THE ESSENTIAL PRACTICE
Dhamma Discourses of
Venerable Webu Sayadaw
Translated from the Burmese by
The Wheel Publication No. 375/376
Copyright 1991 Buddhist Publication Society
BUDDHIST PUBLICATION SOCIETY
KANDY SRI LANKA
* * *
DharmaNet Edition 1995
Transcription & Proofreading: Joe Crea
Proofreading & Formatting: John Bullitt
This electronic edition is offered for free distribution
via DharmaNet by arrangement with the publisher.
P.O. Box 4951, Berkeley CA 94704-4951
* * * * * * * *
The Webu Sayadaw was born on the sixth day of the waxing moon of
Tabaung of the Burmese year 1257 (17 February 1896) in Ingyinbin, a
small village near Shwebo in upper Burma. He was ordained as a novice
at the age of nine and was given the name Shin Kumara. At the age of
twenty, he was ordained as a full member of the Sangha, and was
thereafter addressed as U Kumara. ("Webu Sayadaw" is a title meaning
"the holy teacher from Webu," given to him after he became an
U Kumara went to Mandalay to study at the famous Masoyein
monastery, the leading monastic university of the time. In the
seventh year after his full ordination, he left the monastery to put
into practice what he had learned about meditation. After leaving the
Masoyein monastery, U Kumara spent four years in solitude. Then he
went to his native village of Ingyinbin for a brief visit, where he
taught the technique of meditation he had adopted. "This is a
shortcut to Nibbana," he said, "anyone can use it. It stands up to
investigation and is in accordance with the teachings of the Buddha as
conserved in the scriptures. It is the straight path to Nibbana."
Among the thirteen practices called the //dhutanga//, which are
often taken up by monks living in solitude to combat laziness and
indulgence, is the practice of never lying down, not even to sleep.
Monks taking up this particular practice spend the nights sitting and
meditating to rid themselves of sleepiness. The Webu Sayadaw is said
to have followed this practice all his life. He taught that effort
was the key to success, not only in worldly undertakings, but also in
meditation, and that sleeping was a waste of time. I was told by one
of his disciples that on the occasion of his ordination under the
Webu Sayadaw, he had a mosquito net and a pillow, in addition to the
monk's requisites. The Webu Sayadaw, pointing at them, asked him what
they were. "A pillow and a mosquito net, sir." "Are these part of
the monk's requisites?" "No, sir." And the newly ordained monks
decided to give these "luxuries" back to his family.
The Webu Sayadaw emphasized the practice of meditation as the only
way to bring the teachings of the Buddha to fulfillment. The study of
the scriptures, though helpful, is not indispensable for the
realization of Nibbana. The technique of meditation taught by the
Webu Sayadaw is one of forty techniques mentioned in the scriptures
for the development of //samadhi// or concentration. It is called
//anapana sati// and requires one to be aware (1) that one is
breathing in while breathing in, (2) that one is breathing out while
one is breathing out, (3) of the spot or area which the stream of air
touches while one is breathing in and out. In the //Visuddhimagga//
Buddhaghosa describes sixteen ways of approaching this meditation, but
the Webu Sayadaw kept reminding his disciples they needn't know about
all of these; all they really needed to know was the reality of
U Hte Hlain, the collector of some of the discourses contained in
this book, writes: "The Webu Sayadaw preached sometimes five,
sometimes ten times a day. Seven main points were always included in
his discourses. If the Webu Sayadaw gave 10,000 discourses in his
life, then these points were expounded by him 10,000 times. He always
included them, even if he had to repeat them again and again. He
always explained the teachings in simple terms, so that the ordinary
man could understand. He tried to explain the Dhamma in such a way
that the most difficult thing became easy."
The seven points are:
(1) One can only expect the fulfillment of one's aspirations if
one is perfect in morality.
(2) When practicing generosity (//dana//) in the religion of the
Buddha, the mental attitude and volition involved are very
(3) Believing in the law of kamma, one should always act with an
(4) One should not aspire to any happiness of either the human or
celestial worlds -- which are impermanent -- but only to
(5) Because of the arising of the Buddha we have the opportunity
to practice right conduct (//carana//) and wisdom (//panna//)
fully and thereby to benefit greatly.
(6) From the moment we are born to the moment we die, there is
the in-breath and the out-breath. This is easy for everybody
to understand. Every time we breathe in or out, the breath
touches near the nostrils. Every time it touches we should be
aware of it.
(7) While we are walking, working, doing anything, we should
always be aware of the in-breath and the out-breath.
Most of these discourses were given before large audiences during
the Webu Sayadaw's travels in lower Burma. The person or persons
answering the Webu Sayadaw are lay-people sitting up front and close
Some of the discourses are translated from a collection compiled
and introduced by U Hte Hlain and published by the Ministry of
Religious Affairs of Burma. Others have been transcribed from tape by
the translator and then rendered into English. The titles of the
discourses have been added and were not assigned to them by the Webu
Because they were delivered extemporaneously the discourses are
repetitive and were edited slightly so that they lend themselves
better to reading. Care was taken, however, to edit only obvious
repetitions and only when they had merely rhetorical value. The
reader may still find the discourses repetitive, but with some
patience and "mindfulness" he will discover in them many insights into
The Webu Sayadaw was not a scholar and his discourses do not cater
to the intellectual who prefers the study of Buddhist philosophy to
the practice. His refreshing simplicity, his patience, his lovely
sense of humor, and his humility -- illumine a side of Buddhism which
cannot be perceived by reading treatises and texts. Moreover, the
statements of the people in the audience offer us a glimpse of how
Buddhism is practiced in Burma today.
The Webu Sayadaw undertook pilgrimages to the Buddhist sites of
India and Sri Lanka. He passed away on 26 June 1977 in the meditation
center at Ingyinbin, his native village. He was believed to be an
Arahat, i.e., a person who has in practice fully understood the Four
Noble Truths and attained the end of suffering.
* * * * * * * *
What Really Matters
WEBU SAYADAW: You have taken up moral conduct (//sila//). Now that
you have undertaken to perfect yourselves in morality, fulfill it to
the utmost. Only if you fulfill morality to the utmost will all your
aspirations be met. You will be happy now and in the future.
Nothing but the teachings of the Buddha can give you real
happiness, in the present and in the remainder of //samsara//, the
cycle of repeated birth and death. The teachings of the Buddha are
enshrined in the Tipitaka, the three baskets of the scriptures. The
Tipitaka is very extensive. If we take the essence out of the
Tipitaka we shall find the thirty-seven factors of awakening. [*] The
essence of the thirty-seven factors of awakening is the eight
constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path. The essence of the Noble
Eightfold Path is the threefold training -- the higher morality, the
higher mind, the higher wisdom. The essence of the threefold training
is the one Dhamma or Universal Law.
[*] //Bodhipakkhiya dhamma//. These are thirty-seven aspects of
practice taught by the Buddha. They include the four
foundations of mindfulness, the four great efforts, the four
bases of accomplishment, the five spiritual faculties, the
five powers, the seven factors of awakening and the eight
constituent of the Noble Eightfold Path.
If your body and mind are under control, as they are now, there
can be no roughness of physical or verbal action. This is the higher
If morality becomes strong, the mind will become peaceful and
tranquil and lose its harshness. This is called the higher mind or
the concentrated mind (//adhicitta//). If concentration becomes
strong and the mind stays one-pointed for a long time, then you will
realize that in a split-second matter arises and dissolves billions
and billions of times. If mind (//nama//) knows matter (//rupa//), it
knows that matter originates and disintegrates billions and billions
of times in the wink of an eye. This knowledge of arisal and
disintegration is called the higher wisdom (//adhipanna//).
Whenever we breathe in or out, the incoming and the outgoing air
touches somewhere in or near the nostrils. The sensitive matter
registers the touch of air. In this process, the entities touching
are matter and the entity knowing the touch is mind. So do not go
around asking others about mind and matter; observe your breathing
and you will find out about them for yourselves.
When the air comes in, it will touch. When the air goes out, it
will touch. If you know this touch continuously, then greed
(//lobha//), aversion (//dosa//), and delusion (//moha//) do not have
the opportunity to arise, and the fires of these defilements will
You cannot know the touch of air before it actually occurs. After
it has gone, you cannot know it anymore. Only while the air moves in
or out can you feel the sensation of touch. This we call the present
While we feel the touch of air, we know that there is only mind
and matter. We know for ourselves that there is no "I," no other
people, no man and woman, and we realize for ourselves that what the
Buddha said is true indeed. We do not need to ask others. While we
know the in-breath and out-breath, there is no "I" or self.
When we know this, our view is pure; it is right view. We know
in that moment that there is nothing but //nama// and //rupa//, mind
and matter. We also know that mind and matter are two different
entities. If we thus know how to distinguish between mind and matter,
we have attained to the analytical knowledge of mind and matter
If we know the touch of air as and when it occurs, our mind is
pure and we get the benefits thereof. Do not think that the benefits
you get thus, even in a split-second, are few. Do not think that
those who meditate do not get any advantages from their practice. Now
that you have been born in a happy plane and have met the teachings of
a Buddha, you can obtain great benefits. Do not worry about eating
and drinking, but make all the effort you can.
Is this present time not auspicious?
DISCIPLE: Yes, sir, it is.
SAYADAW: Yes, indeed! Can't those good people attain their
aspiration for Nibbana who, with an open mind, receive and practice
the teachings of the Buddha, just like the noble people of the past
who received the instructions from the Buddha himself?
D: Yes, sir, they can.
S: So, how long does the Buddha's Teaching last?
D: For five thousand years, sir. [*]
[*] There is a belief in Buddhist countries that the Buddha's
Teaching (//sasana//) lasts five thousand years on the human
plane and then is lost.
S: And now tell me, how many of these five thousand years have
D: Sir, about half this time-span has gone.
S: So, how much remains still?
D: About 2500 years, sir.
S: What is the life-span of a human being now? [*]
[*] The life-span of human beings is believed to change
according to the level of their morality, ranging from an
"incalculable" down to ten years and then back up again.
D: About one hundred years, sir.
S: How old are you?
D: I am thirty-seven years old, sir.
S: So, how much longer do you have to live?
D: Sixty-three years, sir.
S: But can you be sure that you will live that long?
D: That I don't know, sir.
S: You don't know yourself how long you are going to live?
D: No, sir, it isn't possible to know this for sure.
S: But even as we are born we can be sure we have to suffer old
age, disease and death.
D: Yes, sir.
S: Can we request old age, pain and death to desist for some
time, to go away for some time?
D: No, sir.
S: No they never rest. Can we ask them to stop their work?
D: No, sir, we cannot.
S: In that case can we be certain we have to die?
D: Yes, sir, it is certain that we all have to die.
S: It is certain that we all have to die. What about living?
D: We can't be sure how long we have left to live, sir.
S: Someone whose life-span is thirty years dies when the thirty
years are up. If your life-span is forty or fifty years, you will die
when you are forty or fifty years old. Once someone is dead, can we
get him back?
D: No, sir, we can't.
S: However many years of your life have passed, they have passed.
What is it that you have not accomplished yet?
D: The happiness of the path and fruition states and the
attainment of Nibbana. [*]
[*] The paths and fruits of stream-entry, once-returner,
non-returner, and Arahatship.
S: Yes, inasmuch as you haven't attained the paths and fruition
states yet, you have been defeated. Have you used the years that have
passed well, or have you wasted your time?
D: I have wasted my time, sir.
S: Then do not waste the time that you have got left. This time
is there for you to strive with energy and steadfastness; you can be
sure that you will die, but you can't be sure how much longer you have
got to live. Some live very long. Some of the Buddha's great
disciples like Venerable Maha Kassapa and Venerable Maha Kaccayana
lived to over one hundred years of age. Some live for eighty years.
To be able to live that long we have to be full of respect for those
who deserve respect and we have to be very humble. Do you pay respect
to your father and mother?
D: We do, sir.
S: Do you pay respect to people who are older than you or of a
higher standing than you?
D: We do pay respect to people who are older than us or are
holding a higher position than we do. Even if someone is just one day
older or even just half a day older, we pay respect, sir.
S: When do you pay respect to them?
D: At night, before we go to bed, we pay respect to the Buddha
and at that time we also pay respect to our seniors.
S: What about other times?
D: At other times we do not pay respect, sir.
S: You say that you pay respect to your seniors after you have
paid respect to the Buddha. But do you show respect to those who live
with you and to those who are of the same age? If I were to put
parcels of money worth $1000 each along the road for anyone to take,
would you fellows take one?
D: Of course we would, sir.
S: And if you found a second, would you take that too?
D: Of course we would, sir.
S: And if you found a third bundle of bank notes, would you take
that as well?
D: We would take it, of course, sir.
S: After having got one, wouldn't you want someone else to have
D: We wouldn't think that way, sir.
S: If you happened to be with a friend. Would you let him find
one bundle of notes thinking, "I shall pretend not to see that one.
After all, I have got one"? Would you let him have one or would you
grab them all and run for it?
D: I would grab all I could get and run for it, sir.
S: Yes, yes, you fellows are not very pleasant. When it comes to
money, you are unable to give to anyone. But then you say that you
are respectful and humble just because you pay respect to the Buddha
in the evenings. If you cherish thoughts such as, "Why is he better
off than I am? Is his understanding greater than mine?" then your
mind is full of pride. If you pay respect to your parents, teachers,
to those older, wiser or of higher standing, without pride, then you
will live to more than one hundred years. If you show respect for
such people, will you get only $1000? Will you get only money?
D: It will be more than just money.
S: Yes, indeed! And though you know what really matters, you
wouldn't even give $1000 to someone else, but rather you would run and
get it for yourselves. When the Buddha, out of compassion, taught the
Dhamma, did everyone understand it?
D: No, sir, not everyone understood it.
S: Why is this so?
D: Some didn't listen to the Buddha, sir.
S: Only if you take the teachings of the Buddha for yourselves
can you attain any of the types of awakening: the full awakening of a
Perfect Buddha, the awakening of a Paccekabuddha, the awakening of a
chief disciple, of a great disciple of of any ordinary Arahat
disciple. [*] If you want to attain one of these types of awakening,
you can. Through the teachings of the Buddha you can attain happiness
now, a happiness that will stay with you in the future. How long does
it take for a paddy seed to sprout?
[*] All these types of awakening are alike in that they involve
complete realization of the Four Noble Truths and issue in
freedom from all craving, aversion and delusion about
reality. They differ in particulars. Both Perfect Buddhas
(//sammasambuddha//) and Paccekabuddhas are self-awakened,
i.e., they attain Nibbana without a teacher, while disciple
Arahats can attain Nibbana only after receiving the
teachings of a Buddha. Though a Paccekabuddha attains
awakening on his own, he does not have the ability to teach
others the practise that leads to Nibbana, while a Perfect
Buddha has the capacity to establish a Dispensation and to
lead many others to the goal. The different aspirations are
fulfilled according to the length of time the aspirant
practices the ten //paramis// or sublime virtues. To become
a Buddha the period of time needed to perfect the
//paramis// is far longer than the periods required for
attaining Paccekabuddhahood or Arahatship as a Buddha's
D: Only overnight, sir.
S: It takes only a day for it to sprout. Now, if you keep the
seed -- a good quality seed, of course -- after sprouting and do not
plant it, will it grow?
D: No, sir, it will not.
S: Even though you have a good quality seed, if you do not plant
it, it will not grow. It is just the same with the teachings of the
Buddha; only if you accept them will you understand them. If you
learn how to live with the awareness of mind and matter arising, what
do you achieve?
D: This awareness is called //vijja//, sir, true understanding.
S: If one lives without the teachings of the Buddha, what do you
D: That is //avijja//, sir, ignorance.
S: If you live all your life with //vijja//, understanding of
the Buddha Dhamma, then where will you go after death?
D: To some good existence, sir.
S: What will happen after a life full of ignorance?
D: One will go to the lower realms, sir.
S: Now, suppose an old man about seventy years old is paying
respect to the Buddha. While doing so, he cannot keep his mind
focused on the Dhamma, but he allows it to wander here and there. If
this old man dies at that moment, where will he go?
D: He will go to the lower worlds, sir.
S: Really? Think carefully before you answer. He is paying
respect to the Buddha and he is meditating. So where will he go if he
dies at that moment?
D: He will go to the lower worlds, sir.
S: But why?
D: Because his mind is wandering all over, sir.
S: Yes. What are the qualities arising in the mind of a person
living in ignorance?
D: They are greed, aversion, and delusion.
S: What is greed (//lobha//)?
D: Greed is to want something, sir.
S: Greed includes any liking, being attracted by something,
wanting. One who dies with any liking or wanting in his mind is said
to be reborn as a ghost. But what is aversion (//dosa//)?
D: Aversion is enmity, sir.
S: Yes, aversion is the cause of your fighting. Aversion arises
because you do not get what you want and what you get you don't want.
Dislike is aversion. If you die with dislike in your mind, you are
reborn in hell. Delusion (//moha//) is ignorance about benefits
derived from being charitable, being moral and practicing meditation.
If you die with delusion in your mind, you will be reborn as an
animal. Nobody -- no god, no Deva or Brahma -- has created body and
mind. They are subject to the law of nature, to arisal and
dissolution, just as the Buddha taught. If a person dies
concentrating on the awareness of mind and matter and knows their
arising and dissolution, then, according to the teaching of the
Buddha, he will be reborn as a man, Deva or Brahma. If someone is
going where he wants to go, does he need to ask others for the way?
D: No, sir.
S: Does one have to ask others, "Do I live with knowledge or in
D: No, sir.
S: No. Indeed not. Therefore, work hard to bring the
perfections (//parami//) you have accumulated in the whole of samsara
to fruition. Be steadfast in your effort.
Act as the wise people of the past did after receiving the
teachings directly from the Buddha; they worked for Nibbana. Knowing
that you too have been born in a favorable plane of existence,
nothing can stop you from working up to the attainment of the paths,
fruits and Nibbana.
Practice with strong effort and with steadfastness and make sure
that not even a little time is wasted. Advise and urge others to
practice also. Strive with happiness in your heart and when you are
successful, be truly happy.
* * *
A Roof that Does Not Leak
WEBU SAYADAW: The contents of the Three Baskets of the sacred
scriptures taught by the Buddha are so vast that it is impossible to
know all they contain. Only if you are intelligent will you be able
to understand clearly what the monks have been teaching you out of
great compassion. You have to pay attention only to this.
DISCIPLE: Sir, we don't quite understand what you mean by: "You
have to pay attention only to this."
SAYADAW: Let me try to explain in this way. If you build a
house, you do put a roof on it, don't you?
D: Yes, sir, we cover our houses with roofs.
S: When you put the roof on you make sure that it is watertight,
don't you? If you cover your house well and it rains a little, will
the roof leak?
D: No, sir, it won't.
S: And if it rains very hard, will the roof leak?
D: No, sir.
S: And when the sun burns down, will it still give you good shelter?
D: It will, sir.
S: Why is this so? Because your roof is well built. Will you be
able to know whether your roof is leaking or not after it rains?
D: Yes, sir, when it rains it is easy to find out.
S: You see, you think that the teachings of the Buddha are vast
and varied, but really they are just one single way of escape from
suffering. Only if you take up one object of meditation given by the
Buddha and pursue it with steadfast effort to the end, can you justly
claim that your roof is not leaking anymore. If your roof is not
rain-proof yet, you have to be aware of this. There must be many
houses in your neighborhood and they all have roofs. What are the
materials used for roofing?
D: There are corrugated iron roofs, there are tiled roofs, there
are houses roofed with palm leaves of bamboo.
S: Yes, of course. Now, if a palm-leaf roof is well built, is it
D: Oh yes, sir, it won't leak.
S: If a tin roof is well assembled, is it rain proof?
D: Yes, sir, it is.
S: What about a well-made tile roof?
D: No rain will come through, sir.
S: What about bamboo roofs or roofs made out of planks?
D: If they are well done, they are watertight, sir.
S: So, if you take the roofing material you like best and build a
good roof, will it give you shelter when it rains and when the sun
D: If we build it well, it will not leak, sir.
S: We are building roofs because we don't want to become wet when
it rains and we want to avoid the scorching sun. The teachings of the
Buddha are available now. Take up one of the techniques the Buddha
taught, establish steadfast effort and practice. Only if you are
steadfast does your practice resemble a roof, and greed, aversion and
delusion cannot leak through. Only if the roof is not leaking can we
say that we are sheltered. If the roof is still leaking, is this
because it is good or because it is not so good?
D: Because it is not so good, sir.
S: Is it leaking because the palm leaves are not a good roofing
D: No, sir, palm leaves are a good roofing material.
S: Or is it because corrugated iron, or tiles, or bamboo, or
planks are not suitable as roofing materials?
D: No, sir, all these are quite all right.
S: Then why is the roof leaking?
D: Because it isn't well built, sir.
S: But, of course, the mistake is made now. Is it difficult to
D: If one is skillful, it is quite easy, sir.
S: Tell me then, if it leaks in a certain place, what do you have
D: We have to patch up the leak, sir.
S: It is just the same in meditation. Now that you exert effort,
there is no leak; you are safe. If greed, aversion and delusion
still drip in despite your practicing the teachings, you have to be
aware of the fact that your roof is not yet rain-proof. You have to
know whether the roof you built for your own house is keeping the rain
out or not.
D: Sir, we all have the roofing materials, but the roof is still
leaking. We would like to know the technique of building a good roof.
S: Don't build a thin shaky roof, build a thick strong roof.
D: How are we to build a thick strong roof, sir? While we are
sitting here like this, we still have to endure being drenched by the
S: The wise people of old practiced the teachings without
allowing their efforts to diminish in any of the four postures --
sitting, standing, lying down and walking -- and they kept up such a
perfect continuity of awareness that there never was any gap. You too
have to practice in this way. The disciples of the Buddha established
awareness of the spot and then did not allow their minds to shift to
another object. Now, can the rains of greed, aversion and delusion
still affect those who are steadfast?
D: No, sir, they can't.
S: If you establish the same quality of awareness whether
sitting, standing or walking, will the rain still be able to penetrate
your protecting roof?
D: Sir, please teach us the technique which will give us shelter.
S: Tell me: all of you are breathing, aren't you?
D: Oh yes, sir, all are breathing.
S: When do you first start breathing?
D: Why, when we are born of course, sir.
S: Are you breathing when you are sitting?
D: Yes, sir.
S: Are you breathing while you are standing, walking and working?
D: Of course, sir.
S: When you are very busy and have a lot to do, do you stop
breathing, saying, "Sorry, there is no time to breathe now; too much
D: No, sir, we don't.
S: Are you breathing while asleep?
D: Yes, sir, we are.
S: Then, do you still have to search for this breath?
D: No, sir, it's there all the time.
S: There is no one, big or small, who doesn't know how to
breathe. Now, where does this breath touch when you breathe out?
D: Somewhere below the nose and above the upper lip, sir.
S: And when you breathe in?
D: At the same spot, sir.
S: If you pay attention to this small spot and the touch of air
as you breathe in and out, can't you be aware of it?
D: It is possible, sir.
S: When you are thus aware, is there still wanting, aversion,
ignorance, worry and anxiety?
D: No, sir.
S: You see there, you can come out of suffering immediately. If
you follow the teachings of the Buddha, you instantly become happy. If
you practice and revere the Dhamma you remove the suffering of the
present moment and also the suffering of the future. If you have
confidence in the monks and the teachers, this confidence will result
in the removal of present and future suffering.
The only way out of suffering is to follow the teachings of the
Buddha, and at this moment you are revering the teachings by
establishing awareness. Do you still have to go and ask others how
the Dhamma, if practiced, brings immediate relief from suffering?
D: We have experienced it ourselves, so we don't have to go ask
S: If you know for yourselves, is there still doubts and
D: No, sir, there isn't.
S: By keeping your attention at the spot for a short time only
you have understood this much. What will happen if you keep your mind
focused for a long time?
D: Understanding will become deeper, sir.
S: If your time were up and you would have to die while your
attention is focused on the spot, would there be reason for worry?
D: There is no reason to worry about one's destiny if one dies
while the mind is under control.
S: This frees us from suffering in the round of rebirths, and
having discovered this for ourselves, we need not ask others about it.
If we establish strong and steadfast effort in accordance with our
aspiration for awakening, is there still cause for doubt: "Shall I get
it or shall I not?"
D: No, sir, we have gone beyond doubt.
S: So, then you have full confidence in what you are doing and
due to your effort the "basis of attaining perfection through effort"
factor (//viriya iddhipada//) arises. Suppose people come and say to
you, "You haven't got the right thing yet; how could you ever
succeed?" Will doubts arise in you?
D: No, sir.
S: You know that though you are certain that you will be able to
reach the goal with your practice, other people might tell you that
you will not.
D: Sir, knowing for oneself, one will not have doubts, whatever
people may say.
S: What if not just a hundred people or a thousand people come to
tell you that what you are doing is no good, but the whole town?
D: Even if the whole town comes, no doubt will arise, sir.
S: Suppose the whole country comes to contradict you?
D: Even so, sir, there will be no space for doubt to arise,
because we realize this happiness for ourselves.
S: Yes, you know how much effort you have established. But don't
think that your effort is perfect yet. You are only at the beginning.
There is still much room for improvement. While you sit, walk, stand
and work, it is always possible to be aware of the in-breaths and
out-breaths, isn't it?
D: Yes, sir.
S: If you focus your attention on the spot, are you unhappy?
D: No, sir.
S: Does it cost you anything?
D: No, sir.
S: The men, Devas and Brahmas who received the teachings after
the Buddha's awakening practiced continuously and therefore their
respective aspirations for awakening were fulfilled. What the Buddha
taught is enshrined in the Tipitaka. If you keep your attention
focused on the spot and on the in-breath and out-breath, the whole of
the Tipitaka is there.
D: We don't quite understand this, sir.
S: Oh dear, why shouldn't you understand this? Of course you
D: But we would like to be certain that we understand this in
S: You have understood already. Have you checked whether all of
the Buddha's teaching is contained in this awareness?
D: But, sir, our awareness is not deep enough to check this.
S: But you can talk about the Buddha's discourses, the monks'
rules and about Abhidhamma philosophy.
D: When we discuss these, we just talk without really knowing.
S: Talking into the blue.... Now, if you keep your attention at
this spot, can you tell me whether the whole of the teaching is
D: We don't know, sir.
S: Are you not telling me because you are tired?
D: No, sir, we aren't tired. We would like to answer.
S: If we want to make an end to suffering, we have to observe the
behavior of mind and matter. All say this. Matter is composed of
eight basic elements. Mind and mental concomitants are fifty-three in
number. All of you can tell me this off the top of your head. [*]
[*] The figures are references to classifications in the
Abhidhamma philosophy. Abhidhamma study for lay-people was
introduced in Burma by the Venerable Ledi Sayadaw, at the
turn of the century. In most bigger settlements there are
"Abhidhamma Associations" where especially the
//Abhidhammattha Sangaha// is taught.
You are intelligent. When others discuss the teachings you correct
them and tell them where they went wrong and where they left something
out. You refute them and criticize them. You are debating like this,
We said just now that the thing that doesn't know is matter and
the entity that knows is mind. These two entities must be evident to
you. Under which of the two comes the spot below the nose? Is it mind
D: I think that the spot is matter. The bodily sensitivity
(//kaya-pasada//) through which we feel touch sensation is matter.
But those who study Abhidhamma philosophy tell us that we are just
concepts (//pannatti//) [*] and that the spot too is just a concept,
sir.... When we have debates with people who are proficient in the
//Abhidhammattha Sangaha// we become angry and agitated and get little
[*] //Pannatti// denotes all ideas, notions, names, words. The
//paramattha dhamma//, the ultimate truths, are not
//pannatti// as they really exist. //Paramattha dhamma//
are defined as being fourfold: consciousness, mental
properties, matter and Nibbana.
S: If you can't keep your attention on the spot, you will get
involved in discussions, of course.
D: But, sir, if we don't answer, we have to admit defeat.
S: Tell me, what do you have to do when you are hungry?
D: We have to eat rice, sir.
S: What about monks, what do you have to give them to still their
D: We have to give them "oblation rice," sir. [*]
[*] The Burmese language has a number of nouns and verbs which
are used only by or with reference to monks. For the rice
offered to monks a different word is used than for the rice
consumed by the laity. There are also special "monks' words"
for eating, sleeping, coming, talking, etc. The cultured
Burman will not only use these special words to show his
respect when talking to a monk, but will also refer to
himself as "your disciple" and to the monk as "Lord."
S: Are the oblation rice they eat and the rice you eat two
D: They aren't different, sir. In order to show respect to the
monks we call their rice "oblation rice," but it is the same as the
one we eat.
S: So, whether we call it "rice" or "oblation rice," it will
still our hunger.
D: Yes, sir, both fill the stomach.
S: Now what about the nose, the spot? You can call it by its
conventional name or you can talk about sensitive matter. It's just
the same as with rice and oblation rice. Is it worth arguing about?
D: No, sir, there is no need for long discussions.
S: Having understood this, will you stop arguing, or will you
carry on with your debates?
D: No, sir, we will not debate, but those Abhidhamma students
S: In that case you just don't take part in the discussion of
such issues. You have known all along that rice and oblation rice are
the same, but we have to talk about it so that you understand. Now,
what do we call the entity that is aware?
D: It is called mind, sir.
S: Only if you have gained such control over your mind that it
doesn't jump from one object to another, are you able to distinguish
clearly between mind (//nama//) and matter (//rupa//).
D: Yes, sir, now we are able to distinguish between mind and
S: Is this knowledge of mind and matter you have gained called
understanding (//vijja//) or ignorance (//avijja//)?
D: It is understanding, sir.
S: Is there still ignorance present when you are able to
distinguish clearly between mind and matter?
D: No, sir, ignorance has run away.
S: When you concentrate at the spot, there is understanding, and
ignorance has been banned. Now, if we continue to concentrate on the
spot, will ignorance spring back up again?
D: No, sir, it won't.
S: Yes, you see, you have to establish understanding in this way.
You have found it now; don't allow it to escape again. Can you
suddenly be overpowered by delusion if your understanding keeps
growing moment by moment? Do good people still have to moan and
complain, saying that it is difficult to get rid of ignorance once
they have been given the teachings of the Buddha, which are the tool
to overcome and defeat ignorance?
D: No, sir, they shouldn't complain. All they need to do is to
put forth effort.
S: So, you realize that all that the Buddha taught is contained
in this meditation. If you put forth effort, establish yourselves in
perfect effort, then you will reach full understanding. You told me
that many types of material are suitable to build a good roof. Not
only a tin roof or a palm-leaf roof are safe, you can choose from many
different materials. I think you have collected quite a variety of
good roofing materials. Now you have to build a roof that really
protects you against rain. Once you have built a good shelter you
won't get wet and you won't have to suffer the heat of the sun
anymore. If you build your shelter in the jungle, will it be good?
D: Yes, sir, it will.
S: If you build your roof in a city?
D: It will be safe, sir.
S: Does it make any difference whether you build your shelter in
this country or in any other country?
D: Sir, it will give shelter here and there.
S: Are you happy if you're drenched by rain or if you have to
live under the scorching sun?
D: No, sir, I would be unhappy.
S: In that case, put forth full effort so that you do not have to
suffer sun and rain ever again.
* * *
The Flight of an Arrow
WEBU SAYADAW: You have taken the precepts of morality. Having
taken the precepts, practice them. Only if you fulfill the perfection
of morality completely can you be successful in attaining all the
various aspirations for awakening without exception.
Now that you have understood that you have been born at an
auspicious time and into a good existence, take up the practice of the
teachings of the Buddha with all your strength and establish
yourselves in them. The noble disciples of the Teacher practiced
without slackening in their effort and were mindful in all the four
postures of the body, without ever resting. They worked with
steadfastness and they all attained the goal they desired. You too
should take up this practice with this strong will to reach your goal.
What is this practice without break or rest to be compared to? It
is like the flight of an arrow. If we shoot an arrow with a bow, we
take aim, according to our desire. Now tell me, does the arrow at
times slow down and then speed up again after we shoot it off? Does
it at times take rest and then again proceed toward the target?
DISCIPLE: Sir, it flies fast and at a steady speed.
SAYADAW: And when does it stop?
D: It stops only when it hits the target, sir.
S: Yes, only when it hits its aim, its target, does it stop. In
just the same way did the direct disciples of the Buddha strive to
attain the goal they had taken as their target. Moving at a steady
pace without a break, without interruption, they finally attained that
type of awakening they desired in their hearts.
Of course, there are various types of awakening. All of them can
be attained if you work without resting. If you work for the full
awakening of a Perfect Buddha, you have to work continuously. If you
work for the awakening of a Paccekabuddha, you have to keep up the
continuity of practice. If you aim for the awakening for a disciple
Arahat, you have to practice steadily, just as an arrow flies
steadily. If you practice with steadfastness you will be able to
attain your goal.
Though you practice without interruption, you will not get tired
or exhausted. As you take up the teachings of the Buddha,
incomparable happiness will come to you. Some people think that the
Buddha taught many different things. You all remember some parts of
the holy scriptures as the monks out of great compassion taught them
to you. At times you may think, "The teachings of the Buddha are so
vast and manifold. I can't follow and understand all this, and
therefore I can't attain my goal." Or some people say, "What is true
for oneself one can only know oneself." Or others, "I can't work
because I can't feel the breath yet." Now tell me, what is your
D: Saying that we have to make a living to maintain our body, we
postpone meditation from the morning to the evening and from the
evening to the morning. In this way we keep delaying the putting
forth of effort.
S: And what else do people tend to say?
D: Some say they can't meditate because of old age and some are
afraid it will make them ill.
S: What do those say who are young still?
D: That they can't meditate because they have to study. While
they are young and healthy, they want to enjoy themselves.
S: And if you are unwell and ill?
D: Then, sir, we worry. We call the doctor and think about
medicine, but we still don't practice.
S: And when you have recovered?
D: We shall somehow manage to postpone meditation day by day and
let time pass.
S: But do you actually want to attain happiness, don't you?
D: Yes, sir.
S: So, if you really want it, why then postpone striving for it?
D: I don't really want it, sir.
S: Does this apply to you only or to all of you here?
D: There must be some in this audience who really aspire to attain
happiness and others like me who are not so serious about it.
S: If you put forth effort as you are doing now, you will of
course get it. But thoughts and doubts may come up in your minds:
"Will I have to suffer?"; "Will this practice be trying?" You have
already acquired some knowledge of the Buddha's teachings according to
your individual capacities. Thinking about these, however, will slow
down your progress. So listen well to the teachings now and practice.
If you practice, you will arrive at your goal, and the reality of
it may or may not correspond with your thoughts about it. Only when
you know for yourselves will you also know that your thoughts and
speculations about the goal were not correct. All of you know from
Dhamma lectures that if you follow the teachings of the Buddha, you
will gain great happiness in the present and in the future. In fact,
you are all preachers of the Dhamma yourselves.
Don't you think that thinking and speculating will slow your
progress down? If you think and analyze, will every thought be
D: No, sir.
S: If you establish your goal as I told you and keep thinking
about your wanting to attain it, will this help?
D: No, sir.
S: So, will you continue to think and ponder?
D: If we analyze and think all the time we shall go the wrong
S: Once we start thinking there will be very many thoughts. Will
much of what we think be of use to us?
D: It is difficult to think useful thoughts. Thoughts often
become quite useless and misleading.
S: The noble monks of the community have expounded the real and
true teachings to you and still your thoughts are apt to mislead you.
How is this possible?
But tell me, you are from Kemmendine, right? Your house must have
a garden and a fence around it. Isn't that so?
D: Yes, sir, this is correct.
S: On which side of the compound is the gate?
D: I have one gate opening to the south and one opening to the
S: How many stories does your house have?
D: It is a single storey house, sir.
S: On which side do you have your door?
D: There are two doors, sir, one in the west wall and one in the
S: So, now we know that you live in Kemmendine, that you have a
fence around your garden with gates to the north and south. Your
house is a one storey building and has two doors facing south and west
respectively. You see, because you told me, I know everything about
your place. Now my knowledge and your knowledge about your house are
about the same, aren't they?
D: They cannot be, sir.
S: But why? You know your village, your garden and your house,
and you told me that you live in Kemmendine and you described your
garden and your house to me as you know them. Therefore I know your
village, your garden and your house. I know the reality about it, as
D: You don't know it in the same way I know it, sir.
S: My dear friend, why should what I know be different from what
you know? Just ask me where you live and I shall reply that you live
in Kemmendine. Furthermore, I know about your garden and house just
as you do. What is there that you can tell me that I don't know
D: Even if I told you the house number and the street it is on,
you wouldn't be able to find the house, sir.
S: Tell me then, what more do you know about this matter than I
D: I can't tell you more about it, sir, but I know more because I
have actually been there.
S: In that case I shall think about it and figure out where
D: You can't find out by thinking about it, sir.
S: I shall think a lot and for a long time. Some of it is bound
to be right. I will think about a house in Kemmendine with two gates,
two doors, one storied. Will some of my findings about your house be
D: I don't think so, sir.
S: Is it so difficult then? Well, I'll think in many different
ways; some of them will turn out right. I shall ponder over this
problem for about one year. Will I find the answer then?
D: If you just think about it, sir, you won't find it. But if
you please, come and look, you will really know for yourself.
S: Now, what if I were to think about it really deeply for about
forty or fifty years? Or better, if I don't just think but also talk
about it, will I come to know it then?
D: Even if you think and talk about it, sir, you'll never get there.
S: Then please tell me where Kemmendine is.
D: From here you would have to walk towards the southwest.
S: So, if I walk in a southwestern direction, will I get there?
D: Yes, sir, you will, but you will still not find my house.
S: Well, I'll begin now, I'll think very deeply and at the same
time recite your instructions and descriptions. In this way I will
come to know.
D: No, sir, I don't think so.
S: You tell me that know all this about your house, but if I
repeat what I know from you, then you tell me that I am talking into
the blue. I cannot bear this.
D: Sir, you simply repeat what you heard, but you don't actually
S: So, all I say about this house is correct, but he claims that
I still don't know it the way he does. I don't know whether this is
true.... But now, if I were to think about it deeply and recite my
thoughts, would there still be a difference in understanding? Or if I
were to recite all you said day and night, would it still not be
possible for me to really know?
D: Sir, you would still not know it in the same way you would if
you went there yourself.
S: Before you told me about your house I didn't know anything
about it, but now I know something.
D: Yes, sir, this is true, but if you came to see it you would
know everything about it.
S: Tell me, if I were to walk according to your directions, would
I arrive at your house?
D: Yes, sir.
S: And if I didn't know the house number?
D: You would wander aimlessly, sir.
S: And if you go there?
D: I head straight for my house, sir.
S: Will you worry about how to get there and whether you are on
the right road.
D: If you come with me, sir, you can't get lost, because I have
been there before.
S: The Buddha taught what he had realized for himself. Now, all
of you are able to accept good advice. The Buddha's teachings are
vast. There is the Suttanta, the Vinaya and the Abhidhamma. You need
not study all these. Choose one object of meditation, one technique
that suits you, and then work with firm determination. Once you have
established yourselves in this way and you arrive at the goal, you
will understand deeply and completely. But even now, before I finish
speaking, you do get understanding and this immediate understanding is
called "//akaliko//," [*] immediate understanding.
[*] //Akaliko//: one of the six qualities of the Dhamma.
//Akaliko// literally means "no-time," immediate. One who
practices the Buddha's teachings gets immediate results.
Our teachers and parents, who instruct us out of great compassion
and love, tell us: "Learn this and that," and when we go to bed at
night they call us: "Why didn't you pay respect to the Buddha before
going to bed? Come, pay respect." If we don't follow their
instructions, they may even have to beat us. They have to do this
even though they don't wish to. Through their help our resistance is
overcome. But of course, we get immediate knowledge of the Buddha
Dhamma only if we are interested in it ourselves. When does it
actually become //akaliko//, immediate?
D: Only when we really find the Dhamma, sir.
S: And when will we really find the Dhamma?
D: After having worked for it, sir.
S: At what particular time do we have to practice in order to be
D: The hour of the day or night is of no importance. If we
practice and then reach the goal we shall gain immediate knowledge,
S: It is very easy. You have received the teachings of the
Buddha. All you have to do is to make efforts in the same way the
disciples of the Buddha did. It is easy. This is not my own
knowledge. I too have learned the teachings of the Buddha and I am
passing them on to you. All of you are very intelligent and bright.
What I am telling you, you know already. Why do you think the Buddha
taught the Dhamma?
D: He taught people to be continuously aware of mind and matter.
S: He taught so that people who desire to attain the goal may be
able to do so. He taught because he wished them to be able to travel
on the path. But some of you may say that this is not a good time to
practice. The mind is not settled with all this coming and going of
people. "We shall meditate when the mind is tranquil," you may
decide. And the mind becomes tranquil after some time, what will
D: When the mind is calm, we will go to sleep, sir.
S: Oh really, and this you call meditation?
D: Sir, we are only perfect in talking about meditation.
S: And then, when you have a bad conscience about not having
practiced and decide to go to a meditation center, what do you take
D: We take food with us, sir.
S: Tell me, after having taken the precepts, do you stuff
D: Yes, sir. The ladies offer food and we just eat. We start
early and then we continue eating right up until twelve noon. [*]
[*] The sixth Uposatha precept forbids the consumption of solid
food after twelve noon. Only liquid refreshments may be
S: Do you eat more than on ordinary days?
D: Oh yes, sir, much more.
S: Tell me now, do you stop eating at noon?
D: Well, you see, sir, some say that even then it is alright to
continue eating. Once one stops, then one can't start again after
twelve noon, but if I started before noon I can continue eating even
after midday, I've heard.
S: What about you, do you carry on eating?
D: I continue eating even while we are talking like this, sir.
S: And what do you do after you have finished eating?
D: Then my stomach is full, sir, so I lie down flat on my back.
S: And then?
D: Then I sleep, sir.
S: And when do you wake up again?
D: At about three or four in the afternoon, sir.
S: Do you meditate then, being fully awake and alert?
D: No, sir, then I ask for some juice and lemonade.
S: Do you drink a lot or just a little.
D: I drink to the full, sir.
S: Even if you drink a lot, some will be left over. Do you share
that with others?
D: No, sir, I drink it all myself because I like to keep it for
S: But do you feel good if you drink too much?
D: No, sir, not very well.
S: Tell me, do you meditate then?
D: Well, sir, as I don't feel very well I have to lie down.
S: And then what happens?
D: I sleep again, sir.
S: And when do you get up?
D: The following morning, sir, when the sun rises. I say to
myself, "Well, look, the sun has risen," and I get up and have
S: Now tell me, if you don't attain Nibbana, do you think that is
because there is no such person as a fully awakened Buddha and that
Nibbana doesn't exist?
D: No, sir, it's because I eat too much.
S: Well, you do make some efforts, but this greed is still a
little strong, I think. Tell me, when you start to meditate and
someone whispers near your ear, do you hear it or not?
D: If the concentration is not so good, we prick up our ears and
listen to what is being whispered, sir.
S: When you hear this whispering, do you accept it and respect
the people who are whispering?
D: Sir, when the determination to meditate is strong, then I get
angry at those who are whispering.
S: Meditators get angry?
D: If they come and whisper in the place where I am meditating, I
will of course get angry, sir.
S: Is it skillful to get angry and think, "Do they have to whisper
here? Where is this chap from anyway? Who is he?" Will a meditator
who reacts in this way attain his goal quicker? If he becomes angry
and then dies, where will he be reborn?
D: He will be reborn in the lower worlds, sir.
S: Even if he is observing the eight Uposatha precepts?
D: If he becomes angry, he will go to the lower worlds even then,
S: How should we approach the problem of being disturbed by
whispers while we are meditating? We should reflect in the following
way: "I have come here to meditate. My fellow meditators are
whispering and I hear them. If the others find out that I pay
attention to whispers, I will feel ashamed because all will know then
that I don't make sufficient effort. I shall make more effort." We
should be grateful to the people who show us through their whispering
that our effort isn't sufficient. If your effort is good, your
concentration will be good and you won't hear anything. Being
grateful, you should hope that these people continue talking and you
should continue to meditate. There is no need to go up to them and
actually say, "Thank you." Simply continue to meditate, and, as your
awareness of the object of meditation becomes continuous, you won't
hear disturbances anymore. Would you hear people if they spoke quite
D: If they spoke quite loudly, I think I would hear them, sir.
S: Again, we have to be grateful: "They are telling me to improve
my efforts." Being grateful to those people, I steady my mind and
focus on the spot again. To meditate means to be so closely aware of
the object that it never escapes our attention.
D: Please, sir, explain to us how to be so closely aware of the
S: You just have to keep your attention fully collected,
concentrated on the spot. All of you have been breathing ever since
the moment you were born. Can you feel where the air touches as you
breathe in and out?
D: Sir, for me the touch sensation is most evident under the
S: Not in two places?
D: No, sir, only in one place.
S: Yes, it touches at this small spot when you breathe in and
when you breathe out. Tell me, does it enter with intervals or is it
a continuous flow?
D: There are intervals, sir.
S: Is it the stream of air that is interrupted or the awareness
of it? Is the touch of air continuous while you breathe in and out?
D: It is uninterrupted, sir.
S: Then you have to know this flow of air without interruption.
Don't look elsewhere. Just know this touch of the breath. If you
can't feel it, then try touching the spot of contact with your finger.
When you know the sensation of touch, then take your finger away and
stay with the awareness of touch-feeling at the spot. You have to
become aware of the touch of air which is continuous as being
continuous. If you are aware of this spot without a gap in the
continuity of awareness, will you still hear whispers?
D: No, sir, I don't think so.
S: You know this spot below the nose and above the upper lip so
exclusively that you don't hear sounds anymore. Is this spot matter
(//rupa//) or mind (//nama//).
D: It is matter, sir.
S: And the entity that knows, that is aware, what is it?
D: That is mind, sir.
S: So, if you are aware of the spot without interruption, you are
continuously aware of mind and matter, are you not?
D: Yes, sir, this is true, sir.
S: If you are aware of mind and matter in this way, you know that
there is no self, there is no man, there is no woman, there are no
human beings or Devas or Brahmas. This is what the Buddha taught. If
we are aware of mind and matter, do we still think in terms of human
beings, Devas and Brahmas?
D: No, sir, we don't.
S: Is it easy to be thus aware?
D: Yes, sir, it is easy.
S: This is knowing things as they are. Mind and matter arise
without interruption. They arise and then disintegrate. How many
times do they disintegrate in a flash of lightning?
D: I have heard that they disintegrate one hundred billion times
in the wink of an eye, sir.
S: Tell me then, how can you count to one hundred billion in the
wink of any eye?
D: I can't, sir.
S: Suppose you were given one hundred billion gold coins and
would have to count them, how long would it take you?
D: I think it would take about a month, sir. Even if I were to
count greedily day and night, it would take about that long.
S: The peerless Buddha penetrated all this with his own
superknowledge and then was able to teach it. But what can we know
for ourselves? We can know mind and matter simultaneously, And what
will we get from this awareness? We will be able to understand the
characteristic of their behavior. You needn't do anything special.
Just practice as you are practicing now. Keep your attention focused
on the spot and as you gain the ability to keep your attention with
the awareness of breathing and the spot, mind and matter will talk to
D: Do we have to think of impermanence when one in-breath comes
to an end, sir?
S: It is good if you think of impermanence as a breath comes to
an end. If you know impermanence in this way, will you be able to
D: Not yet, sir.
S: So if you can't attain Nibbana yet, keep concentrating on the
spot and you will come to know.
D: What do we have to know as being impermanent, sir?
S: You say that sugar is sweet, don't you? But if I have never
before tasted sugar, how are you going to explain sweetness to me?
D: It is much better than even palm sugar, sir, but we can't
explain it so that you will really know.
S: But you have tasted it, so why can't you tell me about it?
D: Well, sir, sugar looks like salt, but ants don't go for salt
while they do like sugar. But this won't help you very much, sir. You
have to taste it.
S: So salt and sugar look similar. Now, if I eat some salt,
calling it sugar, will I taste sugar?
D: No, sir, salt will remain salty.
S: In that case I'll think that sugar is salty.
D: This is just the same as us not knowing how to recognize
S: When we talk about the outer appearance of sugar, there are
many possibilities of mistaking something else for sugar. Only if you
explain the taste of sugar properly can I understand.
D: We would like to advise you to eat some sugar, sir.
S: Will you have to sit next to me while I'm eating it and say,
"It is sweet, it is sweet..."?
D: If I recited this, it would just bother you, and it isn't
necessary to do this for sugar to be sweet. As soon as you put sugar
into your mouth, you will be able to taste its sweetness, sir.
S: But let's say there is a jungle bhikkhu who wants to taste
sugar. Will the sugar think, "This is a jungle bhikkhu. I shan't be
fully sweet for him. I shall be only half as sweet for him as I am
for people in towns"?
D: Sugar isn't partial, sir, it is a sweet for one as for the
S: It is just the same with the awareness of mind and matter. If
you keep up this awareness you will taste the Dhamma immediately, just
as you taste sweetness when you eat sugar. Is it possible that you
still mistake salt for sugar?
You go to the market so many times and you can easily distinguish
between salt and sugar. You are not going to buy salt for sugar. The
peerless Buddha penetrated the truth and really knew it. He can
distinguish between what is liberation and and what is suffering, and
therefore he gave this liberation to human beings, Devas and Brahmas
alike. He just asked them to "eat." Just eat it, it is real. Will
you remain here without eating, fearing that it could turn out not to
be true liberation?
D: We haven't reached that point yet, sir. We are just listening
to your words.
S: Eat as I told you. You will not go wrong. And why can't you
go wrong? Because mind and matter are actually arising and
Why should you concentrate on the spot, though you don't know
liberation yet? If you don't eat something, will you ever know what
it tastes like? You know a lot about the Dhamma. You know about mind
and matter; you know what the Suttas are, and you know about the
Vinaya, and you know the Abhidhamma. You know, "This is serenity
meditation, and this is insight meditation."
D: But, sir, all this is mixed up in our head like a giant
S: Let it be a mix-up. Pay attention to this spot only, as I
taught you. Later, this mix-up will be disentangled, everything will
fall into place. If we go east we will get to a place in the east; if
we go west we will arrive at a place in the west. The spot is like a
vehicle. If you want to go to Mandalay, you have to board a train to
Mandalay and stay on it. The spot is like the train; don't leave it.
Keep your attention focused on it very closely. This is all I have to
say. There is nothing to be said apart from this.
Do you know the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path?
How do you think they apply to this practice of concentrating on the
D: If one concentrates on the spot with right concentration then
one attains the knowledge of right view, sir.
S: Are the other elements of the Noble Eightfold Path pertinent
to this practice?
D: Sir, the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path are:
(1) right view; (2) right thought; (3) right speech; (4) right
action; (5) right livelihood; (6) right effort; (7) right
mindfulness; (8) right concentration.
When our mind is fixed on the spot, we don't think unskillful
thoughts in anyway. Therefore right thought is there, sir. As we are
not talking at all, we don't speak lies and therefore there is right
speech. As awareness of breathing is a good action, right action is
included in this practice. There is right livelihood too, as we are
not trying to make a living by deceiving others, sir. We are putting
our entire effort into keeping our attention at the spot, so there is
right effort. Because we focus our attention on the breath without
letting go, we have right mindfulness. And as the attention remains
at the spot without wandering here and there, we have attained right
S: So you think this is like a boat or a train?
D: Yes, sir, it is like a vehicle that takes a person to his
S: Do not leave this vehicle, do you understand? Keep your
attention firmly focused here, on the spot, and never leave this spot.
In this way you will reach your goal. Sometimes you may become
impatient traveling on the train to Mandalay and think, "I want to go
to Mandalay, but is this train really going there or is it going to
Rangoon?" If this happens, will you get off? Don't! Continue on
your journey and you will see that you will eventually arrive in
If you get fed up and bored, don't leave the train. When you are
enjoying yourselves, don't get down. When you are ill, stay on the
train and stay also when you are strong and healthy. When you have
plenty of company, stay. When you are all alone, don't leave. When
people say unpleasant things to you, persist, and when they speak to
you respectfully, don't get off your train. What would you do if
people were to hit you because they don't like you?
D: Sir, I think I would run away.
S: Just keep your attention on the spot. Even if robbers hit
you, they can't strike down this awareness.
D: True, sir, but I think this awareness would go if they would
strike at me.
S: Not necessarily. Our Bodhisatta, [*] in one of his lives,
became the king of monkeys. One day he found a brahmin who had fallen
down a precipice in the jungle and was helpless and certainly going to
die down there. This brahmin was lamenting his fate and crying, "Oh
poor me, I have fallen into a chasm a hundred yards deep. I shall
certainly die down here. Oh poor me, oh oh oh.... My relatives and
friends, my wife and children, don't know about my misfortune. Nobody
is here to help me. Oh oh....", and he cried.
[*] Bodhisatta: A Buddha-to-be; an individual who, inspired by
a Buddha, makes a vow to work for the attainment of
Now noble beings are always concerned with the welfare of all
beings, without exception. And as the Bodhisatta is such a noble
being, he who was then the monkey-king felt pity for the brahmin in
the same way he would have felt pity for his own children. And so he
climbed down the precipice and went up to the brahmin. "Do not fear,
do not despair, I won't let you die. I shall take you back to the
place you want to go," he said to the brahmin to reassure him to cheer
him up. And he meant it, too.
But he wasn't ready yet to put him on his shoulders and carry him
up the rocks, because he was afraid that he might fall and the brahmin
might be hurt. He took a big rock of about the same weight as the
brahmin, put it on one shoulder and tried to carry it up the
precipice, jumping from rock to rock. Only after having passed this
test did he carefully take the brahmin on his shoulders and climb back
up, jumping from one boulder to the next.
After this great effort, the monkey-king was exhausted. He was
happy while performing this good action, but he was still happier when
he had accomplished it and had saved a life. He was confident that
the brahmin he had saved from certain death was trustworthy, and said,
"After carrying you up, I am a little tired. Please keep watch for a
while so that I can rest." Then he placed his head in the brahmin's
lap thinking himself well protected from all the dangers of the
jungle. But while the king of the monkeys slept, the brahmin thought,
"I shall go back home soon, but I have nothing to give my wife and
children. I shall kill this big monkey and give his flesh to them as
a gift." He took the rock the Bodhisatta had carried up for the
test-run and dealt the Bodhisatta's head a deadly blow. He didn't do
this hesitatingly, feeling sorry for his savior, but he hit him hard,
so as to kill him with the first blow.
When the Bodhisatta felt the pain of the blow, he quickly climbed
the next tree and he asked himself who or what had attacked him. He
then saw that there was no enemy around, but that the brahmin himself
had tried to kill him, and he thought to himself: "Yes, there are
people like this in the world, too." As the Bodhisatta was thinking
this, the brahmin started lamenting again, exclaiming that he was lost
in this big jungle and that he would perish after all. But the
monkey-king said to him, speaking from the tree, "Don't worry; don't
be afraid. I have promised you I shall take you back to your home and
I shall not break this promise. I shall take you home. I can't carry
you on my shoulder anymore, but as you opened my skull, there is blood
dripping to the ground continuously. Just follow the track of blood I
shall make for you from up in the trees."
This is how the Bodhisatta acted. He took all this on himself
because his goal was Omniscience, Buddhahood. He worked on all the
ten sublime perfections -- the //parami//.
Did the Bodhisatta rescind from accomplishing the good deed he had
undertaken to complete because he was afraid that the man who had
attempted to take his life might again try to kill him? Did he
abandon him in the jungle?
D: No, sir, the Bodhisatta led the brahmin home with great
loving-kindness, in order to perfect his //parami//.
S: You see, if one aspires to omniscient Buddhahood, one has to
fulfill the perfections, the ten //parami//, in this way, without
ever taking a break, without ever resting. Otherwise one can't attain
Buddhahood. Do you understand? A Bodhisatta never rests, he never
becomes lax, he works on the ten perfections all the time.
You told me only a moment ago that you couldn't keep up your
awareness if robbers would attack you and try to kill you?
D: I couldn't keep it up as yet, sir.
S: But you are aspiring to awakening, aren't you?
D: Yes, sir, I am.
S: If you want it you can achieve it. If you keep your attention
focused as I taught you, you will get much out of it, even if people
should hit you, pound you and destroy you. Have you heard the story
of Tissa Thera?
D: No, sir, I haven't.
S: Tissa Thera received the teachings of the Buddha and
appreciating their value, he thought: "Now I can't continue living in
this grand style," and he gave all his possessions to his younger
brother. Then he became a monk and went to live and meditate in the
jungle with his begging bowl and his set of three robes.
Now his brother's wife thought, "It is very enjoyable to possess
all the riches of my husband's older brother. If he remains a monk we
shall have these riches for the rest of our lives. But maybe he will
not attain awakening, and then he will possibly return to laylife. So,
I had best have him killed." And she gave money to some robbers and
said to them, "Go and kill Tissa Thera. I shall give you more money
after you have completed the job."
So, the robbers went to the forest where Tissa Thera lived and
grabbed him. He said, "I don't possess anything, but if you want to
take my bowl and robes, please do so." The robbers replied, "We only
want to kill you. Your brother's wife gave us money to kill you and
she will give us more still after we have completed the job. That is
why we have to kill you." Tissa Thera thought, "I am not emancipated
from suffering yet," and he felt ashamed of himself. He said to the
robbers, "Yes, yes, you have to kill me, but please give me until dawn
and then only make an end to my life." The bandits replied, "All are
afraid of death, and if this monk escapes, we shall not get our
money." "You don't trust me? Well, I shall make you trust me,"
Tissa Thera replied, and he took a rock and smashed both his legs.
Then he said, "Now I can't run away anymore, so please don't kill me
Though the dacoits were very rough people, due to the
loving-kindness of Tissa Thera they felt compassion and decided to let
him live until day-break.
Tissa Thera admonished himself: "Venerable Tissa, there is not
much time left, dawn is close. Put forth effort!" He put forth
strong effort in the practice of the Buddha's teachings and as he
worked with a steady mind, dawn arrived. As the sun rose, he
fulfilled his aspiration and attained happiness. "I have attained
release from the cycle of birth and death," he rejoiced. He then woke
the robbers and said, "The day has dawned, rise and come!" and he was
full of joy. Now, is Tissa Thera a real disciple of the Buddha, an
D: Yes, sir, he is.
S: Whose development is faster, do you think, that of someone who
meditates with both legs broken, or that of someone who meditates as
D: Sir, I would prefer to meditate without first breaking my
S: Tissa Thera got it before dawn even with both his legs broken.
Will you get it before the day breaks?
D: I don't think that I could get it, sir. It will take me
longer than that. We take it easy, sir. If one doesn't have to break
one's legs, effort is less and progress therefore slower.
S: In that case, you are not so eager to attain your goal
D: Sir, we like to go slowly, slowly.
S: Well, then maybe you //should// break your legs and then
D: I don't have the courage to do that, sir. I say that I do
aspire to Nibbana, but in my mind I am still fearful. I don't have
the strength to accept being killed after breaking my own legs.
S: In that case, work just the same, but without breaking your
D: We shall work hard in the way you taught us, sir. We are
emulating Visakha and Anathapindika, sir. [*] It says in the
scriptures that they are enjoying a good life in the Deva planes now
and we would like to have that same type of enjoyment also, sir.
[*] Visakha was an eminent female disciple of the Buddha, and
Anathapindika an eminent male lay disciple.
S: They are enjoying a good life after having attained a lot.
But you have not attained to the same stage yet, have you? Are you
really doing as they did?
Anathapindika went to Rajagaha as a banker on business. Only when
he reached there did he come to know that a Buddha had arisen in the
world. He didn't go to Rajagaha to meditate or to pay respects to the
Buddha. But when he was told about the Buddha, he went to see him
immediately, in the middle of the night. He had to leave the city
walls to go to the place where the Buddha resided. When he stood
before the Buddha, he attained what he had aspired for. If someone
drops everything and hurries to the Buddha in the middle of the night,
is the effort of that person great or small? Do you think he ever let
go of Buddha as the object of his mind while on the way to see him?
D: No, sir, he didn't.
S: Now, tell me about yourselves.
D: We lose the awareness of the object while we walk, or while we
think and so on, sir.
S: If you want to become like Anathapindika, you have to strive
as he strove.
D: Anathapindika had to go through a cemetery on his way to the
Buddha, sir. That much we can do too, sir.
S: It is said that Anathapindika began his meditation in the
first watch of the night and attained the path and fruit of
stream-entry when the day broke. But if you can't get it by day
break, never mind. It is good enough if you can get it by the time
the sun has risen and it is light. Tell me, will you work so that you
can attain the goal by tomorrow?
D: Sir, we too shall go through a cemetery to come to your
monastery and in this way we shall emulate Anathapindika.
S: Did he allow the continuity of awareness to be interrupted?
D: He didn't, sir, but we are doing the same as he did only as
far as the way is concerned.
S: If you really want to become like Anathapindika, you have to
work. If you work, you can fulfill your aspiration. If you don't
work, you won't achieve anything. Is it not possible for you to
concentrate on the spot where the air touches?
D: It is possible, sir.
S: To become like Anathapindika, you have to practice as I taught
you. Will you tell me tomorrow that you attained your goal?
D: I shall tell you that I haven't attained it yet, sir.
S: Do you know what Anathapindika did after he had attained the
first stage of awakening? He thought, "This is incomparable! My
king, my people, my relatives, my sons and daughters, city dwellers
and country folk, all of them have not yet heard that a Buddha has
arisen. I want them to experience the same bliss I have experienced.
Now, how can I accomplish this? I have to invite the Buddha and make
him stay for some time in my city, Savatthi, and all can go and meet
him. The Buddha, out of great compassion, will teach them, and at the
end of the teaching human beings and gods alike will attain the bliss
I have attained."
Anathapindika understood the ultimate truth and he knew the reason
he understood it. He invited the Buddha in order to help others to
understand also. He had rest houses built every ten miles along the
road from Rajagaha to his native city. In Savatthi he built the
Jetavana monastery for the Buddha, and he arranged everything in such
a way that there was a place for everyone. He provided everything,
giving to all, from beggar to the king. Thanks to Anathapindika's
arrangements, the people who met the Buddha on his journey to Savatthi
gained benefits also. During the Buddha's journey, many people, Devas
and Brahmas attained what they had aspired to. How many do you think
were those who benefited?
D: We don't know, sir.
S: How many human beings, how many celestial beings attained
D: A great many, sir.
S: How many beings fulfilled their aspiration in the wink of an
eye? It was 180 millions of Brahmas and countless millions of Devas.
How many beings attained awakening as time went by?
D: They must be innumerable, sir.
S: Anathapindika continued to support the teachings of the Buddha
and due to his effort many attained the deathless. Understanding
this, you have to make a lot of effort to attain your goal by
tomorrow. Will you do this?
D: Do not think too highly of me, sir. I don't think I am able
to get it by tomorrow.
S: You are hungry and your wife offers you food, but still you
D: When it comes to food, I will even force my way to the table,
S: Do you eat even though you don't want to eat or because you
want to eat?
D: Because I want to eat, sir.
S: For how long is your hunger appeased if you eat once?
D: For about half a day, sir.
S: For how long will your hunger be stilled if you eat the way
D: For the remainder of the cycle of birth and death, sir.
S: Tell me, what is the best for you: the food your wife offers
you and that keeps you satisfied for half a day, or what the Buddha
offers you and that keeps you satisfied for the remainder of the cycle
of birth and death?
D: I have to answer that what the Buddha offers is best for me,
S: You do eat what your wife offers you. What then do you do
with the food the Buddha offers?
D: I'm hesitant about that, sir. That's the reason why I don't
approve of myself, sir.
S: Good, good. Work hard. You put so much effort into doing all
these other things because you don't view mind and matter properly.
But you do feel respect for the Buddha. Having decided to meditate,
meditate. As you meditate you may find that your limbs grow aching
and stiff. Now, don't think: "Why do I get this pain? Is it
dangerous?" But make a resolve: "Let it be dangerous! If I have to
die, so be it. I have died in the past also." How many times do you
think you have died?
D: Innumerable times, sir.
S: Tell me, have you ever died while you were meditating?
D: No, sir, I have died while being unskillful only. That is why
I am still so agitated.
S: So, if we have to die, how should we look at it? "I have never
died so far while meditating. I shall not wait until dawn. Let me
die even right now, so that I can get the experience of dying while
meditating." You should think in this way. If you die while
meditating, will you become miserable?
D: No, sir.
S: If you live a life of laziness and sloth, will you become
D: No, sir. I shall continue going round in the cycle of birth
and death, sir.
S: "I have never before, in the whole cycle of birth and death,
had stiff and aching limbs because of meditation. It is good if I
experience these troubles now." Thus should you look at your pains.
Even though your limbs ache, do not give up. Know that wise people of
the past have walked on the same path.
You will have to work. If you only talk about putting forth
effort, you will not attain anything. Only if you meditate can you
come to understand. Now you are probably thinking: "We want to
meditate, but this venerable monk is talking for a long time." So now
focus your mind as the Buddha taught and meditate with firm effort and
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TITLE OF WORK: The Essential Practice: Dhamma Discourses of Venerable
Webu Sayadaw -- Part 1 (Wheel Publication No. 375/376)
AUTHOR: Ven. Webu Sayadaw; translated from the Burmese by Roger
AUTHOR'S ADDRESS: N/A (deceased)
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DATE OF PUBLICATION: 1991
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