Why Meditate?

§ Wherever there are effects, there always have to be causes. The world we experience comes from the heart as its cause. If the heart is good, the world will have to be good. If the heart is bad, the world will have to be bad.

§ The mind, when it’s not with the body in the present, is “world.” When it’s with the body in the present, it’s Dhamma. If it’s world, it has to be as hot as fire. If it’s Dhamma, it’s as cool as water.

§ Don’t be complacent. Remind yourself that we’re all being chased out of the world day by day. In other words, aging rears up, illness roars, and death runs up the score. So don’t be oblivious, partying around with your defilements. Associate with the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha until your mind develops Right Concentration. That way you won’t have anything to fear from the dangers of the world.

§ Believing other people is all right, but it’s not really special. It’s like borrowing money: We’ll have to share the return on our investment with our lenders. When we don’t yet know, can’t yet have any real conviction in ourselves, and still have to believe what other people say, it’s like being an infant who has to depend on its parents. If we don’t get stronger, we’ll have to keep being nursed all the way through old age. If we don’t try to train the mind until it’s firm and unwavering, it won’t give rise to the strength of concentration and will have to keep on being a child.

When we’re able to shake off all the issues in the mind, leaving just the mind in and of itself, three gems will appear in it: the Gem of the Buddha, the Gem of the Dhamma, and the Gem of the Saṅgha. Once these three gems appear within us, we won’t have to load ourselves down by carrying around much of anything else. Simply put them under your arm if you like, or even up your nose. When you have this kind of wealth, your mind can be light, and noble treasures will arise within you. In other words, conviction in the qualities of the Buddha will appear within the mind. Then you practice in line with those qualities until you gain the various results they have to offer. You’ll see the true Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha in your heart. If you try to take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha on the outer level, you’re going to die for sure. The Buddha on the outer level entered nibbāna a long time ago. The Dhamma on the outer level is just letters in books. The Saṅgha on the outer level is the monks with shaven heads and yellow robes that you see roaming all over the country. If you try to hold onto these things, it’s like carrying a heavy hoe that won’t do you any good. But if you hold onto the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha within you and then put them into practice, you’ll realize that what you’re looking for is right here in the heart. And then what do you want? To return to the human state? To attain a heavenly state? To attain nibbāna? Or go to hell? They’re all possible, without your having to look for them anywhere else.

§ The Buddha taught that the five aggregates are a heavy burden, because they all get to the point where we can’t bear carrying them around anymore and have to throw them down in the mud. If you don’t keep cleansing them, they keep getting heavier and heavier. If you then try to go depending on other people, you weigh them down, and you yourself are helpless. This is because stashing things away in the heart is like taking pictures without ever developing the film. What you eat gets put on the film, what you say gets put on the film, what you hear gets put on the film, but that’s as far as it gets: on the film. You’ve never stopped to look at what kind of pictures you have, pretty or ugly. If you want to see your pictures, you have to take the film into the darkroom, by closing your eyes and practicing concentration, attaining the first jhāna, directing your thoughts to the present and evaluating it until you can see yourself clearly. If you don’t go into the darkroom now, someday the King of Death is going to blindfold you, tie up your feet and hands, and drag you into his darkroom. In other words, when you’re on the verge of death you won’t be able to open your mouth or eyes. Nobody will be able to feed you. You’ll want to eat but won’t be able to eat. You’ll want to speak but won’t be able to speak. Your ears will get closed off so that you can’t hear anything clearly. You won’t be able to see your parents, family, children, or grandchildren. You won’t be able to tell them your last wishes. That’s called the darkroom of the King of Death.

§ The mind is the only thing that senses pleasure and pain. The body has no sense of these things at all. It’s like taking a knife to murder someone: They don’t hunt down the knife and punish it. They punish only the person who used it to commit murder.

§ If your mind isn’t good, then the goodness of your actions isn’t really good, and the goodness of your words isn’t really good, either.

§ You have to develop power within yourself, like stocking up on gunpowder. If a gun has no gunpowder, it can’t be used to destroy anything. People who have to be servants are the ones who lack the power to be anyone else’s boss. As for the people who have that power, all they have to do is point their fingers, and other people will jump up and run. If we don’t develop our own powers, we’ll have to be servants—slaves to defilement—throughout time.

§ The body is like a knife. If you have a knife but don’t keep sharpening it, it will get coated thick with rust. In the same way, if you have a body—physical elements, aggregates, and sense media—but don’t train it and keep it polished, it’ll get coated thick with defilements. If it were a gun, it wouldn’t even kill a fly.

§ Normally, the mind doesn’t like to stay where it is. It keeps flowing out the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body—like a river that splits into five streams instead of flowing as one. In a river like that, the force of the current is weakened and can’t run at full strength. In addition to flowing out the five senses, the mind also leaks out through thoughts of the past and future, instead of staying firm in the present. This is why the mind has no peace or strength, because it never gets to rest. When the mind loses strength, the body loses strength as well and won’t be able to succeed at anything.

§ If the mind doesn’t stay with the body in the present, and instead wanders around exposed to external perceptions, it’s bound to get into all sorts of difficulties, just like a person who doesn’t stay in his house and instead goes running around outside. He’s bound to be exposed to sun and rain, and he may get run over by a car or bitten by a rabid dog. If we stay in our home, then even though there may still be some dangers, they won’t be too serious, and we won’t get into difficulties.

§ When the mind isn’t quiet, it’s like running around with a flaming torch. You’re bound to burn yourself. Only when you stop running will you be able to cool down.

§ People who accumulate merit but don’t develop the heart’s foundation are like people who own land but don’t have a deed. They might be able to sell it for money, but they’re an easy mark for a swindler, because they don’t have any firm basis for their claim. If you practice generosity and virtue but not meditation (the heart’s foundation), it’s like taking a bath on a hot day only from the waist down. If you don’t bathe all the way from the head on down, you won’t get totally refreshed, because the coolness doesn’t go all the way to the heart.

§ External merit—generosity and virtue—is like the skin of a fruit. Internal merit—meditation—is like the flesh of the fruit. You can’t have one without the other. If fruit doesn’t have skin, its flesh won’t grow. If it has skin but no flesh, you can’t eat it. Each helps the other, but they differ in quality. External merit is what protects internal merit, while the internal merit nourishes merit outside.

§ Today I’m going to talk about how to drill a well. This is a difficult skill, not like simply digging or plowing.

We all want happiness, but we don’t really know what happiness is. Real happiness is nothing other than the inner worth and skillfulness of the heart. So where are we going to find inner worth? Inner worth is like a well. The first kind of well is simply a depression in the ground for catching rain water, like a pond. We can’t get too much use out of this kind of well because there are times when water buffaloes, cattle, and other animals get in the water to bathe and drink, making it muddy. If you want to use the water, you have to filter it many times. This kind of well is like generosity, which gives only shallow rewards, like the water in a shallow depression.

The second kind of well is like a deep reservoir. Cattle can’t bathe or drink in it. The only animals that go into the reservoir are toads and frogs, but even so, if we want to use the water we have to filter it first. This kind of well is like the virtue of observing the precepts, which gives deeper rewards than generosity.

The third kind of well is an artesian well with a constantly running spring. No matter how much water you use, it never runs dry. This kind of well is so deep that even mosquitoes (your defilements) can’t get down into the water. To drill this kind of well you need to use a drill with a diamond bit and a strong steel shaft if you want to reach the underground water. This kind of well is like meditation, because you have to use strong mindfulness, discernment, persistence, and endurance if you want to succeed at drilling. Mindfulness has to be like the diamond bit; and endurance, the steel shaft. When you use your persistence to drill on down, the results will arise as inner worth and skillfulness that keep flowing in, bathing the mind, like the waters of immortality that provide the mind with a constant stream of refreshment and delight.

§ If we don’t have a safe place for our inner worth, how is it going to help us? It’s like raising horses or cows but not fencing in a place for them to stay. If they go wandering off, it’s your fault, not theirs. If you don’t practice virtue, concentration, and discernment on your own, you’re going to get taken in by the symbols of refuge, and never get to the real thing. The symbols of refuge are: Buddha images, which are just symbols of the Buddha; Buddhist texts, which are symbols of the Dhamma; and Buddhist monks and nuns, who are symbols of those who have practiced rightly and well until becoming noble disciples. If you get stuck on the outer level, you’ll never meet with the real thing.

§ Inner worth is like money. If your pocket has a hole, it’ll let your money slip right through. If you do things that give rise to inner worth but don’t keep that worth in your heart, it won’t stay with you. When you’re about to die and you call on it to help you, what will there be to answer your call? When this is the case, you can’t criticize all the good things you’ve done for not helping you. You have to put the blame on yourself. If you stick a dollar in your pocket but your pocket is torn, then when the time comes to buy a cup of coffee you won’t have any money to buy it. In that case, what are you going to blame: the money or your pocket?

§ To practice meditation is like harvesting your crop of inner worth and eating it. If you don’t harvest it, it’ll spoil. If you eat it in time, it’ll nourish your body. If you don’t eat it in time, it’ll go to waste. If you don’t take your inner worth into your heart, you’ll never feel full.

§ Generosity is something that poor people can’t practice, but crazy people can. Virtue is something that crazy people can’t practice, but poor people can. As for meditation, everyone can practice it, no matter what their age, sex, or station in life.

§ A mind without concentration is like a pile of wooden posts left lying on the ground for people and animals to step all over. But if we stand the posts up and plant them in the soil, we can get good use out of them. Even if they’re not tall—only a meter or so—but we put them close together in a line, we can fence in our yard and prevent people and animals from coming in and traipsing all over our property. It’s the same with the mind. If we take a firm stance in concentration as the heart’s foundation, keeping our mindfulness and alertness close together in line, we can keep defilements from slipping into the mind and making it soiled.

§ The Dhamma is something constant and true. The reason we don’t see the truth is because we’re always on the move. If we’re riding in a car, we can’t clearly see the things that pass near by us on the road, such as how big the stones on the ground are, their color or shape. We look at trees and mountains, and they all seem to be on the move. If we’ve been in a car since birth, without stopping to get out and walk around on our own, we’re sure to think that cars run, trees run, and mountains run. What we see isn’t in line with the truth. The running is in us, in the car, not in the mountains and trees.

§ Whoever develops concentration will end up with three eyes. In other words, your outer left eye will see good things, your outer right eye will see bad things, and they’ll send them in to the inner eye, which will remain normal. You’ll also have three ears: Your outer left ear will hear praise, your outer right ear will hear criticism, and they’ll send them in to the inner ear, which will stay normal. This is how you can receive all the guests the world sends your way. As for the eye of the mind—intuitive insight—it will receive your defilements. Once it really understands them, it will be able to send them packing. That way you’ll be able to live in the world without suffering.

§ If you really apply yourself, you can accomplish all kinds of things even with a single pocket knife. In the same way, if you really apply yourself to making the mind still, you can get much better results than a person who studies and memorizes hundreds and thousands of texts. Making the mind still is something we can all do. If it were beyond our powers, the Buddha wouldn’t have taught us to do it.

§ The paths and fruitions leading to nibbāna aren’t the property of stupid people, and they don’t belong to smart people, either. They belong to those who are true and really determined in developing goodness for themselves.

§ The body is like a mountain containing all kinds of minerals. There’s gold, silver, and diamond ore buried here in this rock—i.e., the Unconditioned is in here. And there’s also the Conditioned, which is like trees, weeds, dirt, and rocks where all sorts of people and animals—monkeys, tigers, and elephants—dwell. As for the gold and silver, they’re not a dwelling place for animals at all. So if we act like monkeys, tigers, and elephants, we’ll meet up with nothing but trees, weeds, dirt, and rocks. We’ll never meet up with things of value like silver or gold.

To act like monkeys means that we never apply ourselves to anything. We wander everywhere, with no fixed place to eat or sleep, swinging from branch to branch as we feel like it. What this means is that our minds have no firm place to stay, no concentration. We wander here and there in the past and future in our thoughts and moods, with no time to stop and stay in place. This is what it means to act like a monkey.

As for tigers, they’re violent and fierce. This stands for the anger that arises in the human heart and erupts outward, smothering whatever goodness we may have.

As for elephants, they like to hear nothing but sweet words and praise. They can’t take criticism at all. This is like people who, when they do something wrong, can’t stand to be told that it’s wrong. If they do something right and get a little praise, they smile until their cheeks hurt. This is what it means to be like an elephant.

So we have to get rid of the monkeys, tigers, and elephants in ourselves so that we can turn into human beings. That way we can look at our mountain and realize that if we want valuable things, we’ll be able to get valuable things out of it. If we want worthless things, we’ll get worthless things out of it. We can then gather all kinds of treasures. We can level the dirt and turn it into fields. We can take the rocks and extract the silver and gold. As for the trees, we can cut them down and turn them into firewood or charcoal so that we can cook our food and fire our smelter, or else turn them into posts and boards so that we can build ourselves a home.

All of these things we’ll be able to get from our mountain, but we have to apply ourselves and really be persistent. If we want silver and gold, we have to set up a smelter and heat the rocks to see which elements are there in a pure form (the Unconditioned) and which ones are mixed (the Conditioned). This is how we do it: (1) We have to get a lot of fuel; (2) we have to set up a furnace; and (3) we have to start a fire. Only then will we be able to extract the ore from our rock.

Finding lots of fuel means being willing to let go of things both inside and out. As for setting up a furnace, we have to find a place with good, solid ground and a roof that doesn’t leak. This stands for our persistence. Once we’ve got our furnace, we start a fire. This refers to the ardency of our practice. Once our practice is ardent, the various elements in our rock—the body—will melt and separate out on their own, just as when they melt down minerals, the silver, lead, and tin, etc., will separate out on their own. The same holds true with the body. When it undergoes ardent inspection by the mind, the pure ore and the various impurities will separate out of their own accord.

But most meditators nowadays want to separate things out even before they’ve put their rock into the smelter. They think things out on their own without a single one of the tools needed for smelting. No fuel, no furnace, no fire, a leaky roof and a piece of caved-in ground: What are they going to smelt? They say that the transcendent has to be like this, insight meditation has to be like that, stream entry has to be like this; you have to let go like this and that in order to reach this and that stage; the stages of once-returning, non-returning, and arahantship have to be reached in this and that way; the four levels of jhāna have to be done in this and that way. They try to separate things out in line with their own ideas, but no matter how much they try, they can’t get things to separate, because they don’t have any fuel, any fire, any furnace. Where are they going to get any results?

Results don’t come from thinking. They come from the qualities we build into the mind. So don’t try to separate things out in line with your own notions. Some people see a person carrying a big hunk of rock to his home and think that he’s a stupid fool. First of all, the rock is heavy, and besides—what can there be of any value in a plain old rock? So they take a shovel to the mountain to dig up only the silver and gold—not too much, just some tiny, light nuggets to wrap up and carry back home in a cloth. But they end up with nothing at all, because the nuggets they want are firmly embedded in the mountain; they’ll need more than a shovel to get them out.

As for the “stupid” person, as soon as he gets home he clears out a space, builds a furnace, gathers fuel, starts a fire, and throws the rock in. When the rock is subjected to strong heat, the various ores in the rock will begin to melt and to separate. The silver will come seeping out and go one way, the gold another, the tin and lead another, the diamond another, without getting mixed. This way the stupid person will be able to choose the silver, gold, and diamond as he likes.

As for the people who think they’re intelligent, who know that this is this and that is that, that you have to reach this level before you can reach that level, that concentration is like this, insight meditation is like that, the transcendent is like this: In the end they have nothing to swallow but their own saliva. They gain no valuables at all.

The person who thinks he’s stupid, when he encounters something, has to keep contemplating, reflecting, digging away, until he comes to an understanding. If we want happiness, we have to give rise to the causes:

(1) Gather a lot of fuel. What this means is that we’re willing to give up the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas within ourselves, as well as being generous with outside things, by making donations, observing the precepts, and practicing meditation. This is how we burn away our defilements through the perfection of generosity (cāga-pāramī). The perfection of generosity is excellent fuel for roasting our defilements.

(2) Set up a furnace. This stands for the effort we put into abandoning physical pleasure and sitting in meditation, thinking of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha as a way of calming the mind. Then we keep pumping the breath into the body, in the same way that they pump air into a furnace for casting a bronze Buddha image. We make the heart steady and firm, with mindfulness and alertness constantly in control. This way the inner fire of our ardency will get stronger and stronger. As we keep pumping the breath in, the sense of inner light will get brighter and brighter.

Once you’re able to keep this up, gather your body and mind together into one. Don’t try to crack or divide them up at all, for that’s the way of a fool who thinks he knows everything beforehand. As the fire of our ardency keeps getting stronger, the various elements in the body will melt and separate out of their own accord.

When you practice the Dhamma, don’t worry about how it’s going to go. Don’t try to plan or arrange things to go this way or that. When the fire of your practice reaches full strength, all the various impurities will fall away on their own, leaving just the pure ore. The rock clinging to the ore—the various Hindrances (nīvaraṇa)—will fall away from the heart. But if your furnace is full of holes, the fire will flicker outside and the heat inside will dissipate. You won’t be able to burn away the heart’s various impurities. So you have to learn how to act like a person making charcoal.

(3) Start a fire. When people make charcoal they start their fire and then close off their furnace (i.e., we close off our senses), leaving just a tiny air vent (i.e., our nose). With the furnace entirely closed off in this way, the wood they place in the furnace won’t burn up or turn into ashes. When they finally open the furnace, they’ll find hard, high-quality charcoal. In the same way, once we can remember our meditation word without getting distracted, the closing off of the furnace means that we close off the various perceptions that register by way of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. We close off the Hindrances and don’t let the mind flicker out after outside perceptions. Once everything is closed off in this way, the wood will keep smoldering away in the furnace. When the time comes to open it up, we’ll find that there are no ashes and that we’ve ended up with good, hard charcoal of high quality.

The solid goodness we develop in the heart is like charcoal that we can then use to smelt our ore. This way, the elements within us will gain strength, able to separate themselves into the Conditioned and the Unconditioned. Once we give rise to the four stages of jhāna, unskillful mental states—the rock—will separate out and fall away. Sensual desire will separate out, ill will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and uncertainty will all separate out and fall away. The mind will be totally absorbed in jhāna, with directed thought and evaluation in charge. Just this is enough for insight to arise. We’ll be able to see clearly what’s diamond, what’s silver, and what’s gold. The silver is the sense of fullness or rapture, the gold is the sense of pleasure and ease that arises within.

Once there’s pleasure, no disturbances will appear in the mind, like a burning lantern when there’s no wind to disturb the flame. This is the light of the Dhamma (dhammo padīpo) or the brilliance of discernment (paññā-pajoto), i.e., insight meditation, arising. We’ll see the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha within. The heart will give rise to treasures.

This is like setting up a furnace and using charcoal to smelt ore. The various elements in the rock will separate out, leaving the Unconditioned. Insight meditation is the fire we use to heat the rock. If we want things to separate out like this, we have to use insight meditation. Don’t try to separate things out on your own. Whatever is going to turn into light, ashes, charcoal, or smoke will do so of its own accord. This is how we get past the Conditioned. The Unconditioned will separate out to one side, the Conditioned to another. This way we’ll get to see what’s really true. But however things separate out, you have to keep using your discernment even further. If you get attached to good things, they can backfire on you. If you get attached to bad, you’ve gone wrong.