The Treasures of the Dhamma

§ The treasures of the world last only as long as our breathing. As soon as we die, they go to somebody else. The King of Death keeps changing our clothes—our eyes, our hair, our skin, etc.—as a way of forewarning us that we’re going to be evacuated to another country. If we don’t get our provisions ready, we’re going to be in trouble when the evacuation order comes.

§ This body that we’ve borrowed from the world: The original owners keep coming to take it back bit by bit without our realizing it. For example, the hair on our head: They take it back one or two strands at a time, turning it gray. Our eyes they take back one at a time, making them blurry. Our ears they take back bit by bit as our hearing starts to go. Our teeth they take back one by one. A tooth will start feeling loose, then it stops for a while, and then it starts growing loose again. Eventually it whispers to the dentist to take all the teeth out. The original owners also cut away our flesh bit by bit as our muscles atrophy and our skin gets loose and wrinkled. Our spine they keep coming to pull forward until it’s so bent that we can’t straighten up. Some people end up having to crawl or to walk with a cane, stumbling and swaying, falling down and picking themselves back up, a sorry sight to see. Ultimately, the owners come and call for the whole thing back, in what we call “death.”

§ If you look carefully at the body, you’ll see that what you have here is the four states of deprivation, nothing wonderful at all.

The first state of deprivation is the animal kingdom: all the worms and germs that live in our stomach and intestines, in our blood vessels, and in our pores. As long as there’s food for these things to eat in there, they’re always going to be with us, multiplying like crazy, making us ill. On the outside of the body there are fleas and lice. They like staying with whoever doesn’t keep himself clean, making his skin red and sore. As for the animals living in the blood vessels and pores, they give us rashes and infections.

The second state of deprivation is the kingdom of hungry ghosts, i.e., the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind in the body. First they feel too cold, then too warm, then they feel ill, then they want to eat this or that. We have to keep pandering to them, running around to find things for them to eat with no chance to stop and rest. And they never have enough—like the hungry ghosts who starve after they die, with no one to feed them. These properties keep pestering us, and no matter what you do, you can never please them. First the food is too hot, so you have to put ice in it. Then it’s too cold, so you have to put it back on the stove. All of this comes down to an imbalance in the properties, sometimes good, sometimes bad, never coming to a stable state of normalcy at all, making us suffer in various ways.

The third state of deprivation is the land of angry demons. Sometimes, when we get ill or lose our senses, we run around naked without a stitch of clothing, as if we were possessed by angry demons. Some people have to undergo operations, getting this removed or cutting out that or sucking out this, waving their arms and moaning in a way that’s really pitiful. Some people get so poor that they have nothing to eat; they get so thin that they’re all eyeballs and ribs, suffering like the angry demons who can’t see the brightness of the world.

The fourth state of deprivation is purgatory. Purgatory is the home of the spirits with a lot of bad kamma who have to suffer being roasted, speared with red-hot iron spikes, and pierced with thorns. All the animals whose flesh we’ve eaten, after they’ve been killed and cooked, gather together in our stomach and then disappear into our body in huge numbers. If you were to count them, you’d have whole coops of chickens, herds of cattle, and half a sea’s worth of fish. Our stomach is such a tiny thing, and yet no matter how much you eat you can never keep it full. And you have to feed it hot things, too, like the denizens of purgatory who have to live with fire and flame. If there’s no fire, they can’t live. So there’s a big copper frying pan for them. All the various spirits we’ve eaten gather in the big copper frying pan of our stomach, where they’re consumed by the fires of digestion, and then they haunt us: Their powers penetrate throughout our flesh and blood, giving rise to passion, aversion, and delusion, making us squirm as if we were burned by the fires of purgatory, too.

So look at the body. Whose is it? Is it really yours? Where did it come from? No matter how much you care for it, it’s not going to stay with you. It’ll have to go back to where it came from: the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind. The fact that it’s able to stay for a while depends entirely on the breath. When there’s no more breath to it, it starts to decay, and no one wants it then. You won’t be able to take it with you when you go. No one can take his arms, legs, feet, or hands along with him. This is why we say that the body is not-self. It belongs to the world. As for the mind, it’s the one that does good and evil, and will be reborn in line with its kamma. The mind is what doesn’t die. It’s the one that experiences all pleasure and pain.

So when you realize this, you should do as much good as you can for your own sake. The Buddha felt compassion for us and taught us in this way, but we don’t feel much compassion for ourselves. We prefer to fill ourselves with suffering. When other people teach us, it’s no match for our teaching ourselves, for other people will teach us only once in a while. The possibility of being a common animal, a human being, a heavenly being, or of reaching nibbāna all lie within us, so we have to choose which one we want.

The good you do is what will go with you in the future. This is why the Buddha taught us to meditate, to contemplate the body to give rise to dispassion. It’s inconstant, stressful, and nothing of ours. You borrow it for a while and then have to return it. The body doesn’t belong to the mind, and the mind doesn’t belong to the body. They’re separate things that depend on each other. When we can see this, we have no more worries or attachments. We can let go of the body, and three hunks of rust—self-identity views, attachments to precepts and practices, and uncertainty in the Path—will fall from our heart. We’ll see that all good and evil come from the heart. If the heart is pure, that’s the highest good in the world.

§ Someone once came to Ajaan Lee with a problem. Some of his friends had said to him, “If the body’s not-self, why can’t we hit you?” Ajaan Lee said to answer them by saying, “Look. It’s not mine. I’ve borrowed it, so I have to take good care of it. I can’t let anyone else mistreat it.”

§ The Dhamma doesn’t belong to anyone. It’s common property, like unsettled land: If we don’t lay claim to it by developing it, it’s simply vacant, uncleared land without any crops. If we want to lay claim to it, we have to develop it in line with established principles if we want it really to be ours. When difficulties arise—poverty, pain, illness, and death—we’ll then have something to protect us. But if we haven’t followed the established principles, then we’ll put the blame on the Buddha, Dhamma, Saṅgha, and inner worth in general for not helping us when these things arise. And that will discourage us from developing any inner worth at all.

The mind is the most important factor in life, the most important factor in the world, for it’s the basic foundation of our inner worth. If the mind is dark and defiled instead of being bright and pure, then no matter how much we practice generosity, virtue, or meditation, we won’t get any results. The Buddha knew that we’re all going to have to go abroad (start a new life after death), which is why he taught us to develop inner worth as a way of knowing how to get our provisions ready. We have to know how to get to where we want to go, how to dress properly, and how to speak their language. We’ll also have to put money in the bank so that we’ll be able to exchange it for their currency.

“Putting money in the bank” means generosity in making donations and being charitable. Learning their language means knowing how to say that we take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha. Being complete in our virtue is like having fashionable clothes to wear. Yet even if we have funds to exchange, good clothes to wear, and know how to speak their language, but are basically loony—i.e., our minds are wandering all over the place, with no basis in concentration—we still won’t pass inspection. This is why the Buddha wanted us to develop our minds as much as possible, making them pure and bright. When our wealth and inner merit are complete in this way, they’ll spread to our children and other people around us.

All people have inner worth within them, but whoever doesn’t know how to lay claim to it and develop it won’t get any benefit from it at all.

§ Human treasures aren’t important. Thieves and fools can find them with no problem at all. But the treasure of a human rebirth is something that people without virtue can’t gain.

§ The Buddha taught that with noble treasures (ariya-dhana), whoever has a lot isn’t poor, whoever has even a little isn’t poor. The important thing is that you give rise to them within yourself, and you’ll always be wealthy. For example, if you make up your mind to donate a material object to Buddhism, it immediately turns into the noble treasure of generosity in your heart. When you abstain from evil in your words and deeds, they turn into the noble treasure of virtue. When this is the case, your treasures are within you. You haven’t deposited them with anyone else. Your generosity lies within you, your virtue—the virtue of restraint of the senses—lies in your eyes, your ears, your mouth. When your treasures are with you like this, it’s like keeping your money in your own pocket, without depositing it with anyone else: There are bound to be no problems. You don’t have to worry that they’ll swindle or cheat you. When you’ve got your money right in your own pocket, what is there to fear?

§ The Buddha teaches us not to be possessive of things. Let them go in line with their nature and take only the nourishment they have to offer. Material things are dregs and leavings; their nourishment is the joy we feel when we’re willing to give them away. So don’t eat the dregs. Spit them out so that they can be of use, both to others and to yourself in the sense of inner worth that comes from being generous.

§ We have to build up our inner worth, our perfections as quickly as possible, because our conviction in these things isn’t yet sure. Some days it shrinks out of sight: That’s called turtle-head conviction. Some days it stretches back out again. So if it stretches out today, act on it. Tomorrow it may shrink back in again.

§ Two legs, two arms, two hands, two eyes, one mouth: These are your perfections. Put them to use.

§ People who don’t believe in goodness rarely do good, but people who don’t believe in evil do evil all the time.

§ Evil isn’t something natural that happens on its own. It happens only if we do it.

§ The Buddha teaches us to develop inner worth by meditating on good will, but you have to be intent on really doing it if you want to get real results. Even if it’s only for a short time—the wiggle of an elephant’s ears or the flicker of a snake’s tongue—it can give rise to amazing power, like the power of an elephant or a snake in being able to kill off people or other animals in the twinkling of an eye. All an elephant has to do is wiggle his ears just once, and people trip all over themselves trying to run away. But if you’re not really true in what you do, the power of truth won’t appear in the mind, and you won’t be able to use it to get any results—like the ear of a dog or a cat: It can wiggle all day long and yet it won’t cause anyone any fear.

§ 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—i.e., 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 that you like.

§ Being a slave to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha is called being a slave to a noble family, the kind of people we can willingly be slaves to. But being a slave to our moods—cravings and defilements—is like being a slave to bandits and thieves. What sort of valuables are they going to have to give us? But even though it’s proper to be a slave to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha, it’s still no match for not having to be a slave to anyone, for the word “slave” means that we’re not yet free. So the Buddha teaches us to learn how to depend on ourselves—attāhi attano nātho, the self is its own mainstay. That’s when we’ll be able to rise up free, released from our slavery, with no need to have anyone order us around ever again.

§ When we come to the monastery we come looking for peace and calm, so don’t go releasing tigers, crocodiles, and rabid dogs into the monastery grounds, endangering everyone who comes here. Tigers, crocodiles, and rabid dogs stand for our very own greed, anger, and delusion. We have to chain them and cage them and lock them up tight. Make absolutely sure that they don’t come escaping out your thoughts, words, and deeds in any way.

§ People who don’t get ahead in life are the ones whose bodies are human but whose minds drop down to lower levels. In other words, they’re all right in physical terms, but not in terms of their minds. For instance, when we come to the monastery, we depend on our feet to walk us here, but then when we get here if we let our minds and manners fall into lower ways, we’re no different from bats that hook their feet up on high places and then let their heads hang down low.

§ The Dhamma is an affair of the heart. The words spoken are Dhamma, the intention in speaking is Dhamma, and you have to make your heart into Dhamma if you want to hear it as Dhamma. When these three factors come together, listening to the Dhamma can give countless rewards.

§ When we listen to the Dhamma it’s as if the monk is giving us each a knife; it’s up to us to accept it or not. When we get back home and run into problems or issues in our families, we can use the knife to cut right through them. But if we throw the knife down right here or hand it back to the monk, we won’t have any weapon to use when we meet up with issues at home.

§ The study of the Dhamma is like reading a cookbook. The practice of the Dhamma is like fixing food. The attainment of the Dhamma is like knowing the taste of the food. If we simply read the texts without putting them into practice, it’s like knowing that there are such things as peppers, onions, and garlic, but without having them for a meal.

§ If you study the Dhamma without practicing it, it’s as if you’re missing parts of your body. If you study and practice, it’s like having two eyes, two hands, and two legs. You can do things a lot more easily than a person with only one eye, one hand, or one leg.

§ Having self-respect means that you respect your thoughts, words, and deeds. Respect for your deeds means that whatever you do, you always follow the three principles of skillful action: no killing, no stealing, no illicit sex. Respect for your words means that whatever you say, you always follow the four principles of skillful speech: no lying, no divisive tale-bearing, no harsh language, and no idle chatter. Respect for your thoughts means that whatever you think, you always follow the three principles of the skillful mind: trying to keep your views straight, with no greed or ill will.

§ Having broken precepts is better than not having any precepts to break. Wearing torn clothes is better than going around naked.

§ Lots of dead beings have gone into your mouth—pigs, chickens, cattle, etc.—so make sure that it isn’t possessed by their spirits. Before you say anything, no matter what your intention, look right and left and speak only when you’re sure that it’s just right for the situation. Don’t give in to bad manners.

§ Concerning Right Livelihood: Even if our basic livelihood is honest, but we practice it dishonestly, it’s considered wrong. For example, we’re farmers, but we lay claim to other people’s fields as our own: This is Wrong Livelihood, and the crops we grow on that land will do us harm.

§ There are two kinds of foulness: the kind the Buddha praised and the kind he criticized. The kind he praised is the filth and foulness of the body, for it makes us see clearly the aging and unattractiveness of compounded things so that the mind will gain a chastened sense of dispassion, grow disenchanted with its attachment to suffering, and set its sights on developing its inner worth so as to escape from that suffering. As for the foulness the Buddha criticized, that’s the foulness of an evil mind, which defiles our thoughts, words, and deeds. This is something the Buddha criticized and penalized in very heavy terms. So we have to keep washing off our actions in all situations. Only when our thoughts, words, and deeds are clean will wise people praise us as being uncomplacent and good.

§ Restraint of the senses means that we bring the senses and their objects into proportion with one another. For instance, guarding the eyes means that we don’t let our eyes get bigger than the sights they see, and we don’t let the sights get bigger than the eyes. If the sights are bigger than the eyes, they get lodged there. We think about them night and day. If the eyes are bigger than the sights, that means we can’t get enough of those sights and keep wanting to see them more. In either case, we give rise to greed and delusion. The fires of passion, aversion, and delusion burn our eyes and make us suffer.

§ One important noble treasure is meditation, keeping the mind from wandering aimlessly around in all kinds of issues. When we keep the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha in mind, it’s as if we were soaking in their virtues. When that’s the case, the mind will have to become saturated with inner worth. It’s the same as if we were to take a handful of bitter herbs and soak them in syrup until the syrup saturates them. Their bitterness will disappear and be replaced with sweetness. No matter how shoddy a person’s mind, if it gets constantly soaked in goodness, it will have to become more and more refined, like bitter herbs sweetened in syrup.

§ Whatever you do, be true in doing it if you want to meet up with the truth. If you’re really true in what you do, doing just a little bit can be enough. One million in real money is better than ten million in counterfeit bills. When you speak, stay right with your speaking. Whatever you do, stay right with what you’re doing. When you eat, stay with your eating; when you stand, stay with your standing; when you walk, stay with your walking; when you’re sitting, stay with your sitting; when you’re lying down, stay with your lying down. Don’t let your mind get ahead of the truth.

§ The heart is like food in a serving dish. Mindfulness is like a cover over the dish. If you lack mindfulness, it’s as if you left the dish uncovered: Flies (defilements) are sure to come and land on it and contaminate it with all sorts of germs so that the food becomes toxic and can make you sick. So you always have to be careful to keep the dish covered. Don’t let flies land on it. That way your heart will be clean and pure, and will give rise to wisdom and knowledge.

§ A deserted house, a house where someone has died, gives you the chills. Only if there are people in the house will you feel secure. A person who is not mindful of the present is like a deserted house. When you see such a person, you don’t feel secure.

§ Defilements are like sand bars or stumps in a river that will keep our boat from getting to shore. In other words, passion is something that snags us, anger is something that bumps into us, and delusion is something that makes us spin around and sink. There’s a story they tell of two men who were hired to row a boat along the rivers and canals to sell plowshares, shovels, and hoes. If they sold all the wares in the boat, their employer would give them their full wages of one kahapana, which was equal to about four dollars, a day. The first day their employer went out with them, and they sold all their wares. After that, he didn’t go out with them, so the two of them went out to sell their wares on their own. One day, as they were out rowing along, calling out, “Plowshares, shovels, and hoes!” their minds wandered and they started getting drowsy. All of a sudden they crashed smack into a stump and ran aground on a sandbar. Even after they got free they were so shaken up that instead of calling out, “Plowshares, shovels, and hoes!” they started calling out, “Sandbars and stumps! Sandbars and stumps!” all along the river, but nobody wanted to buy.

When evening came, they rowed back to their employer’s house, their boat still full of plowshares, shovels, and hoes. They hadn’t been able to sell a thing. So the employer gave them each only a dollar for their day’s wages. One of the men took the money back to his wife, who was surprised to see that she was getting only one dollar, instead of the usual four. “Maybe he’s given the rest of the money to another woman,” she thought, so she gave him a piece of her mind. No matter how much he tried to explain things, she wouldn’t listen. So he told her to go ask the employer. If what he said wasn’t true, he’d be willing to let her hit him once on the head. The wife, impatient because she was so angry, said, “No, let me hit you first, and then I’ll go ask.” As she said this, she reached for a shovel handle, but all she could grab was the stick they used to drive the dog out of the house, so she used that to bash her husband three times on the head. Later, of course, she found out the truth, but by that time it was too late, for the husband had already gotten three free hits on the head.

This story shows the harm that can come from not being mindful. If you let your mind wander away from what you’re doing, you can end up getting yourself into trouble.

§ There’s danger that comes from being good. If you’re not especially good, nobody gets fixated on you. The important thing is that you know how to use your goodness to your benefit. If you’re a good person but don’t know how to use your goodness—i.e., you use it at the wrong time or place, or in a way that gets other people upset—it won’t benefit you, and will instead cause you harm. In this way your goodness turns into evil. So you have to be circumspect in how you let your goodness show.

§ Keep your evil intentions to yourself, and be careful with your good intentions, too. It’s like handing a knife to a person: You may have good intentions, hoping that he’ll put it to good use, but if he uses it to kill someone, your intentions backfire on both of you.

§ Goodness comes from evil, in that once you really take a good look at evil, it loses. Whatever you look at, look at it from all sides. This is why they don’t let you look a long time at pretty things or beautiful women, because after a while you’ll see that they aren’t all that beautiful after all. So if you see something lovely, look at it long and hard until you see that it’s not as lovely as you thought. If someone makes you angry, contemplate them until you feel compassion for them. The same principle holds for delusion.

§ If you’re wise, then greed, anger, and delusion can help you. If you’re wise, even desire can help you by making you want to develop your inner worth. So don’t look down on these things. You’re sitting here listening to a sermon. What made you come? Desire did. When people ordain as monks and novices, what gave the order? Craving. So don’t look only at the drawbacks of craving and desire. If you don’t have the desire to be good, you can’t develop inner worth. People who develop their inner worth have to start out with the intention to do it. Ignorance is good in that when we know we’re ignorant we’ll do something to remedy the situation. Ignorance leads us astray, but in the end it will lead us back. Knowledge never led anyone to look for learning. Ignorance is what leads people to look for knowledge. If you already know, what’s there to look for?

§ When we practice the Dhamma it gives three kinds of benefits: We help ourselves gain release from suffering, we help other people, and we help keep the religion alive.