The Buddha’s path consists of three trainings: training in heightened virtue; in heightened mind, or concentration; and in heightened discernment. Although all three are essential for Awakening, the Buddha often singled out the second training for special attention. Ajaan Lee does the same in the talks translated here. As he once said, the three trainings are like posts supporting a bridge over a river. The posts on the near shore and far—virtue and discernment—are not that hard to set in place, for they lie in shallow water away from the main current of the river. The posts in the middle of the river—concentration—are the ones requiring special effort, and so they need to be treated in depth.

In previous collections of Ajaan Lee’s talks, the main focus has been on technique. Here the focus is more on attitudes to bring to the practice of concentration. In some cases, Ajaan Lee shows the importance of concentration by exploring its role in the path of practice as a whole. In others he admonishes his listeners while they are meditating not to wander astray, or encourages them to stay the course. The admonitions and encouragement are especially notable for the inventive stories with which Ajaan Lee reinforces his points.

Many of the passages translated here had their beginnings in talks that Ajaan Lee gave to groups of people while they were meditating. In some cases, the people were his followers; in others, total strangers. Ajaan Lee thus found it necessary to cover all levels of practice at once. His main topic is often the most basic question that occurs to people new to meditation—Why meditate?—but he also includes brief hints to more experienced meditators, as food for their own contemplation.

One aspect of Ajaan Lee’s teachings that might strike you as foreign is his analysis of the body into four properties: earth, fire, water, and wind. This mode of analysis dates back to the time of the Buddha, although Ajaan Lee develops it in a distinctive way. Think of this analysis not as an attempt at biology or chemistry—the sciences we use to analyze the body from the outside—but as a way of analyzing how the body feels from the inside. This is an aspect of awareness that we often overlook and that, in English at least, we have a poor vocabulary for describing. As you gain through meditation a greater familiarity with this aspect of your awareness, you’ll come to see how useful Ajaan Lee’s method of analysis is.

Two of the talks in this collection—“Dhamma for Everyone” and “The Power of Goodness”—were translated from transcripts of taped recordings of Ajaan Lee’s talks. The remaining passages have taken a more circuitous route from Ajaan Lee’s mouth to your eyes. One of his followers—a nun, Mae Chii Arun Abhivaṇṇā—took notes during his talks, from which she later worked up reconstructed versions of what Ajaan Lee had said. Ajaan Lee had a chance to review and revise the reconstructions of the talks dated prior to 1957. As for the talks given on later dates, Mae Chii Arun didn’t make reconstructions until after Ajaan Lee’s death in 1961, and so these were printed without his input.

Although the talks make for great reading, they make for even better listening. If you meditate with a group of friends, try arranging for one member of the group to read a passage while the others are meditating. In that way, you can best recreate the context for which the talks were originally intended.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu

(Geoffrey DeGraff)

metta forest monastery

February, 2008