The Fresh Flavor of Dhamma

August 23, 1959

When you sit in meditation, focus your attention solely on a single preoccupation. If you slip off that preoccupation, you fall into hell. What does “hell” mean here? Cakkhuṁ ādittaṁ: Any preoccupations that come in by way of the eye are said to be a ball of hellfire. Sotaṁ ādittaṁ: Any preoccupations that come in by way of the ear are a ball of fire. Any preoccupations that come in by way of the nose, tongue, body and mind are all balls of fire. If you focus your attention on any of these preoccupations, they’ll make you as hot as if you had fallen into hell in this very lifetime. That’s why you should cut away all perceptions of that sort. Don’t let them get involved with your mind at all.

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The defilements are like salt water; the Dhamma is like fresh water, which benefits the world in three ways: (1) People can drink it; (2) it washes things clean; and (3) it helps plants to grow. As for salt water, you can’t drink it, you can’t use it to wash things clean, and if you use it to water plants, they’ll die.

A person who sits fermenting in his defilements is like a saltwater fish. Saltwater fish have a strong, nasty smell. Once when I was in Chantaburi, staying at the LotusPond Monastery, a group of fishwives carried a batch of ocean fish past the monastery at a distance of about 80 meters. Even then, the smell of the fish hit my nose and seemed really foul. As for freshwater fish, even though they have some smell, it’s not as foul as saltwater fish. In the same way, people with a lot of defilements really smell: No one wants them to come near, and wherever they go they’re despised.

Ordinarily, saltwater fish like to stay only in salt water. If you catch them and put them in fresh water, they’ll die in an instant. The same with freshwater fish: If you catch them and put them in salt water, they’ll immediately die. But modern scientists have found a way to turn saltwater fish into freshwater fish. They put saltwater fish in salt water, and then gradually mix in fresh water little by little. The fish gradually get more and more accustomed to fresh water until ultimately they can be released into a freshwater pond and they won’t die. The same with freshwater fish: the scientists gradually mix salt water into the tanks where they’re keeping freshwater fish, and the fish gradually get used to being in salty water, until the scientists can throw them into the sea and they won’t die. In the same way, people who are full of defilements are like saltwater fish. When they first start coming to the monastery, they bring all their defilements along with them. Then—as they start tasting the flavor of the Dhamma, as they chant and meditate—their hearts gradually get further and further away from their concentrated saltiness: their greed, anger, and delusion. Goodness seeps into their hearts little by little, gradually diluting the evil of their defilements until their hearts are entirely fresh with the taste of the Dhamma. The restlessness and turmoil in their hearts will vanish, and they’ll be content to stay with the Dhamma happily and at peace, like a saltwater fish that’s grown accustomed to fresh water.

There are four kinds of fresh water: still, flowing, falling, and shooting up. Still water is the water in lakes and wells. Flowing water is the water in rivers, canals, and streams. Falling water is the water of waterfalls and rain. Sometimes this type of water is so heavy and cold that it turns into hailstones, which can hurt as they hit you on the head. Shooting-up water is the water of fountains and geysers. In the same way, there are different kinds of Dhamma—so you can choose to stay with whichever of the 40 types of meditation themes you like.

When you stay mixed up with your defilements, or like to run back and forth with your external concepts and perceptions, you’re no different from a person floating in a boat in the middle of a stormy sea. You can’t sit or lie down to get any rest because the waves are constantly striking, making you dizzy and nauseous all the time. Your heart is all stirred up and can’t find any peace. All you can do is cry out, “I’m dying! I’m dying!”

But when you try to pull yourself out from the mass of defilement or the balls of hellfire—bringing your mind into the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, and establishing it in concentration—you free yourself from the wind and waves. You’re like a person who has reached shore and is standing on firm ground. A person on firm ground can sit, lie down, stand, walk, or jump around as he likes. He’s much more comfortable than a person out on the ocean. For this reason, we should train our hearts to reach right concentration, absolutely cutting off all our external concepts and perceptions. In this way, we’ll all gain shelter and rest.

The flavor of the Dhamma is like ambrosia, the nectar that—when you drink it—makes you immortal. If you live with the Dhamma, then when you die you’ll go to a good destination, as a visuddhi-deva, a deva pure in body and mind. This sort of person doesn’t die easily—and doesn’t die at all in the same way as people in general. If you aspire to the Deathless, you should wash your thoughts and deeds with cool, clean, clear, pure Dhamma so that they’re sparkling clean. That way you’ll meet with the flavor of the Deathless and go beyond death, reaching the transcendent and nibbāna at last.