Forest Sangha Newsletter
April 1998
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Editorial:
Self-naughting; Aj Sumedho
Discernment v's Self-Deception; Upasika Kee Nanayon
Meditation Class; Aj Sucitto
Dhammma Refugee ; Ajahn Viradhammo
Pilgrim's Way: the Place of the Buddha; Ajahn Candasiri

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Discernment vs. Self-Deception

Upasika Kee Nanayon -- also known as Kor Khao-suan-luang after the hill on which she established her hermitage -- is generally regarded as the formost female Dhamma teacher in Thailand this century. She never took any formal ordination or discipleship under a teacher; using the ermitic situation, the Pali Canon and her own determined introspection as her Dhamma-guides. As a result of her practice and example, other women came to live with her as their teacher, and the resultant community continued to maintain the hermitage after her death in 1978.
    Collections of her talks have been published both by the Buddhist Publication Society of Kandy, Sri Lanka, and for distribution in Thailand and the West. The following extract comes from a collection translated by Ajahn Thanissaro entitled 'An Unentangled Knowing' and distributed as an act of dana from Barre, Massachusetts.

It's important that we discuss the steps of the practice in training the mind, for the mind has all sorts of deceptions by which it fools itself. If you aren't skilful in investigating and seeing through them, they are very difficult to overcome even if you're continually mindful to keep watch over the mind. You have to make an effort to focus on contemplating these things at all times. Mindfulness on its own won't be able to give rise to any real knowledge. At best, it can give you only a little protection against the effects of sensory contact. If you don't make a focused contemplation, the mind won't be able to give rise to any knowledge within itself at all.

This is why you have to train yourself to be constantly aware all around. When you come to know anything for what it really is, there's nothing but letting go, letting go. On the beginning level, this means the mind won't give rise to any unwise or unprofitable thoughts. It will simply stop to watch, stop to know within itself at all times. If there's anything you have to think about, keep your thoughts on the themes of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. You have to keep the mind thinking and labelling solely in reference to these sorts of themes, for if your thinking and labelling are right, you'll come to see things rightly. If you go the opposite way, you'll have to think wrongly and label things wrongly, and that means you'll have to see things wrongly as well. This is what keeps the mind completely hidden from itself.

Now, when thoughts or labels arise in the mind, then if you focus on watching them closely you'll see that they're sensations - sensations of arising and disbanding, changeable, unreliable, and illusory. If you don't make an effort to keep a focused watch on them, you'll fall for the deceptions of thought-formation. In other words, the mind gives rise to memories of the past and fashions issues dealing with the past, but if you're aware of what's going on in time, you'll see that they're all illusory. There's no real truth to them at all. Even the meanings the mind gives to good and bad sensory contacts at the moment they occur: if you carefully observe and contemplate, you'll see that they're all deceptive. There's no real truth to them. But ignorance and delusion latch onto them all, and this drives the mind around in circles. In other words, it doesn't know what's what - how these things arise, persist, and disband - so it latches onto them and gets itself deceived on many, many levels. If you don't stop to focus and watch, there's no way you can see through these things at all.
 

Thanks to the teachings of the Buddha, we can gain knowledge into the mind ... which, when you look into it deeply, you'll find to be empty - empty of any meaning in and of itself.

 

But if the mind keeps its balance or stops to watch and know within itself, it can come to realise these things for what they are. When it realises them, it can let them go automatically without being attached to anything. This is the knowledge that comes with true mindfulness and discernment: it knows and lets go. It doesn't cling. No matter what appears - good or bad, pleasure or pain - when the mind knows, it doesn't cling. When it doesn't cling, there's no stress or suffering. You have to keep hammering away at this point: when it doesn't cling, the mind can stay at normalcy. Empty. Undisturbed. Quiet and still. But if it doesn't read itself in this way, doesn't know itself in this way, it will fall for the deceits of defilement and craving. It will fashion up all sorts of complex and complicated things that it itself will have a hard time seeing through, for they'll have their ways of playing up to the mind to keep it attached to them, all of which is simply a matter of the mind's falling for the deceits of the defilements and cravings within itself. The fact that it isn't acquainted with itself - doesn't know how mental states arise and disband and take on objects - means that it loses itself in its many, many attachments.

There's nothing as hard to keep watch of as the mind, because it's so accustomed to wrong views and wrong opinions. This is what keeps it hidden from itself. But thanks to the teachings of the Buddha, we can gain knowledge into the mind, or into consciousness with its many layers and intricacies that, when you look into it deeply, you'll find to be empty - empty of any meaning in and of itself.

This is an emptiness that can appear clearly within consciousness. Even though it's hidden and profound, we can see into it by looking inward in a way that's quiet and still. The mind stops to watch, to know within itself. As for sensory contacts - sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and that sort of thing - it isn't interested, because it's intent on looking into consciousness pure and simple, to see what arises in there and how it generates issues. Sensations, thoughts, labels for pleasure and pain and so forth, are all natural phenomena that change as soon as they're sensed - and they're very refined. If you view them as being about this or that matter, you won't be able to know them for what they are. The more intricate the meanings you give them, the more lost you become - lost in the whorls of the cycle of rebirth.

The cycle of rebirth and the processes of thought-formation are one and the same thing. As a result, we whirl around and around, lost in many, many levels of thought-formation, not just one. The knowledge that would read the heart can't break through to know, for it whirls around and around in these very same thought-formations, giving them meanings in terms of this or that, and then latching onto them. If it labels them as good, it latches onto them as good. If it labels them as bad, it latches onto them as bad. This is why the mind stays entirely in the whorls of the cycle of rebirth, the cycle of thought- formation.

For this reason, to see these things clearly requires the effort to stop and watch, to stop and know in an appropriate way, in a way that's just right. At the same time, you have to use your powers of observation. That's what will enable you to read your own consciousness in a special way. Otherwise, if you latch onto the issues of thoughts and labels, they'll keep you spinning around. So you have to stop and watch, stop and know clearly by focusing down - focusing down on the consciousness in charge. That way your knowledge will become skilful.

Ultimately, you'll see that there's nothing at all - just the arising and disbanding occurring every moment in emptiness. If there's no attachment, there are no issues. There's simply the natural phenomenon of arising and disbanding. But because we don't see things simply as natural phenomena, we see them as being true and latch onto them as our self, good, bad, and all sorts of other complicated things. This keeps us spinning around without knowing how to find a way out, what to let go of - we don't know. When we don't know, we're like a person who wanders into a jungle and doesn't know the way out, doesn't know what to do....

Actually what we have to let go of lies right smack in front of us: where the mind fashions things and gives them meanings so that it doesn't know the characteristics of arising and disbanding, pure and simple. If you can simply keep watching and knowing, without any need for meanings, thoughts, imaginings - simply watching the process of these things in and of itself - there won't be any issues. There's just the phenomenon of the present: arising, persisting, disbanding, arising, persisting, disbanding....There's no special trick to this, but you have to stop and watch, stop and know within yourself every moment. Don't let your awareness stream away from awareness to outside preoccupations. Gather it in so it can know itself clearly - that there's nothing in there worth latching onto. It's all a bunch of deceits.

To know just this much is very useful for seeing the truth inside yourself. You'll see that consciousness is empty of any self. When you look at physical phenomena, you'll see them as elements, as empty of any self. You'll see mental phenomena as empty of any self, as elements of consciousness - and that if there's no attachment, no latching on, there's no suffering or stress....

So even if there's thinking going on in the mind, simply watch it, simply let it go, and its cycling will slow down. Fewer and fewer thought-formations will occur. Even if the mind doesn't stop completely, it will form fewer and fewer thoughts. You'll be able to stop to watch, stop to know more and more. And this way, you'll come to see the tricks and deceits of thought-formation, mental labels, pleasure and pain, and so on. You'll be able to know that there's really nothing inside - that the reason you were deluded into latching onto things was because of ignorance, and that you made yourself suffer right there in that very ignorance....

So you have to focus down on one point, one thing. Focusing on many things won't do. Keep mindfulness in place: stopping, knowing, seeing. Don't let it run out after thoughts and labels. But knowing in this way requires that you make the effort to stay focused - focused on seeing clearly, not just on making the mind still. Focus on seeing clearly. Look on in for the sake of seeing clearly...and contemplate how to let go. The mind will become empty in line with its nature in a way that you'll know exclusively within.