The Knower

An excerpt from a recorded conversation between Ven. Ajahn Chah and some of his Western monk disciples.

AJAHN CHAH: Do you know how some people think? “Do tranquility to the end point of tranquility. Observe the precepts to the end point of the precepts. Do concentration to the end point of concentration.” But where the end point of these things is, they have no idea. Actually, you don’t have to keep pounding away at anything a lot. If you have discernment, then once you strip away the suppositions that people suppose into being, once you strip them away then that’s the end of the matter. It’s release. Empty of suppositions. Things that are supposed to be this or that, we strip them away so as to see release. That’s when you gain release from all of those things. So get acquainted with your own mind. You don’t have to follow a lot of things. Just this is enough.

This problem is really complicated. Some people create difficulties for themselves. They think too far, so they miss the main point. They think that if you do things a lot, it’ll be good. Actually, everything’s good, but they have no idea of what’s too much and what’s too little. It’s like people—rich people and poor people. Rich people are good, but how are they good? Poor people are good, but how are they poor? When you come right down to it, they’re equal. Rich people and poor people are equal. That’s the way it has to be when you come right down to it. It’s the same with this.

Question: Just now you spoke about getting the mind quiet enough and then contemplating fabrications. I’ve heard you talk many times about contemplating fabrications, such as contemplating the 32 parts of the body. If you use perceptions and thought-fabrications to do this, will it give rise to insight?

Ajahn Chah: That’s right. You have to use those things at first, start with those things first. But when you get down to the way things are, then it’s not a matter of those things at all. It’s not a matter of thinking—thinking good, thinking bad—at all. If you were to use those things all the time, would you come to the end of them? And how will you come to the end of them? When I think out loud for people to listen, when I speak for children to listen, I say that you have to do this and do that. But in actuality, when you come to the end of the matter, there’s nothing left. Don’t follow your thought-fabrications. When you see the activity of fabrications, that’s discernment. But if you keep on running to get inside them, it’s all just fabrication. That kind of knowing isn’t really you, so you have to discard that, too. Consciousness is just consciousness, that’s all. It’s not a being, not a person, not a self, not “us” or “them.” So you discard it, too. That’s the end of the matter. And what else would you want? Where would you go from there? You’d just be putting yourself to difficulties, you know.

Question: Excuse me, sir, but when you say “quiet enough,” how quiet is that?

Ajahn Chah: Enough to be able to contemplate. Enough to have mindfulness; enough to be able to contemplate.

Question: You stay with the present without thinking about past or future?

Ajahn Chah: You can think about the past or future, but you don’t take it seriously. You can think all kinds of things, but you don’t take them seriously. It’s just a matter of thinking, so don’t follow it. If you follow the issues of fabrication, they’ll keep on fabricating issues all the time. Will they run out that way? Not at all. When you see that the mind is just the mind, that’s all—not a being, not a person, not a self, not “us” or “them”—that’s called cittānupassanā: keeping track of the mind. It’s not ours, right? Pleasure is just pleasure, that’s all. Pain is just pain, that’s all. They’re all just “that’s all” kinds of things. If you see into that, if your contemplation takes you that far, then there will be no doubts.

Question: When contemplating this way, as we normally say, it really is contemplation, right? You have to use thought-fabrications. You have to use thinking.

Ajahn Chah: You use thinking, but you also see. You see above and beyond your thinking right there. And then you don’t believe in line with that kind of thing any more. Do you understand? Your sensations are just sensations, that’s all. But what you’ve reached doesn’t arise, doesn’t disband. It’s just the way it is. It doesn’t arise and it doesn’t die. In simple terms, as with our mind: We suppose that the mind knows sensations. But when we really speak about the mind, this is something above the mind. Whatever the mind arises from, we call it the mind. The mind arises and disbands. It arises and disbands, this mind.

But this other thing isn’t the mind that arises and disbands. It’s a different experience. All the things that are that truth: They don’t arise and don’t disband. They’re just the way they are. They go past the issues of arising and disbanding. But when you call them the mind, it’s just in terms of suppositions. When you speak in terms of suppositions, you believe in your own mind—and then what happens? Where does this mind come from? You’ve believed in this mind for so long, and there’s no ease. Right?

In the beginning you know about inconstancy, stress, and not-self. These are issues of the mind. But that reality doesn’t have any issues. It lets go. It lets go of the things that the mind arises with and depends on, but it doesn’t arise or disband at all. The things that arise and disband depend on perceptions and fabrications. We think that because contemplation uses perceptions, then they must be discernment. And so we latch onto fabrications, thinking they’re discernment. But that’s not genuine discernment. Genuine discernment puts an end to issues. It knows, and that’s the end of issues. There are still fabrications, but you don’t follow in line with them. There are sensations, you’re aware of them, but you don’t follow in line with them. You keep knowing that they’re not the path any more.

Question: What do we do to find this point, the point of the genuine mind?

Ajahn Chah: You keep track of this mind, first. You see that it’s inconstant, not for sure. See that clearly. You see that there’s nothing to take hold of, and so you let go. The mind lets go of itself. It understands itself. It lets go of this mind. At that point, there’s no more need to fabricate it, but there are no more doubts about anything. That’s called… Whatever name you call it, it’s a matter of supposition and formulation. You make suppositions about it for people to learn about it, but that nature is just the way it is. It’s like the ground. What spins around is on top of the ground. But this thing is the ground. What doesn’t arise or disband is the ground. What arises and runs around on top, we call “the mind,” or “perception,” or “fabrication.” To put it in simple terms, there are no forms, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, or consciousness in the ground. In terms of supposition, form, feelings, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness arise and disband. But they’re not in this. They disband.

It’s like the question that Ven. Sāriputta asked Ven. Puṇṇa Mantāniputta. Have you ever read that? Ven. Puṇṇa Mantāniputta was going out into the forest to follow the ascetic practices. His teacher had taught him about the ascetic practices. So Ven. Sāriputta asked him, “Puṇṇa Mantāniputta, when you go out into the forest, suppose someone asks you this question, ‘When an arahant dies, what is he?’ How would you answer?”

That’s because this had already happened.

Ven. Puṇṇa Mantāniputta said, “I’ll answer that form, feeling, perceptions, fabrications, and consciousness arise and disband. That’s all.”

Ven. Sāriputta said, “That’ll do. That’ll do.”

When you understand this much, that’s the end of issues. When you understand it, you take it to contemplate so as to give rise to discernment. See clearly all the way in. It’s not just a matter of simply arising and disbanding, you know. That’s not the case at all. You have to look into the causes within your own mind. You’re just the same way: arising and disbanding. Look until there’s no pleasure or pain. Keep following in until there’s nothing: no attachment. That’s how you go beyond these things. Really see it that way; see your mind in that way. This is not just something to talk about. Get so that wherever you are, there’s nothing. Things arise and disband, arise and disband, and that’s all. You don’t depend on fabrications. You don’t run after fabrications. But normally, we monks fabricate in one way; lay people fabricate in crude ways. But it’s all a matter of fabrication. If we always follow in line with them, if we don’t know, they grow more and more until we don’t know up from down.

Question: But there’s still the primal mind, right?

Ajahn Chah: What?

Question: Just now when you were speaking, it sounded as if there were something aside from the five aggregates. What else is there? You spoke as if there were something. What would you call it? The primal mind? Or what?

Ajahn Chah: You don’t call it anything. Everything ends right there. There’s no more calling it “primal.” That ends right there. “What’s primal” ends.

Question: Would you call it the primal mind?

Ajahn Chah: You can give it that supposition if you want. When there are no suppositions, there’s no way to talk. There are no words to talk. But there’s nothing there, no issues. It’s primal; it’s old. There are no issues at all. But what I’m saying here is just suppositions. “Old,” “new”: These are just affairs of supposition. If there were no suppositions, we wouldn’t understand anything. We’d just sit here silent without understanding one another. So understand that.

Question: To reach this, what amount of concentration is needed?

Ajahn Chah: Concentration has to be in control. With no concentration, what could you do? If you have no concentration, you can’t get this far at all. You need enough concentration to know, to give rise to discernment. But I don’t know how you’d measure the amount of mental stillness needed. Just develop the amount where there are no doubts, that’s all. If you ask, that’s the way it is.

Question: The primal mind and the knower: Are they the same thing?

Ajahn Chah: Not at all. The knower can change. It’s your awareness. Everyone has a knower.

Question: But not everyone has a primal mind?

Ajahn Chah: Everyone has one. Everyone has a knower, but it hasn’t reached the end of its issues, the knower.

Question: But everyone has both?

Ajahn Chah: Yes. Everyone has both, but they haven’t explored all the way into the other one.

Question: Does the knower have a self?

Ajahn Chah: No. Does it feel like it has one? Has it felt that way from the very beginning?

Question: When people sleep soundly, is there still a knower there?

Ajahn Chah: There is. It doesn’t stop. Even in the bhavaṅga of sleep.

Question: Oh. The bhavaṅga.

Ajahn Chah: The bhavaṅga of sleep.

These sorts of thing, if you keep studying about them, keep tying you up in complications. They don’t come to an end in this way. They keep getting complicated. With the Dhamma, it’s not the case that you’ll awaken because someone else tells you about it. You already know that you can’t get serious about asking whether this is that or that is this. These things are really personal. We talk just enough for you to contemplate…

It’s like a child who’s never seen anything. He comes out to the countryside and sees a chicken. “Daddy, what’s that over there?” He sees a duck. “Daddy, what’s that?” He sees a pig. “Daddy, what’s that over there?” The father gets tired of answering. The more he answers, the more the child keeps asking—because he’s never seen these things. After a while, the father simply says, “Hmm.” If you keep playing along with the child’s every question, you die of fatigue. The child doesn’t get fatigued. Whatever it sees, “What’s that? What’s this?” It never comes to an end. Finally the father says, “When you grow bigger, you’ll know for yourself.”

That’s the way it is with meditation. I used to be like that. I really was. But when you understand, there are none of those questions. You’ve grown up. So be intent on contemplating until you understand, and things will gradually unravel themselves. That’s the way it is. Keep watch over yourself as much as you can. Keep watch over yourself as much as you can, to see if you’re lying to yourself. That’s what’s called keeping watch over yourself.