Feelings of Pain
In the Discourse on Good Omens (Maṅgala Sutta), the Buddha teaches us to associate with sages, and not with fools. The first and foremost fool here is our own heart. In other words, there are fools outside and fools inside, and for the most part the fools inside are the ones who keep stirring up trouble all the time. When we live with meditation masters, which is called associating with sages, we keep gaining lessons from sages, because that’s what they are. They are wise in the various tactics they teach us. They have practiced and gained knowledge of everything from experience. Their teachings are thus correct, precise, and convincing to those who listen to them, with no room for any doubt.
In particular, Venerable Ācariya Mun: There never was a time when he would teach saying, ‘It seems to be like this. It seems to be like that.’ There was nothing but, ‘This is the way it is for sure, for sure’—and we were sure, because he spoke only the absolute truth taken right from a heart that had already known and seen, and from his own well-conducted practice. Especially in the case of illness: If there were any weak-willed cases, he would tell them, ‘Whoever is weak, whoever cries and moans, can take his moans as his medicine. There’s no need to search out medicine anywhere, no need to have anyone to look after him. His moans are his medicine. If moaning serves any purpose, then why search for medicine to treat the disease?’
Then he would add, ‘Keep moaning. Everyone can moan. Even children can moan—if it serves a purpose. But here it doesn’t serve any purpose at all other than to annoy those good people who are unflinching in the practice. So you shouldn’t moan out of weakness. You’re a meditation monk. When you act like this, who can bear to see it? If you were a child or an ordinary person, there wouldn’t be anything wrong with it, because they haven’t received any training. They don’t have any knowledge or understanding of the various ways to contend with the pain, such as contemplating it.
‘But you, you already know everything of every sort. Yet when trouble comes, such as illness, you can’t find any methods or tactics to care for yourself. You just go all to pieces. This won’t do at all. You’re a shame to yourself and your fellow meditators.’
Venerable Ācariya Mun was very talented in teaching the heart. When those of his disciples who were intent on studying with him would listen to anything he’d say, it would go straight to the heart. Straight to the heart. The things we should put into practice, we would put into practice. The things we should understand right then, dealing with internal matters, we would understand—every time, step after step.
When we were ill, he would teach us how to contemplate. ‘When you have a fever, where did you get it from?’ He’d say this so as to serve a purpose, as food for thought for meditators. ‘From where did you drag out the fever and chills? They arise in this body, don’t they? When they disappear, where do they go, if not back to where they came from? Even if they don’t disappear, they die together with each of us: There are no exceptions at all in this body. Investigate it so as to know it.
‘All stress, all pains are Noble Truths. If we don’t investigate them, what are we going to investigate? The Buddha gained Awakening with the Noble Truths, his disciples gained Awakening with the Noble Truths—so are we going to gain Awakening with weakness? Would that be in keeping with the Dhamma of the Buddha? Then we’ve come to resist the Dhamma!
‘Where does the pain arise? In which part? Ask so as to find out. When it hurts here and aches there, who is it that hurts? Who is it that aches? Probe on in to find what instigates it. Where does it come from? Where does it hurt? What causes it to hurt? What perceives it as pain? When the body dies and they cremate it, does it hurt? Who is it that deceives itself into thinking that this hurts or that aches? Investigate so as to find its initial causes.
‘If you’re a meditator who doesn’t know initial causes and doesn’t know their effects—this heap of suffering—then how are you going to cure suffering? What is your discernment for? Why don’t you think? Why don’t you find it and put it to use?
‘Your mindfulness and discernment are for keeping things in mind and investigating them—things such as feelings of pain that exist in your body and mind.’
He would keep stressing his points, step by step. If the person listening was intent on listening—and especially if he had any fighting spirit—he’d find it easy to grasp the point, and it would appeal to him immediately. Immediately.
When we’d leave Venerable Ācariya Mun to live in any spot suitable for the practice, his teachings would seem to reverberate through the heart. You could remember every facet of his teachings, every important point that should be used as a tool in the practice. For example, if you were staying in a challenging place, it was if he were right there in the heart. The heart would be really audacious and exultant in practicing, knowing the Dhamma, seeing it, understanding it. You would understand with audacity, and with a warrior’s spirit—not by being discouraged, irresolute, or beating a retreat. That’s not the way to make the defilements fear you and disappear from the heart. That’s not at all the way to cure defilement, to know the affairs of defilement or to be able to remove them.
This is the religion! There is nothing to compare with it in being so correct, so precise, so genuine, so true, so indisputable. If we all were to follow the principles of the religion, there would be no need for prisons or jails. What need would they serve? Nobody would be doing any wrong! People would see in line with reason and acknowledge their rightness and wrongness, their good and their evil, using the principles of reason as their standard. We human beings would then be able to live with one another.
The reason we need laws, prisons, and jails is because we don’t admit our wrongs. When we’re wrong, we don’t admit that we’re wrong. Even the moment after we see ourselves do something wrong, we won’t admit to it. Even when we’re put in jail and are asked, we still say, ‘They accused me of stealing this and stealing that’—even though we ourselves actually stole it. This is simply an unwillingness to admit to things in line with reason, in line with the truth. Even within the heart, with things that concern us exclusively, the same holds true: We don’t admit to them, which is why we receive so much pain and suffering. If we admit to the principles of the truth, the things that appear in line with the truth can be resolved through the truth. For example, even when pain arises in the body, it won’t disrupt the mind because our knowledge is wise to it.
As the principles of the Dhamma say, pains have been appearing in our body and mind ever since we first became aware of things. There is no reason for us to get excited, frightened, or upset by them to the point where they disease the mind.
This is why mental development, or meditation, is an excellent science for gaining knowledge on all fronts: Those who practice consistently are not upset when pain arises in the body. They can even focus on the spot where the pain arises so as to investigate and analyze it in line with its truth until gaining skillful and courageous tactics for dealing with it admirably.
The important point is to associate with sages, wise people, those who are sharp and astute. If we aren’t yet able to depend on ourselves, we have to depend on our teachers to instruct us. If we listen often, their teachings gradually seep into us and blend with our temperament until our mind becomes a mind with Dhamma. Our mind becomes a sage, a wise person, and can eventually take care of itself, becoming ‘attā hi attano nātho’—its own mainstay.
So in every activity where we aren’t yet capable, we first have to depend on others. In living with those who are good, we are bound to find peace and happiness. Our traits come to mesh with theirs—this is important—until our own traits become good and admirable as well. It’s the same as if we were to associate with bad people: At first we aren’t bad, but as we associate with them for a long time, our traits blend themselves with theirs until we become bad without being aware of it. When we are fully bad, this makes us even more blind. We feel that we’ve become even better. No one else can push us around. Otherwise our ‘goodness’ will jump into action—the ‘goodness’ of a bad person, an evil that wise people everywhere fear.
Bad people and good people. Evil and good. These things get turned around in this way. Bad people thus can’t see the truth that they are bad, and so flatter themselves into thinking, ‘I’m good. I’m smart. I’m clever. I’m one of the most renowned operators around.’ That’s how they twist things!
For this reason, associating with meditation masters, with sages, is important for anyone who is striving to become a good person, who is hoping to prosper and be happy, because sages will teach us often. Their manners and deportment that we see day after day will gradually seep into and nurture our minds. We can hold to them continually as good examples, for everything they do in every way is all Dhamma.
Especially if they’re people devoid of defilement, then there is nothing to compare with them. Like Venerable Ācariya Mun: I’m certain that he was devoid of defilement. After hearing the Dhamma from him, I had no doubts. He himself never said that he was devoid of defilement, you know. He never said that he was an arahant or anything, but he would say it in his ability to explain the true Dhamma on every level in a way that would go straight to the heart and erase all doubt for all those who came to study with him. This is why I can dare to say unabashedly that Venerable Ācariya Mun Bhūridatta Thera is one of the important arahants of our day and age—an age in which arahants are exceedingly rare, because it’s an age sadly lacking in people practicing the Dhamma for the sake of arahantship. Instead, we practice to eliminate arahantship by amassing all kinds of miscellaneous defilements. This holds for all of us, so no one is in a position to criticize anyone else.
Let’s return to the subject of feelings: To investigate feelings of pain is very important. This is something I learned from Venerable Ācariya Mun. He took this very seriously whenever any of the meditators in his monastery became ill. Sometimes he would go himself and ask, ‘How are you contemplating your illness?’ Then he’d really emphasize the Dhamma. ‘Go probing right there. Wherever there’s pain, investigate so as to see the truth of the pain.’ He’d teach how to investigate: ‘Don’t retreat. To retreat is to enhance the pain.
‘To be a warrior, you have fight using discernment. This is what will bring victory: the ability to keep up with the feeling of pain that you hold to be an important enemy. Actually, that feeling isn’t anyone’s enemy. It doesn’t have any sense of consciousness at all. It’s simply a truth—that’s all. So investigate on in. You don’t have to anticipate it or concern yourself with whether it’s a big pain or a small pain. All that’s asked is that you know its truth with your own discernment, so that the heart won’t deceive you.’ That’s what he would say.
Actually, our heart is deceit incarnate, because that which deceives is within the heart and fools the heart into making assumptions and interpretations. Stupidity has an easy time believing lies. Clever people have an easy time deceiving stupid people. Deceit has an easy time fooling stupidity. The cleverness of the defilements gets along well with our own stupidity. This is why the Dhamma teaches us to ferret things out to investigate down to their truth and then to believe in line with that truth. This is our means of gaining victory step by step. Ferret out the pains that are always with you so as to see them. Don’t run away from them. Whether they’re big or small, investigate right there. Investigate right there. If you’re going to concentrate, concentrate right there. When you are investigating its causes, no matter how great the pain, keep probing in.
The thing we call pain: What does it depend on as its foundation? It depends on the body as its foundation. It depends on our attention as its means of flaring up—in other words, the attention that labels it in various ways: This is what makes pain flare up. We have to cure this kind of attention by investigating to know both the pain—what it’s like—and the place where pain arises, in whatever part of the body. Try to know clearly whether or not that spot is really pain.
For example, if there’s pain in the bone, in any part of the skin or flesh, the skin and the flesh are skin and flesh. The pain is a pain. Even though they dwell together, they are separate things, not one and the same. The mind—the knower that is aware of these things—is a mind, but it’s a deluded mind, so it assumes that this is pain, that’s pain, and conflates these things into being its ‘self,’ saying, ‘I hurt here. I hurt there. I don’t want myself to be pained. I want the pain to vanish.’ This desire is a defilement that encourages pain and suffering to arise. The heart is pained. The feeling of pain in the body is pain. The pain in the heart flares up with that pain, because it wants it to follow the heart’s desires. These things keep feeding each other. This is our own stupidity, loading us down with suffering.
To be intelligent, we have to investigate, to watch the feeling of pain in the heart. What does it come from? What does it depend on? It depends on the body. Which part of the body? From what spot in the body does the pain arise? Look at the body and the feeling: Are they one and the same thing? What kind of shape and features do they have? The feeling doesn’t have any shape or features or a posture of any kind. It simply appears as a feeling of pain, that’s all.
As for the body, it has a shape, a color, and complexion—and it stays as it was before the pain arose. When the pain arises, it stays just as it was. Actually, the pain is something separate from this. It simply depends on a malfunction of the body to arise. The mind is what takes notice of it. If the mind has any discernment, it should notice it in line with its truth. The mind then won’t be affected by it. But if the mind is deluded, it latches onto the pain—in other words, it pulls that pain in to be its ‘self’—and then wants that pain, which it says is its self, to disappear.
This is why we can’t analyze it. Once the pain is our self, how can we separate it out? If it’s simply a pain, a separate reality, then the body is a separate reality. They aren’t one and the same. Each one exists separately. Each is a separate reality in line with its nature. Only when our awareness is like this can we analyze things.
But as long as we see the pain as our self, then we can analyze it all day long and not get anywhere, because once we hold that, ‘This is myself,’ how can we analyze it? We haven’t separated these things with discernment, so we have to keep holding onto them as our self. When the khandhas and the mind blend into one, we can’t analyze them. But when we try to use mindfulness and discernment to investigate in to see the truth of these things—that each exists separately, each has its separate reality, which holds true for us and for everyone else—and this realization goes deep into the heart, then the pain gradually fades away, fades away. At the same time, we know what makes the connection from the pain into the heart, because the connection comes from the heart. When we investigate the pain, it comes retracting into the heart. All the affairs of pain come from the heart that labels or that experiences mental pain because of an insidious connection by way of attachment (upādāna) that we don’t yet know.
When we investigate so as to see clearly, we follow the feeling of pain inward. We come in knowing, knowing. The pain keeps retracting and retracting, into the heart. Once we know that the heart is what created the attachment, making itself construe the pain to be itself, creating a great deal of suffering–once we know this, the pain disappears.
Or—alternatively—once we know this, the pain stays real, but the heart doesn’t latch onto it. Even though the pain may not disappear, the mind is the mind. It doesn’t make any connection through attachment. Each is its own separate reality. This is called the mind being its own self—cool, calm, and collected—in the midst of the pain of the khandhas. This is to know that the mind is a reality just as each khandha is a separate reality.
This is the path for those who are practicing so as to become wise to the five khandhas, with feelings of pain as their primary focus.
But for those who understand all the way, to the point of reaching ‘the unshakable mind, the unshakable Dhamma’ (akuppa-citta, akuppa-dhamma) that can’t be provoked into being anything else, there is no problem at all. Whether pain is little or great, they have absolutely no problem because their minds are always true. There is never a time when their minds, which are already pure, can become defiled, can become ‘worlded.’ There’s no way it could happen. For this reason, whatever conditions the khandhas may display, such people know them in line with the principles of nature. The khandhas themselves appear in line with the principles of nature and disappear in line with nature. They remain naturally and then disappear naturally. The mind knows in line with its own nature, without having to be forced or coerced in any way. The minds of those who know totally all-around are like this.
As for those of us who are investigating the khandhas to know them and withdraw from them step by step, even though our minds are not yet like that while we are practicing, even though our hopes aren’t yet fulfilled, still our investigation of pain is for the purpose of separating the mind from the pain so that it’s not entangled in pain, so that whenever pain arises in greater or lesser measure, the mind doesn’t cling to the pain as being itself. We do this so as not to gather up the pain as being our self—which would be the same as taking fire to burn ourself. When we can do this, we can be at our ease.
So pain is an excellent whetstone for discernment. However much pain arises, set your mindfulness and discernment focused right there. Turn to look at the mind, and then expand your awareness to encompass the feeling and the body, each of which is already a separate part. The body is one part, the feeling is another, and the mind another. Keep going back and forth among them, investigating with discernment until you understand—and it really goes to the heart—that, ‘Each khandha is simply… and that’s all.’ None of them appears to be any such thing as ‘you’ or ‘yours.’ They are simply different realities that appear, and that’s all. When you understand clearly like this, the heart becomes its own free and independent self at that moment and it knows that the mind and the khandhas are separate realities, neither affecting the other.
Even at the moment when you are about to die, the heart will be up on events in the immediate present. It won’t be shaken by pain and death because it is sure that the mind is the mind: a stronghold of awareness. Each khandha is simply a condition. The mind thus doesn’t fear death because it is sure of itself that it won’t get destroyed anywhere.
Even though it may not have yet reached the level where it’s absolutely devoid of defilement, the mind has still prepared itself using discernment with the khandhas so that it’s supreme. In other words, it lives with the Noble Truths. It lives with its whetstone for discernment. Discernment will spread its power far and wide. The heart will grow more and more radiant, more and more courageous, because discernment is what cleanses it. Even if death comes at that moment, there’s no problem.
For one thing, if you use mindfulness and discernment to investigate pain without retreating, to the point where you understand it, then even when you really are about to die, you’ll know that the pain will disappear first. The mind won’t disappear. It will revert into itself, knowing exclusively within itself, and then pass on at that moment. The phrase, ‘Mindfulness lapses,’ doesn’t exist for a person who has practiced the Dhamma to this level. We can thus be sure that a person with mindfulness, even though he or she may not be devoid of defilement, will still be clearly aware at the moment when pain arises in full force to the point where the khandhas can no longer endure and will break apart—will die. The mind will withdraw itself from all that and revert to its ‘mindness’—to being its own independent self—and then pass on. This is a very high, very refined level of Dhamma!
For this reason, meditators who are resolute and unflinching for the sake of knowing every level of the Dhamma tend to be earnest in investigating pain. When the time comes for them to know, the knowledge goes straight to the heart. They regard their pain as a Noble Truth in line with the Buddha’s teaching that all living beings are fellows in pain, birth, aging, illness, and death.
So when investigating the khandhas so as to know them in line with their truth, you shouldn’t try to thwart or resist the truth. For example, if the body can’t endure, let it go. You shouldn’t cherish it. As for the pain, it will go on its own. This is called sugato—faring well.
This is the way of investigating the mind and training the heart that gives clear results to those who meditate. They have meditated in the way I’ve described so that when the time of death is really upon them, they don’t hope to depend on anyone at all—parents, brothers, sisters, relatives, friends, anyone. They have to withdraw the mind from all things that entangle and involve it so as to enter that crucial spot where they are engaged in hand-to-hand combat.
At a time such as this, at the moment when you are about to die, take pain as the focal point for investigation. Don’t be willing to retreat—come what may! All that’s asked is that you know and understand this point. Don’t go thinking that if you die while being embroiled in investigating pain like this—while the mind is in the midst of this commotion—you’ll go to a bad bourn. Why should you go to a bad bourn? You’re embroiled, but with a noble task. You’re embroiled with knowledge, or for the sake of knowledge, and not because of delusion. The mind is focused on investigating and probing pain. When the time comes for it really to go, this knowing mind—the mind with mindfulness knows—will withdraw instantly into itself. It will let go immediately of the work at hand and withdraw into itself, to be itself—the mind and nothing but—and then pass on like a ‘sugato’ with the full capability of a meditator, even though we may not yet be devoid of defilement.
This is called having full strength to our full capacity, in line with our level of mind and Dhamma. Investigation and mental development are thus important matters, matters on which our life and death depend. We needn’t hope to depend on anyone else at all—of this we are certain within ourselves. The heart knows within itself how strong mindfulness and discernment are, and needn’t go asking anyone else.
If the heart is able to investigate to the point where it can pass on at that moment, all doubts vanish. There are no problems at all. If you think that because you’re a woman or because you’re a layperson, you can’t realize nibbāna, that’s your own misconception, which is one kind of defilement deceiving you.
The Dhamma is a truth and everyone’s common property. Whether we are men or women, lay or ordained, we can all have mindfulness and discernment. We can all cure our defilements. When we are willing, any man or woman, any monk or layperson can use any of the methods to cure defilement and gain release. We needn’t create problems to plague our hearts and waste our time. ‘Since when do I have the potential to do that?’ Don’t think that! You’re developing the merit and potential right now! However much or little, you can see it right here in the mind.
We should examine ourselves. Wherever we are stupid, we should develop intelligence: mindfulness and discernment. Only then will we be doing what is genuinely right in terms of the principles of the Lord Buddha’s Dhamma.
If we criticize ourselves, thinking, ‘That person is on this level or that level while we don’t have any level at all; wherever we go, this person gets ahead of us, that person gets ahead of us,’ actually nobody is getting ahead of us except for the defilements that get ahead of us and deceive us into feeling inferior and depressed, into thinking that we have only a little potential. That’s simply a misconception aimed at making us discouraged and self-pitying, because defilement is looking for a way to kill us without our realizing it.
We shouldn’t think in those ways. We are full of potential—all of us. And why shouldn’t we be? We’re meditators. We’re all devoted to making merit. Potential isn’t something we can set out on the market to compete with one another. Every person has potential within him or herself. We’re taught not to belittle one another’s potential. Even with animals, we’re taught not to belittle them—think of that!—because potential lies in the heart of every person and every animal.
So when curing defilement, you needn’t waste time thinking those things. They’ll simply ruin your morale and your resolve. To think, ‘I’m a worthless woman… a worthless man… a worthless monk… a worthless layperson. I don’t have any paths or fruitions at all. Other people have them, but I don’t. I’m ashamed to show them my face’—these are wrong thoughts that will spoil your resolve in developing the various forms of goodness.
The right way to think is this: ‘Right now I’m making an effort, with mindfulness and discernment, to cure defilement and to develop what is good and meritorious step by step, which is the direct way to develop my perfections (pāramī). I have the potential. I was born in the midst of the Buddha’s teachings and have developed the potential and the perfections to my full capacity all along up to the present.’
Women can have mindfulness and discernment just like men, because women and men both have defilements, and defilements are cured with mindfulness and discernment—backed by persistent effort—both by men and by women. And where do they have defilements? They both have defilements in the heart. When mindfulness and discernment are complete, women and men can both pass over and beyond—with no question of their having to be ordained.
This is the truth of the Noble Truths, which are not particular about status, nationality, or any of the human races, and which are not particular about the male or the female sex. All that’s asked is that we strive, because the Dhamma is common to us all. Women and men, lay and ordained, we can all listen to it, understand it, practice it, and cure defilement.
The defilements don’t favor men or women. We all have defilements. Even monks have defilements: What do you say to that? Monks thus have to cure their own defilements. If they don’t, they lie buried in defilement just like people in general who aren’t interested in the Dhamma—or even worse than people in general.
The Dhamma thus doesn’t stipulate that it’s only for those who are ordained. What is stipulated is that we cure defilement with persistent effort. This is something very important. We have to be very interested in this point.
As for release from suffering and stress, where do we gain release? We gain it right here, right where there is suffering. If we can cure defilement, we gain release from suffering. If we can’t, then no matter what our sex or status, we all have to suffer.
Here. This is where the religion lies, here in the heart. It doesn’t lie anywhere else. If we want to be incapable of it, we can be incapable—right here in our heart. Whether lay or ordained, we can be incapable—if we make ourselves incapable. Or we can make the religion flourish in our heart—that we can also do. When the religion flourishes, where does it flourish? In the heart, and nowhere else. The important point is the heart. The important point is our practice: the actions, the manners we display. When the heart develops, the various aspects of our behavior develop beautifully. Admirably. In particular, the heart flourishes within itself. It has mindfulness and discernment looking after it constantly. This is called a flourishing heart. The defilements can hardly ever come to damage it: That’s when the religion flourishes.
We should make an effort to examine and straighten things out step by step. The defilements, you know, are no wider or greater than the limits of our ability to cure and remove them. They’re only here in the heart, so investigate right here. Whether we’re men or women, lay or ordained, we all have defilements in our hearts. No matter how thick they may be, if we consider them we can know them. They’re like darkness: Even though darkness may have existed for eons, all we have to do is turn on a light, and the darkness disappears completely. The darkness doesn’t have any way to brag, saying, ‘I’ve been dark for eons, so there’s no way that this puny light can chase my darkness away.’ When the causes are ready, the darkness has to disappear completely, and brightness appears in its place. Even though the darkness may have existed for eons, it all vanishes in that instant.
Even though the defilements may be thick and may have been lording it over our heart for a long time, we should investigate them thoroughly with mindfulness and discernment. When mindfulness and discernment are capable, they immediately become all-around. The defilements, even though they may have been in the heart for eons, will immediately disintegrate, in the same way that the darkness that had existed vanishes as soon as a light is lit. Brightness arises instead, through the power of mindfulness and discernment. Within the heart it is dazzlingly bright at that moment with ‘dhammo padīpo’—the light of the Dhamma.
This is all there is. This is the important point we have to investigate. Be sure to see it. The religion is marvelous—where is it marvelous? The religion flourishes—where does it flourish? The Buddha says to gain release from stress—where is it gained? It exists only here in the heart. To analyze it, there are the four Noble Truths: stress, its origin, its cessation, and the path.
1. Stress (dukkha): We know it’s stress because we aren’t dead.
2. The origin of stress (samudaya): This is what fosters or produces stress. What forms does it take? We’re taught, ‘Craving… imbued with passion and delight, relishing now here and now there, i.e., craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, craving for not-becoming.’ This we know. Whatever the mind may love or crave, we should try to straighten it out. It loves and craves the five khandhas, and especially the five khandhas that it says are ‘me.’ So try to become wise to these things, step by step.
And then there’s more love and craving: love and craving for the mind, attachment to the mind, cherishing the mind. So straighten out the mind. Wherever it feels love, that’s where defilement is. Keep going in, straightening things out, until you’ve reached the truth. Then the heart will have no love or hate, because they are all gone. The defilements are all gone. The mind has no love, no hate, no anger. It’s a pure principle of nature within itself. This is the nature we truly want.
3. Investigating for the sake of Dhamma: This is the path (magga), with mindfulness and discernment its important factors.
4. The cessation of stress (nirodha): Stress stops, step by step, until the path is fully capable and nirodha stops all stress in the heart without leaving a trace. When nirodha has finished stopping stress, that which knows that stress has stopped and defilement has stopped… that which knows is ‘the pure one.’ This pure one lies beyond the Noble Truths as a marvelous, extraordinary Dhamma.
The Noble Truths are activities, conditions, conventions. Even nirodha is a convention. It’s the activity of stopping stress. It’s a conventional reality. When stress is completely stopped, nothing remains. All that remains is an entirely pure awareness. This is not a Noble Truth. It’s the purity of the mind. If you want, you can call it nibbāna. There’s nothing against calling it whatever you want. When we reach this level, there are no conflicts—no conflicts, no disagreements with anyone at all. We don’t conflict with ourselves; we don’t conflict with anything. Our knowledge is wise to everything, so we can say what we like. There are no problems at all. All I ask is that you know this marvelous, extraordinary Dhamma. Its excellence exists of its own accord, without our having to confer titles.
This, then, is the genuine religion. Probe right here. Probe on in. When in the practice of the religion we come to know, we’ll know right here. If the religion is to flourish, it will flourish right here. The Buddha, in teaching the beings of the world to gain release from suffering, taught right here—and release is gained right here, nowhere else. We qualify as beings of the world and lie within the net of the Buddha’s teachings. We’re in the Buddha’s following. Each of us has the right to practice and remove defilement so as to go beyond suffering and stress. All of us in the four groups of the Buddha’s following (parisā) have the right to realize ourselves and reach nibbāna.
So. I ask that you contemplate. Investigate. Be brave in fighting the things that should be fought within the heart. Develop courage. Develop mindfulness and discernment until they are sufficient. Search for various tactics for probing: These we should develop within ourselves. To probe on our own is the right way. It’s our own wealth. Teachers lend us bits and pieces, which are merely fragments to serve as hints or as leads for us to contemplate so that they’ll grow and branch out into our own wealth.
Any Dhamma that’s a wealth coming from our own tactics: That’s truly our own wealth. We’ll never exhaust it. If we can think and probe cunningly in removing defilements until they fall away completely, using the tactics we develop on our own from the ideas our teachers lend us as starting capital, that’s our own Dhamma. However much may arise, it’s all our own Dhamma. What we derive from the texts is the Buddha’s—and we borrow it from him. What we get from our teachers, we borrow from them—except when we are listening to them teach and we understand the Dhamma and cure defilement at that moment: That’s our wealth while we are listening. After that, we take their tactics to contemplate until they branch out through our own ingenuity. This is our own wealth, in terms both of the causes—our contemplation—and of the outcome, the satisfactory results we gain step by step all the way to release from suffering and stress—and that’s entirely ours. It stays with us, and no one can come to divide up any of our share at all.
This is where the excellence becomes excellent. It doesn’t become excellent anywhere else. So try to find the excellence, the peerlessness that lies within you, by striving and being energetic. Other than this awareness, there’s no excellence at all.
But at present the heart is concealed by things that are filthy and worthless, and so it too has become something that lacks its proper worth. Right now we are washing it, peeling away the various kinds of defilement, step by step. When we have used our full strength to peel them all away until there aren’t any left in the heart, then the heart is fully pure. Excellence appears here in this heart—and so the excellence is excellent right here. We don’t have to search anywhere for anything more, for we have fully reached the ‘land of enough.’
So then. I’ll ask to stop here.