Often when there is widespread interest in subject, there are also widespread misunderstandings. This is certainly true of the current interest in Buddhist meditation. Many different – and sometimes contradictory – methods of meditation are presently available, and the beginning meditator often finds it difficult to know which methods are partial or lopsided when viewed in terms of the Buddha’s path, and which are balance and complete.
The purpose of this book is to give the reader enough background in the factors of the Buddha’s path to make an informed choice in deciding which method of meditation to pursue. It emphasizes Right View – the first factor of the path – as having crucial importance, for without the development of Right View through reasoned investigation of physical and mental processes, no amount of concentration or mindfulness, bare awareness or "going with the flow" can lead to absolute freedom form suffering.
Included is an appendix, which suggests a number of beginning techniques in walking and sitting meditation for use in conjunction with the approaches for developing Right View, discussed in the body of the book.
The author, abbot of a forest monastery in northeastern Thailand, has written several Dhamma books, and is frequently invited to Bangkok to teach.
I would like to start out by making one point. You may have read many Dhamma
books and heard Dhamma from many teachers. Each teacher has a different mode of
expression. You must contemplate, analyze and investigate critically and
reasonably what you have read with wisdom (paññá) until you are sure of it.
Your contemplation must be based on Right View (sammaditthi), which is the
important principle to guarantee the correct practice. It is like computer
programming. A wrong computer program will produce a wrong output and wrong
results regardless of what you put in. if the mind is programmed with wrong
views (micchaditthi), misunderstanding is hidden in the mind, and subsequent
reasoning’s are all wrong. So improper use of wisdom may lead to wrong
understanding, and the true Dhamma becomes false in one’s mind.
The practice on mind development is a very delicate process. It involves all-round knowledge to avoid possible misunderstandings. It is not the case that all the realizations, which arise in the course of the practice, are true, because these realizations can arise from two different sources: Right View and Wrong View. The two lead to completely different ends. The knowledge gained from right views teaches the mind and raises it to a higher level of Dhamma practice in line with the Noble Path (Magga), which leads to the Final Goal (Nibbána), the cessation of all defilements and suffering. In contrast, knowledge from wrong views leads the mind in a wrong direction forever, and the chance of returning to the right line of Dhamma is very remote.
Therefore Dhamma Students must be aware of the two split paths at an early stage and understand them well enough to correct any wrong view in time. Nowadays those who practice Dhamma argue about the various realizations gained from their practice. Each is very confident that his is correct. May I congratulate those whose views are in line with Right View. But if one’s realizations are derived from a mind imbued with wrong views, it is difficult for anyone to guide one to the right direction, for wrong minds are also very proud of their knowledge. The person with wrong views does not listen to others. He is over self-confident and stubborn and acts arrogantly and openly as if he were an expert of Dhamma who knew all the Truth. This is difficult to correct.
Conviction (saddha) and self-confidence, if without wisdom, could be deviant.
Wrong convictions become implanted in the mind without one’s knowing it. If
the mind (citta) has a false view, false knowledge follows and has in many cases
caused abnormal perception in the minds of meditators. Therefore one must
carefully base one’s practice on Right View, which is just like a compass that
points to the right direction.
If you are uncertain about your own method, you should look for help from a teacher. If you find the right teacher with the right view, your practice will surely progress through the Noble Path towards the Final Goal in this life or soon in a future life. On the other hand, if one is led by a person with a false view, his practice goes nowhere, and drifts pointlessly.
Selecting the right teacher is therefore a very important first step. You are
lucky if you have chosen the right one. It is just like driving in the right
traffic lane, and you will surely reach your destination without delay. But if
you drive in a wrong lane without knowing it, you are wasting your time and will
never reach the destination. So use your wisdom to analyze whether you are in
the "lane" of Right View or Wrong View. This is the start. If you
begin with the wrong basis, the practice that follows will be wrong and
difficult, perhaps impossible, to change in this lifetime. There were many
examples of right and wrong practices in the Lord Buddha’s time. Each leader
had many followers who had faith and firm belief in him. The followers practiced
continuously and were ready to believe their leader. This is conviction:
thoughts that fool the mind. If one lacks wisdom, one’s delusion and
misunderstanding can be so bad that any wise man cannot help one, just like the
doctor unable to cure the patient with terminal cancer. This is what happens to
a person dominated by self-regard, thinking that his mind development is
superior to others. Even if a teacher wants to help, his good will may be
refused. The person with Wrong View thus becomes like a sick person who refuses
to take his doctor’s medicine.
A Dhamma student must study and understand the Noble Eightfold Path according to the original principles taught in perfect order by the Lord Buddha. Do not modify or change it, because the Lord Buddha knew best which factor of the Noble Path should come first and which after.
To practice according to the Noble Path, one must start with the first step, sammaditthi, Right View or Right Understanding. From Right View develops Right Thought (sammasankapa, the second factor) and then the other factors of the Noble Path. Right View is therefore chief among the factors of the Noble Path. It supports the development of the whole Noble Path. Without it, the Noble Path can become easily distorted.
So discernment or wisdom based on Right View is the major principle of Dhamma practice. The practice will not be aligned with the truth if there is no wisdom to contemplate things to their causes. A person without wisdom in Dhamma practice is like an illiterate to whom pen and paper are useless. Even though he tries to write something, no one can understand it. Dhamma students must be aware of the importance of wisdom, without which it is impossible to practice the Noble Path to reach Nibbána.
The gist of the practice is to use wisdom to contemplate things all around. For example, if one intends to observe the Five-, the Eight-, the ten- or the 227-Moral Precepts (síla), one must have wisdom to be able to practice each precept successfully.
Sammavaca, Right Speech (the third factor of the Noble Path), also requires wisdom to contemplate carefully how one’s words will affect oneself and others. With wisdom one speaks only good words, for one realizes that words, once spoken, can never be taken back. Wisdom is used all around to avoid wrong speech and makes the practice of Right Speech possible.
Sammakammanta, Right Action or Right Activity (the fourth factor) involves any physical act. Before one does anything, one must use wisdom to contemplate the effect of that action. A responsible person must think before action so that he can get work done efficiently and obtain good results. He does not suffer form his acts, and the results are in general useful for himself and others. Be it worldly or Dhamma activity, it requires wise investigation before doing it, as stated in the Pali:
"Nisamma karanam seyyo"
"One must contemplate all around with wisdom before acting." In so doing one can expect very few mistakes or none at all. A wise man must think and reason carefully, and select only useful work to do. To be selective is in fact the process of wisdom and should be used in all kinds of work, be it physical work as in building construction, administrative work of the government or any social activity. An action without prior contemplation with wisdom tends to be the wrong action of a fool.
Sammaajuva, Right Livelihood (the fifth factor), is also based on wisdom. One must use wisdom to acquire living requirements, such as food, by honest means without violating the moral precepts (the Five-, the Eight-, the Ten-, or the 227-Precepts) that one has pledged to observe. Laymen obtain food within the limit of their precepts, whereas monks and novices within theirs.
Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood in the Noble Path are in fact the practice of the moral precepts. Those who intend to observe the moral precepts in order to purify their minds must have wisdom. Otherwise they tend to adhere merely to the rules and rituals of the precepts, the so-called act of silabbataparamasa. Purity of virtue without wisdom is impossible. To practice Dhamma one must discern the reasons existing since the Lord Buddha’s time.
Sammavayama, Right Effort (the six factor), again requires wisdom. There are two kinds of effort: worldly and Dhamma. Here only the latter will be discussed. One must use wisdom to tell right from wrong effort, then attempt the right and avoid the wrong.
Any physical or verbal effort is an expression of mental effort. Thus all outward efforts originate from the mind. Right Effort arises from the mind that has Right View and Right Thought. Without wisdom to discern things in the right way, an effort could be wrong without knowing it. Wrong efforts accumulate defilements, craving, pride, arrogance, and ignorance in the mind. The mind is therefore absorbed in greed, anger, delusion, sensual pleasure, jealousy, torpor and depression. The foolish mind does not know the Truth and drifts blindly in the stream of sensuality.
So one must be wise all around in order to free one’s mind from the sensual desire that has been controlling the mind for so long. Only with wise contemplation can the effort in Dhamma practice lead one towards the right direction. An "effort" here means the effort to relinquish evil and to develop virtue. It also means the effort to correct one’s view. It is therefore the heart of Dhamma practice. If it is not based one wisdom from the beginning, it is easily becomes a wrong effort. On the other hand, if wisdom underlies the effort in the practice, it is the ladder to the Final Goal. In practicing Dhamma, one must try to contemplate the reasons according to the original Right Effort that the Lord Buddha taught His disciples in His time.
Sammasati, Right Mindfulness (the seventh factor), is the use of wisdom to contemplate what the mind is attentive about. Mindfulness (sati) alone cannot cope with problems of the mind. It is merely the awareness of any past, present or future mental object. In other words, it is the awareness of what the mind thinks, but it cannot eradicate the cause of thinking. Some preoccupations (arammana) due to defilements and desires can be so powerful that the mind is already infiltrated by defilements and sensuality before mindfulness is working. When the mind is not free from defilements, desires and ignorance arise all the time. Mindfulness may sometimes be strong enough to know what the defilement – inflicted mind is up to, and so, in that moment, can free the mind from defilements. But it can do so only temporarily. When mindfulness becomes weak, defilements and desires resume with full strength as before.
Therefore mindfulness alone cannot completely eradicate defilements, desires and ignorance from the mind. The true power, which can do, so is wisdom that works by means of contemplation to teach and enlighten the mind. It is the tool used to dig out the roots of defilements and desires. The mind cultivated in this way becomes wise and able to solve problems, as stated in the Pali:
"Pannaya parisujjhati" meaning "The mind is purified by wisdom". For this reason, wisdom arising from Right View is the center of the Noble Path. Right Mindfulness is thus mindfulness in line with Right View.
Sammasamadhi, Right Concentration (the eighth factor), is based on Right View. The concentration of the mind (samádhi)* as a process toward the enlightenment of the Truth must depend on wisdom as its foundation. Right View enables the mind to concentrate in the right way, and so it can support samádhi very well.
In practicing concentration, one cannot expect to attain wisdom from it. You all have wisdom and use it in your worldly life. But you may not have used it in discerning the truth of Dhamma. Now you are a Dhamma student. You must train yourself to contemplate things all around in the Dhamma way, using your worldly wisdom in the beginning. In so practicing, you gradually get used to the process of thinking and contemplating according to the Truth. Even though your wisdom may not be sharp in the beginning, by using it over and over again it becomes sharper as you develop considerable concentration. In contrast if there has been no training of wisdom before, concentration can result only in tranquil moments during the act of samádhi.
Concentration by itself does not create any wisdom. It is merely the tool for the mind to halt its restlessness temporarily. Wisdom must be developed from contemplation of causality according to the Truth. To sharpen one’s wisdom, one practices concentration until the mind is calm, then withdraws from that tranquil state to work on contemplation. By alternating concentration and contemplation, wisdom develops wisdom can support concentration better, and the power of a tranquil mind from concentration in turn promotes more and more wisdom.
Practicing concentration according to the above method is called Right Concentration in the Noble Path and leads to progress in Dhamma practice. Concentration without Right View is deluded concentration. It does not help develop sharpness of wisdom even if the mind has some attentiveness. A hermit who is very skillful in meditation can concentrate his mind to the level of deep trance for a long period of time, but cannot attain wisdom from it. There has not been any example of a hermit who could get the fruitions of the Noble Path by practicing samádhi alone. So those who try to develop their minds by the same method as a hermit with a misunderstanding that tranquility of the mind in samádhi can generate wisdom must realize that wisdom develops by means of training oneself in contemplation, not by mere samádhi practice at all.
* "Samádhi" is translated as "meditation" by some. Here
"meditation" is regarded as jhana, a more absorbed state of mind in
To practice concentration without correct understanding may lead to wrong concentration, from which the person develops abnormal perceptions, the so-called vipassanupakkilesa. You may have heard that samádhi can cause mental abnormality. When it happens, all perceptions arising from the wrong samádhi are abnormal. This is the case when the practice is without wisdom, bringing about misunderstanding in the mind.
I would like to give three suggestions to prevent such abnormality:
1 Samadhi practice according to the Noble Path must always be based on Right View (sammaditthi). After each concentration exercise one must always use wisdom to contemplate things to know and see the truth about them. If during the practice you should perceive any new knowledge, do not believe it right away, for it may be merely tricks of defilements to delude the mind. There must always be wisdom in the practice.
2 For those who do not yet have wisdom as in the Noble Path, I would suggest that they not aim at the enlightenment of the Truth, Nibbána, while practicing samádhi. They should not wish to employ samádhi as the means to eradicate suffering. But they should simply practice samádhi by fixing their minds on certain parikamma words, knowing that nay calmness and happiness of the mind are the consequence of the still mind in samádhi, as happening with hermits. In this way mental abnormality will not occur.
3 Some people practice samádhi without wisdom as in the Noble Path, but with very strong intention and determination, and with firm belief that they will become enlightened in the Truth and reach the final Goal, Nibbána, in this life. They then practice samádhi with perseverance while walking and sitting with no time for wisdom to develop at all. They think that they can force defilements, desires and ignorance out of their minds by practicing mindfulness and concentration seriously. The mind without wisdom as mentioned will be deluded by defilements and compounded thoughts. The delusions may appear as sights, sounds, or smells. Or they may be new knowledge that arises very clearly in the mind. In that situation the unwise mind believes what it perceives wholeheartedly, and the formation of defilement continues. First there are some right things mixed with the wrong knowledge, but later on there are only wrong views. The mind is full of wrong knowledge and wrong views and deviates from the line of truth easily.
In some cases knowledge arises clearly from the calm mind in samádhi to answer all Dhamma questions in the mind. The response seems so real as if Dhamma arose in one’s mind. One then thinks that one is a wise and well-rounded man of Dhamma. One believes firmly and confidently that it is the knowledge of the Noble Truth. When the mind questions about the Dhamma of sotápanna, Sakadagami, Anagami or arahant (the four stages of Buddhist Nobles or holiness), one gets clear answers in the mind. At this stage, one thinks that he has attained such and such level of holiness. So, he appears in public and preaches daringly and shamelessly and answers Dhamma questions according to his own understanding without knowing about his departure from the right path. Even though some wise men try to give him advice, he does not accept it at all.
The deviant practice described above is due to Wrong View in the beginning. It happens to the person who has focused on concentration only and has paid no attention to wisdom development based on Right View. No matter how much he wishes to become enlightened in the Truth or how persistently he practices samádhi hoping to get rid of defilements and to reach Nibbána, he can never attain the Noble Attainments (ariya) in Buddhism merely be practicing concentration. If anyone wants to argue on this point, can you think of an example of a person who killed defilements, desires and ignorance with samádhi alone?
In the time of the Lord Buddha, He sent His disciples to teach the world
about the Truth. He had given them the best tool for teaching, the Noble
Eightfold Path. It starts with Right View as the important principle to assure
that Dhamma students become wise all around in the principles of the Truth and
its causal factors, able to understand the truth about the body and mind and to
analyze them as they really are. Wisdom based on right View is in fact the basis
for the establishment and the existence of Buddhism. It is the foundation of
Dhamma practice directing toward the fruitions of the Noble Path, Nibbána.
In the Lord Buddha’s time those who listened to the Lord Buddha’s or His arahant disciples’ teachings did so attentively and analytically in order to understand the Dhamma while listening, whether the Dhamma was about suffering (dukkha) and its cause or the way to end suffering. In so doing some who used wisdom while listening and were gifted with quick learning (khippabhinna) became enlightened in the Truth at that moment. Others who were the dhandhabhinna type could not be enlightened as quickly. Nevertheless they could recall the Dhamma they had heard and reconsidered it over and over again until they attained the fruition of the Noble Path later on.
So Dhamma must be listened to with full attention, wisdom and intelligence in
order to absorb it into the mind. It is just like having a container to store
rainwater for use all year round. The Dhamma that you have heard must be
memorized and recalled wisely at the right time. Without wisdom, it is difficult
for a person to understand the fine points of Dhamma no matter how often he
hears it or how many Dhamma books he reads. At best he can merely remember and
discuss the blatant aspects of Dhamma.
Nowadays many people are interested in practicing mental development. They organize big or small groups or set up centers for Dhamma practice both inside and outside Buddhist temples. The leaders may be monks or laymen. All centers and groups are led by competent leaders, and all aim at the same goal, Nibbána. Many followers practice seriously with strong determination. But most of them emphasize the practice of concentration (samádhi) for a tranquil, tension-free and one-pointed mind. They may be able to concentrate their minds sometimes but not all the time, because the original nature of the mind is restlessness. It likes to drift along the stream of pleasant and unpleasant thoughts. In the minds of these people there develops the idea that wisdom can arise automatically from a calm mind in samádhi practice. They do not realize that not a single person in Buddhist history has ever attained Nibbána in this way. To whom and where did the Lord Buddha and His disciples teach that way? Who attained wisdom from samádhi practice? Who reached Nibbána by practicing samádhi alone?
There is much evidence in the Buddhist Scriptures about how monks, nuns male
and female novices, male and female lay devotees had practiced until they became
the Noble Ones (ariyapuggala). Before they attained the fruition of the Noble
path they all had had Right View. Without wisdom based on Right View it is
impossible to follow the right path of practice, for one is like a blind man who
is lost in the middle of a jungle or falls in the sea. How can practice without
We must study the stories of the Noble Ones in the Lord Buddha’s time to understand how they had practiced before attaining Nibbána. The Threefold Training (sikkhattaya): moral precepts, concentration and wisdom, is the path as stated in theory. In practice, however, one starts with wisdom to contemplate things right from the beginning. There are different levels of wisdom: the elementary, the intermediate and the ultimate. How can one wait for wisdom to occur only on the final level?
If one practices the moral precepts without wisdom, how can one know that one’s practice is correct? How can one refrain from physical, verbal and mental misconduct if he does not have wisdom? If there is on wisdom involved in the observance of the precepts, it is meaningless regardless of how many times one requests the verbal precepts from the monks, for the purity of one’s virtue does not depend on formally taking the precepts. If would be like throwing a lump of gold to a monkey. The monkey would pick it up, look at it and then throw it away. So in observing the moral precepts of laymen or minks, if done without wisdom, the rules are usually violated.
The same thing applies to samádhi practice. Whether it is samádhi or jhana
(meditation) or Samapatti (meditative attainment), it is merely a volitional
activity that is impermanent and uncertain. It arises and degenerates in a
cycle. This sort of practice if done without wisdom is like chasing one’s own
shadow, or pointing a flashlight toward the sky or spending a vacation for too
long. It is a waste of time. If one does not have wisdom in Dhamma practice, one
may be forever caught up in chasing after the states of mind that spin around -
arising, remaining and deterioration – without ever being able to find one’s
Samádhi is merely a means to ease suffering temporarily. It cannot eradicate suffering absolutely. It cannot prevent the mind from wrong understanding. If it could, why do some people cling to samádhi thinking incorrectly that wisdom could arise from the calm mind in samádhi? Is such understanding right? Is it Right View? Or is it Wrong View? You must decide this for yourself, for this is the major fork in the road. If one chooses the right way, it will bring one to Nibbána. If one chooses the wrong road and never changes one’s mind, one is like a man falling into a rapid steam, yet refusing to hold on to the shore. The man will surely flow downstream.
So the practice for Nibbána relies greatly on wisdom to contemplate things
all around. This is a very narrow channel, a precise maneuver, for once one gets
into this channel, Nibbána can be expected. Going through a wrong channel makes
it impossible to reach Nibbána unless one realizes it and changes in time.
There is only one path towards Nibbána. The Lord Buddha and all the Noble Ones
in the past passed through this Noble Eightfold Path and taught it to us. The
Lord Buddha and the Noble Ones guaranteed the practice according to the Noble
Path, and anyone who does not stick to this path can never reach Nibbána.
There are different teachings nowadays, and the method of Dhamma practice mentioned so far is for you to consider. Even thought I say that this is the middle path (majjhima) directing towards Nibbána, it could be merely words from my own understanding. All teachers of Dhamma practice claim that their ways are right. Therefore I leave it to you to consider and use your own judgment to decide whether what I say is reasonable or not. The teachings of the Lord Buddha are reasonable and truthful. Every sentence spoken by Him is the truth, be it about worldly or spiritual matters. If the Lord Buddha said that something was wrong, it is always wrong. If He said it was right, it is right. The Lord Buddha said that good causes bring good results, and bad causes bad results. This must always be true. The Lord Buddha preached about happiness, suffering Hell, Heaven and Nibbána. They are all true.
Not only the Lord Buddha but also the arahant disciples ho followed His teachings were enlightened in the Truth. The truth of the Lord Buddha and His disciples was written in Tipitaka, the three Divisions of the Buddhist Cannon. In it there are truths about wholesomeness in the Sense Sphere (kamavacarakusala); for example, giving, practicing the moral precepts, working for the public. There are truths about physical, verbal and mental unwholesomeness causing beings to exist in the States of Misery (apayabhumi) – beings in niraya (Hell), peta (hungry ghosts), asurakaya (demons) and tiracchana (animals). The Lord Buddha preached about those proven things so that we will try to abandon evil, to develop virtue and to practice Dhamma in the right way.
So every Dhamma student should be confident in his own ability. Do not expect any praise or any prediction from others. Even though you may seek help from some teachers, it is only the study part. The practical part is your own responsibility. You must rely on yourself. Nobody can help you get rid of the accumulating defilements (asavakilesa) in your mind. You have to develop your wits for Dhamma practice and understand Dhamma clearly, for the Noble Path, the Noble Fruitions and Nibbána are taught only in Buddhism. A Buddha does not always appear on this Earth. Once a Buddha is born, it will take a long-long time before the coming of the next Buddha. The teachings of all Buddhas in the past, present or future are the same. The Buddhas taught beings to refrain from all sins, to do good deeds and to purify the mind. The Lord Buddha had effective teaching methods to suit different personalities.
The Lord Buddha’s teachings can be classified into two major categories:
1 The teachings about kamavacarakusala.
2 The teachings about yogavacarakusala.
Kamavacarakusala can be explained extensively. But here it is briefly
described as any good deed or virtue performed physically, verbally or mentally.
It gives desirable results for those who are still pleased with the Sense
Spheres, for example, rebirth as human beings or gods. The effect of their
wholesomeness in the past will help relieve their sufferings wherever they may
The Lord Buddha taught about the yogavacara at the higher level of Dhamma. Yogavacara is the one who seeks the way out of the Three Spheres of Beings: the Sense sphere (kamabhava), the fine Material Sphere (rupabhava) and the Immaterial Sphere (arupabhava). He will try every way to get out of the Three Spheres. A yogavacara can be a man, woman, monk, novice, nun or síla practicing layperson. A yogavacara behaves like a bird or an animal in captivity that restlessly searches for its way out. An encaged bird uses its beak to peck at its cage over and over again each day hoping that someday it will be able to escape.
So a Dhamma student who is a true yogavacara never indulges himself in life.
He tries not to attach himself to the materialistic pleasures that the world
seems to enjoy. On the contrary, he always finds ways to escape from the
"worldly cage". He uses wisdom to contemplate suffering (dukkha) in
life and realizes that he has been reborn on this same Earth for so many times,
so many aeons in an endless cycle. Each life was different. In some lives he was
a very rich man surrounded by abundant sensual pleasure. In others he was but a
hopeless poor man who survived by begging for leftover food from kind people.
When you give something to a beggar, think about it and thing further that you
surely had the same miserable experience in your past loves, and could have it
again in future lives.
Think often about how you would feel if you were others this is a good reminder for the mind to accept the differences in the state of human beings. Train your mind to see the truth of the world comprehensively and to realize that the world has been like this for a long time and will be forever. Use your wisdom to think about human beings, and you will gain understanding of the inequality of the human state. Some are very rich and have a surplus of wealth. Others are very poor and miserable. Even though they do not wish to be in that situation (i.e., vibhavatanha), they still get it because there was the prior cause for it.
It is human nature to do and take whatever one is pleased with without an understanding that it is the cause of further suffering. But when suffering comes as a result, nothing can change it, and one must bear with it. So a Dhamma student must teach his mind until he is perceptive with regard to the cause-and-effect relationships of all activities. The well-trained mind is wise and knows all around. Before one believes in anything, one must think it over, as stated in the Pali:
"Nisamma karanam seyyo".
One must think carefully before believing anything. It is the original nature of the mind to reach out unselectively for all sense objects: pleasant or unpleasant. If the object is unpleasant, the mind suffers. It is just like an innocent baby who grasps everything, even dirt, and puts it into his mouth. If one’s mind does not have wisdom to control it, one will think, say and do according to what desires and defilements direct him to with no sense of right and wrong. Later on when bad results occur, one may realize it but it is often too late to use wisdom to cope with it.
So those who want to train their minds in the yogavacara way must be highly
responsible persons who have a meticulous and sophisticated strategy. When the
mind suffers from depression or anxiety, wisdom must be used to reflect on the
cause of the suffering. Teach the mind with wisdom and train it to be prepared
not to repeat the same cause again. Wisdom must be ready to solve the problem in
time before feelings of greed, passion, hatred and delusion ever get a chance to
intrude in the mind. Those feelings, once arisen, are difficult to subside if
you do not have enough intelligence to cope with them. However, when a feeling
does happen, you must try to look carefully into its cause with wisdom before
sankharacitta (compounded thinking of the mind) expands and elaborates on the
cause, just like quickly extinguishing a fire before it spreads. So if a feeling
of love and passion begins to form, you must quickly use wisdom to stop ti, for
if you let the feeling become too intense, the mind will sink deeply in
sensuality, and feelings of greed, hatred, passion and delusion will follow. The
mind suffers and is caught up in defilements and desires 24 hours a day. One
becomes attached to, dreams about and longs for more sensual pleasure.
The use of wisdom to teach the mind is the important principle. If wisdom is not sharp, it is not powerful enough to destroy the old views in the mind, because the mind has been attached to sensuality for a long time. It is just like very dirty clothes that cannot be washed clean by a small amount of detergent. So, weak wisdom is inadequate for developing the mind that has been covered densely with defilements and craving. Even though one may memorize the knowledge and the wisdom of the teachers, others’ wisdom cannot be used to clean defilements and desires out of one’s own mind. One must develop wisdom of one’s own, as in the story of Phra Pothila in the Lord Buddha’s time.
Phra Pothila had studied the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha and the Noble Ones extensively until he was very proficient in "borrowed" Dhamma and was a great Dhamma lecturer in that time. Pothila had a close friend who also entered the monk-hood. His friend studied the practical side of the Dhamma and went out in the woods for austere practice. Not too long afterwards he became an arahant. Later on Pothila heard the news about his friend coming out of the woods. Pothila arrogantly thought, "My friend is stupid. Why did he not acquire knowledge for himself from studying? How can he ever gain knowledge from sitting and closing his eyes in the woods? I must go to see him and test his knowledge". He then left for his friend’s place. At that time the Lord Buddha knew by insight (mama) about Pothila’s idea, and he knew beforehand that Pothila would ridicule his friend when the arahant could not answer Pothila’s questions about studied knowledge (pariyatti). The Lord knew that Pothila’s act would be so sinful that it would lead him to Hell, and so He intended to stop it. The Lord then went and arrived at the same time as Pothila. After the two monks paid homage to the Lord Buddha, He started to ask the arahant questions. The arahant answered the Lord’s questions very fluently, correctly and completely, and the Lord praised him and said, "My son, you have finished all the work that needs to be done".
Pothila, listening to the Lord Buddha’s profound questions and his friend’s sharp answers, got very worried. If similar questions were directed o him, he would not be able to answer them. Then came his turn. Pothila almost fainted because of his shame at not being able to answer the Lord’s questions. He sweated heavily in panic, just like a rain-wet baby bird, paid respect to the Lord Buddha and said, "I cannot answer the questions, my Lord". The Lord Buddha said then, "Pothila, knowledge from studying without practicing is knowledge that cannot demolish defilements, desires and ignorance in the mind, and so it cannot purify the mind. Such knowledge is simply a book that you carry with you".
Having heard the Lord Buddha’s words, Pothila was aware of his mistake and decided that from then on he would not teach Dhamma, but would attentively practice Dhamma to reach Nibbána.
Pothila traveled on to search for a teacher who would teach him the practice of Dhamma, but no one accepted him as his student. Eventually he met an arahant novice and asked if he could be his student. Being an arahant, the novice knew well how to get rid of Pothila’s egocentric pride. He did so by forcing Pothila to wade in the pond several times until Pothila abandoned all his pride. After that the novice taught him the Dhamma practice, and soon Pothila reached the state of arahant. This happened in the Lord Buddha’s time.
Pothila’s story is a good example. I am in no position to say whether there
are any "Phra Pothilas" nowadays, but it is not difficult to fine
"Mr. Pothilas" or "Mrs. Pothilas" whose egocentric pride not
only comes from too much studying, but also from status, wealth, rank and
position. There are many other ways that egocentric pride can develop. Without
sharp wisdom one can expect that acquisition, rank, praise and happiness can all
give rise to egocentric pride.
Many Dhamma students are not sure about the methods of practice. They all want the method that is correct and goes straight to Nibbána. None wants to waste time on any curves. When you ask ten teachers, you may get ten different "direct" ways and become confused about Dhamma practice. You may become unsure about which is right and which is wrong; which is direct and which is indirect. This confusion and uncertainty can deter one from exerting all one’s effort and patience into the practice. One dares not decide which method to follow strictly and so practices Dhamma on and off with a doubtful mind. This delays the practice, and perhaps defilements may mislead one to believe that one has not accumulated enough wholesome causes in the past to practice Dhamma successfully, and so gives up completely. Instead of entering the Dhamma stream in this present life, one is satisfied just to do wholesome things now for better future lives.
So a Dhamma student must use his own wisdom and reason to decide about the method of practice for himself. He must understand the steps in Dhamma practice. Even though he may not be strong enough to attain the Final Goal – the cessation of suffering – now, at least he is holding on to the right thing and continuously practicing it with perseverance. Therefore the wise path is to analyze the methods of practice to select the right way to build up self-confidence. At first you must study the way wise men have followed and understand the basic steps until you are confident that they are right. Then practice accordingly, always using your own reason wisely. You must rely on yourself, your ability and reason to avoid mistakes, to get rid of indecisiveness and not to waste time on practicing on and off.
A Dhamma student must look at things within and without in all aspects. He must use wisdom for critical reflection in accordance with the Truth, because the Truth lies in everything. No one can change it, neither can anyone have control over it. For example, aging, illness and death occur naturally. Nothing can stop them or keep them unchanged forever. It is beyond anyone’s capacity to change them. No matter how much one does not want them, one cannot get what one wishes. There is nothing in this world that can go on as one wishes. On the contrary, one is always disappointed regardless of how hard one tries to have one’s wishes come true. The Lord Buddha said, "Suffering comes from not getting what one whishes." So you must use wisdom to think critically about your needs. Even if some needs are met, how can you maintain the joy of having them met? Soon suffering will follow.
When you acquire and possess anything, don’t be sure yet that it is really yours. In the worldly sense, it is. But a wise Dhamma student will reflect critically about what happens to him or what he gets and what effect can be expected. For each cause there is always an effect, and one must use wisdom to plan ahead and to prepare for the way out. This helps ease suffering as we live on Earth. Those who suffer either physically or mentally and lament strongly are the ones who have latched on to this world. Those who intend to go beyond the stream of the world must know the world in all its aspects. They must learn that they can take nothing in the world as their own. Everything is an illusion. Worldly objects change according to the law of impermanence (anicca). It is natural that people are disappointed about what they lose, for they do not know that suffering is the result of attachment: the greater the attachment, the greater the suffering which follows.
You live in this world, and you must know it well with your wisdom. Think
analytically about it. Is there any object in this world that is really yours,
that you can take with you forever? You must consider causal relations and see
clearly that everything is merely for use temporarily. Nothing is yours forever.
Those who misunderstand tings as being theirs attach to that idea firmly without
any insight into the truth of the impermanence and "not-selfness"
(anattá) of all things. When "their" things degenerate with time,
they lament uncontrollable.
A Dhamma student must be careful person who discerns things reasonably to decrease the suffering of the mind. It is like going into the jungle: One must mark the way in, so that one can find one’s way out. Otherwise one will get lost in the jungle. We have got lost in this world for a long time. Even though we have passed through the gate of this world many times already, we are not wise enough to realize that the gateway out of it is in fact the Three Characteristics (tilakkhana), which are the guarantee of the truth. These are the signposts for those who want to leave the wheel of rebirth (vattasamsara). They are the center of the Three Spheres of Being: the Sense Sphere, the Fine Material Sphere and the Immaterial Formless Sphere. All of these spheres follow the rule of the tilakkhana. Among the three spheres, the Sense Sphere should be most emphasized because we beings are most interested in it.
The Sense Sphere is subdivided into many levels, for example, heavenly beings, human beings, animals and hungry ghosts. Each is further subdivided into many groups, but all are under the rule of the tilakkhana. Life in the Sense Sphere is full of suffering (dukkha) in body and mind. There is no freedom of the mind and body, and this makes life hard to endure. One must struggle for a living from day to day. For human beings and animals whose bodies are composed of visible and rough materials, the struggling is evident physically.
As for those who are considerable clever, they can acquire the physical
requisites to nurture their bodies. For them, money may not be the problem, but
still their lives may not always go smoothly. They may have other problems: for
example, family quarrels, infidelity and problem children, etc. the suffering
from family affairs is certain to happen. Even though one does not experience it
in this life, one will in future lives. Or if one does not suffer from family
problems, one will from others, e.g., illness. There are so many rich people
lying ill in the hospitals. You must contemplate all of this to let the mind
realize the hardships of life, both yours and that of others.
Unavoidable suffering is the suffering that comes with the aggregate of body and mind (khandha). It occurs to even a wealthy person replete with sensual pleasures. The body that is occupied by the mind experiences this kind of suffering, because the body and mind are themselves the site and the source of suffering. Although no one wants to suffer, and everyone tries to stay away from it, for example, by resorting to sensual pleasure in form, sound, smell, taste and touch, one can never succeed. No one can avoid this suffering because it is the truth of the khandha. It shows openly all the time whether we are standing, walking, sitting or lying down. One changes one’s bodily posture to avoid suffering, but this succeeds only temporarily. Not one single posture can be regarded as a pleasant posture. One suffers from standing too long. One also suffers from walking, sitting or lying down too long.
Where can one find happiness from the aggregate of body and mind? Pleasant forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations are merely temporary retreats from suffering. But they are not good, because they intensify suffering even more. Instead of extinguishing the fire, they add more fuel to it. Therefore it is unwise to extinguish the fire this way. One must realize that one’s pleasure in forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations is merely a means to put the suffering out of the mind temporarily. Eventually the external senses become good sources of suffering. From these sense receptors arise delight or sadness that increases passion, hatred and delusion. The Lord Buddha said that if the six sense receptors – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind –were not controlled, and instead were allowed to latch on to forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and mental objects, suffering would surely result. These things also invite other suffering into the mind. So try to use wisdom to contemplate the truth of suffering so as to comprehend it fully.
Aging, illness and death are also unavoidable suffering. No matter how much one is afraid of them, one cannot escape from them. Their cause is being and birth. Aging, illness and death are the result of being of the Three Spheres of Existence. So a Dhamma student, not wanting suffering, must contemplate birth to understand clearly the state of his present life so as to get rid of attachment (upadana) to future lives. With sharp wisdom one can cut across the stream of attachments that cause the cycle of birth. One then becomes analayo, no more clinging to any worldly object. At this stage one is ready to destroy the cause of birth, as stated in the Pali:
"Samulam tanham abbhuyha" meaning "One who has pulled out the desires and their roots completely".
This is the end of the practice. This is the end of the practice. To reach
this end, one must have the right start, that is, Right View. One must stick to
the Truth firmly. Although the worldly stream is taking you downstream, you must
try to go against it. Do not let your mind drift along with the flow of
defilements and desires. Use wisdom to contemplate suffering and its cause all
the time. The Lord Buddha regarded suffering as the main and important principle
in Dhamma practice. In Enlightenment, the Lord Buddha discovered the Four Noble
Truths (ariyasacca): suffering (dukkha), the cause of suffering (samudaya), the
cessation of suffering (nirodha) and the path to cessation of suffering (Magga).
As Dhamma students, you should already know the meanings of these words. If you
take each of them to contemplate, you will come to see clearly the techniques of
The Lord Buddha took suffering as his first point because it is something that appears blatantly in the body and mind. It has occurred continuously since birth and as a result of birth. Always use wisdom to think analytically about suffering. If you are not aware of the suffering happening to your body and mind, you will never know the cause of suffering. And if you do not know the cause of suffering, the suffering due to birth will surely happen to you again and again. A Dhamma student must try to understand this point because it is the point of returning to the state of being. The word "vatta" means, "cycling". Each being recycles at this point – its ignorance about the cause for the cycling of lives. The result of the ignorance is that one is cycling endlessly in the wheel of rebirth. So the cause of suffering is the important turning point, the very subtle one that can be understood by the refined insight of wisdom. The cause of suffering, when known, can be destroyed with sharp wisdom, and the cycle is torn apart.
Dhamma practice to know and see the Noble Truths requires sharpness of wisdom to discern and analyze the truth in terms of cause and effect. One must think analytically about suffering, its cause and the techniques to eliminate its cause. Nirodha or the cessation of suffering is the final result that one needs not be concerned about. It is the Dhamma known only for oneself when one’s practice reaches a point of fullness. When one reaches that point, nirodha will be the Dhamma that destroys defilements completely. At that point even though one has never learned the meaning of nirodha before, it will not be a problem. Nirodha is the destination at the end of the road. When walking along the road there is no need to worry about the destination. One needs not anticipate what it is like. As long as one follows the right way, one will see the end of the road for oneself, with no need to ask anyone what the end is like; what freedom from suffering, defilement, craving and ignorance in the mind is like; how purity with no states of being and birth will be experienced. These are things that should not be conjectured about. In the very second that one reaches the level of the Noble Ones, one knows for oneself with no need to ask anyone at all.
The important thing is to practice the Dhamma in accordance with the Noble Path. The Four Foundations of Mindfulness (Satipatthána): body, feeling, mind and Dhamma, are also incorporated into the Noble Path. Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration in the Noble Path are controlled by Right View. Right View is like the airplane captain or the automobile driver who alone knows where to go can take all of his passengers to the destination safely. Right View is therefore the "compass" of the Noble Path, followed by Right Thought in contemplating causality in line with the Truth. So wisdom based on Right View is the most important factor.
With wise contemplation, any pain or suffering – headache, toothache, aching of other parts of the body, of yourself, of others or of animals – is narrowed down to only one cause, that is, the state of being born. One must use wisdom to discern suffering due to birth and use it often as the technique to teach one’s mind to see things as they really are. In so doing, one will be awed by the suffering due to birth.
If you rely on what I write or what I understand, you will not be able to
reach the state of paccattam (knowing for oneself). So I want you to rely on
your own wisdom. Knowing and seeing suffering clearly with your own wisdom will
make you feel dispassionate about being born again. When this happens there is a
way to cut across the stream of rebirths easily.
There are many causes of birth, but I will give brief explanations only of three: craving for sensuality (kamatanha), craving for existence (bhavatanha) and craving for non-existence (vibhavatanha). Apart from these I will leave it up to you to develop your own wisdom by contemplating things on your own. I have given you a knife and a knife sharpener. It is your own work to sharpen your knife and to use it to cut things by yourself, that is, to sharpen your wisdom for the contemplation of the causes of rebirth. I have given you a pen and paper. You must try to write by yourself. At first your handwriting may not be pretty, the spelling not all correct, and the style not smooth, but you should keep trying until you eventually become skilled. The same analogy holds for reading or doing anything. Firm intent is what matters.
Craving for sensuality (kamatanha) is subdivided into two categories:
1 Sensual objects (vatthukama)
2 Sensual moods (kilesakama).
The first is any object or physical property that one is attached to. You
must contemplate only the objects for which you crave, because your purpose is
to reduce the craving and attachment, which are based on those objects. You must
analyze the objects down to the truth, that is, dukkham (the state of being hare
– to – endure or suffering), aniccam (the state of impermanence) and anattá
(the state of being not-self). To contemplate the dukkha of an object, try to
see that the object does not really belong to you. If you are very pleased with
it and your mind becomes attached to it, you will suffer a great deal when you
happen to lose or damage it. Some may cry uncontrollably or faint. This is the
suffering one will get if one does not contemplate it beforehand.
Sensual moods are the condition in which the mind is pleased and attached to sensual pleasure in form, sound, smell, taste and touch. The mind enjoys the mood of affection, love and sexual desire and tries to seek for more. The mind deluded in this way is common in the world. The Lord Buddha and his arahant disciples also had desires for objects and sensual pleasure before they reached Nibbána, but with sharp wisdom they were able to cut the attachment to those desires.
You must therefore be prepared. Try to use your wisdom to analyze things down to the truth in order to get rid of your old understanding about them. Try to uproot the mind’s attachment to such desires by teaching it until it knows and sees clearly the harmful consequence of sensual pleasures. This is the simple means of contemplation that helps develop wisdom more and more elaborately. One must use one’s own wisdom that has been built up as a weapon to kill defilements and desires in one’s mind. One cannot borrow others’ wisdom. If you have sufficient wisdom to fight against your enemy – defilements and desires – you are regarded as wised in terms of Dhamma practice.
Craving for the state of existence is the state of mind that is satisfied with its present state of being and does not want to change. One craves for being in the same state forever. For example, one likes being a human being and so craves to be reborn in the human world again. It does not interest one at all when people talk about how happy Heaven or the Brahma world is. One is pleased with the present world and becomes very attached to it. When one dies, one’s mind is still attached to one’s worldly objects, including one’s beloved descendants and belongings. One wishes to be reborn in the same family line again. One’s mind is attached to the acquisitions, social status, praise and happiness one has (suvannata susarata susanthanan surupata adhikiccam parivaro) and wishes to have the same things always.
Another example is an angel in Heaven who enjoys heavenly happiness and
wishes to be in the same state forever. Nevertheless the state of being an angel
is not maintained by wishing. It is maintained by one’s past virtues. The
truth about impermanence operates all the time, and no one can always have his
wish come true. He is forced to depart from what he likes or where he likes to
be. Since one’s mind is smothered with delusion and ignorance, wherever one is
reborn one tends to be attached to one’s new state of being and forgets about
one’s past lives. One is always content with the present state. So one must
use wisdom to contemplate the present state of being to which one has fallen, in
order to develop the mind to know and see clearly the truth about that sate of
Craving for non-existence is the craving not to be born in an undesirable state. For instance, an angel in the heavenly state does not want to be in the human state. Rich people enjoying sensual pleasure do not want to be born in poor families. They do not want to be handicapped or be reborn in the four lower worlds: Hell, peta, asurakaya or the animal state. Nevertheless one must be born in the state in accordance with one’s past action. Bad deeds exert their effect as rebirth in a state of misery. No one can demand the state he wishes. We are just like prisoners who cannot demand the living conditions – food, bed, etc. – we like. The same thing applies to human action. One has to experience the result of one’s bad actions until their effects are exhausted. Those who are not wise enough to see this causal relation indulge themselves in sensuality, and o unwholesome things. When the time for the bad effects come, they can hardly endure the suffering.
So a Dhamma student must use wisdom to contemplate the causes of the suffering. Craving for sensuality, craving for existence and craving for non-existence are the three sources from which all beings – human, animal, etc. – build up the causes of suffering during their lives. Craving is the cause of the cycling of birth in the Three Spheres of Being. If the cause is abolished, the Three Spheres no longer exist. This brief description of the three types of craving – kamatanha, bhavatanha and vibhavatanha – should give you some understanding of the way of practice. These three forms of craving are a turning wheel, which keeps us spinning in circles. Most people misunderstand that craving brings happiness. Just think carefully: Who gets true happiness from craving? Contemplate things with wisdom to let the mind realize that the craving, which directs your life, can never bring happiness. At present we lack wisdom, and so are dragged along by craving.
Defilements and craving have pulled us around the Three Spheres of Being for a long time and will go on endlessly. Do you want to leave your life in the hands of defilements and craving? Why do you not use wisdom to contemplate the past, present and future of your existence? What things of value did you ever get from your past lives?
Beings once in existence must busy themselves in day-to-day struggling to
stay alive. Before long, their bodies age, become ill and die, and the dead
bodies accumulate in the soil. No one can ever take any possession with him.
This happened in our past lives, is happening now and will happen again in
future lives. Things are changing. There is nothing certain enough to cling to.
They change according to the principle of anicca, and lead only to despair. To
believe that the four elements (dhatu) and the five aggregates (khandha)
comprising one’s body and mind are one’s own is only a misunderstanding
coming from delusion and ignorance. Neither is in any way one’s own. Knowing
of this truth will make one abandon attachment and possessiveness. As a matter
of fact, anattá (not-selfness) announces itself openly. One can witness it in
the cemeteries and the crematoriums, where everybody ends up. Where then is one’s
self (atta)? Although one is alive now and still has a living body, soon this
"self" will be meaningless. So try to use wisdom in examining the
truth to develop the mind until it knows and sees in terms of the Four Noble
A Dhamma student must understand the principles of sammati (meaning convention, conventional truth, supposition), so that he is not deluded by it. Life depends on sammati. So as long as we are alive we should try to understand these things for what they are. Things in life are interrelated and temporary. Soon they will depart no matter how much you cry and regret their departure. A Dhamma student must therefore be prepared to face this situation. When it comes, he will not suffer excessively.
We must take care of our belongings with responsibility and acquire them by honest and moral means. At the same time we must always realize that our possessions are merely a supposition or sammati. We ourselves are our own sammati, and others are theirs. Everyone has the right to make use of sammati for his own benefit, in honest ways. So one should use wisdom to contemplate sammati in the world and understand it clearly as it is. In so doing there is a way to terminate delusion. If we know and understand how the stream of the world cycles, we are seeking the channel to get out of the Three Spheres of Existence. We are contemplating the very point in which the mind has been deluded to see which aspects of the world we still do not understand, which forms of sammati we are still using to obscure the truth, keeping ourselves in a world of dreams and infatuations. As long as worldly sammati obscures the truth, the truth cannot appear to the mind, and the mind will be blind about the world forever.
Therefore Dhamma practice must have a good foundation. One cannot eradicate defilements, craving, ignorance and attachment by unreasonable understanding. Many say irresponsibly that when the mind attains tranquility in samádhi practice, the mind will be purified. Both the teachers and the followers of this school of thought misunderstand the matter. The misunderstanding of one teacher leads to the misunderstanding of thousands of people. The teaching that the mind becomes purified by samádhi is against the Lord Buddha’s teachings. The Lord taught "Pannaya parisujjhati", meaning "The mind is purified by wisdom". The mind is not purified by samádhi.
It is often said that samádhi frees the mind from sensation, defilements, desires, ignorance and all compounded thoughts. Those who say so forget about the hermits who are very skillful in samádhi practice to such high levels of tranquility as rupajhana (absorption of the Fine Material Sphere) and arupajhana (absorption of the Immaterial Formless Sphere). But no hermits attain purity of the mind by samádhi. Such a principle does not exist in Buddhism, and there is no reason it should be taught so as to mislead people. Purity of mind happens only to an arahant. Even the sotápanna, Sakadagami, and Anagami (the three lower levels of the Noble Ones) do not yet have absolute purity of mind. A Dhamma student must understand this, which is the right view in accordance with the Noble Path, in order to attain the Noble Fruitions in the future.
Nowadays the Noble Path and its fruitions are interpreted differently. When the mind of a person reaches a tranquil state in samádhi, his mind is free temporarily. At this point he may think that he has reached a certain stage of Dhamma or attained sure insight knowledge in line with what he studied before. He compares his mind with what he has studied about the arahant or other Noble Ones. The word "paccattam" (knowing for oneself) is meaningless for him. He wants the teacher to proclaim his Dhamma level. In fact this is not the behavior of a Noble One.
Dhamma students must understand clearly what it means to attain the level of the Noble Ones. If not, they may misunderstand that the brightness or tranquility of the mind as a result of samádhi is a Noble Attainment. Or when a mental image appears to them in samádhi, they may think that they have attained certain insight knowledge.
The differences in Dhamma practice are due to different interpretations of Dhamma. In many places, signs are put up such as "Vipassana School" (meaning school for insight or wisdom development), but in reality they do not practice insight development at all. They practice concentration by means of fixing mind on certain themes to reach a tranquil state of the mind. This is a misuse of words. There is a difference between "vipassana" and "samatha"; the latter means concentration development. The two have different means of practice.
To practice samatha, one uses mindfulness to fix the mind on certain parikamma words or on the breath. Mindfulness of breathing (anapanasati) is the means to keep the mind with the present to avoid thinking about other things. When the mind withdraws from tranquility, one then practices vipassana.
To practice vipassana one uses wisdom to contemplate things all around in accordance with the truth – the tilakkhana, consisting of dukkham, aniccam and anattá; or the truth about one’s own birth, aging, illness and death, and that of others; or the truth about the foulness of one’s own body, and that of others. The practice is for the mind to see all things as having the same basic nature. The techniques of the contemplation must make use of memory, supposition and compounded thinking about the past, present and future. These tools are a double-edged sword. If used in the wrong way, they can be harmful. For example, memories about forms, sounds, smells tastes and tactile sensation can invite defilements and desires into the mind giving rise to sexual desire, passion and attachment.
When there are sights that we love and sounds that appeal to us, our memories of them will be hard to forget. If we are infatuated with a sight, the memory of it will be firmly impressed on the heart. When this is the case, sammati will arise concerning where you saw that beautiful form; what sort of complexion she had; what sort of figure; what you said to each other. Once these sammati arise, sankhárá expands on and elaborates them, imagining that you said things which you didn’t or made contact when no contact took place. Your mind, which is already imbued with passion, delusion and ignorance, feels even more longing and attachment for that form. What has actually happened is that the mind has simply been painting pictures and falling for its own pictures, so that it becomes caught up in its dreams and attachments, while its sensual desires grow deeper and deeper day by day, becoming more and more difficult to uproot.
A Dhamma student must use wisdom to find a deft way to eradicate harmful memories, suppositions and fabricated thoughts from the mind, using mindfulness to restrain the heart and wisdom to contemplate the negative side of sights, sounds, etc., at all times.
You have seen so many deaths in your life. Why do you not contemplate the death of others and refer it to your own impending death, so that your mind can gain a sense of the awesomeness of death? We enjoy bodily pleasures because we do not think about our own death. From now on use sammati to think about death in order to decrease defilements and craving. This is the technique of using sammati to eradicate sammati.
We are used to letting sankhárá fabricate our thinking about form and sound until the mind is full of passion and desire. From now on change your thinking. See it from the other side. Think against the stream. You have thought about beauty that fills your mind with passion and desire. From now on you will think about the foulness of the body, the suffering of the body and mind. Think about the impermanence of everything. Think about anattá, the lack of self. Nothing really belongs to you, not your property or even your body. Let the mind realize this not-selfness. Soon it will depart. You depend on it only while you are alive. This is the technique of thinking in the Dhamma way to counteract sankhárá. Use thinking to counteract thinking. Those who want to get away from this world must know it in all aspects so as to make the mind awed and weary of being born, as stated in the Pali:
"Natthi loke raho nama" meaning "There are no secrets in the world". Use wisdom to unmask completely the secrets of the world.
This is to suggest a way to practice samatha (concentration) and vipassana (insight) using the words of conventional truth to talk about or to teach Dhamma practice in the right way, so that those who follow the teaching will not misunderstand. Do not be like a blind man leading the blind. There is some hope of success if those with good eyes lead the blind, but at any rate if you do not make it to the goal, make sure at least that you do not let the blind lead you back to where you came from. Many people still misunderstand Dhamma practice. They think that wisdom arises from calmness of the mind in samádhi. If it were true, why is it that the non-Buddhist hermits never attained wisdom?
In vipassana practice one uses wisdom to contemplate, think and review causality reasonable and intelligently in accordance with the Truth. You already have wisdom and mindfulness, but you have not used them in Dhamma practice. You use them to think in the worldly sense all day without knowing that this brings sadness and sorrow to the mind. You think actively about sensual pleasure in line with your defilements and compounded thoughts. Why can you not do the same thing in the Dhamma sense? You have tied the knots and so must learn how to untie them. You have coated yourself with dirt, and so must know how to clean yourself. You know that you are drifting along in the stream of the world, so you must turn around and go against the stream. Do not let your mind flow downstream to the lower places.
Teach yourself to contemplate things with wisdom over and over again. When you do so, wisdom gradually increases, as in learning to read and write a foreign language. You develop skill by reading and writing often. In contemplation you may stumble in the beginning; for instance, you may contemplate in fits and starts, pondering for a while and then forgetting about is, without any technique for expanding on your insights. In the beginning it is bound to be like this, but after you have contemplate again and again, you are sure to become skilled. The wisdom of Right View that is developed in this way is the important basis. If you do not have it, you cannot develop your mind after you withdraw from concentration. But if you do, then after each concentration exercise you can discern things with wisdom. When you are tired of contemplation, you shift to concentration again.
This is the principle of wisdom supporting concentration and concentration supporting wisdom. The two support each other. Crude wisdom supports crude concentration. Intermediate wisdom supports intermediate concentration. In turn, crude concentration supports crude wisdom; intermediate concentration supports intermediate wisdom; and subtle concentration supports subtle wisdom. So samatha and vipassana connect in practice. Whichever comes first depends on yourself. You should observe yourself to see what is right for you. Remember that you must develop your own wisdom in Dhamma practice.
In this book, I have not explained what happens as the result of Dhamma practice, for I have already done so in my other books: "Going Against the Stream", "Cutting Off the Stream" and "Crossing the Stream". I am ready to answer any questions you may have from reading my books. Both the writer and the readers aim principally at having Right View. So may I bless you and my Dhamma students who have contributed to the printing of this book. May you be able to know the Truth with sharp wisdom by relying on your own ability, in line with the truth that one must be one’s own mainstay. Remember that others can merely guide you, but serious practice is your own duty.
Even if you have only a little intelligence, let it be intelligence of high
quality, which is better than a great deal of intelligence, which you cannot use
properly. The techniques in Dhamma practice must be specifically used to
eradicate defilements and craving. Do not blindly follow the Dhamma learned from
books to the point where you forget about your objective to fight against
defilement and craving attack, use wisdom to destroy them right there
immediately. Do not allow them to gain strength. In so doing you will be a real
Dhamma student. May whatever Noble Fruition you are capable of attaining in this
life be yours to know for yourself.
Preparation for Cankama Walk
The path for cankama walk should be about 1 meter wide and 15 meters long. It should be smooth so that the walker is not worried about stumbling while walking. To get started, stand at one end of the path facing the other end; the two palms are joined at the chest or forehead as a token of reverence to the Lord Buddha. Then make the following commitment:
"I now intend to practice a cankama walk as a tribute to the purity of the Lord Buddha, Dhamma and the Noble Ones; also to the virtues of my parents, teachers and those who have been kind to me. May I be able to develop mindfulness, calmness and the ability to know and see the Truth clearly. May the wholesomeness of my act inspire all beings to forgive one another and be happy."
Then put your hands down, the right hand grasping the back of the left in front of the body as when one stands in a solemn manner. Keep the mind in a neutral mood. Do not let it incline to any pleasant or unpleasant thought. Think, "From this moment on I will set aside all other thoughts but the intention to practice a cankama walk." Then follow these steps:
1. Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "Bud".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "dho".
Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "Dham".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "mo".
Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "San".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "gho".
2. Do 1. 3-7 times or more to bring Buddho, Dhamma, Sangho together into the mind.
3. Then do only the "Bud"-"dho" part and start walking
according to one of the following methods.
Mindfully take a step, thinking, "Bud"; then another, thinking "dho". Do this over and over as you walk along the path. At any time your attention is not on your step, you know that you have lost sati or mindfulness, and you must start again until your mind is fixed firmly on every step. Do not walk too fast or too slow. Walk at your regular speed.
This is a method of concentration development in which the act of walking is
used as the object of attention. When you reach one end of the walking path,
turn around by always making a right turn, and walk back and forth.
In this method, one uses breathing instead of walking as the object of
attention. Think "Bud" as you breathe in, and "dho" as you
breathe out. In this way, you concentrate on your breath and parikamma word -
"Bud"-"dho" – as a practice of concentration. When you get
tired of walking, simply stand still, but continue fixing your mind on
"Bud"-"dho" as before.
In this method, one concentrates on a part of one’s body. Pick any part that you feel is easy for you to concentrate on. This body part will be used as the object of attention, at which mindfulness and the "knowing" nature of the mind will stay together.
For a beginner, first practice by imagining the physical appearance of the
body part: for example, its color, texture and location. By doing this over and
over again, you can fix your mind on that part more quickly, either with or
without closing your eyes. When you gain enough skill for one part, you can then
move on to do the same for other parts. Seeing all body parts as having the same
basic characteristics by this method provides a good foundation for wisdom or
insight development (vipassana). This method does not depend on walking steps as
the object of attention. Instead, it uses the name of the body part – for
example, "taco" meaning, "skin," "atthi" meaning,
"bone" – as the parikamma word.
In this method, one concentrates on the mental objects – crude or delicate, pleasant or unpleasant – that arise in one’s mind. Just be mindful of the arising of mental objects, but do not think about their source, because in doing so you will intensify that feeling even more. Any mental object has its cause. Therefore you must be mindful enough to know and see clearly the cause of a mental object and watch how it can expand.
The cause here means the inner cause that already resides in the mind. There is fuel ready in the mind; that is, craving for more sensual objects and sensual moods. The mind has been craving for its food in terms of forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations for a long, long time – for innumerable past lives. Similarly, in one’s present life it craves for "hot" mental objects through the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. This has been impressed profoundly in the mind and serves as the inner cause of all mental objects. Forms, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations merely trigger the inner cause. When one perceives anything from the senses, one’s mind tends to hold onto the perception and think about it until it is fastened in the mind.
The mental object is where the mind is. Therefore when one concentrates on a mental object, one is actually watching one’s mind. While watching it, one should be aware when greed, anger, passion or delusion occur in the mind. One must be mindful enough to spot any "invader" of the mind and tone it down until it fades away. It is important, however, that you not let the mind think about the source of the mental object, which could be form, sound, smell, taste, touch or jealousy, because the feeling will be more intensified and can do more harm to the mind. The right way is to concentrate exclusively on the mental object as it arises in the mind. Fix your attention on it until you see clearly what it is really like. Soon it will lose strength and die down. This is the "inner war" or the confrontation between mindfulness and mental objects. Whether you will win or lose depends on the strength of your mindfulness.
At the end of a cankama walk, stand at one end of the path facing the other
end. Again, put the two palms together to pay respect to the Lord Buddha as when
you start, and say:
"I have finished a cankama walk as a tribute to the purity of the Lord Buddha, Dhamma and the Noble Ones. May this practice of mine be a blessing to myself as well as my parents, my teachers and all who have been kind to me. May heavenly beings, small and large animals and those who dislike me also be blessed by this wholesome act."
Then walk away from the path mindfully to continue concentration practice by
The seat for sitting practice should be neat and clean so that one has no worry bout it while sitting. To start, one pays respect to the Lord Buddha by repeating some chants, either briefly or lengthily as one wishes. At the end of the chants, bless oneself and other beings. For a layman, make a commitment to observe the Five Moral Precepts. This is to assure the purity of one’s mind during concentration practice. It is means of removing worry about physical or verbal unwholesome deeds in the past.
At this moment, one should be confident about the purity of one’s precepts and forget about evil acts in the past. Instead, one should recall one’s past wholesomeness, such as giving, precept observance, thoughts of benevolence for others, etc., to put the mind in a happy mood.
If one cannot formally make a resolution to a monk to observe the Five Moral
Precepts, one can make his own commitment anywhere, because essentially the
intent to relinquish physical and verbal misconduct is what counts in precept
One commits oneself to observe the Five Moral Precepts by reciting the following Pali:
Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Namo tassa Bhagavato Arahato Sammasambuddhassa
Buddham saranam gacchami
Dhammam saranam gacchami
Sangham saranam gacchami
Dutiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
Dutiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
Dutiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
Tatiyampi Buddham saranam gacchami
Tatiyampi Dhammam saranam gacchami
Tatiyampi Sangham saranam gacchami
Panatipata veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
Adinnadana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
Kamesumicchacara veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
Musavada veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
Suramerayamajjapamadatthana veramani sikkhapadam samadiyami
Those who cannot recite the above Pali can simply say the following:
1. I shall not kill any life.
2. I shall not steal.
3. I shall not commit adultery.
4. I shall not lie.
5. I shall not take alcohol or other intoxicants.
You must be true to yourself and your own commitment, and this is the correct way to observe the precepts.
After that, say the following Pali three times:
Imani panca sikkhapadani samadiyami cetanaham silam vadami
Then bow to the ground three times to pay respect to the Lord Buddha, Dhamma and the Noble Ones. For monks and novices, make sure about the purity of your precepts and vinaya. Do not let this point worry you while practicing concentration.
Now you are ready for the sitting. Remember that samádhi sitting can come either before or after a cankama walk. Or, if it is inconvenient to practice cankama walking, you can practice concentration simply by sitting.
For men, put your right leg over the left as you sit. For women, sit in the same way as men, or you can sit with both legs folded to one side (a typical posture for a Thai lady sitting on the floor). The important point is to choose a comfortable sitting position. Now relax and join both palms in front of your chest or forehead as a token of reverence to the Lord Buddha, and make the following commitment:
"I now intend to practice samádhi sitting as a tribute to the purity of the Lord Buddha, Dhamma and the Noble Ones…etc." just as in a cankama walk.
Then put your hands on your lap, the right hand on top of the left, both
palms up. Keep the upper body straight up. Be mindful inside. Do not let your
mind wander outwards, for it will invite sensual desires, resentment and ill
will, etc., into the mind, causing depression, frustration and restlessness.
Think instead, "At this moment, I shall stop thinking about external things
and keep my mind with the present only."
1. Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "Bud".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "dho".
Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "Dham".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "mo".
Mindfully breathe in slowly, thinking "San".
Mindfully breathe out slowly, thinking "gho".
2. Do 1. 3-7 times or more to bring Buddho, Dhamma, Sangho together into the mind.
3. Then do only the "Bud"-"dho" part. Breathe normally. Fix your attention on the parikamma words and your breath. Be mindful all the time. Do not let your attention slip away. Remember this: breathe in thinking "Bud," breathe out thinking "dho".
At any moment you do not breathe attentively – for example, you think
"Bud" ahead of an in-breath – you have lost mindfulness. At any time
you do not exhale together with "dho" with full attention, your
mindfulness has been disrupted. Therefore you must fox your mind firmly on
breathing with the appropriate parikamma word. Repeat this until you become
skilled a skilled mediator can keep his mind on breathing and parikamma words
for a long time. This is a good method. One knows when one loses mindfulness. It
is difficult in the beginning, but will get easier as one practices often. This
is a means of strengthening mindfulness and the "knowing" nature of
the mind, using breathing as the object of attention. A skilled mediator can
omit the parikamma words and keep mindful of breathing alone. The mind trained
in this way will experience more and more tranquility, and mindfulness will get
stronger and stronger.
In this method the parikamma words "Bud"-"dho" are omitted. Fix your mind on breathing alone. Know when breathing is heavy and watch it until it gets softer. Know when breathing is soft and watch it still until it gets even softer – extremely soft. At this point one has attained ekaggatarammana, one-pointed-ness of mind. The soft breath is a sign of a subtle mind. When the mind reaches this stage, one may experience many manifestations of the calm mind: for example, the body, the limbs or the head may seem enlarged. If this happens don’t be frightened. Keep on being mindful of your soft breath – nothing else but the soft breath. In about 5 minutes, the sensation of the enlarged body will disappear. In other cases, some meditators may feel taller; some shorter; some spinning around; some bending towards one side or another. Just be mindful of the breath. Ignore various expressions of the mind. These arise and will soon go away.
Sometimes your breath may be so soft that it seems to disappear. Those who are afraid of dying will withdraw from samádhi at this point. Actually, this is an indication that the mind is fully concentrated. Don’t be afraid. Just keep on watching the soft breath – nothing else – until finally you do not breathe at all. Here is the point at which the body does not seem to exist. There remains only the "knowing" nature of the mind. Sometimes a little or a lot of brightness appears all around even without the body this brightness reveals the true nature of the "knowing" mind. The brightness and lightness of mind at this moment will be the most miraculous experience in one’s life. There is nothing in the world to compare. Such tranquility lasts for about 10 minutes, and then breathing resumes. The happiness and lightness of the body and mind that one has experienced have no ordinary things to compare. The tranquility is so great that those who do not have enough wisdom will tend to long for it again. But those who have had enough discernment training before will contemplate it with wisdom and use it as a basis to develop mire and more wisdom. They do not attach to the happiness of the tranquil mind in samádhi, but use samádhi as a tool for more efficient wisdom development.
I would like to suggest one point to readers who have practiced concentration with firm intent, hoping that wisdom will occur in the tranquil mind. If you have never developed discernment into various aspects of the Dhamma, even though your concentration is developed to the absorbed state of samádhi – Samapatti or meditative attainment – it merely results in happiness of the body and mind. As concentration progresses, some may develop supernormal powers (abhinna): for example, the power to know past and future events, the ability to see things at distance with "inner eyes" or to hear with "inner ears" from afar, the power to do extraordinary things or to read peoples’ or even animals’ minds. Having gained such supernormal powers, they may easily claim that they have become arahants.
In the Lord Buddha’s time, there were 30 monks who had practiced concentration until their minds reached full tranquility. They experienced happiness of the body and mind that lasted for several days, until they were certain that they had demolished their defilements, craving and ignorance, and become arahants. They then wanted to tell the Lord Buddha about it. When the Lord knew about their coming, he sent Phra Ananda to meet them at the entrance to tell them not to see the Lord yet, but to remain in the cemetery first. Getting the Lord’s message, the 30 monks entered the cemetery. At that time, in the cemetery lay a naked body of a beautiful lady who had just died. The dead body looked like a woman asleep. The monks looked at it, first with curiosity, but then they were filled with passion and sexual desire! At this point they realized with embarrassment that they were not yet arahants, for their minds still had passion, desire and ignorance. They then contemplated what happened over and over again until they all became enlightened right there in the cemetery.
You can see how tranquility in samádhi can deceive you. In the Lord Buddha’s time, there were many cases similar to the 30 monks. If it happened nowadays, the 30 monks would have had no chance of correcting their mistake, and would have been false arahants all their lives. Today there are no fresh corpses lying in the cemetery for same thing to happen. So, those who patiently practice concentration waiting for wisdom to occur by itself from the tranquil mind should pause to think a little. Was there any monk in the Lord Buddha’s time who became an arahant by practicing concentration alone? The fact is that all arahants in the past had first practiced contemplation for the sake of wisdom development.
Nowadays some good teachers are still around. They practice contemplation
alternating with concentration. After withdrawing from tranquility, they
investigate things down to the Truth of all things: that is, suffering,
impermanence and not-selfness. They do not wait for wisdom to occur by itself.
So you must realize the difference and practice accordingly. Without a coconut
seed it is impossible to grow a coconut tree regardless of how well
you have prepared the soil for it. One gets the right tree only from the right
In this method, one fixes attention on a part of the body. Choose any part that is easy to visualize. This will be used as the site where mindfulness and the "knowing" nature of the mind will rest. The breath and parikamma words play only supporting roles. The focus is on the body part until one sees that part clearly and closely with one’s mind. If one is worried about breathing and parikamma words, the attention will be distracted, and one cannot see the body part clearly. The chosen part can be a scar. It can be in front or at the back of your body. Or it can be any part at all that feels right to focus on. At first think about its location, color and texture. If you cannot see it clearly, that shows that your intent and mindfulness are not firm enough. It is best to choose a small part so that one can focus on only a small area, similar to when one concentrates on a needle hole to thread a needle.
You first imagine the picture of the small area of your body. Do it over and
over until your mind can see that part instantly and naturally. Now you can
reflect on it in any way you like: for example, seeing it rot, separating it
from the bone, etc. This is a good basis for contemplation to develop wisdom.
The method of fixing the mind on a body part is to give the mind a place to
rest. It is just like a bird that needs a branch to rest on after flying. A body
part is taken as a resting place for a straying mind.
In this method the mind concentrates on mental objects arising in the mind, just as in the fourth method of cankama walk, only this time it is done in a sitting position, which is better because there is no movement of the body. The mind can concentrate on mental objects much better. Be aware when the mind is happy, suffering or in a neutral mood. Know when passion and desire arise. Know the rise and fall of feelings. Know which are causes and which are results. Notice that all continue in cycles, from past to present to future. They alternate in being causes and results and continue to roll on endlessly. Some old feelings are mistaken for new ones because of one’s unawareness of the on-going cycle. Thus one is actually driven in the wheel of the world by these deluding mental objects. Defilements, craving and ignorance are the causes of the love and hatred that arise and persist in the mind.
Therefore, developing mindfulness by using mental objects as the object of attention is a good practice for promoting discernment into the causality of all events. Knowing how a mental object arises, one can find ways to cut off the stream or the bridge of defilements or craving. If one does not know the causes, one does not know how to prevent the results. To get a sharp knife, one sharpens it. To eliminate heat, one extinguishes the fire. So, to get rid of suffering, one must demolish its causes.
The mind is where the mental object is, as heat is with fire. So, if you want to see your mind, see it through mental objects. Be mindful of an arising mental object. Keep watching it long enough until its cause is revealed. Then stop watching, and analyze it instead. Just as in a battle: When a soldier is able to spot his enemy, he stops searching and quickly fires at him. When a hunter finds game, he shoots it right away. When one sees that something is on fire, one puts it out immediately.
This is a method of discernment in trying to kill defilement and desires causing craving for sensuality. It allows wisdom to destroy the vicious cycle. This practice enables one to discover the "headquarters" of defilements and desires. Wisdom, conviction and effort can then be pooled to bombard and destroy the headquarters completely. In boxing, a boxer looks for a target to knock the other out. If he loses this time, he will try to win next time. In Dhamma practice you must have firm intent to develop wisdom; otherwise defilements and desires will be perpetual winners.
To be a strong Dhamma student, you must aim at the destruction of your chief enemy: the defilements. Direct your practice inwardly towards mental objects, and plan to clean all impurities out of your mind.