hopes and aspirations. But if evil comes and asks to
move into your home -- your heart -- chase it away. Don't let it stay
even for a single night.
* * *
People who like to gather up thoughts, worries, etc., to hold onto are
no different from prisoners tied down with a ball and chain. To fasten
onto thoughts of the past is like having a rope around your waist tied
to a post behind you. To fasten onto thoughts of the future is like
having a rope around your neck tied to a door in front. To fasten onto
thoughts you like is like having a rope around your right wrist tied
to a post on your right. To fasten onto thoughts you don't like is
like having a rope around your left wrist tied to a wall on your left.
Whichever way you try to step, you're pulled back by the rope on the
opposite side, so how can you hope to get anywhere at all?
As for people who have unshackled themselves from their thoughts,
they stand tall and free like soldiers or warriors with weapons in
both hands and no need to fear enemies from any direction. Any
opponents who see them won't dare come near, so they're always sure to
come out winning.
But if we're the type tied up with ropes on all sides, nobody's
going to fear us, because there's no way we can take any kind of
stance to fight them off. If enemies approach us, all we can do is
dance around in one spot.
So I ask that we all take a good look at ourselves, and try to
unshackle ourselves from all outside thoughts and preoccupations.
Don't let them get stuck in your heart. Your meditation will then give
you results, your mind will advance to the transcendent, and you're
sure to come out winning someday.
* * * * * * * *
TRADING OUTER WEALTH FOR INNER WEALTH
July 1, 1958
Inner wealth, according to the texts, means seven things --
conviction, virtue, a sense of conscience, scrupulousness, breadth of
learning, generosity, and discernment -- but to put it simply, inner
wealth refers to the inner quality we build within ourselves. Outer
wealth -- money and material goods -- doesn't have any hard and fast
owners. Today it may be ours, tomorrow someone else may take it away.
There are times when it belongs to us, and times when it belongs to
others. Even with things that are fixed in the ground, like farms or
orchards, you can't keep them from changing hands.
So when you develop yourself so as to gain the discernment that sees
how worldly things are undependable and unsure, don't let your
property -- your worldly possessions -- sit idle. The Buddha teaches
us to plant crops on our land so that we can benefit from it. If you
don't make use of your land, it's sure to fall into other people's
hands. In other words, when we stake out a claim to a piece of
property, we should plant it full of crops. Otherwise the government
won't recognize our claim, and we'll lose our rights to it. Even if we
take the case to court, we won't have a chance to win. So once you see
the weakness of an idle claim, you should hurry up and plant crops on
it so that the government will recognize your claim and issue you a
title to the land.
What this means is that we should make use of our material
possessions by being generous with them, using them in a way that
develops the inner wealth of generosity within us. This way they
become the kind of wealth over which we have full rights, and that
will benefit us even into future lifetimes.
* * * * * * * *
September 29, 1958
This body of ours: Actually there's not the least bit of it that's
really ours at all. We've gotten it from animals and plants -- the
pigs, prawns, chickens, fish, crabs, cows, etc., and all the various
vegetables, fruits, and grains that have been made into the food we've
eaten, which the body has chewed and digested and turned into the
blood that nourishes its various parts. In other words, we've taken
cooked things and turned them back into raw things: ears, eyes, hands,
arms, body, etc. These then become male or female, they're given ranks
and titles, and so we end up falling for all of these conventions.
Actually these heads of ours are lettuce heads, our hair is pigs'
hair, our bones are chicken bones and duck bones, our muscles are
cows' muscles, etc. There's not one part that's really ours, but we
lay claim to the whole thing and say it's this and that. We forget the
original owners from whom we got it all and so become possessive of
it. When the time comes for them to come and take it back, we're not
willing to give it back, which is where things get messy and
complicated and cause us to suffer when death comes near.
If all the various animals we've eaten were to come walking out of
each of us right now (here I'm not talking about the really big ones,
like cows and steers; say that just all the little ones -- the
shrimps, fish, oysters, crabs, chickens, ducks, and pigs -- came
walking out) there wouldn't be enough room for them all in this
meditation hall. None of us would be able to live here in this
monastery any more. How many pigs, ducks, chickens, and shrimp have
each of us eaten? How many bushels of fish? If we were to calculate it
all, who knows what the figures would be -- all the animals we
ourselves have killed for food or that we've gotten from others who've
killed them. How do you think these animals won't come and demand
repayment? If we don't have anything to give them, they're sure to
repossess everything we've got. Right when we're at death's door:
That's when they're going to crowd around and demand that we repay our
debts. If we don't have anything to give them, they're going to knock
us flat. But if we have enough to give them, we'll come out unscathed.
In other words, if we develop a lot of inner goodness, we'll be able
to contend with whatever pains we suffer, by giving back the body with
good grace -- in other words, by letting go of our attachment to it.
That's when we'll be at peace. //We should realize that the body
leaves us and lets us go, bit by bit, every day.// But we've never
left it, never let it go at all. We're attached to it in every way,
just as when we eat food: We're attached to the food, but the food
isn't attached to us. If we don't eat it, it'll never cry even once.
All the attachment comes from our side alone.
The pleasure we get from the body is a worldly pleasure: good for a
moment and then it changes. It's not at all lasting or permanent.
Notice the food you eat: At what point is it good and delicious? It
looks good and inviting only when it's arranged nicely on a plate.
It's delicious only for the brief moment it's in your mouth. After it
goes down your throat, what is it like then? And when it gets down to
your intestines and comes out the other end, what is it like then? It
keeps changing all the time. When you think about this sort of thing,
it's enough to make you disillusioned with everything in the world.
Worldly pleasure is good only when it's hot and fresh, like
fresh-cooked rice piled on a plate when it's still hot and steaming.
If you leave it until it's cold, there's no taste to it. If you let it
go until it hardens, you can't swallow it; and if you let it sit
overnight, it spoils and you have to throw it away.
As for the pleasure of the Dhamma, it's like the brightness of stars
or the color of gold. The brightness of stars is clear and glittering.
Whoever sees it feels calmed and refreshed. When depressed people look
at the stars, no matter when, their depression disappears. As for the
color of gold, it's always gleaming and golden. No matter what the
gold is made into, its color doesn't change. It's always gleaming and
golden as it always was.
In the same way, the pleasure of the Dhamma is lasting and gives
delight throughout time to those who practice it. For this reason,
intelligent people search for pleasure in the Dhamma by giving up
their worthless, meaningless worldly pleasures, to trade them in for
lasting pleasure by practicing meditation until their minds and
actions reach the level of goodness, beauty, and purity that goes
beyond all action, all suffering and stress.
* * * * * * * *
NIGHTSOIL FOR THE HEART
July 6, 1959
Beautiful things come from things that are dirty, and not at all from
things that are pleasant and clean. Crops and trees, for instance,
grow to be healthy and beautiful because of the rotten and smelly
compost and nightsoil with which they're fertilized. In the same way,
a beautiful mind comes from meeting with things that aren't pleasant.
When we meet with bad things, the mind has a chance to grow.
'Bad things' here refers to loss of wealth, loss of status,
criticism, and pain. When these things happen to a person whose mind
is rightly centered in concentration, they turn into good things.
Before, they were our enemies, but eventually they become our friends.
What this means is that when these four bad things occur to us, we can
come to our senses: 'Oh. This is how loss of wealth is bad. This is
how loss of status, how pain and criticism are bad. This is how the
ways of the world can change and turn on you, so that you shouldn't
get carried away with their good side.'
When meditators meet with these four kinds of bad things, their
minds develop. They become more and more dispassionate, more and more
disenchanted, more and more detached from the four opposites of these
bad things -- wealth, status, pleasure, and praise -- so that when
these good things happen, they won't be fooled into getting attached
or carried away with them and can instead push their minds on to a
higher level. When they hear someone criticize or gossip about them,
it's as if that person were taking a knife to sharpen them. The more
they get sharpened, the more they grow to a finer and finer point.
Loss of wealth is actually good for you, you know. It can teach you
not to be attached or carried away with the money or material benefits
other people may offer you. Otherwise, the more you have, the deeper
you sink -- to the point where you drown because you get stuck on
Loss of status is also good for you. For instance, you may be a
person, but they erase your good name and call you a dog -- which
makes things even easier for you, because dogs have no laws. They can
do what they like without any constraints, without anyone to fine them
or put them in jail. If people make you a prince or a duke, you're
really in bad straits. All of a sudden you're big: Your arms, hands,
feet, and legs grow all out of size and get in your way wherever you
try to go or whatever you do.
As for wealth, status, pleasure, and praise, there' s nothing the
least bit constant or dependable about them. The more you really think
about them, the more disaffected and disenchanted you become, to the
point where you find that you're indifferent, neither pleased nor
displeased with them. This is where your mind develops equanimity and
can become firm in concentration so that it can grow higher and higher
in the practice -- like the lettuce and cauliflower that Chinese
farmers plant in rows: The more they get fertilized with nightsoil,
the faster, more beautiful, and more healthy they grow. If they were
fed nothing but clean, clear water, they'd end up all sickly and
This is why we say that when people have developed mindfulness and
concentration, they're even better off when the ways of the world turn
ugly and bad. If the world shows you only its good side, you're sure
to get infatuated and stuck, like a seed that stays buried in its
shell and will never grow. But once the seed comes out with its shoot,
then the more sun, wind, rain, and fertilizer it gets, the more it
will grow and develop -- i.e., the more your discernment will branch
out into knowledge and wisdom, leading you to intuitive insight and on
into the transcendent, like the old Chinese vegetable farmer who
becomes a millionaire by building a fortune out of plain old
* * * * * * * *
THE HONEST TRUTH
June 23, 1958; August 23, 1958
When we first meet with the fires of greed, aversion and delusion, we
find them comforting and warm. We're like a person sitting by a fire
in the cold season: As he sits soaking up the warmth, he gets more and
more sleepy and careless until he burns his hands and feet without
realizing it, and eventually falls head-first into the flames.
* * *
The pleasures felt by people in the world come from looking at things
only on the surface. Take a plateful of rice, for instance. If. you
ask people what's good about rice, they'll say, 'It tastes good and
fills you up, too.' But the Buddha wouldn't answer like that. He'd
answer by talking about rice both when it goes in your mouth and when
it comes out the other end. This is why his view of things covered
both cause and effect. He didn't look at things from one side only.
The Buddha saw that the ease and happiness of ordinary pleasures is
nothing lasting. He wanted an ease and happiness that didn't follow
the way of the worldly pleasures that most people want. This was why
he left his family and friends, and went off to live in seclusion. He
said to himself, 'I came alone when I was born and I'll go alone when
I die. No one hired me to be born and no one will hire me to die, so
I'm beholden to no one. There's no one I have to fear. In all of my
actions, if there's anything that is right from the standpoint of the
world, but wrong from the standpoint of the truth -- and wrong from
the standpoint of my heart -- there's no way I'll be willing to do
So he posed himself a question: 'Now that you've been born as a
human being, what is the highest thing you want in this world?' He
then placed the following conditions on his answer: 'In answering, you
have to be really honest and truthful with yourself. And once you've
answered, you have to hold to your answer as an unalterable law on
which you've affixed your seal, without ever letting a second seal be
affixed on top. So what do you want, and how do you want it? You have
to give an honest answer, understand? I won 't accept anything false.
And once you've answered, you have to keep to your answer. Don't be a
traitor to yourself.'
When he was sure of his answer, he said to himself, 'I want only the
highest and most certain happiness and ease: the happiness that won't
change into anything else. Other than that, I don't want anything else
in the world.'
Once he had given this answer, he kept to it firmly. He didn't allow
anything that would have caused the least bit of pain or distraction
to his heart to get stuck there as a stain on it. He kept making a
persistent effort with all his might to discover the truth, without
retreat, until he finally awakened to that truth: the reality of
If we search for the truth like the Buddha -- if we're true in our
intent and true in what we do -- there's no way the truth can escape
us. But if we aren't true to ourselves, we won't find the true
happiness the Buddha found. We tell ourselves that we want to be happy
but we go jumping into fires. We know what things are poison, yet we
go ahead and drink them anyway. This is called being a traitor to
* * *
Every person alive wants happiness -- even common animals struggle to
find happiness -- but our actions for the most part aren't in line
with our intentions. This is why we don't get to realize the happiness
we want, simply because there's no truth to us. For example, when
people come to the monastery: If they come to make offerings, observe
the precepts, and sit in meditation for the sake of praise or a good
reputation, there's no real merit to what they're doing. They don't
gain any real happiness from it, so they end up disappointed and
dissatisfied. Then they start saying that offerings, precepts, and
meditation don't give any good results. Instead of reflecting on the
fact that they weren't right and honest in doing these things, they
say that there's no real good to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, that
the Buddha's teachings are a lot of nonsense and lies. But actually
the Buddha's teachings are an affair of the truth. //If a person isn't
true to the Buddha's teachings, the Buddha's teachings won't be true
to that person// -- and that person won't be able to know what the
Buddha's true teachings are.
* * *
When we practice virtue, concentration, and discernment, it's as if we
were taking the jewels and robes of royalty and the Noble Ones to
dress up our heart and make it beautiful. But if we aren't true in our
practice, it's like taking robes and jewels and giving them to a
monkey. The monkey is bound to get them dirty and tear them to shreds
because it has no sense of beauty at all. Whoever sees this kind of
thing happening is sure to see right through it, that it's a monkey
show. Even though the costumes are genuine, the monkey inside isn't
genuine like the costumes. For instance, if you take a soldier's cap
and uniform to dress it up as a soldier, it's a soldier only as far as
the cap and uniform, but the monkey inside is still a monkey and not a
soldier at all.
For this reason, the Buddha teaches us to be true in whatever we do
-- to be true in being generous, true in being virtuous, true in
developing concentration and discernment. Don't play around at these
things. If you're true, then these activities are sure to bear you the
fruits of your own truthfulness without a doubt.
* * * * * * * *
May 22, 1959
In Christianity they teach that if you've done wrong or committed a
sin, you can ask to wash it away by confessing the sin and asking for
God's forgiveness. God will then have the kindness to hold back
punishment, and you'll be pure. But Buddhism doesn't teach this sort
of thing at all. If you do wrong, //you// are the one who has to
correct the error so as to do away with the punishment on your own
behalf. What this means is that when a defilement -- greed, anger, or
delusion -- arises in your heart, you have to undo the defilement
right there so as to escape from it. Only then will you escape from
the suffering that would otherwise come as its natural consequence.
We can compare this to a man who drinks poison and comes down with
violent stomach cramps. If he then runs to a doctor and says, 'Doctor,
doctor, I've drunk poison and my stomach really hurts. Please take
some medicine for me so that the pain will go away,' there's no way
that this is going to cure the pain. If the doctor, instead of the
sick man, is the one who takes the medicine, the sick man can expect
to die for sure.
So I ask that we all understand this point: that we have to wash
away our own defilements by practicing the Dhamma -- the medicine of
the Buddha -- in order to gain release from any evil and suffering in
our hearts; not that we can ask the Buddha to help wash away our
mistakes and sufferings for us. The Buddha is simply the doctor who
has discovered the formula for the medicine and prepared it for us.
Whatever disease we have, we need to take the medicine and treat the
disease ourselves if we want to recover.
* * * * * * * *
THE MIND AFLAME
July 28, 1959
If the heart doesn't have any inner nourishment, it won't have any
strength, because it's hungry and thin. When it doesn't have any
nourishment, it goes out eating whatever it can find -- bones and old
dry skins -- without finding any decent food to eat or water to drink
at all. This is why it ends up shriveled and dry, because the heart,
if it doesn't have any inner goodness, is thin and gaunt, and goes
running around all sorts of back alleys, scraping together whatever it
can find just for the sake of having something to stick in its mouth.
It doesn't get to eat anything good at all, though. It can't find a
single thing to give it any flavor or nourishment. But if the heart is
strong and well-fed, then whatever it thinks of doing is sure to
The Buddha saw that we human beings are thin and malnourished in
this way, which is why he felt compassion for us. He taught us, 'The
mind that goes around swallowing sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and
tactile sensations is eating a ball of fire, you know. Not any kind of
food.' In other words, 'The eye is burning.' Everything we see with
the eye is a form, and each of these forms contains a ball of fire,
even though on the outside it's coated to look pretty and attractive.
'The ear is burning.' All the pleasing sounds we search for, and that
come passing in through our ears from the day we're born to the day we
die, are burning sounds, are flames of fire. The heat of the sun can't
burn you to death, but sounds //can// burn you to death, which is why
we say they're hotter than the sun. 'The nose is burning.' We've been
smelling smells ever since the doctor cleaned out our nose right after
birth, and the nature of smells is that there's no such thing as a
neutral smell. There are only two kinds: good smelling and
foul-smelling. If our strength is down and we're not alert, we swallow
these smells right into the mind -- and that means we've swallowed a
time bomb. We're safe only as long as nothing ignites the fuse. 'The
tongue is burning.' Countless tastes come passing over our tongue. If
we get attached to them, it's as if we've eaten a ball of fire: As
soon as it explodes, our intestines will come splattering out. If we
human beings let ourselves get tied up in this sort of thing, it's as
if we've eaten the fire bombs of the King of Death. As soon as they
explode, we're finished. But if we know enough to spit them out, we'll
be safe. If we swallow them, we're loading ourselves down. We won't be
able to find any peace whether we're sitting, standing, walking or
lying down, because we're on fire inside. Only when we breathe our
last will the fires go out. 'The body is burning.' Tactile sensations
are also a fire that wipes human beings out. If you don't have any
inner worth or goodness in your mind, these things can really do you a
lot of damage.
* * *
Greed, anger, and delusion are like three enormous balls of red-hot
iron that the King of Death heats until they're glowing hot and then
pokes into our heads. When greed doesn't get what it wants, it turns
into anger. Once we're angry, we get overcome and lose control, so
that it turns into delusion. We forget everything -- good, bad, our
husbands, wives, parents, children -- to the point where we can even
kill our husbands, wives, parents, and children. This is all an affair
of delusion. When these three defilements get mixed up in our minds,
they can take us to hell with no trouble at all. This is why they're
called fire bombs in the human heart.
But if, when greed arises, we have the sense to take only what
should be taken and not what shouldn't, it won't wipe us out even
though it's burning us, because we have fire insurance. People without
fire insurance are those with really strong greed to the point where
they're willing to cheat and get involved in corruption or crime. When
this happens, their inner fires wipe them out. To have fire insurance
means that even though we feel greed, we can hold it in check and be
generous with our belongings by giving donations, for instance, to the
religion. Then even though we may die from our greed, we've still
gained inner worth from making donations as an act of homage to the
Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha -- which is like keeping our insurance
payments up. This way, even though our house may burn down, we'll
still have some property left.
Anger. When this defilement really gets strong, it has no sense of
good or evil, right or wrong, husband, wives, or children. It can
drink human blood. An example we often see is when people get
quarreling and one of them ends up in prison or even on death row,
convicted for murder. This is even worse than your house burning down,
because you have nothing left at all. For this reason, we have to get
ourselves some life insurance by observing the five or eight precepts
so that we can treat and bandage our open sores -- i.e., so that we
can wash away the evil and unwise things in our thoughts, words, and
deeds. Even if we can't wash them all away, we should try at least to
relieve them somewhat. Although you may still have some fire left, let
there just be enough to cook your food or light your home. Don't let
there be so much that it burns your house down.
//The only way to put out these fires is to meditate and develop
thoughts of good will.// The mind won't feel any anger, hatred, or ill
will, and instead will feel nothing but thoughts of sympathy, seeing
that everyone in the world aims at goodness, but that our goodness
isn't equal. You have to use really careful discernment to consider
cause and effect, and then be forgiving, with the thought that we
human beings aren't equal or identical in our goodness and evil. If
everyone were equal, the world would fall apart. If we were equally
good or equally bad, the world would have to fall apart for sure.
Suppose that all the people in the world were farmers, with no
merchants or government officials. Or suppose there were only
government officials, with no farmers at all: We'd all starve to death
with our mouths gaping and dry. If everyone were equal and identical,
the end of the world would come in only a few days' time. Consider
your body: Even the different parts of your own body aren't equal.
Some of your fingers are short, some are long, some small, some large.
If all ten of your fingers were equal, you'd have a monster's hands.
So when even your own fingers aren't equal, how can you expect people
to be equal in terms of their thoughts, words, and deeds? You have to
think this way and be forgiving.
* * *
When you can think in this way, your good will can spread to
all people everywhere, and you'll feel sympathy for people
on high levels, low levels and in between. The big ball of
fire inside you will go out through the power of your good
will and loving kindness.
This comes from getting life insurance: practicing tranquillity
meditation so as to chase the defilements away from the mind. Thoughts
of sensual desire, ill will, lethargy, restlessness, and uncertainty
will vanish, and the mind will be firmly centered in concentration,
using its powers of directed thought to stay with its meditation word
-- //buddho// -- and its powers of evaluation to create a sense of
inner lightness and ease. When the mind fills itself with rapture --
the flavor arising from concentration -- it will have its own inner
food and nourishment, so that whatever you do in thought, word, or
deed is sure to succeed.
* * * * * * * *
FOOD FOR THE MIND
July, 1958; August 10, 1957
There are two kinds of food for the mind: the kind that gives it
strength and the kind that saps its strength. What this refers to is
(1) the food of sensory contact -- the contact that takes place at the
eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. There are six mouthfuls
of this kind of food. (2) The food of consciousness, i.e., the
consciousness of contact that takes place at each of the six senses.
There are six mouthfuls of this kind, too. (3) The food of intention
or mental concomitants, i.e., the thoughts that are formed in the
heart, leading it to think of the past or future and to know if things
are good or bad, pleasant or painful. Once we know that our body and
mind depend on these kinds of food, we should use our discernment to
reflect on them and evaluate them carefully.
Discernment is what forms the teeth of the mind. When children are
small, they need to depend on others to mince or strain their food;
but when they grow up, they have their own teeth and don't need to
depend on anyone else. If people are really discerning, they don't
need to chew coarse food at all. For example, an intelligent hunter,
once he's killed an animal, will remove the feathers and wings or cut
off the antlers and hooves and take home just the useful part. Then he
cuts the meat off in pieces so that it can serve as food. In other
words, if he's intelligent, he throws away the inedible parts piece by
In the same way, intelligent people who want the inner quality of
dispassion have to take the discernment that comes from concentration
and use it to evaluate sights, sounds, smells, tastes, etc., so that
these things can serve a purpose and not do them any harm. Whoever
eats an entire fish -- bones, scales, fins, feces, and all -- is sure
to choke to death on the bones. For this reason, we have to find a
knife and chopping block -- in other words, use mindfulness to focus
on, say, a visual object, and discernment to consider what kind of
object it is. Is it something we should get involved with or not? What
kind of benefits or harm will it cause for the mind? If it's a visual
object that will cause harm to the mind, you shouldn't get involved
with it. //If it's a good-looking object, look for its bad side as
well.// Be a person with two eyes. Sometimes an object looks good, but
we don't look for its bad side. Sometimes it looks bad, but we don't
look for its good side. If something looks beautiful, you have to
focus on its bad side as well. If it looks bad, you have to focus on
its good side, too.
If you aren't selective in what you eat, you can ruin your health.
Pleasing objects are like sugar and honey: They're sure to attract all
sorts of ants and flies. Disagreeable objects are like filth: In
addition to carrying germs, they're sure to attract all sorts of other
bad things, too, because they're crawling with flies and worms. If we
aren't discerning, we'll gobble down the filth together with the worms
and smelly parts, and the sugar together with the ants and flies. Your
heart is already in poor health, and yet you go gobbling down things
that are toxic. When this happens, no one can cure you but you
For this reason, you have to keep the heart neutral, on the middle
path. Don't be pleased by the objects you think are pleasing; don't
hate the objects you think are disagreeable. Don't be a person with
only one eye or one ear. When you can do this, you're equipped with
discernment. You can spit visual objects, sounds, smells, tastes,
etc., out of the heart. Once you can see that 'good' has 'bad' hiding
behind it, and 'bad' has 'good' hiding behind it -- in the same way
that the body has both a front and a back -- you shouldn't let
yourself fall for sights, sounds, smells, etc. You have to consider
The mind has two basic sorts of food: good mental states and bad
mental states. If you think in ways that are good, you'll give
strength to the mind. If you're discerning, you'll get to eat fine
food. If you aren't, you'll have to eat crude food -- e.g., you'll get
a crab, and you'll eat the whole thing raw, without knowing how to
boil it and peel away the shell and the claws. The effort of
meditation is like a fire; concentration is like a pot; mindfulness,
like a chopping block; and discernment, a knife. Intelligent people
will use these things to prepare their food so that its nourishment --
the nourishment of the Dhamma -- will permeate into the heart to give
it five kinds of strength:
(1) The strength of conviction.
(2) The strength of persistence: The heart, when we're persistent,
is like the wheels of an automobile that keep turning and propelling
it toward its goal, enabling us to see the gains that come from our
(3) The strength of mindfulness: Having mindfulness is like knowing
when to open and when to close your windows and doors.
(4) The strength of concentration: Concentration will be firmly
established in the mind whether we're sitting, standing, walking,
lying down, speaking, or listening. We can listen without getting
stuck on what's said, and speak without getting stuck on what we say.
(5) The strength of discernment: We'll gain wisdom and understanding
with regard to all things, so that eventually we'll attain purity of
mind -- by letting go of all thoughts of past and future, and not
being pleased or displeased by any sights, sounds, smells, tastes,
etc., at all.
* * * * * * * *
FIRST THINGS FIRST
October 6, 1958
There are three ways in which people order their priorities: putting
the world first, putting themselves first, and putting the Dhamma
//Putting the world first:// There's nothing at all dependable about
the affairs of the world. Stop and think for a moment: Ever since you
were born, from your first memory up to the present day, what is the
best thing that has ever happened in your life? What is the most
enjoyable thing? What have you liked the most? If you answer, you have
to say that of all the things in the world, only 50 percent are
satisfactory; the other 50 are unsatisfactory. But if you asked me,
I'd answer that there's nothing satisfactory about the world at all.
There's nothing but stress and misery. You get friends and they take
advantage of you. You get possessions and you have to worry about
them. You get money and you end up suffering for it. The people you
work with aren't as good as you'd like them to be. Your family and
relatives are nothing but trouble. In short, I don't see anything that
really brings a person any real happiness. You get money and it brings
trouble. You get friends and they make you suffer. The people you live
and work with don't get along smoothly. This is the way it is with the
world. For this reason, anyone whose mind runs along in the current of
the world is bound for nothing but pain and sorrow. The Buddha taught,
'For the mind not to be affected by the ways of the world is to be
serene and free from sorrow: This is the highest good fortune.'
The world has eight edges, and each edge is razor sharp, capable of
slicing human beings to bits without mercy. The eight edges of the
world are, on the one side, the edge of wealth, the edge of status,
the edge of praise, and the edge of pleasure. These four edges are
especially sharp because they're things we like. We keep polishing and
sharpening them, and the more we do this the sharper they get, until
ultimately they turn around and slit our throats.
The other side has four edges too, but actually they're not so
sharp, because no one likes to use them. No one wants them, so no one
sharpens them, and as a result they're dull and blunt -- and like dull
knives, they can't kill anyone. These four edges are loss of wealth,
loss of status, criticism, and pain. No one wants any of these things,
but they have to exist as part of the world.
How are the sharp edges sharp? Take status for an example. As soon
as people gain status and rank, they start swelling up larger than
they really are. You don't have to look far for examples of this sort
of thing. Look at monks. When they start out as ordinary junior monks,
they can go anywhere with no trouble at all, along highways and
byways, down narrow alleys and back streets, anywhere they like. But
as soon as they start getting a little ecclesiastical rank, they start
getting abnormally large. The roads they used to walk along start
feeling too narrow. They have trouble walking anywhere -- their legs
are too long and their feet too heavy. Their rears are too large for
ordinary seats. (Of course, not all high-ranking monks are like this.
You can find ones who don't swell up.) As for lay people, once they're
hit by the edge of status, they start swelling up too, to the point
where they can hardly move. Their hands get too heavy to raise in
respect to the Buddha. Their legs get so big they can't make it to the
monastery to hear a sermon or observe the precepts -- they're afraid
they'd lose their edge. This is how one of the edges of the world
kills the goodness in people.
As for the edge of wealth, this refers to money and possessions. As
soon as we get a lot, we start getting stingy. We become wary of
making too many offerings or of being too generous with others because
we're afraid we'll run out of money. This is why rich people tend to
be stingy and drown in their wealth. As for poor people, they can give
away everything and then work to replace it. They can give offerings
and be generous, with rarely any sense of regret. Their arms and legs
aren't too big, so they can come to the monastery with no trouble at
The edge of pleasure is very sharp, because wherever you get your
pleasure, that's where you get stuck. If your pleasure comes from your
friends, you're stuck on your friends. If your pleasure comes from
your children or grandchildren, you're stuck on your children and
grandchildren. If your pleasure comes from eating, sleeping or going
out at night, then that's where you're stuck. You're not willing to
trade in your pleasure for the sake of inner worth because you're
afraid of letting your pleasure fall from your grasp. You can't
observe the five or eight precepts because they make you force and
deny yourself. If you observe the eight precepts, you can't go see a
movie or show and can't sleep on a nice soft mattress. You're afraid
that if you miss one evening meal, you'll get hungry or weak. You
don't want to sit and meditate because you're afraid your back will
hurt or your legs will go numb. So this is how the edge of pleasure
destroys your goodness.
As for the edge of praise, this too is razor sharp. When people are
praised, they start floating and don't want to come down. They hear
praise and it's so captivating that they forget themselves and think
that they're already good enough -- so they won't think of making the
effort to make themselves better in other ways.
All four of these edges are weapons that kill our goodness. They're
like the paint people use on houses to make them pretty: something
that can last only a while and then has to fade and peel away. If you
can view these things simply as part of the passing scenery, without
getting stuck on them, they won't do you any harm. But if you latch
onto them as really being your own, the day is sure to come when
you'll have to meet with disappointment -- loss of wealth, loss of
status, criticism, and pain -- because it's a law of nature that
however far things advance, that 's how far they have to regress. If
you don't lose them while you're alive, you'll lose them when you die.
They can't stay permanent and lasting.
Once we realize this truth, then when we meet with any of the good
edges of the world we shouldn't get so carried away that we forget
ourselves; and when we meet with any of the bad edges we shouldn't let
ourselves get so discouraged or sad that we lose hope. Stick to your
duties as you always have. Don't let your goodness suffer because of
these eight ways of the world.
//Putting yourself first:// This means acting, speaking and thinking
whatever way you like without any thought for what's right or wrong,
good or bad. In other words, you feel you have the right to do
whatever you want. You may see, for instance, that something isn't
good, and you know that other people don't like it, but you like it,
so you go ahead and do it. Or you may see that something is good, but
you don't like it, so you don't do it. Sometimes you may like
something, and it's good, but you don't do it -- it's good, but you
just can't do it.
When you're practicing the Dhamma, though, then whether or not you
like something, you have to make yourself do it. //You have to make
the Dhamma your life, and your life into Dhamma// if you want to
succeed. You can't use the principle of giving priority to your own
likes at all.
//Putting the Dhamma first:// This is an important principle for
those who practice. The duties of every Buddhist are (1) to develop
virtue by observing the precepts, (2) to center the mind in
concentration, and (3) to use discernment to investigate the truth
without giving rein to defilement.
The basic level of virtue is to prevent our words and deeds from
being bad or evil. This means observing the five precepts: not killing
any living beings, not stealing, not engaging in illicit sex, not
lying, and not taking intoxicants. These are the precepts that wash
away the gross stains on our conduct. They're precepts that turn us
from common animals into human beings and prevent us from falling into
states of deprivation and woe.
The intermediate level of virtue turns human beings into celestial
beings. This refers to restraint of the senses: keeping watch over the
way we react to our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling,
and ideation so that they don't give rise to bad mental states. This
can turn human beings into celestial beings, but even then we haven't
escaped from death and rebirth, because when celestial beings run out
of merit they have to come back and be reborn as human beings again.
They still have to keep swimming around in the cycle of rebirth.
Those who can gain release from all forms of evil, however, won't
have to be reborn as animals, human beings, or celestial beings ever
again. This refers to people who practice concentration and can
abandon all evil in their hearts by developing the stages of
absorption (//jhana//) and discernment until they reach the level of
Non-returning. When they die, they go to the Brahma worlds, and there
they develop their hearts still further, purifying them of all
defilements, becoming arahants and ultimately attaining total
The basic level of virtue protects our words and deeds from being
evil. The intermediate level protects our senses and keeps them clean
-- which means that we don't let the three defilements of passion,
aversion/ and delusion be provoked into action by what we see, hear,
smell, taste, touch/ or think.
As for the highest level of virtue -- inner virtue -- this means
giving rise to Right Concentration within the mind:
(1) On this level, 'not killing' means not killing off your
goodness. For instance, if bad thoughts arise and you aren't careful
to wipe them out, their evil will come pouring in and your goodness
will have to die. This is because your mind is still caught up on good
and evil. Sometimes you use good to kill evil. Sometimes you use evil
to kill good: This is called killing yourself.
(2) 'Stealing' on this level refers to the way the mind likes to
take the good and bad points of other people to think about. This sort
of mind is a thief -- because we've never once asked other people
whether they're possessive of their good and bad points or are willing
to share them with us. For the most part, what we take is their old
dried up garbage. I.e., we like to focus on their bad points. Even
though they may have good points, we don't let ourselves see them. We
take our own opinions as our guide and as a result we end up as fools
without realizing it.
(3) 'Illicit sensuality' on this level refers to the state of mind
that is stuck on sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations,
and ideas, or that lies fermenting in greed, anger, and delusion. In
other words, the mind is impure and is always involved with sensual
objects and moods.
(4) 'Lying' on this level means not being true. How are we not true?
We come to the monastery but our minds are at home. We listen to the
sermon but our hearts are thinking of something else. Our bodies may
be sitting in the meditation position, just like the Buddha, but our
minds are roaming around through all sorts of thoughts, gnawing on the
past, nibbling at the future, not finding any meat at all This is
called lying to yourself and to others as well. How is it lying to
others? Suppose you go home and someone asks, 'Where did you go
today?' and you answer, 'I went to the monastery to listen to a
sermon.' Actually, your body came, but you didn't come. Your body
listened, but you didn't listen. This has to be classed as a kind of
(5) 'Intoxication' on this level refers to delusion and
absentmindedness. If we're going to contemplate body, feelings, mind,
and mental qualities, our minds have to be still and really focused on
these things. But if we're absentminded and forgetful, our minds go
down the wrong path, weaving in and out, back and forth like a
drunkard. Sometimes we end up falling down in a stupor and lying there
on the side of the road. Nothing good will come of it.
Those who are careful to keep their minds firmly centered in
concentration and to keep the five precepts on this level pure and
whole, though, are said to be developing the highest perfection of
virtue -- showing respect for the Dhamma above and beyond the world,
above and beyond themselves. This is called putting the Dhamma first
in a way befitting those who practice it. This is what it means to be
a true Buddhist in a way that will eventually lead us to release from
all suffering and stress.
* * * * * * * *
Now I'd like to explain a little about how to meditate. Sitting in
meditation is a worthwhile activity. The outer part of the activity is
to sit in a half-lotus position with your right leg on top of your
left leg; your hands palm-up in your lap, your right hand on top of
your left. Keep your body erect. Close your eyes, but don't close them
off like a person asleep. Your optic nerves have to keep working to
some extent or else you'll get drowsy.
These activities are the outer aspects of good meditation, but they
aren't what makes the meditation good. You also need to have the right
object for the mind to dwell on, and the right intention: the
intention to keep the in-and-out breath in mind, to adjust it so that
it's comfortable, and to keep the breath and mind together so that
they don't slip away from each other. When you can do this properly,
you'll gain beneficial results in terms of both body and mind -- i.e.,
the right quality you're looking for, termed 'inner worth', which
means a soothing sense of ease, comfort, fullness, and well-being.
When you sit and meditate, keep noticing whether or not your mind is
staying with the in-and-out breath. You have to keep mindfulness in
charge of the mind. For example, when you breathe in, think //bud//;
when you breathe out, think //dho//. //Bud-dho.// Be mindful. Don't
let yourself forget or slip away. Put aside all your outside
responsibilities and let go of all outside thoughts and perceptions.
Keep your mind with nothing but the breath. You don't have to turn
your attention to anything else.
Usually when you sit and meditate, though, thoughts of past and
future tend to appear and get in the way of the quality of your
meditation. Thoughts of this sort -- whether they're about things past
or yet to come, about the world or the Dhamma -- have no good to them
at all. They'll simply cause you trouble and suffering. They make the
mind restless and disturbed so that it can't gain any peace and calm
-- because things that are past have already passed. There's no way
you can bring them back or change them. Things in the future haven't
reached us yet, so we can't know whether or not they'll be in line
with our expectations. They're far away and uncertain, so there's no
way they'll be any help to our thinking at all.
For this reason, we have to keep hold on the mind to keep it in the
present by fixing it on nothing but the breath. To think about the
breath is called directed thought, as when we think buddho together
with the breath -- //bud// in, //dho// out, like we're doing right
now. When we start evaluating the breath, we let go of //buddho// and
start observing how far the effects of each in-and-out breath can be
felt in the body. When the breath comes in, does it feel comfortable
or not? When it goes out, does it feel relaxed or not? If it doesn't
feel comfortable and relaxed, change it. When you keep the mind
preoccupied with investigating the breath, let go of //buddho//. You
don't have any need for it. Mindful awareness will fill the body, and
the in-breath will start to feel as if it's permeating the body
throughout. When we let go of //buddho//, our evaluation of the breath
becomes more refined; the movement of the mind will calm down and
become concentration; outside perceptions will fall silent. 'Falling
silent' doesn't mean that our ears go blank or become deaf. It means
that our attention doesn't go running to outside perceptions or to
thoughts of past or future. Instead, it stays exclusively in the
When we fix our attention on the breath in this way, constantly
keeping watch and being observant of how the breath is flowing, we'll
come to know what the in-breath and out-breath are like, whether or
not they're comfortable, what way of breathing in makes us feel good,
what way of breathing out makes us feel good, what way of breathing
makes us feel tense and uncomfortable. If the breath feels
uncomfortable, try to adjust it so that it gives rise to a sense of
comfort and ease.
When we keep surveying and evaluating the breath in this way,
mindfulness and self-awareness will take charge within us. Stillness
will develop, discernment will develop, knowledge will develop within
* * * * * * * *
August 13, 1956
When you sit and meditate, you should keep in mind the factors that
make it a worthwhile activity:
(1) The right object for the mind -- i.e., the breath, which is the
theme of your meditation.
(2) The right intention. This means that you focus your mind
steadily on what you're doing and nothing else, with the purpose of
making it settle down firmly in stillness.
(3) The right quality -- inner worth -- i.e., the calm and ease you
gain from your practice of concentration.
* * *
To have the right object while you sit and meditate, you should have
your mind set on giving your heart solely to the qualities of the
Buddha. What this means is that you focus on your in-and-out breathing
together with the word //buddho//, without thinking of anything else.
This is your object or foundation for the mind. The mental side of the
object is the word //buddho//, but if you just think, //buddho,
buddho//, without joining it up with your breathing, you won't get the
results you want, because simply thinking on its own is too weak to
have a hold on the mind, and as a result it doesn't fulfill all the
factors of meditation. The mind won't be snug enough with its object
to stay firmly put in its stillness, and so will show signs of
Since this is the case, you have to find something to give it some
resistance, something for it to hold onto, in the same way that a nail
you drive into a board will hold it firmly to a post and not let it
move. A mind without something to hold onto is bound not to be snug
and firm with its object. This is why we're taught to think also of
the breath, which is the physical side of our object, together with
//buddho//, thinking //bud// in with the in-breath, and //dho// out
with the out.
As for the factor of intention in your meditation, you have to be
intent on your breathing. Don't leave it to the breath to happen on
its own as you normally do. You have to be intent on synchronizing
your thought of the in-breath with the in-breath, and your thought of
the out-breath with the out. If your thinking is faster or slower than
your breathing, it won't work. You have to be intent on keeping your
thinking in tandem with the breath. If you breathe in this way, this
is the intention that forms the act (//kamma//) of your meditation
(//kammatthana//). If you simply let the breath happen on its own,
it's no longer a theme of meditation. It's simply the breath. So you
have to be careful and intent at all times to keep the mind in place
when you breathe in, and in place when you breathe out. When you
breathe in, the mind has to think //bud//. When you breathe out, it
has to think //dho//. This is the way your meditation has to be.
The quality of inner worth in centering the mind comes when you make
the body and mind feel soothed and relaxed. Don't let yourself feel
tense or constricted. Let the breath have its freedom. Don't block it
or hold it, force it or squeeze it. You have to let it flow smoothly
and easily. Like washing a shirt and hanging it out to dry: Let the
sun shine and the wind blow, and the water will drip away by itself.
In no time at all the shirt will be clean and dry. When you meditate,
it's as if you were washing your body and mind. If you want the body
to feel clean and fresh inside, you have to put it at its ease. Put
your eyes at ease, your ears at ease, your hands, feet, arms, and legs
all at their ease. Put your body at ease in every way and at the same
time don't let your mind get involved in any outside thoughts. Let
them all drop away.
* * *
When you wash your mind so that it's clean and pure, it's bound to
become bright within itself with knowledge and understanding. Things
you never knew or thought of before will appear to you. The Buddha
thus taught that the brightness of the mind is discernment. When this
discernment arises, it can give us knowledge about ourselves -- of how
the body got to be the way it is and how the mind got to be the way it
is. This is called knowledge of form and name or of physical and
Discernment is like a sail on a sailboat: The wider it's spread, the
faster the boat will go. If it's tattered and torn, it won't catch the
wind, and the boat will have to go slowly or might not even reach its
goal at all. But if the sail is in good shape, it will take the boat
quickly to its destination. The same holds true with our discernment.
If our knowledge is only in bits and pieces, it won't be able to pull
our minds up to the current of the Dhamma. We may end up sinking or
giving up because we aren't true and sincere in what we do. When this
is the case, we won't be able to get any results. Our good qualities
will fall away and sink into our bad ones. Why will they sink? Because
our sails don't catch the wind. And why is that? Because they're torn
into shreds. And why are they torn? Because we don't take care of
them, so they wear out fast and end up tattered and torn.
This is because the mind spends all its time entangled with thoughts
and ideas. It doesn't settle down into stillness, so its discernment
is tattered and torn. When our discernment is in bits and pieces like
this, it leads us down to a low level -- like a log or post that we
leave lying flat on the ground, exposed to all sorts of dangers:
Termites may eat it or people and animals may trample all over it,
because it's left in a low place. But if we stand it up on its end in
a posthole, it's free from these dangers, apart from the minor things
that can happen to the part buried in the ground.
The same holds true with the mind. If we let it drift along in its
ideas, instead of catching hold of it and making it stand firmly in
one place -- i.e., if we let it make its nest all the time in concepts
and thoughts --it's bound to get defiled and sink to a low level. This
is why the Buddha taught us to practice centering the mind in
concentration so that it will stand firm in a single object. When the
mind is centered, it's free from turmoil and confusion, like a person
who has finished his work. The body is soothed and rested, the mind is
refreshed -- and when the mind is refreshed, it becomes steady, still,
and advances to a higher level, like a person on a high vantage point
-- the top of a mountain, the mast of a boat, or a tall tree -- able
to see all kinds of things in every direction, near or far, better
than a person in a low place like a valley or ravine. In a low place,
the sun is visible for only a few hours of the day, and there are
corners where the daylight never reaches at all. A mind that hasn't
been trained to stand firm in its goodness is sure to fall to a low
level and not be bright. But if we train our minds to a higher and
higher level, we'll be sure to see things both near and far, and to
meet up with brightness.
These are some of the rewards that come from centering the mind in
concentration. When we start seeing these rewards, we're bound to
develop conviction. When we feel conviction, we become inspired to
pull our minds even further -- in the same way that a sail that isn't
torn can take a boat to its destination without any trouble. This is
one point I want to make.
Another point is that discernment can also be compared to an
airplane propeller. When we sit here stilling our minds, it's as if we
were flying an airplane up into the sky. If the pilot is sleepy, lazy,
or in a blur, we're not safe. No matter how fantastic the plane may
be, it can still crash us into a mountain or the forest wilds, because
the pilot doesn't have any mindfulness or presence of mind. So when we
sit meditating, it's like we're flying an airplane. If our mindfulness
is weak and our mind keeps wandering off, our airplane may end up
crashing. So we have to keep observing the body to see where at the
moment it feels painful or tense; and keep check on the mind to see
whether or not it's staying with the body in the present. If the mind
isn't with the body, it's as if the pilot isn't staying with his
airplane. The Hindrances will have an opening to arise and destroy our
stillness. So when we sit and meditate, we have to make sure that we
don't get absentminded. We have to be mindful and self-aware at all
times and not let the mind slip away anywhere else. When we can do
this, we'll develop a sense of comfort and ease, and will begin to see
the benefits that come from mental stillness.
This insight is the beginning of discernment. This discernment is
like an airplane propeller. The more we practice, the more benefits
we'll see. We'll be able to take our plane as high as we want, land it
whenever we feel like it, or try any stunts that occur to us. //In
other words, when we develop discernment within ourselves we can have
control over our mind.// If we want it to think, it'll think. If we
don't want it to think, it won't think. We know how to keep our own
mind in line. If we can't keep ourselves in line, there's no way we
can expect to keep anyone else in line. So if we're intelligent, it's
like being a pilot who can keep a plane under his full control. We can
keep the mind in line. For example, if it thinks of something bad, we
can order it to stop and rest, and the thought will disappear. This is
called keeping the mind in line. Or if we want it to think, it will be
able to think and to know. Once it knows, that's the end of the
matter, and so it will then stop thinking. Whatever we want it to do,
it can do for us. According to the Buddha, people like this are called
sages because they have discernment: Whatever they do, they really do.
They know what is harmful and what isn't. They know how to put a stop
to their thinking and as a result they very rarely meet with
As for stupid people, they simply fool around and drag their feet,
pulling themselves back when they should go forward, and forward when
they should go back, spending their days and nights thinking about all
kinds of nonsense without any substance. Even when they sleep, they
keep thinking. Their minds never have any chance to rest at all. And
when their minds are forced to keep working like this, they're bound
to run down and wear out, and won't give any good results when they're
put to use. When this happens, they suffer.
But if we have the discernment to be alert to events, we can let go
of what should be let go, stop what should be stopped, and think about
what needs to be thought about. We can speak when we should speak, act
when we should act -- or simply stay still if that's what's called
for. People who work day and night without sleeping, without giving
their bodies a chance to rest, are killing themselves. In the same
way, thoughts and concepts are things that bring on the end of our
life and destroy our mind -- because they keep the mind working
whether we're sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Sometimes,
even when we're just sitting alone, we keep thinking -- which means
we're killing ourselves, because the mind never gets a chance to rest.
Its strength keeps eroding away; and eventually, when its strength is
all gone, its good qualities will have to die.
So when we sit here centering our minds, it's like eating our fill,
bathing ourselves till we're thoroughly clean, and then taking a good
nap. When we wake up, we feel bright, refreshed, and strong enough to
take on any job at all.
This is why the Buddha was able to develop such strength of mind
that he was able to do without food, for example, for seven full days
and yet not feel tired or weak. This was because his mind was able to
rest and be still in the four levels of absorption. His concentration
was strong and gave great strength to his body, his speech, and his
mind. The strength it gave to his body is what enabled him to wander
about, teaching people in every city and town throughout Northern
India. Sometimes he had to walk over rough roads through destitute
places, but he was never tired in any way.
As for the strength of his speech, he was able to keep teaching,
without respite, from the day of his Awakening to the day of his final
passing away -- a total of 45 years.
And as for the strength of his mind, he was very astute, capable of
teaching his disciples so that thousands of them were able to become
arahants. He was able to convince large numbers of people who were
stubborn, proud, and entrenched in wrong views, to abandon their views
and become his disciples. His heart was full of kindness, compassion,
and sincerity, with no feelings of anger, hatred, or malice toward
anyone at all. It was a pure heart, without blemish.
All of these qualities came from the Dhamma he had practiced -- not
from anything strange or mysterious -- the same Dhamma we're
practicing right now. The important thing is that we have to be intent
on really doing it if we want to get results. If, when we center the
mind, we really do it, we'll get real results. If we don't really do
it, we'll get nothing but playthings and dolls. That's how it is with
* * * * * * * *
GETTING ACQUAINTED INSIDE
September 28, 1958
The four properties of the body -- the way it feels from the inside,
i.e., earth (solidity), water (liquidity), wind (motion), and fire
(heat) -- are like four people. If you keep trying to acquaint
yourself with them, after a while they'll become your friends.
At first they aren't too familiar with you, so they don't trust you
and will probably want to test your mettle. For instance, when you
start sitting in meditation, they'll take a stick and poke you in your
legs so that your legs hurt or grow numb. If you lie down, they'll
poke you in the back. If you lie on your side, they'll poke you in the
waist. If you get up and sit again, they'll test you again. Or they
may whisper to you to give up. If you give in to them, the King of
Death will grin until his cheeks hurt.
What you have to do is smile against the odds and see things
through. Keep talking with all four properties. Even though they don't
respond at first, you have to keep talking with them, asking them this
and that. After a while they'll give you a one-word answer. So you
keep talking and then their answers will start getting longer until
you eventually become acquaintances and can have real conversations.
From that point they become your friends. They'll love you and help
you and tell you their secrets. You'll be a person with friends and
won't have to be lonely. You'll eat together, sleep together, and
wherever you go, you'll go together. You'll feel secure. No matter how
long you sit, you won't ache. No matter how long you walk, you won't
feel tired -- because you have friends to talk with as you walk along,
so that you enjoy yourself and reach your destination before you
This is why we're taught to practice meditation by keeping
mindfulness immersed firmly in the body. Contemplate your meditation
themes -- body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities -- without
letting your mind wander astray in outside thoughts and
preoccupations. Contemplate the body so as to know how its properties
are getting along, where it feels pleasant, painful, or neutral.
Notice how the mind moves around in the various things you know until
you reach the mental quality that is still, solid, and true.
This way it's like having friends go with you wherever you go and
whatever you do. In other words, when the body walks, the mind walks
with it. When the body lies down, the mind lies down with it. When the
body sits, the mind sits with it. Wherever the body stops, the mind
stops, too. But most of us aren't like this. The body takes two steps,
but the mind takes four or five -- so how can it //not// get tired?
The body lies in a mosquito net surrounded by a railing and seven
thick walls, but the mind can still go running outside. When this is
the case, where will it get any happiness? It'll have to wander around
exposed to the sun, wind, rain, and all sorts of dangers because it
has no protection. If there's no concentration to act as a shelter for
the heart, it'll always have to meet with misery and pain.
For this reason, you should train your heart to stay firm in
concentration and to develop full strength within yourself so that you
can be your own person. This way you'll be bound to meet with all
things pure and good.
* * * * * * * *
STOP & THINK
July 20, 1959
Insight isn't something that can be taught. It's something you have to
give rise to within yourself. It's not something you simply memorize
and talk about. If we were to teach it just so we could memorize it, I
can guarantee that it wouldn't take five hours. But if you wanted to
understand one word of it, three years might not even be enough.
//Memorizing gives rise simply to memories. Acting is what gives rise
to the truth.// This is why it takes effort and persistence for you to
understand and master this skill on your own.
When insight arises, you'll know what's what, where it's come from,
and where it's going -- as when we see a lantern burning brightly: We
know that, 'That's the flame... That's the smoke.. That's the light.'
We know how these things arise from mixing what with what, and where
the flame goes when we put out the lantern. All of this is the skill
Some people say that tranquillity meditation and insight meditation
are two separate things -- but how can that be true? Tranquillity
meditation is 'stopping,' insight meditation is 'thinking' that leads
to clear knowledge. When there's clear knowledge, the mind stops still
and stays put. They're all part of the same thing.
Knowing has to come from stopping. If you don't stop, how can you
know? For instance, if you're sitting in a car or a boat that is
traveling fast and you try to look at the people or things passing by
right next to you along the way, you can't see clearly who's who or
what's what. But if you stop still in one place, you'll be able to see
Or even closer to home: When we speak, there has to be a pause
between each phrase. If you tried to talk without any pauses at all,
would anyone be able to understand what you said?
This is why we first have to make the mind stop to be quiet and
still. When the mind stays still in a state of normalcy, concentration
arises and discernment follows. This is something you have to work at
and do for yourself. Don 't simply believe what others say. //Get so
that you know 'Oh! Oh! Oh!' from within, and not just 'Oh? Oh? Oh?'
from what people say.// Don't take the good things they say and stick
them in your heart. You have to make these things your own by getting
them to arise from within you. Spending one dollar of your own money
is better than spending 100 dollars you've borrowed from someone else.
If you use borrowed money, you have to worry because you're in debt.
If you use your own money, there's nothing to worry about.
* * *
Stopping is what gives rise to strength. If a man is walking or
running, he can't put up a good fight with anyone, because the
advantage lies with the person standing still, not with the person
walking or running. This is why we're taught to make the mind stop
still so that it can gain strength. Then it will be able to start
walking again with strength and agility.
It's true that we have two feet, but when we walk we have to step
with one foot at a time. If you try to step with both feet at once,
you won't get anywhere. Or if you try to walk with just one foot, you
can't do that either. When the right foot stops, the left foot has to
take a step. When the left foot stops, the right foot has to take a
step. You have to stop with one foot and step with the other if you're
going to walk with any strength because the strength comes from the
foot that has stopped, not from the foot taking a step. One side has
to stop while the other side takes a step. Otherwise, you'll have no
support and are sure to fall down. If you don't believe me, try
stepping with both feet at once and see how far you get.
In the same way, tranquillity and insight have to go together. You
first have to make the mind stop in tranquillity and then take a step
in your investigation: This is insight meditation. The understanding
that arises is discernment. To let go of your attachment to that
understanding is release.
So stopping is the factor that gives rise to strength, knowledge,
and discernment -- the fixed mind that knows both the world and the
Dhamma in a state of heightened virtue, heightened consciousness, and
heightened discernment leading on to the transcendent.
* * * * * * * *
June 25, 1959
The Buddha taught, 'The pursuit of heightened consciousness is the
heart of the Buddhas' teaching.' Heightened consciousness is a state
of mind that lies above and beyond mental defilement. There are two
ways it can be reached:
(1) The mind doesn't yet have any heightened inner quality, but we
heighten it through our efforts.
(2) The mind has developed the proper inner quality and uses it to
keep itself safe, above and beyond defilement.
The first case refers to the state of ordinary people's minds. When
they aren't sitting in meditation, their minds aren't in any special
state of concentration, so if defilement arises within them, they have
to be determined and perceptive -- to be aware of the defilement and
to make up their minds that they won't let it push them around. This
is called Right Attitude. Even though the mind isn't in concentration,
this technique can give results.
What this means is that we're alert to what's going on. For example,
when we're angry, when we meet with something undesirable, we should
be alert to the fact and make ourselves determined that no matter
what, we're going to keep the defilement of anger under control by
resisting it and putting our better side into play. In other words,
when we're angry, we act as if we weren't. Instead of letting the
anger overpower the mind, we use our inner goodness to overpower the
mind. This is called heightened consciousness. When you meet with
something you don't like, don't let the fact that you don't like it
show. Instead, act as if you were happy and calm. I.e., put your good
side to use. Don't let your bad side show under any circumstances.
If you're circumspect and composed enough to hold the mind in check
before it can let its defilements come out in word or deed, if you can
force the defilements to stop and can let only your best manners show,
you count as having heightened consciousness. You are also a good
member of any social group, for you can work toward your own progress
and that of the group as a whole.
In the texts, this quality is called composure -- a state of mind
that lies above the defilements. This is one form of heightened
consciousness and is something we should all try to develop within
ourselves as we are able.
The second form of heightened consciousness refers to a mind freed
from the Hindrances and trained to a state of Right Concentration. The
mind is firmly established in its inner quality. When defilements
arise, they can't overpower the mind //because they can't reach in to
touch it//, for the mind is protected by its own full measure of inner
I ask that we all aim at making this form of heightened
consciousness arise within ourselves by being persistent and
persevering in cherishing our own inner goodness -- in the same way
that when we have good food, we make sure to chase away the flies so
that we can enjoy it in good health.
To do this, you have to be observant and make two kinds of effort:
the effort to abandon your defilements and the effort to develop your
meditation theme, which is the means for wiping out the mental
Hindrances. There are five types of Hindrances: sensual desire, ill
will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty. As
for meditation, there are two ways of practicing it -- in series and
in isolation -- as I'll explain to you now.
(1) To practice in series is to practice by the book: contemplating
the unattractiveness of the body, for instance, by following the lists
of its parts without skipping over any of them or mixing them up.
Whichever theme you choose, you have to understand how the topics are
grouped and in what order, so as to deal with them properly. This kind
of meditation can give great benefits, but at the same time can cause
great harm. For example, if you contemplate the unattractiveness of
the body, it can lead to a sense of dispassion, detachment, and calm,
but there are times it can also get you into a state where you can't
eat or sleep because everything starts seeming filthy and disgusting.
This is one way it can be harmful. Or sometimes you may contemplate
the body until a mental image arises, but you get frightened and
unnerved. In cases like this, you have to try to be up on what's
happening so that your theme will help you instead of harming you.
(2) To practice in isolation is to focus on a single refined theme
that doesn't have a lot of different features. I.e., you focus on
being mindful of the in-and-out breath, without letting your attention
slip away. Focus on whatever kind of breathing feels soothing, and the
mind will settle down. Try to make the breath more and more refined,
all the while keeping the mind gently with the breath, in the same way
that you'd cup a bit of fluff in the palm of your hand. Do this until
you feel that there's no 'in' or 'out' to the breath at all. The mind
doesn't wander around. It's quiet and still, able to cut away thoughts
of past and future. At this point it becomes even more refined, with
no restlessness at all. The mind is stable and doesn't change along
with its objects. It's firmly set and unwavering to the point where it
becomes fixed and strong.
When you can develop your meditation to this point, it will make the
mind let go of its attachments and gain conviction and understanding
into the truths of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. Your doubts will
fall away, and you will know the way of the world and the way of
Liberation, without having to ask for confirmation from anyone else.
When your knowledge is clear and free from uncertainty, the mind is
firm in its own strength. This is when you become your own refuge --
when your mind isn't affected by other people or objects and reaches
the happiness and ease of heightened consciousness.
* * * * * * * *
RESPECT FOR TRUTH
There are four kinds of truth in the body of every human being:
stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the path to its disbanding.
These truths are like gold: No matter whether you try to make gold
into a bracelet, a ring, an earring, or whatever, it stays gold in
line with its nature. Go ahead and try to change it, but it'll stay as
it is. The same holds true with the nature of the body. No matter how
wonderful you try to make it, it'll have to return to its normal
nature. It'll have to have stress and pain, their cause, their
disbanding and the path to their disbanding.
People who don't admit the normal nature of the body are said to be
deluded; those who realize its normal nature are said to know. Wise
people realize the principles of nature, which is why they don't get
caught up in a lot of fuss and confusion. In other words, the body is
like an object that originally weighs four kilograms. Even though we
may find things to plaster onto it to make it heavier, the plaster
will eventually have to fall off and leave us with the original four
kilograms. You simply can't escape its original nature.
The stress and pain that occur in line with the principles of nature
aren't actually all that troublesome. For example, pain and disease:
If we try to fight nature and not let there be disease, or if we want
it to disappear right away, sometimes we make the disease even worse.
But if we treat the disease without worrying about whether or not
it'll go away, it will follow its natural course and go away at its
own pace without too much trouble or suffering on our part. This is
because the mind isn't struggling to fight nature, and so the body is
strong enough to contend with the disease. Sometimes, if we have this
attitude, we can survive diseases that otherwise would kill us. But if
the mind gets all upset and thrashes around, wanting the disease to go
away, then sometimes a small disease can get so bad it'll kill us --
like a person with a scorpion sting he thinks is a cobra bite, who
gets so frightened and upset that the whole thing gets out of hand.
Sometimes we may come down with a disease that ought to finish us off,
but the power of the mind is so great that it fights off the pain and
the disease goes away.
This is one of the principles of nature -- but we shouldn't be
complacent about it. If we get complacent, then when the disease comes
back it'll be worse than before, because the truth, when you get right
down to it, is that no matter what you do, these things can't escape
their true nature. When the body's normal nature is to have pain and
stress, then try as you may to make the pain go away, it'll have to
return to its true nature. Whether or not you can cure it, the truth
is still the truth. In other words, even when you cure the disease, it
Suppose, for instance, that we feel ill, take some medicine, and
feel better. We think the disease has gone away. People of
discernment, though, realize that it hasn't gone anywhere. It's simply
been suppressed for a while and then it'll have to come back out
again. We may think that we've made the disease go away, but the
disease is smarter than we are. When it comes back again, it wears a
new costume, like actors in a theater troupe: If the public gets tired
of one play, they put on another. Otherwise, no one will spend money
to watch them perform. In other words, the disease is smart enough to
come from a new direction. If it put on the old play, it wouldn't get
any reward. At first it came in your stomach, so this time it comes in
your leg. You treat it until it goes away, but then it comes back in a
new play -- in your eye. You treat it in your eye until it goes away,
and then it comes back in your ear. So you treat your ear. Wherever it
comes, you keep treating it and your money keeps getting spent. As for
the disease, it's glad you're fooled. There's only one of it, but it
comes in all sorts of disguises. Ageing, illness, and death are very
smart. They can keep us tied on a short leash so that we can never get
away from them. People who don't train their minds to enter the Dhamma
are sure to miss this point, but those who train themselves to know
the truth of the Dhamma will understand this principle of nature for
what it is.
If we don't realize the truth, we lose in two ways. On the one side
we lose in terms of the world: We waste our money because we don't
realize what's necessary and what isn't, so we get worked up and upset
all out of proportion to reality. On the other side, we lose in terms
of the Dhamma because our virtue, concentration, and meditation all
suffer. Illness makes us lose in these ways because we lack
discernment. This is why the Buddha taught us to use our eyes. We live
in the world, so we have to look out for our well-being in the world;
we live in the Dhamma, so we have to look out for our well-being in
the Dhamma. The results will then develop of their own accord. If we
use discernment to evaluate things until we know what's necessary and
what's not, the time won't be long before we prosper in terms both of
the world and of the Dhamma. We won't have to waste money and time,
and there won't be any obstacles to our practice.
In other words, when you see that something is true, don't try to
get in its way. Let it follow its own course. //Even though the mind
doesn't age, grow ill or die, still the body has to age, grow ill and
die.// This is a part of its nature that you can't fight. When it gets
ill, you take care of it enough to keep it going. You won't be put to
difficulties in terms of the world, and your Dhamma practice won't
The suffering we feel because of these things comes from the cause
of stress: delusion, ignorance of the truth. When the mind is deluded,
it doesn't know the cause of stress or the path to the disbanding of
stress. When it knows, it doesn't get caught up in the natural pain
and stress of the body. //Mental suffering comes from the accumulation
of defilement, not from ageing, illness and death.// Once the
stillness of the path arises within us, then ageing, illness, and
death won't unsettle the mind. Sorrow, despair, distress, and
lamentation won't exist. The mind will be separate. We can compare
this to the water in the sea when it's full of waves: If we take a
dipperful of sea water and set it down on the beach, there won't be
any waves in the dipper at all. The waves come from wavering. If we
don't stir it up, there won't be any waves. For this reason, we have
to fix the mind so that it's steady in its meditation, without letting
anything else seep in. It will then gain clarity: the discernment that
sees the truth.
* * *
The mental state of the cause of stress leads us to pain; the mental
state of the path leads us to happiness. If you don't want stress or
pain, don't stay with the flow of their cause. //Mental suffering is
something unnatural to the mind.// It comes from letting defilement
seep in. Diseases arise in the body, but we let their effects spread
into the mind. We have to learn which phenomena die and which don't.
If our defilements are thick and tenacious, there'll be a lot of
ageing, illness and death. If our defilements are thin, there won't be
much ageing, illness and death.
For this reason, we should build inner quality -- awareness of the
truth -- within ourselves. However far the body is going to develop,
that's how far it's going to have to deteriorate, so don't be
complacent. The important point is that you develop the mind. If the
mind gets developed to a point of true maturity, it won t regress. In
other words, if your concentration is strong and your discernment
developed, the defilements that enwrap your mind will fall away in the
same way that when the flowers of a fruit tree reach full bloom the
petals fall away, leaving the fruit. When the fruit develops till it's
fully ripe, the skin and flesh fall away, leaving just the seeds that
contain all the makings for a new tree. When the mind is fully
developed, then ageing, illness, and death fall away. Mental stress
and suffering fall away, leaving the mind in Right Concentration.
When Right Concentration is ripe, you'll know the location of what
dies and what doesn't. If you want to die, then stay with what dies.
If you don't want birth, don't stay with what takes birth. If you
don't want ageing, don't stay with what ages. If you don't want
illness, don't stay with what grows ill. //If you don't leave these
things, you have to live with them.// If you leave them, your mind
won't age -- it won't be able to age; it won't grow ill -- it won't be
able to grow ill; it won't die; it won't be able to die. If you can
reach this point, you're said to have respect for the truth -- for the
teachings of the Buddha.
Respect for the truth isn't a matter of bowing down or paying
homage. It means having a sense of time and place: If something is
possible, you do it. If it's not, you don't -- and you don't try to
straighten it out, either. The defilements of unawareness, craving,
and attachment are things that connect us with suffering, so don't let
them entangle the mind.
Unawareness is the mental state that is deluded about the past,
present, and future. True awareness knows what's past and lets it go;
knows what's future and lets it go; knows what's present and doesn't
fall for it. It can remove all attachments. Unawareness knows, but it
falls for these things, which is why it forms the fuel for suffering.
True awareness knows what things are past, present, and future, //but
it doesn't run out after them//. It knows but it stays put -- quiet
and calm. It doesn't waver up or down. It doesn't seep out, and
nothing seeps in. The past, the present, and the future it knows in
terms of the principles of its nature, without having to reason or
think. People who have to reason and think are the ones who don't
know. With knowledge, there's no thinking or reasoning, and yet the
mind knows thoroughly. This is true awareness. Ageing, illness, and
death all become an affair of release. In other words, nothing is
fashioned in the mind, and when nothing is fashioned, there's no
ageing, illness, or death.
As for attachment, it catches us and ties us to a stake, like a
person being led to his execution with no chance to wiggle free. We're
tied with a wire stretching out to the past and future. Craving inches
along the wire towards us, rolling his eyes and making horrible faces,
so that we worry about the past and future. Behind us he splits into
three: craving for sensuality, craving for possibilities, and craving
for impossibilities. In front of us, he splits into three -- the same
three sorts of craving -- and in the present he splits into the same
three. With nine of them and only one of us, how can we expect to be a
match for them? In the end, we're no match at all.
If we practice concentration and develop discernment, though, we'll
be able to cut the wire of Death. When the mental state that forms the
path arises, our thoughts of past and future will all disband. This is
the disbanding of stress. Attachment and craving won't exist -- so
where will stress and suffering have a chance to arise? People who
have defilements -- even if they earn $3,000 a day -- can't keep
themselves from falling into hell. But people with no defilements,
even if they don't have anything at all, are happy nonetheless --
because the mind has enough to eat, enough to drink, enough of
everything. It's not poor. When we can think correctly in this way,
it's called respect for the Dhamma -- and it can make us happy.
* * *
Respect for the Dhamma means taking seriously all the things that come
in and out the house of your mind. //(1) The door of the body:// You
have to be careful to make sure that none of your actions stray into
ways that are harmful. //(2) The door of speech// -- the door of the
mouth -- is very large. The tongue may be only a tiny piece of flesh,
but it's very important, because what we say today can keep echoing
for an aeon after we die. When the body dies, the time isn't long
before there's nothing left of it, and so it's not as important as our
speech, for the stone engravings we make with our tongue last a long,
long time. For this reason, we should show a great deal of respect for
our mouths by saying only things that are worthwhile. //(3) The door
of the intellect:// We have to be careful with our thoughts. If
something is harmful to us when we think about it, then we shouldn't
think about it. We should think only about things that are beneficial
These three doors are always receiving guests into the mind, so we
have to pay attention to see who is coming with good intentions and
who is coming with bad. Don't let down your guard. Whoever comes with
good intentions will bring you happiness and prosperity. As for
troublemakers and thieves, they'll rob you and kill you and cause you
all sorts of trouble.
As for your eyes, ears and nose, these are like three windows that
you have to be careful about as well. You have to know when to open
and when to close them. If you aren't discerning, you may invite
thieves into your house to rob and kill you, plundering all the wealth
your parents and teachers gave you. This is called being an ingrate --
not knowing enough to care for the legacies that others have passed
down to you. The legacies of your parents are your life, health, and
strength. The legacies of your teachers are all the things they taught
to make you a good person. If you leave your thoughts, words, and
deeds wide open so that evil can flow into you, evil will keep pouring
in, wearing down the health and strength of your body and mind. This
is called having no appreciation for the kindness of your parents and
Sometimes we don't leave just the doors open -- we leave the windows
open as well. Lizards, snakes, scorpions, birds, and bats will come in
through the windows and take up residence in our house. After a while
they'll lay claim to it as theirs -- and we give in to them. So they
leave their droppings all over and make a mess of the place. If we
don't exercise self-restraint, our body and mind are going to be
ruined, and this will destroy the wealth our parents and teachers went
to such great trouble to give us.
So if anyone tries to come into your house, you have to grill them
thoroughly to see what they're up to and what they're coming for --
for good or for bad. Look them straight in the eye. In other words,
you have to be mindful and reflecting in all your actions. Anything
that isn't good you have to drive out of your activities. Even if it
would help you financially or make you popular and well-known, don't
have anything to do with it. The same holds true with your speech. If
something you're about to say will serve a good purpose, then open
your mouth and say it. Say what should be said, and don't say what
shouldn't. If something serves no real purpose, then no matter how
fantastic it may be, don't say it. You have to know how to respond to
all the activities that present themselves for you to do. Let in the
good ones and drive out the bad.
As for the mind, you have to show restraint with that, too. If a
thought will lead to good and happy results, you should let yourself
think it. But as for thoughts that will cause harm, don't pull them
in. If you go gobbling down everything you like, you're going to die.
I.e., (1) your inner quality will deteriorate. (2) The wealth your
parents and teachers gave you will disappear.
As for your senses -- sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling -- you
should show an interest in everything that will benefit you. Drive out
what's bad and bring in what's good. When you can do this, it's called
showing respect for your parents, your teachers, and yourself as well.
Your house will be clean, and you can lounge around in comfort without
having to worry about sitting on bird- or bat-droppings.
But if you don't exercise self-restraint, your actions will be
defiled, your words will be defiled, so how can your mind live in
comfort? Like a filthy house: No guests will want to go into it, and
even the owner isn't comfortable there. If you keep your home clean
and well-swept, though, it'll be nice to live in, and good people will
be happy to come and visit. When good people come and visit, they
won't cause you any harm. In other words, the things that come in
through the senses are like guests and they won't cause any harm to
the mind. The mind will be good and obedient and will stay put where
you tell it to. But even if your couches and chairs are made of
marble: If they're dusty and dirty, no guests will want to sit there,
and you yourself won't want to, either.
* * *
So if you keep your virtue bright and clear with regard to our senses
of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation, your mind will
find it easy to attain concentration. Then even when defilements come
to visit you from time to time, they won't be able to do you any harm
-- because you have more than enough wealth to share with them. If
thieves come, you can throw them a hunk of diamond ore and they'll
disappear. If ageing, illness, and death come begging, you can throw
them another hunk, and they'll stop pestering us.
If your old kamma debts come at you when you're poor, they won't get
enough to satisfy them, so they'll end up taking your life. But if
they come at you when you're rich, you simply share your merit -- all
the inner wealth you've accumulated -- and they'll leave you alone. If
your goodness isn't yet full, then evil will have an opening to flow
in; but if your hands, feet, eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind
are filled with goodness, evil can't get into you, so you can come out
Ultimately, you'll get so rich in inner quality that you can go
beyond both good and evil. That's when you can be truly happy and free
from danger. So I ask that you all remember this and treat your
thoughts, words, and deeds in a way that shows respect for the Dhamma
as I've explained it. You'll then meet with the happiness you hope
* * * * * * * *
SERVING A PURPOSE
November 4, 1958
My own motto is, 'Make yourself as good as possible, and everything
else will have to follow along in being good.' If you don't neglect
yourself for the sake of external things, you'll have to be good. So
you shouldn't neglect yourself. Develop your inner worth to your own
The world says, 'Don't worry about whether you're good or bad, as
long as you have money.' This is just the opposite of the Dhamma,
which says, 'Don't worry about whether you're rich or poor, as long as
you're a good person.'
* * *
Your good qualities, if you don't know how to use them, can hurt you
-- like money, which is something good but, if you don't know how to
spend it wisely, can lead to your ruin; or like a good sharp knife
that, if you don't know how to use it properly, can do you harm. Say,
for instance, that you use the knife to kill someone. When you're
caught, you'll have to be thrown in jail or executed, that means that
you used the knife to kill yourself.
* * *
Each of us has four kinds of valuables: the goodness of our deeds, the
goodness of our words, the goodness of our manners, and the goodness
of our thoughts. For this reason, we have to care for these valuables
as best we can.
Most of us have good things to our name but we hardly ever bring them
out to put them to use. Instead, we like to bring out only our worst
things to use. In other words, we keep our goodness to ourselves and
show only our worst side -- like the plates, cups and saucers in our
homes: The good ones we keep in the cupboard, and only the chipped,
cracked and broken ones get put on the table, because we're afraid the
good ones will break. As for our best clothes, we don't dare use them
because we're afraid they'll get old, stained, or torn. So we end up
keeping them packed away until they get so moldy or moth-eaten that
they can't be worn and have to become rags. As a result, we don't get
any good out of our valuables in line with their worth. In the same
way, //if we have any goodness within ourselves but don't put it to
use, it serves no purpose at all, either for ourselves or for others//
-- like a knife you keep packed away until it gets rusty: If you
finally bring it out to slice some food, the rust will poison you. If
you happen to cut your hand or foot with it, you may come down with
tetanus and die.
* * *
An intelligent person knows how to use both good and evil without
causing harm. Arahants even know how to use their defilements so as to
be of benefit. When sages use common language, it can serve a good
purpose. But when fools use fine language, it can be bad. If they use
bad language; it's even worse. An example of a person who used common
language to serve a good purpose is Chao Khun Upali (Siricando Jan).
One time he was invited to give a sermon in the palace during the
weekly funeral observances for a young prince whose death had caused a
great deal of sorrow to the royal relatives. On the previous weeks,
some very high-ranking monks from Wat Debsirin had been invited to
give sermons and they had all gone on about what a good man the prince
had been, and how sad it was that he had come to such an untimely end
that prevented him from living on to do more good for the world. This
had caused the relatives to cry all the more.
When it came Chao Khun Upali's turn to give a sermon, though, he
didn't carry on in the same vein at all. Instead, he started out with
the theme of mindfulness of the body, describing the ugliness and
foulness of the body, which is full of repulsive and disgusting
things: snot, spit, dandruff, sweat, etc., etc. 'When the body dies,
there's not one good thing about it,' he said, 'but people sit around
weeping and wailing with tears streaming in tracks down their cheeks
and mucus running out their noses and dribbling down to their chins.
With their faces all in a mess like this, they don't look the least
This made the relatives who had been crying so embarrassed that they
stopped crying immediately, after which they expressed a great deal of
admiration for Chao Khun Upali and his sermon. This is why it's said
that a person who uses a sharp tongue with skill is a great sage. //If
people are wise, then no matter what they say, it serves a good
purpose// because they have a sense of time, place, and the people
they're talking to. If something will serve a purpose, even if it
sounds unpleasant, it should be said. If it won't serve a purpose,
even if it sounds pleasant, don't say it.
* * *
The affairs of the religion are an affair of the heart: Don't go
looking for them in the dirt or the grass, in temples or in monastery
buildings. Although people may do good with their words and deeds,
it's still an affair of the world. The affairs of the religion are
quiet and still, without any fuss or bother. They're aimed at a mind
that's pure, undefiled, and bright. With goodness, there's no need to
do anything much at all. Simply sit still, and there's purity.
Take the example of the little novice with quiet and composed
manners who, as he was going out for alms one morning, happened to
enter the compound of a stingy moneylender and his wife. Whether or
not they would put any food in his bowl, he didn't show the least
concern, and he didn't open his mouth to say a word. When he left --
his bowl still empty -- he went calmly and unhurriedly along his way.
The moneylender's wife, seeing him, became curious and trailed him
from a distance, until he reached a point where he suddenly had to go
to the bathroom. Carefully he put down his bowl and, using his foot,
cleared away the leaves to make a little depression in the dirt so
that the urine wouldn't flow off anywhere. Then, after looking right,
left and all around him to make sure that there wouldn't be anyone
walking past, he squatted down to urinate unobtrusively in the proper
way. When he had finished, he used his foot to cover the spot with
dirt and leaves as it had been before, picked up his bowl and went
calmly on his way.
As for the moneylender's wife, who had been watching from a
distance, when she saw the manner in which the little novice was
acting, the thought occurred to her that he had probably buried
something of value. So she stealthily crept to the spot and, using her
hand, dug the earth out of the hole buried by the novice and sniffed
it to see what it was -- and that was when she realized that it was
urine. The little novice had taken care of his urine as if it were
gold. 'If it were something more valuable than this,' she thought,
'there's no doubt how well he'd care for it. With manners like this,
we should adopt him as our foster son. He'd be sure to look after our
fortune to make sure that it wouldn't get wasted away.'
She went home to tell her husband who, impressed with her story, had
a servant go and invite the novice into their home so that they could
inform him of their intentions. The novice, however, declined their
offer to make him their heir, and taught them the Dhamma, making them
see the rewards of practicing generosity, virtue, and meditation. The
moneylender and his wife were deeply moved, overcame their stinginess,
and asked to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha from that
day onward. Eventually, they progressed in virtue, meditation, and
right practice to the point where they both gained a glimpse of
Liberation. Afterwards, they made a large donation to build a memorial
over the spot where the novice had urinated, as a reminder of the
goodness that had grown within them from the puddle of urine the
little novice had bestowed on them that day.
The affairs of the religion come down to //'sacitta-pariyodapanam'//
-- making the heart entirely clean, clear and pure. //'Etam
buddhana-sasanam'// -- this is the heart of the Buddhas' teachings.
* * * * * * * *
FREE AT LAST
July 13, 1958; May 11, 1957 October 12, 1957
When the heart is a slave to its moods and defilements -- greed,
aversion, and delusion -- it 's like being a slave to poor people,
troublemakers, and crooks, all of whom are people we shouldn't be
enslaved to. The 'poor people' here are greed: hunger, desire, never
having enough. This feeling of 'not enough' is what it means to be
As for aversion, this doesn't necessarily mean out-and-out anger. It
also means being grumpy or in a bad mood. If anyone annoys us or does
something displeasing, we get irritated and resentful. This is called
being a slave to troublemakers.
Delusion means seeing good as evil or evil as good, right as wrong
or wrong as right, thinking you're good when you're evil, or evil when
you're good. This is called being a slave to crooks.
But if the mind becomes a slave to goodness, this is called being a
slave to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, in which case we're well-off
because the Buddha is a kind person. He won't make us work all hours
of the day and instead will allow us time to rest and find peace of
But still, as long as we're slaves, we can't say that it's really
good, because slaves have no freedom. They still have a price on their
heads. Only when we gain release from slavery can we be fully free and
happy. So for this reason, be diligent in your work: Meditate a lot
every day. You'll profit from it, get to buy yourself out of slavery
to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and gain Liberation. Don't let
there be anyone at all over you giving you orders. That's when it's
* * *
Actually, the Buddha never meant for us to take as our mainstay
anything or anyone else aside from ourselves. Even when we take refuge
in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, he never praised it as being really
ideal. //He wanted us to take ourselves as our refuge.// 'The self is
its own mainstay:' We don't have to take our authority from anyone
else. We can depend on ourselves and govern ourselves. We're free and
don't have to fall back on anyone else. When we can reach this state,
that 's when we'll be released from slavery -- and truly happy.
When we're slaves to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, we're told to
be generous, to observe the precepts and to practice meditation -- all
of which are things that will give rise to inner worth within us. In
being generous, we have to suffer and work because of the effort
involved in finding wealth and material goods that we then give away
as donations. In observing the precepts, we have to forgo the words
and deeds we would ordinarily feel like saying or doing. Both of these
activities are ways in which we benefit others more than ourselves.
But when we practice meditation, we sacrifice inner objects --
unskillful thoughts and mental states -- and make our minds solid,
sovereign, and pure.
This is called paying homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha
through the practice -- which the Buddha praised as better than paying
homage with material objects. Even though the Buddha would have
benefited personally from the homage shown with material objects, he
never praised it as being better than homage shown through the
practice, which gives all its benefits to the person who pays the
homage. This was the sort of homage that pleased the Buddha, because
the practice of training the heart to reach purity is the way by which
a person can gain release from all suffering and stress. The Buddha
had the kindness and compassion to want to help living beings gain
freedom from all forms of suffering, which is why he taught us to
meditate, so that we can free our hearts from their slavery to the
defilements of the world.
When we become slaves to the religion -- to the Buddha, Dhamma, and
Sangha -- we're still not released from suffering as long as our minds
still have worries and concerns. Being a slave to our concerns is like
being in debt to them. When we're in debt, we have no real freedom in
our hearts. Only when we can find the money to pay off our debts can
we be happy, free, and at ease. The more we pay off our debts, the
more light-hearted we'll feel. In the same way, if we can let go of
our various worries and cares, peace will arise in our hearts. We'll
be released from our slavery to craving and defilement, and will find
happiness because peace is what brings release from suffering. This is
why the Buddha taught us to center our hearts in concentration so as
to give rise to stillness, peace, and the inner wealth with which
we'll be able to pay off all of our debts. That's when we'll attain
happiness and ease. All our burdens and sufferings will fall away from
our hearts and we'll enter full freedom.
* * *
The mind has two kinds of thoughts, skillful and unskillful.
Unskillful thoughts are when the mind thinks in ways that are bad --
with greed, anger or delusion -- about things either past or future.
When this happens, the mind is said to be a slave to defilement. As
for skillful thoughts, they deal in good and worthwhile ways with
things future or past. We have to try to let go of both these kinds of
thoughts so that they don't exist in the mind if we want to gain
release from our slavery.
* * *
If we want to buy ourselves completely out of slavery, we have to farm
our four acres so that they bear abundant fruit. In other words, we
have to develop the body's four properties -- earth, water, fire, and
wind -- to a point of fullness by practicing meditation and using pure
breath sensations to soothe and nourish every part of the body. When
the mind is pure and the body soothed, it's like our farm's having
plenty of rain and ground water to nourish our crops. I.e., our
concentration is solid and enters the first stage of absorption, with
its five factors: directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, and
singleness-of-preoccupation. Directed thought is like harrowing our
soil. Evaluation is like plowing and scattering the seed. Rapture is
when our crops begin to bud, pleasure is when their flowers bloom, and
singleness-of-preoccupation is when the fruits develop until they're
ripened and sweet -- and at the same time, their seeds contain all
their ancestry. What this means is that in each seed is another plant
complete with branches, flowers and leaves. If anyone plants the seed,
it will break out into another plant just like the one it came from.
In the same way, when we center the mind to the point of absorption,
we can gain insight into our past -- maybe even back through many
lifetimes -- good and bad, happy and sad. This insight will cause us
to feel dismay and dispassion, and to lose taste for all states of
being and birth. The mind will let go of its attachments to self, to
mental and physical phenomena, and to all thoughts and concepts --
past and future, good and bad. It will enter a state of neutral
equanimity. If we then work at developing it further, we'll be able to
cut away more and more of our states of being and birth. When the mind
gains change-of-lineage knowledge, which passes from the mundane over
into the transcendent, it will see what dies and what doesn't. It will
blossom as //buddho// -- the awareness that knows no cessation --
bright in its seclusion from thoughts and burdens, from mental
effluents and preoccupations. When we practice in this way, we'll come
to the reality of birthlessness and deathlessness -- the highest
happiness -- and on into Liberation.
This is how we repay all our debts without the least bit remaining.
As the texts say, 'In release, there is the knowledge, "Released.
Birth is no more, the holy life is fulfilled, the task done."'
For this reason, we should be intent on cleansing and polishing our
hearts so that they can gain release from their worries and
preoccupations, which are the source of pain and discontent. Peace,
coolness, and a bright happiness will arise within us, in the same way
as when we unshackle ourselves from our encumbering burdens and debts.
We'll be free -- beyond the reach of all suffering and stress.
* * * * * * * *
sabbe satta sada hontu
katam punna-phalam mayham
sabbe bhagi bhavantu te
May all beings live happily,
free from animosity.
May all share in the blessings
springing from the good I have done.