Clean & Clear

August 3, 1957

The happiness to which every human being aspires is attained solely through the heart. Some of these forms of happiness, though, aren’t clear or clean. The happiness that is clear and clean is the highest happiness in the Buddha’s teachings, in other words, nibbāna. Any form of happiness aside from this is neither clear nor clean.

For the mind to attain happiness it has to depend on the Dhamma as its foundation. This is why the Buddha taught us to become acquainted with the Dhamma so that we can put it to use in developing the goodness that brings us the beneficial happiness we want.

In what way is the practice of the Dhamma so important? It’s important in that when a person practices the Dhamma it gives cool shelter (1) to the person who practices it and (2) to others at large. If the world lacked the Dhamma, there’s no way we could find happiness anywhere at all. This is why we have to seek out Dhamma for the heart, because the current situation of the world is such that all kinds of events are sure to come seeping into the heart. Anything protected by the Dhamma contains the causes that will bring about happiness. Anything not protected by the Dhamma contains the causes for disturbance and unrest.

We human beings are like trees. If a tree has an abundance of flowers and fruits, thick branches and leaves, and a firmly rooted trunk that doesn’t fall down in the wind, it gives pleasure to the birds who come and live in it, to the travelers who pass by and rest in its shade. This is like a person who has the Dhamma as a firmly rooted foundation in the heart. Such a person gives shelter both to himself and to others as well. The Dhamma is like a rainy mist that keeps plants fresh and green. People protected by the Dhamma have a cool sense of ease within themselves and are able to spread and share it with others at large.

Take the Buddha as an example: When he was still a lay person, he was the son of a powerful king with great wealth and a large following. His palace was enormous. He had everything he could wish for, without the least thing lacking. But even then, he saw that this sort of happiness was like a ripe banana on a tree: There’s no way it could escape from the beaks of the hawks and ravens who wanted to eat it. This is why he abandoned his great wealth and went forth in search of a happiness lasting and true—in other words, the path to release from suffering. When he found it, he kept exclaiming in his heart, “What bliss! What bliss!” Even though there were times when he had to encounter situations that were difficult to bear—for instance, when there were hardships in gaining food or in the external conditions of his life—he never saw those things as troublesome in any way at all. He kept repeating to himself, “What bliss! What bliss!” to the point where he was rumored to be crazy.

Still, when he had found a happiness this true, he naturally felt compassion for the stupidity of human beings and other living beings at large who still kept themselves sunk in suffering in such a pitiful way without knowing the means for gaining release from it. Feeling this compassion, the Buddha thus wandered from city to city, village to village, to teach people the Dhamma and the way to practice by which they could release themselves from suffering and reach the same kind of happiness he had found himself. When people listened to the Buddha’s Dhamma, many of them gained conviction and confidence in what he taught. So they put it into practice to the point where they attained many of the highest levels of happiness. They then brought their children, grandchildren, and friends to hear the Buddha’s Dhamma, and so ever-increasing numbers of people saw the results appearing in their hearts. This is how the Buddha’s teachings spread far and wide in every direction. At present, Buddhism seems to be most predominant in Thailand, in that those who respect the Buddha’s teachings are found in every level of society, from the lowest to the highest. The study of the Dhamma is found on every level from the lowest to the highest. The same is true of the practice of the Dhamma: It occurs on low levels, intermediate levels, up to the highest level. The lowest levels are those of us sitting here training ourselves in meditation. The intermediate levels start with the attainment of stream-entry on up. On the highest level are the arahants. You have to be very observant to know this. There are lots of people on the low levels, but only a few on the intermediate and highest levels. The really low levels are those who want to develop goodness but whose motivation is bad. In this way our practice depends on what we want to choose: Do you want to eat leaves, flowers, or the actual fruit?

If we want the kind of intelligence that can gather flowers and fruit to eat, we have to use our discernment—the inner brightness called the eye of the mind, or the inner eye. As for the outer eye, that’s the eye of flesh. For the brightness of the inner eye to arise and see the truth, we need concentration. The outer eye keeps deceiving the mind all the time, making us see things in this way or believe things in that. This is why the Buddha taught us to develop the inner eye so that our vision can penetrate far.

There are actually two parts to each person. The outer part is the body; the inner part is the heart and mind. The outer part is like a puppet or a mannequin, built out of the elements of stress. No matter how much we fawn over it, caring for it at great expense, it won’t stay with us. In the end it’ll have to turn into ashes and sink into the ground. As for the mind, which is the more lasting part, we don’t give it much care or attention at all. This is why the Buddha said that people are very deluded. We don’t see our substantial part, and instead see only the deceptive part. We’re like a monkey who sees its reflection in a mirror and assumes that there’s another monkey. So it sticks out its tongue and makes faces at its reflection, trying to scare its reflection—and so scaring itself, until it gets all worn out to no purpose at all. Our substantial part is the mind. Our fake part is the body. Even if we were to decorate the body with crowns and headdresses to make it look really fancy, it wouldn’t change its basic nature. Once it’s born it ages, then it starts to hurt, and then it dies. No matter how much we study and gain degrees from universities all over the world, we still can’t divert the body from its basic nature. There’s no way it can escape dying.

This is why discerning people focus their attention on the substantial part of themselves, in other words, the part that’s responsible for all things: the mind. The body isn’t responsible for good or evil at all. For example, if we murder or steal, the body doesn’t go to hell. No matter how much good we do, the body doesn’t go along with us to heaven. The mind we can’t see: That’s what goes. We can’t see the process of its going, but it’s nevertheless capable of moving from place to place. The act of going to the good or bad destinations is entirely an affair of the heart and mind. This is why those who train their own hearts and minds are said truly to love themselves. Those who don’t train their own hearts and minds are said to be in a place of darkness, or unawareness.

When the light of awareness, or cognitive skill, arises in the mind, the mind will have the arms, legs, hands, and eyes it needs to succeed in its aims. If it doesn’t have this awareness, it’s in so much darkness that it can’t see anything at all. It has to depend totally on the body. But when you practice so as to give rise to the eye of the mind, you’ll see that the body is one thing, the mind another. They’re not one and the same. At the moment our minds are still like children, which is why we have to depend on the body to be our guardian. But once the mind is trained, it will grow into an adult and be able to let go of the body. The nature of children is that they still have to depend on their guardians. But once a child is raised to adulthood, it can go out on its own without the guardian. There’s no need to carry the child around any more. If we don’t know how to train the mind, it’ll simply stay at the childish level. The reason we all suffer so much in our lives is that our minds are still children.

This is why the Buddha taught us to find the Dhamma as a refuge or shelter for the mind. At present our minds don’t have a home to stay in. No matter where we sit or lie down, the mind won’t stay put. The only thing that does stay put is the body. And this is why the mind knows no happiness, like a person who always has to keep wandering without rest, tired and hot from the sun. The phrase, “home for the mind,” here means the foundation of concentration. Just as a person with lots of possessions but no safe place to keep them can find no rest, in the same way people with no concentration—the foundation for the mind—can’t find any peace no matter how many meritorious things they do. This is why we should train the mind to attain concentration. Training the mind is like eating a meal: When you’ve finished eating, you have to wash the dishes and put them away in an orderly fashion, so that the next time you want to eat you’ll have them right at hand. When we want to use the mind in any of our activities, we have to keep washing it and putting it in order in just the same way.

Tell yourself, while you’re sitting here, that you’re on your way to the shade of a Bodhi tree, i.e., the refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. When you develop your inner goodness in this way, you can’t entrust your mind to the world, to any people, or any material things at all. You’re going to entrust it entirely to someone venerable. In other words, you keep your mind flowing in the recollection of the Buddha without getting snagged on anything else. Use your alertness to survey your heart and take the body as your playground. Keep mindfulness always in charge of the mind, thinking bud-dho with the in- and out-breath. You know what the breath is like when it comes in, you know what it’s like when it goes out. This is called getting established in the recollection of the Buddha. That’s the first step.

The second step is to clean up the mind. You don’t focus on anything involved with the hindrances, such as loving this person, hating that person, liking and disliking, good and bad. You have to be intent on releasing the mind from these things. In this way, the Dhamma will arise in the heart with a cool sense of relief. Then you can look at the cleanliness of the mind, to see whether the way you live from day to day is clean or not. Being unclean means having a mind mixed up with defilements. As you sit here calming the mind, don’t go thinking about sights, sounds, smells, etc., in ways that lead to sensual desire, ill will, or thoughts of harmfulness. If greed arises, try to wash it away. Don’t let it arise again. If anger arises, try to wash it away. Don’t let it arise again. The same holds true with delusion. Try to chase out every form of evil.

This is called mental purity. Once the mind comes to a stop, that’s when purity will arise—like a traveler who stops and rests under the shade of a tree. His weariness will disappear, and he won’t have any sweat. Passion, aversion, and delusion are like sweat that moistens and stains our mind. Whoever can stop sweating in this way—by entering the shade of the Bodhi tree through practicing recollection of the Buddha—will become clean like a person sitting under a tree. When the mind is established in good qualities, it’ll be sheltered and at ease (this ease comes from stillness and calm). As the mind grows more and more clean, it will become as clear and transparent as water, giving rise to an inner brightness. Sometimes it’s clean but not bright. In other words it keeps moving forward and back without staying in place. Once the mind is bright and clear, though, it’ll give rise to awareness. Cakkhuṁ udapādi, ñāṇaṁ udapādi, paññā udapādi, vijjā udapādi: Vision arises, knowledge arises, discernment arises, awareness arises. You’ll give rise to three eyes. The eye of the past is recollection of past lives, the eye of the future is knowledge of the death and rebirth of living beings, and the eye of the present is knowledge of the ending of mental fermentations. You’ll be able to let go of all things poisonous. You won’t be stuck on the past, present, or future at all.

This is why, when you develop concentration, you’ll end up with three eyes. In other words, your outer left eye will see good things, your outer right eye will see bad things, and they’ll send them in to the inner eye, which will remain at equilibrium. You’ll also have three ears: Your outer left ear will hear praise, your outer right ear will hear criticism, and they’ll send them in to the inner ear, which will stay at equilibrium. This is how you can receive all the guests the world sends your way. As for the eye of the mind—intuitive insight—it’ll receive your defilements. Once it really understands them, it’ll be able to send them packing. That way you’ll be able to live comfortably in the world, with nothing to disturb your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, or mind. You’ll meet with nothing but brightness and purity.

The mind that hasn’t been trained is like a child. When it’s trained, it turns into an adult. As for the body, which used to seem so large and mature, you’ll now see that it’s really a child. It’s inconstant, stressful, and not-self. But the mind trained to the point of adulthood won’t be troubled by these things. Even though the body is inconstant, inconstancy won’t appear in the mind. Even though the body is stressful, stress won’t appear in the mind. Even though the body is not-self, nothing troubling will appear in the mind. The mind will stay still and at equilibrium, equanimous, without latching onto any of these things at all.

Once the mind is trained to a point of real strength, it’s able to let go of the body. For this reason, when we develop our goodness by practicing the recollection of the Buddha as our constant preoccupation, we’ll reach the point where we can let go of all attachments. Our minds will enter the current of the Dhamma with true intuitive insight, and we’ll ultimately meet with the brightness, coolness, and ease I’ve described.