Genuine Practice, Genuine Knowing

August 30, 1958

When you’re sitting in concentration, don’t think that you’re sitting here in this meditation hall. Tell yourself that you’re sitting alone, in the deep, deep forest. Cut away all your commitments and concerns. Don’t think about the group or about anyone at all. Thoughts of what’s good, what’s bad, what you have or what you lack: You don’t have to think them. Think just about what’s in your body and establish your mindfulness exclusively on the breath. Or you can tell yourself that you’re sitting face-to-face with the Buddha, so that you have to keep careful watch over the manners of the mind. Don’t let it fidget around, picking its ears and nose, or scratching itself here and there. Keep the body straight and the mind focused steadily on the Buddha—i.e., exclusively on your meditation word, buddho. Be mindful with each and every in-and-out breath. Don’t go slipping off anywhere else.

If you aren’t genuinely intent on what you’re doing, you’re deceiving your teacher, deceiving the people around you, and deceiving yourself as well. The deceit here is that you close your eyes and act like you’re in concentration, but the mind isn’t still like the body. When this is the case, you’ll suffer.

The results of not genuinely being intent are that things sometimes go well, sometimes they don’t, sometimes you’re aware, sometimes you’re not. In other words, the good results you’re looking for aren’t constant. That’s the first result. The second is absentmindedness. The mind thinks about other people, other things, and doesn’t stay with the body, doesn’t stay with the present. You’re like a person eating a meal. You intend for your hand to put rice in your mouth, but you gaze around absentmindedly. You think you’re eating a spoonful of soup, but it turns out to be a spoonful of pepper sauce. You reach for a sweet but grab and bite into a clod of dirt or a piece of gravel instead. Or you can make a comparison with a blind person eating a meal. A person with good eyesight sends you your food, telling you that, “This is rice. This is curry. This is a sweet,” but you don’t take note of what she says and so you get them all mixed up. Then you go blaming her for your own absentmindedness.

The third result of not genuinely being intent is forgetfulness. You lose track of your mindfulness, lose track of the breath, lose track of yourself.

All three of these results are obstacles to the practice. They’re signs of not being sincere in your duties.

There are two kinds of knowing: genuine knowing and deceptive knowing. Genuine knowing is what stays right here and now within you, without going anywhere else. You know when you’re standing, you know when you’re lying down, speaking, thinking, etc. As for deceptive knowing, that’s the knowledge going after labels and perceptions. Labels are an act of knowing, but they’re not the knowing itself. They’re like the shadow of knowing. Genuine knowing is being mindful of the present, seeing causes and effects. This is discernment.

For this reason, we should each try to train ourselves to give rise to discernment, the genuine knowing that won’t deceive us into falling for a mass of suffering. We do this by training the mind to stay firmly in concentration, by being mindful and circumspect in our breathing, by being alert in our every movement, by being genuinely intent in our duties, and by showing respect for our teachers and for ourselves. These are the factors that will lead us to the happiness and wellbeing to which we aspire.