Usually when people encounter something
disagreeable to them they don't open up to it. Such as when people
are criticized: "Don't bother me! Why blame me?" This is someone
who's closed himself off. Right there is the place to practice. When
people criticize us we should listen. Are they speaking the truth?
We should be open and consider what they say. Maybe there is a point
to what they say, perhaps there is something blame-worthy within us.
They may be right and yet we immediately take offense. If people
point out our faults we should strive to be rid of them and improve
ourselves. This is how intelligent people will practice.
Where there is confusion is where peace can
arise. When confusion is penetrated with understanding what remains
is peace. Some people can't accept criticism, they're arrogant.
Instead they turn around and argue. This is especially so when
adults deal with children. Actually children may say some
intelligent things sometimes but if you happen to be their mother,
for instance, you can't give in to them. If you are a teacher your
students may sometimes tell you something you didn't know, but
because you are the teacher you can't listen. This is not right
In the Buddha's time there was one disciple who
was very astute. At one time, as the Buddha was expounding the
Dhamma, he turned to this monk and asked, "Sariputta, do you believe
this?" Venerable Sariputta replied, "No, I don't yet believe it."
The Buddha praised his answer. "That's very good, Sariputta, you are
one who us endowed with wisdom. One who is wise doesn't readily
believe, he listens with an open mind and then weighs up the truth
of that matter before believing or disbelieving."
Now the Buddha here has set a fine example for
a teacher. What Venerable Sariputta said was true, he simply spoke
his true feelings. Some people would think that to say you didn't
believe that teaching would be like questioning the teacher's
authority, they'd be afraid to say such a thing. They'd just go
ahead and agree. This is how the worldly way goes. But the Buddha
didn't take offense. He said that you needn't be ashamed of those
things which aren't wrong or bad. It's not wrong to say that you
don't believe if you don't believe. That's why Venerable Sariputta
said, "I don't yet believe it." The Buddha praised him. "This monk
has much wisdom. He carefully considers before believing anything."
The Buddha's actions here are a good example for one who is a
teacher of others. Sometimes you can learn things even from small
children; don't cling blindly to positions of authority.
Whether you are standing, sitting, or walking
around in various places, you can always study the things around
you. We study in the natural way, receptive to all things, be they
sights, sounds, smells, tastes, feelings or thoughts. The wise
person considers them all. In the real practice, we come to the
point where there are no longer any concerns weighing on the mind.
If we still don't know like and dislike as they
arise, there is still some concern in our minds. If we know the
truth of these things, we reflect, "Oh, there is nothing to this
feeling of liking here. It's just a feeling that arises and passes
away. Dislike is nothing more, just a feeling that arises and passes
away. Why make anything out of them?" If we think that pleasure and
pain are personal possessions, then we're in for trouble, we never
get beyond the point of having some concern or other in an endless
chain. This is how things are for most people.
But these days they don't often talk about the
mind when teaching the Dhamma, they don't talk about the truth. If
you talk the truth people even take exception. They say things like,
"He doesn't know time and place, he doesn't know how to speak
nicely." But people should listen to the truth. A true teacher
doesn't just talk from memory, he speaks the truth. People in
society usually speak from memory, he speaks the truth. People in
the society usually speak from memory, and what's more they usually
speak in such a way as to exalt themselves. The true monk doesn't
talk like that, he talks the truth, the way things are.
No matter how much he explains the truth it's
difficult for people to understand. It's hard to understand the
Dhamma. If you understand the Dhamma you should practice
accordingly. It may not be necessary to become a monk, although the
monk's life is the ideal form for practice. To really practice, you
have to forsake the confusion of the world, give up family and
possessions, and take to the forests. These are the ideal places to
But if we still have family and
responsibilities how are we to practice? Some people say it's
impossible to practice Dhamma as a layperson. Consider, which group
is larger, monks or laypeople? There are far more laypeople. Now if
only the monks practice and laypeople don't, then that means there's
going to be a lot of confusion. This is wrong understanding. "I
can't become a monk..." Becoming a monk isn't the point! Being a
monk doesn't mean anything if you don't practice. If you really
understand the practice of dhamma then no matter what position or
profession you hold in life, be it a teacher, doctor, civil servant
or whatever, you can practice the Dhamma every minute of the day.
To think you can't practice as a layman is to
lose track of the path completely. Why is it people can find the
incentive to do other things? If they feel they are lacking
something they make an effort to obtain it. If there is sufficient
desire people can do anything. some say, "I haven't got time to
practice the Dhamma." I say, "Then how come you've got time to
breathe?" Breathing is vital to people's lives. If they saw Dhamma
practice as vital to their lives they would see it as important as
The practice of dhamma isn't something you have
to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the
feelings which arise in your mind. When the eye sees form, ear hears
sounds, nose smells odors and so on, they all come to this one mind,
"the one who knows." Now when the mind perceives these things what
happens? If we like that object we experience pleasure, if we
dislike it we experience displeasure. That's all there is to it.
So where are you going to find happiness in
this world? Do you expect everybody to say only pleasant things to
you all your life? Is that possible? No, it's not. If it's not
possible then where are you going to go? The world is simply like
this, we must know the world -- Lokavidu -- know the truth of
this world. The world is something we should clearly understand. The
Buddha lived in this world, he didn't live anywhere else. He
experienced family life, but he saw its limitations and detached
himself from them. Now how are you as laypeople going to practice?
If you want to practice you must make an effort to follow the path.
If you persevere with the practice you too will see the limitations
of this world and be able to let go.
People who drink alcohol sometimes say, "I just
can't give it up." Why can't they give it up? Because they don't yet
see the liability in it. If they clearly saw the liability of it
they wouldn't have to wait to be told to give it up. If you don't
see the liability of something that means you also can't see the
benefit of giving it up. Your practice becomes fruitless, you are
just playing at practice. If you clearly see the liability and the
benefit of something you won't have to wait for others to tell you
about it. Consider the story of the fisherman who finds something in
his fish-trap. He knows something is in there, he can hear it
flapping about inside. Thinking it's a fish, he reaches his hand
into the trap, only to find a different kind of animal. He can't yet
see it, so he's in two minds about it. On one hand it could be an
but then again it could be a snake. If he throws it away he may
regret it...it could be an eel. On the other hand, if he keeps
holding on to it and it turns out to be a snake it may bite him.
He's caught in a state of doubt. His desire is so strong he holds
on, just in case it's an eel, but the minute he brings it and sees
the striped skin he throws it down straight away. He doesn't have to
wait for someone to call out, "It's a snake, it's a snake, let go!"
The sight of the snake tells him what to do much more clearly than
words could do. Why? Because he sees the danger -- snakes can bite!
Who has to tell him about it? In the same way, if we practice till
we see things as they are we won't meddle with things that are
People don't usually practice in this way, they
usually practice for other things. They don't contemplate things,
they don't reflect on old age, sickness and death. They only talk
about non-aging and non-death, so they never develop the right
feeling for Dhamma practice. They go and listen to Dhamma talks but
they don't really listen. Sometimes I get invited to give talks at
important functions, but it's a nuisance for me to go. Why so?
Because when I look at the people gathered there I can see that they
haven't come to listen to the Dhamma. Some are smelling of alcohol,
some are smoking cigarettes, some are chatting... they don't look at
all like people who have come out of faith in the Dhamma. Giving
talks at such places is of little fruit. People who are sunk in
heedlessness tend to think things like, "When he's ever going to
stop talking? ... Can't do this, can't do that ..." and their minds
just wander all over the place.
Sometimes they even invite me to give a talk
just for the sake of formality: "Please give us just a small Dhamma
talk, Venerable Sir." They don't want me to talk too much, it might
annoy them! As soon as I hear people say this I know what they're
about. These people don't like listening to Dhamma. It annoys them.
If I just give a small talk they won't understand. If you take only
a little food, is it enough? Of course not.
Sometimes I'm giving a talk, just warming up to
the subject, and some drunkard will call out, "Okay, make way, make
way for the Venerable Sir, he's coming out now!" -- trying to drive
me away! If I meet this kind of person I get a lot of food for
reflection, I get an insight into human nature. It's like a person
having a bottle full of water and then asking for more. There's
nowhere to put it. It isn't worth the time and energy to teach them,
because their minds are already full. Pour any more in and it just
overflows uselessly. If their bottle was empty there would be
somewhere to put the water, and both the giver and the receiver
In this way, when people are really interested
in Dhamma and sit quietly, listening carefully, I feel more inspired
to teach. If people don't pay attention it's just like the man with
the bottle full of water... there's no room to put anymore. It's
hardly worth my while talking to them. In situations like this I
just don't get any energy arising to teach. You can't put much
energy into giving when no-one's putting much energy into receiving.
These days giving talks tends to be like this,
and it's getting worse all the time. People don't search for truth,
they study simply to find the necessary knowledge to make a living,
raise families and look after themselves. They study for a
livelihood. There may be some study of Dhamma, but not much.
Students nowadays have much more knowledge than students of previous
times. They have all the requisites at their disposal, everything is
more convenient. But they also have a lot more confusion and
suffering than before. Why is this? Because they only look for the
kind of knowledge used to make a living.
Even the monks are like this. Sometimes I hear
them say, "I didn't become a monk to practice the Dhamma, I only
ordained to study." These are the words of someone who has
completely cut off the path of practice. There's no way ahead, it's
a dead end. When these monks teach it's only from memory. They may
teach one thing but their minds are in completely different place.
Such teachings aren't true.
This is how the world is. If you try to live
simply, practicing the Dhamma and living peacefully, they say you
are weird and anti-social. They say you're obstructing progress in
society. They even intimidate you. Eventually you might even start
to believe them and revert to the worldly ways, sinking deeper and
deeper into the world until it's impossible to get out. Some people
say, "I can't get out now, I've gone in to deeply." This is how
society tends to be. It doesn't appreciate the value of Dhamma.
The value of Dhamma isn't to be found in books.
those are just the external appearances of Dhamma, they're not the
realization of Dhamma as a personal experience. If you realize the
Dhamma you realize your own mind, you see the truth there. When the
truth becomes apparent it cuts off the stream of delusion.
The teaching of the Buddha is the unchanging
truth, whether in the present or in any other time. The Buddha
revealed this truth 2,500 years ago and it's been the truth ever
since. This teaching should not be added to or taken away from. The
Buddha said, "What the Tathagata has laid down should not be
discarded, what has not been laid down by the Tathagata
should not be added on to the teachings." He "sealed off" the
Teachings. Why did the Buddha seal them off? Because these Teachings
are the words of one who has no defilements. No matter how the world
may change these Teachings are unaffected, they don't change with
it. If something is wrong, even if people say it's right doesn't
make it any the less wrong. If something is right, it doesn't change
any just because people say it's not. Generation after generation
may come and go but these things don't change, because these
Teachings are the truth.
Now who created this truth? The truth itself
created the truth! Did the Buddha create it? No, he didn't. The
Buddha only discovered the truth, the way things are, and
then he set out to declare it. The truth is constantly true, whether
a Buddha arises in the world or not. The Buddha only "owns" the
Dhamma in this sense, he didn't actually create it. It's been here
all the time. However, previously no-one had searched for and found
the Deathless, then taught it as the Dhamma. He didn't invent it, it
was already there.
At some point in time the truth is illuminated
and the practice of Dhamma flourishes. As time goes on and
generations pass away the practice degenerates until the Teaching
fades away completely. After a time the Teaching is re-founded and
flourishes once more. As time goes on the adherents of the Dhamma
multiply, prosperity sets in, and once more the Teaching begins to
follow the darkness of the world. And so once more it degenerates
until such a time as it can no longer hold ground. Confusion reigns
once more. Then it is time to re-establish the truth. In fact the
truth doesn't go anywhere. When Buddhas pass away the Dhamma doesn't
disappear with them.
The world revolves like this. It's something
like a mango tree. The tree matures, blossoms, and fruits appear and
grow to ripeness. They become rotten and the seed goes back into the
ground to become a new mango tree. The cycle starts once more.
Eventually there are more ripe fruits which proceed to fall, rot,
sink into the ground as seeds and grow once more into trees. This is
how the world is. It doesn't go very far, it just revolves around
the same old things.
Our lives these days are the same. Today we are
simply doing the same old things we've always done. People think too
much. There are so many things for them to get interested in, but
none of them leads to completion. There are the sciences like
mathematics, physics, psychology and so on. You can delve into any
number of them but you can only finalize things with the truth.
Suppose there was a cart being pulled by an ox.
The wheels aren't long, but the tracks are. As long as the ox pulls
the cart the tracks will follow. The wheels are round yet the tracks
are long; the tracks are long yet the wheels are merely circles.
Just looking at a stationary cart you can't see anything long about
it, but once the ox starts moving you see the tracks stretching out
behind you. As long as the ox pulls, the wheels keep on
turning...but there comes a day when the ox tires and throws off its
harness. The ox walks off and leaves the empty cart sitting there.
The wheels no longer turn. In time the cart falls apart, its
components go back into the four elements -- earth, water, wind and
Searching for peace within the world you
stretch the cart wheel tracks endlessly behind you. As long as you
follow the world there is no stopping, no rest. If you simply stop
following it, the cart comes to rest, the wheels no longer turn.
Following the world turns the wheels ceaselessly. Creating bad
kamma is like this. As long as you follow the old ways there
is no stopping. If you stop there is stopping. This is how we
practice the Dhamma.