In Body & Mind

On August 23, 1978, Sanya Dhammasak, the Chief Privy Councilor, along with his family, visited Wat Nong Pa Pong to pay respect to Ven. Ajahn Chah. In the midst of their Dhamma conversation, Ajahn Chah gave a Dhamma talk that is transcribed and translated here.

… START when these things are still far away. Do your duty when they’re still far away.

Yes, sir.

It’s like a poisonous snake. If we see it from far away, we’re not afraid of it. Even though it’s poisonous, we’re not afraid of it because we see it first. But if you run into it when you don’t have enough time to think… It’s the same with feelings. You have to keep on contemplating, keep on meditating so that you can destroy them. You have to start when they’re still far away, and keep on contemplating.

This means that you have to start before there’s a feeling, or do you start when the feeling’s already there?

No. No. Before there’s a feeling. Before there’s a feeling.

Kind of like recollection of death.

Yes. That’s right.

We keep on thinking about death.

But recollection of death and feelings are not the same. They’re not the same. When death comes, you simply die. But with these feelings, they fight you. They attack you all of a sudden; they’re fighting you right now. You’re shooting at each other. With recollection of death, you’re already dead.

If there’s a really strong feeling, and we…

Regardless of how far it goes, it doesn’t matter. Or regardless of which direction it comes from, focus on the body and the mind. Focus on these two things, and everything else gathers right there. For your practice to be correct, for you to know all the things that are right and wrong, it has to come down to the body and the mind. The body and the mind are what lead us to pleasure or to pain. They’re connected like the links in a chain.

This is why the practice is so extremely important. It’s this way with everything: If we’ve known or seen something but don’t practice with it, it’s like getting just the rind. Suppose we’ve been given a fruit: Whether it’s sour or sweet, if once we get it we don’t practice with it, if we just hold it, we don’t know how sour or sweet it is. When we’re just holding it with in our hand, can our hand sense the sourness? No, it can’t. Can it sense the sweetness? No, it can’t. Even though we’re holding it in our hand, we don’t get much benefit from it. We’ve only heard that it’s sour or heard that it’s sweet. We simply hold it in our hand, so we don’t get the full benefits from it. Why is that? Because we haven’t yet practiced with it—in other words, we haven’t yet eaten it to the point of knowing its taste.

But once we’ve eaten the fruit, the fruit will show us its sourness or sweetness, its deliciousness. Only then will we know. Once we know in this way, we become a sakkhībhūto: We become our own witness. As long as we don’t know for ourselves, we have only outside witnesses: the people who gave us the fruit. They say it’s sour, they say it’s sweet, but we haven’t become a sakkhībhūto. The knowledge isn’t really our own. We simply believe what other people say.

The Buddha said that he didn’t praise those who simply believe what other people say. He praised those who knew paccattaṁ: personally, for themselves. It’s like the fruit: If you’ve tasted the fruit for yourself, you don’t have to go asking other people whether it’s sour or sweet. The problem is over. Why is it over? Because you know in line with the truth. You know the truth. The problem is over. There’s no more difficulty. When the problem is over, that’s the end of the matter. Why is it the end? You’ve reached the truth; you know it thoroughly, and your doubts are ended. Your doubts are ended as to whether it’s sour or sweet. This is what it means to know the Dhamma, to reach the Dhamma: You’re a person who’s reached the sourness or sweetness of the fruit. The problem is ended in this way. This is what we can compare it to.

To listen to the Dhamma so as to give rise to knowledge within you—You could say that there are lots of things to explain, but the Buddha has us know just four things: He has us know stress (dukkha), know the cause of stress, know the disbanding of stress, and know the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress. That’s all there is. All the things we practice come down to these things: to know stress, to know the cause of stress, to know the disbanding of stress, and to know the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress. When you know these four things, that’s all there is to it—for you really know stress, you know its cause, you know its disbanding, and you know the path of practice leading to its disbanding. When you know these four things clearly and thoroughly, that’s called the end of the problem.

Where do these four things arise? They arise in two things: in this body and mind, that’s all. They don’t lie anywhere far away. It’s like all of you who’ve come today: Each of you has brought a complete body and mind here. So why did the Buddha analyze the Dhamma so broadly? So as to explain these things in detail, in all their parts, so that we can take them and focus on knowing them.

For example, with the body, he told us to break it down to hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin—all kinds of things. He told us to analyze it into its different parts so that we can be adept at seeing the body in line with the truth of these conditions. If we don’t know in line with the truth, we won’t know stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the path of practice leading to its disbanding. When we don’t know these things, we won’t know the steps of the practice.

So when you listen to the Dhamma here in the present, it’s just for you to give rise to the discernment that knows these four things. All four of these things arise right at your own body and mind. That’s why the Buddha taught the Dhamma. Where is the Dhamma? The Buddha said that the Dhamma is everywhere. There’s nowhere that doesn’t have Dhamma. The Dhamma is in every place. Physical things are Dhamma. Mental events are Dhamma. When this is the case, you have to understand that we’re all born into the Dhamma. We’re right next to the Dhamma at all times.

When we understand in this way, then we’ll understand further that we’re not at all far from the Buddha. We’re already right next to the Buddha. So why don’t we see him? Because we’re not especially interested in practicing. The Dhamma is the Buddha; the Buddha is the Dhamma. The Buddha told Ven. Ānanda: “Pursue the practice a lot, Ānanda; cultivate the practice a lot. Whoever sees me sees the Dhamma; whoever sees the Dhamma sees me.” That shows that we’re not far from the Buddha, not far from the Dhamma. Whoever sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha; whoever sees the Buddha sees the Dhamma. Which means that we’re not far away—for the Buddha is the Dhamma; the Dhamma is the Buddha.

When Prince Siddhartha was first born into the world, he wasn’t yet the Buddha because at that point he hadn’t yet awakened to the Dhamma. He was an ordinary unenlightened person just like us. It was only when he came to know the things that he needed to know—the noble truths of stress, the cause of stress, the disbanding of stress, and the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress—that’s when he practiced and reached the Dhamma. Only then did he call himself the Buddha.

For that reason, when we reach the Dhamma—wherever we are—we know the Dhamma. When we know the Dhamma, we hear the Buddha teaching us, we hear the Dhamma right there. When we understand the Dhamma, the Buddha is in our heart. The Dhamma is in our heart. The practices that give rise to intelligence are in our heart. We’ve practiced with our body, speech, and mind.

[Break in the recording]

When, as we say, the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha are in our heart, we’re fully convinced that wherever we do good or evil, it’s all a matter of the truth. Wherever we do good, even if other people don’t see, even if nobody praises us, or if other people criticize us, it doesn’t matter. Our action is correct. We see that its correctness is in line with the truth, the truth that the Buddha said was true.

That’s why the Buddha cast the world aside: He cast aside praise; he cast aside criticism. Whoever criticized him, he accepted that that’s the way things are. Whoever praised him, he accepted, “Oh. That’s the way things are”—for both of these things are just an affair of the world. His mind wasn’t shaken. Why? Because he understood stress. Both of these things, if he believed them, would give rise to stress.

That’s the way it is with stress: The mind is agitated. It’s ill at ease. It’s in a turmoil. Whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, there’s nothing but agitation. That’s stress.

What’s the cause that gives rise to stress? Not knowing things in line with their truth. That’s why stress arises. And when it causes stress to arise, we don’t know how to put a stop to that stress. The more we try to put an end to it—“Don’t yell at me! Don’t be jealous of me!”—the more the stress grows without stop. “Don’t do that to me! Don’t say that about me! Don’t criticize me!” The stress simply gets provoked even more and more.

The Buddha knew the way to practice that leads to the disbanding of stress—in other words, to admit this truth into our minds, that this is the way things really are. All those things are external matters, not internal matters. The truth of what we do, of what we say, of what we intend, nobody else knows. Only we know it in our own minds.

So when we know how to become sakkhībhūto, when we’re our own witness, the Buddha praises us. When people said he was good, he didn’t get carried away. When they said he was evil, he didn’t forget himself. He was independent in that way.

Good and evil are an affair of the world. When they’re an affair of the world, they’re just a preoccupation. If, when we’re struck by preoccupations, we’re shaken by preoccupations, the mind becomes a world. It keeps grasping all the time. This is called not knowing the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress—which does nothing but provoke even more stress.

So if this is the way we understand things, it means we haven’t yet won out over ourselves. We still prefer to win out over other people—and so we just lose out to ourselves. But when we win out over ourselves, we win out not only over ourselves but also over other people; we win out over preoccupations; we win out over sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations.

Here I’m talking about things outside. But we can take things outside and apply them inside as well. We can apply them inside as well.

Some people know outside things but don’t know things inside. For example, the Buddha spoke a phrase telling us to “see the body in the body.” It’s not enough to know the body. We have to know the body in the body as well. We have to contemplate the body, and then contemplate the body in the body. We have to contemplate the mind, and contemplate the mind in the mind, too. If we’re a stranger to meditation, we stop right there. We’re at a loss to understand this phrase. Why know the body? What’s the body in the body? And when we’re told to know the mind, what is that mind? What are the things in the mind? We don’t understand at all—because we’re not acquainted with stress, the cause of stress, the disbanding of stress, or the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress. We don’t put an end to the things that would put an end to stress. We’re simply too obsessed with the things that don’t give rise to… with things that don’t itch.

It’s like feeling an itch here on your head but scratching down there on your leg. You miss the right spot. You think that you’ll make it feel better, so you scratch your leg, even though the itch is on top of your head. This is called not being acquainted with the spot that’ll do away with the itch, and so it doesn’t work. It’s the same when stress arises and you don’t know enough to put a stop to it. You don’t know the path of practice leading to its disbanding. This sort of thing is what puts us at a loss—because we don’t realize that we’re focused on the outside.

Form, feeling, perception, fabrications inside… Like these bodies of ours, these bodies that are sitting gathered together here, that we can see with our eyes: We call these things “bodies.” If all we see is the outside form of the body, we’re said to see only the blatant body. Seeing just this won’t be enough to put an end to stress or to the cause of stress at all. Why? Because we don’t see the inside of the body. All we see is the outside of the body. We’ll see that it’s beautiful, something of essence or value—all kinds of things. But the Buddha said that seeing only this far isn’t enough, seeing the outside like this with the eyes of the flesh. Even children can see it. Even animals can see it. It’s not hard. But as soon as we see it, we get stuck on it. We see it, but we don’t know it. We see it, we pounce on it, and it bites us. That’s the way it is.

This is why we’re told to contemplate the body in the body, to see what’s in the body. Explore around to see what’s there in the body. When we see just the outside of the body, it’s not yet clear. We see hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, whatever, and they’re all beautiful. These are dyes that stain the heart. That’s why the Buddha said that we don’t see clearly, we don’t see the body clearly. This is why he has us look inside to see the body in the body.

So look to see what there is in the body in the body—inside the rind of this flesh-and-skin body here. What is there? Contemplate carefully, probe on in, and you’ll see that there are all kinds of things in this body that we human beings, when we see them, find—startling. If we explore we’ll find that it’s all startling because there are things even in your own body that you’ve never seen before. You haul them around with you everywhere you walk. When you get in a car, you haul them into the car, but you have no idea what they are, because they’re all wrapped up like a present. It’s as if we’ve gone to our relatives’ house and they give us a present all nicely wrapped. We take it, put it in our basket, and walk right home. We don’t stop to open it to see what’s inside. When we finally open it, we find, “Oh. It’s nothing but poisonous snakes.”

Our body is like that. We see just the outside rind and it looks beautiful, it looks pretty, it looks all kinds of things to the point where we forget ourselves, forget inconstancy, forget stress, forget not-self, forget everything. We forget to open it up. But if we look inside, we’ll see that it’s nothing you’d want to look at—this body of ours. If you put anything clean into it, it just gets dirty.

The outside of the body is dirty in its way; the inside of the body is dirty in its way, too. What’s inside the body is even worse. So look inside. What’s it like in this body of ours?

If you look in line with the truth, in line with the noble truths without siding with yourself, then whether you look at the outside of the body or the inside of the body—look at it; it’s really worth looking at—you’ll see that it’s enough to get you dismayed, enough to get you disillusioned, enough to get you dis-… all kinds of things. It’s enough to give rise to disenchantment.

The word “disenchantment,” here, doesn’t mean that you go hating it or getting angry at it, you know. It’s simply a clearing up: the clearing up of the mind, its letting go. We see that there’s not much of value or essence here. We see all these things simply as natural, normal. And that’s the way they stay of their own accord. No matter what we want them to be, that’s simply the way they stay of their own accord. Whether we cry over them or laugh about them, that’s what these fabrications are like. The things that aren’t constant aren’t constant. The things that aren’t beautiful aren’t beautiful. That’s the way they are. Whether anyone knows about them or doesn’t know about them, that’s just the way they are of their own accord.

This is why the Buddha said that when sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, or ideas arise, we should simply let them go. When the eye sees a sight, let it go back to its home. When the ear hears a sound, let it go. When the nose smells an aroma, let it go. Let just the nose stay. When a flavor arises at the tongue, let it go. When a tactile sensation makes contact with the body, whether it’s something you like or don’t like, let it go. Let these things go back to where they came from. When an idea arises and makes contact at the mind—without any contact from outside, it just makes contact right at the mind, it’s called an idea that arises at the mind. When you hear something right now or see something right now, what makes contact at the mind: Whether it’s skillful or unskillful, let it go in line with its own affairs. When we know all of these things in this way—whether they’re pleasant, painful, or whatever—when we see that they all fall into the same pattern, that’s called meditation.

Meditation means making the heart still and, when it’s still, making it know. To make it still or to make it know, we have to practice with two things: the body and the mind right here, nothing else.

Actually, all the things I’ve mentioned here are different things: sights are one sort of thing, sounds are another sort, smells another sort, flavors another sort, tactile sensations another sort, and ideas another sort. Each of these things is separate, and the Buddha has us know them to analyze them. When pleasure arises, it’s called a feeling of pleasure. When pain arises, it’s called a feeling of pain. Whether it’s pleasure or pain, he has us separate them from the mind.

The mind is awareness, what knows. Feeling is simply a condition of pleasure or pain that we like or dislike, that sort of thing. When the mind enters in to feed on these conditions, it’s said to cling to them, to label them, or to make assumptions about the pleasure or the pain. The act of labeling or assuming: That’s an affair of the mind. The condition of pleasure or pain: That’s a condition of feeling. The awareness is the mind. The things that are called pleasure or pain are the feelings. If they’re pleasant, they’re called feelings of pleasure. If they’re painful, feelings of pain.

The Buddha tells us to separate the mind from the feelings. “Separating” here doesn’t mean that we tear them apart and throw them in different places. The mind has to know the pleasure; it has to know the pain—although there are times when we separate them by making the mind still. For example, when we bring the mind into full concentration, then when the mind senses the pleasure it separates it out. Because the stillness is so overflowing, the pleasure can’t enter in. Any pain can’t enter in. This is how the feeling separates out. As when we sit in concentration: If the stillness comes first and the feeling arises later, the feeling can’t enter in. The mind is oblivious to it. That means it doesn’t know the feeling. The feeling separates out on its own.

But at any rate, the feeling is the pleasure. The pleasure is called a feeling of pleasure. If pain arises, it’s called a feeling of pain. That’s the feeling. When the mind senses a feeling of pleasure, do we enter into it and cling to it? When a feeling of pain arises, do we enter into it and cling to it? We’ll know that the mind is like this, the pleasure is like that, the pain is like that, the feeling is like that. They’re different sorts of things.

You can compare it to water and oil mixed in a bottle. They’re in the same bottle, but they’re in separate parts. They can stay in the same bottle but they don’t permeate each other. Even though they’re mixed together, the oil is oil, the water is water. Why are they like that? Their density is different. Their density is different, which is why they stay separate.

The same with the mind. If the mind is at normalcy, it’s neither pleasant nor painful. It’s neither pleasant nor painful, you know. When a feeling enters, pleasure and pain come in. If we’re mindful, we’ll know: “This is called pleasure.” The pleasure is pleasant, but the mind knows that the pleasure is inconstant, so it doesn’t cling to it. Is the pleasure there? It’s right there, but the mind knows it as outside the mind. It’s not buried in the mind. Even then, though, the mind knows it clearly. Or when pain arises, can the mind separate the feeling out? Is it not pained? Does it not recognize the pain? It knows. It recognizes the pain. It recognizes the pain. But it knows that the mind is the mind, the feeling is the feeling, so it isn’t able to grab hold of the pain and carry it around as “pain”…

[Break in the recording]

[An earlier Thai transcript fills in this break with this passage: or as “this is pain.” This is because it doesn’t grab hold of it to make assumptions about it.

The Buddha separated things out with awareness. Did he have any pain? He knew the condition of pain but he didn’t make assumptions about it. When he knew in this way, we say that he separated the pain out, he separated the feeling out. Did he know ordinary pleasure? The pleasure was there, ]

** … but he knew that pleasure is poisonous if we don’t really know it. So he didn’t assume pleasure to be his or to have any substance. Was there pleasure there? It was there through his awareness, but it wasn’t there in his mind. This is how we know that he separated pleasure and pain from his mind, separated feelings from his mind, even though these things were together right there.

It’s the same as when we hear that our Buddha or our noble ones cut through defilement or killed defilement: It’s not actually the case that they killed off all defilement. If they had killed off all defilement, there wouldn’t be any defilement left for us, right?—because they killed them all off. But they didn’t really kill defilement. They simply knew defilements and let them go in line with their own affairs. So defilements are still around to catch hold of anyone who’s stupid. It’s not the case that the noble ones killed defilement. They knew specifically in the case of their own minds that these things are poisonous so they brushed their own defilements away, brushed them away, brushed them away. Whatever things gave rise to stress in their minds, they brushed them away. They didn’t kill the defilements.

Whoever doesn’t know that these are things that the noble ones have brushed away will pounce on them, right? “Ah. This is something good.” But actually the Buddha discarded these things. Like pleasure, for example: He brushed it away—yet we see it and, “Hmmm,” we pounce on it and put it in our shoulder bag, thinking we’ve got something good and it’s ours. Actually, the Buddha didn’t kill these things. He was wise to them. When pleasure arose, he knew it was pleasure but he didn’t take pleasure from it. He knew that this was pleasure but he didn’t assume that the pleasure was something of substance, his or anyone else’s. That’s how he let it go.

The same with pain: When there was pain, he called it “feeling,” a “feeling of pain.” When pleasure arose, he knew it: “This is a feeling of pleasure.” But as for us, even before there’s a feeling we go in to savor it. The mind goes in to savor it. In other words, we go in to carry the pain around, to carry the pleasure around.

The truth of the matter is that feelings of pleasure and pain are something different from the mind. It’s like when we’re sitting here in comfort right now. If there were a piece of lumber that we’d like to have, we’d put it on our shoulder and it’d be heavy. It’d be heavy. The piece of lumber is the feeling. The person who wants the piece of lumber is the mind. When you pick up the lumber to carry it, it’s heavy, isn’t it? Of course it’s heavy. But if you have discernment, then even though the piece of lumber is heavy, you don’t have to suffer from it. You know enough to put it down. When it feels really heavy on you, you put it down. If the piece of lumber is really good for something, and you want to take it and put it to use, then if you know in this way, it’s not so bad. The lumber won’t squash you to death.

It’s the same with the mind. The conditions of the mind—feelings of pleasure, feelings of pain, anything that’s a preoccupation—are part of the world. If the mind knows this, then you can do work that’s pleasant, you can do work that’s painful. Why? Because you know pleasure and pain for what they really are.

If you’re not really acquainted with pleasure and pain, you’ll see that pleasure and pain are on different levels, that they have different prices. But those who know say that pleasure and pain are equal in price. They’re all equal in price. If you grab hold of pleasure, it’s a source of stress. Stress will arise. Why? Because pleasure is inconstant. It changes back and forth. When pleasure disappears, pain arises. That sort of thing.

The Buddha saw that pleasure and pain both have their drawbacks, that they’re equal in price. When pain arose, he saw it as being equal to pleasure arising. When pleasure arose, he saw it as being equal to pain arising. That’s why he let go of both pleasure and pain—because all of these things were equal in price.

That’s why his mind was on the path of right practice. He saw that these things were equally stressful—equal in their drawbacks, equal in their benefits—for both these things are not for sure. They fall under the characteristics that the Dhamma calls inconstancy because they’re stressful. They all arise and disband in this way. When the Buddha saw this, right view arose as part of the right path. Whether he was sitting, standing, walking, or lying down; whatever thoughts or feelings arose in his mind, he knew: “This is pleasure. This is pain.” Equal. All the time. That’s why he didn’t grab hold of these things.

Right after our Foremost Teacher’s awakening he taught about indulgence in sensual pleasure (kamasukhallikānuyoga) and indulgence in self-affliction (attakilamathānuyoga). He told the monks that indulgence in sensual pleasure is the slack path; indulgence in self-affliction, the taut path. These two things had harassed him all along the way until the day he awakened to the Dhamma because he hadn’t let them go. As soon as he caught on to this point, though, he let them go. That’s why he gave the first sermon to his disciples, telling them that indulgence in sensual pleasure, clinging to the pleasure in sensuality, is not a path for contemplatives to follow. Whoever thinks about it, whoever mulls it over, whoever makes assumptions about sensuality, gets into a lot of turmoil. There’s no peace in that path. The state of a true contemplative can’t arise there. Don’t follow that path.

As for indulgence in self-affliction, the path that’s cruel and torturous: Don’t follow that path. No contemplative is found there, either. No peace is found there. No true contemplative has ever arisen there.

In other words, he said that contemplatives shouldn’t follow the path of either pleasure or pain. When pleasure arises, don’t forget yourself. When pain arises, don’t follow it. Be alert to it. When pain arises, know that pain has arisen. When you know pain and stress, you’ll know the cause of stress, the disbanding of stress, and the path of practice leading to the disbanding of stress. That path is our meditation.

To put it in simple terms, we have to be mindful. Mindfulness means being alert and recollecting at all times: As we’re sitting here right now, what are we thinking? What are we doing? What do we have right now? We’re alert in this way. We always keep in mind how we are. We’re alert to what we have right now, to what we’re thinking about, to whether we’re feeling pleasure or pain, to whether what we’re doing is right or wrong. When we keep these two qualities of mindfulness and alertness together at all times, discernment can arise. We can recollect, we can be alert, and these things go running toward discernment. Discernment arises. We take things on to evaluate and contemplate. Whether we’re sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, we’re alert like this at all times. We’ll recognize what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s just right, what’s not just right.

When a preoccupation that we like arises, we’ll recognize it—and we won’t make assumptions about it. It’s just pleasure, that’s all. When pain arises and we indulge in self-affliction, we can know: “Oh. This isn’t the path for a contemplative.” So it’s just pain, that’s all. Pleasure and pain are just “that’s all” kinds of things. This is called separating—we can separate the mind and feelings from each other. What does this is the mind.

When the features of pleasure arise and we latch onto them, feeling arises. Regardless of whether it’s pleasure or pain, if the mind is intelligent, we won’t grab onto these things. We’ll simply put them aside. We’re just a knower. We know these things for what they are and we let them go in line with their condition. It’s like oil and water mixed in a bottle: They don’t permeate each other, even though they’re in the same bottle. This is the way it is between the mind and feelings.

Even when we fall sick, we can still sense that feeling is feeling and the mind is the mind. They’re still different things. Do we know when something hurts? Yes. Do we know when things are comfortable? Yes—but we don’t move in to stay in the comfort or discomfort. We stay in the stillness. What kind of stillness? Stillness undisturbed by the comfort, stillness undisturbed by the pain. The Buddha pointed this out for us to see because there’s no substance to these things. There’s no way you can stay in them. The mind has to stay this way—in other words, not having pleasure, not having pain. Did he know that there was pleasure? He knew, but he didn’t feel pleased or pained by it. Did he know that there was pain? He knew. Pleasure? He knew—but he didn’t carry it around, so no feeling arose in his mind.

We ordinary, unenlightened people may see this as strange, but even though we’re unenlightened, don’t make that an issue. Aim straight at that spot, for that’s the way things are. The mind stays in its own territory. Feelings of pleasure and pain are in their own territory. They don’t get involved with one another. That’s the way they are. They’re already separate. It’s not the case that they’re mixed together. If they seem mixed together, it’s because we don’t know them thoroughly. Actually, they’re already separate.

It’s the same with the body and the mind. Even though they’re together here, it’s like our house and we who live in the house. They’re related in the same way. If the house is in danger, the mind suffers because we have to look after it. But if the house catches on fire, we can run out of it. We run out of the house. The same with feeling: When a feeling of pleasure arises, we can run out of it. When a feeling of pain arises, we can run out of it. We’re like the owner of the house. When things get really heavy and we know in line with the truth, then when the house catches on fire, we can run out of it—for we’re two separate things. One is the owner; the other is the house. That’s the normal way these things already are.

So even though we talk about separating the mind from the feeling, they’re actually already separate. It’s just that when we come to know them in line with their truth, they already know how to separate themselves. That’s the way they already are by their nature. The reason we see them as not separate is because we cling to them through our ignorance of the truth. So they’re glommed together in that way. They’re glommed together.

It’s like a spoon we use to eat curry. The curry is one thing. The spoon is something else. If we know that this is the curry, this is the spoon, then things are easy. We use the spoon to eat the curry and then we put it down. It’s easy. But if we try to eat the spoon, too, we make things hard. If we don’t see the spoon as a spoon, the curry as curry, the feeling as a feeling, and the mind as the mind, then things simply get all mixed up.

When we realize this, then these things can separate out whether we’re sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Pleasures and pains keep crisscrossing on many levels at all times.

This is why the Buddha taught us to meditate. The practice of meditation is really important. Simply knowing about these things isn’t enough. The knowledge that comes from practice with a still mind and the knowledge that comes from study are really far apart from each other—far, far apart. When we gain knowledge from study, it’s not that our mind knows how to let go of it. It knows and then pounces on things to stash them away. Why stash them away? So that they can spoil. When they spoil, we cry. If the mind knows both how to hold on and how to put things down, both how to stash away and how to let go, both how to know and let go, we know that things are simply the way they are. We don’t forget ourselves. When pain or illness arises, we won’t forget.

Some people say, “Oh, this year I’ve been sick all year long. I haven’t been able to meditate.” These are the words of a person who’s extremely stupid. People who are sick, people who are dying, should accelerate their meditation even more, no? And yet they say they don’t have time to meditate anymore. Stress has arisen, pain has arisen, a lack of trust in these fabrications has come, and yet they think they can’t meditate because they don’t have the time. The Buddha didn’t teach like that. He taught that that’s the right spot. You’ve arrived at the right spot to practice. When you’re falling ill, when you’re about to die, then the more you accelerate your efforts, the more you know and see. Right then is when the truth appears even more. If you don’t think in this way, things are going to be difficult.

Some people say they have no opportunity to practice because of all the work they have to do. I’ve had lots of teachers coming here and I ask them what they do. They say they teach children and they have so much work that it has them in a tizzy. They don’t have any time to meditate. So I ask them, “When you teach your students, do you have time to breathe?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Oh. So why do you have time to breathe when you say your work has you in a tizzy? You’re far from understanding anything. Actually, the practice is a matter of the mind, a matter of your awareness. It’s not the sort of thing where you have to do this, do that, or jump around a lot. It’s simply a matter of your awareness. As for the breath, you can keep on breathing as you work. The nature of the body knows even more about how to do this than you do. It keeps on looking after itself. All you have to do is be more mindful to be alert, that’s all. Keep at it so that you see into things more and more clearly. That’s the way it is with meditation. If we’re aware in this way, then it doesn’t matter what kind of work you do, the work won’t be spoiled. In fact, you’ll be able to do that work in a way that’s always more sensitive to what’s right and wrong. So change the way you understand things.

“You have lots of time to meditate. You simply don’t understand, that’s all. When you’re lying down, you can breathe, right? When you’re eating, you can breathe, right? You can breathe wherever you are. Why do you have time to do that? If you think in this way, your life has a value equal to your breath. And wherever you are, you’ll have time. Our awareness and thoughts are mental matters, not physical matters.

“So contemplate in a new way, think in a new way, explore in a new way. All you have to do is be mindful and you’ll know how to be responsible all the time, whether sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. You’ll get value out of your time. You have more than enough time. You’re simply not intelligent in the area of your own time, which is why you don’t have any time. Actually, you have time all the time. So take this and contemplate it.” That’s the way it is.

The issue of feelings: Is there anywhere we can run to get away from them? That’s why we have to know them. We have to know them clearly. The feeling is just feeling, that’s all. Pleasure is just pleasure, that’s all. Pain is just pain, that’s all. They’re all just “that’s all” kinds of things, so why latch onto them? If the mind is intelligent, all it has to do is think like this and it can separate the feeling out from the mind. The feeling is just a feeling, that’s all. The mind sees that it’s just “that’s all.” Pain is just pain, that’s all. Pleasure is just pleasure, that’s all. Just let them separate out. Are they there? Yes, they’re there, but they’re outside the heart. They’re outside the heart. They’re there without clinging. The mind doesn’t make any assumptions about them. They’re there sort of as if they’re not there, that’s all.

Think in this way, contemplate, and don’t worry about where it will take you. This is called separating feeling from the mind. Know what the mind is like; know what the feeling is like.

The mind is what enters into the sense of pleasure, and so forth, to see if what we say is pleasure is really true, to see if the pain is for sure. When we follow things in like this, discernment arises in the mind and separates out the pleasure and pain, seeing that the pleasure is just pleasure, that’s all. The pain is just pain, that’s all. We don’t see that there’s anything there. Whatever’s there is just a “that’s all” kind of thing.

When we have this awareness all the way from the beginning to the end, the mind will let go—but it’s not letting go from ignorance, you know. It lets go and it knows at the same time. It doesn’t let go through stupidity, or from not wanting things to be that way. It lets go because it sees that that’s the way things are of their own accord. This is called seeing nature, or seeing what’s normal.

When we know in this way, we’ll be adept with regard to the mind. We know how to look after the mind. We’re intelligent in the area of our own mind, intelligent in looking after the mind. When you’re intelligent in the area of the mind, you’ll have to be intelligent in the area of its preoccupations. When you’re intelligent in the area of preoccupations, you’re sure to be intelligent in the area of the world. This is called lokavidū: expert in the affairs of the world. The Buddha was expert in the affairs of the world, right in the midst of things that were complex and confusing, but he knew those things that were complex and confusing. And his knowledge of what’s not complex or confusing was right in the same place. The world is a turmoil, so how was he able to know it in an expert way? We have to understand that the Dhamma formulated by the Buddha has nothing that lies beyond our capabilities.

So when we know right at our own mind that the mind is the mind, feelings are feelings, and they separate out from each other—in their own separate parts, their own separate stages—the mind can see that the conditions of preoccupations are just like that, of their own accord. They simply arise and disband. They arise and disband, disband and arise. That’s all there is to them. We let them go, in line with their own nature, because they’re in separate places.

This is what it means to know and see in line with the way things are. Right here is where the problem comes to an end.

So all of us here: This is the way things are. Whether you’re sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, this is the way they are with every moment because you incline your mind to the practice. You’re mindful and alert at all times. That’s all there is to it. When the time comes to sit in concentration, go ahead and do it. Understand that concentration is for the purpose of giving rise to stillness, and the stillness simply strengthens your energy, that’s all. It’s not for the sake of seeing a lot of other things. So we have to keep practicing concentration steadily.

As for practicing vipassanā, that’s the same as practicing concentration. In some places they say, “Now we’re doing concentration, and only later will we do vipassanā. Right now we’re doing tranquility meditation.” That kind of thing. Don’t put them far away from each other that way. Tranquility is the source of discernment; discernment, the fruit of tranquility. It’s not that now you’re going to do tranquility, and later you’re going to do vipassanā. You can’t really separate them out that way. They’re separate only in name. They’re like a machete: The edge of the blade is on one side; the back of the blade is on the other. You can’t separate them. If you pick up just the handle, both the edge of the blade and the back of the blade come along with it. They don’t lie anywhere else.

When there’s stillness, discernment arises right there in the stillness. See them as a single chunk of wood. Where do these things come from? They have a mother or father to give birth to them, you know, just as all of us have to come from a mother and father to be sitting here. Where does the Dhamma come from? Virtue is the mother and father of the Dhamma. In the beginning there has to be virtue. And this virtue is stillness—meaning that there’s no wrongdoing in terms of your body or mind. When there’s no wrongdoing, there’s no trouble because there’s no wrong. When there’s no trouble, stillness can arise. The mind gives rise to concentration right at the same time. This is why we’re taught that virtue, concentration, and discernment—the path by which the noble ones go to nibbāna—are all one and the same thing.

To put it even more briefly: Virtue, concentration, and discernment are one and the same thing—one and the same piece of Dhamma. Virtue is concentration; concentration is virtue. Concentration is discernment; discernment is concentration. It’s like a mango. When it’s still a flower, we call it a mango flower. When it’s a little fruit, we call it a baby mango. When it gets bigger, we call it a biggish mango. When it gets bigger and almost ripe, we call it a half-ripe mango. When it’s fully ripe, we call it a ripe mango. It’s all the same mango, simply that it keeps changing, changing, changing, changing. When it’s big, it’s big coming from little. When it’s little, it’s little heading for big. You could call it different mangos, or you could call it all the same mango.

Virtue, concentration, and discernment are interrelated in just the same way. Ultimately they become the path progressing to the stream to nibbāna. The mango, starting from when it’s a flower, progresses to ripeness, and that’s enough. See it in this way. When we see it in this way, we don’t criticize it.

The same with this fabricated body. Whatever it does, don’t get worked up about it. After it’s born, it grows old. After it’s born, whatever it does, contemplate it.

Some people don’t want to grow old. When they grow old, they get despondent. If that’s the case, then don’t eat ripe mangos! Why do you want the mango to be ripe? When mangos don’t ripen fast enough, we force them to ripen, don’t we? Yet when we grow old and ripen, we get afraid and despondent. Some people start crying, afraid that they’re going to grow old and die. If that’s the case, they shouldn’t eat ripe mangos. They’d better eat just the mango flowers.

When we can think in this way, the Dhamma becomes clearer. We can be at our ease—and what will we do? We’ll simply set our minds on how we have to focus solely on the practice.

That’s the Dhamma talk for you, the Chief Privy Councilor and your children and grandchildren who have gathered here today. I’ve explained the Dhamma for you to hear, and that should be enough for now.

What I’ve taught you here: I’d like you to take it apart to contemplate. It’s not yet right; it’s not yet wrong. For it to be right or wrong, you have to contemplate it. That’s each person’s individual duty. And as for whatever’s wrong or inaccurate, give it your forgiveness at the same time. Actually, whether it’s right or wrong, it’s all something for you to practice with: Whatever’s wrong, throw it away; whatever’s right, practice in line with it. Practice, okay? Practice abandoning both right and wrong. Ultimately, the practice is a matter of abandoning both right and wrong. You throw away what’s right; you throw away what’s wrong. If, whatever’s right, you hold onto it as right, and other people say it’s wrong, you just keep on quarreling. The Dhamma, though, is a place where there’s nothing. Nothing at all.

I once read a story that one of my students brought here. Some Zen students were sitting with their teacher near a flag on a pole. The wind was blowing back and forth, and the flag was flapping. One of the students said, “Eh? Why is the flag flapping? It must be because of the wind.” Another student said, “No. It’s because there’s a flag.” So they kept arguing in that way. The teacher was sitting there but didn’t say anything. “It’s because of the wind.” “No. It’s because there’s a flag.” “No. It’s because of the wind.” “No. It’s because there’s a flag.” They kept on arguing until the teacher said, “No. You’re both wrong, which is why the flag is still fluttering and flapping. There is no flag and there is no wind.” There. That was the end of that. [Laughs]

[Break in the recording]

Question: …the body in the body until you see the mind disband. Your explanation of seeing the body in the body is clear, but to see the mind in the mind: what exactly does it mean? Could you explain just a little more?—but not so much that it makes you tired.

Ajahn Chah: Even though I’m tired, I have to speak, you know. You can’t speak without getting tired. Even when you’re tired, you have to speak.

You’ve asked what the mind is. I have to explain this before I talk about what’s in the mind. It’s somewhat like knowing that this is a spittoon. Then you can know what’s in the spittoon. You’re clear about what’s in the spittoon. Why? Because you first know what the spittoon is, right? You can’t go first to what’s in the spittoon. What’s the spittoon? This is the spittoon. Then you can look into the spittoon and see what’s in it. You see that there’s water in the spittoon. That’s what the problem is like.

As for the mind… Actually, there’s no substance to the mind. You can’t point to where the mind is. But we can describe it in a way that makes it easier to see, so that you can know what the mind is. There’s an awareness, an awareness of things. It doesn’t know that it’s the mind, but we’re aware. There’s an awareness, the act of bringing in a preoccupation, the act of recognizing all the various preoccupations. When a preoccupation has hit us, that means we’ve latched onto it. The act of letting go in the act of attachment: What’s that? Is there anything there, or not? Right there in the mind, where it’s latched on: Is there anything there? The awareness that’s aware there: That’s the mind. Going deeper into that awareness, is there anything there in that? That’s what’s in the mind. That’s where you know the mind in the mind. The mind is like the spittoon. The only way to make it clear is to explain it in this way. There’s no shape to it, so you have to explain it in this way. Once you know that this is the spittoon, you can look into the spittoon to see what’s in it.

The mind is what’s aware of preoccupations, what thinks and brings preoccupations into it. Once it’s aware, it brings preoccupations into it and then holds them inside. What holds them inside: Can you sense what’s in there? There are all kinds of clingings and assumptions, right and wrong in there.…

That’s not quite right. It’s like grabbing hold of something in your fist. “Eh? What have I grabbed in my fist?” You open up your fist to see what’s in there. This is what’s in your fist, right?

It’s the same with the mind. If we speak using natural, ordinary words, we can say that it’s what brings preoccupations in, what brings preoccupations into our mind: Once they’re there—the preoccupations held in the mind—we open it up to see what’s in there. Are there right views? Are they wise to pleasure and pain? Try to know what’s right there. That’s where the path is. The path to knowing is right there, right where you were holding onto things.

This is just a little bit of what the Buddha taught.

It’s enough to help me understand.

That should be enough.

I’ll take it to think over.

That’s right. Take it and continue with it.

Yes, sir. I’ll try. I’ll try sitting and meditating with it.

You can’t awaken to these things simply because other people have told you about them. The fact of the matter is that when you leave here you have to contemplate them for yourself. The Buddha said, “Akkhātāro Tathāgatā: The Tathāgatas simply point out the way.” In other words, they teach people how to swim, but they can’t swim for them. If they do our swimming for us, we drown. It’s beyond their ability to do our swimming for us. That’s the way it has to be.

The same with nibbāna: Why didn’t our Buddha explain nibbāna so that it’s totally clear? Because it can’t be explained in a way that’s totally clear. It’s like showing a picture to a blind person. The blind person can’t see it clearly. Before it can become clear, the blind person has to treat his eyes until they can see. Only then will the picture be clear.

It’s the same sort of thing here. The Buddha wanted so much for us to know and see, but nibbāna is the sort of Dhamma that’s paccattaṁ: personal. That’s as far as he could help. He “Akkhātāro Tathāgatā: The Tathāgatas simply point out the way,” and then he took his leave. That’s the way it is.

Thank you, sir.