Living in Peace

August 24, 1957

The Dhamma is what gives peace, shelter, and happiness to the world. If the world were deprived of the Dhamma, we couldn’t find any peace here at all. If people individually or as a group have the Dhamma constantly in their hearts, they’re like fresh, green grass growing in a spring-fed meadow or mountain valley, constantly watered by the rain. If people lack the Dhamma—if they’re evil or unskillful in their behavior—they’re like grass in the dry season or in a desert, lying dead on the ground. They have nothing to attract the hearts of other people to like them or respect them. Instead, they’ll simply get stepped all over and thrown away. They’ll reap nothing but suffering and misfortune.

People with the Dhamma in their hearts are like trees whose flowers are beautiful and fragrant. Everyone wants to be near them, to associate with them. As for people who are shoddy in their behavior, they’re like the kind of tree whose flowers may be pretty but are surrounded by thorns, or have no fragrance, or are downright foul smelling. Other people are sure to detest them and won’t want to come near.

The Dhamma can also be compared to the flame of a lantern, which by its nature is dazzling bright. Our mind is like the globe around the lantern. If the globe hasn’t been washed and is covered with soot, then no matter how bright the light of the flame may be, it won’t be able to radiate that brightness outside of the globe. In the same way, if our mind is clouded and obscured with evil intentions, then no matter how much good we try to do, it won’t be clean or pure because our hearts are still soiled with defilements in the same way that the soot soils the globe of the lantern.

We’ve come to this place, which is a peaceful place, so we should try to be peaceful and pure in our behavior: pure in our words and deeds, and pure in our thoughts. When we’re pure both inwardly and outwardly like this, we fit in with the peacefulness of the place.

Peace comes from causes and gives rise to results. If the causes aren’t present, the results won’t come. The kind of happiness coming from a lack of peacefulness lasts only as long as a quick catch in your breath. But the happiness coming from peace lasts for a long, long time. If where we live isn’t peaceful, it won’t help us benefit from our activities. For instance, if we want to read, write, or memorize a passage from a book, we’ll have a hard time. This is why peacefulness is something very important that we should all work together to foster.

Our body is like a large water jar; the mind, like the water in the jar; and our defilements, like sediment in the water. If we take an alum crystal and swish it around in the water, the bits of sediment will gather as a precipitate on the sides or bottom of the jar, leaving the water clean and clear. The Dhamma is like an alum crystal that can make our minds clean and clear. When we listen to the Dhamma and take it home to ponder so as to benefit from it, it will filter out all our unskillful tendencies, which are defilements, so that they separate out as a precipitate in the mind. When the Dhamma stays with the mind in this way, then even when there are feelings of anger, we won’t get angry along with them. When there are feelings of hatred, we won’t get worked up along with them. When there are feelings of infatuation, we won’t get infatuated along with them. But even so, these feelings are still lying in wait there in the mind, which is why we have to develop higher forms of goodness so as to remove the precipitates completely from our water jar.

The higher forms of goodness that we have to develop are the practices for giving rise to peace in the mind. When the heart is at peace, it gives rise to an inner quality within itself, in the same way that water allowed to sit still will become more clear. We people have three instigators within us: our eyes, our ears, and our mouth. This is on the physical level. On the mental level, the instigator within us is our heart. These are the things that create a lack of peace within us. So you have to be careful not to let poison into your system through any of these things. If you realize that you’ve ingested poison, you have to spit it out right away. Otherwise, it’ll harm you. In other words, your eyes, ears, and mouth are areas where you have to exercise a lot of restraint.

Normally, our eyes are always looking for trouble, our ears are looking for trouble, and our mouth has a habit of saying things that cause trouble. To speak in ways that won’t cause trouble requires wisdom and discernment. When you have discernment, then when you ingest good food, you won’t be harmed. Even if you ingest poison, you won’t die. The discernment I’m referring to here is knowledge of past lives, knowledge of how people die and are reborn, and the knowledge that puts an end to the fermentation of defilement in the heart. If you don’t yet have these kinds of discernment, you have to be extra careful in looking after yourself, so that you can gain knowledge of what’s skillful and what’s not.

In looking after yourself, you have to (1) watch out for evil so that it doesn’t arise; (2) watch out for your goodness so that it doesn’t fall away; and (3) put your goodness to use so that it gives rise to benefits. When you speak, speak in a way that leads to peacefulness. If you speak in a way that gives rise to trouble, it’s as if you had eaten poison. And in this way you harm not only yourself, but other people as well, in the same way as when you sprinkle poison in an aquarium of fighting fish. One fish bites another, so that the wound becomes poisoned, and when all the fish have bitten one another they end up floating dead like a raft on the surface of the water. So when you realize that you still have greed, anger, and delusion in your mind, you have to be extra careful in what you say. When you’re mindful to speak only the things that should be said and hold back when you’re about to say anything you shouldn’t, you’ll be looking out for your goodness to make sure it doesn’t fall away, at the same time that you prevent evil from arising. In addition, you have to watch out for your ears. Sometimes other people speak with good intentions, but we hear them as bad. Sometimes we speak with good intentions, but other people misunderstand. When this is the case, it’s no different from playing a flute in the ears of a water buffalo. It serves no purpose at all.

When we live together in a group like this, there are bound to be all kinds of sounds when we come into contact with one another. If you were to make a comparison, we’re no different from an orchestra, which has to include the sound of the oboes, the sound of the gong, the sound of the xylophones, high sounds, low sounds, treble, and bass. If all the instruments had the same sound, there would be no fun in listening to the orchestra, for a one-sound orchestra wouldn’t be pleasing at all. In the same way, when lots of people live together, there are bound to be good sounds and bad arising in the group. So each of us has to look after his or her own heart. Don’t let yourself feel anger or dislike for the bad sounds, because when there’s a lot of disliking it’s bound to turn to anger. When there’s a lot of anger, it’ll turn to ill will. When there’s ill will, it’ll lead to quarrels and trouble.

For this reason, we should spread thoughts of goodwill to people above us, below us, and on the same level. When people below us show disagreeable attitudes in their words or actions, we should forgive them. When we can do this, we’ll be contributing to the peace and calm of the group.

Our human minds rarely have any time to rest and relax. We all have things we keep thinking about. You could say that ever since we’ve learned human language, we’ve kept on thinking without any time to stop and rest. The mind keeps itself busy until it dies. If our bodies were this industrious, we’d all be millionaires. But when the mind doesn’t have any time to rest, it’s filled with the hindrances. That’s why it knows no peace. So we’re taught to practice concentration, letting go of thoughts about sensuality. In other words, we close off our sense doors, so that the mind isn’t involved with anything external, and we set our mind still and tall in the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. We don’t let it fall down into any sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations, which are sensual objects.

As for sensual defilements, we don’t let the mind fall into passion, aversion, or delusion. Sometimes our concentration practice goes as we want it to, and we get pleased and oblivious. Sometimes it doesn’t go as we’d like it to, and we get irritated and annoyed. These are cases of passion and aversion. As for delusion, sometimes when we sit we lose track of what we’re doing or where we are. We get distracted or absentminded and don’t know what’s going on, good or bad, right or wrong. This causes the mind to become dark and obscure. Sometimes we drift off into thoughts of the past and think about people who have done us wrong, so that we fall into ill will, wanting to get revenge and to settle an old score. In this way we harm ourselves by spoiling our practice. All three of these defilements—passion, aversion, and delusion—are piles of dried timber just waiting to catch fire, so we have to clear them completely out of the heart.

Mindfulness and alertness are the quality of the Buddha. The cool sense of happiness they give is the quality of the Dhamma. If you can maintain that coolness until it hardens into a block of ice—in other words, you make that goodness solid and strong in your heart—that’s the quality of the Saṅgha. Once you’ve got a solid block of goodness like this, you can pick it up and put it to any use you like. Whatever you say will give good results. Whatever you do will give good results. Your solid block of goodness will turn into a wish-fulfilling gem, bringing all sorts of happiness your way.