Observations on the Art of Meditation
Translated from the Thai
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
This work may be freely copied, printed, and redistributed
provided it is offered free of any charge.
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1994
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the translator.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
Transcribed for DharmaNet by David Savage
* * * * * * * *
The Practice in Brief
An Hour's Meditation
A Basic Order in Life
Every In-and-Out Breath
Taking a Stance
The Details of Pain
Aware Right at Awarenes
The Pure Present
The Deceits of Knowing
//Sabbe Dhamma Anatta//
Going Out Cold
Reading the Heart
* * * * * * * *
K. Khao-suan-luang is the penname of Upasika Kee Nanayon
(1901-1978), one of the foremost women teachers of Dhamma in modern
Thailand. Following Thai tradition, she took her penname from the name
of the place where she lived: the forested hill in Rajburi province
where she had established a women's center for practicing Dhamma.
Although she did not allow men to reside in her center, both men and
women were welcome to visit on the weekly Observance days and listen
to her talks. Known for the simplicity of her way of life and the
direct, uncompromising style of her teaching, she had a way with words
evident not only in her talks but also in her poetry, which was widely
Many of her talks were transcribed and printed for free
distribution. This present collection consists of a brief outline of
the practice that she wrote as an introduction to one of her early
books of talks, plus excerpts from her later talks that help flesh out
Although this collection is too brief to serve as a complete
guide to the practice, my hope is that it will provide insight and
inspiration for all those who, in their search for freedom and
happiness, have begun looking inward to the subtleties of their own
* * *
THE PRACTICE IN BRIEF
Those who practice the Dhamma should train themselves to
understand in the following stages:
The training that is easy to learn, gives immediate results, and
is suitable for every time, every place, for people of every age and
either sex, is to study in the //school of this body// -- a fathom
long, a cubit wide, and a span thick -- with its perceiving mind in
charge. This body has many things, ranging from the crude to the
subtle, that are well worth knowing.
The steps of the training:
1. To begin with, know that the body is composed of various
physical properties, the major ones being the properties of earth,
water, fire, and wind; the minor ones being the aspects that adhere to
the major ones: things like color, smell, shape, etc.
These properties are unstable (inconstant), stressful, and full
of filth. If you look into them deeply, you will see that there's no
substance to them at all. They are simply impersonal conditions, with
nothing worth calling "me" or "mine." When you can clearly perceive
the body in these terms, you will be able to let go of any clinging or
attachment to it as an entity, your self, someone else, this or that.
2. The second step is to deal with mental phenomena (feelings,
perceptions, thought-formations, and consciousness). Focus on keeping
track of the truth that these are characterized by arising,
persisting, and then disbanding. In other words, their nature is to
arise and disband, arise and disband, repeatedly. When you investigate
to see this truth, you will be able to let go of your attachments to
mental phenomena as entities, as your self, someone else, this or
3. Training on the level of practice doesn't simply mean
studying, listening, or reading. You have to practice so as to see
clearly with your own mind in the following steps:
a. Start out by brushing aside all external concerns and turn to
look inside at your own mind until you can know in what ways it is
clear or murky, calm or unsettled. The way to do this is to have
mindfulness and self-awareness in charge as you keep aware of the body
and mind, until you've trained the mind to stay firmly in a state of
b. Once the mind can stay in a state of normalcy, you will see
mental formations or preoccupations in their natural state of arising
and disbanding. The mind will be empty, neutral, and still -- neither
pleased nor displeased -- and will see physical and mental phenomena
as they arise and disband naturally, of their own accord.
c. When the knowledge that there is no self to any of these
things becomes thoroughly clear, you will meet with something that
lies further inside, beyond all suffering and stress, free from the
cycles of change -- deathless -- free from birth as well as death,
since all things that take birth must by nature age, grow ill, and
d. When you see this truth clearly, the mind will be empty, not
holding onto anything. It won't even assume itself to be a mind or
anything at all. I.e., it won't latch onto itself as being anything of
any sort. All that remains is a pure condition of Dhamma.
e. Those who see this pure condition of Dhamma in full clarity
are bound to grow disenchanted with the repeated sufferings of life.
When they know the truth of the world and the Dhamma throughout, they
will see the results clearly, right in the present, that //there
exists that which lies beyond all suffering//. They will know this
without having to ask or take it on faith from anyone, for the Dhamma
is //paccattam,// i.e., something really to be known for oneself.
Those who have see this truth within themselves will attest to it
March 17, 1954
* * *
AN HOUR'S MEDITATION
For those of you who've never sat in meditation, here is how it's
done: Fold your legs, one on top of the other, but don't cut off the
nerves or the blood flow, or else the breath energy in your legs will
stagnate and cause you pain. Sit straight and place your hands one on
top of the other on your lap. Hold your head up straight and keep your
back straight, too -- as you had a yardstick sticking down your spine.
You have to work at keeping it straight, you know. Don't spend the
time slouching down and then stretching up again, or else the mind
won't be able to settle down and be still....
Keep the body straight and your mindfulness firm -- firmly with
the breath. However coarse or refined your breath may be, simply
breathe in naturally. You don't have to force the breath or tense your
body. Simply breathe in and out in a relaxed way. Only then will the
mind begin to settle down. As soon as the breath grows normally
refined and the mind has begun to settle down, focus your attention on
the mind itself. If it slips off elsewhere, or any thoughts come in to
intrude, simply know right there at the mind. Know the mind right at
the mind with every in-and-out breath for the entire hour....
When you focus on the breath, using the breath as a leash to tie
the mind in place so that it doesn't go wandering off, you have to use
your endurance. That is, you have to endure pain. For example, when
you sit for a long time there's going to be pain, because you've never
sat for so long before. So first make sure that you keep the mind
normal and neutral. When pain arises, don't focus on the pain. Let go
of it as much as you can. Let go of it and focus on your mind....For
those of you who've never done this before, it may take a while.
Whenever any pain or anything arises, if the mind is affected by
craving or defilement, it'll struggle because it doesn't want the
pain. All it wants is pleasure.
This is where you have to be patient and endure the pain,
//because pain is something that has to occur//. If there's pleasure,
don't get enthralled with it. If there's pain don't push it away.
Start out by keeping the mind neutral as your basic stance. Then
whenever pleasure or pain arises, don't get pleased or upset. Keep the
mind continuously neutral and figure out how to let go. If there's a
lot of pain, you first have to endure it and then relax your
attachments. Don't think of the pain as being //your// pain. Let it be
the pain of the body, the pain of nature.
If the mind latches tight onto anything, it really suffers. It
struggles. So here we patiently endure and let go. You have to
practice so that you're really good at handling pain. If you can let
go of physical pain, you'll be able to let go of all sorts of other
suffering and pain as well....Keep watching the pain, knowing the
pain, letting it go. Once you can let it go, you don't have to use a
lot of endurance. It takes a lot of endurance only at the beginning.
Once the pain arises, separate the mind from it. Let it be the pain of
the body. Don't let the mind be pained, too....
This is something that requires equanimity. If you can maintain
equanimity in the face of pleasure or pain, it can make the mind
peaceful -- peaceful even though the pain is still pain. The mind
keeps knowing, enduring the pain so as to let it go.
After you've worked at this a good while, you'll come to see how
important the ways of the mind are. The mind may be hard to train, but
if you keep training it -- if you have the time, you can practice at
home, at night or early in the morning, keeping watch on your mind --
you'll gain the understanding that comes from mindfulness and
discernment. Those who don't train the mind like this go through life
-- birth, ageing, illness, and death -- not knowing a thing about the
mind at all.
When you know your own mind, then when any really heavy illness
comes along, the fact that you know your mind will make the pain less
and less. But this is something you have to work at doing correctly.
It's not easy, yet once the mind is well trained, there's no match for
it. It can do away with pain and suffering, and doesn't get restless
and agitated. It grows still and cool -- refreshed and blooming right
there within itself. So try to experience this still, quiet mind....
This is a really important skill to develop, because it will make
craving, defilement, and attachment grow weaker and weaker. All of us
have defilements, you know. Greed, anger, and delusion cloud all of
our hearts. If we haven't trained ourselves in meditation, our hearts
are constantly burning with suffering and stress. Even the pleasure we
feel over external things is pleasure only in half-measures, because
there's suffering and stress in the delusion that thinks it's
pleasure. As for the pleasure that comes from the practice, it's a
cool pleasure that lets go of everything, really free from any sense
of me or mine. I ask you reach the Dhamma that is the real meat inside
this thing undisturbed by defilement, undisturbed by pain or anything
Even though there's pain in the body, you have to figure out how
to let it go. The body's simply the four elements -- earth, water,
wind, and fire. It has to keep showing its inconstancy and
stressfulness, so keep your mindfulness neutral, at equanimity. Let
the mind be above its feelings -- above pleasure, above pain, above
All it really takes is endurance -- endurance and relinquishment,
letting things go, seeing that they're not us, not ours. This is a
point you have to hammer at, over and over again. When we say you have
to endure, you //really// have to endure. Don't be willing to
surrender. Craving is going to keep coming up and whispering --
telling you to change things, to try for this or that kind of pleasure
-- but don't you listen to it. You have to listen to the Buddha -- the
Buddha who tells you to let go of craving. Otherwise craving will
plaster and paint things over; the mind will struggle and won't be
able to settle down. So you have to give it your all. Look at this
hour as a special hour -- special in that you're using special
endurance //to keep watch on your own heart and mind//.
March 3, 1977
* * *
A BASIC ORDER IN LIFE
The most important thing in the daily life of a person who
practices the Dhamma is to keep to the precepts and to care for them
more than you care for your life -- to maintain them in a way that the
Noble Ones would praise. If you don't have this sort of regard for the
precepts, then the vices that run counter to them will become your
Meditators who see that the breaking of a precept is something
trifling and insignificant spoil their entire practice. If you can't
practice even these basic, beginning levels of the Dhamma, it will
ruin all the qualities you'll be trying to develop in the later stages
of the practice. This is why you have to stick to the precepts as your
basic foundation and to keep a lookout for anything in your behavior
that falls short of them. Only then will you be able to benefit from
your practice for the sake of eliminating your sufferings with greater
and greater precision.
If you simply act in line with the cravings and desires swelling
out of the sense of self that has no fear of the fires of defilement,
you'll have to suffer both in this life and in lives to come. If you
don't have a sense of conscience -- a sense of shame at the thought of
doing shoddy actions, and a fear of their consequences -- your
practice can only deteriorate day by day...
When people live without any order to their lives -- without even
the basic order that comes with the precepts -- there's no way they
can attain purity. We have to examine ourselves: In what ways at
present are we breaking our precepts in thought, word, or deed? If we
simply let things pass and aren't intent on examining ourselves to see
the harm that comes from breaking the precepts and following the
defilements, our practice can only sink lower and lower. Instead of
extinguishing defilements and suffering, it will simply succumb to the
power of craving. If this is the case, what damage is done? How much
freedom does the mind lose? These are things we have to learn for
ourselves. When we do, our practice of self-inspection in higher
matters will get solid results and won't go straying off into
nonsense. For this reason, whenever craving or defilement shows itself
in any way in any of our actions, we have to catch hold of it and
examine what's going on inside the mind.
Once we are aware with real mindfulness and discernment, we'll
see the poison and power of the defilements. We'll feel disgust for
them and want to extinguish them as much as we can. But if we use our
defilements to examine things, they'll say everything is fine. The
same as when we're predisposed to liking a certain person: Even if he
acts badly, we say he's good. If he acts wrongly, we say he's right.
This is the way the defilements are. They say that everything we do is
right and throw all the blame on other people, other things. So we
can't trust it -- this sense of "self" in which craving and defilement
lord it over the heart. We can't trust it at all....
The violence of defilement, or this sense of self, is like that
of a fire burning a forest or burning a house. It won't listen to
anyone, but simply keeps burning away, burning away inside of you. And
that's not all. It's always out to set fire to other people, too.
The fires of suffering, the fires of defilement consume all those
who don't contemplate themselves or who don't have any means of
practice for putting them out. People of this sort can't withstand the
power of the defilements, can't help but follow along wherever their
cravings lead them. The moment they're provoked, they follow in line
with these things. This is why the sensations in the mind when
provoked by defilement are very important, for they can lead you to do
things with no sense of shame, no fear for the consequences of doing
evil at all -- which means that you're sure to break your precepts.
Once you've followed the defilements, they feel really satisfied
-- like arsonists who feel gleeful when they've set other people's
places on fire. As soon as you've called somebody something vile or
spread some malicious gossip, the defilements really like it. Your
sense of self really likes it, because acting in line with defilement
like that gives it real satisfaction. As a consequence, it keeps
filling itself with the vices that run counter to the precepts,
falling into hell in this very lifetime without realizing it. So take
a good look at the violence the defilements do to you, to see whether
you should keep socializing with them, to see whether you should
regard them as your friends or your enemies....
As soon as any wrong views or ideas come out of the mind, we have
to analyze them and turn around so as to catch sight of the facts
within us. No matter what issues the defilements raise, focusing on
the faults of others, we have to turn around and look within. //When
we realize our own faults and can come to our senses:// That's where
our study of the Dhamma, our practice of the Dhamma shows its real
January 29, 1964
* * *
The passage for reflection on the four requisites (clothing,
food, shelter, and medicine) is a fine pattern for contemplation, but
we never actually get down to putting it to use. We're taught to
memorize it in the beginning not simply to pass the time of day or so
that we can talk about it every now and then, but so that we can use
it to contemplate the requisites until we really know them with our
own mindfulness and discernment. If we actually get down to
contemplating in line with the established pattern, our minds will
become much less influenced by unwise thoughts. But it's the rare
person who genuinely makes this a continuous practice....For the most
part we're not interested. We don't feel like contemplating this sort
of thing. We'd much rather contemplate whether this or that food will
taste good or not, and if it doesn't taste good, how to fix it so that
it will. That's the sort of thing we like to contemplate.
Try to see the filthiness of food and of the physical properties
in general, to see their emptiness of any real entity or self. There's
nothing of any substance to the physical properties of the body, which
are all rotten and decomposing. The body is like a restroom over a
cesspool. We can decorate it on the outside to make it pretty and
attractive, but on the inside it's full of the most horrible, filthy
things. Whenever we excrete anything, we ourselves are repelled by it;
yet even though we're repelled by it, it's there inside us, in our
intestines -- decomposing, full of worms, awful smelling. There's just
the flimsiest membrane covering it up, but we fall for it and hold
tight to it. We don't see the constant decomposition of this body, in
spite of the filth and smells it sends out....
The reason we're taught to memorize the passage for reflecting on
the requisites, and to use it to contemplate, is so that we'll see the
inconstancy of the body, to see that there's no "self" to any of it or
to any of the mental phenomena we sense with every moment.
* * *
We contemplate mental phenomena to see clearly that they're
not-self, to see this with every moment. The moments of the mind --
the arising, persisting, and disbanding of mental sensations -- are
very subtle and fast. To see them, the mind has to be quiet. If the
mind is involved in distractions, thoughts, and imaginings, we won't
be able to penetrate in to see its characteristics as it deals with
its objects, to see what the arising and disbanding within it is like.
This is why we have to practice concentration: to make the mind
quiet, to provide a foundation for our contemplation. For instance,
you can focus on the breath, or be aware of the mind as it focuses on
the breath. Actually, when you focus on the breath, you're also aware
of the mind. And again, the mind is what knows the breath. So you
focus exclusively on the breath together with the mind. Don't think of
anything else, and the mind will settle down and grow still. Once it
attains stillness on this level, you've got your chance to
Making the mind still so that you can contemplate it is something
you have to keep working at in the beginning. The same holds true with
training yourself to be mindful and fully aware in all your
activities. This is something you really have to work at continuously
in this stage, something you have to do all the time. At the same
time, you have to arrange the external conditions of your life so that
you won't have any concerns to distract you....
Now, of course, the practice is something you can do in any set
of circumstances -- for example, when you come home from work you can
sit and meditate for a while -- but when you're trying seriously to
make it continuous, to make it habitual, it's much more difficult than
that. " Making it habitual" means being fully mindful and aware with
each in-and-out breath, wherever you go, whatever you do, whether
you're healthy, sick, or whatever, and regardless of what happens
inside or out. //The mind has to be in a state of all-encompassing
awareness while keeping track of the arising and disbanding of mental
phenomena at all times// -- to the point where you can stop the mind
from forming thoughts under the power of craving and defilement the
way it used to before you began the practice.
January 14, 1964
* * *
EVERY IN-AND-OUT BREATH
Try keeping your awareness with the breath to see what the still
mind is like. It's very simple, all the rules have been laid out, but
when you actually try to do it, something resists. It's hard. But when
you let your mind think 108 or 1009 things, no matter what, it's all
easy. it's not hard at all. //Try and see if you can engage your mind
with the breath in the same way it's been engaged with the
defilements//. Try engaging it with the breath and see what happens.
See if you can disperse the defilements with every in-and-out breath.
Why is it that the mind can stay engaged with the defilements all day
long, and yet go for entire days without knowing how heavy or subtle
the breath is at all?
So try and be observant. The bright, clear awareness that stems
from staying focused on the mind at all times: Sometimes a strong
sensory contact comes and can make it blur and fade away with no
trouble at all. But if you can keep hold of the breath as a reference
point, that state of mind can be more stable and sure, more insured.
It has two fences around it. If there's only one fence, it can easily
January 29, 1964
* * *
TAKING A STANCE
Normally the mind isn't willing to stop and look, to stop and
know itself, which is why we have to keep training it continually so
that it will settle down from its restlessness and grow still. Let
your desires and thought-processes settle down. Let the mind take its
stance in a state of normalcy, not liking or disliking anything. To
reach a basic level of emptiness and freedom, you first have to take a
stance. If you don't have a stance against which to measure things,
progress will be very difficult. If your practice is hit-or-miss -- a
bit of that, a little of this -- you won't get any results. So the
mind first has to take a stance.
When you take a stance that the mind can maintain in a state of
normalcy, don't go slipping off into the future. Have the mind know
itself in the stance of the present: "Right now it's in a state of
normalcy. No likes or dislikes have arisen yet. It hasn't created any
issues. It's not being disturbed by a desire for this or that."
Then look on in to the basic level of the mind to see if it's as
normal and empty as it should be. If you're really looking inside,
really aware inside, then //that which is looking and knowing is
mindfulness and discernment in and of itself//. You don't need to
search for anything anywhere else to come and do your looking for you.
As soon as you stop to look, stop to know whether or not the mind is
in a state of normalcy, then if it's normal, you'll know immediately
that it's normal. If it's not, you'll know immediately that it's not.
Take care to keep this awareness going. If you can keep knowing
like this continuously, the mind will be able to keep its stance
continuously as well. As soon as the thought occurs to you to check
things out, you'll immediately stop to look, stop to know, without any
need to go searching for knowledge from anywhere else. You look, you
know, right there at the mind, and can tell whether or not it's empty
and still. Once you see that it is, then you investigate to see
//how// it's empty, //how// it's still. It's not the case that once
it's empty, that's the end of the matter; once it's still, that's the
end of the matter. //That's not the case at all//. You have to keep
watch of things, you have to investigate at all times. Only then will
you see the changing -- the arising and disbanding -- occurring in
that emptiness, that stillness, that state of normalcy.
January 14, 1964
* * *
THE DETAILS OF PAIN
To lead your daily life by keeping constant supervision over the
mind is a way of learning what life is for. It's a way of learning how
we can act so as to rid ourselves more and more of suffering and
stress -- because the suffering and stress caused by defilement,
attachment, and craving are sure to take all sorts of forms. Only by
being aware with true mindfulness and discernment can we comprehend
them for what they are. Otherwise we'll simply live obliviously, going
wherever events will lead us. This is why mindfulness and discernment
are tools for reading yourself, for testing yourself within so that
you won't be careless or complacent, oblivious to the fact that
suffering is basically what life is all about.
This point is something we really have to comprehend so that we
can live without being oblivious. The pains and discontent that fill
our bodies and minds all show us the truths of inconstancy, stress,
and not-selfness within us. If you contemplate what's going on inside
until you can get down to the details, you'll see the truths that
appear within and without, all of which come down to inconstancy,
stress, and not-selfness. But the delusion basic to our nature will
see everything wrongly -- as constant, easeful, and self -- and so
make us live obliviously, even though there is nothing to guarantee
how long our lives will last.
Our dreams and delusions make us forget that we live in the midst
of a mass of pain and stress -- the stress of defilements, the pain of
birth. Birth, ageing, illness, and death: All of these are painful and
stressful, in the midst of instability and change. They're things we
have no control over, for they must circle around in line with the
laws of //kamma// and the defilements we've been amassing all along.
Life that floats along in the round of rebirth is thus nothing but
stress and pain.
If we can find a way to develop our mindfulness and discernment,
they'll be able to cut the round of rebirth so that we won't have to
keep wandering on. They'll help us know that birth is painful, ageing
is painful, illness is painful, death is painful, and that these are
all things that defilement, attachment, and craving keep driving
through the cycles of change.
So as long as we have the opportunity, we should study the truths
appearing throughout our body and mind -- and we'll come to know that
the elimination of stress and pain, the elimination of defilement, is
a function of our practice of the Dhamma. If we don't practice the
Dhamma, we'll keep floating along in the round of rebirth that is so
drearily repetitious -- repetitious in its birth, ageing, illness, and
death, driven on by defilement, attachment, and craving, causing us
repeated stress and pain. Living beings for the most part don't know
where these stresses and pains come from or what they come from,
because they've never studied them, never contemplated them, so they
stay stupid and deluded, wandering on and on without end....
If we can stop and be still, the mind will have a chance to be
free, to contemplate its sufferings and let them go. This will give it
a measure of peace, because it will no longer want anything out of the
round of rebirth since it sees that there's nothing lasting to it,
that it's simply stress over and over again. Whatever you grab hold of
is stress. This is why you need mindfulness and discernment to know
and see things for yourself, so that you can supervise the mind and
keep it calm, without letting it fall victim to temptation.
This practice is something of the highest importance. People who
don't study or practice the Dhamma have wasted their birth as human
beings, because they're born deluded and simply stay deluded. But if
we study the Dhamma, we'll become wise to suffering and know the path
of practice for freeing ourselves from it....
Once we follow the right path, the defilements won't be able to
drag us around, won't be able to burn us, because //we're// the ones
burning //them// away. We'll come to realize that the more we can burn
them away, the more strength of mind we'll gain. If we let the
defilements burn us, the mind will be sapped of its strength, which is
why this is something you have to be very careful about. Keep trying
to burn away the defilements in your every activity, and you'll be
storing up strength for your mindfulness and discernment so that
they'll be brave in dealing with all sorts of suffering and pain.
You must come to see the world as nothing but stress. There's no
real ease to it at all. The awareness we gain from mindfulness and
discernment will make us disenchanted with life in the world because
it will see things for what they are in every way, both within us and
The entire world is nothing but an affair of delusion, an affair
of suffering. People who don't know the Dhamma, don't practice the
Dhamma -- no matter what their status or position in life -- lead
deluded, oblivious lives. When they fall ill or are about to die,
they're bound to suffer enormously because they haven't taken the time
to understand the defilements that burn their hearts and minds in
everyday life. Yet if we make a constant practice of studying and
contemplating ourselves as our everyday activity, it will help free us
from all sorts of suffering and distress. And when this is the case,
how can we //not// want to practice?
Only intelligent people, though, will be able to stick with the
practice. Foolish people won't want to bother. They'd much rather
follow the defilements than burn them away. To practice the Dhamma you
need a certain basic level of intelligence -- enough to have seen at
least //some//thing of the stresses and sufferings that come from
defilement. Only then can your practice progress. And no matter how
difficult it gets, you'll have to keep practicing on to the end.
This practice isn't something you do from time to time, you know.
You have to keep at it continuously throughout life. Even if it
involves so much physical pain or mental anguish that tears are
bathing your cheeks, you have to keep with the chaste life because
you're playing for real. If you don't follow the chaste life, you'll
get mired in heaps of suffering and flame. So you have to learn your
lessons from pain. Try to contemplate it until you can understand it
and let it go, and you'll gain one of life's greatest rewards.
Don't think that you were born to gain this or that level of
comfort. You were born to study pain and the causes of pain, and to
follow the practice that frees you from pain. This is the most
important thing there is. Everything else is trivial and unimportant.
What's important all lies with the practice.
* * *
Don't think that the defilements will go away easily. When they
don't come in blatant forms, they come in subtle ones -- and the
dangers of the subtle ones are hard to see. Your contemplation will
have to be subtle, too, if you want to get rid of them. You'll come to
realize that this practice of the Dhamma, in which we contemplate to
get to the details inside us, is like sharpening our tools so that
when stress and suffering arise we can weaken them and cut them away.
If your mindfulness and discernment are brave, the defilements will
have to lose out to them. But if you don't train your mindfulness and
discernment to be brave, the defilements will crush you to pieces.
//We were born to do battle with the defilements and to
strengthen our mindfulness and discernment//. We'll find that the
worth of our practice will grow higher and higher because in our
everyday life we've done continuous battle with the stresses and pains
caused by defilement, craving, and temptation all along -- so that the
defilements will grow thin and our mindfulness and discernment
stronger. We'll sense within ourselves that the mind isn't as troubled
and restless as it used to be. It's grown peaceful and calm. The
stresses and sufferings of defilement, attachment, and craving have
grown weaker. Even though we haven't yet wiped them out completely,
they've grown continually weaker -- because we don't feed them. We
don't give them shelter. We do what we can to weaken them so that they
grow thinner and thinner each time.
And we have to be brave in contemplating stress and pain, because
when we don't feel any great suffering we tend to get complacent. But
when the pains and sufferings in our body and mind grow sharp and
biting, we have to use our mindfulness and discernment to be strong.
//Don't let your spirits be weak//. Only then will you be able to do
away with your sufferings and pains.
We have to learn our lessons from pain so that ultimately the
mind can gain its freedom from it, instead of being weak and losing
out to it all of the time. We have to be brave in doing battle with it
to the ultimate extreme -- until we reach the point where we can let
it go. Pain is something that's always present in this conglomerate of
body and mind. It's here for us to see with every moment. If we
contemplate it till we know all its details, we can then make it our
sport: seeing that the pain is the pain of natural conditions and not
//our// pain. This is something we have to research so as to get to
the details: //that it's not our pain,// it's the pain of the
aggregates [form, feeling, perception, thought-formations, and
consciousness]. Knowing in this way means that we can separate out the
properties -- the properties of matter and those of the mind -- to see
how they interact with one another, how they change. It's something
really fascinating....Watching pain is a way of building up lots of
mindfulness and discernment.
But if you focus on pleasure and ease, you'll simply stay deluded
like people in general. They get carried away with the pleasure that
comes from watching or listening to the things they like -- but then
when pain comes to their bodies and minds to the point where tears are
bathing their cheeks, think of how much they suffer! And then they
have to be parted from their loved ones, which makes it even worse.
But those of us who practice the Dhamma don't need to be deluded like
that, because we know and see with every moment that only stress
arises, only stress persists, only stress passes away. Aside from
stress, nothing arises; aside from stress, nothing passes away. This
is there for us to perceive with every moment. If we contemplate it,
we'll see it.
So we can't let ourselves be oblivious. This is what the truth
is, and we have to study it so as to know it -- especially in our life
of the practice. We have to contemplate stress all the time to see its
every manifestation. The arahants live without being oblivious because
they know the truth at all times, and their hearts are clean and pure.
As for us with our defilements, we have to keep trying, because if we
continually supervise our mind with mindfulness and discernment, we'll
be able to keep the defilements from making it dirty and obscured.
Even if it does become obscured in any way, we'll be able to remove
that obscurity and make the mind empty and free.
This is the practice that weakens all the defilements,
attachments, and cravings within us. It's because of this practice of
the Dhamma that our lives will become free. So I ask you to keep
working at the practice without being complacent, because if in
whatever span of life is left to you, you keep trying to the full
extent of your abilities, you'll gain the mindfulness and discernment
to see the facts within yourself, and be able to let go -- free from
any sense of self, free from any sense of self -- continuously.
December 28, 1972
* * *
AWARE RIGHT AT AWARENESS
The mind, if mindfulness and awareness are watching over it,
won't meet with any suffering as the result of its actions. If
suffering //does// arise, we'll immediately be aware of it and able to
put it out. This is one point of the practice we can work at
constantly. And we can test ourselves by seeing how refined and subtle
our all-around awareness is inside the mind. Whenever the mind slips
away and goes out to receive external sensory contact: Can it maintain
its basic stance of mindfulness or internal awareness? The practice we
need to work at in our everyday life is to have constant mindfulness,
constant all-around present awareness like this. This is something we
work at in every posture: sitting, standing, walking, and lying down.
Make sure that your mindfulness stays continuous.
Living in this world -- the mental and physical phenomena of
these five aggregates -- gives us plenty to contemplate. We must try
to watch them, to contemplate them, so that we can understand them --
because the truths we must learn how to read in this body and mind are
here to be read with every moment. We don't have to get wrapped up
with any other extraneous themes, because all the themes we need are
right here in the body and mind. As long as we can keep the mind
constantly aware all around, we can contemplate them.
If you contemplate mental and physical events to see how they
arise and disband right in the here and now, and don't get involved
with external things -- like sights making contact with the eyes, or
sounds with the ears -- then there really aren't a lot of issues. The
mind can be at normalcy, at equilibrium -- calm and undisturbed by
defilement or the stresses that come from sensory contact. It can look
after itself and maintain its balance. You'll come to sense that if
you're aware right at awareness in and of itself, without going out to
get involved in external things like the mental labels and thoughts
that will tend to arise, the mind will see their constant arising and
disbanding -- and won't be embroiled in anything. This way it can be
disengaged, empty, and free. But if it goes out to label things as
good or evil, as me or mine, or gets attached to anything, it'll
become unsettled and disturbed.
You have to know that if the mind can be still, totally and
presently aware, and capable of contemplating with every activity,
then blatant forms of suffering and stress will dissolve away. Even if
they start to form, you can be alert to them and disperse them
immediately. Once you see this actually happening -- even in only the
beginning stages -- it can disperse a lot of the confusion and turmoil
in your heart. In other words, don't let yourself dwell on the past or
latch onto thoughts of the future. As for the events arising and
passing away in the present, you have to leave them alone. Whatever
your duties, simply do them as you have to -- and the mind won't get
worked up about anything. It will be able, to at least some extent, to
be empty and still.
This one thing is something you have to be very careful about.
You have to see this for yourself: //that if your mindfulness and
discernment are constantly in charge, the truths of the arising and
disbanding of mental and physical phenomena are always there for you
to see,// always there for you to know. If you look at the body,
you'll have to see it simply as physical properties. If you look at
feelings, you'll have to see them as changing and inconstant:
pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain. To see these things is to
see the truth within yourself. Don't let yourself get caught up with
your external duties. Simply keep watch in this way inside. If your
awareness is the sort that lets you read yourself correctly, the mind
will be able to stay at normalcy, at equilibrium, at stillness,
without any resistance.
If the mind can stay with itself and not go out looking for
things to criticize or latch onto, it can maintain a natural form of
stillness. So this is something we have to try for in our every
activity. Keep your conversations to a minimum, and there won't be a
whole lot of issues. Keep watch right at the mind. When you keep watch
at the mind and your mindfulness is continuous, your senses can stay
Being mindful to keep watch in this way is something you have to
work at. Try it and see: Can you keep this sort of awareness
continuous? What sort of things can still get the mind engaged? What
sorts of thoughts and labels of good and bad, me and mine does it
think up? Then look to see if these things arise and disband.
The sensations that arise from external contact and internal
contact all have the same sorts of characteristics. You have to look
till you can see this. If you know how to look, you'll see it -- and
the mind will grow calm.
So the point we have to practice in this latter stage doesn't
have a whole lot of issues. There's nothing you have to do, nothing
you have to label, nothing you have to think a whole lot about. Simply
look carefully and contemplate, and in this very lifetime you'll have
a chance to be calm and at peace, to know yourself more profoundly
within. You'll come to see that the Dhamma is amazing //right here in
your own heart//. Don't go searching for the Dhamma outside, for it
lies within. Peace lies within, but we have to contemplate so that
we're aware all around -- subtly, deep down. If you look just on the
surface, you won't understand anything. Even if the mind is at
normalcy on the ordinary, everyday level, you won't understand much of
anything at all.
You have to contemplate so that you're aware all around in a
skillful way. The word "skillful" is something you can't explain with
words, but you can know for yourself when you see the way in which
awareness within the heart becomes special, when you see what this
special awareness is about. This is something you can know for
And there's not really much to it: simply arising, persisting,
disbanding. Look until this becomes plain -- really, really plain --
and everything disappears. All suppositions, all conventional
formulations, all those aggregates and properties get swept away,
leaving nothing but awareness pure and simple, not involved with
anything at all -- and there's nothing you have to do to it. Simply
stay still and watch, be aware, letting go with every moment.
Simply watching this one thing is enough to do away with all
sorts of defilements, all sorts of suffering and stress. If you don't
know how to watch it, the mind is sure to get disturbed. It's sure to
label things and concoct thoughts. As soon as there's contact at the
senses, it'll go looking for things to latch onto, liking and
disliking the objects it meets in the present and then getting
involved with the past and future, spinning a web to entangle itself.
If you truly look at each moment in the present, there's really
nothing at all. You'll see with every mental moment that things
disband, disband, disband -- really nothing at all. The important
point is that you don't go forming issues out of nothing. The physical
elements perform their duties in line with their elementary physical
nature. The mental elements keep sensing in line with their own
affairs. But our stupidity is what goes looking for issues to cook up,
to label, to think about. It goes looking for things to latch onto and
then gets the mind into a turmoil. This point is all we really have to
see for ourselves. This is the problem we have to solve for ourselves.
If things are left to their nature, pure and simple, there's no "us,"
no "them." This is a singular truth that will arise for us to know and
see. There's nothing else we can know or see that can match it in any
way. Once you know and see this one thing, it extinguishes all
suffering and stress. The mind will be empty and free, with no
meanings, no attachments, for anything at all.
This is why looking inward is so special in so many ways.
Whatever arises, simply stop still to look at it. Don't get excited by
it. If you become excited when any special intuitions arise when the
mind is still, you'll get the mind worked up into a turmoil. If you
become afraid that this or that will happen, that too will get you in
a turmoil. So you have to stop and look, stop and know. The first
thing is simply to look. The first thing is simply to know. And don't
latch onto what you know -- because whatever it is, it's simply a
phenomenon that arises and disbands, arises and disbands, changing as
part of its nature.
So your awareness has to take a firm stance right at the mind in
and of itself. In the beginning stages you have to know that when
mindfulness is standing firm, the mind won't be affected by the
objects of sensory contact. Keep working at maintaining this stance,
holding firm to this stance. If you gain a sense of this for yourself,
really knowing and seeing for yourself, your mindfulness will become
even more firm. If anything arises in any way at all, you'll be able
to let it go -- and all the many troubles and turmoils of the mind
will dissolve away.
If mindfulness slips and the mind goes out giving meanings to
anything, latching onto anything, troubles will arise, so you have to
keep checking on this with every moment. There's nothing else that's
so worth checking on. You have to keep check on the mind in and of
itself, contemplating the mind in and of itself. Or else you can
contemplate the body in and of itself, feelings in and of themselves,
or the phenomenon of arising and disbanding -- i.e., the Dhamma -- in
and of itself. All of these things are themes you can keep track of
entirely within yourself. You don't have to keep track of a lot of
themes, because having a lot of themes is what will make you restless
and distracted. First you'll practice this theme, then you'll practice
that, then you'll make comparisons, all of which will keep the mind
from growing still.
If you can take your stance at awareness, if you're skilled at
looking, the mind can be at peace. You'll know how things arise and
disband. First practice keeping awareness right within yourself so
that your mindfulness can be firm, without being affected by the
objects of sensory contact, so that it won't label things as good or
bad, pleasing or displeasing. You have to keep checking to see that
when the mind can be at normalcy, centered and neutral as its primary
stance, then -- whatever it knows or sees -- it will be able to
contemplate and let go.
The sensations in the mind that we explain at such length are
still on the level of labels. Only when there can be //awareness right
at awareness// will you really be able to know that the mind that is
aware of awareness in this way doesn't send its knowing outside of
this awareness. There are no issues. Nothing can be concocted in the
mind when it knows in this way. In other words,
All outward-going knowing
The only thing you have to work at maintaining is the state of
mind at normalcy -- knowing, seeing, and still in the present. If you
don't maintain it, if you don't keep looking after it, then when
sensory contact comes it will have an effect. The mind will go out
with labels of good and bad, liking and disliking. So make sure you
maintain the basic awareness that's aware right at yourself. And don't
let there be any labeling. No matter what sort of sensory contact
comes, you have to make sure that this awareness comes first.
If you train yourself correctly in this way, everything will
stop. You won't go straying out through your senses of sight, hearing,
etc. The mind will stop and look, stop and be aware right at
awareness, so as to know the truth that all things arise and disband.
There's no real truth to anything. Only our stupidity is what latches
onto things, giving them meanings and then suffering for it --
suffering because of its ignorance, suffering because of its
unacquaintance with the five aggregates -- form, feelings,
perceptions, thought-formations, and consciousness-- all of which are
inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
Use mindfulness to gather your awareness together, and the mind
will stop getting unsettled, stop running after things. It will be
able to stop and be still. Then make it know in this way, see in this
way //constantly// -- at every moment, with every activity. Work at
watching and knowing the mind in and of itself: That will be enough to
cut away all sorts of issues. You won't have to concern yourself with
If the body is in pain, simply keep watch of it. You can simply
keep watch of feelings in the body because the mind that's aware of
itself in this way can keep watch of anything within or without. Or it
can simply be aware of itself to the point where it lets go of things
outside, lets go of sensory contact, and keeps constant watch on the
mind in and of itself. That's when you'll know that this is what the
mind is like when it's at peace: It doesn't give meanings to anything.
It's the emptiness of the mind unattached, uninvolved, unconcerned
with anything at all.
These words - unattached, uninvolved, and unconcerned -- are
things you have to consider carefully, because what they refer to is
subtle and deep. "Uninvolved" means uninvolved with sensory contact,
undisturbed by the body or feelings. "Unconcerned" means not worried
about past, future, or present. You have to contemplate these things
until you know them skillfully. Even though they're subtle, you have
to contemplate them until you know them thoroughly. And don't go
concerning yourself with external things, because they'll keep you
unsettled, keep you running, keep you distracted with labels and
thoughts of good and bad and all that sort of thing. You have to put a
stop to these things. If you don't, your practice won't accomplish
anything, because these things keep playing up to you and deceiving
you -- i.e., once you see anything, it will fool you into seeing it as
right, wrong, good, bad, and so forth.
Eventually you have to come down to the awareness that everything
simply arises, persists, and then disbands. //Make sure stay focused
on the disbanding//. If you watch just the arising, you may get
carried off on a tangent, but if you focus on the disbanding you'll
see emptiness: Everything is disbanding every instant. No matter what
you look at, no matter what you see, it's there for just an instant
and then disbands. Then it arises again. Then it disbands. There's
simply arising, knowing, disbanding.
So let's watch what happens of its own accord -- because the
arising and disbanding that occurs by way of the senses is something
that happens of its own accord. You can't prevent it. You can't force
it. If you look and know it without attachment, there will be none of
the harm that comes from joy or sorrow. The mind will stay in relative
normalcy and neutrality. But if you're forgetful and start latching
on, labeling things in pairs in any way at all -- good and bad, happy
and sad, pleasing and displeasing -- the mind will become unsettled:
no longer empty, no longer still. When this happens you have to probe
on in to know why.
All the worthless issues that arise in the mind have to be cut
away. Then you'll find that you have less and less to say, less and
less to talk about, less and less to think about. These things grow
less and less on their own. They stop on their own. But if you get
involved in a lot of issues, the mind won't be able to stay still.
//So we have to keep watching things that are completely worthless and
without substance,// to see that they're not-self. Keep watching them
repeatedly, because your awareness, coupled with the mindfulness and
discernment that will know the truth, has to see that, "This isn't my
self. There's no substance or worth to it at all. It simply arises and
disbands right here. It's here for just an instant and then it
All we have to do is stop and look, stop and know clearly in this
way, and we'll be able to do away with many, many kinds of suffering
and stress. The normal stress of the aggregates will still occur -- we
can't prevent it -- but we'll know that it's the stress of nature and
won't latch onto it as ours.
So we keep watch of things that happen on their own. If we know
how to watch, we keep watching things that happen on their own. Don't
latch onto them as being you or yours. Keep this awareness firmly
established in itself, as much as you can, and there won't be much
else you'll have to remember or think about.
When you keep looking, keep knowing like this at all times,
you'll come to see that there are no big issues going on. There's just
the issue of arising, persisting, and disbanding. You don't have to
label anything as good or bad. If you simply look in this way, it's no
great weight on the heart. But if you go dragging in issues of good
and bad, self and all that, then suffering starts in a big way. The
defilements start in a big way and weigh on the heart, making it
troubled and upset. So you have to stop and look, stop and investigate
really deep down inside. It's like water covered with duckweed: Only
when we take our hand to part the duckweed and take a look will we see
that the water beneath it is crystal clear.
As you look into the mind, you have to part it, you have to stop:
stop thinking, stop labeling things as good or bad, stop everything.
You can't go branding anything. Simply keep looking, keep knowing.
When the mind is quiet you'll see that there's nothing there.
Everything is all still. Everything has all stopped inside. But as
soon as there's labeling, even in the stillness, the stopping, the
quiet, it will set things in motion. And as soon as things get set
into motion, and you don't know how to let go right from the start,
issues will arise, waves will arise. Once there are issues and waves,
they strike the mind and it goes splashing all out of control. This
splashing of the mind includes craving and defilement as well, because
//avijja// -- ignorance -- lies at its root....
Our major obstacle is this aggregate of perceptions, of labels.
If we aren't aware of the arising and disbanding of perceptions, these
labels will take hold. Perceptions are the chief instigators that
label things within and without, so we have to be aware of their
arising and disbanding. Once we're aware in this way, perceptions will
no longer function as a cause of suffering. In other words, they won't
give rise to any further thought-formations. The mind will be aware in
itself and able to extinguish these things in itself.
So we have to stop things at the level of perception. If we
don't, thought-formations will fashion things into issues and then
cause consciousness to wobble and waver in all sorts of ways. But
these are things we can stop and look at, things we can know with
every mental moment....If we aren't yet really acquainted with the
arising and disbanding in the mind, we won't be able to let go. We can
talk about letting go, but we can't do it because we don't yet know.
As soon as anything arises we grab hold of it -- even when actually
it's already disbanded, but since we don't really see, we don't
So I ask that you understand this basic principle. Don't go
grasping after this thing or that, or else you'll get yourself all
unsettled. The basic theme is within: look on in, keep knowing on in
until you penetrate everything. The mind will then be free from
turmoil. Empty. Quiet. Aware. So keep continuous watch of the mind in
and of itself, and you'll come to the point where you simply run out
of things to say. Everything will stop on its own, grow still on its
own, //because the underlying condition that has stopped and is still
is already there,// simply that we aren't aware of it yet.
November 3, 1975
* * *
THE PURE PRESENT
We have to catch sight of the sensation of knowing when the mind
gains knowledge of anything and yet isn't aware of itself, to see how
it latches onto things -- physical form, feeling, perceptions,
thought-formations, and consciousness. We have to probe on in and look
on our own. We can't use the teachings we've memorized to catch sight
of these things. That won't get us anywhere at all. We may remember,
"The body is inconstant," but even though we can say it, we can't see
We have to focus on in to see exactly //how// the body is
inconstant, to see how it changes. And we have to focus on feelings --
pleasant, painful, and neutral -- to see how they change. The same
holds true with perceptions, thought-formations, and so forth: We have
to focus on them, investigate them, contemplate them to see their
characteristics //as they actually are//. Even if you can see these
things for only a moment, it'll do you a world of good. You'll be able
to catch yourself: The things you thought you knew, you didn't really
know at all....This is why the knowledge we gain in the practice has
to keep changing through many, many levels. It doesn't stay on just
So even when you're able to know arising and disbanding with
every moment right in the present: If your contemplation isn't
continuous, it won't be very clear.
You have to know how to contemplate the bare sensation of arising
and disbanding, simply arising and disbanding, without any labels of
"good" or "bad." Just keep with the pure sensation of arising and
disbanding. When you do this, other things will come to intrude -- but
no matter how they intrude, it's still a matter of arising and
disbanding, so you can keep your stance with arising and disbanding in
If you start labeling things, it gets confusing. All you need to
do is keep looking at the right spot: the bare sensation of arising
and disbanding. Simply make sure you really keep watch of it. Whether
there's awareness of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile
sensations, just stay with the sensation of arising and disbanding.
Don't go labeling the sight, sound, smell, taste, or tactile
sensation. If you can keep watch in this way, you're with the pure
present -- and there won't be any issues.
When you keep watch in this way, you're keeping watch on
inconstancy, on change, as it actually occurs -- because even the
arising and disbanding changes. It's not the same thing arising and
disbanding all the time. First this sort of sensation arises and
disbands, then that sort arises and disbands. If you keep watch on
bare arising and disbanding like this, you're sure to arrive at
insight. But if you keep watch with labels -- "That's the sound of a
cow," "That's the bark of a dog" -- you won't be watching the bare
sensation of sound, the bare sensation of arising and disbanding. As
soon as there's labeling, thought-formations come along with it. Your
senses of touch, sight, hearing, and so forth will continue their bare
arising and disbanding, but you won't know it. Instead, you'll label
everything: sights, sounds, etc., and then there will be attachments,
feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and you won't know the truth.
The truth keeps going along on its own. Sensations keep arising
and then disbanding. If we focus right here -- at the consciousness of
the bare sensation of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile
sensations, then we'll be able to gain insight quickly....
If we know how to observe things in this way, we'll be able to
see easily when the mind is provoked by passion or greed, and even
more easily when it's provoked by anger. As for delusion, that's
something more subtle...something you have to take a great interest in
and investigate carefully. You'll come to see all sorts of hidden
things -- how the mind is covered with many, many layers of film. It's
really fascinating. But then that's what insight meditation is for --
to open our eyes so that we can know and see, so that we can destroy
our delusion and ignorance.
June 3, 1964
* * *
THE DECEITS OF KNOWING
You have to find approaches for contemplating and probing at all
times so as to catch sight of the flickerings of awareness, to see in
what ways it streams out to know things. Be careful to catch sight of
it both when its knowing is right and when it's wrong. Don't mix
things up, taking wrong knowledge for right, or right knowledge for
wrong. This is something extremely important for the practice, this
question of right and wrong knowing, for these things can play tricks
When you gain any new insights, don't go getting excited. You
can't let yourself get excited by them at all, because it doesn't take
long for your insight to change -- to change right now, before your
very eyes. It's not going to change at some other time or place. It's
changing right now. You have to know how to observe, how to acquaint
yourself with the deceits of knowledge. //Even when it's correct
knowledge, you can't latch onto it//.
Even though we may have standards for judging what sort of
knowledge is correct in the course of our practice, don't go latching
onto correct knowledge -- because correct knowledge is inconstant. It
changes. It can turn into false knowledge, or into knowledge that is
even more correct. You have to contemplate things very carefully,
very, very carefully so that you won't fall for your knowledge,
thinking, "I've gained right insight; I know better than other people"
-- so that you won't start assuming yourself to be special. The moment
you assume yourself, your knowledge immediately turns wrong. Even if
you don't let things show outwardly, the mere mental event in which
the mind labels itself is a form of wrong knowing that obscures the
mind from itself in an insidious way.
This is why meditators who tend not to contemplate things, who
don't catch sight of the deceits of every form of knowledge -- right
and wrong, good and bad -- tend to get bogged down in their knowledge.
The knowledge that deceives them into thinking, "What I know is
right," gives rise to strong pride and conceit within them, without
their even realizing it.
This is because the defilements are always getting into the act
without our realizing it. They're insidious, and in their insidious
way they keep getting into the act as a matter of course, for the
defilements and mental effluents are still there in our character. Our
practice is basically a probing deep inside, from the outer levels of
the mind to the inner ones. This is an approach that requires a great
deal of subtlety and precision....//The mind has to use its own
mindfulness and discernment to dig everything out of itself, leaving
just the mind in and of itself, the body in and of itself, and then
keep watch of them//.
* * *
The basic challenge in the practice is this one point and nothing
else: //this problem of how to look inward so that you see clear
through//. If the mind hasn't been trained to look inward, it tends to
look outward, simply waiting to receive its objects from outside --
and all it gets is the confusion of its sensations going in and out,
in and out. And even though this confusion is one aspect of change and
inconstancy, we don't see it that way. Instead, we see it as issues,
good and bad, pertaining to the self. When this is the case, we're
back right where we started, not knowing what's what. This is why the
mind's sensations, when it isn't acquainted with itself, are so
secretive and hard to perceive. If you want to find out about them by
reading a lot of books, you end up piling more defilements onto the
mind, making it even more thickly covered than before.
So when you turn to look inward, you shouldn't use concepts and
labels to do your looking for you. If you use concepts and labels to
do your looking, there will be nothing but concepts arising, changing,
and disbanding. Everything will get all concocted into thoughts -- and
then how will you be able to watch in utter silence? The more you take
what you've learned from books to look inside yourself, the less
So whatever you've learned, when you come to the practice you
have to put all the labels and concepts you've gained from your
learning to one side. You have to make yourself an innocent beginner
once more. Only then will you be able to penetrate in to read the
truths within you. If you carry all the paraphernalia of the concepts
and standards you've gained from your learning to gauge things inside
you, you can search to your dying day and yet won't meet with any real
truths at all. This is why you have to hold to only one theme in your
practice. If the mind has lots of themes to concern itself with, it's
still just wandering around -- wandering around to know this and that,
going out of bounds without realizing it and not really wanting to
know itself. This is why those with a lot of learning like to teach
others, to show off their level of understanding. And this is
precisely how the desire to stand out keeps the mind obscured.
Of all the various kinds of deception, //there's none as bad as
deceiving yourself//. When you haven't yet really seen the truth, what
business do you have making assumptions about yourself, that you've
attained this or that sort of knowledge, or that you know enough to
teach others correctly? The Buddha is quite critical of teachers of
this sort. He calls them "people in vain." Even if you can teach large
numbers of people to become arahants, while you yourself haven't
tasted the flavor of the Dhamma, the Buddha says that you're a person
in vain. So you have to keep examining yourself. If you haven't yet
really trained yourself in the things you teach to others, how will
you be able to extinguish your own suffering?
Think about this for a moment. Extinguishing suffering, gaining
release from suffering: Aren't these subtle matters? Aren't they
completely personal within us? If you question yourself in this way,
you'll be on the right track. But even then you have to be careful. If
you start taking sides with yourself, the mind will cover itself up
with wrong insights and wrong opinions. If you don't observe really
carefully, you can get carried off on a tangent -- because the
awareness with which the mind reads itself and actually sees through
itself is something really extraordinary, really worth developing --
and it really eliminates suffering and defilement. This is the real,
honest truth, not a lot of propaganda or lies. It's something you
really have to practice, and then you'll really have to see clearly in
this way. When this is the case, how can you //not// want to practice?
If you examine yourself correctly in this way, you'll be able to
know what's real. But you have to be careful to examine yourself
correctly. If you start latching on to any sense of self, thinking
that you're better than other people, then you've failed the
examination. No matter how correct your knowledge, you have to keep
humble and respectful above all else. You can't let there be any pride
or conceit at all, or it will destroy everything.
This is why the awareness that eliminates the sense of self
depends more than anything else on your powers of observation -- to
check and see if there's still anything in your knowledge or opinions
that comes from the force of pride in any sense of self....You have to
use the full power of your mindfulness and discernment to cut these
things away. It's nothing you can play around at. If you gain a few
insights or let go of things a bit, don't go thinking you're anything
special. The defilements don't hold a truce with anyone. They keep
coming right out as they like. So you have to be circumspect and
examine things on all sides. Only then will you be able to benefit in
ways that make your defilements and sufferings lighter and lighter.
When we probe in to find the instigator -- the mind, or this
property of consciousness -- that's when we're on the right rack, and
our probing will keep getting results, will keep weakening the germs
of craving and wiping them out. In whatever way craving streams out,
for "being" or "having" in any way at all, we'll be able to catch
sight of it every time. To catch hold and examine this "being" and
"having" in this way, though, requires a lot of subtlety. If you
aren't really mindful and discerning, you won't be able to catch sight
of these things at all, because the mind is continually wanting to be
and to have. The germs of defilement lie hidden deep in the seed of
the mind, in this property of consciousness. Simply to be aware of
them skillfully is no mean feat -- so we shouldn't even //think// of
trying to wipe them out with our mere opinions. We have to keep
contemplating, probing on in, until things come together just right,
in a single moment, and then it's like reaching the basic level of
knowing that exists on its own, with no willing or intention at all.
//This is something that requires careful observation: the
difference between willed and unwilled knowing//. Sometimes there's
the intention to look and be aware within, but there come times when
there's no intention to look within, and yet knowledge arises on its
own. If you don't yet know, look at the intention to look inward: What
is it like? What is it looking for? What does it see? This is a basic
approach you have to hold to. This is a level you have to work at, and
one in which you have to make use of intention -- the intention to
look inward in this way....But once you reach the basic level of
knowing, then as soon as you happen to focus down and look within, the
knowledge will occur on its own.
January 29, 1964
* * *
SABBE DHAMMA ANATTA
One night I was sitting in meditation outside in the open air --
my back straight as an arrow -- firmly determined to make the mind
quiet, but even after a long time it wouldn't settle down. So I
thought, "I've been working at this for many days now, and yet my mind
won't settle down at all. It's time to stop being so determined and to
simply be aware of the mind." I started to take my hands and feet out
of the meditation posture, but at the moment I had unfolded one leg
but had yet to unfold the other, I could see that my mind was like a
pendulum swinging more and more slowly, more and more slowly -- until
Then there arose an awareness that was sustained by itself.
Slowly I put my legs and hands back into position. At the same time,
the mind was in a state of awareness absolutely and solidly still,
seeing clearly into the elementary phenomena of existence as they
arose and disbanded, changing in line with their nature -- and also
seeing a separate condition inside, with no arising, disbanding, or
changing, a condition beyond birth and death: something very difficult
to put clearly into words, because it was a realization of the
elementary phenomena of nature, completely internal and individual.
After a while I slowly got up and lay down to rest. This state of
mind remained there as a stillness that sustained itself deep down
inside. Eventually the mind came out of this state and gradually
returned to normal.
From this I was able to observe how practice consisting of
nothing but fierce desire simply upsets the mind and keeps it from
being still. But when one's awareness of the mind is just right, an
inner awareness will arise naturally of its own accord. Because of
this clear inner awareness, I was able to continue knowing the facts
of what's true and false, right and wrong from that point on, and it
enabled me to know that the moment when the mind let go of everything
was a clear awareness of the elementary phenomena of nature, because
it was an awareness that knew within and saw within of its own accord
-- not something you can know or see by wanting.
For this reason the Buddha's teaching, //"Sabbe dhamma anatta//
-- All phenomena are not-self," tells us not to latch onto //any// of
the phenomena of nature, whether conditioned or unconditioned. From
that point on I was able to understand things and let go of
attachments step by step.
July 9, 1971
* * *
GOING OUT COLD
It's important to realize how to focus on events in order to get
special benefits from your practice. //You have to focus so as to
observe and contemplate, not simply to make the mind still//. Focus on
//how// things arise, how they disband. Make your focus subtle and
When you're aware of the characteristics of your sensations, then
-- if it's a physical sensation -- contemplate that physical
sensation. There will have to be a feeling of stress. Once there's a
feeling of stress, how will you be aware of it simply as a feeling so
that it won't lead to anything further? Once you can be aware of it
simply as a feeling, it stops right there without producing any taste
in terms of a desire for anything. The mind will disengaged right
there -- right there at the feeling. If you don't focus on it in this
way, craving will arise on top of the feeling -- craving to attain
ease and be rid of the stress and pain. If you don't focus on the
feeling in the proper way right from the start, craving will arise
before you're aware of it, and if you then try to let go of it, it'll
be very tiring....
The way in which preoccupations take shape, the sensations of the
mind as it's aware of things coming with every moment, the way these
things change and disband: These are all things you have to focus on
to see clearly. This is why we make the mind disengaged. We don't
disengage it so that it doesn't know or amount to anything. That's not
the kind of disengagement we want. //The more the mind is truly
disengaged, the more it sees clearly into the characteristics of the
arising and disbanding within itself//. All I ask is that you observe
things carefully, that your awareness be all-around at all times. Work
at this as much as you can. If you can keep this sort of awareness
going, you'll find that the mind or consciousness under the
supervision of mindfulness and discernment in this way is different
from -- is opposite from -- unsupervised consciousness. It will be the
opposite sort of thing continually.
If you keep the mind well supervised so that it's sensitive in
the proper way, it will yield enormous benefits, not just small ones.
If you don't make it properly sensitive and aware, what can you expect
to gain from it?
When we say that we gain from the practice, we're not talking
about anything else: We're talking about gaining disengagement.
Freedom. Emptiness. Before, the mind was embroiled. Defilement and
craving attacked and robbed it, leaving it completely entangled. Now
it's disengaged, freed from the defilements that used to gang up to
burn it. Its desires for this or that thing, its concocting of this or
that thought, have all fallen away. So now it's empty and disengaged.
It can be empty in this way right before your very eyes. Try to see it
right now, before your eyes, right now as I'm speaking and you're
listening. Probe on in so as to know.
If you can be constantly aware in this way, you're following in
the footsteps or taking within you the quality called //"buddho,"//
which means one who knows, who is awake, who has blossomed in the
Dhamma. Even if you haven't fully blossomed -- if you've blossomed
only to the extent of disengaging from the blatant levels of craving
and defilement -- you still benefit a great deal, for when the mind
really knows the defilements and can let them go, it feels cool and
refreshed in and of itself. This is the exact opposite of the
defilements which, as soon as they arise, make us burn and smoulder
inside. If we don't have the mindfulness and discernment to help us
know, the defilements will burn us. But as soon as mindfulness and
discernment know, the fires go out -- and they go out cold.
Observe how the defilements arise and take shape -- they also
disband in quick succession, but when they disband on their own in
this way, go out on their own in this way, they go out hot. If we have
mindfulness and discernment watching over them, they go out cold. Look
so that you can see what the true knowledge of mindfulness and
discernment is like: It goes out; it goes out cold. As for the
defilements, even when they arise and disband in line with their
nature, they go out hot -- hot because we latch onto them, hot because
of attachment. When they go out cold, look again -- it's because
there's no attachment. They've been let go, put out.
This is something really worth looking into: the fact that
there's something very special like this in the mind -- //special in
that when it really knows the truth, it isn't attached//. It's
unentangled, empty, and free. This is how it's special. It can grow
empty of greed, anger, and delusion, step after step. It can be empty
of desire, empty of mental processes. The important thing is that you
really see for yourself that the true nature of the mind is that it
can be empty....This is why I said this morning that //nibbana//
doesn't lie anywhere else. It lies right here, right where things go
out and are cool, go out and are cool. It's staring us right in the
May 26, 1964
* * *
READING THE HEART
The Buddha taught that we are to know with our own hearts and
minds. Even though there are many, many words and phrases coined to
explain the Dhamma, we need focus only on the things we can know and
see, extinguish and let go right in each moment of the immediate
present -- better than taking on a load of other things. Once we can
read and comprehend our inner awareness, we'll be struck deep within
us that the Buddha awakened to the truth right here in the heart. His
truth is truly the language of the heart.
When they translate the Dhamma in all sorts of ways, it becomes
something ordinary. But if you keep close and careful watch right at
the heart and mind, you'll be able to see clearly, to let go, to put
down your burdens. If you don't know right here, your knowledge will
send out all sorts of branches, turning into thought-formations with
all sorts of meanings in line with conventional labels -- and all of
them way off the mark.
If you know right at your inner awareness and make it your
constant stance, there's nothing at all: no need to take hold of
anything, no need to label anything, no need to give anything names.
Right where craving arises, right where it disbands: That's where
you'll know what //nibbana// is like...."//Nibbana// is simply this
disbanding of craving." That's what the Buddha stressed over and over
March 15, 1974