III. Inner Release

The Truth & its Shadows

Undated, 1959

The Dhamma of attainment is something cool, clean, and clear. It doesn’t take birth, age, grow ill, or die. Whoever works earnestly at the Dhamma of study and practice will give rise to the Dhamma of attainment without a doubt. The Dhamma of attainment is paccattaṁ: You have to know it for yourself.

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We should make a point of searching for whatever will give rise to discernment. Sutamaya-paññā: Listen to things that are worth listening to. Cintāmaya-paññā: Once you’ve listened, evaluate what you’ve learned. Don’t accept it or reject it right off hand. Bhāvanāmaya-paññā: Once you’ve put what you’ve learned to the test, practice in line with it. This is the highest perfection of discernment—liberating insight. You know what kinds of stress and pain should be remedied and so you remedy them. You know what kinds shouldn’t be remedied and so you don’t.

For the most part we’re really ignorant. We try to remedy the things that shouldn’t be remedied, and it just doesn’t work—because there’s one kind of stress that should simply be observed and shouldn’t be fiddled with at all. Like a rusty watch: Don’t polish away any more rust than you should. If you go taking it apart, the whole thing will stop running for good. What this means is that once you’ve seen natural conditions for what they truly are, you have to let them be. If you see something that should be fixed, you fix it. Whatever shouldn’t be fixed, you don’t. This takes a load off the heart.

Ignorant people are like the old woman who lit a fire to cook her rice and, when her rice was cooked, had her meal. When she had finished her meal, she sat back and had a cigar. It so happened that when she lit her cigar with one of the embers of the fire, it burned her mouth. ‘Damned fire,’ she thought, ‘burned my mouth.’ So she put all her matches in a pile and poured water all over them so that there wouldn’t be any more fire in the house—just like a fool with no sense at all. The next day, when she wanted fire to cook her meal, there wasn’t any left. At night, when she wanted light, she had to go pestering her neighbors, asking this person and that, and yet still she hated fire. We have to learn how to make use of things and to have a sense of how much is enough. If you light only a little fire, it’ll be three hours before your rice is cooked. The fire isn’t enough for your food. So it is with us: We see stress as something bad and so try to remedy it—keeping at it with our eyes closed, as if we were blind. No matter how much we treat it, we never get anywhere at all.

People with discernment will see that stress is of two kinds: (1) physical stress, or the inherent stress of natural conditions; and (2) mental stress, or the stress of defilement. Once there’s birth, there has to be aging, illness, and death. Whoever tries to remedy aging can keep at it till they’re withered and grey. When we try to remedy illness, we’re usually like the old woman pouring water all over her matches. Sometimes we treat things just right, sometimes we don’t—as when the front step gets cracked, and we dismantle the house right up to the roof.

Illness is something that everyone has—in other words, the diseases that appear in the various parts of the body. Once we’ve treated the disease in our eyes, it’ll go appear in our ears, nose, in front, in back, in our arm, our hand, our foot, etc., and then it’ll sneak inside. Like a person trying to catch hold of an eel: The more you try to catch it, the more it slips off every which way. And so we keep on treating our diseases till we die. Some kinds of disease will go away whether we treat them or not. If it’s a disease that goes away with treatment, then take medicine. If it’s one that goes away whether we treat it or not, why bother? This is what it means to have discernment.

Ignorant people don’t know which kinds of stress should be treated and which kinds shouldn’t, and so they put their time and money to waste. As for intelligent people, they see what should be treated and they treat it using their own discernment. All diseases arise either from an imbalance in the physical properties or from kamma. If it’s a disease that arises from the physical properties, we should treat it with food, medicine, etc. If it arises from kamma, we have to treat it with the Buddha’s medicine. In other words, stress and pain that arise from the heart, if we treat them with food and medicine, won’t respond. We have to treat them with the Dhamma. Whoever knows how to manage this is said to have a sense of how to observe and diagnose stress.

If we look at it in another way, we’ll see that aging, illness, and death are simply the shadows of stress and not its true substance. People lacking discernment will try to do away with the shadows, which leads only to more suffering and stress. This is because they aren’t acquainted with what the shadows and substance of stress come from. The essence of stress lies with the mind. Aging, illness, and death are its shadows or effects that show by way of the body. When we want to kill our enemy and so take a knife to stab his shadow, how is he going to die? In the same way, ignorant people try to destroy the shadows of stress and don’t get anywhere. As for the essence of stress in the heart, they don’t think of remedying it at all. This ignorance of theirs is one form of avijjā, or unawareness.

To look at it in still another way, both the shadows and the real thing come from taṇhā, craving. We’re like a person who has amassed a huge fortune and then, when thieves come to break in, goes killing the thieves. He doesn’t see his own wrongdoing and sees only the wrongdoing of others. Actually, once he’s piled his house full in this way, thieves can’t help but break in. In the same way, people suffer from stress and so they hate it, and yet they don’t make the effort to straighten themselves out.

Stress comes from the three forms of craving, so we should kill off craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, and craving for no becoming. These things are fabricated in our own heart, and we have to know them with our own mindfulness and discernment. Once we’ve contemplated them until we see, we’ll know: ‘This sort of mental state is craving for sensuality; this sort is craving for becoming; and this sort, craving for no becoming.’

People with discernment will see that these things exist in the heart in subtle, intermediate, and blatant stages, just as a person has three stages in a lifetime: youth, middle age, and old age. ‘Youth’ is craving for sensuality. Once this thirst arises in the heart, it wavers and moves—this is craving for becoming—and then takes shape as craving for no further becoming—a sambhavesin with its neck stretched out looking for its object, causing itself stress and pain. In other words, we take a liking to various sights, sounds, smells, flavors, etc., and so fix on them, which brings us stress. So we shouldn’t preoccupy ourselves with sights, sounds, etc., that provoke greed, anger, or delusion (craving for sensuality), causing the mind to waver and whisk out with concepts (this is craving for becoming; when the mind sticks with its wavering, won’t stop repeating its motions, that’s craving for no further becoming).

When we gain discernment, we should destroy these forms of craving with anulomika-ñāṇa, knowledge in accordance with the four noble truths, knowing exactly how much ease and pleasure the mind has when cravings for sensuality, becoming, and no becoming all disappear. This is called knowing the reality of disbanding. As for the cause of stress and the path to the disbanding of stress, we’ll know them as well.

Ignorant people will go ride in the shadow of a car—and they’ll end up with their heads bashed in. People who don’t realize what the shadows of virtue are, will end up riding only the shadows. Words and deeds are the shadows of virtue. Actual virtue is in the heart. The heart at normalcy is the substance of virtue. The substance of concentration is the mind firmly centered in a single preoccupation without any interference from concepts or mental labels. The bodily side to concentration—when our mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are quiet—is just the shadow, as when the body sits still, its mouth closed and not speaking with anyone, its nose not interested in any smells, its eyes closed and not interested in any objects, etc. If the mind is firmly centered to the level of fixed penetration, then whether we sit, stand, walk, or lie down, the mind doesn’t waver.

Once the mind is trained to the level of fixed penetration, discernment will arise without our having to search for it, just like an imperial sword: When it’s drawn for use, it’s sharp and flashing. When it’s no longer needed, it goes back in the scabbard. This is why we are taught,

mano-pubbaṅgamā dhammā     mano-seṭṭhā mano-mayā:

The mind is the most extraordinary thing there is.

The mind is the source of the Dhamma.

This is what it means to know stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the path to its disbanding. This is the substance of virtue, concentration, and discernment. Whoever can do this will reach release: nibbāna. Whoever can give rise to the Dhamma of study and practice within themselves will meet with the Dhamma of attainment without a doubt. This is why it’s said to be sandiṭṭhiko, visible in the present; akāliko, bearing fruit no matter what the time or season. Keep working at it always.