The Principle of the Present

To practice is to search for principles leading to the truth. To study is like studying a plan—although people for the most part don’t follow the plan—but outer plans and inner plans are worlds apart.

With outer plans—like blueprints of a house or a building, or maps that tell where roads and places are located—the builder examines the blueprint and follows it; the traveler follows the routes that appear on the map, but if he gets a map that’s out-of-date, there are bound to be things that have come into being or been torn down that don’t show on the map. This can cause him to misunderstand and to follow the wrong route.

Inner plans, though—such as the 32 parts of the body, the elements, and the khandhas, which the Buddha taught us to study and to put into practice so as to derive benefits from them—are fixed truths, unchanged from the Buddha’s time to the present. But with these plans within the mind, we can’t act like a builder who follows the blueprint in his hands, because that would go against the principle of the present, which is where the Dhamma arises. For example, when we study and understand in line with the texts and then practice, it’s hard not to speculate in reference to the texts; and so when we practice or try to develop concentration in the mind, we’ll find that the mind has trouble growing still, because of the disturbance.

If, while practicing the Dhamma, we contemplate or reflect on whatever Dhamma we have studied, it’s bound to get all confused, because the mind’s state is not such that these things can be contemplated, pondered, or compared with the mind at the moment it’s gathering itself together to gain strength. This is why we shouldn’t bring anything in to disturb it at all. Let there simply be the ‘Dhamma theme,’ the meditation theme we bring in to supervise the mind, as if we were charging the mind so as to give it inner strength—in other words, so as to make it still.

When the mind is still, it gains inner strength. Regardless of how much or how little knowledge it has, no trouble or confusion results, because the mind has its footing. It’s secure. Calm. Peaceful within itself—all because of the stillness, which is a gathering of energy. This isn’t in the plan at all—because while we are practicing, we aren’t concerned with the texts. We’re intent solely on developing concentration in the present until we gain results—peace, well-being, and various other satisfactory states—there in that moment.

If this is in the plan, it’s in the part that says, ‘Try to make the mind stay with just a single Dhamma theme—its meditation word.’ Don’t get involved with other topics at that moment. If you let it think of the texts while practicing concentration, it won’t be willing to stick just with that practice. A great deal of extraneous knowledge will interfere, disrupting the mind until everything is a turmoil, and no stillness will result. This is called going against the plan taught by the Buddha.

Whatever plans we’ve been given, however many, however much Dhamma the Buddha taught, we gather it all to our own confusion. It’s as if we were building a hut and yet went around to gather up plans for hundred-story buildings and spread them out for a look. They just don’t go together. The plan for a building and the plan for a hut are as different as earth and sky, and yet here we are going to gather the mind into one point, which is like building a hut. Only after we have the strength can we then begin enlarging it into a building.

When we ultimately reach the level where we are ready to investigate, there are no limits as to how broad or restricted it should be. The mind can investigate everything throughout the cosmos. When we reach the level where we should investigate, that’s the level where we’ll gain firm confirmation in the mind. We’ll gain knowledge and all kinds of insights from our own investigation. This is where the fun lies—sifting, choosing with our discernment what is right and what is wrong. We’ll go back, exploring through the Dhamma we have already studied and compare it with the causes and results in our practice until they agree, and then we can set the matter to rest. Even though we may have already understood clearly, we still have to gain confirmation to give it further support, for the sake of full conviction and certainty.

This is what’s meant by discernment. It’s not the case that if we have no doubts then there’s no reason to make comparisons. The Dhamma of the doctrine is one thing, the Dhamma of the practice is another. We take the Buddha’s wealth and compare it with our own wealth, gained from our practice. If they match, we can accept the matter and put it aside, with no more concern.

In particular, when we practice in line with the four Noble Truths or the four foundations of mindfulness (satipaṭṭhāna), these are things that the Buddha described as being interconnected. If we practice them one by one, in line with the texts—investigating the body, and then feeling, and then the mind, and then mental events—we’ll be wrong the livelong day, because these things by their nature are interconnected at all times. We can investigate whichever aspect we want. Whichever aspect feels most natural to us, we should start with that one first.

By and large, we start out by investigating the body. But when a pain appears, we have to let go of the body and focus on the pain. We then consider the pain in relation to the body, distinguishing between the two so that we understand them clearly. Then we distinguish between the pain in the body and the pain in the mind, comparing them and distinguishing between them again. Body, feeling, mind, and mental events lie together in the same moment. So we separate out the body—in other words, investigate it—and then separate out the feeling so as to know whether or not the body and feeling are one and the same. Then we separate the mind from the mental events within the mind, so as to see that each of these events is not the same thing as the mind. To say just this much covers all four of the foundations of mindfulness.

We can’t divide these things and deal with them one at a time, one after another, the way we take one step after another while walking. To do so is wrong. This is the way it is with the practice: When we investigate one aspect or another of the four foundations of mindfulness or the four Noble Truths, they all become involved of their own accord—because they are interconnected phenomena. The Buddha says, for example,

kāye kāyānupassī viharati:

‘Investigate the body within the body.’ Now, the phrase, ‘the body within the body’ means to start out with any one of the many parts of the body. Once we have contemplated that part until we gain an understanding, our investigation then permeates further of its own accord, making us curious about this part and that. This keeps spreading and spreading until it reaches everything in the body. In other words, it covers everything and understands everything.

‘The body within the body’—for example, kesā, hair of the head: Even though we may contemplate only one hair on the head, it has an impact on our understanding of how may hairs on the head? And then connects up with how many parts of the body? It affects everything. It permeates everything, because everything is interrelated. No matter what we investigate, this is the way it goes, in line with the principles of investigation in the area of the practice that the Noble Ones have followed.

‘Feeling’: It arises in our body. Focus on whichever one point is very pronounced. Investigate it—whichever point is more painful than the rest. When we focus on that as a starting point, our investigation will spread to all other feelings because no matter where they arise, they all become involved with the one mind. As soon as we investigate a feeling, the mind and the feeling immediately fly toward each other, and then we separate them out, because the four foundations of mindfulness—contemplation of body, feelings, mind, and mental events—are interrelated in this way. ‘External feelings’ refer to physical feelings, feelings of pleasure, pain, and neither pleasure nor pain in the various parts of the body. ‘Internal feelings’ refer to the feelings of pain, pleasure, and neither pleasure nor pain in the heart. These are also counted as feelings that occur in the hearts of ordinary people everywhere.

These three kinds of feelings: Even when we’re meditating and the mind enters into stillness, it still has a feeling of pleasure. But ordinarily, people usually have feelings of pain and discontent within the heart. If we don’t investigate—for example, if we’ve never practiced the Dhamma—these three feelings also exist, but they’re worldly feelings, not the feelings connected with the Dhamma of those who practice meditation.

When we practice, and the mind is still and calm, there is a feeling of pleasure. If the mind doesn’t settle down and grow still as we want it to, feelings of bodily and mental pain or distress arise. Sometimes the mind is vacant, drifting, indifferent, something of the sort. You can’t call it pleasure or pain. It’s simply vacant and drifting—something like that—in the mind of the meditator. This doesn’t mean vacant and drifting in the sense of someone completely oblivious. It’s simply a state in the mind. This is called a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain.

At present, we aren’t yet aware of these things—even now, when they’re very pronounced. We aren’t yet aware because we don’t yet have the discernment. When the mind becomes more refined, then whatever appears, whatever state arises, we are bound to know, and to know increasingly, in line with the strength of our own mindfulness and discernment. Actually, these things are the bosses, lording it over the heart: Okay, for once let’s call them what they are, because that’s what they’ve actually been all along.

The heart is their vessel, their seat. That’s where they sit. Or you could say it’s their toilet, because that’s where they defecate. Whichever one comes along, it gets right up there on the heart. Now pain jumps up there and defecates. Now pleasure gets up there and defecates. Now a feeling of neither pleasure nor pain gets up there and defecates. They keep defecating like this, and the heart is content to let them do this, because it doesn’t have the mindfulness or discernment to shake them off and not let them defecate. This is why we have to develop a great deal of mindfulness and discernment so that we can fight them off.

Mindfulness is crucial. It has to keep track constantly, because it’s the supervisor of the work. No matter where discernment goes scrutinizing, no matter what it thinks about, mindfulness sticks right with it. Discernment contemplates and mindfulness follows right along with it. This is why it doesn’t turn into saññā. As soon as we let mindfulness lapse, discernment turns into saññā, in accordance with the weakness of the mind just learning how to explore. But once we become more proficient in the areas of both mindfulness and discernment, the two stick so close together that we can say that there’s never a moment when the mind’s attention lapses—except when we sleep, at which time mindfulness and discernment don’t have to work, and even the defilements take a rest.

Once we reach this level, there is never a moment where the mind’s attention lapses. This is thus called super-mindfulness and super-discernment. How could it lapse? It stays right with ‘what knows’ at all times. Mindfulness and discernment exist together in this one mind and have become one and the same thing. So where could they lapse? Once mindfulness and discernment are continuous, we can speak in this way.

Before, we were never able to know how much the mind scrambled, stumbled, and fell. But when we reach the level where these things become one and the same, then as soon as there’s a rippling in the mind, we are right there up on it. Instantly. Instantly. Whatever gets thought, we are progressively more and more up on it. And especially if it’s a matter of defilement, then mindfulness and discernment are extra quick. But if the mind is an ordinary mind, it doesn’t know. Even if defilements climb up and defecate on our head from dawn to dusk and from dusk to dawn, we can’t be aware of them.

In the area of the practice, we practice on our own and know on our own. That’s when things become clear. Let’s see right and wrong clearly within ourselves. Let’s know things clearly within ourselves. Only then can we be certain. Once we have practiced and come to know, we can be courageous in what we say and courageous within the heart, with no fear that we might be speaking wrongly or venturing guesses. We’re sure of ourselves from having practiced.

To strip away the things that bind the heart has to be difficult. For those who are weak-willed, it’s especially difficult. There is no way they can succeed, because they keep creating obstacles for themselves whenever they are about to develop goodness or break away the binding of unawareness and craving from around the heart. To break open the binding of the wheel of rebirth depends mainly on our being earnest and intent: That’s what will clear our way. This is why living beings don’t want to touch that binding, don’t want to break it open.

Our earnest intent is what will lead us to know exactly how extraordinary the things taught by the Buddha really are. When we have this kind of earnest intent toward the Dhamma filling the heart, then no matter how difficult things become, we won’t let that difficulty bother us or become an obstacle. We want solely to know, to see, to understand. We feel motivated solely to think, ponder, and investigate in line with the aspects of the Dhamma we want to know and see.

This has us engrossed day and night—engrossed in our desire to know and see, engrossed in the results we obtain step by step, engrossed in probing and cutting away the defilements and mental effluents. These lie nowhere but in the heart—except when the heart grabs hold of external things that are harmful and toxic, and brings them inward to overpower itself to no purpose. The mind thus has to probe, investigate, remedy, and slash away inside itself because these are the things that bind the heart. The heart is what makes itself unruly and reckless, roaming about, collecting these things to burn itself, because it doesn’t have the good sense to avoid them or remedy them. For this reason, we need to develop a great deal of mindfulness and discernment.

The Buddha was always teaching mindfulness and discernment.

nisamma karaṇaṁ seyyo:

‘Use discernment to consider before doing anything,’ in order to guard against error. Both in inner and outer activities, mindfulness and discernment are always important. But usually when the mind thinks of doing anything, we don’t consider it first. Even if we don’t consider things while we think of doing them, we should at least consider them when the mind has made contact with one matter or another, and trouble arises as a result. But usually we don’t see the harm of our own recklessness, and this is why we never learn. So we keep thinking and acting in our old ways repeatedly, and the results are thus unceasing stress.

We shouldn’t guess, we shouldn’t anticipate what the practice will be like. Where is heaven? Don’t guess about it. Where are the Brahmā worlds? Don’t waste your time anticipating. Where is stress? Its cause? Its cessation? The path? Don’t anticipate their being anywhere outside the body and mind that are in contact with each other and with these various things at all times. Focus right here, so as to see the truth in line with the principles of the Dhamma.

You’ll know what’s outside; you’ll know what’s inside. Especially when you know what’s inside, that’s when you’ll gain insight into everything that exists, in line with your temperament and abilities, without your anticipating it. The mind will simply know of its own accord. Your basic problem is that you don’t yet know yourself inside and simply want to know what’s outside. This will only make you agitated and confused, without serving any purpose.

If you want to gather matters into yourself so as to see the truth, then: What is hell? And where is it? If you want to know hell, then go ahead. Where is it? Where is the suffering that the defilements dig up, the suffering they produce in ascending stages? If it doesn’t lie in the body and mind, where does it lie? If, when you let yourself fall into hell and the fires of hell burn you day and night, you still don’t know where hell is, then where else are you going to look for it? Bring things inward in this way so as to know the truth: the Noble Truths that lie within you. Once you know the Noble Truths, you’ll understand every pit in hell without having to ask anyone. Think of how much the Buddha and his Noble Disciples knew about hell—and yet who told them about it? How is it that they were able to know and see to the point of teaching us into the present?

‘Heaven’ is the enjoyment, the sense of exhilaration in the Dhamma, in the goodness and merit that lie within the heart, causing it to be calm and at peace. This is your ‘heavenly treasure.’ The Brahmā worlds lie with the levels of the mind. No matter which level of the Brahmā worlds you want to reach, they are all levels of the mind that indicate on their own that this mental state corresponds to this level or that and that have the characteristics of those levels. For this reason, you have to put ‘this one’—the mind—into good shape, into proper shape. Don’t go concerning yourself with anything other than this.

Every day, every night, we should probe into our own minds, together with the things that become involved with them. The important factors are the body—this is very important—and the five khandhas. These things are always making contact because they have been together with us since way back when. Things outside—sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations—sometimes subside, but the five khandhas and the heart are always together and always at issue with one another. There is no one who can decide these issues and put an end to them unless we use mindfulness and discernment as our judges to make a decision that will put the case to rest.

Normally, rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa lie right with us, with the heart. They are interconnected and interrelated to the point where no one can untangle the case and pass a verdict, because we don’t have the discernment to deliberate and decide what verdict to pass. So we simply let issues arise all the time: ‘That hurts. This aches. I’m afraid I’ll faint. I’m afraid I’ll die.’ We really are afraid—as if by fearing to the utmost, straight to the heart, we could somehow escape death.

This fear of death: We really fear it and yet we don’t know what death is, or who dies. As long as we haven’t investigated down to the ‘foundation of death,’ we’ll have to fear it all the livelong day. But once we have investigated down to the foundation of death, what is there to fear?— because nothing in the world dies. There is simply the change, the exchange of the various elements, and that’s all. Change is something we already know. The Dhamma has taught us: ‘Inconstancy’—things are always changing. ‘Stress’—where is there if not right here? ‘Not-self’—this already tells us—what is there of any substance, that’s ‘us’ or ‘them’? The Dhamma tells us with every word, every phrase, and yet we prefer to fly in the face of the Dhamma. We want that to be us, we want this to be ours. This wanting is an affair of defilement: That’s not us, it’s simply defilement from head to toe—or isn’t it?

If it were to become our self as we say it is, wouldn’t it be a heap as big as a mountain? If every defilement of every sort were to be gathered together, who knows how many millions of mountains they’d be? We wouldn’t be able to carry them at all. What we already have is more than we can handle! So we should investigate these things to see them clearly and then cut them away, one mountain at a time. Otherwise we’ll be unable to walk, because we’ll be full of the mountains of every person’s every sort of defilement, and of every sort of suffering that defilement has created to be borne on top of the heart for such a long, long time. We should learn our lessons, in line with what the Dhamma has taught us, so that we will have some place to put down our burden of suffering.

Feelings—these characters: These are our enemies. All they offer us are feelings of pain or distress arising in the mind—sometimes on their own, with no connection to the body. The body may be perfectly normal, but because of our preoccupations, feelings of pain can manage to arise in the mind. If we think of something that stabs at the heart, a feeling of pain or distress arises. If we think in a way that will extricate us, a feeling of pleasure arises. When the mind rests and stays neutral within itself, that’s a feeling of equanimity. See? We can clearly see them like this—if we reflect so as to see them. If we aren’t observant, if we don’t investigate them, we won’t see them to our dying day. We will simply die in vain. Don’t go thinking that we can gain knowledge and insight, and free ourselves of suffering, without making an effort to strive and investigate. Many, many living beings have died in failure because of their complacency.

In investigating, don’t set up any anticipations that you would like to have your different feelings disappear. That would only be increasing the cause of stress. Simply look inside the feeling itself when it arises. Use your mindfulness and discernment to contemplate without let-up. Investigate until you understand.

Saññā: This is very important. Normally, saññā is something very important. When pain arises, the pain is important, but pain doesn’t arise all the time. As for saññā, it keeps right on labeling. This is very important, very subtle, very delicate and refined. It’s deceptive, which is why it has us deceived.

Saṅkhāra is what hands things over to saññā, which elaborates on them to the point where they become endless and unstoppable unless we use mindfulness and discernment to act as a block.

Viññāṇa is what takes note.

As for saññā—labeling and interpreting—it has a big job to do, running around stirring up all kinds of trouble throughout the body. Saññā is what hoodwinks the heart, making it fall for labels until it can’t see the harm they wreak in the five khandhas. Saññā is the primary culprit. Meditation circles are well aware of it, which is why they warn us.

When the mind has things like this burying it, obstructing it, and coercing it, it can’t display even the least little bit of ingenious strategy, because they have it overpowered. For this reason, we have to force the mind to investigate and unravel its various preoccupations so that it can see its way clear. Its various labels and interpretations are gradually peeled off or removed, step by step. Mindfulness and discernment are then freed to think and develop more of their own strength. When we reach the stage where mindfulness and discernment come out to investigate, nothing can stay hidden. Mindfulness and discernment will probe into everything, into every nook and cranny, understanding continually more and more—engrossed in their contemplations and explorations, engrossed in the results that keep appearing—because to probe with discernment is a direct way of cutting defilement away so that we see results, step by step, without pause.

Concentration is simply a tactic for herding the various defilements into one focal point so that we can rectify or destroy them more easily. To put it simply, concentration is strength for discernment. When the mind gathers in the levels of concentration, it is content to work from various angles in the area of mindfulness and discernment. When it’s working, the results of its work appear. The defilements fall away one after another. The heart becomes engrossed in the results of its work and investigates even more, never having its fill, like spring water flowing continually throughout the rainy season.

So focus right here. Don’t go anywhere else. The Noble Truths are right here in the body and heart. Ultimately, they come down solely to the heart. Probe down into the heart. How is it that we don’t know? Where did the Buddha know? He knew right here in the area of these four Noble Truths. He knew in the area of these four foundations of mindfulness, which lie in the bodies and hearts of us all. The Buddha knew right here and he taught right here. So investigate to see clearly right here. Defilement, the paths, the fruitions, and nibbāna lie right here. Don’t imagine them to be anywhere else. You’ll simply be pouncing on shadows outside of yourself and grasping fistfuls of water, without ever meeting with the real Dhamma.

In focusing your investigation when a feeling arises in the mind—as for feelings in the body, we’ve discussed them at great length already—when a feeling of stress or pain, such as a mood of distress, arises within the mind, focus on that feeling of distress. Take that feeling of distress as the target of your watchfulness and investigation. Keep alert to it. Don’t set up any desires for it to vanish once it has appeared in the mind. Make yourself aware that the feeling of distress arising in the mind has to have a cause. It can’t just come floating in without a cause. If you don’t know its cause, focus on the result—the distress itself—as the heart’s preoccupation. Keep aware right at the heart. Focus on contemplating and unraveling the feeling of distress right there. Don’t let go of that feeling to go looking or investigating elsewhere. Otherwise you will make the mind waver, without ever being able to establish a foothold and it will become shiftless and irresolute.

However long that distress will have to last, keep looking at it to see if it’s really constant, solid, and lasting. Your mind is something more lasting than the feeling, so why won’t it be able to investigate it? The feeling arises only for a period and then vanishes when its time is up, when it no longer has any supporting conditions. Since the mind by its nature is something that knows, then even though a feeling of distress arises, it still knows. Whether there is a little distress or a lot, it knows—so why won’t it be able to investigate the distress? It has to endure the distress, because the mind is already a fighter and an endurer.

So. However great or little the distress, fix your attention on that spot. Don’t set up any desires for it to disappear. Simply know the truth of the feeling as it arises and changes. Know right there and know its every phase, heavy or light, great or little, until it finally disappears.

And when the feeling of distress dissolves away from the heart through your focused investigation, know what feeling arises in its place. Keep knowing step by step. Only then can you be called an investigator. Don’t hold fast to any feelings—whether of pleasure or of equanimity. Know that they too are feelings and are individual conditions, separate from the mind—and so they can change. This one comes in, that one dissolves away, this one takes its place: They keep at it like this, in line with the common nature of feelings, because the seeds are constantly in the heart, enabling these three kinds of feelings to appear. Once the mind has absolutely no more seeds of any sort, no feelings or moods of any sort will appear in the mind at all, aside from ‘paramaṁ sukhaṁ’—the ultimate ease that’s part of the nature of a pure heart. This doesn’t count as a feeling. When the Buddha says, ‘nibbānaṁ paramaṁ sukhaṁ’—nibbāna is the ultimate ease—that’s not a feeling of ease, stress, or equanimity, and so it’s not subject to arising and disappearing.

When focusing your investigation on all three of these feelings, take the feelings themselves as your battleground. Focus on watching them carefully and in full detail. Keep watching each one as long as it hasn’t yet disappeared. Watch it again. Keep watching until you know its truth. Whether or not it disappears isn’t important. What’s important is that you know the truth of this feeling—the one appearing in the present. This is called contemplating feeling as a foundation of mindfulness.

Usually this refers to feelings of distress or pain, because these are the ones that are most striking and unsettling to the heart. As for feelings of pleasure, they’re a way-station for the mind. You could say that they help us, or that they are the results that come from investigating feelings of distress until the distress disappears and pleasure appears. This is one of the results that comes from investigating feelings of distress or pain.

As for whether or not we should do away with feelings of pleasure, as far as I’ve noticed I’ve never seen them being eliminated. Feelings of pain or distress are the important ones within the mind. They arise from the seeds of defilement. Once these seeds are lessened step by step, the feelings of mental pain become more and more refined, more and more refined. They gradually fade away until they disappear without leaving a trace in the mind, because the seeds are gone.

When these seeds are gone, that type of pleasurable feeling also disappears. It disappears because it relies on those seeds to arise. Thus we can say that the feelings of pleasure that arise in the heart from practice, or from the basis of the mind—the stillness of the mind, the radiance of the mind—qualify as ‘vihāra-dhamma,’ dwelling places for the mind, way-stations for the mind on its journey. Or we could say that they’re the results that come from investigating feelings of pain. Whether or not we investigate this pleasure is not as important as investigating feelings of pain and their causes—which are very important, because they are in a direct sense the origin of stress. They give rise to stress as their direct result.

In the context of the four Noble Truths, the Buddha teaches us to diagnose stress, but why doesn’t he teach us to diagnose pleasure? What does pleasure come from? He doesn’t say—because it arises from the path doing its duty until the cause of stress disintegrates and pleasure arises in its stead.

Now when the stress that’s part and parcel of defilement disappears, this type of pleasure disappears as well, but another kind of pleasure or ease appears along with the heart that has been purified—and this doesn’t disappear with anything at all.

Now as for concentration: When you’re going to make the mind still, you really have to make it stay with its theme of tranquility meditation. Don’t go concerning yourself with the topics you’ve been investigating, because the mind has to rest. You can’t not let it rest. When the time comes to rest, it needs rest. No matter how great the results and accomplishments you get from your practice of investigation, the heart can still grow tired and weary. Your work—your thinking and pondering in the area of discernment or whatever—is all work for the mind. When the mind has been thinking, pondering, and investigating for a long time, it can grow weary and so it has to rest. When the time comes to rest, you shouldn’t involve yourself with any work at all. Set your mind solely on performing your duties for the sake of mental stillness. This is called working without overstepping your boundaries; without being worried about what went before or will come after; without overflowing your banks. The heart will then have the strength to continue its work with clear insight and discernment.

When you want stillness of mind so as to provide strength for discernment, you should set your mind on the theme that will make the mind still and then stick right with it until the mind is still, right then and there. Once the mind has been still long enough to gain strength, you can then withdraw from that stillness. Now you start probing. You don’t have to concern yourself with stillness. Your duty is to investigate step by step. This is called the correct way—the appropriate way, the uniform way—to follow the path of tranquility and insight all the way to the goal.

All of these are problems I’ve been through myself. When I would get engrossed in something, I’d be so stuck that I’d get addicted and heedless. I’d get addicted to the stillness, the sense of comfort and ease in concentration. When I’d get engrossed in investigating, I’d be so engrossed that I’d forget myself and wouldn’t let the mind rest at all. Neither of these ways is correct. In other words, neither is in keeping with what is just right.

The right way is that when the mind feels tired and weary from its work, we have to let it rest in stillness. When the time comes to investigate, we have to investigate. We can’t worry about anything else. We have to set our mind on our duties, step by step, in keeping with the job at hand. This is always the appropriate way to proceed with tranquility and insight.

There is no job in the world bigger than the job of removing defilement, of removing oneself from the cycle of wheeling around from birth to death for countless lifetimes. When we think about it, it’s really dismaying—circling around from birth to death, carrying a load of nothing but suffering and stress. No matter what the level, the only difference is that the stress is less or more, because all levels have stress inasmuch as they contain the defilements that give rise to stress. So how can they not have stress? All living beings have to suffer stress. The Buddha thus taught us to rid ourselves of all defilement until there is nothing left hidden in the mind. Let there simply be the ‘pure meat.’ Don’t let there be any bones, or they’ll be bad for your health.

Defilements, no matter what the sort, need to be cleansed away, peeled away until nothing is left. This is why it’s called a very big job. There are times when we have to give it our all—all our skill, all our mindfulness and discernment, even our life—to an extent that we will never forget.

‘So. If we’re going to die, then let’s die. If not, then let’s know it.’ That’s all there is. There can be nothing else. This is when the mind is its own mainstay. Attā hi attano nātho: It can take care of itself. In other words, we leave it to the mind’s own strength. When the mind is whirling in for the sake of the realm beyond suffering, as if nibbāna were always just coming into reach; while what’s behind us keeps pressing in, and we realize more and more its danger and harm, there’s only one way to escape the Great Danger:

‘If we’re going to die, then let’s die. If not, then let’s know the Dhamma.’ Wherever we are, we don’t want to stay. Wherever we’re stuck, we don’t want to be stuck. It’s a waste of our time in gaining release from suffering. We’ve simply got to reach release from suffering. This is the only thing that can satisfy such a mind at such times. When the mind is this way, where is it going to find any weakness or laziness? If things get tough, we fight. If they’re easy, we fight. If we’re going to die, we still fight until we have no more breath to breathe—and that’s when the mind finally stays put. It can’t possibly be moved. Once it knows and reaches the goal, it stays put on its own. No matter where you chase it, it won’t go.

Discernment—which has been spinning itself in circles even more than a wheel—when the time comes, stops on its own. It simply runs out of duties of its own accord, without our having to turn it off, the way we do with motors. This automatic mindfulness and discernment simply stops or turns off on its own—because it already knows, so what else is there to investigate? It has already let go, so what else is there to let go? It already knows, so what else is there to know? It has had enough, so where else is it going to look for enough? It knows all of this within itself. It knows in an instant and is released. In other words, it knows for the last time. This is where the big job is finished. The job is big, and the results are enormous. Nothing in any of the three worlds can compare.

The results of this big job, this heavy job, you know, excel the world—and how could we say that ultimate ease doesn’t excel the world? When excellence stands out, filling the heart, it’s far different from defilement standing out, filling the heart. Whoever wants to know has to practice for him or herself. No one else can do it for us. When we reach the level of excellence, we excel exclusively within, without disturbing anyone else.

This Dhamma is always timeless (akāliko). It has been the guarantor of the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna from the time of the Buddha to the present. No one will ever be able to erase it. The Buddha excelled the world because of this Dhamma. The arahant disciples whom we revere as our refuge all excelled because of this Dhamma of purity—and because of this heavy job. When our Teacher has led us to proceed in this way, what business do we have shilly-shallying around? We can’t act only in line with our preferences, because our Teacher didn’t lead us in that way.

Our foremost Teacher was a genius, an utterly genuine person, unequaled by anyone. But we’re a bunch of show-offs, doing only what our Teacher criticized, and so we keep meeting only with things worth criticizing. Don’t we ever think of changing, or do we feel we’re being stylish and up-to-date?

Actually, the path to cure defilement has to be difficult. The path to accumulate defilement is easy—because our preferences fool us into thinking it’s easy. (Notice: They fool us into thinking it’s easy.) Actually, both paths are hard. Whatever the job, the important point is which job we prefer. We’ll see that job as easy. Light. Comfortable.

At first, when we were starting out with the job of curing defilement, we weren’t getting anywhere at all. Even though we were set on curing defilement, the work was heavy and we were weak and lazy. Everything bad and worthless was gathered right there. But now that we gradually come to comprehend causes and effects, and to understand the Dhamma, the results have begun to appear. Where has our laziness gone? All that’s left is diligence and persistence. We can contend with anything, heavy or light—we can contend with death—because we have begun seeing results. Even though we have been curing defilement all along, the difference is that at one stage we don’t see results, and at another we do—and persistence really arises.

So. If things get heavy, we fight. We’re disciples of the Tathāgata and so we have to follow in our Teacher’s footsteps. Our Teacher met with difficulties, so his disciples will have to meet with difficulties. Our Teacher passed out two or three times. Is there anyone among us who has passed out from the effort of the practice? I don’t see anyone who has. So why are we afraid of dying when we’ve never even passed out? How can we be so stubborn in our fear of death? The Lord Buddha lost consciousness three or four times. What do we have to say to that? When we lose consciousness, it’s because we are falling asleep. Why aren’t we afraid of dying then? So why are we afraid of dying when we practice meditation? Exactly what dies?

When we have explored and seen the truth, we won’t fear death—because nothing in the world dies. All there is, is the mind making its assumptions. It deceives itself—‘I’m afraid of dying, I’m afraid of dying’—but when it knows the truth of everything of every sort, it’s not afraid. It’s not afraid of death. It’s not afraid of birth—because it has nothing left to be born. So what is there to fear? Why bother with these empty, hollow fears? The mind is now released from birth, so why be afraid of birth? There are no more seeds for the birth of a body, a man, or a woman. There is nothing to fear, nothing to be brave about. The mind is even with itself—uniform, unchanging—not ‘even’ in the ordinary sense of ‘coming out even.’ It’s ‘even’ in the sense of a mind that has reached sufficiency: ‘even’ in its excellence.

Here I’ve been talking about a heavy task, but also about the results as a means of encouragement, as a means of giving the mind something to hold to. The results are superlative, in keeping with the difficulties and hardships of the practice. What do we want in our lives? We all want what is good. Even in external things we want what is good, so especially in the area of the Dhamma, why shouldn’t we want what is good?

Then step up your efforts. What does it matter if the cemeteries cry because they miss you? You have been crying over the cemeteries, so what’s wrong with letting the cemeteries cry in turn? They have no more hopes now. You aren’t coming back to be born or die. The cemeteries’ being without hope is better than your being without hope, because there’s nothing good about birth and death, circling around, back and forth, with nothing but suffering and stress every lifetime.

So work out solutions—and make them succeed. Whatever things are thorns in the heart, use mindfulness and discernment to explore, to probe on down and remove them completely so that they’re all gone. Once they’re all gone, that’s the result of your work. We’ve talked about how hard the work is: What are the results like? Are they worth it? Find out for yourself—and then you are free to live wherever you like. The Buddha says,

vusitaṁ brahmacariyaṁ:

‘The holy life is fulfilled, the task of the religion is done.’ This is now completely apparent in every way. Whatever is stressful is a matter of defilement. When the cause—defilement—is ended, the result—stress—is ended as well. That’s all there is. From then on there is nothing but ultimate ease, which nothing will ever again come to disturb throughout eternity.