The Work of a Contemplative
Here in this monastery we practice not in line with people’s wishes and opinions, but in line for the most part with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya, the principles of the religion. We do this for the sake of the public at large who rely on the religion as a guiding principle in what is good and right, and who rely on the good and right behavior of monks and novices, the religious leaders for Buddhists at large.
For this reason, I’m not interested in treating anyone out of a sense of deference over and above the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya that are the basis of the religion. If our minds start to bend under the influence of the views and opinions of any one person or of the majority—who have no limits or standards—then monasteries and the religion will come to have no limits or standards. Monasteries that bend under the influence of the world, without any sense of reason as an underlying support, will have no order or standards, and will become monasteries without any of the substance of the religion remaining in them at all. Those who look for things of value to revere and respect—in other words, intelligent people—won’t be able to find anything good of any substance that will have a hold on their hearts, because there will be nothing but worthless and counterfeit things filling the monasteries, filling the monks, the novices, the nuns, filling everything everywhere. In homes as well as in monasteries, in the area of the world as well as the Dhamma, everything will get mixed into being one with what is counterfeit and lacking in any value or worth.
For this reason, we have to keep things in their separate places. The religion and the world, even though they may dwell together, are not the same thing. A monastery—whether it’s located in a village, outside of a village, or in a forest—is not the same as a village. The people who come to stay there are not the same as ordinary people. The monastery has to be a monastery. The monks have to be monks with their own independent Dhamma and Vinaya that don’t come under or depend on any particular individual. This is an important principle that can have a hold on the hearts of intelligent people who are searching for principles of truth to revere and respect or to be their inspiration. I view things from this angle more than from any other. Even the Buddha, our Teacher, viewed things from this angle as well, as we can see from the time he was talking with Ven. Nāgita.
When a crowd of people shouting and making a big racket came to see the Buddha, he said, ‘Nāgita, who is that coming our way, making a commotion like fish-mongers squabbling over fish? We don’t aspire to this sort of thing, which is a destruction of the religion. The religion is something to guard and preserve so that the world will find peace and calm—like clear, clean water well-guarded and preserved so that people in general can use it to drink and bathe at their convenience. The religion is like clear, clean water in this way, which is why we don’t want anyone to disturb it, to make it muddy and turbid.’ This is what the Buddha said to Ven. Nāgita. He then told Ven. Nāgita to send the crowd back, telling them that their manner and the time of day—it was night—were not appropriate for visiting monks who live in quiet and solitude. Polite manners are things that intelligent people choose to use, and there are plenty of other times to come. This is a time when the monks want quiet, so they shouldn’t be disturbed in a way that wastes their time and causes them difficulties without serving any kind of purpose at all.
This is an example set by our Teacher. He wasn’t the sort of person to mingle and associate with lay people at all times without any reasonable limits or rules, the way things currently are—as if the religion were a distillery, and we monks and novices were distributing liquor so that the public could be drunk without ever sobering up for a day. Actually, the religion is medicine for curing drunkenness. Monks and novices are supposed to be doctors for curing their own drunkenness and that of the world. They’re not supposed to sell liquor and intoxicants to the point where they have no sense of shame.
Whenever people set foot in the monastery, we say that they come in good faith—and so we make allowances and compromises until we forget ourselves, forget the Dhamma and Vinaya, and forget the good standards of monasteries and monks to the point where we destroy ourselves, the monastery, and the religion bit by bit, day by day, and everything turns into mud. Home-dwellers and monastery-dwellers can’t find any principles to hold to. Monks are full of excrement—i.e., the worthless things in the monasteries and in the monks and novices themselves.
For this reason, each of us who has ordained in the religion should reflect a great deal on these matters. Don’t see anything as having greater value than the Dhamma and Vinaya, which are the major principles for uniting the hearts of Buddhists in confidence, conviction, and peace. If the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya are lacking or deficient, the benefits received by Buddhists will have to be deficient in turn, until there is nothing to which their hearts can hold. Even though the teachings of the religion fill the texts, and copies of the Canon fill every monastery, still the important essence that should be put into practice so that people can be inspired to take this essence into their hearts and put it into practice themselves for the sake of what is beneficial and auspicious, doesn’t exist—even though the religion still exists. This is something we can clearly see at present.
The important factors that can make the religion prosper and can serve as witnesses to the people who become involved with it for the sake of all things meritorious and auspicious are the monks and novices. If the monks and novices are intent on behaving in line with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya as taught by the Buddha, they are the ones who will preserve the good pattern of the religion and of the paths, fruitions, and nibbāna without a doubt. People will be able to take them as their standard—because there are still plenty of intelligent people left in the world. As for stupid people, even though they may overflow the world, they have no sure standards. If they feel pleased, they praise you. That praise simply comes out of their stupidity and serves no purpose. If they feel displeased, they criticize you. That criticism serves no purpose, either for them or for you. If intelligent people praise you, though, that can be taken to heart and benefits both parties, them as well as you. If they praise the Saṅgha, they praise it in line with the principles of the truth and of their intelligence. At the same time, those members of the Saṅgha who hold to reason can make themselves a field of merit for them as well, so that they too can benefit. Even if they criticize us, they have their reasons that should be taken as food for thought. Thus we who practice should make ourselves well aware of this point.
Wherever you go, don’t forget that you are a practitioner of the religion, a representative of our Teacher in following the religion and proclaiming it through your practice. This doesn’t mean that you have to teach the public to understand the Dhamma. Even the practices you follow rightly are a visible example that can make them feel conviction in the religion from what they see. Even more so when you can explain the Dhamma correctly in line with the principles of the practice following the teachings of the Buddha: This is all the more the right and proper proclamation of the religion for good people to hold to in their hearts. The religion will come to flourish more and more in the hearts of Buddhists.
Wherever you go, wherever you stay, don’t forget the basic principles—virtue, concentration, and discernment—which are the basic principles of our work as contemplative. These are the essential principles of each monk’s work. This is where we become ‘sons of the Sakyan (sakya-putta), of the victorious Buddha,’ disciples of the Tathāgata, and not when we simply shave our heads and don the yellow robe. That’s something anyone can do and isn’t important. What’s important is behaving in line with our duties.
Virtue. We should be careful to maintain our precepts so that they aren’t broken or stained. We should be careful, using mindfulness and discernment in our every activity. Whatever else may get broken, don’t let your precepts get broken, for they are the invaluable treasure of your status as a monk, something on which you can truly stake your life.
Concentration. If it hasn’t yet arisen, try to train the heart and bring it under control, coming down hard on its unruliness caused by the power of defilement, so that you can have it in hand in your efforts with the practice. Use mindfulness and discernment to block its recklessness so that it can settle down in peace and quiet. This is our samādhi treasure as monks.
Discernment is intelligence and ingenuity. Discernment is of use in all places at all times. Both in your internal and in your external activities, always make use of your discernment. Especially in your internal activities, when you’re investigating the various kinds of defilements and mental effluents, discernment becomes especially important. Discernment and mindfulness shouldn’t be separated. They have to perform their duties together. Mindfulness is what keeps watch over the work discernment is doing. Whenever mindfulness lapses, that work won’t accomplish its full aims. For this reason, mindfulness is a necessary quality that must always be kept fastened on your work.
These things are our work as contemplatives. Remember them and always take them to heart. Don’t be apathetic, or you’ll become a shameless monk, callous to the fact that the world is bowing down to you at all times.
Now that the Rains Retreat is over, we’ll each go our separate ways in line with duty and necessity and the laws of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. These are things we can’t prevent, because they are big matters, the way of nature. Even I myself: I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to stay with you all, because I lie under the law of inconstancy, too. So while we are still living together, I want you to be intent on training yourselves with your full hearts, in keeping with the fact that you’ve come to study, to train yourselves, and to practice.
The word ‘discernment,’ which I mentioned a moment ago, means to investigate and unravel the various factors that become involved with us within and without. (And here I have to ask forgiveness of the men and women interested in the Dhamma who fall under the condition I’m about to discuss. Please reflect on it in all fairness.) The body: Usually it’s the body of the opposite sex. As the Dhamma says, there is no sight that’s a greater enemy to the state of a contemplative than the sight of the opposite sex. The same holds true for the voice, the smell, the taste, and the touch of the opposite sex. These are the foremost dangers that face contemplatives, so we have to show greater care and restraint toward these things than toward anything else. Mindfulness and discernment have to unravel these important points more than they have to deal with any other work.
The body. We should analyze it with our discernment so as to see it clearly. The words ‘the body of a woman’ or ‘the body of a man’ are simply names given in line with convention. Actually, it’s not a woman or a man. It’s simply an ordinary body just like ours, covered all over with skin. If we look inside, there’s flesh, tendons, and bones. It, like us, is all full of filthy and repulsive things. There’s no part that’s basically any different from our own body. There’s simply the label in our mind that says ‘woman’ or ‘man.’ This word ‘woman’ or ‘man’ is engraved deeply within the heart by the heart’s own suppositions, even though it’s not a truth, and is simply a supposition.
The same with the voice: It’s just an ordinary sound, and yet we label it the voice of the opposite sex and so it stabs deep into the heart—especially for those of us who are ordained—and goes clear through, to the point where we forget ourselves. The heart gets cut at the stem, even though we continue to live. The stem of the heart is torn, rotten, and putrid, and yet we don’t die. Instead, we listen with pleasure to the song of our heart’s being cut at the stem, without ever wearying of it or having enough.
The smell: It’s an ordinary smell, just like ours, because it’s the smell of a person. Even if we bring perfumes and scents from the realms of the devas and Brahmās to rub down that body, the smell is the smell of those things, not the smell of a woman or man, not the least little bit. So analyze this and make careful distinctions.
The taste is simply the touch. The touch of that body is no different from one part of our own body touching another part. Each of the parts is just earth, water, wind, and fire, just like ours. We can’t see that there’s any difference. So we have to investigate clearly like this and then make comparisons, comparing the sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch of the woman or man with our own sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. There’s no difference in terms of the principles of nature and of the truth, aside from the mind’s conferring titles in line with its thoughts.
For this reason, we must use discernment to unravel things. Don’t let suppositions of any kind that will be your enemies infiltrate or destroy your heart. Shake them off using discernment, which is a truth, coming down to the truth that these things are just sights, just sounds, just smells, just tastes, just tactile sensations, all of which pass by and disappear like other things. This is without a doubt the right way to contemplate that can gradually uproot our attachments and misconceptions concerning these matters.
Whatever object you may investigate in the world, it’s full of inconstancy, stress, and lack-of-self. There’s nothing lasting to be found. All things depend on one thing or another, and then fall apart. Whatever the object: If it exists in the world, it has to fall apart. If it doesn’t fall apart, we will. If it doesn’t break up, we’ll break up. If it doesn’t leave, we’ll leave—because this world is full of leaving and separation through the principles of nature. So investigate in this way with discernment to see clearly before these things leave us or we leave them, and then let them go in line with their truth. When we can do this, the mind will be at its ease. Here we’ve been talking about discernment on the level of investigating sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Whether within or without, on the blatant or the subtle level, this is how all of these things are investigated.
Concentration I’ve already explained to some extent. Concentration refers to the stability and solidity of the heart, beginning with its small moments of stillness and peace, all the way up to the refined and stable levels of stillness and peace. If the mind isn’t trained, isn’t improved, isn’t forced with various tactics backed up by mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence, it won’t be able to attain peace till its dying day. It will die in vain. It will die restless and confused, straying off to 108 different preoccupations. It won’t have any mindfulness or alertness. It will die without any principles or standards to hold to. It will die just as a kite whose string is cut when it’s up in the air floats wherever the wind blows. Even while it’s still living, it lives without any principles or standards, because of its absent-mindedness and heedlessness, its lack of any sense of reason for it to follow. It lives simply drifting. If we live simply drifting, without any good principles to hold to, then when we go, we’ll have to go simply drifting. What purpose will it serve? What goodness and certainty can we have for our destination? So as long as we’re alive and aware as we currently are, we should build certainty for ourselves in our hearts by being strong and unflinching in matters that are of solid worth. Then we can be certain of ourselves both as we live and when we die. We won’t be upset or affected by life or death, by being separated from other beings or our own bodies—something we all have to meet with, because these are things lying within us all.
It’s not the case that discernment arises automatically on the heels of concentration when the mind has been centered. It has to be exercised and trained to think, explore, and investigate. Only then will discernment arise, with concentration as its support. Concentration on its own can’t turn into discernment. It has to remain as concentration. If we don’t use discernment to investigate, concentration simply makes the mind refreshed and calm, content with its preoccupation in tranquility, not hungering to think here or there, not confused or straying—because once the mind is still, it’s calm and refreshed with the Dhamma in line with the level of its stillness. We then take the mind that has been refreshed by tranquility and use it with discernment to investigate and unravel various things, none of which in this world lie over and beyond inconstancy, stress, and not-self. All things are filled with these same conditions, so use discernment to contemplate—from whatever angle most suits your temperament—by investigating these things with interest, with the desire really to know and see them as they truly are. Don’t simply investigate without any intention or mindfulness in control.
In particular, the theme of unattractiveness: This is a good, a very good cure for the mind obsessed with lust and passion. However strong the lust, that’s how strongly you should investigate unattractiveness until you can see your own body and that of others throughout the world as a cemetery of fresh corpses. Lust won’t have a chance to flare up when discernment has penetrated to the knowledge that the body is filled with repulsiveness. Who would feel lust for repulsiveness? Who would feel lust for things with no beauty? For things that are disgusting? This is one form of the medicine of unattractiveness, one of the prime medicines for curing the disease of lust and craving. Once you’ve made a really full investigation, make the mind grow still in a restricted range. Once the mind has investigated unattractiveness many, many times, to the point where it becomes proficient, adept at contemplating external bodies as well as the internal body, able to visualize things in whatever way you want, then the mind will converge to the level of unattractiveness within itself and see the harm of the pictures of unattractiveness it paints as being one form of illusion. It will then let go of both sides: both the side of unattractiveness and the side of attractiveness.
Both attractiveness and unattractiveness are labels coupled with the affairs of lust. Once we have investigated and fully understood both sides, the word ‘attractive’ will dissolve and no longer have meaning. The word ‘unattractive’ will dissolve and no longer have meaning. That which gives the meaning of ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’ is the mind or, in other words, saññā. We are now wise to saññā as being what labels things. We see the harm of this labeling, and so it will no longer be able to go out interpreting in such a way as to make the mind grasp and be attached again. When this is the case, the mind lets go of both attractiveness and unattractiveness—or of beauty and ugliness—by seeing that they are simply dolls for training the mind and discernment as long as the mind is still attached to them, and the discernment for investigating to uproot them is not yet proficient enough.
When the mind is proficient and realizes the causes and effects of both sides—both attractiveness and unattractiveness—it can at the same time turn around to know its own labeling that goes out to dress this thing up as attractive and that as unattractive. When it knows this labeling clearly, the labeling disbands. The mind can see its harm, in that this labeling is the culprit. The unattractive object isn’t the culprit. The attractive object isn’t the culprit. Instead, the labeling that says ‘attractive’ and ‘unattractive’ is the culprit deceiving us and making us become attached. This is where things start coming inward. Our investigation comes inward like this and lets go, step by step.
When the mind has reached this stage, then whether we focus on attractiveness or unattractiveness, it will appear in the mind, without our having to create an external image to exercise with, just as when we travel and have passed progressively along a road. The image appears in the mind. The moment it appears there, we immediately know that saññā can label only as far as this and can’t go labeling outside. Even though the image appears in mind, we know clearly that the phenomenon that appears there as attractive or unattractive comes from saññā in the same way. We know the image that appears in the mind as well as the saññā labeling it, also as an image in the mind. Finally, the images in the mind vanish. The saññā—the labels, the interpretations—disband. We know that the labels that used to fool us into seeing things as attractive and unattractive and all sorts of other ways without limit—that used to fool us into falling for both of these sides—have disbanded. There is nothing further to deceive the heart. This is how unattractiveness is investigated in line with the principles of the practice—but you won’t find this anywhere in the texts. You’ll find it only if you search for the truth in the principles of nature that exist with the body and mind—the location of the four Noble Truths and the four frames of reference—coming down finally to the text of the heart. That’s where you’ll find the things I’ve explained here.
This is the body. We can know clearly that every part of the body is simply a physical phenomenon. And what is there in these physical phenomena? All the parts—hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, marrow, spleen, heart, liver, membranes, kidneys, lungs, intestines, stomach, gorge, feces—are just physical phenomena, things separate from the mind. If we consider them as unattractive, they’ve been unattractive all along, even before we considered them. And who is it that gives them meaning, saying that this is attractive or that is unattractive? When did these things ever give themselves meanings? When did they ever say they were attractive or unattractive? They don’t label or say anything at all. Whatever their truth is, that’s how it’s always been in line with its nature from the very beginning—and they don’t know their meaning. What knows their meaning is saññā. The one that falls for their meaning is also saññā, which comes out of this deluded mind. Once we are wise to this labeling, all these things disappear. Each has its separate reality. This is what it means to be wise to these things.
Feelings (vedanā) are the feelings of pleasure, pain, and indifference that arise from the body. The body is a phenomenon that has existed since before these feelings arose. Pains arise, remain, and then vanish. The body is the body. The pain is a pain. Each is a separate reality. Investigate and analyze them so as to see them for what they are—just a feeling, just a body—without regarding them as a being, a person, us or anyone else, ours or anyone else’s. The feeling isn’t us, ours, or anyone else’s. It’s simply something that appears for a moment and disappears for a while, in line with its nature. That’s what the truth is.
Saññā means labeling. Whatever it labels—things near, far, past, present, or future—whatever it labels, it vanishes immediately. It keeps vanishing—arising and vanishing, arising and vanishing—so how can we regard it as a self, a being, a person? Here we’re referring to discernment on the refined level, penetrating down in line with the truth that is clear to our heart without our having to ask anyone else.
Saṅkhāra means thought-fabrication: forming good thoughts, bad thoughts, neutral thoughts. Whatever it forms is simply a matter of arising and vanishing, arising and vanishing. We can’t get any sense out of these thought-fabrications at all if saññās don’t take up where they leave off and turn them into issues. As for saññās, we already know them clearly, so what is there to form thoughts, pick up where they leave off and grasp at them, turning them into long issues? All there is, is just the arising and vanishing in the mind. This is thought-fabrication. It’s one reality, which the Buddha calls the saṅkhāra khandha. Khandha means heap or aggregate. Rūpa khandha means the physical heap. Vedanā khandha means the heap of feelings. Saññā khandha means the heap of labels, the aggregate of labels. Saṅkhāra khandha means the heap of thought-fabrications, the aggregate of thought-fabrications.
Viññāṇa khandha means the aggregate or heap of consciousness, that which takes note the moment external things make contact, as when visual images make contact with the eye and consciousness occurs. As soon as the object passes, this consciousness vanishes. No matter what thing it takes note of, it’s always ready to vanish with that thing. What sense or substance can we get out of these five khandhas? How can we assume them to be us or ours?
This is what the issues of the five khandhas are like. They’ve occurred this way, appeared this way, arisen and vanished this way one after another continually from the day of our birth to the present moment. We can’t find any meaning or substance in them at all, unless the mind labels and interprets them, grasping onto them as being itself or belonging to itself and then carrying their weight—which is heavier than an entire mountain—within itself, without any reward. Its only reward is suffering and stress, because its own delusion has caused these things to reward it.
When the mind has investigated and seen these things clearly with sharp discernment, then the body is true in its body way, in line with the principles of nature that are made clear with discernment. Feelings of pain, pleasure, and indifference in the body are known clearly in line with their truth. Feelings in the mind—the pleasure, pain, and indifference arising in the mind—are the factor the mind continues to be interested in investigating. Even though we may not yet be abreast of these things, they have to be alerting the mind to investigate them at all times, because on this level we aren’t yet able to keep abreast of feelings in the mind—in other words, the pleasure, pain, and indifference exclusively in the mind that aren’t related to feelings in the body.
Consciousness is simply a separate reality. We see this clearly as it truly is. The mind has no more doubts that would cause it to latch onto these things as its self, because each is a separate reality. Even though they dwell together, they’re like a piece of fruit or an egg placed in a bowl. The bowl has to be a bowl. The egg placed there is an egg. They aren’t one and the same. The mind is the mind, which lies in the bowl of the body, feelings, labels, thought-fabrications, and consciousness, but it’s not the body, feelings, labels, thought-fabrications, or consciousness. It’s simply the mind, pure and simple, inside there. When we clearly make the distinction between the mind and the khandhas, that’s how it is.
Now that the mind clearly understands the body, feelings, labels, thought-fabrications, and consciousness, with nothing more to doubt, all that remains is the fidgeting and rippling exclusively within the mind. This rippling is a subtle form of saṅkhāra that ripples within the mind, a subtle form of pleasure, a subtle form of stress, a subtle form of saññā appearing in the mind. That’s all there is. The mind will investigate and analyze these things at all times with automatic mindfulness and discernment.
The mind on this level is very refined. It has let go of all things. The five khandhas no longer remain, but it hasn’t yet let go of itself: its awareness. This awareness, though, is still coated with unawareness.
This is called unawareness converging. It converges in the mind and can’t find any way out. The paths of unawareness are out the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, leading to sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. Once mindfulness and discernment have been able to cut these paths step by step, unawareness has no way out. It doesn’t have any following, so it just goes ‘blip…blip…blip…’ within itself, taking just the mind as the support onto which it latches because it can’t find any way out. It displays itself as a subtle feeling of pleasure, a subtle feeling of stress, a radiance that’s extremely amazing as long as discernment isn’t yet all-around and can’t yet destroy it. The mind keeps contemplating right there.
No matter how radiant or magnificent it may be, any conventional reality—no matter how refined—has to display a symptom of one sort or another that will arouse the mind’s suspicions enough to make it look for a way to remedy the situation. Thus the pleasure and stress that are refined phenomena appearing exclusively within the mind, together with the brightness and marvelousness, have unawareness as their ringleader; but because we have never encountered them before, we’re deluded into holding onto them when we first investigate into this point, and are lulled sound asleep by unawareness so that we grasp onto the radiance—to the pleasure, to the marvelousness, or to the magnificence arising from the unawareness embedded in the mind—as being our self. And so we assume the mind complete with unawareness to be our self, without our realizing what we are doing.
But not for long—because of the power of super-mindfulness and super-discernment, qualities that by now are uncomplacent. They keep scrutinizing, investigating, and analyzing back and forth in line with their nature on this level. The time will have to come when they know for sure by noticing the subtle pleasure that behaves just slightly in an irregular manner. Even though stress displays itself just barely, in line with this level of the mind, it’s enough to make us suspicious: ‘Eh—why does the mind have symptoms like this? It’s not constant.’ The magnificence displaying itself in the mind, the marvelousness displaying itself in the mind, display irregularities just barely, but enough for mindfulness and discernment to catch sight of them.
Once they catch sight of these things, they get suspicious and take them as the point to be investigated at that moment. So now the mind—this sort of awareness—becomes the target of their investigation. They focus down on this point to find out, ‘What is this? We’ve investigated everything of every sort to the point where we’ve been able to uproot it all, stage by stage, but this knowing nature, so bright, so amazing: What exactly is it?’
Mindfulness and discernment keep focusing on down and investigating. This point thus becomes the target of a full-scale investigation, the battlefield of automatic mindfulness and discernment at that moment. Before long, they are able to destroy the mind of unawareness that is so superlative, so amazing and magnificent from the viewpoint of unawareness, smashing and scattering it completely so that nothing, not even an atom, is left remaining in the heart.
When the nature on which we ignorantly conferred such titles as superlative and amazing is dissolved away, something on which we don’t have to confer the titles of superlative or not-superlative appears in full measure. That nature is purity. And this purity: When we compare it with the mind of unawareness that we once held to be superlative and supreme, the mind of unawareness is like a pile of cow dung, while the nature that had been concealed by unawareness, once it is revealed, is like pure gold. Pure gold and squishy cow dung: Which has greater value? Even a baby sucking his thumb can answer, so we needn’t waste our time and expose our stupidity by making comparisons.
This is the investigation of the mind. This level, when we have reached it, is where things are severed completely from becoming and birth in the mind, severed completely from all unawareness and craving. ‘Avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā’—’With unawareness as condition, there occur fabrications’—is completely severed and becomes ‘avijjāya tv’eva asesa-virāga-nirodhā saṅkhāra-nirodho, saṅkhāra-nirodhā viññāṇa-nirodho…’—’Simply with the disbanding of unawareness, with no remaining passion, thought-fabrications disband. With the disbanding of thought-fabrications, consciousness disbands.…’ all the way to ‘this is the disbanding of this entire mass of stress.’
When unawareness has disbanded, the fabrications that are the cause of stress disband and keep disbanding, just as the Buddha said, while the fabrications that continue as part of the khandhas become fabrications pure and simple, and aren’t a cause of stress. The consciousness that appears in the heart is consciousness pure and simple, and not consciousness as a cause of stress. ‘Viññāṇa-paccayā nāma-rūpaṁ, nāma-rūpa-paccayā saḷāyatanaṁ, saḷāyatana-paccayā phasso’—whatever is a physical or mental phenomenon, a sense medium, or a sensory contact is simply its own simple nature. It can’t provoke the mind that has finished its task to the point of ‘evam-etassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti’—’This is the disbanding of this entire mass of stress.’ The words, ‘evam-etassa kevalassa’—’all things mentioned here’—have absolutely disbanded. This is called disbanding in full measure.
When we disband defilement, craving, and unawareness, when we disband the world of rebirth, where do we disband it if not in the mind, which is the essence of the world of rebirth, the essence of unawareness, the essence of birth, ageing, illness, and death. The seeds of birth, ageing, illness, and death—namely, passion and craving, with unawareness as their ringleader—lie only here in the mind. When they are completely scattered from the mind, there is simply ‘nirodho hoti’—’This is the disbanding.…’
This, then, is the work of the practice in line with the principles of the Buddha’s teachings. From the time of the Buddha down to the present, these principles have remained constant. There are no deficiencies or excesses in the principles of the Dhamma taught by the Buddha that would make it unable to keep up with the tricks and deceits of the various forms of defilement. This is why it’s called the middle way: the Dhamma always appropriate for curing every sort of defilement to the point where defilement no longer remains.
This is how you should understand the power of the middle way. Hold to this path in your practice, because release from suffering and stress is something with a value transcending all three levels of becoming. And what do we see in any of the three levels of existence that is more fantastic than the release of the heart from all suffering and stress? When we see this clearly with our reason, our efforts in the practice will be able to advance. We’ll be ready to die in the battle. If it means death, then go ahead and die—die in the battle for victory over the defilements that have smothered the heart for so long. There is no teaching, no tool at all that can attack the defilements and strike them down like the middle way taught by the Lord Buddha.
For this reason, we can be secure and confident in the words, ‘Buddham saraṇaṁ gacchāmi’—’I go for refuge in the Buddha’—in that he practiced so that both the causes and the results—everything of every sort—were perfect and complete, before taking the Dhamma to teach the world. ‘Svākkhāto bhagavatā dhammo’—’The Dhamma of the Blessed One is well taught.’ He taught it well in every facet from having comprehended and seen the truth of every thing of every sort. ‘Saṅghaṁ saraṇaṁ gacchāmi’—’I go for refuge in the Saṅgha.’ The Noble Disciples who practiced in line with the principles of the Buddha’s Dhamma—without slacking or weakening, enabling themselves to expel defilement from their hearts, making their hearts superlative and becoming our refuge—did so without going outside the principles of this middle way. So I ask that you listen to this and take it to heart. Don’t set your heart on the deceitful and counterfeit issues filling the world of rebirth. Set your heart on the truth of the Dhamma, the truth of the practice. You will see the truth continually appearing in your heart in the midst of all the counterfeit things in the heart and throughout the world. Don’t harbor any doubts, for that would be to linger over the defilements that know no end.
In practicing the Dhamma, aim at the qualities of the heart—virtue, concentration, and discernment—more than at material things. As for material things, if we have just enough to get by, that’s plenty enough. Wherever you go.… We are born from human beings. We monks come from people. People have homes; we monks need places to stay—enough to provide ordinary shelter—but they should be just enough to get by. Don’t make them fancy. Don’t go competing with the world outside. That would simply foster your own defilements and make you known throughout the world in a way that the defilements would ridicule. Make yourself known instead for your virtue, concentration, and discernment, your conviction and persistence. Make yourself known for having striven to cure yourself or extricate yourself, to gain release from defilement and the mass of stress in the cycle of rebirth. This is what it means genuinely and directly to enhance your stature. Don’t abandon your efforts. Make it to the other shore of this turning, churning cycle in this lifetime—which is much surer than any other lifetime, any other time or place.
And don’t forget, wherever you go: Don’t get involved in construction work. Everywhere we go these days, there’s construction work and monks involved in it. It’s enough to make you sick. As soon as they meet each other: ‘How’s it going with your meeting hall?’ ‘How’s it going with your school? Are you finished yet? How much has it cost?’ Whenever there’s a project, whatever the project, they go harassing lay people, gathering up funds, so that the lay people have to spend money and get embroiled too, without any respite. Let the lay people have enough money so that they can stash some of it away. They practically kill themselves just to scrape together a little cash, but instead of being able to use it to provide for their stomachs, for their families, their children, and other essentials, and for making merit at their leisure, they end up having to hand it all over to help the monks who harass them by fund-raising to the point where they’re left empty-handed. This is the religion of harassing the world, which the Buddha never practiced and never taught us to practice. So I want you all to understand this. The Buddha never acted this way. This is the religion of material objects, the religion of money, not the religion of Dhamma following the example of the Buddha.
Look around us: Monks’ dwellings as large as Doi Inthanon. How many stories do they have? They stretch up to the sky. How luxurious are they? How much do they make you sick to your heart? Even my own dwelling, I can’t help feeling embarrassed by it, even though I stay there against my will and have to put up with the embarrassment. They sent the money to build it without letting me know in advance. I’m ashamed of the fact that while I have asked for alms all my life, my dwelling…even a palace in heaven is no match for it, while the people who give alms live in shacks no bigger than your fist. What’s appropriate, what’s fitting for monks who are habitually conscious of danger, is to live wherever you can squeeze yourself in to sit and lie down. But as for your effort in the practice, I ask that you be solid and stable, diligent and persevering.
Don’t waste your time by letting any job become an obstacle, because exterior work, for the most part, is work that destroys your work at mental development for the sake of killing and destroying defilement. This is the major task in body and mind for monks who aim at release and feel no desire to come back to be reborn and die, to carry the mass of major and minor sufferings in levels of becoming and birth any more. There’s no danger greater than the danger of defilement smothering the heart, able to force and coerce the heart into suffering everything to which the Dhamma doesn’t aspire. There’s no suffering greater than the suffering of a person oppressed by defilement. If we don’t fight with defilement while we’re ordained, will we be able to fight with it after we die? The vagaries of life and the body are things we can put up with, but don’t put up with the oppression of defilement any longer, for that wouldn’t be at all fitting for monks who are disciples of the Tathāgata.
Whether things may be just enough to get by, or however much they may be lacking, be sure to look to the Tathāgata as your refuge at all times. Don’t let things that are unnecessary for monks become luxurious beyond all reason—such as building things to the point of competing with the world outside and being crazy for hollow rank and fame, without being interested in building the Dhamma to revive the heart from its stupor. The people of the world live in flimsy little shacks that are ready to collapse at a sneeze. Whatever they get, they deny their own stomachs and their families so that they can make merit and give donations to monks. But monks live in many-storied mansions—fancier and more luxurious than those of heavenly beings—as if they had never lived in tiny shacks with their parents before becoming ordained. And who knows what they have decorating their mansions in competition with the world outside? It makes you more embarrassed than a young bride when her mother-in-law sneezes and passes wind so loud she practically faints.
We forget that our heads are shaved: Why don’t we ever think about what that means? Aren’t we becoming too shameless? This isn’t in line with the principles of the religion that teach those who are ordained to cure their defilements by seeing the dangers in worldly comforts. These sorts of things clutter up the religion and the hearts of us monks, so I ask that you not think of getting involved in them. Be conscious always of the fact that they aren’t the principles of the Dhamma for curing defilement in a way the heart can see clearly. Instead, they’re means for making monks forget themselves and become involved in the business of defilement, which is none of their business as monks at all.
The primary principle of the Dhamma for monks is ‘rukkhamūla-senāsanaṁ nissāya pabbajjā, tattha te yāva-jīvam ussāho karaṇīyo’—’Once you have ordained in the religion of the Buddha, you are to live under the shade of trees, in forests and mountains, in caves, under overhanging cliffs, in the open, by haystacks, which are all places suitable for killing defilement, for wiping out the defilements in your hearts. Try to act in this way all of your life.’ Everything else—such as the things termed ‘extraneous gains’ (atireka-lābho)—are unnecessary comforts.
The work the Buddha would have us do is the contemplation of kesā, lomā, nakhā, dantā, taco; taco, dantā, nakhā, lomā, kesā: hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin; skin, teeth, nails, hair of the body, hair of the head, and from there on to the 32 parts of the body—beginning with hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, marrow, spleen, heart, liver, membranes, kidneys, lungs, intestines, stomach, gorge, and feces—which exist in each of us. ‘Try to unravel these things with your discernment so as to see them as they truly are. When you have completed this work with the full mindfulness and discernment of heroes, then release from suffering—that tremendous treasure—will be yours.’ Listen to that! Isn’t it far removed from the way we like to take our pleasure with the scraps and leftovers that the Buddha taught us to relinquish in every word, every phrase, every book of the Dhamma?
We ourselves are the adversaries of the teachings of the religion. We luxuriate in everything the Dhamma criticizes. Lay people are no match for us. Whenever they get anything good, they use it to make merit and give to monks. Whatever they eat and use is just so as to get by. All they ask for is good things to give to monks, in line with their nature as merit-seekers, while we monks have become luxury-seekers. Our dwellings are fine, the things we use are fine, and on top of that some of us have radios, TV sets, cars… If you compare this with the basic rules of the Dhamma and Vinaya, it makes you more heartsick than you can say. How is it that we have the stomach to kill the Buddha red-handed this way with our shameless and unthinking ostentation as monks? It really makes you embarrassed.
So I ask that each of you reflect a great deal on these matters. If you’ve ordained really for the sake of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha—and not for the sake of being adversaries of the Buddha’s teachings—I ask that you reflect on the Dhamma and the path followed by the Buddha more than on any other matter. No time excels the time of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Saṅgha that they have set as an example for us to follow. This is a very important principle. I ask that you all follow the principles of the time of the Buddha. The results, which are refreshing and satisfying, are sure to appear in line with the principles of the well-taught Dhamma, the Dhamma that leads out from suffering. There’s no way to doubt this.
These things I’ve practiced to a fair extent myself. I used to be a junior monk too, you know. When I went to study and train with my teachers—and especially Ven. Ācariya Mun—I really listened. I listened to him speak. He would speak half in earnest, half in jest, in the ordinary way of teachers talking with their students, but I would never listen in jest. I always listened in earnest and took things to heart. I had the greatest imaginable love and fear and respect for him. I’d hold to every facet of what he’d say that I could put into practice. What I’ve been able to teach my students is due to the power of what he taught me. For this reason, even though in this monastery we may conduct ourselves somewhat differently from other monasteries in general, I’m confident in line with the principles of reason and of the Dhamma and Vinaya so that I’m not worried about the matter. I don’t think that what we do is wrong, because I have the example of the Buddha’s teaching and of my teachers—everything of every sort that follows the original patterns—which is why I’ve led my fellow meditators to practice this way all along. Whether this is right or wrong, we have to decide in line with the principles of reason. Deference to people is an affair of the world, an affair of individuals, and not an affair of the Dhamma and Vinaya, which are fixed principles for the practice. Speaking in line with the Dhamma for the sake of understanding and right practice: That’s the genuine Dhamma. For this reason, an unwillingness to speak the truth for fear of stepping on someone’s toes is not a trait for those who aim at the Dhamma together.
This seems enough for now, so I’ll ask to stop here.
1. The tallest mountain in Thailand.