The thirteen-spired chedi Ajaan Lee mentioned in his plan for the
Festival Celebrating 25 centuries of Buddhism was never built during
his lifetime. Shortly after the festival, his followers -- fearing
that he would leave the Bangkok area and return to the forest once the
chedi was finished -- insisted that Wat Asokaram needed an ordination
hall before it needed a chedi, and so arranged to have that built
first. After the ordination hall was completed in May 1960, Ajaan Lee
held a meeting with some of his major supporters to discuss plans for
the chedi, but again they found reasons for not going ahead with the
Meanwhile, Ajaan Lee's health worsened. After the end of the rainy
season he returned to Somdet Phra Pin Klao Hospital, but realizing
that the doctors would not be able to cure his illness, arranged for
his release from the hospital in early April, 1961. Soon afterwards,
on the night of April 25-26, he passed away in his hut at Wat
Asokaram. The doctors" verdict: a heart attack.
When the initial funeral services were over, his followers decided
to delay the cremation until after they had finished the chedi as
their final gift to his memory -- much like the story of Khru Ba Sri
Wichai that Ajaan Lee mentioned towards the end of his autobiography.
However, after the chedi was finished in 1965, a poll of Ajaan Lee's
followers revealed that the vast majority did not want to see him
cremated at all, so ever since then his body has been kept at Wat
Asokaram, where it is now enshrined in a large and lavishly designed
sanctuary finished in 1987. Even today, huge numbers of people come
to pay their respects to him on a regular basis.
Toward the end of his last stay in the hospital, Ajaan Lee dictated
the following piece on the theme of making the Dhamma -- and oneself
-- one's refuge by practicing mindfulness of the four frames of
reference: the same theme as one of the Buddha's sermons in the final
year of his life. Since this is Ajaan Lee's last recorded sermon, I
feel it makes a fitting conclusion to his life story.
* * *
A Refuge in Awakening
//ye keci buddham saranam gatase
na te gamissanti apaya-bhumim
pahaya manusam deham
"Those who have gone to the Buddha as refuge will not go to the
realms of deprivation. On abandoning the human body, they will
fill the company of the gods."
I will now explain this verse so that you can practice in a way
leading to the supreme attainment, capable of eliminating all your
suffering and fears, reaching the refuge of peace.
We come into this world without a substantial refuge. Nothing --
aside from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha -- will follow us into the
next life. These three are the only things in which we can take
refuge both in this life and in lives to come.
There are two levels on which people take refuge in the Triple Gem.
Some take refuge only on the level of individuals, while others take
refuge on the level of inner qualities, by developing the steps of
the practice within themselves.
I. On the level of individuals
A. //Buddha//. Buddhas are people who have attained purity of heart.
There are four types:
1. //Rightly self-awakened Buddhas//: those who have attained
Awakening on their own, without anyone to teach them, and who have
established a religion.
2. //Private Buddhas//: those who have gained Awakening without
establishing a religion. On attaining the goal, they live by
3. //Disciple Buddhas//: those who have practiced in line with the
teachings of a Buddha until they too have gained Awakening.
4. //Learned Buddhas//: those who have studied the teachings in
detail, have followed them and attained the goal.
All four of these types are individual people, so to take refuge in
them is to take refuge on the level of individuals. They can give us
refuge only in a shallow and not very substantial way. Even though
taking refuge on this level can be advantageous to us, it helps us
only on the level of the world, and can give only temporary protection
against falling into the realms of deprivation. If we lose faith in
these individuals, our mind can change to a lower level -- for all
individuals fall under the laws of all conditioned things: They are
inconstant and changing, subject to stress, and not-self -- i.e., they
can't prevent their own death.
So if you go to a Buddha as refuge on the level of individuals,
there are only two sorts of results you'll get: at first gladness,
and then sadness when the time comes to part -- for it's the nature of
all individuals in the world that they arise, age, grow ill and die.
The wisest sages and the most ordinary people are all equal on this
B. //Dhamma//. For many of us, the teachings in which we take our
refuge are also on the level of individuals. Why is that? Because we
see them as the words of individual people.
Sages of the past have divided the teachings in the Buddhist Canon
into four types:
1. //Sayings of the Buddha//.
2. //Sayings of his disciples//.
3. //Sayings of heavenly beings//. There were occasions when
heavenly beings, on coming to pay respect to the Buddha, said
truths worth taking to heart.
4. //Sayings of seers//. Some hermits and yogis uttered truths
from which Buddhists can benefit.
All of these sayings were organized into the three parts of the
Buddhist Canon: the discourses, the discipline and the Abhidhamma.
If we take refuge in the Dhamma on this level, it is simply an object:
something we can remember. But memory is inconstant, and can't
provide us with a safe, dependable refuge. At best it can help us
only on the worldly level because we are depending on individuals, on
objects, as our refuge.
C. //Sangha//. There are two sorts of Sangha.
1. //The conventional Sangha//: ordinary people who have ordained
and taken up the homeless life. This sort of Sangha is composed of
four sorts of people.
a. //Upajivika//: those who have taken up the ordained life
simply as a comfortable way of making a living. They can depend
on others to provide for their needs, and so get complacent,
satisfied with their ordained status, without looking for any
form of goodness better than that.
b. //Upadusika//: those who, on being ordained in Buddhism,
destroy the Buddha's teachings through their behavior -- not
abandoning the things they should abandon, not doing the things
they should do, damaging their own capacity for good and that of
others, being destructive, falling away from the Buddha's
c. //Upamuyhika//: those who, on being ordained in Buddhism,
make themselves blind and ignorant, who don't look for tactics
for bringing their behavior into line with the Buddha's
teachings. They don't pull themselves out of their useless ways,
and stay continually deluded.
d. //Upanisaranika//: those who, on being ordained in Buddhism,
are intent on studying and practicing in line with what they have
learned, who try to find themselves a secure refuge, and who
don't let themselves become negligent or complacent. Whatever
the Buddha says is good, they behave accordingly. Whether or not
they attain that goodness, they keep on trying.
All four of these count as one type of Sangha on the level of
2. //The Noble Sangha//. This has four levels: those who have
practiced the Buddha's teachings until they have reached the
attainments of Stream Entry, Once-returning, Non-returning or
Arahantship. All four of these are still on the level of
individuals because they are individual people who have reached the
transcendent attainments in their hearts. Suppose, for example, we
say that Annakondanna is a Streamwinner, Sariputta a Once-returner,
Moggallana a Non-returner and Ananda an Arahant. All four of them
are still individuals in name and body. To take refuge in them is
to take refuge on the level of individuals -- and as individuals
they are inconstant and unstable. Their bodies, sense faculties
and mental phenomena by nature have to age, grow ill and die. In
other words, they are //anicca//, inconstant and changeable;
//dukkha//, subject to stress and suffering; and //anatta//: They
themselves can't prevent the nature of conditioned phenomena from
taking its course with them.
When this is the case, anyone who tries to take refuge in them is
subject to change as well. We can depend on them only for a while,
but they can't provide us any true refuge. They can't keep us from
falling into the realms of deprivation. At best, taking refuge in
them can give us results on the worldly level -- and the worldly
level is changing all the time.
This ends the discussion of the Triple Refuge on the level of
II. On the level of inner qualities
Taking refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha on the level of inner
qualities means reaching the Triple Gem with the heart through the
To reach the Buddha on the level of inner qualities, you first have
to know the virtues of the Buddha, which are of two sorts: causes and
results. The causes of his Awakening are mindfulness and presence of
mind. The result of his Awakening is the transcendent: the stilling
of all defilements and mental effluents.
So we have to develop these qualities within ourselves.
//Buddha-sati// -- mindfulness like the Buddha's -- is what wakes us
up. Full presence of mind is what makes us correctly aware of cause
and effect. The way to develop these qualities is to practice in line
with the four frames of reference. This will enable us to reach the
Buddha on the level of inner qualities.
A. //Contemplation of the body as a frame of reference//. This means
being firmly mindful of the body, using mindfulness to wake up the
body and mind both by day and by night -- sitting, standing, walking,
lying down. We use mindfulness and presence of mind to be fully
conscious throughout the body. //This// is the cause for reaching the
Buddha on the level of inner qualities -- i.e., reaching the Buddha by
oneself and within oneself, without having to depend on anyone else.
//When you depend on yourself, that's when you're on the right
Before focusing mindfulness on the body so as to wake yourself up,
you first have to know that there are two ways of looking at the body:
1. The body, i.e., all four physical properties gathered together
as a physical object: the earth property, or the solid aspects;
the water property, or the liquid aspects; the fire property, or
the warm aspects; and the wind property, i.e., such things as the
in-and-out breath. When all four of these properties are in
harmony, they intermingle and form an aggregate or object we call
2. The body in and of itself, i.e., any one aspect of any of these
four properties. For example, we can take the wind property.
Focus your mindfulness and presence of mind on nothing but the wind
property and keep them there. You don't have to get involved with
any of the other properties. This is called the body in and of
From there you can go to wind in and of itself. There are six
aspects to the wind property: the breath energy flowing down from the
head to the spaces between the fingers and toes; the breath energy
flowing from the spaces between the fingers and toes up to the top of
the head; the breath forces in the stomach; the breath forces in the
intestines; and the in-and-out breath. These six aspects make up the
wind property in the body.
When you focus on wind in and of itself, be mindful to keep track of
only one of these aspects at a time -- such as the in-and-out breath
-- without worrying about any other aspects of the breath energy. This
can be called focusing on wind in itself. The same principle applies
to earth in and of itself, water in and of itself and fire in and of
When you have mindfulness and presence of mind constantly
established in the body, the body in and of itself, wind, fire, earth
or water in and of itself -- whichever seems easiest and most
comfortable -- keep with it as much as possible. When you do this,
the body will wake up, for you aren't letting it simply follow its
natural course. To bring mindfulness into the body helps keep it
awake. The body will feel lighter and lighter as we keep it in mind.
Presence of mind is what enables us to be aware throughout the body.
When these two mental qualities enter into the body, the body will
feel agile, pliant and light. In Pali, this is called
//kaya-lahuta//. The mind will also be awake, and give rise to
knowledge in and of itself through its own "//sanditthiko//" practice
-- i.e., the person who does the practice will see the results for him
or herself in the here and now.
People who awaken from their slumbers are able to see and know
things. The same holds true for people who practice mindfulness
immersed in the body as a frame of reference. They are bound to see
the true nature of their own bodies. To penetrate in, knowing and
seeing in this way, is to reach the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha -- which
differ only in name, but are one and the same in their essence.
Whoever //doesn't// practice in this way is asleep, both in body and
mind. A person asleep can't see or know anything at all, which is why
we can say that people of this sort have yet to reach the Buddha on
the level of the inner qualities.
B. //Contemplation of feelings as a frame of reference//. Be mindful
of feelings as they arise within you. Feelings are results that come
from your own past and present actions. There are three sorts:
1. Feelings of pleasure
2. Feelings of pain
3. Feelings of equanimity.
To practice contemplation of feelings, be mindful of each of the
various kinds of feeling that occur in the body and mind. For
instance, sometimes there's physical pleasure but mental distress;
sometimes physical pain but mental pleasure; sometimes pleasure both
in body and mind; and sometimes pain both in body and mind. So focus
in on being mindful of feelings as they arise. Examine them closely.
This is called contemplation of feelings.
As for feelings in and of themselves, this means focusing on one
type of feeling. For instance, wherever there's pleasure, focus right
there. Make the mind firm and one-pointed. You don't have to get
involved with feelings of pain or equanimity. If you're going to
focus on pleasure, keep focused right there. Or, if you want, you can
focus on equanimity without getting involved with pleasure or pain.
Don't let the mind jump around so that any other preoccupations come
in and interfere. Keep monitoring the feeling you've chosen until you
know its true nature through your own awareness.
Whichever type of feeling is easiest for you to focus on, keep your
mindfulness and presence of mind right there as much as you can. This
is what will enable you to awaken from the feelings within you.
Whoever does this ranks as having developed the inner quality of
"//buddha//" that is the cause for coming awake.
C. //Contemplation of the mind as a frame of reference//. Be mindful
of the state of your own mind so that you can awaken it from the
slumber of its delusions. When your mind awakens, it will be able to
see and know the various things occurring in the present. This will
enable it to become firmly centered in the factors of concentration
and //jhana//, or mental absorption, which in turn lead to
discernment, skilled awareness and release.
There are three basic states of mind you can focus on:
1. //Passion//: The mind hankers after sensual objects and
sensual moods that color it, making it intoxicated and oblivious to
other things. This prevents it from experiencing states that are
brighter and clearer.
2. //Aversion//: The mind at times gets irritated and angry,
causing whatever internal goodness it has to deteriorate. Aversion
is thus a way in which the mind destroys itself.
3. //Delusion//: absent-mindedness, forgetfulness, mental
These states of mind arise from preoccupations with what we like and
dislike. If you have mindfulness watching over your mind with every
moment, it will enable the mind to awaken and blossom, to know the
truth about itself.
Whenever passion arises in the mind, focus on being mindful of the
mind in and of itself. Don't focus on the object of the passion. Pay
attention solely to the present, and the passion will fade. Or, if
you want, you can use other methods to help, by contemplating the
object of the passion in certain ways. For example, you can
contemplate the unattractiveness of the body, focusing first on the
insides of your own body, seeing them as filthy and disgusting. Your
mind will then be able to free itself from the passion in which it is
immersed, and to become more blooming and bright.
Whenever aversion arises in the mind, focus on being mindful
exclusively of the present state of your mind. Don't focus attention
on the external object or person that gave rise to the anger and
aversion. Anger in the mind is like a burning fire. If you aren't
mindful and aware of the state of your own mind, and instead think
only of the object or person that incited the anger, it's like setting
yourself on fire, and all you can do is end up getting burnt. So you
shouldn't preoccupy yourself with the outside object. Instead, focus
on being mindful and aware of the state of aversion in the mind. When
mindfulness reaches full strength, the state of aversion will
Aversion and anger are like a cover over a fire that lets the fire
provide heat but no light. If we remove the cover by doing away with
the aversion, the light of the fire can brighten the mind. The
"light" here is discernment and skilled awareness.
Actually, there's nowhere else that we have to look for goodness
other than our own minds. That's how we'll be able to gain the
freedom from suffering and stress that is termed //citta-vimutti//,
mental release, i.e., a mind beyond the reach of its preoccupations.
This is one way in which we reach the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha on the
level of inner qualities.
As for states of delusion, in which the mind tends to be
absent-minded and forgetful: These come from there being many objects
crowding in on the mind. When we find this happening, we should
center the mind on a single preoccupation where we can gather strength
for our mindfulness and presence of mind, in the same way that we can
take diffused light rays and focus them on a single point: The power
of the light is sure to get brighter. In the same way, when we are
constantly mindful of the mind and don't let it get involved with
various outside perceptions and preoccupations, mindfulness will give
rise to a powerful light: skilled awareness. When skilled awareness
arises within us, our minds will grow shining bright, and we'll awaken
from our slumber of unawareness. We will have attained a quality of
secure refuge in our own hearts. We will know for ourselves and see
for ourselves, and this is what will enable us to attain the noble
qualities of the transcendent.
D. //Mental qualities as a frame of reference//. Be mindful to focus
on the mental qualities that occur in the mind with every moment.
Mental qualities are of two basic sorts, good and bad.
1. Bad mental qualities, which obstruct the mind from attaining
higher levels of goodness, are called the Hindrances (//nivarana//),
and there are five sorts.
a. //Sensual desire//: hankering after sensual objects -- sights,
sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and ideas that you like
and find appealing; and a hankering after sensual moods, such as
passion, anger, aversion and delusion -- assuming good to be bad
and bad to be good, right to be wrong and wrong to be right. A
hankering for any of these things is classed as sensual desire.
b. //Malevolence//: ill will for people or objects, hoping that
they will be destroyed or come to a bad end.
c. //Torpor & lethargy//: sleepiness, sloth, lassitude, laziness
d. //Worry & distraction//: being upset at failure in your aims,
lacking the mindfulness to put a brake on your worries and
e. //Uncertainty//: indecision; doubt about the various things or
qualities your are working to develop in your practice.
These five Hindrances are bad mental qualities. If you fall into
any of them, you're in the dark -- like a person at the bottom of a
well who can't see anything on the surface of the earth, can't move
around as he likes, can't hear what people at the top of the well are
saying, and can't see the light of the sun and moon that illumine the
earth. In the same way, the Hindrances obstruct us from developing
goodness in many, many ways. They close off our ears and eyes, keep
us in the dark, put us to sleep.
2. This is why we should work at developing the good mental
qualities that will awaken us from the slumber of our unawareness.
For instance, we should develop the four levels of //jhana// or mental
absorption, which are the tools for suppressing or eliminating all of
a. The first level of //jhana// has five factors. //Directed
thought//: Think about any one of the objects of meditation that
exist within you, such as the in-and-out breath. Make the mind
one, keep it with the object you are thinking of, and don't let it
slip off to anything else: This is called //singleness of
preoccupation//. //Evaluation//: Carefully observe the object of
your meditation until you see its truth. When you are thoroughly
aware of the object -- this is called presence of mind -- the
results will arise within you: //pleasure// or ease; and
//rapture// -- fullness of body and mind.
When mindfulness fills the body like this, the body feels
saturated, like soil saturated with moisture: Whatever you plant
stays green and fresh. Plants flourish. Birds and other forest
animals come to live in their shade. When rain falls, the soil can
hold it instead of letting it wash away. //A person who has
mastered the first level of jhana is like a holding-place of
goodness for other human and celestial beings// because //jhana//
and concentration can have a cooling influence not only on oneself,
but also on others as well.
When mindfulness and presence of mind are fully aware in your mind,
the mind feels saturated and full with an unadulterated sense of
rapture and joy at all times. As for the pleasure and ease that
come from the first level of //jhana//, they give you a sense of
freedom with no worries or concerns for anyone or anything -- like
a person who has attained enough wealth that he no longer has any
worries or concerns about his livelihood, and can relax in peace.
When you attain the pleasure and ease that come from the first
level of //jhana//, you are freed from the Hindrances of indecision
and worry & distraction. So you should work at developing these
factors in your mind until it can stay steadily in //jhana//. Your
heart will then be blooming and bright, giving rise to the light of
discernment, or liberating insight. And if you have developed your
capabilities enough, then on attaining the first level of //jhana//
you may gain entry to the transcendent. Some people, though, may
go on to the second level of //jhana//.
b. The second level of //jhana// has three factors: rapture,
pleasure and singleness of preoccupation. The power of the mind
gets stronger step by step, so try to keep your mind in that state
simply by focusing down and keeping mindfulness firmly established
right there. The mind will grow even stronger and this will lead
you on to the third level of //jhana//.
c. The third level of //jhana// has two factors: pleasure and
singleness of preoccupation. Keep focusing down through the power
of mindfulness and presence of mind, and you will be able to shed
the factor of pleasure and enter the fourth level of //jhana//.
d. The fourth level of //jhana// has two factors: equanimity and
singleness of preoccupation. On this level of //jhana//, the mind
has great strength, based on its strong focus accompanied by
mindfulness and presence of mind. The mind is firm and unmoving --
so completely unmoved by past and future that it lets them both go.
It keeps track solely of the present, steady and unwavering like
the light of a Coleman lantern when there is no wind. //When the
mind attains the fourth level of jhana, it gives rise to a
brightness//: discernment and the skill of liberating insight.
This is what enables it to gain understanding into the four Noble
Truths, and so to proceed to the transcendent -- the truly safe
People who have done this experience nothing but an inner
brightness and happiness in their hearts, for they dwell with the
quality they have given rise to within themselves. They reach the
Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha on the highest level, the level of
release or ultimate attainment, a quality free from defilement and
People who train their hearts in this way have reached the Buddha,
Dhamma and Sangha on the level of inner quality. In other words,
they have reached refuge in their own hearts. They have absolutely
closed off the route to the realms of deprivation. At the very
least, they are destined after death to go to the higher realms of
happiness. At best, they will attain //nibbana//. All of them
are certain to attain //nibbana// within at least seven lifetimes,
for they have reached an inner quality that is steady and certain.
They won't fall into anything low. Anyone who has yet to attain
this quality, though, has an uncertain future.
So if we want the peace and security that Buddhism has to offer, we
should all try to find ourselves a dependable refuge. If you take
refuge on the level of individuals, find people of worth so that your
conviction in them will take you to the happy realms. As for refuge
on the level of inner qualities, which will really be of substantial
value to you, practice so as to give rise to those qualities within
To summarize: On the level of inner qualities, the Buddha, Dhamma
and Sangha are all one and the same thing. They differ only in name.
So you should "//opanayiko//" -- bring these qualities into your
heart. "//Sanditthiko//" -- When you practice, you'll see them for
yourself. "//Paccattam//" -- You'll know them only for yourself.
Things that other people know about aren't safe.
If you want peace and refuge that are substantial and sure, you
should give rise to them in your own heart. The result will be
//nibbana//, liberation from defilement, from all birth, ageing,
illness and death in this world and any world to come.
//nibbanam paramam sukham//
"//Nibbana// is the ultimate happiness.
There is no happiness higher."
This is "//buddha//" on the level of results: freedom from sleep,
And this ends our discussion of the verse on refuge.
* * * * * * * *