RIGHT PRACTICE STEADY PRACTICE Wat Wana Potiyahn  here is certainly very peaceful, but t
RIGHT PRACTICE STEADY PRACTICE
Wat Wana Potiyahn [*] here is certainly very peaceful, but this is
meaningless if our minds are not calm. All places are peaceful. That
some may seem distracting is because of our minds. However, a quiet
place can help to become calm, by giving one the opportunity to
train and thus harmonize with its calm.
* [One of the many branch monasteries of Ajahn Chah's main
monastery, Wat Ba Pong.]
You should all bear in mind that this practice is difficult. To
train other things is not so difficult, it's easy, but the human
mind is hard to train. The Lord Buddha trained his mind. The mind is
the important thing. Everything within this body-mind system comes
together at the mind. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body all
receive sensations and send them into the mind, which is the
supervisor of all the other sense organs. Therefore it is important
to train the mind. If the mind is well trained all problems come to
an end. If there are still problems it's because the mind still
doubts, it doesn't know in accordance with the truth. That is why
there are problems.
So recognize that all of you have come fully prepared for
practicing Dhamma. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining,
the tools you need with which to practice are well-provided,
wherever you are. They are there, just like the Dhamma. The Dhamma
is something which abounds everywhere. Right here, on land or in
water...wherever...the Dhamma is always there. The Dhamma is perfect
and complete, but it's our practice that's not yet complete.
The Lord, Fully Enlightened Buddha taught a means by which all of
us may practice and come to know this Dhamma. It isn't a big thing,
only a small thing, but it's right. For example, look at hair. If we
know even one strand of hair, then we know every strand, both our
own and also that of others. We know that they are all simply
"hair." By knowing one strand of hair we know it all.
Or consider people. If we see the true nature of conditions
within ourselves then we know all the other people in the world
also, because all people are the same. Dhamma is like this. It's a
small thing and yet it's big. That is, to see the truth of one
condition is to see the truth of them all. When we know the truth as
it is all problems come to an end.
Nevertheless, the training is difficult. Why is it difficult?
It's difficult because of wanting, //tanha//. If you don't "want"
then you don't practice. But if you practice out of desire you won't
see the Dhamma. Think about it, all of you. If you don't want to
practice you can't practice. You must first want to practice in
order to actually do the practice. Whether stepping forward or
stepping back you meet desire. This is why the cultivators of the
past have said that this practice is something that's extremely
difficult to do.
You don't see Dhamma because of desire. Sometimes desire is very
strong, you want to see the Dhamma immediately, but the Dhamma is
not your mind -- your mind is not yet Dhamma. The Dhamma is one
thing and the mind is another. It's not that whatever you like is
Dhamma and whatever you don't like isn't. That's not the way it
Actually this mind of ours is simply a condition of Nature, like
a tree in the forest. If you want a plank or a beam it must come
from the tree, but the tree is still only a tree. It's not yet a
beam or a plank. Before it can really be of use to us we must take
that tree and saw it into beams or planks. It's the same tree but it
becomes transformed into something else. Intrinsically it's just a
tree, a condition of Nature. But in its raw state it isn't yet of
much use to those who need timber. Our mind is like this. It is a
condition of Nature. As such it perceives thoughts, it discriminates
into beautiful and ugly and so on.
This mind of ours must be further trained. We can't just let it
be. It's a condition of Nature...train it to realize that it's a
condition of Nature. Improve on Nature so that it's appropriate to
our needs, which is Dhamma. Dhamma is something which must be
practiced and brought within.
If you don't practice you won't know. Frankly speaking, you won't
know the Dhamma by just reading it or studying it. Or if you do know
it your knowledge is still defective. For example, this spittoon
here. Everybody knows it's a spittoon but they don't fully know the
spittoon. Why don't they fully know it? If I called this spittoon a
saucepan, what would you say? Suppose that every time I asked for it
I said, "Please bring that saucepan over here", that would confuse
you. Why so? Because you don't fully know the spittoon. If you did
there would be no problem. You would simply pick up that object and
hand it to me, because actually there isn't any spittoon. Do you
understand? It's a spittoon due to convention. This convention is
accepted all over the country, so it's spittoon. But there isn't any
real "spittoon." If somebody wants to call it a saucepan it can be a
saucepan. It can be whatever you call it. This is called "concept."
If we fully know the spittoon, even if somebody calls it a saucepan
there's no problem. Whatever others may call it we are unperturbed
because we are not blind to its true nature. This is one who knows
Now let's come back to ourselves. Suppose somebody said, "You're
crazy!", or, "You're stupid", for example. Even though it may not be
true, you wouldn't feel so good. Everything becomes difficult
because of our ambitions to have and to achieve. Because of these
desires to get and to be, because we don't know according to the
truth, we have no contentment. If we know the Dhamma, are
enlightened to the Dhamma, greed, aversion and delusion will
disappear. When we understand the way things are there is nothing
for them to rest on.
Why is the practice so difficult and arduous? Because of desires.
As soon as we sit down to meditate we want to become peaceful. If we
didn't want to find peace we wouldn't sit, we wouldn't practice. As
soon as we sit down we want peace to be right there, but wanting the
mind to be calm makes for confusion, and we feel restless. This is
how it goes. So the Buddha says, "Don't speak out of desire, don't
sit out of desire, don't walk out of desire,...Whatever you do,
don't do it with desire." Desire means wanting. If you don't want to
do something you won't do it. If our practice reaches this point we
can get quite discouraged. How can we practice? As soon as we sit
down there is desire in the mind.
It's because of this that the body and mind are difficult to
observe. If they are not the self nor belonging to self then who do
they belong to? It's difficult to resolve these things, we must rely
on wisdom. The Buddha says we must practice with "letting go," isn't
it? If we let go then we just don't practice, right?...Because we've
Suppose we went to buy some coconuts in the market, and while we
were carrying them back someone asked:
"What did you buy those coconuts for?"
"I bought them to eat."
"Are you going to eat the shells as well?"
"I don't believe you. If you're not going to eat the shells then
why did you buy them also?"
Well what do you say? How are you going to answer their question?
We practice with desire. If we didn't have desire we wouldn't
practice. Practicing with desire is //tanha//. Contemplating in this
way can give rise to wisdom, you know. For example, those coconuts:
Are you going to eat the shells as well? Of course not. Then why do
you take them? Because the time hasn't yet come for you to throw
them away. They're useful for wrapping up the coconut in. If, after
eating the coconut, you throw the shells away, there is no problem.
Our practice is like this. The Buddha said, "Don't act on desire,
don't speak from desire, don't eat with desire." Standing, walking,
sitting or reclining...whatever...don't do it with desire. This
means to do it with detachment. It's just like buying the coconuts
from the market. We're not going to eat the shells but it's not yet
time to throw them away. We keep them first. This is how the
practice is. Concept and Transcendence [*] are co-existent, just
like a coconut. The flesh, the husk and the shell are all together.
When we buy it we buy the whole lot. If somebody wants to accuse us
of eating coconut shells that's their business, we know what we're
* [Concept (sammutti) refers to supposed or provisional reality,
while transcendence (vimutti) refers to the liberation from
attachment to or delusion within it.]
Wisdom is something each of us find for oneself. To see it we
must go neither fast nor slow. What should we do? Go to where there
is neither fast nor slow. Going fast or going slow are not the way.
But we're all impatient, we're in a hurry. As soon as we begin we
want to rush to the end, we don't want to be left behind. We want to
succeed. When it comes to fixing their minds for meditation some
people go too far...They light the incense, prostrate and make a
vow, "As long as this incense is not yet completely burnt I will not
rise from my sitting, even if I collapse or die, no matter
what...I'll die sitting" Having made their vow they start their
sitting. As soon as they start to sit Mara's [*] hordes come rushing
at them from all sides. They've only sat for an instant and already
they think the incense must be finished. They open their eyes for a
peek..."Oh, There's still ages left!"
* [Mara: the Buddhist personification of evil, the Tempter, that
force which opposes any attempts to develop goodness and virtue.]
They grit their teeth and sit some more, feeling hot, flustered,
agitated and confused...Reaching the breaking point they think, "it
must be finished by now."...Have another peek..."Oh, no! It's not
even //half-way// yet!"
Two or three times and it's still not finished, so they just give
up, pack it in and sit there hating themselves. "I'm so stupid, I'm
so hopeless!" They sit and hate themselves, feeling like a hopeless
case. This just gives rise to frustration and hindrances. This is
called the hindrance of ill-will. They can't blame others so they
blame themselves. And why is this? It's all because of wanting.
Actually it isn't necessary to go through all that. To
concentrate means to concentrate with detachment, not to concentrate
yourself into knots.
But maybe we read the scriptures, about the life of the Buddha,
how he sat under the Bodhi tree and determined to himself,
"As long as I have still not attained Supreme Enlightenment I
will not rise from this place, even if my blood dries up".
Reading this in the books you may think of trying it yourself.
You'll do it like the Buddha. But you haven't considered that your
car is only a small one. The Buddha's car was a really big one, he
could take it all in one go. With only your tiny, little car, how
can you possibly take it all at once? It's a different story
Why do we think like that? Because we're too extreme. Sometimes
we go too low, sometimes we go too high. The point of balance is so
hard to find.
Now I'm only speaking from experience. In the past my practice
was like this. Practicing in order to get beyond wanting...if we
don't want, can we practice? I was stuck here. But to practice with
wanting is suffering. I didn't know what to do, I was baffled. Then
I realized that the practice which is steady is the important thing.
One must practice consistently. They call this the practice that is
"consistent in all postures." Keep refining the practice, don't let
it become a disaster. Practice is one thing, disaster is another.
[*] Most people usually create disaster. When they feel lazy they
don't bother to practice, they only practice when they feel
energetic. This is how I tended to be.
* [The play on words here between the Thai "//phadtibut//"
(practice) and "//wibut//" (disaster) is lost in the English.]
All of you ask yourselves now, is this right? To practice when
you feel like it, not when you don't: is that in accordance with the
Dhamma? Is it straight? Is it in line with the Teaching? This is
what makes practice inconsistent.
Whether you feel like it or not you should practice just the
same: this is how the Buddha taught. Most people wait till they're
in the mood before practicing, when they don't feel like it they
don't bother. This is as far as they go. This is called "disaster,"
it's not practice. In the true practice, whether you are happy or
depressed you practice; whether it's easy or difficult you practice;
whether it's hot or cold you practice. It's straight like this. In
the real practice, whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining
you must have the intention to continue the practice steadily,
making your //sati// consistent in all postures.
At first thought it seems as if you should stand for as long as
you walk, walk for as long as you sit, sit for as long as you lie
down...I've tried it but I couldn't do it. If a meditator were to
make his standing, walking, sitting and lying down all equal, how
many days could he keep it up for? Stand for five minutes, sit for
five minutes, lie down for five minutes...I couldn't do it for very
long. So I sat down and thought about it some more. "What does it
all mean? People in this world can't practice like this!"
Then I realized..."Oh, that's not right, it can't be right
because it's impossible to do. Standing, walking, sitting,
reclining...make them all consistent. To make the postures
consistent the way they explain it in the books is impossible."
But it is possible to do this: The mind...just consider the mind.
To have //sati//, recollection, //sampajanna//, self awareness and
//panna//, all-round wisdom...this you can do. This is something
that's really worth practicing. This means that while standing we
have //sati//, while walking we have //sati//, while sitting we have
//sati//, and while reclining we have //sati//, -- consistently.
This is possible. We put awareness into our standing, walking,
sitting, lying down -- into all postures.
When the mind has been trained like this it will constantly
recollect Buddho, Buddho, Buddho...which is knowing. Knowing what?
Knowing what is right and what is wrong at all times. Yes, this is
possible. This is getting down to the real practice. That is,
whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down there is continuous
Then you should understand those conditions which should be given
up and those which should be cultivated. You know happiness, you
know unhappiness. When you know happiness and unhappiness your mind
will settle at the point which is free of happiness and unhappiness.
Happiness is the loose path, //kamasukhallikanuyogo//. Unhappiness
is the tight path, //attakilamathanuyogo//. [*] If we know these two
extremes, we pull it back. We know when the mind is inclining
towards happiness or unhappiness and we pull it back, we don't allow
it to lean over. We have this sort of awareness, we adhere to the
One Path, the single Dhamma. We adhere to the awareness, not
allowing the mind to follow its inclinations.
* [These are the two extremes pointed out as wrong paths by the
Buddha in his First Discourse. They are normally rendered as
"Indulgence in sense pleasures" and "Self mortification."]
But in your practice it doesn't tend to be like that, does it?
You follow your inclinations. If you follow your inclinations it's
easy, isn't it? But this is the ease which causes suffering, like
someone who can't be bothered working. He takes it easy, but when
the time comes to eat he hasn't got anything. This is how it goes.
So I've contended with many aspects of the Buddha's teaching in
the past, but I couldn't really beat him. Nowadays I accept it. I
accept that the many teachings of the Buddha are straight down the
line, so I've taken those teachings and used them to train both
myself and others.
The practice which is important is //patipada//. What is
//patipada//? It is simply all our various activities, standing,
walking, sitting, reclining and everything else. This is the
//patipada// of the body. Now the //patipada// of the mind: how many
times in the course of today have you felt low? How many times have
you felt high? Have there been any noticeable feelings? We must know
ourselves like this. Having seen those feelings can we let go?
Whatever we can't yet let go of we must work with. When we see that
we can't yet let go of some particular feeling we must take it and
examine it with wisdom. Reason it out. Work with it. This is
practice. For example when you are feeling zealous, practice, and
then when you feel lazy, try to continue the practice. If you can't
continue at "full speed" then at least do half as much. Don't just
waste the day away by being lazy and not practicing. Doing that will
lead to disaster, it's not the way of a cultivator.
Now I've heard some people say, "Oh, this year I was really in a
"I was sick all year. I couldn't practice at all."
Oh! If they don't practice when death is near when will they ever
practice? If they're feeling well do you think they'll practice? No,
they only get lost in happiness. If they're suffering they still
don't practice, they get lost in that. I don't know when people
think they're going to practice! They can only see that they're
sick, in pain, almost dead from fever...that's right, bring it on
heavy, that's where the practice is. When people are feeling happy
it just goes to their heads and they get vain and conceited.
We must cultivate our practice. What this means is that whether
you are happy or unhappy you must practice just the same. If you are
feeling well you should practice, and if you are feeling sick you
should also practice. Those who think, "This year I couldn't
practice at all, I was sick the whole time"...if these people are
feeling well, they just walk around singing songs. This is wrong
thinking, not right thinking. This is why the cultivators of the
past have all maintained the steady training of the heart. If things
are to go wrong, just let them be with the body, not in mind.
There was a time in my practice, after I had been practicing
about five years, when I felt that living with others was a
hindrance. I would sit in my //kuti// and try to meditate and people
would keep coming by for a chat and disturbing me. I ran off to live
by myself. I thought I couldn't practice with those people bothering
me. I was fed up, so I went to live in a small, deserted monastery
in the forest, near a small village. I stayed there alone, speaking
to no-one -- because there was nobody else to speak to.
After I'd been there about fifteen days the thought arose, "Hmm.
It would be good to have a novice or pa-kow [*] here with me. He
could help me out with some small jobs." I knew it would come up,
and sure enough, there it was!
* ["//Pa-kow//: an eight-precept postulant, who often lives with
bhikkhus and, in addition to his own meditation practice, also helps
them with certain services which bhikkhus are forbidden by the
Vinaya from doing.]
"Hey! You're a real character! You say you're fed up with your
friends, fed up with your fellow monks and novices, and now you want
a novice. What's this?"
"No", it says, "I want a good novice".
"There! Where are all the good people, can you find any? Where
are you going to find a good person? In the whole monastery there
were only no-good people. You must have been the only good person,
to have run away like this!"
...You have to follow it up like this, follow up the tracks of
your thoughts until you see...
"Hmm. This is the important one. Where is there a good person to
be found? There aren't any good people, you must find goodness
anywhere else, you must look within yourself. If you are good in
yourself then wherever you go will be good. Whether others criticize
or praise you, you are still good. If you aren't good, then when
others criticize you, you get angry, and when they praise you, you
At that time I reflected on this and have found it to be true
from that day up until the present. Goodness must be found within.
As soon as I saw this, that feeling of wanting to run away
disappeared. In later times, whenever I had that desire arise I let
it go. Whenever it arose I was aware of it and kept my awareness on
that. Thus I had a solid foundation. Wherever I lived, whether
people condemned me or whatever they would say, I would reflect that
the point is not whether they were good or bad. Good or evil must be
seen within ourselves. However other people are, that's their
Don't go thinking, "Oh, today is too hot", or, "Today is too
cold," or, "Today is...". Whatever the day is like that's just the
way it is. Really you are simply blaming the weather for your own
laziness. We must see the Dhamma within ourselves, then there is a
surer kind of peace.
So for all of you who have come to practice here, even though
it's only for a few days, still many things will arise. Many things
may be arising which you're not even aware of. There is some right
thinking, some wrong thinking...many, many things. So I say this
practice is difficult.
Even though some of you may experience some peace when you sit in
meditation, don't be in a hurry to congratulate yourselves.
Likewise, if there is some confusion, don't blame yourselves. If
things seem to be good, don't delight in them, and if they're not
good don't be averse to them. Just look at it all, look at what you
have. Just look, don't bother judging. If it's good don't hold fast
to it; if it's bad, don't cling to it. Good and bad can both bite,
so don't hold fast to them.
The practice is simply to sit, sit and watch it all. Good moods
and bad moods come and go as is their nature. Don't only praise your
mind or only condemn it, know the right time for these things. When
it's time for congratulations then congratulate it, but just a
little, don't overdo it. Just like teaching a child, sometimes you
may have to spank it a little. In our practice sometimes we may have
to punish ourselves, but don't punish yourself all the time. If you
punish yourself all the time in a while you'll just give yourself a
good time and take it easy either. That's not the way to practice.
We practice according to the Middle Way. What is the Middle Way?
This Middle Way is difficult to follow, you can't rely on your moods
Don't think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice.
If you do think this way then quickly change your thinking! Steady
practice is having the attitude of practice while standing, walking,
sitting and lying down. When coming out of sitting meditation,
reflect that you're simply changing postures. If you reflect in this
way you will have peace. Wherever you are you will have this
attitude of practice with you constantly, you will have a steady
awareness within yourself.
Those of you who, having finished their evening sitting, simply
indulge in their moods, spending the whole day letting the mind
wander where it wants, will find that the next evening when sitting
meditation all they get is the "backwash" from the day's aimless
thinking. There is no foundation of calm because they have let it go
cold all day. If you practice like this your mind gets gradually
further and further from the practice. When I ask some of my
disciples, "How is your meditation going?". They say, "Oh, it's all
gone now". You see? They can keep it up for a month or two but in a
year or two it's all finished.
Why is this? It's because they don't take this essential point
into their practice. When they've finished sitting they let go of
their //samadhi//. They start to sit for shorter and shorter
periods, till they reach the point where as soon as they start to
sit they want to finish. Eventually they don't even sit. It's the
same with bowing to the Buddha-image. At first they make the effort
to prostrate every night before going to sleep, but after a while
their minds begin to stray. Soon they don't bother to prostrate at
all, they just nod, till eventually it's all gone. They throw out
the practice completely.
Therefore, understand the importance of //sati//, practice
constantly. Right practice is steady practice. Whether standing,
walking, sitting or reclining the practice must continue. This means
that practice, meditation, is done in the mind, not in the body. If
our mind has zeal, is conscientious and ardent, then there will be
awareness. The mind is the important thing. The mind is that which
supervises everything we do.
When we understand properly then we practice properly. When we
practice properly we don't go astray. Even if we only do a little
that is still all right. For example, when you finish sitting in
meditation, remind yourselves that you are not actually finishing
meditation, you are simply changing postures. Your mind is still
composed. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you have
//sati// with you. If you have this kind of awareness you can
maintain your internal practice. In the evening when you sit again
the practice continues uninterrupted. Your effort is unbroken,
allowing the mind to attain calm.
This is called steady practice. Whether we are talking or doing
other things we should try to make the practice continuous. If our
mind has recollection and self-awareness continuously, our practice
will naturally develop, it will gradually come together. The mind
will find peace, because it will know what is right and what is
wrong. It will see what is happening within us and realize peace.
If we are to develop //sila// (moral restraint), or //samadhi//
(firmness of mind) we must first have //panna// (wisdom). Some
people think that they'll develop moral restraint one year,
//samadhi// the next year and the year after that they'll develop
wisdom. They think these three things are separate. They think that
this year they will develop, but if the mind is not firm
(//samadhi//), how can they do it? If there is no understanding,
(//panna//) how can they do it? Without //samadhi// or //panna//,
//sila// will be sloppy.
In fact these three come together at the same point. When we have
//sila// we have //samadhi//, when we have //samadhi// we have
//panna//. They are all one, like a mango. Whether it's small or
fully grown, it's still a mango. When it's ripe it's still the same
mango. If we think in simple terms like this we can see it more
easily. We don't have to learn a lot of things, just to know these
things, to know our practice.
When it comes to meditation some people don't get what they want,
so they just give up, saying they don't yet have the merit to
practice meditation. They can do bad things, they have that sort of
talent, but they don't have the talent to do good. They throw it in,
saying they don't have a good enough foundation. This is the way
people are, they side with their defilements.
Now that you have this chance to practice, please understand that
whether you find it difficult or easy to develop //samadhi// is
entirely up to you, not the //samadhi//. If it is difficult, it is
because you are practicing wrongly. In our practice we must have
"Right View" (//sammaditthi//). If our view is right then everything
else is right: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right
Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection, Right
Concentration -- the Eightfold Path. When there is Right View all
the other factors will follow on.
Whatever happens, don't let your mind stray off the track. Look
within yourself and you will see clearly. For the best practice, as
I see it, it isn't necessary to read many books. Take all the books
and lock them away. Just read your own mind. You have all been
burying yourselves in books from the time you entered school. I
think that now you have this opportunity and have the time, take the
books, put them in a cupboard and lock the door. Just read your
Whenever something arises within the mind, whether you like it or
not, whether it seems right or wrong, just cut it off with, "this is
not a sure thing." Whatever arises just cut it down, "not sure, not
sure." With just this single ax you can cut it all down. It's all
For the duration of this next month that you will be staying in
this forest monastery, you should make a lot of headway. You will
see the truth. This "not sure" is really an important one. This one
develops wisdom. The more you look the more you will see "not
sure'-ness. After you've cut something off with "not sure" it may
come circling round and pop up again. Yes, it's truly "not sure."
Whatever pops up just stick this one label on it all..."not sure."
You stick the sign on .."not sure'...and in a while, when its turn
comes, it crops up again..."Ah, not sure." Dig here! Not sure. You
will see this same old one who's been fooling you month in, month
out, year in, year out, from the day you were born. There's only
this one who's been fooling you all along. See this and realize the
way things are.
When your practice reaches this point you won't cling to
sensations, because they are all uncertain. Have you ever noticed?
Maybe you see a clock and think, "Oh, this is nice." Buy it and
see...in not many days you're bored with it already. "This pen is
really beautiful," so you take the trouble to buy one. In not many
months you tire of it again. This is how it is. Where is there any
If we see all these things as uncertain then their value fades
away. All things become insignificant. Why should we hold on to
things that have no value? We keep them only as we might keep an old
rag to wipe our feet with. We see all sensations as equal in value
because they all have the same nature.
When we understand sensations we understand the world. The world
is sensations and sensations are the world. If we aren't fooled by
sensations we aren't fooled by the world. If we aren't fooled by the
world we aren't fooled by sensations.
The mind which sees this will have a firm foundation of wisdom.
Such a mind will not have many problems. Any problems it does have
it can solve. When there are no more problems there are no more
doubts. Peace arises in their stead. This is called "Practice." If
we really practice it must be like this.
* * * * * * * *
E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank