Sense Contact — the Fount of Wisdom by Ajahn Chah

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Ajahn Chah_
Ajahn Chah_

Sense Contact — the Fount of Wisdom

All of us have made up our minds to become bhikkhus and samaneras in the Buddhist Dispensation in order to find peace. Now what is true peace? True peace, the Buddha said, is not very far away, it lies right here within us, but we tend to continually overlook it. People have their ideas about finding peace but still tend to experience confusion and agitation, they still tend to be unsure and haven’t yet found fulfillment in their practice. They haven’t yet reached the goal. It’s as if we have left our home to travel to many different places. Whether we get into a car or board a boat, no matter where we go, we still haven’t reached our home. As long as we still haven’t reached home we don’t feel content, we still have some unfinished business to take care of. This is because our journey is not yet finished, we haven’t reached our destination. We travel all over the place in search of liberation.

All of you bhikkhus and samaneras here want peace, every one of you. Even myself, when I was younger, searched all over for peace. Wherever I went I couldn’t be satisfied. Going into forests or visiting various teachers, listening to Dhamma talks, I could find no satisfaction. Why is this?

We look for peace in peaceful places, where there won’t be sights, or sounds, or odors, or flavors… thinking that living quietly like this is the way to find contentment, that herein lies peace.

But actually, if we live very quietly in places where nothing arises, can wisdom arise? Would we be aware of anything? Think about it. If our eye didn’t see sights, what would that be like? If the nose didn’t experience smells, what would that be like? If the tongue didn’t experience flavors what would that be like? If the body didn’t experience feelings at all, what would that be like? To be like that would be like being a blind and deaf man, one whose nose and tongue had fallen off and who was completely numb with paralysis. Would there be anything there? And yet people tend to think that if they went somewhere where nothing happened they would find peace. Well, I’ve thought like that myself, I once thought that way…

When I was a young monk just starting to practice, I’d sit in meditation and sounds would disturb me, I’d think to myself, “What can I do to make my mind peaceful?” So I took some beeswax and stuffed my ears with it so that I couldn’t hear anything. All that remained was a humming sound. I thought that would be peaceful, but no, all that thinking and confusion didn’t arise at the ears after all. It arose at the mind. That is the place to search for peace.

To put it another way, no matter where you go to stay, you don’t want to do anything because it interferes with your practice. You don’t want to sweep the grounds or do any work, you just want to be still and find peace that way. The teacher asks you to help out with the chores or any of the daily duties but you don’t put your heart into it because you feel it is only an external concern.

I’ve often brought up the example of one of my disciples who was really eager to “let go” and find peace. I taught about “letting go” and he accordingly understood that to let go of everything would indeed be peaceful. Actually right from the day he had come to stay here he didn’t want to do anything. Even when the wind blew half the roof off his kuti he wasn’t interested. He said that that was just an external thing. So he didn’t bother fixing it up. When the sunlight and rain streamed in from one side he’d move over to the other side. That wasn’t any business of his. His business was to make his mind peaceful. That other stuff was a distraction, he wouldn’t get involved. That was how he saw it.

One day I was walking past and saw the collapsed roof.

“Eh? Whose kuti is this?”

Someone told me whose it was, and I thought, “Hmm. Strange…” So I had a talk with him, explaining many things, such as the duties in regard to our dwellings, the senasanavatta. “We must have a dwelling place, and we must look after it. “Letting go” isn’t like this, it doesn’t mean shirking our responsibilities. That’s the action of a fool. The rain comes in on one side so you move over to the other side, then the sunshine comes out and you move back to that side. Why is that? Why don’t you bother to let go there?” I gave him a long discourse on this; then when I’d finished, he said,

“Oh, Luang Por, sometimes you teach me to cling and sometimes you teach me to let go. I don’t know what you want me to do. Even when my roof collapses and I let go to this extent, still you say it’s not right. And yet you teach me to let go! I don’t know what more you can expect of me…”

You see? People are like this. They can be as stupid as this.

Are there visual objects within the eye? If there are no external visual objects would our eyes see anything? Are there sounds within our ears if external sounds don’t make contact? If there are no smells outside would we experience them. Where are the causes? Think about what the Buddha said: All dhammas arise because of causes. If we didn’t have ears would we experience sounds? If we had no eyes would we be able to see sights? Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind — these are the causes. It is said that all dhammas arise because of conditions, when they cease it’s because the causal conditions have ceased. For resulting conditions to arise, the causal conditions must first arise.

If we think that peace lies where there are no sensations would wisdom arise? Would there be causal and resultant conditions? Would we have anything to practice with? If we blame the sounds, then where there are sounds we can’t be peaceful. We think that place is no good. Wherever there are sights we say that’s not peaceful. If that’s the case then to find peace we’d have to be one whose senses have all died, blind, and deaf. I thought about this…

“Hmm. This is strange. Suffering arises because of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. So should we be blind? If we didn’t see anything at all maybe that would be better. One would have no defilements arising if one were blind, or deaf. Is this the way it is?”…

But, thinking about it, it was all wrong. If that was the case then blind and deaf people would be enlightened. They would all be accomplished if defilements arose at the eyes and ears. There are the causal conditions. Where things arise, at the cause, that’s where we must stop them. Where the cause arises, that’s where we must contemplate.

Actually, the sense bases of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind are all things which can facilitate the arising of wisdom, if we know them as they are. If we don’t really know them we must deny them, saying we don’t want to see sights, hear sounds, and so on, because they disturb us. If we cut off the causal conditions what are we going to contemplate? Think about it. Where would there be any cause and effect? This is wrong thinking on our part.

This is why we are taught to be restrained. Restraint is sila. There is the sila of sense restraint: eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind: these are our sila, and they are our samadhi. Reflect on the story Sariputta. At the time before he became a bhikkhu he saw Assaji Thera going on almsround. Seeing him, Sariputta thought,

“This monk is most unusual. He walks neither too fast nor too slow, his robes are neatly worn, his bearing is restrained.” Sariputta was inspired by him and so approached Venerable Assaji, paid his respects and asked him,

“Excuse me, sir, who are you?”

“I am a samana.”

“Who is your teacher?”

“Venerable Gotama is my teacher.”

“What does Venerable Gotama teach?”

“He teaches that all things arise because of conditions.

When they cease it’s because the causal conditions have ceased.”

When asked about the Dhamma by Sariputta, Assaji explained only in brief, he talked about cause and effect. Dhammas arise because of causes. The cause arises first and then the result. When the result is to cease the cause must first cease. That’s all he said, but it was enough for Sariputta.

Now this was a cause for the arising of Dhamma. At that time Sariputta had eyes, he had ears, he had a nose, a tongue, a body and a mind. All his faculties were intact. If he didn’t have his faculties would there have been sufficient causes for wisdom to arise for him? Would he have been aware of anything? But most of us are afraid of contact. Either that or we like to have contact but we develop no wisdom from it: instead we repeatedly indulge through eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, delighting in and getting lost in sense objects. This is how it is. These sense bases can entice us into delight and indulgence or they can lead to knowledge and wisdom.

They have both harm and benefit, depending on our wisdom.

So now let us understand that, having gone forth and come to practice, we should take everything as practice. Even the bad things. We should know them all. Why? So that we may know the truth. When we talk of practice we don’t simply mean those things that are good and pleasing to us. That’s not how it is. In this world some things are to our liking, some are not. These things all exist in this world, nowhere else. Usually whatever we like we want, even with fellow monks and novices. Whatever monk or novice we don’t like we don’t want to associate with, we only want to be with those we like. You see? This is choosing according to our likes. Whatever we don’t like we don’t want to see or know about.

Actually the Buddha wanted us to experience these things. Lokavidu — look at this world and know it clearly. If we don’t know the truth of the world clearly then we can’t go anywhere. Living in the world we must understand the world. The Noble Ones of the past, including the Buddha, all lived with these things, they lived in this world, among deluded people. They attained the truth right in this very world, nowhere else. They didn’t run off to some other world to find the truth. But they had wisdom. They restrained their senses, but the practice is to look into all these things and know them as they are.

Therefore the Buddha taught us to know the sense bases, our points of contact. The eye contacts forms and sends them “in” to become sights. The ears make contact with sounds, the nose makes contact with odors, the tongue makes contact with tastes, the body makes contact with tactile sensations, and so awareness arises. Where awareness arises is where we should look and see things as they are. If we don’t know these things as they really are we will either fall in love with them or hate them. Where these sensations arise is where we can become enlightened, where wisdom can arise.

But sometimes we don’t want things to be like that. The Buddha taught restraint, but restraint doesn’t mean we don’t see anything, hear anything, smell, taste, feel or think anything. That’s not what it means. If practitioners don’t understand this then as soon as they see or hear anything they cower and run away. They don’t deal with things. They run away, thinking that by so doing those things will eventually lose their power over them, that they will eventually transcend them. But they won’t. They won’t transcend anything like that. If they run away not knowing the truth of them, later on the same stuff will pop up to be dealt with again.

For example, those practitioners who are never content, be they in monasteries, forests, or mountains. They wander on “dhutanga pilgrimage” looking at this, that and the other, thinking they’ll find contentment that way. They go, and then they come back… didn’t see anything. They try going to a mountain top…”Ah! This is the spot, now I’m right.” They feel at peace for a few days and then get tired of it. “Oh, well, off to the seaside.” “Ah, here it’s nice and cool. This’ll do me fine.” After a while they get tired of the seaside as well… Tired of the forests, tired of the mountains, tired of the seaside, tired of everything. This is not being tired of things in the right sense, as Right View, it’s simply boredom, a kind of Wrong View. Their view is not in accordance with the way things are.

When they get back to the monastery…”Now, what will I do? I’ve been all over and come back with nothing.” So they throw away their bowls and disrobe. Why do they disrobe? Because they haven’t got any grip on the practice, they don’t see anything; go to the north and don’t see anything; go to the seaside, to the mountains, into the forests and still don’t see anything. So it’s all finished… they “die.” This is how it goes. It’s because they’re continually running away from things. Wisdom doesn’t arise.

Now take another example. Suppose there is one monk who determines to stay with things, not to run away. He looks after himself. He knows himself and also knows those who come to stay with him. He’s continually dealing with problems. For example, the Abbot. If one is an Abbot of a monastery there are constant problems to deal with, there’s a constant stream of things that demand attention. Why so? Because people are always asking questions. The questions never end, so you must be constantly on the alert. You are constantly solving problems, your own as well as other people’s. That is, you must be constantly awake. Before you can doze off they wake you up again with another problem. So this causes you to contemplate and understand things. You become skillful: skillful in regard to yourself and skillful in regard to others. Skillful in many, many ways.

This skill arises from contact, from confronting and dealing with things, from not running away. We don’t run away physically but we “run away” in mind, using our wisdom. We understand with wisdom right here, we don’t run away from anything.

This is a source of wisdom. One must work, must associate with other things. For instance, living in a big monastery like this we must all help out to look after the things here. Looking at it in one way you could say that it’s all defilement. Living with lots of monks and novices, with many laypeople coming and going, many defilements may arise. Yes, I admit… but we must live like this for the development of wisdom and the abandonment of foolishness. Which way are we to go? Are we going to live in order to get rid of foolishness or to increase our foolishness?

We must contemplate. Whenever eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind make contact we should be collected and circumspect. When suffering arises, who is suffering? Why did this suffering arise? The Abbot of a monastery has to supervise many disciples. Now that may be suffering. We must know suffering when it arises. Know suffering. If we are afraid of suffering and don’t want to face it, where are we going to do battle with it? If suffering arises and we don’t know it, how are we going to deal with it? This is of utmost importance — we must know suffering.

Escaping from suffering means knowing the way out of suffering, it doesn’t mean running away from wherever suffering arises. By doing that you just carry your suffering with you. When suffering arises again somewhere else you’ll have to run away again. This is not transcending suffering, it’s not knowing suffering.

If you want to understand suffering you must look into the situation at hand. The teachings say that wherever a problem arises it must be settled right there. Where suffering lies is right where non-suffering will arise, it ceases at the place where it arises. If suffering arises you must contemplate right there, you don’t have to run away. You should settle the issue right there. One who runs away from suffering out of fear is the most foolish person of all. He will simply increases his stupidity endlessly.

We must understand: suffering is none other than the First Noble Truth, isn’t that so? Are you going to look on it as something bad? Dukkha sacca, samudaya sacca, nirodha sacca, magga sacca… Running away from these things isn’t practicing according to the true Dhamma. When will you ever see the Truth of Suffering? If we keep running away from suffering we will never know it. Suffering is something we should recognize — if you don’t observe it when will you ever recognize it? Not being content here you run over there, when discontent arises there you run off again. You are always running. If that’s the way you practice you’ll be racing with the Devil all over the country!

The Buddha taught us to “run away” using wisdom. For instance: suppose you had stepped on a thorn or splinter and it got embedded in your foot. As you walk it occasionally hurts, occasionally not. Sometimes you may step on a stone or a stump and it really hurts, so you feel around your foot. But not finding anything you shrug it off and walk on a bit more. Eventually you step on something else, and the pain arises again.

Now this happens many times. What is the cause of that pain? The cause is that splinter or thorn embedded in your foot. The pain is constantly near. Whenever the pain arises you may take a look and feel around a bit, but, not seeing the splinter, you let it go. After a while it hurts again so you take another look.

When suffering arises you must note it, don’t just shrug it off. Whenever the pain arises…”Hmm… that splinter is still there.” Whenever the pain arises there arises also the thought that that splinter has got to go. If you don’t take it out there will only be more pain later on. The pain keeps recurring again and again, until the desire to take out that thorn is constantly with you. In the end it reaches a point where you make up your mind once and for all to get out that thorn — because it hurts!

Now our effort in the practice must be like this. Wherever it hurts, wherever there’s friction, we must investigate. Confront the problem, head on. Take that thorn out of your foot, just pull it out. Wherever your mind gets stuck you must take note. As you look into it you will know it, see it and experience it as it is.

But our practice must be unwavering and persistent. They call it viriyarambha — putting forth constant effort. Whenever an unpleasant feeling arises in your foot, for example, you must remind yourself to get out that thorn, don’t give up your resolve. Likewise, when suffering arises in our hearts we must have the unwavering resolve to try to uproot the defilements, to give them up. This resolve is constantly there, unremitting. Eventually the defilements will fall into our hands where we can finish them off.

So in regard to happiness and suffering, what are we to do? If we didn’t have these things what could we use as a cause to precipitate wisdom? If there is no cause how will the effect arise? All dhammas arise because of causes. When the result ceases it’s because the cause has ceased. This is how it is, but most of us don’t really understand. People only want to run away from suffering. This sort of knowledge is short of the mark. Actually we need to know this very world that we are living in, we don’t have to run away anywhere. You should have the attitude that to stay is fine… and to go is fine. Think about this carefully.

Where do happiness and suffering lie? Whatever we don’t hold fast to, cling to or fix on to, as if it weren’t there. Suffering doesn’t arise. Suffering arises from existence (bhava). If there is existence then there is birth. Upadana — clinging or attachment — this is the pre-requisite which creates suffering. Wherever suffering arises look into it. Don’t look too far away, look right into the present moment. Look at your own mind and body. When suffering arises…”Why is there suffering?” Look right now. When happiness arises, what is the cause of that happiness? Look right there. Wherever these things arise be aware. Both happiness and suffering arise from clinging.

The cultivators of old saw their minds in this way. There is only arising and ceasing. There is no abiding entity. They contemplated from all angles and saw that there was nothing much to this mind, nothing is stable. There is only arising and ceasing, ceasing and arising, nothing is of any lasting substance. While walking or sitting they saw things in this way. Wherever they looked there was only suffering, that’s all. It’s just like a big iron ball which has just been blasted in a furnace. It’s hot all over. If you touch the top it’s hot, touch the sides and they’re hot — it’s hot all over. There isn’t any place on it which is cool.

Now if we don’t consider these things we know nothing about them. We must see clearly. Don’t get “born” into things, don’t fall into birth. Know the workings of birth. Such thoughts as, “Oh, I can’t stand that person, he does everything wrongly,” will no longer arise. Or, “I really like so and so…”, these things don’t arise. There remain merely the conventional worldly standards of like and dislike, but one’s speech is one way, one’s mind another. They are separate things. We must use the conventions of the world to communicate with each other, but inwardly we must be empty. The mind is above those things. We must bring the mind to transcendence like this. This is the abiding of the Noble Ones. We must all aim for this and practice accordingly. Don’t get caught up in doubts.

Before I started to practice, I thought to myself, “The Buddhist religion is here, available for all, and yet why do only some people practice while others don’t? Or if they do practice, they do so only for a short while then give up. Or again those who don’t give it up still don’t knuckle down and do the practice? Why is this?” So I resolved to myself, “Okay… I’ll give up this body and mind for this lifetime and try to follow the teaching of the Buddha down to the last detail. I’ll reach understanding in this very lifetime… because if I don’t I’ll still be sunk in suffering. I’ll let go of everything else and make a determined effort, no matter how much difficulty or suffering I have to endure, I’ll persevere. If I don’t do it I’ll just keep on doubting.”

Thinking like this I got down to practice. No matter how much happiness, suffering or difficulty I had to endure I would do it. I looked on my whole life as if it was only one day and a night. I gave it up. “I’ll follow the teaching of the Buddha, I’ll follow the Dhamma to understanding — Why is this world of delusion so wretched?” I wanted to know, I wanted to master the Teaching, so I turned to the practice of Dhamma.

How much of the worldly life do we monastics renounce? If we have gone forth for good then it means we renounce it all, there’s nothing we don’t renounce. All the things of the world that people enjoy are cast off: sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings… we throw them all away. And yet we experience them. So Dhamma practitioners must be content with little and remain detached. Whether in regard to speech, in eating or whatever, we must be easily satisfied: eat simply, sleep simply, live simply. Just like they say, “an ordinary person,” one who lives simply. The more you practice the more you will be able to take satisfaction in your practice. You will see into your own heart.

The Dhamma is paccattam, you must know it for yourself. To know for yourself means to practice for yourself. You can depend on a teacher only fifty percent of the way. Even the teaching I have given you today is completely useless in itself, even if it is worth hearing. But if you were to believe it all just because I said so you wouldn’t be using the teaching properly.

If you believed me completely then you’d be foolish. To hear the teaching, see its benefit, put it into practice for yourself, see it within yourself, do it yourself… this is much more useful. You will then know the taste of Dhamma for yourself.

This is why the Buddha didn’t talk about the fruits of the practice in much detail, because it’s something one can’t convey in words. It would be like trying to describe different colors to a person blind from birth, “Oh, it’s so white,” or “it’s bright yellow,” for instance. You couldn’t convey those colors to them. You could try but it wouldn’t serve much purpose.

The Buddha brings it back down to the individual — see clearly for yourself. If you see clearly for yourself you will have clear proof within yourself. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you will be free of doubt. Even if someone were to say, “Your practice isn’t right, it’s all wrong,” still you would be unmoved, because you have your own proof.

A practitioner of the Dhamma must be like this wherever he goes. Others can’t tell you, you must know for yourself. Sammaditthi, Right View, must be there. The practice must be like this for every one of us. To do the real practice like this for even one month out of five or ten rains retreats would be rare.

Our sense organs must be constantly working. Know content and discontent, be aware of like and dislike. Know appearance and know transcendence. The Apparent and the Transcendent must be realized simultaneously. Good and evil must be seen as co-existent, arising together. This is the fruit of the Dhamma practice.

So whatever is useful to yourself and to others, whatever practice benefits both yourself and others, is called “following the Buddha.” I’ve talked about this often. The things which should be done, people seem to neglect. For example, the work in the monastery, the standards of practice and so on. I’ve talked about them often and yet people don’t seem to put their hearts into it. Some don’t know, some are lazy and can’t be bothered, some are simply scattered and confused.

But that’s a cause for wisdom to arise. If we go to places where none of these things arise, what would we see? Take food, for instance. If food doesn’t have any taste is it delicious? If a person is deaf will he hear anything? If you don’t perceive anything will you have anything to contemplate? If there are no problems will there be anything to solve? Think of the practice in this way.

Once I went to live up north. At that time I was living with many monks, all of them elderly but newly ordained, with only two or three rains retreat. At the time I had ten rains. Living with those old monks I decided to perform the various duties — receiving their bowls, washing their robes, emptying their spittoons and so on. I didn’t think in terms of doing it for any particular individual, I simply maintained my practice. If others didn’t do the duties I’d do them myself. I saw it as a good opportunity for me to gain merit. It made me feel good and gave me a sense of satisfaction.

On the uposatha days I knew the required duties. I’d go and clean out the uposatha hall and set out water for washing and drinking. The others didn’t know anything about the duties, they just watched. I didn’t criticize them, because they didn’t know. I did the duties myself, and having done them I felt pleased with myself, I had inspiration and a lot of energy in my practice.

Whenever I could do something in the monastery, whether in my own kuti or others, if it was dirty, I’d clean up. I didn’t do it for anyone in particular, I didn’t do it to impress anyone, I simply did it to maintain a good practice. Cleaning a kuti or dwelling place is just like cleaning rubbish out of your own mind.

Now this is something all of you should bear in mind. You don’t have to worry about harmony, it will automatically be there. Live together with Dhamma, with peace and restraint, train your mind to be like this and no problems will arise. If there is heavy work to be done everybody helps out and in no long time the work is done, it gets taken care of quite easily. That’s the best way.

I have come across some other types, though… although I used it as an opportunity to grow. For instance, living in a big monastery, the monks and novices may agree among themselves to wash robes on a certain day. I’d go and boil up the jackfruit wood. Now there’d be some monks who’d wait for someone else to boil up the jackfruit wood and then come along and wash their robes, take them back to their kutis, hang them out and then take a nap. They didn’t have to set up the fire, didn’t have to clean up afterwards… they thought they were on a good thing, that they were being clever. This is the height of stupidity. These people are just increasing their own stupidity because they don’t do anything, they leave all the work up to others. They wait till everything is ready then come along and make use of it, it’s easy for them. This is just adding to one’s foolishness. Those actions serve no useful purpose whatsoever to them.

Some people think foolishly like this. They shirk the required duties and think that this is being clever, but it is actually very foolish. If we have that sort of attitude we won’t last.

Therefore, whether speaking, eating or doing anything whatsoever, reflect on yourself. You may want to live comfortably, eat comfortably, sleep comfortably and so on, but you can’t. What have we come here for? If we regularly reflect on this we will be heedful, we won’t forget, we will be constantly alert. Being alert like this you will put forth effort in all postures. If you don’t put forth effort things go quite differently… Sitting, you sit like you’re in the town, walking, you walk like you’re in the town… you just want to go and play around in the town with the laypeople.

If there is no effort in the practice the mind will tend in that direction. You don’t oppose and resist your mind, you just allow it to waft along the wind of your moods. This is called following one’s moods. Like a child, if we indulge all its wants will it be a good child? If the parents indulge all their child’s wishes is that good? Even if they do indulge it somewhat at first, by the time it can speak they may start to occasionally spank it because they’re afraid it’ll end up stupid. The training of our mind must be like this. You have to know yourself and how to train yourself. If you don’t know how to train your own mind, waiting around expecting someone else to train it for you, you’ll end up in trouble.

So don’t think that you can’t practice in this place. Practice has no limits. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, you can always practice. Even while sweeping the monastery grounds or seeing a beam of sunlight, you can realize the Dhamma. But you must have sati at hand. Why so? Because you can realize the Dhamma at any time at all, in any place, if you ardently meditate.

Don’t be heedless. Be watchful, be alert. While walking on almsround there are all sorts of feelings arising, and it’s all good Dhamma. When you get back to the monastery and are eating your food there’s plenty of good Dhamma for you to look into. If you have constant effort all these things will be objects for contemplation, there will be wisdom, you will see the dhamma. This is called dhamma-vicaya, reflecting on Dhamma. It’s one of the enlightenment factors. If there is sati, recollection, there will be dhamma-vicaya as a result. These are factors of enlightenment. If we have recollection then we won’t simply take it easy, there will also be inquiry into Dhamma. These things become factors for realizing the Dhamma.

If we have reached this stage then our practice will know neither day or night, it will continue on regardless of the time of day. There will be nothing to taint the practice, or if there is we will immediately know it. Let there be dhamma-vicaya within our minds constantly, looking into Dhamma. If our practice has entered the flow the mind will tend to be like this. It won’t go off after other things…”I think I’ll go for a trip over there, or perhaps this other place… over in that province should be interesting…” That’s the way of the world. Not long and the practice will die.

So resolve yourselves. It’s not just by sitting with your eyes closed that you develop wisdom. Eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind are constantly with us, so be constantly alert. Study constantly. Seeing trees or animals can all be occasions for study. Bring it all inwards. See clearly within your own heart. If some sensation makes impact on the heart, witness it clearly for yourself, don’t simply disregard it.

Take a simple comparison: baking bricks. Have you ever seen a brick-baking oven? They build the fire up about two or three feet in front of the oven, then the smoke all gets drawn into it. Looking at this illustration you can more clearly understand the practice. Making a brick kiln in the right way you have to make the fire so that all the smoke gets drawn inside, none is left over. All the heat goes into the oven, and the job gets done quickly.

We Dhamma practitioners should experience things in this way. All our feelings will be drawn inwards to be turned into Right View. Seeing sights, hearing sounds, smelling odors, tasting flavors and so on, the mind draws them all inward to be converted into Right View. Those feelings thus become experiences which give rise to wisdom.
“Not Sure!” — The Standard of the Noble Ones

There was once a western monk, a student of mine. Whenever he saw Thai monks and novices disrobing he would say, “Oh, what a shame! Why do they do that? Why do so many of the Thai monks and novices disrobe?” He was shocked. He would get saddened at the disrobing of the Thai monks and novices, because he had only just come into contact with Buddhism. He was inspired, he was resolute. Going forth as a monk was the only thing to do, he thought he’d never disrobe. Whoever disrobed was a fool. He’d see the Thais taking on the robes at the beginning of the Rains Retreat as monks and novices and then disrobing at the end of it…”Oh, how sad! I feel so sorry for those Thai monks and novices. How could they do such a thing?”

Well, as time went by some of the western monks began to disrobe, so he came to see it as something not so important after all. At first, when he had just begun to practice, he was excited about it. He thought that it was really important thing, to become a monk. He thought it would be easy.

When people are inspired it all seems to be so right and good. There’s nothing there to gauge their feelings by, so they go ahead and decide for themselves. But they don’t really know what practice is. Those who do know will have a thoroughly firm foundation within their hearts — but even so they don’t need to advertise it.

As for myself, when I was first ordained I didn’t actually do much practice, but I had a lot of faith. I don’t know why, maybe it was there from birth. The monks and novices who went forth together with me, come the end of the Rains, all disrobed. I thought to myself, “Eh? What is it with these people?” However, I didn’t dare say anything to them because I wasn’t yet sure of my own feelings, I was too stirred up. But within me I felt that they were all foolish. “It’s difficult to go forth, easy to disrobe. These guys don’t have much merit, they think that the way of the world is more useful than the way of Dhamma.” I thought like this but I didn’t say anything, I just watched my own mind.

I’d see the monks who’d gone forth with me disrobing one after the other. Sometimes they’d dress up and come back to the monastery to show off. I’d see them and think they were crazy, but they thought they looked snappy. When you disrobe you have to do this and that… I’d think to myself that that way of thinking was wrong. I wouldn’t say it, though, because I myself was still an uncertain quantity. I still wasn’t sure how long my faith would last.

When my friends had all disrobed I dropped all concern, there was nobody left to concern myself with. I picked up the Patimokkha and got stuck into learning that. There was nobody left to distract me and waste my time, so I put my heart into the practice. Still I didn’t say anything because I felt that to practice all one’s life, maybe seventy, eighty or even ninety years, and to keep up a persistent effort, without slackening up or losing one’s resolve, seemed like an extremely difficult thing to do.

Those who went forth would go forth, those who disrobed would disrobe. I’d just watch it all. I didn’t concern myself whether they stayed or went. I’d watch my friends leave, but the feeling I had within me was that these people didn’t see clearly. That western monk probably thought like that. he’d see people become monks for only one Rains Retreat, and get upset.

Later on he reached a stage we call… bored; bored with the Holy Life. He let go of the practice and eventually disrobed.

“Why are you disrobing? Before, when you saw the Thai monks disrobing you’d say, ‘Oh, what a shame! How sad, how pitiful.’ Now, when you yourself want to disrobe, why don’t you feel sorry now?”

He didn’t answer. He just grinned sheepishly.

When it comes to the training of the mind it isn’t easy to find a good standard if you haven’t yet developed a “witness” within yourself. In most external matters we can rely on others for feedback, there are standards and precedents. But when it comes to using the Dhamma as a standard… do we have the Dhamma yet? Are we thinking rightly or not? And even if it’s right, do we know how to let go of rightness or are we still clinging to it?

You must contemplate until you reach the point where you let go, this is the important thing… until you reach the point where there isn’t anything left, where there is neither good nor bad. You throw it off. This means you throw out everything. If it’s all gone then there’s no remainder; if there’s some remainder then it’s not all gone.

So in regard to this training of the mind, sometimes we may say it’s easy. it’s easy to say, but it’s hard to do, very hard. It’s hard in that it doesn’t conform to our desires. Sometimes it seems almost as if the angels were helping us out. Everything goes right, whatever we think or say seems to be just right. Then we go and attach to that rightness and before long we go wrong and it all turns bad. This is where it’s difficult. We don’t have a standard to gauge things by.

People who have a lot of faith, who are endowed with confidence and belief but are lacking in wisdom, may be very good at samadhi but they may not have much insight. They see only one side of everything, and simply follow that. They don’t reflect. This is blind faith. In Buddhism we call this Saddha adhimokkha, blind faith. They have faith all right but it’s not born of wisdom. But they don’t see this at the time, they believe they have wisdom, so they don’t see where they are wrong.

Therefore they teach about the Five Powers (Bala): Saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi, pañña. Saddha is conviction; viriya is diligent effort; sati is recollection; samadhi is fixedness of mind; pañña is all-embracing knowledge. Don’t say that pañña is simply knowledge — pañña is all-embracing, consummate knowledge.

The wise have given these five steps to us so that we can link them, firstly as an object of study, then as a gauge to compare to the state of our practice as it is. For example, saddha, conviction. Do we have conviction, have we developed it yet? Viriya: do we have diligent effort or not? Is our effort right or is it wrong? We must consider this. Everybody has some sort of effort, but does our effort contain wisdom or not?

Sati is the same. Even a cat has sati. When it sees a mouse, sati is there. The cat’s eyes stare fixedly at the mouse. This is the sati of a cat. Everybody has sati, animals have it, delinquents have it, sages have it.

Samadhi, fixedness of mind — everybody has this as well. A cat has it when its mind is fixed on grabbing the mouse and eating it. It has fixed intent. That sati of the cat’s is sati of a sort; samadhi, fixed intent on what it is doing, is also there. Pañña, knowledge, like that of human beings. It knows as an animal knows, it has enough knowledge to catch mice for food.

These five things are called powers. Have these Five Powers arisen from Right View, sammaditthi, or not? Saddha, viriya, sati, samadhi, pañña — have these arisen from Right View? What is Right View? What is our standard for gauging Right View? We must clearly understand this.

Right View is the understanding that all these things are uncertain. Therefore the Buddha and all the Noble Ones don’t hold fast to them. They hold, but not fast. They don’t let that holding become an identity. The holding which doesn’t lead to becoming is that which isn’t tainted with desire. Without seeking to become this or that there is simply the practice itself. When you hold on to a particular thing is there enjoyment, or is there displeasure? If there is pleasure, do you hold on to that pleasure? If there is dislike, do you hold on to that dislike?

Some views can be used as principles for gauging our practice more accurately. Such as knowing such views as that one is better than others, or equal to others, or more foolish than others, as all wrong views. We may feel these things but we also know them with wisdom, that they simply arise and cease. Seeing that we are better than others is not right; seeing that we are equal to others is not right; seeing that we are inferior to others is not right.

The right view is the one that cuts through all of this. So where do we go to? If we think we are better than others, pride arises. It’s there but we don’t see it. If we think we are equal to others, we fail to show respect and humility at the proper times. If we think we are inferior to others we get depressed, thinking we are inferior, born under a bad sign and so on. We are still clinging to the Five Khandhas, it’s all simply becoming and birth.

This is one standard for gauging ourselves by. Another one is: if we encounter a pleasant experience we feel happy, if we encounter a bad experience we are unhappy. Are we able to look at both the things we like and the things we dislike as having equal value? Measure yourself against this standard. In our everyday lives, in the various experiences we encounter, if we hear something which we like, does our mood change? If we encounter an experience which isn’t to our liking, does our mood change? Or is the mind unmoved? Looking right here we have a gauge.

Just know yourself, this is your witness. Don’t make decisions on the strength of your desires. Desires can puff us up into thinking we are something which we’re not. We must be very circumspect.

There are so many angles and aspects to consider, but the right way is not to follow your desires, but the Truth. We should know both the good and the bad, and when we know them to let go of them. If we don’t let go we are still there, we still “exist,” we still “have.” If we still “are” then there is a remainder, there are becoming and birth in store.

Therefore the Buddha said to judge only yourself, don’t judge others, no matter how good or evil they may be. The Buddha merely points out the way, saying “The truth is like this.” Now, is our mind like that or not?

For instance, suppose a monk took some things belonging to another monk, then that other monk accused him, “You stole my things.” “I didn’t steal them, I only took them.” So we ask a third monk to adjudicate. How should he decide? He would have to ask the offending monk to appear before the convened Sangha. “Yes, I took it, but I didn’t steal it.” Or in regard to other rules, such as parajika or sanghadisesa offenses: “Yes, I did it, but I didn’t have intention.” How can you believe that? It’s tricky. If you can’t believe it, all you can do is leave the onus with the doer, it rests on him.

But you should know that we can’t hide the things that arise in our minds. You can’t cover them up, either the wrongs or the good actions. Whether actions are good or evil, you can’t dismiss them simply by ignoring them, because these things tend to reveal themselves. They conceal themselves, they reveal themselves, they exist in and of themselves. They are all automatic. This is how things work.

Don’t try to guess at or speculate about these things. As long as there is still avijja (unknowing) they are not finished with. The Chief Privy Councilor once asked me, “Luang Por, is the mind of an anagami pure yet?”

“It’s partly pure.”

“Eh? An anagami has given up sensual desire, how is his mind not yet pure?”

“He may have let go of sensual desire, but there is still something remaining, isn’t there? There is still avijja. If there is still something left then there is still something left. It’s like the bhikkhus’ alms bowls. There are “a large-size large bowl; a medium-sized large bowl, a small-sized large bowl; then a large-sized medium bowl, a medium-sized medium bowl, a small-sized medium bowl; then there are a large-sized small bowl, a medium-sized small bowl and a small-sized small bowl… No matter how small it is there is still a bowl there, right? That’s how it is with this…sotapanna, sakadagami, anagami… they have all given up certain defilements, but only to their respective levels. Whatever still remains, those Noble Ones don’t see. If they could they would all be arahants. They still can’t see all. Avijja is that which doesn’t see. If the mind of the anagami was completely straightened out he wouldn’t be an anagami, he would be fully accomplished. But there is still something remaining.

“Is his mind purified?”

“Well, it is somewhat, but not 100%.”

How else could I answer? He said that later on he would come and question me about it further. He can look into it, the standard is there.

Don’t be careless. Be alert. The Lord Buddha exhorted us to be alert. In regards to this training of the heart, I’ve had my moments of temptation too, you know. I’ve often been tempted to try many things but they’ve always seemed like they’re going astray of the path. It’s really just a sort of swaggering in one’s mind, a sort of conceit. Ditthi, views, and mana, pride, are there. It’s hard enough just to be aware of these two things.

There was once a man who wanted to become a monk here. He carried in his robes, determined to become a monk in memory of his late mother. He came into the monastery, laid down his robes, and without so much as paying respects to the monks, started walking meditation right in front of the main hall… back and forth, back and forth, like he was really going to show his stuff.

I thought, “Oh, so there are people around like this, too!” This is called saddha adhimokkha — blind faith. He must have determined to get enlightened before sundown or something, he thought it would be so easy. He didn’t look at anybody else, just put his head down and walked as if his life depended on it. I just let him carry on, but I thought, “Oh, man, you think it’s that easy or something?” In the end I don’t know how long he stayed, I don’t even think he ordained.

As soon as the mind thinks of something we send it out, send it out every time. We don’t realize that it’s simply the habitual proliferation of the mind. It disguises itself as wisdom and waffles off into minute detail. This mental proliferation seems very clever, if we didn’t know we would mistake it for wisdom. But when it comes to the crunch it’s not the real thing. When suffering arises where is that so-called wisdom then? Is it of any use? It’s only proliferation after all.

So stay with the Buddha. As I’ve said before many times, in our practice we must turn inwards and find the Buddha. Where is the Buddha? The Buddha is still alive to this very day, go in and find him. Where is he? At aniccam, go in and find him there, go and bow to him: aniccam, uncertainty. You can stop right there for starters.

If the mind tries to tell you, “I’m a sotapanna now,” go and bow to the sotapanna. He’ll tell you himself, “It’s all uncertain.” If you meet a sakadagami go and pay respects to him. When he sees you he’ll simply say “Not a sure thing!” If there is an anagami go and bow to him. He’ll tell you only one thing…”Uncertain.” If you meet even an arahant, go and bow to him, he’ll tell you even more firmly, “It’s all even more uncertain!” You’ll hear the words of the Noble Ones…”Everything is uncertain, don’t cling to anything.”

Don’t just look at the Buddha like a simpleton. Don’t cling to things, holding fast to them without letting go. Look at things as functions of the Apparent and then send them on to Transcendence. That’s how you must be. There must be Appearance and there must be Transcendence.

So I say “Go to the Buddha.” Where is the Buddha? The Buddha is the Dhamma. All the teachings in this world can be contained in this one teaching: aniccam. Think about it. I’ve searched for over forty years as a monk and this is all I could find. That and patient endurance. This is how to approach the Buddha’s teaching… aniccam: it’s all uncertain.

No matter how sure the mind wants to be, just tell it “Not sure!.” Whenever the mind wants to grab on to something as a sure thing, just say, “It’s not sure, it’s transient.” Just ram it down with this. Using the Dhamma of the Buddha it all comes down to this. It’s not that it’s merely a momentary phenomenon. Whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down, you see everything in that way. Whether liking arises or dislike arises you see it all in the same way. This is getting close to the Buddha, close to the Dhamma.

Now I feel that this is more valuable way to practice. All my practice from the early days up to the present time has been like this. I didn’t actually rely on the scriptures, but then I didn’t disregard them either. I didn’t rely on a teacher but then I didn’t exactly “go it alone.” My practice was all “neither this nor that.”

Frankly it’s a matter of “finishing off,” that is, practicing to the finish by taking up the practice and then seeing it to completion, seeing the Apparent and also the Transcendent.

I’ve already spoken of this, but some of you may be interested to hear it again: if you practice consistently and consider things thoroughly, you will eventually reach this point… At first you hurry to go forward, hurry to come back, and hurry to stop. You continue to practice like this until you reach the point where it seems that going forward is not it, coming back is not it, and stopping is not it either! It’s finished. This is the finish. Don’t expect anything more than this, it finishes right here. Khinasavo — one who is completed. He doesn’t go forward, doesn’t retreat and doesn’t stop. There’s no stopping, no going forward and no coming back. It’s finished. Consider this, realize it clearly in your own mind. Right there you will find that there is really nothing at all.

Whether this is old or new to you depends on you, on your wisdom and discernment. One who has no wisdom or discernment won’t be able to figure it out. Just take a look at trees, like mango or jackfruit trees. If they grow up in a clump, one tree may get bigger first and then the others will bend away, growing outwards from that bigger one. Why does this happen? Who tells them to do that? This is Nature. Nature contains both the good and the bad, the right and the wrong. It can either incline to the right or incline to the wrong. If we plant any kind of trees at all close together, the trees which mature later will branch away from the bigger tree. How does this happen? Who determines it thus? This is Nature, or Dhamma.

Likewise, tanha, desire, leads us to suffering. Now, if we contemplate it, it will lead us out of desire, we will outgrow tanha. By investigating tanha we will shake it up, making it gradually lighter and lighter until it’s all gone. The same as the trees: does anybody order them to grow the way they do? They can’t talk or move around and yet they know how to grow away from obstacles. Wherever it’s cramped and crowded and growing will be difficult, they bend outwards.

Right here is Dhamma, we don’t have to look at a whole lot. One who is astute will see the Dhamma in this. Trees by nature don’t know anything, they act on natural laws, yet they do know enough to grow away from danger, to incline towards a suitable place.

Reflective people are like this. We go forth into the homeless life because we want to transcend suffering. What is it that make us suffer? If we follow the trail inwards we will find out. That which we like and that which we don’t like are suffering. If they are suffering then don’t go so close to them. Do you want to fall in love with conditions or hate them?… they’re all uncertain. When we incline towards the Buddha all this comes to an end. Don’t forget this. And patient endurance. Just these two are enough. If you have this sort of understanding this is very good.

Actually in my own practice I didn’t have a teacher to give as much teachings as all of you get from me. I didn’t have many teachers. I ordained in an ordinary village temple and lived in village temples for quite a few years. In my mind I conceived the desire to practice, I wanted to be proficient, I wanted to train. There wasn’t anybody giving any teaching in those monasteries but the inspiration to practice arose. I traveled and I looked around. I had ears so I listened, I had eyes so I looked. Whatever I heard people say, I’d tell myself, “Not sure.” Whatever I saw, I told myself, “Not sure,” or when the tongue contacted sweet, sour, salty, pleasant or unpleasant flavors, or feelings of comfort or pain arose in the body, I’d tell myself, “This is not a sure thing”! And so I lived with Dhamma.

In truth it’s all uncertain, but our desires want things to be certain. what can we do? We must be patient. The most important thing is khanti, patient endurance. Don’t throw out the Buddha, what I call “uncertainty” — don’t throw that away.

Sometimes I’d go to see old religious sites with ancient monastic buildings, designed by architects, built by craftsmen. In some places they would be cracked. Maybe one of my friends would remark, “Such a shame, isn’t it? It’s cracked.” I’d answer, “If that weren’t the case then there’d be no such thing as the Buddha, there’d be no Dhamma. It’s cracked like this because it’s perfectly in line with the Buddha’s teaching.” Really down inside I was also sad to see those buildings cracked but I’d throw off my sentimentality and try to say something which would be of use to my friends, and to myself. Even though I also felt that it was a pity, still I tended towards the Dhamma.

“If it wasn’t cracked like that there wouldn’t be any Buddha!”

I’d say it really heavy for the benefit of my friends… or perhaps they weren’t listening, but still I was listening.

This is a way of considering things which is very, very useful. For instance, say someone were to rush in and say, “Luang Por! Do you know what so and so just said about you?” or, “He said such and such about you…” Maybe you even start to rage. As soon as you hear words of criticism you start getting these moods every step of the way. As soon as we hear words like this we may start getting ready to retaliate, but on looking into the truth of the matter we may find that… no, they had said something else after all.

And so it’s another case of “uncertainty.” So why should we rush in and believe things? Why should we put our trust so much in what others say? Whatever we hear we should take note, be patient, look into the matter carefully… stay straight.

It’s not that whatever pops into our heads we write it all down as some sort of truth. Any speech which ignores uncertainty is not the speech of a sage. Remember this. As for being wise, we are no longer practicing. Whatever we see or hear, be it pleasant or sorrowful, just say “This is not sure!” Say it heavy to yourself, hold it all down with this. Don’t build those things up into major issues, just keep them all down to this one. This point is the important one. This is the point where defilements die. Practitioners shouldn’t dismiss it.

If you disregard this point you can expect only suffering, expect only mistakes. If you don’t make this a foundation for your practice you are going to go wrong… but then you will come right again later on, because this principle is a really good one.

Actually the real Dhamma, the gist of what I have been saying today, isn’t so mysterious. Whatever you experience is simply form, simply feeling, simply perception, simply volition, and simply consciousness. There are only these basic qualities, where is there any certainty within them?

If we come to understand the true nature of things like this, lust, infatuation and attachment fade away. why do they fade away? Because we understand, we know. We shift from ignorance to understanding. Understanding is born from ignorance, knowing is born from unknowing, purity is born from defilement. It works like this.

Not discarding aniccam, the Buddha — This is what it means to say that the Buddha is still alive. To stay that the Buddha has passed into Nibbana is not necessarily true. In a more profound sense the Buddha is still alive. It’s much like how we define the word “bhikkhu.” If we define it as “one who asks,” the meaning is very broad. We can define it this way, but to use this definition too much is not so good — we don’t know when to stop asking! If we were to define this word in a more profound way we would say: “Bhikkhu — one who sees the danger of Samsara.”

Isn’t this more profound? It doesn’t go in the same direction as the previous definition, it runs much deeper. The practice of Dhamma is like this. If you don’t fully understand it, it becomes something else again. It becomes priceless, it becomes a source of peace.

When we have sati we are close to the Dhamma. If we have sati we will see aniccam, the transience of all things. We will see the Buddha and transcend the suffering of samsara, if not now then sometime in the future.

If we throw away the attribute of the Noble Ones, the Buddha or the Dhamma, our practice will become barren and fruitless. We must maintain our practice constantly, whether we are working or sitting or simply lying down. When the eye sees form, the ear hears sound, the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor or the body experiences sensation… in all things, don’t throw away the Buddha, don’t stray from the Buddha.

This is to be one who has come close to the Buddha, who reveres the Buddha constantly. We have ceremonies for revering the Buddha, such as chanting in the morning Araham Samma Sambuddho Bhagava… This is one way of revering the Buddha but it’s not revering the Buddha in such a profound way as I’ve described here. It’s the same as with that word “bhikkhu.” If we define it as “one who asks” then they keep on asking… because it’s defined like that. To define it in the best way we should say “Bhikkhu — one who sees the danger of samsara.”

Now revering the Buddha is the same. Revering the Buddha by merely reciting Pali phrases as a ceremony in the mornings and evenings is comparable to defining the word “bhikkhu” as “one who asks.” If we incline towards aniccam, dukkham and anatta whenever the eye sees form, the ear hears sound, the nose smells an odor, the tongue tastes a flavor, the body experiences sensation or the mind cognizes mental impressions, at all times, this is comparable to defining the word “bhikkhu” as “one who sees the danger of samsara.” It’s so much more profound, cuts through so many things. If we understand this teaching we will grow in wisdom and understanding.

This is called patipada. Develop this attitude in the practice and you will be on the right path. If you think and reflect in this way, even though you may be far from your teacher you will still be close to him. If you live close to the teacher physically but your mind has not yet met him you will spend your time either looking for his faults or adulating him. If he does something which suits you, you say he’s no good — and that’s as far as your practice goes. You won’t achieve anything by wasting your time looking at someone else. But if you understand this teaching you can become a Noble One in the present moment.

That’s why this year I’ve distanced myself from my disciples, both old and new, and not given much teaching: so that you can all look into things for yourselves as much as possible. For the newer monks I’ve already laid down the schedule and rules of the monastery, such as: “don’t talk too much.” Don’t transgress the existing standards, the path to realization, fruition and nibbana. Anyone who transgresses these standards is not a real practitioner, not one who has with a pure intention to practice. What can such a person ever hope to see? Even if he slept near me every day he wouldn’t see me. Even if he slept near the Buddha he wouldn’t see the Buddha, if he didn’t practice.

So knowing the Dhamma or seeing the Dhamma depends on practice. Have confidence, purify your own heart. If all the monks in this monastery put awareness into their respective minds we wouldn’t have to reprimand or praise anybody. We wouldn’t have to be suspicious of or favor anybody. If anger or dislike arise just leave them at the mind, but see them clearly!

Keep on looking at those things. As long as there is still something there it means we still have to dig and grind away right there. Some say “I can’t cut it, I can’t do it,” — if we start saying things like this there will only be a bunch of punks here, because nobody cuts at their own defilements.

You must try. If you can’t yet cut it, dig in deeper. Dig at the defilements, uproot them. Dig them out even if they seem hard and fast. The Dhamma is not something to be reached by following your desires. Your mind may be one way, the truth another. You must watch up front and keep a lookout behind as well. That’s why I say, “It’s all uncertain, all transient.”

This truth of uncertainty, this short and simple truth, at the same time so profound and faultless, people tend to ignore. They tend to see things differently. Don’t cling to goodness, don’t cling to badness. These are attributes of the world. We are practicing to be free of the world, so bring these things to an end. The Buddha taught to lay them down, to give them up, because they only cause suffering.