MAINTAINING THE STANDARD
Today we are meeting together as we do every year after the annual
Dhamma examinations. [*] At this time all of you should reflect on
the importance of carrying out the various duties of the monastery,
those toward the preceptor and those toward the teachers. These are
what hold us together as a single group, enabling us to live in
harmony and concord. They are also what lead us to have respect for
each other, which in turn benefits the community.
* [Many monks undertake written examinations of their scriptural
knowledge, sometimes -- as Ajahn Chah points out -- to the detriment
of their application of the teachings in daily life.]
In all communities, from the time of the Buddha till the present,
no matter what form they may take, if the residents have no mutual
respect they cannot succeed. Whether they be secular communities or
monastic ones, if they lack mutual respect they have no solidarity.
If there is no mutual respect, negligence sets in and the practice
Our community of Dhamma practicers has lived here for about
twenty five years now, steadily growing, but it could deteriorate.
We must understand this point. But if we are all heedful, have
mutual respect and continue to maintain the standards of practice, I
feel that our harmony will be firm. Our practice as a group will be
a source of growth for Buddhism for a long time to come.
Now in regard to the study and the practice, they are a pair.
Buddhism has grown and flourished until the present time because of
the study going hand in hand with practice. If we simply learn the
scriptures in a heedless way negligence sets in...For example, in
the first year here we had seven monks for the Rains Retreat. At
that time, I thought to myself, "Whenever monks start studying for
Dhamma Examinations the practice seems to degenerate." Considering
this, I tried to determine the cause, so I began to teach the monks
who were there for the Rains Retreat -- all seven of them. I taught
for about forty days, from after the meal till six in the evening,
every day. The monks went for the exams and it turned out there was
a good result in that respect, all seven of them passed.
That much was good, but there was a certain complication
regarding those who were lacking in circumspection. To study, it is
necessary to do a lot of reciting and repeating. Those who are
unrestrained and unreserved tend to grow lax with the meditation
practice and spend all their time studying, repeating and
memorizing. This causes them to throw out their old abiding, their
standards of practice. And this happens very often.
So it was when they had finished their studies and taken their
exams I could see a change in the behavior of the monks. There was
no walking meditation, only a little sitting, and an increase in
socializing. There was less restraint and composure.
Actually, in our practice, when you do walking meditation, you
should really determine to walk; when sitting in meditation, you
should concentrate on doing just that. Whether you are standing,
walking, sitting or lying down, you should strive to be composed.
But when people do a lot of study, their minds are full of words,
they get high on the books and forget themselves. They get lost in
externals. Now this is so only for those who don't have wisdom, who
are unrestrained and don't have steady //sati//. For these people
studying can be a cause for decline. When such people are engaged in
study they don't do any sitting or walking meditation and become
less and less restrained. Their minds become more and more
distracted. Aimless chatter, lack of restraint and socializing
become the order of the day. This is the cause for the decline of
the practice. It's not because of the study in itself, but because
certain people don't make the effort, they forget themselves.
Actually the scriptures are pointers along the path of practice.
If we really understand the practice, then reading or studying are
both further aspects of meditation. But if we study and then forget
ourselves it gives rise to a lot of talking and fruitless activity.
People throw out the meditation practice and soon want to disrobe.
Most of those who study and fail soon disrobe. It's not that the
study is not good, or that the practice is not right. It's that
people fail to examine themselves.
Seeing this, in the second rains retreat I stopped teaching the
scriptures. Many years later more and more young men came to become
monks. Some of them knew nothing about the Dhamma-Vinaya and were
ignorant of the texts, so I decided to rectify the situation, asking
those senior monks who had already studied to teach, and they have
taught up until the present time. This is how we came to have
However, every year when the exams are finished, I ask all the
monks to re-establish their practice. All those scriptures which
aren't directly concerned with the practice, put them away in the
cupboards. Re-establish yourselves, go back to the regular
standards. Re-establish the communal practices such as coming
together for the daily chanting. This is our standard. Do it even if
only to resist your own laziness and aversion. This encourages
Don't discard your basic practices: eating little, speaking
little, sleeping little; restraint and composure; aloofness; regular
walking and sitting meditation; meeting together regularly at the
appropriate times. Please make an effort with these, every one of
you. Don't let this excellent opportunity go to waste. Do the
practice. You have this chance to practice here because you live
under the guidance of the teacher. He protects you on one level, so
you should all devote yourselves to the practice. You've done
walking meditation before, now also you should sit. In the past
you've chanted together in the mornings and evenings, and now also
you should make the effort. These are your specific duties, please
apply yourselves to them.
Those who simply "kill time" in the robes don't have any strength,
you know. The ones who are floundering, homesick, confused...do you
see them? These are the ones who don't put their minds into the
practice. They don't have any work to do. We can't just lie around
here. Being a Buddhist monk or novice you live and eat well, you
shouldn't take it for granted. //Kamasukhallikanuyogo// [*] is a
danger. Make an effort to find your own practice. Whatever is
faulty, work to rectify, don't get lost in externals.
* [Indulgence in sense pleasures, indulgence in comfort.]
One who has zeal never misses walking and sitting meditation,
never lets up in the maintenance of restraint and composure. Just
observe the monks here. Whoever, having finished the meal and any
business there may be, having hung out his robes, walks meditation
-- and when we walk past his //kuti// [*] we see the walking path a
well-worn trail, and we see it often -- this monk is not bored with
the practice. This is one who has effort, who has zeal.
* [//Kuti// -- a bhikkhu's dwelling place, a hut.]
If all of you devote yourselves like this to the practice, then
not many problems will arise. If you don't abide with the practice,
the walking and sitting meditation, there's nothing more than just
traveling around. Not liking it here you go traveling over there;
not liking it there you come touring back here. That's all there is
to it, following your noses everywhere. These people don't
persevere, it's good enough. You don't have to do a lot of traveling
around, just stay here and develop the practice, learn it in detail.
Traveling round can wait till later, it's not difficult. Make an
effort, all of you.
Prosperity and decline hinge on this. If you really want to do
things properly, then study and practice in proportion; use both of
them together. It's like the body and the mind. If the mind is at
ease and the body free of disease and healthy, then the mind becomes
composed. If the mind is confused, even if the body is strong there
will be difficulty, let alone when the body experiences discomfort.
The study of meditation is the study of cultivation and
relinquishment. What I mean by study here is: whenever the mind
experiences a sensation, do we still cling to it? Do we still create
problems around it? Do we still experience enjoyment or aversion
over it? To put it simply: Do we still get lost in our thoughts?
Yes, we do. If we don't like something we react with aversion; if we
do like it we react with pleasure, the mind becomes defiled and
stained. If this is the case then we must see that we still have
faults, we are still imperfect, we still have work to do. There must
be more relinquishing and more persistent cultivation. This is what
I mean by studying. If we get stuck on anything, we recognize that
we are stuck. We know what state we're in, and we work to correct
Living with the teacher or apart from the teacher should be the
same. Some people are afraid. They're afraid that if they don't walk
meditation the teacher will upbraid or scold them. This is good in a
way, but in the true practice you don't need to be afraid of others,
just be wary of faults arising within your own actions, speech or
thoughts. When you see faults in your actions, speech or thoughts
you must guard yourselves. //Attano jodayattanam// -- "you must
exhort yourself," don't leave it to others to do. We must quickly
improve ourselves, know ourselves. This is called "studying,"
cultivating and relinquishing. Look into this till you see it
Living in this way we rely on endurance, persevering in face of
all defilements. Although this is good, it is still on the level of
"practicing the Dhamma without having seen it." If we have practiced
the Dhamma and seen it, then whatever is wrong we will have already
given up, whatever is useful we will have cultivated. Seeing this
within ourselves, we experience a sense of well-being. No matter
what others say, we know our own mind, we are not moved. We can be
at peace anywhere.
Now the younger monks and novices who have just begun to practice
may think that the senior Ajahn doesn't seem to do much walking or
sitting meditation. Don't imitate him in this. You should emulate,
but not imitate. To emulate is one thing, to imitate another. The
fact is that the senior Ajahn dwells within his own particular
contented abiding. Even though he doesn't seem to practice
externally, he practices inwardly. Whatever is in his mind cannot be
seen by the eye. The practice of Buddhism is the practice of the
mind. Even though the practice may not be apparent in his actions or
speech, the mind is a different matter.
Thus, a teacher who has practiced for a long time, who is
proficient in the practice, may seem to let go of his actions and
speech, but he guards his mind. He is composed. Seeing only his
outer actions you may try to imitate him, letting go and saying
whatever you want to say, but it's not the same thing. You're not in
the same league. Think about this.
There's a real difference, you are acting from different places.
Although the Ajahn seems to simply sit around, he is not being
careless. He lives with things but it is not confused by them. We
can't see this, whatever is in his mind is invisible to us. Don't
judge simply by external appearances, the mind is the important
thing. When we speak, our minds follow that speech. Whatever actions
we do, our minds follow, but one who has practiced already may do or
say things which his mind doesn't follow, because it adheres to
Dhamma and Vinaya. For example, sometimes the Ajahn may be severe
with his disciples, his speech may appear to be rough and careless,
his actions may seem coarse. Seeing this, all we can see are his
bodily and verbal actions, but the mind which adheres to Dhamma and
Vinaya can't be seen. Adhere to the Buddha's instruction: "Don't be
heedless." "Heedfulness is the way to the Deathless. Heedfulness is
death." Consider this. Whatever others do is not important, just
don't be heedless, this is the important thing.
All I have been saying here is simply to warn you that now,
having completed the exams, you have a chance to travel around and
do many things. May you all constantly remember yourselves as
practicers of the Dhamma; a practicer must be collected, restrained
Consider the teaching which says "Bhikkhu: one who seeks alms."
If we define it this way our practice takes on one form...very
coarse. If we understand this word the way the Buddha defined it, as
one who sees the danger of //samsara//, [*] this is much more
* [The cycle of conditioned existence, the world of delusion.]
One who sees the danger of //samsara// is one who sees the
faults, the liability of this world. In this world there is so much
danger, but most people don't see it, they see the pleasure and
happiness of the world. Now the Buddha says that a bhikkhu is one
who sees the danger of //samsara//. What is //samsara//? The
suffering of //samsara// is overwhelming, it's intolerable.
Happiness is also //samsara//. The Buddha taught us not to cling to
them. If we don't see the danger of //samsara//, then when there is
happiness we cling to the happiness and forget suffering. We are
ignorant of it, like a child who doesn't know fire.
If we understand Dhamma practice in this way..."Bhikkhu: one who
sees the danger of //samsara//"...if we have this understanding,
walking, sitting or lying down, wherever we may be, we will feel
dispassion. We reflect on ourselves, heedfulness is there. Even
sitting at ease, we feel this way. Whatever we do we see this
danger, so we are in a very different state. This practice is called
being "one who sees the danger of //samsara//'.
One who sees the danger of //samsara// lives within //samsara//
and yet doesn't. That is, he understands concepts and he understands
their transcendence. Whatever such a person says is not like
ordinary people. Whatever he does is not the same, whatever he
thinks is not the same. His behavior is much wiser.
Therefore it is said: "Emulate but don't imitate." There are two
ways -- emulation and imitation. One who is foolish will grab on to
everything. You mustn't do that! Don't forget yourselves.
As for me, this year my body is not so well. Some things I will
leave to the other monks and novices to help take care of. Perhaps I
will take a rest. From time immemorial it's been this way, and in
the world it's the same: as long as the father and mother are still
alive, the children are well and prosperous. When the parents die,
the children separate. Having been rich they become poor. This is
usually how it is, even in the lay life, and one can see it here as
well. For example, while the Ajahn is still alive everybody is well
and prosperous. As soon as he passes away decline begins to set in
immediately. Why is this? Because while the teacher is still alive
people become complacent and forget themselves. They don't really
make an effort with the study and the practice. As in lay life,
while the mother and father are still alive, the children just leave
everything up to them. They lean on their parents and don't know how
to look after themselves. When the parents die they become paupers.
In the monkhood it's the same. If the Ajahn goes away or dies, the
monks tend to socialize, break up into groups and drift into
decline, almost every time.
Why is this? It's because they forget themselves. Living off the
merits of the teacher everything runs smoothly. When the teacher
passes away, the disciples tend to split up. Their views clash.
Those who think wrongly live in one place, those who think rightly
live in another. Those who feel uncomfortable leave their old
associates and set up new places and start new lineages with their
own groups of disciples. This is how it goes. In the present it's
the same. This is because we are at fault. While the teacher is
still alive we are at fault, we live heedlessly. We don't take up
the standards of practice taught by the Ajahn and establish them
within our own hearts. We don't really follow in his footsteps.
Even in the Buddha's time it was the same, remember the
scriptures? That old monk, what was his name...? Subhadda Bhikkhu!
When Venerable Maha Kassapa was returning from Pava he asked an
ascetic on the way, "Is the Lord Buddha faring well?" The ascetic
answered: "The Lord Buddha entered //Parinibbana// seven days ago."
Those monks who were still unenlightened were grief-stricken,
crying and wailing. Those who had attained the Dhamma reflected to
themselves, "Ah, the Buddha has passed away. He has journeyed on."
But those who were still thick with defilements, such as Venerable
"What are you all crying for? The Buddha has passed away. That's
good! Now we can live at ease. When the Buddha was still alive he
was always bothering us with some rule or other, we couldn't do this
or say that. Now the Buddha has passed away, that's fine! We can do
whatever we want, say what we want...Why should you cry?"
It's been so from way back then till the present day.
However that may be, even though it's impossible to preserve
entirely...Suppose we had a glass and we took care to preserve it.
Each time we used it we cleaned it and put it away in a safe place.
Being very careful with that glass we can use it for a long time,
and then when we've finished with it others can also use it. Now,
using glasses carelessly and breaking them every day, and using one
glass for ten years before it breaks -- which is better?
Our practice is like this. For instance, if out of all of us
living here, practicing steadily, only ten of you practice well,
then Wat Ba Pong will prosper. Just as in the villages: in the
village of one hundred houses, even if there are only fifty good
people that village will prosper. Actually to find even ten would be
difficult. Or take a monastery like this one here: it is hard to
find even five or six monks who have real commitment, who really do
In any case, we don't have any responsibilities now, other than
to practice well. Think about it, what do we own here? We don't have
wealth, possessions, and families any more. Even food we take only
once a day. We've given up many things already, even better things
than these. As monks and novices we give up everything. We own
nothing. All those things people really enjoy have been discarded by
us. Going forth as a Buddhist monk is in order to practice. Why then
should we hanker for other things, indulging in greed, aversion or
delusion? To occupy our hearts with other things is no longer
Consider: why have we gone forth? Why are we practicing? We have
gone forth to practice. If we don't practice then we just lie
around. If we don't practice, then we are worse off than lay people,
we don't have any function. If we don't perform any function or
accept our responsibilities it's a waste of the //samana's// [*]
life. It contradicts the aims of a //samana//.
* [//Samana//: a religious seeker living a renunciant life.
Originating from the Sanskrit term for "one who strives," the word
signifies someone who has made a profound commitment to spiritual
If this is the case then we are heedless. Being heedless is like
being dead. Ask yourself, will you have time to practice when you
die? Constantly ask yourself, "When will I die?" If we contemplate
in this way our mind will be alert every second, heedfulness will
always be present. When there is no heedlessness, //sati// --
recollection of what is what -- will automatically follow. Wisdom
will be clear, seeing all the things clearly as they are.
Recollection guards the mind, knowing the arising of sensations at
all times, day and night. that is to have //sati//. To have //sati//
is to be composed. To be composed is to be heedful. If one is
heedful then one is practicing rightly. This is our specific
So today I would like to present this to you all. If in the
future you leave here for one of the branch monasteries or anywhere
else, don't forget yourselves. The fact is you are still not
perfect, still not completed. You still have a lot of work to do,
many responsibilities to shoulder. Namely, the practices of
cultivation and relinquishment. Be concerned about this, every one
of you. Whether you live at this monastery or a branch monastery,
preserve the standards of practice. Nowadays there are many of us,
many branch temples. All the branch monasteries owe their
origination to Wat Ba Pong. We could say that the branch
monasteries. So, especially the teachers, monks and novices of Wat
Ba Pong should try to set the example, to be the guide for all the
other branch monasteries, continuing to be diligent in the practices
and responsibilities of a //samana//.
* * * * * * * *