In Buddhism, the primary reason we study the Dhamma (the Truth) is to find the way to transcend suffering and attain peace. Whether you study physical or mental phenomena, the citta (mind or consciousness) or cetasika (mental factors), it is only when you make liberation from suffering your ultimate goal, rather than anything else, that you will be practising in the correct way. This is because suffering and its causes already exist right here and now.

As you contemplate the cause of suffering, you should understand that when that which we call the mind is still, it's in a state of normality. As soon as it moves, it becomes sankhara (that which is fashioned or concocted). When attraction arises in the mind, it is sankhara; when aversion arises, it is sankhara. If there is desire to go here and there, it is sankhara. As long as you are not mindful of these sankharas, you will tend to chase after them and be conditioned by them. Whenever the mind moves, it becomes sammuti-sankhara – enmeshed in the conditioned world – at that moment. And it is these sankharas – these movements of the mind – which the Buddha taught us to contemplate.

Whenever the mind moves, it is aniccam (impermanent), dukkham (suffering) and anatta (not-self). The Buddha taught us to observe and contemplate this. He taught us to contemplate sankharas which condition the mind. Contemplate them in light of the teaching of paticcasamuppada (Dependent Origination): avijja (ignorance) conditions sankhara (karmic formations); sankhara conditions vi๑๑ana (consciousness); vi๑๑ana conditions nama (mentality) and rupa (materiality); and so on.

You have already studied and read about this in the books, and what's set out there is correct as far as it goes, but in reality you're not able to keep up with the process as it actually occurs. It's like falling out of a tree: in a flash, you've fallen all the way from the top of the tree and hit the ground, and you have no idea how many branches you passed on the way down. When the mind experiences an arammana [1] (mind-object) and is attracted to it, all of a sudden you find yourself experiencing a good mood without being aware of the causes and conditions which led up to it. Of course, on one level the process happens according to the theory described in the scriptures, but at the same time it goes beyond the limitations of the theory. In reality, there are no signs telling you that now it's avijja, now it's sankhara, then it's vi๑๑ana, now it's nama-rupa and so on. These scholars who see it like that, don't get the chance to read out the list as the process is taking place. Although the Buddha analysed one moment of consciousness and described all the different component parts, to me it's more like falling out of a tree – everything happens so fast you don't have time to reckon how far you've fallen and where you are at any given moment. What you know is that you've hit the ground with a thud, and it hurts!

What takes place in the mind is similar. Normally, when you experience suffering, all you really see is the end result, that there is suffering, pain, grief and despair present in the mind. You don't really know whore it came from – that's not something you can find in the hooks. There's nowhere in the books where the intricate details of your suffering and it's causes are described. The reality follows along the same course as the theory outlined in the scriptures, but those who simply study the books and never get beyond them, are unable to keep track of these things as they actually happen in reality.

Thus the Buddha taught to abide as 'that which knows' [2] and simply bear witness to that which arises. Once you have trained your awareness to abide as 'that which knows', and have investigated the mind and developed insight into the truth about the mind and mental factors, you'll see the mind as anatta (not-self).

You'll see that ultimately all mental and physical formations are things to be let go of and it'll be clear to you that it's foolish to attach or give undue importance to them.

The Buddha didn't teach us to study the mind and mental factors in order to become attached to them, he taught simply to know them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta. The essence of Buddhist practice then, is to let them go and lay them aside. You must establish and sustain awareness of the mind and mental factors as they arise. In fact, the mind has been brought up and conditioned to turn and spin away from this natural state of awareness, giving rise to sankhara which further concoct and fashion it. It has therefore become accustomed to the experience of constant mental proliferation and of all kinds of conditioning, both wholesome and unwholesome. The Buddha taught us to let go of it all, but before you can begin to let go, you must first study and practise. This is in accordance with nature – the way things are. The mind is just that way, mental factors are just that way – this is just how it is.

Consider magga (the Noble Eightfold Path), which is founded on panna or Right View. If there is Right View it follows that there will be Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood and so on. These all necessarily involve mental factors which arise out of the knowing. The knowing is like a lantern. If there is Right Knowing it will pervade every aspect of the path, giving rise to Right Intention, Right Speech and so on, just like the light from a lantern illuminating the path along which you have to travel. In the end, whatever the mind experiences, it must arise from the knowing. If this mind didn't exist, the knowing couldn't exist either. These are the essential characteristics of the mind and mental factors.

All these things are mental phenomena. The Buddha taught that the mind is the mind – it's not a living being, a person, a self, an 'us' or a 'them'. The Dhamma is simply the Dhamma – it's not a living being, a person, a self, an 'us' or a 'them'. There's nothing which is substantial. Whatever aspect of this individual existence you choose, whether it's vedana (feelings) or sa๑๑a (perception), for example, it all comes within the range of the five khandhas [3] (aggregates). So it should be let go of.

Meditation is like a plank of wood. Lets say vipassana (insight) is one end of the plank and samatha (calm) is the other. If you were to pick the plank up, would just one end come up or would both of them? Of course, when you pick up the plank, both ends come up together. What is vipassana? What is samatha? They are the mind itself. At first the mind becomes peaceful through the practice of samatha, through samadhi (firmness of mind). By developing samadhi you can make the mind peaceful. However, if the peace of samadhi disappears, suffering arises. Why does suffering arise? Because the kind of peace which comes through samatha is itself samudaya (the Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering). It's a cause for suffering to arise. Even though a certain state of peace has been attained, the practice is not yet finished. The Buddha saw from his own experience, that this isn't the end of the practice. The process of becoming is not yet completely exhausted; the conditions for continued birth still exist; the practice of the Holy Life is still incomplete. Why is it incomplete? Because suffering still exists. He thus took up the calm of samatha and continued to contemplate it, investigating to gain insight until he was no longer attached to it. Such calm is one kind of sankhara and is still part of the world of conditions and conventions. Attaching to the calm of samatha means attaching to the world of conditions and conventions and as long as you are attached to conditions and conventions, you are attached to becoming and birth. That act of taking delight in the tranquillity of samatha is becoming and birth. When that restless and agitated thinking disappears through the practice of samatha, the mind attaches to the resultant peace, but it's another form of becoming. It still leads to further birth.

The cycle of becoming and birth arose again and, of course, the Buddha was immediately aware of it. The Buddha went on to contemplate the causes behind becoming and birth. As long as he was unable to completely comprehend the truth of this matter, he continued to use the tranquil mind as a means to penetrate deeper and deeper with his contemplation. He reflected upon all formations that arose, whether peaceful or agitated, until eventually he saw that all conditions are like a lump of red-hot iron. The five khandhas are just like this. When a piece of iron is glowing red hot all over, is there any part of it you can touch without getting burnt? Can there be anywhere at all which is cool? If you tried touching it on the top, the sides, underneath, or anywhere, would you be able to find a single spot which was cool? Obviously there wouldn't be a cool place anywhere, because that lump of iron is red-hot all over. Similarly, each of the five khandhas is as if red hot to the touch. It's a mistake to attach to calm states of mind, or think that the calm is you or that there is a self which is calm. If you presume that the calm is you or that there is someone who is calm, this only reinforces the idea that there's a solid entity, a self or atta. But this sense of self is just conventional reality. If you attach to the thought 'I'm peaceful', 'I'm agitated', 'I'm good', 'I'm bad', 'I'm happy' or 'I'm suffering', it means you are caught in more becoming and birth. It's more suffering. When happiness disappears it changes to suffering. If the suffering disappears it becomes happiness. And you get caught endlessly spinning around between happiness and suffering, heaven and hell, unable to put a stop to it.

The Buddha observed that his mind was conditioned in this way and reflected that the causes for becoming and birth were still present and the practice was still unfinished. As a result, he deepened his contemplation of the true nature of sankharas – because a cause exists, there is accordingly birth and death and these characteristics of movement back and forth in the mind. He contemplated this repeatedly to see clearly the truth about the five khandhas. All physical and all mental phenomena and everything that the mind thinks are sankharas. The Buddha taught that once you have discerned this, you'll let them go, you'll naturally give them up. These things should he known as they are in reality. As long us you don't know things in accordance with the truth you have no choice but to suffer. You can't let go of them. But once you have penetrated the truth and understand how things are, you see these things as deluding. This is what the Buddha meant when he explained that really, the mind which has seen the truth of the way things are is empty, it is inherently unentangled with anything. It isn't born belonging to anyone and it doesn't die as anyone's. It is free. It is bright and radiant, free from any involvement with external affairs and issues. The reason it gets entangled with external affairs is because it's deluded by sankharas and the very sense of self.

The Buddha thus taught us to look carefully at the mind. In the beginning what was there? There was really nothing there. The process of birth and becoming and these movements of mind weren't born with it and they don't die with it. When the Buddha's mind encountered pleasant mind-objects, it didn't become delighted with them, contacting disagreeable mind-objects, he didn't become averse to them – because he had clear knowledge and insight into the nature of the mind. There was the penetrating knowledge that all such phenomena have no real substance or essence to them. He saw them as aniccam, dukkham, anatta and maintained this deep and profound insight throughout his practice.

It is the knowing which discerns the truth of the way things are. The knowing doesn't become delighted or sad with things. The condition of being delighted is 'birth' and the condition of being distressed is 'death'. If there is death there must be birth, if there is birth there must be death. This process of birth and death is vatta - the cycle of birth and death which continues on endlessly.

As long as the mind of the practitioner gets conditioned and moved around like this, there need be no doubt as to whether the causes for becoming or rebirth still remain; there is no need to ask anyone. The Buddha thoroughly contemplated the characteristics of sankharas and as a result could let go of sankharas and each of the five khandhas. He became an independent observer, simply acknowledging their existence and nothing more. If he experienced pleasant mind-objects, he didn't become infatuated with them, but simply watched and remained aware of them. If he experienced unpleasant mind-objects, he didn't become averse towards them. Why was that? Because he had discerned the truth and so the causes and conditions for further birth had been cut off. The conditions supporting birth no longer existed. His mind had progressed in the practice to the point where it had gained its own confidence and certainty in its understanding. It was a mind which was truly peaceful – free from birth, ageing, sickness and death. It was that which was neither cause nor effect, nor dependent on cause and effect; it was independent of the process of causal conditioning. There were no causes remaining, they were exhausted. His mind had transcended birth and death, happiness and suffering, good and evil. It was beyond the limitations of words and concepts. There were no longer any conditions which would give rise to attachment in his mind. Anything to do with attachment to birth and death and the process of causal conditioning, would be a matter of the mind and mental factors.

The mind and mental factors do exist as part of reality. They truly exist in conventional reality, but the Buddha saw that however much we know about them or believe in them, it's of little real benefit. It is not the way to find real peace. He taught that once you know them, you should put them down, renounce them, let them go. Because the mind and mental factors are the very things which lead you to both that which is wrong and that which is right in life. If you are wise, they can lead you to what is right; if you are foolish they lead you to what is wrong. The mind and mental factors are the world. The Buddha used the things of the world to observe the world. Having observed the way things are, he came to know the world and described himself as being lokavidu – one who clearly knows the world.

Samatha and vipassana must be developed in yourself before you can really know the truth. It's possible to study from the books to gain theoretical knowledge of the mind and mental factors, but you can't use that kind of knowledge to actually cut off greed, hatred and delusion. You have only studied about the external characteristics of greed, hatred and delusion and are simply describing the different features of the defilements... greed is like this, hatred is like that and so on. You only know as much as their external qualities and superficial appearance, and can only talk about them on that level. You might have developed some awareness and insight, but the important thing is that when the defilements actually arise in the mind, does it fall under their control and take on their features? For instance, when you encounter an undesirable mind-object, a reaction will occur which leads to the mind taking on certain qualities. Do you attach to that reaction? Can you let go of your reaction? Once you become aware of aversion that has arisen, does 'that which knows' store that aversion in the mind, or having seen it, is 'that which knows' able to let it go immediately?

If, having experienced something you dislike, you still store up aversion in the mind, you must take your practice back to square one. Because you are still at fault; the practice is still not perfect. If it reaches the point of perfection, the mind will automatically let things go. Look at the practice in this way. You really have to look deeply into your mind for the practice to become paccatam [4]. If you tried to describe the mind and mental factors in terms of the number of separate moments of consciousness and their different characteristics in accordance with the theory, it still wouldn't be nearly enough. The truth has much more to it than this. If you are really going to learn about these things, you must gain clear insight and direct understanding to penetrate them. If you don't have any true insight, how will you ever get beyond the theory? There's no end to it. You would have to keep studying it indefinitely.

Thus the practice is thus the most important thing. In my own practice, I didn't spend all my time studying all the theoretical descriptions of the mind and mental factors – I watched 'that which knows'. When the mind had thoughts of aversion I asked, 'Why is there aversion?' If there was attraction I asked, 'Why is there attraction?' This is the way to practise. I didn't know all the finer points of theory or go into a detailed analytical break down of the mind and mental factors. I just kept prodding at that one point in the mind, until I was able to settle the whole issue of aversion and attraction and make it completely vanish. Whatever happened, if I could bring my mind to the point where it stopped liking and disliking, it had gone beyond suffering. It had reached the point where it could remain at ease, whatever it was experiencing. There was no craving or attachment ... it had stopped. This is what you're aiming for in the practice. If other people want to talk a lot about the theory that's their business. In the end, though, however much you talk about it, the practice has to come back to this point. Even if you don't talk much about it, the practice still comes back to this point. Whether you proliferate a lot or a little, it all comes back to this. If there is birth, it comes from this. If there is extinction, this is where the extinction occurs. However much the mind proliferates, it doesn't make any difference. The Buddha called this place 'that which knows'. It has the function of knowing according to the truth of the way things are. Once you have really discerned the truth, you automatically know the way the mind and the mental factors are.

The mind and the mental factor constantly deceive you, never letting up for a moment. When studying the books, you are merely studying the external form of' this deception. At the same time as you are studying about those things, they're deceiving you – there's no other way of putting it, Even though you are aware of them, they are still deluding you right at that moment. This is the way it is. The Buddha didn't intend that you should only know about suffering and the defilements by name, his aim was for you to actually find the way of practice which will lead you to transcend suffering. He taught to investigate and find the cause of suffering from the most basic to the most refined level. As for myself, I have been able to practise without a great amount of theoretical knowledge. It's enough to know that the Path begins with sila (moral restraint). Sila is that which is beautiful in the beginning. Samadhi is that which is beautiful in the middle. Panna (wisdom) is that which is beautiful in the end. As you deepen your practice and contemplation of these three aspects, they merge and become one thing, although you can still see them as three separate parts of the practice.

As a prerequisite for training in sila, panna must actually be there, but we usually say that the practice begins with sila. It's the foundation. It's just that panna is the factor that determines just how successful and complete the practice of sila is. You need to contemplate your speech and actions and investigate the process of cause and effect – which is all a function of panna. You have to depend on panna before sila can be established.

According to the theory, we say that it's sila, samadhi and then panna; but I've reflected on this and found that panna underlies all the other aspects of the practice. You need to fully understand the effects of your speech and actions on the mind and how it is that they can bring about harmful results. Through reasoned reflection you use panna to guide, control and thereby purify your actions and speech. If you know the different characteristics of your actions and speech which are conditioned by both wholesome and unwholesome mental states, you can see the place of practice. You see that if you're going to cultivate sila, it involves giving up evil and doing good; giving up that which is wrong and doing that which is right. Once the mind has given up doing wrong and has cultivated doing what is right, it will automatically turn inwards to us upon itself and become firm and steady. When it's free from doubt and uncertainty about speech and actions, the mind will be steadfast and unwavering, providing the basis for becoming firmly concentrated in samadhi. This firm concentration forms the second and more powerful source of energy in the practice, allowing you to more fully contemplate the sights, sounds and other sense objects which you experience. Once the mind is established with firm and unwavering calm and mindfulness, you can engage in the sustained contemplation of form, feeling, perception, thought and consciousness, and with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and mind-objects, and see that all of these are constantly arising. As a result you will gain insight into the truth of these phenomena and how they arise according to their own nature. When there is continuous awareness, it will be the cause for panna to arise. Once there is clear knowledge in accordance with the true nature of the way things are, your old sa๑๑a and sense of self will gradually be uprooted from it's former conditioning and will be transformed into panna. Ultimately, sila, samadhi and panna will merge in the practice, as one lasting and unified whole.

As panna strengthens, it acts to develop samadhi which becomes steadier and more unshakeable. The firmer samadhi becomes, the more resolute and complete sila becomes. As sila is perfected, it nurtures samadhi, and the strengthening of samadhi leads to a maturing of panna. These three aspects of the practice are pretty much inseparable – they overlap so much. Growing together, they combine to form what the Buddha called magga, the Path. When sila, samadhi and panna reach their peak, magga has enough power to destroy the kilesa [5]. Whether it be greed, hatred or delusion which arises, it is only the strength of magga which is capable of destroying it.

The four Noble Truths taught by the Buddha as a framework for practice are: dukkha (suffering), samudaya (the cause of suffering), nirodha (the end of suffering) and magga (the path leading to the end of suffering) which consists of sila, samadhi and panna – modes of training which exist the mind. Although I say these three words sila, samadhi, panna out loud, they don't exist externally, they are rooted in the mind itself.

It is the nature of sila, samadhi and panna to be at work continuously, maturing all the time. If magga is strong in the mind, whatever objects are experienced – whether they are forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations or thoughts – it will be in control. If magga is weak, the kilesa can take control. If magga is strong it will destroy the kilesa. When it's weak and the kilesa are strong, magga will be destroyed. The kilesa can destroy your very heart. If mindfulness isn't fast enough as forms, feelings, perceptions and thoughts arise into consciousness, they can destroy you. Magga and the kilesa thus proceed side by side. The place where you put effort into the practice is the heart. You have to keep sparring with the kilesa every step of the way. It's as if there are two separate people arguing inside your mind, but it's just magga and the kilesa struggling with each other. Magga functions to control the mind and fosters your ability to contemplate the Dhamma. As long as you are able to contemplate, the kilesa will be losing the battle. But if at any time your practice weakens and the kilesa regain their strength, magga will disappear and the kilesa will take its place. Necessarily, the two sides continue their struggle like this, until eventually there is a winner and the whole affair is settled. If you centre your efforts on developing magga, it will continue to destroy the defilements. Ultimately, dukkha, samudaya, nirodha and magga will come to exist in your heart – that's when you will have really practised with and penetrated the Four Noble Truths.

Whatever suffering arises, in whatever form, it must have a cause – that is samudaya, the second Noble Truth. What is the cause? The cause is that your practice of sila, samadhi and panna is weak. When magga is weak, the kilesa can take hold of the mind. When they do take over the mind, they become samudaya and inescapably give rise to different kinds of suffering. If suffering arises it means that the aspect which is able to extinguish suffering has disappeared. The factors which give rise to magga are sila, samadhi and panna. When they have reached their full strength, the practice of magga will advance inexorably, and will destroy samudaya – that which is able to cause suffering in the mind. It is then – when suffering is in abeyance, unable to arise because the practice of magga is in the process of cutting through the kilesa – that suffering actually dies out in the mind. Why are you able to extinguish suffering? Because the practice of sila, samadhi and panna has reached its highest level, which means that magga has reached the point where its progress has become unstoppable. I say that if you can practice like this, it will no longer matter where you have got to in studying the theoretical knowledge of the mind and mental factors, because in the end everything unifies in this one place. If the mind has transcended conceptual knowledge, it will be very confident and certain in the practice, having gone beyond all doubt. Even if it starts to wander off, you won't have to chase it very far to bring it back onto the path.

What are leaves of the mango tree like? It's enough just to pick up one leaf and look at it to know. Even if you look at ten thousand leaves, you won't see much more than you do looking at one. Essentially they are all the same. By looking at one leaf, you can know all mango leaves. If you look at the trunk of the mango tree, you only have to look at the trunk of one tree to know them all. All the other mango tree trunks are the same. Even if there were a hundred thousand of them, I would just have to look at one to really see them all. The Buddha taught to practise Dhamma in this way.

sila, samadhi and panna are what the Buddha called magga, but magga is still not the heart of the Buddha's teaching. It's not an end in itself and wasn't really what the Buddha wanted, just by itself. But it is the way which leads inwards. It would be like travelling from Bangkok to this monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong. What you want is to reach the monastery, you don't actually want the road or the tarmac itself, but you'd need to use the road for the journey to the monastery. The road and the monastery are not the same thing the road is simply the way to the monastery – but you have to follow the road if you want to reach the monastery.

You could say that neither sila, samadhi nor panna form the heart of Buddhism, but they do form the pathway by which the heart of Buddhism can be reached. Once you have practised with sila, samadhi and panna to the highest level, peace arises as a result. This is the ultimate aim of the practice. Once the mind is calm, even if you hear a sound it doesn't disturb it. Having attained such calm, you no longer create anything in the mind. The Buddha taught letting go. So whatever you experience, you don't have to fear or worry. The practice reaches the point where it is truly paccatam and because you have direct insight, you no longer simply have to believe what other people say.

Buddhism is not founded on anything strange or unusual. It doesn't depend on different kinds of miraculous displays of psychic powers or super human abilities. The Buddha did not praise or encourage those things. Such powers might exist and with your practice of meditation it might be possible to develop them, but the Buddha didn't praise or encourage them because they are potentially deluding. The only people he did praise were those beings who were able to free themselves from suffering. To do this they had to depend on the practice – our tools which are dana (generosity), sila, samadhi and panna. These are what we have to train with.

These things form the way which leads inwards, but in order to reach the final destination, there must first be panna to ensure the development of magga. Magga or the Eightfold Noble Path means sila, samadhi and panna. It cannot grow if the mind is covered over with kilesa. If magga is strong it can destroy the kilesa; if the kilesa are strong, they destroy magga. The practice simply involves these two things battling it out until the end of the path is reached. They have to struggle continuously, not ceasing, until the goal is reached.

The tools and supports of the practice are things which involve hardship and difficulty. We must depend on patience and endurance, restraint and frugality. We must do the practice for ourselves, so that it arises from within and really has transforms our own minds.

Scholars however, tend to doubt a lot. When they are sitting in meditation, as soon as there is a little bit of calm they start to wonder if perhaps they have reached first jhana [6]. They tend to think like this. But as soon as they start proliferating, the mind turns away from the object and they become completely distracted from the meditation. In a moment they're off again, thinking that it's second jhana already. Don't start proliferating about such matters. There aren't any signposts that tell you which level of concentration you have reached; it's completely different. There are no signs which sprout up and say, 'This way to Wat Nong Pah Pong'. There isn't anything for you to read along the way. There are many famous teachers who have given descriptions of the first, second, third and fourth jhana, but this information exists externally in the books. If the mind has really entered into such deep levels of calm, it doesn't know anything about such descriptions. There is awareness, but this is not the same as the knowledge you gain from studying the theory. If those who have studied the theory hang on to what they have learnt when they sit meditation, taking notes on their experience and wondering whether they have reached jhana yet, their minds will be distracted right there and turn away from the meditation. They won't gain real understanding. Why is that? Because there is desire. As soon as tanha (craving) arises, whatever the meditation you are doing, it won't develop because the mind withdraws. It is essential that you learn how to give up all thinking and doubting, give it up completely, all of it. You should just take body, speech end mind as it is, as the basis for the practice and nothing else. Contemplate the conditions of the mind, and don't lug the textbooks along with you. There are no textbooks within where you are doing the practice. If you try to take them in there with you, everything goes to waste, because they won't be able to describe how things are as you actually experience them.

People who have studied a lot and have all the theory down pat, tend not to succeed with meditation because they get stuck at the level of information. In actuality, the mind isn't something which you can really measure using external standards or textbooks. If it's really getting calm, allow it to become calm. In this way it can proceed to reach the very highest levels of tranquillity. My own knowledge of the theory and scriptures was only modest. I've already told some of the monks about the time I was practising in my third rains retreat; I still had many questions and doubts about samadhi, I kept trying to work it out with my thoughts and the more I meditated, the more restless and agitated the mind became. In fact it was so bad that I would actually feel more peaceful when I wasn't meditating. It was really difficult. But even though it was difficult, I didn't give up. I kept on practising, just the same. If I simply did the practice without having many expectations about the results, it was fine. But if I determined to make my mind calm and one-pointed, it would just make things worse. I couldn't work it out. 'Why is it like this?' I asked myself.

Later on I began to realise that it's the same as with the matter of breathing. If you determine to take only short breaths, or to take ‘ only medium size breaths, or to take only long breaths, it seems like a difficult thing to do. On the other hand, when you are walking around, unaware of whether the breath is going in or going out, you are comfortable and at ease. I realised that the practice is similar. Normally, when people are walking around and not meditating on the breath, do they ever suffer because of their breathing? No. It's not really such a problem. But if I sat down and determined to make my mind calm, it would automatically become upadana (attachment), there was clinging in there too. I became so determined to force the breath to be a certain way, either short or long, that it became uneven and it was impossible to concentrate or keep my mind on it. So then I was suffering even more than I had been before I started meditating. Why was that? Because my determination itself became attachment. It shut off awareness and I couldn't get any results. Everything was burdensome and difficult because I was taking craving into the practice with me.

On one occasion I was walking cankama [7] sometime after eleven o'clock at night. There was a festival going on in the village, which was about half a mile from the forest, monastery where I was staying. I was feeling strange, and had been feeling like that since the middle of the day. I was feeling unusually calm and wasn't thinking very much about anything. I was tired from walking meditation, so I went to sit in my small grass-roofed hut. Then just as I was sitting down, I found I had barely enough time to tuck my legs in before my mind went into this deep place of calm. It happened just by itself. By the time I got myself into the sitting posture the mind was already deeply calm and I felt completely firm and stable in the meditation. It wasn't that I couldn't hear the sounds of people singing and dancing in the village; I could still hear them. But at the same time, I could turn my attention inwards so that I couldn't hear the sounds as well. It was strange. When I paid no attention to the sounds there was silence, I couldn't hear anything. But if I wanted to I could hear them and without feeling disturbed. It was as if inside my mind there were two different objects placed side by side, but not connected to one another. I could see that the mind and the object were separate and distinct, just like the water kettle and the spittoon here. As a result I understood that when the mind is calm in samadhi, if you direct your attention towards sounds, you can hear them, but if you remain with the mind, in its emptiness, it remains quiet. If a sound arises into consciousness and you watch what happens, you see that the knowing and the mind-object are quite separate.

So I reflected: 'If this isn't it, then what else could be. This is the way it is – the two phenomena aren't connected at all.' I continued to contemplate until I realised the importance of this point: when santati (the continuity of things) was broken, the result was santi (peace of mind). Formally there was santati and now santi had emerged from it. The experience of this gave me energy to persist with my meditation. I put intense effort into the practice and was indifferent to everything else, the mind didn't lose its mindfulness even for an instant. If I'd wanted to stop meditating, however, I would have easily done so. And once I did stop formal practice, was there any laziness, tiredness or irritation? None at all. The mind was completely free from such defilements. What was left was the sense of complete balance or 'just-rightness' in the mind. If I was going to stop, it would just have been to rest the body, not for anything else.

Virtually I did take a break. I just stopped sitting so formally, but the mind didn't stop. It remained in the same state and continued with the meditation as before. I pulled over my pillow and prepared to rest. As I lay down, my mind was still just as calm. As I was about to lay my head on the pillow, the mind inclined inwards – I didn't know where it was headed, but it kept moving deeper and deeper within. It was as if someone had turned on a switch and sent an electric current along a cable. With a deafening bang, the body exploded from the inside. The awareness inside the mind at that moment was at it's most refined. Having passed beyond a certain point, it was as if the mind was cut loose and had penetrated to the deepest, quietest spot inside. It settled there in a realm of complete emptiness. Absolutely nothing could penetrate it from outside. Nothing could reach it. Having stayed in there for a while, awareness then withdrew. I don't mean to say that I made it withdraw; I was merely watching – just witnessing what was going on. Having experienced these things, the mind gradually withdrew and returned to its normal state.

Once the mind had returned to normal, the question arose: 'What happened?' The reply that came to it was, 'These things are natural phenomena which occur according to causes and conditions; there's no need to doubt about them.' I only needed to reflect a little like this and the mind accepted it. Having paused for a while, it inclined inwards again. I didn't make any conscious effort to direct the mind, it went by itself. As it continued to move deeper and deeper inwards, it hit the same switch like before. This time the body shattered into the most minute and refined particles. Again, the mind was cut loose and slipped deep inside itself. Silence. It was at an even deeper level of calm than before – nothing could penetrate it. Following it's own momentum, the mind stayed like that some time and then withdrew as it wished. Everything was happening automatically. There was no one influencing or directing events; I didn't try to make things happen, to enter that state or withdraw from it in any particular way. I was simply keeping with the knowing and watching. Eventually, the mind withdrew to a state of normality, without stimulating any more doubts. I continued to contemplate and the mind inclined inwards again. The third time I had the experience of the whole world completely disintegrating. The earth, vegetation, trees, mountains, in fact the entire planet appeared as akasa-dhatu (the space element). There were no people or anything else left at all. At this last stage there was complete emptiness.

The mind continued to dwell within on it's own peacefully, without being forced. I don't know how to explain how it happened like that, or why. It's difficult to describe the experience or talk about it in a way that anyone else could understand. There's nothing you can compare it with. The last time the mind stayed in that state far longer and then when its time was up, it withdrew. Saying that the mind withdrew, doesn't mean that I was controlling it and making it withdraw – it withdrew by itself. I simply watched as it returned to normal. Who could say what happened on these three occasions? Who could describe it? Maybe there's no need to describe it?



[1] Arammana: the object which is presented to the mind (citta) at any one moment. As a supporting condition for mental states, this object maybe derived externally from the five senses or directly from the mind (memory, thoughts, feeling or consciousness). In the Thai language it can also refer to an emotional mental state, either good or bad, though strictly speaking it refers to the object which arouses that state. [Back]

[2] 'That which knows' is a mode of the mind. It refers to an inner faculty of awareness which, while under the influence of avijja, might know things wrongly, but can be trained through the practice of the Eightfold Noble Path. [Back]

[3] Khandhas: Groups or aggregates: form (rupa), feeling (vedana), memory and perception (sa๑๑a), thought formations (sankhara) and consciousness (vi๑๑ana). These are the five groups, which form what we call a person. [Back]<

[4] Paccatam: one experiences the fruits for oneself through one's own insight. [Back]

[5] Kilesa: defilements. Things which defile or stain the heart, including: greed, hatred, delusion, restless agitation and so on. [Back]

[6] Jhana: Various levels of meditative absorption. [Back]

[7] Cankama: The method of practising meditation while walking to and fro. [Back]