The Savor of the Dhamma
The mind constantly coerced or oppressed at all times and the mind absolutely released from that coercion and oppression are two very different things—so different that there is no conventional reality that can be compared to the mind released. This sort of mind doesn’t lie in the realm of conventional reality in such a way that anything may rightly be compared to it in keeping with the reality of its nature. Even though some comparisons can be made, they’re simply a manner of speaking. They aren’t really in line with the truth of that nature as it exists. We have to make comparisons simply because the world has its conventions and analogies.
We see prisoners in jail who are coerced and oppressed, who are deprived of their freedom at all times beginning from the day of their imprisonment to the day of their release. What sort of happiness do they have? Even though they may have their laughter, in line with the things that may make them laugh, it’s still the laughter of prisoners. Just hearing the word ‘prisoner’ is enough to tell us that happiness isn’t what produces their laughter. Their penalty is what produces their laughter. It keeps coercing and oppressing them. So where can we find any happiness and pleasure among them?
We can take this and compare it inwardly to the state of affairs between the mind and the defilements that coerce and oppress it. These things control and coerce it with every mental moment. Even when the mind isn’t forming any thoughts, it’s still controlled and coerced in this way, in line with its nature. When this is the case, where can it find any true happiness? The happiness it does have is happiness like the food fed to prisoners. And what sort of food is that? Even though we may never have been imprisoned, we know what sort of food is fed to prisoners. Is there anything satisfying about it, the food they feed prisoners?
The foods—the temptations—with which the defilements feed the mind, if we were to speak in the way of the world, are simply to keep it from dying, in the same way that prisoners are fed. The defilements feed the mind so that it can be put to work, in the same way that prisoners are fed so that they can be put to work, so that we can get the fruits of their labor. The food for the mind that the defilements bring to sustain us is thus like the food fed to prisoners. There’s no difference at all. If we compare them, that’s the way they are.
But if we look from a different angle, we can see that prisoners are still better off than we are, because they know that they eat their food out of necessity. They don’t eat it out of satisfaction with it or its taste or anything, because there’s nothing at all gratifying about the food they are fed. But we meditators are still content to be attached to the flavor of worldly pleasures, so we’re said to be stuck. When we’re attached to visual objects, it’s because we find flavor in them. When we’re attached to sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations, it’s simply because we find flavor in them. It’s not the case that the only flavor is the flavor we taste with the tongue. All forms of contact—with the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind—have their flavor, and we’ve been attached to them in such a way that we haven’t even realized our attachment for eons and eons.
The mind is attached, bound, and feels love for these things without knowing that they are flavors that tie us down, that they are all matters of defilement: the flavors of defilement. So we are attached to the point where we will never know the harm of these flavors at all if we don’t use mindfulness and discernment to investigate them wisely. Regardless of how many eons may pass, we will have to be attached to these flavors, engrossed in these flavors, without ever coming to our senses. This is the ingenuity, the cleverness of the defilements. How ingenious and clever are they?
If you want to know, then set your heart on the practice. And don’t forget what I’m saying here. Someday it’s sure to become clear to your heart as a result of your earnest practice. There’s no escaping it. Listen carefully to the Buddha’s words: ‘The flavor of the Dhamma surpasses all other flavors.’ What sort of flavor is the flavor of the Dhamma that it has to surpass all other flavors? Those other flavors are the flavors of the food of prisoners, imprisoned in the wheel of death and rebirth through the power of defilement. They aren’t food or flavors that can keep the heart satisfied. They aren’t true flavors. They aren’t the flavors of the truth. They’re the flavors of the counterfeits that the defilements whip up into being for us to touch or to eat. They aren’t the flavors of the true Dhamma.
The flavor of the Dhamma will begin to appear when the mind is centered in concentration. As soon as the mind begins to be still, pleasure will begin to appear as its flavor, depending on the amount of stillness in line with the levels of its tranquility. When we say ‘levels of tranquility’, don’t go thinking that they’re separate steps, like those of a ladder. It’s simply a way of speaking. Actually, they’re all connected, from the pleasure of basic concentration progressively up to the levels of refined concentration. The pleasure that arises will become correspondingly more and more refined. This counts as one of the flavors of the Dhamma—the Dhamma of concentration, the Dhamma of peace—in the levels of the stillness of the mind.
As soon as the mind has stillness for its food, it lets go of its concerns for the various flavors of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations step by step, because the flavor of this stillness begins to excel them. Even this is enough to begin excelling all other flavors. Even more so when the mind begins to investigate things with its discernment, analyzing them in terms of the three characteristics or the meditation theme of unattractiveness—because in the beginning we tend to develop the theme of unattractiveness, contemplating every part of our own body and the bodies of others, inside and out, as seems most appropriate and natural for us to investigate, because they all share the same conditions for us to see clearly step by step: The flavor of the Dhamma will then intensify, becoming an ingenious flavor. And in addition to being an ingenious flavor, it’s a flavor that comes from being able to let go.
The nature of the mind is such that once it investigates anything to the point of seeing it clearly, it lets go. When it hasn’t let go, when it grasps with attachment, these are the chains and fetters with which defilement keeps it bound. The defilements confer titles, telling us, ‘This is good. That’s pretty. This is beautiful.’ They never tell us that the body is filthy, ugly, inconstant, stressful, and not-self—not belonging to us or to anyone else. These are things the defilements never tell us, never mention, never suggest in line with the principles of the truth. Instead, they bring their own principles in to interfere with the Dhamma, telling us just the opposite—that this or that is beautiful, lasting, valuable—denying the truth every step of the way because they are very powerful. For this reason, we need to keep track of their deceits, counteracting and removing them, by using such qualities as mindfulness and discernment.
Our world is entirely stuck in the deceits of defilement. When discernment has investigated inward, in line with the principles of unattractiveness as we have already mentioned, and in line with the three characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, probing and analyzing back and forth, time and again, the truths that the defilements have kept concealed will be revealed in line with these principles of truth—because these principles are truth pure and simple. There’s nothing counterfeit about them. What’s counterfeit—our false views—are an affair of defilement, not an affair of the Dhamma.
We will be able truly to see things as they are—without a doubt—once we can remove the counterfeit things that conceal them. For example, beauty: Where, exactly, is the body beautiful? What is there about it that you can claim to be beautiful? If you speak in terms of the principles of the truth, how can you even look at the human body? It’s entirely filled with filthiness, both within and without, which is why we have to keep washing it all the time. Even the clothing and other articles on which the body depends have to be dirty because the main part—the body—is a well of filth within and without. Whatever it comes into contact with—robes, clothing, dwelling, bedding—has to become dirty as well. Wherever human beings live becomes dirty, but we don’t see the truth, mainly because we aren’t interested in looking.
As meditators we should investigate so as to see this truth. Don’t run away from it. This is the genuine truth. The things that fool us into seeing the body as beautiful are counterfeit and false. So. Look into your body. Which part can you claim to be beautiful, to contend with the truth of the Dhamma? Look for it. Is there any part that dares claim to be above the Dhamma and more true than the Dhamma—unless it’s simply more false than the Dhamma?
The fact that the Dhamma isn’t appearing in our heart is because at the moment falseness is more powerful, more established, and conceals things completely. Even though there’s filth throughout the body both within and without, we’re still able to regard it as beautiful and lasting. The issues between truth and falsity lie within our body and mind, because the defilements themselves lie within the mind and spread their power out throughout the various parts of the body, and then splash out beyond, throughout the world of rebirth, saying that this is us, that’s ours, everything is us, ours, beautiful, lasting, enjoyable—depending on the song with which the defilements, the deceivers, fool the mind into jumping, bouncing, and spinning much more than a soccer ball. And what happiness can we find in jumping along with all the deceits we’ve mentioned here?
If we haven’t yet awakened and come to our senses, when will we, and where? If the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha hasn’t awakened us meditators, who in the world will be able to awaken us? As they say, ‘svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo’: ‘The Dhamma of the Buddha is rightly taught’—rightly taught in a way clear to see, with nothing hidden or esoteric. What’s hidden about it? If we look with our eyes, we’ll see in line with what I’ve said here.
So. Look on in, from the skin on in. Skin-scum and sweat-scum: Is there anything good about them? Anything clean and beautiful? If they were clean, how could we call them scum? Then look on inside. What is there inside that can contend with the Dhamma and claim to be pretty and beautiful? The Dhamma tells us that there’s nothing pretty or beautiful in there, that it’s all filthy. So which part is going to contend with the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha? If the Dhamma is false, if the Buddha didn’t teach it rightly, then find something to prove it wrong. All of the things that the Dhamma criticizes: When you penetrate into them with discernment, you’ll find that that’s just how they are. There’s no point with which you can argue.
All of these things have been true ever since before we investigated them, but the defilements have closed our eyes to them. Even though we see them, we don’t see them for what they are. Even though filth fills the body, the defilements deny it entirely and turn it into something beautiful—and we believe them, without looking at the Dhamma that’s waving its arms at us, ready to help us at all times, as if it were calling to us: ‘Hold on. Hold on to the Dhamma. Hurry up, and you’ll escape from danger. Hurry and let go of the defilements. They’re a fire burning you.’
See what happens when you smash the defilements to bits. Fight with them until you have no more breath to breathe. That’s when the Dhamma will fully reveal itself in every facet for you to see clearly. This is the way of digging into the things that conceal so as to uncover the truth: the genuine Dhamma. If we see the truth, we begin to see the genuine Dhamma step by step. Even on the level of stillness, we’re already not embroiled with anything, because we have the savor of the Dhamma. The heart can drink of the Dhamma: mental peace and calm. The heart doesn’t jump or run, isn’t vain or proud, restless or distracted, flying out after various preoccupations, because it has found a satisfying food to sustain it.
When we use discernment to investigate—to prepare our food, so to speak—to make it even more exquisite than the food of tranquility, turning it into the food of discernment, this has a flavor even more exquisite and refined, without limit, which comes from investigating and analyzing the body, the theme of our meditation. The basic principle on which we depend to counteract and remove the defilements lies right here, which is why the Buddha focuses his teachings right here. It wouldn’t work to focus anywhere else, because this is the primary place where living beings are attached. Attachments outside come second to this. When we have investigated so as to see in line with this truth, step by step, without retreating in our investigation or letting it lapse until we have clearly understood, then the point of ‘enough’ in our investigation, together with the point where we let go of our attachments, will appear of its own accord through the power of the discernment that has removed all things concealing, has dismantled all things counterfeit so as to see the truth clearly in the heart. Discernment on this level will then stop of its own accord.
As for the affairs of attachment, we needn’t say anything, because they are simply the results of delusion. Wherever knowledge penetrates, delusion will immediately retreat, so how can attachment remain? It will have to retreat without a doubt. The more we investigate in preparing our food—the flavor of the Dhamma—through the power of mindfulness and discernment, unraveling things to see them clearly for what they are, the more the mind becomes light and airy. Disenchanted and dismayed. ‘How long have I been attached this way? Why have I dared to make things up in such a bull-headed way?’
This is the exclamation with which we reproach ourselves—because things actually haven’t been what we’ve made them up to be. So why have we made them up that way? We then immediately see through the make-believe that has led to this state of affairs, because discernment is what penetrates and makes its choices. How will it not know what’s true and what’s not? If we analyze the body to pieces, we can clearly see that it’s a living cemetery. When it dies, it’s a dead cemetery. How can we stand to look at it? Look all over the world: Is there any place where there are no cemeteries? There are cemeteries wherever living beings dwell.
Investigate on down to the truth. Is our discernment for us to make into food? It’s for us to cure our bankruptcy, so that we can escape from being prisoners held in custody by the defilements. Why shouldn’t we be able to escape? The Dhamma of the Lord Buddha is perfectly suited to us human beings, which is why he taught it to the human world. He saw this as the central point of existence, the most appropriate place. There’s no one more intelligent than the Buddha, the foremost Teacher who taught the Dhamma to the most appropriate place: our human world.
At the moment, what are we? We’re human beings. Of this we’re certain. In addition, we’re monks—meditating monks at that, so why shouldn’t we be able to seize the excellence of the flavor of the Dhamma to taste as our own treasure through our own practice? If we aren’t capable, who in the world is capable? To whom should we hand over this capability? At the moment, whose hearts are being squeezed by suffering and stress? Aren’t these things squeezing our own hearts? So to whom are we going to hand over this capability? To whom are we going to hand over all the duties and responsibilities involved in attaining freedom? Should we hand them over to suffering? We already have suffering in our hearts. The only thing to do is to remove suffering and stress through persistent effort.
We’re fighters. We have to be defiant. We can’t let ourselves say retreat. So. Whatever the pain, however great it may be, we’re ready for it. The pain and suffering that come with the effort won’t lead us to bankruptcy. They’re better than the pain and suffering that are already putting a squeeze on us at all times and serve no purpose at all. So dig on down, meditators. This is one step in the investigation.
The Buddha teaches us to visit cemeteries because we don’t yet see the cemetery within. We first have to visit external cemeteries to open the way for bringing the mind into our own internal cemetery. It’s full of corpses. Aside from the fact that the body itself is a cemetery, the corpses of all sorts of animals fill our belly. What sorts of things have been stuffed in there? For how long? Why don’t we look at this cemetery? Look so as to see it clearly. Unattractiveness, inconstancy, stress, and not-self are all heaped right here. We don’t have to go looking for them anywhere else.
When we look in terms of changeability—inconstancy—we can see it clearly. The body keeps changing all the time, from the day it’s born to the day it dies. Even feelings keep changing in their way: pleasure, pain, and indifference, both in body and mind. They keep spinning around in this way. When do they ever stop? If we have any mindfulness and discernment, why don’t we see these things as they do their work in line with their natural principles? If we use our mindfulness and discernment, we have to see, we have to know. These things can’t be kept hidden. They can’t be kept hidden from mindfulness and discernment. We have to see right through them. There’s no doubt about this.
Stress. Which part of the body gives us any pleasure or ease? There’s nothing but stress and pain filling the body. We’ve constantly had to tend and care for the body so that it has been able to survive this far, so are we still going to be attracted to this mass of fire?
Not-self. The Buddha has already proclaimed it. ‘It’s not the self. Don’t mess with it.’ As if he were slapping our wrists: ‘Don’t reach for it. Don’t touch. It’s dangerous.’ Whenever you say that it’s you or yours, your attachment is like grabbing fire, so extricate yourself, using discernment. See these things as being truly inconstant, stressful, and not-self. The mind then won’t dare to reach for them or touch them. Step by step it will let go of its burdens—its attachments, which are a heavy weight.
When the mind extricates itself from its attachments, it becomes lighter and lighter, more and more at ease. The savor of the Dhamma will appear step by step, even more exquisite than on the level of concentration. When the flavor of the Dhamma surpasses the flavor of these various defilements, they have to be discarded and trampled underfoot.
The physical khandha—the body—is important. It has a really great impact on the mind. To love it is to suffer. To hate it is to suffer. To be angry with it is to suffer. The affairs connected with the body are more prominent than any others. If the mind has no stillness, there’s nowhere it can find any relief. There’s nowhere we as monks can retreat to find any pleasure. For this reason, we must try to still our minds and make use of the Dhamma to attack our defilements.
Don’t feel any regret for the time it takes. Don’t feel any regret for the cycles of rebirth, for the prison, for our wardens and torturers: the various kinds of defilement. These have been our greatest torturers from time immemorial. Even though we may not remember for how long, simply hold to the principle of the present as your primary guide and they’ll all be scattered. The past, no matter how long, is simply a matter of this same mass of suffering. If we can’t shed it, these things will have to continue this way forever.
Don’t be interested in any other matters. Keep watch of the truth—which is within you, proclaiming itself at all times—by using mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence. Don’t let up or retreat. Don’t see anything as having greater value than the effort of extricating yourself from these things that coerce and oppress you. You’ll then be able to make something extraordinary of yourself. Whether or not you give yourself titles, make sure at least that you aren’t burdened or attached right here. This is where the Buddha says the highest savor is found. Uproot the things that involve and entangle you each step along the way. Keep cutting your way in, beginning with the physical heap—the body—which is one wall or one thick covering.
Once you’ve passed the physical heap, ransacked this physical heap and known it clearly with understanding, without any remaining ties, it’s as if you have amassed a large pile of capital, clear to your heart. You can be certain of progressing to release at one point or another in this present lifetime, with no need to anticipate it as happening in this year or that. Once the mind has attained this level, you can be sure of yourself. Persistence comes on its own. The pain and difficulties that come from making the effort are completely erased of their own accord, because the flavor of the Dhamma appearing clearly to the heart has a power far overriding the pains that come from the persistent effort. The heart becomes motivated through the principles of its nature. Persistence keeps spinning in the person who used to be lazy.
Laziness is a matter of the defilements resisting and fighting the Dhamma. When we start out making the effort, then laziness, weakness, discouragement, pain, and difficulty all come thronging in, oppressing us so that we can’t take a step, and we finally fall down with a crash. That shows we’ve been shot. They don’t have to shoot us a second time. One shot and we’re down—down on the pillow, snoring away. We keep getting shot by the defilements, again and again, till we’re thoroughly mangled. Our efforts don’t amount to anything. If this is the way things are, then we’ll be sunk in the round of rebirth, sunk in the prison of the wheel of rebirth forever, with never a day when we’ll gain release, never a day when we’ll be free.
So slash away at the defilements, using the principles of the Dhamma that the Buddha taught and aren’t otherwise. You’ll then have to gain release from these things that coerce and oppress you without a doubt. The important points are persistence, mindfulness, discernment, and endurance. So. Keep enduring. What’s wrong with endurance for the sake of making your way? Other things you can endure. Physical pain to the brink of death: No one else can endure it for you. You have to endure it for yourself. Haven’t you already endured it before? So why can’t you endure the pains and deprivations that come with the effort of the practice? After all, you endure them for the sake of the effort to extricate yourself from suffering. So why can’t you endure them? Make it strong, your heart as a monk, your heart as a meditator. Once you’ve seen the dangers pointed out by the Dhamma, you’ll see the benefits arising through your efforts.
In the beginning, you have to grapple a great deal with the body as your meditation theme. Once you’ve opened your way and seen causes and results as your starting capital, then the four mental khandhas—vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa—have already gotten into the act. There are feelings in the body as well as in the mind, so when you’re investigating the body, how can these things not rush in to connect? They’re related phenomena. It’s not the case that you finish investigating the body before you start investigating vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa. Don’t plan on things being that way, because it’s wrong. In the truth of the practice, that’s not the way things are. Once your work is focused on any one point, it has an impact on everything else, but these things become prominent only after the body has lost its meaning and value for us through the Dhamma. Before, we saw it as having a great deal of meaning and value, but once the Dhamma—the truth—has demolished the falsity of this sort of defilement and craving, these things lose their meaning and worth. The Dhamma now clearly has a value above and beyond them. This is when vedanā, saññā, saṅkhāra, and viññāṇa become prominent, because they’ve already opened the way from the stage of the physical body.
What is there to feelings? For the most part, they converge in on feelings of the mind. As for physical feelings, I’ve already explained them to you before. If you analyze them when you’re sick or have been sitting in meditation for a long time, you’ll know them. If you want to know them, focus on them today, using mindfulness and discernment, and you’ll understand them. You’re sure to understand them clearly if you use discernment. Don’t simply endure them. To contend with pain, you have to use discernment. Simply fighting it, simply enduring it, doesn’t count as the path. The path is mindfulness and discernment. The greater the pain, the more these things spin into work. You can’t let mindfulness and discernment leave the point of the pain. As for the body, each part will be seen clearly as a reality in line with its nature, within the mind, because in accordance with the principles of nature that’s what they already are.
No matter how much pain arises in the body, it’s its own separate reality. Only the mind is what labels and interprets it. Once the mind has used discernment to investigate the pain to the point of being abreast of it, it will extricate itself from the pain to be its own separate reality on this level, so that each is a separate reality. When each is a separate reality, what harm can they do to each other? What impact can they have on each other? None at all. The body is the body, the pain is a pain, the heart is the heart, i.e., the mind is the mind. Each is a separate reality, with no impact on the others. Even if the pain doesn’t subside, it has no impact. It has no impact on the mind at all. This is called seeing the truth. After you’ve done this many times, you’ll be able to uproot your attachments to the body, and the pain in the body will be passed by as well. The only issue remaining will be feelings in the mind.
Saññā and saṅkhāra are important. Once the body, the physical heap, is passed, saññā and saṅkhāra —thought-fabrications—become prominent because there are no more problems involving the body. The mind isn’t willing to investigate the body again, just as when we’ve eaten enough of this sort of food, we put it aside and continue eating whatever else still attracts us. When we’re completely full, we put it all aside, no matter what kind of food it is, meat dishes or desserts. Our investigation is similar to this. It tells us on its own. When the mind has had enough of anything, it lets go and no longer investigates that thing. It then continues with other things, in the same way that when we’ve eaten enough of this sort of food, we go on to other sorts until we’re completely full. Then we put it all aside. Our investigation is so that we will have enough and then let go.
Saṅkhāra refers to the thought-fabrications in the mind—good thoughts, bad thoughts, this issue and that. They keep forming all the time. Each of us falls for his or her own issues. Even if other people don’t become involved with us, the mind has to paint pictures and form thoughts, past and future: a big turmoil within the heart. We get infatuated with this preoccupation, saddened by that one. Matters that passed months and years ago, we warm up and serve to torment the mind, to oppress and coerce it, because of our delusion, because of the fact that we aren’t up on the tricks and deceits of this sort of defilement. This is why we have to investigate them. Whatever issues the mind forms, if they’re good, they vanish; if they’re bad, they vanish—so what sense or substance can we gain from them? Wherever they arise, probe on down right there.
Saññā, labels and interpretations: They come labeling out of the mind. This is how the mind appears when it reaches a refined level. This is the way the natural principles of the investigation are of their own accord. Even if no one tells us, we come to understand on our own. Wherever anything makes contact, mindfulness and discernment spin around right there until they understand and let go.
Once discernment has cut the bridge to the body, it has also cut the bridges to external sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. The only things left in the mind are feelings, labels, thought-fabrications, and consciousness. These deal entirely with the mind itself. We investigate at that point with discernment, without becoming intimate with any of these four conditions. For example, feeling: Pleasure arises and vanishes. Pain arises and vanishes, there in the heart. The Buddha thus calls them inconstant and not-self. Inconstant and not-self. They arise and vanish. Labels are also inconstant, stressful, and not-self. What is there to become attached to? They’re just like the body. In other words, they’re all a heap of the three characteristics.
When we have investigated them time and again, these four conditions shrink into the mind. This is called giving chase to defilement. Probe into that point with discernment until you know and see it clearly. When the defilements can’t find any place to hide, they’ll go running into the mind. Mindfulness and discernment then come spinning into mano: the mind. This too the Buddha tells us not to hold onto. Listen! The mind too is inconstant, stressful, and not-self. Listen to that! How can the mind not share in the three characteristics when the defilements are in there? How can we hold to the mind as being us or ours when the entire army of defilement is in there? If we hold to the mind as being us or ours, it’s the same as holding to defilement as being us or ours, so how can we gain release? Very profound, this point of Dhamma, here on the level of investigation.
The mind too is inconstant, stressful, and not-self because the defilements are in there. So strike on down with your investigation. Whatever gets smashed—even if ultimately the mind itself is demolished along with everything else—at least know it clearly with your discernment.
The defilement that forms the essence of the cycle (vaṭṭa)—which in Pāli is termed ‘avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā,’ ‘With unawareness as condition, there occur fabrications’: This is the seed of becoming and birth, buried here in this mind. When its bridges are cut, it can’t find any way out to go looking for food. The bridges out the eyes have been cut. The bridges out the ears, nose, tongue, and body have all been cut by discernment. The defilements can’t find any way out to develop love for sights, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations, because all their bridges have been cut. We’re abreast of things as they actually occur, so the defilements go running inside. If they try to become attached to the body, that’s something we’ve already investigated and known with discernment, something we’ve already let go. Feelings, labels, thought-fabrications, and consciousness have all been investigated and seen to have the three characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, so where do the defilements lie? They have to be hiding in the Big Cave: the mind. So discernment goes slashing in.
So now, is the mind us? Is it ours? Slash on down! Whatever is going to be destroyed, let it be destroyed. We feel no regrets. We want only the truth. Even if the mind is going to be smashed and destroyed along with everything else, let’s at least know with our practice. Strike on down! Ultimately, everything counterfeit gets smashed, while the nature of pure truth, of supreme truth—the pure mind—doesn’t die and isn’t destroyed. See? So now whether you call it inconstant, stressful, and not-self or not, at least make the mind pure, and it will gain release from all conventional realities. Inconstancy, stress, and not-self lie within the realm of convention. Once the mind has gained release from these things, there’s nothing more that can be said—even though we are completely aware. So what is there now to doubt?
This is release from the prison, from the cycle that imprisons living beings, and us in particular—our mind in particular, now extricated right here. Freed right here. All that is needed is for the defilements to be shed entirely from the heart: There is nothing else to pose the heart any problems. This is thus called the timeless heart, the timeless Dhamma, freed from time. It’s a pure nature, always fully ‘buddho’ like that. At this point, how can we not clearly see the harm of defilement? When such things as mindfulness and discernment have trampled defilement to bits, how can we not see its harm with our whole heart? How can we not see through the happiness that the defilements bring to feed us when we’re ready to die, simply to keep us going? ‘That’s the sugar-coated happiness concocted by the defilements simply to keep us going. That’s the flavor of defilement. But the flavor the Dhamma is like this, something else entirely.’ How can we help but know? To summarize, the mind that lies under the power of the cycle, with the defilements coercing and oppressing it, is not at all different from a convict in prison. When it has gained utter release from its prison of defilement, there’s no comparison for it. Even so, we praise it as being supreme—a convention, which doesn’t really correspond to that reality. But even though it doesn’t correspond, you can be assured that the difference is just like that, between the mind imprisoned and the mind released from all coercion, completely free and independent. They’re different in just the way that we’ve said.
So be earnest and intent. You’ve come here for the purpose of learning and finding things of substance and value for yourselves. Investigate so as to see clearly in line with the principles of inconstancy, stress, and not-self as I have mentioned, because they underlie the way everything is throughout the three levels of the cosmos. There’s nothing splendid enough for us to feel regret at leaving it. The only thing splendid is release. It’s a nature truly splendid. We don’t have to confer titles on it, because it’s its own nature. It has had enough of everything of every sort. This is what is meant when we say that the flavor of the Dhamma excels all other flavors. Whatever kinds of flavors we may have experienced, the flavor of the Dhamma excels them all, lets them all go, because no other flavor can match it. Even this flavor, it isn’t attached to. This flavor we say is supreme isn’t attached to itself. It’s simply a principle of truth, and that’s all.
So. Be earnest, meditators. Don’t get discouraged. Give your life to the Buddha. Even though we may have never said that we’ve given our life to defilement, that’s what we’ve done for an infinitely long time, to the point where we can’t count the times. Even in the single lifetime of an individual, we can’t count the times. Take the realm of the present that’s visible to us and work back to infinity: It’s all come from the avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā embedded here in the heart for countless lifetimes. Nothing else in the cosmos has caused us to experience becoming and birth, and to carry the mass of all sufferings, other than this avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā.
For this reason, when they say the mind of a person who dies is annihilated, just where is it annihilated? Use the practice to get a hold on the matter. Don’t speak simply in line with the tricks and deceits of defilement that close off our ears and eyes. Defilement says that death is followed by annihilation. See? It’s blinded us completely. As for the defilement that causes people to take birth and die, where is it annihilated? If we want to see through its tricks and deceits, why don’t we take its arrows to shoot it in return? It causes living beings to lie buried in the cycle, so where is defilement annihilated? And what does it coerce, if it doesn’t coerce the mind? If the mind is annihilated, how can defilement coerce it? The mind isn’t annihilated, which is why defilement has been able to coerce it into birth, ageing, illness, and death all along without ceasing. So why do we fall for the deceits of defilement when it says that death is followed by annihilation, without having the sense to see the harm of its deceits? This sneaky defilement has fooled living beings into falling for it and grabbing at suffering for a long, infinitely long time.
So investigate down to the truth. Find out what is and isn’t annihilated. That’s when you can be called skilled at the Dhamma, skilled at exploring and investigating down to the truth. That’s how the Buddha proclaimed and taught the Dhamma. He taught the Dhamma using the truth he had already practiced by making the causes absolutely complete and attaining results satisfactory to his heart, and then taking that Dhamma to teach the world. So where did he ever say that death is followed by annihilation, just where? He taught nothing but birth, ageing, illness, and death, birth, ageing, illness, and death, over and over. All of the Buddhas taught like this. They never differed, because they all knew and saw the same sort of truth in line with the principles of that truth. So how can you make the mind be annihilated when it’s already utterly true?
Birth and death, birth and death without ceasing: What is the cause? The Buddha has taught us, beginning with avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā, saṅkhāra-paccayā viññāṇaṁ—‘With unawareness as condition, there are fabrications. With fabrications as condition, there is consciousness.’ These are the causes. They’re buried in the mind, which is why they cause us to take birth without ceasing. As soon as we destroy avijjā-paccayā saṅkhāra, what happens? Avijjāya tv’eva asesa-virāga-nirodhā saṅkhāra-nirodho—‘All that is needed is for unawareness to be completely disbanded from the heart, then nirodho hoti—everything else is disbanded.’ What do you say to that? Evam-etassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti—‘All that is needed is for unawareness to be utterly disbanded, and everything—the entire mass of suffering and stress—is disbanded.’ And that which knows that unawareness is disbanded, that’s the pure one. How can that pure one disband or be annihilated? It’s an utter truth.
So look. Listen. We Buddhists take the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha as our refuge, you know. We don’t take the defilements as our refuge. We’re meditators, so we have to probe and explore so as to see the truth. Whoever may bring the entire cosmos to intimidate or take issue with us, we won’t bat an eye. Once we’ve seen and known the truth with our full hearts, how can anyone intimidate us? Think for a minute: The Buddha was a single, solitary person. Why was he able to be the Teacher of all three levels of existence? If he didn’t teach the truth that he had known and seen with his full heart, what did he teach? He taught with courage. There has never been anyone who has excelled him in being thoroughly trained and bringing the pure truth to teach the world. He didn’t teach anything counterfeit or guessed at. To speak out of guesswork, scratching at fleas: That’s the science of unawareness—the science of unawareness that lulls the world into bankruptcy. The principles of the genuine truth don’t teach us to be bankrupt, which is why we say that those other things are counterfeit. The Dhamma is a truth on which we can stake our life without question.
Defilements are false, the whole lot of them. 100 out of 100 are counterfeit. The Dhamma is true—100 percent all true. The Dhamma and defilement pass each other going in opposite directions, which is why they are adversaries. In the effort of the practice, if we don’t fight with the defilements, what will we fight with? These are our adversaries. If we don’t fight with them, what will we fight with? At the moment, the defilements are the adversaries of the Dhamma. They’re our adversaries. If we don’t fight with the defilements that are our adversaries and the Dhamma’s, what will we fight with? Once we know all about the affairs of the defilements, what doubts will we have about the Dhamma? In particular, what doubts will the mind have about the matter of death and rebirth or death and annihilation? Find out just where things get annihilated, meditators. Whatever we hear is the voice of those filthy defilements. Aren’t we tired of washing our ears? Listen to the voice of the foremost Teacher’s Dhamma. Our ears will then be clean, and our hearts pure.
So be earnest. Shilly-shallying around, thinking of sleep, thinking of our stomachs: These are habits long embedded in our hearts. They’re all an affair of defilement. So flip over a new leaf, making the heart an affair of the Dhamma, in keeping with the fact that we’re disciples of the Tathāgata who have given ourselves to be ordained in his religion and to follow the principles of his Dhamma. That’s when we’ll attain a great treasure of infinite worth to rule our hearts. When the Dhamma rules the heart, how is it different from defilement ruling the heart? As I’ve said before, the Dhamma ruling the heart is something supreme and magnificent: We’re fully free with our full heart—not grasping, not hungry, not searching, not hoping to depend on anything—for the Dhamma has filled the heart and that’s plenty enough.