The written theory is correct, but the Dhamma must really be opanayiko (leading inwards). You must internalise it. If you don't internalise it, you won't really gain understanding or insight. You won't experience the truth for yourself. I was the same in my youth. I didn't study all the time, though I had taken the first three levels of exams on the theory of Dhamma-Vinaya. I had the chance to go and hear different teachers talking about their meditation practice, but at first I was heedless and didn't know how to listen properly. I didn't understand the way the meditation masters expressed themselves when they talked about the practice. They spoke directly from their personal experience, describing how they came to see the Dhamma from within their own minds rather from the books. Later on, after I had done more of the practice for myself, I began to see the truth in the same way as described by those teachers. I was able to understand for myself, from within my own mind, what they had been teaching. Eventually, after many years of practice, I realised that all that knowledge which they had imparted in their teaching came from what they had seen and directly experienced for themselves – they didn't just speak from the books. If you follow the path of practice which they described, you will experience the Dhamma to just the same profundity. I concluded that this was the right way to practise. There might well be other ways to practise, but just this much was enough for me, and I stuck to it.

You must keep putting effort into the practice. In the beginning the important thing is to be doing it. Whether the mind is actually peaceful or not, it doesn't matter – you just have to accept it the way it is. You are concerned with creating wholesome causes. If you are diligent in the practice, you don't need to worry about what the results will be like. You shouldn't be afraid that you won't gain any results from your practice. Worrying like that just prevents the mind from becoming peaceful. Persevere with it. Of course, if you don't do the practice then who will gain anything? Who will realise the Dhamma? Only the one who seeks will realise the Dhamma. It is the one who eats who satisfies his hunger, not the one who reads the menu. Each and every mood is lying to you; if you are aware of it happening just ten times, that's better than nothing. The same old person keeps lying about the same old things. If you are simply aware of what goes on that's already good, because it takes so long before you even become aware of the truth. The defilements are trying to delude you all the time.

Practice means to establish sila, samadhi and panna in your mind. Recollect the qualities of the Triple Gem – the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha – and let go of everything else. As you practise right here, you are already creating the causes and conditions for enlightenment in this very lifetime. Be honest, sincere and keep doing it.

The nature of the practice is such that even if you are sitting on a chair, you can still fix attention on a meditation object. At first you don't have to concentrate on many different things, it is enough just to focus on one simple object, such as the breath, or the recitation of a mantra like Buddho, Dhammo or Sangho used in conjunction with the breath. When you fix attention on the breath, make a clear mental determination that you are not going to force it in any way. If you get disturbed by the breathing, it's a sign that you still aren't practising in the right way. If you are not at ease with the breath then it will always seem either too short or too long, too gentle or too forceful and it won't feel comfortable. But once you do feel at ease with it and there is awareness of each in-breath and out-breath, you've got it right. This indicates you are practising in the correct way. If it's not yet right, you are still deluded. If you are still deluded then stop the meditation and re-establish mindfulness on the breathing. In the course of the meditation, if the desire arises to experience different things, or you actually do start to experience different psychic phenomena, such as bright lights or visions of celestial palaces or other similar things, don't be afraid. Be mindful of such experiences and keep doing the meditation. Sometimes you might be meditating and the sensation of the breath totally disappears. It might truly seem to have vanished making you afraid. Actually, there's no need to be afraid, it's only your thoughts that have vanished, the breath is still there, but is simply operating on a much more refined level than normal. Once an appropriate period of time has elapsed, the sensation of the breathing will return by itself.

In the beginning you have to practise making the mind calm in this way. Whenever you sit down to meditate – whether on a seat somewhere, or in a car or a boat – you should be able to calm the mind right away by focusing attention on your meditation object. You have to practise to the point where, if you get on a train to travel somewhere, you should be able to sit down and enter a state of calm, almost immediately. If you have trained yourself this thoroughly, you will be able to meditate anywhere. I t means you already have some insight into the path of practice and can use this as a basis for contemplating mind-objects: sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations and ideas. Be aware of all the liking and disliking which you experience and don't make anything out of such mental-states. If you experience a pleasant object, know it as pleasant; if you experience an unpleasant one, know it as unpleasant. These are part of conditioned reality. Whether they're good, bad or whatever, they're all having the same characteristics, they're all aniccam, dukkham and anatta. Things that are uncertain, so don't attach or cling to them. This is a teaching or mantra that you should keep repeating to yourself. If you keep seeing these three characteristics, panna will arise by itself. The heart of vipassana meditation is to throw each mind-object which you experience into these three 'pits' of aniccam, dukkham and anatta.

Whatever it is, whether good, bad or worse, throw it into these three pits and very soon you will start to gain knowledge and insight. Panna will begin to arise in small amounts, which is what meditation is all about. Keep putting a consistent effort into it. You've been keeping the five precepts for many years now, so it's time to really put some effort into the meditation. You have to gain insight into the truth of things so that you can let go, give things up and be peaceful.

I'm not very good at having lengthy discussions about the Dhamma. It's difficult to put it all into words. If anyone wants to know how I practise, they should come and live here. If they stay here long enough, they will get to know. In the past I've gone around on foot to study and practice with different teachers. I didn't go to make other people listen to me. I went to listen to the various Masters teach the Dhamma; I didn't try to teach them. Whatever they taught I listened; even if they were young or didn't have much of a reputation I listened. I didn't go in for discussion – I didn't see that there was any need for a lot of discussion. That which was important and worth taking an interest in, involved renunciation and letting go. The whole purpose of the practice is for giving up and letting things go. Ultimately, it's fruitless doing a great amount of formal study. Day by day you are getting older and older and if all you do is study the words, it's like chasing a mirage – you never really get hold of the real thing. There are many styles and methods of practice and I'm not critical of them, as long as you understand what the true meaning and purpose of the practice is. If for instance, practitioners are not keeping the Vinaya strictly, although they might not necessarily be going that wrong, I would say that they would find it impossible to attain ultimate success in the practice. It's like trying to bypass magga or skipping over sila, samadhi and panna. Some people tell you not to get attached to samatha, that you shouldn't bother with it and just go straight on to vipassana, but from my experience if you try to skip over samatha and just do vipassana, it won't lead to success.

Don't disregard the way of practice and the foundation which has been left for us by Tan Ajahn Sow, Tan Ajahn Mun, Tan Ajahn Tongrut and Tan Chao Khun Upali. If you train yourself following in the footsteps of these Masters, it's the most direct way to enlightenment, because they actually realised the Dhamma for themselves. They didn't bypass the sila; they tried to be scrupulous and impeccable with it. Their disciples had the utmost respect both for the teacher and the monastery regulations and ways of practice. If the teacher told you to do something, you did it. If he said you were doing something wrong and you should stop, you stopped. These teachers taught to practise with determination and sincerity until you actually saw and experienced results in your own mind. As a result, the disciples of the great forest Masters had the deepest respect for and were somewhat in awe of the teacher, because it was through following in his footsteps that they came to see and understand the Dhamma.

So, try it out in the way I have suggested. If you do the practice, you will see and experience the results for yourself. If you really practise and investigate the truth there is no reason why you shouldn't experience them in just the way I've described. I say that if you are practising in the right way – which means giving up, speaking little, letting go of views and conceit – the kilesa will be unable to gain a foothold in the mind. You are able to listen peacefully to those who speak what is not true, just as you are able listen to those who speak the truth, because you know how to contemplate the truth for yourself. I say this is possible, if you really put effort into the practice. But it's not often that the scholars actually come and do the practice, there are still too few of them that do. I feel a sense of regret that many of my fellow Buddhists are like this and I consistently try to encourage them to get down to the practice and start contemplating.

That those of you who have previously trained as scholars have managed to come here and practise is admirable; you have your own good qualities which you can offer to the community. In most of the village monasteries around here, it is the study of the scriptures and the theory which is emphasised, but ultimately, they are studying that which just goes on and on in an endless, unbroken flow. They never manage actually to cut through the flow and finish. They only study that which is santati and sandhi, or that which gives rise to continued birth. If you can halt the mental momentum, you can really use your theoretical knowledge as a basis for research and investigation into the cause of suffering. Because the true nature of the mind doesn't deviate from what you have learnt in the books, it goes in accordance with what you have studied. But if you study without ever practising, you will never really know. Once you have practised, you can gain a deep and profound knowledge, actually seeing and understanding clearly in the mind those things which you have studied in the books. The important thing is to start practising.

So go and live in a small hut in the forest, make the effort to train yourself and experiment with the teaching. It's better than just studying the theory. Practise discussing the Dhamma inwardly with yourself, living in seclusion and observing your heart and mind. When the mind is still, it's in a state of normality. When it moves out from that state of normality, when different thoughts and imagination arise, that is sankhara. These sankharas will continue to condition the mind, so be careful and maintain awareness of them. Once the mind moves out from the state of normality, it will no longer be samma patipada. It will either go in the direction of kamasukhallikanuyogo or attakilamathanuyogo. These two tendencies are citta sankhara conditioning the mind. If the conditioning is wholesome, the mind takes on wholesome characteristics; if the conditioning is unwholesome, it takes on unwholesome ones. The process takes place in the mind. If you are practising awareness, closely observing the mind, it's actually very interesting. I would be happy to talk about this one topic the whole day through.

Once you are aware of the movements of the mind, you can see the conditioning process. The mind has been raised and trained by the defilements. I see it as being like a central place. These things which we call cetasika (mental factors) are like visitors which come to stay at this place. Sometimes this 'person' comes to visit; sometimes that 'person' comes to visit and sometimes someone else. They all come to stay at this one spot. All these 'visitors', which arise out of the mind, we call mental factors.

The way to practise is to awaken the mind and make it 'that which knows', waiting and watching over itself. Whenever a visitor approaches, you must wave your hand to forbid them from coming in. Where could they sit, when the whole day long you occupy the only seat available, your awareness being right in the centre, receiving all the visitors who come? This is what 'Buddho' means: a firm and unshakeable awareness. If you can sustain this awareness, it will guard the mind. You simply sit down and establish awareness on this one spot, because this is where all the visitors have come to, right from the time you were just a baby throughout your entire life up until the present. So you must get to know them all and this is how. You simply sustain 'Buddho'. All these visitors will tend to want to fashion and concoct the mind in various ways, conditioning your experience accordingly. These conditioned states, which are produced by the actions of the visitors, are called mental factors. Whatever their nature might be or wherever they might lead the mind is not the important thing. Your job is to get to know these visitors who drop in. Whenever visitors arrive they will find that there is only one chair available and as long as you occupy it, they will have nowhere to sit down. They come with the intention of speaking with you, but there is nowhere for them to settle down.

However many times these visitors come, they keep meeting the same person sitting in the same seat receiving guests, and that person never seems to go. How many times will they keep coming back? All you have to do is sit there receiving them and you will come to know them all. Everything that you have ever experienced since you first had knowledge of the world, will come to visit right at that place. You only have to know this much.

If you watch and contemplate the Dhamma just at this one place, you will be able to develop insight which is capable of penetrating everything. This is where you watch, investigate and contemplate for yourself.

This is just talking about Dhamma practice, I can't talk about much else. This is the way I talk about the Dhamma, but in the end it's still just talking about the practice. What's appropriate now is actually to do the practice. When you start doing it, you will meet with various experiences in the course of the practice. There are, of course, given directions to follow telling you where to go and what to do ... if this happens, do that and so on, but often when you proceed and it doesn't work out well, you have to reflect and adjust your approach. You may have to travel a long way to come across a signpost, before you realise which is the right way to go. It comes down to the fact that you learn through making mistakes and through working with your experience until you become established in the right way of practice and you are beyond doubt. If you still haven't found the correct way to practise, you're bound to meet with some doubt or obstruction, so then you must keep prodding and poking right at that spot. Once you investigate, consider it from various angles, talk it through with yourself, this will really make an impression on the mind and you'll know what to do. If you really get stuck, you can consult the teacher, who has plenty of experience in confronting obstacles whilst training the mind and he'll be able to advise on the way to practise with them and get beyond them. Having access to a teacher can be immensely valuable – someone who's been there, who knows the terrain. Someone you can take your confusion to, someone you can discuss your practice with.

Consider practising with mind-objects such as sound. There is hearing and there is sound – you can be aware of the sound without making anything out of it. Make use of natural phenomena like this to contemplate the truth, until the mind is able to separate the mind from the object. This distinction comes to he discernible because the mind doesn't go out and get involved with things. When the ear hears a sound, watch to see whether the mind gets tangled up or carried away with it. Is it disturbed? If you can know and see just this much, you'll be able to hear sounds without being disturbed by them. This is the cultivation and establishment of mindfulness right here, close at hand. It's not something you have to go elsewhere to do. Even if you want to avoid sound, you can't really get away from it. It's only really possible to 'get away' from sounds by practising. That means training the mind until it is firm enough in the practice of mindfulness to be able to let go when there is sense contact. There is still hearing, but at the same time you let the object go. In this case when there is mindfulness, this letting go is natural. You let it be as it is. You don't have to struggle to separate the mind from the object, the separation is quite obvious to you because you are practising abandoning, letting go. Even if you felt inclined to follow the sound, the mind wouldn't go after it.

Once you are fully mindful of forms, sounds, smells, tastes, tangible objects and thoughts, you will see them clearly as they truly are in reality, with the internal eye of wisdom. They are dominated by the three universal characteristics of aniccam, dukkham and anatta. Whenever you hear a sound, for instance, there will be immediate insight into the three characteristics in the process of having that experience. It's like you no longer hear it, you don't hear it in the usual way, because you see that the mind is one thing, the object is another. But that doesn't mean the mind is no longer functioning. Mindfulness is monitoring and watching over the mind at all times. If you're able to develop your practice to this level, it will mean wherever you are or whatever you are doing, you will be engaged in investigating the Dhamma. This is dhamma-vicaya or one of the essential factors of enlightenment [15]. If this factor is present in the mind, it means that there will be intensive and sustained consideration and reflection on the Dhamma going on at all times, and this will gradually loosen and undo your attachment to body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness. Nothing will be able to disturb or intrude upon the mind when it is absorbed in its work of reflection.

For one who is experienced and has developed concentration, this process of reflection and investigation takes place automatically in the mind – it's not something you have to think about or create. The mind will immediately be adept in contemplation in whatever direction you point it. If you are practising in this way, one additional thing that occurs is that once you have established mindfulness before you go to sleep, you no longer habitually snore, talk in your sleep, gnash your teeth or writhe about. If meditation is established in the mind, all of that disappears. Even if you sleep deeply, when you awaken you will feel like you haven't been asleep, and you won't feel tired or sleepy. In the past you might have slept snoring heedlessly, but if you really develop wakefulness, that can't happen. How could you snore when you don't really sleep? It is just the body which stops and rests. With this level of mindfulness the mind is awake at all times of the day and night. It is 'Buddho': knowing, awake, clear and bright with its own inner happiness. At this level the mind has it's own self-sustaining energy and is free of drowsiness, even though it doesn't sleep in the normal sense. If you have developed your meditation to this point, you might be able to keep going for two or three days without sleep. Even then, if you start to feel sleepy because the body has become exhausted, you can focus on your meditation object and enter a state of deep samadhi immediately, and because of your skill, you might only need to stay in it for five or ten minutes to feel as refreshed as if you had slept all day and all night.

As far as going without sleep is concerned, if you are beyond worrying about the body then there is no problem, but you should know what amount is right. You should reflect on the state of the body and what it's been through and then adjust your sleep according to its needs. When you have reached this stage in practice, you don't have to consciously tell the body what to do, it tells itself. There is a part of the mind that is constantly prodding and urging you on. Even if you feel lazy, you won't he able to indulge in moods because there will always be this voice encouraging and arousing you to make diligent effort. You will reach a point where you can no longer stagnate, where the practice takes care of itself. Try it out. You have done enough study and received enough teaching already, now it's time to use what you've learned to train yourself.

In the beginning, kaya-viveka (physical seclusion) is very important. It's good to reflect on the Venerable Sariputta's teaching that kaya-viveka is the cause for the arising of citta-viveka (mental seclusion) and citta-viveka is the cause for the arising of upadhi-viveka (seclusion from the defilements or Nibbana). Some people say that it's not important and that if you are peaceful, you can live anywhere. That's true, but in the early stages of your practice, you should see kaya-viveka as really necessary. One day you should try going to stay in a lonely cremation ground, miles away from anyone, or go up and meditate on some really desolate and scary place. Make the practice challenging the whole night through, so you know what it truly feels like.

In my early years, I also used to think kaya-viveka was not so important. It was just an opinion I held, which didn't actually come from experience. Once I started to practice, I actually began to apply the Buddha's teaching to my meditation and realised how at first kaya-viveka gives rise to citta-viveka. When you are still a householder, what kind of kaya-viveka do you get? As soon as you step inside the front door there's confusion and complications, because there's no physical seclusion. If you leave the house and go to a secluded place, then the atmosphere for practice is totally different.

You must understand for yourself the importance of kaya-viveka when you begin practice. Once you gain kaya-viveka, you start to practise and gain knowledge of the Dhamma. Once you start to practise, you need a teacher to give teaching and advice in areas where you still misunderstand, because in actual fact it's where you misunderstand that you think you understand correctly. If you have a skilful teacher, they can advise you until you see where you have gone wrong. It's usually in the very place where you thought you were correct, because your misunderstanding covers over all your thinking.

Some of the scholar monks have studied a great deal and investigated the texts thoroughly, but I recommend people to give themselves to the practice. When it's time to study, it's all right to open the books and learn the conventional theory and form, but when it's time to fight with the defilements, you have to go beyond the theory and conventions. If you try fighting following the textbook model too closely, you won't be able to defeat your opponents. If you truly want to get to grips with the defilements, you have to go beyond the books. This is the way the practice has to be in reality. The textbooks were only compiled with the intention of providing teachings in the form of examples. If you attach too firmly to the books they could even cause you to lose your mindfulness, because they were written on the basis of the saρρa and sankhara of the writers, who didn't necessarily understand that all sankhara do is condition the mind. Before you know it, they're off down into the distant depths of the earth meeting with magical serpents (nagas), and when they come back up again they start speaking serpent language and nobody knows what they are talking about. It's just crazy.

The forest Masters didn't teach to practise like that. You might imagine the things in the books to be exciting and interesting, but it isn't like that. Our teachers showed us the way to give up defilements and root out our views, conceit and sense of self. It's a practice which involves dealing with the flesh and blood of the defilements. However difficult it seems, you shouldn't he too quick to throw out what you have inherited from these teachers of the forest tradition. It can be possible to get quite deeply deluded about the mind and the practice of samadhi, because in the course of practice, things which would normally seem unlikely to happen might actually come up, so you can't always trust yourself. What would you do in such a situation? I'm always careful about this.

In my first two or three years of practice I still couldn't really trust myself, but after I became more experienced in meditation and began to have some insight into the dynamics of the mind, there were no problems. Whatever manifests in the course of the practice, let it happen. Don't try to resist it. If you understand how to practise, all these things will cease harmlessly by themselves. They turn into objects for contemplation and so you can use them as material for your meditation and continue in a relaxed way. Perhaps you still have not tried this out. You have done some meditation before haven't you? Sometimes in the course of meditation, things that shouldn't normally go wrong can go wrong. For instance, you might begin sitting with a determination: ' This time no mucking about, I'm really going to concentrate the mind.' But that day you don't get anywhere. However, we like to make determinations in that way. Actually, I've observed that usually the practice develops according to it's own causes and conditions. Some nights you might begin sitting meditation with the thought: 'Right, tonight I'm not going to get up from my mat until at least one in the morning.' Thinking like that, you've already put yourself in an unskilful state of mind, because in no time at all feelings of pain and discomfort will be invading your senses from every direction, to the point where it becomes so unbearable you might even think you are going to die. In fact, the mind sets a length of time for sitting quite naturally by itself without you having to estimate or establish fixed limits. There's no fixed point or particular time to reach in the practice. Whether it's seven, eight or nine o'clock, that's not the most important thing; just keep meditating, maintaining your equanimity and without forcing things. Don't be too compulsive or fixed in your views about things, and don't try to coerce the heart with over-ambitious declarations of how this time you are really going to do it for certain. Of course it's at those times that things become all the more uncertain.

You have to allow the mind to relax. Let the breath flow easily, without making it too short or too long. Don't try to do anything to it. Let the body be at ease and keep putting effort into the meditation. A voice will come up and ask: 'How many hours will you practice tonight? What time will you stop meditating?' It will keep coming back to ask you, so cut it off: 'Hey you, don't interfere!' You have to keep subduing it, because all such thoughts are just the defilements in one form or another, coming to bother you. Don't pay any attention to them, just rebuke them: 'Whether I wish to stop early or late is none of your damn business! If I were to sit meditation the whole night through, it's not going to harm anybody, so just leave me alone!' Keep cutting them off like this and then keep practising at your own pace. By letting the mind be at ease it will become calm and you will gain a better understanding of the power of attachment and how much you are affected by the tendency to create stories and give undue importance to things. It might take what seems like forever (maybe more than half the night) before you find that you can sit with ease, but this is an indication that you have found the right way in the meditation. Then you will have some insight into how your attachment and clinging truly is defilement and that it exists because the mind gets caught in wrong view.

There are some people who will light a stick of incense in front of them before they sit down to meditate and then make a dramatic determination that they won't get up until the incense has completely burned down. Then they start meditating, but after only five minutes they feel as if a whole hour has passed and when they open their eyes to look at the incense stick get a surprise when they find that it's still really long. They close their eyes and restart the meditation and in no time at all are checking the incense again. So, of course, their meditation doesn't get anywhere. Don't be like that, it's like being a monkey. You end up not doing any work at all. You spend the whole period of the meditation thinking about that stick of incense, wondering whether it's finished or not. Training the mind can easily get to be like this, so don't attach too much importance to the time.

In meditation, don't let tanha and kilesa know the rules of the game or what your goal is in the practice. The voice of the defilements will come and ask you, 'How will you practice? How much will you do? How much effort will you put into it? How late will you go?' It will keep bugging you until you make some kind of agreement. If you say that you plan to sit until two in the morning, the defilements will immediately start pestering you. You won't even have been sitting for an hour and already you'll feel restless and impatient to finish the meditation. Then the hindrances will come up and say, ' Is it so bad that you're going to die? I thought you were going to really concentrate the mind and yet look how shaky it still is. You made a vow and couldn't keep to it.' Thinking like this, you just create suffering for yourself. You become self-critical and end up hating yourself. You suffer all the more because there's no one else to use as a scapegoat and blame for the mess you've got yourself into. If you make idealistic vows or determinations, you feel honour-bound to hold to them until you are either successful or die in the process. To do it right according to this style, you have to practise intensely, without letting up. Another way is to practise more gently, without making any fixed vows, though keeping up a steady and persistent effort to train yourself. You will find that sometimes the mind will become calm and the pain in the body will subside. All that stiffness and pain in the legs will disappear by itself.

So there is this balanced way of practice which means you contemplate everything that you experience. Whatever you do, contemplate it thoroughly and don't give up the work of meditation. Some people think that when the formal meditation ends, it all stops and they can take a rest, so they let go of their meditation object and stop contemplating. Don't be like that! Keep reflecting on all that you experience. Whether you encounter good or bad people, rich or poor, important or unimportant, young or old, keep contemplating everything. See that it is all part of meditation.

Contemplating and investigating the Dhamma means that you must observe and reflect upon the various causes and conditions which influence the mind. Contemplate the various mind-objects: large or small, good or bad, black or white. If there is thinking, then note that the mind is 'thinking' and notice how it is only just that much, in actuality. In the end, all mental impressions can be lumped together as aniccam, dukkham, anatta, not to be grasped at or clung to. This is the 'graveyard' of all mind-objects. Throw them into these three 'pits' and you will see them in the true light of the way things are.

Seeing 'aniccam' for example, is something which doesn't lead to suffering, but it has to come from contemplation. For instance, if you acquire something attractive and you are pleased with it, keep contemplating that sense of happiness. It's possible that you might use it for a while and then start to get fed up with it and then want to give it away or sell it; if you can't find anyone to take it off your hands you might even want to throw it away. Why does this happen? It's because of aniccam. If you can't sell or get rid of it, you start to suffer. This is the way it is. After you've really seen this clearly in one dimension, no matter how many times it crops up you'll always be able to use that experience to help you to see beyond appearances. It's the same old story repeating itself. Once you've seen it once, you can see it everywhere.

Sometimes you experience sights and sounds which are unpleasant to the eye and ear, and that brings up aversion. Note that feeling of dissatisfaction and contemplate it. Maybe at some point in the future the feelings will change and you might start taking pleasure in what you previously felt to be unpleasant. The things you like now might have been the cause for aversion to arise in the past. It's like that sometimes. Once you realise and know clearly for yourself that all pleasant and unpleasant objects and experiences are aniccam, dukkham and anatta, then you will not attach to them. You will naturally come to see all phenomena as equal, as having the same intrinsic nature, and view everything simply as Dhamma arising into consciousness.

Well I have just been talking about my experience in the practice here as it's been for me, without wishing to make it anything special. When you come to talk about the Dhamma with me, it's my job to tell you what I know. But really it's not something you should spend all your time talking about; the best thing is to get down to the practice. Like when you call a friend inviting them to go somewhere with you. You ask them, 'Are you going?' and they say yes, so you both go off straight away, simply and without any fuss. That's the way to practice.

If you experience different kinds of nimitta [16] during meditation, such as visions of heavenly beings, before anything else it's important to observe the state of mind very closely. Don't forget this basic principle. The mind has to be calm for you to experience these things. Be careful not to practise with desire either to experience nimitta or not to experience them. If they arise, contemplate them and don't let them delude you. Reflect that they are not you and they don't belong to you. They are aniccam, dukkham, anatta, just like all other mind-objects. If you do experience them, don't let your mind become too interested or dwell on them. If they don't disappear by themselves, re-establish mindfulness. Put all your attention on the breath, taking a few extra deep breaths. If you take at least three extra-long breaths you should be able to cut out the nimitta. You must keep re-establishing awareness in this way as you continue to practise.

Don't view these things as you or belonging to you. They are merely nimitta which can deceive the mind into attraction, aversion or fear. Nimitta are deluding and uncertain. If you do experience them, don't give them undue importance or rush after them, because they are not really you. As soon as you experience any kind of nimitta, you should immediately turn your attention back to examine the mind itself. Don't give up this basic principle of practice. If you do forget this principle, you will tend to get caught up in nimitta and can become deluded or even crazy. You might be so completely far gone that you can no longer converse on the same wavelength as other people. Whatever you experience, the thing which you can trust and be most certain about is your own wisdom. If you experience nimitta, watch the mind. It has to be calm, for you to experience them.

The important point is to see nimitta as not-self. They can be useful to someone with wisdom, but harmful to someone without. Keep practising until you are no longer exited by nimitta. If they arise they arise, if they don't they don't. Don't be afraid of them. If your wisdom has developed to the point where you can trust your own judgement, you won't have any problems. At first you become excited by nimitta because they are new and interesting and there is a desire to experience them. You become satisfied with them and this is a form of delusion. You might not even want to become attracted to them, but it happens and you don't know what to do or the right way to practice, so they actually become a source of suffering. If the mind goes into a good mood because of them, never mind. Establish awareness of the good mood and know it as defilement and as something which is itself uncertain. This is the wise way to let go of your attachment. Don't try to do it by telling yourself, 'I don't want to be in a good mood, why is there this good mood?' That's the wrong way to do it. It's meditating with wrong view. It's going wrong right here, close at hand, not far away. There's no need to fear nimitta or any other aspect of the meditation. I'm just describing to you some of the things that can happen, because I have some previous experience, however, you must take this away and contemplate for yourselves whether what I've said is right or wrong. That's enough for now.



[15] Bojjhanga: the seven factors of enlightenment: sati (mindfulness), dhamma-vicaya (investigation of the Dhamma), viriya (effort), piti (rapture), passaddhi (tranquillity), samadhi (concentration) and upekkha (equanimity). [Back]

[16] Nimitta: a sign or appearance that may take place in terms of seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching or mental impression and which arises based on the citta and not the relative sense organ. [Back]