We've all come with a sense of conviction, intent on studying and practicing the Dhamma so as to train our minds, so that the Dhamma will appear within our minds and give them refuge. Even though the Dhamma is always present, it hasn't yet become the property of the heart and mind. As long as the Dhamma is simply the property of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body, it's a Dhamma that isn't genuine, a Dhamma that isn't pure, a Dhamma that isn't polished, a Dhamma that can get in the way of our seeing the truth. It can let us get deceived by the preoccupations created by the process of fabrication from things the eye sees, the ear hears, and so on. After all, the knowledge that comes from what the eye sees or the ear hears: almost everyone has eyes and ears. If the knowledge that comes just from these things were enough to give rise to the most significant benefit of the Dhamma, then everyone would have already experienced that significant wellbeing. They would have experienced a happiness that's genuine, certain, and complete. This is because all living beings with eyes can see, all those with ears can hear, all those with a nose, tongue, and body can know through these things. But to know the skillful Dhamma taught by the Buddha requires more than just eyes and ears. It requires mindfulness — the ability to keep something in mind — along with a mind equipped with the right views that have come from training in the right principles of the Buddha's teachings.
This is because the Buddha's teachings are the well-taught Dhamma that people throughout the world have acknowledged as right and complete, leading to peace, leading to happiness, leading to mental, verbal, and physical actions that are masterful, seamless, with nothing lacking. Even the devas have acknowledged that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. Countless people with confidence in the Dhamma, practicing it earnestly, have attained the paths and fruitions leading to nibbana. They've gained release from suffering through the principles of the Dhamma that they've studied and trained themselves in. All of us here are people of discernment just like them, so we should take hold of these things and make them our heart's possession in a full and complete way, just like them. We shouldn't content ourselves simply with hearing about or learning about the Dhamma, for our knowledge on that level can still be deceived, can still change, so that our hearts can become uncertain and unsure, so that we can make mistakes, putting the heart in a position where it suffers from the impact of the things it sees or hears, or from the wrong decisions it makes.
We've made these mistakes and suffered from these things countless times already. This is a fact we can't deny. This is why we can't win out over our moods and preoccupations as we would like to. We see the defects in our hearts — in our thoughts, words, and deeds — which is why we can't maintain our peace of mind as consistently as we'd like to.
So try to make use of the mind's skillful qualities. What are those qualities? You already know them: virtue, concentration, and discernment. Maintain them so that they become clear and blatant in the heart. Come to see clearly what sufferings virtue can drive out of the heart, what obstacles to happiness and peace it can drive out of the heart — to see what sorts of benefits it can bring.
Ask yourself: if you didn't observe this or that precept, what would appear in your physical or verbal actions? A life composed of those actions: in what direction would it pull you? This is something you have to see clearly, you know. If you're a Buddhist meditator, you're a student of the Buddha, one who knows — not one who is stupid! The Buddha was never heedless or careless with life. He never let time go to waste. You should make up your mind that, aside from when you sleep, you want your every movement to serve a purpose you can depend on. You should live with awareness, with right views. You shouldn't get infatuated with things coming in by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue, or body. We've all been using these things for the purpose of delusion for a long time — it's not that we've just started using them for that purpose recently. So are we going to follow along in the same way forever? This is an area where we should take responsibility and come to our senses, to straighten ourselves out.
We have to look after our words and deeds so that they're perfectly blatant to us. This is called keeping the precepts in line with the principle, silena sugatim yanti: it's through virtue that beings go to the good destinations. The Buddha didn't say this without firm evidence, or simply as propaganda for people to believe or put into practice in a deluded way. He said this through right discernment. Those who practice have to understand with right discernment in just the same way so as to conform to the principle of uju-patipanno, those who practice straight in line with the Dhamma. If you're the sort of person who simply believes what people say, right when they're right, wrong when they're wrong, then you can still be deceived. You need to develop the mind to a solid level, seeing the Dhamma in a way that's blatant, clear, and informed. That's when you'll be undeceivable.
As for concentration, you have to see clearly what suffering it drives out of the heart, what benefits it brings. This is something you have to learn and understand so that you'll really know. If you understand concentration, it'll bring its benefits to you. It'll make the mind genuinely clear, bright, and pure, because mindfulness will remember to choose only good preoccupations for the mind. Discernment will contemplate them and drive out from the mind any lack of stillness or peace.
Discernment on the level of concentration practice — when concentration has fostered a sense of wellbeing and seclusion in the mind — will drive out any disturbance that used to cause stress for the mind. It will see the dangers and drawbacks of those disturbances. This sort of discernment will arise when we've practiced concentration correctly to the point of giving rise to peace and wellbeing.
Conviction will arise when we see these results clearly in the mind. We won't have any doubts. We won't have to ask anyone what concentration is like, what a still mind is like, what the rewards of concentration are. We won't have to ask, for the mind knows. It has entered into these things. This is what happens when we really practice, using our mindfulness and persistence, using our discernment correctly, so as to serve a true purpose.
Meditation is simply a matter of looking at what's in the heart and mind, for all good and evil come from the mind. They're fabricated by the mind. When we use right views to look at the mind, when we keep right mindfulness right at the mind, when we apply right effort continually in our mindfulness without lapse, the mind will have to be firmly established in right concentration and won't go anywhere else. That's when we'll see how much rightness is arising right there. When we don't lose focus or look anywhere else, when we keep on trying to be continuous in our gaze — in the same way we read a book — we'll be able to see the entire story of what's going on. If we forget and go looking elsewhere, we'll lose whole chunks of the story. We won't be able to connect the beginning with the end. It won't have any shape.
But when the mind stays firmly in place, it'll enter concentration. The word "concentration" means the firm stillness that comes from training the mind with our Dhamma theme. For example, buddho: we have to stay right with the word buddho. Our effort is devoted to keeping buddho in mind. Don't let it slip away to other things. Keep your efforts focused right there. Keep your mindfulness gathered right there. Don't let it forget and go elsewhere. When you keep trying to do this, the counterfeit things in the mind — the defilements that deceive us — won't be able to arise, for mindfulness is all there, so the defilements can't establish themselves, can't deceive us. This is because of the power of the mindfulness, concentration, and discernment that our mind has gathered together to chase away the enemies of our stillness, the enemies of our happiness and wellbeing. We used to see these enemies as our friends and benefactors. But once we've studied the Buddha's teachings, we realize that they're nothing but defilements.
Defilements don't have any substance to them. What do they come from? From the mind. They're shadows of the mind that dwell in the mind. When in any mental moment there's a thought that goes contrary to the Dhamma, that gives rise to no true knowledge or intelligence, that brings us danger and suffering: that thought is called a defilement. Thoughts of this sort don't come from anywhere else. Of course, there are aspects of defilement that take their inspiration from outside the mind, but we shouldn't trace them back in that direction, or send attention outside in that direction. We're here simply for the sake of stillness, for the sake of concentration. We have to focus right here in front of us. We don't have to want to know anything else — for example, where the defilements come from, how they can arise, or where they stay. It's the same as when we come down with a sudden lethal disease. If we waste time asking the doctor where his medicine comes from or what it contains, we could easily die first. We have to trust the doctor and take the medicine as he prescribes it, in line with the principles he has used with good results in the past.
In the same way, when we're training the mind to be still, we don't have to track down where things come from. We have to abstain from our desire to track things down, to know in ways that will distract us from our stillness. When you want to center the mind on buddho, you only have to be aware of buddho. Don't let your awareness slip away. Have the mind hold onto buddho as its refuge at all times. That's your task, the task you have to do. The same holds true when you're focusing on the breath, or whatever the focus of your meditation. They're all Dhamma themes. How is the breath a Dhamma theme? It's a physical dhamma — the breath or wind element here in the body. Without the breath, the body wouldn't last.
This isn't something we have to explain, because we're already aware of it. We understand it rightly. We don't have to contemplate the ways in which the breath is important. We simply use the breath to train the mind. We're not here to train the breath. We use the breath to make the mind still, which is why we don't have to analyze the body in any other way. When we want the mind to be still, to settle down and rest, or when we want mindfulness to work with full agility in overcoming delusion, we have to exercise mindfulness fully in the duty at hand. When our effort is right, our mindfulness is right, and our concentration is right, then they give crucial strength to the skillfulness of the mind, so that it has the power and authority it needs to drive away the demons of defilement: i.e., its own lack of skill and intelligence, its delusions, its tendency to float along after the preoccupations that deceive it, thinking that it gains true happiness through the help of things outside. Actually, those things endanger the mind. Why? Because they're nothing but fabrications that are inconstant. There's nothing constant about them at all. Visual forms are inconstant, sounds are inconstant, all those phenomena are inconstant. They're the Dhamma of Mara, come to deceive us.
But even when we understand this, we shouldn't yet go thinking about them. Only when we've developed enough strength of mind to contend with them should we go out and fight with them. When our mindfulness isn't yet firmly based in concentration, we can't fight them off. We're sure to get demolished by them. We've been demolished by them many, many times before, because our base of operations — our concentration — isn't solid enough. We keep losing out to the enemy. Do you want to keep on losing out? When are you going to gather your forces? In other words, when are you going to make your conviction solid, your persistence solid, your mindfulness, concentration, and discernment all solid? These are the forces that will overcome the things that have been deceiving the mind as they like.
So I ask that we all be earnest in watching over this mind of ours. As we're taught, cittam dantam sukhavaham: the mind when trained brings happiness. The Buddha has already done this, has already succeeded in gaining this happiness. His many noble disciples have succeeded in the same way, providing evidence for the truth of what he has taught.
When we train ourselves so that our foundation is solid, we'll have our own evidence, the Dhamma that appears blatantly in our heart. We'll gain confidence, accepting the fact that the Buddha's Dhamma is well taught. We'll no longer have any doubts, because it will have become blatant in the heart. It's not simply that we've heard other people teach it or seen it in books. The evidence has appeared clearly in the heart that has accepted the truth within it. The mind will become solid in a way that no defilement will be able to deceive.
So I ask that we all practice truly. When we practice truly, the truth will truly appear to us. Practice so that these things appear clearly. When we've made virtue blatantly clear, concentration blatantly clear, and discernment blatantly clear, where will any ignorance or craving be able to fabricate more states of being or birth for us? We'll have had enough. We won't want anything more. There won't be any more craving, because we've gained a sense of the word, "enough." This is how we reach enough — not by struggling to amass material things. The world has tried to reach "enough" in that way for a long time now, but there's never been enough of those things. So turn around and watch over your mind so that it all becomes blatantly clear.
Now that you've heard this, try to remember it. You can always put it to use, from this day forward. The Buddha's teachings have never grown old or worn. They're always brand new, which is why we can put them to use at all times, in all places. When we always keep them in mind, we'll have a safe and secure refuge, an auspicious refuge. Whoever attains this refuge will gain release from all suffering and stress.