Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu
The Practice in Brief
Those who practice the Dhamma should train themselves to understand
in the following stages:
The training that is easy to learn, gives immediate results,
and is suitable for every time, every place, for people of every
age and either sex, is to study in the school of this body — a fathom
long, a cubit wide, and a span thick — with its perceiving mind
in charge. This body has many things, ranging from the crude to
the subtle, that are well worth knowing.
The steps of the training:
1. To begin with, know that the body is composed of various physical
properties, the major ones being the properties of earth, water,
fire, and wind; the minor ones being the aspects that adhere to
the major ones: things like color, smell, shape, etc.
These properties are unstable (inconstant), stressful, and unclean.
If you look into them deeply, you will see that there's no substance
to them at all. They are simply impersonal conditions, with nothing
worth calling "me" or "mine." When you can clearly perceive the
body in these terms, you will be able to let go of any clinging
or attachment to it as an entity, your self, someone else, this
2. The second step is to deal with mental phenomena (feelings,
perceptions, thought-formations, and consciousness). Focus on keeping
track of the truth that these are characterized by arising, persisting,
and then disbanding. In other words, their nature is to arise and
disband, arise and disband, repeatedly. When you investigate to
see this truth, you will be able to let go of your attachments to
mental phenomena as entities, as your self, someone else, this or
3. Training on the level of practice doesn't simply mean studying,
listening, or reading. You have to practice so as to see clearly
with your own mind in the following steps:
a. Start out by brushing aside all external concerns and turn
to look inside at your own mind until you can know in what ways
it is clear or murky, calm or unsettled. The way to do this is to
have mindfulness and self-awareness in charge as you keep aware
of the body and mind until you've trained the mind to stay firmly
in a state of normalcy, i.e., neutrality.
b. Once the mind can stay in a state of normalcy, you will see
mental formations or preoccupations in their natural state of arising
and disbanding. The mind will be empty, neutral, and still — neither
pleased nor displeased — and will see physical and mental phenomena
as they arise and disband naturally, of their own accord.
c. When the knowledge that there is no self to any of these things
becomes thoroughly clear, you will meet with something that lies
further inside, beyond all suffering and stress, free from the cycles
of change — deathless — free from birth as well as death, since
all things that take birth must by nature age, grow ill, and die.
d. When you see this truth clearly, the mind will be empty, not
holding onto anything. It won't even assume itself to be a mind
or anything at all. In other words, it won't latch onto itself as
being anything of any sort. All that remains is a pure condition
e. Those who see this pure condition of Dhamma in full clarity
are bound to grow disenchanted with the repeated sufferings of life.
When they know the truth of the world and the Dhamma throughout,
they will see the results clearly, right in the present, that
there exists that which lies beyond all suffering. They will
know this without having to ask or take it on faith from anyone,
for the Dhamma is paccattam, i.e., something really to be
known for oneself. Those who have seen this truth within themselves
will attest to it always.
An Hour's Meditation
March 3, 1977
For those of you who have never sat in meditation, here is how
it's done: Fold your legs, one on top of the other, but don't cut
off the nerves or the blood flow, or else the breath energy in your
legs will stagnate and cause you pain. Sit straight and place your
hands, one on top of the other, on your lap. Hold your head up straight
and keep your back straight, too — as if you had a yardstick sticking
down your spine. You have to work at keeping it straight, you know.
Don't spend the time slouching down and then stretching up again,
or else the mind won't be able to settle down and be still...
Keep the body straight and your mindfulness firm — firmly with
the breath. However coarse or refined your breath may be, simply
breathe in naturally. You don't have to force the breath or tense
your body. Simply breathe in and out in a relaxed way. Only then
will the mind begin to settle down. As soon as the breath grows
normally refined and the mind has begun to settle down, focus your
attention on the mind itself. If it slips off elsewhere, or any
thoughts come in to intrude, simply know right there at the mind.
Know the mind right at the mind with every in-and-out breath for
the entire hour...
When you focus on the breath, using the breath as a leash to
tie the mind in place so that it doesn't go wandering off, you have
to use your endurance. That is, you have to endure pain. For example,
when you sit for a long time there's going to be pain, because you've
never sat for so long before. So first make sure that you keep the
mind normal and neutral. When pain arises, don't focus on the pain.
Let go of it as much as you can. Let go of it and focus on your
mind... For those of you who've never done this before, it may take
a while. Whenever any pain or anything arises, if the mind is affected
by craving or defilement, it'll struggle because it doesn't want
the pain. All it wants is pleasure.
This is where you have to be patient and endure the pain,
because pain is something that has to occur. If there's pleasure,
don't get enthralled with it. If there's pain, don't push it away.
Start out by keeping the mind neutral as your basic stance. Then
whenever pleasure or pain arises, don't get pleased or upset. Keep
the mind continuously neutral and figure out how to let go. If there's
a lot of pain, you first have to endure it and then relax your attachments.
Don't think of the pain as being your pain. Let it be the
pain of the body, the pain of nature.
If the mind latches tight onto anything, it really suffers. It
struggles. So here we patiently endure and let go. You have to practice
so that you're really good at handling pain. If you can let go of
physical pain, you'll be able to let go of all sorts of other sufferings
and pains as well... Keep watching the pain, knowing the pain, letting
it go. Once you can let it go, you don't have to use a lot of endurance.
It takes a lot of endurance only at the beginning. Once the pain
arises, separate the mind from it. Let it be the pain of the body.
Don't let the mind be pained, too...
This is something that requires equanimity. If you can maintain
equanimity in the face of pleasure or pain, it can make the mind
peaceful — peaceful even though the pain is still pain. The mind
keeps knowing, enduring the pain so as to let it go.
After you've worked at this a good while, you'll come to see
how important the ways of the mind are. The mind may be hard to
train, but if you keep training it — if you have the time, you can
practice at home, at night or early in the morning, keeping watch
on your mind — you'll gain the understanding that comes from mindfulness
and discernment. Those who don't train the mind like this go through
life — birth, aging, illness, and death — not knowing a thing about
the mind at all.
When you know your own mind, then when any really heavy illness
comes along, the fact that you know your mind will make the pain
less and less. But this is something you have to work at doing correctly.
It's not easy, yet once the mind is well trained there's no match
for it. It can do away with pain and suffering, and doesn't get
restless and agitated. It grows still and cool — refreshed and blooming
right there within itself. So try to experience this still, quiet
This is a really important skill to develop, because it will
make craving, defilement, and attachment grow weaker and weaker.
All of us have defilements, you know. Greed, anger, and delusion
cloud all of our hearts. If we haven't trained ourselves in meditation,
our hearts are constantly burning with suffering and stress. Even
the pleasure we feel over external things is pleasure only in half-measures,
because there's suffering and stress in the delusion that thinks
it's pleasure. As for the pleasure that comes from the practice,
it's a cool pleasure that lets go of everything, really free from
any sense of "me" or "mine." I ask that you reach the Dhamma that's
the real meat inside this thing undisturbed by defilement, undisturbed
by pain or anything else.
Even though there's pain in the body, you have to figure out
how to let it go. The body's simply the four elements — earth, water,
wind, and fire. It has to keep showing its inconstancy and stressfulness,
so keep your mindfulness neutral, at equanimity. Let the mind be
above its feelings — above pleasure, above pain, above everything...
All it really takes is endurance — endurance and relinquishment,
letting things go, seeing that they're not us, not ours. This is
a point you have to hammer at, over and over again. When we say
you have to endure, you really have to endure. Don't be willing
to surrender. Craving is going to keep coming up and whispering
— telling you to change things, to try for this or that kind of
pleasure — but don't you listen to it. You have to listen to the
Buddha — the Buddha who tells you to let go of craving. Otherwise,
craving will plaster and paint things over; the mind will struggle
and won't be able to settle down. So you have to give it your all.
Look at this hour as a special hour — special in that you're using
special endurance to keep watch on your own heart and mind.
A Basic Order in Life
January 29, 1964
The most important thing in the daily life of a person who practices
the Dhamma is to keep to the precepts and to care for them more
than you care for your life — to maintain them in a way that the
Noble Ones would praise. If you don't have this sort of regard for
the precepts, then the vices that run counter to them will become
your everyday habits...
Meditators who see that the breaking of a precept is something
trifling and insignificant spoil their entire practice. If you can't
practice even these basic, beginning levels of the Dhamma, it will
ruin all the qualities you'll be trying to develop in the later
stages of the practice. This is why you have to stick to the precepts
as your basic foundation and to keep a lookout for anything in your
behavior that falls short of them. Only then will you be able to
benefit from your practice for the sake of eliminating your sufferings
with greater and greater precision.
If you simply act in line with the cravings and desires swelling
out of the sense of self that has no fear of the fires of defilement,
you'll have to suffer both in this life and in lives to come. If
you don't have a sense of conscience — a sense of shame at the thought
of doing shoddy actions, and a fear of their consequences — your
practice can only deteriorate day by day...
When people live without any order to their lives — without even
the basic order that comes with the precepts — there's no way they
can attain purity. We have to examine ourselves: In what ways at
present are we breaking our precepts in thought, word, or deed?
If we simply let things pass and aren't intent on examining ourselves
to see the harm that comes from breaking the precepts and following
the defilements, our practice can only sink lower and lower. Instead
of extinguishing defilements and suffering, it will simply succumb
to the power of craving. If this is the case, what damage is done?
How much freedom does the mind lose? These are things we have to
learn for ourselves. When we do, our practice of self-inspection
in higher matters will get solid results and won't go straying off
into nonsense. For this reason, whenever craving or defilement shows
itself in any way in any of our actions, we have to catch hold of
it and examine what's going on inside the mind.
Once we're aware with real mindfulness and discernment, we'll
see the poison and power of the defilements. We'll feel disgust
for them and want to extinguish them as much as we can. But if we
use our defilements to examine things, they'll say everything is
fine. The same as when we're predisposed to liking a certain person:
Even if he acts badly, we say he's good. If he acts wrongly, we
say he's right. This is the way the defilements are. They say that
everything we do is right and throw all the blame on other people,
other things. So we can't trust it — this sense of "self" in which
craving and defilement lord it over the heart. We can't trust it
The violence of defilement, or this sense of self, is like that
of a fire burning a forest or burning a house. It won't listen to
anyone, but simply keeps burning away, burning away inside of you.
And that's not all. It's always out to set fire to other people,
The fires of suffering, the fires of defilement consume all those
who don't contemplate themselves or who don't have any means of
practice for putting them out. People of this sort can't withstand
the power of the defilements, can't help but follow along wherever
their cravings lead them. The moment they're provoked, they follow
in line with these things. This is why the sensations in the mind
when provoked by defilement are very important, for they can lead
you to do things with no sense of shame, no fear for the consequences
of doing evil at all — which means that you're sure to break your
Once you've followed the defilements, they feel really satisfied
— like arsonists who feel gleeful when they've set other people's
places on fire. As soon as you've called somebody something vile
or spread some malicious gossip, the defilements really like it.
Your sense of self really likes it, because acting in line with
defilement like that gives it real satisfaction. As a consequence,
it keeps filling itself with the vices that run counter to the precepts,
falling into hell in this very lifetime without realizing it. So
take a good look at the violence the defilements do to you, to see
whether you should keep socializing with them, to see whether you
should regard them as your friends or your enemies...
As soon as any wrong views or ideas come out of the mind, we
have to analyze them and turn around so as to catch sight of the
facts within us. No matter what issues the defilements raise, focusing
on the faults of others, we have to turn around and look within.
When we realize our own faults and can come to our senses:
That's where our study of the Dhamma, our practice of the Dhamma,
shows its real rewards.
January 14, 1964
The passage for reflection on the four requisites (clothing,
food, shelter, and medicine) is a fine pattern for contemplation,
but we never actually get down to putting it to use. We're taught
to memorize it in the beginning not simply to pass the time of day
or so that we can talk about it every now and then, but so that
we can use it to contemplate the requisites until we really know
them with our own mindfulness and discernment. If we actually get
down to contemplating in line with the established pattern, our
minds will become much less influenced by unwise thoughts. But it's
the rare person who genuinely makes this a continuous practice...
For the most part we're not interested. We don't feel like contemplating
this sort of thing. We'd much rather contemplate whether this or
that food will taste good or not, and if it doesn't taste good,
how to fix it so that it will. That's the sort of thing we like
Try to see the filthiness of food and of the physical properties
in general, to see their emptiness of any real entity or self. There's
nothing of any substance to the physical properties of the body,
which are all rotten and decomposing. The body is like a restroom
over a cesspool. We can decorate it on the outside to make it pretty
and attractive, but on the inside it's full of the most horrible,
filthy things. Whenever we excrete anything, we ourselves are repelled
by it; yet even though we're repelled by it, it's there inside us,
in our intestines — decomposing, full of worms, awful smelling.
There's just the flimsiest membrane covering it up, yet we fall
for it and hold tight to it. We don't see the constant decomposition
of this body, in spite of the filth and smells it sends out...
The reason we're taught to memorize the passage for reflecting
on the requisites, and to use it to contemplate, is so that we'll
see the inconstancy of the body, to see that there's no "self" to
any of it or to any of the mental phenomena we sense with every
* * *
We contemplate mental phenomena to see clearly that they're not-self,
to see this with every moment. The moments of the mind — the arising,
persisting, and disbanding of mental sensations — are very subtle
and fast. To see them, the mind has to be quiet. If the mind is
involved in distractions, thoughts, and imaginings, we won't be
able to penetrate in to see its characteristics as it deals with
its objects, to see what the arising and disbanding within it is
This is why we have to practice concentration: to make the mind
quiet, to provide a foundation for our contemplation. For instance,
you can focus on the breath, or be aware of the mind as it focuses
on the breath. Actually, when you focus on the breath, you're also
aware of the mind. And again, the mind is what knows the breath.
So you focus exclusively on the breath together with the mind. Don't
think of anything else, and the mind will settle down and grow still.
Once it attains stillness on this level, you've got your chance
Making the mind still so that you can contemplate it is something
you have to keep working at in the beginning. The same holds true
with training yourself to be mindful & alert in all your activities.
This is something you really have to work at continuously in this
stage, something you have to do all the time. At the same time,
you have to arrange the external conditions of your life so that
you won't have any concerns to distract you...
Now, of course, the practice is something you can do in any set
of circumstances — for example, when you come home from work you
can sit and meditate for a while — but when you're trying seriously
to make it continuous, to make it habitual, it's much more difficult
than that. "Making it habitual" means being fully mindful and aware
with each in-and-out breath, wherever you go, whatever you do, whether
you're healthy, sick, or whatever, and regardless of what happens
inside or out. The mind has to be in a state of all-encompassing
awareness while keeping track of the arising and disbanding of mental
phenomena at all times — to the point where you can stop the
mind from forming thoughts under the power of craving and defilement
the way it used to before you began the practice.
Every In-and-out Breath
January 29, 1964
Try keeping your awareness with the breath to see what the still
mind is like. It's very simple, all the rules have been laid out,
but when you actually try to do it, something resists. It's hard.
But when you let your mind think 108 or 1009 things, no matter what,
it's all easy. It's not hard at all. Try and see if you can engage
your mind with the breath in the same way it's been engaged with
the defilements. Try engaging it with the breath and see what
happens. See if you can disperse the defilements with every in-and-out
breath. Why is it that the mind can stay engaged with the defilements
all day long and yet go for entire days without knowing how heavy
or subtle the breath is at all?
So try and be observant. The bright, clear awareness that stems
from staying focused on the mind at all times: Sometimes a strong
sensory contact comes and can make it blur and fade away with no
trouble at all. But if you can keep hold of the breath as a reference
point, that state of mind can be more stable and sure, more insured.
It has two fences around it. If there's only one fence, it can easily
Taking a Stance
January 14, 1964
Normally the mind isn't willing to stop and look, to stop and
know itself, which is why we have to keep training it continually
so that it will settle down from its restlessness and grow still.
Let your desires and thought-processes settle down. Let the mind
take its stance in a state of normalcy, not liking or disliking
anything. To reach a basic level of emptiness and freedom, you first
have to take a stance. If you don't have a stance against which
to measure things, progress will be very difficult. If your practice
is hit-or-miss — a bit of that, a little of this — you won't get
any results. So the mind first has to take a stance.
When you take a stance that the mind can maintain in a state
of normalcy, don't go slipping off into the future. Have the mind
know itself in the stance of the present: "Right now it's in a state
of normalcy. No likes or dislikes have arisen yet. It hasn't created
any issues. It's not being disturbed by a desire for this or that."
Then look on in to the basic level of the mind to see if it's
as normal and empty as it should be. If you're really looking inside,
really aware inside, then that which is looking and knowing is
mindfulness and discernment in and of itself. You don't need
to search for anything anywhere else to come and do your looking
for you. As soon as you stop to look, stop to know whether or not
the mind is in a state of normalcy, then if it's normal you'll know
immediately that it's normal. If it's not, you'll know immediately
that it's not.
Take care to keep this awareness going. If you can keep knowing
like this continuously, the mind will be able to keep its stance
continuously as well. As soon as the thought occurs to you to check
things out, you'll immediately stop to look, stop to know, without
any need to go searching for knowledge from anywhere else. You look,
you know, right there at the mind and can tell whether or not it's
empty and still. Once you see that it is, then you investigate to
see how it's empty, how it's still. It's not the case
that once it's empty, that's the end of the matter; once it's still,
that's the end of the matter. That's not the case at all.
You have to keep watch of things, you have to investigate at all
times. Only then will you see the changing — the arising and disbanding
— occurring in that emptiness, that stillness, that state of normalcy.
The Details of Pain
December 28, 1972
To lead your daily life by keeping constant supervision over
the mind is a way of learning what life is for. It's a way of learning
how we can act so as to rid ourselves more and more of suffering
and stress — because the suffering and stress caused by defilement,
attachment, and craving are sure to take all sorts of forms. Only
by being aware with true mindfulness and discernment can we comprehend
them for what they are. Otherwise, we'll simply live obliviously,
going wherever events will lead us. This is why mindfulness and
discernment are tools for reading yourself, for testing yourself
within so that you won't be careless or complacent, oblivious to
the fact that suffering is basically what life is all about.
This point is something we really have to comprehend so that
we can live without being oblivious. The pains and discontent that
fill our bodies and minds all show us the truths of inconstancy,
stress, and not-selfness within us. If you contemplate what's going
on inside until you can get down to the details, you'll see the
truths that appear within and without, all of which come down to
inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness. But the delusion basic to
our nature will see everything wrongly — as constant, easeful, and
self — and so make us live obliviously, even though there is nothing
to guarantee how long our lives will last.
Our dreams and delusions make us forget that we live in the midst
of a mass of pain and stress — the stress of defilements, the pain
of birth. Birth, aging, illness, and death: All of these are painful
and stressful, in the midst of instability and change. They're things
we have no control over, for they must circle around in line with
the laws of kamma and the defilements we've been amassing
all along. Life that floats along in the round of rebirth is thus
nothing but stress and pain.
If we can find a way to develop our mindfulness and discernment,
they'll be able to cut the round of rebirth so that we won't have
to keep wandering on. They'll help us know that birth is painful,
aging is painful, illness is painful, death is painful, and that
these are all things that defilement, attachment, and craving keep
driving through the cycles of change.
So as long as we have the opportunity, we should study the truths
appearing throughout our body and mind, and we'll come to know that
the elimination of stress and pain, the elimination of defilement,
is a function of our practice of the Dhamma. If we don't practice
the Dhamma, we'll keep floating along in the round of rebirth that
is so drearily repetitious — repetitious in its birth, aging, illness,
and death, driven on by defilement, attachment, and craving, causing
us repeated stress, repeated pain. Living beings for the most part
don't know where these stresses and pains come from or what they
come from, because they've never studied them, never contemplated
them, so they stay stupid and deluded, wandering on and on without
If we can stop and be still, the mind will have a chance to be
free, to contemplate its sufferings, and to let them go. This will
give it a measure of peace, because it will no longer want anything
out of the round of rebirth — for it sees that there's nothing lasting
to it, that it's simply stress over and over again. Whatever you
grab hold of is stress. This is why you need mindfulness and discernment
to know and see things for yourself, so that you can supervise the
mind and keep it calm, without letting it fall victim to temptation.
This practice is something of the highest importance. People
who don't study or practice the Dhamma have wasted their birth as
human beings, because they're born deluded and simply stay deluded.
But if we study the Dhamma, we'll become wise to suffering and know
the path of practice for freeing ourselves from it...
Once we follow the right path, the defilements won't be able
to drag us around, won't be able to burn us, because we're
the ones burning them away. We'll come to realize that the
more we can burn them away, the more strength of mind we'll gain.
If we let the defilements burn us, the mind will be sapped of its
strength, which is why this is something you have to be very careful
about. Keep trying to burn away the defilements in your every activity,
and you'll be storing up strength for your mindfulness and discernment
so that they'll be brave in dealing with all sorts of suffering
You must come to see the world as nothing but stress. There's
no real ease to it at all. The awareness we gain from mindfulness
and discernment will make us disenchanted with life in the world
because it will see things for what they are in every way, both
within us and without.
The entire world is nothing but an affair of delusion, an affair
of suffering. People who don't know the Dhamma, don't practice the
Dhamma — no matter what their status or position in life — lead
deluded, oblivious lives. When they fall ill or are about to die,
they're bound to suffer enormously because they haven't taken the
time to understand the defilements that burn their hearts and minds
in everyday life. Yet if we make a constant practice of studying
and contemplating ourselves as our everyday activity, it will help
free us from all sorts of suffering and distress. And when this
is the case, how can we not want to practice?
Only intelligent people, though, will be able to stick with the
practice. Foolish people won't want to bother. They'd much rather
follow the defilements than burn them away. To practice the Dhamma
you need a certain basic level of intelligence — enough to have
seen at least something of the stresses and sufferings that
come from defilement. Only then can your practice progress. And
no matter how difficult it gets, you'll have to keep practicing
on to the end.
This practice isn't something you do from time to time, you know.
You have to keep at it continuously throughout life. Even if it
involves so much physical pain or mental anguish that tears are
bathing your cheeks, you have to keep with the chaste life because
you're playing for real. If you don't follow the chaste life, you'll
get mired in heaps of suffering and flame. So you have to learn
your lessons from pain. Try to contemplate it until you can understand
it and let it go, and you'll gain one of life's greatest rewards.
Don't think that you were born to gain this or that level of
comfort. You were born to study pain and the causes of pain, and
to follow the practice that frees you from pain. This is the most
important thing there is. Everything else is trivial and unimportant.
What's important all lies with the practice.
* * *
Don't think that the defilements will go away easily. When they
don't come in blatant forms, they come in subtle ones — and the
dangers of the subtle ones are hard to see. Your contemplation will
have to be subtle, too, if you want to get rid of them. You'll come
to realize that this practice of the Dhamma, in which we contemplate
to get to the details inside us, is like sharpening our tools so
that, when stress and suffering arise, we can weaken them and cut
them away. If your mindfulness and discernment are brave, the defilements
will have to lose out to them. But if you don't train your mindfulness
and discernment to be brave, the defilements will crush you to pieces.
We were born to do battle with the defilements and to strengthen
our mindfulness and discernment. We'll find that the worth of
our practice will grow higher and higher because in our everyday
life we've done continuous battle with the stresses and pains caused
by defilement, craving, and temptation all along — so that the defilements
will grow thin and our mindfulness and discernment stronger. We'll
sense within ourselves that the mind isn't as troubled and restless
as it used to be. It's grown peaceful and calm. The stresses and
sufferings of defilement, attachment, and craving have grown weaker.
Even though we haven't yet wiped them out completely, they've grown
continually weaker — because we don't feed them. We don't give them
shelter. We do what we can to weaken them so that they grow thinner
and thinner each time.
And we have to be brave in contemplating stress and pain, because
when we don't feel any great suffering we tend to get complacent.
But when the pains and sufferings in our body and mind grow sharp
and biting, we have to use our mindfulness and discernment to be
strong. Don't let your spirits be weak. Only then will you
be able to do away with your sufferings and pains.
We have to learn our lessons from pain so that ultimately the
mind can gain its freedom from it, instead of being weak and losing
out to it all of the time. We have to be brave in doing battle with
it to the ultimate extreme — until we reach the point where we can
let it go. Pain is something always present in this conglomerate
of body and mind. It's here for us to see with every moment. If
we contemplate it till we know all its details, we can then make
it our sport: seeing that the pain is the pain of natural conditions
and not our pain. This is something we have to research so
as to get to the details: that it's not our pain, it's the
pain of the aggregates [form, feeling, perception, thought-formations,
and consciousness]. Knowing in this way means that we can separate
out the properties — the properties of matter and those of the mind
— to see how they interact with one another, how they change. It's
something really fascinating... Watching pain is a way of building
up lots of mindfulness and discernment.
But if you focus on pleasure and ease, you'll simply stay deluded
like people in general. They get carried away with the pleasure
that comes from watching or listening to the things they like —
but then when pain comes to their bodies and minds to the point
where tears are bathing their cheeks, think of how much they suffer!
And then they have to be parted from their loved ones, which makes
it even worse. But those of us who practice the Dhamma don't need
to be deluded like that, because we know and see with every moment
that only stress arises, only stress persists, only stress passes
away. Aside from stress, nothing arises; aside from stress, nothing
passes away. This is there for us to perceive with every moment.
If we contemplate it, we'll see it.
So we can't let ourselves be oblivious. This is what the truth
is, and we have to study it so as to know it — especially in our
life of the practice. We have to contemplate stress all the time
to see its every manifestation. The arahants live without being
oblivious because they know the truth at all times, and their hearts
are clean and pure. As for us with our defilements, we have to keep
trying, because if we continually supervise the mind with mindfulness
and discernment, we'll be able to keep the defilements from making
it dirty and obscured. Even if it does become obscured in any way,
we'll be able to remove that obscurity and make the mind empty and
This is the practice that weakens all the defilements, attachments,
and cravings within us. It's because of this practice of the Dhamma
that our lives will become free. So I ask you to keep working at
the practice without being complacent, because if in whatever span
of life is left to you, you keep trying to the full extent of your
abilities, you'll gain the mindfulness and discernment to see the
facts within yourself, and be able to let go — free from any sense
of self, free from any sense of self — continuously.
Aware Right at Awareness
November 3, 1975
The mind, if mindfulness and awareness are watching over it,
won't meet with any suffering as the result of its actions. If suffering
does arise, we'll be immediately aware of it and able to
put it out. This is one point of the practice we can work at constantly.
And we can test ourselves by seeing how refined and subtle our all-around
awareness is inside the mind. Whenever the mind slips away and goes
out to receive external sensory contact: Can it maintain its basic
stance of mindfulness or internal awareness? The practice we need
to work at in our everyday life is to have constant mindfulness,
constant all-around present awareness like this. This is something
we work at in every posture: sitting, standing, walking, and lying
down. Make sure that your mindfulness stays continuous.
Living in this world — the mental and physical phenomena of these
five aggregates — gives us plenty to contemplate. We must try to
watch them, to contemplate them, so that we can understand them
— because the truths we must learn how to read in this body and
mind are here to be read with every moment. We don't have to get
wrapped up with any other extraneous themes, because all the themes
we need are right here in the body and mind. As long as we can keep
the mind constantly aware all around, we can contemplate them.
If you contemplate mental and physical events to see how they
arise and disband right in the here and now, and don't get involved
with external things — like sights making contact with the eyes,
or sounds with the ears — then there really aren't a lot of issues.
The mind can be at normalcy, at equilibrium — calm and undisturbed
by defilement or the stresses that come from sensory contact. It
can look after itself and maintain its balance. You'll come to sense
that if you're aware right at awareness in and of itself, without
going out to get involved in external things like the mental labels
and thoughts that will tend to arise, the mind will see their constant
arising and disbanding — and won't be embroiled in anything. This
way it can be disengaged, empty, and free. But if it goes out to
label things as good or evil, as "me" or "mine," or gets attached
to anything, it'll become unsettled and disturbed.
You have to know that if the mind can be still, totally
and presently aware, and capable of contemplating with every activity,
then blatant forms of suffering and stress will dissolve away. Even
if they start to form, you can be alert to them and disperse them
immediately. Once you see this actually happening — even in only
the beginning stages — it can disperse a lot of the confusion and
turmoil in your heart. In other words, don't let yourself dwell
on the past or latch onto thoughts of the future. As for the events
arising and passing away in the present, you have to leave them
alone. Whatever your duties, simply do them as you have to — and
the mind won't get worked up about anything. It will be able, to
at least some extent, to be empty and still.
This one thing is something you have to be very careful about.
You have to see this for yourself: that if your mindfulness and
discernment are constantly in charge, the truths of the arising
and disbanding of mental and physical phenomena are always there
for you to see, always there for you to know. If you look at
the body, you'll have to see it simply as physical properties. If
you look at feelings, you'll have to see them as changing and inconstant:
pleasure, pain, neither pleasure nor pain. To see these things is
to see the truth within yourself. Don't let yourself get caught
up with your external duties. Simply keep watch in this way inside.
If your awareness is the sort that lets you read yourself correctly,
the mind will be able to stay at normalcy, at equilibrium, at stillness,
without any resistance.
If the mind can stay with itself and not go out looking for things
to criticize or latch onto, it can maintain a natural form of stillness.
So this is something we have to try for in our every activity. Keep
your conversations to a minimum, and there won't be a whole lot
of issues. Keep watch right at the mind. When you keep watch at
the mind and your mindfulness is continuous, your senses can stay
Being mindful to keep watch in this way is something you have
to work at. Try it and see: Can you keep this sort of awareness
continuous? What sort of things can still get the mind engaged?
What sorts of thoughts and labels of good and bad, me and mine,
does it think up? Then look to see if these things arise and disband.
The sensations that arise from external contact and internal
contact all have the same sorts of characteristics. You have to
look till you can see this. If you know how to look, you'll see
it — and the mind will grow calm.
So the point we have to practice in this latter stage doesn't
have a whole lot of issues. There's nothing you have to do, nothing
you have to label, nothing you have to think a whole lot about.
Simply look carefully and contemplate, and in this very lifetime
you'll have a chance to be calm and at peace, to know yourself more
profoundly within. You'll come to see that the Dhamma is amazing
right here in your own heart. Don't go searching for the
Dhamma outside, for it lies within. Peace lies within, but we have
to contemplate so that we're aware all around — subtly, deep down.
If you look just on the surface, you won't understand anything.
Even if the mind is at normalcy on the ordinary, everyday level,
you won't understand much of anything at all.
You have to contemplate so that you're aware all around in a
skillful way. The word "skillful" is something you can't explain
with words, but you can know for yourself when you see the way in
which awareness within the heart becomes special, when you see what
this special awareness is about. This is something you can know
And there's not really much to it: simply arising, persisting,
disbanding. Look until this becomes plain — really, really plain
— and everything disappears. All suppositions, all conventional
formulations, all those aggregates and properties get swept away,
leaving nothing but awareness pure and simple, not involved with
anything at all — and there's nothing you have to do to it. Simply
stay still and watch, be aware, letting go with every moment.
Simply watching this one thing is enough to do away with all
sorts of defilements, all sorts of suffering and stress. If
you don't know how to watch it, the mind is sure to get disturbed.
It's sure to label things and concoct thoughts. As soon as there's
contact at the senses, it'll go looking for things to latch onto,
liking and disliking the objects it meets in the present and then
getting involved with the past and future, spinning a web to entangle
If you truly look at each moment in the present, there's really
nothing at all. You'll see with every mental moment that things
disband, disband, disband — really nothing at all. The important
point is that you don't go forming issues out of nothing. The physical
elements perform their duties in line with their elementary physical
nature. The mental elements keep sensing in line with their own
affairs. But our stupidity is what goes looking for issues to cook
up, to label, to think about. It goes looking for things to latch
onto and then gets the mind into a turmoil. This point is all we
really have to see for ourselves. This is the problem we have to
solve for ourselves. If things are left to their nature, pure and
simple, there's no "us," no "them." This is a singular truth that
will arise for us to know and see. There's nothing else we can know
or see that can match it in any way. Once you know and see this
one thing, it extinguishes all suffering and stress. The mind will
be empty and free, with no meanings, no attachments, for anything
This is why looking inward is so special in so many ways. Whatever
arises, simply stop still to look at it. Don't get excited by it.
If you become excited when any special intuitions arise when the
mind is still, you'll get the mind worked up into a turmoil. If
you become afraid that this or that will happen, that too will get
you in a turmoil. So you have to stop and look, stop and know. The
first thing is simply to look. The first thing is simply to know.
And don't latch onto what you know — because whatever it is, it's
simply a phenomenon that arises and disbands, arises and disbands,
changing as part of its nature.
So your awareness has to take a firm stance right at the mind
in and of itself. In the beginning stages, you have to know that
when mindfulness is standing firm, the mind won't be affected by
the objects of sensory contact. Keep working at maintaining this
stance, holding firm to this stance. If you gain a sense of this
for yourself, really knowing and seeing for yourself, your mindfulness
will become even more firm. If anything arises in any way at all,
you'll be able to let it go — and all the many troubles and turmoils
of the mind will dissolve away.
If mindfulness slips and the mind goes out giving meanings to
anything, latching onto anything, troubles will arise, so you have
to keep checking on this with every moment. There's nothing else
that's so worth checking on. You have to keep check on the mind
in and of itself, contemplating the mind in and of itself. Or else
you can contemplate the body in and of itself, feelings in and of
themselves, or the phenomenon of arising and disbanding — i.e.,
the Dhamma — in and of itself. All of these things are themes you
can keep track of entirely within yourself. You don't have to keep
track of a lot of themes, because having a lot of themes is what
will make you restless and distracted. First you'll practice this
theme, then you'll practice that, then you'll make comparisons,
all of which will keep the mind from growing still.
If you can take your stance at awareness, if you're skilled at
looking, the mind can be at peace. You'll know how things arise
and disband. First practice keeping awareness right within yourself
so that your mindfulness can be firm, without being affected by
the objects of sensory contact, so that it won't label things as
good or bad, pleasing or displeasing. You have to keep checking
to see that when the mind can be at normalcy, centered and neutral
as its primary stance, then — whatever it knows or sees — it will
be able to contemplate and let go.
The sensations in the mind that we explain at such length are
still on the level of labels. Only when there can be awareness
right at awareness will you really be able to know that the
mind that is aware of awareness in this way doesn't send its knowing
outside of this awareness. There are no issues. Nothing can be concocted
in the mind when it knows in this way. In other words,
The only thing you have to work at maintaining is the state of
mind at normalcy — knowing, seeing, and still in the present. If
you don't maintain it, if you don't keep looking after it, then
when sensory contact comes it will have an effect. The mind will
go out with labels of good and bad, liking and disliking. So make
sure you maintain the basic awareness that's aware right at yourself.
And don't let there be any labeling. No matter what sort of sensory
contact comes, you have to make sure that this awareness comes first.
If you train yourself correctly in this way, everything will
stop. You won't go straying out through your senses of sight, hearing,
etc. The mind will stop and look, stop and be aware right at awareness,
so as to know the truth that all things arise and disband. There's
no real truth to anything. Only our stupidity is what latches onto
things, giving them meanings and then suffering for it — suffering
because of its ignorance, suffering because of its unacquaintance
with the five aggregates — form, feelings, perceptions, thought-formations,
and consciousness — all of which are inconstant, stressful, and
Use mindfulness to gather your awareness together, and the mind
will stop getting unsettled, stop running after things. It will
be able to stop and be still. Then make it know in this way, see
in this way constantly — at every moment, with every activity.
Work at watching and knowing the mind in and of itself: That will
be enough to cut away all sorts of issues. You won't have to concern
yourself with them.
If the body is in pain, simply keep watch of it. You can simply
keep watch of feelings in the body because the mind that's aware
of itself in this way can keep watch of anything within or without.
Or it can simply be aware of itself to the point where it lets go
of things outside, lets go of sensory contact, and keeps constant
watch on the mind in and of itself. That's when you'll know that
this is what the mind is like when it's at peace: It doesn't give
meanings to anything. It's the emptiness of the mind unattached,
uninvolved, unconcerned with anything at all.
These words — unattached, uninvolved, and unconcerned — are things
you have to consider carefully, because what they refer to is subtle
and deep. "Uninvolved" means uninvolved with sensory contact, undisturbed
by the body or feelings. "Unconcerned" means not worried about past,
future, or present. You have to contemplate these things until you
know them skillfully. Even though they're subtle, you have to contemplate
them until you know them thoroughly. And don't go concerning yourself
with external things, because they'll keep you unsettled, keep you
running, keep you distracted with labels and thoughts of good and
bad and all that sort of thing. You have to put a stop to these
things. If you don't, your practice won't accomplish anything, because
these things keep playing up to you and deceiving you — i.e., once
you see anything, it will fool you into seeing it as right, wrong,
good, bad, and so forth.
Eventually you have to come down to the awareness that everything
simply arises, persists, and then disbands. Make sure you stay
focused on the disbanding. If you watch just the arising, you
may get carried off on a tangent, but if you focus on the disbanding
you'll see emptiness: Everything is disbanding every instant. No
matter what you look at, no matter what you see, it's there for
just an instant and then disbands. Then it arises again. Then it
disbands. There's simply arising, knowing, disbanding.
So let's watch what happens of its own accord — because the arising
and disbanding that occurs by way of the senses is something that
happens of its own accord. You can't prevent it. You can't force
it. If you look and know it without attachment, there will be none
of the harm that comes from joy or sorrow. The mind will stay in
relative normalcy and neutrality. But if you're forgetful and start
latching on, labeling things in pairs in any way at all — good and
bad, happy and sad, pleasing and displeasing — the mind will become
unsettled: no longer empty, no longer still. When this happens,
you have to probe on in to know why.
All the worthless issues that arise in the mind have to be cut
away. Then you'll find that you have less and less to say, less
and less to talk about, less and less to think about. These things
grow less and less on their own. They stop on their own. But if
you get involved in a lot of issues, the mind won't be able to stay
still. So we have to keep watching things that are completely
worthless and without substance, to see that they're not-self.
Keep watching them repeatedly, because your awareness, coupled with
the mindfulness and discernment that will know the truth, has to
see that, "This isn't my self. There's no substance or worth to
it at all. It simply arises and disbands right here. It's here for
just an instant and then it disbands."
All we have to do is stop and look, stop and know clearly in
this way, and we'll be able to do away with many, many kinds of
suffering and stress. The normal stress of the aggregates will still
occur — we can't prevent it — but we'll know that it's the stress
of nature and won't latch onto it as ours.
So we keep watch of things that happen on their own. If we know
how to watch, we keep watching things that happen on their own.
Don't latch onto them as being you or yours. Keep this awareness
firmly established in itself, as much as you can, and there won't
be much else you'll have to remember or think about.
When you keep looking, keep knowing like this at all times, you'll
come to see that there are no big issues going on. There's just
the issue of arising, persisting, and disbanding. You don't have
to label anything as good or bad. If you simply look in this way,
it's no great weight on the heart. But if you go dragging in issues
of good and bad, self and all that, then suffering starts in a big
way. The defilements start in a big way and weigh on the heart,
making it troubled and upset. So you have to stop and look, stop
and investigate really deep down inside. It's like water covered
with duckweed: Only when we take our hand to part the duckweed and
take a look will we see that the water beneath it is crystal clear.
As you look into the mind, you have to part it, you have to stop:
stop thinking, stop labeling things as good or bad, stop everything.
You can't go branding anything. Simply keep looking, keep knowing.
When the mind is quiet, you'll see that there's nothing there. Everything
is all still. Everything has all stopped inside. But as soon as
there's labeling, even in the stillness, the stopping, the quiet,
it will set things in motion. And as soon as things get set into
motion, and you don't know how to let go right from the start, issues
will arise, waves will arise. Once there are issues and waves, they
strike the mind and it goes splashing all out of control. This splashing
of the mind includes craving and defilement as well, because
avijja — ignorance — lies at its root...
Our major obstacle is this aggregate of perceptions, of labels.
If we aren't aware of the arising and disbanding of perceptions,
these labels will take hold. Perceptions are the chief instigators
that label things within and without, so we have to be aware of
their arising and disbanding. Once we're aware in this way, perceptions
will no longer function as a cause of suffering. In other words,
they won't give rise to any further thought-formations. The mind
will be aware in itself and able to extinguish these things in itself.
So we have to stop things at the level of perception. If we don't,
thought-formations will fashion things into issues and then cause
consciousness to wobble and waver in all sorts of ways. But these
are things we can stop and look at, things we can know with every
mental moment... If we aren't yet really acquainted with the arising
and disbanding in the mind, we won't be able to let go. We can talk
about letting go, but we can't do it because we don't yet know.
As soon as anything arises we grab hold of it — even when actually
it's already disbanded, but since we don't really see, we don't
So I ask that you understand this basic principle. Don't go grasping
after this thing or that, or else you'll get yourself all unsettled.
The basic theme is within: Look on in, keep knowing on in until
you penetrate everything. The mind will then be free from turmoil.
Empty. Quiet. Aware. So keep continuous watch of the mind in and
of itself, and you'll come to the point where you simply run out
of things to say. Everything will stop on its own, grow still on
its own, because the underlying condition that has stopped and
is still is already there, simply that we aren't aware of it
The Pure Present
June 3, 1964
We have to catch sight of the sensation of knowing when the mind
gains knowledge of anything and yet isn't aware of itself, to see
how it latches onto things: physical form, feeling, perceptions,
thought-formations, and consciousness. We have to probe on in and
look on our own. We can't use the teachings we've memorized to catch
sight of these things. That won't get us anywhere at all. We may
remember, "The body is inconstant," but even though we can say it,
we can't see it.
We have to focus on in to see exactly how the body is
inconstant, to see how it changes. And we have to focus on feelings
— pleasant, painful, and neutral — to see how they change. The same
holds true with perceptions, thought-formations, and so forth. We
have to focus on them, investigate them, contemplate them to see
their characteristics as they actually are. Even if you can
see these things for only a moment, it'll do you a world of good.
You'll be able to catch yourself: The things you thought you knew,
you didn't really know at all... This is why the knowledge we gain
in the practice has to keep changing through many, many levels.
It doesn't stay on just one level.
So even when you're able to know arising and disbanding with
every moment right in the present: If your contemplation isn't continuous,
it won't be very clear. You have to know how to contemplate the
bare sensation of arising and disbanding, simply arising and disbanding,
without any labels of "good" or "bad." Just keep with the pure sensation
of arising and disbanding. When you do this, other things will come
to intrude — but no matter how they intrude, it's still a matter
of arising and disbanding, so you can keep your stance with arising
and disbanding in this way.
If you start labeling things, it gets confusing. All you need
to do is keep looking at the right spot: the bare sensation of arising
and disbanding. Simply make sure that you really keep watch of it.
Whether there's awareness of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, or
tactile sensations, just stay with the sensation of arising and
disbanding. Don't go labeling the sight, sound, smell, taste, or
tactile sensation. If you can keep watch in this way, you're with
the pure present — and there won't be any issues.
When you keep watch in this way, you're keeping watch on inconstancy,
on change, as it actually occurs — because even the arising and
disbanding changes. It's not the same thing arising and disbanding
all the time. First this sort of sensation arises and disbands,
then that sort arises and disbands. If you keep watch on bare arising
and disbanding like this, you're sure to arrive at insight. But
if you keep watch with labels — "That's the sound of a cow," "That's
the bark of a dog" — you won't be watching the bare sensation of
sound, the bare sensation of arising and disbanding. As soon as
there's labeling, thought-formations come along with it. Your senses
of touch, sight, hearing, and so forth will continue their bare
arising and disbanding, but you won't know it. Instead, you'll label
everything — sights, sounds, etc. — and then there will be attachments,
feelings of pleasure and displeasure, and you won't know the truth.
The truth keeps going along on its own. Sensations keep arising
and then disbanding. If we focus right here — at the consciousness
of the bare sensation of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile
sensations — we'll be able to gain insight quickly...
If we know how to observe things in this way, we'll be able to
see easily when the mind is provoked by passion or greed, and even
more easily when it's provoked by anger. As for delusion, that's
something more subtle... something you have to take a great interest
in and investigate carefully. You'll come to see all sorts of hidden
things — how the mind is covered with many, many layers of film.
It's really fascinating. But then that's what insight meditation
is for — to open your eyes so that you can know and see, so that
you can destroy your delusion and ignorance.
The Deceits of Knowing
January 29, 1964
You have to find approaches for contemplating and probing at
all times so as to catch sight of the flickerings of awareness,
to see in what ways it streams out to know things. Be careful to
catch sight of it both when its knowing is right and when it's wrong.
Don't mix things up, taking wrong knowledge for right, or right
knowledge for wrong. This is something extremely important for the
practice, this question of right and wrong knowing, for these things
can play tricks on you.
When you gain any new insights, don't go getting excited. You
can't let yourself get excited by them at all, because it doesn't
take long for your insight to change — to change right now, before
your very eyes. It's not going to change at some other time or place.
It's changing right now. You have to know how to observe, how to
acquaint yourself with the deceits of knowledge. Even when it's
correct knowledge, you can't latch onto it.
Even though we may have standards for judging what sort of knowledge
is correct in the course of our practice, don't go latching onto
correct knowledge — because correct knowledge is inconstant. It
changes. It can turn into false knowledge, or into knowledge that
is even more correct. You have to contemplate things very carefully
— very, very carefully — so that you won't fall for your knowledge,
thinking, "I've gained right insight; I know better than other people,"
so that you won't start assuming yourself to be special. The moment
you assume yourself, your knowledge immediately turns wrong. Even
if you don't let things show outwardly, the mere mental event in
which the mind labels itself is a form of wrong knowing that obscures
the mind from itself in an insidious way.
This is why meditators who tend not to contemplate things, who
don't catch sight of the deceits of every form of knowledge — right
and wrong, good and bad — tend to get bogged down in their knowledge.
The knowledge that deceives them into thinking, "What I know is
right," gives rise to strong pride and conceit within them, without
their even realizing it.
This is because the defilements are always getting into the act
without our realizing it. They're insidious, and in their insidious
way they keep getting into the act as a matter of course, for the
defilements and mental effluents are still there in our character.
Our practice is basically a probing deep inside, from the outer
levels of the mind to the inner ones. This is an approach that requires
a great deal of subtlety and precision... The mind has to use
its own mindfulness and discernment to dig everything out of itself,
leaving just the mind in and of itself, the body in and of itself,
and then keep watch of them.
* * *
The basic challenge in the practice is this one point and nothing
else: this problem of how to look inward so that you see clear
through. If the mind hasn't been trained to look inward, it
tends to look outward, simply waiting to receive its objects from
outside — and all it gets is the confusion of its sensations going
in and out, in and out. And even though this confusion is one aspect
of change and inconstancy, we don't see it that way. Instead, we
see it as issues, good and bad, pertaining to the self. When this
is the case, we're back right where we started, not knowing what's
what. This is why the mind's sensations, when it isn't acquainted
with itself, are so secretive and hard to perceive. If you want
to find out about them by reading a lot of books, you end up piling
more defilements onto the mind, making it even more thickly covered
So when you turn to look inward, you shouldn't use concepts and
labels to do your looking for you. If you use concepts and labels
to do your looking, there will be nothing but concepts arising,
changing, and disbanding. Everything will get all concocted into
thoughts — and then how will you be able to watch in utter silence?
The more you take what you've learned from books to look inside
yourself, the less you'll see.
So whatever you've learned, when you come to the practice you
have to put all the labels and concepts you've gained from your
learning to one side. You have to make yourself an innocent beginner
once more. Only then will you be able to penetrate in to read the
truths within you. If you carry all the paraphernalia of the concepts
and standards you've gained from your learning to gauge things inside
you, you can search to your dying day and yet won't meet with any
real truths at all. This is why you have to hold to only one theme
in your practice. If the mind has lots of themes to concern itself
with, it's still just wandering around — wandering around to know
this and that, going out of bounds without realizing it and not
really wanting to know itself. This is why those with a lot of learning
like to teach others, to show off their level of understanding.
And this is precisely how the desire to stand out keeps the mind
Of all the various kinds of deception, there's none as bad
as deceiving yourself. When you haven't yet really seen the
truth, what business do you have making assumptions about yourself,
that you've attained this or that sort of knowledge, or that you
know enough to teach others correctly? The Buddha is quite critical
of teachers of this sort. He calls them "people in vain." Even if
you can teach large numbers of people to become arahants, while
you yourself haven't tasted the flavor of the Dhamma, the Buddha
says that you're a person in vain. So you have to keep examining
yourself. If you haven't yet really trained yourself in the things
you teach to others, how will you be able to extinguish your own
Think about this for a moment. Extinguishing suffering, gaining
release from suffering: Aren't these subtle matters? Aren't they
completely personal within us? If you question yourself in this
way, you'll be on the right track. But even then you have to be
careful. If you start taking sides with yourself, the mind will
cover itself up with wrong insights and wrong opinions. If you don't
observe really carefully, you can get carried off on a tangent —
because the awareness with which the mind reads itself and actually
sees through itself is something really extraordinary, really worth
developing — and it really eliminates suffering and defilement.
This is the real, honest truth, not a lot of propaganda or lies.
It's something you really have to practice, and then you'll really
have to see clearly in this way. When this is the case, how can
you not want to practice?
If you examine yourself correctly in this way, you'll be able
to know what's real. But you have to be careful to examine yourself
correctly. If you start latching onto any sense of self, thinking
that you're better than other people, then you've failed the examination.
No matter how correct your knowledge, you have to keep humble and
respectful above all else. You can't let there be any pride or conceit
at all, or it will destroy everything.
This is why the awareness that eliminates the sense of self depends
more than anything else on your powers of observation — to check
and see if there's still anything in your knowledge or opinions
that comes from the force of pride in any sense of self... You have
to use the full power of your mindfulness and discernment to cut
these things away. It's nothing you can play around at. If you gain
a few insights or let go of things a bit, don't go thinking you're
anything special. The defilements don't hold a truce with anyone.
They keep coming right out as they like. So you have to be circumspect
and examine things on all sides. Only then will you be able to benefit
in ways that make your defilements and sufferings lighter and lighter.
When we probe in to find the instigator — the mind, or this property
of consciousness — that's when we're on the right track, and our
probing will keep getting results, will keep weakening the germs
of craving and wiping them out. In whatever way craving streams
out, for "being" or "having" in any way at all, we'll be able to
catch sight of it every time. To catch hold and examine this "being"
and "having" in this way, though, requires a lot of subtlety. If
you aren't really mindful and discerning, you won't be able to catch
sight of these things at all, because the mind is continually wanting
to be and to have. The germs of defilement lie hidden deep in the
seed of the mind, in this property of consciousness. Simply to be
aware of them skillfully is no mean feat — so we shouldn't even
think of trying to wipe them out with our mere opinions.
We have to keep contemplating, probing on in, until things come
together just right, in a single moment, and then it's like reaching
the basic level of knowing that exists on its own, with no willing
or intention at all.
This is something that requires careful observation: the difference
between willed and unwilled knowing. Sometimes there's the intention
to look and be aware within, but there come times when there's no
intention to look within, and yet knowledge arises on its own. If
you don't yet know, look at the intention to look inward: What is
it like? What is it looking for? What does it see? This is a basic
approach you have to hold to. This is a level you have to work at,
and one in which you have to make use of intention — the intention
to look inward in this way... But once you reach the basic level
of knowing, then as soon as you happen to focus down and look within,
the knowledge will occur on its own.
Sabbe Dhamma Anatta
July 9, 1971
One night I was sitting in meditation outside in the open air
— my back straight as an arrow — firmly determined to make the mind
quiet, but even after a long time it wouldn't settle down. So I
thought, "I've been working at this for many days now, and yet my
mind won't settle down at all. It's time to stop being so determined
and to simply be aware of the mind." I started to take my hands
and feet out of the meditation posture, but at the moment I had
unfolded one leg but had yet to unfold the other, I could see that
my mind was like a pendulum swinging more and more slowly, more
and more slowly — until it stopped.
Then there arose an awareness that was sustained by itself. Slowly
I put my legs and hands back into position. At the same time, the
mind was in a state of awareness absolutely and solidly still, seeing
clearly into the elementary phenomena of existence as they arose
and disbanded, changing in line with their nature — and also seeing
a separate condition inside, with no arising, disbanding, or changing,
a condition beyond birth and death: something very difficult to
put clearly into words, because it was a realization of the elementary
phenomena of nature, completely internal and individual.
After a while I slowly got up and lay down to rest. This state
of mind remained there as a stillness that sustained itself deep
down inside. Eventually the mind came out of this state and gradually
returned to normal.
From this I was able to observe how practice consisting of nothing
but fierce desire simply upsets the mind and keeps it from being
still. But when one's awareness of the mind is just right, an inner
awareness will arise naturally of its own accord. Because of this
clear inner awareness, I was able to continue knowing the facts
of what's true and false, right and wrong, from that point on, and
it enabled me to know that the moment when the mind let go of everything
was a clear awareness of the elementary phenomena of nature, because
it was an awareness that knew within and saw within of its own accord
— not something you can know or see by wanting.
For this reason the Buddha's teaching, "Sabbe dhamma anatta
— All phenomena are not-self," tells us not to latch onto any
of the phenomena of nature, whether conditioned or unconditioned.
From that point on I was able to understand things and let go of
attachments step by step.
Going Out Cold
May 26, 1964
It's important to realize how to focus on events in order to
get special benefits from your practice. You have to focus so as
to observe and contemplate, not simply to make the mind still. Focus
on how things arise, how they disband. Make your focus subtle and
When you're aware of the characteristics of your sensations,
then — if it's a physical sensation — contemplate that physical
sensation. There will have to be a feeling of stress. Once there's
a feeling of stress, how will you be aware of it simply as a feeling
so that it won't lead to anything further? Once you can be aware
of it simply as a feeling, it stops right there without producing
any taste in terms of a desire for anything. The mind will disengage
right there — right there at the feeling. If you don't focus on
it in this way, craving will arise on top of the feeling — craving
to attain ease and be rid of the stress and pain. If you don't focus
on the feeling in the proper way right from the start, craving will
arise before you're aware of it, and if you then try to let go of
it, it'll be very tiring...
The way in which preoccupations take shape, the sensations of
the mind as it's aware of things coming with every moment, the way
these things change and disband: These are all things you have to
focus on to see clearly. This is why we make the mind disengaged.
We don't disengage it so that it doesn't know or amount to anything.
That's not the kind of disengagement we want. The more the mind
is truly disengaged, the more it sees clearly into the characteristics
of the arising and disbanding within itself. All I ask is that you
observe things carefully, that your awareness be all-around at all
times. Work at this as much as you can. If you can keep this sort
of awareness going, you'll find that the mind or consciousness under
the supervision of mindfulness and discernment in this way is different
from — is opposite from — unsupervised consciousness. It will be
the opposite sort of thing continually.
If you keep the mind well supervised so that it's sensitive in
the proper way, it will yield enormous benefits, not just small
ones. If you don't make it properly sensitive and aware, what can
you expect to gain from it?
When we say that we gain from the practice, we're not talking
about anything else: We're talking about gaining disengagement.
Freedom. Emptiness. Before, the mind was embroiled. Defilement and
craving attacked and robbed it, leaving it completely entangled.
Now it's disengaged, freed from the defilements that used to gang
up to burn it. Its desires for this or that thing, its concocting
of this or that thought, have all fallen away. So now it's empty
and disengaged. It can be empty in this way right before your very
eyes. Try to see it right now, before your eyes, right now as I'm
speaking and you're listening. Probe on in so as to know.
If you can be constantly aware in this way, you're following
in the footsteps or taking within you the quality called "buddho,"
which means one who knows, who is awake, who has blossomed in the
Dhamma. Even if you haven't fully blossomed — if you've blossomed
only to the extent of disengaging from the blatant levels of craving
and defilement — you still benefit a great deal, for when the mind
really knows the defilements and can let them go, it feels cool
and refreshed in and of itself. This is the exact opposite of the
defilements that, as soon as they arise, make us burn and smoulder
inside. If we don't have the mindfulness and discernment to help
us know, the defilements will burn us. But as soon as mindfulness
and discernment know, the fires go out — and they go out cold.
Observe how the defilements arise and take shape — they also
disband in quick succession, but when they disband on their own
in this way, go out on their own in this way, they go out hot. If
we have mindfulness and discernment watching over them, they go
out cold. Look so that you can see what the true knowledge of mindfulness
and discernment is like: It goes out; it goes out cold. As for the
defilements, even when they arise and disband in line with their
nature, they go out hot — hot because we latch onto them, hot because
of attachment. When they go out cold, look again — it's because
there's no attachment. They've been let go, put out.
This is something really worth looking into: the fact that there's
something very special like this in the mind — special in that when
it really knows the truth, it isn't attached. It's unentangled,
empty, and free. This is how it's special. It can grow empty of
greed, anger, and delusion, step after step. It can be empty of
desire, empty of mental processes. The important thing is that you
really see for yourself that the true nature of the mind is that
it can be empty... This is why I said this morning that nibbana
doesn't lie anywhere else. It lies right here, right where things
go out and are cool, go out and are cool. It's staring us right
in the face.
Reading The Heart
March 15, 1974
The Buddha taught that we are to know with our own hearts and
minds. Even though there are many, many words and phrases coined
to explain the Dhamma, we need focus only on the things we can know
and see, extinguish and let go of, right in each moment of the immediate
present — better than taking on a load of other things. Once we
can read and comprehend our inner awareness, we'll be struck deep
within us that the Buddha awakened to the truth right here in the
heart. His truth is truly the language of the heart.
When they translate the Dhamma in all sorts of ways, it becomes
something ordinary. But if you keep close and careful watch right
at the heart and mind, you'll be able to see clearly, to let go,
to put down your burdens. If you don't know right here, your knowledge
will send out all sorts of branches, turning into thought-formations
with all sorts of meanings in line with conventional labels — and
all of them way off the mark.
If you know right at your inner awareness and make it your constant
stance, there's nothing at all: no need to take hold of anything,
no need to label anything, no need to give anything names. Right
where craving arises, right where it disbands: That's where you'll
know what nibbana is like... "Nibbana is simply this
disbanding of craving." That's what the Buddha stressed over and
|Source: Copyright © 1995
Khao Suan Luang Dhamma Community. Reproduced and reformatted
from Access to Insight edition © 1995 For free distribution.
This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted, and
redistributed in any medium. It is the author's wish, however,
that any such republication and redistribution be made available
to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and that
translations and other derivative works be clearly marked