Don’t Wander Off. Don’t Overfocus.

There was a course for Chinese people last week. Their dedication and determination really paid off. Their meditation looked promising, and they looked alert and radiant. Thai people must try their best as well. You already have the advantage of easier access to the teachings, so don’t lose to the Chinese. Don’t just waste your days away with politics, constantly following the movement of the politicians and interest groups. Sometimes it’s so nonsensical, riling up your anger and you don’t even realize it. We must be prudent. Our lives aren’t that long. A year passes in just a blink, so don’t waste your time immersing yourself in worldly affairs. Too much is destructive. Only know just enough.

Be selective in consuming news. Choose the ones that are official and with reliable sources. Rumors, hoax, and faked or sensationalized news are a waste of time. Besides, they make us depressed. If we use that time spent to observe ourselves, we’ll see that the real villain isn’t anyone but ourselves. Our mind is the real bad guy, shifting from one thing to another, constantly fabricating. If we aren’t aware of this, our mind easily becomes a slave of the defilements. So we must be conscious, be mindful of our body and mind. Having nothing to do, then observe the breath: breathing in “Bud,” breathing out “dho.” Or observe the postures and movements of our body. Don’t let the mind be sluggish. Keep it lively and awake. Meditate and be aware of the mind. See when the mind has wandered off to think and know when the mind is overfocusing. If we can master recognizing the mind wandering off and overfocusing, the mind will gradually gain the correct concentration.


Only when there’s the knower mind can we truly cultivate wisdom.


Take the monks at the temple for example. They spend most of their time here overhauling their mental foundation. It takes months for them to have the correct concentration, and the mind stable enough for the knower to arise without force. Only when there’s the knower mind can we truly cultivate wisdom. Without a stable mind, we can’t really develop wisdom, because the mind is too scattered. I’ve been teaching about “don’t wander off and don’t overfocus” since I was still at Suan Poh. It sounds funny, doesn’t it? What kind of meditation is this “don’t wander off and don’t overfocus?” Essentially, it’s how to re-establish the concentration foundation. Without concentration, our mind wanders all over the place. With wrong concentration, we overfocus and suppress. A scattered mind prohibits us from being mindful of our body and mind. Even though we may be able to see our mind or the body while overfocusing, it’s impossible to see their truth.


Be Mindful Often

Consequently, it’s crucial to practice mindfulness often. The correct concentration can only occur from the right mindfulness. If it’s the tranquil concentration, we guide the mind to stay with one object of its liking and the mind enters into the peaceful state. However, if we want the concentration for wisdom development, we meditate while observing the mind at the same time. This way, the right concentration conducive to wisdom development will arise. So there are two tiers to the right concentration meditation. The first is to have a tranquil, peaceful mental state for the mind to recharge. Without enough energy, the mind cannot cultivate wisdom. The second is to have a stable mind that can see the changes of the phenomena. Some monks here started off overfocused and overthinking. After having been with me for years, four to five years even, they’re starting to improve and have the stable observer arising on its own without them prompting it to happen. If we intentionally create this observer, it falls into a state of tranquil concentration, because our focus is on a singular object which is maintaining the observer. This is not good.

The state where the mind is neither wandering off nor overfocusing happens when the mind has gone off and we are aware of it, resulting in a knower’s mind arising momentarily. We don’t try to keep that knower in mind. Instead, we can try to be mindful constantly. Additionally, we don’t beam our focus onto this knower mind either. Just keep being aware comfortably, mindful of the mind moving off to some phenomenon, like a vibrating sensation, for instance. A monk told me this morning that he saw this, but he was also aware that he wasn’t developing wisdom. He saw that occasionally some stories and fabrications arose, such as craving, anger, delusion, happiness, or suffering, etc. These formations didn’t occur often, but the vibrating sensation in the mind was constant. So, observing that sensation is a tranquil concentration because we focus on one mental object. On the other hand, seeing a phenomenon clearly arise, exist, and then disappear is wisdom development. Wisdom development doesn’t happen all the time. It actually happens only once in a while. So we don’t need to rush. Keep on practicing regularly. At this point, observing our body and mind often is more crucial than rushing to gain a lot of wisdom.


Wisdom development doesn’t happen all the time. It actually happens only once in a while.


Keep on observing how our body works, and if we can see the mind then observe the mind. Whenever we cannot see the mind, then go back to observing the body. See the body breathing, standing, walking, sitting, lying down, moving, and staying still, for example. Keep observing like this and when the mind has enough concentration, we’ll see the movements of the mind and the formations that are good, bad, happy, or sad. Keep observing until we can’t see anything anymore, then we go back to our meditation technique again.


Strength of Mind

This is how to practice Dhamma. Meditation takes time, especially when our faculties are still weak. Those with high merits, they would meet the Buddha, listen to his teaching, and attain enlightenment. Some of them achieved the right view in a very short time. Some took only seven days to reach full enlightenment, while some may have taken fifteen days. For us? Even in fifteen years we may possibly never have a stable knower’s mind. Our merits are far from comparable. But don’t worry! We can cultivate to increase our merits.Those with high merits were weak like us before. We must persevere and patiently practice Dhamma every day. Keep observing our mind, and if we can’t see the mind, then observe the body. See that body breathing, standing, walking, sitting, lying down, moving, and staying still. Observe like this repeatedly and the mind will gradually gain strength.


We must take advantage of the period that the mind is charged and stable


The strength of the mind is quite hard to explain. When we meditate, we can feel whether our mind feels strong or weak and exhausted. If we meditate correctly, this will be the recurring cycle. If we meditate incorrectly, however, the mind will continue losing energy, becoming increasingly feeble, because it’s too scattered. When we meditate correctly, the strength will be strong for a period, then will drop for a while, only to rise up again eventually. Note that we do not try to have a mind with strong energy all the time. The mind that is stable with concentration and strength can only exist temporarily. It’s impermanent just like everything else.

We must take advantage of the period that the mind is charged and stable to cultivate wisdom by taking this mind to observe how the body and the mind work. We’ll see that the body that’s functioning isn’t a self. It’s an object being observed. It’s similar to a robot, or a dog running by the road. We see it as an object and not an “us.” See how the mind changes and moves until we distinctly see that all these phenomena are not “self.” Be it the body that’s breathing, standing, walking, sitting, lying down, moving, or staying still; none of this is a self, neither is happiness, suffering, goodness, or evil. All of these are just objects being observed. They rise and fall off all the same. So we keep observing these phenomena time and again, until our mind becomes wise, until the mind gains wisdom.


Wrong View and Overfocusing

After all the sweat and blood, we will come to realize that we’re not gaining anything at the end of the road, nor are we losing anything. The only thing that we gain is the right view, the right understanding, and what we lose is the wrong view, the incorrect understanding of all things. Attaining the right view and our mind becoming wholesome means we’re wiser. Having the wrong view, accumulating unwholesomeness is for the fool. We can attain the right view, to correctly understand, only by observing the phenomena time and again. Honestly see them the way they are, repeatedly, until our mind understands. Emphasis is on “the mind” understands, not “we” understand. Listening to a lecture or my teaching, we can understand and even remember enough to argue with others. However, Dhamma may never truly exist in our heart. That’s only external, only citing the words of the teachers. We must experience it ourselves. If we can’t see these phenomena, it means we cannot successfully meditate.


When we’re overfocusing, even though we can see the phenomena, we cannot see their three characteristics.


To be able to see these phenomena, the mind must not wander off or overfocus, so we can truly see them in real light as they realistically are. So, my teaching about not wandering off or not overfocusing is not something trivial. If we can do this, our meditation will progress smoothly. I didn’t just make this up groundlessly. It’s from years of personal meditation experience and study to conclude that the right concentration can only happen when the mind isn’t wandering off or overfocusing. Looking around, most of the Dhamma practitioners are overfocusing experts. They cannot truly develop wisdom, not from beaming their concentration or keeping the mind still. Those who aren’t practitioners, their mind is only always lost in something, never aware of their own body and mind. Between wandering off and overfocusing, overfocusing is actually better. The wandering mind leads us to the realm of woe. Overfocusing, however, can lead us to heaven, because while we’re overfocusing, we aren’t doing any bad conduct. On the other hand, we can do so many bad deeds while our mind is sent out. In conclusion, between the two, having the mind wandering off is far more dangerous. Even though we cannot attain enlightenment from overfocusing, at least we’re not accumulating bad deeds during this time.

If our goal is to attain enlightenment, we must realize that when we’re overfocusing, even though we can see the phenomena, we cannot see their three characteristics. For example, if our focus is beaming on the body, we won’t see that the body is impermanent, under oppression, or non-self. We will only see that the body is something that the mind is passively seeing. In that state, we’re not going to hell, but we’re not gaining wisdom either, so it’s impossible for the enlightenment to happen. The key is to keep seeing the mind. Take on a meditation technique, whichever we have an affinity with. One is not better than the other. No technique is better than another. If we’re comfortable with Buddho, then do Buddho. If breathing meditation works for us, then do the breathing. If only chanting Buddho or only breathing is too light, we can even breathe in “Bud,” breathe out “dho,” or stack any chanting on top of the breathing.


The Knower of Phenomena

We might observe the abdomen movement or use other chanting words besides Buddho. They’re all the same. They are just the object we use to observe the mind. The chanting and meditation objects are there as a tool to observe the mind, to see the nature of our mind. Without such objects as our home base, or without meditation, the mind can wander off too long without us knowing. If the mind has an object as its home, it helps us quickly realize when the mind has wandered off. So have a meditation object, for it helps our mindfulness to arise more quickly. When our mindfulness is correct, the mind will become stable, having the right concentration. Mindfulness is the knower of phenomena. If we see a phenomenon correctly, seeing it as it’s truly happening, the correct knower will arise, along with the right concentration. This knower is not the concentration itself. The knower is the product of the mind with the right concentration. We must be able to distinguish this. Knowing or being aware of phenomena is a faculty of the mind. Our mind has a variety of characteristics. There are 81 types in the scope of the Worldly Dhamma alone. We cannot see all types, however. Some of them are the mental states happening in the form or formless jhāna, which most of us do not know. What we can see is those mental formations in the sense pleasure realms. We observe whichever we can see or whichever we have.

For instance, when the mind feels angry, we just know that there’s anger. Keep observing, we’ll see that any formation arises, exists, and then disappears. We’ll see that it’s full of impermanence and suffering. No matter how wonderful the state our mind may be in, or the bliss from the concentration the mind may experience, such a pleasant state is under oppression to disappear. This is called dukkha. Whether things will occur or disappear is beyond our control. This is anatta. Keep seeing like this and eventually the right understanding will arise. When the right understanding occurs, the mind will gradually loosen its attachments. At first it might not, but after observing for a while, the mind will realize there’s nothing wonderful about this body and mind. They’re suffering, harmful, detrimental, boring, and tiresome. We may have the tranquil and blissful state from the concentration meditation, only for it to disperse eventually. It’s so dreary and tiresome.


The Struggle of the Mind

After observing for a period, there’ll be a state where we feel that all phenomena are bad. When this feeling arises, the mind will want to get out of this state. It will struggle, wanting to break free, and we need to be aware when this happens. If we aren’t aware, our concentration will drop because the mind is struggling, being restless trying to escape from the situation. It’s so occupied finding the way, it’s impossible to observe the body and mind as they presently are. Wanting to escape, the mind becomes biased, overwhelmed by the aversion. Be aware when the mind isn’t equanimous. Keep observing and we will see that no matter how much we want, there is no escaping. We start seeing the truth that our body is impermanent, suffering, and isn’t an “us,” and that as much as we want to, we cannot escape from it. Wherever we go, our body goes with us. We’ll also see that the mind is impermanent, suffering, and isn’t an “us,” and that even though we want to, we cannot escape from it. The mind goes with us everywhere we go. There’s no escaping. Observe this point. Keep on observing repeatedly until the mind accepts the fact that there’s truly no way to escape and that it has to live with this.

It’s like being married to a lousy husband, from whom we want to break free, but still can’t, or having a lousy wife whom we don’t want to be with, but have to. To be able to live such a life, we can only learn and observe. Since there’s no escaping, we have to learn to live with it. Notice when suffering appears; it’s because our mind is grasping hold and attaching to something. Without attachments, the mind won’t suffer. The mind will gradually become wiser. It’ll realize that whenever it’s attached or wants something, suffering arises. If there’s no longer any craving and attachment, then there isn’t suffering. This realization grows gradually, resulting in the mind progressively moving toward equanimity. When craving arises and we are aware, or when attachment happens and we are aware, that craving and attachment will subside and the mind becomes equanimous. It’ll see that everything is equal, be it happiness or suffering, both rising and falling off just the same. Even good and evil both appear and disappear just the same.


There’s no escaping. Observe this point.


We see phenomena and its duality: happy — sad, good — bad, angry — not angry, craving — not craving, deluded — not deluded, etc. Everything comes in pairs. Busy and distressed mind, for instance. See these repeatedly until the mind realizes the truth that there are two sides to everything. The positive and negative sides always come in packages. There’s happiness; there’s also sadness. There’s goodness and there’s also vileness. They all arise and then drop off. Happiness arises, then drops off. Sadness arises, then drops off. When sadness disappears, happiness soon arises. Wholesomeness arises and falls away. Soon after, unwholesomeness will arise only to fall away shortly after that. We’ll see that everything occurs in an alternating manner when we have mindfulness. Without mindfulness, however, the unwholesomeness will take control of our mental space and time, and arise unceasingly. With the mindful mind, be it wholesome or unwholesome formations, the mind can see them rising and dropping off, and be equanimous toward both phenomena.


True Equanimity

When the mind is calm and concentrated, the mind is stable, and the mindfulness agile. Those would be our good days. But some days, we may not be able to assess anything at all. The mind may just be hazy and scattered all over the place, even though we follow our same practice regime. With higher practice mileage, we’ll see that either way is the same. Be it the head or tail, the positive or negative side, both rise and drop off just the same. This revelation means that our mind has entered true equanimity through wisdom. This is a very crucial benchmark. It’s the highest state of the Worldly Vipassanā wisdom just before entering the Supramundane states. The Worldly wisdom states can still change between progression and regression alternatingly. The more we practice, the more the mind gains equanimity. The mind will learn to truly and simply be aware. Happiness arises; the mind is impartial, not indulging in gratification. Sadness happens and the mind won’t sink into the aversion. Wholesomeness arises; the mind is neutrally aware. Unwholesomeness arises; the mind is neutrally aware.

The mind won’t struggle, won’t add more to the feelings. As a result, the mind becomes collected. When both the mindfulness and the concentration are sufficient, the mind dwells in the concentrated state. If our wisdom development is enough at that point, enlightenment will occur. Without enough wisdom accumulation, enlightenment cannot occur in spite of sufficient mindfulness and concentration. Sufficient levels differ for different levels of enlightenment. For example, in comparison, a stream enterer only has a little concentration, a little wisdom, and good sīla. The amounts required for each level are different.

The more we meditate and gain Dhamma insights, the more mental energy we use. We need to recharge, which is done by practicing separating mental and physical aspects and observing the nature of the aggregates. If the mind gets too scattered, then do tranquil meditation. Continue like this until our energy is full enough, and it’ll repeat the cycle. It’s similar to damming up the water. At first our collection was this high, enough to flow into a canal below. But for it to flow into a canal on a higher plain, we need a higher collection level. Be patient and persevere. Diligently practice and don’t be discouraged. If we already feel discouraged now, our future is going to be hard.


The Speed of Change

What’s so enchanting about the world? There’s only chaos. Our generation consumes too much information. Everything changes so fast, and our lives need to change with it. We all need to adapt to changes, rearrange our lives, and it’s taxing. Unable to adapt and failing to go with the waves, we simply fall out of the loop, being left in the dust with a trying life. In the old days, people had only one job usually. There wasn’t a large variety of jobs anyhow. These days, people jump from job to job so quickly. Many strike it rich, but that doesn’t stay long because things change so fast. If they can’t swiftly adapt, their wealth will fall really fast. Life is only about struggling and hassling. It’s very tough.

Why do we have to live like this forever, though? We need it only as a tool, so don’t get lost in its illusion. If other people are too enchanted by it, let them be. It’s their suffering having to run unceasingly, trying to reach the finish line that’s moving farther and farther away. Maybe they can reach the finish line today, but then they may not the next day despite doing the exact same thing. Other people can always seize the lead as the competition is really high. Just a technological change affects the change in the production process, and thus the way of life. Thai people in the old days weren’t afraid of losing their jobs. Losing a job? They just went back to their hometown and continued living on farming, growing vegetation, and catching fish. We don’t have that today.

If we lock down Bangkok, the 10 million Bangkokians might starve to death. We no longer have self-sustainability like our previous generations. Don’t whine, crying for the country to be like the old days. That’s very naïve. The old way is gone. It’s already passed. To cry and whine for it to come back is futile. Some people say they miss the good old days when our country was so good, this and that. That’s not true. They’re not seeing the truth of the past period. People in those days suffered the hardships of their times. It wasn’t like they only had a good, happy life. No matter which life, which rebirth, there’s always suffering. When we were young, we didn’t have to bear any hardship, because our parents did instead. We thought life was so wonderful and easy. Why are we constantly struggling now? For the strong, they might fight and win, but how long can they keep winning? One day they too will lose, because society changes too fast.


The old way is gone. It’s already passed. To cry and whine for it to come back is futile.


If we can’t remain grounded and accept the changes, we are doomed to suffer. On the other hand, if we can see the truth that this is the way of the world, that it doesn’t always go as we want, that we have to live with it, and that there’s no escaping, then we can learn to live with it and be happy. World events, news, and information won’t bombard and hurt us. It’s very exhausting following the news or trying to catch up with the technology. Just having enough to survive and eat, that’s already good enough. Then we must develop our mind to higher quality, so we can have something stable and lasting to rely on. We’ll come to see that this world is empty. It can only lure deluded people. People not under delusion can live with the world consciously, not being abused by it. Some people have their own picture of an ideal society. “It should be like this or that way.” Why is there the word “should,” though? Because it isn’t how they want, and what they want is how it “should be.” Only when society is exactly how they want, will they stop using “should.” See how we keep on dreaming and craving? It’s impossible for the mind to find peace and happiness.


Keep Up the Practice

Keep practicing Dhamma and one day we will have the taste of true peace and happiness. It’s not something we can buy or ask from someone. We have to develop it within ourselves by learning what is substantial for us and what is not, what is essential for us and what is not, what is suitable for us and what is not. And we learn to let go. When we are strong we might have everything under our command or the company under our power. One day, though, our authority may decrease and our power may be reduced. Our company may flourish one day and crumble the next. The winner may lose the next time. No one wins or gains forever because we struggle and hassle with increasingly bigger and bigger targets. What we want may start small at first, but once we get it, we start craving for the next thing. When we finally have a lot, we are afraid to lose it. Where’s happiness in such a life?

Alright, let’s end here today. Whether or not one can attain Dhamma depends on one’s own effort. That’s it for today’s streaming. Go practice now. Learn to assess and be aware of our own mind and body. Commit to a meditation technique. Be it. Breathe in “Bud,” breathe out “dho,” or see when the body is standing, walking, sitting, or lying down. Just do something and don’t let the mind totally forget about the meditation object. But also don’t just beam your attention, overfocusing on that object either. Keep practicing and eventually there’ll be progress. It takes time.


Luangpor Pramote Pamojjo
Wat Suansantidham
8 May 2021