Translator's note: This talk is unusual in that we have two reconstructions of it: a longer one (II) by Mae Chii Arun Abhivanna, and a shorter one (I) by an unknown hand. Comparing the two reconstructions is a sobering experience, giving a hint of what can sometimes get lost in the process of reconstructing a talk. Still, we owe a great deal to those who went to the trouble of taking notes while Ajaan Lee explained the Dhamma. Without them, we would have nothing of his spoken teachings at all.
Some passages in II have already been translated in Food for Thought and The Skill of Release. Putting them in the context of the original talk shows how they function in Ajaan Lee's teaching style. As Ajaan Fuang, one of his students, once said, Ajaan Lee could talk on three levels at once. This talk has a little something for everyone.
"Pleasure" and "purity" mean two different things. They're not one and the same. Pleasure is the physical and mental ease that comes from material objects, but it's not purity, because the mind is still soaked and saturated with various preoccupations, which defile it. As for purity, that's a kind of pleasure independent of material objects. It's a pleasure that comes from the stillness and ease of the mind.
Pleasure is a lower form of goodness. It's mundane. Purity is a higher form of goodness: the transcendent.
In concentration practice, Right Effort is a supporting factor, while Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration are supervising factors. These two types of factors are the basic principles of tranquillity. They're the factors that oversee and protect the mind from falling into Wrong Concentration.
Some people say that tranquillity and insight are two separate things, but actually they're one and the same. Tranquillity gives rise to insight. Insight gives rise to purity. And so purity comes this plain old stillness of mind.
What can we do to reach purity? For the mind to become pure we have to train it. If you were to say it's easy, it's easy. If you were to say it's hard, it's hard. If you're true in what you do, you'll get results easily. If you aren't, the results will be hard.
Tranquillity is like a lit candle. If it's well protected from the wind, the flame will stand straight and give off a bright light. You'll be able to see anything clearly. If the candle tips over, the flame will go out and you'll have to grope around with your hands. You may mistake a cat for a dog, or a dog for a cat, because you can't see clearly.
In the same way, we have to make an effort to use mindfulness to protect the mind from the wind. Don't let the Hindrances blow in and overcome the mind.
Pleasure and the goodness of purity are two separate things, not one and the same. Pleasure is the physical and mental ease that comes from ordinary things: eating, living, and sleeping comfortably, without any illness; having plenty of wealth at your disposal, and so forth. As for the goodness of purity, that comes from a pleasure apart from the ordinary. It comes from your own mind without having to depend on the support of external things. This kind of pleasure takes its support from the Dhamma. And when it arises, it's stable, unchanging, and lasting. As for ordinary pleasure, it's undependable. It tends, by and large, to leave people disappointed. This is why we've come to look for pleasure in the area of the Dhamma, which is a pleasure that won't let us down.
The Dhamma is like the thatch or tiles that people put on their roofs to protect them from the sun and rain. When people are born into the world it's as if they're left out in the open without any shelter. They're sure to suffer from the sun and rain and stormy winds. Only if they have the Dhamma ensconced in their hearts will they escape from these dangers. This is why we're taught to find shelter for the heart — i.e., the Dhamma — to give us protection. The Dhamma here is virtue, concentration, and discernment.
There are four types of virtue: restraint of the senses, restraint in terms of the Patimokkha (precepts), purity of livelihood, and contemplation of the requisites. These four types of virtue are like walls on all four sides, which will protect us from stormy winds. Concentration — the four levels of jhana — is like a four-sided roof that will protect us from the sun and rain. Discernment — transcendent discernment — is like a solid floor that will protect us from the danger of falling into the states of deprivation. When you've provided yourself with these three types of protection, you have a sense of security and don't have to fear any of the sufferings that might come in this world or the next.
The precepts are shelter for the body; concentration is shelter for the mind. This shelter for the mind is composed of tranquillity and insight. Tranquillity means making the mind quiet and firm, free from the Hindrances. Insight means using your discernment to investigate the causes and effects of all fabricated things within you so that you can see their truth to the point where you can let go of defilements, level by level. When you can let go of them all, your mind will gain release from mental fermentations, reaching the goodness of purity. Some people say that tranquillity and insight are two separate things, but actually they're one and the same. Tranquillity is making the mind still. When the mind is still, it gives rise to a glow. As the glow gets brighter and brighter, it turns into the light of insight. When insight arises, you enter into the goodness of purity. And so this goodness, this purity, comes from tranquillity: this plain old stillness of mind.
The mind that isn't still is the mind that doesn't stay with the body. When this happens, you'll meet with nothing but suffering and defilement. It's like a house in which no one is living: it's bound to get dusty and messy. You don't have to look very far for an example: take this meditation hall we're sitting in. Suppose all the monks, novices, and lay people were to go off and leave it for just a day. On your return you'd see that it was covered with dust and cobwebs, simply from having no one to do the sweeping and dusting. In the same way, when the mind goes off and leaves the body, both the body and mind get dusty and defiled. And when the body is dusty, how can the mind stay with it? It's like a dusty, dirty house: the owners can't live there, and nobody else can either. Monks won't want to visit them. Suppose you lay people were to invite me into your home. If your home were messy and filthy, filled with chicken droppings and duck droppings, I wouldn't want to go in, I wouldn't want to sit down, I'd scarcely be able to breathe. So keep this comparison in mind: if the mind doesn't have concentration, isn't developing skillful qualities, it's like a filthy house. Where would you find monks who would like to visit your house when it's like that? And when monks won't visit you, where will you gain any blessings?
When the mind is outside of the body, it's the world. When it's inside the body, it's Dhamma. If it's the world, it has to be as hot as fire. If it's Dhamma, it's as cooling as water.
Skillfulness on the sensual plane is goodness on the conventional, social level. It has to involve people and things outside. Transcendent skillfulness is goodness above and beyond the social level: you learn to depend on yourself, and can handle your problems on your own.
The mind of an ordinary person can go forward and back, and so it's not dependable. Sometimes, after winning, it turns around and loses. It wins today and loses tomorrow. As for the mind of a noble disciple, when it wins it doesn't then lose. It goes forward and doesn't slide back. It keeps forging straight ahead.
When the mind is undependable, when it doesn't have firm principles, it's a Communist mind, i.e., one without any religion. A mind with a religion has to have principles so that it can depend on itself. It's a mind that can be its own person.
When the mind isn't its own person, it doesn't have complete authority. It can't give orders or exercise complete control over anything. For instance, if you order the body to come and listen to a Dhamma talk, it won't be willing to come. If you order it to sit in concentration, it won't be willing to sit. Like being a parent: only if you're the child's parent 100% will you have full authority over it. If you're just 50% its parent, and it's 50% your child, you can't exercise full control with any confidence. So the mind is like a parent; the body, like a child. That's why we have to train the mind to be its own person, so that we can have full control over the body. When the mind has full control, we can overcome any pains that arise from the body and any defilements that arise from the mind. That's when you can say that you're really your own person.
Each of us is like a long-playing record. When we do good, that goodness gets recorded within us. When we do bad, that badness gets recorded within us — just like a record that's been used to record good and bad sounds. Whatever type of kamma we do, it stays within us — it doesn't go off anywhere else. So ask yourself whether you want to keep goodness or badness within you.
The mind is neither good nor bad, but it's what knows good and knows bad. It's what does good and does bad. And it's what lets go of good and lets go of what's bad.
The body is something that wears down and disintegrates into nothing. The mind is something that doesn't disintegrate, doesn't die. So we're like a rice grain, with one part that takes birth and another that doesn't take birth. The part that doesn't take birth is the plain rice flour. The part that takes birth is the white spot on its tip. If we don't want that rice grain to take birth as a plant, all we have to do is demolish the little white spot, and it won't be able to sprout. The same with us: the body is like the plain rice flour; the mind, the little white spot that sprouts. If the mind contains defilements — its attachments to good and bad — without demolishing them, it will cause us to sprout in new planes of being and birth. This is why we're taught to let go of our attachments to good and bad, to put them both down. When the mind has nothing more to sprout, it can then gain release from birth and death.
When the mind leaves the body at death, it vanishes in the same way that an extinguished candle flame doesn't have a shape for our physical eyes to see. But that doesn't mean that flame fire has disappeared from the world. It simply gets diffused into its property, like the fire of electricity in a copper wire. If we simply look at the wire we won't see any fire in it. But if we touch it with our hand, we'll immediately feel the heat. In the same way, when the mind leaves the body it reappears in other places just like the fire that diffuses into its property.
To hold onto the body is to hold onto old kamma. To let go of the body is to let go of old kamma. And when we can let go in this way, there will be no more kamma in the body. It's the same as with a piece of property. If we take possession of it, with a deed and the boundaries staked out, there tend to be problems with trespassing, swindling, boundary disputes, and cases in court. But if we don't take possession of it and simply let it be public property, there will be no troubles or quarrels. This way the heart can be at its ease.
The body is like a boat; the river is our skillful intentions. Mindfulness is the wind that moves us along. The defilements are like sand bars. If you develop mindfulness at all times you'll be able to take your "body-boat" to the other shore without running aground on the sand.
Defilements are like sand bars or stumps in a river that will keep our boat from getting to shore. In other words, passion is something that snags us, anger is something that bumps into us, and delusion is something that makes us spin around and sink. There's a story they tell of two men who were hired to row a boat along the rivers and canals to sell plowshares, shovels, and hoes. If they sold all the wares in the boat, their employer would give them their full wages of one kahapana, which was equal to about four dollars, a day. The first day their employer went out with them, and they sold all their wares. After that, he didn't go with them, so the two of them went out to sell their wares on their own. One day, as they were out rowing along, calling out, "Plowshares, shovels, and hoes!" their minds wandered and they started getting drowsy. All of a sudden they crashed smack into a stump and ran aground on a sandbar. Even after they got free they were so shaken up that instead of calling out, "Plowshares, shovels, and hoes!" they started calling out, "Sandbars and stumps! Sandbars and stumps!" all along the river, but nobody wanted to buy.
When evening came, they rowed back to their employer's house, their boat still full of plowshares, shovels, and hoes. They hadn't been able to sell a thing. So the employer gave them each only a dollar for their day's wages. One of the men took the money back to his wife, who was surprised to see that she was getting only one dollar, instead of the usual four. "Maybe he's given the rest of the money to another woman," she thought, so she gave him a piece of her mind. No matter how much he tried to explain things, she wouldn't listen. So he told her to go ask the employer. If what he said wasn't true, he'd be willing to let her hit him once on the head. The wife, impatient because she was so angry, said, "No, let me hit you first, and then I'll go ask." As she said this, she reached for a shovel handle, but all she could grab was the stick they used to drive the dog out of the house, so she used that to bash her husband three times on the head. Later, of course, she found out the truth, but by that time it was too late, for the husband had already gotten three free hits on the head.
This story shows the harm that can come from not being mindful. If you let your mind wander away from what you're doing, you can end up getting yourself into trouble.
If we were to make a comparison, the man at the prow of the boat stands for the monks. The man at the tail of the boat stands for the lay people. The stumps are passion, aversion, and delusion; while the sandbar is the Hindrances. If we're not careful to be mindful, if we let our minds get entangled in defilements and covered with the five Hindrances, our Dhamma practice will have a hard time succeeding.
Skillfulness on the sensual plane is like a truck running along a road or a boat running along a river, but in either case it's not as good as a truck stopped still at a warehouse or a boat stopped still at a dock. Now, there are benefits that come when a truck runs along a road or a boat runs along a river. (1) It can carry freight or passengers. (2) It can collect fare from the passengers or shipping charges for the freight. But when our truck stops at the warehouse or our boat stops at the dock, we get greater benefits many times over. (1) We get time to rest our weary bones. (2) We get to unload all our old freight and pick up new freight. (3) If we keep stopping at the same dock often enough, we'll get more and more familiar with the person who runs the dock and the people native to the area. Ultimately we'll get so that they'll share food with us without our having to pay for our dinner, or let us spend the night without having to pay for our room. This is because we get more intimate and familiar with one another, so that they come to like us. Ultimately, they'll trust us so much that we can share the same bed. When this happens, we may get to ask them their family secrets: how many wives and children they have, how they make their money, where they keep the family treasures. They'll tell us everything.
In the same way, if our mind stops running after its preoccupations and stays still at its dock — the body — we'll reap the same three kinds of benefits. (1) The mind will get to rest and recover from its weariness. (2) It will pick up a sense of peace, pleasure, and ease. (3) It will become more familiar and intimate with the four properties, which are like the natives in this area. We'll come to know thoroughly the workings of the body and mind. When we stay with the earth property, we'll know the affairs of the earth property. When we stay with the water property, we'll know the affairs of the water property. When we stay with the wind property, we'll know the affairs of the wind property. When we stay with the fire property, we'll know the affairs of the fire property. We'll give rise to the three and the eight cognitive skills. We'll know all the affairs of the body to the point where we have no more doubts. That will enable us to let the body go.
Knowing in line with labels, in line with books or with what people say, is imitation knowing, not the real thing. It's like the shadow of knowing. Real knowing is the knowing that arises within yourself. It's paccattam: entirely personal. It's the kind of knowing that can't be taught and can't be told. It has to arise within you. Only then will you know what's inconstant, stressful, and not-self; and what's constant, easeful, and self. Change-of-lineage knowledge (gotarabhu-ñana) sees both sides and lets go of both. The truth of the Dhamma is Dhammathiti, the aspect of mind that stays in place without changing. The movements and characteristics of the mind are simply shadows or imitations of knowing. In practicing the Dhamma, you want true knowing. If you don't really practice, you'll meet up only with the shadows of the Dhamma. For this reason we should practice so that true knowing will appear within us.
This body of ours has parts that are constant and those that are inconstant, both ease and stress, both self and not-self. For example, the properties of earth, water, wind, and fire are constant in that they've never turned into anything else. The earth property has never turned into water, the water property has never turned into wind, the wind property has never turned into fire. Whatever they've been since the beginning of the world, that's what they'll be until the world falls to pieces. Take water as an example: even if people freeze it until it's hard, or put green, yellow, or red dye into it, it'll still be water just the same. There's even a constant aspect to the parts of our body: our hand has never turned into a foot, our arm has never turned into a leg, our eye has never turned into an ear, our lower lip has never pushed its way up to being the upper lip. These are the aspects that are constant and self. As for the inconstant parts, those are just the characteristics of these things, not what they really are.
The properties of earth, water, wind, and fire are like four people. If you keep trying to acquaint yourself with them, after a while they'll become your friends.
In the beginning they aren't too familiar with you, they don't trust you, so they'll want to test you first. For instance, when you start sitting in meditation, they'll take a stick and poke you in your legs and shins, so that your legs hurt or grow numb. If you lie down, they'll poke you in the back. If you lie on your side, they'll poke you in the waist. If you get up and sit again, they'll test you again. Or they may whisper to you to give up. If you give in to them, the King of Death will grin until his cheeks hurt.
What you have to do is smile against the odds and endure everything to the end point. Keep talking with all four properties. Even though they don't respond at first, you have to keep talking with them, asking them this and that. After a while they'll give you a one-word answer. So you keep talking and then their answers will start getting longer until you eventually become acquaintances and can have real conversations. From that point they become your intimates and friends. They'll love you and help you and tell you their secrets. You'll be a person with friends and won't have to be lonely. You'll eat together, sleep together, and wherever you go, you'll go together. You'll feel secure. No matter how long you sit, you won't ache. No matter how long you walk, you won't feel tired — because you have friends to talk with as you walk along, so that you enjoy yourself and reach your destination before you realize it.
This is why we're taught to practice meditation by keeping mindfulness immersed firmly in the body. Use directed thought and evaluation with your meditation themes — body, feelings, mind, and mental qualities — without letting your mind wander astray in outside thoughts and preoccupations. Contemplate the body so as to know how all four properties are getting along, where it feels pleasant, painful, or neutral. Notice how the mind moves around in the various things you know until you reach the mental quality that's still, solid, and true.
This way it's like having friends go with you wherever you go and whatever you do. In other words, when the body walks, the mind walks with it. When the body lies down, the mind lies down with it. When the body sits, the mind sits with it. Wherever the body stops, the mind stops, too. But most of us aren't like this. The body takes two steps, but the mind takes four or five — so how can it not get tired? The body lies in a mosquito net surrounded by a railing and seven thick walls, but the mind can still go running outside the house. When this is the case, where will it get any happiness? If it doesn't stay in its house it'll have to wander around exposed to the sun, wind, rain, and all sorts of dangers because it has no roof, no protection. If there's no concentration to act as a shelter for the heart, it'll always have to meet with misery and pain.
For this reason, you should train your heart to stay firm in concentration and to develop full authority within yourself so that you can be your own person. This way you'll be bound to meet with the goodness of purity, as mentioned above.