Forest Sangha Newsletter January 2004

Self-view, Personality and Awareness; Luang Por Sumedho
Some Final Words; Luang Por Chah
The Divine Abidings; Ajahn Thaniya

Some Final Words
Extract of a talk given by Luang Por Chah to a large gathering of monks and laypeople at Wat Nong Pah Pong, recently translated by Paul Breiter.

In every home and every community, whether we live in the city, the countryside, the forests, or the mountains, we are the same in experiencing happiness and suffering; but very many of us lack a place of refuge, a field or garden where we can cultivate positive qualities of heart. We don't have clear understanding of what this life is about and what we ought to be doing. From childhood and youth through till adulthood, we learn to seek enjoyment and take delight in the pleasures of the senses, and we never think that danger will threaten us as we go about our lives, making a family and so on.

There is also for many of us, an inner lack of virtue and Dhamma in our lives, from not listening to the teachings and not practising Dhamma. As a result, there is little wisdom in our lives, and everything regresses and degenerates. The Buddha, our Supreme Teacher, had loving-kindness (metta) for beings. He led sons and daughters of good family to ordain, practise and realise the truth. He taught them to establish and spread the teaching, and to show people how to live with happiness in their daily lives. He taught the proper ways to earn a livelihood, to be moderate and thrifty in managing finances, and to act without carelessness in all affairs.

The Lord Buddha taught that no matter how poor we may be, we should not let it impoverish our hearts and starve our wisdom. Even if there are floods inundating our fields, our villages, and our homes, to the point where it is beyond our capability to save anything, the Buddha taught us not to let it flood and overcome our hearts. Flooding the heart means that we lose sight of and have no knowledge of Dhamma.

Even if water floods our fields again and again over the years, or even if fire burns down our homes, we still will have our minds. If our minds have virtue and Dhamma, we can then use our wisdom to help us make a living and support ourselves. We can acquire land again and make a new start.

If we live in the world, we have to pay attention and know the ways of the world, otherwise we end up in dire straits.

I really believe that if you listen to the Dhamma, contemplating it and understanding it, you can make an end of your suffering. You will know what is right to do, what you need to do, what you need to use and what you need to spend. You can live your life according moral precepts and Dhamma, applying wisdom to worldly matters. Unfortunately, most of us are far from that.

We should remember that when the Buddha taught Dhamma and set out the way of practice, he wasn't trying to make our lives difficult. He wanted us to improve, to become better and more skilful. It's just that we don't listen. This is pretty bad. It's like a little child who doesn't want to take a bath in the middle of winter because it's too cold. He starts to stink so much that the parents can't even sleep at night, so they grab hold of him and give him a bath. That makes him mad, and he cries and curses his father and mother.

The parents and the child see the situation differently. For the child, it's too uncomfortable to take a bath in the winter. For the parents, the child's smell is unbearable. The two views can't be reconciled. The Buddha didn't simply want to leave us as we are. He wanted us to be diligent and work hard in ways that are good and beneficial, and to be enthusiastic about the right path. Instead of being lazy, we have to make efforts.

His teaching is not something that will make us foolish or useless. It teaches us how to develop and apply wisdom to whatever we are doing, working, farming, raising a family and managing our finances. If we live in the world, we have to pay attention and know the ways of the world, otherwise we end up in dire straits.

When we have our means of livelihood, our homes and possessions, our minds can be comfortable and upright, and we can have the energy of spirit to help and assist each other. If someone is able to share food and clothing and provide shelter to those in need, that is an act of loving-kindness. The way I see it, giving things in a spirit of loving-kindness is far better than selling them to make a profit. Those who have metta don't wish for anything for themselves. They only wish for others to live in happiness.

When we live according to Dhamma, we feel no distress when looking back on what we have done. We are only creating good kamma. If we are creating bad kamma, then the result later on will be misery. So we need to listen and contemplate, and we need to figure out where difficulties come from. Haven't you ever carried things to the fields on a pole over your shoulders? When the load is too heavy in front, isn't that uncomfortable to carry? When it's too heavy in back, isn't that uncomfortable to carry? Which way is balanced and which way is imbalanced? When you're doing it well, you can see it. Dhamma is like that. There is cause and effect - it is common sense. When the load is balanced, it's easier to carry. With an attitude of moderation our family relations and our work will be smoother. Even if you aren't rich, you will still have ease of mind; you won't need to suffer over it.

As we haven't died yet, now is the time to talk about these things. If you don't hear Dhamma when you are a human being, there won't be any other chance. Do you think animals can be taught Dhamma? Animal life is a lot harder than ours, being born as a toad or a frog, a pig or a dog, a cobra or a viper, a squirrel or a rabbit. When people see them, they only think about killing or beating them, or catching or raising them for food. So, we have this opportunity only as humans. As we're still alive, now is the time to look into this and mend our ways. If things are difficult, try to bear with the difficulty for the time being and live in the right way, until one day you can do it. This is the way to practise Dhamma.

So, I am reminding you all of the need for having a good mind and living your lives in an ethical way. However you may have been doing things up to now, you should take a look and examine to see whether what you are doing is good or not. If you've been following wrong ways, give them up. Give up wrong livelihood. Earn your living in a good and decent way that doesn't harm others and doesn't harm yourself or society. When you practice right livelihood, then you will live with a comfortable mind.

We should use our time to create benefit right now, in the present. This was the Buddha's intention: benefit in this life, benefit in future lives. In this life, from childhood we need to apply ourselves to study, to learn at least enough to be able to earn a living, so that we can support ourselves and eventually establish a family and not live in poverty. But we sometimes lack this responsible attitude. We seek enjoyment instead. Wherever there's a festival, a play, or a concert, we're on our way there, even when it's getting near harvest time. The old folks will drag the grandchildren along to hear the famous singer.

'Where are you off to, Grandmother?'
'I'm taking the kids to hear the concert!'

I don't know if Grandma is taking the kids, or the kids are taking her. It doesn't seem to matter how long or difficult a trip it might be, they go again and again. They say they're taking the grandchildren, but the truth is that they just want to go themselves. To them, that's what a good time is. If you invite them to the monastery to listen to Dhamma, to learn about right and wrong, they'll say, 'You go ahead. I want to stay home and rest...I've got a bad back knees are sore...I really don't feel well....' But if it's a popular singer or an exciting play, they'll hurry to round up the kids. Nothing bothers them then. That's how some folks are. They make such efforts, yet all they do is bring suffering and difficulty on themselves. They seek out darkness, confusion, and intoxication on the path of delusion.

The Buddha teaches us to create benefit for ourselves in this life, ultimate benefit, spiritual welfare. We should do it now, in this very life. We should seek out the knowledge that helps us do it, so that we can live our lives well, making good use of our resources, working with diligence in ways of right livelihood.

The Buddha taught us to meditate. In meditation, we must practise samadhi, which means making the mind still and peaceful. It's like water in a basin. If we keep putting things in it and stirring it up, it will always be murky. If the mind is always allowed to be thinking and worrying over things, we will never see anything clearly. If we let the water in the basin settle and become still, then we will see all sorts of things reflected in it. When the mind is settled and still, wisdom will be able to see things. The illuminating light of wisdom surpasses any other kind of light.

When training the mind in samadhi, we initially get the idea it will be easy. But when we sit, our legs hurt, our back hurts, we feel tired, we get hot and itchy. Then we start to feel discouraged, thinking that samadhi is as far away from us as the sky from the earth. We don't know what to do and become overwhelmed by the difficulties. But if we receive some training, it will get easier little by little.

It's like a city person looking for mushrooms. He asks, 'Where do mushrooms come from?' Someone tells him, 'They grow in the earth.' So he picks up a basket and goes walking into the countryside, expecting the mushrooms to be lined up along the side of the road for him. But he walks and walks, climbing hills and trekking through fields, without seeing any mushrooms. A village person who has gone picking mushrooms before, would know where to look for them; he would know which part of which forest to go to. But the city person has had only the experience of seeing mushrooms on his plate. He heard they grow in the earth and got the idea that they would be easy to find, but it didn't work out that way.

Likewise, you who come here to practise samadhi might feel it's difficult. I had my troubles with it too. I trained with an Ajahn, and when we were sitting I'd open my eyes to look: 'Oh! Is Ajahn ready to stop yet?' I'd close my eyes again and try to bear it a little longer. I felt it was going to kill me. I kept opening my eyes, but the Ajahn looked so comfortable sitting there. One hour, two hours, I would be in agony but the Ajahn didn't move. So after a while I got to fear the sittings. When it was time to practise samadhi, I'd feel afraid.

When we are new to it, training in samadhi is difficult. Anything is difficult when we don't know how to do it. This is our obstacle. But with training, this can change. That which is good can eventually overcome and surpass that which is not good. We tend to become faint-hearted as we struggle-this is a normal reaction, and we all go through it. So it's important to train for some time. It's like making a path through the forest. At first it's rough going, with a lot of obstructions, but returning to it again and again, we clear the way. After some time, when we have removed the branches and stumps, the ground becomes firm and smooth from being walked on repeatedly. Then we have a good path for walking through the forest. This is what it's like when we train the mind. Keeping at it, the mind becomes illumined.

So the Buddha wanted us to seek Dhamma. This kind of knowledge is what's most important. Any form of knowledge or study that does not accord with the Buddhist way is learning that involves dukkha. Our practice of Dhamma should get us beyond suffering; if we can't fully transcend suffering, then we should at least be able to transcend it a little, now, in the present.

When problems come to you, recollect Dhamma. Think of what your spiritual guides have taught you. They have taught you to let go, to give up, to refrain, to put things down; they have taught you to strive and fight in a way that will solve your difficulties. The Dhamma that you come to listen to is for solving problems. The teaching tells you that you can solve the problems of daily life with Dhamma. After all, we have been born as human beings; it should be possible for us to live with happy minds.