Coming Ashore

June 28, 1959

The Dhamma is something that cleanses the mind so that it’s bright, clean, and happy. People differ in their temperaments: Some are crude, others intermediate, and others refined. This is why the Buddha elaborated on the Dhamma in various ways in line with the character of his listeners. In other words, he took short things and explained them until they were long. For example, sometimes he’d explain the rewards of generosity, sometimes the rewards of virtue, and sometimes the rewards of polishing the heart: what’s called meditation. But his real aim was to teach people to make their minds pure. Everything else was just elaboration.

Each of us human beings is like a person sitting in a boat in the middle of an ocean filled with wind, waves, and storms. Some people are floating so far out they can’t even see the shore. Some are bobbing up and down, so that sometimes they see the shore and sometimes they don’t. This stands for the people who are repeating buddho, buddho. Some people are floating closer to land, so that they can see the fish traps, the sailboats, and the green trees on shore. Some have struggled to swim closer to shore, but they still haven’t made it to land. As for the Buddha, he’s like a person standing on the shore, free from all the dangers of being at sea. He’s seen the dangers that people are subject to, which is why he has the great compassion to want to help us get out of the sea and safely on land. This is why he teaches us to practice generosity, virtue, and meditation, for these are the things that will pull us safely onto shore.

When we set our minds on practicing the Dhamma, we have to set our sights on the Dhamma’s true aim. Don’t go wandering off in other directions. You have to know which path is the wrong one, the dangerous one; and which one is the right one, the safe one. It’s like steering a ship across the ocean. The captain has to watch for the signals of the lighthouse. Or you can make a comparison with driving a car: The traffic police have their red, yellow, and green lights as traffic signals at the major intersections. If, when the signal has its red light on, you don’t stop, then if you keep on driving there’s bound to be danger, and you’re sure to get pulled over. If the green light is on but you don’t go, that’s wrong, too. This is why when you’re driving you have to understand the signals so that you’ll reach your destination safely.

It’s the same when you’re traveling to the Dhamma. You have to know the Buddha’s traffic signals. His red lights are his prohibitions, the things he doesn’t allow. Anyone who lets his or her boat or car go through the red light will have to meet with danger. So while we’re meditating here we have to make sure we don’t go through the red light of our defilements.

The Buddha compared our defilements to fire. The heat of our single sun can make the world as hot as it is. Think of how hot it would be if there were five or six suns. The defilements around each of our senses are like the heat of the sun. Cakkhuṁ ādittaṁ: The eye is a mass of fire. Sotaṁ ādittaṁ: The ear is a mass of flame. Ghānaṁ ādittaṁ: The nose is a mass of fire. Jivhā ādittā: The tongue is a mass of flame. Kāyo āditto: The body is a mass of fire. Mano āditto: The heart is a mass of flame. Don’t let these six masses of fire burn you. Normally the sensual desires arising around the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind are red masses of flame burning away at the heart. If, while we’re meditating, we stick our minds into these preoccupations, it’s like taking a burning match and sticking it into some kerosene or gasoline. For this reason, while you’re meditating, don’t stick your mind into the affairs of your family, your home, your belongings, or absolutely anybody or anything at all. This is the Buddha’s red light, where he tells you not to go.

The other signal is the green light, the Dhamma being explained. When the light is green, that’s a sign for you to go ahead. The green light here stands for the Dhamma you’ve already studied, as well as the Dhamma you’re training yourself in right now. When the light is green, then whether we’re fast or slow, we have to go. Don’t just loiter around and block the way, or the police will arrest you. In other words, when the Dhamma arises by way of our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, we have to pursue that goodness.

The Dhamma is what pushes or pulls as to goodness and peace. The green light is the Dhamma arising in a heart that’s clean and pure. Right now, have our minds entered the quality of buddha? This is an important point. We have to be observant to see whether the affairs of our minds are heading toward the green light or toward the red light. If we’re not heading in the right direction, we have to turn ourselves around. It’s like picking flowers, washing them, and then putting them in a vase. We have to make sure there aren’t any worms or caterpillars eating away at them. Make the mind like a pure, blooming lotus in a vase. This qualifies as the quality of buddha. Or think of it in another way: The mind is cool and refreshed like a lotus blooming in the middle of a pond. It’s surrounded by nourishing water, cool and with an appealing scent. If you’re sitting here in the meditation hall without any hindrances in the mind, it’s like a lotus in the middle of a pond. This is also called the quality of buddha. This is called the radiant mind, or in simpler terms, the quality of inner worth. When the mind is saturated in inner worth like this, it’s happy and at ease.

The Dhamma is a preoccupation that gives the mind a sense of rapture, fullness, and ease. When it arises, we’re taught to develop it and cultivate it as much as possible. Keep the mind in this preoccupation until it attains a state of oneness: That’s the Dhamma. Whatever is good in the heart, we try to raise that goodness to a higher and higher level. Keep evaluating it, focusing your mindfulness on it at all times, to see how the mind enters into this state of goodness. This is called developing a foundation of mindfulness.

If you keep your mindfulness focused on a single path—as when you think buddho, buddho—without sending your mind off on other paths, the mind grows deeper and deeper into a state of inner worth. Just as when we walk along a path on the ground: If we keep walking back and forth on the same path, it’s bound to get worn smooth. The grasses and weeds will die away, and the path will get worn deeper into the ground, to the point where, when it rains, it becomes a watercourse, watering our crops, so that they grow abundant. We’ll be able to sell them for a living and grow rich, freed from poverty. This is why this quality of merit or inner worth is called noble wealth.

Things deep and refined tend to be high in quality. If the breath is refined, the mind refined, and mindfulness refined, then the brightness of our awareness will spread wider and wider, like the electric lights that spread their light throughout the capital. This is different from lantern light, which—if we want to see all around us—we have to carry and run around. When the mind is refined and the breath is refined, we’ll be able to know the breath energies throughout the world. We’ll see how things are going with all the elements. The heart will grow even broader, so that our foundation of mindfulness becomes the great frame of reference. The mind grows even deeper and cooler. More full and rapturous. Blooming and at ease. When the mind matures in this way, you’ve got noble wealth. You’re no longer poor.

Coolness is like water. Wherever the ground has water there are bound to be fish, crabs, crayfish, and shellfish, grasses and vegetables, all of which can be converted to wealth. The Buddha saw the fullness of this mind state, which is why he told the monks, “Don’t farm for a living. Don’t get involved in receiving gold and silver. Focus on doing only one thing—be intent on really practicing the Dhamma, making your minds into the single, unified path—and then whatever you want, you’ll be sure to get. This is because when the mind is full of virtue and Dhamma, you’ll always have wealth.”

This is the power that comes from making your goodness deep—like the Chao Phraya River, which is deeper and broader than any other river in Thailand. It’s full of everything—boats, rafts, motor boats, steamboats, big boats, little boats—so that travel and commerce are convenient. In the river will be fish, in the fields will be rice, melons, cucumbers, corn, wheat—all of these things will be within you. You’ll be wealthy in everything. If you don’t give rise to goodness, then no matter what, you won’t be wealthy. This is why the Buddha taught the monks, “Don’t be farmers or merchants. And don’t worry, you won’t be poor. Simply build up a lot of goodness in your hearts, and all forms of wealth will come flowing your way on their own.”

But we don’t really believe him. We believe our defilements instead, and so our minds keep sliding toward red masses of flame rather than to the clear mass of purity. This is why we’re taught, sukkaṁ bhāvetha paṇḍito, the wise person develops the clear Dhamma of purity.

All I’ve mentioned so far deals with the qualities of the Buddha and Dhamma.

The quality of the Saṅgha means making the mind go forward without sliding back. We keep putting our mind into good shape. For instance, when the eye sees something that isn’t good, our mind is in good shape. The ear hears something that isn’t good, yet our mind is in good shape. The nose smells an aroma that isn’t good, the tongue tastes a flavor that isn’t good, the body touches a tactile sensation that isn’t good, yet our mind is still in good shape. This is called supaṭipanno, practicing rightly. When we keep the mind straight on the right path, that’s called uju-paṭipanno, practicing straightforwardly. When we bring the mind to the level of insight meditation, attaining the transcendent, that’s ñāya-paṭipanno, practicing for the sake of knowledge. As for sāmīci-paṭipanno, practicing masterfully, that means making our goodness even better and better. For example, when defilement arises in the heart, we have to use the Dhamma to pen it in. Defilement is like a rabid dog running around in misery. Whoever it sees, it runs right up to bite indiscriminately, until eventually it gets killed or falls down dead on its own. In the same way, when our defilements arise we have to pen them in quickly and keep them under our thumb. Don’t bring them out to put them to use. Greed, anger, and delusion are intoxicants. When we’re intoxicated, our minds are in the dark. When we’re in the dark we stagger around, back and forth, dizzy and confused, not knowing what way to go, and as a result we never get to the destination we want.

The Buddha’s green light takes us to the clear light of the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. When we have these three gems and are sitting on the crystal throne of the seven forms of noble wealth, what suffering will we have? When we make our minds into Dhamma, the various defilements that lie fermenting in the heart will have to disappear. There will be nothing to spoil the heart. We’ll be able to escape from the sea.

Once we get on land we can have all kinds of fun, for there are a lot of things we never saw at sea. It’s like when we come into the mouth of the Chao Phraya River, where there are marsh trees and fresh green plants. We become enchanted and keep walking further inland to Sukhumvit Road. There we see bicycles and trucks and jeeps and pretty automobiles of different colors. This gets us even more excited, and some of us get smitten with what we see on land. In other words, we fall for the visions and signs that come in meditation. For instance, we may begin to remember previous lifetimes. If we remember bad things, we become sad. If we remember good things, we get happy. This turns into craving, the desire to be this or that, and some people get really deluded, thinking they actually are the things they see.

If our discernment isn’t strong enough, then whatever we see will turn into the corruptions of insight (vipassanūpakkilesa)—like people who get all excited the first time they see a car. They go running to the car, wanting to ride in it, wanting to drive it, but without looking right or left or stopping to take note of anything. They run right out into the middle of the road, get run over, and either die or break an arm or a leg. After all the trouble they went to in order to get out of the sea, they get deluded and put themselves in danger all over again.

Like the example that happened a few days ago. An old monk came into the monastery, so some lay people asked him where he was from and whom he wanted to meet. He told them, “You all don’t know a thing. Ajaan Lee used to be King Asoka, which is why he built Wat Asokaram. I’m King Pasenadi the Kosalan, his old friend. That’s why I’ve come to visit him today.” He had his student come in to inform me, and so I told the student, “Quick. Quick. Go back and tell him to go away. He’s absolutely forbidden to come in here.” Even this sort of thing can happen. This is called getting smitten with being on land, i.e., falling for the visions you see. That old monk probably had a few ideas of one sort or another arising in his mind, and so got carried away.

If you start seeing things when your discernment isn’t strong enough, it turns into a corruption of insight—as when a person gets excited at the sight of a car because he’s never seen one before. He wants to ride in it, to drive it, so without looking left or right he goes running toward it, right into the middle of the road. And so he gets run over by a car and killed, or else crippled with a broken leg. This, too, is a kind of delusion, a danger.

But if our discernment is strong enough, whatever we see will turn into noble treasures (ariya-dhana). If we see a forest of marsh tress, we can put them to use. We can cut them into firewood to use ourselves or sell in the market. If the land is a tangle of weeds, we can clear it and turn it into fields. If we don’t let it lie fallow, it’s sure to yield crops.

Falling for visions is also called “skewed perception.” The right way to act when you see a vision is to remember to evaluate it and then let it go in line with its true nature. Don’t latch onto what you see, because all things are inconstant. If you’re born poor, you suffer from your desire to be rich. If you’re born rich, you suffer in looking after your possessions, afraid that they’ll wear out, afraid that you’ll get cheated out of them, afraid that thieves will break in and steal them. There’s nothing certain or dependable at all. The same holds true with visions. So whatever you see, you have to let it go in line with its nature. Leave the trees in the forest, the grass in the meadows, and the rice in the fields. If you can do this, you can be at your ease, because you know what it’s like on land, what it’s like in the water, when to get in and when to get out. Once you’re skilled, you can travel on water or land, at ease in every way. You can go forward or back without any obstacles. This is called lokavidū, knowing the world. You can stay with what you know, but you’re not stuck on it. You can live in the ocean without drowning. You can live in the world without getting sunk in the world—like a lotus leaf in the water: The water doesn’t seep into the leaf at all.

Fabricated things belong to no one, have no one in charge. If you contemplate them and let go of them in line with their nature—in the same way that you put down a knife, without holding onto it—the mind will reach an important point: the level of the radiant mind.