Part II

The Craft of the Heart

When I first became aware of the conflicting views held by people who practice—and of how ill-informed they are—I felt inspired by their desire to learn the truth, but at the same time dismayed over their views: right mixed with wrong, some people saying that the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna still exist, others maintaining that they have passed away and can no longer be attained. This latter belief is a particular cause for dismay, because a desire for the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna is what has led us all to submit ourselves to the practice of the Buddha’s teachings in the first place. If we don’t have such a desire, we aren’t likely to be especially sincere in our practice; and if we aren’t sincere, our practice will be in vain as far as the benefits the Buddha intended for us are concerned, because the Buddha’s sole purpose in teaching was to liberate living beings from suffering and stress. If we were to worm our way in as parasites on his religion, it would run counter to his compassionate intentions toward us. Ordinarily, each and every one of us aims for what is good, so we should take an interest in whatever factors may lead to release from suffering and stress. Don’t let the Buddha’s teaching pass you by in vain.

By and large, from what I’ve seen of people who practice, a great many of them train themselves in ways that mix right with wrong, and then set themselves up as teachers, instructing their pupils in line with their various theories about jhāna, concentration, nibbāna, and the stream leading to it. The lowest level are those who get so caught up with their own views and opinions that their teachings turn into wrong views—saying, for example, that we don’t have enough merit to practice, that we’ve been born too late for the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna and so have to give up our practice. (Opinions of this sort run the gamut from crude to middling to subtle.)

But no matter what level a person may know, if he doesn’t know the hearts and minds of others, he’ll have great difficulty in making his teachings effective and beneficial. Even though he may have good intentions, if he lacks knowledge of those he is teaching, progress will be difficult. The Buddha, whenever he taught, knew the capabilities and dispositions of his listeners, and the level of teaching for which they were ripe. He then tailored his teachings to suit their condition, which was why he was able to get good results. Even though he had a lot of seed to sow, he planted it only where he knew it would bear fruit. If he saw that the soil was barren or the climate harsh, he wouldn’t plant any seed at all. But as for us, we have only a fistful of rice and yet we cast it along a mountain spine or in the belly of the sea, and so get either meager results or none at all.

Thus in this book, I have included teachings on every level—elementary, intermediate, and advanced—so that the reader can conveniently pick out the teachings appropriate for his or her own level of attainment.

In practicing meditation, if you direct your mind along the right path, you’ll see results in the immediate present. At the same time, if you lead yourself astray, you’ll reap harm in the immediate present as well. For the most part, if meditators lack the training that comes from associating with good people who are truly expert and experienced, they can become deluded or schizoid in a variety of ways. How so? By letting themselves get carried away with the signs or visions that appear to them, to the point where they lose sense of their own bodies and minds. Playing around with an external kasiṇa is a special culprit in this regard. Those who lack sufficient training will tend to hallucinate, convinced of the truth of whatever they focus on, letting themselves get carried away by what they know and see until they lose touch with reality, making it difficult for any sort of discernment to arise. For this reason, in this guide I have taught to focus exclusively on the body and mind, the important point being not to fasten on or become obsessed with whatever may appear in the course of your practice.

There are a wide variety of meditation teachers who deviate from the basic principles taught by the Buddha. Some of them, hoping for gain, status, or praise, set up their own creeds with magical formulae and strict observances, teaching their students to invoke the aid of the Buddha. (Our Lord Buddha isn’t a god of any sort who is going to come to our aid. Rather, we have to develop ourselves so as to reach his level.) Some teachers invoke the five forms of rapture, or else visions of this or that color or shape. If you see such and such vision, you attain the first level of the path, and so on until you attain the second, third, and fourth levels, and then once a year you present your teacher with offerings of rice, fruit, and a pig’s head. (The Buddha’s purpose in spreading his teachings was not that we would propitiate him with offerings. He was beyond the sway of material objects of any sort whatsoever.) Once the pupils of such teachers come to the end of their observances, they run out of levels to attain, and so can assume themselves to be Buddhas, private Buddhas, or noble disciples, and thus they become instant arahants. Their ears prick up, their hair stands on end, and they get excited all out of proportion to any basis in reality.

When you study with some teachers, you have to start out with an offering of five candles and incense sticks, or maybe ten, plus so-and-so many flowers and so-and-so much puffed rice, on this or that day of the week, at this or that time of day, depending on the teacher’s preferences. (If you can afford it, there’s nothing really wrong with this, but it means that poor people or people with little free time will have trouble getting to learn how to meditate.) Once you finish the ceremony, the teacher tells you to meditate arahaṁ, arahaṁ, or buddho, buddho, until you get the vision he teaches you to look for—such as white, blue, red, yellow, a corpse, water, fire, a person, the Buddha, a noble disciple, heaven, hell—and then you start making assumptions that follow the drift of the objects you see. You jump to the conclusion that you’ve seen something special or have attained nibbāna. Sometimes the mind gathers to the point where you sit still, in a daze, with no sense of alertness at all. Sometimes you experience a bright light and lose your bearings. Or else pleasure arises and you become attached to the pleasure, or stillness arises and you become attached to the stillness, or a vision or a color arises and you become attached to that. (All of these things are nothing more than uggaha nimitta.)

Perhaps a thought arises and you think that it’s insight, and then you really get carried away. You may decide that you’re a stream-enterer, a once-returner, or an arahant, and no one in the world can match you. You latch on to your views as correct in every way, giving rise to pride and conceit, assuming yourself to be this or that. (All of the things mentioned here, if you get attached to them, are wrong.) When this happens, liberating insight won’t have a chance to arise.

So you have to keep digging away for decades—and then get fixated on the fact that you’ve been practicing a full twenty years, and so won’t stand for it if anyone comes along and thinks he’s better than you. So, out of fear that others will look down on you, you become even more stubborn and proud, and that’s as far as your knowledge and ingenuity will get you.

When it comes to actual attainment, some people of this sort haven’t even brought the Triple Gem into their hearts. Of course, there are probably many people who know better than this. I don’t mean to cast aspersions on those who know.

For this reason, I have drawn up this book in line with what I have studied and practiced, If you see that this might be the path you are looking for, give it a good look. My teacher didn’t teach like the examples mentioned above. He taught in line with what was readily available, without requiring that you had to offer five incense sticks or ten candles or a pig’s head or puffed rice or flowers or whatever. Whether you were rich or poor, all he asked was that you have conviction in the Buddha and a willingness to practice his teachings. If you wanted to make an offering, some candles and incense as an offering to the Triple Gem would do—one candle if you had one, two if you had two; if you didn’t have any, you could dedicate your life instead. Then he would have you repeat the formula for taking refuge in the Triple Gem as in the method given in this book. His approach to teaching in this way has always struck me as conducive to the practice.

I’ve been practicing for a number of years now, and what I’ve observed all along has led me to have a sense of pity, both for myself and for my fellow human beings. If we practice along the right lines, we may very likely attain the benefits we hope for quickly. We’ll gain knowledge that will make us marvel at the good that comes from the practice of meditation, or we may even see the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna in this present life—because nibbāna is always present. It lacks only the people who will uncover it within themselves. Some people don’t know how; others know, but aren’t interested—and have mistaken assumptions about it to boot: thinking, for example, that nibbāna is extinct, doesn’t exist, can’t be attained, is beyond the powers of people in the present day; saying that since we aren’t noble disciples, how could we possibly attain it. This last is especially deluded. If we were already good, already noble disciples, what purpose would we have in going around trying to attain nibbāna?

If we don’t despise the Buddha’s teachings, then we can all practice them. But the truth of the matter is that though we worship the Dhamma, we don’t practice the Dhamma, which is the same as despising it. If we feel well-enough situated in the present, we may tell ourselves that we can wait to practice the Dhamma in our next lifetime, or at least anytime but right now. Or we may take our defilements as an excuse, saying that we’ll have to abandon greed, anger, and delusion before we can practice the Buddha’s teachings. Or else we take our work as an excuse, saying that we’ll have to stop working first. Actually, there’s no reason that meditation should get in the way of our work, because it’s strictly an activity of the heart. There’s no need to dismantle our homes or abandon our belongings before practicing it; and if we did throw away our belongings in this way, it would probably end up causing harm.

Even though it’s true that we love ourselves, yet if we don’t work for our own benefit—if we vacillate and hesitate, loading ourselves down with ballast and bricks—we make our days and nights go to waste. So we should develop and perfect the factors that bring about the paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna: virtue, concentration, and discernment. If you’re interested, then examine the procedures explained in the following sections. Pick out whichever section seems to correspond to your own level and abilities, and take that as your guide.

As for myself, I was first attracted to the Buddha’s teachings by his statement that to lay claim to physical and mental phenomena as our own is suffering. After considering his teaching that the body is anattā—not-self—I began to be struck by a sense of dismay over the nature of the body. I examined it to see in what way it was not-self, and—as far as my understanding allowed—the Buddha’s teaching began to make very clear sense to me. I considered how the body arises, is sustained and passes away, and I came to the conclusion that:

(1) it arises from upādāna—clinging through mistaken assumptions—which forms the essence of kamma.

(2) It is sustained by nourishment provided by our parents; and since our parents have nothing of their own with which to nourish us, they have to search for food—two-footed animals, four-footed animals, animals in the water, and animals on land—either buying this food or else killing it on their own and then feeding it to us. The animals abused in this way are bound to curse and seek revenge against those who kill and eat them, just as we are possessive of our belongings and seek revenge against those who rob us.

Those who don’t know the truth of the body take it to be the self, but after considering the diseases we suffer in our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and throughout the various parts of the body, I concluded that we’ve probably been cursed by the animals we’ve eaten, because all of these parts come from the food we’ve made of their bodies. And so our body, cursed in this way, suffers pain with no recourse for begging mercy. Thus, victim to the spirits of these animals, we suffer pains in the eyes, pains in the ears, pains in the nose and tongue and throughout the body, until in the end we have to relinquish the whole thing so they can eat it all up. Even while we’re still living, some of them—like mosquitoes and sand flies—come and try to take it by force. If we don’t let go of our attachments to the body, we’re bound to suffer for many lives to come. This is one reason why I felt attracted to the Buddha’s teachings on not-self.

(3) The body passes away from being denied nourishment. The fact that this happens to us is without a doubt a result of our past actions. We’ve probably been harsh with other living beings, denying them food to the point where they’ve had to part with the bodies they feel such affection for. When the results of such actions reach fruition, our bodies will have to break up and disband in the same way.

Considering things in this manner caused me to feel even more attracted to the practical methods recommended by the Buddha for seeing not-self and letting go of our clinging assumptions so that we no longer have to be possessive of the treasures claimed by ignorant and fixated animals. If we persist in holding on to the body as our own, it’s the same as cheating others of their belongings, turning them into our own flesh and blood and then, forgetting where these things came from, latching on to them as our very own. When this happens, we’re like a child who, born in one family and then taken and raised in another family with a different language, is sure to forget his original language and family name. If someone comes along and calls him by his original name, he most likely won’t stand for it, because of his ignorance of his own origins. So it is with the body: Once it has grown, we latch on to it, assuming it to be the self. We forget its origins and so become drugged, addicted to physical and mental phenomena, enduring pain for countless lifetimes.

These thoughts are what led me to start practicing the teachings of the Buddha so as to liberate myself from this mass of suffering and stress.

Thus those of us who are still undeveloped and at a tender age should practice the Dhamma in line with the strength of their understanding.

If there is anything defective or incomplete in what I have written, or if there are any passages that don’t rest well on your ears, please make corrections in line with the aims of the Blessed One, the Lord Buddha.