January 19, 1977
The important point for a meditating monk is to have principles in the heart. 'Principles in the heart' means the various stages of concentration and levels of discernment, all the way to the level of arahantship. These are called the principles in the heart for meditating monks. If the principles in the heart are good, every aspect of the principles in our practice will be good as well, because the heart is what gives the orders. This is why we see the heart as having primary importance. When a person with principles in the heart practices, it's very different from a person without principles in the heart. When a person with principles in the heart makes compromises in line with events at some times, in some places, and with some individuals, and when he is strict with himself at normal times, he does so with reason -- which is different from a person who is simply determined, without having principles in the heart. Even though such a person may be resolute and courageous, he's pervaded with error, pride, and conceit. He's not as even as he should be in his ascetic practices (dhutanga), which are means of cleansing away the defilements of pride and conceit fermenting inside him. The body is an affair of the world, like the world in general. It has to be involved with the world, which requires compromises with certain people, in certain places, and on certain occasions. But if, when we have to make compromises, we can't do so for fear that we're sacrificing our strictness or our ascetic practices; or if once we compromise we can't return to our strictness, it's a matter of pride in either case and can't help but have an impact on ourselves and on others both when we should be strict and when we should make compromises in line with events.
When a person with principles in the heart sees fitting, in line with reason, he makes compromises when he should with certain individuals, places, and events that may happen from time to time. But when that necessity is past, he returns to his original strictness without any difficulty in forcing himself. This is because reason, the Dhamma, is already in charge of his heart, so he has no difficulties both when making compromises and when following the ascetic practices strictly as he is accustomed to.
All of this is something I practiced when living with Ven. Acariya Mun. For example, I'd vow to follow a particular practice or several practices without telling him -- although he would know perfectly well, because I couldn't keep it secret from him. But because of my great respect for him, I'd have to make compromises, even though it bothered me (bothered my defilements).
As a rule, I wouldn't be willing to make compromises at all. That was a feeling set up like a barrier in the mind, because my intentions were really determined like that. I wouldn't let anything pass without my working right through it with this determination of mine.
The first year I went to stay with him, I heard him talk about the ascetic practices -- such as the practice of accepting only the food received on one's alms round -- because he himself was very strict in observing them. From that point on, I'd vow to take on special ascetic practices during the Rains Retreat, without ever slacking. I'd vow to eat only the food I got while on my alms round. If anyone else would try to put food in my bowl aside from the food I had received on my round, I wouldn't accept it and wouldn't be interested in it. Ever since then, I've kept to this without fail. I'd be sure that I for one wouldn't let this vow be broken. Once the Rains Retreat came, I'd have to make this vow as a rule in my heart, without missing even a single year.
The years we spent the rains at Baan Naa Mon, Ven. Acariya Mun was really observant and astute. Of all the sages of our day and age, who could be sharper than he? He knew I had vowed not to accept food that came afterwards, but on the occasions he would come to put food in my bowl, he'd say, 'Maha, please let me put a little food in your bowl. This is a gift from one contemplative to another.' That's what he'd say. 'This is a gift from a fellow contemplative. Please accept it.' That meant he was giving me the food himself.
Sometimes there'd be groups of lay people from Nong Khai, Sakon Nakhorn, or other places who would come to Baan Naa Mon to present food to Ven. Acariya Mun and the other monks in the monastery. This would happen once in a long, long while, because in those days there were no cars or buses. You'd have to travel on foot or by cart. These people would hire ox-carts to come and would spend a night or two -- but they wouldn't stay with the monks in the monastery. They'd stay in the shack in Yom Phaeng's rice field. When morning came, they'd prepare food and, instead of waiting outside the monastery to place the food in our bowls as we returned from our alms round, they'd bring it into the monastery to present it to us. I wouldn't dare accept their food, for fear that my observance would be broken. I'd walk right past them. As I noticed, though, Ven. Acariya Mun would accept their food out of pity for them.
There would be a lot of food left over from presenting it to the monks, so they'd bring it to the meeting hall -- fruit, individual servings of food wrapped in banana leaves -- but we wouldn't take any of it. It'd get passed around without making a ripple. No one, except sometimes one or two of the monks, would take any of it. It must have looked not just a little strange to the lay people. As for me, I wouldn't dare take any of it, for fear that my observance of this ascetic practice would be broken. Several days later, Ven. Acariya Mun asked to put food in my bowl, saying, 'This is a gift from a fellow contemplative. Please let me put it in your bowl.' And then he put it in my bowl. He did it himself, you know. Normally -- who would I let put anything in my bowl! I'd be afraid that my observance would be broken or at the very least wouldn't be complete. But he probably saw that there was pride lurking in my vow to observe this practice, so he helped bend it a little to give me a number of things to think about, so that I wouldn't be simply a straight-arrow type. This was why he'd find various ways to teach me both directly and indirectly.
I in particular was very straight-arrow. I was very set on things in that way, which is why I wouldn't let anyone destroy my ascetic practice by putting food in my bowl -- except for Ven. Acariya Mun, whom I respected with all my heart. With him, I'd give in and let him put food in my bowl the times he saw fit. I was solidly determined not to let this observance be deficient, not even the least little bit. This was something that kept chafing in the heart. I'd have to be complete both in terms of the observance I was following and in terms of my determination, but because of my love and respect for him, I'd accept his gifts even though I didn't feel comfortable about it. This is the difference between a principle in the practice and a principle in the heart.
I admit that I was right in the earnestness of my practice, but I wasn't right in terms of the levels of Dhamma that were higher and more subtle than that. Looking at myself and looking at Ven. Acariya Mun, I could see that we were very different. Ven. Acariya Mun, when looking at something, would see it thoroughly, in a way that was just right from every angle in the heart -- which wasn't like the rest of us, who would view things in our stupid way from one side only. We didn't use discernment the way he did. That was something we'd have to admit. Here I've been talking about practicing the Dhamma with Ven. Acariya Mun at Baan Naa Mon.
When we moved to Baan Nong Phue, I vowed again to observe this particular practice. Wherever I'd go, I'd stick to my guns as far as this practice was concerned and wouldn't retreat. I wouldn't let it be broken. Coming back from my alms round, I'd quickly put my bowl in order, taking just a little of whatever I'd eat -- because during the rains I'd never eat my fill. I'd never eat my fill at all. I'd tell myself to take only so-and-so much, around 60 to 70 percent. For example, out of 100 percent full, I'd cut back about 30 to 40 percent, which seemed about right, because there were a number of us living together as a group. If I were to go without food altogether, it wouldn't be convenient, because we always had duties involved with the group. I myself was like one of the senior members of the group, in a behind-the-scenes sort of way, though I never let on. I was involved in looking after the peace and order within the group in the monastery. I didn't have much seniority -- just over ten rains in the monkhood -- but it seemed that Ven. Acariya Mun was kind enough to trust me -- also behind the scenes -- in helping him look after the monks and novices.
When the rains would begin, all of us in the monastery would vow to observe different ascetic practices, and after not too many days this or that person would fall back. This showed how earnest or lackadaisical the members of the group were, and made me even more meticulous and determined in my duties and my ascetic practices. When I'd see my fellow meditators acting like this, I'd feel disillusioned with them in many ways. My mind would become even more fired up, and I'd encourage myself to be unrelenting. I'd ask myself, 'With events all around you like this, are you going to fall back?' And the confident answer I'd get would be, 'What is there to fall back? Who is this if not me? I've always been this sort of person from the very beginning. Whatever I do, I have to take it seriously. Once I decide to do something, I have to be earnest with it. I don't know how to fool around. I won't fall back unless I die, which is something beyond my control. I won't let anyone put food in my bowl under any circumstances.' Listen to that -- 'under any circumstances.' That was how I felt at the time.
So the changes in my fellow meditators were like a sermon for me to listen to and take to heart. I haven't forgotten it, even to this day. As soon as I returned from my alms round, I'd quickly take whatever I was going to eat, put my bowl in order, and then quickly prepare whatever I had that I'd put in Ven. Acariya Mun's bowl -- this or that serving that I had noticed seemed to go well with his health, as far as I knew and understood. I'd set aside whatever should be set aside and prepare whatever should go into his bowl. Then I'd return to my seat, my eyes watchful and my ears ready to hear whatever he might say before we'd start eating.
As for my own bowl, when I had put it in order, I'd put it out of the way behind my seat, right against the wall next to a post. I'd put the lid on and cover it with a cloth to make doubly sure that no one would mess with it and put any food in it. At that time I wouldn't allow anyone to put food in my bowl at all. I made that clear in no uncertain terms. But when Ven. Acariya Mun put food in my bowl, he'd have his way of doing it. After I had prepared the food I would give to him and had returned to my place; after we had given our blessings and during the period of silence when we were contemplating our food -- that's when he'd do it: right when we were about to eat. I have no idea where he had arranged the food to put in my bowl -- but he wouldn't do it repeatedly. He knew and he sympathized with me. On the occasions when he'd put food in my bowl, he'd say, 'Maha, please let me put food in your bowl. These lay people came late . . . .' -- and his hand was already in my bowl -- right when I had placed my bowl in front of me and was contemplating my food. I didn't know what to do, because of my respect for him. So I had to let him do it in his kindness -- but I wouldn't let anyone else do it. He'd do it only once in a long while. In one Rains Retreat, he'd do it only three or four times at most. He wouldn't do it repeatedly, because he was every astute. The word majjhima -- just right: You'd have to hand it to him, without being able to find anything to fault.
So ever since then I've stuck to my practice all along, up to the present. As for the monks and novices who couldn't get it together, they all ended up in failure, which has made me think -- made me think without ceasing -- about my fellow meditators: 'What is it with their hearts that they don't have any firm principles, that they keep failing like this? What mainstay can they have for the future when the present is already a failure?' Events like this have kept me thinking in this way without ceasing, all the way up to the meditators who are living with me at present.
For this reason, the ascetic observances are very important principles in the practice. Eating from the bowl: There are many people, monks among them, who don't see the value of eating from the bowl. In addition to not seeing the value of this ascetic practice, they may see it as unbecoming or inappropriate, both in the monastery and in society at large, in that all sorts of food -- meat dishes, desserts, etc. -- get mixed together in the one bowl. They may even think that it's ugly or messy -- which is an opinion of the defilements trying to efface the truth of the Dhamma. There are few who see the value of any of the thirteen ascetic practices, even though all thirteen are tools for us monks to wash away defilement. It's well known that the defilements and the Dhamma have always worked at cross-purposes from time immemorial. Those who give their hearts and lives in homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha will practice in line with what the Buddha taught. Those who give their hearts and lives in homage to the cycle of defilement will practice in line with the opinions of defilement. So to whom are we going to pay homage now? Hurry up and decide. Don't delay. Otherwise the defilements will pull you up to the chopping block -- don't say I didn't warn you. The Dhamma has already been taught, so hurry up and start walking. Don't waste your time being afraid that it's out of date, or you won't be able to make a step.
Pansukula-civaram -- the practice of wearing robes made from cast-off cloth: This is to counteract our feeling for price, ostentation, pride, and excess -- the type of beauty that promotes defilement and steps all over the Dhamma -- so that these things don't encumber the hearts of meditators whose duty is to eliminate the defilements in order to promote the Dhamma and nourish the heart to be gracious and fine. The items of consumption we collect from what is thrown away are good for killing the defilements of greed, ostentation, and excess, love for beauty and haughtiness. Sages have thus praised and followed this practice all along up to the present. We can see their footprints in using this method to kill defilement as a treat for our hearts and eyes so that we won't die in vain in having followed the homeless life.
The practice of going for alms: This is so that we'll perform our duties in line with the Buddha's instructions -- pindiyalopa-bhojanam nissaya pabbajja, 'The life gone forth is supported by means of almsfood' -- instructions we received on the day of our ordination. Don't be lazy. Don't forget yourself because of whatever other gifts of food you may receive. Whoever may present them, see them as extraneous. They're not more necessary than the food we get by going for alms with the strength of our own legs -- which is our duty as monks who do their work properly. This is the really appropriate way to gain food in line with the pindiyalopa-bhojanam in the instructions we receive during our ordination. Listen! It's fitting, appropriate, which is why the Buddha taught us to go for alms, something of first-place importance in our pure work as monks.
The Buddha went for alms throughout his career. The few times he didn't were when he was staying in a place where it wasn't appropriate -- as when he was living in the Prileyya Forest, and the elephants looked after him because there were no people around. So there were only a few times when the Buddha made exceptions to this practice. Pubbanhe pindapatanca -- in the five duties of the Buddha -- 'In the morning he would go for alms for the sake of the beings of the world.' Listen to that!
Sayanhe dhamma-desanam: At four in the afternoon he would give instructions to his lay following: kings, generals, financiers, landowners, merchants, and ordinary people in general.
Padose bhikkhu-ovadam: After dark he would exhort the monks. This is the second of his duties as a Buddha.
Addharatte deva-panhanam: After midnight he would answer the questions posed by the various levels of the heavenly beings -- from the lowest up to the highest -- and give them instructions. This is the third of his duties.
Bhabbabhabbe vilokanam: In the last watch of the night he would survey the beings of the world, using his superior intuition to see what beings might be caught in the net of his knowledge whom he should go to teach first -- whoever might be prepared to receive the teaching and whose lives might be in danger, so that he shouldn't wait long before going to teach them. This is the fourth duty.
Pubbanhe pindapatanca: The following morning he would then go out for alms on a regular basis. These are the five duties of the Buddha that he normally wouldn't abandon. He'd abandon them only on special occasions. For example, going for alms: When he was staying in the Prileyya Forest, he couldn't go for alms, so he put that duty aside. But otherwise he viewed going for alms as a necessary duty, which is why we have to teach monks to view going for alms as a right activity, as extremely appropriate work. For monks, there is no work in searching for their livelihood more appropriate than going for alms. No matter who might have the faith to bring gifts of food, no matter how much, we should view it as extraneous gains, a luxury, and not as more necessary than the food gained by going for alms. This is so that we don't forget ourselves and become entangled in that sort of thing.
The Buddha teaches monks not to forget themselves, not to be lazy, because the defilement of laziness is important, and to forget ourselves is no mean vice -- for we tend to become haughty when there are many people respecting us, and especially when they are people of high status. When we have a large following, we tend to throw out our chest and put on airs. Even though we don't have stripes, it's as if we paint them on to be a royal tiger showing off his rank. Since when were they ever a small matter, the defilements of monks? This is why the Buddha taught us to stamp out these ugly defilements in the society of Buddhists and monks by not forgetting ourselves. However many people come to respect us, that's their business. Our business is not to forget our duties. Don't forget that monks' business is monks' business. To forget yourself is none of your business as a monk. Even lay people who are mindful don't forget themselves. They're always even in the way they place themselves in relation to others. We're monks -- meditating monks at that -- which is even more of a delicate matter. It's our business to be mindful of ourselves and to use our discernment to scrutinize events that come to involve us at all times, not to be careless and forgetful in any circumstances. This is how we show our colors as monks who see danger in what is dangerous.
We are members of the Sakyan lineage, the lineage of the Buddha, who was sharper and more intelligent than anyone else in the three levels of the cosmos. For what reason, should we make fools of ourselves over the baits of the world, which fill the earth and aren't anywhere nearly as difficult to find as the Dhamma? To forget ourselves, to swell up with pride because of extraneous gains or the respect of people at large: Is this our proper honor and pride as sons of the Sakyan? It's simply because we see the superlative Dhamma as something lower than these things that we monks don't think or come to our senses enough to fear their danger in the footsteps of our Teacher.
Sakkaro purisam hanti -- 'Homage kills a man.' Fish die because they are tempted by bait. If we monks don't die because of things like this, what does make us die? Consider this carefully. Did the Buddha give this teaching to stupid fish or to those of us monks who are moving toward the hook at the moment? Be aware of the fact that the outside is bait, but inside the bait is the hook. If you don't want to meet with disaster, be careful not to bite the hook.
Eating from the bowl: This is a very important activity, but we don't see its importance. Ordinarily, we who have ordained in the religion have no vessel for our food more appropriate than our bowl. Even monogrammed plates and gold platters aren't more appropriate than the bowl. Only the bowl is appropriate for monks when they eat. Nothing else is better or more fitting. We each have only one bowl and put everything in there together. The Buddha has already set us a solid example.
Or is it that when food gets mixed together like that, it'll spoil our digestion -- as most people say, and we've already heard many times. If that's the case, then when it all gets mixed in the stomach, won't it spoil our digestion? How many stomachs do we have in our belly? How many vessels are in there for us to put our separate sorts of food in? This one for desserts, this one for meat dishes, this one for spicy curry, this one for hot curry: Are there any? Are there different vessels for putting our separate sorts of food in, to keep our digestion from spoiling? We simply see that when food is mixed in the bowl, it'll spoil our digestion, but not when it's mixed in the stomach. This view -- fearing that our digestion will be spoiled -- is for the sake of promoting our tongues and stomachs, not for promoting the mind and the Dhamma through our various practices.
If there is anything toxic in the food -- whether or not it's mixed in the bowl -- then when it's eaten, it can spoil our digestion, with no relation to whether or not it's mixed together, because the toxicity lies with the things that are toxic, and not with the mixing together. When it's eaten, it's toxic. But if the food isn't toxic, then when it's mixed it isn't toxic, so where will it get any toxicity? The food is beneficial, without any harm or toxicity mixed in. When it's placed together in the bowl, it's still food. When it's eaten and goes to the stomach, it's a benefit to the body.
So we as monks and meditators should be observant of the differences between Dhamma and not-Dhamma, which are always effacing each other. For example: Eating food from the bowl spoils your digestion. Eating outside of the bowl improves your digestion and fattens the defilements -- but the Dhamma grovels and can't get up because not-Dhamma has kept stomping on it in this way without mercy from every side all along.
Actually, when food is mixed in the bowl, it's an excellent sermon. Before eating, we contemplate. While eating, we contemplate the incongruity of food and we're bound to get unusual tactics for training the mind from the food that is mixed together -- because we don't eat for enjoyment, for beautification, for pride, or for recklessness. We eat enough to keep the body going, to practice the holy life so as to take the defilements and the mental effluents -- poisons that are buried deep, cluttering the heart -- and wash them away by contemplating them aptly, using these ascetic practices as our tools.
Refusing food that is brought afterwards: This too is to prevent us from being greedy and forgetting ourselves. Even when there's a lot of food -- more than enough -- greed, you know, has no land of enough. That's good. This is good. The more food there is, the wider our mouth, the longer our tongue, the bigger our stomach. These are always overtaking the Dhamma without let-up. This is sweet. That's aromatic. This is rich -- everything keeps on being good. There's no brake on our wheels -- no mindfulness -- at all. Actually, the word 'good' here is a title conferred by defilement to erase our contentment with little, our fewness of wants as meditators, without our realizing it. This is why we tend to be carried away by the lullaby of the defilements' word 'good.'
As for whether the Dhamma is good or not, that's another matter entirely. If the food is sweet, we know. If it's aromatic, we know. If the mind is attached to the flavor, we have to try to know. To be careful. To thwart the defilement that wants to get a lot and eat a lot. The Dhamma has us take just enough, or just a little, in keeping with the Dhamma; to eat just enough for the body, or just a little, without being greedy for food or other items of consumption. We eat just enough to keep going. We aren't stuffed and lethargic, aiming more at our beds than at the persistent effort to abandon defilement.
We monks, when we eat a lot and have a lot of extraneous gains, get fat and strong, but the mind forgets itself and doesn't feel like meditating. This is good for nothing at all. We simply have food fattening the body, without any Dhamma to fatten the mind. The mind that used to have Dhamma to some extent gets thinner and more emaciated day by day. If it's never had any Dhamma -- such as the Dhamma of concentration -- the situation is even worse. It has no goals at all. The ascetic practices thus have to put a brake on our greed for food so that the mind can have a chance to follow the Dhamma. The defilements won't have to be fattened, the body will be light, the mind will be still and light while making its effort -- more easily stilled than when the belly is stuffed tight with food. This is something really embarrassing in meditating monks: the way we take our stomachs, instead of the Dhamma, to show off to the world.
Living in the forest: How does it differ from living in villages? It has to differ, which is why the Buddha taught us to live there. And living in an ordinary forest vs. living in a lonely forest: How does this feel to the person living there? For a person aiming at the Dhamma, there's a big difference between living in a forest and living in a lonely forest, including the effort required to make the mind quiet. In a lonely forest, the mind becomes still easily because we aren't complacent. We're watchful over ourselves. Wherever we're mindful and alert, that's the effort of practice. Defilement is afraid of people who are mindful and alert, who are always watchful over themselves. It's not afraid of complacent people. The Buddha thus opened the way, using the ascetic practices, for us to take victory over defilement. This is the way that will stamp out defilement. It's not the case that he opened the way through the ascetic practices for defilement to stomp all over the heart.
All the ascetic practices, for those who follow them, are ways of subduing defilement. For example, living under the shade of a tree, in appropriate forests and mountains: The Buddha and his Noble Disciples all came into being in purity from these things, so we as meditators should reflect on this. We shouldn't forget ourselves. However many material gains we may receive, we shouldn't forget ourselves because of them, for that's not the way of those who follow in the footsteps of the Buddha and his Noble Disciples.
No matter how many people come to respect us, that's their business. We in practicing the Dhamma should beware of that sort of thing, because it's a concern and a distraction, an inconvenience in the practice. We shouldn't get involved in anything but the contact between the heart and the Dhamma at all times. That's what's appropriate for us. If the mind becomes a world of rebirth, it'll outstrip the worldliness of the world to the point where it has no limits or bounds. The more people come to respect us -- and our defilements as monks and human beings are always ready to welcome this -- the more pride we feel, the more we forget ourselves. We swell up more than a river overflowing its banks, because this is a matter of defilement, not of the Dhamma. Matters of the Dhamma have to be even. They require us to be mindful at all times and not to forget ourselves. This is the path followed by those who have practiced to lift themselves beyond suffering and stress. Those of us who want to gain release like them have to practice like them -- or like students who have teachers. We shouldn't practice haphazardly, claiming to be smart and not listening to anyone. That's the path of practice taking us up on the chopping block with the onions and garlic, not the path taking us to the paths, fruitions, and nibbana.
These are things I have felt ever since I was a young monk, and so I've been able to hold to them as good lessons all along. There were times when I saw people coming to show respect to my teachers, and it gave rise to a strange sort of feeling in my heart -- the feeling that I'd like to have them respect me in the same way -- but at the same time I knew that the mind was base and was giving rise to an obscene desire, so I didn't encourage it. I kept blocking it and was always conscious of my own fault in feeling that way.
When I really began to practice, I knew even more clearly that that was a wrong notion, that to think in that way wasn't right at all. It was like the toad trying to compare himself to the ox. My teacher's status was that of a teacher. My status was that of a toad lurking underground. How could I try to compare myself with him if I didn't want to burst like the toad in Aesop's fable? That fable is a very good lesson for those who practice properly for the sake of release.
The practice of visiting the cemetery: Why visit the cemetery? We people have to see evidence with our own eyes if we're going to come to our senses. Visiting cemeteries is for the sake of seeing human death. Cemeteries in the past weren't like they are today. Unburied bodies were scattered all over the place -- old bodies and new, scattered around like logs. When you saw them, you'd see clear evidence with your own eyes.
The Buddha gave instructions on how to visit a cemetery. Go from the upwind side, he said, not from the downwind side. Don't begin by looking at new corpse. Look at the old ones first. Keep contemplating the theme of your meditation and gradually move on until you know that the mind has enough mindfulness and discernment to contemplate a new corpse. Only then should you move on to a new corpse -- because a new corpse still has regular features. If the person who just died had beautiful features, it might cause desire to flare up, and you'd end up with an out-of-the-ordinary meditation theme, which is why you have to be careful.
The Buddha taught stage by stage, to visit the cemetery at intervals or in steps, and to contemplate it at intervals in keeping with your capabilities. He wouldn't have you go storming right in, for that wouldn't be fitting. He taught all the steps. Don't be in a hurry to contemplate a corpse that hasn't fallen apart or been bitten, a corpse that is still new and hasn't swollen or grown foul. Don't be in a hurry to approach such a corpse. And be especially careful with a corpse of the opposite sex -- that's what he said -- until the mind is capable enough in its contemplation. Then you can contemplate anything.
Once we've contemplated death outside until we gain clear evidence, we then turn inward to contemplate the death in our own body until we catch on to the principle within the mind. Then the external cemetery gradually becomes unnecessary, because we've caught on to the principle within ourselves and don't need to rely on anything outside. We contemplate our body to see it as a cemetery just like the external cemetery, both while it's alive and after it dies. We can compare each aspect with the outside, and the mind gradually runs out of problems of its own accord.
The practice of not lying down: This is simply a way of training ourselves to make a great effort. It doesn't mean that we take not-lying-down as a constant practice. We may resolve, for example, not to lie down tonight as our ascetic practice. This is a practice to be observed on occasion -- or you might resolve not to lie down for two or three nights running, depending on the resolution you make.
The practice of living in whatever dwelling is assigned to one: This is another ascetic practice. They're all ways of getting monks to subdue the defilement of forgetting oneself.
A monk who observes the ascetic practices well, who is solid in his observance of them, is one who is solid in his practice, truly intent on the Dhamma, truly intent on subduing defilement. He's not a person ordained to do nothing or who forgets himself. All thirteen ascetic practices are tools for subduing the defilements of those who follow them. There's nothing about them that anyone can criticize -- except for Devadatta and his gang.
A monk who doesn't observe any of these practices is an empty monk who forgets himself, who has nothing but the outside status of a monk. He wraps himself in a yellow robe, calls himself venerable -- and becomes haughty as a result. Even more so when he's given ecclesiastical rank: If the heart is taken with that sort of thing, it'll have to get excited over its shadow, without any need for backup music to get it going. The mind gets itself going through the power of the clay on its head, thinking that it has a crest. Since when has this defilement ever been willing to yield to anyone?
People of this sort forget all the affairs of monks and become part of the world -- going even further than the world. Rank is given for the sake of encouraging good practice and conduct, but if the mind becomes haughty, rank becomes a way of destroying oneself, killing oneself with various assumptions. The King bestows ranks and names, this and that, and we assume them to be a crest. Actually, they're just a bit of clay stuck on our head, not a natural crest. If you want a natural crest, then follow the practice well. What could be finer than to be 'venerable' in line with the principles of nature? The word 'venerable' means excellent, so why be enthralled with dolls and clay?
To be venerable doesn't mean that just our name is excellent. We have to be excellent in our practice and conduct, in line with such principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya as the ascetic practices. If we're solid in the ascetic practices, we'll gradually become excellent people in line with the principles of our practice and ultimately in line with the principles of nature -- excellent not just in name, but through the nature of a mind made spotless and pure. A name can be established any old day. You can even build it up to the sky if you want. They establish names just to flatter one another as a matter of custom. This is an affair of the world. They keep conferring titles on one another. Those who confer the titles have good intentions, so we have to repay those good intentions by setting our hearts on the practice in line with the principles of the Dhamma and Vinaya, and on observing our duties as monks to the full. This is in keeping with their purpose in conferring titles so as to encourage monks to be good.
At any rate, don't take the conferring of titles . . . .Don't take the title and use it to destroy yourself with pride and conceit. The highest perfection in line with natural principles, with no need to confer titles, is to practice well. Observe the precepts well. Don't violate or overstep them. Make the mind still and calm with meditation. Whichever theme you focus on, be earnest and mindful with it. When you investigate, investigate right on down so as to give rise to astuteness. Analyze the properties (dhatu), the khandhas, and the sense media (ayatana) so as to see them as they are in line with their reality, as I've already explained many times.
What are the properties? The four physical properties: earth, water, wind, and fire. These are the primal properties, the things that exist originally and get combined until a mind comes in and lays claim to ownership, so that they're called a living being or an individual, even though the various parts are just physical properties in line with their natural principles. No matter who confers titles on them as being a living being or an individual or whatever, they don't turn into that. They remain physical properties as they originally were. We should come to know this with our own discernment through investigating.
The sense media or connections: There are internal sense media and external ones. The internal ones are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. The external ones are sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas that make contact with the internal sense media, giving rise to cognition and then to all sorts of assumptions, most of which go off in the wrong directions. We should analyze these things so as to see them well. This is called vipassana, which means seeing clearly -- knowing clearly and seeing truly, not knowing in counterfeit or illusory ways.
So we should perform our duties correctly and to the full. Our heart is always hoping to depend on us, because it can't get by on its own. It's been oppressed and coerced by greed, anger, and delusion all along, which is why it's always calling for our help. So what can we use to help this heart that is always oppressed and coerced so as to release it from danger, if we don't use our practice of concentration, discernment, conviction, and persistence as a means of advancing and uprooting so as to help it escape from the danger of the things that coerce it.
At present we've come to strip off the danger in the heart. We must try every way we can to remove it. The main principle in the practice is to have the solidity -- the heart -- of a warrior, ready to die in the battle of washing the world out of the heart. If we don't gain victory, we're prepared to die, offering our life in homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Don't retreat in defeat, or you'll lose face, and the defilements will taunt you for a long time to come. You won't be able to stand your feelings of inadequacy and embarrassment in the face of the cycle of defilement. Whichever world you go to, there will be nothing but defilements trailing you and taunting you: 'What are you looking for, being born and bearing this mass of suffering, you good-for-nothing person, you? Whenever we fight, you lose miserably every time. You've never had the word "victory" at all.' Listen to that, fighters for the sake of completing the holy life! Do the taunts of the defilements sting? I myself would be stung to the quick. Even if I died, I wouldn't forget. So how do we feel? Are we spurred on to fight with them by giving our lives?
Our Buddha was a noble warrior to the last inch. His every movement was bravery in the fight with defilement, without retreat, to the point where the defilements were annihilated and he became the Teacher of the world to whom we pay homage up to the present. The footprints of his practice are still fresh in every word, every phrase of the well-taught Dhamma, which hasn't been corrupted or effaced. So hold to him as a principle in the heart, a principle in the practice, until you have no breath left to breathe. Don't let him go.
The land of victory, when all the defilements fall back in defeat: You don't have to ask about it. You'll know it on your own through the Dhamma immediately apparent to every person who practices to that point. The Buddha didn't lay any exclusive claims on it, but bestowed it as the wealth of every person who practices in dignity in the midst of this world of inconstancy, stress, and not-self. When the khandhas no longer carry on, we will attain full anupadisesa-nibbana with nothing more to worry about.
The Dhamma is something secure and complete. On the side of its causes, it's a Dhamma right for remedying and removing defilement of every sort. There's no defilement that lies above this Dhamma at all. The Buddha taught it rightly in every way, in every facet, for remedying defilement of every sort. Nothing excels this Dhamma -- in particular, the Dhamma of the middle way, which is summarized as virtue, concentration, and discernment. This is the Dhamma of causes, the methods with which we should train ourselves and which the Buddha taught us in full. As for the Dhamma of results, it comes in stages. The mind is solid and doesn't stray or lean in line with its preoccupations. It has stillness and calm: This is the mind centered in concentration. The mind is courageous and capable, astute and aware all-around in terms of the things that become involved with it both within and without: This is the mind with discernment. And when it's even more astute and refined than that, to the point of being astute all-around and attaining release, then the entire mind is Dhamma. In other words, the mind is the Dhamma, the Dhamma is the mind -- oneness -- without any adversaries paired with it as before.
My own impression -- and whether I'm right or wrong, please decide for yourselves -- but I'm certain that the Dhamma of the doctrine (sasana-dhamma), the teaching of the Buddha, refers for the most part to causes. The Buddha explained the causes, the practices to follow so as to remedy and remove defilement or to develop the various forms of goodness. The results are happiness. The teachings are simply directions showing the way.
As for the genuine Dhamma appearing from the practice, whether or not we give it names, it's a Dhamma in the principles of nature. It's Dhamma that we can't easily reach to touch. This is the Dhamma that's said to exist with the world at all times. As for the Dhamma of the doctrine taught by the Buddhas, this can disappear from time to time, as has happened with each of the long line of Buddhas who have gained Awakening. This in itself shows the inconstancy of the Dhamma of the doctrine for us to see clearly -- unlike the Dhamma in the principles of nature, which has existed from the very beginning and has no involvement with inconstancy, stress, or not-self in any way that would give rise to that Dhamma or make it end.
The tactics given by each of the Buddhas to the world are called the Dhamma of the doctrine. These aren't the genuine Dhamma. They're tactics -- different off-shoots -- actions and modes displayed by the genuine Dhamma, means for letting go and striving, teaching us to let go, teaching us to strive using various methods, saying that the results will be like this or that.
As for the genuine Dhamma of results in the principles of nature, that's something to be known exclusively in the heart of the person who practices. This Dhamma can't really be described correctly in line with its truth. We can only talk around it. And particularly with release: This can't be correctly described at all, because it's beyond all conventions and speculations. It can't be described. Even though we may know it with our full heart, we can't describe it. Like describing the flavor and fullness that come from eating: Even though eating is something in the realm of conventional reality that can be described, and though we all have savored the flavor and eaten our fill, still we can't describe these things at all in line with their truth.
The Dhamma that can't be described: That's the genuine Dhamma. It doesn't have the word 'vanishes' or 'disappears' -- simply that the world can't reach in to know it and touch it. As for annihilating this Dhamma, it can't be annihilated. When we practice in line with the tactics given by each of the Buddhas, we can touch it and become aware of it. The heart becomes an awareness of the Dhamma, a right and fitting vessel for the Dhamma -- and there is no vessel more appropriate for receiving each level of the Dhamma than the heart. When it enters into the Dhamma in full measure, the heart becomes one with the Dhamma. The heart is the Dhamma. The Dhamma is the heart. Oneness. There is nothing but oneness, not becoming two with anything else.
This Dhamma of oneness: Our ability to reach and to know it depends on our individual practice. It doesn't depend on the time or place or on anyone else. The important point is simply that our practice be right and appropriate. It will foster the mind in making contact with the Dhamma step by step to the highest step. So we should be intent and make determination the basis for our practice.
Don't forget the phrase, Buddham saranam gacchami -- I go to the Buddha for refuge -- as I have already explained it to you. Dhammam saranam gacchami -- I go to the Dhamma for refuge. This I have also explained. Sangham saranam gacchami -- I go to the Sangha for refuge. Don't forget the ways in which the Noble Disciples practiced. Virtually all of them went through hardships to the brink of death before becoming our Sangham saranam gacchami. It's not the case that they were spoonfed, while we practice with hardship and difficulties to the brink of death. That's not the case at all. They went through difficulties just like ours -- or far greater than ours -- before becoming our Sangham saranam gacchami. They came from all levels of society, some from royal families and noble families leading a very delicate life. They had the ranks of kings, courtiers, and financiers, all the way down to ordinary farmers and slaves.
Coming from different classes of society -- and some of them having lived in comfort in their homes -- when they went forth to practice, they had to train and fit their thoughts, words, and deeds into a single mould, the mould of the sons of the Sakyan. So why wouldn't they have had trouble? Why wouldn't they have had difficulties? The way they ate in their homes was one thing; when they went forth to become monks, they had to ask others for alms. Instead of getting to eat this, they got that. Instead of getting hot food, they got cold food. Instead of getting to eat a lot, they got just a little, not in keeping with their wants. So how wasn't this difficult? It had to be difficult. But after they had finished eating, the important thing was training the mind to subdue defilement. Defilement has been the adversary, the foremost opponent of the Dhamma within the heart all along. There is no adversary stronger, smarter, or trickier than the defilements that have held power over the hearts of living beings for so long.
For this reason, we have to produce enough mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence to subdue defilement. Otherwise we'll be deficient in the fight. To be deficient in the fight is no good at all. It's sure to make us deficient in the results we'll obtain. So the production of mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence to be appropriate for subduing defilement of every sort, step by step, is the path of victory for the meditator who is to gain complete results, who will one day be free and independent for sure.
Virtually all of the Noble Disciples practiced in this way until reaching release. They gained release from suffering through struggle before becoming our saranam gacchami. So don't forget. Our refuges -- Sangha saranam gacchami -- weren't spoonfed people. They were people who struggled to the brink of death just like us. Think of them and hold to them as examples. Don't take the diddly-shit affairs of the world, which have no value or standards, as the principles in your heart, or you'll become irresolute and good for nothing, unable to find any goodness, any release from stress, any happiness or prosperity, any standards at all to your dying day. When this is the case, fullness and satisfaction in your work and in the results of your work won't exist in your heart. So be intent on practicing.
The Dhamma of the Buddha is always shining new. Don't forget that it's always shining new. Majjhima patipada -- the middle way -- is a shining-new Dhamma, not tarnished, shabby, or worn out like objects we've used for a long time. Majjhima means right in the middle -- the Dhamma that has been appropriate for curing defilements of every sort all along. Ultimately it becomes majjhima in the principles of nature, because it has cured defilement and brought release within the mind. The mind becomes a majjhima mind, always even within itself.
So don't take anyone as your model more than the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. By and large, the mind tends to take lowly things as its model, which is why we have to say, 'Don't take anyone as your model other than the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.' The meditation masters who have practiced rightly, appropriately, and well as a good example for us who aim at studying with them: They too derived their model from the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha.
If we get weak or discouraged, we should reflect on the cemeteries of birth and death that will burn us forever: Is there anything good about them? The struggle involved in the effort of the practice, even though it involves hardship, is a means of cutting back on our becoming and birth. More than that, it completely eliminates becoming and birth, which are a massive heap of stress, from the heart, so that we can freely pass by and gain release. There are none of the various sorts of defilement -- even the most subtle -- infiltrating or coercing such a heart. This is what it means to be free in every way, above the world of rebirth -- which is a conventional reality -- through the power of our persistent endeavor. For this reason, we should take persistence, endeavor, and effort as our basis for victory, or as our basis for the practice. We are then sure one day of attaining release from suffering and stress. No one has the power to coerce us or decide our score. We are the ones who'll decide our score for ourselves.
Very well then. That's all I'll discuss for now.
Discuss this lesson on sangha, the Buddhist discussion group!