By Way of Introduction

§ I like going different places, not just for the fun of it but also because I want to learn. To learn something of value depends on three things: seeing, listening, and thinking, i.e., using all of your senses so as to serve a purpose. Sometimes when you meet people and find that their beliefs and practices are on a level lower than yours, you can serve a purpose by teaching them to get started on the right path. But when you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, and are convinced in your heart that something is really good, don’t think about whether it’s yours or theirs. Remember it and put it into practice yourself.

Because my heart has been set on serving the purposes of the religion, I’ve kept on trying to do what’s good. No matter whether I’m in a high place or a lowly one, I always think only of serving a purpose. As for the question of manners—in other words, how to benefit advanced people and people not so advanced—that depends on the situation. The religion isn’t the exclusive property of homes or monasteries, of this or that city or nation. The religion is something meant to benefit everyone everywhere. It belongs to the world. The further we can spread its benefits, the better.

But even though I’ve meant well, practicing in line with these thoughts, I can’t escape being criticized, probably because the people who criticize don’t understand. Just a short while back—last April 20th—I was talking with an old nobleman, but I didn’t want to come down too hard on him. His criticism, to put it briefly, was, “You spend an awful lot of time involved with lay people, so how can you practice for the sake of release?”

I answered him frankly—but first I asked him, just to make sure, “What are you getting at?”

“Teach people to reach nibbāna,” he said. “Don’t get too involved with them.”

So I said, “I like teaching people to reach nibbāna, but it’s hard. I like it, mind you, I like it, but if I did as you said, I’d be crazy. Suppose you plant some rice. When it’s golden and ripe, can you harvest just the white grains of rice? Without taking anything else? I take everything. People may say I’m crazy, but why should I care? I take the whole plant because it has lots of uses. The straw you can keep to feed water buffaloes, or sell, or use as kindling. As for the rice husks, you can use them to feed pigs.”

“You know,” he said, “you’re right.” And that was the end of the matter.

§ I’m different from most other monks in that I don’t like to eat only one flavor of food, i.e., the physical food we eat every day. I like the kind of food that has three flavors in every bite. It’s a fine food—food for the heart, not food for the body. Its three flavors are the food of sensory contact, the food of consciousness, and the food of intentions. If you were to compare it to durian fruit, it’s the type that’s sweet and rich and a little bit bitter, all at once—the kind of durian that people really love to eat.

The nourishment of the food of sensory contact here means likable sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas. The nourishment of the food of consciousness means taking note of likable things by way of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. And the nourishment of intentions means the success of the good things we aim at. Taken together, these things are called Dhamma food: three flavors in a single bite. Whoever keeps eating this kind of food regularly will have a long, happy, and healthy life.

This is the kind of food I want. To put it in simple terms, it’s the sense of satisfaction I get when I see my students—monks, novices, and lay people—practicing rightly. This isn’t rice food, it’s people food. I’m a monster monk: I like to eat people. If anyone acts in a way to make me feel happy and satisfied, that’s going to help me live longer. If anyone misbehaves, that’s going to make me die faster. The reason I’m here is to help benefit the religion, to benefit the world. I’m looking for a living, hoping to make a profit. If the rice I plant produces big, fat grains and good profits, I’ll hang around for a good while. If all I get are stunted grains and nothing but losses, I’ll be on my way.

So if I see that staying on will serve a purpose, I’ll try to breathe good and long, good and long. If I see that staying on doesn’t serve a purpose any more, I’ll try to breathe shorter and shorter until I go in an instant. That’s when I can be at my ease, the kind of happiness that nothing else can match, with no need to sit here tormenting my body, listening to anyone’s troubles any more: shining bright, all by myself, with no worries or concerns at all.

So that’s the kind of food I like. As for food for the body, I eat it because I have to, that’s all. It’s not that I really want it, for there’s no real substance to it. You eat it today and tomorrow you have to get rid of it. But with food for the heart, what you eat in one day can stay with you for ten years, 100 years. You never grow tired of it, and you stay full until you forget what it’s like to be hungry.