January 12, 2024

Of all the chants we have in our repertoire, the one that we did just now is the one that people complain about the most: listing the parts of the body. It’s interesting that it’s simply saying what there is in the body, and pointing out the fact that these parts are not all that clean. It’s denounced as badmouthing the body, creating a negative image of the body, when it’s simply stating facts.

Ajaan Suwat would often make this point: What is there that’s untrue in that list? The reason a lot of people don’t like it is because they want to delight in the body.

What does that mean, “delight”? From the Buddha’s point of view, it means dressing up a pleasure to make it more than it really is. Our defilements are really good at that.

In fact, we think that that’s a large part of the pleasure. And that’s true, because without the delight, without the dressing up, a lot of our pleasures would be pretty meager. Think about the pleasures you had from last week: As Ajaan Suwat would often say, “Where are they now?” They came for a little bit—the taste of the food, whatever the sensations, sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations—and now they’re all gone.

But we can think about them—embroider them, make them more than what they were—so that we can go after them again. A life without delight, we think, would be one without purpose, without any flavor. So, when we hear that the arahants are beyond delight, it sounds pretty bleak. But that’s not the case. They’ve found a happiness, they’ve found a bliss, that doesn’t need dressing up. It’s complete in and of itself.

Now, we do have passages in the Canon, like the one where Ven. Bhaddiya is sitting under a tree and exclaiming, “What bliss! What bliss!” He’s exclaiming about the bliss that comes from not having to worry about possessions anymore, not worrying about the dangers that come from having power. He’s free to sit under a tree; his needs are met by people’s gifts; his mind is free like a wild deer. So he exclaims, “What bliss! What bliss!”

The Buddha wants to have him say that in front of the other monks so that they can understand what he means. But commenting on that bliss doesn’t add anything to the happiness of nibbāna. It’s hard for us to imagine—because so many of our pleasures are bound up in delight—that there could be something that doesn’t need delight. It’s good to think about, though.

But it’s also good to remember that the path itself is something you have to delight in, in order to follow it. Because the mind is so good at dressing up the pleasures of the defilements, we have to get good at dressing up the pleasures of the path to counteract our old tendencies—so that the defilements don’t have all the good lines. There was a play one time, back in the Fifties, about Adam and Eve, and the title of the play was The Snake Has All the Lines. In other words, the snake has all the clever things to say. Well, that’s not what you want in your mind as you’re practicing. You don’t want your defilements to have all the lines.

So the Buddha gives you a list of skillful things that you can delight in as you’re practicing.

The first is the Dhamma itself: the fact that we have this Dhamma that points to the power of the mind. It says that our minds are capable of developing qualities within them that can lead to total freedom from suffering—something totally deathless. And the Dhamma lays out the path.

If you don’t delight in this, what are you going to delight in? There are people who delight in the idea that there’s no such thing as right or wrong. They delight in the idea that their actions are totally predetermined, so nobody can blame them for anything—which is a miserable sort of delight, a very childish sort of delight.

You want to delight in the fact that you do potentially have this power. It places responsibilities on you, which is why you have to learn how to delight in it: to remind yourself that because you’re responsible, possibilities get opened up, possibilities beyond your imagination. You can’t imagine nibbāna. It’s that good. It’s that outstanding.

But the Dhamma does give a description of how you get there, pointing to what you can do. You can develop skillful qualities, you can abandon unskillful ones, and you’ll be happy because of that.

Which leads to the next two topics of delight: to delight in abandoning unskillful qualities and to delight in developing skillful ones. Again, we tend to delight the other way around. We delight in our cravings; we delight in our defilements. We don’t take much delight in working at making the mind more responsible, making it more trustworthy.

So you have to learn how to think in terms that counteract that old tendency. It’s good that you’re able to sit here and find happiness just breathing, learning how to savor the breath. Become a connoisseur of the breath. Learn to expand your vocabulary for what the breath can do. The breath can be exquisite, it can be fulfilling, gratifying. Simply thinking those words opens possibilities. So, you’re not just selling yourself on the path in a vain attempt to make something unpleasant pleasant—you’re actually opening possibilities for what can be found here as you explore the body from within.

The Buddha may be talking about how unclean the body is, and how there’s really nothing there worth lusting for, but that doesn’t mean the body is totally worthless. You can find pleasure from within the body, as you sense it right here, right now.

So, expand your vocabulary for what the breath can do. And as the mind begins to settle down, learn to appreciate the mind when it’s still. You can think back on times when the mind was weighed down, hemmed in by the affairs of the world, and how much better off you are here being quiet, just breathing—finding contentment in the skills that you can develop sitting with your eyes closed.

At the same time, when you can see yourself overcome a particular defilement—take joy in that fact. There’s that part of the mind that gets very cynical and says, “Well, you can abandon craving today, but it’s going to come back tomorrow.” Still, that doesn’t mean that your abandoning it today is worthless. You’re developing a new habit.

It may still be weak, it may still be tender, but you know that if you protect tender things, they get strong. Little shoots that come up out of the ground are so easy to step on, yet some of the most worthwhile plants start out in very tiny, tender shape. So you learn how to protect them. You remind yourself of how important it is to protect them, and what they can do for you.

So, learn how to delight in abandoning the things you know are unskillful, and to delight in developing the things you know are skillful, because it’s in that direction that true happiness lies.

The fourth thing the Buddha has you delight in is seclusion. There are two types: physical and mental. Physical seclusion is learning to find joy in being apart from other people, turning off your phone, turning off all your devices, and just being with your mind—and learning that you can develop qualities in the mind that are really enjoyable, so that you don’t feel deprived of company. You’re happy to find some time by yourself.

As for mental seclusion: You seclude yourself from sensuality, you seclude yourself from unskillful mental qualities, and you get the mind into concentration. You find joy there, appreciating the stillness of the mind.

This is a point that bears repeating: Think about that list of things the Buddha has you respect, that help keep the Dhamma alive. He talks about respect for the Triple Training, and then he talks about respect for concentration as well. Now, concentration is in the Triple Training, but he wants to single it out as especially deserving of respect because it’s so easy to overlook.

There are people who say it’s not necessary. Other people say, “Well, it’s a necessary step, but let’s get through it as fast as we can so we can get onto the really interesting work of discernment.” But the discernment work is not going to work—it’s not going to have the proper effect—unless you really pay careful attention to what’s happening as the mind settles down, because there are a lot of lessons to learn here.

As the mind settles down and a thought begins to form, you can watch the process and see, “Oh, there are these steps.” And they can be pretty arbitrary. When you see how arbitrary they are, it frees you from a lot of the unskillful things that can otherwise take over the mind.

So you have certain choices: You can go with the thought, or not. You can place a label on a particular stirring in the energy of the body, the energy of the breath, and turn it into one kind of thought, but you can place another label on it, too, and turn it into a better thought.

There’s lots to learn in just getting the mind to settle down, paying careful attention to what you’re doing, and not thinking, “Well, this is something I have to get through so I can move on to the next step.” It’s by paying careful attention right here to this step that the next step appears.

As for the last two types of delight, they have to do with aspects of nibbāna—the goal this path leads to. You may not be able to directly experience it yet, but in anticipation it’s good to delight in the fact that you’re practicing a path that leads to what the Buddha calls the *unafflicted—*a state in which there’s no sense of affliction whatsoever—and we’re talking of even the subtlest afflictions.

There’s an interesting sutta where Ven. Sariputta goes through the states of concentration, and how aspects of a lower state of concentration become afflictive as you go into a higher state of concentration. So even the joy of concentration appears afflictive as you get better and better at it. This inclines the mind to something that’s totally unafflicted, which would be the deathless: totally free from change, totally free from stress, outside of space and time.

The other aspect of nibbāna to delight in is that there’s papañca, no objectification. In other words, there’s none of the thinking where you lay claim to things and then have to fight everybody else off. Nipapañca is the Pali word for this. The thing to note about the word papañca is that the Buddha never really defines it, but he does talk about its bad effects, and one of the bad effects is that it gets you into conflict. That’s the primary thing that’s associated with papañca, so nipapañca is free from conflict. That’s the goal to which we’re aiming.

Think about that: You look at the world around us—there’s nothing but conflict. And it’s all so stupid. It’s all so destructive. But here we’re aiming at something that doesn’t involve any conflict at all because you don’t have to lay claim to anything, so there are no conflicting claims.

There’s a passage in the Canon that talks about one of the amazing things about the deathless is that no matter how many people go in there, there’s always room for everybody. Just like the ocean: No matter how many rivers flow into it there’s always room for the water of all the rivers.

So, that’s where this path is aimed, and it’s good to delight in that fact: that we’re on a path that’s going to something totally harmless, and teaches us to be relatively harmless as we follow the precepts, as we continue living the path. But when we get to the deathless, it’s totally free from harm. You’re not harmed; you’re not inflicting any harm on anybody else. Learn how to delight in that fact. We’re going to a place that’s really good, and the steps there are good as well.

As the passage that we chant says again and again, “It’s admirable in the beginning, admirable in the middle, admirable in the end.” We start with good principles like generosity and virtue, we move on through concentration and discernment, and arrive at a goal that’s absolutely excellent.

So, when your defilements want to get you to delight in other things, think about those chants about the failings of the body, the failings of the world. We’re not badmouthing these things, we’re just pointing out the truth to make it easier to delight in the path.

After all, the path does require effort and it requires dedication. As the Buddha said, it’s through commitment and reflection that the Dhamma grows. You have to commit to the path, and reflection should involve on, the one hand, seeing where the path needs to be developed, but on the other hand, seeing the good things you’re developing. You reflect on this and you take joy in it, you take delight in it: That’s what keeps you going.

So, just as the Buddha’s teaching would be not only instruction, but also encouragement, would rouse you, urge you to practice as you learn how to take delight in practicing the Dhamma and in the goal where the Dhamma’s going to go, you can rouse and encourage yourself as well.