LESSONS IN SAMADHI Groundwork July 30, 1956 If, when you're sitting, you aren't yet able t
LESSONS IN SAMADHI
* * *
July 30, 1956
If, when you're sitting, you aren't yet able to observe the breath,
tell yourself, 'Now I'm going to breathe in. Now I'm going to breathe
out.' In other words, at this stage you're the one doing the
breathing. You're not letting the breath come in and out as it
naturally would. If you can keep this in mind each time you breathe,
you'll soon be able to catch hold of the breath.
* * *
In keeping your awareness inside your body, don't try to imprison
it there. In other words, don't try to force the mind into a trance,
don't try to force the breath or hold it to the point where you feel
uncomfortable or confined. You have to let the mind have its freedom.
Simply keep watch over it to make sure that it stays separate from its
thoughts. If you try to force the breath and pin the mind down, your
body is going to feel restricted and you won't feel at ease in your
work. You'll start hurting here and aching there, and your legs may
fall asleep. So just let the mind be its natural self, keeping watch
to make sure that it doesn't slip out after external thoughts.
When we keep the mind from slipping out after its concepts, and
concepts from slipping into the mind, it's like closing our windows
and doors to keep dogs, cats, and thieves from slipping into our
house. What this means is that we close off our sense doors and don't
pay any attention to the sights that come in by way of the eyes, the
sounds that come in by way of the ears, the smells that come in by way
of the nose, the tastes that come in by way of the tongue, the tactile
sensations that come in by way of the body, and the preoccupations
that come in by way of the mind. We have to cut off all the
perceptions and concepts -- good or bad, old or new -- that come in by
way of these doors.
Cutting off concepts like this doesn't mean that we stop thinking.
It simply means that we bring our thinking inside to put it to good
use by observing and evaluating the theme of our meditation. If we put
our mind to work in this way, we won't be doing any harm to ourself or
to our mind. Actually, our mind tends to be working all the time, but
the work it gets involved in is usually a lot of fuss and bother
without any real substance. So we have to find work of real value for
it to do -- something that won't harm it, something really worth
doing. This is why we're doing breath meditation, focusing on our
breathing, focusing on our mind. Put aside all your other work and be
intent on doing just this and nothing else. This is the sort of
attitude you need when you meditate.
The Hindrances that come from our concepts of past and future are
like weeds growing in our field. They steal all the nutrients from the
soil so that our crops won't have anything to feed on and they make
the place look like a mess. They're of no use at all except as food
for the cows and other animals that come wandering through. If you let
your field get filled with weeds this way, your crops won't be able to
grow. In the same way, if you don't clear your mind of its
preoccupation with concepts, you won't be able to make your heart
pure. Concepts are food only for the ignorant people who think they're
delicious, but sages don't eat them at all.
The five Hindrances -- sensual desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy,
restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty -- are like different kinds of
weeds. Restlessness & anxiety is probably the most poisonous of the
lot, because it makes us distracted, unsettled, and anxious all at the
same time. It's the kind of weed with thorns and sharp-edged leaves.
If you run into it, you're going to end up with a stinging rash all
over your body. So if you come across it, destroy it. Don't let it
grow in your field at all.
Breath meditation -- keeping the breath steadily in mind -- is the
best method the Buddha taught for wiping out these Hindrances. We use
directed thought to focus on the breath, and evaluation to adjust it.
Directed thought is like a plow; evaluation, like a harrow. If we keep
plowing and harrowing our field, weeds won't have a chance to grow,
and our crops are sure to prosper and bear fruit.
The field here is our body. If we put a lot of thought and
evaluation into our breathing, the four properties of the body will be
balanced and at peace. The body will be healthy and strong, the mind
relaxed and wide open, free from Hindrances.
When you've got your field cleared and leveled like this, your
crops are sure to prosper. As soon as you bring the mind to the
breath, you'll feel a sense of rapture and refreshment. The four bases
of attainment (iddhipada) -- the desire to practice, persistence in
the practice, intentness, and circumspection in your practice -- will
develop step by step. These four qualities are like the ingredients in
a health tonic. Whoever takes this tonic will have a long life. If you
want to die, you don't have to take it, but if you don't want to die,
you have to take a lot. The more you take it, the faster the diseases
in your mind will disappear.
* * *
The Art of Letting Go
August 17, 1956
When you sit and meditate, even if you don't gain any intuitive
insights, make sure at least that you know this much: When the breath
comes in, you know. When it goes out, you know. When it's long, you
know. When it's short, you know. Whether it's pleasant or unpleasant,
you know. If you can know this much, you're doing fine. As for the
various thoughts and concepts (sanna) that come into the mind, brush
them away -- whether they're good or bad, whether they deal with the
past or the future. Don't let them interfere with what you're doing --
and don't go chasing after them to straighten them out. When a thought
of this sort comes passing in, simply let it go passing on. Keep your
awareness, unperturbed, in the present.
When we say that the mind goes here or there, it's not really the
mind that goes. Only concepts go. Concepts are like shadows of the
mind. If the body is still, how will its shadow move? The movement of
the body is what causes the shadow to move, and when the shadow moves,
how will you catch hold of it? Shadows are hard to catch, hard to
shake off, hard to set still. The awareness that forms the present:
That's the true mind. The awareness that goes chasing after concepts
is just a shadow. Real awareness -- 'knowing' -- stays in place. It
doesn't stand, walk, come, or go. As for the mind -- the awareness
that doesn't act in any way coming or going, forward or back -- it's
quiet and unperturbed. And when the mind is thus its normal, even,
undistracted self -- i.e., when it doesn't have any shadows -- we can
rest peacefully. But if the mind is unstable and uncertain, it wavers:
Concepts arise and go flashing out -- and we go chasing after them,
hoping to drag them back in. The chasing after them is where we go
wrong. This is what we have to correct. Tell yourself: Nothing is
wrong with your mind. Just watch out for the shadows.
You can't improve your shadow. Say your shadow is black. You can
scrub it with soap till your dying day, and it'll still be black --
because there's no substance to it. So it is with your concepts. You
can't straighten them out, because they're just images, deceiving you.
The Buddha thus taught that whoever isn't acquainted with the self,
the body, the mind, and its shadows, is suffering from avijja --
darkness, deluded knowledge. Whoever thinks the mind is the self, the
self is the mind, the mind is its concepts -- whoever has things all
mixed up like this -- is lost, like a person lost in the jungle. To be
lost in the jungle brings countless hardships. There are wild beasts
to worry about, problems in finding food to eat and a place to sleep.
No matter which way you look, there's no way out. But if we're lost in
the world, it's many times worse than being lost in the jungle,
because we can't tell night from day. We have no chance to find any
brightness because our minds are dark with avijja.
The purpose of training the mind to be still is to simplify things.
When things are simplified, we can see. The mind can settle down and
rest. And when the mind has rested, it'll gradually become bright, in
and of itself, and give rise to knowledge. But if we let things get
complicated -- if we let the mind get mixed up with sights, sounds,
smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas -- that's darkness.
Knowledge won't have a chance to arise.
When intuitive knowledge does arise, it can -- if you know how to
use it -- lead to liberating insight. But if you let yourself get
carried away by knowledge of the past or future, you won't get beyond
the mundane level. In other words, if you dabble too much in knowledge
of physical things, without gaining wisdom with regard to the workings
of the mind, it can leave you spiritually immature.
Say, for example, that a vision arises and you get hooked: You gain
knowledge of your past lives and get all excited. Things you never
knew before, now you can know. Things you never saw before, now you
see -- and they can make you overly pleased or upset. Why? Because you
take them all too seriously. You may see a vision of yourself
prospering as a lord or master, a great emperor or king, wealthy and
influential. If you let yourself feel pleased, that's indulgence in
pleasure. You've strayed from the Middle Path. Or you may see yourself
as something you wouldn't care to be: a pig or a dog, a bird or a rat,
crippled or deformed. If you let yourself get upset, that's indulgence
in self-affliction -- and again, you've strayed from the path. Some
people really let themselves get carried away: As soon as they start
seeing things, they begin to think that they're special, somehow
better than other people. They let themselves become proud and
conceited -- and the true path has disappeared without their even
knowing it. If you're not careful, this is where mundane knowledge can
But if you keep one principle firmly in mind, you can stay on the
right path: Whatever appears, good or bad, true or false, don't let
yourself feel pleased, don't let yourself get upset. Keep the mind
balanced and neutral, and discernment will arise. You'll see that the
vision or sign displays the truth of stress: it arises (is born),
fades (ages), and disappears (dies).
If you get hooked on your intuitions, you're asking for trouble.
Knowledge that proves false can hurt you. Knowledge that proves true
can really hurt you. If what you know is true, and you go telling
other people, you're bragging. If it turns out to be false, it can
backfire on you. This is why those who truly know say that knowledge
is the essence of stress: It can hurt you. Knowledge is part of the
flood of views and opinions (ditthi-ogha) over which we have to cross.
If you hang onto knowledge, you've gone wrong. If you know, simply
know, and let it go at that. You don't have to be excited or pleased.
You don't have to go telling other people.
People who've studied abroad, when they come back to the rice
fields, don't tell what they've learned to the folks at home. They
talk about ordinary things in an ordinary way. They don't talk about
the things they've studied because (1) no one would understand them;
(2) it wouldn't serve any purpose. Even with people who would
understand them, they don't display their learning. So it should be
when you practice meditation. No matter how much you know, you have to
act as if you know nothing, because this is the way people with good
manners normally act. If you go bragging to other people, it's bad
enough. If they don't believe you, it can get even worse.
So whatever you know, simply be aware of it and let it go. Don't
let there be the assumption that 'I know.' When you can do this, your
mind can attain the transcendent, free from attachment.
* * *
Everything in the world has its truth. Even things that aren't true
are true -- i.e., their truth is that they're false. This is why we
have to let go of both what's true and what's false. Once we know the
truth and can let it go, we can be at our ease. We won't be poor,
because the truth -- the Dhamma -- will still be there with us. We
won't be left empty-handed. It's like having a lot of money: Instead
of lugging it around with us, we keep it piled up at home. We may not
have anything in our pockets, but we're still not poor.
The same is true with people who really know. Even when they let go
of their knowledge, it's still there. This is why the minds of the
Noble Ones aren't left adrift. They let things go, but not in a
wasteful or irresponsible way. They let go like rich people: Even
though they let go, they've still got piles of wealth.
As for people who let things go like paupers, they don't know
what's worthwhile and what's not, and so they let it all go, throw it
all away. And when they do this, they're simply heading for disaster.
For instance, they may see that there's no truth to anything -- no
truth to the khandhas, no truth to the body, no truth to stress, its
cause, its disbanding, or the path to its disbanding, no truth to
Liberation. They don't use their brains at all. They're too lazy to do
anything, so they let go of everything, throw it all away. This is
called letting go like a pauper. Like a lot of modern-day sages: When
they come back after they die, they're going to be poor all over
As for the Buddha, he let go only of the true and false things that
appeared in his body and mind -- but he didn't abandon his body and
mind, which is why he ended up rich, with plenty of wealth to hand
down to his descendants. This is why his descendants never have to
worry about being poor.
So we should look to the Buddha as our model. If we see that the
khandhas are worthless -- inconstant, stressful, not-self, and all
that -- and simply let go of them by neglecting them, we're sure to
end up poor. Like a stupid person who feels so repulsed by a
festering sore on his body that he won't touch it and so lets it go
without taking care of it: There's no way the sore is going to heal.
As for intelligent people, they know how to wash their sores, put
medicine and bandages on them, so that eventually they're sure to
In the same way, when people see only the drawbacks to the
khandhas, without seeing their good side, and so let them go without
putting them to any worthwhile use, nothing good will come of it. But
if we're intelligent enough to see that the khandhas have their good
side as well as their bad, and then put them to good use by meditating
to gain discernment into physical and mental phenomena, we're going to
be rich. Once we have the truth -- the Dhamma -- as our wealth, we
won't suffer if we have money, and won't suffer if we don't, for our
minds will be transcendent.
* * *
At the Tip of Your Nose
August 26, 1957
If feelings of pain or discomfort arise while you're sitting in
meditation, examine them to see what they come from. Don't let
yourself be pained or upset by them. If there are parts of the body
that won't go as you'd like them to, don't worry about them. Let them
be -- because your body is the same as every other body, human or
animal, throughout the world: It's inconstant, stressful, and can't be
forced. So stay with whatever part does go as you'd like it to, and
keep it comfortable.
* * *
The body is like a tree: No tree is entirely perfect. At any one time
it'll have new leaves and old leaves, green leaves and yellow, fresh
leaves and dry. The dry leaves will fall away first, while those that
are fresh will slowly dry out and fall away later. Some of the
branches are long, some thick, and some small. The fruits aren't
evenly distributed. The human body isn't really much different from
this. Pleasure and pain aren't evenly distributed. The parts that ache
and those that are comfortable are randomly mixed. You can't rely on
it. So do your best to keep the comfortable parts comfortable. Don't
worry about the parts that you can't make comfortable.
It's like going into a house where the floorboards are beginning to
rot: If you want to sit down, don't choose a rotten spot. Choose a
spot where the boards are still sound. In other words, the heart
needn't concern itself with things that can't be controlled.
You can compare the body to a mango: If a mango has a rotten or a
wormy spot, take a knife and cut it out. Eat just the good part
remaining. If you're foolish enough to eat the wormy part, you're in
for trouble. Your body is the same, and not just the body -- the mind,
too, doesn't always go as you'd like it to. Sometimes it's in a good
mood, sometimes it's not. This is where you have to use as much
thought and evaluation as possible.
Directed thought and evaluation are like doing a job. The job here
is concentration: centering the mind. Focus the mind on a single
object and then, giving it your full attention, examine and reflect on
it. If you use a meager amount of thought and evaluation, your
concentration will give meager results. If you do a crude job, you'll
get crude results. If you do a fine job, you'll get fine results.
Crude results aren't worth much. Fine results are of high quality and
are useful in all sorts of ways -- like atomic radiation, which is so
fine that it can penetrate even mountains. Crude things are of low
quality and hard to use. Sometimes you can soak them in water all day
long and they still don't soften up. But as for fine things, all they
need is a little dampness in the air and they dissolve.
So it is with the quality of your concentration. If your thinking
and evaluation are subtle, thorough, and circumspect, your
'concentration work' will result in more and more stillness of mind.
If your thinking and evaluation are slipshod, you won't get much
stillness. Your body will ache, and you'll feel restless and
irritable. Once the mind can become very still, though, the body will
be comfortable and at ease. Your heart will feel open and clear. Pains
will disappear. The elements of the body will feel normal: The warmth
in your body will be just right, neither too hot nor too cold. As soon
as your work is finished, it'll result in the highest form of
happiness and ease: nibbana -- Liberation. But as long as you still
have work to do, your heart won't get its full measure of peace.
Wherever you go, there will always be something nagging at the back of
your mind. Once your work is done, though, you can be carefree
wherever you go.
If you haven't finished your job, it's because (1) you haven't set
your mind on it and (2) you haven't actually done the work. You've
shirked your duties and played truant. But if you really set your mind
on doing the job, there's no doubt but that you'll finish it.
Once you've realized that the body is inconstant, stressful, and
can't be forced, you shouldn't let your mind get upset or excited by
it. Keep your mind normal, on an even keel. 'Inconstant' means that it
changes. 'Stressful' doesn't refer solely to aches and pains. It
refers to pleasure as well -- because pleasure is inconstant and
undependable. A little pleasure can turn into a lot of pleasure, or
into pain. Pain can turn back into pleasure, and so on. (If we had
nothing but pain we would die.) So we shouldn't be all that concerned
about pleasure and pain. Think of the body as having two parts, like
the mango. If you focus your attention on the comfortable part, your
mind can be at peace. Let the pains be in the other part. Once you
have an object of meditation, you have a comfortable place for your
mind to stay. You don't have to dwell on your pains. You have a
comfortable house to live in: Why go sleep in the dirt?
We all want nothing but goodness, but if you can't tell what's good
from what's defiled, you can sit and meditate till your dying day and
never find nibbana at all. But if you can set your mind and keep your
mind on what you're doing, it's not all that hard. Nibbana is really a
simple matter because it's always there. It never changes. The affairs
of the world are what's hard because they're always changing and
uncertain. Today they're one way, tomorrow another. Once you've done
something, you have to keep looking after it. But you don't have to
look after nibbana at all. Once you've realized it, you can let it go.
Keep on realizing, keep on letting go -- like a person eating rice
who, after he's put the rice in his mouth, keeps spitting it out.
What this means is that you keep on doing good but don't claim it
as your own. Do good and then spit it out. This is viraga-dhamma:
disengagement. For most people in the world, once they've done
something, it's theirs -- and so they have to keep looking after it.
If they're not careful, it'll either get stolen or else wear out on
its own. They're headed for disappointment. Like a person who swallows
his rice: After he's eaten, he'll have to defecate. After he's
defecated he'll be hungry again, so he'll have to eat again and
defecate again. The day will never come when he's had enough. But with
nibbana you don't have to swallow. You can eat your rice and then spit
it out. You can do good and let it go. It's like plowing a field: The
dirt falls off the plow on its own. You don't need to scoop it up and
put it in a bag tied to your water buffalo's leg. Whoever is stupid
enough to scoop up the dirt as it falls off the plow and stick it in a
bag will never get anywhere. Either his buffalo will get bogged down,
or else he'll trip over the bag and fall flat on his face right there
in the middle of the field. The field will never get plowed, the rice
will never get sown, the crop will never get gathered. He'll have to
Buddho, our meditation word, is the name of the Buddha after his
Awakening. It means someone who has blossomed, who is awake, who has
suddenly come to his senses. For six long years before his Awakening,
the Buddha traveled about, searching for the truth from various
teachers, all without success. So he went off on his own and on a
full-moon evening in May sat down under the Bodhi tree, vowing not to
get up until he had attained the truth. Finally, toward dawn, as he
was meditating on his breath, he gained Awakening. He found what he
was looking for -- right at the tip of his nose.
Nibbana doesn't lie far away. It's right at our lips, right at the
tip of our nose. But we keep groping around and never find it. If
you're really serious about finding purity, set your mind on
meditation and nothing else. As for whatever else may come your way,
you can say, 'No thanks.' Pleasure? 'No thanks.' Pain? 'No thanks.'
Goodness? 'No thanks.' Evil? 'No thanks.' Attainment? 'No thanks.'
Nibbana? 'No thanks.' If it's 'no thanks' to everything, what will you
have left? You won't need to have anything left. That's nibbana. Like
a person without any money: How will thieves be able to rob him? If
you get money and try to hold onto it, you're going to get killed. If
this thief doesn't get you, that one will. Carry 'what's yours' around
till you're completely weighed down. You'll never get away.
In this world we have to live with both good and evil. People who
have developed disengagement are filled with goodness, and know evil
fully, but don't hold onto either, don't claim either as their own.
They put them aside, let them go, and so can travel light and easy.
Nibbana isn't all that difficult a matter. In the Buddha's time, some
people became arahants while going on their almsround, some while
urinating, some while watching farmers plowing a field. What's
difficult about the highest good lies in the beginning, in laying the
groundwork -- being constantly mindful, examining and evaluating your
breath at all times. But if you can keep at it, you're bound to
succeed in the end.
* * *
The Care & Feeding of the Mind
May 7, 1959
The breath is a mirror for the mind. If the mirror is abnormal, it
gives abnormal reflections. Say you look into a convex mirror: Your
reflection will be taller than you are. If you look in a concave
mirror, your reflection will be abnormally short. But if you look into
a mirror that's flat, smooth, and normal, it'll give you a true
reflection of yourself.
* * *
Knowing how to adjust the breath, putting it in good order, is
tantamount to putting the mind in good order as well and can give all
kinds of benefits -- like a good cook who knows how to vary the foods
she serves, sometimes changing the color, sometimes the flavor,
sometimes the shape, so that her employer will never grow tired of her
cooking. If she fixes the same thing all year around -- porridge
today, porridge tomorrow, porridge the next day -- her employer is
bound to go looking for a new cook. But if she knows how to vary her
offerings so that her employer is always satisfied, she's sure to get
a raise in her salary, or maybe a special bonus.
So it is with the breath. If you know how to adjust and vary the
breath -- if you're always thinking about and evaluating the breath --
you'll become thoroughly mindful and expert in all matters dealing
with the breath and the other elements of the body. You'll always know
how things are going with the body. Rapture, ease, and singleness of
preoccupation will come on their own. The body will be refreshed, the
mind content. Both body and mind will be at peace. All the elements
will be at peace, free from unrest and disturbances.
It's like knowing how to look after a small child. If the child
starts crying, you know when to give it milk or candy, when to give it
a bath, when to take it out for some air, when to put it in a playpen
and give it a doll to play with. In no time at all, the child will
stop crying, stop whining, and leave you free to finish whatever work
you have to do. The mind is like a small, innocent child. If you're
skilled at looking after it, it'll be obedient, happy, and contented,
and will grow day by day.
* * *
When the body and mind are full and content, they won't feel hungry.
They won't have to go opening up the pots and pans on the stove or
pace around looking out the windows and doors. They can sleep in peace
without any disturbances. Ghosts and demons -- the pains of the
khandhas -- won't come and possess them. This way we can be at our
ease, because when we sit, we sit with people. When we lie down, we
lie down with people. When we eat, we eat with people. When people
live with people, there's no problem; but when they live with ghosts
and demons, they're sure to squabble and never find any peace. If we
don't know how to evaluate and adjust our breathing, there's no way
our meditation will give any results. Even if we sit till we die, we
won't gain any knowledge or understanding at all.
There was once an old monk -- 70 years old, 30 years in the
monkhood -- who had heard good things about how I teach meditation and
so came to study with me. The first thing he asked was, 'What method
do you teach?'
'Breath meditation,' I told him. 'You know -- bud-dho, bud-dho.'
As soon as he heard that, he said, 'I've been practicing that
method ever since the time of Ajaan Mun -- buddho, buddho ever since I
was young -- and I've never seen anything good come of it. All it does
is buddho, buddho without ever getting anywhere at all. And now you're
going to teach me to buddho some more. What for? You want me to buddho
till I die?'
This is what happens when people have no sense of how to adjust and
evaluate their breathing: They'll never find what they're looking for
-- which is why adjusting and spreading the breath is a very important
part of doing breath meditation.
* * *
Getting to know yourself -- becoming acquainted with your body, your
mind, the elements (earth, water, fire, wind, space, and
consciousness), knowing what they come from, how they arise, how they
disband, how they're inconstant, stressful, and not-self: All of this
you have to find out by exploring on your own. If your knowledge
simply follows what's in books or what other people tell you, it's
knowledge that comes from labels and concepts, not from your own
discernment. It's not really knowledge. If you know only what other
people tell you, you're following them down a road -- and what could
be good about that? They might lead you down the wrong road. And if
the road is dusty, they might kick dust into your ears and eyes. So in
your search for the truth, don't simply believe what other people say.
Don't believe labels. Practice centering the mind until you gain
knowledge on your own. Only then will it be insight. Only then will it
* * *
'Just Right' Concentration
October 4, 1960
When you meditate, you have to think. If you don't think, you can't
meditate, because thinking forms a necessary part of meditation. Take
jhana, for instance. Use your powers of directed thought to bring the
mind to the object, and your powers of evaluation to be discriminating
in your choice of an object. Examine the object of your meditation
until you see that it's just right for you. You can choose slow
breathing, fast breathing, short breathing, long breathing, narrow
breathing, broad breathing; hot, cool, or warm breathing; a breath
that goes only as far as the nose, a breath that goes only as far as
the base of the throat, a breath that goes all the way down to the
heart. When you've found an object that suits your taste, catch hold
of it and make the mind one, focused on a single object. Once you've
done this, evaluate your object. Direct your thoughts to making it
stand out. Don't let the mind leave the object. Don't let the object
leave the mind. Tell yourself that it's like eating: Put the food in
line with your mouth, put your mouth in line with the food. Don't
miss. If you miss and go sticking the food in your ear, under your
chin, in your eye, or on your forehead, you'll never get anywhere in
So it is with your meditation. Sometimes the 'one' object of your
mind takes a sudden sharp turn into the past, back hundreds of years.
Sometimes it takes off into the future and comes back with all sorts
of things to clutter your mind. This is like taking your food,
sticking it up over your head, and letting it fall down behind you --
the dogs are sure to get it; or like bringing the food to your mouth
and then tossing it out in front of you. When you find this happening,
it's a sign that your mind hasn't been made snug with its object. Your
powers of directed thought aren't firm enough. You have to bring the
mind to the object and then keep after it to make sure it stays put.
Like eating: Make sure the food is in line with the mouth and stick it
right in. This is directed thought: The food is in line with the
mouth, the mouth is in line with the food. You're sure it's food and
you know what kind it is -- main course or dessert, coarse or refined.
Once you know what's what, and it's in your mouth, chew it right
up. This is evaluation: examining, reviewing your meditation.
Sometimes this comes under threshold concentration -- examining a
coarse object to make it more and more refined. If you find that the
breath is long, examine long breathing. If it's short, examine short
breathing. If it's slow, examine slow breathing -- to see if the mind
will stay with that kind of breathing, to see if that kind of
breathing will stay with the mind, to see whether or not the breath is
smooth and unhindered. This is evaluation.
When the mind gives rise to directed thought and evaluation, you
have both concentration and discernment. Directed thought and
singleness of preoccupation fall under the heading of concentration;
evaluation, under the heading of discernment. When you have both
concentration and discernment, the mind is still and knowledge can
arise. But if there's too much evaluation, it can destroy your
stillness of mind. If there's too much stillness, it can snuff out
thought. You have to watch over the stillness of your mind to make
sure you have things in the right proportions. If you don't have a
sense of 'just right,' you're in for trouble. If the mind is too
still, your progress will be slow. If you think too much, it'll run
away with your concentration.
So observe things carefully. Again, it's like eating. If you go
shoveling food into your mouth, you might end up choking to death. You
have to ask yourself: Is it good for me? Can I handle it? Are my teeth
strong enough? Some people have nothing but empty gums and yet they
want to eat sugar cane: It's not normal. Some people, even though
their teeth are aching and falling out, still want to eat crunchy
foods. So it is with the mind: As soon as it's just a little bit
still, we want to see this, know that -- we want to take on more than
we can handle. You first have to make sure that your concentration is
solidly based, that your discernment and concentration are properly
balanced. This point is very important. Your powers of evaluation have
to be ripe, your directed thought firm.
Say you have a water buffalo and tie it to a stake. If your buffalo
is strong, it just might walk away with the stake. You have to know
your buffalo's strength. If it's really strong, pound the stake so
that it's firmly in the ground and keep watch over it. In other words,
if you find that your thinking is getting out of hand, going beyond
the bounds of mental stillness, bring the mind back and make it extra
still -- but not so still that you lose track of things. If the mind
is too quiet, it's like being in a daze. You don't know what's going
on at all. Everything is dark, blotted out. Or else you have good
and bad spells, sinking out of sight and then popping up again. This
is concentration without directed thought or evaluation, with no sense
of judgment: Wrong Concentration.
So you have to be observant. Use your judgment -- but don't let
the mind get carried away by its thoughts. Your thinking is something
separate. The mind stays with the meditation object. Wherever your
thoughts may go spinning, your mind is still firmly based -- like
holding onto a post and spinning around and around. You can keep on
spinning, and yet it doesn't wear you out. But if you let go of the
post and spin around three times, you get dizzy and -- Bang! -- fall
flat on your face. So it is with the mind: If it stays with its one
object, it can keep thinking and not get tired, because your thinking
and stillness are right there together. The more you think, the more
solid your mind gets. The more you sit and meditate, the more you
think. The mind becomes more and more firm until all the Hindrances
(nivarana) fall away. The mind no longer goes looking for concepts.
Now it can give rise to knowledge.
The knowledge here isn't ordinary knowledge. It washes away your
old knowledge. You don't want the knowledge that comes from ordinary
thinking and reasoning: Let go of it. You don't want the knowledge
that comes from directed thought and evaluation: Stop. Make the mind
quiet. Still. When the mind is still and unhindered, this is the
essence of all that is good. When your mind is on this level, it
isn't attached to any concepts at all. All the concepts you've known
-- dealing with the world or the Dhamma, however many or few -- are
washed away. Only when they're washed away can new knowledge arise.
This is why you should let go of concepts -- all the labels and
names you have for things. You have to let yourself be poor. It's
when people are poor that they become resourceful. If you don't let
yourself be poor, you'll never gain discernment. In other words, you
don't have to be afraid of being stupid or of missing out on things.
You don't have to be afraid that you've hit a dead end. You don't
want any of the insights you've gained from listening to others or
from reading books, because they're concepts and therefore inconstant.
You don't want any of the insights you've gained by reasoning and
thinking, because they're concepts and therefore not-self. Let all
these insights disappear, leaving just the mind, firmly intent,
leaning neither to the left, toward being displeased; nor to the
right, toward being pleased. Keep the mind still, quiet, neutral,
impassive -- set tall. And there you are: Right Concentration.
When Right Concentration arises in the mind, it has a shadow. When
you can catch sight of the shadow appearing, that's vipassana:
The knowledge you gain from Right Concentration doesn't come in the
form of thoughts or ideas. It comes as Right Views. What looks wrong
to you is really wrong. What looks right is really right. If what
looks right is really wrong, that's Wrong View. If what looks wrong
is really right, again -- Wrong View. With Right View, though, right
looks right and wrong looks wrong.
To put it in terms of cause and effect, you see the four Noble
Truths. You see stress, and it really is stressful. You see the
cause of stress arising, and that it's really causing stress. These
are Noble Truths: absolutely, undeniably, indisputably true. You see
that stress has a cause. Once the cause arises, there has to be
stress. As for the way to the disbanding of stress, you see that the
path you're following will, without a doubt, lead to Liberation.
Whether or not you go all the way, what you see is correct. This is
Right View. And as for the disbanding of stress, you see that there
really is such a thing. You see that as long as you're on the path,
stress does in fact fall away. When you come to realize the truth of
these things in your heart, that's vipassana-nana.
To put it even more simply: You see that all things, inside as well
as out, are undependable. The body is undependable, ageing is
undependable, death is undependable. They're slippery characters,
constantly changing on you. To see this is to see inconstancy. Don't
let yourself be pleased by inconstancy. Don't let yourself be upset.
Keep the mind neutral, on an even keel. That's what's meant by
As for stress: Say we hear that an enemy is suffering. 'Glad to
hear it,' we think. 'Hope they hurry up and die.' The heart has
tilted. Say we hear that a friend has become wealthy, and we become
happy; or a son or daughter is ill, and we become sad. Our mind has
fallen in with suffering and stress. Why? Because we're unskilled.
The mind isn't centered -- i.e., it's not in Right Concentration. We
have to look after the mind. Don't let it fall in with stress.
Whatever suffers, let it suffer, but don't let the mind suffer with
it. The body may be in pain, but the mind isn't pained. Let the body
go ahead and suffer, but the mind doesn't suffer. Keep the mind
neutral. Don't be pleased by pleasure -- pleasure is a form of
stress, you know. How so? It can change. It can rise and fall. It
can be high and low. It can't last. That's stress. Pain is also
stress: double stress. When you gain this sort of insight into stress
-- when you really see stress -- vipassana has arisen in the mind.
As for anatta, not-self: Once we've examined things and seen them
for what they really are, we don't make claims, we don't display
influence, we don't try to show that we have the right or the power to
bring things that are not-self under our control. No matter how hard
we try, we can't prevent birth, ageing, illness, and death. If the
body is going to be old, let it be old. If it's going to hurt, let it
hurt. If it's going to die, let it die. Don't be pleased by death,
either your own or that of others. Don't be upset by death, your own
or that of others. Keep the mind neutral. Unruffled. Unfazed. This
is sankharupekkha-nana: letting sankharas -- all things fashioned,
conditioned, and caused -- follow their own inherent nature.
This, briefly, is vipassana: You see that all things fashioned are
inconstant, stressful, and not-self. You can disentangle them from
your grasp. You can let go. This is where it gets good. How so? You
don't have to wear yourself out, lugging sankharas around.
To be attached means to carry a load, and there are five heaps
(khandhas) we carry: attachment to physical phenomena, to feelings, to
concepts and labels, to to mental fashionings, and to sensory
consciousness. We grab hold and hang onto these things, thinking that
they're the self. Go ahead: Carry them around. Hang one load from
your left leg and one from your right. Put one on your left shoulder
and one on your right. Put the last load on your head. And now:
Carry them wherever you go -- clumsy, encumbered, and comical.
bhara have pancakkhandha
Go ahead and carry them. The five khandhas are a heavy load,
bharaharo ca puggalo
and as individuals we burden ourselves with them.
bharadanam dukkham loke
Carry them everywhere you go, and you waste your time
suffering in the world.
The Buddha taught that whoever lacks discernment, whoever is
unskilled, whoever doesn't practice concentration leading to
liberating insight, will have to be burdened with stress, will always
be loaded down. It's a pity. It's a shame. They'll never get away.
Their legs are burdened, their shoulders burdened -- and where are
they going? Three steps forward and two steps back. Soon they'll get
discouraged and then, after a while, they'll pick themselves up and
get going again.
Now, when we see inconstancy -- that all things fashioned, whether
within us or without, are undependable; when we see that they're
stressful; when we see that they're not our self, that they simply
whirl around in and of themselves: When we gain these insights, we can
put down our burdens, i.e., let go of our attachments. We can put
down the past -- i.e., stop dwelling in it. We can let go of the
future -- i.e., stop yearning for it. We can let go of the present --
i.e., stop claiming it as the self. Once we've let our burdens fall,
we can walk with a light step. We can even dance. We're beautiful.
Wherever we go, people will be glad to know us. Why? Because we're
not encumbered. Whatever we do, we can do with ease. We can walk,
run, dance, and sing -- all with a light heart. We're Buddhism's
beauty, a sight for sore eyes, graceful wherever we go. No longer
burdened, no longer encumbered, we can be at our ease. This is
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E-Mail Fredric L. Rice / The Skeptic Tank