January 2022 Sesshin, Day 4: "Being Dharma" by Ajahn Chah
8:57PM Jan 18, 2022
This is the fourth day of this January 2022 seven-day Rohatusu sesshin. And today we're going to turn to a book with the teachings of Ajahn Chah, the Thai Forest master - died about 30 years ago. The title of this book is Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings. And I'll read a little bit from the introduction just about Ajahn Chah.
So this is from a foreword written by Jack Kornfield. It says when the first western disciples arrived at what pop Pong in the 1960s John chod did not give them the special admiration and treatment that Western monks often received in Thailand. He did not excuse them from any of the demanding challenges and strict training of the monastery, seated on a wooden bench at the foot of his cottage in the center of a huge forest. He peered at them like a watchmaker taking off the cover of an intriguing new piece, and demanded to know whether they understood suffering, or how to find peace in this world. Then he would laugh in welcome and bid them to listen, and if they dared to join him in practice for a while.
In those years, the monastic community was relatively small, and I John Cha was still unknown as a teacher. 25 years later, he had become one of the most honored and revered forest masters of the century. And in 1993, nearly a million people joined the king and queen of Thailand at his funeral, in order to pay their last respects at his temple. By then, is influenced and spread worldwide with 100 branch monasteries and respected disciples teaching internationally.
A little bit more about him, this is written by the translator of this book, who, by the way, not listed on the cover, but yeah, translated by Paul brighter. Both Jack Kornfield and Paul brighter studied with John Cha. In fact, in the book, there's a picture of the two of them and I, John semedo, was one of his other Western disciples now a teacher
so he says, I, John char, constantly pushed people past what they were likely to consider their limits. The practice in his monasteries did not always follow what might seem to be reasonable. And the routine was always changing. He sometimes recounted his own difficulties in practice, and the resolve with which he faced them and spurred himself on. And this is his words I, John, ciao. Before I started to practice, I thought to myself, the Buddhist religion is here, available for all it Why do only some people practice it? Well, there's don't. Or if they do practice, they only do so for a short while, and then give it up. Those who don't give it up, still don't knuckle down and do the practice. Why is this? So I resolved myself, okay. I'll give up body and mind for this lifetime. And try to follow the teachings of the Buddha down to the light to the last detail. I'll reach understanding in this lifetime. Because if I don't, I'll still be sunk in suffering. I'll let go of everything else and make a determined effort. No matter how much difficulty or suffering I have to endure, I'll persevere. If I don't do it, I'll just keep on doubting. Thinking like this, I got down to practice. No matter how much difficulty I had to endure, I did it. I looked on my whole life, as if it were only one day and a night. I gave it up. I'll follow the teachings of the Buddha. I'll follow the Dharma to understand why this world is so wretched. I wanted to know, I wanted to see the truth, so I turned to the practice of dharma.
While he was most tolerant of people's shortcomings and limitations, he always wanted his disciples to make as much effort as they possibly could, simply for the goal of escaping from the clutches of Mara the evil one. For anyone who doesn't know Mara is the Buddhist sort of equivalent of Satan attempter Mara, who holds us prisoner in this realm of suffering, he did not see this as something easily accomplished. If practicing Dharma were easy, everyone would be doing it he often said, but it's really the only thing worth doing with a human life.
Little further on, John Chow often speaks about heedlessness. By that term, he means a careless, unaware approach to living and he notes that it is often compounded by comforts. But instill until one starts to do without such things. These links remain hidden. Soft living tends to make the mind soft. He spoke about the simple way of life in the not too distant past in Thailand. Before when the country was not developed. Everyone built their toilets on distance from the house out in the forest. You had to walk out there to use it. But now the toilet has to be in the house. city people even have to have an right where they sleep. So the concept struck him as funny. laughing He said, People think that will make them more comfortable and happy to have a toilet in their bedroom. But it doesn't really bring happiness. And it increases the habit of laziness. Reminds me what the Dalai Lama said the West has perfected samsara.
His way of training was not meant to be an endurance test. However, when he saw disciples making great efforts in a mindless mechanical way, he would correct them. And he was never ambiguous about where the emphasis should lie. After the Buddha's years of fruitless asceticism, he came to realize the way to liberation lay in the mind. The body itself was just a material object incapable of enlightenment, was not also not something evil, that hindered spiritual development and needed to be tortured or weekend. This is as much a deviation is trying to beautify the body and seeking happiness through sensual pleasure and social approval. So the role of asceticism and creating simplicity and non involvement in confusion, not deprivation for its own sake. So the role of asceticism is in creating simplicity and statements such as destroy your body, or destroy the world, to not literally refer to suicide or nuclear weapons, but in the context of meditation, and I John Chas, lively ways of teaching, to destroying attachment to these things.
John Chow was not afraid to test the extremes in his own practice. And he saw this experience as instructional for himself. He sometimes pushed people to very difficult limits and beyond. Such methods can be painful to undergo, but one comes to see where the mind holds on and limits itself. And to see that the real suffering comes from the minds attachments, fears and preconceptions. Here's one of the valuable one of the valuable things about sesshin is the difficulties that we run into, obviously, the first most obvious is physical pain, but there's others loneliness, discouragement, despair, to go through these things and to see their nature to understand how involved our own preconceptions that ideas are in the suffering that they bring. It's extremely valuable. And it's true even outside of the machine, everything in life that we have trouble with, can teach us. And the great thing is you don't have to go looking for it, it'll come and find you.
He did not recommend fasting vows of silence or avoiding contact with others. He said, We practice with our eyes open. If avoiding people and since contact with a way to enlightenment, the blind and the deaf should be enlightened. Wisdom is to be found in the realm of sense contact. The world is transcended by knowing the world, not by avoiding it. Living in close quarters with others, in the same routines day after day, which is the way of life in his monasteries can reveal a lot about one's habits, and the way one creates suffering for oneself. He often said, if it's hot and difficult, that's it. That's the place of practice.
Now will turn directly to his words.
He says, if we just have mindfulness and clear comprehension of ourselves, we can do the practice. Some will think I have no time to meditate, I have to sell things. Here. Of course, he's talking to lay people. Hey, when you're doing business do you breathe. If you have time to breathe, you have time to practice dharma. Meditation is nothing but this awareness and sensitivity. But when you talk about meditating while you sell people thinks it means to sit down in the market and close your eyes. Awareness means knowing what you're doing at the moment. Today, did you speak act and think wrongly, if you have mindfulness, you must know is so difficult to do is to maintain awareness through the day. So many of us struggle with moving from the mat into daily life. And sometimes people sort of give up they just say, well, that's the way I am. Maybe maybe not out loud, maybe not even out loud, even to themselves. But at certain point, they just go oh, well, it just I just can't seem to do this. But that's not the case. If you keep at it, if you catch yourself, even if it's infrequently at first, and turn the mind back to whatever your practice is. Maintain your awareness know what you're doing. And don't be lost in thoughts. Keep at that, it gets better. And it makes a difference makes a huge difference. He says so don't think that practicing dharma means you have to ordain and live in a monastery. When you are doing business or housework, writing or whatever. It is the same as with the breath. You don't need to set aside time just to do that. Even when you sleep you breathe. Why breathing is critical to life. Actually breath breath is an extremely refined nutrient. We can't do without it for two minutes. The finest delicacy we can do without for two hours or two weeks. But how far can we go without breath? So the Buddha told us to contemplate the breath in and out. All parts of the body depend on it. It is the supreme food. When you contemplate you see how valuable and precious it is for you better than money, gold or diamonds. If it exits and doesn't enter, your life is over. If it enters and does not exit, you're dead. Seeing the frailty of your life, through seeing the breath is the meditation on the recollection, recollection of death. Just realizing this fact that if the breath goes in but does not go out again, it goes out but does not come in again. Your life is over is enough to change the mind will startle you into being awake. Your outlook will be transformed and your behavior will change accordingly. You will fear wrong actions and have a sense of shame of craving or hatred, excuse me, have a sense of shame toward them, you won't be so inclined to follow your impulses of craving or hatred. Mindfulness will naturally increase and wisdom will come rushing to assist you, teaching you many things.
So much we can learn through awareness may not be able to tell anybody else what it is. But we learn the way things are.
He says, take an interest in your breath, said mindfulness on it, and many kinds of wisdom will arise. It is easy, because we all have breath. When you lie down, you can fix attention on it until you fall asleep. This is truly easy. Well, it's easy to work at it. It will make the mind clean and peaceful. No matter if you are an ordained person or a lay person. Meditation is something to help us get beyond suffering. We can see what is right and wrong. But if we don't practice, we don't see clearly. Whatever we do, we should do it with knowledge. This is how the Buddha wanted his disciples to live. Of course in Zen practice, not everyone is meditating on the breath. Although almost all of us begin with that as a foundational practice. But the same factors play out with koan work shikantaza. As long as the attention is close and careful and thorough, we make that effort to sustain it. Work out in this way.
And we move to a section entitled the trappers snare no aches and pains in the body, no fever or sickness, can there be such a thing? We beings are caught, caught in the snares of Mara the evil one. If we are caught in the snare, Mara can do anything to us. He can afflict us in our eyes, our ears, our limbs, anywhere. Truly all of us are living in a fragile, complicated, amazingly, put together instrument, the human body. The more you learn about it, the more amazing it is. It's almost like a Rube Goldberg machine. Right down to the cellular level. And deeper, deeper still. It's amazing that it works. But it is fragile. He says, Mark can afflict us in her eyes, our ears, our limbs anywhere. It is the same as when someone sets a snare for animals, digs a trappers pit, or baits a hook. When a bird comes to eat and is caught, what can it do? The snare has it by the neck, we're gonna go tries to fly but it can't get away. struggles but it can't break the snare. Then the hunter, the owner of the trap arrives, he sees the bird caught in the snare just as he had hoped. Grabs the bird struggles and if it tries to nip the hunter or peck at him, he can break its beak may try to fly but he can break its wings frantically tries to run, he can break its legs. The owner of the snare has all the authority here, however the bird tries to get away, there is no escaping. Likewise, we are caught in a trap. The Lord Buddha was the one who saw and knew clearly according to the truth. He was a prince and heir to the throne, who enjoyed all the royal treasures and privileges. When he saw what things were really like he renounced everything. He clearly and unmistakably saw the nature of ordinary existence, and without any regrets left it behind. Seeing it as danger he fled, having been born, caught by birth, he saw that he was like a bird caught in a snare. The noose was around his neck. He saw the liability so he left it all just walked away. Thus, after his enlightenment, he pointed this out, showing what is harmful and what is beneficial in this way. realm of uncertainty, he would not allow himself to be submerged and drown in it. He refused to die there, he would not agree to be caught in the noose. So he was able to renounce the world and remove himself from it. Having seen having attained realization, he then taught us to know about these things.
Still, though we explain the faults and dangerous, the obscurations of people, prevent them from seeing. The mind is so thick, so dark, it just stays like that, and keeps on accumulating afflictions and desires. In all these dharmas if we investigate, we can see the liability and suffering in them. Justin is just as it is sad, Birth is suffering. We are born into this world do we suffer, we have contracted birth, we have arms and legs, eyes and ears. All these things coming into existence are just suffering coming into existence, then we have to find a way to get by struggled to support ourselves, raise a family and so forth. We contact something and become stuck in attachment. We touch something else and get mired in that. There's headache and worry about ourselves. anxiety over children, concern over wealth and possessions.
Having been born, anything can degenerate at any time. The ears can degenerate into deafness, the eyes can lose their sight. Pain can afflict the limbs or any other parts of the body. We cannot soar away because we are caught in the snare. The snare of the trapper is up to the trapper now to do as he wishes were in the trap. He can take care of us and raise us or he can break our beaks break our wings. This trap represents the demon of the aggregates, or the demon of the afflictions. The aggregates are the scandals, also referred to as the scandalous are heaps. Basically the components of our lives, form, consciousness etc.
Hear the mass of humans do not understand the Dharma and only want to escape from reality. They strive to avoid it and struggled to get away. They don't want it to be the way it is, but wish for it to be otherwise. So it leads to suffering by way of sensual desire, desire for becoming, and desire not to be. It's basic Buddhist teaching.
So the Buddha taught us to analyze the body to give rise to dispassion, detachment, and disenchantment and to see that these conditions are not a being an individual or a self. Our true self is no self. It's like when we are working in the fields. We put up a scarecrow when the rice is maturing, so the birds want the light to eat the crop. We gather grass and sticks tie it all together covered with a shirt and pants, and the birds are afraid they won't eat the rice now, scarecrow is helping us. Now the rice has a chance to ripen, then we can harvest it and the job is done. But actually it was only a skeleton of grass and sticks. Once we've harvested the rice we can discard the Scarecrow there in the patty. That's all there is to it. We are just like the Scarecrow. When consciousness leaves this body, there's nothing, no different from the skeleton of grass. The Scarecrow in the field does not go anywhere. And ultimately, it is just discarded there. But now we can move. We can go places. We have all sorts of thoughts and feelings and desires to do things and travel about. We think about going and we go. We think about staying so we stay. We want to sing and dance and play according to the way of the world. To put it simply, it's just as if we are waiting for the day of death. The harvest time comes the crop has reaped the rice gathered and carted away and the scarecrow is discarded in the field. When the day of harvesting comes we depart. Someone who doesn't know the beginning or end of things will feel elation and depression and go on spinning around. Not wanting to have illness when he gets sick. Not wanting to get old when he gets old, not wanting to die when he dies. Not wanting life to disappear. But things are like this. We don't understand the law of nature and we want things to be stable and permanent. This is me that is her. Everything is seen in terms of me and mine. And Dharma is never contemplated. The point is, when it gets to the end, everyone must leave it all behind. material gain, reputation, praise, whatever happiness or suffering there is, it is all left here in the world. They are all worldly accomplishments.
course we all know this stuff. Can basic Buddhist teaching? But how close to home does it hit? How deeply can we take it in? The Buddha taught in this way. Because he saw the value of really taking it to heart, really understanding the situation that we're in the short term it can be disturbing. People find it depressing. Heard Buddhism characterized as a gloomy religion it's a religion that tells the truth. This is the way things are. When we know it, when we've got it in our bones, when we understand how precious this one opportunity is, then we can apply ourselves. Then we have some strength, some motivation, some understanding.
Some people hear this sort of thing. And then they immediately begin to beat themselves up and say, Well, I just don't do that I don't have the character I don't I'm just a bad practitioner. It's always about moving along the path, seeing the need seeing the direction that we want to go in. It's the nature of aspiration. It's I'm going to go this way. This is where I'm going. This is the thing that I value. What I'm going to work toward and Roshi told me the story of another teacher he met I think I've mentioned this before, who said, you know, I came to realize I'm not a very good practitioner. Not very good at this, but I'm gonna keep it up. Fact any kind of judgment about ourselves is a hindrance to think we're good at it. To think we're average, to think we're poor. It's all nonsense.
when harvest time comes the scarecrow is discarded in the field. When the day of harvesting comes, we depart. Someone who doesn't know the beginning or end of things will feel elation, and depression and go on spinning around. We it's amazing how normal it is to become disturbed by the things that we know to expect. Getting sick, getting old, getting old, especially what what did you expect? I guess you could die young if you'd rather do that.
But it's human, I guess. Call it human. He says we don't understand the law of nature. And we want things to be stable and permanent. This is me that is her. Everything is seen in terms of me and mine. And Dharma is never contemplated. We're so wrapped up in our identity, this world of self and other we know the teaching can even have a glimpse into the reality that there is no self and no other. Still, we're caught by it because of our long long habit.
He says looking at Dharma don't look far away. You look far away, you won't see. When you have doubts about Dharma, look at yourself, look at this body in this mind. What is there that ascertain are reliable. To what extent are they yourself? How much essence do they have? How stable how permanent or long lasting are they? There's no such part that is like this. We have hair and it will Gray, we have teeth, and they will decay and fall out. The ears will lose their hearing, vision will weaken, the skin will become wrinkled and dry. Why is it like this? Because we have no power to force things to be the way we want. They follow their own conditions, and don't listen to the commands of anyone. It's like a river that flows to the south. If we see it, and want it to flow in the other direction, can that happen? There can only be frustration, then the water flows south, and we want it to flow north. When will this ever be resolved? Is the water wrong? Or are we wrong? It's just a way to create frustration. Nature is like that things following their laws, no matter how much we wish to force it to be otherwise, it just continues on in that way. What should we do? If we think like this, where can we find happiness, that river flows on in the same direction, thinking we cannot make a change, trying to do something about it. We find it as beyond our ability. So the Buddha wanted us to practice meditation, to listen to the Dharma and investigate and to see according to the truth, the truth of the river. If it flows south, let it flow flow that way, don't fight it. If there is a person with the eye of wisdom, who stands by the river, sees it flowing south, and can accept that because it is just the nature of things, there is no conflict or frustration. The water flows in its way. And that's all there is to it. That is dharma. That is nature. There is aging sickness and death. In the beginning there is birth, in the middle aging, and in the end breaking up and disappearing. Those who can contemplate and see the truth of this will be at peace.
When we're young, it's much harder to take in the idea of one's death. There's just so much time ahead of us. There are some some people to whom that realization comes a little more quickly. But as you get older, you really begin to get a feeling for it. See, so many people that you knew through are gone. So one of the advantages of Getting old is being able to see what's going on to understand it in your bones. Of course, for some people who can't accept the way the river flows, it's just more misery, a fight against it and make themselves unhappier than they already were.
gonna skip ahead here
here he's talking about meditation practice. This was from part of a lecture at a retreat at the Insight Meditation Society, which is in barre Massachusetts, sort of the big Vipassana centers in this country. He says when developing Samadhi that is absorption concentration. Fix your attention on the breath and Imagine you're sitting alone with no other people and nothing else around to bother you. develop this perception, sustaining it until the mind completely lets go of the world outside. And all that is left is simply the awareness of the breath entering and leaving. The mind must set aside the external world. Don't allow yourself to start thinking about the people sitting around you. Says basic instruction for machine Sheng yen says the same thing. Sit as if you're the only person in the Zendo still, you see people looking around during Kaneen maybe casting glances here and there. Don't do that. Don't sell yourself short. It's cheap. habit, you have this habit of going outside. If the only way to overcome it is develop the habit of staying here, staying present. One habit will replace another, but you have to be persistent, you have to continue. Little bit of effort followed by going back to our standard patterns isn't going to do the job
it's not like we have to suddenly make a blinding resolution and never again stray. It's just going in that direction. knowing which direction we want to go in. finding opportunities to keep it real to keep it here. Letting go of the distractions that seem like they'd be pleasant. Being willing to sit with discomfort. Joko Beck says being willing to rest on the icy couch
says the mind must set aside the external world. Don't you allow yourself to start start thinking thoughts about the people sitting around you. Don't give opportunity to any thoughts that will stir the mind. It's better to throw them out and be done with them. There is no one else here you are sitting all alone.
develop this perception until all memories and thoughts concerning people and things subside and you're no longer taking an interest in such externals, then you can fix your attention solely on the in and out breaths. Breathe normally allow the inhalations and exhalations to continue naturally, without forcing them to be longer or shorter, stronger or weaker than normal. Allow the breath to continue normally and smoothly observing, entering and leaving the body. Of course, this is exactly the way that we teach breath practice here. There are other systems and other systems work. But this is this is really basic a great deal of value in learning to let the breath take its natural pattern. Truly training and not trying to control everything. Learning that you can be intimately aware of something without having to affect it, shape it and let it blossom naturally see what's there.
He says once the mind is let go of external objects, you will no longer feel disturbed by the sounds of traffic or other noises. You won't feel irritated with anything outside. Whether it's forums sounds or whatever, they won't be a source of disturbance, because the mind won't be paying attention to them as it becomes centered upon the breath. Because anytime you're finding something distracting and hard to put up with, it's simply lack of focus. It's amazing how when you were tired enough, you can sleep even when there's all kinds of noise going on. The toughest thing to set aside of course is the voices of other people if people are talking in the sun, in this Zendo people will walk down the street down Arnold Park and summer evening. windows are open and entire conversations go on right? Maybe 2030 feet away from us. It's always an interesting practice to turn the mind to the practice you can get so you don't actually hear what they're saying. Just like in a Charlie Brown cartoon, where every now and then it gets a little too rockets and noisy I went out once as a head monitor and told the people you know they're 30 people sitting 20 feet away. You can hear every word you're saying. They move the walk
if the mind is agitated by different things and you can't concentrate, try taking an action Deep breath until the lungs are completely full. Then release all the air until there is none left inside. Do this several times then re establish awareness and continue to develop concentration. Having established mindfulness, it is normal that for a period the mind will be calm that it will become distracted again. When this happens, bring it back. Take another deep breath and expel all the air from your lungs. Fill the lungs to capacity again for a moment, then re establish mindfulness of the breath fix your mindfulness on the inhalations and exhalations once more
the practice tends to go like this. So it may take many sittings and a lot of effort before you become proficient. Once you are the mind will let go of the external world and remain undisturbed external phenomenon will be unable to penetrate inside and disturb the mind when they cannot penetrate you will see the mind
this is somebody this is how people resolve their code
this is when you become as they say accident prone.
Okay, our time is up. So we will stop here and recite the four vows