A Home for the Mind
…“Knowing the dhamma” means knowing the truth. Where does the Dhamma lie? Not far off at all. Where are rūpa-dhammas (physical phenomena)? Are there any physical phenomena within us? Are any nāma-dhammas (mental phenomena) within us? They’re both within us, but we don’t know how to read them, to decipher them, because we haven’t yet studied them. Or even when we have tried to study them, we still can’t decipher them in line with the standards set by the Buddha. So let’s try to decipher our body, our actions in thought, word, and deed. Our actions don’t lie anywhere else. They show themselves in the activity of the body. So we use the body in line with the Dhamma, abstaining from the activities that defile it: killing, stealing, engaging in illicit sex. When we abstain from these things, we’ve begun practicing the Dhamma. We abstain from telling lies, from divisive speech, from abusive speech, from idle chatter. When we’re mindful to show restraint in what we say, we won’t encounter any dangers coming from our speech. There are no dangers when we practice in line with the Buddha’s way.
As for the mind, we cleanse it by meditating. We use mindfulness to look after the heart, to make sure it doesn’t get involved in anything defiling or unclean. We keep it cheerful, blooming and bright in its meditation, in investigating the Dhamma, knowing the Dhamma, seeing the Dhamma, until it settles down in the stillness that we’ve developed and kept composed. We keep it blooming and bright. Wherever you go, this is how you should practice. Make your composure continuous. The mind will then gain strength, so that it can let go of its external preoccupations and stay focused exclusively within: at peace and at ease, bright and clear, staying right here.
Then when you want to gain discernment, you can investigate. Focus mindfulness on keeping the body in mind, and then investigate it. This is called dhamma-vicaya, investigating phenomena. You investigate the physical phenomena in the body to see them in line with the four noble truths. You look at the arising of physical phenomena right here. You look at the aging, the illness, the death of phenomena right here within you. If you really look for it, you’ll see that the body is full of death.
How do we see death when the body is still breathing and able to walk around? We can see it if our discernment is subtle and precise. The Buddha saw death with every in-and-out breath, so why can’t we? He once asked Ven. Ānanda how often he paid attention to death in the course of a day, and Ānanda answered, “One hundred times.” The Buddha’s response was: “You’re still too complacent. You should pay attention to death with every in-and-out breath.” What kind of death can you look at with every in-and-out breath? Whatever fades away, ends, and disappears: that’s death. As for the death of the whole body, that comes closer every day, closer with each in-and-out breath. This runs down, that wears out. We have to keep creating things to replace what gets worn out. And whatever we create keeps wearing out, too.
So we should keep track of the wearing out — what’s called vaya-dhamma, degeneration. The Buddha saw this with every moment. This is the sort of seeing that allows us to see the noble truth that birth is stressful, aging is stressful. There’s no ease in aging. Look so that you see this clearly. Pain and illness are stressful, death is stressful, all the affairs that come with birth create hardships, turmoil, and stress.
When you investigate in line with the Buddha’s Dhamma, you’ll see the truth for yourself in every way just as the Buddha did. For it’s all right here. You’ll gain discernment and intelligence, no longer deluded into grasping hold of suffering and making it your self, no longer grasping hold of inconstant things and making them your self. Whatever’s inconstant, leave it as inconstant and don’t make it you. Whatever’s stressful, leave it as stressful and don’t make it you. There’s no you in any of those things. When you aim your investigation in the direction of seeing this clearly, the mind will let go and attain peace, inner solitude, free from clinging.
It’s as when we carry something heavy on our shoulder. We know it’s heavy because it’s weighing on our shoulder. But when we put it down, it’s no longer heavy on us. In the same way, when we see that birth is stressful, aging is stressful, illness is stressful, death is stressful, then we should examine those things as they arise to see that they’re not us. Then we’ll be able to let them go. We should look after our mind to make sure that it doesn’t give rise to the assumption that any of those things are us or ours, or that they lie within us. Those things are just objects, elements, and we leave them at that. Stress then has no owner on the receiving end. It’s just like when you put down a burden: there’s nothing heavy about it at all.
So stress is nothing more than things coming together to make contact. Suppose that we have a big hunk of limestone. When we lift it up, it’s heavy. But if we burn it in a fire, pound it into dust, and the wind blows it away, then where’s the heaviness? It’s nowhere at all. Before, when the limestone was still in the ground, they had to use explosives to get it out. It was so heavy that they needed cranes to lift it up. But now that it’s pulverized, the heaviness is gone.
It’s the same with suffering and stress. If we investigate them down to the details, so that we can see them clearly for what they truly are, there’s no self there at all. We get down to the basic elements of experience, and we see that they’re not our self in the least little bit. If we look at the hair of the head, it’s not self. Fingernails and toenails are not self. Look at every part of the body in detail. Or look at its elementary properties. Exactly where are you in any of those things? There’s no you in there at all.
The same is true when you look at feelings. There’s no you in there at all. There’s simply contact, the contact of objects against the senses, that’s all. If you let go so the mind can come to rest, none of these things will touch it in a way that weighs on it. Only deluded people grab hold of these things, which is why they feel weighed down. If we let them go, we don’t feel weighed down at all.
When we let go of the aggregates (khandhas), they’re not stressful. But we don’t know how to let them go because of birth. Like the mental state you’ve given rise to here: you’ve created it so that it will take birth. Once you’ve given rise to it, then — unless you’re given a good reason — there’s no way you’ll be willing to let it go. It’s the same as when someone suddenly comes to chase us out of our home. Who would be willing to go? We’d go only if we were offered a better place to stay — a safer, more comfortable place to stay. If we were offered such a place, who would be willing to stay? If we had a better place to go, we could abandon our old home with no problem. In the same way, if we’re going to let go of the blatant aggregates, we need a better place to stay, a home for the mind: a state of concentration. Just like the Buddha and his noble disciples: when they let go of the blatant aggregates, they entered cessation, they entered jhāna. When they fully let go of all aggregates, they entered nibbāna.
We, however, don’t yet have anything else to depend on, which is why we can’t let go. We first have to create a refuge for ourselves. At the very least, we should try to keep buddho, buddho, in mind. When we really reach buddho — when the mind is really a mind awake — then we can depend on it.
At the moment, though, we haven’t reached the mind awake. We’ve reached nothing but the demons of defilement, and they keep haunting us. We’re embroiled with nothing but demons; we lie under their power. For instance, maccu-māra: the demon of death, whose followers — aging and illness — we fear so much. Kilesa-māra: delusions and defilements. These are all demons. Khandha-māra: our attachments to the five aggregates are all demons. Abhisaṅkhāra-māra: the thoughts we create, good or bad, are all demons if we fall for them — meritorious creations, demeritorious creations, imperturbable creations. These are the subtle demons, the demons that bedeviled the Buddha on the way to Awakening, dressing themselves up as this and that. If we’re going to let go of these things, we first need something better to hold onto. At the very least we need jhāna, levels of mental stillness more refined than what we have at present.
So we should all try to give rise to the refined levels of peace and ease I’ve mentioned here. When we get disenchanted with turmoil, we can enter a state of stillness. When we get disenchanted with defilement, we can cleanse the heart and make it bright with the Dhamma. We’ll have our home in the Dhamma, in concentration. The heart can then delight, with rapture and ease as its food. We’ll have no desire for coarse food. When we let go of the blatant aggregates, we enter the Brahmā level of refined rapture and ease.
Even the sensual devas don’t eat coarse food like ours. As for the Brahmās, they’re even clearer than that, more radiant within themselves. Their jhāna is pure, and their concentration radiant. The food of this concentration is the rapture and ease they experience. Even here on the human level, when we gain rapture from concentration, we feel full and happy. If we abandon the blatant aggregates, leaving just the mind in its attainment of concentration, imagine how much pleasure and ease there will be. We’ll no longer have to be involved in these heavy burdens of ours. We won’t have to worry about the five or the eight precepts because we’ll be in a pure state of jhāna with no thought of getting stuck on anything defiling. The mind will be bright.
When you understand this, focus back on your heart. Examine it carefully. Be intent on practicing heedfully, and you’ll meet with prosperity and ease.