The True Teachings of The Awakened One
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Note: In these talks, as in Thai usage in general, the words ‘heart’ and ‘mind’ are used interchangeably.
These talks — except for the two marked otherwise — were originally given for the benefit of Mrs. Pow Panga Vathanakul, a follower of Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa who had contracted cancer of the bone marrow and had come to practice meditation at Wat Pa Baan Taad in order to contend with the pain of the disease and the fact of her approaching death. All in all, she stayed at Wat Pa Baan Taad for 102 days, from November 9, 1975 to February 19, 1976; during that period Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa gave 84 impromptu talks for her benefit, all of which were tape recorded.
After her death in September, 1976, one of her friends, M.R. Sermsri Kasemsri, asked permission of the Venerable Acariya to transcribe the talks and print them in book form. Seventy-seven of the talks, plus an additional eight talks given on other occasions, were thus printed in two massive volumes together totaling more than 1,000 pages. Six talks from these two volumes have already been translated into English and published in a book entitled Amata Dhamma.
The talks in the present collection all deal with the practice of meditation, and particularly with the development of discernment. Because their style of presentation is personal and impromptu, they will probably be best understood if read in conjunction with a more systematic introduction to the techniques of meditation, such as the Venerable Acariya’s own book, Wisdom Develops Samadhi, which is available separately or as part of the volume, Forest Dhamma.
The title of the present book is taken from a request, frequently made by the Venerable Acariya to his listeners, that his teachings be taken to heart, because they come straight from the heart.
The Venerable Acariya Mun taught that all hearts have the same language. No matter what one’s language or nationality, the heart has nothing but simple awareness, which is why he said that all hearts have the same language. When a thought arises, we understand it, but when we put it into words, it has to become this or that language, so that we don’t really understand one another. The feelings within the heart, though, are the same for everyone. This is why the Dhamma fits the heart perfectly, because the Dhamma isn’t any particular language. The Dhamma is the language of the heart. The Dhamma resides with the heart.
Pleasure and pain reside with the heart. The acts that create pleasure and pain are thought up by the heart. The heart is what knows the results that appear as pleasure and pain; and the heart is burdened with the outcome of its own thoughts. This is why the heart and the Dhamma fit perfectly. No matter what our language or nationality, we can all understand the Dhamma because the heart and the Dhamma are a natural pair.
The heart forms the core within the body. It’s the core, the substance, the primary essence within the body. It’s the basic foundation. The conditions that arise from the mind, such as thought-formations, appear and vanish, again and again. Here I’m referring to the rippling of the mind. When the mind ripples, that’s the formation of a thought. Labels, which deal with conjecturing, memorizing, and recognizing, are termed sañña. ‘Long’ thoughts are sañña; short thoughts are sankhara. In other words, when a thought forms — ‘blip’ — that’s a sankhara. Sañña refers to labeling and recognizing. Viññana refers to the act of taking note when anything external comes and makes contact with the senses, as when visible forms make contact with the eye and cognition results. All of these things are constantly arising and vanishing of their own accord, and so the Buddha called them khandhas. Each ‘heap’ or ‘group’ is called a khandha. These five heaps of khandhas are constantly arising and vanishing all the time.
Even arahants have these same conditions — just like ordinary people everywhere — the only difference being that the arahants’ khandhas are khandhas pure and simple, without any defilements giving them orders, making them do this or think that. Instead, their khandhas think out of their own free nature, with nothing forcing them to think this or that, unlike the minds of ordinary people in general.
To make a comparison, the khandhas of ordinary people are like prisoners, constantly being ordered about. Their various thoughts, labels, assumptions, and interpretations have something that orders and forces them to appear, making them think, assume, and interpret in this way or that. In other words, they have defilements as their boss, their leader, ordering them to appear.
Arahants, however, don’t. When a thought forms, it simply forms. Once it forms, it simply disappears. There’s no seed to continue it, no seed to weigh the mind down, because there’s nothing to force it, unlike the khandhas governed by defilements or under the leadership of defilements. This is where the difference lies.
But their basic nature is the same: All the khandhas we have mentioned are inconstant (aniccam). In other words, instability and changeability are a regular part of their nature, beginning with the rupa khandha, our body, and the vedana khandha, feelings of pleasure, pain, and indifference. These things appear and vanish, again and again. Sañña, sankhara, and viññana are also always in a state of appearing and vanishing as a normal part of their nature.
But as for actual awareness — which forms the basis of our knowledge of the various things that arise and vanish — that doesn’t vanish. We can say that the mind can’t vanish. We can say that the mind can’t arise. A mind that has been purified thus has no more problems concerning the birth and death of the body and the khandhas; and thus there is no more birth here and there, appearing in crude forms such as individuals or as living beings, for those whose minds have been purified.
But those whose minds are not purified: They are the ones who take birth and die, setting their sights on cemeteries without end, all because of this undying mind.
This is why the Lord Buddha taught the world, and in particular the world of human beings, who know right and wrong, good and evil; who know how to foster the one and remedy the other; who understand the language of the Dhamma he taught. This is why he taught the human world above and beyond the other worlds: so that we could try to remedy the things that are harmful and detrimental, removing them from our thoughts, words, and deeds; try to nourish and foster whatever goodness we might already have, and give rise to whatever goodness we don’t yet have.
He taught us to foster and develop the goodness we already have so as to nourish the heart, giving it refreshment and well-being, giving it a standard of quality, or goodness, so that when it leaves its present body to head for whatever place or level of being, this mind that has been constantly nourished with goodness will be a good mind. Wherever it fares, it will fare well. Wherever it takes birth, it will be born well. Wherever it lives, it will live well. It will keep on experiencing well-being and happiness until it gains the capacity, the potential, the accumulation of merit it has developed progressively from the past into the present — in other words, yesterday is today’s past, today is tomorrow’s past, all of which are days in which we have fostered and developed goodness step by step — to the point where the mind has the firm strength and ability, from the supporting power of this goodness, that enables it to pass over and gain release.
Such a mind has no more birth, not even in the most quiet or refined levels of being that contain any latent traces of conventional reality (sammati) — namely, birth and death as we currently experience it. Such a mind goes completely beyond all such things. Here I’m referring to the minds of the Buddhas and of the arahants.
There’s a story about Ven. Vangisa that has a bearing on this. Ven. Vangisa, when he was a layman, was very talented in divining the level of being in which the mind of a dead person was reborn — no matter who the person was. You couldn’t quite say he was a fortuneteller. Actually he was more a master of psychic skills. When anyone died, he would take that person’s skull and knock on it — knock! knock! knock! — focus his mind, and then know that this person was reborn there, that person was reborn here. If the person was reborn in hell or in heaven, as a common animal or a hungry ghost, he could tell in every case, without any hesitation. All he needed was to knock on the skull.
When he heard his friends say that the Buddha was many times more talented than this, he wanted to expand on his knowledge. So he went to the Buddha’s presence to ask for further training in this science. When he reached the Buddha, the Buddha gave him the skull of an arahant to knock on.
‘All right, see if you can tell where he was reborn.’
Ven. Vangisa knocked on the skull and listened.
He knocked again and listened.
He thought for a moment.
He focused his mind.
He couldn’t see where the owner of the skull was reborn. At his wit’s end, he confessed frankly that he didn’t know where the arahant was reborn.
At first, Ven. Vangisa had thought himself talented and smart, and had planned to challenge the Buddha before asking for further training. But when he reached the Buddha, the Buddha gave him the skull of an arahant to knock on — and right there he was stymied. So now he genuinely wanted further training. Once he had further training, he’d really be something special. This being the way things stood, he asked to study with the Buddha. So the Buddha taught him the science, taught him the method — in other words, the science of the Dhamma. Ven. Vangisa practiced and practiced until finally he attained arahantship. From then on he was no longer interested in knocking on anyone’s skull except for his own. Once he had known clearly, that was the end of the matter. This is called ‘knocking on the right skull.’
Once the Buddha had brought up the topic of the mind that doesn’t experience rebirth — the skull of one whose mind was purified — no matter how many times Ven. Vangisa knocked on it, he couldn’t know where the mind was reborn, even though he had been very talented before, for the place of a pure mind’s rebirth cannot be found.
The same was true in the case of Ven. Godhika: This story should serve as quite some food for thought. Ven. Godhika went to practice meditation, made progress step by step, but then regressed. They say this happened six times. After the seventh time, he took a razor to slash his throat — he was so depressed — but then came to his senses, contemplated the Dhamma, and became an arahant at the last minute. That’s the story in brief. When he died, Mara’s hordes searched for his spirit. To put it simply, they stirred up a storm, but couldn’t tell where he had been reborn.
So the Lord Buddha said, ‘No matter how much you dig or search or investigate to find the spirit of our son, Godhika, who has completely finished his task, you won’t be able to find it — even if you turn the world upside down — because such a task lies beyond the scope of conventional reality.’ How could they possibly find it? It’s beyond the capacity of people with defilements to know the power of an arahant’s mind.
In the realm of convention, there is no one who can trace the path of an arahant’s mind, because an arahant lies beyond convention, even though his is a mind just the same. Think about it: Even our stumbling and crawling mind, when it is continually cleansed without stop, without ceasing, without letting perseverance lag, will gradually become more and more refined until it reaches the limit of refinement. Then the refinement will disappear — because refinement is a matter of conventional reality — leaving a nature of solid gold, or solid Dhamma, called a pure mind. We too will then have no more problems, just like the arahants, because our mind will have become a superlative mind, just like the minds of those who have already gained release.
All minds of this sort are the same, with no distinction between women and men, which is simply a matter of sex or convention. With the mind, there is no distinction between women and men, and thus both women and men have the same capacity in the area of the Dhamma. Both are capable of attaining the various levels of Dhamma all the way to release. There are no restrictions that can be imposed in this area. All that is needed is that we develop enough ability and potential, and then we can all go beyond.
For this reason, we should all make an effort to train our hearts and minds. At the very least, we should get the mind to attain stillness and peace with any of the meditation themes that can lull it into a state of calm, giving rise to peace and well-being within it. For example, mindfulness of breathing, which is one of the primary themes in meditation circles, seems to suit the temperaments of more people than any other theme. But whatever the theme, take it as a governing principle, a refuge, a mainstay for the mind, putting it into practice within your own mind so as to attain rest and peace.
When the mind begins to settle down, we will begin to see its essential nature and worth. We will begin to see what the heart is and how it is. In other words, when the mind gathers all of its currents into a single point, as simple awareness within itself, this is what is called the ‘mind’ (citta). The gathering in of the mind occurs on different levels, corresponding to the mind’s ability and to the different stages of its refinement. Even if the mind is still on a crude level, we can nevertheless know it when it gathers inwardly. When the mind becomes more and more refined, we will know its refinement — ‘This mind is refined… This mind is radiant… This mind is extremely still… This mind is something extremely amazing’ — more and more, step by step, this very same mind!
In cleansing and training the mind for the sake of stillness; in investigating, probing, and solving the problems of the mind with discernment (pañña) — which is the way of making the mind progress, or of enabling us to reach the truth of the mind, step by step, through the means already mentioned — no matter how crude the mind may be, don’t worry about it. If we get down to making the effort and persevere continually with what diligence and persistence we have, that crudeness will gradually fade away and vanish. Refinement will gradually appear through our own actions or our own striving until we are able to go beyond and gain release by slashing the defilements to bits. This holds true for all of us, men and women alike.
But while we aren’t yet able to do so, we shouldn’t be anxious. All that is asked is that we make the mind principled so that it can be a refuge and a mainstay for itself. As for this body, we’ve been relying on it ever since the day we were born. This is something we all can know. We’ve made it live, lie down, urinate, defecate, work, make a living. We’ve used it, and it has used us. We order it around, and it orders us around. For instance, we’ve made it work, and it has made us suffer with aches here and pains there, so that we have to search for medicine to treat it. It’s the one that hurts, and it’s the one that searches for medicine. It’s the one that provides the means. And so we keep supporting each other back and forth in this way.
It’s hard to tell who is in charge, the body or us. We can order it around part of the time, but it orders us around all the time. Illness, hunger, thirst, sleepiness: These are all nothing but a heap of suffering and stress in which the body orders us around, and orders us from every side. We can order it around only a little bit, so when the time is right for us to give the orders, we should make it meditate.
So. Get to work. As long as the body is functioning normally, then no matter how much or how heavy the work, get right to it. But if the body isn’t functioning normally, if you’re ill, you need to be conscious of what it can take. As for the mind, though, keep up the effort within, unflaggingly, because it’s your essential duty.
You’ve depended on the body for a long time. Now that it’s wearing down, know that it’s wearing down — which parts still work, which parts no longer work. You’re the one in charge and you know it full well, so make whatever compromises you should.
But as for the heart, which isn’t ill along with the body, it should step up its efforts within, so that it won’t lack the benefits it should gain. Make the mind have standards and be principled — principled in its living, principled in its dying. Wherever it’s born, make it have good principles and satisfactory standards. What they call ‘merit’ (puñña) won’t betray your hopes or expectations. It will provide you with satisfactory circumstances at all times, in keeping with the fact that you’ve accumulated the merit — the well-being — that all the world wants and of which no one has enough. In other words, what the world wants is well-being, whatever the sort, and in particular the well-being of the mind that will arise step by step from having done things, such as meditation, which are noble and good.
This is the well-being that forms a core or an important essence within the heart. We should strive, then, while the body is still functioning, for when life comes to an end, nothing more can be done. No matter how little or how much we have accomplished, we must stop at that point. We stop our work, put it aside, and then reap its rewards — there, in the next life. Whatever we should be capable of doing, we do. If we can go beyond or gain release, that’s the end of every problem. There will then be nothing to involve us in any turmoil.
Here I’ve been talking about the mind because the mind is the primary issue. That which will make us fare well or badly, meet with pleasure or pain, is nothing else but the mind.
As for what they call bad kamma, it lies within the mind that has made it. Whether or not you can remember, these seeds — which lie within the heart — can’t be prevented from bearing fruit, because they are rooted in the mind. You have to accept your kamma. Don’t find fault with it. Once it’s done, it’s done, so how can you find fault with it? The hand writes and so the hand must erase. You have to accept it like a good sport. This is the way it is with kamma until you can gain release — which will be the end of the problem.