Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1999
THIS ISSUE Cover:
Articles:
Question Time; Tuhn Ajahn Sumedho
Arrive at Where You Are; Kittisaro Bhikkhu
Desire to end Desire; Tuhn Ajahn Maha Boowa
Filling in the Dots; Sister Abahassara
Zeal and New Land; Subbato Bhikkhu
Kwan Yin & the Noble Elephant; Sucitto Bhikkhu
Thoughts From a Forest; Vipassi Bhikkhu
A First View of Buddhism; Arnold Handley
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The Desire That Ends Desire
Tuhn Ajahn Maha Boowa is one of the most highly respected meditation masters in Thailand today. He is a native of the North-East (Isan) and spends much of his time in his forest monastery, Mat Pah Ban Tard, in Udon Province. Along with Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Thate and Ajahn Lee, he is one of the few forest masters whose talks have been translated Into English. Several collections of his talks are available at Amaravati, Chithurst and the branch monasteries.

Question:
Tuhn Ajahn, sitting meditation because one wants to develop discernment and wisdom in order to transcend the defilements . . is setting up an aim such as this (itself) a kind of defilement?

Answer:
Setting up an aim is part of the plan to kill defilements, it's not defilement. For instance, (considering) how one is going to practise, or determining to practise in such and such a way so that the defilements will gradually die out until they are all gone ... that is our plan. Now we practise, we resolve ourselves to act accordingly: none of that is defilement. It isn't defilement to want to go to Nibbana, one isn't a corpse get. Wanting to go to Nibbana, this kind of wanting is the Path (Magga). It's the Path one must use to reach liberation. This wanting is the motivation to walk the path to liberation. Wanting to make merit, wanting to transcend suffering, doing good actions ... these are not defilements. If one didn't want anything at all what would one do? As soon as there is a little wanting (one thinks) its all defilement. So one simply "doesn't want" and just takes it easy, just like a tree stump or a corpse. Corpses don't have any wanting, so they must have reached Nibbana, right?

Question:
Sometimes I'm not sure what the defilements are.

Answer:
Not knowing what the defilements are: right there, that's defilement! Do you understand? YOU still don't know? That's defilement!

Question:
Well then, knowing what defilements are, that's defilement again.

Answer:
That's Dhamma! Do you understand yet? Do you understand this much?

 
When I read of the Buddha collapsing through exertion, I felt so sorry for him the tears fell right there as I was reading.

 
Question:
Some people, ordinary lay people talking together, say that defilement is that which stains, then they go on to say that doing evil is defilement, doing good is defilement. ...

Answer:
Now do you understand this or not? Aspiring to virtue and practising virtuously: that's Magga, Do you understand yet? That is the desire to transcend suffering. Let's put it simply. Whatever is defilement has its own defining characteristics. Wanting is of two kinds: there is wanting as a kind of defilement, and also wanting as a part of Magga (Path). If one doesn't want at all then one doesn't have an aim in life, one just meanders and wanders around until one bumps into the wall, one doesn't walk along the path. Now there is this point of aspiration, the transcending of suffering. This is worth expanding on. Know which type of wanting to use, know both kinds.

I've seen this clearly already and haven't forgotten it to this very day because it was so momentous.

... Let's talk about Luang Dtah Boowa* again ... Regarding reverence for the monks and the religion - sure, I was reverent, but I didn't particularly want to be ordained. It's just that certain events forced me to become a monk, so I did. Having been ordained I looked into the Dhamma books. Wherever I looked I was impressed. I was struck especially by the Buddha's life story and the lives of the disciples. Oh, it sent my mind reeling! When I read of the Buddha collapsing through exertion, I felt so sorry for him the tears fell right there as I was reading. Then when I read of his Enlightenment the tears fell again out of wonder. Reading the lives of the disciples would also fill me with wonder. When I read how they endured such suffering and hardships, the sympathy I felt caused such tears to flow again, and then again when I read how thou attained the superhuman attainments realising the Dhamma. So the lives of both the Buddha and his disciples were impressed into mg mind. Mg mind focused in on that, focused in on the Dhamma. Now as for external concerns, they gradually faded and lost their attraction as mg mind directed inwards. Reading the biographies of those who had realised Enlightenment, I wanted to be an arahant, I wanted to go to Nibbana.

*Luang Dtah Boowa, a term the Van Ajahn often uses in referring to himself
in conversation, is mildly comical. Unlike "Luang Por" -
Grand Father - 'Luang Dtah" approximates to "Grandad"
.
So I had this single desire. It was not a normal one; the desire was so strong that if I didn't attain Enlightenment and Nibbana, I was prepared to die. Then this problem arose: now that I wanted Enlightenment and Nibbana with all my heart, were these things still available in our day and age**? Or were Enlightenment and Nibbana extinct now? If Enlightenment and Nibbana were no longer in existence then my practice, no matter how hard I tried, would be useless because there would be no fruit as a result of it. So this caused me to further determine: "May I meet up with a teacher who is able to reveal this matter of Enlightenment and Nibbana to me, so that I may see that those things still exist without a shadow of a doubt. Just this much .... When I am satisfied of this, I will offer myself body and mind to that teacher, and I will exert myself in the practice to reach arahantship and Nibbana to the utmost of my ability. It doesn't matter if I die, just so long as I find out this one thing. Just so long as I can believe wholeheartedly that Enlightenment and Nibbana exist, then I will practise for that Enlightenment and Nibbana just as wholeheartedly as my conviction:'
** Literally, "in our religion".

Now, having finished as much of my studies as I had determined to undertake, I set out to look for Venerable Ajahn Mun. Coming to Udon I found he had gone to Sakhon Nakorn, so I went up to Nong Khai first and stayed at Wat Toong Sa-Wahng for 3 months. Then I set out after him for Sakhon Nakorn and to where he was staying at Bahn Koke Nah Mon. That year he had spent the rains retreat there. I arrived there just as it was getting dark. He was walking up and down beside the tiny sala where he had a room. (That was the room where I had sat and listened in on him chanting.) Now as soon as I had arrived -it was as if he had recorded every single question that I had prepared to ask him -he answered all mg questions right then and there, just as if to say: "Here, this is Enlightenment and Nibbana, where have you bean looking? Don't you know? Enlightenment and Nibbana are right here, right here! Do you see?" The more I listened the more inspired I became, until I lost all doubts ... even though mg heart was still full of defilements, mind you ... but I lost all doubts concerning whether Enlightenment and Nibbana still existed or not. I was simply certain that Enlightenment and Nibbana were still replete, just as the Venerable Ajahn had revealed to me, as if from his own heart. It was as if he were to pull out an object and say: "Here it is, do you see it or are you blind? If you're not blind, then when I put it here on the palm of my hand you must see it. Do you see it or not?" How could I not see it when it was laid on the palm of his hand like that? Now I was convinced, I believed him because he had brought the truth forward from his heart for me to see clearly.

Now concerning this desire of mine which was so strong ... As long as I still doubted about the fruit of the practice, then mg aspiration tion had not get ripened. As soon as he had explained about Enlightenment and Nibbana, 'I thought: "Now, the Venerable Ajahn has explained 50 much, are you convinced?" "Yeah, I'M thoroughly convinced." "Well now, are you going to really do it?" "I must really do it, I can't not really do it. I must, even at the cost of death:' And it really was like that. The practice of one who has thrown his life into it and ordinary practice are very different, even, in the one person. Ordinary practice is one thing, but the practice which contains firm conviction and dedication has overwhelming strength. The exertion to reach the goal must be like an almighty blow. If one dies, one dies. If one doesn't die, one will unfailingly reach the goal. It can't be otherwise, there can be no turning back. One will die on the battlefield.

And here there is only wanting which can lead one! Let's take a look at this wanting. It was a strong kind of wanting 1 wanted to be liberated, wanted to know, to see' the Dhamma, Enlightenment and Nibbana. I wanted to be an arahant, I really wanted to. Even though I was only Luang Dtah Boowa, no bigger than a mouse, yet my desire was the size of a mountain. When I learned the truth from Venerable Ajahn Mun ... well, then, I was going to feed my hunger. Let's put it simply like that. To feed my hunger means to go to the limit! From that point on my practice was like a propeller, or like I don't know what. My mind wouldn't so much as flick outwards to my fellow monks or the lay people, it spun inwards. I wasn't interested in being -or even so much as thought that I would be - a teacher of monks. novices and lay people such as I am now, and get it has happened, I don't know how. At the time when my mind was immersed in the practice, engaged in hand-to-hand combat, I wasn't concerned with anybody elses life but my own. I couldn't come and live normally with others, I had to go off to the mountains and the forests. When I found that living with one or two others wasn't convenient for me I changed my way. I knew within myself that that I wasn't convenient for me so I lived alone. If I wanted to eat I did, and if I didn't want to eat, no matter how many days. I wasn't afraid of dying. Oh, I was only skin and bone. Then I was still young and strong, I was 27 when I first got down to the practice. How do you think it was to be only skin and bone, was I skin or wasn't I?

Eventually, one day I came down to meet the others and they were all shocked to see me. Even Ajahn Mun was shocked! "OK, why are you like this? Coming down from the mountain all yellow like this ... what happened to you?" Then he countered himself immediately with: "Well, a true fighter has to be like this, eh!" He was afraid I'd get all faint-hearted and start blubbering! Do you get that? When he said: "What's happened to you?" I was ready to start blubbering, but when he added: "Its got to be like this before you can really be called a fighter," he knocked it out straight away.

So practising on one's desire has a special kind of impetus. I dare to say this. I'm not bragging or boasting, I'm' just talking the truth. Actually I don't want to sag it, but when a reason arises for something to be said then I sag it, by bringing forth this kind of wanting to compare with that kind which is defilement.

I've wanted wholeheartedly in the past. I wanted Enlightenment and Nibbana. And my practice was in proportion to that wanting, practising to the utmost of my ability and wisdom. Sometimes I just threw everything I had into it: "Hm! If I die I die, this is the moment of decision." There was no turning back, only either to die or to break through. Like a drill, one has to drill, one has to drill till it breaks through, or like a person who is tangled in the brush, ha must break through. There was no turning back because I had reached the point of no return, When one has begun the combat at close quarters like that there's 110 turning back. One has either to fight to the death or to victory. it was like this sometimes.

I had already thrown my life into the practice, so that when it reached those times when the going got harder and heavier, I just kept on going. If I didn't I wouldn't find out, death was superfluous. And why? Because of this wanting to know, wanting to see. All the torment and hardship that I felt during this time of developing the kammatthana practice, was because of the power of that wanting, it was so heavy. I didn't think I would survive to this day as I have.

I didn't have many companions in those days because I wasn't interested in others. I just staged in the forests by myself. No matter how many days 1 wanted to eat or to fast it didn't matter. When I felt like I was really going to die, I'd stagger out on almsround and eat for a day and feel a little stronger. Why did I have to do this? Because I'm a coarse fellow, I admit it. Whenever I had a decent feed Id just go to sleep like a pig and wouldn't want to get up. Was I raising a pig or something? This wasn't a pig farm! When I fasted and my body became wasted and thin, although the body wouldn't have much strength, the mind would be clear. I could see it clearly This is why I fasted, not for other reasons. When it came time to eat then it became a case for the "little court:' One voice would sag: "Hey. are you going to fast to the death or something? You're half dead already!" Another voice would sag: "Huhl Whenever you get something to eat YOU just sleep like a pig, that's even worse than death! You put your head on the chopping block and just wait for it. Why do you want so much to eat anyway?" The outcome of the trial. I was the judge, was: "Hm ... fast some, eat some, that's the best way." It probably wasn't wrong if I made up my own mind. Fast some, eat some, that's the way. So I kept to that continually until I reached the limit of my ability NOW I'M simply this Old Venerable Boowa that you see before you now. I don't want anything. You may wonder if I'm dead or something to say this, huh? I don't want, so 1 tell you I don't want. Regardless of what anybody says. If they say I'm crazy then I'm crazy ... crazy with "not wanting". Heaven, I don't want. Nibbana, I don't want. An arahant? I don't want to be one. I'm just simply Old Venerable Boowa, what more can I say? That's all there is to it. That's the end of the problem of wanting. So go and decipher that and think about it. When it was time to want, I wanted. When the wanting became so much that nothing could satisfy it, I couldn't be bothered wanting any more. So I just don't want anything, I'm just as I am. What more can I say?