An Heir to the Dhamma
A talk given to the monks at Wat Pa Baan Taad.
The ordinary mind—no matter whose—when it doesn’t yet have any standards and meets up with things that drag it here and there in the wrong directions, will tend to go rolling after those preoccupations without let-up, to the point where it can’t find any foundation for sustaining its peace and calm. In terms of the Dhamma, these preoccupations are called defilements.
We can see them when we begin to practice: The mind stumbles and crawls along, not at all willing to follow the Dhamma, because the defilements are strong. This is something I haven’t forgotten, from the time I first set out to practice up until now, because it’s a truth that lies embedded in the heart. How could I forget?
From the very start of my practice, I was really in earnest—because that’s the sort of person I was. I wouldn’t just play around. Wherever I would take my stance, that’s how it would have to be. When I set out to practice, I had only one book—the Pāṭimokkha—in my shoulder bag. Now I was going for the full path and the full results. I was going to give it my all—give it my life. I wasn’t going to hope for anything else. I was going to hope for nothing but release from suffering. I was sure that I would attain release from suffering in this lifetime. All I asked was that there be someone who could show me that the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna were for real. I would give my life to that person and to the Dhamma through the practice, without holding anything back. If I was to die, I’d die with the practice. I wouldn’t die with retreat. My heart was set like a stone post.
The first rains after I had set out to practice, I spent in Cakkaraad District, Korat Province, because I hadn’t been able to catch up with Venerable Ācariya Mun. I began accelerating my efforts as soon as I got there, and it wasn’t long before my mind attained stillness, because I was practicing both day and night. I wasn’t willing to do any other work aside from the work of concentration practice—sitting and walking meditation—in my own stumbling and crawling way. My mind was able to quiet down, so I really accelerated my efforts; but then, as I’ve told you before, it regressed when I was making a klod.1 Up to that point, I was no mean hand at concentration. It was really solid. I was sure that the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna were for real, because the mind was really solid. It wasn’t affected by anything at all. But even then it still managed to regress just because I made a single klod.
When I reached Venerable Ācariya Mun, he taught me the Dhamma as if it came straight out of his heart. He would never use the words, ‘It seems to be…,’ because it really came right out of his heart—how he had practiced, what he had known and seen. It was as if he kept saying, ‘Right here. Right here.’ So did he see or didn’t he? Did he know or didn’t he? ‘Right here.’ Where were the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna? ‘Right here. Right here.’ My mind was convinced, really convinced. From that point on I made a resolution: As long as he was still alive, I wouldn’t leave him until either he died or I did. As for going off from time to time to practice on my own, I’d ask to do that as a matter of course, but I’d take him as my base, as if my home were with him. No matter where I’d go, I’d have to return to him. So then I stepped up my efforts full speed.
That dream I had—I’ll never forget it. I’ve told you all this dream before, but it had such an impact on me that it bears telling again. I had come to stay with him and made my resolution with full conviction, with complete faith in him. There was no point on which you could fault him. Whatever he did, inwardly or outwardly, was right in line with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya. There was nothing roundabout or evasive about him. That was why I had made up my mind to stay with him. If he were alive today, I still wouldn’t leave him. I’d have to stay with him, although as a matter of course I’d still go here or there from time to time, as I had told myself.
It was only around the fourth or fifth night after I had gone to stay with him… this dream, you know, was really amazing. I dreamed that I was fully robed, carrying my bowl and klod, following an overgrown trail through the jungle. There were no side paths on either side. Both sides were full of thorns and brambles. All I could do was to keep trying to follow the trail, which was just barely a path, all overgrown, just enough to give a hint of where to go.
Finally I reached a point where a thick clump of bamboo had fallen across the trail. I couldn’t see which way to go. There was no way around it on either side. How was I going to get past it? I peered here and there until finally I saw an opening—a tiny opening, right along the path, just enough for me to force my way through together with my bowl.
Since there was no other way, I removed my outer robe—that’s how clear the dream was, as if I weren’t dreaming at all—I removed my outer robe and folded it away, just as we keep our robes folded here. I removed my bowl strap from my shoulder and crawled through the opening, dragging my bowl by its strap and pulling my klod just within reach behind me. I was able to force my way through, dragging my bowl, my klod and my robe behind me, but it was really difficult. I kept at it for a long time until finally I worked my way free. I pulled my bowl, and my bowl came free. I pulled my klod, and my klod came free. I pulled my robe, and my robe came free. As soon as I was entirely free, I put on my robe again—that’s how clear the dream was—I put on my robe, slung my bowl over my shoulder, and told myself, ‘Now I can go on.’ I kept following that trail–it was really overgrown—for about another 40 meters, wearing my robe, carrying my bowl and klod.
Looking ahead, there was wide open space. In front of me was the ocean. Looking across, there was no further shore. All I could see was the shore on which I was standing and a tiny island, way out in the distance, a black speck on the edge of the horizon. I was going to that island. As soon as I walked down to the water’s edge, a boat—I don’t know where it came from and I didn’t notice whether it was a speedboat or a rowboat or whatever—a boat came up to the shore and I got in. The boatsman didn’t say anything to me. As soon as I sat down in the boat and got my bowl and other things in, the boat sped out to the island, without my having to say a word. I don’t know how it happened. It kept speeding, speeding out to the island. There didn’t seem to be any dangers or waves or anything at all. We went silently and in no time at all we arrived—because, after all, it was a dream.
As soon as I reached the island, I got my things out of the boat and went ashore. The boat disappeared completely, without my saying even a word to the boatsman. I slung my bowl over my shoulder and climbed up the island. I kept climbing until I saw Venerable Ācariya Mun sitting on a small bench, pounding his betel nut and watching me climb up towards him. ‘Mahā,’ he said, ‘how did you get here? Since when has anyone come that way? How were you able to make it here?’
‘I came by boat.’
‘Oho. That trail is really difficult. Nobody dares risk his life coming that way. Very well then, now that you’re here, pound my betel for me.’ He handed me his betel pounder, and so I pounded away—chock, chock, chock. After the second or third chock, I woke up. I felt really disappointed. I wished I could have continued with the dream to see at least how it ended.
That morning I went to tell my dream to Venerable Ācariya Mun. He interpreted it very well. ‘This dream, you know,’ he said, ‘is very auspicious. It shows the pattern for your practice without any deviations. Follow the practice in the way that you’ve dreamed. In the beginning, it’ll be extremely difficult.’ That’s what he said. ‘You have to give it your best. Don’t retreat. The beginning will be difficult. The part where you made it through the clump of bamboo: That’s the difficult part. So give it your best. Don’t you ever retreat. Once you get past that, it’s all wide open. You’ll get to the island without any trouble. That’s not the hard point. The hard point is right here.’
I listened to him, really listened to him, and it went straight to the heart. ‘Even if it kills you, don’t retreat at this point. Here at the beginning is the hardest part—where the mind advances and regresses. This part is so hard that you’ll want to go smash your head against that mountain over there out of frustration. The mind advances and regresses, over and over again. Once you get past this point, though, you’ll make progress easily, without any obstacles at all. That’s all there is to it. Give it your best at the beginning and don’t retreat. Understand?’ That’s what he said. ‘If you retreat here, you won’t get anywhere. So give it your life. Strike your way through right here. After all, your vision says you can make it. No matter how difficult it gets, you can make it. So don’t retreat.’
I remembered his words and took them to heart—happy and pleased. I kept practicing until that following April in line with what he had said. The mind had regressed ever since December the previous year until December of that year and then on into April. It still hadn’t advanced. It would advance to full strength and then deteriorate, again and again, for a year. It wasn’t until April that I found a new approach, focusing on my meditation theme in a new way so that it was really solid. From that point on I was able to sit in meditation all night long. The mind was able to settle down in full measure, which is why I accelerated my efforts from then on. Speaking of the difficulty, that’s how difficult it really was for me.
From there on in, the mind was centered and never regressed. The way it had regressed before was an excellent teacher. I’d absolutely refuse to let it regress again: That was how I felt. If it regressed again, I’d die. I couldn’t stand to stay in the world bearing the mass of suffering that would come if it regressed again, because I had already been through it once—more than a year of the most acute suffering. There’s no suffering that burns more than the suffering that comes when the mind regresses. If it were to regress again, it’d kill me, which was why I was really meticulous in keeping watch over myself from then on. I wouldn’t let the mind regress, and so it kept on progressing.
The first time I saw the marvelousness of the mind was when I began sitting in meditation all night—right from the very first night. I was investigating pain, and was it ever severe! At first I hadn’t planned on sitting until dawn, you know. I was simply sitting along, and the pain began to grow. No matter how I contemplated it, I didn’t get anywhere at all. ‘Eh. What is this? Okay, if I’m going to die today, let me die.’ So I made resolution in that moment: ‘From this moment on, I won’t get up until dawn. So. If I survive, so be it. If not, so be it.’
I struck right into the pain, to the point where the mind, which had never examined anything in that way… Discernment had never moved into action that way, you know, but when it was really cornered, at the end of its rope, discernment stirred itself into action, keeping up with events from every angle until it was fully alert to the pain, alert to the body, and understood the affairs of the mind. Each was a separate reality. They then split away from one another and disappeared completely, even though nothing like that had ever happened to me before. The body disappeared from my sense of awareness. The pain completely vanished. All that was left was an awareness that was simply aware. It wasn’t the sort of outstanding awareness we might imagine it to be. It was just simple awareness, but very subtle, very refined, and very amazing in that moment.
When I retreated from that state, I renewed my investigation, but when I used the strategies I had used before, I didn’t get any results, because they were now allusions to the past. I had to come up with new strategies to keep up with the events of the moment. The mind then settled down again. That night, it settled down three times, and then dawn came. Was I ever amazed at myself!
That morning when I got the chance, I went to tell Venerable Ācariya Mun. Normally, I’d be very intimidated by him, but that morning I wasn’t intimidated at all. I wanted to tell him the truth, so that he could see the results of my being true—how I had practiced so that things had occurred that way. I spoke with audacity, even though I had never spoken that way with him before. I really told it to him straight—crash! bang!—and after he had listened, he said, ‘That’s the way it’s got to be.’ That’s just what he said! He really let me have it. He explained things to my complete satisfaction. It was as if I were a dog: As soon as he praised and spurred me on, this stupid dog I was, was all raring to bark and bite.
After one or two more days, I sat up in meditation all night again. After another two or three more days, I did it again, until the mind was thoroughly amazed. The affairs of death, you know, disappear when the mind really knows. When you separate the elements (dhātu) and khandhas to look at life and death, the four elements of earth, water, wind, and fire dissolve down into their original properties as earth, water, wind, and fire. Space returns to its original property as space. The mind that used to fear death becomes even more prominent. So what is there to die? When it knows so prominently in this way, how can it die? The mind doesn’t die. So what does it fear? We’ve been lied to. The world of defilements has been lying to us. (‘Lying,’ here, means that defilement has lied to the living beings of the world, making them fear death, even though actually nothing dies.)
When I’d investigate one day, I’d get one approach; another day, I’d get another approach, but they were all hard-hitting and amazing. The mind was more and more amazing and brave, to the point where I felt, ‘When the time comes to die, what sort of pain do they think they’re going to bring out to fool me? Every facet of today’s pain is complete in every way. Beyond this, there’s simply death. I’ve seen all these pains, understood them all, and dealt with them all. So when the time comes to die, what sort of pain are they going to bring out to deceive me? There’s no way they can deceive me. The pain will have to be just this sort of pain. As for death, nothing dies. So what is there to fear aside from the defilements that lie to us, making us fall for their fake tricks and deceits? From this point on, I’ll never fall for their tricks again.’
That’s the way the mind is when it knows, and it knew clearly right from the very first night. As for the mental state that had progressed and regressed, up to that first night it hadn’t regressed. Beginning that previous April, it hadn’t regressed but it still wasn’t clear. That first night, though, it became clear: ‘Oh. This is how it’s supposed to be, the mind that doesn’t regress.’ It was as if it had been climbing up and falling down, climbing up and falling down, until finally it climbed up and grabbed hold tight, 100 per cent sure that it wouldn’t regress. This was why I stepped up my efforts full speed.
During that Rains Retreat (vassa), I sat up all night in meditation nine or ten times, but never two nights in a row. Sometimes I’d skip two or three nights, sometimes six or seven. I got to the point where I was completely sure about pain—heavy or light, big or small. I understood how to deal with pain, how to sidestep it, how to cure it right in time, without being shaken by it. I wasn’t even afraid of death, because I had investigated it with the most completely adroit strategies. Mindfulness and discernment were completely up on death in every way.
Speaking of effort in the practice, my tenth rains—beginning from the April after my ninth rains—was when I made the most all-out effort. In all my life, I have never made a more vigorous effort, in terms of the body, than I did during my tenth rains. The mind went all out, and so did the body. From that point on, I kept making progress until the mind was like rock. In other words, I was skilled enough in the solidity and stability of my concentration that the mind was like a slab of rock. It couldn’t easily be affected by anything at all—and then I was stuck on that concentration for five full years.
Once I was able to get past that concentration, thanks to the hard-hitting Dhamma of Venerable Ācariya Mun, I set out to investigate. When I began to investigate with discernment, things went quickly and easily because my concentration was fully prepared. It was as if all the materials for building a house were right at hand, but I hadn’t yet put them together into a house, and so they were just useless pieces of wood. My concentration simply stopped at concentration that way. When I didn’t put it together into mindfulness and discernment, it couldn’t support anything at all, which is why I had to set out investigating in the way with which Venerable Ācariya Mun hit me over the head.
As soon as he hit me, I set out; and no sooner had I set out than I began to know what was what. I was able to kill off that defilement, cut this one down, step by step. I began to wake up: ‘Here I’ve been lying in concentration as if I were dead—for all these months, all these years—and it hasn’t accomplished a thing!’ So now I stepped up my efforts at discernment, making it spin day and night without anything to put a brake on it at all.
But, you know, I’m the sort of person who goes to extremes. Whatever tack I set out on, that’s the only tack I take. When I began following the path of discernment, I started criticizing concentration as being like lying down dead. Actually, concentration is a means for resting the mind. If you practice just right, that’s the way it is. But instead, I criticized concentration as being like lying down dead. ‘All these years, and it hasn’t given rise to discernment.’
So I stepped up my efforts at discernment, beginning first with the body. When I contemplated unattractiveness, it was remarkable, you know. Really remarkable. The mind, when it contemplated, was adroit and audacious. I could perceive right through whatever I looked at—man, woman, no matter how young. To tell you frankly how really audacious the mind was (and here I have to ask the forgiveness of both the men and women involved if it’s wrong to speak too frankly), it wouldn’t have to be a question of old women, you know. If the gathering was full of young women, I could march right in without any sign of lust appearing at all. That’s how daring the mind was because of its contemplation of unattractiveness.
Looking at a person, there would just be the bones wrapped up in skin, nothing but flesh all glaring and red. So where could I see any beauty? The power of the unattractiveness was really strong. No matter whose body I looked at, that’s how I’d perceive it. So where would there be any beauty to make me feel desire? This was why I’d dare march right in… really beautiful young women, you know. (I’ll have to keep asking forgiveness until I’ve finished with this ‘forest madness.’) I could march right in with no trouble at all when I felt daring like this, because I was sure of my strength.
But this daring wasn’t right, in terms of the point at which the mind really had its fill of lust, which is why I criticized myself afterwards, after the mind had passed this point. This daring was a kind of madness, but while I was following the path, it was right, because that was how I had to follow it through. This is like criticizing food after you’ve eaten your fill. Right or wrong, it’s the same sort of thing.
I contemplated unattractiveness until no physical desire appeared at all. It gradually faded away, all on its own, without giving any reason at any specific time or place. It didn’t give me any assurance that lust or passion for the male or female body had disappeared at this or that point in time and place, so I had to deliberate again. I wouldn’t go along with this simple fading away on its own. That is, my mind wouldn’t accept it. If lust had been wiped out at any particular point, there should have been some sort of indication, so that I could know clearly that it was all gone for this or that reason, at this or that moment, this or that place. It should have had its moment.
So now the mind had to back up and contemplate to find various approaches to remedy the situation. If it were really all gone, why hadn’t there been a clear indication that it had been wiped out at this or that moment? As soon as I saw a person’s body, I would perceive right through it. There would be nothing but flesh and bones in that body. It wouldn’t be a beautiful woman or a beautiful person or anything, because the power of my contemplation of unattractiveness was so strong that I’d perceive everyone as a pile of bones. What would there be to make the mind feel attraction or desire when it’s in a state like that?
I now had to turn around and take a new approach. If physical desire had ended without leaving a trace at a particular moment, using a particular strategy, why hadn’t there been a clear indication? I turned around and contemplated another way. I brought attractiveness in to force out the unattractiveness—the pile of bones—covering it with skin to make it beautiful. I had to force the mind, you know. Otherwise it would immediately break through to unattractiveness, because it was so adept that way. I forced the mind to visualize the bones covered with skin so that they’d be beautiful, and then had that beautiful body cling right to mine. That was how I contemplated. I’d do walking meditation visualizing the beauty of that body clinging to mine, clinging right to mine as I walked back and forth. So. How much time would it take? If there was any desire still left, it would have to show. If not, then let me know that it was gone.
I practiced this way for four full days without any physical attraction or desire appearing at all. Even though it was an extremely beautiful body, nothing appeared. The image kept trying to change into a pile of bones wrapped in skin, but I forced the mind to stay just at the skin level.
The fourth night, tears began to flow. ‘I’ve had enough. I give in.’ In other words, the mind wasn’t feeling any pleasure. It said that it had had enough, so I tested it again: ‘Enough of what? If you admit that there’s no more desire, then let me know. I won’t accept your giving in like this. To give in like this is just a ruse. I won’t go along with it.’
I kept on contemplating every facet to find which facet would make the mind feel desire, to see at which moment the desire would arise, so that I could then take whatever might appear and focus on it as the object to be contemplated and uprooted. The night got later and later, and I kept on focusing in—but I wasn’t focused on contemplating unattractiveness at that point. I was contemplating nothing but attractiveness for those entire four days, because I was determined to find an approach to test and learn the truth of the situation.
After about 9 or 10 p.m. the night of the fourth day, there was a flickering, as if the mind was going to feel lust for that beautiful body that had been clinging to me constantly during that period. It was a peculiar sort of flickering. Mindfulness was alert to it, because mindfulness was there all the time. As soon as the flickering appeared, I kept encouraging it. ‘See that flickering? We’ve caught the criminal who has been in hiding. See? So how can it be gone? If it’s gone, why does it have to behave like this?’ I focused in on it. That flickering was simply a condition of the mind that appeared only slightly, with no effect on the body at all. It was inside the mind. When I encouraged it, it would flicker again, which proved that it wasn’t all gone.
So now that it wasn’t all gone, what was I supposed to do?
I now had to take a new approach, by alternating my tactics. Since this was a path I had never taken before, something I had never known before, it was very difficult to proceed. As soon as I’d focus on unattractiveness, attractiveness would vanish in the flash of an eye. It would vanish extremely fast because I was already adept at unattractiveness. As soon as I’d focus on unattractiveness, the body would turn immediately into a pile of bones, so I would have to focus on attractiveness to make it beautiful again. I kept changing back and forth between the two this way. This took a long time because it was a path I had never trod. I didn’t understand, so I had to try out different methods until I could be sure and settle on one path or another.
I finally came to the truth when I was sitting visualizing an image of unattractiveness right in front of me. The mind focused on unattractiveness standing still right there. I wouldn’t let it move or change in any way. I had it stay right there like that. If it was an image of bones wrapped in skin or a pile of bones with the skin removed, I had it stay right there in front of me. The mind stared right at it, with mindfulness focused, waiting to learn the truth from that image of unattractiveness, to see what it would do, how this pile of unattractiveness would move or change.
However I stared at it, that’s how it would stay, because of the adeptness of the mind. If I wouldn’t have it destroy the image, it wouldn’t destroy it. I forced it not to destroy it. If I had focused on destroying it, it would have been demolished in an instant because of the speed of discernment. But I didn’t let the mind destroy it. I had it stay right there in front of me in order to exercise and experiment to find the truth of which I could be certain.
As I kept focusing in, the image of unattractiveness standing there before me was gradually sucked into the mind, absorbed into the mind, so that I finally realized that unattractiveness was a matter of the mind itself. The state of mind that had fixed on the idea of unattractiveness sucked it in—which meant that attractiveness and unattractiveness were simply a matter of the mind deceiving itself.
The mind then let go in a flash. It let go of external unattractiveness. It understood now because it had made the break. ‘This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s been simply a matter of the mind painting pictures to deceive itself, getting excited over its shadows. Those external things aren’t passion, aversion, and delusion. The mind is what has passion, aversion, and delusion.’ As soon as the mind knew this clearly, it extricated itself from external affairs and came inward. As soon as the mind would ‘blip’ outward, it knew that these inner affairs were displaying themselves. So now the image of unattractiveness appeared exclusively within the mind.
I then focused and investigated within the mind. But now it wasn’t a matter of that sort of passion. It was something very different. The affairs of worldly passion now were all gone. The mind understood clearly that things had to make the break that way. It had passed its verdict. It had understood. So now that there was the image appearing within, the mind focused within. As soon as it focused within, it knew clearly that this internal image came from the mind. When it disappeared, it disappeared here and didn’t go anywhere else. The instant after I’d focus on making it appear, it would vanish. Before I had focused on it for long, it would vanish.
After that, it was just like a lightning flash: As soon as I focused on making an image, it would vanish immediately, so there was no time to elaborate on its being attractive or anything at all, because of the speed of the arising and disappearing. The instant it would appear—blip!—it would vanish.
From that point on, there were no more images in the mind. The mind became a completely empty mind. As for external unattractiveness, that problem had already been taken care of. I had understood it from the moment it was sucked in toward the mind, and the mind had immediately let go of external unattractiveness. It let go of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, everything external—because the mind was what had been the deceiver. Once I understood this point clearly, those other things were no longer a problem. The mind had understood immediately and let go of external things once and for all.
After the internal images had all disappeared, the mind was empty. Completely empty. Whatever I focused on was completely empty. I’d look at trees, mountains, buildings, and see them simply as shades, as shadows. The major part—the mind—was empty all through. Even when I’d look at my own body, I’d see it simply as a shadow. As for the mind itself, it was empty clear through—to the point where I exclaimed to myself, ‘Is the mind really this empty?’ It was empty at all times. Nothing passed into it.
Even though it was that empty, I would form mental pictures as a way of exercising it. Whatever image I’d form would be a means of exercising the mind to make it even more adept at emptiness, to the point where after a single blip it’d be empty—a single blip and it’d be empty. The moment anything was formed—blip!—it’d be empty right then.
At this point—the point where the mind was empty in full measure—this awareness was also prominent in full measure. It fully comprehended rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra and viññāṇa. It fully let go of them on its own, without anything left. All that was left was awareness. There was a feeling of relatedness and intimacy, a very subtle sensitivity for this awareness that is hard to describe in line with its reality. There was a feeling of absorption exclusively for this awareness. Any other condition that arose would vanish in the same instant.
I kept watch over it. Mindfulness and discernment on this level: If this were the time of the Buddha, we would call them super-mindfulness and super-discernment, but in our day and age we shouldn’t reach for those labels. It’s enough for our purposes to call them automatic mindfulness and discernment. That’s appropriate enough for them. There’s no need to call them anything more exalted than that, for this doesn’t deviate at all from the truth as it exists. This is why the mind was prominent, and this prominence made it bright all the way through.
One day I was doing walking meditation on the western side of Wat Doi Dhammachedi. I had gone without food for three or four days, and that day was the lunar sabbath, so people were coming to the monastery to give alms. I went off to do walking meditation from daybreak and came back only when it was time to receive alms in front of the main hall. When I was standing in contemplation on the meditation path, an uncanny feeling of wonder arose, to the point where I exclaimed, ‘Why is it that this mind is so amazing? Whatever I look at—even the earth on which I’m treading and see clearly with my eyes—why is it that the mind, which is the major part, is completely empty? There are no trees or mountains in the mind. It’s completely empty, with nothing left. There’s nothing but emptiness filling the heart.’
I stood there contemplating for a moment, when a kind of realization appeared: ‘If there is a point or a center of the knower anywhere, that is the essence of becoming.’ That’s what it said, and I was bewildered.
Actually, the word ‘point’ referred to that point of the knower. If I had understood this problem in terms of the truth that appeared to warn me, things would have been able to disband right then and there. But instead of understanding, I was bewildered—because it was something I had never before known or seen. If there was a point, it would be the point of the knower. If there was a center, it would mean the center of the knower. Where was it? There in that knowing mind. That was the essence of a becoming. The statement that appeared in the mind already said so clearly. There was nothing at all wrong about it, but I was simply bewildered—‘What is this?’—so for the time being I didn’t get any benefit from it at all. I let more than three months pass by in vain, even though the problem was still weighing on the mind. I couldn’t set it down.
When the time came for me to know, I was contemplating just the mind—nothing wide-ranging or anything—because the mind had already known everything on the blatant level. Whatever sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations there might be throughout the cosmos, the mind had already known, understood and let go. It wasn’t interested in investigating them. It wasn’t even willing to investigate rūpa, vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, or viññāṇa at all. It was interested only in that conspicuous awareness, together with the subtle feelings within the mind.
Mindfulness and discernment kept making contact with that awareness, examining it back and forth. But you should know that the ‘point’ I referred to was still a conventional reality. No matter how magnificent it might be, it was still magnificence in the realm of convention. No matter how radiant or splendid it might be, it was still radiance and splendor in the realm of convention, because there was still unawareness (avijjā) within it.
Unawareness forms the essence of conventional reality. The point of that prominence eventually began to show its ups and downs—in keeping with the very refined level of the mind—so that I was able to catch sight of them. Sometimes it was a little tarnished, sometimes radiant, sometimes stressful, sometimes at ease, in line with the refinement of the mind on this level, enough for me to detect its irregularities.
Mindfulness and discernment on this level were very meticulous guardians of this state of mind, you know. Instead of aiming my guns—mindfulness and discernment—in on the mind, I had aimed them outside, as unawareness had deceived me into doing. This is why unawareness is said to be really cunning. There is nothing more cunning than unawareness, which is the final point.
Greed, for example, is something blatant, easy to understand and plainly harmful, and yet world is still content to feel greed. Think about it! Anger is also blatant, and yet the world is still content to feel anger. Infatuation, love, hate: All these things are blatant, easy to understand and plainly harmful, and yet the world is still content to feel them.
But this was not the same sort of thing at all. It had gone way beyond. It had let go of all those other things, but why was it still attached to this radiance, this marvel? Now that it was inside, it would become tarnished, just a little. It would display stress, just a little—which was a form of change and nothing constant or trustworthy—so that I could catch sight of it, using mindfulness and discernment that were continually focused there at all times without letup, trying to know and see how this state of mind would behave.
Ultimately, there was no escaping it: I had to see that this state of mind was nothing to be trusted, so I came to reflect, ‘Why is it that this state of mind can be so changeable? Now it’s defiled, now it’s radiant, now it’s easeful, now it’s stressful. It’s not always constant and true. Why is it that a mind as refined as this can still show such a variety of conditions?
As soon as mindfulness and discernment had turned to take an interest in investigating this state of mind, a totally unexpected realization sprang up within the mind: ‘Defilement, radiance, ease, and stress: These are all conventional realities. They’re all anattā—not-self.’
That was enough. Mindfulness and discernment realized that that state of mind immersed in unawareness was a conventional reality that should simply be let go. It shouldn’t be held to. A moment after this realization arose to warn mindfulness and discernment, which were acting as the sentinels at that moment, it was as if the mind, mindfulness, and discernment each became impartial and impassive, not stirring themselves to perform any duty at all. At that moment the mind was neutral, not focused on anything, not alluding absentmindedly to anything anywhere. Discernment didn’t do any work. Mindfulness was alert in its normal way, without being focused on anything.
That moment—when the mind, mindfulness, and discernment were each impassive and impartial—was the moment when the cosmos in the mind over which unawareness held sway trembled and quaked. Unawareness was thrown down from its throne on the heart. In its place, the pure mind appeared at the same moment that unawareness was toppled, smashed, and eradicated through the power of triumphant mindfulness and discernment—the moment when the sky came crashing down and the cosmos (within) trembled and quaked, showing its final marvel on the border between convention and release. Judgment was passed in the court of justice, with knowledge and vision of release acting as judge. The middle way, the truth of the path, was declared absolute winner, while the truth of the origin of stress was knocked out and carried off on a stretcher, with no way of reviving ever again.
I was utterly astounded and exclaimed, ‘Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it amazing? Where has this Dhamma been hiding? How is it that the genuine Dhamma, this amazing Dhamma, exceeding all expectations—exceeding all the world—has now appeared in the mind and is one with the mind? And before where were the Buddha and Noble Saṅgha? How is it that these tremendously amazing refuges have now become one with the heart? Is this what the true Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha are like?’ They didn’t fit in with any guesses or speculations at all, but were simply a pure truth dwelling with a pure truth.
Then I reflected with discouragement back on my fellow living beings with regard to the Dhamma that was in my heart: ‘Since this is what the genuine Dhamma is like, how could it be brought out and taught so that others would know and understand? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to live alone until the day the body breaks apart, rather than try to teach anyone?’
As soon as I considered this, a kind of realization suddenly appeared to me: ‘The Lord Buddha knew this amazing Dhamma all by himself but was able to become the Teacher of living beings throughout the three levels of the cosmos. How is it that I have been able to teach myself and yet get discouraged at the thought of being able to teach others? The way to teach, the way to know isn’t hidden or mysterious.’ When I realized this, my discouragement at the thought of teaching my friends gradually faded away.
This event made me think of the first moments after the Buddha’s Awakening, when he wearied at the thought of taking the excellent Dhamma in his heart and teaching it to the world because he felt that it lay beyond the capability of other people to realize it. Even though he had aspired to be a Teacher, to instruct the world, he felt that the Dhamma he had realized was a Dhamma beyond reach, that it would be hopeless to encourage the world to accept it and practice so as to know it. But when he reflected on the path he had followed to Awakening, he realized that the Dhamma wasn’t beyond reach or beyond hope, that there would be infinite benefits for the world if he were to teach the way of the Dhamma whose results he had come to see beyond a doubt. This was why he made up his mind to teach the world from that point on.
The reason I had felt the same way was because it was a Dhamma I had never before seen or known, and it was a Dhamma utterly amazing. When I looked solely at the results in the present, without reflecting back on the causes—the path I had followed—I felt disheartened and abandoned the idea of telling or teaching anyone about this Dhamma. But since reflecting back on the path I had followed, I have felt more like speaking and acting out the various facets of the Dhamma, in line with the various levels of people who have become involved with me, who have studied and trained with me ever since, to the point where I have become a sham Ācariya as decreed by monks, novices and people in general. This being the case, I’ve had to speak, teach, preach, and scold, heavily or lightly as events may call for.
I have to beg the forgiveness of my listeners and readers for speaking in an uncouth way to the point of being ugly, but when this scrap of a monk was hiding out in the forest and mountains, he suffered mightily while training himself by struggling in various ways on the verge of death—because of all sorts of sufferings—without anyone to provide him with a funeral. No one knew or was interested, except for a few of those people in the forest and mountains on whom I depended to keep my life going from one day to the next, who may have known of some aspects of some of my sufferings.
For this reason, the statement that the Buddha practiced to the point of losing consciousness before gaining Awakening is a truth that those who practice wholeheartedly for the sake of the Dhamma, the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna, have to believe wholeheartedly without any doubt. Only those who have never practiced or had any interest in practice, or who practice by tying pillows to the backs of their heads and waiting for defilement to die, or dig graves for defilement by lying down and waiting to rake in the paths, fruitions and nibbāna, won’t believe in the difficulty with which the Buddha and his Noble Disciples practiced.
Especially at present, when people are very clever: Whatever would fly in the face of their already being wise and all-knowing, no matter how right or good or fantastic that thing might be, they aren’t willing to use it to take the measure of their own wisdom. As a result, their wisdom can’t escape creating a lot of foolishness for themselves and the common good. For this reason, the path leading to depravity for the mind and the path leading to Dhamma within the mind are very different.
Those who practice, the Dhamma says, are those who investigate and reflect on every facet of the world and the Dhamma without being complacent. No matter what posture we are in, no matter where, we should always use mindfulness and discernment to look after ourselves. We shouldn’t be concerned with the deficient or developed manners, the good or bad behavior of other people, the points they give us or take away, more than we are concerned with our own deficient or developed manners, our own good or bad behavior and the points we give or take away from ourselves. This is the path of the Dhamma for those who practice the Dhamma, who are always imbued with Dhamma. The opposite way is the low path for those with low minds, with no righteousness infiltrating them at all. This is a warning for all those meditators who have come here for training to understand and take to heart.
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The Dhamma I have related today is mostly personal and isn’t appropriate to be made public to people at large whose sensitivities may vary. I myself might be open to criticism, and it might be harmful to the attitudes of those who hear or read when the tape is transcribed onto paper—except for restricted circles of people who would understand. To make this talk public thus goes against the grain with me, but the extent to which I have made it public is out of sympathy for those who have come for training in all rectitude and who have pleaded with me to make it public as an example that those who practice may follow for a long time to come.
If this is wrong in any way, I ask the forgiveness of all my readers. It’s with the thought that there will be many people endowed with rectitude in the practice of meditation, both now and the future, who might get some benefit from this outlandish talk, that I put up with the embarrassment of having exposed my own stupidity in it.
1. A small umbrella-like tent used by meditating monks.