Right Practice — Steady Practice By Ajahn Chah


Right Practice — Steady Practice

Wat Wana Potiyahn here is certainly very peaceful, but this is meaningless if our minds are not calm. All places are peaceful. That some may seem distracting is because of our minds. However, a quiet place can help to become calm, by giving one the opportunity to train and thus harmonize with its calm.

You should all bear in mind that this practice is difficult. To train other things is not so difficult, it’s easy, but the human mind is hard to train. The Lord Buddha trained his mind. The mind is the important thing. Everything within this body-mind system comes together at the mind. The eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body all receive sensations and send them into the mind, which is the supervisor of all the other sense organs. Therefore it is important to train the mind. If the mind is well trained all problems come to an end. If there are still problems it’s because the mind still doubts, it doesn’t know in accordance with the truth. That is why there are problems.

So recognize that all of you have come fully prepared for practicing Dhamma. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining, the tools you need with which to practice are well-provided, wherever you are. They are there, just like the Dhamma. The Dhamma is something which abounds everywhere. Right here, on land or in water… wherever… the Dhamma is always there. The Dhamma is perfect and complete, but it’s our practice that’s not yet complete.

The Lord, Fully Enlightened Buddha taught a means by which all of us may practice and come to know this Dhamma. It isn’t a big thing, only a small thing, but it’s right. For example, look at hair. If we know even one strand of hair, then we know every strand, both our own and also that of others. We know that they are all simply “hair.” By knowing one strand of hair we know it all.

Or consider people. If we see the true nature of conditions within ourselves then we know all the other people in the world also, because all people are the same. Dhamma is like this. It’s a small thing and yet it’s big. That is, to see the truth of one condition is to see the truth of them all. When we know the truth as it is all problems come to an end.

Nevertheless, the training is difficult. Why is it difficult? It’s difficult because of wanting, tanha. If you don’t “want” then you don’t practice. But if you practice out of desire you won’t see the Dhamma. Think about it, all of you. If you don’t want to practice you can’t practice. You must first want to practice in order to actually do the practice. Whether stepping forward or stepping back you meet desire. This is why the cultivators of the past have said that this practice is something that’s extremely difficult to do.

You don’t see Dhamma because of desire. Sometimes desire is very strong, you want to see the Dhamma immediately, but the Dhamma is not your mind — your mind is not yet Dhamma. The Dhamma is one thing and the mind is another. It’s not that whatever you like is Dhamma and whatever you don’t like isn’t. That’s not the way it goes.

Actually this mind of ours is simply a condition of Nature, like a tree in the forest. If you want a plank or a beam it must come from the tree, but the tree is still only a tree. It’s not yet a beam or a plank. Before it can really be of use to us we must take that tree and saw it into beams or planks. It’s the same tree but it becomes transformed into something else. Intrinsically it’s just a tree, a condition of Nature. But in its raw state it isn’t yet of much use to those who need timber. Our mind is like this. It is a condition of Nature. As such it perceives thoughts, it discriminates into beautiful and ugly and so on.

This mind of ours must be further trained. We can’t just let it be. It’s a condition of Nature… train it to realize that it’s a condition of Nature. Improve on Nature so that it’s appropriate to our needs, which is Dhamma. Dhamma is something which must be practiced and brought within.

If you don’t practice you won’t know. Frankly speaking, you won’t know the Dhamma by just reading it or studying it. Or if you do know it your knowledge is still defective. For example, this spittoon here. Everybody knows it’s a spittoon but they don’t fully know the spittoon. Why don’t they fully know it? If I called this spittoon a saucepan, what would you say? Suppose that every time I asked for it I said, “Please bring that saucepan over here,” that would confuse you. Why so? Because you don’t fully know the spittoon. If you did there would be no problem. You would simply pick up that object and hand it to me, because actually there isn’t any spittoon. Do you understand? It’s a spittoon due to convention. This convention is accepted all over the country, so it’s spittoon. But there isn’t any real “spittoon.” If somebody wants to call it a saucepan it can be a saucepan. It can be whatever you call it. This is called “concept.” If we fully know the spittoon, even if somebody calls it a saucepan there’s no problem. Whatever others may call it we are unperturbed because we are not blind to its true nature. This is one who knows Dhamma.

Now let’s come back to ourselves. Suppose somebody said, “You’re crazy!”, or, “You’re stupid,” for example. Even though it may not be true, you wouldn’t feel so good. Everything becomes difficult because of our ambitions to have and to achieve. Because of these desires to get and to be, because we don’t know according to the truth, we have no contentment. If we know the Dhamma, are enlightened to the Dhamma, greed, aversion and delusion will disappear. When we understand the way things are there is nothing for them to rest on.

Why is the practice so difficult and arduous? Because of desires. As soon as we sit down to meditate we want to become peaceful. If we didn’t want to find peace we wouldn’t sit, we wouldn’t practice. As soon as we sit down we want peace to be right there, but wanting the mind to be calm makes for confusion, and we feel restless. This is how it goes. So the Buddha says, “Don’t speak out of desire, don’t sit out of desire, don’t walk out of desire,… Whatever you do, don’t do it with desire.” Desire means wanting. If you don’t want to do something you won’t do it. If our practice reaches this point we can get quite discouraged. How can we practice? As soon as we sit down there is desire in the mind.

It’s because of this that the body and mind are difficult to observe. If they are not the self nor belonging to self then who do they belong to? It’s difficult to resolve these things, we must rely on wisdom. The Buddha says we must practice by letting go. It’s hard to understand this practice of “letting go,” isn’t it? If we let go then we just don’t practice, right? Because we’ve let go.

Suppose we went to buy some coconuts in the market, and while we were carrying them back someone asked:

“What did you buy those coconuts for?”

“I bought them to eat.”

“Are you going to eat the shells as well?”


“I don’t believe you. If you’re not going to eat the shells then why did you buy them also?”

Well what do you say? How are you going to answer their question? We practice with desire. If we didn’t have desire we wouldn’t practice. Practicing with desire is tanha. Contemplating in this way can give rise to wisdom, you know. For example, those coconuts: Are you going to eat the shells as well? Of course not. Then why do you take them? Because the time hasn’t yet come for you to throw them away. They’re useful for wrapping up the coconut in. If, after eating the coconut, you throw the shells away, there is no problem.

Our practice is like this. The Buddha said, “Don’t act on desire, don’t speak from desire, don’t eat with desire.” Standing, walking, sitting or reclining… whatever… don’t do it with desire. This means to do it with detachment. It’s just like buying the coconuts from the market. We’re not going to eat the shells but it’s not yet time to throw them away. We keep them first. This is how the practice is. Concept and Transcendence are co-existent, just like a coconut. The flesh, the husk and the shell are all together. When we buy it we buy the whole lot. If somebody wants to accuse us of eating coconut shells that’s their business, we know what we’re doing.

Wisdom is something each of us find for oneself. To see it we must go neither fast nor slow. What should we do? Go to where there is neither fast nor slow. Going fast or going slow are not the way.

But we’re all impatient, we’re in a hurry. As soon as we begin we want to rush to the end, we don’t want to be left behind. We want to succeed. When it comes to fixing their minds for meditation some people go too far… They light the incense, prostrate and make a vow, “As long as this incense is not yet completely burnt I will not rise from my sitting, even if I collapse or die, no matter what… I’ll die sitting” Having made their vow they start their sitting. As soon as they start to sit Mara’s hordes come rushing at them from all sides. They’ve only sat for an instant and already they think the incense must be finished. They open their eyes for a peek…”Oh, There’s still ages left!”

They grit their teeth and sit some more, feeling hot, flustered, agitated and confused… Reaching the breaking point they think, “it must be finished by now.”… Have another peek…”Oh, no! It’s not even half-way yet!”

Two or three times and it’s still not finished, so they just give up, pack it in and sit there hating themselves. “I’m so stupid, I’m so hopeless!” They sit and hate themselves, feeling like a hopeless case. This just gives rise to frustration and hindrances. This is called the hindrance of ill-will. They can’t blame others so they blame themselves. And why is this? It’s all because of wanting.

Actually it isn’t necessary to go through all that. To concentrate means to concentrate with detachment, not to concentrate yourself into knots.

But maybe we read the scriptures, about the life of the Buddha, how he sat under the Bodhi tree and determined to himself,

“As long as I have still not attained Supreme Enlightenment I will not rise from this place, even if my blood dries up.”

Reading this in the books you may think of trying it yourself. You’ll do it like the Buddha. But you haven’t considered that your car is only a small one. The Buddha’s car was a really big one, he could take it all in one go. With only your tiny, little car, how can you possibly take it all at once? It’s a different story altogether.

Why do we think like that? Because we’re too extreme. Sometimes we go too low, sometimes we go too high. The point of balance is so hard to find.

Now I’m only speaking from experience. In the past my practice was like this. Practicing in order to get beyond wanting… if we don’t want, can we practice? I was stuck here. But to practice with wanting is suffering. I didn’t know what to do, I was baffled. Then I realized that the practice which is steady is the important thing. One must practice consistently. They call this the practice that is “consistent in all postures.” Keep refining the practice, don’t let it become a disaster. Practice is one thing, disaster is another. Most people usually create disaster. When they feel lazy they don’t bother to practice, they only practice when they feel energetic. This is how I tended to be.

All of you ask yourselves now, is this right? To practice when you feel like it, not when you don’t: is that in accordance with the Dhamma? Is it straight? Is it in line with the Teaching? This is what makes practice inconsistent.

Whether you feel like it or not you should practice just the same: this is how the Buddha taught. Most people wait till they’re in the mood before practicing, when they don’t feel like it they don’t bother. This is as far as they go. This is called “disaster,” it’s not practice. In the true practice, whether you are happy or depressed you practice; whether it’s easy or difficult you practice; whether it’s hot or cold you practice. It’s straight like this. In the real practice, whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you must have the intention to continue the practice steadily, making your sati consistent in all postures.

At first thought it seems as if you should stand for as long as you walk, walk for as long as you sit, sit for as long as you lie down… I’ve tried it but I couldn’t do it. If a meditator were to make his standing, walking, sitting and lying down all equal, how many days could he keep it up for? Stand for five minutes, sit for five minutes, lie down for five minutes… I couldn’t do it for very long. So I sat down and thought about it some more. “What does it all mean? People in this world can’t practice like this!”

Then I realized…”Oh, that’s not right, it can’t be right because it’s impossible to do. Standing, walking, sitting, reclining… make them all consistent. To make the postures consistent the way they explain it in the books is impossible.”

But it is possible to do this: The mind… just consider the mind. To have sati, recollection, sampajañña, self awareness and pañña, all-round wisdom… this you can do. This is something that’s really worth practicing. This means that while standing we have sati, while walking we have sati, while sitting we have sati, and while reclining we have sati, — consistently. This is possible. We put awareness into our standing, walking, sitting, lying down — into all postures.

When the mind has been trained like this it will constantly recollect Buddho, Buddho, Buddho… which is knowing. Knowing what? Knowing what is right and what is wrong at all times. Yes, this is possible. This is getting down to the real practice. That is, whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down there is continuous sati.

Then you should understand those conditions which should be given up and those which should be cultivated. You know happiness, you know unhappiness. When you know happiness and unhappiness your mind will settle at the point which is free of happiness and unhappiness. Happiness is the loose path, kamasukhallikanuyogo. Unhappiness is the tight path, attakilamathanuyogo. If we know these two extremes, we pull it back. We know when the mind is inclining towards happiness or unhappiness and we pull it back, we don’t allow it to lean over. We have this sort of awareness, we adhere to the One Path, the single Dhamma. We adhere to the awareness, not allowing the mind to follow its inclinations.

But in your practice it doesn’t tend to be like that, does it? You follow your inclinations. If you follow your inclinations it’s easy, isn’t it? But this is the ease which causes suffering, like someone who can’t be bothered working. He takes it easy, but when the time comes to eat he hasn’t got anything. This is how it goes.

So I’ve contended with many aspects of the Buddha’s teaching in the past, but I couldn’t really beat him. Nowadays I accept it. I accept that the many teachings of the Buddha are straight down the line, so I’ve taken those teachings and used them to train both myself and others.

The practice which is important is patipada. What is patipada? It is simply all our various activities, standing, walking, sitting, reclining and everything else. This is the patipada of the body. Now the patipada of the mind: how many times in the course of today have you felt low? How many times have you felt high? Have there been any noticeable feelings? We must know ourselves like this. Having seen those feelings can we let go? Whatever we can’t yet let go of we must work with. When we see that we can’t yet let go of some particular feeling we must take it and examine it with wisdom. Reason it out. Work with it. This is practice. For example when you are feeling zealous, practice, and then when you feel lazy, try to continue the practice. If you can’t continue at “full speed” then at least do half as much. Don’t just waste the day away by being lazy and not practicing. Doing that will lead to disaster, it’s not the way of a cultivator.

Now I’ve heard some people say, “Oh, this year I was really in a bad way.”

“How come?”

“I was sick all year. I couldn’t practice at all.”

Oh! If they don’t practice when death is near when will they ever practice? If they’re feeling well do you think they’ll practice? No, they only get lost in happiness. If they’re suffering they still don’t practice, they get lost in that. I don’t know when people think they’re going to practice! They can only see that they’re sick, in pain, almost dead from fever… that’s right, bring it on heavy, that’s where the practice is. When people are feeling happy it just goes to their heads and they get vain and conceited.

We must cultivate our practice. What this means is that whether you are happy or unhappy you must practice just the same. If you are feeling well you should practice, and if you are feeling sick you should also practice. Those who think, “This year I couldn’t practice at all, I was sick the whole time”… if these people are feeling well, they just walk around singing songs. This is wrong thinking, not right thinking. This is why the cultivators of the past have all maintained the steady training of the heart. If things are to go wrong, just let them be with the body, not in mind.

There was a time in my practice, after I had been practicing about five years, when I felt that living with others was a hindrance. I would sit in my kuti and try to meditate and people would keep coming by for a chat and disturbing me. I ran off to live by myself. I thought I couldn’t practice with those people bothering me. I was fed up, so I went to live in a small, deserted monastery in the forest, near a small village. I stayed there alone, speaking to no-one — because there was nobody else to speak to.

After I’d been there about fifteen days the thought arose, “Hmm. It would be good to have a novice or pa-kow here with me. He could help me out with some small jobs.” I knew it would come up, and sure enough, there it was!

“Hey! You’re a real character! You say you’re fed up with your friends, fed up with your fellow monks and novices, and now you want a novice. What’s this?”

“No,” it says, “I want a good novice.”

“There! Where are all the good people, can you find any? Where are you going to find a good person? In the whole monastery there were only no-good people. You must have been the only good person, to have run away like this!”

…You have to follow it up like this, follow up the tracks of your thoughts until you see…

“Hmm. This is the important one. Where is there a good person to be found? There aren’t any good people, you must find goodness anywhere else, you must look within yourself. If you are good in yourself then wherever you go will be good. Whether others criticize or praise you, you are still good. If you aren’t good, then when others criticize you, you get angry, and when they praise you, you get pleased.

At that time I reflected on this and have found it to be true from that day up until the present. Goodness must be found within. As soon as I saw this, that feeling of wanting to run away disappeared. In later times, whenever I had that desire arise I let it go. Whenever it arose I was aware of it and kept my awareness on that. Thus I had a solid foundation. Wherever I lived, whether people condemned me or whatever they would say, I would reflect that the point is not whether they were good or bad. Good or evil must be seen within ourselves. However other people are, that’s their concern.

Don’t go thinking, “Oh, today is too hot,” or, “Today is too cold,” or, “Today is…”. Whatever the day is like that’s just the way it is. Really you are simply blaming the weather for your own laziness. We must see the Dhamma within ourselves, then there is a surer kind of peace.

So for all of you who have come to practice here, even though it’s only for a few days, still many things will arise. Many things may be arising which you’re not even aware of. There is some right thinking, some wrong thinking… many, many things. So I say this practice is difficult.

Even though some of you may experience some peace when you sit in meditation, don’t be in a hurry to congratulate yourselves. Likewise, if there is some confusion, don’t blame yourselves. If things seem to be good, don’t delight in them, and if they’re not good don’t be averse to them. Just look at it all, look at what you have. Just look, don’t bother judging. If it’s good don’t hold fast to it; if it’s bad, don’t cling to it. Good and bad can both bite, so don’t hold fast to them.

The practice is simply to sit, sit and watch it all. Good moods and bad moods come and go as is their nature. Don’t only praise your mind or only condemn it, know the right time for these things. When it’s time for congratulations then congratulate it, but just a little, don’t overdo it. Just like teaching a child, sometimes you may have to spank it a little. In our practice sometimes we may have to punish ourselves, but don’t punish yourself all the time. If you punish yourself all the time in a while you’ll just give up the practice. But then you can’t give yourself a good time and take it easy either. That’s not the way to practice. We practice according to the Middle Way. What is the Middle Way? This Middle Way is difficult to follow, you can’t rely on your moods and desires.

Don’t think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way then quickly change your thinking! Steady practice is having the attitude of practice while standing, walking, sitting and lying down. When coming out of sitting meditation, reflect that you’re simply changing postures. If you reflect in this way you will have peace. Wherever you are you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly, you will have a steady awareness within yourself.

Those of you who, having finished their evening sitting, simply indulge in their moods, spending the whole day letting the mind wander where it wants, will find that the next evening when sitting meditation all they get is the “backwash” from the day’s aimless thinking. There is no foundation of calm because they have let it go cold all day. If you practice like this your mind gets gradually further and further from the practice. When I ask some of my disciples, “How is your meditation going?”. They say, “Oh, it’s all gone now.” You see? They can keep it up for a month or two but in a year or two it’s all finished.

Why is this? It’s because they don’t take this essential point into their practice. When they’ve finished sitting they let go of their samadhi. They start to sit for shorter and shorter periods, till they reach the point where as soon as they start to sit they want to finish. Eventually they don’t even sit. It’s the same with bowing to the Buddha-image. At first they make the effort to prostrate every night before going to sleep, but after a while their minds begin to stray. Soon they don’t bother to prostrate at all, they just nod, till eventually it’s all gone. They throw out the practice completely.

Therefore, understand the importance of sati, practice constantly. Right practice is steady practice. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining the practice must continue. This means that practice, meditation, is done in the mind, not in the body. If our mind has zeal, is conscientious and ardent, then there will be awareness. The mind is the important thing. The mind is that which supervises everything we do.

When we understand properly then we practice properly. When we practice properly we don’t go astray. Even if we only do a little that is still all right. For example, when you finish sitting in meditation, remind yourselves that you are not actually finishing meditation, you are simply changing postures. Your mind is still composed. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you have sati with you. If you have this kind of awareness you can maintain your internal practice. In the evening when you sit again the practice continues uninterrupted. Your effort is unbroken, allowing the mind to attain calm.

This is called steady practice. Whether we are talking or doing other things we should try to make the practice continuous. If our mind has recollection and self-awareness continuously, our practice will naturally develop, it will gradually come together. The mind will find peace, because it will know what is right and what is wrong. It will see what is happening within us and realize peace.

If we are to develop sila (moral restraint), or samadhi (firmness of mind) we must first have pañña (wisdom). Some people think that they’ll develop moral restraint one year, samadhi the next year and the year after that they’ll develop wisdom. They think these three things are separate. They think that this year they will develop sila, but if the mind is not firm (samadhi), how can they do it? If there is no understanding, (pañña) how can they do it? Without samadhi or pañña, sila will be sloppy.

In fact these three come together at the same point. When we have sila we have samadhi, when we have samadhi we have pañña. They are all one, like a mango. Whether it’s small or fully grown, it’s still a mango. When it’s ripe it’s still the same mango. If we think in simple terms like this we can see it more easily. We don’t have to learn a lot of things, just to know these things, to know our practice.

When it comes to meditation some people don’t get what they want, so they just give up, saying they don’t yet have the merit to practice meditation. They can do bad things, they have that sort of talent, but they don’t have the talent to do good. They throw it in, saying they don’t have a good enough foundation. This is the way people are, they side with their defilements.

Now that you have this chance to practice, please understand that whether you find it difficult or easy to develop samadhi is entirely up to you, not the samadhi. If it is difficult, it is because you are practicing wrongly. In our practice we must have “Right View” (sammaditthi). If our view is right then everything else is right: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection, Right Concentration — the Eightfold Path. When there is Right View all the other factors will follow on.

Whatever happens, don’t let your mind stray off the track. Look within yourself and you will see clearly. For the best practice, as I see it, it isn’t necessary to read many books. Take all the books and lock them away. Just read your own mind. You have all been burying yourselves in books from the time you entered school. I think that now you have this opportunity and have the time, take the books, put them in a cupboard and lock the door. Just read your mind.

Whenever something arises within the mind, whether you like it or not, whether it seems right or wrong, just cut it off with, “this is not a sure thing.” Whatever arises just cut it down, “not sure, not sure.” With just this single ax you can cut it all down. It’s all “not sure.”

For the duration of this next month that you will be staying in this forest monastery, you should make a lot of headway. You will see the truth. This “not sure” is really an important one. This one develops wisdom. The more you look the more you will see “not sure”-ness. After you’ve cut something off with “not sure” it may come circling round and pop up again. Yes, it’s truly “not sure.” Whatever pops up just stick this one label on it all…”not sure.” You stick the sign on…”not sure”… and in a while, when its turn comes, it crops up again…”Ah, not sure.” Dig here! Not sure. You will see this same old one who’s been fooling you month in, month out, year in, year out, from the day you were born. There’s only this one who’s been fooling you all along. See this and realize the way things are.

When your practice reaches this point you won’t cling to sensations, because they are all uncertain. Have you ever noticed? Maybe you see a clock and think, “Oh, this is nice.” Buy it and see… in not many days you’re bored with it already. “This pen is really beautiful,” so you take the trouble to buy one. In not many months you tire of it again. This is how it is. Where is there any certainty?

If we see all these things as uncertain then their value fades away. All things become insignificant. Why should we hold on to things that have no value? We keep them only as we might keep an old rag to wipe our feet with. We see all sensations as equal in value because they all have the same nature.

When we understand sensations we understand the world. The world is sensations and sensations are the world. If we aren’t fooled by sensations we aren’t fooled by the world. If we aren’t fooled by the world we aren’t fooled by sensations.

The mind which sees this will have a firm foundation of wisdom. Such a mind will not have many problems. Any problems it does have it can solve. When there are no more problems there are no more doubts. Peace arises in their stead. This is called “Practice.” If we really practice it must be like this.
Samma Samadhi — Detachment Within Activity

Take a look at the example of the Buddha. Both in his own practice and in his methods for teaching the disciples he was exemplary. The Buddha taught the standards of practice as skillful means for getting rid of conceit, he couldn’t do the practice for us. Having heard that teaching we must further teach ourselves, practice for ourselves. The results will arise here, not at the teaching.

The Buddha’s teaching can only enable us to get an initial understanding of the Dhamma, but the Dhamma is not yet within our hearts. Why not? Because we haven’t yet practiced, we haven’t yet taught ourselves. The Dhamma arises at the practice. If you know it, you know it through the practice. If you doubt it, you doubt it at the practice. Teachings from the Masters may be true, but simply listening to Dhamma is not yet enough to enable us to realize it. The teaching simply points out the way to realize. To realize the Dhamma we must take that teaching and bring it into our hearts. That part which is for the body we apply to the body, that part which is for the speech we apply to the speech, and that part which is for the mind we apply to the mind. This means that after hearing the teaching we must further teach ourselves to know that Dhamma, to be that Dhamma.

The Buddha said that those who simply believe others are not truly wise. A wise person practices until he is one with the Dhamma, until he can have confidence in himself, independent of others.

On one occasion, while Venerable Sariputta was sitting, listening respectfully at his feet as the Buddha expounded the Dhamma, the Buddha turned to him and asked,

“Sariputta, do you believe this teaching?”

Venerable Sariputta replied, “No, I don’t yet believe it.”

Now this is a good illustration. Venerable Sariputta listened, and he took note. When he said he didn’t yet believe he wasn’t being careless, he was speaking the truth. He simply took note of that teaching, because he had not yet developed his own understanding of it, so he told the Buddha that he didn’t yet believe — because he really didn’t believe. These words almost sound as if Venerable Sariputta was being rude, but actually he wasn’t. He spoke the truth, and the Buddha praised him for it.

“Good, good, Sariputta. A wise person doesn’t readily believe, he should consider first before believing.”

Conviction in a belief can take various forms. One form reasons according to Dhamma, while another form is contrary to the Dhamma. This second way is heedless, it is a foolhardy understanding, micchaditthi, wrong view. One doesn’t listen to anybody else.

Take the example of Dighanakha the Brahman. This Brahman only believed himself, he wouldn’t believe others. At one time when the Buddha was resting at Rajagaha, Dighanakha went to listen to his teaching. Or you might say that Dighanakha went to teach the Buddha because he was intent on expounding his own views…

“I am of the view that nothing suits me.”

This was his view. The Buddha listened to Dighanakha’s view and then answered,

“Brahman, this view of yours doesn’t suit you either.”

When the Buddha had answered in this way, Dighanakha was stumped. He didn’t know what to say. The Buddha explained in many ways, till the Brahman understood. He stopped to reflect and saw…

“Hmm, this view of mine isn’t right.”

On hearing the Buddha’s answer the Brahman abandoned his conceited views and immediately saw the truth. He changed right then and there, turning right around, just as one would invert one’s hand. He praised the teaching of the Buddha thus:

“Listening to the Blessed One’s teaching, my mind was illumined, just as one living in darkness might perceive light. My mind is like an overturned basin which has been uprighted, like a man who has been lost and finds the way.”

Now at that time a certain knowledge arose within his mind, within that mind which had been uprighted. Wrong view vanished and right view took its place. Darkness disappeared and light arose.

The Buddha declared that the Brahman Dighanakha was one who had opened the Dhamma Eye. Previously Dighanakha clung to his own views and had no intention of changing them. But when he heard the Buddha’s teaching his mind saw the truth, he saw that his clinging to those views was wrong. When the right understanding arose he was able to perceive his previous understanding as mistaken, so he compared his experience with a person living in darkness who had found light. This is how it is. At that time the Brahman Dighanakha transcended his wrong view.

Now we must change in this way. Before we can give up defilements we must change our perspective. We must begin to practice rightly and practice well. Previously we didn’t practice rightly or well, and yet we thought we were right and good just the same. When we really look into the matter we upright ourselves, just like turning over one’s hand. This means that the “One Who Knows,” or wisdom, arises in the mind, so that it is able to see things anew. A new kind of awareness arises.

Therefore cultivators must practice to develop this knowing, which we call Buddho, the One Who Knows, in their minds. Originally the one who knows is not there, our knowledge is not clear, true or complete. This knowledge is therefore too weak to train the mind. But then the mind changes, or inverts, as a result of this awareness, called wisdom or insight, which exceeds our previous awareness. That previous “one who knows” did not yet know fully and so was unable to bring us to our objective.

The Buddha therefore taught to look within, opanayiko. Look within, don’t look outwards. Or if you look outwards then look within, to see the cause and effect therein. Look for the truth in all things, because external objects and internal objects are always affecting each other. Our practice is to develop a certain type of awareness until it becomes stronger than our previous awareness. This causes wisdom and insight to arise within the mind, enabling us to clearly know the workings of the mind, the language of the mind and the ways and means of all the defilements.

The Buddha, when he first left his home in search of liberation, was probably not really sure what to do, much like us. He tried many ways to develop his wisdom. He looked for teachers, such as Udaka Ramaputta, going there to practice meditation… right leg on left leg, right hand on left hand… body erect… eyes closed… letting go of everything… until he was able to attain a high level of absorption samadhi. But when he came out of that samadhi his old thinking came up and he would attach to it just as before. Seeing this, he knew that wisdom had not yet arisen. His understanding had not yet penetrated to the truth, it was still incomplete, still lacking. Seeing this he nonetheless gained some understanding — that this was not yet the summation of practice — but he left that place to look for a new teacher.

When the Buddha left his old teacher he didn’t condemn him, he did as does the bee which takes nectar from the flower without damaging the petals.

The Buddha then proceeded on to study with Alara Kalama and attained an even higher state of samadhi, but when he came out of that state Bimba and Rahula came back into his thoughts again, the old memories and feelings came up again. He still had lust and desire. Reflecting inward he saw that he still hadn’t reached his goal, so he left that teacher also. He listened to his teachers and did his best to follow their teachings. He continually surveyed the results of his practice, he didn’t simply do things and then discard them for something else.

Even when it came to ascetic practices, after he had tried them he realized that starving until one is almost skeleton is simply a matter for the body. The body doesn’t know anything. practicing in that way was like executing an innocent person while ignoring the real thief.

When the Buddha really looked into the matter he saw that practice is not a concern of the body, it is a concern of the mind. Attakilamathanuyogo (self-mortification) — the Buddha had tried it and found that it was limited to the body. In fact, all Buddhas are enlightened in mind.

Whether in regard to the body or to the mind, just throw them all together as Transient, Imperfect and Ownerless — aniccam, dukkham and anatta. They are simply conditions of Nature. They arise depending on supporting factors, exist for a while and then cease. When there are appropriate conditions they arise again; having arisen they exist for a while, then cease once more. These things are not a “self,” a “being,” an “us” or a “them.” There’s nobody there, simply feelings. Happiness has no intrinsic self, suffering has no intrinsic self. No self can be found, there are simply elements of Nature which arise, exist and cease. They go through this constant cycle of change.

All beings, including humans, tend to see the arising as themselves, the existence as themselves, and the cessation as themselves. Thus they cling to everything. They don’t want things to be the way they are, they don’t want them to be otherwise. For instance, having arisen they don’t want things to cease; having experienced happiness, they don’t want suffering. If suffering does arise they want it to go away as quickly as possible, but even better if it doesn’t arise at all. This is because they see this body and mind as themselves, or belonging to themselves, and so they demand those things to follow their wishes.

This sort of thinking is like building a dam or a dike without making an outlet to let the water through. The result is that the dam bursts. And so it is with this kind of thinking. The Buddha saw that thinking in this way is the cause of suffering. Seeing this cause, the Buddha gave it up.

This is the Noble Truth of the Cause of Suffering. The Truths of Suffering, its Cause, its Cessation and the Way leading to that Cessation… people are stuck right here. If people are to overcome their doubts it’s right at this point. Seeing that these things are simply rupa and nama, or corporeality and mentality, it becomes obvious that they are not a being, a person, an “us,” or a “them.” They simply follow the laws of Nature.

Our practice is to know things in this way. We don’t have the power to really control these things, we aren’t really their owners. Trying to control them causes suffering, because they aren’t really ours to control. Neither body nor mind are self or others. If we know this as it really is then we see clearly. We see the truth, we are at one with it. It’s like seeing a lump of red hot iron which has been heated in a furnace. It’s hot all over. Whether we touch it on top, the bottom or the sides it’s hot. No matter where we touch it, it’s hot. This is how you should see things.

Mostly when we start to practice we want to attain, to achieve, to know and to see, but we don’t yet know what it is we’re going to achieve or know. There was once a disciple of mine whose practice was plagued with confusion and doubts. But he kept practicing, and I kept instructing him, till he began to find some peace. But when he eventually became a bit calm he got caught up in his doubts again, saying, “What do I do next?” There! the confusion arises again. He says he wants peace but when he gets it, he doesn’t want it, he asks what he should do next!

So in this practice we must do everything with detachment. How are we to detach? We detach by seeing things clearly. Know the characteristics of the body and mind as they are. We meditate in order to find peace, but in doing so we see that which is not peaceful. This is because movement is the nature of the mind.

When practicing samadhi we fix our attention on the in and out-breaths at the nose tip or the upper lip. This “lifting” the mind to fix it is called vitakka, or “lifting up.” When we have thus “lifted” the mind and are fixed on an object, this is called vicara, the contemplation of the breath at the nose tip. This quality of vicara will naturally mingle with other mental sensations, and we may think that our mind is not still, that it won’t calm down, but actually this is simply the workings of vicara as it mingles with those sensations. Now if this goes too far in the wrong direction, our mind will lose its collectedness, so then we must set up the mind afresh, lifting it up to the object of concentration with vitakka. As soon as we have thus established our attention vicara takes over, mingling with the various mental sensations.

Now when we see this happening, our lack of understanding may lead us to wonder: “Why has my mind wandered? I wanted it to be still, why isn’t it still?” This is practicing with attachment.

Actually the mind is simply following its nature, but we go and add on to that activity by wanting the mind to be still and thinking “Why isn’t it still?” Aversion arises and so we add that on to everything else, increasing our doubts, increasing our suffering and increasing our confusion. So if there is vicara, reflecting on the various happenings within the mind in this way, we should wisely consider…”Ah, the mind is simply like this.” There, that’s the One Who Knows talking, telling you to see things as they are. The mind is simply like this. We let it go at that and the mind becomes peaceful. When it’s no longer centered we bring up vitakka once more, and shortly there is calm again. Vitakka and vicara work together like this. We use vicara to contemplate the various sensations which arise. When vicara becomes gradually more scattered we once again “lift” our attention with vitakka.

The important thing here is that our practice at this point must be done with detachment. Seeing the process of vicara interacting with the mental sensations we may think that the mind is confused and become averse to this process. This is the cause right here. We aren’t happy simply because we want the mind to be still. This is the cause — wrong view. If we correct our view just a little, seeing this activity as simply the nature of mind, just this is enough to subdue the confusion. This is called letting go.

Now, if we don’t attach, if we practice with “letting go”… detachment within activity and activity within detachment… if we learn to practice like this, then vicara will naturally tend to have less to work with. If our mind ceases to be disturbed, then vicara will incline to contemplating Dhamma, because if we don’t contemplate Dhamma the mind returns to distraction.

So there is vitakka then vicara, vitakka then vicara, vitakka then vicara and so on, until vicara becomes gradually more subtle. At first vicara goes all over the place. When we understand this as simply the natural activity of the mind, it won’t bother us unless we attach to it. It’s like flowing water. If we get obsessed with it, asking “Why does it flow?” then naturally we suffer. If we understand that the water simply flows because that’s its nature then there’s no suffering. Vicara is like this. There is vitakka, then vicara, interacting with mental sensations. We can take these sensations as our object of meditation, calming the mind by noting those sensations.

If we know the nature of the mind like this then we let go, just like letting the water flow by. Vicara becomes more and more subtle. Perhaps the mind inclines to contemplating the body, or death for instance, or some other theme of Dhamma. When the theme of contemplation is right there will arise a feeling of well-being. What is that well-being? It is piti (rapture). Piti, well-being, arises. It may manifest as goose-pimples, coolness or lightness. The mind is enrapt. This is called piti. There are also pleasures, sukha, the coming and going of various sensations; and the state of ekaggatarammana, or one-pointedness.

Now if we talk in terms of the first stage of concentration it must be like this: vitakka, vicara, piti, sukha, ekaggata. So what is the second stage like? As the mind becomes progressively more subtle, vitakka and vicara become comparatively coarser, so that they are discarded, leaving only piti, sukha, and ekaggata. This is something that the mind does of itself, we don’t have to conjecture about it, just to know things as they are.

As the mind becomes more refined, piti is eventually thrown off, leaving only sukha and ekaggata, and so we take note of that. Where does piti go to? It doesn’t go anywhere, it’s just that the mind becomes increasingly more subtle so that it throws off those qualities that are too coarse for it. Whatever’s too coarse it throws out, and it keeps throwing off like this until it reaches the peak of subtlety, known in the books as the Fourth Jhana, the highest level of absorption. Here the mind has progressively discarded whatever becomes too coarse for it, until there remain only ekaggata and upekkha, equanimity. There’s nothing further, this is the limit.

When the mind is developing the stages of samadhi it must proceed in this way, but please let us understand the basics of practice. We want to make the mind still but it won’t be still. This is practicing out of desire, but we don’t realize it. We have the desire for calm. The mind is already disturbed and then we further disturb things by wanting to make it calm. This very wanting is the cause. We don’t see that this wanting to calm the mind is tanha (craving). It’s just like increasing the burden. The more we desire calm the more disturbed the mind becomes, until we just give up. We end up fighting all the time, sitting and struggling with ourselves.

Why is this? Because we don’t reflect back on how we have set up the mind. Know that the conditions of mind are simply the way they are. Whatever arises, just observe it. It is simply the nature of the mind, it isn’t harmful unless we don’t understand its nature. It’s not dangerous if we see its activity for what it is. So we practice with vitakka and vicara until the mind begins to settle down and become less forceful. When sensations arise we contemplate them, we mingle with them and come to know them.

However, usually we tend to start fighting with them, because right from the beginning we’re determined to calm the mind. As soon as we sit the thoughts come to bother us. As soon as we set up our meditation object our attention wanders, the mind wanders off after all the thoughts, thinking that those thoughts have come to disturb us, but actually the problem arises right here, from the very wanting.

If we see that the mind is simply behaving according to its nature, that it naturally comes and goes like this, and if we don’t get over-interested in it, we can understand its ways as much the same as a child. Children don’t know any better, they may say all kinds of things. If we understand them we just let them talk, children naturally talk like that. When we let go like this there is no obsession with the child. We can talk to our guests undisturbed, while the child chatters and plays around. The mind is like this. It’s not harmful unless we grab on to it and get obsessed over it. That’s the real cause of trouble.

When piti arises one feels an indescribable pleasure, which only those who experience can appreciate. Sukha (pleasure) arises, and there is also the quality of one-pointedness. There are vitakka, vicara, piti, sukha and ekaggata. These five qualities all converge at the one place. Even though they are different qualities they are all collected in the one place, and we can see them all there, just like seeing many different kinds of fruit in the one bowl. Vitakka, vicara, piti, sukha and ekaggata — we can see them all in the one mind, all five qualities. If one were to ask, “How is there vitakka, how is there vicara, how are there piti and sukha?…” it would be difficult to answer, but when they converge in the mind we will see how it is for ourselves.

At this point our practice becomes somewhat special. We must have recollection and self-awareness and not lose ourselves. Know things for what they are. These are stages of meditation, the potential of the mind. Don’t doubt anything with regard to the practice. Even if you sink into the earth or fly into the air, or even “die” while sitting, don’t doubt it. Whatever the qualities of the mind are, just stay with the knowing. This is our foundation: to have sati, recollection, and sampajañña, self-awareness, whether standing, walking, sitting, or reclining. Whatever arises, just leave it be, don’t cling to it. Be it like or dislike, happiness or suffering, doubt or certainty, contemplate with vicara and gauge the results of those qualities. Don’t try to label everything, just know it. See that all the things that arise in the mind are simply sensations. They are transient. They arise, exist and cease. That’s all there is to them, they have no self or being, they are neither “us” nor “them.” They are not worthy of clinging to, any of them.

When we see all rupa and nama in this way with wisdom, then we will see the old tracks. We will see the transience of the mind, the transience of the body, the transience of happiness, suffering, love and hate. They are all impermanent. Seeing this, the mind becomes weary; weary of the body and mind, weary of the things that arise and cease and are transient. When the mind becomes disenchanted it will look for a way out of all those things. It no longer wants to be stuck in things, it sees the inadequacy of this world and the inadequacy of birth.

When the mind sees like this, wherever we go, we see aniccam (Transience), dukkham (Imperfection) and anatta (Ownerlessness). There’s nothing left to hold on to. Whether we go to sit at the foot of a tree, on a mountain top or into a valley, we can hear the Buddha’s teaching. All trees will seem as one, all beings will be as one, there’s nothing special about any of them. They arise, exist for a while, age and then die, all of them.

We thus see the world more clearly, seeing this body and mind more clearly. They are clearer in the light of Transience, clearer in the light of Imperfection and clearer in the light of Ownerlessness. If people hold fast to things they suffer. This is how suffering arises. If we see that body and mind are simply the way they are, no suffering arises, because we don’t hold fast to them. Wherever we go we will have wisdom. Even seeing a tree we can consider it with wisdom. Seeing grass and the various insects will be food for reflection.

When it all comes down to it they all fall into the same boat. They are all Dhamma, they are invariably transient. This is the truth, this is the true Dhamma, this is certain. How is it certain? It is certain in that the world is that way and can never be otherwise. There’s nothing more to it than this. If we can see in this way then we have finished our journey.

In Buddhism, with regard to view, it is said that to feel that we are more foolish than others is not right: to feel that we are equal to others is not right; and to feel that we better than others is not right… because there isn’t any “we.” This is how it is, we must uproot conceit.

This is called lokavidu — knowing the world clearly as it is. If we thus see the truth, the mind will know itself completely and will sever the cause of suffering. When there is no longer any cause, the results cannot arise. This is the way our practice should proceed.

The basics which we need to develop are: firstly, to be upright and honest; secondly, to be wary of wrong-doing; thirdly, to have the attribute of humility within one’s heart, to be aloof and content with little. If we are content with little in regards to speech and in all other things, we will see ourselves, we won’t be drawn into distractions. The mind will have a foundation of sila, samadhi, and pañña.

Therefore cultivators of the path should not be careless. Even if you are right don’t be careless. And if you are wrong, don’t be careless. If things are going well or you’re feeling happy, don’t be careless. Why do I say “don’t be careless”? Because all of these things are uncertain. Note them as such. If you get peaceful just leave the peace be. You may really want to indulge in it but you should simply know the truth of it, the same as for unpleasant qualities.

This practice of the mind is up to each individual. The teacher only explains the way to train the mind, because that mind is within each individual. We know what’s in there, nobody else can know our mind as well as we can. The practice requires this kind of honesty. Do it properly, don’t do it half-heartedly. When I say “do it properly,” does that mean you have to exhaust yourselves? No, you don’t have to exhaust yourselves, because the practice is done in the mind. If you know this then you will know the practice. You don’t need a whole lot. Just use the standards of practice to reflect on yourself inwardly.

Now the Rains Retreat is half way over. For most people it’s normal to let the practice slacken off after a while. They aren’t consistent from beginning to end. This shows that their practice is not yet mature. For instance, having determined a particular practice at the beginning of the retreat, whatever it may be, then we must fulfill that resolution. For these three months make the practice consistent. You must all try. Whatever you have determined to practice, consider that and reflect whether the practice has slackened off. If so, make an effort to re-establish it. Keep shaping up the practice, just the same as when we practice meditation on the breath. As the breath goes in and out the mind gets distracted. Then re-establish your attention on the breath. When your attention wanders off again bring it back once more. This is the same. In regard to both the body and the mind the practice proceeds like this. Please make an effort with it.