January 2023 Sesshin, Day 1: Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering by Ajahn Chah (trans. by Paul Breiter)
3:27PM Jan 19, 2023
This is the first day of this 7-day, January 2023 Rohatusu sesshin. And today I'm going to start reading from a book of talks given by Ajahn Chah. And I've read from this before at least once but some years ago, and its title is Everything Arises, Everything Falls Away: Teachings on Impermanence and the End of Suffering.
Ajahn Chah lived from 1919 to 1992. He was a Thai Buddhist master, part of the Thai Forest Tradition. The blurb on the back says his teachings were refreshingly uncompromising in their clarity and certainty. The certainty of a practitioner who has achieved a deep understanding of the Buddha's teaching, he was an important influence and spiritual mentor for a generation of American Buddhist teachers. So a lot of the leading lights in the Vipassana school in this country studied with John Cha. lived with him in in Thailand
he's really a simple straightforward man. Obviously, a man of tremendous courage and determination.
Going to begin right at the beginning,
this is first chapter, entitled understanding mind. And he says in meditation practice, we work to develop mindfulness, so that we will be constantly aware. Working with energy and patience, the mind can become firm. Then whatever since phenomena, we experience whether agreeable or disagreeable and whatever mental phenomena such as reactions of gladness or dejection, we will see them clearly. phenomena are one thing, and the mind is another. They are separate matters. Of course, he's using mind in the limited sense. This is not what Dugan was talking about when he said, You think your mind has ideas and concepts, but actually it is mountains and rivers, grasses and stones
this is this is actually the distinction the the insight that brought me to Zen. I was, I've told this story before, but not everyone has heard it. I was walking in the woods when I was very young, May 2021. And I saw a shelf mushroom growing from the trunk of a tree and said to a friend Oh, that's disgusting. And my friend said, well, Alan Watts would say it's your mind that's disgusting. And that just died. I immediately saw Yeah, that's what it is. Treatment mushroom is what it is. My mind was what it was. And that was sort of my my start.
says when something contacts the mind, and we are pleased by it, we want to pursue it. When something is displeasing, we want to escape from it. This is not seeing the mind, but running after phenomena. phenomena are phenomena. Mind is mind. Can say things are things we have to say operate them and recognize what the mind is, and what phenomena are, then we can be at ease. When someone speaks harshly to us and we get angry, it means that we are deluded by phenomena and are following after them. The mind is caught by its objects, and follows after its moods. Please understand, that all these things we experience externally and internally are nothing but deceptions, say illusions, delusions, they're nothing certain are true. And pursuing them, we lose our way. The Buddha wanted us to meditate and see the truth of them. The truth of the world. The world is the phenomena of the six senses, phenomena or the world.
How much time we spend pursuing things pursuing feelings, ideas, regretting the past
closing down to protect ourselves from the future.
Unaware of what's going on with our own minds.
John Shaw says, if we don't understand the Dharma, if we don't know the mind and don't know phenomena, then the mind and its objects get mixed together, then we experience suffering and feel that our minds are suffering. We feel our minds are wandering uncontrollably, experiencing different unhappy conditions changing into different states. That's not really the case. There aren't many minds, but many phenomena. But if we aren't aware of ourselves, we don't know our minds. And so we follow after these things. People say my mind is upset. My mind is unhappy. My mind is scattered. But that's not really true. The mind isn't anything, the defilements are. The mind isn't anything.
mountains and rivers, grasses and trees, joy and depression
fear and happiness. They all fall through. People think their minds aren't comfortable or happy. But actually the mind is the most comfortable and happy thing. When we experience the different unsatisfactory states that is not the mind. Make note of this. When you're experiencing these things in the future. Remember, I John Shaw said, this is not the mind. We are practicing to reach the mind. The old mind, it's in quotation marks. This original mind is unconditioned. In it there is no good or bad, long or short black or white. But we are not content to remain with this mind. Because we don't look at and understand things clearly. Dharma is the teaching the truth. Dharma is beyond the habits of the ordinary mind. Before we have trained well, we may mistake wrong for right and right for wrong. So it's necessary to listen to teaching to gain understanding of dharma, and to be able to recognize Dharma in our own mind. Foolish loot foolishness is in the mind, intelligence is in the mind, darkness and delusion exist in the mind, knowledge and illumination exist in the mind.
It's like a dirty plate in your home that's filthy with grime and grease or a dirty floor using soap and water to wash it. You can remove the dirt. When the dirt is gone. You have a clean plate or a clean floor. Here the thing that is soiled is the mind. When we practice correctly, a clean thing is found just like with the dirty floor that was made clean when the dirt is scrubbed off the condition of being Clean appears. It's only the dirt that obscures it
the Buddha said when he came to his great awakening, purported to have said, wonder of wonders. All beings are whole and complete, lacking nothing, but because their minds are turned upside down by adventitious defilements they fail to perceive this.
John Shaw says, the mind in its natural state, the true mind, is something that is stable and undefiled. It is bright and clean, it becomes obscured and defiled because it meets with sense objects and comes under their influence through liking and disliking. It's not that the mind is inherently defiled, but that it is not yet established in Dharma. So phenomena can stain it. The nature of the unreal the original mind is unwavering is tranquil. We are not tranquil, because we were excited over sense objects, and we end up as slaves to the changing mental states that result. So practice really means searching to find our way back to the original state. The old thing it is finding our old home, the original mind that does not waver and change following various phenomena. It is by nature perfectly peaceful, it is something that is already within us.
Something within everyone Roshi so fond of saying, Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot won't mention any Americans.
The next chapter is titled Understanding phenomenon. He says the causes for not being peaceful are within us, they manifest when we are deluded by internal and external phenomena. What we have to do is train the mind and correct view, we don't see correctly. So we are going a different way. And we are thus experiencing everything is too short, too long to something. Correct, means seeing the characteristics of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and lack of itself, in all we experienced meaning our bodies and minds. So these of course, impermanence. dukkha are unsatisfactory notes and lack of self. So the three characteristic characteristics of existence laid out by the Buddha
all things just as they are display the truth, but we have biases and preferences about how we want them to be. We are practicing to become like the Buddha, the knower of the world. And the world is these phenomena abiding as they are
it's not that we don't see things clearly. We may see one someone who's puffed up with pride or someone who's cynical or nasty in some way but we don't have that we don't need to have that extra judgment that extra Oh, yeah. Oh shit. That we bring to everything we dislike.
Sixth Patriarch said when others are wrong, I myself am wrong.
Says I see but I do not see. We see what needs to be done. We see things that need to be improved. But we don't need to have that reaction. Everything is the way it is because of causes and conditions. Everything is the way it needs to be. Even the things we can't bear to tolerate.
says when objects of mind arise, whether internally or externally, those are what we call sense phenomena or mental activity. The one who is aware of phenomena is called, well, whatever you want to call it is okay, you can call it mind. The phenomenon is one thing, and the one who knows it is another. It's like the eye in the form it sees. The eye isn't the objects, and the objects aren't the eye. The ear hears sounds, but the ear isn't the sound and the sound isn't the year, when there is contact between the two, then things happen. Our attitude toward these five skandhas are aggregates of existence. This is again the Buddha's basic teaching, all existence is can be divided up into five conglomerates, five aggregates, or five heaps, body sensations, perceptions, thoughts and consciousness says our attitude towards these heaps that we see right here should be one of dispassion and detachment, because they don't follow our wishes. I think that's probably enough. If they survive, we shouldn't be overly joyful to the point of forgetting ourselves. If they break up. We shouldn't be overly dejected by that. Recognizing this much should be enough.
practical terms it's probably not about being totally indifferent to things working out or not working out. But there has to be that understanding. In this world, things don't happen the way we want. These they certainly don't do that all the time. And they never will.
Can't get what you want. But you can want what you have to be okay with things as they are.
He says whether we are undertaking insight meditation or tranquility, meditation, just this is what it's really about. I think here with insight and tranquility, he's talking about the seventh and eighth step in the eightfold paths path. So mindfulness and concentration.
In most Vipassana teaching, it seems like the emphasis is on mindfulness. And of course, in the Zen school, the emphasis is on concentration, or Dianna, which is the root word that became Chan in China and Zen in Japan. But both are necessary. We can concentrate all we want, but if we're not aware, when the mind drifts, we have no ability to write the ship
It's been called the two wings.
Nowadays, it seems to me that when Buddhists talk about these things, according to the traditional explanations, it becomes vague and mixed up. But the truth isn't vague or mixed up. It remains as it is. So I feel it's better to seek out the source. Looking at the way things originate in the mind. There's not a lot to this. It is said, this world of beings ruled by aging and impermanence is not long lasting. Beings beings up means us. We are called human beings. There are beings different from us, such as animal beings, cattle and fowl, for example. But for all of them, aging is a fact of their existence, the decay of the various constituents of their physical bodies. These things are always changing. don't have freedom to remain, but must follow the way of Sankara conditioned phenomena. The way of conditioned phenomena, the world of beings is thus and we find ourselves always dissatisfied. Our emotions of love and hate, never bring us satisfaction. We never feel we have enough, but are always somehow obstructed. Simply speaking, as we say in our local idiom, we are people who don't know enough, we aren't satisfied to be what we are.
So common to bring this limited, liking and disliking mind into our practice. Even people who've made some real progress are subjected to liking and disliking, wanting things to be as they never can be.
He says we aren't satisfied to be what we are. So our minds waver endlessly, always changing into good and bad states with a different phenomena that we encounter, like a cow not satisfied with his own tail. With unstable minds, we are always in this unsatisfied state. No matter what we experience, we become slaves to desire. Being a slave is a state of great suffering. A slave must always obey the master, even when told to do something that might get him killed. But with our craving, we're always eager and willing to follow its orders. Because of our self cherishing habits, we are thus ruled. This world of beings actually has no ruler. It is we ourselves who rule our own lives, because we have the power to decide on doing good or doing evil. No one else does these for us. This world of beings has nothing of its own. Nothing belongs to anyone. Seeing this with correct view, we will release our grip, just letting things be coming into this world and realizing its limitations. We do our business. We seek a prophet in the way of building paramitas, the spiritual perfections This is the Tera Vaada term that same as the paramita has the perfections of giving of morality, compassion, concentration, etc.
Next chapter entitled that's about right. Where is the Dharma? The entire Dharma is sitting here with us. Whatever you experience is right just as it is.
In cheese said as it is whole and complete, this sense world is enlightenment. When you've gotten old, don't think that something wrong when your back is aching. Don't think that some kind of mistake. If you're suffering, don't think that's wrong. If you're happy, don't think that's wrong. All of this is dharma. Suffering is merely suffering. Happiness is merely happiness. Hot is merely hot, cold, merely cold. It's not that I am happy, I am suffering. I am good. I am bad I gained something I lost something. What is there that can be lost by a person is nothing at all. Gaining something as Dharma losing it as dharma. Being happy and comfortable is dharma. being ill at ease is dharma means not grasping on to these conditions, but recognizing what they are. So common when we feel scattered or awkward or ill at ease, to scramble to start to panic. It's just a condition The way out is not suppression. It's clarity just to see, see what's there? What's it about? When we're young, so easy to be embarrassed, self-conscious say the wrong thing or do something awkward trip and fall. Our faces flush. Look for ways to cover it up.
But it's all okay.
We don't have to have that reaction because of our own wrong views. We feel that way. Roshi told me he wants was giving a talk. And he decided to sort of give a little case example, to stumble on his way up to the stage. So he sort of made himself trip on the stairs and sprawled out and then wanted to bring that up as a topic, said, it just nobody could get over that. It just it colored everybody's view. And I don't think he tried that again. But I admire his creativity. Maybe the message got through to someone
says it means not grasping on to all these conditions, but recognizing what they are. If you have happiness, you realize, oh, happiness is not permanent. If you are suffering, you realize, oh, suffering is not permanent. Oh, this is really good. That's not permanent. This is bad, really bad, not permanent. They have their limits, so don't hold so firmly onto them. People who are miserable feel like they'll always be miserable. People for whom everything goes smoothly, feel like they'll always be okay. But life is change. Nothing is permanent.
He says, The Buddha taught about impermanence. This is the way things are. They don't follow anyone's wishes. That is noble truth. Impermanence rules the world. And that is something permanent. This is the point we are deluded at. So this is where you should be looking. Whatever occurs, recognize it is right.
There is another odd John that maybe his name is John Brown, find a saying right now, it's like this. It's a nice little mantra
things are always just like this
whatever occurs recognize it is right. Everything is right in its own nature, which is ceaseless motion and change. Our bodies exist Thus, all phenomena of body and mind exists thus, we can't stop them. They can't be stilled, not being stilled means their nature of impermanence. If we don't struggle with this reality, then wherever we are, we will be happy. Wherever we sit, we are happy. Wherever we sleep, we are happy. Even when we get old, we won't make a big deal out of it. You stand up and your back hurts. And you think, yeah, that's about right. It's right. So don't fight it. When the pain stops, you might think that's better. But it's not better. You're still alive. So it's going to hurt again. This is the way it is. So you have to keep turning your mind to this contemplation and not let it back away from the practice. So hard to do. To accept the good and the bad and to accept the impermanence of everything. We all want to get someplace where we're going to be safe and happy. Get a good grade. Get some sort of recognition. Do not have to struggle. We never had to struggle. But if we trying to make things be the way we like them, we'll never stop struggling. We think we know this. I don't think I'm telling anybody, anything they haven't heard before. But we haven't really accepted it all the way in our heart. But it does over time. It seeps in. We get the long view, we get a sense of dispassion, we know that things aren't certain. Joy today can be sorrow tomorrow. Sorrow can change joy.
Someone said life is only lived over the abyss.
says keep steadily at it. And don't trust in things too much. Trust the Dharma instead, that life is like this. Don't believe in happiness. Don't believe in suffering. Don't get stuck in following after anything. With this kind of foundation, then whatever occurs, nevermind, it isn't anything permanent. It isn't anything certain. The world is like this. Then there is a path for us a path to manage our lives and protect ourselves with mindfulness and clear awareness of ourselves with all encompassing wisdom. That is the path in harmony. Nothing can deceive us, because we are entered the we have entered the path. Constantly looking here, we are meeting the Dharma at all times.
We start making a story out of our suffering or our happiness. We catch ourselves we notice
and as he says the one thing we can rely on is the Dharma the way things are.
Time to start one more. Chapter here is entitled Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. He says you could say that we are sentient beings working to become awakening beings bodhisattvas this is just the same as the Lord Buddha did. We we recite think during the repentance ceremony. What is Buddhas and Bodhisattvas in the past were like us, and we will in the future become Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. We're all on this path. When the mind is obscured by desire, aversion and delusion, that is a sentient being. That's my sentient being always mean an enlightened being. But when we have the Brahma Vihara, the divine abiding things of loving kindness, compassion, empathetic joy and equanimity established in our hearts, then we can be called excellent beings, or we could also be called Bodhisattvas. My favorite of the Divine abodes is mudita, which is the Sanskrit word for empathetic joy. Such a confirming thing when we feel joy and other people's success. I can remember when my first response was always envy.
He says even beings without such qualities can develop them and eventually become enlightened. In the past, the one who was to become the Buddha was also merely a human being, but he developed himself to be an extrordinary being one who was suffused with the Brahma viharas and thus he was called the bodhisattva. Then through his persistent contemplation to know the truth, to know the facts of impermanence, suffering and lack of a self He attained to full knowledge and was awakened as the Buddha. So don't get the idea that there was only one Buddha, the one Buddha is actually the truth. The Sokka Dhamma Yes, it's a Pali term and whoever is awakened to that is Buddha there may be hundreds or 1000s of Buddha's but they will all follow in this same tract track that have correct view yes, there is one Buddha meaning right view whoever awakens to that is not different from the Buddha. So the Buddha and sentient beings are not far apart. This is something to be realized within realizing the truth of original mind we will see that it is impossible to describe or give to another there is no way to show it nothing to compare it to is beyond speech or concept teaching others we rely on externals to transmit ideas but realization of the truth must be accomplished by each individual Zen we say it's like the finger pointing to the moon teaching beyond words and concepts this mind
no matter what your practice is looking into this mind
what is it
what is it that's free and unstained sees things as they are responds
hears with no intention to hear sees with no intention to see.
Everything is arranged for us this week to look directly to cut off our concerns with the past and the future
sink into what we are put aside all our concerns no longer following the drama of politics conference conflict
no longer bombarded by social media
have this chance to let the mind settle let it shine
the mind becomes completely still the truth will shine forth
our time is up, stop now and recite the four vows.