Taking Care of the Bamboo Grove
The Buddha taught to see the body in the body. What does that mean? We are all familiar with the parts of the body, such as hair, nails, teeth, and skin. So how do we see the body in the body? If we recognize all these things as being impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not-self, thatís what is called ďseeing the body in the body.Ē Then it isnít necessary to go into detail and meditate on the separate parts. Itís like having fruit in a basket. If we have already counted the pieces of fruit, then we know whatís there, and when we need to, we can pick up the basket and take it away, and all the pieces come with it. We know the fruit is all there, so we donít have to count it again.
Having meditated on the thirty-two parts of the body and recognized them as something not stable or permanent, then we no longer need to weary ourselves separating them like this and meditating in such detail. Just as with the basket of fruitówe donít have to dump all the fruit out and count it again and again. But we do carry the basket along to our destination, walking mindfully and carefully, taking care not to stumble and fall.
When we see the body in the body, which means we see the Dhamma in the body, knowing our own and othersí bodies as impermanent phenomena, then we donít need the detailed explanations. Sitting here, we have mindfulness constantly in control, knowing things as they are, and meditation then becomes quite simple. Itís the same if we meditate on Buddhoóif we understand what Buddho really is, then we donít need to repeat the word ďBuddho.Ē It means having full knowledge and firm awareness. This is meditation.
Still, meditation is generally not well understood. We practice in a group, but we often donít know what itís all about. Some people think meditation is really hard to do. ďI come to the monastery, but I canít sit. I donít have much endurance. My legs hurt, my back aches, Iím in pain all over.Ē So they give up on it and donít come anymore, thinking they canít do it.
But in fact, samadhi is not sitting. Samadhi isnít walking. It isnít lying down or standing. Sitting, walking, closing the eyes, opening the eyes, these are all mere actions. Having your eyes closed doesnít necessarily mean youíre practicing samadhi. It could just mean that youíre drowsy and dull. If youíre sitting with your eyes closed but youíre falling asleep, your head bobbing all over and your mouth hanging open, thatís not sitting in samadhi. Itís sitting with your eyes closed. Samadhi and eyes closed are two separate matters. Real samadhi can be practiced with eyes open or eyes closed. You can be sitting, walking, standing, or lying down.
Samadhi means the mind firmly focused, with all-encompassing mindfulness, restraint, and caution. You are constantly aware of right and wrong, constantly watching all conditions arising in the mind. When it shoots off to think of something, having a mood of aversion or longing for something, you are aware of that. Some people get discouraged: ďI just canít do it. As soon as I sit, my mind starts thinking of home. Thatís evil (bahp).Ē Hey! If just that much is evil, the Buddha never would have become Buddha. He spent five years struggling with his mind, thinking of his home and his family. It was only after six years that he awakened.
Some people feel that these sudden arisings of thought are wrong or evil. You may have an impulse to kill someone. But you are aware of it in the next instant, you realize that killing is wrong, and so you stop and refrain. Is there harm in this? What do you think? Or if you have a thought about stealing something, and that is followed by a stronger recollection that to do so is wrong and so you refrain from acting on it, is that bad karma? Itís not that every time you have an impulse, you instantly accumulate bad karma. Otherwise, how could there be any way to liberation? Impulses are merely impulses. Thoughts are merely thoughts. In the first instant, you havenít created anything yet. In the second instant, if you act on it with body, speech, or mind, then you are creating something. Ignorance (avijja) has taken control. If you have the impulse to steal, and then you are aware of yourself and aware that this would be wrong, this is wisdom, and there is knowledge (vijja) instead. The mental impulse is not consummated.
This is the timely awareness, wisdom arising and informing our experience. If there is the first mind-moment of wanting to steal something, and then we act on it, that is the dhamma of delusion, and actions of body, speech, and mind that follow the impulse will bring negative results.
This is how it is. Itís not that merely having the thoughts is negative karma. If we donít have any thoughts, how will wisdom develop? Some people simply want to sit with a blank mind. Thatís wrong understanding.
Iím talking about samadhi that is accompanied by wisdom. In fact, the Buddha didnít wish for a lot of samadhi. He didnít want jhana and samapatti. He saw samadhi as one component factor of the path. Sila, samadhi, and panya are components or ingredients, like ingredients used in cooking. Spices we use for cooking are for making food tasty. The point isnít the spices themselves, but the food we eat. Practicing samadhi is the same. The Buddhaís teachers, Udaka and Alara, put heavy emphasis on practicing the jhanas, attaining various kinds of powers and clairvoyance. But if you get that far, itís hard to undo. Some places teach this deep tranquility, sitting with delight and enjoyment in quietude. Then the meditators get intoxicated by their samadhi. If they have sila, they get intoxicated by their sila. If they walk the path, they become intoxicated by the path, dazzled by the beauty and wonders they experience, and they donít reach the real destination.
The Buddha said that this is a subtle error; still, itís something correct for those on a coarse level. But actually, what the Buddha wanted was for us to have an appropriate measure of samadhi, without getting stuck there. After we train in and develop samadhi, then samadhi should develop wisdom.
Samadhi that is on the level of samatha, tranquility, is like a rock covering grass. In samadhi that is sure and stable, when the eyes are opened, wisdom is there. When wisdom has been born, it encompasses and knows (ďrulesĒ) all things. So the Teacher did not want those refined levels of concentration and cessation, because they become a diversion, and the path is forgotten.
So what is necessary is not to be attached to sitting or any other particular posture. Samadhi doesnít reside in having the eyes closed or in the eyes open, or in sitting, standing, walking, or lying down. Samadhi pervades all postures and activities. Older persons, who often canít sit very well, can contemplate especially well and practice samadhi easily, and they can develop a lot of wisdom.
How is it that they can develop wisdom? Everything is rousing them. When they open their eyes, they donít see things as clearly as they used to. Their teeth give them trouble and fall out. Their bodies ache most of the time. Just that is the place of study. So really, meditation is easy for old folks. Meditation is hard for youngsters. Their teeth are strong, so they can enjoy their food. They sleep soundly. Their faculties are intact, and the world is fun and exciting to them, so they get deluded in a big way. For the old ones, when they chew on something hard, theyíre soon in pain. Right there, the divine messengers (devadhuta) are talking to them; theyíre teaching them every day. When they open their eyes, their sight is fuzzy. In the morning their backs ache. In the evening, their legs hurt. Thatís it! This is really an excellent subject to study. Some of you older people will say you canít meditate. What do you want to meditate on? Who will you learn meditation from?
This is seeing the body in the body and sensation in sensation. Are you seeing them or are you running away from them? Saying you canít practice because youíre too old is only wrong understanding. The question is, are things clear to you? Elderly persons have a lot of thinking, a lot of sensation, a lot of discomfort and pain. Everything appears! If they meditate, they can really testify to it. So I say that meditation is easy for old folks. They can do it best. Itís like the way everyone says, ďWhen Iím old, Iíll go to the monastery.Ē If you understand this, itís true alright. You have to see it within yourself. When you sit, itís true; when you stand up, itís true; when you walk, itís true. Everything is a hassle, everything is presenting obstaclesóand everything is teaching you. Isnít that so? Can you just get up and walk away so easily now? When you stand up, itís ďOy!Ē Or havenít you noticed? And itís ďOy!Ē when you walk. Itís prodding you.
When youíre young, you can just stand up and walk, going on your way. But you donít really know anything. When youíre old, every time you stand up, itís ďOy!Ē Isnít that what you say? ďOy! Oy!Ē Every time you move, you learn something. So how can you say itís difficult to meditate? Where else is there to look? Itís all correct. The devadhuta are telling you something. Itís most clear: sankhara are telling you they are not stable or permanent, not you or yours. They are telling you this every moment.
But we are thinking differently. We donít think that this is right. We entertain wrong view, and our ideas are far from the truth. But actually, old persons can see impermanence, suffering, and lack of self and give rise to dispassion and disenchantment, because the evidence is right there within them all the time. I think thatís good.
Having the sensitivity within yourself that is always aware of right and wrong is called Buddho. Itís not necessary to be continually repeating ďBuddho.Ē Youíve counted the fruit in your basket. Every time you sit down, you donít have to go to the trouble of spilling out the fruit and counting it again. You can leave it in the basket. But someone with mistaken attachment will keep counting. Heíll stop under a tree, spill it out and count, and put it back in the basket. Then heíll walk on to the next stopping place and do it again. But heís just counting the same fruit. This is craving itself. Heís afraid that if he doesnít count, there will be some mistake. We are afraid that if we donít keep saying ďBuddho,Ē weíll be mistaken. What is mistaken? Itís only the person who doesnít know how much fruit there is who needs to count. Once you know, you can take it easy and just leave it in the basket. When youíre sitting, you just sit. When youíre lying down, you just lie down, because your fruit is all there with you.
Practicing virtue, creating merit, we say, ďNibbana paccayo hotuĒómay it be a condition for realizing Nibbana. To create conditions for realizing Nibbana, making offerings is good. Keeping precepts is good. Practicing meditation is good. Listening to Dhamma teachings is good. May they become conditions for realizing Nibbana.
But what is Nibbana all about anyway? Nibbana is not grasping. Nibbana is not giving meaning to things. Nibbana is letting go. Making offerings and doing meritorious deeds, observing moral precepts, meditating on lovingkindness, all these are for getting rid of defilements and craving and making the mind emptyóempty of self-cherishing, empty of concepts of self and other, not wishing for anything, not wishing to be or become anything.
Nibbana paccayo hotu: make it become a cause for Nibbana. Practicing generosity is giving up, letting go. Listening to teachings is for the purpose of gaining knowledge to give up and let go, to uproot clinging to what is good and to what is bad. At first, we meditate to become aware of the wrong and the bad. When we recognize them, we give them up, and we practice what is good. Then, when some good is achieved, donít get attached to that good. Remain halfway in the good, or above the goodódonít dwell under the good. If we are under the good, then that good pushes us around, and we become slaves to it. We are the slaves, and it forces us to create all sorts of karma and demerit. It can lead us into anything, and the result will be the same kind of unhappiness and unfortunate circumstances we found ourselves in before.
Give up evil and develop merit--give up the negative and develop what is positive. Developing merit, remain above merit. Remain above merit and demerit, above good and evil. Keep on practicing with a mind that is giving up, letting go, and getting free. Itís the same no matter what you are doing: if you do it with a mind of letting go, then it is a cause for realizing Nibbana. Free of desire, free of defilement, free of craving, then it all merges with the path, meaning noble truth, meaning saccadhamma. It is the four noble truths, having the wisdom that knows tanha, which is the source of dukkha. Sensual desire, desire for becoming, desire not to be (kamatanha, bhavatanha, vibhavatanha): these are origination, the source. If you go there, if you are wishing for anything or wanting to be anything, you are nourishing dukkha, bringing dukkha into existence, because this is what gives birth to dukkha. These are the causes. If we make the causes of dukkha, then dukkha will come about. The cause, the place of origination, is tanha, this restless, anxious craving. One becomes a slave to desire and creates all sorts of karma and wrongdoing because of it, and thus suffering is born. To state it simply, dukkha is the child of desire. Desire is the parent of dukkha. When there are parents, dukkha can be born. When there are no parents, dukkha cannot come aboutóthere will be no offspring.
This is where meditation should be focused. We should be seeing all the forms of tanha that cause us to have desires. But talking about desire can be confusing. Some people get the idea that any kind of desire, such as desire for food and the material requisites for life, is tanha. But we can have this kind of desire in an ordinary and natural way. When youíre hungry and desire food, you can take a meal and be done with it. Thatís quite ordinary. This is desire thatís within boundaries and doesnít have ill effects. This kind of desire isnít sensuality. If itís sensuality, then it becomes something more than desire. There will be craving for more things to consume, seeking out flavors, seeking enjoyment in ways that bring hardship and trouble, such as drinking liquor and beer.
Some tourists told me about a place where people eat monkeysí brains. They put a monkey in the middle of the table and cut open its skull. Then they spoon out the brain to eat. Thatís eating like demons or hungry ghosts. Itís not eating in a natural or ordinary way. Doing things like this, then eating becomes tanha. They will say that the blood of monkeys makes them strong, or the blood of elephants. So they try to get hold of such animals, and when they eat them, theyíre drinking liquor and beer too. This isnít ordinary eating; itís sensuality. Sometimes laborers will catch newly born - by the tail, open their mouths, and swallow them. They say it gives them energy. This isnít natural eating. Itís the way of ghosts and demons mired in sensual craving. Itís eating coals, eating fire, eating everything everywhere. This sort of desire is what is called tanha. There is no moderation. Speaking, thinking, dressing, everything such people do goes to excess. If our eating, sleeping, and other necessary activities are done in moderation, then there is no harm in them. So you should be aware of yourselves in regard to these things, and then they wonít become the source of suffering. If we know how to be moderate and thrifty in our needs, we can be comfortable.
Practicing meditation, creating merit and virtue, are not really such difficult things to do, provided we understand them well. What is wrongdoing? What is merit? Merit is what is good and beautiful, not harming ourselves or others with our thinking, speaking, and acting. Then there is happiness. Nothing negative is being created. Merit is like this. Skillfulness is like this.
Itís the same with making offerings and giving charity. When we give, what is it that we are trying to give away? Giving is for the purpose of destroying self-cherishing, meaning belief in a self along with selfishness. Selfishness is powerful, extreme suffering. Selfish people always want to be better than others and to get more than others. A simple example is how after they eat, they donít want to wash their dishes. They let someone else do it. If they eat in a group, they will leave it to the group. After they eat, they take off. This is selfishness, not being responsible, and it puts a burden on others. What it really amounts to is someone who doesnít care about himself, who doesnít help himself, and who really doesnít love himself. In practicing generosity, we are trying to cleanse our hearts of this attitude. This is called creating merit through giving, in order to have a mind of compassion and caring towards all living beings without exception.
If we people can be free of just this one thing, selfishness, then we will be like the Lord Buddha. He wasnít out for himself, but sought the good of all. If we people have the path and fruit arising in our hearts like this, we can certainly progress. With this freedom from selfishness, then all the activities of virtuous deeds, generosity, offerings, and meditation will lead to liberation. Whoever practices like this will become free and go beyondóbeyond all convention and appearance.
The basic principles of practice are not something beyond our understanding. In practicing generosity (for example), if we lack wisdom, there wonít be any merit. Without understanding, then we think that generosity merely means giving things. ďWhen I feel like giving, Iíll give. If I feel like stealing something, Iíll steal it. Then if I feel generous, Iíll give something.Ē Itís like having a barrel full of water. You scoop out a bucketful, then you pour back in a bucketful. Scoop it out again, pour it in again, scoop it out and pour it inólike this, when will you empty the barrel? Can you see an end to it? Can you see such practice becoming a cause for realizing Nibbana? Will the barrel become empty? One scoop out, one scoop in--can you see when it will be finished?
Going back and forth like this is vatta, the cycle itself. If weíre talking about really letting go, giving up good as well as evil, then thereís only scooping out. Even if thereís only a little bit, you scoop it out. You donít put in anything more, and you keep scooping out. Even if you only have a small scoop to use, you do what you can, and in this way the time will come when the barrel is empty. If youíre scooping out a bucket and pouring back a bucket, scooping out and then pouring backówell, think about it. When will you see an empty barrel?
This Dhamma isnít something distant. Itís right there in the barrel. You can do it at home. Try it. Can you empty a water barrel like that? Do it all day tomorrow and see what happens.
Sabba papassa akaranam/kusalassupa sampada/sacitta pariyodapanam (ďGiving up all evil, practicing what is good, purifying the mindĒ): giving up wrongdoing first, we then start to develop the good. What is the good and meritorious? Where is it? Itís like fish in the water. If we scoop all the water out, weíll get the fishóthatís a simple way to put it. If we scoop out and pour back in, the fish remain in the barrel. If we donít remove all forms of wrongdoing, we wonít see merit, and we wonít see what is true and right. Scooping out and pouring back, scooping out and pouring back, we only remain as we were. Going back and forth like this, we are only wasting our time, and whatever we do is meaningless. Listening to teachings is meaningless. Making offerings is meaningless. All our efforts to practice are in vain. We donít understand the principles of the Buddhaís way, and our actions donít bear the desired fruit.
When the Buddha taught about practice, he wasnít only talking about something for ordained people. He was talking about practicing well, practicing correctly. Supatipanno means those who practice well. Ujupatipanno means those who practice directly. Nyayapatipanno means those who practice for the realization of path, fruition, and Nibbana. Samicipatipanno are those who practice correctly (chorp jing: ďwith appreciation for the truthĒ?). It could be anyone. These are the Sangha of true disciples (savaka) of the Lord Buddha. Laywomen living at home can be savaka. Laymen can be savaka. Bringing these qualities to fulfillment is what makes one a savaka. One can be a true disciple of the Buddha and realize enlightenment.
Most of us in the Buddhist fold donít have such complete understanding. Our knowledge doesnít go this far. We do our various activities mostly thinking that we will get some kind of merit from them. We think that listening to teachings or making offerings is meritorious. Thatís what weíre told. But someone who gives offerings to get merit is making bad karma.
You canít quite understand this. Someone who gives in order to get merit has instantly accumulated bad karma. If you give in order to let go and free the mind, that brings you merit. If you do it to get something, thatís bad karma.
Listening to teachings to really understand the Buddhaís way is difficult. The Dhamma becomes hard to understand because the practice that people do, keeping precepts, sitting in meditation, giving, is for getting something in return. We want merit, we want something. Well, if something can be gotten, then who gets it? We get it. When that is lost, whose thing is it thatís lost? The person who doesnít have something doesnít lose anything. And when itís lost, who suffers over it?
Donít you think that living your life to get things brings you suffering? Otherwise you can just go on as before, trying to get everything. And yet, if we make the mind empty, then we gain everything. Higher realms and Nibbana and all their accomplishmentsówe gain all of it. In making offerings, we donít have any attachment or aim; the mind is empty and relaxed. We can let go and put down. Itís like carrying a log and complaining itís heavy. If someone tells you to put it down, youíll say, ďIf I put it down, I wonít have anything.Ē Well, now you do have somethingóyou have heaviness. But you donít have lightness. So do you want lightness, or do you want to keep carrying? One person says to put it down, the other says heís afraid he wonít have anything. Theyíre talking past each other.
We want happiness, we want ease, we want tranquility and peace. It means we want lightness. We carry the log, and someone sees us doing this and tells us to drop it. We say we canít, because what would we have then? But the other person says that if we drop it, then we can get something better. The two have a hard time communicating.
If we make offerings and practice good deeds in order to get something, it doesnít work out. What we get is becoming and birth. It isnít a cause for realizing Nibbana. Nibbana is giving up and letting go. If we are trying to get, to hold on, to give meaning to things, that isnít a cause for realizing Nibbana. The Buddha wanted us to look here, at this empty place of letting go. This is merit. This is skillfulness.
When we practice any sort of merit and virtue, once we have done that, we should feel that our part is done. We shouldnít carry it any further. We do it for the purpose of giving up defilements and craving. We donít do it for the purpose of creating defilements and craving and attachment. Then where will we go? We donít go anywhere. Our practice is correct and true.
Most of us Buddhists, though we follow the forms of practice and learning, have a hard time understanding this kind of talk. Itís because Mara, meaning ignorance, meaning craving, the desire to get, to have, and to be, enshrouds the mind. We only find temporary happiness. For example, when we are filled with hatred towards someone, it takes over our minds and gives us no peace. We think about the person all the time, thinking what we can do to strike out at him. The thinking never stops. Then maybe one day we get a chance to go to his house and curse him and tell him off. That gives us some release. Does that make an end of our defilements? We found a way to let off steam, and we feel better for it. But we havenít gotten rid of the affliction of anger, have we? There is some happiness in defilement and craving, but itís like this. Weíre still storing the defilement inside, and when the conditions are right, it will flare up again even worse than before. Then we will want to find some temporary release again. Do the defilements ever get finished in this way?
Itís similar when someoneís spouse or children die, or when people suffer big financial loss. They drink to relieve their sorrow. They go to a movie to relieve their sorrow. Does it really relieve the sorrow? The sorrow actually grows; but for the time being they can forget about what happened, so they call it a way to cure their misery. Itís like if you have a cut on the bottom of your foot that makes walking painful. Anything that contacts it hurts, and you limp along complaining of the discomfort. But if you see a tiger coming your way, youíll take off and start running without any thought of your cut. Fear of the tiger is much more powerful than the pain in your foot, so itís as if the pain is gone. The fear made it something small.
You might experience problems at work or at home that seem so big. Then you get drunk, and in that drunken state of more powerful delusion, those problems no longer trouble you so much. You think it solved your problems and relieved your unhappiness. But when you sober up, the old problems are back. So what happened to your solution? You keep suppressing the problems with drink, and they keep on coming back. You might end up with cirrhosis of the liver, but you donít get rid of the problems; and then one day you are dead.
There is some comfort and happiness here; itís the happiness of fools. Itís the way that fools stop their suffering. Thereís no wisdom here. These different confused conditions are mixed in the heart that has a feeling of well-being. If the mind is allowed to follow its moods and tendencies, it feels some happiness. But this happiness is always storing unhappiness within it. Each time it erupts, our suffering and despair will be worse. Itís like having a wound. If we treat it on the surface but inside itís still infected, itís not cured. It looks OK for a while, but when the infection spreads we have to start cutting. If the inner infection is never cured, we can be operating on the surface again and again with no end in sight. What can be seen from the outside may look fine for a while, but inside, itís the same as before.
The way of the world is like this. Worldly matters are never finished and done with. So the laws of the world in the various societies are constantly resolving issues. New laws are always being established to deal with different situations and problems. Something is dealt with for a while, but thereís always a need for further laws and solutions. Thereís never the internal resolution, only surface improvement. The infection still exists within, so thereís always need for more cutting. People are only good on the surface, in their words and their appearance. Their words are good and their faces look kind, but their minds arenít so good.
When we get on a train and see some acquaintance there, we say, ďOh, how good to see you! Iíve been thinking about you a lot lately! Iíve been planning to go visit you!Ē But itís just talk. We donít really mean it. Weíre being good on the surface, but weíre not so good inside. We say the words, but then as soon as weíve had a smoke and taken a cup of coffee with him, we split. Then if we run into him one day in the future, weíll say the same things again: ďHey, good to see you! How have you been? Iíve been meaning to go visit you, but I just havenít had the time.Ē Thatís the way it is. People are superficially good, but theyíre usually not so good inside.
The Great Teacher taught Dhamma and Vinaya. It is complete and comprehensive. Nothing surpasses it, and nothing in it need be changed or adjusted, because it is the ultimate. Itís complete, so this is where we can stop. Thereís nothing to add or subtract, because it is something of the nature not to be increased or decreased. It is just right. It is true.
So we Buddhists come to hear Dhamma teachings and study to learn these truths. If we know them, then our minds will enter the Dhamma; the Dhamma will enter our minds. Whenever a personís mind enters the Dhamma, then the person has well-being, the person has a mind at peace. The mind has a way to resolve difficulties, but has no way to degenerate. When pain and illness afflict the body, the mind has many ways to resolve the suffering. It can resolve it naturally, understanding this as natural and not falling into depression or fear over it. Gaining something, we donít get lost in delight. Losing it, we donít get excessively upset, but rather we understand that the nature of all things is that having appeared, they then decline and disappear. With such an attitude, we can make our way in the world. We are lokavidu, knowing the world clearly. Then samudaya, the cause of suffering, is not created, and tanha is not born. There is vijja, knowledge of things as they really are, and it illumines the world. It illumines praise and blame. It illumines gain (and loss). It illumines rank (and disrepute). It clearly illumines birth, aging, illness, and death in the mind of the practitioner.
That is someone who has reached the Dhamma. Such people no longer struggle with life and are no longer constantly in search of solutions. They resolve what can be resolved, acting as is appropriate. That is how the Buddha taught: he taught those individuals who could be taught. Those who could not be taught he discarded and let go of. Even had he not discarded them, they were still discarding themselvesóso he dropped them. You might get the idea from this that the Buddha must have been lacking in metta, to discard people. Hey! If you toss out a rotten mango, are you lacking in metta? You canít make any use of it, thatís all. There was no way to get through to such people. The Buddha is praised as one with supreme wisdom. He didnít merely gather everyone and everything together in a confused mess. He was possessed of the divine eye and could clearly see all things as they really are. He was the knower of the world.
And as the knower of the world, he saw danger in the round of samsara. For us who are his followers, itís the same. If we know all things as they are, that will bring us well-being. Where exactly are those things that cause us to have happiness and suffering? Think about it well. They are only things that we create ourselves. Whenever we create the idea that something is us or ours, that is when we suffer. Things can bring us harm or benefit, depending on our understanding. So the Buddha taught to pay attention to ourselves, to our own actions, to the creations of our own minds. Whenever we have extreme love or aversion to anyone or anything, whenever we are particularly anxious, that will lead us into great suffering. This is important, so take a good look at it. Investigate these feelings of strong love or aversion, and take a step back. If you get too close, theyíll bite. Do you hear this? If you grab at and caress these things, they bite and they kick. When you feed grass to your buffalo, you have to be careful. If youíre careful, then when it kicks, it wonít kick you. If it bitesÖ (??? Canít make out the rest of this sentenceólet it bite on its rope?). You have to feed it and take care of it, but you should be smart enough to do that without getting bitten. Love for children, relatives, wealth, and possessions will bite. Do you understand this? When you feed it, donít get too close. When you give it water, donít get too close. Pull on the rope when you need to. This is the way of Dhamma, recognizing impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and lack of self, recognizing the danger and employing caution and restraint in a mindful way.
Ajahn Tongrat didnít teach a lot; he always told us, ďBe really careful! Be really careful!Ē Thatís how he taught. ďBe really careful! If youíre not really careful, youíll take it on the chin!Ē This is really how it is. Even if he didnít say it, itís still how it is. If youíre not really careful, youíll take it on the chin. Please understand this. Itís not someone elseís concern. The problem isnít other people loving or hating us. Others far away somewhere donít make us create karma and suffering. Itís our possessions, our homes, our families where we have to pay attention. Or what do you think? These days, where do you experience suffering? Where are you involved in love, hate, and fear? Control yourselves, take care of yourselves. Watch out you donít get bitten. If they donít bite, they might kick. Donít think that these things wonít bite or kick. If you do get bitten, make sure itís only a little bit. Donít get kicked and bitten to pieces. Donít try to tell yourselves thereís no danger. Possessions, wealth, fame, loved ones, all these can kick and bite if youíre not mindful. If you are mindful, youíll be at ease. Be cautious and restrained. When the mind starts grasping at things and making a big deal out of them, you have to stop it. It will argue with you, but you have to put your foot down. Stay in the middle as the mind comes and goes. Put sensual indulgence away on one side. Put self-torment away on the other side. Love to one side, hate to the other side. Happiness to one side, suffering to the other side. Remain in the middle without letting the mind go in either direction.
Like these bodies of ours. Earth, water, fire, and airówhere is the person? There isnít any person. These few different things are put together, and itís called a person. Thatís a falsehood. Itís not real, only real in the way of convention. When the time comes, the elements return to their old state. Weíve only come to stay with them for a while, so we have to let them return. The part that is earth, send back to be earth. The part that is water, send back to be water. The part that is fire, send back to be fire. The part that is air, send back to be air. Or will you try to go with them and keep something? We come to rely on them for a while; when itís time for them to go, let them go. When they come, let them come. All these phenomena (sabhava) appear and then disappear. Thatís all. We understand that all these things are flowing, constantly appearing and disappearing.
Making offerings, listening to teachings, practicing meditation, whatever we do should be done for the purpose of developing wisdom. Developing wisdom is for the purpose of liberation, freedom from all these conditions and phenomena. When we are free, then no matter what our situation, we donít have to suffer. If we have children we donít have to suffer. If we work, we donít have to suffer. If we have a house, we donít have to suffer. Itís like a lotus in the water. ďI grow in the water, but I donít suffer because of the water. I canít be drowned or burned, because I live in the water.Ē When the water ebbs and flows, it doesnít affect the lotus. The water and the lotus can exist together without conflict. They are together yet separate. Whatever is in the water nourishes the lotus and helps it grow into something beautiful.
Here itís the same for us. Wealth, home, family, all defilements of mind, they no longer defile us but rather they help us develop parami, the spiritual perfections. In a grove of bamboo, the old leaves pile up around the trees, and when the rain falls, they decompose and become fertilizer. Shoots grow and the trees develop because of the fertilizer, and we have a source of food and income. But it didnít look like anything good at all. So be carefulóin the dry season, if you set fires in the forest, theyíll burn up all the (future) fertilizer, and the fertilizer will turn into fire that burns the bamboo. Then you wonít have any bamboo shoots to eat. So if you burn the forest, you burn the bamboo fertilizer. If you burn the fertilizer, you burn the trees and the grove dies.
Do you understand? You and your families can live in happiness and harmony with your homes and possessions, free of danger of floods or fire. If a family is flooded or burned, it is only because of the people in that family. Itís just like the bambooís fertilizer. The grove can be burned because of it, or the grove can grow beautifully because of it.
Things will grow beautifully and then not beautifully, and then become beautiful again. Growing and degenerating, then growing again and degenerating again, this is the way of worldly phenomena. If we know growth and degeneration for what they are, we can find a conclusion to them. Things grow and reach their limit. Things degenerate and reach their limit. But we remain constant. Itís like when there was a fire in Ubon city. People bemoaned the destruction and shed a lot of tears over it. But things were rebuilt after the fire, and the new buildings are actually bigger and a lot better than what we had before, and people enjoy the city more now.
This is how it is with the cycles of loss and development. Everything has its limits. So the Buddha wanted us to always be contemplating. While we still have life, we should think about death. Donít consider it something far away. If youíre poor, donít try to harm or exploit others. Face the situation and work hard to help yourself. If youíre well off, donít become forgetful in your wealth and comfort. Itís not very difficult for everything to be lost. A rich person could become a pauper in a couple of days. A pauper could become a rich person. Itís all owing to the fact that these conditions are impermanent and unstable. Thus, the Buddha said, ďAppamado maccuno padam: Heedlessness is the way to death.Ē The heedless are like the dead. Donít be heedless! All beings and all sankhara are unstable and impermanent. Donít form any attachment to them at all! Happy or sad, progressing or falling apart, in the end it all comes to the same place. Please understand this.
Living in the world and having this perspective, we can be free of danger. Whatever we may gain or accomplish in the world because of our good karma, it is still of the world and subject to decay and loss, so donít get too carried away by it. Itís like a beetle scratching at the earth. It can scratch up a pile thatís a lot bigger than itself, but itís still only a pile of dirt. If it works hard, it makes a deep hole in the ground, but itís only a hole in dirt. If a buffalo drops a load of dung there, it will be bigger than the beetleís pile of earth, but it still isnít anything that reaches to the sky. Itís all dirt. Worldly accomplishments are like this. No matter how hard the beetles work, theyíre just involved in dirt, making holes and piles.
People who have good worldly karma have the intelligence to do well in the world. But no matter how well they do, theyíre still living in the world. All the things they do are worldly and have their limits, like the beetle scratching away at the earth. The hole may go deep, but itís in the earth. The pile may get high, but itís just a pile of dirt. Doing well, getting a lot, weíre just doing well and getting a lot in the world. Please understand this and try to develop detachment. If you donít gain much, have some contentment, understanding that itís only the worldly. If you gain a lot, understand that itís only the worldly. Contemplate these truths and donít be heedless. See both sides of things, not getting stuck on one side. When something delights you, hold part of yourself back in reserve, because that delight wonít last. When you have happiness, donít go completely over to its side, because soon enough youíll be back on the other side with unhappinessÖ.