Updated: Oct 27
It's the 'ratti-kāla', it's the nighttime, the sun has set and it's dark. Now it's not so convenient for various kinds of activity, but we do have a quiet and secluded environment, and it's a good time to apply ourselves to dhamma practice. The passing of time is part of nature, and right now, we can apply ourselves to developing peacefulness of mind. When our mind is peaceful, we'll have a feeling of strength and power and energy. The Buddha called this kind of peace 'pabbajjā' - going forth. It's the path out of clinging and attachment and craving and stinginess - 'macchariya'. It's the path out of those things that tie us down, out of all kinds of attachments and obstacles. We develop ourselves and learn to adapt ourselves to ways of going beyond everything that's pulling at us and holding us back.
But we need to be steadfast and determined. We need to develop good qualities, like the imperturbable quality of the earth. We all rely on the earth, and it accepts all of us. The earth is solid and strong. It doesn't judge good or bad, and it accepts everything. Those things that we call trash or rubbish, we throw them out, we throw them on the ground, and the earth accepts everything. The earth doesn't say: "This is good! This is bad! This is positive or negative." The earth doesn't reject anything, but it accepts everything just as it is.
When we leave our home or our familiar place, we tend to become worried and uncomfortable. But we should know that all of this earth is our living place, and we should accept this earth and it's nature just as it is. This is how we learn to put things down and let go. We learn to let go of our own sense of self importance, we're going away from that, we're leaving that all behind. This is 'pabbajjā'. 'Pabbajjā' means to leave the place that one's currently in. So we are leaving and moving away from those feelings of constriction and lack of freedom. We're working towards our own freedom.
The Buddha described this peaceful state as being secluded from all forms of sensuality. Being secluded from liking, because delight takes away our freedom, it takes away our independence. The bad result of our indulgence is that it ties us down. Delight and indulgence is that which ties worldly beings down. So we should see and understand that nothing is ours. Nothing belongs to us. We should look at all things in the way of a 'samaṇa', in the way of a peaceful one.
At peace from self importance and identification. At peace from attachment and clinging. Just recognizing phenomena as they arise, and not allowing them to cause us worries. This kind of going forth, this moving away and leaving everything behind is just like the sun rising from behind the earth and moving up into the sky. When the sun rises, everything changes. Things become visible when the darkness disappears, and we can see and understand things the way they are. That's what happens naturally. When the light comes out, the darkness goes away, and all of our activities become more convenient.
So we go forth and move away from the 'vatthu-kāmā', those material objects of sensuality. We throw them away and we put them down, and we put them down because they're heavy. And then we start to feel more of a sense of ease in our movement, as we put down those heavy things. We should look at it this way: we're moving out and away from all unwholesome dhammas, we're moving away from sensuality, we're moving away from everything that's 'akusala', everything that's unwholesome. We're moving away from and out of the 'pāpa-dhamma', moving away from wrong and evil ways, those ways that give us a feeling of unhappiness.
We can notice when unwholesome states arise. We can notice the way they make our hearts hot and heavy. We notice the defilement of our mind. It's like dirty water. When water is impure, we can see that it's not clean. Working towards purification, we try to live like the Buddha with the power of faith and wisdom. 'Saddhā-ñāṇa-sampayutta' - faith and knowledge combined together. With faith, we have power and energy. With knowledge, we're the one who knows, 'Buddho'. We know the impure heart, and the danger of the impure heart.
So we need to know how to restrain our heart when it's moving in an unwholesome direction, especially when living together in a community. We restrain ourselves as a way of protecting each other. We have 'mettā-dhamma', loving kindness, towards each other. We shouldn't hate other people just because they cause us to suffer. But we need to understand suffering is just an impermanent state, which arises, exists for a while, and passes away. Seeing phenomena as just arising and passing away is called 'vipassanā', which means knowing and seeing things according to the truth.
When we see things clearly according to the truth, it gives us a fresh feeling of peace and lightness. Knowing all things as not us and not ours. This is the lightness of letting go, giving up. It's called 'cāga', giving up all those things that cause harm and danger to our heart.
Recognizing impurity in our own heart is necessary so that we can let it go. We need to watch over our heart. The Buddha taught the practice of 'cittānupassanā satipaṭṭhāna,' establishing mindfulness of one's own mind to recognize the 'kusala' and the 'akusala', the wholesome and the unwholesome, and recognizing both as not belonging to us, and not identifying with either of them as who we are. Letting go and putting down all those phenomena arising in our own heart. Letting them go, putting them down and giving them away. That's cāga, when we put things down and let them go. The more we let go, the more power and energy we have. That's the secluded mind. That's called 'citta-viveka'.
So we've come to this place of practice - that's 'kāya-viveka', seclusion of the body. And next we develop 'cittaviveka', seclusion of mind, seclusion from 'akusala-dhammā', seclusion from unwholesome phenomena. We should reassess our practice in the way I've just described, so that we can understand the deeper meaning of dhamma practice. We understand that in all conditioned things, there are both positive and negative aspects. They're just opposites, in the way that the darkness has light as it's opposite. Where there is heat, there is also cold. We understand that the nature of all conditioned phenomena is just like that.
Seeing everything just as arising and passing phenomena inspires us to train ourselves more diligently. We put forth the four great efforts, and the first of those efforts is simply watching over and protecting the heart, and not allowing any unwholesome states to arise. We do not allow the heart to indulge in desirable and pleasant things. We don't allow the heart to get caught up in irritation at annoying and unpleasant things. We don't allow the heart to get carried away with intoxication and indulgence. Instead, we recognize those things in time, we catch our heart in time. We live in the way of 'One Who Knows', an awakened one. Because the one who knows, the awakened one, the 'Buddho', that's the fulfillment of the human potential. That's the true potential of a 'manussa', of a human being, the potential of awakening.
As we train ourselves, we understand more and more the value and benefit of this very training and this very practice. We use the peaceful physical seclusion, the 'kāya-viveka', to look inside ourselves and see the attachment and identification in our heart. We train to abandon those habits, we learn to look from a dhamma perspective. We reduce our attachment to conceit and views. We reduce our tendency to clinging and craving, and we stop looking at things as belonging to us. We stop identifying with them, we don't take them as being who we are. We learn to become familiar with a sense of letting go and putting down, moving out, moving away. Our attitude is always one of letting go, putting down and giving up.
That is our work, that's our meditation object, our 'kammaṭṭhāna'. We should do our work with a sense of emptiness. Even eating food, we do that with an empty heart. That's the way one who's gone forth should eat food. And as we learn to do things that way, it brings us to a state of fulfillment. It brings us to that state of 'upadhi-viveka', that state of seclusion from heat, not from physical heat, but seclusion from the heat of a heart covered up with obstructions. If we can let go, we experience that peaceful seclusion, that 'upadhi-viveka'.
We already have a peaceful environment. We have a peaceful place, and we recollect the way that the Buddha was enlightened under the Bodhi Tree in a peaceful and quiet place. However, when the Bodhisatta first sat down under the Bodhi Tree, he was still plagued with mental distractions, memories from the past, memories of previous comforts that he'd enjoyed, when all of his wishes were fulfilled.
Those memories upset his heart. That's what we call 'kilesa-māra'. That kind of 'Māra' (Evil Spirit) is not a physical or material thing, but a metaphor for the memories that come up and distract us and pull us away from a determined state of mind. And so the Bodhisatta needed to set up his mind, and he asked himself: "For what purpose did I come here? It's because I'm seeking freedom, because I desire to overcome the obstacles and obstructions." Considering that, the Bodhisatta set up his mind and renewed his determination to realize awakening. He said to himself: "If I go back, people will say that I haven't finished my job properly. I haven't done what I came to do, and they will rightly lose faith and respect for me."
So he set up that mental determination, and the determination that he made was a kind of 'Maraṇussati', a reflection on death. That's the tenth and final one of the ten 'anussatī', the ten reflections: reflection on death, the end of everything. And the Bodhisatta determined that he would rather die under the Bodhi Tree, than giving up his struggle to attain enlightenment. He made the famous resolution that he wouldn't cease his efforts until enlightenment was attained, even if his muscles and flesh dried up and only bones and sinews were left.
Then the obstacles faded away. There was nothing left obstructing the natural power and energy and brightness of mind. And through the power of concentration, and the energy of 'pīti-sukha' - that sense of fullness and contentment and satisfaction of mind - the Buddha established a profound level of mindfulness that results from meticulously watching over the mind, taking care of the mind, and recognizing that both good and bad things can arise in the mind.
We can develop that same devoted effort. We can gain inspiration to put forth such determined effort when we chant the praises of the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, praising those three perfect refuges. This kind of chanting and wholesome recollection of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha takes away the mental hindrances, the five nīvaraṇā.
The Buddha taught and explained these five mental hindrances:
'Kāmacchanda' - destructive thinking about sensuality.
'Vyāpāda' - ill will.
'Thīna-middha' - drowsiness and sluggishness of mind.
'Uddhacca-kukkucca' - the restless mind.
'Vicikicchā' - the mind that's full of doubt.
So recognizing these hindrances, we apply effort to develop a mind that's free from hindrances. We can achieve that by practising in a way that's not heedless, by focussing all of our attention, and not allowing ourselves to get discouraged.
Tonight, we apply ourselves to the practice of developing these supremely good qualities. We chant the virtues of the Buddha, which means a fully developed human. We're not talking about a material state, but the development and fulfillment of those good internal qualities of one who has followed the path of the four kinds of noble beings. It doesn't matter whether we're a bhikkhu or a bhikkhuni, an upāsaka or an upāsikā, whether we're an ordained man or woman, or an unordained man or woman, a female or male practitioner. Because what we're talking about is not something external like wearing monastic robes, but an internal state of being well practised: 'Supaṭipanno' - one who practices well; 'ujupaṭipanno' - one who practices directly; and 'ñāyapaṭipanno' - one who practises seeing danger in the round of saṃsāra and rebirth.
Someone with faith in the enlightenment of the Buddha, someone who follows the footsteps of the Buddha, acquires four treasures:
The treasure of purity of moral conduct, 'sīla'.
The treasure of not believing in superstitions.
The treasure of having confidence in putting one's effort into wholesome action.
The treasure of not having one's effort diverted into those things that don't lead to the fulfillment of the path.
Giving up those wrong ways, and applying oneself with faith and effort to the teaching, leads us to the full development of a human being.
So we support ourselves in this practice. We support each other and we forgive each other of our shortcomings, because we understand that all of us have different abilities. We're at different levels of development. As fellow human beings we are the same, but we express ourselves differently. Even though we're the same, we all look and sound different. This is called 'vipāka', it's the results of our karma.
In the same way, we can experience the results of our wholesome development. We must try to recognize our own weaknesses and accept correction from each other, so that we can live mindfully as one who cultivates 'sati-paññā' - mindfulness and wisdom. 'Bhāvanā-mayā' means the meritorious way of developing the mind, cultivating the mind. That's the treasure of one who's dedicated to fulfilling the potential of a 'manussa', a human. The treasure of one who's living and abiding in the wholesome dhammas of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity - 'mettā', 'karuṇā', 'muditā' and 'upekkhā', the four 'Brahma-vihārā'.
If we live like that, we can live together in peace and happiness, and our society can be solid and stable, free from harm and danger. Therefore, we've all come together to make use of the opportunity to create such great benefit to both ourselves and all of society. We've all come together to work towards developing the greatest benefit: fulfilling our human potential.
We're all gathered here expressing our intention to do that together.
This is a transcript of a Dhamma Talk delivered by Luang Por Liem Thitadhammo (Phra Thepvajiranyan) at Dhammagiri Forest Hermitage on 15 March 2023.
Luang Por Liam is the successor of Ajahn Chah as abbot of Wat Nong Pah Pong Buddhist monastery near Ubon, Thailand. He is the leading senior monk of the whole global tradition of Ajahn Chah, with hundreds of branch monasteries in Thailand, and two dozend associated monasteries in Western countries on 4 continents.
Alex Oliver had kindly volunteered to serve as our live interpreter, providing an excellent English translation simultaneous with the talk.
As this Dhamma talk was received with great interest in our community, including requests for a printed version, Ajahn Dhammasiha used an online transcription service to produce a written transcript of the talk. He also did some necessary editing that's unavoidable in order to transfer a talk spoken extemporaneously into printed form.
May all the merits arising from sharing this Dhamma teaching be dedicated to the long term health, strength and happiness of our esteemed interpreter Alex:
Nibbuto ca tuvaṃ bhava!
Mā te bhavatv'antarāyo