I stopped online live teaching for five weeks because I had Bell’s palsy. In the last teaching, I already told you to practice urgently, because Mara (the evil one, the destroyer) can interfere. Mara that interfered was the Mara of the aggregates. It did not interfere with you guys directly, but it interfered with my health. When the teacher is sick, where can the students turn to?
These days, learning authentic practice is difficult. Unlike 30-40 years ago. 30-40 years ago, there were many teachers. If we went to Isan (northeast Thailand), we could meet many teachers. Right here was one, and just a short ride away was another. There were so many in different places. In south Isan, we had Luangpor Phud in Korat. In Buriram, we had Luangpu Suwat; in Surin, Luangpu Dune and Luangpu Sam. In Srisaket, we had Luangpu Luang, In Ubon, we had Luangpor Cha. Further north, on the way to Khonkaen, we had Luangpu Paang. There were many teachers on the road between Udon to Nong Bua Lampu, and many from Udon to Sakol or Nakhon Panom. From Udon to Nong Kai or Leoi, we also had many teachers.
Back then, I learned from many teachers. At first, I studied from Luangpu Dune. Once I had the understanding, I started to visit other teachers to gain experience, but that was after I was sure I would not be misguided. Every teacher I met taught something similar. Some taught about using “Buddho” as a mantra. But not just silently reciting to obtain calmness; that’s too shallow. They taught using the mantra “Buddho” with mindfulness to observe our minds. “Buddho” is another name for the mind.
Some taught clearly that, “Buddho, the mind knows. Buddho, know the mind.” –that the silent mantra is something the mind knows, and then we should know our mind. This teaching can be used for all practices. We observe the body, and we see the body is observed, and the mind is the observer and the knower. If we practice breathing meditation, we see the body breathing; the mind is the observer and knower. Or we can observe our postures. The body stands, walks, sits, lies down, the mind is the knower. We can do Sampajanna practice; the body moves, the mind knows. Slight movements may not change our posture; the mind still knows the movements. This is the practice of mindfulness through Sampajanna. Or we can observe the feelings of happiness, sadness, or indifference, and see that the mind is the knower. Physical pain or pleasure arises; the mind is the knower. Wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, or indifference arises; the mind is the knower. This is the mind observing the mental formations.
All About the Mind
Every teacher I met focused the teaching on learning about the mind. Almost all of them were Luangpu Mun’s students, but I also learned from others, like Luangpu Kruba Brahma-Jakka, who also taught me about “Buddho.” So, for every teacher that has practised well, the Dhamma was consistent: the learning about the mind.
Some, like Luangpor Kasem Kemmako, did not teach Buddho directly but taught about the mind as well. He taught, “Good thoughts bring calmness. Thinking without becoming brings peace.” This teaching is about the mind as well. Wholesome mind brings good thoughts, which brings peacefulness. “Thinking without becoming” brings liberation. “Thinking without becoming” doesn’t mean foolishness, but “without becoming” means there is no self arising with thoughts: that is Nirvana. Different teachers taught in different styles, but the essence of the teachings directly points to the mind. Most teachers I met were Luangpu Mun’s students.
Luangpu Mun said, “Attain the mind, attain Dhamma. Don’t attain the mind; don’t attain Dhamma.” Citta (the mind) and heart are the same, but it is working from different aspects. Luangpu Dune also taught, “thoughts don’t yield the knowing mind. Stopping thinking yields it, but this also depends on thinking.” This is all about the mind.
In the beginning, Luangpu Dune would teach “do not send the mind out.” That means we should aim for a stable and concentrated mind; that is the knowing mind. Once we have the knowing mind, practice cultivating wisdom. “Make insight so clear that it sees the mind like the eye sees images.” Observe workings of the mind with insights and wisdom, just like we observe images with our eyes. Our eyes cannot control what we see. The mind is the same thing; we cannot control what we observe. Do not control. Whatever state it is, we observe it as is. That was the teaching.
That teaching is all about the mind. When I first started to teach, I taught about observing the mind. Some mocked me for not teaching about observing the body first. Observing the mind will yield correct samadhi (concentration and stability). Observing the mind first yields samadha (peacefulness).
No matter what practice you choose, you cannot ignore citta (the mind). Whether you use “Buddho” as a mantra or observe the body, you cannot ignore the mind. The mind must be a distinct observer. If you don’t know this essence, sometimes using “Buddho” as a mantra will make the mind dull, still, and lifeless. That is not the essence of the practice, because you did not “get” the mind.
I did not make up these teachings myself; I learned from my teachers, but I could get the essence, which is the mind. Luangpu Tade taught that “If you don’t attain the mind, you don’t attain the substance of the practice.” So, what I learned from Luangpu Dune was directly pointed to the mind. He did not teach everyone that way. He taught some to use Buddho as a mantra, some to observe a strain of hair, some to observe a piece bone. He taught different students differently. Whatever the practice object was, correct practice will yield correct samadhi (concentration and stability) and samadha (peacefulness).
Observe the Mind
Luangpu Dune taught me to observe the mind. This contains both samadha (peacefulness) and vipassana (insight) teachings. By observing the mind, if we focus on observing the object, like the abstract space that exists in the mind. When we observe the mind, we see this space. This is “Akasanancayatana” (the first formless Jhana). If we don’t look at space and focus on the mind itself, this is “Vinnanancayatana” (the second formless Jhana).
If we observe further and see that focusing on an object or the mind is still burdensome, the mind stops observing neither the object nor itself, this is the third formless Jhana called “Akincannayatana” (the sphere of nothingness). When we’re in the third formless Jhana for a long time, the memory and perception weaken, until the point where the mind feels as if it is neither perceiving nor non-perceiving. This is “Nevasannanasannayatana” (the fourth formless Jhana). So, practising observing the mind is not always vipassana (insight). Many people practice observing the mind incorrectly, and the mind enters one of these 4 formless Jhanas. This is doing samadha (peacefulness).
Luangpu Dune did not teach me to practice what I just mentioned, but during the first 3 months, I wasn’t practising correctly. So, the mind went through these states. It flowed to observe the empty space. When I told him about the practice, he said it was wrong. I was interfering with the mind’s workings. The mind’s functions are to think and compose, and I forced it to stop thinking or composing, and only knowing remained. That was samadha practice.
The verbatim teaching wasn’t this detailed. He only told me, “This is wrong. Start over again. Start observing. Stop interfering.” When I really observed, I could see the mind changing between happiness, sadness, wholesomeness, unwholesomeness, greed, anger, getting lost. I saw the mind constantly changing: getting lost in seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching, or getting lost in thoughts. Sometimes, I got lost in fixating.
There are 2 main ways of getting lost in the abstract. One is to get lost in thoughts. The other is to get lost to fixate or overfocus on an abstract object, causing the mind to be still. If you observe correctly, you will see that happiness and sadness are impermanent. So are wholesomeness, greed, anger, and delusions. All mental formations are impermanent. So are the knowing mind, the wandering mind, and the fixating mind. The mind that perceives visions, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches is impermanent. The mind that composes mental formations, like thinking or fixating is also impermanent. Keep observing, and you will see that everything that the mind perceives is impermanent. It arises and then decays.
The understanding will also be deeper: seeing that everything is out of our control. We cannot tell the mind to be happy, nor can we eliminate sadness. The wholesome mind cannot be made. Once it arises, it cannot be kept. The mind can also become unwholesome on its own, without intention. The mind can be greedy, angry, or deluded by itself. Once it becomes unwholesome, we cannot order unwholesomeness to disappear. We see Anatta (non-self) characteristics of the mind and mental formations.
If we observe the mental formations or the abstract, the prominent characteristics are their impermanence and non-self. This exists in the Sutta (the narratives scripture). Some part of the Sutta is used to compose the morning chanting. It says, “Physical forms are impermanent. Feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are impermanent.” The chant skips to “physical forms are non-self.” and there is no “Physical forms are in conflict and decay. Or, feelings are in conflict and decay.” The Sutta jumps from impermanence to non-self characteristics. This is because observing the five aggregates is appropriate for students who observe abstract formations.
In the five aggregates dichotomy, there is only one physical part and 4 abstract parts. So, when the Buddha taught students who were skilful at observing the abstract, he would teach about the five aggregates. For students who could see physical forms better, like Jatilas brothers and their 1,000 followers (they’re all fire-worshippers), the dichotomy was to divide “oneself” into 6 sensory perceptions.
He taught that eyes are burning, ears are burning, nose, tongue, and body are burning. These are physical perceptions. The only abstract perception is the mind, which is also burning. They’re burning with the fire of lust and greed, the fire of anger, the fire of delusions. We can see that all our 6 senses are burning with fire from the mind’s impurities, causing suffering. The two characteristics that are suitable for observing the body are conflict and decay, and non-self.
Students who are good at observing the abstract will see impermanence and non-self more easily, but that doesn’t mean you won’t observe any conflict and decay. For some teachers, who were skilled in Jhana (deep absorption), they see that the mind was full of conflict and decay. With Jhana’s deep concentration and stability, the liberation comes from seeing the conflict and decay characteristics. This is called “Apanihita-Vimokkha” (desireless liberation).
So, when we practise observing the mind, the prominent characteristic may be impermanence, seeing phenomena arise and decay. When the moment of liberation comes, the mind concludes that all phenomena are impermanent. This is called “Animitta-Vimokkha” (signless liberation). “Nimitta” means signs. All signs arise and decay, signifying impermanence. For the ones that are skilful in samadhi (concentration and stability), the liberation is “Apanihita-Vimokkha” — seeing the conflict and decay of all phenomena. For ones skilful in cultivating wisdom, emphasizing vipassana (insight) practise, they are liberated by “Sunnata-Vimokkha” (emptiness liberation) by seeing the non-self characteristics of phenomena.
Observe the body as a means to observe the mind.
Observe the mind to understand Dhamma.
The mind will choose the way to liberate itself. We won’t. Our practice is to keep observing and knowing the mind. It doesn’t matter where we start, whether observing the body, or our feelings. In the end, it all comes down to the mind. Why? Who sees the body? The mind does. Who observes the feelings? The mind does. Citta (the mind) is the knower of all phenomena.
If we start from observing the body, we must have the knowing mind to observe the body. If we observe the feelings, the knowing mind observes the feelings. Likewise for mental formations. Knowing the five aggregates, Nivaranani (hindrances to mind’s stability and concentration), Bojjhanga (the factors to enlightenment), or Paṭiccasamuppāda (dependent origination) requires the knowing mind.
When we practice, there aren’t really different schools. We start practising with what we’re more skilful at. After a while, we cannot choose. When we have mindfulness, and the physical phenomena are prominent, we will know the physical. When the feelings are prominent, we know the feeling. Likewise for mental formations, greed, anger, or delusions. Whatever is prominent, we know that one.
We cannot really choose. We only practice mindfulness. Keep observing, and we will see all phenomena, both physical and abstract, arise and fall. All physical and abstract phenomena are in conflict and decay; they’re burdensome. And we’ll see that everything is non-self, beyond our control. This is wisdom cultivation. You can choose where you start when practising samadha (peacefulness), but for wisdom cultivation, whatever mindfulness perceives, we observe that. We don’t choose. So, it’s nonsense to argue whether observing “physical” or “abstract” objects is better. People who argue don’t really know how to practice. The teachers who have practised well don’t argue with each other, since the end result is the same.
We have the knowing mind observing the body, and observing mental formations. Eventually, we get to observe the mind. Luangpu Suwat once told me that the first time he met Luangpu Mun, he taught him that, “If you can observe the mind, do it. If you cannot, observe the body. If you cannot observe the mind or the body, practice samadha (peacefulness).” We practise samadha so the mind will have enough stability to observe the body and the mind. Observe the body as a means to observe the mind. Observe the mind to understand Dhamma. If you don’t observe the mind, you don’t understand Dhamma. Getting the mind is getting Dhamma. Not getting the mind is not getting Dhamma. Losing the mind is losing an opportunity to be enlightened.
If you practice observing the mind, don’t look down on people who practice observing the body. More teachers started out by observing the body. If you practice observing the body, don’t look down on people who practise observing the mind. Observing the mind correctly also yields results. For example, Luangpu Mun taught Luangpu Dune to observe the mind. Luangpu Dune did not make this up himself. I did not invent this practise either. Luangpu Dune taught me to observe the mind.
The teachings have been passed along for generations. Why did the Buddha teach so many ways to practice? 84,000 verses. That’s a lot. I went to see a teacher named Maha Khian (Pra Ariyawaytee). I’m unsure about what comes after Ariya- part, but it should be Ariyawaytee. He lived in Kalasin. He could recite the whole scriptures. Back then, he said he could recite about 30 volumes (out of 45) or something close. I couldn’t remember exactly; that was many decades ago. He said that by practising reciting, he noticed that the aim of all the Buddha’s teachings is for practising. But we sometimes could not get to the essence of the practice in those verses. When we read the scriptures, we found that we could see the practice in some parts, but not others. Maha Khian confidently declared that all teachings are for practising, not for philosophical or intellectual debates.
Therefore, learning Dhamma without practising isn’t what the Buddha intended. For all the teachers I met, they taught me the practice of observing the mind; all of them, and I don’t think this is unusual.
Now, why do some of us have been studying with me for 10, 20 years and still cannot practice, while some could do it in a month or two? We all have different amounts of endowments. For some with good endowments, even when they were very young, getting stirred up by a shocking event brought up the knowing mind. After the knowing mind arose, it saw the body and mental formations as something being observed. The aggregates broke apart and the knowing mind arose. These people have practised before in their previous lives. For them, making further progress is easier, given the right instructions. For some, even when they were little, they wondered “Why was I born? What’s the purpose?” There are many. These people have good endowments. Otherwise, they would not wonder about the purpose or meaning of life.
When people with good endowments meet teachers and build upon them with diligence, they achieve results quickly. There are many conditions here: Good endowments; being born in good realms; merits that result in getting to meet teachers; an opportunity to listen to Dhamma; the confidence in the right teachers.
Many people got spoiled by having confidence in the wrong teachers, which can cause damage to further development. Some meet good teachers but don’t listen to the teachings, but get mindlessly engrossed in the teachers’ presence, with faces filled with tears of joy. Or, they only enjoy making merits, and not interested in practising. Some are overly cautious about “wasting” the teachers’ time with their practice or questions, like Anathapindaka (one of great Buddha’s lay disciples). Visakha (also one of great Buddha’s lay disciples) spent time at the temple to check on the wellness of the monks and what they lacked, or if any structure needed renovations. She then would take care of all these. These people had the opportunity to learn from the Buddha but did not take it. They were like some of us today. We go to see teachers not to learn about practice, but to make merits, thinking that we’ll get great merits from them; we’ll be very rich in our next lives. Is this a good reason to go to a temple? It is, but it is not good enough. We have an opportunity to take a great asset, but we make a pass on it to take something of much less value.
When I went to see teachers, I focused on only one thing: my practice. Since I first met Luangpu Dune, Luangpor Phud, Luangpu Tade, and others, I focused on the practice. I made merits whenever appropriate, but making them did not bring satisfactory joy. I got to give alms to them. For some people who had the same opportunity, they were engrossed in the joy of making merits and they became full of tears. I felt my merit-making was just a physical action. I was impartial, as I have found something better, that is Dhamma. When reflecting on Dhamma, the mind would be full of joy and happiness which was on a higher level. So, I went to see teachers for practice advice. Once I got it, I practised wholeheartedly.
Now if you already have good endowments, you get to meet good teachers. Once you meet them, listen carefully to the teachings. This way you fully utilize what you have. Once you know how to practice, you must have the final ingredient for success: practice diligently. Don’t do it only occasionally. Some people have been studying with me for 10-20 years and still got nothing, except making merits.
How to practice diligently? It’s not resolving to formally practice an hour or 15 minutes before bedtime, and then spend the rest of the day in mindlessness. After you have been mindless all day, practising for a short period of time will not be sufficient. By accumulating unwholesomeness for 10-plus hours and hope to clean it up with half an hour or an hour of practice is not possible. It is like trying to fill water into a leaking pot. All the water leaks out; the practice won’t be fulfilled.
If you have a strong resolve to practice diligently, you wake up with mindfulness, toss in bed with mindfulness, get up with mindfulness, have breakfast with mindfulness, take a shower with mindfulness, and travel to work with mindfulness. Once you reach the office, drink morning coffee with mindfulness, turn on the computer with mindfulness. Once you have to delve into thoughts to work, focus on your work.
Actually, there is research that shows that knowledge people don’t really spend the whole time on their tasks at hand. Their minds wander off to do other things more than half of the time. So, the hours you need to spend working are not that long. We say we work for 8 hours a day, but that’s not true. Our minds wander off to do other activities regularly. We can use the daydreaming time to be mindful. We then can practice a lot during the day.
When I was working, I was mindful when I got up from my desk to go to the washroom. When I first got up, the mind was still too absorbed in thoughts from all the work, so I could not observe the mind. I observed the body walking to the washroom. After I was done at the urinal, I could start to observe the mind. The mind became happy after peeing. That’s why we call washrooms “Sukha” (happiness) in Thai. I kept practising like that.
During lunch, I didn’t gather around and gossip. That was a waste of time. I had mindfulness when eating. When I saw the long lines at the food stalls, the mindfulness observed irritation. If what I wanted to eat wasn’t available or was sold out, the mind saw irritation arise again. This is how I practised.
I did the above at every opportunity, except when I had to think to work, and during my sleep. At other times, I practised mindfulness. When I got home in the evening, I was exhausted, and could not practice right away, so I picked up some children’s comic books. After having a few laughs, the mind became relaxed. The laughs made the mind happy. I then could observe the “laughing mind” arising from the middle of the chest. Once I started to see that, the practice began. Reading comics was a way of doing samadha (peacefulness), and then the practice can immediately follow.
I think I’m one of the people with good endowments. When I was little, the knowing mind once appeared. I was always interested in hearing Dhamma from the teachers, not just in making merits. Once I understood the principles, I practised regularly. I conducted myself along these lines. For those of you who say you’re my student, do you follow the same path? If you do, you will get some results.
Would it be possible to get to listen to Dhamma had you had no endowment? Most likely not. For someone without endowments, you don’t get to meet “Pra” (monk-the noble ones), you get to meet Mara (the evil one, the destroyer), or something else.
Therefore, each of you has endowments. How many billions of people are in this world, and how many are interested in Dhamma? How many of those interested get to listen to Dhamma? Many people come to make merits, and even more seek good fortunes or lucky lottery numbers, windfalls, or blessings. When you get sick, you go see Luangpor Sothon and ask for his blessings. Go see a doctor instead; I myself am taken care of by many doctors.
We come here to take Dhamma for our practice and then practice diligently — every waking moment. The exceptions are when we have to focus on works that require thinking, and when we sleep. Now if we practice sufficiently when we have a nightmare, mindfulness can even arise in our sleep automatically. If you’re skilful, mindfulness can detect our body tossing around while sleeping, without being awake.
If you practice sufficiently, you won’t blame the Buddha’s teachings of being not good enough to produce results. You cannot say you have been practising for a long time if the amount of daily practising is small. It may be a long time, but you were mindless most of the time. So, the total time spent practising is short. If you are good-hearted but not practising, you focus on making merits, and the evil ones focus on how to exploit you. You know what the temples need. You’re very observant, and sometimes even compete to make merits, like competing to be the one who raises the main apex of the church. It becomes a competition. Conducting yourself like this is accumulating impurities, not reducing or eliminating them. It is not the goal of the Buddha’s teachings.
In short, after hearing Dhamma. Practice diligently until you understand the mind. Don’t neglect. Keep practicing, and the result will come in a short time.
25 July 2020