This book, Ajaan Lee’s first, is like a catalog. In it, he gives the full range of his teachings on the practice of the Buddha’s craft, from the observance of the five precepts to the attainment of total liberation. Thus the different parts are written for different people at different stages in the practice, and the reader is advised to read, not judgmentally, but judiciously—taking whatever is useful for his or her own practice, and leaving the rest for others.

The structure of the book, with its two overlapping parts, is explained by the fact that the two parts were originally written and published separately, Part II appearing in 1936 as The Training of the Heart, and Part I the following year as Precepts for Laypeople. In 1939 Ajaan Lee revised and expanded both parts, putting them together as self-sufficient but complementary halves of a single volume. Later, in the early 1950’s, he revised the book once more. This final revised version, however, contained many typographical errors, so I have compared it closely to the 1939 version, basing this translation on whichever version seemed to have the better reading for any particular passage.

Although Ajaan Lee’s teachings continued to develop over the course of later years, the basic outlines remained constant. Most of his later teachings are simply elaborations on themes already given in this book. One of these later developments, though, deserves special mention here: It concerns the question of how a beginner should get started in practicing meditation. Ajaan Lee’s eventual solution to this question, given in his book, Keeping the Breath in Mind: Method 2, can briefly be stated as follows: Start right in developing the factors of jhāna by (1) being clearly aware of each breath, (2) evaluating and adjusting the breath so that it is as comfortable and satisfying as possible, and (3) letting this comfortable sensation spread, along with a sense of present awareness, throughout the entire body. If an individual meditator had trouble sticking with step (1), Ajaan Lee might recommend some of the methods given in this book—the repetition of the word “buddho” in conjunction with the breath, the contemplation of the basic properties of the body, etc.—but these methods were regarded as ancillary to the central practice of keeping the breath in mind.

Yet even though Ajaan Lee’s later teachings developed new perspectives on some of the individual themes contained in this book, none of his later writings have its scope or completeness. For this reason it remains to this day one of his most popular and esteemed works.

But for all its scope, it is only a preliminary guide—a map or a mirror—for the true craft of the heart lies, not within its covers, but within the reader.

To quote from one of Ajaan Lee’s later sermons: “What does discernment come from? You might compare it with learning to become a potter, a tailor, or a basket weaver. The teacher will start out by telling you how to make a pot, sew a shirt or a pair of pants, or weave different patterns, but the proportions and beauty of the object you make will have to depend on your own powers of observation. Suppose you weave a basket and then take a good look at its proportions, to see if it’s too short or too tall. If it’s too short, weave another one, a little taller, and then take a good look at it to see if there’s anything that still needs improving, to see if it’s too thin or too fat. Then weave another one, better-looking than the last. Keep this up until you have one that’s as beautiful and well-proportioned as possible, one with nothing to criticize from any angle. This last basket you can take as your standard. You can now set yourself up in business. What you’ve done is to learn from your own actions. As for your earlier efforts, you needn’t concern yourself with them any longer. Throw them out. This is a sense of discernment that arises of its own accord, an ingenuity and a sense of judgment that come not from anything your teachers have taught you, but from observing and evaluating on your own what you yourself have done.”

I hope this book will be of help to all those who sincerely want to master the craft of the heart.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

(Geoffrey DeGraff)

Metta Forest Monastery

PO Box 1409

Valley Center, CA 92082 U.S.A.