Venerable Acariya Mun's Path of Practice
by Acariya Maha Boowa Ñanasampanno | 256,801 words
This book includes many things that may not be easy to understand for the reader who is not familiar with the theory and practice of Theravada Buddhism. This book is a translation of the Dhutanga practices of Venerable Acharn Mun Bhuridatta....
The Method of Walking Cankama
The Venerable Acharn Mun who experienced Dhamma quite clearly in his heart practised in a consistent, even and elegant manner which can and should most certainly and wholeheartedly be called the “Middle Way of Practice” (Majjhima Patipada) of a Bhikkhu in this present age. But I did not describe the method of walking cankama which he used when I wrote his Biography. For I forgot to explain how he did it, whether he walked in any special direction or not, how long the path should be for walking cankama, and before starting to walk cankama, were there any preliminary practices which he used? Therefore we shall now make good this omission and explain all these things in this book so that those readers who are interested enough may take them as the basis of their practice in the future.
Truly speaking, Dhamma and Vinaya are the basic pattern of the “Middle Way of practice” for those who are interested enough to follow and practise them rightly and fully, and these are already available. Because of this, Venerable Acharn Mun used to set them up as the guiding pattern for what he did in a faultless manner, both in his ordinary activities and in the various forms of meditation practice which he used. But we will explain his method of walking cankama before any others. Firstly, the direction by the compass in which the cankama path is made and its length are as follows. Venerable Acharn Mun determined that the direction of the cankama path should be east–west, but it may vary from this between Northeast–southwest to Southeast–northwest, although it should be made within these limits and he always maintained this practice. The length of the path will depend on what is suitable. He did not give any fixed ruling on this and one must consider for oneself what is reasonable. Normally it should be about twenty paces long, although there is no fixed limit. He also said that it should not be less than ten paces long for those occasions when one cannot find any place longer and more suitable. Though generally speaking, a path of between twenty and thirty paces is most suitable. He made a special point of keeping to the limits of direction as mentioned above and always maintained this without deviating from it unless he had no other alternative, and he taught the Bhikkhus and Novices to practise in this way also.
Occasionally he would see a Bhikkhu walking cankama in the wrong direction and he would tell him off and teach him saying:
“When I teach my followers, whether in the way of Dhamma or Vinaya, I always teach according to a regular pattern without deviating from it. Even in walking cankama, which is an aspect of Dhamma, there is a regular pattern of how it should be done which accords with Dhamma. When they walked cankama in the time of the Lord Buddha, did they specify in what direction they should walk, or not? I have found out that they specified three directions as I have often explained to you, and nobody should think that this is an insignificant thing, which you have no interest in practising and accepting. For this would show that you are only determined to train yourself in whatever interests you and everything else you will see as being insignificant — which is how it has been with you in the past — seeing nothing as significant! Being like this is a clear indication of the insignificance of yourself. For you came here originally with a full commitment to train yourself in the whole teaching. But when you leave this place you will be bound to take this view and habit of seeing everything as insignificant, along with you and to put it into practice. This will lead you to believe that there is nothing of any real significance within all those who practise the way of Dhamma — for even having come to stay with a Teacher, an Acariya who you respect with faith, you still don’t see any significance in his teaching and admonishment. This means that at some time you will be creating things that will lead on more and more to your own ruin.”
“It is just this thing, in those who come to follow my teaching, which makes me lack confidence in them and feel doubtful whether they will attain anything of ultimate truth (sara) to act as a firm foundation for their further practice in the future. All I can see is ‘insignificance’ everywhere in them! For the truth of the matter is that I have already investigated every aspect of the Dhamma which I give out to teach my followers. I have examined it and checked it over and over again until I am quite sure about it and I don’t teach things which occur to me on the spur of the moment without having considered them properly beforehand as though they just, so to speak, slip out of my mouth. But everything I teach has been thoroughly investigated right through from its gross and obvious, right up to its most subtle aspects.”
“In determining the directions which are appropriate for walking cankama, I have explained them many times to my followers until it has become tiresome both to the teacher and to those who listen. But why instead of accepting it as something to investigate and try out and prove by training yourself, do you stubbornly oppose it and then develop an attitude in which you are shameless in the face of your teacher and of the others who are living together here.”
“In regard to doing research into the various compass directions and their suitability for striving in Dhamma in various ways, I have done this for a long time and have known about it for a long time, so I feel competent to teach my followers with complete certainty. So, when I see them going against what I have taught I can’t help feeling disheartened and sorry and fearful that in the future I shall see nothing but falsehood everywhere in the monasteries and the Sasana throughout, including the Bhikkhus, Novices, Elders, Nuns and Buddhists generally, because self-will and doing these things the easy way will lead them into falsehood. It is not careful investigation and looking to see the ways of cause and effect that lead people into falsehood — for these things are what make the Sasana true and blameless. But those people who practise in ways that turn the Sasana into a tool of the kilesas which fill their hearts, is what brings blame on the Sasana. It is just this that makes me afraid, because I can see it with my own eyes — such as in this case here and in this sort of thing.”
I actually watched Venerable Acharn call this Bhikkhu to tell him off and teach him in this forceful manner, and I can never forget it. So when the situation is right I bring it out and tell others about it. It is in this way that Venerable Acharn Mun had his own particular way of walking cankama, a valid way based on his own researches as mentioned above.
The Direction for Walking Cankama As Defined by Venerable Acharn Mun
In deciding on the direction for setting the path for walking cankama, Venerable Acharn Mun decided to look into the way of the Aryan tradition at the time of the Lord Buddha. He found out that originally there was a standard way in which they did it, so from that time on he always followed that way. As to whether one should wear the civara (outer robe), he said that in walking cankama one may wear it, or not, depending on whatever is suitable and appropriate in the circumstances.
As for the direction in which one should site the path for walking cankama; the method of walking; wearing the civara, or not; or what one should do just before starting to walk while standing and pondering in one’s heart at the end of the cankama path; in all these things, Venerable Acharn Mun looked and found out how the Aryan tradition was practised in all of its subtlety and he set himself to practise it in the same way from then on. Thus, in walking cankama he taught that one should walk parallel to the mean path which the sun takes throughout the day, or between the two limits from Northeast–southwest through east–west to Southeast–northwest. He said that the line of the mean path of the sun is the best way, followed by the two deviations from this line. But as far as going beyond these limits, or walking on a north–south line, he was never seen to do this, and quite apart from seeing what he himself did, I in fact heard him say that one should not walk in these directions. But I have completely forgotten why this is so.
The Method of Walking Cankama Bhavana.
The practice of walking back and forth which is called “walking cankama bhavana,” should be done, neither too fast nor too slow, but in a harmonious, seemly manner, which accords with the tradition of the Bhikkhus who were striving to attain Dhamma by the way of walking at the time of the Lord Buddha. This was one of the methods of making a change from the sitting posture, called “sitting bhavana.” A further change may be made by standing still, called “standing bhavana.” Finally, a still further change may be made lying down, called “siha seyyasana bhavana,” in which a resolve has been made to practise bhavana while lying down in the posture called “Siha Seyyasana” (The Lion–Posture).
Whichever of these methods are used, in striving to practise the way, the underlying purpose and intention is to clean out and wash away the kilesas in the same way and using the same methods in each of them without changing the “tools” — which means the Dhamma — that one has been using to do this job, and which suit one’s temperament.
Before walking cankama one should decide on how long or short a distance one will walk and from where to where. One may then have to get the path cleared and prepared, making it as long as one wants, before one can walk on it conveniently.
In walking cankama, one should, to start with, go to one end of the place, or the prepared path where one will walk, put one’s hands together and raise them to one’s forehead in puja. Then one should recollect the virtue of the Ti–Ratana — the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha — which one takes as the Sarana — the refuge which is firmly implanted in one’s heart. Then one should recollect the virtue of one’s Father and Mother, one’s Upajjhaya (Preceptor), one’s Teacher and all others who have been of value to oneself. Then one should reflect on the purpose of this practice which one is about to do, and how one should do it with determination to reach that purpose. After this one should put one’s hands down in front of one, the right hand over the left, just below the level of the navel — as in the images of the Buddha which depict him in contemplation — and then one should promote the Four Brahmaviharas. Having done this, one puts one’s eyes down in a modest manner, sets up mindfulness to be aware of the citta, and that Dhamma which one usually uses as a preparatory method (parikamma) to control the heart; or else one investigates the various Dhammas which one has been doing in other situations (such as sitting).
Then one starts walking back and forth between the points which one has decided as the end limits of the cankama path. Walking in a controlled manner and being mindful of that Dhamma or that thing which one is investigating, the whole time, and not letting one’s citta go away from this work which one is presently doing. One should not walk swinging one’s arms, nor with one’s arms behind one’s back, or folded across one’s chest, and one should not be looking about all over the place while walking — which is the way of someone who lacks self-control. In standing still while fixing one’s attention upon and pondering or investigating that Dhamma, there is no need to take up any special position on the cankama path and one may stop and stand wherever one wants to and for as long or short a time as one wishes. For it depends only upon the circumstances as to whether one should stop, or go on walking again. Because, pondering that Dhamma may be deep or shallow and gross or subtle in various different ways and one must be free to practise in whatever way is necessary until one has gained a clear understanding of it, after which one should go on walking as before. Sometimes it may be longer than one hour before one has become quite clear about it and can go on walking again.
When walking and keeping one’s attention on a parikamma, or investigating Dhamma, one should not count one’s steps — unless that is, one has taken up one’s walking process as the basis (arammana) of one’s practice, in which case one may count them if it helps.
Whatever form of practice one is doing, it is most important that mindfulness (sati) should be present continually with that practice. If mindfulness is lacking in whatever work one is doing, that work cannot be considered as striving in the way of Dhamma. Anyone who does the practice should have as much interest in being mindful as he does in the Dhamma which he is using as a parikamma. If mindfulness drops away, even though one may still be doing the parikamma bhavana which goes by habit, the resulting calm of heart which (one) intends to get, will not arise as one wants it to.
The length of time one spends in walking cankama one must determine for oneself and striving in the way of Dhamma may be done in any of the four postures — walking, standing, sitting or lying down — and one may find that any one of them is the most suitable for one’s own characteristics, for different people have different characteristics. Using these four postures at different times is not only for quelling the kilesas, but also to enable one to change one’s posture. Because, for the body-mind complex (dhatu–khandha) to be a useful “tool”, one must look after it. One way of doing this is to change its posture from time to time, and this keeps it fit and suitable for use in doing this work. For if one does not look after it in various ways, the body-mind complex can become an enemy to its owner — in other words it changes and alters in various ways until finally one cannot reach the intended purpose for which one is working.
The Dhutanga Bhikkhu considers the practice of walking cankama as being a duty which is truly a fundamental part of his life and generally he will walk an hour or more each time. After he has finished his meal in the morning he will start walking on his cankama path and finish about eleven or twelve o’clock, after which he will have a short rest. Between one and two o’clock in the afternoon he will again start walking cankama and go on until it is time to sweep the ground around where he is staying, and to have a wash. After this he will start walking again until seven or eight o’clock in the evening in the winter, but at other times he will go on until ten or eleven o’clock at night. Then he will return to his dwelling to practise samadhi bhavana.
This is typical, but however it may be, they are bound to walk cankama and sit in samadhi bhavana for long periods of time and to keep up this routine continually. Regardless of where they are staying, in whatever circumstances and in all seasons, they keep up their efforts to practise the way continually without letting it lapse. For to let it lapse would make them weak and let the kilesas rove about stirring up trouble and causing a lot of disturbance and vexation for their hearts; but instead, they keep on trying to chop up the kilesas in all situations. By practising in this way they see some results coming from their efforts; and as they go on, they continue to see results coming steadily all the time.
In the early stages, when the influence of the kilesas is still very strong, it is rather difficult and one is quite likely to be caught by them and made to give way and lie down and go to sleep without realising what is happening. By the time one has become conscious of oneself, the kilesas will have eaten up that which one has inside oneself until they are full. Then they are able to go on wandering all over the world through every continent before one drowsily wakes up and complains to oneself that one was carried away and dropped off to sleep for a few moments. “From now on I resolve to increase my efforts as hard as I can, but for today drowsiness and lethargy made me go wrong.” In truth it was just his kilesas that made him go wrong, and the next time, he will still not look and see what they are like, and he will be caught again. But he is not afraid of them! It is unpleasant and hurts, but he is not afraid of them! And this is how the kilesas beat him and whip him.
Those who practise bhavana have all been chastened and reformed by the kilesas many times, and then complained that the kilesas are still too clever and that they were not yet able to catch up with them. This is just as it should be, for they have been the teacher, the Acariya, of people and animals throughout the world since ages past.
To begin with, when one first starts trying to do the practice the kilesas become angry and try to force one to go this way and that. They try to make one lazy, to make one feel pains here and aches there, to make one feel sleepy and drowsy, and to make one go and look for all sorts of things to do, which cause a lot of trouble, so that one has little time for practising bhavana; or so that the citta is so restless that one cannot practise bhavana. Then they make one think that one has little merit and not much inherent ability, so that one is incapable of practising much and one cannot sit in bhavana for any length of time. They make one think and imagine how that:
“If I spend too much time with my eyes closed in bhavana, won’t it cause me a lot of trouble and difficulty? I won’t be able to keep up with the world; I won’t be able to make ends meet.”
As if, before he even did any practice of bhavana he had millions, and that if he were to start doing any bhavana, this alone would swallow up all his wealth. If then he actually started to do some bhavana, would not the kilesas with large bellies and wide open mouths bigger than a giant, go and swallow the lot? Even when he is driven by the kilesas to think just this much, he feels irritable, painful, sore and stiff everywhere. Finally he gives way to them and they lead him to loiter off in the direction where he thinks there are no fierce giants, devils or Mara. But when he returns and checks to see how much he has got in his pocket, it has all been cleaned out. What took it he does not know. He makes no complaint for he does not yet know the thief who came and stole it, because his pocket is attached to him and he was not careless, nor did he leave it anywhere that a thief could get at it; it was just that he was cleaned out in the way that has happened before, which he is used to, without knowing anything about what happens and why. Next time he will try again and he will be cleaned out again without being able to catch the thief. This is the path that the kilesas take; they like to do things in a high handed way such as this which makes it difficult for anyone to catch them. Even the Dhutanga Bhikkhus who have no valuable possessions can still be robbed by them — for they can steal the samadhi citta until they are devoid of samadhi–vipassana (samadhi–wisdom).
They have already experienced this, so they are quick to warn all their associates and followers who are Buddhists to be watchful of themselves when they first start to take an interest in the teaching and practice of Buddhism and are looking for sila, for Dhamma and for samadhi bhavana. Afraid that the kilesas will come and steal or drag them away right before their eyes so that (they) can then no longer make contact with them and will never have another chance to get close to them — as has happened to these Bhikkhus in the past. But if they have been forewarned they may be able to watch themselves and be careful and not lose everything of value in themselves uselessly without anything to act as a signal and give them a warning that the kilesas are gathering all their valuables together to set about using them up, so that they lose everything altogether.
Those who are just beginning to train themselves should decide for themselves what times they will walk cankama. But they should also decide to keep walking longer when the hordes of deceptive kilesas creep in to steal their possessions, so that they will still have some bhavana left. When walking cankama one should set up mindfulness of the parikamma word (or object) so that they blend together as one thing and support one’s efforts with sati–sampajañña (mindfulness and awareness), making the heart firmly fixed to that Dhamma which is the parikamma. The parikamma may, for example, be “Buddho,” so that one makes the citta know and remain firmly fixed to “Buddho” the whole time while walking back and forth. When we talk about that kind of striving, it means doing it without any breaks and pauses in between, which can happen even though one still thinks that one is practising with striving; the result will then be a state of calm and peace, as long as the citta does not forget itself and get involved in some other emotionally bound situation to which it is attached (arammana) before one gets there. One who does the practice of bhavana can for certain expect to be engulfed in happiness of heart at that time or at any other time when this happens.
But before doing any training you should understand and accept the following. The Lord Buddha and all those Acariyas — Teachers — who teach the true way with metta, to help people, do not teach untruth or falsehood to waste people’s time which would certainly be useless. Before they had attained Dhamma which they used to teach other people they had to fall and scramble up with hardship and torment by themselves before we who are now doing the training came along. Therefore we should not be doubtful about them nor think that they were already “washed clean” and were just waiting to come out and teach without having previously made any investment of effort and hardship. The investment made by the Lord Buddha was such that he lost consciousness and fell over three times; and for his followers, the Savakas, there were some who walked until their feet bled, or who went blind, and many other forms of hardship. But as a result of this they gained a refuge for their heart which is the highest, the ultimate, the most precious, the most exalted, the most wonderful, and beyond everything in the world, and this they gained as a reward and result of what they had lost.
It was due to their intense and valiant effort that they were able to pass beyond the world, entirely free from all dangers and dukkha, and all of this was because of their readiness to renounce and let go of all those things that the world holds most dear. If they had remained deluded and jealously hung onto their possessions with anxious concern for dukkha and hardship, they would for sure still be immersed in dukkha and struggling in the mud and mire of the round of samsara (vatta), like all the rest of us. Then there would be nobody in the world who was in a different state, and where could we find an example of striving that we should follow, and what method should we use to gain freedom from all those things that we ought not to desire, but which all of us have in profusion within us? We should train ourselves to think about and examine ourselves now, while we are still in this situation where we are capable of doing this. When we reach a situation where we are up against it with no way out and no way that we can wriggle free it is no longer possible to start making merit, giving dana, guarding our moral behaviour and practising samadhi bhavana amongst the fuel and firewood of the funeral pyre — or in the maw of the crematorium. There is nothing left but the fire which does its duty and the body is turned to ashes and cinders. All of us have seen this sort of thing happening and it should make us feel sorrowful and should make a lasting impression on us.
Walking cankama and sitting in samadhi bhavana are ways of analysing and searching for that which is real and essential (saraguna) within oneself. This is very important work, with results that are beyond all one’s expectations and far greater than any other work that one can do. So one should not let the kilesas, tanha and avijja play about and deceive one into seeing it as work which tricks one into loss and ruin with no good results at all. For in truth it is the kilesas themselves which do just this — and they are what always lead people and other beings to destruction and ruin if they have been deceived by their tricks and methods until they no longer think about themselves. The analysis of the citta by means of samadhi bhavana means the analysis of oneself into the various parts of which one is composed so as to find out which is true and which is false, which leads one towards dukkha and which towards sukha, which leads to hell and which to heaven, and which leads one towards Nibbana — the final and complete end of all dukkha.
These important things which each and everyone of us will have to face up to, are not the business of the Lord Buddha, or of any of the Savakas, nor yet that of the Buddha Sasana that it should be advertising them so as to get people to believe and have faith in them, so that they should be anxious and concerned about the results that may come from them. For these three Supreme Dhammas (i.e., Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha) are complete and perfect as they always have been, and there is not the least part of any of them which anybody or anything can diminish or spoil. That task therefore comes down to the task before each one of us who must face up to that which is important right there in front of one, and each one of us should search for the way to avoid and evade and escape from these kilesas with the utmost mindfulness, strength and ability that each of us is capable, so that we may get free from them bit by bit. We should not just sit or lie down idly waiting for all these fearful things without any thought or consideration for them at all — as if we were pigs just waiting for the day when we will be killed and chopped up, meanwhile contentedly nosing about in the chaff and bran-husk. Because they only think about their mouths and stomachs and nothing else. But there are enormous differences between human beings and animals who are incapable of rational and reflective thought.
So we should certainly never let go of ourselves so that our bodies and minds become involved in behaviour that is the way of animals. For the minds of animals know nothing of things that have lasting value — the only things that suit them are garlic and onions!
In writing the foregoing, it is not my intention to blame and criticise all those good and reasonable people, by means of the Dhamma that I have expounded. But rather to help them to promote the development of their citta (or heart), bodily action and speech, which have been thrown down in the mud and mire by these loathsome filthy things (kilesas) that have usurped them and turned them to their own use — and have thus become the master butcher, chopping them up for food which they find delicious in their various ways. Also, to arouse mindfulness and wisdom in these people so that they may know what the nature of their present state is. Then to try by using these ways and methods, which should be enough to help them and to get them out of danger from these things to some extent, so that they may rightly be called Buddhists. A good way for them to come to understand their present state is by training themselves in samadhi bhavana. For by this method they should come to understand their state more easily than any other way. Because this work takes place within themselves, it acts within themselves, and their thoughts about the ways of the world, of people and beings takes place directly within themselves. Right and wrong, good and evil, happiness and discontent are all there within themselves so that the more they ponder these things, the more they come to know about themselves. When they know themselves, they must also know about the discontent (dukkha) which is part and parcel of themselves. Then day by day the citta, or heart will become clearer and more apparent and its value will increase — much in the way that goods in the world can become more expensive and valuable.
Anybody who often trains himself to think and to interpret what he finds in himself will know how to evade and avoid dukkha. He will not then go about gathering it and accumulating it all the time as he has done in the past. As for seeing the danger in the dukkha which is within himself, the day will come when he will see it continually and he will have the way to evade and avoid this danger time after time, and he will steadily become more and more free from it.
In seeing dukkha, he will see it within himself every time it arises in him — and also, in overcoming dukkha he will know how he has overcome it in himself by the power of his samadhi, sati and pañña. As for the dukkha connected with life and death and what he will become in future lives, however many they may be that he will have to face up to, he is not concerned or anxious. Because the nature of all of them is collected within his experience in the khandhas which are before him right now and which have been taken in and known by this one heart which is at present training and correcting itself. But while he lives he will be peaceful and calm in heart, due to the value and virtue of Dhamma which he has within him; and when he dies he will have a state of happiness (sugato) to enjoy. This is the result which comes from doing samadhi and walking cankama bhavana. It can cause those who practise it to become cheerful and courageous, beyond what anyone would normally ever expect, so it is something which we should do for our own sakes. We should not be careless or indifferent to it which may turn out to be more dangerous to us than we ever expected.
In fixing the citta and setting up mindfulness while walking cankama, one should do so properly and well, which is the way it should be for the intention and purpose of searching for virtue. For walking cankama bhavana is the search for virtue which is a correct path, which is not at all blameworthy, and throughout the world the wisest sages all praise it. One should go on trying to make one’s citta become calm in this way, until one succeeds, but one should not do it by merely going through the motions. Then one will come to see the excellence and wonder that belongs to oneself. This is the citta which has been covered and wrapped up by such worthless rubbish that one has had no interest in the citta, believing only that the one which is wrapped up in this rubbish is no more important than the worthless rubbish which surrounds it. This tends to lead us into delusion about these things until we forget to think about ourselves.
But the “Truth” and the renown of the “Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha” spread throughout the “Triple World”, and all of it came just from the heart, which was both the cause of them and the wonderful result, as we have mentioned before. In other words, the heart which has gone away free from all this worthless rubbish is called the Buddha or the Sangha depending on who it is that we are talking about. But when the “person” has gone, there remains only “Dhamma” and nothing else. For there is nothing that remains that we can distinguish as “The Citta” or “The Lord Buddha”, both of which are suppositional or relative (sammuti) conditions of the highest kind in these Three Worlds. There remains only what we call “Dhamma”, and this word is also suppositional and of the highest. But it is necessary to retain these words as the basic symbols for those in the world who hope for Dhamma as their refuge, until they have got there and no longer need to hope for anything at all. What we call “Dhamma” and the “person” then know each other, and there is no room left for him to doubt, even though he may have never known it in the past.
Because of this the word “citta” means the same thing for that person as it does for ourselves and for everyone throughout the world. But those things which make the cittas of people so different from one another in ways that are so incredibly varied that one cannot imagine or guess the whole of it in human society, are the kilesas. Because the environments in which people live which are many, and varied beyond description, enter into association and interact with them. Then the citta which is subjected to these things is covered by them and so mixed in with them that they are bound together as one. The citta then becomes entirely different and unrecognisable so that it is almost impossible to know what the true characteristics of the citta are apart from all these things which obscure it and “wrap it up” entirely and make it indistinguishable from them and this also makes it impossible to prove what past births and lives the citta of any person has come from.
Those things which obscure it and “wrap it up” more than anything else, are all what are called “kilesas”, or the refuse that has been thrown away by all those who are the most excellent Acariyas. So those who endeavour to wash out and cure those things which are mentioned above and to get rid of them to some extent are sure to gain the reward of increased happiness to an extent that depends on the causes they have done in cleansing them away. If they have been “washed out” to the point where purity has been attained, that person will have reached the end of all dukkha of heart while he is still in the midst of his khandhas which he is looking after. This refers to people such as the Lord Buddha and the Arahants, who became enlightened and attained Dhamma of which they partook and tasted, as they also did with the joy of freedom (vimutti–sukha) at the same moment; without its having any reference to the time or place at all. The only requirement was and still is, for the kilesas, the fundamental enemy of the citta, to be brought to an end, to be completely extinguished and got rid of — this is all that is required! So it follows that it is only the kilesas and nothing else that blocks the way to the Path, Fruition and Nibbana and prevents the citta from reaching them, and there is no other thing, person or whatever else that has any power to block them. It is therefore necessary in teaching Dhamma to teach the way to get down to the citta, which is where all the kilesas congregate, by the practical application of Dhamma. This means the practice of sila, samadhi and pañña which are the major factors in all forms of Dhamma concerned with curing and eliminating them.
Walking cankama is one of the many ways to make the kilesas disperse from the heart, as are the many other methods, such as sitting in samadhi bhavana. One should therefore take an interest in training oneself in these ways, and start doing it from now on. This is like work which one does in the world for one’s livelihood, and which provides one with stature in human society where it is respected. But the work of doing what is good and virtuous, such as walking cankama, which we have already explained, is the work of uplifting oneself both internally and externally. This work also uplifts one’s fellow human beings in this world as well as animals, in accordance with the strength of virtue of the Bhikkhu or lay person to spread happiness about so that the world can receive it, more or less as the case may be. For example, each and every one of the Buddhas was able to spread the cool shade of peace throughout the Three Worlds to an enormous extent and nobody else can equal them in this. Each of the Arahants were also able to spread peace to the world to a large extent in place of the Buddhas and their abilities in this was much greater than that of ordinary people. However, there are also good and gentle people who are in positions of authority in the world and whose strength of virtuous characteristics are quite great, and they do many things to help and be of value to people in general. The people then esteem and respect them and exalt them as the highest, like their own fathers and mothers — and they love them in the same way as they do their own parents. The more there are of such good people, the more does it indicate a state of progress and development in that group or society.
The Sasana (the Way of Buddhism) and those who teach Dhamma to help the world in various ways without thinking about or expecting any material reward or remuneration, are people who make others glad at heart. They are full of metta as a state of dwelling in Dhamma (Metta–Vihara–Dhamma) and they are faithful to the people who look up to them and never get tired of them or feel that they have had enough. At all times the people also think of them and praise them with reverence as shining examples. Wherever they go they never do any harm to the world, but instead, go about helping others, making everybody so glad at heart at the same time. The Sasana and those who give help to the world, the former by means of Dhamma and the latter by material aid, are like a doctor and nurse who have compassion and metta — always dispensing medicine and looking after the diseases of their fellows whose lives depend on these medicines and the doctors. Even when they have been cured of their sicknesses their gratitude will never let them forget such kindness and virtue. This is the power of virtue which is independent of race, class or nationality and is something which all desire.
Virtue and the Sasana are not therefore things which are old fashioned and out of date, as some people think nowadays despite the fact that they also want to rely on others with a longing for the metta and generous kindness of all those who are big-hearted. For the Sasana is where good people are made, and the Sasana is the field of all that is good and virtuous. If a person is not good and virtuous it is quite impossible for him to teach the way of the Sasana to others in the world. The basis of the Sasana is the hearts of good people as an absolute minimum requirement. Beyond that it reaches up to the hearts of those who have complete Dhamma purity and liberation throughout — such as the Great Teacher (Sasada) of the Buddha Sasana. Where could we find anyone else so considerate and capable? Who else would be prepared to make a sacrifice for their fellows like the hearts of the founders of the Sasana who brought forth Dhamma to teach the world? A complete sacrifice such as was made by all the Buddhas and the Savaka Arahants who followed each of the Buddhas who gave help to the people. If they had been people whose hearts were not perfectly clean and pure and free from all selfishness they would never have been able to sacrifice everything for the sake of the world.
This is something that is not difficult for me to accept and to have complete faith in, and even if nobody else accepted it I would still be prepared to go on being a fool who has faith in it. Because, each one of us has been born into this world and lived in it long enough to know the meanness and generosity, the selfishness and magnanimity of our fellow human beings, quite well enough — for all of us in our different ways live in the same world. Our sorrows and happiness, the ups and downs of life, are all linked together the whole time in a way that is quite inseparable, and it is impossible for us to be unaware of this fact that is there between each and all of us — we are bound to be aware of it. Those who are tired of their situation and hate each other, do so because of knowing about each other. Those who love each other, who are glad to be together and trust each other implicitly, do so because they know about each other.
The teaching of the Sasana which each of the Great Teachers — the Buddhas — initiated, shook up the Universe. Because it roused up and encouraged the hearts of all beings, waking them out of their sleep in which they had been satisfied to live amongst the mass of kilesas. The Wheel of Dhamma (Dhamma–Cakka) woke them up, turning out the Ariya Sacca, the most noble and excellent truths. How then could the one who proclaimed these Truths not be known for what he truly was, and with what characteristics he was endowed when he proclaimed them? If he was not endowed with metta of the highest quality flowing out to the world, I don’t know how I could explain them to the satisfaction of the reader. If the Lord Buddha and his followers had been like all of us who, if we search and look into ourselves, into our hearts, see nothing but meanness and selfishness so that we cannot get along with other people, the Sasana and the Great Teacher (Sasada) would never have arisen.
Nor would there have been any cause for the world to pay homage and reverence to them as the highest ideal. The fact is that the world is still the world and there are both good and evil people mixed together in it, and it is not devoid of wise people and sages arising from the human race. This is because it has been under the influence of the pure and clean hearts of those who are completely unselfish and who fear that there are others more worthy than themselves to bring up and pacify people with the Dhamma Teaching of the Sasana. So there are still some good people in the world. One should not assume that it is easy to be born as a human being, and not easy to die. But there may be forms of birth in which birth is easy and death is also easy — and others in which birth may be difficult and death easy, like animals everywhere. This is because life exists by means of the elements (dhatu) and khandhas in all cases. As soon as the breath stops, their continuity ceases and this just means that a person or animal dies. What more can one say? Where can we find enough permanence and stability so that we can afford to be careless and self-forgetful, without thinking or learning enough about ourselves to act as good tendencies of character (sugati–nissaya) to lead us into the future?
The Method of Sitting in Samadhi Bhavana
We have discussed the method of walking cankama quite extensively, so now we will go on to explain the method of sitting in samadhi bhavana in enough detail to act as a basis for those who are beginning to train themselves. For whatever type of work one takes up, it is bound to have a set of rules and instructions as to how it should be done, and this is also the case with the practice of samadhi bhavana. It is taught that in doing the practice of samadhi bhavana, one should sit in the “samadhi” posture with one’s legs crossed, as displayed in many Buddha images. The right leg should be placed on top of the left, and the hands placed in the lap, the right hand above the left — as in the samadhi posture. The body should be upright in a natural manner, neither bending forward or backwards too much — nor should one incline to the right or left beyond what is normal and natural. No part of the body should be under abnormal pressure or tense — which would be using force and creating difficulties — for it should be relaxed in all its parts in a normal, natural manner.
But when you start to do the meditation practice, please keep your interest and attention on the meditation practice alone. You should not be anxious whether you are maintaining the correct samadhi posture that you started off with or whether it has changed in the meantime, leaning forwards or backwards, right or left too much. For all this would be concern for the body rather than for the citta and the samadhi bhavana will not go smoothly. Therefore, once one has started to do the citta bhavana one should have no further concern for the body, and one should set oneself to do the work of the citta from then on until one reaches the time for leaving the samadhi bhavana.
When one first begins doing citta bhavana one should establish awareness, which means the citta pays full attention to what one is doing, and this is what they call “being in the present” (Paccupanna–Dhamma). This is the way that one can come to know clearly whatever happens to the citta and the mental objects of emotional attachment (Dhammarammana) of various kinds whether good or bad when they change and alter just at that time — rather than at other times. This means establishing the citta with full attention to what one is doing with mindfulness (sati). Mindfulness means that the heart has a state of fully conscious knowing and this is what reminds and keeps one mindful that now is the time when one is beginning to do this work. Please be careful not to let the citta fly away towards emotional attachments (arammana) of various kinds, either past or future, good or evil, which are far away from the present work of doing the beginning or preparatory stages of bhavana (parikamma–bhavana).
How to Set Up Mindfulness Right Here and Now
The nature of the citta is just to know. It has no ability in itself to make decisions, to think or investigate. It just knows thought, knows reasoned thinking, knows peace and it just knows trouble and disturbances that comes from contact with various things — that is all. But it has no ability to discriminate, nor does it know how to consider and decide what is right and wrong or good and evil. In other words, it does not by itself know what is right and wrong or good and evil. Therefore it has to rely upon mindfulness and wisdom — that which knows and that which assesses, considers, directs and looks after it. For mindfulness and wisdom have power over the citta and they are able to know about and see through the various emotional attachments (arammana) which the citta is thinking about. Therefore one should set up and establish mindfulness of the type which recollects and has power over that citta right before one, here and now. It will then do the duty of setting up knowledge and guarding the citta, not allowing it to slip away from the objective support of the bhavana and go to other things. If one can keep one’s mindfulness in the present, guarding the citta the whole time in this way while doing the bhavana, one is sure to gain the asset of mindfulness with clear knowing (sati–sampajañña), at that time — or at some future time.
In doing bhavana with a preparatory method (parikamma) that is some aspect of Dhamma, one should do whichever type suits one’s nature and not something which goes against the grain. At that time, one should take up whatever aspect of Dhamma feels right and harmonious to one’s heart and go on doing it as one’s parikamma bhavana from then on in the way that we have already explained.
How to Think the Parikamma Bhavana.
In making the preparatory meditation (parikamma–bhavana) as one’s thinking, one may think of any aspect of Dhamma as it suits one, as we have mentioned above. Such as, repeating “Buddho, Dhammo, Sangho” three times and then continue by fixing in mind one of these Dhammas with mindfulness. But if one takes any aspect of Dhamma apart from the above three, one should repeat and recollect these three — “Buddho, Dhamma, Sangho” which are the “Three Jewels,” three times before starting with that aspect of Dhamma. From then on one should gently turn to doing the preparatory aspect which one has decided upon — such as anapanasati, or atthi (bones) or taco (skin) for example.
The various types of parikamma bhavana which have been given to us to control the heart at that time — or at other times — act as a means of holding one’s attention (arammana) for the heart to grasp hold of when one wants to become calm. For the nature of the heart is subtle, but it is not yet capable of depending on its own resources, which is due to the citta still not belonging entirely to itself in a way that is complete and immaculate, like the Lord Buddha and the Arahants. So it is necessary to have a word which is an aspect of Dhamma, to act as a parikamma to tie the heart down — or to act as an object of attachment for the heart, at that time.
In doing the parikamma bhavana with any aspect of Dhamma, one should not speculate or imagine what results should arise from it at that time. One may for example imagine that calm having such and such characteristics will arise at that time; or that various “nimittas” will arise; or maybe that one will see heaven or hell in various grades or depths at that time. All such thoughts are just speculation or guesswork and they only cause agitation and disturbance, preventing the heart from getting calm. There is no value at all in such imaginings, and they may make the heart feel like giving up the practice, or make it afraid to go on in various ways, all of which is contrary to the purpose of the right way of bhavana as taught by the Lord.
The right way is to set up the citta with constant mindfulness here and now in the present with the parikamma as the only object of attachment of the heart. This is done by getting the heart to be continually mindful of the parikamma word, such as “Buddho, Buddho....” This must go on all the time while being mindful and making the effort to feel or appreciate that parikamma. But do not let the citta wander and become fascinated by other objects of attachment and go after them.
The more the citta, mindfulness and the parikamma word support each other and become closely involved together, the more does it approach the aim and purpose of the bhavana. The resulting calm and peace, or other things of a strange and unusual character which one has never met or seen before will then appear as they accord with one’s inherent tendencies of character. This will make one truly amazed at that time. They will arise on their own because of the power and influence of guarding the citta continually with the parikamma word and mindfulness. There is nothing else that can conjure them up.
Concerning the Need to Watch and be Careful While Doing Bhavana.
There is in general a tendency for people to think and talk of bhavana as being that in which one sees the heavens and hells as well as the kamma and fortune of oneself and others. Those of you who are truly intent on Dhamma and its meaning for yourselves should consider this point and look to see whether, during the time that you practise bhavana, your citta does have any lingering desire to become involved in these things, or not. If it does, you should be careful not to give them any chance to arise — that is, if your intention in doing bhavana is to gain calm and peace and to see results in terms of happiness of heart, which is truly the right way. Because those things (the heavens, etc.) are not good things, as is generally supposed, but they are thoughts that are beginning to go in the wrong direction. For the citta is that which is able to submit to thinking about acquiring various things which one likes, even though they may be false and illusory. It may then happen after a long time of submitting to such thoughts, that they arise and appear to one as an image, seeming as if, they were true and real. This state is difficult to correct and cure. For if a person has wanted to go in that direction and does so until those things which he understands to exist in that way appear to him, he believes that they are true, and he feels glad about them.
This then makes him more and more firmly attached to what he has been doing until there is no way for him to get free — and he is not likely to listen to any advice from anybody. I have brought this to you, the reader’s notice, so that you who intend to do the practice of bhavana may know about it, and so that you should be aware and keep watch on your citta and not let it think about such things or submit to going in that direction. Otherwise one may become a meditation practitioner who is a revolting and pitiable caricature while still arrogantly maintaining that one’s knowledge and experience is right and true. And at the same time teaching others to go in that same direction as one has oneself gone.
If the citta has thought about and accepted something, even though that thing is quite wrong, it will believe that thing to be correct. Therefore it is very difficult and disheartening and no small thing to correct such a state. Because the citta is by nature very subtle and it is hard to know, amongst all the objects and obsessions (arammana) which the citta has gone in for and got hooked onto, which of them are good and which evil. In fact it is only possible for those who are extremely skilled in the ways of bhavana and who have gone through many and varied experiences so that they have gained a very wide understanding of them — such as Venerable Acharn Mun. Whenever anything went wrong with himself and he had trouble in any way, whether externally or internally, he would unravel and look into the problem in detail until no room was left for any remaining doubt about it — which is why he was so rightly and appropriately called an Acariya or teacher of the highest level in teaching Kammatthana Dhamma to his followers.
Whenever anyone, who had some knowledge and experience in bhavana both externally and internally, came to Venerable Acharn Mun and related his own story to him, we would all, as soon as he had finished, hear the Venerable Acharn explain and display his own knowledge and experience as it was relevant, with concentrated intensity and certainty in a way that went straight to one’s heart. What he said cleared up all doubts, both in the one who was talking to him and all the rest of us who had quietly gathered to listen. It also produced a great joy in the Dhamma that Venerable Acharn taught, which was beyond description. If the questioner still had any doubts in any direction, once Venerable Acharn had finished, he would then turn to these problems and explain his own knowledge, thought and experience for Venerable Acharn to consider once again. Venerable Acharn would then point out immediately what were the reasons for those problems with the complete certainty of one who has already gone through them himself. He would often say to some of them such things as:
“Why do you wallow about in piss and shit? I used to do this at one time long before you and I washed myself clean of them with various cleansing agents for three days before I could get rid of the stink. But you are still energetically indulging in those things, wallowing in them from head to feet while believing that they are a pleasant perfume — isn’t that so? All of it is just a pile of shit and piss two or three days old, which is radiating a pervasive stink pungent and penetrating, yet you are daring enough to make out that you can inhale it for fun. All the water in the well will hardly be enough to get rid of the stench from those things which you think smell so good. Don’t say I haven’t warned you! I have smelt these same things in the past, so I am afraid of them and make haste to warn you for fear that you will be induced into it again. If you have no water to wash it away it may be even worse for you than it was for me. But even though I had water to wash with, it was still unpleasant and I’m still afraid of it right up to the present day.”
When Venerable Acharn spoke in this way he used words which were most spirited and pithy — or so it seemed to the writer who has a rather rough character. For people with more refined characters they may seem distasteful and unpleasant to listen to. But what he told us in that way were words which have remained firmly entrenched and precise, concerning what is the wrong way and the right way which he himself had gone by in the past, and which he gave us who had come to learn from him to free ourselves from doubt and uncertainty in those things which we still thought of as right and good. It also made us try to follow him so that we would be quite sure that we would not be “covered by a mass of piss and shit” any more — which is far worse than the words which he used to point it out to us and to make us listen, which some may think of as being coarse and vulgar.
I have included a bit of Venerable Acharn’s Dhamma here, for all those of you who are training yourselves, for you to think about how this knowledge which comes by way of bhavana is not final and complete in anyone who only insists on it being so without having investigated for themselves and checked it out, or having asked those who already know about it. The only exceptions are those who are already adept and fully developed, and they are not to be classed amongst those who see only the piss and shit and say how good it is, for the adepts have already disapproved of it and they delight in their own knowledge and understanding.
I also used to be proud of my insignificant cleverness and used to argue with Venerable Acharn forcibly until my eyes were red, so often I cannot remember how many times, for I was continually doing so. Knowledge used to arise in my mind all the time and I always felt quite sure that I was completely right. But in arguing with him, every sentence which I thought was right and true became like a stick which I handed to Venerable Acariya for him to beat me over the head with, until I hardly had any hair left. But then I used to gain skill, penetrating insights and great benefit from these bamboo sprig questions (questions which kill “Self”) that I asked and thought were so right and good wherever they came from. This is how Venerable Acharn taught me. But sometimes, after he had beaten me with skill, he would give some soothing balm for me to put on my wounds. How else could I derive any benefit from my insignificant cleverness?
In saying that: “Venerable Acharn gave some balm for me to put on my own wounds”
— this means that he corrected my understanding and knowledge which had come from my bhavana and which I had interpreted wrongly. I always accepted Venerable Acharn’s teaching, but before doing so and agreeing with his reasoning I had to be hit until it hurt and I became afraid, which is what I call, being beaten!
I have included some of my own experiences here to show how those who have gone through it all and know the way are very different from other people who are still deluded and immersed in hordes of kilesas. If someone who does not know, comes to cure those wrong views and understandings and it is left up to just those who have some slick cleverness to do this, the situation is bound to turn into a verbal boxing ring in which nobody can reach any agreement and nobody else is likely to buy a ticket to go and listen to them for fear that they may tread in the spittle of the contestants in their verbal boxing match, and slip up and slide into it themselves without getting any good results or benefit from it at all.
The reason for this is because the internal knowledge derived from bhavana is very changeable and complex and it is difficult to decide what is right and what wrong. Those who do the practice without having a true Teacher (Acariya) available to train and teach them are bound to grope about in the dark grabbing at what is right or wrong quite haphazardly. They grasp haphazardly at everything, and, using the simile of a tree, they grasp the hardwood, the softwood, the branches, twigs and leaves; and they build a house, a dwelling place for the citta in the province of the heart, but without having first trimmed off the leaves, the twigs and branches. Then they admire their work, thinking how elegant it is, even though other people cannot bear to look at it. The practice of bhavana which is other than insight wisdom with investigation (vicarana–ñana) is just like this. For whatever happens will be entirely accepted as completely right; and then they talk about it, and it pours out of their mouths in a torrent for others to hear. But with their own ears so close to their mouths they never listen to what they are saying, nor consider whether what they say is right or wrong. They just think that all of it is right and talk incessantly. The harm that comes from this not only stains themselves — who have not investigated, examined and realised what is appropriate and what should not be said — but it also stains and distorts Buddhism, which is the focal point of it. Therefore we should always be very watchful and careful about this.
The Right Way to be “Thinking the Word” of the Parikamma Bhavana.
Those who practise bhavana should keep their attention and interest entirely on their parikamma word while sitting in the practice of parikamma bhavana. They should not be concerned about the way they are sitting after they have initially set their sitting posture correctly. For while they are doing their meditation practice, defining and paying close attention to whatever practice they are doing, the body may lean forward or backwards, to the right or to the left to some extent, because at that time they have lost all interest in the body and their interest is entirely focused on the practice. So even if the body does lean a bit this way or that, the citta should not lean away from the support (arammana) of the bhavana — this is the way to succeed well. Because the goal which they are truly aiming for is to be found in the bhavana. But if the citta is anxious about the body all the time, afraid that it is leaning this way or that, the attention of the citta will be diverted from the parikamma bhavana word. Then it is not likely to become as subtle as it should, in accordance with the ability of each individual’s citta. They will then not be able to get the citta to do its duty up to the maximum of which each individual is capable at that time.
Therefore they should not be concerned with the body externally. But they should instead be attending closely to the bhavana word alone, until the citta becomes calm and is able to know all the causes and results concerning oneself which are relevant to the main purpose of what one is doing.
Furthermore, when the citta becomes calm, concentrates together and goes down into “bhavanga” (where one reaches a state of complete rest without any sense of anything external such as the body), and then withdraws and rises out of it, and one sees that the body has leaned over this way or that in various positions, one should not feel any doubt or concern about the body not being straight and upright as one has set it up before starting. For concern about the body and about the heart will not only create disturbance for the citta which does not yet know what its duty should be, but the results which one should get at that time will not appear and all that one will be left with is trouble between the body and heart when one does bhavana, without being aware of it. Therefore one should keep this in mind from the time when one starts to do bhavana.
Establishing the Location and the Level of the Arammana of the Citta.
Some types of kammatthana which are objects (arammana) of the citta have their own distinct location — such as, “hair of the head and of the body, nails, teeth,” each has its own particular location. But the “location” for “skin”, is just those parts of it which are taken as the object and one will know where they are located. One should realise that those objects which one defines do in fact exist and they are the objects of kammatthana, each in its own place. These things whether high up or low down in the body, each have their own invariable location; thus, for example “teeth”, are located in the mouth, hair of the head is located on top of the head — in a high location. Other parts such as skin, hair of the body, sinews and bones are distributed throughout the body and it is up to the one who practises to take up and decide upon one of the parts and where it is located, as the object of kammatthana.
When one has decided on one of the parts as the object and its location, which is high or low or however it may be, one should take note of its location. But when one comes to define any one of the parts, such as those we have mentioned above, as the object, while doing the bhavana, one should just define that part alone and this is far more important than whether it is high or low — in the same way as the leaning of the body one way or another is not important when sitting in samadhi bhavana. So the level of the part whether high or low which we at first took note of is now left to whatever it maybe in its own nature; and one should not keep on bringing up those aspects of kammatthana which have already been clearly defined because one thinks that they have altered from what they were originally. If one keeps bringing them up to re-establish them as the heart thinks they should be, it will just cause anxiety with regard to its location and it is not a form of kammatthana which can be satisfactorily used to establish the bhavana. For example, if one decides to consider the bones of the skull and one focuses one’s attention on them as the object until one sees a clear image of them — as if one were looking at them with one’s eyes. But then a thought arises that the skull bones have moved from their original high position and gone low down — which is not its true position. So one sets it up correctly and starts again. This builds up support for doubt and uncertainty in the heart all the time and one never has enough time to examine that part of the body to become acquainted with it.
The right way is to define that part of the body as feeling, or as a visualisation of that part, with mindful awareness throughout. Even if the image of that part should change its characteristics, growing larger, or smaller, or breaking up and disappearing, one should define it and know it however it may appear without any thought of it being higher or lower — which one determined at the beginning. Doing it this way will make the citta become intimately acquainted with that part of the body and also cause a feeling of sorrow and disenchantment with this part which one examined and which displayed its transient changing nature which was so forcefully apparent.
Defining one’s breath and that location where one establishes awareness of it is done in much the same way. When at first one fixes one’s attention on the breath, one fixes it at a suitable location such as the tip of the nose, and after a while one becomes engrossed in watching the breath with interest and then a doubt may arise, for the breath (or the place where it is being watched) may move away from the tip of the nose and go to some other location. So one brings it back and fixes it at the tip of the nose again — and this just creates a lot of trouble for oneself with one’s own ideas, and it will never bring good results. Because doubt gets hold of them and spoils everything.
To go the right way about it and to be free from all doubt and anxiety about the location where one should watch the breath, one should do the practice in much the same way as we have described above for the other parts of the body. In other words, one should know the whole breath, which passes by going in or out, quite clearly, with mindfulness present the whole time until it reaches the end point of the breath. Then if the place where the breath is being felt should appear to be high or low, or different from the place which one thinks of as the starting point, it will not spoil the work of fixing one’s attention on the breath in any way at all. In fact it will make the citta and the breath become intimately close together throughout until the end of the bhavana — or the end of the breath.
The Breath Ceases As Far As One’s Feeling of It Goes.
This sometimes happens while doing the practice of anapanasati. The limit of breathing is its cessation. The limit of the heart is that it goes down into an intimately concentrated state, ending its responsibility with the breath and setting itself up as the one citta (eka–citta), in other words there is only one support (arammana) which is that of “knowing” which does not associate with anything else at all. This is known as the citta which has become intimately concentrated in samadhi bhavana.
But generally, those who practise anapanasati and who reach the point where the breath becomes subtle and appears to cease become apprehensive and think quite wrongly that: “If my breath stops I shall die!” Just this is enough to bring the breath back again and it becomes coarse breathing, as it was to begin with. Then the citta is also coarse, and finally the bhavana does not get anywhere much. It is probable that all they will get to is a fear of death and then the citta and the breath draw back until they find a state where they believe that they will not die — that’s all! There are many cases of people doing bhavana like this amongst those who practise, so it is appropriate to give this warning. For it may happen to some of you who read this and who practise anapanasati bhavana who may have been or would otherwise have been deceived by this trick.
In doing bhavana to see the truth of what happens with the breath in anapanasati, you should define the breath with mindfulness, and go on until you reach the limit of breathing and of the citta. You will then see what is most wonderful, quite clearly, as soon as you pass by the fear of dying with courage and resolve, when it seems that your breathing has stopped. For when you are developing anapanasati and the breath becomes very fine and apparently ceases, as far as you can tell by feeling, you must understand that even if the breath in fact does cease, while your awareness, which is the heart, is still alive in this body, you most certainly will not die, however it may be.
If the breath stops, let it stop; and if anything else in the body stops with the breath, let it stop also, as it will, naturally. As for the heart, the one that does not cease nor die away when the other things do, it will discriminately look at and know everything of all kinds that comes within its fields of sense awareness at that time. But it will not be anxious or concerned about any natural conditions (sabhava), that are arising and ceasing all the time. Just this is all that is necessary for the citta to cut off all fear, concern and anxiety of all sorts which have been accumulated and stored up, and it does this in a way that one would never have expected or imagined to be possible. In addition this brings a state of calm which goes down and reaches the level of samadhi without anything being able to obstruct it at all. When the breath is about to cease, or when it actually ceases, the only thing which is likely to obstruct it is the fear of death, that’s all. When this obstacle has been overcome just once, by the methods we have outlined above, this fear will disappear entirely and it will probably never again return to deceive one. Then one will be able to see some of the cunning tricks of the kilesas quite clearly. At that time one will also see that one does not die, as one thought one would, and this makes one see the nature of Mara so clearly and the way it creates endless imaginary ideas to deceive us.
Therefore, those of you who practise the way of anapanasati should remember what the “face” of Mara looks like when you meet it, and keep it well in mind. So that when you meet it again you will know how to evade and avoid it, how to correct and cure it and to go onwards smoothly until you reach the “far shore of safety”, free from all dukkha. Like our Great Teacher who walked before us using this practice as the basis until he attained Enlightenment and Nibbana by this method.
When they talk about the citta “dropping into bhavanga”, some of you who read this may not understand what it means. Therefore it is necessary for us to give some explanation of it to start with.
The word “bhavanga”, as understood by those who practise in the forests is given a meaning which comes from their experience and skills which I shall interpret as meaning: “The state of existence”. Or, one may call it the “house where avijja dwells and rests”, as it has done for countless ages past. When we say that the citta falls into bhavanga it means that avijja gathers itself together and enters into this one place where it does no work. Nor does it send its servant out wandering and searching in its realm via the various pathways.
The pathways of avijja, by which it goes out and in, are: the eye, the ear, the nose, the tongue and the body; and, the realm of avijja is made up of the innumerable visible forms, sounds, smells, tastes and things which contact the body. All these are what avijja likes and enjoys. The servant of avijja is raga–tanha, which depends for its activity on memory (sañña), thought forms (sankhara), and consciousness (viññana). These are the tools which help it in various ways to arrange things so that it gets what it wants.
When the citta drops into bhavanga, due to the power of samadhi, avijja stops and rests from its activities for a short while. But as soon as the citta rises up out of samadhi, it begins to do its work again as accords with its nature — although not as strongly as it did before its legs and arms were broken by the practice of samadhi bhavana. Therefore, samadhi bhavana is an excellent tool for weakening avijja, so that wisdom (pañña) can then gradually sweep it away, until finally there is no more avijja left in the heart.
One will begin to know the meaning of “bhavanga citta” from one’s practice of bhavana when the citta concentrates itself together and goes down into a state of calm. Withdrawing from this state is known as “the citta coming out of bhavanga”, and then it starts to get involved with all sorts of things under the commands of avijja which are limitless and endless. For there is no other kind of work which goes on and on for so long, until it becomes quite impossible to unravel it and see the reason for it or any end to it, such as the work of avijja which spreads and grows out and out everywhere through every village, every district and country, throughout the whole world and beyond into the whole of samsara. Regardless of the cost of its work it is determined to go on with it. Love and hate, discord and anger are its work which it never gets tired of doing. It is satisfied to go on loving and hating, loathing and getting angry however much pain and trouble it causes to the one who acts as its servant. Avijja is never ready to withdraw. In fact it goads its servant on to love, to hate and to promote discord and anger until the servant who has to accept the results of all this is completely ruined by it. But even then avijja is not likely to have any sympathy, for it keeps driving its servant on, until he is completely destroyed by it. This is the nature of avijja and it is always like this in the hearts of all beings in the world — for the task which avijja sets them to do is never finished or completed, unlike other kinds of work. In fact it tends to keep on spreading out and increasing more and more, without any limit in time or any boundary.
Those who have Dhamma in their hearts — such as those who have some samadhi and wisdom — can see something of the baneful destructive nature of avijja which leads them to do its endless work. For when the citta becomes concentrated together and goes down to bhavanga where, as they say, avijja stops its work for the time being, happiness and contentment become manifest and all cares and anxieties also stop when avijja stops. When the citta stops doing work in this way, it can see something of the baneful destructiveness of the agitation and turbulence which is within it and which has avijja behind it. For this agitation and turbulence are in marked contrast to the state when the citta is dwelling in bhavanga. Then after the citta has just withdrawn from bhavanga, it remains calm and peaceful for some time due to the protective and supportive influence of samadhi, and the more deeply it has attained calm, due to samadhi, the more will it see the baneful destructiveness of the agitation and turbulence caused by avijja.
Therefore, those who practise samadhi are likely to become addicted to it and to lose all interest in curing and correcting it by any means, because this state is so calm and peaceful that it is easy to become addicted to it. In the end, although the citta gets to see the baneful destructiveness of the agitation which is due to avijja, it also becomes addicted to samadhi, which is nothing but the home of avijja, where it has always rested and slept — but the citta cannot see any better way out than this. It is just here that those who practise will come to see the value of mindfulness and wisdom in a heartfelt way. For they come to see that part of the practice which involves striving to extract and destroy this avijja. Because apart from mindfulness and wisdom there is nothing that can destroy avijja.
When Can the Bhavanga Citta Disappear?
Bhavanga citta will never disappear on its own, because it is the builder of the world and birth and the builder of the kilesas and tanha (craving), since ages past. It is also the path along which avijja goes, which means the building or creating of the world and birth on the hearts of all beings everywhere in the world without ever becoming tired of it or satisfied with what it has done.
If one who practises, loves and cherishes bhavanga citta and loves the basis of his samadhi without thinking of looking for a way to change his position towards that of developing wisdom so as to look at and examine avijja itself it will be as if a wanton woman is there within the citta — or rather, in the bhavanga citta in samadhi, and it will be as though he is the agent of becoming and birth all the time and will never be able to get free.
If he wants to get free, he must build up mindfulness and wisdom within his heart until they are skilful, resolute, and fully capable of destroying bhavanga citta — the essence of birth and life in samsara. After which bhavanga citta will dissolve and disappear on its own.
To be able to get to know Bhavanga citta, one must have firm and strong samadhi, as well as mindfulness and wisdom which are so sharp and penetrating that they come within the field of Maha Sati and Maha Pañña. Otherwise one cannot come to know it even though one learns the whole Ti–Pitaka — and then one cannot get free from having to carry about a belly full of knowledge about avijja all the time. The very best things to cure this are in fact Maha Sati and Maha Pañña. These are the weapons with which to destroy bhavanga citta and bhavanga avijja.
We forest Bhikkhus write naturally according to our “forest natures”. Please don’t be offended or take it too seriously, because when we speak or write we don’t have any fixed plan or pattern to refer to and to act as a guarantee of what we say. For when we practise, we practise in the forest, and when we learn, we learn in the forest, so our Dhamma is Forest Dhamma. In short, it is all the story of this forest and there are no text books or scriptures hidden in it at all.
In describing the methods of walking cankama and sitting in samadhi, we have not followed any progressive, step by step explanation. This is due to the way in which the various branches of Dhamma are linked together and it is necessary to explain how one thing leads on to another. This has led us to go round and round and back and forth wherever it was necessary to do so. But those readers who are newly beginning to train themselves may have some questions, and they may have been somewhat put out by this way of explaining, although it is also likely to be of value to them in the future. Therefore we will summarise these two methods of bhavana as follows.
If one finds that walking cankama suits one’s temperament and that one gains calm or various skilful means (upaya) from it more than one gains from sitting in samadhi, one should do the walking practice more than sitting. Conversely, if one gains more results from sitting in samadhi than from walking, one should do more of the sitting practice. But one should not oppose the need to change one’s posture at times, which is an important and necessary thing for the body — the tool which we must use in doing this work.
Either of these two are suitable for destroying the “kilesas”, the things which store up the whole potential for existence and birth and all dukkha within the heart. So you ought to take an interest in the citta which is such an important thing even in the world. Then the world and oneself can live together in happiness, rather then living with discontent and trouble. For when the citta has had enough training, one has that which will protect and enable one to avoid trouble to some extent which is far better than having nothing within oneself at all. In addition, when the time comes for the khandhas to break up (death), one will be able to depend on the refuge of the overshadowing virtue within oneself, which one has steadily accumulated.
Beings in the world keep going on due to their kamma, some of which is good and some bad, and they experience results of it, some as happiness, some as discontent and suffering and this goes on all the time. Never has there been anyone or any being of any kind that has been able to evade and avoid experiencing those results which they do not want. Here in this world of people it is quite easy for us to know and see this at any time, both in ourselves and others, and also in animals who have some happiness and some suffering which they meet with from time to time, depending on circumstances in each case. Training in what is right and good, which basically means sila, samadhi and pañña, is for the purpose of developing them as a home and a sanctuary for the heart. This is something which those who practise the way should come to experience in the present, today or at least in this life for sure, in the same way as they did in the time of the Lord Buddha.
As for the experiences of the citta which becomes concentrated and goes down into samadhi, of which there are many different varieties according to different people’s characteristics, we will say nothing about this. For we are afraid that you who are just beginning to do the practice will think and speculate about it in various ways that are quite false and nothing like the real thing which comes of itself from your own samadhi characteristics.
The explanations which we have given for the practices of walking cankama and sitting in samadhi bhavana are generalised and suitable for those who are ordained as well as lay people, to start doing them. As for the results, which means the kind of citta that comes from doing these forms of practice, mainly it will be calm. For when it has become concentrated and gone down and attained samadhi, the citta will be unified with its object of attention (arammana) and they are one and the same. But in a few cases it may go in a different way, depending on the individual’s characteristics. Therefore, those who practise, should not be worried when they hear from their friends that their citta’s went like this, came to know and see that and experienced various nimittas in this way or that way. The thing you should keep in mind is the main purpose of what you are doing — which is to attain calm when the citta goes down into a concentrated state — and this is what matters. This is the result which always guarantees the samadhi as being genuine.
You who have energy and who are striving to practise the way are bound to see the wonder of the citta from samadhi bhavana one day for sure, and this is regardless of whether you are ordained or a faithful lay follower. That which you have read about the lives of the Ariya–Savakas will then become your own story one day when you succeed in doing it.
Those things which are kilesas and evil kamma, as well as the Dhamma which cures them, are all there in all of us, and they are completely impartial — being no respecter of persons — nowadays, just as they were in ancient times. Because of this, one who practises, doing it in the proper way (samici–kamma), in the methods of samadhi will get results which are truly satisfying, in the same way as the Ariya Savakas did at the time of the Lord Buddha — and you should be able to attain the same thing also. But it is important not to pay more attention to speculating about the time and place that the Path, Fruition and Nibbana will arise then in doing the practice on the Path (Magga), following the right way of Dhamma. This is the way and the means of shedding all the kilesas and the whole load of dukkha from one’s heart. And this path is the Dhamma which has been continually overcoming kilesas directly and continually, ever since the time of the Lord Buddha up to the present without any change or alteration at all. Please take it and use it to cure your citta, which is where all the kilesas arise and dwell. This will lead you to see quite clearly in your heart how it has changed from having been a vessel full of kilesas into a vessel of Dhamma, gradually and steadily, until the whole heart becomes Dhamma.
Once the whole heart has become Dhamma one can live anywhere, and the arising of dukkha in the heart will no longer come one’s way — except within the elements (dhatu) and the khandhas which are the “house of dukkha”, which is still standing. But the khandhas are just khandhas and their dukkha just dukkha as they were before, and this will go on until they reach the day of their dissolution. Then the end of the repeated rounds of lives of khandhas and dukkha will have been resolved. That which is called “avijja” which has been the prosperous chieftain over the heart will have lost all his power and be rendered meaningless as soon as the citta becomes entirely Dhamma throughout and it is at this point that the work of Dhamma comes to a final conclusion and one can go free. This is not like the work of avijja which spreads and scatters out throughout the whole of the realm of samsara without limit and never ending. This leads us to compare those two types of work and their results, the one which grows without limit and is never ending even so that if one goes on doing it for aeons of time, all one gets is restless disturbance all the time. Whereas the other type of work has a path with a definite conclusion and one does not have to go back and forth, and round and round, shouldering the burden of dukkha for ever.
Of these two forms of work, those who have done both of them and have gone far enough in both will know that the results of them are utterly different and that they are poles apart. If then one were to choose in a fair and rational way which kind of work should one choose? Even if one has gone along just a little in this way one has a path that can lead one out. One is then no longer caught up in admiration for that work of turbulence, of going round and round in circles so that one forgets and loses interest in thinking about gaining Dhamma wealth for oneself and one’s future.
Withdrawing From Samadhi Bhavana.
When one is going to withdraw from meditation practice, one should do so with mindfulness to support and look after the citta. If however, the citta is still calm in bhavanga, the situation is such that one should not force it to leave this position to withdraw from the practice of meditation, even though it is time for one to go to work or to do other things, or go pindapata. One should not disturb it but let it remain concentrated and calm until it withdraws on its own. Whatever external work needs to be done, it should be put aside at a time such as this, even though the external work may be necessary and important, because the work of the bhavanga citta is of the utmost importance and incomparably more so than any external work.
If one forces the citta to withdraw even though the citta is still not skilled at entering and leaving bhavanga it will spoil it for the citta in the future. For the citta will no longer be able to concentrate together and go down into a state of calm as it did before which will make one become disheartened. This sort of thing has happened time after time amongst those who practise the way, so one should be very careful not to repeat this mistake.
In withdrawing from samadhi, if the citta has become concentrated and calm one must only leave this state when the citta withdraws on its own — or, when one feels tired — and then one should be fully mindful. One should not withdraw from this state abruptly or hastily, without being mindful and clearly aware (sati–sampajañña), which is the Dhamma that should be an accompaniment to all one’s movements and changes of state.
Before withdrawing one should think about those methods that one has used, which have brought one results when practising samadhi — such as: “How did I set up mindfulness to fix the citta? Which parikamma word did I keep in mind? How fast or slowly was the heart able to become concentrated and drop into a state of calm? Or, how did I investigate and contemplate and what method did I use that my heart could be so skilful as this?” Having defined these things and taken note of them, both in terms of their causes and the results of what one did in the past on each occasion, one should gradually withdraw from samadhi bhavana. The reason why one should carefully take note of what happened, in this way, is that, when one comes to do the same thing in the future one will be able to do it correctly and easily by following the same path.
Those Bhikkhus who have been doing the practice for some time already, should take note in particular, that although they have withdrawn from samadhi, the mindfulness which has been supporting and upholding the citta should not be let go of or allowed to disperse. In the four postures of standing, walking, sitting and lying down, in doing one’s duties in life, and in fact, in doing all things one should have mindfulness to accompany and watch over the parikamma word. Or else one should have mindfulness and clear comprehension (sati–sampajañña) present within one, not letting the heart go free to be pushed about this way and that by one’s various emotional attachments (arammana). For this is the tendency of the citta which has been used to having these emotional attachments in mind all the time.
When mindfulness is present with the parikamma word and present in oneself generally, the behaviour which one displays outwardly by way of one’s bodily actions and speech will not be faulty in any way. It will be appropriate and seemly and will not be offensive in the eyes or ears of other people. It will also make no difference whether one’s actions are slow and deliberate or quick and impulsive it will still be within the bounds of what is proper, seemly and pleasant to see and hear. In addition, when one practises samadhi bhavana the citta can drop into a calm state quickly, because the mindfulness which controls and guards the heart and the work that one is doing are both within oneself. It is like looking after an animal which one can catch and put to work as one wants without trouble and it never acts up or does anything dangerous, as may happen if one let it go its own way (yatha–kamma).
When one tries to watch and control the citta the whole time, even though one still cannot attain full concentration and calm as one may wish, yet it will also not go wandering about looking for things to do to create more kamma and difficulty for oneself, as it would if one had let it go its own way.