Thirteen Talks on the Practice of Meditation
by Acariya Maha Boowa Nanasampanno | 1987 | 83,192 words
Translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Note: In these talks, as in Thai usage in general, the words 'heart' and 'mind' are used interchangeably....
Wherever theres the religion, its cool and peaceful. Wherever a person practicing the religion is lacking, its hot and troubled. If theres no religion, the heart is as hot as fire. Whenever theres the religion — mindfulness and discernment — investigating, looking after the heart, the heart is cool.
When we first begin suppressing the rebels in the heart, we suffer — because for the most part were defeated by them — but at least we still have the strength to fight with them. Even though we may lose out to them sometimes, its better than groveling before them in abject surrender with no way of putting up a fight at all.
The practice in the area of the mind falls into stages — and there are bound to be stages where its complicated and difficult. Especially at the beginning: Its difficult in that we cant see beginnings or ends, causes or effects. We dont understand anything at all. When we take the rudiments of Dhamma we have gained from the texts or our teachers and put them into practice, sometimes right, sometimes wrong, this is when its very difficult. The desire to know and see is very strong, but the heart isnt willing to comply.
This is one kind of anxiety Ive been through myself. It overflowed the heart. To put it simply, it was as if the desire to see and know the Dhamma in the heart was ready to overflow its banks. But when practicing, the heart didnt comply with the desire to know and see — and that had me upset and disappointed. Sometimes Id be sitting and the tears would flow because of my self recriminations: You dont have any potential to speak of. Youve ordained simply to be a dead weight on the religion. Here you are sitting in meditation and cant find a way in or a way out. Youre just sitting buried in a heap of suffering. The mind would think in all sorts of ways out of self pity — that I was a hopeless case, that I didnt have any potential to speak of, didnt have the potential for the extraordinary levels of Dhamma, didnt have any potential at all — total confusion!
Actually, my practice wasnt yet right. I was aiming at the results — the income — without paying attention to whether I was doing the work right or wrong. The desire was strong, but when it wasnt fulfilled, it caused suffering. Had I paid some attention to whether my practice was right or wrong, I might have come to my senses enough to have evaluated things, to have abandoned some of my bullheaded attachments, or to have cut back on my desires so that the suffering would have become lighter.
But whenever Id meditate, whatever Id focus on, all I wanted was to know and see the paths, the fruitions, and nibbana in line with what I imagined them to be — heaven was like this, the Brahma worlds were like that, nibbana was like this. Id imagine. Speculate. The desire was fierce. I wanted to know, to see, to gain release from suffering, but my practice wasnt making any headway. All there was, was simple desire: I would simply sit wanting, lie down wanting, walk wanting, stand wanting. Id sit in meditation — wanting — but the mind wasnt working at its meditation. It just wanted. Id be doing walking meditation, but the mind simply wanted — so much so that Id forget what I was doing. I wasnt getting any results because there werent enough of the causes that would bring about the things I aimed for, so how could I have reached the goal I aimed for? This is something Ive been through. The work of meditation struck me as being more difficult than any other work.
Id be meditating, buddho, buddho, buddho, but the desire would always be getting in the way — because I wanted to know, I wanted the mind to be like this or that, and so Id get engrossed in my desires and forget my work of meditation until I didnt know where buddho had gone. As a result, I didnt get anywhere at all. I was constantly feeling dreary and disappointed. This is the way things always were in the heart.
But even so, this wasnt anything compared to the stage at which the mind regressed. When the mind regresses, its really upsetting because you used to see results. You used to gain a sense of ease, mental stillness, and peace appearing clearly as a solid foundation in the heart, but now its deteriorated. This makes the heart really agitated — so much so that there is nothing to hold it in check. Luckily, though, in spite of my agitation, I didnt retreat. I was simply determined to see things through. I wasnt willing to retreat or to slacken my efforts.
The reason why the mind regressed and couldnt make a comeback was the same sort of thing: desire, nothing mysterious. The mind wanted to know and see as it had before, but its work wasnt coordinated or continuous. All there was, was desire. No matter how much you desire, it doesnt give any results, because that would go against the principle of causality. If you dont make the causes as complete as they should be, how can you expect to know as you want? You cant. Sitting, Id be agitated. Lying down, Id be agitated. Id go into the forest, into the mountains, when the mind had regressed, and nothing was any good at all. I couldnt figure it out.
Of the anxieties Ive felt in my life as a monk, the anxiety I felt during that period was the worst. I was agitated because of my desire to attain. I was upset because the mind had regressed and nothing I could do would bring it back. At first it had regressed just a little bit and then it kept regressing, regressing until it was all gone. Nothing was left, not one red cent. It was as if I had never meditated at all.
When Id sit in this state, I was as agitated as if I were on fire — because of the desire. The disappointment that my attainments had floated away and disappeared, plus the desire to get them back: These two things came thronging in at the same time and so were really strong. Wherever I stayed was unsatisfactory and no help at all. Even though I was suffering, I would simply keep suffering. I didnt know any way out. Even though I wanted, I would simply keep wanting. I didnt know how to get my concentration back. All there was, was desire — regret for the things that had once appeared to my surprise and amazement but now were gone. There was nothing but disappointment filling the heart, nothing but simple desire, and it couldnt bring back the Dhamma that had disappeared. Finally I came to feel despair — for everything. This was when the mind gave up on its desire.
As for the results I had wanted, well, I had wanted them for a long time. As for the suffering, I had suffered immensely because of the desires, but hadnt gained anything from them. So now I wouldnt have anything to do with them. Id throw them all out. If I was going to know, Id know. If not, so be it. All I was after was buddho. Whatever the mind was going to think, I wouldnt be willing to let mindfulness lapse. Get with it, then. Can it really be that Im not going to know? Whatevers going to happen, Im ready for it.
As soon as I gave up on my desires, they were no longer so fierce, and so the suffering gradually lessened. I set my mind on my work. Wherever I was, Id keep repeating, buddho, buddho, buddho. It had always been a trait with me to be earnest: Whatever Id do, I would really do it and wouldnt just play around. Now I got to see this trait in action. I didnt let up in my repetition of buddho. Whether walking or doing my chores, I wouldnt be willing to let it lapse. Id keep making the effort. While sweeping the monastery compound, I would try to keep up my guard — until the mind let its work lapse for a moment. I was alert to the fact, and the mind got right back to work. There. Now thats the way it should be.
After giving up its desires, the mind was no longer involved with the past. It stayed in the circle of the present and would do nothing but repeat or meditate on buddho. Whether or not it would get any results would depend on what buddho would grant. Finally the mind became still, and buddho was no longer necessary, so I could let go of the meditation word at that moment — and at that point the mind was willing to settle down. Before, it hadnt been willing.
When the mind had settled down in stillness, there was no need to repeat the word buddho. All that remained was simple awareness — clear and conspicuous — so the mind stayed with that simple awareness. As soon as it withdrew, I would start pumping buddho back in. I had no hopes, because I had already hoped in the past. I had no hopes for what would happen, no hopes for what the results would be. I had already hoped in the past, and it hadnt given me any decent results at all. I had seen the harm of hopes — the sort of hollow, unreasonable hopes that wont do the work and look only for the results.
So, now I was going to do nothing but work, nothing but work: repeating buddho without letting up even for a moment. Once the mind had received proper nourishment and care, it became still — gradually more and more still, more and more steady, until it reached the level it had been before it had visibly regressed.
What was strange was that when it reached its old level, I still abandoned my hopes. If its going to regress, let it regress. Ive had enough of trying to resist it by using desire, which hasnt served any purpose, not the least little bit. So, however the mind is going to regress, let it regress, but I wont abandon "buddho." Im always going to keep at it.
When it reached the day when it would normally regress, it didnt regress! That made me a lot more sure of the causes. So I stepped up the causes — the repetition of buddho — even more, without stopping. I would stop only when the mind gathered in stillness. The mind became progressively more and more firm. Wherever Id sit, it would be bright. Light. Completely clear. I was sure of myself: Now its not going to regress. After one day, two days, one month, two months, it still didnt regress.
Before, the mind would regress after two or three days. After two or three days it would come down with a crash, with nothing left to show for itself. Id have to keep trying to care for it for 14 or 15 days before it would reach its old level, and once it got there it would stay just a day or two and then collapse in a flash, with nothing left at all. All that was left was dreariness and disappointment.
Now: If its going to regress, let it regress. Ive hoped in the past, and it hasnt served any purpose. All Im after is this, just this one thing: "buddho."
(Speaking of the suffering when the mind regresses, you really feel a lot of anguish, so much so that youre ready to surrender. But I was lucky in one way, that the mind didnt retreat. It was determined to see things through, which was why I was able to bear with it, able to stay. Had the mind become discouraged — Itd be better to stop — that would have been the end of me. There would have been nothing more to tell.)
From then on, the mind kept progressing. Month after month, it became more and more stable, more and more firm. As for my meditation word, I wasnt willing to let up on it. This kept up until the mind was always prominent.
That was when I let the meditation word go. In other words, the awareness of the mind was pronounced, and that was enough for the mind to depend on, so there was no need to rely on any meditation word for further support. The mind fully knew itself and could sustain itself. At this point I didnt have to repeat any meditation word because the mind was prominent at all times. I would focus right there. Wherever I went, I focused right there. I knew right there, just as I had focused on buddho. It could form a fine foundation for the mind. I was sure of myself that:
(1) This foundation had become progressively more and more stable until it was more stable than it had been the first time it had progressed and then regressed.
(2) As for focusing on awareness, when awareness was fully pronounced, I should focus on that without let up, in the same way I had focused on repeating buddho until the mind became more and more refined. This was a foundation for the mind on which I could depend.
From that point on, I really stepped up my efforts. The time I started sitting in meditation all night until dawn came from this point. I started to sit one night, focusing on in, focusing on in, and at first the mind had settled down because it was used to settling down. It settled down easily because it had a good foundation. I kept focusing on in, and as long as no enormous pains arose, the meditation went quietly. But when I withdrew, a number of hours had passed, and a huge pain arose, to the point where I almost couldnt bear it. The mind that had been quiet was totally overturned. Its good foundation had collapsed completely. All that was left was pain filling the body — but the mind wasnt agitated. Strange!
The body was so pained that it was quivering all over. This was the beginning of the hand to hand combat in which I was to obtain an important approach — when really severe pain arose unexpectedly that night. I hadnt yet made up my mind to sit until dawn, you know. I hadnt made any resolutions or anything at all. I was simply sitting in meditation as usual, as usual, but when the pain arose in full force: Eh? Whats going on here? Ill have to tackle this feeling so as to see results tonight! So I made a resolution in that very moment: Okay, if the time doesnt come to get up, I wont get up. Ill fight until the dawn of the new day. Tonight for once Im going to investigate pain so as to understand it clearly and distinctly. If I dont understand it, then even if I die, let me die. Let me find out. So dig down! This is when discernment really began to work in earnest.
I had never known, never imagined, never dreamed that discernment would become so sharp when it was at the end of its rope, when it was really cornered with no way out. Discernment really started spinning away. It went out digging, exploring, fighting, determined not to withdraw its troops in retreat. When I was at the end of my rope, discernment arose. This made me realize, We human beings arent fated to be stupid forever. When were at the end of our rope, were sure to manage to find a way to help ourselves. So it was then: When I was cornered, overwhelmed by severe pain, mindfulness and discernment probed into the pain.
When pain arises in full force like this, it fills the entire body. At first it started in hot flashes along the backs of my hands and feet, which wasnt much to speak of, but then when it really flared up into something big, the entire body was ablaze. All the bones, as they were connected, were fuel feeding the fire in every part of the body. It was as if the body were going to fall apart right then and there. The neck bones were going to come apart. Every bone was going to come apart from its connections. My head was going to fall off and hit the floor. When its pained, everything is on a par throughout the body. You dont know where to hold it back enough so that you can breathe, because everywhere theres nothing but a mass of fire — pain in full force.
When I couldnt find a safe spot in which to place the mind, mindfulness and discernment dug down into the pain, searching for the spot where the pain was greatest. Wherever the pain was greatest, mindfulness and discernment would investigate and explore right there by ferreting out the pain so as to see clearly, Where does this feeling come from? Who is pained? When they asked each part of the body, each of them remained in keeping with its nature. The skin was skin, the flesh was flesh, the tendons were tendons, and so forth. They had been that way from the day of birth, but they hadnt been painful all along from the day of birth in the same way that they had been flesh and skin from the day of birth. The pain has been arising and vanishing at intervals. It hasnt been lasting like these parts of the body.
I focused on down. Each part of the body thats a physical form is a reality. Whatever is a reality stays that way. Right now where is the feeling arising? If we say that all these things are painful, why is there one point where its really severe? So I separated things out. At this point, mindfulness and discernment couldnt slip away anywhere else. They had to run along the areas that hurt, whirling around themselves, separating the feeling from the body, observing the body, observing the feeling, and observing the mind: These three are the important principles.
The mind seemed comfortable. No matter how much pain was arising, the mind wasnt writhing or suffering or anything. But the pain in the body was clearly very strong. The nature of pain and of whatever defilements we have is that they join together. Otherwise the mind wont be troubled or affected by the physical pain thats really severe at that moment. So discernment kept digging down until the body, the feeling, and the mind were all clear, each in line with its individual truth.
The mind was what labeled the feeling as being this or that: This I could see clearly. As soon as this was really clear in this way, the feeling disappeared in a flash. At that moment, the body was simply the body in line with its reality. The feeling was simply a feeling and it disappeared in a flash into the mind. It didnt go anywhere else. As soon as the feeling disappeared into the mind, the mind knew that the pain had vanished. The pain had vanished as if it had been snapped off and thrown away.
In addition, the body disappeared from my sense of awareness. At that moment, the body didnt exist in my awareness at all. All that was left was simple awareness, because there was only one thing — awareness — and it was simply aware. Thats all. The mind was so refined that you could hardly describe it. It simply knew, because it was extremely delicate and refined within itself. The body had completely disappeared. Feelings had disappeared. No physical feelings were left at all. The body sitting right there in meditation had disappeared from my awareness.
All that was left was simple knowingness, without any thoughts being fashioned about this or that. At that point, the mind wasnt forming any thoughts at all. When it doesnt form thoughts, we say that nothing at all makes the slightest move. The mind is fixed — firmly fixed in its own solitude. Its a mind in its simple form, on the level of a mind centered in stillness — but mind you, this doesnt mean that there was no unawareness.
Unawareness had infiltrated right there, because the mind hadnt withdrawn from unawareness. The mind and unawareness were quiet together because unawareness didnt get out to work. When discernment has it surrounded, unawareness shrinks in and hides out, quiet in the heart, like the sediment in the bottom of a water jar.
At that point, I began to feel amazed. There was no pain left. The body had disappeared. Only one thing hadnt disappeared: an awareness so refined I couldnt describe it. It simply appeared there. You couldnt say anything else about it. The thing that simply appeared there: That was the great marvel at that moment. There was no motion in the heart, no rippling, nothing of anything at all. It stayed fixed and still like that until enough time had elapsed and then it moved. The mind began to withdraw and rippled — blip — and then was quiet.
This rippling happens on its own, you know. We cant intend it. If we intend it, the mind withdraws. What happens is that the mind has had enough, of its own accord. When it ripples in a blip like this, its aware of the fact. As soon as the blip appears, it vanishes. After a moment it ripples — blip — again, and disappears in the same instant. Then the rippling gradually becomes more and more frequent.
When the mind withdraws after having fully settled down to its foundation, it doesnt withdraw all at once. I could clearly see this at that moment. The mind rippled slightly: A sankhara formed in a blip and then disappeared before it had amounted to anything at all. It rippled — blip — and disappeared right then and there. After a moment it rippled — blip — again. Gradually it became more and more frequent until finally I came back to ordinary consciousness, to the ordinary level of the mind. I was aware of the body, but the pain was still gone. When the mind came back out, there was still no pain. It was still quiet until time came for the pain to reappear.
This is where I got my standard and my certainty. I realized that I had arrived at a basic principle in contending with pain: So this is how it is. Pain is actually something separate. The body is separate. The mind is separate, but because of one thing — delusion — all three converge into one, and the whole mind becomes delusion, the whole mind is the one deluded. Even though pain may simply arise in line with its own nature, if we grab hold of it to burn ourselves, its hot — because our labeling makes it hot.
After a fair while, the pain returned, so I had to tackle it again, without retreating. I had to dig on down, exploring again as I had explored before, but this time I couldnt use the tactics I had used in investigating and remedying the pain the last time around. I needed fresh tactics, newly devised by mindfulness and discernment so as to keep up with events. It was pain just the same, but the tactics simply had to be pertinent to the moment. I couldnt remedy matters by holding to the old tactics I had used to investigate and know in the past. They had to be fresh, hot tactics devised in the present to cure the present. The mind then settled down firmly in stillness as it had done before.
In that first night, the mind settled down three times, but I had to go through three bouts of hand to hand combat. After the third time, dawn came — the end of the final showdown using reason with real mindfulness and discernment. The mind was audacious, exultant, and had no fear of death. However great the pain may be, thats its own ordinary business. As long as we dont enter in and load ourselves down with it, pain has no significance in the heart. The mind knew clearly that the body has no significance in terms of itself, in terms of the feeling, or in terms of us — unless the mind gives it a significance and then gathers in the suffering to burn itself. Theres nothing else that can come in and make the mind suffer.
Getting up that morning, I felt audacious in an extraordinary way. I wanted to tell Venerable Acariya Mun of my knowledge and capabilities. This was because I felt daring in a way hard to describe. How was it that things could be so marvelous like this in a way I had never encountered before? Ever since I had begun meditating, nothing like this had ever happened. The mind had completely cut off all connection with any objects and had gathered within itself with real courage. It had gathered by investigating all around itself, which was why it had calmed itself inwardly like a thoroughbred. When it withdrew, it was still full of courage, with no fear of death at all, owing to its conviction that, I investigated like this and this when pain arose. The next time it comes, I wont fear it because its the same old pain. Its pain with the same old face. The body is the same old body. Discernment is the same old discernment weve used before. For this reason, the heart felt no fear of death — so much so that it felt all sorts of things hard to describe. To put it in worldly terms, it was like defying someone right to his face, with no fear of pain or death.
See? When the mind is bold, its bold all the way. Daring all the way. It fights without retreating. Okay, Ill take you on. To put it simply and frankly, thats just how it feels. When the time comes to die, Okay, Ill take you on. The mind doesnt retreat. When the time comes to die, where will death find any pain for us greater than this? Theres no such thing. The only pain is the pain in the khandhas. It can be great or small, but we know it here in the khandhas. No matter how much or how heavy the pain may be, it cant outstrip our knowledge and capabilities. It cant outstrip our mindfulness and discernment. Mindfulness and discernment are capable of keeping track of it all, as they have already known and removed it in the past. This is what made me feel really bold.
When the time would come to die, I didnt see that there would be any problem, with mindfulness and discernment all around me like this. If the time came to die, then let me die. Birth and death come in a pair. You cant separate death from birth so as not to die, because they are equal truths.
The next time around, I took on the pain again and knew in the same way. I kept on knowing in the same way and winning every time. Once I had given it all my strength in that way, there was never a day in which Id say, Last night I stayed up in meditation all night until dawn and didnt get anything out of it. But any night in which the mind had difficulty investigating and settling down, I would come out feeling battered all over my body. Id be all stiff and sore.
But as for getting tactics and strength of mind, Id get them every time, until I no longer had any fear of death at all — and where would I get any fear? Death was something ordinary. In other words, discernment had analyzed down to What dies? Hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, bones: Theyre simply their original element — solidity, the earth element. Since when did the earth element ever die? When they disintegrate, what do they become? If we focus on down, we see that they return to their original properties. The water element returns to its original property. The wind and fire elements simply return to their own original properties. Nothing is annihilated. The elements have simply come together in a lump, and the mind comes in and animates it — this super deluded one comes in and animates it, thats all — and then carries the entire burden: This is my self. It lays its claims: This is me. This is mine. And so it rakes in every kind of suffering as if contracting for the whole mass, using those assumptions simply to burn itself, and nothing else.
The mind itself is the culprit. The five khandhas arent the culprits. They arent our enemies or anything. They simply have their own reality, but we make assumptions and carry then as a burden. This is why theres suffering and stress. We manufacture it ourselves. These things dont manufacture it for us. There is nothing that comes and gives us suffering: This is how the mind came to understand things. We are the ones who misconstrue things. We are the ones who suffer because we misconstrue things. This produces suffering to burn and trouble the heart. I could clearly see that nothing dies.
The mind doesnt die. It becomes more pronounced. When we fully investigate the four elements — earth, water, wind, and fire — down to their original properties, the mind becomes even more pronounced and clear. So where is there any death? What dies? None of these conditions die. The four elements — earth, water, wind, and fire: They dont die. And as for the mind, how can it die? It becomes more aware. More pronounced. More conspicuous. This doesnt die, so why does it fear death? Weve been fooled all along, fooled for aeons and aeons, for actually nothing dies.
Now, the word fooled doesnt mean that anyone intended to fool us. Weve been fooled simply because of our own delusion — fooled into fearing death. Now we see: This is how the world fears death — from not having explored down to its truth, from not knowing what dies. Because look: Nothing dies. Each thing simply has its separate reality. I saw this clearly. The mind proclaimed itself by its very nature. I saw its marvelousness clearly, every time.
Even when the pain was as hot as fire in the body and seemed ready to reach the clouds, it would vanish clear away, with nothing left, due to the power of mindfulness and discernment; even the body would vanish from my sense of consciousness and wouldnt appear at all. When everything disbanded completely as the result of my investigation, all that remained was simple awareness, as if floating in mid space (although I didnt make the comparison at the moment). It was completely empty, but the awareness knew clearly. There was only one thing. There was only one strange thing in the world: the heart.
Earth, water, wind, and fire made no contact with the heart. The heart thus had no sense of earth, water, wind, fire or any part of the body. All that remained was a solitary awareness, an awareness not involved with anything at all — an amazing awareness, coming from having investigated things with circumspection and then having withdrawn from them. Clear. Outstanding. Astounding.
Once the mind can be settled down like this — for no matter how many days or nights it may last — it has no sense of pain, that the body will fall apart, that it hurts here or aches there: no sense of any of this at all. And what would give it any sense of this? Time and place dont exist in that mental state. This called to mind how the Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, and arahant disciples could enter the cessation of feeling and perception for seven days at a time. They could enter for as many days as they liked. If their minds settled down like this to the extent of not being involved with anything at all, leaving just plain awareness without any involvement with time or place, then they could sit for aeons if they liked. Even if the body couldnt endure, if it were to break apart, it would simply do so, without having any impact on this nature at all.
This was when my mind accepted — really believed in — the ability of those extraordinary people who enter the cessation of feeling and perception for so and so many days. If their minds reached this level without withdrawing back out to anything outside, then for days or months they wouldnt have any perception of anything at all. Where would there be pain and pleasure in their bodies? There wouldnt be any at all. They wouldnt have any sense of the body. They wouldnt have any awareness of feelings. All that would remain would be plain awareness. They could sit for aeons, if they liked, as long as the mind was like this.
This made me believe in the stories of the Pacceka Buddhas who entered the cessation of feeling and perception. So I took this as a confirmation in my mind. Whoever says Im crazy can go ahead and say so. They have mouths; we have ears. If we want to listen, we can. If we dont, we can keep still. We are all free to have our opinions on this matter and that. No one has a monopoly on knowing and seeing!
Even though I didnt sit for a long time, the state of mind that had grown still to that extent for a spell of time was enough to serve as confirmation of those who entered the cessation of feeling and perception for long periods of time, because it had the same characteristics: not involved with anything at all. The body would simply be a body. If it were to fall apart, if it couldnt last — after all, the body is inconstant, stressful, and not self — then it would simply fall apart without the minds being aware.
This is a level attained through mindfulness and discernment. Its a level where discernment fosters concentration. The mind reaches the full extent of concentration like this because discernment has fully investigated down to causes and effects. It then gathers with courage and great refinement. Ordinarily, when the mind filled with just the power of concentration focuses and settles down, it is simply unmoving and nothing else. It isnt as profound and refined as this. But the mind stilled through the power of discernment is refined each time. Once we have gone through hand to hand combat in this way to the point where we get results, the mind has to be absolutely quiet, just like this.
This was the basis, or the starting capital, for my courage; the primary seed for my firm conviction in the affairs of the mind. No matter how much anything else might be annihilated, this knowing nature would not be annihilated. I could see this clearly. I saw it clearly at the point when nothing else was involved in my sense of awareness. There was simply that single awareness and so it was very pronounced. I couldnt really say whether this was on the level of concentration or of discernment. When the mind actually was that way, thats how it was.
From that point on I kept at it. I kept investigating out in the area of discernment, ranging out widely, then circling back in again. As soon as I would understand, step by step, the mind would let go and circle inward in an ever narrowing sphere, investigating the khandhas and elements, separating the khandhas and elements.
This is where it began to be samuccheda pahana — absolute relinquishment, arising from the investigation in the period that followed. As long as the investigation hadnt been absolute, it would win out for only a period of time, just enough to serve as evidence and proof. It still wasnt absolute relinquishment. But when discernment came to a really clear understanding while investigating, then it pulled out and severed all ties, step by step — severed things so that there were no connections left; severed them step by step, leaving just plain awareness.
The body (rupa) was severed from attachment. Vedana, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana were severed from attachment. Or you could say that the heart was severed from them. Things kept being severed until only awareness was left — in other words, the mind with unawareness buried inside it. So I probed on in, smashed things to bits, slashed them to smithereens with up to the minute mindfulness and discernment. The mind of unawareness broke apart, and when the mind of unawareness broke apart, that was all!
That was when I came to know that all of the marvels I have mentioned here were simply an affair of unawareness. They had simply been a support, a way station, a seed that had produced conviction step by step, but after that — if you were to say they were good, they were good; but if youre aiming at the subtle Dhamma, this goodness is the goodness of unawareness. Its not genuine goodness, not pure goodness. Its goodness mixed with evil, with suffering and stress, because stress still has a chance to arise. We have to keep slashing in, slashing in until everything is smithereens in the heart. Whatever is a seed of anything counterfeit in the heart, wash it away, scrub it away, until nothing is left, and thats all. The entire mind that is assumed to be this or that is all gone.
This is where the mind reaches absolute purity, where it reaches complete freedom from all conventional realities. Thats really all! Its astounding. If it werent astounding, it wouldnt be release from stress. This is a Dhamma apart — a Dhamma beyond conventions.
Whether what Ive described here is difficult or not, consider it for yourselves. Sometimes Id feel ready to pass out. Sometimes Id feel as if the entire body were on fire. When the pain was really fierce, it seemed to fill the entire body. But ultimately I was able to pass through these things, to resolve them using mindfulness and discernment.
So if we put them to use, mindfulness and discernment are never at the end of their rope. We human beings arent fated always to be stupid, you know. When we come to the end of our rope, were sure to be able to save ourselves. Who should be willing to go under when we have the mindfulness and discernment to remedy things, or when theres an opening through which we can escape, through which we can force our way out? Who would willingly be buried to death? We cant help but manage to find a way out.
When the pain is so piled on that we cant see any way to cure it other than using mindfulness and discernment to explore and find a way out, discernment doesnt depend on this person or that. When the time comes for the mind to investigate when its cornered, it gathers its forces and manages to save itself.
The Buddha thus taught us to live in crucial places — places where were cornered, at the end of our rope — where we live simply, so that mindfulness and discernment can work full steam ahead and see their own capabilities, rather than simply waiting for help from others. Time and place can help give rise to mindfulness and discernment. If we live in a scary place, mindfulness is strong. Discernment is sharp. Whatever we investigate, they are adroit and audacious. If we live in a comfortable place, we get lazy. We eat a lot and sleep a lot. This is the way it is with the mind. If we live in ordinary circumstances, were very lazy, very inert, very apathetic and listless. If we live in places that arent scary, we become heedless and revert to being complacent, to sleeping like pigs.
If we live in a scary place, were always alert. When were alert, were always self aware, because alertness is what it means to be mindful. Mindfulness appears within us, always self aware, always engaged in persistent effort. Whatever makes contact, we understand because were not complacent, because were always alert. This is why were taught to live in whatever places are appropriate, because they can give good encouragement or support to our persistent effort.
If we have comfortable huts in which to live — as we have here — everything cares for our every need. Food overflows our bowls. Were flooded day and night with fruit juice, soft drinks, cocoa, and coffee. Main course dishes and desserts come pouring in from every direction. If we lack mindfulness and discernment, we lie clutching our food, like a pig lying next to its hay and then climbing up to lie on the chopping block. As for the Dhamma, we have no hope of winning it. Any meditation monk who is clever in this way is bound to go under in this way without a doubt.
To have mindfulness and discernment, we have to think. However much of the necessities of life we may have, we must find tactics for keeping the mind in shape, to keep wary and uncomplacent like a deer wary of danger.
In places where you dont have to be wary of food like this, the mind goes about thinking in another way to reform itself. There, where will you get an excess of anything? Everything is lacking. Insufficient. Some days you get enough alms to eat, some days you dont. This way theres nothing to be concerned about, because youve been full and been hungry before. Even if you go without food for one or two days, you wont die.
This is how the heart deals with the problem, and so it isnt concerned about food or anything else. If theres nothing but rice, you eat rice — and you dont see that youre concerned about it. After all, youve come to a place like this, so whats wrong with eating whatevers available? Where are you going to find anything to go with the rice? Youve been fed rice ever since the day you were born, so whats wrong with eating just rice? Can you eat other things without rice? If eating other things is really special, youve already eaten a lot of them, so why arent you ever full? Youve come looking for the Dhamma, not for food. Why are you so worked up about your stomach? Youve already eaten a lot, and yet nothing special has ever come of it. Youre looking for the extraordinary Dhamma, so what business do you have getting worked up about food? An expert in Dhamma isnt an expert in eating. The mind deals with the situation in the flash of an eye, and the end result is that it isnt concerned. This is how a meditation monk subdues himself — or in other words, subdues his greed for the necessities of life.
And as a result of correcting itself in the matter of eating or not eating, the mind keeps spinning. You sit in meditation without getting tired. With no food in your stomach, what is there to get drowsy about? If you dont eat at all, youre not drowsy at all and can meditate with ease.
This is a tactic in teaching monks to practice the Dhamma rukkhamula senasanam — under the shade of trees, in the mountains, in the forest, in lonely places where its scary — ahara sappaya, where the food is amenable. Amenable here means that it doesnt disrupt the body, that it isnt harmful or toxic to the body; and that it doesnt disrupt the mind as well. Amenable food means nothing but rice sometimes, or just a little food, so that our meditation goes well. Its amenable for those intent on the Dhamma.
But those of us who are intent on nourishing the stomach for the sake of the body cant do this at all. Otherwise well die — dont say I didnt warn you. Normally if we eat a lot, with nothing but good dishes to eat, then we sleep like pigs. How can this be amenable? Its amenable for the defilements, not for winning the Dhamma. Its amenable for the affairs of defilements and the affairs of pigs.
The term amenable food has to refer to eating in a way that serves a purpose. To eat just a little serves a purpose: Wherever we sit in meditation, the mind is really solid. If were involved with concentration, the mind is solid. If were involved with discernment, it keeps spinning with much more agility than normal.
The Dhamma tends to arise in places where things are lacking, in difficult places where were cornered, at the end of our rope. It doesnt arise where things are overflowing, where our needs are met. It doesnt arise in comfortable places because we just get complacent. This is the way we tend to be.
The Lord Buddha lived in a royal palace — for how long? — and then left it to take up the homeless life. Who ever suffered more than he? Buddha — Awakening — tends to arise in situations like that. His disciples came from all sorts of families — the families of kings, financiers, landowners — listen to this — wealthy people. When they went out to become sons of the Sakyan, sons of the victorious Buddha, how did they live? If were going to die, then we die. Were not going to worry or be bothered with anything at all except for the Dhamma. There! They gained the Dhamma in difficult places, just like the Buddha.
So which way are we going to take? The Buddha has already shown us the way. The Dhamma arises in that sort of place — in tight spots where things are difficult. The Dhamma arises from a heap of suffering. If theres no heap of suffering, then mindfulness and discernment dont arise. If we dont think, we dont gain mindfulness and discernment. The Dhamma doesnt appear. If theres a lot of stress, its a whetstone for discernment, which probes for clear insight into the affairs of stress. This way we can live through it and come out superlative people.