Today is Asalha Puja (the first sermon) day. I arranged the teaching to honor the Buddha, as a commemoration to the day of his first teaching. It marks the day his first student became enlightened. So, it is an important day, where we first have all the three gems (the Buddha, the teachings, and the enlightened students). The Buddha’s first teaching is for practicing. His audience was the five ascetics. They all were practitioners. The teaching began with telling what the wrong practices are, before stating the right one. He taught about the wrong practices first. There are 2 categories of wrong practices.
Do not give in to impurities of the mind
The first one is being too lenient, giving in to impurities of our minds. For us, whether one is a monk or an ordinary person, if we want to be successful in our practice, we cannot live our lives giving in to our cravings and desires. We will not attain Dhamma that way. So, we have to practice. Do not be consumed by worldly things. The world is worthless. It is sweet in the beginning, and very bitter in the end. There is nothing else. Whatever wonderful things the world can provide and we can obtain, we will lose them one day. No worldly things last.
When we get preoccupied with the world, we hunt for pleasant looks, sounds, smells, flavors, and touches for the body. We hunt for pleasant and engaging feelings and thoughts. If we are still fully absorbed by the world, we are not true practitioners. So, we have to make some renouncement. By renouncing five external sensual pleasures, we build up renunciation excellence (a.k.a. perfections) by renouncing kama (sensual pleasures).
As a monk, one renounces sensual pleasures and doesn’t get to enjoy sensual pleasure from hunting for pleasant looks, sounds, smells, tastes, and touches anymore. That kind of pleasure is always scorching and not permanent. We lose it after a short time. So, if we have mindfulness, wisdom, and realization, we will not be deluded by the world. We live in this world, but we do it with full understanding.
Do not oppress, do not control the mind and body
The other practice where we should not do is to torture ourselves, by oppressing or controlling mind and body. 100% of the practitioners start out by controlling themselves. They are all alike, starting by oppressing and controlling themselves. When we think about practice, we start to control ourselves. We control our bodies. For example, thinking about breathing meditation practice makes us control our breathing. Doing walking meditation starts by controlling the walking posture. We control everything. After we control the body, we next control the mind. Controlling the mind to be unnaturally still.
With that control, the mind will become stressful and unhappy. When the mind is unhappy, it will not attain Samadhi (stability and concentration).
You may be a bit confused here: if we give in to our desires and seek out pleasures, should the mind obtain Samadhi (stability and concentration)? Giving in to desires does not yield progress. It gives us fleeting happiness, and a diffused, unstable mind will arise, hunting kama (sensual pleasures) and entertaining feelings and thoughts. So, leniency and complacency do not bring stability to the mind, because of its restless and diffused nature.
On the other hand, oppressing and controlling the mind and the body results in stress and unhappiness, yielding no Samadhi (stability and concentration) either. But if we compare the two, the controlling and the giving in to desires, the controlling practice is considered better. Controlling the mind gives us a chance to be reborn in good realms, but we will not achieve Nirvana. Giving in to desires can cause us to be reborn in bad realms. So, between these two, it is better to err to on the controlling side. Being too strict is better than being too loose, but realize that being too strict is not the path to liberation.
The first teaching started from these 2 things. There are 2 things that ones seeking liberation should not practice. The “ones seeking liberation” refers to the five ascetics who were his audience. Most of us here are worldlings, but if we aspire to really practice, we can make strong mental resolutions. At least, we resolve to follow the Five Precepts. We resolve not to be absorbed and deluded by the world. We resolve to practice, so one day we attain enlightenment and liberation.
Ordinary people can succeed at this. It is possible. Many worldlings have achieved it since the Buddha’s time. But today, we cannot really tell who has become enlightened, since the Buddha is no longer around to assess us. We can only speculate or guess. I once saw a video clip “ranking today’s Arahants (the fully enlightened ones),” and I still laugh at it. How can someone make such judgments? With our embedded impurities, can we judge someone who’s pure? It’s not possible. It is guesswork. If they like some monk, he will be featured in the clip. There is no authority to assess today. We have to use the Buddha’s Vinaya (the code of conduct) and his Dhamma to be the authority. The teaching says “wise and knowledgeable people will know themselves.” We cannot judge other people, except after we practice successfully, and we know what impurities we have eradicated. The absence of these impurities will reflect the quality of our minds. With that, we can assess someone who is of equal or lesser purity than ourselves. If someone has a purer mind than ours, we cannot know.
The Noble Eightfold Path
So, if we want to be liberated, we avoid the two wrong ways that the Buddha pointed out, and start practicing what he taught us to do, which is cultivating Ariya-Magga (the Noble Eightfold Path). The Path is one, called Ariya-Magga, but it has 8 components. We sometimes shortened it to “Magga Eight.” There is only one Path, but with 8 components. The Buddha taught Ariya-Magga with 8 components to the five ascetics.
The Right View
First, he started by stating Samma Ditthi (Right View). The Right View is the correct knowledge and perspective. So, before seriously practicing, we must have the right knowledge and perspective; know the theory first. Samma Ditthi means right theory. “Ditthi” is Pali, and “Drsti” is Sanskrit equivalent, and “Drsti” also means “theory” in Thai. Thai use both of these words. Samma Ditthi is the right theory.
The Buddha taught that we have to know Dukkha (Suffering, which is the first Noble Truth). Dukkha (suffering) is defined as the physical and abstract components, which are the body and mind. Knowing physical and abstract components, or knowing our body and mind will lead us to see the true characteristics of Dukkha. We will see that the physical and abstract (body and mind) is impermanent, in conflict and decay, and not self. It exists as a result of some cause. When the cause disappears, Dukkha also disappears. So, the practice for Dukkha (suffering) is to know it.
When one thoroughly knows Dukkha, Samudaya (the cause of suffering) will be automatically eradicated. When Samudaya is eradicated, Nirodha (Cessation of suffering), or Nirvana, will appear automatically. The moment of seeing Nirodha (cessation of suffering), knowing Dukkha (suffering), and eradicating Samudaya (cause of suffering) is the moment that Ariya-Magga (the Path) arises, or gets cultivated. So, we can fulfill all four practices for the Four Noble Truths in a single moment. If we thoroughly know Dukkha (suffering), we eradicate Samudaya (cause of suffering). When we eradicate Samudaya (cause of suffering), Nirodha (cessation of suffering) will appear, and that is the moment of arising of Ariya-Magga (the path).
The Buddha taught us to know Dukkha (suffering). Dukkha is not getting heartbroken, or unable to find jobs. The Dukkha (suffering) here is Dukkha-Satyani (The Noble Truth of Suffering), not Dukkha-Vedana (unhappy feelings). Physical pain is also Dukkha-Vedana. Dukkha-Satyani (Suffering) is the physical and abstract compositions, or our Khanda (five aggregates). The five aggregates are the Dukkha truth.
So, if we want to complete our study, we have to study the Dukkha. The way to study Dukkha is called Vipassana (insight) practice. So, our duty is to thoroughly know Dukkha, which is to learn the truth about our body and mind. We develop ourselves further. Once the mind sees the truth, we will automatically have the Right View and thoughts. So, we begin to study the Right View by learning about its theory. After we have the correct theoretical understanding, we practice mindfulness. When we think, we have mindfulness. For the ones who do not study, it is “I think.” But after listening to the teaching, it will no longer be “I think,” but rather “the five aggregates think,” “the mental formations think,” or “the mind thinks.” Practice knowing that it is the mind that is thinking. Keep practicing.
The Right Thought
When thoughts arise, it will be the right thoughts. The thinking is mindful, not controlled by lust or greed, anger or aversion, or delusions. Thinking with lust or greed is called Kama-Vitakka (lustful thoughts). Thinking with anger or aversion is called Byapada-Vitakka (ill-will thoughts). Thinking with delusions is called Vihimsa-Vitakka (cruel thoughts). So, the Right Thought (aka Right Resolve) is called Samma-Sankappa (The 2nd component of the eightfold path). That is the thought not impaired by the mind’s impurities. These thoughts are not influenced by lust, anger, or delusions, but are guarded by Sati (mindfulness) and Sampajanna (consciousness and awareness).
The Right Speech, The Right Action
So, when we start practicing, we start by observing our minds. The mind loves to think. We don’t control it. But if lust drives the thought, we know. If anger drives the thought, we know. If delusion or wrong view drives the thought, we know. So, when we have Right View and Right Thought, our speech will be right. When we have the RIght View, we have the Right Thoughts, we will have the Right Speech (3rd of eightfold path). So, the Right View and the Right Thoughts cause the Right Speech. Before practicing, wrong views lead to wrong thoughts, and they lead to wrong speech. Whatever is spoken, it is always “I speak” underneath, and the speech is contaminated with lust, anger, or delusions. So, the important point is to take care of the mind. Having mindfulness does this.
If we practice mindfulness regularly, when Wrong View arises, and we perceive that self exists, be mindful of this. If wrong thoughts arise, we know. Speech doesn’t exist by itself. Speech is a result from thoughts. If the thoughts are right, the speech will be right. If we have the Right View, we have the Right Thoughts, and Right Speech. Our actions will also be Samma-Kammanta (Right Action).
It starts with the Right View, and we develop mindfulness to take care of the mind. We will have Right Thoughts: Right View, Right Thoughts, Right Speech, and Right Action. Why? Action is controlled by the mind. So, when the mind makes up a speech, it will exist in our mind first. Be mindful of that. With Right Thoughts, the speech to be will be right even before it is spoken. Bodily actions that are under the mind’s control will also be right. Right Actions will not violate the five Precepts. Violating the precepts are wrong actions. These actions harm oneself or harm others. So, when we violate the precepts, we harm ourselves or others, which is not right.
The Right Livelihood
If we have the Right View, Right Thoughts, Right Speech, and Right Action, Samma-Ajiva (Right Livelihood) will result. We cannot have wrong action, so we cannot have wrong livelihood. As an example, some of us own shrimp farms or fish farms or work in one. We thought it was a well-paid occupation. But after listening to Dhamma, we know that it is Mijja-Ajiva (wrong livelihood) because we raise animals to be slaughtered. After we have Right View, we start to have Right Thought about how to avoid such an occupation. So, we find an alternate and better livelihood. Eventually, the livelihood will be purer and better. Starting from Right View, we know that we must not let impurities rule our minds. This brings Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood.
The Right Effort
This is a good foundation for practice. What comes next is the effort to reduce or eliminate impurities and to cultivate wholesomeness, which will arise automatically. After knowing right from wrong, we do not want Wrong Actions. We want to have Right Actions. Samma-Vayama (Right Effort) will result.
Right Effort is the effort to eliminate existing unwholesomeness, effort to prevent new unwholesomeness arising, effort to cultivate new wholesomeness, and effort to develop existing wholesomeness. This Right Effort arises automatically if we have been accumulating the Right View, Right Thoughts, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood. Right Effort will eliminate unwholesomeness, and develop more wholesomeness.
To eliminate unwholesomeness and develop more wholesomeness, we need mindfulness. So, when we diligently observe our mind, we will observe unwholesomeness and wholesomeness arising in the mind. Keep practicing. The elimination of unwholesomeness and development of wholesomeness occur automatically with mindfulness. So, mindfulness reinforces our Right Effort. Full Right Effort leads to full mindfulness. So, when impurities arise in the mind, know them. When wholesomeness arises, know it. Mindfulness will be more solid.
The Right Mindfulness, The Right Concentration
Finally, Samma-Sati (Right Mindfulness) will be full. So, when wholesomeness arises, know it. Unwholesomeness arises, know it. Whatever happens to the mind, be mindful and know it.
Being observant and knowing the phenomena in the mind is how to cultivate Right Mindfulness. Full Right Mindfulness leads to full Samma-Samadhi (Right Concentration). If anger or aversion arises, we have mindfulness to know that anger has arisen. Immediately after detecting anger, mindfulness has arisen. Once mindfulness arises, anger will subside immediately and automatically. The mind will become “the knower,” and correct Samadhi (stability and concentration) will result automatically. So, when we have Right Mindfulness, Right Concentration will result.
Wrong Mindfulness will not yield Right Concentration. Some Buddhist scholars who study Abhidhamma (the meta-Dhamma) sometimes say that Sati (mindfulness) is always wholesome, so there is no such thing as wrong mindfulness. I have looked in the scripture, and found occurrences of the word Mijja-Sati (Wrong Mindfulness). That is the mindfulness not accompanied by the Right View nor Right Concentration.
For example, if we practice by observing our belly, and the mind fixates on it, consumed by the observation. We may be mindful of the belly, but the mind is not stable or concentrated. That is when we don’t have Right Concentration. We also don’t have the Right View that we should observe the Dukkha (suffering), but we overly focus and get absorbed by the suffering. We don’t know Dukkha but fixate on it. We practice incorrectly by fixating on breathing or belly movements, not being mindful and know that the body is breathing, but fixating on it.
Being mindful and knowing is different from fixating and over-focusing. So, the type of mindfulness that fixates is considered wholesome, but it is not for liberation. So, we don’t fixate or overly focus. Just feel. With mindfulness, feeling the body, feeling the mind. If we fixate on the body or on the mind, we are torturing the body and the mind, which is the wrong practice of being too strict. The Buddha taught about 2 wrong practices, being too loose and too controlling, so we won’t fall into the trap of torturing ourselves, which causes a lot of stress.
Just feel. We have mindfulness knowing the body, knowing the mind. When the body moves, mindfulness arises, and so will the “knowing mind.” We’ll also have Right Concentration. The “knowing mind” is not just Right Concentration, but it has both Sati (mindfulness) and Right Concentration. Whenever we see the phenomena accurately, Right Concentration arises automatically.
The phenomenon that occurs most frequently is Moha (delusions), which manifests as the wandering of the mind into thoughts. So, many teachers advise us to focus on studying this phenomenon. For example, chanting “Buddho” intentionally. When we are chanting a word repeatedly, and the mind wanders off, we will forget the chanting, and we can detect this wandering off more easily. Like, “oh. The mind wandered off, and I forgot chanting again.” Mindfulness will arise more quickly, until it arises almost immediately after the mind has just wandered off. As soon as mindfulness has detected that the mind has wandered off, the mind will be stable automatically. Right Concentration will result.
Mindfulness and Right Concentration occur only momentarily. We practice this often, until the practice is very solid. Some people can reach Jhana (deep concentration) this way, or some can reach Upacara-Samadhi (almost Jhana concentration). But most students can only reach Kanika-Samadhi (intermittent concentration or stability), which occurs intermittently. Phenomenon arises, mindfulness detects it, and intermittent concentration arises and falls. Then the mind wanders off again. Mindfulness detects the phenomenon (of mind wandering off) again, and intermittent mindfulness and concentration arise again.
So, Right Concentration requires Right Mindfulness. Right Mindfulness requires Right Effort. Right Effort requires Right Livelihood. Right Livelihood requires Right Action. Right Action requires Right Speech. Right Speech requires Right Thoughts. Your thoughts must not be under impurities’ influences. Right Thoughts require Right View, having the right theory that the practice we have to do is to learn about our body and mind, especially our own mind. If the mind has impurities, know them. Eventually, we will have Right Concentration. The Buddha taught that Right Concentration is the container for the other 7 components of Ariya-Magga. It is the gathering place for the other 7 Magga components. Like a food container that contains 7 other ingredients, Right Concentration will assemble the other 7 Magga components.
We can see this symbolism in some statues, where the Buddha meditates on a coiling Naga (giant snake), with the Naga’s 7 heads sheltering the Buddha from above. Note that the Naga always has 7 heads. The 7 heads signify the 7 other components of the Magga (the path): Right View, Right Thoughts, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, and Right Mindfulness. And Right Concentration is in the middle as the assembly point.
The Naga has 7 heads stemming from one neck down to the meditating Buddha. This is a symbolic teaching of the Noble Eightfold Path and not some random creativity. The art was created with a reason, but some younger generations could not understand the wisdom behind it, and thought that the Naga was spreading its heads to shelter the Buddha from the rain. The Naga is actually the 7 components of the Eightfold Path, sheltering Right Concentration from getting disturbed by the mind’s impurities. The rain symbolizes the mind’s impurities, which disturb Right Concentration.
When we have Right Concentration, together with the other 7 Right components, Ariya-Magga will arise. The path I talked about earlier is not Ariya-Magga, but the beginning part of Ariya-Magga. When Ariya-Magga arises, it arises from knowing Dhukka (suffering), eradicating cravings and desires, making Niroda (cessation of suffering) appear. That is the moment of Ariya-Magga, which happens in a flash, supported by the power of Right Concentration. So, when some students deny studying Samadhi (concentration), that is not proper.
There are 2 types of these people: one type totally ignores Samadhi (concentration) practice, and directly skips to practicing cultivating wisdom. Without Right Concentration, cultivating wisdom is fruitless. Ariya-Magga will not happen, and will end up with the wrong view that “I’m so wise.”
The other type practices Mijaa-Samadhi (wrong concentration). They fixate and overly focus on the meditating object, or fixate and try to control the mind, make the mind numb and blurry. This practice can lead to mental images, seeing visions. Wrong concentration will not result in Ariya-Magga, only Right Concentration will. So, some ignore Samadhi, and some practice Mijja-Samadhi, fixating, focusing, controlling. Both practices will not be successful.
I have been practicing Samadhi (concentration) since I was 7, by observing my breathing, count “one” and chanting “Bud” when breathing in and “dho” when breathing out. Count “two” and continue chanting and breathing. When the mind had calmed down, the counting disappeared, only chanting remains. When the mind was even calmer, chanting disappeared, only breathing remained. When the mind got even calmer, breathing disappeared and bright mental vision appeared. But back then I did not have the Right View. So, instead of using the obtained concentration to observe the body and mind, I let the mind follow the light of mental vision. The light moved to heaven and I got to see the angels and other things. I did not observe the body and mind, so Ariya-Magga did not happen, because the mind was having a wrong view.
After practicing for a while, my sense reminded me that observing outside objects should not be correct. When I saw angels, I could not stay with them. I saw their palaces, but I could not stay there. I saw their food, but I could not eat it. I saw their flower gardens, I could not pick a flower to bring back. How useful was this? It is like visiting a luxurious house and realizing how poor I was. I also thought that if I could see angels and gods, it wouldn’t be scary, but what if I saw ghosts? I was afraid my mind was going to wander to the hell realm.
So, I tried to be more mindful. When I started to see the light, I would not let the mind descend into dullness and drowsiness. I resolved to keep mindfulness with my practice. Eventually, the mind started to see the body. I saw my hair, and it disappeared. I saw my scalp, and it disappeared. I saw my skull, and it disappeared. I saw my whole body, the flesh and skins disappeared. I saw the bones, and bones exploded into pebble-like translucent pieces. I kept observing, the pebbles dissolved into light waves. I saw the lights as waves, and not as rays. I saw the lights disappear and merged into the universe. I saw the whole body disappear, and only the mind remained, because I still had strong mindfulness.
After leaving the meditation, the body came back, but I could clearly see that the mind and the body are separate entities, but since I was so young, I could not articulate it. I also thought other people felt the same thing, that the body was one thing, the mind was an observer of the body. Happy and unhappy feelings, wholesomeness and unwholesomeness also got separated from the mind and can be observed by the mind. I did not know that this was the practice of separating the aggregates, because I did not have the theoretical study or a teacher. So I tried to find my own practice.
My first teacher, Than Por (venerable father) Lee taught breathing meditation and I tried to follow his teaching until I could separate out the knowing mind. When I later met other senior teachers with really strong mental powers, like Luang Pu (venerable grandfather) Sim, who was the quickest mind-reader I have ever seen, Luang Pu Sim called me “the knower” when he wanted to teach me. He would tell me “The knower, do this. The knower, don’t do that.” He did not know my name. So he gave me a nickname as “the knower.” People thought I knew many things, but I was only mindful, knowing the workings of the physical and mental phenomena. Back then, I still did not know that this was an important point. No one has taught me yet, and I did not do theoretical study. I could not make further progress. Getting to the knowing mind was as far as I could go, and the mind was stable and concentrated.
When I met Luang Pu (venerable grandfather) Dule, he taught me further. He taught me to cultivate wisdom by observing the rising and falling of the mind. He told me to “see the mind.” At first, I misunderstood. Luang Pu Dule said to “see the mind,” but I was practicing to preserve the knowing mind instead. When I told him that I could now “see the mind,” Luang Pu Dule disapproved, saying that the practice wasn’t proper. What I was doing was interfering with the working of the mind. The mind’s functions are to know, to think, to compose things, and I was interfering with its functions until the mind was still and blank. That was wrong. I had to adjust the practice by observing why he said it was wrong. He said I was interfering with the mind’s function, so I wouldn’t do that afterwards. Whatever state the mind was in, I would be mindful and just know it.
After a while, I got the understanding that the mind is not self. All things we call “self” arise and decay. These things are not our refuge. Seeing Dukkha (suffering – body and mind) as non-self means you know the Truth of the five aggregates. So, after more and more practicing, the mind gradually became happier and even more peaceful.
Don’t just listen to the teaching. You must practice. Practice observing your mind. If any impurities arise, know them. Do not indulge in them. Do not be deluded and absorbed by the world. Do not control your body or mind to be still. Observe body and mind the way they are. Resolve to keep the five precepts. Practice like this everyday. Set aside some time for formal practice, so your Samadhi (stability and concentration) will be stronger. Formal practice means using a home base (object of meditation), like chanting “Buddho”, breathing, or watching body movements. Use whatever you want. Samadhi (stability and concentration) will be stronger.
In the end, when mindfulness knows a phenomenon, the knowing mind will spring into existence, and the five aggregates will separate. When the five aggregates separate, we will see each aggregate’s Trilaksana (true characteristics). That is Vipassana practice. If your mind is powerful enough, with enough stability and concentration, wisdom cultivation will result in Ariya-Magga in a short time. After that, we will know ourselves, and there is no need to seek approval from others. I don’t believe in other people’s “living Arahant list.” It’s ridiculous. The current “living Arahant list” is a result of imagination. The older generation teachers used to praise others, but the newer list is pure imagination. So, make yourself an enlightened one. Practice until you become an Ariya (an enlightened person), and we will know that the impurities have been eliminated from the mind.
5 July 2020