The Four Noble Truths
Hence we understand that the Buddha's Teaching is to know
suffering and to know what causes it to arise. And further, we
should know freedom from suffering and the way of practice which
leads to freedom. He taught us to know just these four things. When
we understand these four things we'll be able to recognize suffering
when it arises and will know that it has a cause. We'll know that it
didn't just drift in! When we wish to be free from this suffering,
we'll be able to eliminate its cause.
Why do we have this feeling of suffering, this feeling of
unsatisfactoriness? We'll see that it's because we are clinging to
our various likes and dislikes. We come to know that we are
suffering because of our own actions. We suffer because we ascribe
value to things. So we say, know suffering, know the cause of
suffering, know freedom from suffering and know the Way to this
freedom. When we know about suffering we keep untangling the knot.
But we must be sure to untangle it by pulling in the right
direction. That is to say, we must know that this is how things are.
Attachment will be torn out. This is the practice which puts an end
to our suffering.
Know suffering, know the cause of suffering, know freedom from
suffering and know the Path which leads out of suffering. This is
Magga (Path). It goes like this: Right View, Right Thought, Right
Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness, Right Concentration. When we have the right
understanding regarding these things, then we have the Path. These
things can put an end to suffering. They lead us to morality,
concentration and wisdom (Sila, Samadhi, Pañña).
We must clearly understand these four things. We must want to
understand. We must want to see these things in terms of reality.
When we see these four things we call this Sacca Dhamma. Whether we
look inside or in front or to the right or left, all we see is Sacca
Dhamma. We simply see that everything is the way it is. For someone
who has arrived at Dhamma, someone who really understands Dhamma,
wherever he goes, everything will be Dhamma.
Start Doing It!
(A lively talk, in Lao dialect, given to the Assembly of
newly-ordained Monks at Wat Pah Pong on the day of entering the
Rains Retreat, July 1978) 18
Breathe in... breathe out... just like that. Even if others are
"standing on their heads"19
that's their business. Don't bother your head over it. Just
concentrate on breathing in and out, just know your breath, that's
enough. Nothing else. Just know when the air comes in and goes out,
or you can say to yourself; "BUD" on the in-breath, "DHO"
on the out-breath.20
Take this as your subject of awareness. Just do it like that for
now. When the air comes in, you know it; when it goes out, you know
it. Then your mind will be peaceful, not disturbed, not restless.
Just the air going in and out, continuously.
In the beginning, keep it this simple, nothing fancy. However
long you may sit, if you're "sabai"21
or peaceful, you'll know within yourself. If you keep at it, the
breath becomes refined and softer, the body becomes soft (relaxed),
the mind becomes soft that's worth having! Go ahead, let it
happen naturally. Sitting "sabai," firm in meditation, not
in a daze, not drowsy or nodding off, everything becomes effortless.
Now you're peaceful! Then as you're getting up: "Wow, what was
that?" You can't stop thinking of that peace.
Then we follow through by keeping constant clear mindfulness,22
knowing ourselves. Whatever we say, whatever we do, going here,
going there, going on alms-round, washing our bowls or eating, we
know what it is we are doing. We have mindfulness, staying steady.
Just keep on doing it like this! Whatever it's time to do, do it
with constant mindfulness.
And walking meditation: take a straight path between two trees,
about seven or eight full armspans. Walking's the same as sitting
Samadhi. Collect yourself, resolve that now you're going to get into
this meditation and calm down your mind so that clear mindfulness
will be strong enough to arise. As to methods, some will start by
spreading Metta (loving-kindness) to all living creatures for
protection. Go ahead, the chicken-hearted need various approaches!
Begin with your right foot first. Take a good step and walk,
saying to yourself: "BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO..." with your
footsteps. Keep your attention right there with your feet the whole
time. If you feel restless, stop till peaceful, then step
again. Knowing the beginning, middle and end of the path, and know
when you're walking back. Know where you are continuously!
So that's the method. You can do walking meditation. Some people
will say: "Walking back and forth like that is looney!"
But there's a lot of wisdom in walking meditation, you know. Walk
back and forth. If you're tired, stop. Turn your attention inwards
and bring your mind to rest by calmly being aware of your breath.
Then become aware of one more thing, your alternating postures.
Standing, walking, sitting, lying down, we keep changing positions.
We can't only stand, only sit, or only lie down! We live using all
these postures, thus we must develop awareness in each and every
position and make them useful.
Go ahead and do it! It's not easy. But, to put it simply: It's as
if you take this glass and put it here for two minutes, then put it
there for two minutes. Move it from here to there every two minutes.
Just an example, but do it like this with concentration. In watching
your breath it's the same; you do it until you doubt and suffer and
that's when wisdom can arise. Some people will say: "What?
Moving a glass back and forth like that is nutty, not useful! Are
you crazy?" Never mind, just do it. And don't forget, two
minutes not five minutes. Concentrate! It's all in the doing.
Same with watching your breath. Sit up balanced in the
cross-legged posture, right leg resting on the left. Breathe in till
it reaches here (abdomen), breathe out till all the air is out of
your lungs. Breathe in until full then let it go. Now don't try to
regulate it! However long or short it is it's okay, good enough. Sit
and watch your breath go in and out naturally. Don't let it slip
away. If it does, stop! Where has it gone? Find it and bring it
Sooner or later you'll meet up with something good. Just keep at
it. Don't think you can't do it. Just like sowing rice in the earth,
as if you're throwing it away, but soon a sprout is born, then it
becomes a sheaf, and soon you husk it and can eat "khao
mow" (green sweet rice). It's like that, you know. That's its
This is the same just sitting. Sometimes you think,
"What am I sitting here looking at my breath for anyway? It'll
go in and out by itself without me gawking at it!" That's just
our opinionated mind, always flea-picking. Ignore it! Just try to do
it till peaceful, because when calm, the breath becomes fine, body
becomes relaxed, mind is relaxed, all's just right. Continuing on
till perhaps you're just sitting there without your breath going in
or out, but still alive. Don't be scared! Don't run away thinking
you've stopped breathing! This is already a peaceful state. You
don't have to do anything, just sit in it. Sometimes, it's like
you're not even breathing, but you are. Many things like this can
happen, but it's okay. Just be aware of it all, without being fooled
by any of it.
Just keep doing it and often! Right after you eat, hang up
your robe and just start walking: "BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO..."
Keep at it till your path becomes a knee-deep trench, just keep
walking. When tired, go and sit. Do a lot! Do it so that you know,
so that you have it, so that it's born, so that you understand what
it's all about. Not just walking a bit: chung, chok, chung, chok...
thinking of this and that, then up to lie down in your hut, soon
snoring away! You'll never see anything that way. If you're lazy,
when will it ever be finished? If you're tired or lazy, how far will
you get? Just get it together, work through and get beyond your
laziness. Not saying: "Peaceful, peaceful, peaceful," then
sit and aren't peaceful right away, then quit because it isn't
It's easy to say, but hard to do. Huh! Like saying: "Oh,
it's not hard to plant rice, to plant and eat rice is better than
this." But go out and do it and you don't know the oxen from
the buffalo from the plow! Actually, doing it is a lot different
from talking about it. That's how it is, you know.
All of you, wanting to find peacefulness it's there! But you
still don't know anything yet. Whoever you ask, you won't know. Just
get to know your own breath going in and out, "BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO..."
That's enough. Just do that. You don't have to think of much. At
this time, know this, learn this for now. "I do it and I don't
see anything." Doesn't matter, just do it. Whatever comes up,
okay, just do it like this, so you'll know what it's about. Do it
and see! If you just sit like this and know what's happening it's
really all okay. When your mind becomes peaceful, it knows. You can
sit all night till dawn and you won't feel you're even sitting, you
enjoy it. You can't explain it, it's like enjoyment.
When it gets like this, you might want to give
"profound" sermons, but beware of getting "verbal
diarrhea," expounding the Dhamma constantly, driving folks
nutty with your non-stop teaching. Like old Novice Sang. One night
just at dusk, walking meditation time, I heard someone in the bamboo
grove nearby carrying on: "Yo, yo, yo, yo..." I sat and
listened, thinking, "Who's teaching who over there? Who's
carrying on?" He didn't stop, just kept babbling on. So I took
my flashlight and walked over to see. Sure enough, it was Novice
Sang sitting under his bamboo clump, lantern lit, cross-legged,
bellowing at full blast, expounding the Dhamma to the night!
"Sang, have you flipped your lid?" "Oh, I just can't
hold it in!" he said. "When sitting, I gotta teach; when
walking, I gotta teach... don't know where it'll end!" A real
nut! Oh well, that's how it is, it can happen, you know.
But keep at it. Don't just follow your moods. When lazy, keep at
it! When energetic, keep at it! Do the sitting and walking and even
when lying down, watch your breath. Before sleeping, teach your
mind: "I won't indulge in the pleasure of sleep." When you
awaken, continue meditating. And when eating, we remind ourselves:
"I won't eat this food with greed, but only as medicine to
sustain my life for this day and night, in order to have strength
enough to carry on meditating." Before sleeping we teach
ourselves; before eating we teach ourselves like that continually.
If standing, be aware; if sitting, be aware; if lying down, be
aware. Everything, do it that way! When you lie down, lie on your
right side, focusing on your breath, "BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO..."
until you fall asleep. And as soon as you awaken, continue
"BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO..." as if you hadn't skipped a breath!
Then peacefulness will arise... be continuously mindful.
Don't look at another's practice, you can't do that. Regarding
sitting meditation, sit balanced and erect. Don't have your head
tilted back or hanging down. Keep it balanced. Like the Buddha
statue now he's "sitting tight" and bright! If you
want to change posture, endure the pain to the utmost limit before
changing. "What?" you say, "I can't handle
that!" But wait before moving. Endure the pain to its limit,
then take more. However much it hurts, go ahead and endure it. And
if it's too painful to keep "BUD-DHO" in mind, then take
the pain as your object of awareness: "Pain, pain, pain,
PAIN!" on and on instead of "BUD-DHO." Stay with it
till the pain reaches its end, and see what comes up. The Buddha
said that pain arises by itself, and it'll stop by itself. Let it
just die, don't give up! Maybe you'll break out in a sweat drops
as big as corn kernels rolling down your back. But if you can get
past the feeling once, then you'll know what it's about. But that
comes gradually, don't push yourself too far. Just slowly keep at
And know about eating... chew, swallow, and where does it end up?
Food that's right or wrong for your body, you'll know it. Know where
it reaches. Refine the art of eating; eat and estimate when you'll
be full after five more mouthfuls, then stop! Take enough water and
that's it. Try and see if you can do it. Most people don't do it
like that. Instead, they eat till full, then top up with five more
mouthfuls! But that's not the way, understand? The Buddha said just
keep eating attentively and know you're not yet full, but you will
be in five more mouthfuls, then stop! Take enough water till full.
Then, whether walking or sitting, you'll not feel heavy and your
meditation will become automatically better. But people don't want
to do it like that. If you don't really want to train yourself, then
you can't do it. Otherwise, you eat till you're too full, topping up
with another five mouthfuls. That's how it is, the nature of our
greed and defilements and the things the Buddha taught go in
different direction. We have to watch ourselves.
And sleeping, being aware, it's up to your know-how. Sometimes
you won't get to sleep on time; sleep early, sleep late, never mind.
That's what I do. Get to sleep late or not late, doesn't matter,
when I first awaken, I get right up. don't make a fuss over it. Cut
it right there. If you awaken and are still sleepy, just get right
up! Get up and go, wash your face and start walking meditation, go
right ahead and walk. That's how we must train ourselves, do it!
So these are the things to do. But you won't know about them from
just listening to what others tell you. You can only know from
actually doing the practice. So go ahead and do it. These are the
first steps in training the mind. When meditating, focus on only one
thing. Sitting, the mind only watches the breath going in and out,
continually watching, slowly becoming peaceful. If the mind is
scattered, as soon as you sit you're off missing home, mind reaching
way over there, thinking you'd like to eat some noodles (those
who've just ordained hungry, no?). You want to eat, want to
drink, hungry, wanting, missing everything! Till you're crazy. But
if you go crazy then be crazy, till you can work through it.
But do it! Have you ever done walking meditation? How is it?
"Mind wanders." Then stop till it comes back. If it really
wanders, then don't breathe until you can't stand it your mind
will come back. If you sit and your mind goes running everywhere,
hold your breath, don't let it out, and when you can't stand it,
it'll come back! Make the mind strong. Training the mind is not the
same as training animals, you know, it's something that's really
difficult to train! Don't be easily discouraged. At times, holding
your breath till your chest is about to burst is the only thing
that'll catch your mind it'll come running back! Try it and see.
During this rains retreat get to know what it's about. In the
daytime, do it; at night, do it; whenever you're fee, go ahead and
do it. Do walking meditation night and day, even if you don't talk.
Turn your attention right back to your meditation, make it
It's the same as the water in this drinking bottle. If we tilt it
a bit, it starts to "drip, drip, drip..."; we tilt it more
and "drippity, drippity, drippity..." That's like our
mindfulness. And if we really pour it out, it becomes a steady
stream of water, like out of a tap, not just dripping. Meaning that:
whether we stand, walk, sit, lie down or whatever, if we are always
aware, then our mindfulness is the same as a steady stream of water.
If we really pour it out, it's a steady stream. So, if our mind
wanders, thinks of this and that, then our mindfulness is only like
So training our mind is just like this. Whether we think of this
or that, are restless, aren't together, doesn't matter. Just keep
practicing continually, and you'll develop awareness until it's a
constant flow. Whether standing, sitting, lying down, or whatever,
that awareness will be right there with you. Do it and see!
Just sitting around, it's not going to happen by itself, you
know. But if you try too hard, you can't do it either. don't try at
all still can't do it! Keep that in mind. Sometimes you don't
even intend to sit in meditation, but your work's finished and you
sit down, empty your mind, and pap! you're peaceful right away.
Easy, because you're right there.
Take this then that's enough for now!