The Tree is in its Seed

August 27, 1956

The purpose of sitting and meditating is to cut away the various thoughts that preoccupy our minds. The more preoccupations we can cut away, the lighter we’ll feel. All of the various burdens that weigh down our hearts—all the stresses and strains we feel—will lessen and disappear.

Goodness doesn’t come from concepts. Concepts of past and future are what obstruct and destroy our goodness.

The Buddha said,

atītaṁ nānvāgameyya nappaṭikaṅkhe anāgataṁ…

paccuppannañca yo dhammaṁ tatha tatha vipassati:

If we don’t go conceiving the past or the future, leaving only the present, we’ll come to see the truth of the Dhamma.

Concepts, even if they deal with the Dhamma, are fabrications because they fall in the area of mental concoction. There are three types of mental fabrications: (1) If we think in ways that are good, they’re called meritorious concoctions (puññābhisaṅkhāra). (2) If we think in ways that are evil, they’re called demeritorious concoctions (apuññābhisaṅkhāra). (3) If we think in ways that are neither good nor evil, they’re called impassive concoctions (aneñjābhisaṅkhāra) or avyākata—neutral and indeterminate. Actually, aneñjābhisaṅkhāra has a higher meaning, because it refers to the four levels of absorption in formlessness (arūpa jhāna). Avyākata refers to such things as thinking about eating a meal or taking a bath, things that are completely unrelated to good and evil. All of these fabrications come from unawareness and ignorance. If we’re really intelligent and aware, we shouldn’t go conceiving them.

To cut off concepts means to let our mental fabrications disband, to let our trains of thought disband. We sit in meditation, making the body and mind quiet. When the body is still, the mind stays with the stillness. When the heart is at peace, the mind stays with the peace. Concentration develops. The mind comes up to the forefront. Mental fabrications disappear, but the mind is still there. Goodness is still there. In nibbāna, nothing disappears anywhere or gets annihilated, except for unawareness.

When mental fabrications and unawareness disband, awareness arises. For example, knowledge of past lives: We see the mind’s ancestry—its past lifetimes. Knowledge of death and rebirth: We know the good and bad actions of our fellow beings, how they die and are reborn. A mind trained to maturity in concentration develops quality, like a mature mango seed that’s capable of containing all its ancestry, its parents and children, in itself. If anyone plants it, it’ll break out into roots, stems, branches, leaves, flowers, and more fruits just like before. A mind not yet trained to maturity is like the seed of an unripe mango that’s fallen from the tree. If you plant it, it won’t grow. It’ll just rot there in the dirt. Since it’s not yet ripe, it isn’t capable of containing its ancestry and descendants.

People aware of their own birth and death in this way are said not to be lacking. Not lacking in what? Not lacking in birth. They’re acquainted with the births they’ve experienced through many lives and states of being in the past—so many that they’re weary of it all, to the point where they don’t want to take birth again. As for people who don’t know, who don’t have this awareness, they feel that they’re lacking. They want to take birth again and so they keep on creating birth over and over again. As for those who do have awareness, they’ve had enough. They’re smart enough. They won’t give rise to any more births or states of being. Whatever is good, they keep within themselves, like putting a ripe mango seed in a showcase to look at, or peeling off its hard outer shell and then putting it in a storeroom. No one will be able to plant it again, and we can take it out for a look whenever we want.

To train the mind to a higher level is the apex of all that is good and worthwhile. To raise the level of our heart is like coming up and sitting here in the meditation hall. Once we’ve gotten up off the level of the ground, we’ve escaped from the rain, the heat of the sun, and from all sorts of dangers. Dogs, for instance, can’t jump up to claw us or bite us.

Or we can compare this to a tall mountaintop. Nothing filthy or dirty can stay on a mountaintop. Whether it’s rain, dew, or fog, when it comes into contact with the summit it all has to flow down to the lowlands and into the sea. It can’t stay and form puddles on the summit. At the same time, fresh breezes come blowing from all four directions, keeping the mountaintop dry and free from dampness.

Or we can compare this to a tall treetop. Ordinarily, nobody—human or animal—can urinate or defecate or splash anything dirty on a tall treetop. And because the treetop is tall, its flowers and fruits are born tall. Anyone who wants to pick the topmost leaves or destroy the fruits and flowers will have a hard time of it because the height of the tree makes it hard to climb.

In the same way, once we’ve fed our heart full with what’s good and worthwhile, then no matter if people praise or condemn us, we won’t want anything of what they have to say. If they say we’re not good, it flows right back to them. As for what’s really good within us, it stays as it always was. A person whose heart is fed full with what’s good and worthwhile is like a person whose stomach is full of food and so is bound to be satisfied and not want to eat anything more: free from hunger and craving. No matter what fantastic food other people may offer him, he won’t want any of it. Or if anyone offers him poison, he won’t take it. In other words, we aren’t interested in the goodness or evil that comes from other people. We want only the goodness that we build up within ourselves.

Ignorant people think that good and evil are things we have to get from other people, and not that they come from within us—and so they close their eyes and keep on groping. They have no sense of the good that lies within them, like the person who goes groping for a mango tree without realizing that the mango tree lies in its seed. Once we realize this, though, all we have to do is take the seed and plant it, and soon it’ll sprout roots and become a tree, with leaves and branches, flowers and fruits that will keep on multiplying into hundreds of trees. In no time at all we’ll be millionaires, because mangoes, even when they’ve grown only to the size of a thumb, already begin to fetch a price. People buy and sell mangoes from the time they’re still unripe, until they’re half-ripe, fully ripe, and even over-ripe. Sometimes mangoes that are half-rotten can still get a price, although not as much as mangoes that are still good.

People whose minds haven’t yet really reached a high level, when they meet with criticism, will usually keep it and brood over it. By and large, we like to think that we’re intelligent and yet we let our minds feed on bad moods and preoccupations. Bad moods are like scraps and bones that other people have spit out. If we’re really poor and starving, to the point where we have to beg others for food, we should feed on the good moods they have to offer us, which are like food that hasn’t been spit out by anyone. But even then we’re still counted as poor, as stupid and ignorant, because even though we have genuine goodness within us, we still go running off to gather good and evil from other people. This has to be wrong.

The right way is that no matter what anyone else may say, we let it pass. We should view what they say as their property and none of ours. As for the goodness we’re developing, it’s bound to stay with us. Like eating a wormy mango: An intelligent person will eat only the good flesh and leave the spoiled part to the worms. In other words, don’t go moving in with the worms. To be intelligent in this way is to qualify as a human being—which means a high-minded being—just as when we come up the stairs to the meditation hall we escape the cats and dogs that would otherwise bother us. Here, they can’t jump up and pounce on us. But if we sit on the ground, we’re exposed to the sun and rain and all sorts of disturbances. We’re mixed up with sages and fools.

When wise people practice the Dhamma, they have to be selective and choose only what’s good. They won’t let their minds feed on anything spoiled, because spoiled things, when we feed on them, can be toxic and harmful. As for good things, when we eat them, they don’t cause any harm. They can only benefit us.

Goodness, evil, purity—all come from within us. The Buddha thus taught that each of us has his or her own kamma. What he said on this point is absolutely true. There’s no way you can argue with it. ‘Kamma’ means the good and bad actions that come from intentions. Intentions are thoughts that come from the mind, so the mind lies at the essence of intention and kamma, because the mind is what thinks and gives the orders. When an intention is shoddy or dishonest, the resulting action is bad kamma and will result in suffering. When an intention is good, proper, and honest, the action will be good kamma and will result in pleasure. So whether we’re to suffer or to experience pleasure, to be good or shoddy, pure or impure, depends on our own actions and intentions, not on anything anyone else may do for us. Once we realize this, there’s no more confusion.