Beyond Right & Wrong

January 17, 1959

For the heart to go and do harm to other people, we first have to open the way for it. In other words, we start out by doing harm to ourselves, and this clears the way from inside the house for us to go out and do harm to people outside.

The resolve to do harm is a heavy form of self-harm. At the very least, it uses up our time and destroys our opportunity to do good. We have to wipe it out with the resolve not to do harm—or in other words, with concentration. This is like seeing that there’s plenty of unused space in our property and that we aren’t making enough for our living. We’ll have to leap out into the open field so as to give ourself the momentum for doing our full measure of goodness as the opportunity arises.

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Nekkhamma-saṅkappo (the resolve for renunciation), i.e., being at ease in quiet, solitary places. Abyāpāda-saṅkappo (the resolve for non-ill-will): We don’t have to think about our own bad points or the bad points of others. Avihiṅsā-saṅkappo (the resolve for harmlessness), not creating trouble or doing harm to ourselves, i.e., (1) not thinking about our own shortcomings, which would depress us; (2) if we think about our own shortcomings, it’ll spread like wildfire to the shortcomings of others. For this reason, wise people lift their thoughts to the level of goodness so that they can feel love and good will for themselves, and so that they can then feel love and good will for others as well.

When our mind has these three forms of energy, it’s like a table with three legs that can spin in all directions. To put it another way, once our mind has spun up to this high a level, we can take pictures of everything above and below us. We’ll develop discernment like a bright light or like binoculars that can magnify every detail. This is called ñāṇa—intuitive awareness that can know everything in the world: Lokavidū.

The discernment here isn’t ordinary knowledge or insight. It’s a special cognitive skill, the skill of the noble path. We’ll give rise to three eyes in the heart, so as to see the reds and greens, the highs and lows of the mundane world: a sport for those with wisdom. Our internal eyes will look at the Dhamma in front and behind, above and below and all around us, so as to know all the ins and outs of goodness and evil. This is discernment. We’ll be at our ease, feeling pleasure with no pain interfering at all. This is called vijjā-caraṅa-sampanno—being consummate in cognitive skill.

A person whose heart has discernment is capable of helping the nation and the religion, just as a farmer who grows rice that can be sold both inside and outside the country strengthens the nation’s economy. A person without discernment will make the religion degenerate. When he brings disaster on himself, the disaster will have to spread to others as well. In other words, a single, solitary person with no goodness to him—nothing but defilements and craving—can do evil to the point where he wipes himself out, and it will spread to wipe out people all over the country. But when a person has the three above virtues in his or her heart, they will turn into the strength of concentration. The heart will be as clear as crystal or a diamond. The whole world will become transparent. Discernment will arise, the skill of liberating insight, and intuitive understanding, all at once.

Whoever sees the world as having highs and lows doesn’t yet have true intuitive discernment. Whoever has the eye of intuition will see that there are no highs, no lows, no rich, no poor. Everything is equal in terms of the three common characteristics: inconstant, stressful, and not-self. It’s like the equality of democracy. Their home is the same as our home, with no differences at all. People commit burglaries and robberies these days because they don’t see equality. They think that this person is good, that person isn’t; this house is a good place to eat, that house isn’t; this house is a good place to sleep, that house isn’t, etc. It’s because they don’t have insight, the eye of discernment, that there’s all this confusion and turmoil.

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Keep your attention focused exclusively on the body—a cubit wide, a fathom long, a span thick. This is the middle path. If you make your awareness of the breath too narrow, you’ll end up sitting stock stiff, with no alertness at all. If you make your awareness too broad—all the way to heaven and hell—you can end up falling for aberrant perceptions. So neither extreme is good. You have to keep things moderate and just right if you want to be on the right track. If you don’t have a sense of how to practice correctly, then even if you ordain until you die buried in heaps of yellow robes, you won’t succeed in the practice. You lay people can sit in concentration till your hair turns white, your teeth fall out, and your backs get all crooked and bent, but you’ll never get to see nibbāna.

If we can get our practice on the noble path, though, we’ll enter nibbāna. Virtue will disband, concentration will disband, discernment will disband. In other words, we won’t dwell on our knowledge or discernment. If we’re intelligent enough to know, we simply know, without taking intelligence as being an essential part of ourselves. On the lower level, we’re not stuck on virtue, concentration, or discernment. On a higher level, we’re not stuck on the stages of stream-entry, once-returning, or non-returning. Nibbāna isn’t stuck on the world, the world isn’t stuck on nibbāna. Only at this point can we use the term ‘arahant.’

This is where we can relax. They can say ‘inconstant,’ but it’s just what they say. They can say ‘stress,’ but it’s just what they say. They can say ‘not-self,’ but it’s just what they say. Whatever they say, that’s the way it is. It’s true for them, and they’re completely right—but completely wrong. As for us, only if we can get ourselves beyond right and wrong will we be doing fine. Roads are built for people to walk on, but dogs and cats can walk on them as well. Sane people and crazy people will use the roads. They didn’t build the roads for crazy people, but crazy people have every right to use them. As for the precepts, even fools and idiots can observe them. The same with concentration: Crazy or sane, they can come and sit. And discernment: We all have the right to come and talk our heads off, but it’s simply a question of being right or wrong.

None of the valuables of the mundane world give any real pleasure. They’re nothing but stress. They’re good as far as the world is concerned, but nibbāna doesn’t have any need for them. Right views and wrong views are an affair of the world. Nibbāna doesn’t have any right views or wrong views. For this reason, whatever is a wrong view, we should abandon. Whatever is a right view, we should develop—until the day it can fall from our grasp. That’s when we can be at our ease.