Today I will give a teaching particularly for you as monks and novices, so please determine your hearts and minds to listen. There is nothing else for us to talk about other than the practice of the Dhamma-Vinaya (Truth and Discipline).

Every one of you should clearly understand that now you have been ordained as Buddhist monks and novices and should be conducting yourselves appropriately. We have all experienced the lay life, which is characterized by confusion and a lack of formal Dhamma practice; now, having taken up the form of a Buddhist samana [1], some fundamental changes have to take place in our minds so that we differ from lay people in the way we think. We must try to make all of our speech and actions – eating and drinking, moving around, coming and going – befitting for one who has been ordained as a spiritual seeker, who the Buddha referred to as a samana. What he meant was someone who is calm and restrained. Formerly, as lay people, we didn’t understand what it meant to be a samana, that sense of peacefulness and restraint. We gave full license to our bodies and minds, to have fun and games under the influence of craving and defilement. When we experienced pleasant arammana [2] (mind-objects), these would put us into a good mood, unpleasant mind-objects would put us into a bad one – this is the way it is when we are caught in the power of mind-objects. The Buddha said that those who are still under the sway of mind-objects aren’t looking after themselves. They are without a refuge, a true abiding place, and so they let their minds follow moods of sensual indulgence and pleasure-seeking and get caught into suffering, sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief and despair. They don’t know how or when to stop and reflect upon their experience.

In Buddhism, once we have received ordination and taken up the life of the samana, we have to adjust our physical appearance in accordance with the external form of the samana: we shave our heads, trim our nails and don the brown bhikkhus' [3] robes – the banner of the Noble Ones, the Buddha and the Arahants [4]. We are indebted to the Buddha for the wholesome foundations he established and handed down to us, which allow us to live as monks and find adequate support. Our lodgings were built and offered as a result of the wholesome actions of those with faith in the Buddha and His teachings. We do not have to prepare our food because we are benefiting from the roots laid down by the Buddha. Similarly, we have inherited the medicines, robes and all the other requisites that we use from the Buddha. Once ordained as Buddhist monastics, on the conventional level we are called monks and given the title “Venerable” [5]; but simply having taken on the external appearance of monks does not make us truly venerable. Being monks on the conventional level means we are monks as far as our physical appearance goes. Simply by shaving our heads and putting on brown robes we are called ‘Venerable’, but that which is truly worthy of veneration has not yet arisen within us – we are still only ‘Venerable’ in name. It’s the same as when they mould cement or cast brass into a Buddha image: they call it a Buddha, but it isn’t really that. It’s just metal, wood, wax or stone. That’s the way conventional reality is.

It’s the same for us. Once we have been ordained, we are given the title Venerable Bhikkhu, but that alone doesn’t make us venerable. On the level of ultimate reality – in other words, in the mind – the term still doesn’t apply. Our minds and hearts have still not been fully perfected through the practice with such qualities as metta (kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity). We haven’t reached full purity within. Greed, hatred and delusion are still barring the way, not allowing that which is worthy of veneration to arise.

Our practice is to begin destroying greed, hatred and delusion – defilements which for the most part can be found within each and every one of us. These are what hold us in the round of becoming and birth and prevent us from achieving peace of mind. Greed, hatred and delusion prevent the samana – peacefulness – from arising within us. As long as this peace does not arise, we are still not samana; in other words, our hearts have not experienced the peace that is free from the influence of greed, hatred and delusion. This is why we practise – with the intention of expunging greed, hatred and delusion from our hearts. It is only when these defilements have been removed that we can reach purity, that which is truly venerable.

Internalising that which is venerable within your heart doesn’t involve working only with the mind, but your body and speech as well. They have to work together. Before you can practise with your body and speech, you must be practising with your mind. However, if you simply practise with the mind, neglecting body and speech, that won’t work either. They are inseparable. Practising with the mind until it’s smooth, refined and beautiful is similar to producing a finished wooden pillar or plank: before you can obtain a pillar that is smooth, varnished and attractive, you must first go and cut a tree down. Then you must cut off the rough parts – the roots and branches – before you split it, saw it and work it. Practising with the mind is the same as working with the tree, you have to work with the coarse things first. You have to destroy the rough parts: destroy the roots, destroy the bark and everything which is unattractive, in order to obtain that which is attractive and pleasing to the eye. You have to work through the rough to reach the smooth. Dhamma practice is just the same. You aim to pacify and purify the mind, but it’s difficult to do. You have to begin practising with externals – body and speech – working your way inwards until you reach that which is smooth, shining and beautiful. You can compare it with a finished piece of furniture, such as these tables and chairs. They may be attractive now, but once they were just rough bits of wood with branches and leaves, which had to be planed and worked with. This is the way you obtain furniture that is beautiful or a mind that is perfect and pure.

Therefore the right path to peace, the path the Buddha laid down, which leads to peace of mind and the pacification of the defilements, is sila (moral restraint), samadhi (concentration) and panna (wisdom). This is the path of practice. It is the path that leads you to purity and leads you to realize and embody the qualities of the samana. It is the way to the complete abandonment of greed, hatred and delusion. The practice does not differ from this whether you view it internally or externally.

This way of training and maturing the mind – which involves the chanting, the meditation, the Dhamma talks and against the grain of the defilements. You have to go against the tendencies of the mind, because normally we like to take things easy, to be lazy and avoid anything which causes us friction or involves suffering and difficulty. The mind simply doesn’t want to make the effort or get involved. This is why you have to be ready to endure hardship and bring forth effort in the practice. You have to use the dhamma of endurance and really struggle. Previously your bodies were simply vehicles for having fun, and having built up all sorts of unskilful habits it’s difficult for you to start practising with them. Before, you didn’t restrain your speech, so now it’s hard to start restraining it. But as with that wood, it doesn’t matter how troublesome or hard it seems: before you can make it into tables and chairs, you have to encounter some difficulty. That’s not the important thing; it’s just something you have to experience along the way. You have to work through the rough wood to produce the finished pieces of furniture.

The Buddha taught that this is the way the practice is for all of us. All of his disciples who had finished their work and become fully enlightened, had, (when they first came to take ordination and practise with him) previously been puthujjana (ordinary worldlings). They had all been ordinary unenlightened beings like ourselves, with arms and legs, eyes and ears, greed and anger – just the same as us. They didn’t have any special characteristics that made them particularly different from us. This was how both the Buddha and his disciples had been in the beginning. They practised and brought forth enlightenment from the unenlightened, beauty from the ugliness and great benefit from that which was virtually useless. This work has continued through successive generations right up to the present day. It is the children of ordinary people – farmers, traders and businessmen – who, having previously been entangled in the sensual pleasures of the world, go forth to take ordination. Those monks at the time of the Buddha were able to practise and train themselves, and you must understand that you have the same potential. You are made up of the five khandhas [6] (aggregates), just the same. You also have a body, pleasant and unpleasant feelings, memory and perception, thought formations and consciousness – as well as a wandering and proliferating mind. You can be aware of good and evil. Everything’s just the same. In the end, that combination of physical and mental phenomena present in each of you, as separate individuals, differs little from that found in those monastics who practised and became enlightened under the Buddha. They had all started out as ordinary, unenlightened beings. Some had even been gangsters and delinquents, while others were from good backgrounds. They were no different from us. The Buddha inspired them to go forth and practise for the attainment of magga (the Noble Path) and phala (Fruition) [7], and these days, in similar fashion, people like yourselves are inspired to take up the practice of sila, samadhi and panna.

Sila, samadhi and panna are the names given to the different aspects of the practice. When you practise sila, samadhi and panna, it means you practise with yourselves. Right practice takes place here within you. Right sila exists here, right samadhi exists here. Why? Because your body is right here. The practice of sila involves every part of the body. The Buddha taught us to be careful of all our physical actions. Your body exists here! You have hands, you have legs right here. This is where you practise sila. Whether your actions will be in accordance with sila and Dhamma depends on how you train your body. Practising with your speech means being aware of the things you say. It includes avoiding wrong kinds of speech, namely divisive speech, coarse speech and unnecessary or frivolous speech. Wrong bodily actions include killing living beings, stealing and sexual misconduct.

It’s easy to reel off the list of wrong kinds of behaviour as found in the books, but the important thing to understand is that the potential for them all lies within us. Your body and speech are with you right here and now. You practise moral restraint, which means taking care to avoid the unskilful actions of killing, stealing and sexual misconduct. The Buddha taught us to take care with our actions from the very coarsest level. In the lay life you might not have had very refined moral conduct and frequently transgressed the precepts. For instance, in the past you may have killed animals or insects by smashing them with an axe or a fist, or perhaps you didn’t take much care with your speech: false speech means lying or exaggerating the truth; coarse speech means you are constantly being abusive or rude to others – 'you scum', 'you idiot', and so on; frivolous speech means aimless chatter, foolishly rambling on without purpose or substance. We’ve indulged in it all. No restraint! In short, keeping sila means watching over yourself, watching over your actions and speech.

So who will do the watching over? Who will take responsibility for your actions? When you kill some animal, who is the one who knows? Is your hand the one who knows, or is it someone else? When you steal someone else’s property, who is aware of the act? Is your hand the one who knows? This is where you have to develop awareness. Before you commit some act of sexual misconduct, where is your awareness? Is your body the one who knows? Who is the one who knows before you lie, swear or say something frivolous? Is your mouth aware of what it says, or is the one who knows in the words themselves? Contemplate this: whoever it is who knows is the one who has to take responsibility for your sila. Bring that awareness to watch over your actions and speech. That knowing, that awareness is what you use to watch over your practice. To keep sila, you use that part of the mind which directs your actions and which leads you to do good and bad. You catch the villain and transform him into a sheriff or a mayor. Take hold of the wayward mind and bring it to serve and take responsibility for all your actions and speech. Look at this and contemplate it. The Buddha taught us to take care with our actions. Who is it who does the taking care? The body doesn’t know anything; it just stands, walks around and so on. The hands are the same; they don’t know anything. Before they touch or take hold of anything, there has to be someone who gives them orders. As they pick things up and put them down there has to be someone telling them what to do. The hands themselves aren’t aware of anything; there has to be someone giving them orders. The mouth is the same – whatever it says, whether it tells the truth or lies, is rude or divisive, there must be someone telling it what to say.

The practice involves establishing sati, mindfulness, within this ‘one who knows’. The ‘one who knows’ is that intention of mind, which previously motivated us to kill living beings, steal other people’s property, indulge in illicit sex, lie, slander, say foolish and frivolous things and engage in all the kinds of unrestrained behaviour. The ‘one who knows’ led us to speak. It exists within the mind. Focus your mindfulness or sati – that constant recollectedness – on this ‘one who knows.’ Let the knowing look after your practice.

In practice, the most basic guidelines for moral conduct stipulated by the Buddha were: to kill is evil, a transgression of sila; stealing is a transgression; sexual misconduct is a transgression; lying is a transgression; vulgar and frivolous speech are all transgressions of sila. You commit all this to memory. It’s the code of moral discipline, as laid down by the Buddha, which encourages you to be careful of that one inside of you who was responsible for previous transgressions of the moral precepts. That one, who was responsible for giving the orders to kill or hurt others, to steal, to have illicit sex, to say untrue or unskilful things and to be unrestrained in all sorts of ways – singing and dancing, partying and fooling around. The one who was giving the orders to indulge in all these sorts of behaviour is the one you bring to look after the mind. Use sati or awareness to keep the mind recollecting in the present moment and maintain mental composure in this way. Make the mind look after itself. Do it well.

If the mind is really able to look after itself, it is not so difficult to guard speech and actions, since they are all supervised by the mind. Keeping sila – in other words taking care of your actions and speech – is not such a difficult thing. You sustain awareness at every moment and in every posture, whether standing, walking, sitting or lying down. Before you perform any action, speak or engage in conversation, establish awareness first – don’t act or speak first, establish mindfulness first and then act or speak. You must have sati, be recollecting, before you do anything. It doesn’t matter what you are going to say, you must first be recollecting in the mind. Practise like this until you are fluent. Practise so that you can keep abreast of what’s going on in the mind; to the point where mindfulness becomes effortless and you are mindful before you act, mindful before you speak. This is the way you establish mindfulness in the heart. It is with the ‘one who knows’ that you look after yourself, because all your actions spring from here.

This is where the intentions for all your actions originate and this is why the practice won’t work if you try to bring in someone else to do the job. The mind has to look after itself; if it can’t take care of itself, nothing else can. This is why the Buddha taught that keeping sila is not that difficult, because it simply means looking after your own mind. If mindfulness is fully established, whenever you say or do something harmful to yourself or others, you will know straight away. You know that which is right and that which is wrong. This is the way you keep sila. You practise with your body and speech from the most basic level.

By guarding your speech and actions they become graceful and pleasing to the eye and ear, while you yourself remain comfortable and at ease within the restraint. All your behaviour, manners, movements and speech become beautiful, because you are taking care to reflect upon, adjust and correct your behaviour. You can compare this with your dwelling place or the meditation hall. If you are regularly cleaning and looking after your dwelling place, then both the interior and the area around it will be pleasant to look at, rather than a messy eyesore. This is because there is someone looking after it. Your actions and speech are similar. If you are taking care with them, they become beautiful, and that which is evil or dirty will be prevented from arising.



[1] Samana: recluse, monk or holy one – one who has left the homeless life to pursue the Higher Life. [Back]

[2] Arammana: the object, which is presented to the mind (citta) at any moment. This object is derived from the five senses or direct from the mind (memory, thoughts, feelings). It is not the external object (in the world), but that object after having been processed by one’s preconceptions and predispositions. [Back]

[3] Bhikkhu: Buddhist monk, alms mendicant. [Back]

[4] Arahant: Worthy one, one who is fully enlightened. [Back]

[5] Venerable – in Thai, ‘Phra’. [Back]

[6] Khandhas: Groups or aggregates: form (rupa), feeling (vedana), memory and perception (sañña), thought formations (sankhara) and consciousness (viññana). These are the five groups that form what we call a person. [Back]

[7] Magga-phala: Path and fruition: the four transcendent paths – or rather one path and four different levels of refinement – leading to ‘nobility’ (ariya), or the end of suffering i.e., the insight knowledge which cuts through the fetters (samyojana); and the four corresponding fruitions arising from those paths – refers to the mental state, cutting through defilements, immediately following the attainment of any of these paths. [Back]