Meditation and Formal Practice
In keeping with his general style, of teaching, the meditation instructions of Achaan Chah are simple and natural. Usually he just tells people to sit and watch their breath or to walk and notice their body. Then, after a while, he asks them to begin to examine their heart and mind in both postures, to see their nature and characteristics. Sometimes this is all that is offered for initial instruction.
Achaan Chah is careful to avoid letting any method of practice be confused with Dharma. The Dharma is what is, and Dharma practice is any way that clearly apprehends the true nature and characteristics of what is, of our world, of body and mind. Therefore, Achaan Chah does not emphasize any particular technique. He wants students to learn inner strength and independence in practice from the beginning, asking questions when necessary, but relying on their own ability to watch and understand the mind and on their own wisdom to illuminate their experience.
Still, after being at Wat Ba Pong for some time, practicing alone, learning from some of the senior monks, and hearing many questions answered and many Dharma talks. one learns certain subtleties of formal practice. A variety of traditional forest meditations such as the simple mantra "Buddho," or cemetery meditations, or contemplations on the thirty-two parts of the body are also taught when deemed appropriate for particular students. Otherwise, meditation is developed in a simple and straightforward fashion.
In sitting practice, Achaan Chah says it is best to sit with a balanced and erect posture, legs crossed or in some other position that keeps the back and head straight and the chest open for unrestricted breathing. One should sit quite still, allowing the body to become settled and quiet in preparation for the initial breathing meditation.
The first direction of sitting practice is to still and concentrate the mind. Focus the attention on the breath in an easy and natural way, allowing it to come and go without interference. Use the sensation, the direct experience of the breath as it enters and leaves the nostrils, as the point of concentration. Silently follow the sensation of the breath for as long as you can. Then, each time you notice the mind has wandered (which will be thousands of times until it is trained), return gently to concentration on the breath.
This meditation is a way of using our most immediate experience. the ever-changing reality of the breath, to concentrate the mind. One is instructed to patiently continue this simple exercise as a way of strengthening the power of the mind to focus and see. Eventually, this very simple breath concentration can lead to the highest levels of meditative absorption and samadhi.
However, absorption is not the goal of the practice as taught by Achaan Chah, even though for some it may arise naturally in the course of meditation. Students are instructed to use the concentration and stillness they develop through mindfulness of breathing to aid hi the second aspect of their practice. Once the mind is somewhat quiet and focused. one is instructed to begin to examine the workings of the mind and body. To examine or to contemplate does not mean to think about, but rather to feel. to experience directly, how our world is happening. Examine the aggregates of body and mind. Achaan Chah often advises. Notice first the body, which is directly experienced as an ever-changing play of senses. Of elements-hot, cold, bright. dark. soft. hard. heavy, light, and so on.
Examine the aggregates of feeling pleasant, neutral, and unpleasant-changing each moment. Notice the play of perception, of memory and thought, of reactions and volition, of consciousness, the quality each of these experiences brings anew in each moment. See how life is a dynamic interplay of these aggregates arising, changing, passing away. Sense objects, feeling, recognition, reaction, volition, the same process again and again. Notice what experience is like when desire or expectation arises. Notice the causes of suffering. Notice the stillness when the mind is not caught by desire.
Is there any part of experience that does not share the characteristics of constant change and fleeting instability, any part that gives lasting satisfaction and is not empty of a self, of an I, of an ego? Where is the self in all this? Examine and you will see how absolutely everything is changing. No me exists, no fixed self. Only this process.
To learn to see deeply into experience and its characteristics is not limited to sitting meditation. Walk and watch. Do the walking meditation back and forth at a natural pace; do it for many hours, if possible. Learn to pay attention, and there is nothing you will not understand. This is the heart of the practice.
In many monasteries, daily interviews with the teacher are an integral part of the practice, but Achaan Chah discourages this. Although he is always available to answer questions, he does not conduct formal interviews. Learning to answer your own question is better, he says. Learn about doubting in the mind, how it arises and how it passes. No one and nothing can free You but your own understanding. Still the mind, the heart, and learn to watch. You will find the whole Dharma of the Buddha is revealing itself in every moment.
Just as animal life can be classified into two groups, creatures of the land and creatures of the sea, subjects of meditation can be divided into two categories, concentration and insight. Concentration meditations are those that are used to make the mind calm and one pointed. Insight, on the one hand, is the growing perception of impermanence, suffering, and emptiness of self and, on the other, our bridge over those waters.
No matter how we may feel about our existence, our business is not to try to change it in any way. Rather, we just have to see it and let it be. Where suffering is, there too is the way out of suffering. Seeing that which is born and dies and is subject to suffering, Buddha knew there must also be something beyond birth and death, free of suffering.
Methods of meditation all have value in helping to develop mindfulness. The point is to use mindfulness to see the underlying truth. With this mindfulness, we watch all desires, likes and dislikes, pleasures and pains that arise in the mind. Realizing they are impermanent, suffering, and empty of self, we let go of them. In this way, wisdom replaces ignorance, knowledge replaces doubt.
As for singling out one object of meditation, you yourself must discover what fits your character. Wherever you choose to be mindful, it will bring wisdom to the mind. Mindfulness is knowing what is here, noticing, being aware. Clear comprehension knows the context in which the present is occurring. When mindfulness and clear comprehension act together, their companion, wisdom, always appears to help them complete any task.
Watch the mind, watch the process of experience arising and ceasing. At first the movement is constant as soon as one thing passes, another arises, and we seem to see more arising than ceasing. As time goes by we see more clearly, understanding how things arise so fast, until we reach the point where they arise, cease, and do not arise again.
With mindfulness you can see the real owner of things. Do you think this is your world, your body? It is the world's world, the body's body. If you tell it, Don't get old, does the body listen? Does your stomach ask permission to get sick? We only rent this house; why not find out who really owns it?
The Essence of Vipassana: Observing Your Mind
Begin practice by sitting up straight and paying attention. You can sit on the floor-, you can sit in a chair. At first, you need not fix your attention on much. Simply be mindful of in-and-out breathing. If you find it helpful, you can also repeat "Buddha," "Dharmo," or "Sangho" as a mantra while you watch the breath going in and out. In this awareness of breathing, you must not force. If you try to control your breathing, that is not yet correct. It may seem that the breathing is too short, too long, too gentle, too heavy. You may feel that you are not passing the breath properly, or you may not feel well. Just let it be, let it settle by itself. Eventually the breath will enter and exit freely. When you are aware of and firmly established in this entry and exit, that is correct breathing.
When you become distracted, stop and refocus your attention. At first, when you are focusing it, your mind wants it to be a certain way. But do not control it or worry about it. Just notice it and let it be. Keep at it. Samadhi will grow by itself. As you go on practicing in this way, sometimes the breath will stop, but here again, do not fear. Only your perception of the breath has stopped; the subtle factors continue. When the time is right, the breath will come back on its own as before.
If you can make your mind tranquil like this, wherever you find yourself-on a chair, in a car, on a boat-you will be able to fix your attention and enter into a calm state immediately. Wherever you are, you will be able to sit for meditation.
Having reached this point, you know something of the Path, but you must also contemplate sense objects. Turn your tranquil mind toward sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touches, thoughts, mental objects, mental factors. Whatever arises, investigate it. Notice whether you like it or not, whether it pleases or displeases you, but do not get involved with it. This liking and disliking are just reactions to the world of appearances-you must see a deeper level. Then, whether something initially seems good or bad, you will see that it is really only impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty. File everything that arises into those three categories-good, bad, evil, wonderful, whatever it is, put it there. This is the way of vipassana, by which all things are calmed.
Before long, knowledge and insight into impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness will arise. This is the beginning of true wisdom, the heart of meditation, which leads to liberation. Follow your experience. See it. Strive continuously. Know the truth. Learn to give up, to get rid, to attain peace.
When sitting in meditation, you may have strange experiences or visions such as seeing lights, angels, or buddhas. When you see such things, you should observe yourself first to find out what state the mind is in. Do not forget the basic point. Pay attention. Do not wish for visions to arise or not to arise. If you go running after such experiences, you may end up babbling senselessly because the mind has fled the stable. When such things do come, contemplate them. When, you have contemplated them, do not be deluded by them. You should consider that they are not yourself; they too are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not self. Though they have come about, do not take them seriously. If they do not go away, re-establish your mindfulness, fix your attention on your breathing, and take at least three long inhalations and exhalations-then you can cut them off. Whatever arises, keep re-establishing your attention. Do not take anything as yourself-everything is only a vision or a construction of the mind, a deception that causes you to like, grasp, or fear. When you see such constructions, do not get involved. All unusual experiences and visions are of value to the wise person but harmful to the unwise. Keep practicing until you are not stirred by them.
If you can trust your mind in this way, there is no problem. If it wants to be glad, you just know that this gladness is uncertain, unstable. Do not fear your visions or other experiences in practice, just learn to work with them. In this way, defilement can be used to train the mind, and you come to know the natural state of the mind, free from extremes, clear, unattached.
As I see it, the mind is like a single point, the center of the universe, and mental states are like visitors who come to stay at this point for short or long periods of time. Get to know these visitors well. Become familiar with the vivid pictures they paint, the alluring stories they tell, to entice you to follow them. But do not give up your seat-it is the only chair around. If you continue to occupy it unceasingly, greeting each guest as it comes, firmly establishing yourself in awareness, transforming your mind into the one who knows, the
one who is awake, the visitors will eventually stop coming back. If you give them real attention, how many times can these visitors return? Speak with them here, and you will know every one of them well. Then your mind will at last be at peace.
Work with the walking meditation every day. To begin, clasp the hands in front of you, maintaining a very slight tension that compels the mind to be attentive. Walk at a normal pace from one end of the path to the other, knowing yourself all the way. Stop and return. If the mind wanders, stand still and bring it back. If the mind still wanders, fix attention on the breath. Keep coming back. Mindfulness thus developed is useful at all times.
Change positions when physically tired, but not as soon as you feel an impulse to change. First, know why you want to change-is it physical fatigue, mental restlessness, or laziness? Notice the sufferings of the body. Learn to watch openly and carefully. Effort in practice is a matter of the mind, not the body. It means constantly being aware of what goes on in the mind without following like and dislike as they arise. Sitting or walking all night is not in itself energetic effort if one is not aware in this way.
As you walk from one predetermined point to another, fix the eyes about two yards in front of you and fix the attention on the actual feeling of the body, or repeat the mantra "Buddho." Do not fear things that arise in the mind; question them, know them. The truth is more than thoughts and feelings, so do not believe and get caught by them. See the whole process arising and ceasing. This understanding gives rise to wisdom.
When consciousness arises, we should have awareness of it at the same time, like a light bulb and its light. If you are not alert, the hindrances will catch hold of the mind-only concentration can cut through them. Just as the presence of a thief prevents negligence with our possessions, so the reminder of the hindrances should prevent negligence in our concentration.
Who Is Sick?
Late in the spring of 1979, Achaan Chah visited the
Because people react differently, we must pick suitable practices. Body practices are especially suitable for persons with excessive lust or for forest monks.
In the body meditations, look at the body. See its parts, its real constituents. Start with the head, hair, body hair, nails, teeth, skin, see it everywhere. Separate them from the other body parts. Mentally peel off the skin, and see the inside. Do you want it? Seeing the true nature of the body can cut off the first three fetters:
Own-body view, sense of self. We will see that it is neither us nor ours, that nothing in this world is ours.
Skeptical doubt. Knowing things as they are puts an end to doubt.
Attachment to a path based on rites and ritual. While still in doubt, we may think, "Perhaps this way is not so good." But once we see clearly what the body is-that it, like all things, is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty of self-this uncertainty is cleared up.
When meditating on the body, you need not contemplate all its thirty-two parts. If you concentrate on one and see it as it is-impermanent, unsatisfactory, empty, unclean-you will see that your body and the bodies of others are like this. If there are thirty-two ice cubes, you need only touch one to know the coldness of all.
When we develop the meditation on the impurity of the body, we are also developing the meditation on death. Indeed, when we develop one of the Dharmas, we develop them all. If we understand the fact of our own death, we can become very sensitive to all life in the world. We will naturally avoid wrongdoing and want to spend our days wisely, feeling a common bond with all beings.
In our practice, we think that noises, cars, voices, sights, are distractions that come and bother us when we want to be quiet. But who is bothering whom? Actually, we are the ones who go and bother them. The car, the sound, is just following its own nature. We bother things through some false idea that they are outside us and cling to the ideal of remaining quiet, undisturbed.
Learn to see that it is not things that bother us, that we go out to bother them. See the world as a mirror. It is all a reflection of mind. When you know this, you can grow in every moment, and every experience reveals truth and brings understanding.
Normally, the untrained mind is full of worries and anxieties, so when a bit of tranquility arises from practicing meditation, you easily become attached to it, mistaking states of tranquility for the end of meditation. Sometimes you may even think you have put an end to lust or greed or hatred, only to be overwhelmed by them later on. Actually, it is worse to be caught in calmness than to be stuck in agitation, because at least you will want to escape from agitation, whereas you are content to remain in calmness and not go any further.
When extraordinarily blissful, dear states arise from insight meditation practice, do not cling to them. Although this tranquility has a sweet taste, it too must be seen as impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty. Absorption is not what the Buddha found
essential in meditation. Practice without thought of attaining absorption or any special state. Just know whether the mind is calm or not and, if so, whether a little or a lot. In this way it will develop on its own.
Nevertheless, concentration must be firmly established for wisdom to arise. To concentrate the mind is like turning on the switch, and wisdom is the resulting light. Without the switch, there is no light, but we should not waste our time playing with the switch. Likewise, concentration is the empty bowl and wisdom the food that fills it and makes the meal.
Do not be attached to the object of meditation such as a mantra. Know its purpose. If you succeed in concentrating your mind using the mantra "Buddho," let the mantra go. It is a mistake to think that to stop repeating "Buddho" would be laziness. Buddha means "the one who knows" -if you become one who knows, why repeat the word?
Stick To It
Endurance and moderation are the foundation, the beginning of our practice. To start we simply follow the practice and the schedule set up by our self or in a retreat or monastery. To train an animal, we have to restrain it; likewise, we need to restrict ourselves. An animal which is difficult to train should be given little food. Here we have the ascetic practices to limit ourselves in regard to food, robes, and living quarters, to bring us down to bare essentials, to cut away infatuation.
These practices are the basis for concentration. Constant mindfulness in all postures and activities will make the mind calm and clear. But this calm is not the end point of practice. Tranquil states give the mind a temporary rest, as eating will temporarily remove hunger, but that is not all there is to life. You must use the calmed mind to see things in a new light, the light of wisdom. When the heart becomes firm in this wisdom, you will not adhere to worldly standards of good and bad and will not be swayed by external conditions. With wisdom, dung can be used for fertilizer-all our experiences become sources of insight. Normally, we want praise and dislike criticism, but, seen with a clear mind, we see them as equally empty. Thus, we can let go of all these things and
Do not worry about how long it will take to get results, just do it. Practice endurance. If your legs hurt, tell yourself, "I have no legs." If your head aches, think, "I do not have a head." If you get sleepy when sitting at night, think, "It is daytime." During meditation using mindfulness of breathing, if you have uncomfortable feelings in the chest, take a few long, deep breaths. If the mind wanders, just hold your breath and let the mind go where it will-it will not go far.
You can change postures after an appropriate time, but do not be a slave to your restlessness or feelings of discomfort. Sometimes it is good just to sit on them. You feel hot, legs are painful, you are unable to concentrate-just tell it all to die. The feelings will get more and more intense and then hit a breaking point, after which you will be calm and cool. But the next day your mind will not want to do it again. Training yourself requires constant effort. By practicing over a long period of time, you will learn when to push, when to relax, learn to separate physical fatigue from laziness.
Do not worry about enlightenment. When growing a tree, you plant it, water it, fertilize it, keep the bugs away and if these things are done properly, the tree will naturally grow. How quickly it grows, however, is something you cannot control.
At first, endurance and persistence are necessary, but after a time, faith and certainty arise. Then you see the value of practice and want to do it; you want to avoid socializing and be by yourself in quiet places; you seek extra time just to practice and to study yourself.
Just do the practice beginning with the basic steps being honest and clean and being aware of whatever you do. All the rest will follow.
Seven Days to Enlightenment
Achaan Chah described how the Buddha had encouraged his monks by stating that those who practiced diligently would surely be enlightened in seven days or, if not in seven days, then in seven months or seven years. A young American monk heard this and asked if it was still true. Achaan Chah promised that if the young monk was continuously mindful without break for only seven days, he would be enlightened.
Excitedly the young monk started his seven days, only to be lost in forgetfulness ten minutes later. Coming back to himself, he again started his seven days, only to become lost once more in mindless thought-perhaps about what he would do after his enlightenment. Again and again he began his seven days, and again and again he lost his continuity of mindfulness. A week later, he was not enlightened but had become very much aware of his habitual fantasies and wandering of mind-a most instructive way to begin his practice on the Path to real awakening.
Results should not be expected too quickly. One with faith and confidence will have determination to persevere, as a market woman who wants to sell goods keeps on hawking, "Who wants soap? Who wants baskets? I've got pencils to sell"
Learning to Chant
A principal part of Achaan Chah's training is to help students learn to do whatever task is appropriate while keeping a balanced mind free from clinging. A Western psychiatrist who had ordained as a monk had to learn this lesson. He asked permission to stay at WatBa Pong for the three-month rains retreat in order to have a master under whom he could really practice meditation. Several days later, when Achaan Chah announced to the assembled monks that chanting of the sutras from 3:30 to 4:40 A.M. and from 5:00 to 6:00 P.M. was a mandatory part of the rains retreat, this newly ordained Western monk raised his hand and began to argue loudly that he had come to meditate, not to waste time chanting. Such a Western style argument with the teacher in public was a shock to many of the other monks. Achaan Chah explained calmly that real meditation had to do with attitude and awareness in any activity, not just with seeking silence in a forest cottage. He made a point of insisting that the psychiatrist would have to be prompt for every chanting session for the entire rains retreat if he wished to stay at WatBa Pong. The psychiatrist stayed and learned to chant beautifully.
Forget About Time
We tend to complicate our meditation. For example, when we sit, we may determine, "Yes, I'm really going to do it this time." But that is not the right attitude; nothing will be accomplished that day. Such grasping is natural at first. Some nights, when I would
start to sit, I would think, "OK, tonight I won't get up from my seat until 1:00 A.M., at the earliest." But before long, my mind would start to kick and rebel until I felt that I would die. What is the point in that?
When you are sitting properly, there is no need to measure or compel. There is no goal, no point to attain. Whether you sit until 7:00 or 8:00 or 9:00 P.M., never mind. Just keep sitting without concern. Do not force yourself. Do not be compulsive. Do nut command your heart to do things for certain, for this command will make things all the less certain. Let your mind be at ease, let your breath be even, normal, not short or long or any special way. Let your body be comfortable. Practice steadily and continuously. Desire will ask you, "How late will we go? How long will we practice?" Just shout at it, "Hey, don't bother me!" Keep quelling it, because it is only defilement coming to disturb you. Just say, "If I want to stop early or late, it's not wrong; if I want to sit all night, who am I hurting? Why do you come and disturb me?" Cut off desire, and keep sitting in your own way. Let your heart be at ease, and you will become tranquil, free from the power of grasping.
Some people sit in front of a lighted incense stick and vow to sit until it has burned down. Then they keep peeking to see how far it has burned, constantly concerned with the time. "Is it over yet?" they ask. Or they vow to push beyond or die, and then feel terribly guilty when they stop only one hour later. These people are controlled by desire.
Do not pay attention to the time. Just maintain your practice at a steady pace, letting it progress gradually. You do not need to make vows. Just keep striving to train yourself, just do your practice and let the mind become calm of itself. Eventually, you will find that you can sit a long time at your ease, practicing correctly.
As to pain in the legs, you will find that it goes away by itself. Just stay with your contemplation.
If you practice in this way, a change will take place in you. When you go to sleep, you will be able to settle your mind into calmness and sleep. Formerly, you may have snored, talked in your sleep, gnashed your teeth, or tossed and turned. Once your heart has been trained, all of that will vanish. Although you will sleep soundly, you will awaken refreshed instead of sleepy. The body will rest, but the mind will be awake day and night. This is Buddho, the one who knows, the Awakened One, the Happy One, the Brilliant One. This one does not sleep, does not feel drowsy. If you make your heart and mind firm like this in your practice, you may not sleep for two or three days, and when you get sleepy, you can enter samadhi for five or ten minutes and arise refreshed, as if you had slept all night long. At this point, you need not think about your body, although with compassion and understanding, you will still consider its needs.
Some Hints on Practicing
As you practice, various images and visions may arise. You see an attractive form, hear a sound that stirs you-such an image must be observed too. This kind of vipassana image can have even more energy than one that may arise from simple concentration. Whatever arises, just watch.
Someone recently asked me, "As we meditate and various thing arise in my mind, should we investigate them or just note them coming and going?" If you see someone passing by whom you do not know, you may wonder, "Who is that? Where is he going? What is he up to?" But if you know the person, it is enough just to notice him pass by.
Desire in practice can be friend or foe. At first, it spurs us. to come and practice; we want to change things, to understand, to end suffering. But to be always desiring something that has not yet arisen, to want things to be other than they are, just causes more suffering.
Someone asked, "Should we just eat when hungry, sleep when tired, as the Zen masters suggest, or should we experiment by going against the grain at times? And if so, how much?" Of course, one should experiment, but no one else can say how much. All of this is to be known within oneself. At first, in our practice, we are like children learning to write the alphabet. The letters come out bent and sloppy, time and again-the only thing to do is to keep at it. And if we do not live life like this, what else is there for us to do?
A good practice is to ask yourself very sincerely, 'Why was I born?" Ask yourself this question three times a day, in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night. Ask everyday.
The Buddha told his disciple Ananda to see impermanence, to see death with every breath. We must know death; we must die in order to live. What does this mean? To die is to come to the end of all our doubts, all our questions, and just be here with the present reality. You can never die tomorrow, you must die now. Can you do it? Ah, how still, the peace of no more questions.
Real effort is a matter of the mind, not of the body. Different methods of concentration are like ways of earning a living-the most important thing is that you feed yourself, not how you manage to get the food. Actually, when the mind is freed from desires, concentration arises naturally, no matter what activity you are engaged in.
Drugs can bring about meaningful experiences, but the one who takes a drug has not made causes for such effects. He has just temporarily altered nature, like injecting a monkey with hormones that send him shooting up a tree to pick coconuts. Such experiences may be true but not good or good but not true, whereas Dharma is always both good and true.
Sometimes we want to force the mind to be quiet, and this effort just makes it all the more disturbed. Then we stop pushing and some concentration arises. But in the state of calm and quiet, we begin to wonder, 'What's going on? What's happening now?" and we are agitated again.
The day before the first monastic council, one of the Buddha's disciples went to tell Ananda, "Tomorrow is the Sangha Council. Others who attend are fully enlightened." Since Ananda was at this time still incompletely enlightened, he determined to practice strenuously all through the night, seeking full awakening. But in the end, he just made himself tired. He was not making any progress for all his efforts, so he decided to let go and rest a bit. As soon as his head hit the pillow, he became enlightened. In the end, we must learn to let go every last desire, even the desire for enlightenment. Only then can we be free.
As you proceed with your practice, you must be willing to carefully examine every experience, every sense door. For example, practice with a sense object such as a sound. Listen. Your hearing is one thing, the sound is another. You are aware, and that is all there is to it. There is no one, nothing else. Learn to pay careful attention. Rely on nature in this way, and contemplate to find the truth. You will see how things separate themselves. When the mind does not grasp or take a vested interest, does not get caught up, things become clear.
When the ear hears, observe the mind. Does it get caught up and make a story out of the sound? Is it disturbed? You can know this, stay with it, be aware. At times you may want to escape from the sound, but that is not the way out. You must escape through awareness.
Sometimes we like the Dharma, sometimes we do not, but the problem is never the Dharma's. We can not expect to have tranquility as soon as we start to practice. We should let the mind think, let it do as it will, just watch it and not react to it. Then, as things contact the senses, we should practice equanimity. See all sense impressions as the same. See how they come and go. Keep the mind in the present. Do not think about what has passed, do not think, "Tomorrow I'm going to do it." If we see the true characteristics of things in the present moment, at all times, then everything is Dharma revealing itself.
Train the heart until it is firm, until it lays down all experiences. Then things will come and you will perceive them without becoming attached. You do not have to force the mind and sense objects apart. As you practice, they separate by themselves, showing the simple elements of body and mind.
As you learn about sights, sounds, smells, and tastes according to the truth, you will see that they all have a common nature-impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty of self. Whenever you hear a sound, it registers in your mind as this common nature. Having heard is the same as not having heard. Mindfulness is constantly with you, protecting the heart. If your heart can reach this state wherever you go, there will be a growing understanding within you. which is called investigation, one of the seven factors of enlightenment. It revolves, it spins, it converses with itself, it solves,. it detaches from feelings, perceptions, thoughts, consciousness. Nothing can come near it. It has its own work to do. This awareness is an automatic aspect of the mind that already exists and that you discover when you train in the beginning stages of practice.
Whatever you see, whatever you do, notice everything. Do not put the meditation aside for a rest. Some people think they can stop as soon as they come out of a period of formal practice. Having stopped formal practice, they stop being attentive, stop contemplating. Do not do it that way. Whatever you see, you should contemplate. If you see good people or bad people, rich people or poor people, watch. When you see old people or small children, youngsters or adults, contemplate all of it. This is the heart of our practice.
In contemplating to seek the Dharma, you should observe the characteristics, the cause and effect, the play of all the objects of your senses, big and small, white and black, good and evil. If there is thinking, simply contemplate it as thinking. All these things are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty of self, so do not cling to them. Awareness is their graveyard; dump them all here. Then seeing the impermanence and emptiness of all things, you can put an end to suffering. Keep contemplating and examining this life.
Notice what happens when something good comes to you. Are you glad? You should contemplate that gladness. Perhaps you use something for a while and then start to dislike it, wanting to give it or sell it to someone else. If no one comes to buy it, you may even try to throw it away. Why are we like this? Our life is impermanent, constantly subject to change. You must look at its true characteristics. Once you completely understand just one of these incidents, you will understand them all. They are all of the same nature.
Perhaps you do not like a particular sight or sound. Make note of that-later, you may like it, you may become pleased with what formerly displeased you. Such things do happen. When you realize clearly that all such things are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not self, you will dump them all and attachment will not arise. When you see that all the various things that come to you are the same, there will be only Dharma arising.
Once having entered this stream and tasted liberation, you will not return, you will have gone beyond wrongdoing and wrong understanding. The mind, -the heart, will have turned, will have entered the stream, and it will not be able to fall back into suffering again. How could it fall? It has given up unskillful actions because it sees the danger in them and cannot again be made to do wrong in body or speech. It has entered the Way fully, knows its duties, knows its work, knows the Path, knows its own nature. It lets go of what needs to be let go of and keeps letting go without doubting.
All that I have said up to now has merely been words. When people come to see me, I have to say something. But it is best not to speak about these matters too much. Better to begin practice without delay. I am like a good friend inviting you to go somewhere. Do not hesitate, just get going. You won't regret it.
The Leaves will Always Fall
Every day or two, the open grounds and walkways of the monastery must be swept clear of the leaves that fall in every Asian season. For the large open areas, the monks will team up and, with long-handled bamboo brooms extended, sweep like a dust storm, clearing all the leaves in their path. Sweeping is so satisfying.
All the while, the forest continues to give its teachings. The leaves fall, the monks sweep, and yet, even while the sweeping continues and the near end of a long path is being cleared, the monks can look back to the far end they have already swept and see a new scattering of leaves already starting to cover their work.
"Our lives are like the breath, like the growing and falling leaves," says Achaan Chah. "When we can really understand about falling leaves, we can sweep the paths every day and have great happiness in our lives on this changing earth."