Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1990

Consciousness and Sensitivity; Ajahn Sumedho
Making Our Minds Up; Anagarika
Self-Training; Ajahn Chah
Living with Luang Por; Several Reflections



On June 17th, Ajahn Chah was 72 years old. At our monasteries, we use this day each year to remember our teacher with gratitude, and to re-dedicate ourselves to the tradition of practice he has passed on. In this spirit, we offer a teaching which he gave to a new monk at Wat Pah Pong, Vassa 1978.

We come here to practise to bring about changes - we change from our old ways. And this is the meaning of asking for guidance (nissaya) - it is asking for guidance in this changing. That is what the Buddha and all the Noble Ones were practising for - to change their ways.

There are of course those things that we do not change - they are called residual tendencies (vassana) - but our personality, our behaviour can be changed.

Like in the story of Venerable Sariputta, who would skip over puddles when he came to them. He had been a monkey in his past life and this tendency remained. Even as an Enlightened One he would go skipping over puddles, but this doesn't mean he was being heedless. As disciples of the Buddha, we cannot remove vassana - only a Buddha can do that. Venerable Sariputta liked hopping from time to time, but he was also full of profound wisdom. It was merely vassana in this case.

When you come to take dependence under a master, it means you are taking an example of what is appropriate behaviour. It's a way of letting go of pride and conceit. The manner of speaking and behaving for all monks is the same; even though we exist as different individuals, we all have the same manner of behaviour. In taking on this training, you are asking for a means of working with conceit. Also, the comfort and suitability of our monastery for the practice of concentration meditation (samatha kammathana) is dependent on everyone's willingness to be harmonious. If everyone is practising differently and following different routines, it is not at all suitable. So we have practice and one routine and everyone benefits.

When you hear the teachings, then the next step is to train yourself accordingly. Study yourself a lot, because the Truth can only be seen in ourselves.

Here, I only occasionally give interviews and formal instruction to my disciples. Actually, instruction given daily can be altogether a waste of time. Soon you don't want it any more. If I kept telling you about virtue, concentration and wisdom .....impermanence, suffering and non-self'd soon have all you wanted. You'd become bored with it - not because you're full, but because you've lost interest. So it's up to everyone to help themselves. Nobody can give us true goodness - the Buddha cannot give us reality. The Buddha is the instructor, but it's up to his students to use the instructions to learn to understand themselves.

When you hear the teachings, then the next step is to train yourself accordingly. Study yourself a lot, because the Truth can only be seen in ourselves. If we see it, we see it here; if we don't see it, then it's here that we don't see it.

Whatever you do, do with total concentration. When you sit samadhi (contemplation), put yourself into lotus posture and sit! Train in this posture. Don't think if you can't do it, then you won't do it - you must train. The practice requires a great deal of perseverance and this quality of mind is necessary to be able to do the work you need to do.

Sitting samadhi means being concentrated in body and mind - not allowing hindrances (nivarana) to carry you away. The purity and goodness of our mind is continually clouded by the hindrances of desire, aversion, laziness and drowsiness, worry, and restlessness and doubt. If we are not disturbed by these things, then that is what is called samadhi. But when these hindrances are in control of our minds, our experience of reality is completely blocked.

Take doubt, for instance. If you think you will go into the village today, but then you think that maybe you shouldn't ....then you change your mind again and think you should ....then you shouldn't and on and on - doubting is blocking your getting anywhere.

Being caught in sleepiness is the same. When you sit, don't slouch! This can be like a magnet pulling you down into drowsiness. If you feel like lying down, open your eyes wide - stare at something if necessary. Take any point and just stare at it - this can develop samadhi just the same. Don't allow yourself to be caught in drowsiness. When you sit, you must keep your back straight - not all bent. Even though you're not really tired, don't close your eyes, and your mind will become clear and bright. If all you're doing is sitting there sleeping, you're doing nothing at all.

These hindrances need to be investigated for us to tell what is what. For instance, yesterday and last night being Observance Day, we didn't sleep: so today when we sit we feel sleepy. That's natural - nature requires that we rest. But even if we've slept enough at night, when we come to sit samadhi, we can still feel sleepy - that's the killer. Be careful! Open your eyes. Make your mind bright and clear - don't be caught up in drowsiness. If you're caught in it, it obscures all goodness and all reality - you just don't know anything. If you stay with it for a long time you can become addicted. If, having tried everything, you really can't break it, then sleep. But know the right amount.

Personally, I've had very little problem with this one. Provided that it doesn't become too extreme a practice, the thing to do when tired is to enter into deep samadhi for a while. When you open your eyes, the tiredness is completely gone. It's called refreshing your body in an instant. Back in the early days of Wat Pah Pong with my first disciples, I would use samadhi like this instead of sleeping. About one or two o'clock in the morning, I would drop into stillness of samadhi. Thirty minutes later when I opened my eyes I felt fully refreshed and awake. The disciples I had then nearly died trying to follow me - they didn't know how to rest properly.

This is why I require that you develop your samadhi practice properly. Don't go saying, 'I want to do it another way' or 'I want to do it differently'. If you live with me, you train according to the way I teach. If you have never trained in this practice, how can you know what we are talking about? This applies to all the practices we do - you cannot appreciate them until you've developed them. You must train. Sitting samadhi in the lotus posture has been the practice ever since the time of the Buddha - nothing has changed. This is how it's done. The more correct your posture, the better your samadhi.

Going Away

Afternoon becomes evening.

You are going away with the passing of light.

Soon you will leave your

Tired body where sunken eyes

Are closed in quietness.

Flesh gently covers protuberant

Bone. Breathing is slower.

Now there is only waiting for

Your final exhalation into

The gathering night of peace.

George Coombs
The practice of Dhamma (Truth) and the practice of Vinaya (Discipline/Precepts) go together. The Vinaya is our body and the Dhamma is our mind. That's all there is. We train ourselves - our body and mind. Our body and speech - that's the precepts; and our mind is the Dhamma. They go together. And there are means of training for each level. Just as a fruit has skin, flesh and pith, the Way has precepts (sila), concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna).

Following the Vinaya means we are contained in our speech and action, and accordingly the mind is contained - it is collected. If we are skilled in disciplining speech and action, then the faculty of knowing - mindfulness (sati) - is sharp. The mind is as skilled as speech and action, and speech and action are as skilled as the mind. This is religious practice - training of body, speech and mind. There's always something happening in the mind, and if we are doing this practice properly, we are always developing wisdom. We're always studying - constantly knowing what's happening at the ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.

All we can do is train ourselves in this kind of knowing - the knowing will not come from constantly hearing Teaching. When you have firmly developed The One Who Knows (Buddhabhava) in your minds, then whatever comes to you, you will know. When you know, when you are mindful, you are able to contemplate - investigate. This is the self-training.

So on the external level we simplify our life. If your life is too complicated, you'll lose yourself. Speak simply, work simply - simplify everything you do so you will be able to see clearly. If you arrive at wisdom, it will be because you've learned to understand your own body/mind processes and vise versa. Lokavidu* means to see though the world - this is what I am talking about. If you don't know yourself, you don't know the world. And if you don't understand the nature of the world, then you do not understand yourself. When your mind is clear and bright you are able to see clearly, and in this clarity we study - we study discipline, study samadhi, study wisdom. Whatever comes along, we study.

* lokavidu - 'Knower of the Worlds', i.e. one who understands
the nature of all conditioned existence. An epithet of the Buddha.

If we are studying wisely, we know for instance that a tree we look at has the same nature as we have. We see the process of arising, sustaining, decaying and dying in the outside world, and in 'turning inwards' we can know that same process in our own mind and body. The birth and death of the tree, if seen properly, gives rise to understanding. If we are constantly mindful, then we are constantly developing wisdom. We apply to internal world what we understand through our experience of the external. The internal understanding can likewise be applied to our study of the external. Mindfulness and wisdom come easily if you practise in this way. At this point internal phenomena and external phenomena have merged. Internal and external are the same. That means that when we understand ourselves, we will understand everything in the world. So you must keep on with this practice of knowing yourself.

If you forget yourself, if you are not knowing yourself, you will become careless - you do not know what is going on. Keeping on with this uneven kind of practice makes things very difficult. The very activity of our mind and body is our teacher. If the One Who Knows is constantly present, then you know correctly - all that arises passes. Sometimes there's pleasure, sometimes there's pain; sometimes you like it, sometimes you don't. This is our study material - liking and disliking - not something somewhere else.

Study is constant. If you are not able to establish mindfulness constantly, then you are wasting time - not doing anything. It's that fast -- practice can cease just like that. You've got eyes, but it's like you haven't; ears, but it's like you haven't. You've got everything, but it's like you've got nothing - because you don't know yourself.

For this reason, the Teaching is to turn your minds inwards - watch your own mind. Don't go doubting by thinking that following something 'outside' or somewhere else can help you overcome doubt. All doubts start and finish in our own minds. It is the same with all the hardships, your sleepiness and all the other difficulties you have.

The Buddha taught us to know this very mind and body. He said to know, according to reality, the arising and passing away of nama and rupa - that means this mind and body - not something else. You may go visiting many places and hearing many Teachings, but it always comes back to your putting an end to your own doubts through your own practice. Everyone who practises has to go through this.