I'd like to recommend the basic principles of sitting in meditation
for newcomers who've never done it before.
1. Make up your mind that you're not going gather
up anything else to think about, that you're going to think
about only one thing: the qualities of the Buddha, or the word
2. Be firmly mindful of the breath, thinking bud-
with the in-breath, and dho with the out. Or if you want,
you can simply think buddho, buddho in the mind.
3. Make the mind still and then drop the word buddho
so that you can simply observe nothing but the in-and-out breath.
It's like standing at the gate of a cattle-pen and keeping watch
over the cattle to see their characteristics as they come in
and out of the pen. What color are they black? red? white?
spotted? Are they old or young? Are they calves or fully grown?
Make sure you don't go walking in with the cattle yet, for they
might kick you and break your shins, or gore you to death with
their horns. Stay right at the gate. What this means is that
you keep your mind still in one point. You don't have to make
it go in and out with the breath. Observing the characteristics
of the cattle means learning how to observe the breath: Does
breathing in short and out short feel good, or does in long
and out long feel good? How about in long and out short, or
in short and out long? Learn to recognize which type of breathing
is most comfortable, and then stick with it.
So there are three steps you have to follow: the first step is
to stay mindful of the word buddho. The second is to be mindful
of the breath, thinking bud- with the in breath and dho
with the out. Don't forget. Don't get distracted. The third step,
when the mind is still, is to drop the word buddho and to
be observant of nothing but the in-and-out breath.
When you can do this, the mind will grow still. The breath will
be still, too, like a dipper floating in a barrel of water: the
water is still, the dipper is still, because no one is pressing
on it, tipping it, or hitting against it. The dipper will keep floating
in perfect stillness on the surface of the water. Or you can say
that it's like climbing up to the top of a very tall mountain, or
like floating up above the clouds. The mind will feel nothing but
a cool sense of pleasure and ease. This is the root, the heartwood,
the apex of all that is skillful.
It's called the root because it's a good quality that runs deep
and tenacious right down the middle of the heart. It's called the
heartwood because it's solid and resilient, like the heartwood of
a tree that insects can't burrow into and destroy. Even though insects
may be able to nibble away at the tree, they can go only as far
as the bark or the sapwood. In other words, even though distractions
may come and bother us, they can reach only as far as the sense
doors: our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. For example, when
sights strike against the eye, they go only as far as the eye. They
don't get into the heart. When sounds strike the ear, they go only
as far as the ear, and not into the heart. When smells strike the
nose, they go only as far as the nose. They don't enter the heart.
This is why we say that the goodness of meditation is the heartwood
of what's skillful, because the various forms of evil can't easily
destroy the goodness of the heart when it's solid and stable, in
the same way that insects can't bore into heartwood.
The skillfulness of a mind in concentration is called the apex
of all that's skillful because it's high in quality. It can pull
all other forms of goodness into the mind as well. When the mind
is still, its goodness spreads out to cover the entire body, so
that we stop doing unskillful things with the body. It will cover
our speech, so that we stop saying unskillful things with our mouth.
The unskillful things we've done with our eyes, ears, hands, will
all get washed away. In this way, the goodness that comes from meditating
will wash out our eyes and ears, will wash our hands and all the
various parts of our body so that they all become clean.
When we have cleanliness in charge of our body, it's a goodness
that's high in quality just as rain falling from high up
in the sky spreads to cover everything. The higher it comes from,
the more territory it covers. When the mind is high in quality,
its goodness spreads to cover our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and
body. It spreads to cover sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile
sensations. It spreads to cover our thoughts of past and future.
In this way, this goodness spreads out until eventually it covers
the entire cosmos. These, in short, are a few of the rewards that
come from meditation.
The high-quality goodness coming from meditation is like rain
falling from high in the sky. Not only does it wash away the dirty
things on the ground, but it also nourishes the plants so that human
beings can depend on them. In addition, it refreshes people with
its coolness. The Buddha showered his goodness on the world beginning
from the very day of his Awakening, and his goodness is still raining
on us 2,500 years later. The Buddha was a Great Being because of
the high-quality goodness he developed through his meditation
the same meditation we're doing right now.
To put it simply: every aspect of meditation is good. No matter
how much you do, even if you don't seem to be getting any results,
it's all good regardless. Even when you simply repeat the word
buddho, it's good for the mind. When you're mindful of the
breath, it's good for the mind. When you can make the mind still
with the breath, it's good for the mind. For this reason, meditation
is something you should do at all times. Don't let the time and
opportunity to meditate pass you by.
The power of the Buddha is more tremendous than that of all other
beings, human and divine. His body is enormous, in that we've been
making representations of it from ancient times up to the present
and yet still haven't finished the job. His mouth is enormously
wide. Many are the things that he said only once but that other
people have repeated without ceasing: here I'm talking about his
teachings, which members of the Sangha have copied down into texts
and delivered as sermons for us to hear up to the present. The Buddha's
physical mouth was small, but his words are amazingly great, which
is why we say that his mouth is wide. His eyes are wide as well:
they've seen the true nature of the entire cosmos. This is the way
it is with people who are really good: they tend to have this kind
of enormous greatness.
Big things like this have to come from small things. Before the
Buddha could become enormous in this way, he first had to make himself
small. In other words, he cut himself off from his royal family
and went alone into the forest to sit under the branches of the
Bodhi tree on the banks of the Nerañjara River. He let his in-and-out
breathing grow smaller and smaller until it was extremely subtle,
and there the fire of his defilements and mental fermentations went
totally out without trace. He awakened to the foremost right self-awakening,
becoming a Buddha. His heart, which he had let grow so extremely
subtle and small, exploded outward in goodness in a way that is
still blatant to us even today.
So I ask that we all set our minds on really practicing concentration.
Don't worry about the past or the future or anything else. When
the mind is firmly set in concentration, knowledge and discernment
will arise without our having to worry about them. Don't let yourself
think that you want to know this or see that. These things will
come on their own. As the proverb says, "Those with a lot of
greed get only a little to feed on; those content with only a pinkie's
worth will get a whole thumb." Keep bearing this point in mind.
For the mind to range far and wide, wandering after outside concepts
and preoccupations, saps the strength it needs to deal with its
various affairs. Whatever it then thinks of doing will succeed only
with difficulty. It's like a gun with a broad-gauged barrel. If
you put tiny bullets into it, they rattle around inside and don't
come out with much force. The narrower the gauge of the barrel,
the more force the bullets will have when you shoot them out. It's
the same with the breath: The more you narrow its focus, the more
refined the breath will become, until eventually you can breathe
through your pores. The mind at this stage has more strength than
an atomic bomb.
Intelligent orchard owners get their bananas to help them plant
their orchard, get their mangoes to help them plant their orchard.
They don't have to invest a lot of capital. In other words, they
clear the land bit by bit, plant it bit by bit, harvest bit by bit,
sell bit by bit, until the orchard grows larger and larger all the
time. This way they don't need to invest much in terms of labor
or capital, but the results they get are large and lasting. As for
stupid people, when they start an orchard, no matter how large,
they pour all their money into it, hiring people to clear the land,
plow it, and plant it all at once. If they run into a drought for
three days or seven days running, their plants all wither and die.
Grass and weeds spring up and overrun the place. At that point,
there's nothing the owners can do, because the orchard is way too
big for them. They don't have the money to hire the workers again,
because they used up all their funds right at the beginning. All
they can do is sit with their arms around their knees, blinking
back the tears. They've lost all their capital and have no profits
to show. That's the way it is with people who are greedy. As for
those who keep at their work steadily, bit by bit, the results keep
growing bigger and bigger all the time.
When we sit and meditate, there are three things we have to work
1. The breath: make it the object of the mind.
2. Mindfulness: think of the meditation word bud-
with the in-breath and dho with the out.
3. The mind: keep the mind both with the breath and
with the meditation word. Let the breath flow comfortably. Let
the mind be at ease. Don't force the breath or try to put the
mind into a trance. Keep the mind firm and upright, and don't
let it slip off here or there.
These are the things we have to study not just so that
we'll know them. We study them so that we can put them into practice,
i.e., we practice them so that we'll come to the knowledge we really
In keeping the mind pure, we have to cut away perceptions so
that they don't stick in the heart. It's like looking after a white
sheet spread on our bed. We have to watch out for any dust that
will blow in on the wind and land on the sheet, and for any insects
such as ants or bed bugs that will come to live there. If
we see any dust, we have to take the sheet and shake it out. Wherever
there are any stains, we have to launder it immediately. Don't let
them stay long on the sheet or else they'll be hard to wash out.
If there are any insects, we have to remove them, for they may bite
us and give us a rash or keep us from sleeping soundly. When we
keep looking after our sheet in this way, it will have to stay clean
and white and be a comfortable place for us to sleep.
The dust and insects here are the Hindrances that are the enemies
of the heart. We have to look after our heart in just the same way
we look after our bedding. We can't let any outside perceptions
come in and stick to the heart or nibble at it. We have to brush
them all away. That way the mind will become calm, free from distractions.
When we meditate, we're giving rise to skill in three ways: we
aren't harming anyone with our body; we aren't bad-mouthing anyone
with our speech; and we're getting the mind to stay with good intentions.
In other words, we're staying with buddho with every in-and-out
breath, so we're not thinking of doing anything evil, and we don't
think thoughts of anger or hatred about anyone. This way our body,
speech, and mind are pure. This is what gives rise to merit and
skill, for we're not doing any evil at all.
When we think of the breath in this way, it's as if we're painting
a picture on a piece of white cloth. Our mind in its ordinary state
is like a plain piece of cloth, with no patterns or designs. When
we raise the mind to a higher level and think of the factors of
meditation, it's like drawing a mental picture on it. For example,
the word buddho is a mental picture, inasmuch as we can't
see it with our eyes, but we can see it through our thinking. If
we think of it constantly, it's as if our ink or paint seeps deep
into the cloth. If we don't think buddho, or think of it
in only a superficial way, it's like drawing with a pencil. The
picture won't stick and seep into the heart. It might get smeared
or entirely erased.
Then we add details to our picture: this is what's meant by evaluation
(vicara). If we keep at it, our picture will become more
and more elaborate. As the picture becomes more and more elaborate,
we'll notice whether the in-and-out breath has become comfortable
or not. If it's easy and comfortable, keep it that way. Sometimes
you'll notice that the mind is comfortable but the body isn't; sometimes
the body is comfortable but the mind is irritable and distracted;
sometimes the body is reasonably comfortable and at ease, and the
mind has settled down and isn't jumping about. So when you see any
aspect that isn't comfortable, you should fix it, in the same way
that a rice farmer has to keep careful watch over the sluice gates
in his field, clearing out any branches or stumps that will cut
off the flow of the water. When you see anything that isn't good,
you should get rid of it. You have to stay observant of the breath,
to see if it's too slow or too fast, or if it's making you tired.
If it is, change it.
This is like plowing or harrowing your field. When the big clods
of earth get broken up and spread around, the field will be level.
When the body gets level and smooth, keep it going that way. The
mind will then become level and smooth as well for it lives
with the body, and now it gets to stay in a place of comfort. Whether
it's good in every part, or only in some parts, you'll know.
When we give rise to skill in the mind like this, it's as if
we've gained wealth. And when we gain wealth, things are bound to
come and disturb us, just as a tree with beautiful, fragrant flowers
tends to have caterpillars or insects disturbing its flowers. When
the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha arise in the heart,
there are bound to be things that will disturb or destroy them,
such as visions or Hindrances, just as when a flower is pestered
by insects, it may fall away from the tree. When it falls off the
tree, it won't be able to bear fruit. The same with your mind: Don't
let your goodness fall away under the influence of the Hindrances.
You have to keep after it, to make sure that it stays still and
established in the body until there's no sense of anything disturbing
it or trying to destroy it. The mind will then be like a spray of
mango flowers nourished with drops of mist. In no long time it will
bear fruit, and you'll be able to harvest the fruit and eat it in
In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says that a person who is forgetful
or heedless is like a dead person. In other words, if mindfulness
lapses for a moment, you've passed out for a moment. If it lapses
for a long time, you've passed out for a long time. So if you realize
that it's lapsed, you have to correct things immediately. In other
words, you re-establish mindfulness right away. If you've realized
it's lapsed, there's at least some hope for you. Some people don't
even know that it's lapsed: those are the ones who are hopeless.
As the Buddha said, pamado maccuno padam: heedlessness is
the path of death. This is because heedlessness is delusion, the
root of unskillfulness. When delusion arises, it opens the way for
all kinds of evil and unskillful things. So we should try to uproot
it immediately before it starts growing and spreading its branches
far and wide. When mindfulness lapses, it opens the way for us to
think of all kinds of things, making it hard for us to finish our
work. To say nothing of keeping track of the breath, if mindfulness
keeps lapsing we couldn't even finish writing a single letter.
So we have to be especially careful to maintain mindfulness.
Don't let yourself forget or lose track of what you're doing.
When you sit in concentration, you have to keep being observant
to see whether the mind is established in all the component factors
of meditation. Your practice of concentration has to be composed
of three component factors for it to count as correct in line with
the principles of meditation that will give rise to the full results
that we all want. The component factors of meditation are:
1. The right object. This refers to the object on
which the mind settles or in other words, the breath.
We have to focus our awareness on the breath and not let it
stray out in other directions. This is the "thana"
or foundation of our kammatthana.
2. The right intention. Once we've focused our awareness
on the in-and-out breath, we have to keep our mindfulness fixed
solely on the breath by thinking bud- in with the in-breath,
and dho out with the out. We have to keep doing this
until the mind is still and in place. Then we can drop the meditation
word. Once the mind is still and doesn't go wandering off in
other places, mindfulness will stay snug with the breath without
slipping away or growing absent minded. This is the intention,
the kamma of our kammatthana.
3. The right quality. This refers to the skill with
which we can improve, adjust, and spread the breath so that
it becomes comfortable. For example, if short breathing is uncomfortable,
change it so that it's a little longer. If long breathing is
uncomfortable, change it so that it's a bit shorter. Observe
long breathing, short breathing, fast or slow breathing, and
then keep on breathing in whichever way is most comfortable.
If any problem or discomfort arises, make further changes. But
don't tense up the breath or try to hold it. Let the body breathe
in and out with a sense of ease. The breath will then feel wide
open, agile, and spacious. It won't get bottled up in any one
spot, won't feel heavy or confined. When this is the case, a
sense of fullness and refreshment, a cool sense of ease will
arise in the mind. As for the body, it'll feel at ease as well.
This is the essence of what is good, the skillfulness that we
When we can train the mind to stay firmly in these three factors
of meditation, it'll become tame and obedient, and no longer stubborn
because once our mind becomes skillful and intelligent, it'll gain
a sense of what's good for us, what's not, what are the affairs
of other people, what are our own affairs. When this happens, there
won't be a lot of confusion. It's the same as when we've trained
an ox. We can put it to good work and won't have to waste a lot
of rope to keep it tied down. That's when we can be at our ease.
Even if we let it wander off on its own, it won't get lost. When
it goes away, it'll come back to its pen on its own, for it knows
which pen belongs to its owner, which pens belong to other people,
which person is its owner and which people are not, which plants
are the grasses it can eat, which plants are the rice plants it
shouldn't. This way it won't invade the fields of other people,
trampling their crops and eating their rice, which would give rise
to all sorts of controversies and bad feelings. That way, we can
live in peace.
It's the same with the mind. Once it's trained, it'll become
tame. It won't go traipsing off after external thoughts and preoccupations.
Normally, the mind doesn't like to stay with the body in the present.
Sometimes it goes flowing out the eyes, sometimes out the ears,
sometimes out the nose, the tongue, and the body, so that it splits
into five different currents, just like a river that splits into
five channels instead of staying in one: the force of the current
gets weakened. And in addition to leaking out the five sense doors
after sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations, the
mind also goes flowing out after thoughts of the past and thoughts
of the future without ever staying firmly in the present. This is
why it knows no peace, because it doesn't get any time to rest.
As a result, its strength begins to fail, and when the strength
of the mind grows weaker, so does the strength of the body. When
this is the case, we can't bring any of our projects to completion,
either in the area of the world or of the Dhamma.
When this happens, we're like a sick person who's a burden on
his doctors and nurses. The doctors have to keep making visits to
check up on his symptoms. The nurses have to feed him, give him
medicine, and take him to the bathroom. When he tries to sit up,
he needs someone to support him. The people looking after him have
to go without sleep both by day and by night, and can never leave
him alone. As for the people financially responsible, they have
to run around trying to find money to pay the medical bills. The
whole family is worried and concerned, and the sick person himself
can find no comfort. He can't go anywhere, can't do anything, can't
eat solid food, can't get any sleep: everything becomes a problem.
In the same way, when our minds aren't quiet and still, and instead
keep flowing out after concepts and preoccupations, we're like sick
people. We don't have the strength to bring our work to completion.
This is because the untrained mind goes wandering off as it likes
and is very stubborn. You can't tell it to do anything at all. If
you tell it to lie down, it'll sit down. If you tell it to sit down,
it'll get up and walk. If you tell it to walk, it'll start running.
If you tell it to run, it'll stop. You can't really control it at
all. When this is the case, all sorts of unskillful qualities
ignorance and defilements like greed, anger, and delusion, or the
five Hindrances will come flowing into the mind, overcoming
it and possessing it in the same way that people get possessed by
spirits. When this is the case, we're in all sorts of trouble and
turmoil all because the mind doesn't have the strength it
needs to withstand ignorance or to drive it out of the heart.
The Buddha saw that this is the way things are for people by
and large, causing them to suffer, which is why he taught us to
gather up the strength of body and strength of mind we need to fight
off these various forms of suffering. In other words, he taught
us to practice concentration so as to make the strength of our mind
firm and solid. Practicing concentration means training the mind
to be quiet and still. As the mind stays quiet and still for longer
and longer periods of time, it'll become clear. When it's clear,
the light of discernment will arise within it. This discernment
is the strength that will enable the mind to contend with all sorts
of events, both good and bad, for it'll have the intelligence enabling
it to wise up to all the preoccupations coming in by way of the
eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and intellect. It will be able to
identify perceptions of past, present, and future. It will be acquainted
with the properties, aggregates, and sense media, knowing what's
good, what isn't, what's worth thinking about, what's not, what's
untrue, what's true. When it knows this, it'll become dispassionate,
disenchanted, and will let go of all thoughts and concepts, let
go of its attachments to the body, let go of its attachments to
things outside, all of which arise from the process of fabrication
and have no real enduring essence.
When the mind can let go of all thoughts and preoccupations,
it'll become light and agile, like a person who has put down all
the burdens she's been carrying on her shoulders and in her hands.
She can walk, run, and jump with agility. She can sit down or lie
down with ease. Wherever she goes, she's comfortable. When the mind
has experienced a sense of comfort, it'll become happy and full.
It won't feel hungry. When it's full and happy, it can rest. Once
it's rested, it'll have strength. Whatever tasks it undertakes,
in terms of the world or the Dhamma, will succeed. If the mind lacks
a sense of fullness, though, it'll be hungry. When it's hungry,
it's in a lousy mood: irritable and upset. When this is the case,
it's like a sick person who doesn't have the strength to complete
any task with ease.
As for people who have practiced concentration to the point where
their minds are quiet and still, they're no longer hungry, for they
have a sense of fullness within them. This gives them five kinds
of strength conviction, persistence, mindfulness, concentration,
and discernment which will enable them to advance to even
higher levels of goodness. When the mind is still, it develops mental
serenity. When the body is still, it develops physical serenity
as well: the various properties within it are peaceful and harmonious,
and don't quarrel with one another. The whole body is then bathed
in the purity that comes flowing out the currents of the mind through
the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind, caring for them
and protecting them. When things are protected and cared for, they
don't run down. In this way the properties of the body reach a state
of harmony, giving them the strength they need to withstand feelings
of pain and weariness. As for the mind, it'll develop greater and
greater strength, enabling it to withstand all sorts of mental torments.
It'll keep getting more and more powerful, like the gunpowder used
to make rockets and fireworks. When it's lit, it explodes and shoots
all the way up to the sky.
When we practice concentration, it's as if we were gathering
provisions for a trip. The provisions here are the skillful qualities
we develop in the mind. The more provisions we have, the more comfortably
we can travel and the further we can go. We can go to the human
world, the deva worlds, the brahma worlds, or all the way to nibbana.
When we have a lot of provisions, our traveling is easy, for we
can afford to go by car or by boat. We can stay in comfortable places
and have plenty of food to eat. The trip won't tire us, and we can
go far and fast. As for people with meager provisions, they can't
afford the carfare, so they have to go barefoot, walking on gravel
and stepping on thorns, exposed to the sun and rain. They can't
stay in comfortable places; they're lacking in food; their progress
is tiring and slow. By the time they reach their destination they're
ready to give up, for they're all out of strength. But whether we
travel quickly or slowly, we're all headed to the same destination.
For example, suppose we're all going to Bangkok. Those who go by
foot will get there in three months; those who go by car, in three
days; while those who get on a plane will arrive in three minutes.
For this reason, you shouldn't get discouraged in your efforts
to do what's good. Develop as much strength as you can, so that
you'll have the provisions and vehicles you'll need to help speed
you along to your goal. Once you've arrived, you'll experience nothing
but happiness and ease. When you practice the Dhamma, even if you
don't reach the paths, their fruitions, or nibbana in this lifetime,
at the very least you're developing the conditions that will help
you along the way in the future.
When we meditate, it's as if we were driving a car on a trip.
If you have a sense of how to adjust and improve your breath, it's
like driving along a smooth, paved road. The car won't run into
any obstacles, and even a long trip will seem short. As for people
who aren't centered in concentration, whose minds are slipping and
slithering around with no sense of how to improve their breathing,
they're driving their car along a bumpy, unpaved road full of potholes.
In some spots the bridges have collapsed. In others the road is
washed out. What this means is that their mindfulness lapses and
they let their minds fall into thoughts of the past and future.
They don't stay put in the present. If they don't know how to repair
their road, they'll keep running into dangers and obstacles. Their
car will keep getting bogged down. Sometimes they spend weeks and
months stuck in one place, and their short trip turns into a long
one. Sometimes they go back to the beginning point and start all
over again. Running back and forth like this, around and around
in circles, they'll never be able to get to the goal.
So I ask that you all remember this discussion of the Dhamma
and take it to heart. Try using it to make adjustments in your mind
and see what happens. If you train the mind correctly in line with
the three factors of meditation that I've mentioned here, you may
well meet with the peace and happiness for which you aim.