The Way It Is
Turning towards emptiness
By reflecting, you bring into consciousness the state of conditions as they happen to be now. Having been born we're now at this age, feeling this way, at this time and in this place. That's the way it is. That cannot be changed by us. It's just the inevitability of birth that this is the way it is now.
And with that reflection, you get a
If you're feeling happy you get high, 'I want to be a
monk for the rest of my life and devote myself to the Dhamma. Dhamma is
the way for me. The only way, the true way
Or one can feel the opposite: one loses faith, one feels that it is a waste of time, 'I've wasted my life. It's of no value, I haven't gotten anywhere. It hasn't done anything for me. I don't believe in it anymore, I'm fed up with it.' Or one can feel indifference: 'It's all right, don't know what else to do. Better than working in a factory.' If that's the way you're feeling now - either extreme or just indifference - that's the way it is.
So just notice when you're feeling tremendous energy and feeling positive, or when there's a lack of it and you're too critical. When you're depressed and when you're not feeling very well, you're tired; it's hard to arouse the inspired feeling. In those circumstances, you tend to pick up what's wrong with things very quickly. The way somebody walks across a room can really irritate you. Somebody blows their nose too hard - and oh, that's disgusting! But when you are feeling full of inspiration and devotion, you just don't care about the faults of this or that, you're just caught up in this feeling of devotion and faith. These perceptions are to be reflected on as the way it is now. It has to be this way, because it can't be any other way at this moment. We feel like this, we feel tired or invigorated or whatever - this is the way it is.
These are the results of having been born and living our lives and being subject to changing conditions of sensuality. Then note, really note what you add to the existing conditions. In all-night sittings you may feel sleepy or tired; note what you put on to that feeling. Note the feeling itself, but maintain a posture, rather than just react to feeling tired with the attempt to annihilate the feeling by following it and sinking into lethargy.
When you're really convinced that you're so tired there's nothing you can do about it, and even pulling your body straight is something that seems totally impossible, hold it up straight for a length of time. Observe, and learn how much energy it takes to hold a body up.
How much energy does it take to stop the thinking process?
Have you ever noticed that? 'Just can't stop thinking' - the mind goes
on and on. 'Can't stop, what can I do?' 'I don't know how to stop thinking
- it keeps going. I can't stop it.
It takes effort to do it, not just to thinking about. I remember one time an Australian Abhidhamma fanatic came to Wat Pah Pong. This man had a mission - when Westerners get into Abhidhamma they become like born-again Christians - but he didn't know how to meditate; he didn't believe that meditation worked, and he figured it all out with his Abhidhamma concepts. He felt that you couldn't stop thinking. He said, 'You're always thinking and you can't stop thinking'. And I said, 'But you can stop thinking'. And he said, 'No you can't...', and I said, 'I've just stopped thinking...', and he said, 'No you haven't'!
Pointless to go on talking to someone like that. You have to be alert to know when you are not thinking, so you take an actual thought like 'I can't stop thinking' and you deliberately think that. This is what I did, because I was a habitual, obsessive thinker.
So instead of trying to stop thinking, if you are averse to it, then go to the other extreme and deliberately think something. And watch yourself deliberately thinking so that it's not just a wandering thought process in which your mind goes round and round in circles.
Use your wisdom faculty; deliberately think something,
some thought that is completely neutral and uninteresting, like 'I am
a human being'. Then deliberately think it, but observe the space before
you're thinking, and then deliberately say 'I am a human being'. Then
you note the end of it the moment when you stop thinking. Pay attention
to before and after the thought rather than to the thought itself, just
hold that attention to where there is no thought. Investigate the space
Then you're aware of an empty mind, where there's just
awareness but no thought. That may last just for a second, because you
start grasping, so you just have to keep being more aware by again thinking
something. With practice you can use even very unpleasant thoughts. For
example, you might have strong emotional feelings of 'I'm no good, I'm
worthless' and this can be an obsession. In some people's minds it can
become a background to their lives. So you try thinking: 'I shouldn't
think that. Venerable Sumedho says I'm good. But I know
That sense of 'me' and 'mine' is just a habit of the mind;
it's not the truth. If you really take the 'I/I am' and look at it objectively,
In contemplating the Four Noble Truths, you have the truth of suffering; its arising; its cessation and then the Path. You can't know the Path and the way out of suffering until you are aware of where everything ceases - in the mind itself. The mind is still vital and alert even when there is no thought in it; but if you don't notice that, then you believe you are always thinking. That's the way it seems.
You only conceive of yourself when you're thinking, because
you're identified with memory and the sense of 'I am' or 'I am not'. That
'yourself' is very much a conditioned, programmed perception in the mind.
As long as you believe in that perception and never question it, then
you will always believe that you are an obsessive thinker.
So the 'I am' is just a perception really - it arises
in the mind and it ceases in the mind. When it ceases, note that cessation
of thought. Make that cessation, that empty mind, a 'sign' rather than
just creating more things in the emptiness. You can get refined states
of consciousness fixing on refined objects - as in samatha
And yet when the mind is empty, the senses are still all
right. It's not like being in a trance, totally oblivious to everything;
your mind is open, empty - or you might call it whole, complete, bright.
Then you can take anything: ...like a fearful thought. You can take that
and deliberately think it and see it as just another condition of the
mind, rather than as a psychological problem. It arises, it ceases; there's
nothing in it, nothing in any thought. It's just a movement in the mind
and therefore it's not a person. You make
Believing is grasping, isn't it? 'I know what I am and
I know I'm no good.' You believe that, and that's what grasping is. You
So through belief you can see and interpret everything that people do in a personal way, as if they've all been condemning and judging you - that's paranoia, isn't it?
Even the most beautiful thoughts, aspirations as well as the most evil and nasty, arise and cease in the mind. Now don't misunderstand me; I'm not saying good and evil thoughts are the same. They have the same characteristic of arising and ceasing, that's all. In other respects they're different. Good thoughts are good thoughts, evil thoughts are evil thoughts! So I'm not saying it's all right to think evil thoughts, but I am pointing beyond the quality of the thought: love and hate arise and cease in the mind. In this perspective you're going to the reflective mind, where most people are totally unaware. People are generally only aware of themselves as a personality or an emotion or a thought - in other words, as a condition.
For practice, don't worry about the qualities that go through the mind: how wonderful, interesting, beautiful, ugly, nasty or neutral they might be. We're not investigating qualities, or denying the quality of any thought, but just noting the way it is. Then you just leave it alone so it ceases. You create a thought, put it into the mind deliberately, and let it go. To let go doesn't mean you push it away: you leave the thought alone, you're aware of it during the whole time; the moment before the thought and the interstices and the ending.
The space around thought - we don't notice that very much,
do we? It is just like the space in this room, I have to call your attention
to it. Now what does it take to be aware of the space in this room? You
have to be alert. With the
But the beautiful objects and the ugly ones are all in
So we have a perspective on space in a room like this. You can reflect on that. Anyone can come and go in this space. The most beautiful, the most ugly, saint and sinner, can come and go in this space and the space is never harmed or ruined or destroyed by the objects that come and go in this space.
The mind works on the same principle. But if you're not used to seeing the spaciousness of your mind you are not aware of the space that the mind really is. So you're unaware of the emptiness of the mind, because you're always attached to an idea or an opinion or mood.
With insight meditation you're reflecting on the five
What happened to Napoleon? What happened to the Queen
of Sheba? And Confucius and Lao Tzu and Marie Antoinette, Beethoven and
Bach? They're memories in our minds; they're just perceptions in people's
minds now. But that's all they ever were anyway, even when their bodies
'Venerable Sumedho' is a perception in the mind - in my
mind it's a perception, in your
With this realisation of the empty mind, you can develop the Eightfold Path very skilfully. The Eightfold Path is based on right understanding, and that is the understanding of cessation.