January 2022 Sesshin, Day 5: "Being Dharma" by Ajahn Chah
8:57PM Jan 18, 2022
This is the fifth day of this January 2022, seven day Rohatusu sesshin. And today I'm going to continue reading from the book Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings. The words of Ajahn Chah, translated by Paul Brighter.
I'm gonna pick up this morning with a talk that he gave in Barre Massachusetts, in 1979. This was a talk to Vipassana practitioners. And he says, practicing here this evening, we have meditated together for an hour and now stopped. It might be that your mind has stopped practicing completely, and hasn't continued with the reflection. That's not the right way to do it. When we stop, all that should stop is the formal sitting meditation.
Such an important point. Our practice needs to continue outside of the Zendo off the mat.
It's why in sesshin, the monitors remind us when we go to meals before the work period, continue to practice. To continue with the koan, if we're working on a koan just to become one with whatever we're doing. Any other practice
and not only in machine, of course, this is what we aspire to do throughout our lives. This is what changes our lives completely is one we can bring the same awareness that's a little easier to cultivate on the mat. Bring it into our life, to our family, to our relationships, to our work, play. Whatever we're doing, to be aware, not to be swept up into thoughts
swept unknowingly into thoughts.
He says, Keep a state of meditation and reflection going at all times. Just taking a walk and seeing dead leaves on the ground can provide an opportunity to contemplate impermanence. We are no different from the leaves. When we get old, we are going to shrivel up and die. Other people are the same. We should make efforts to raise the mind to the level of constant contemplation and awareness like this. Whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down. These are the four postures walking, standing, sitting lying down. says this is practicing meditation correctly, following the mind carefully at all times. I've often said that if you don't practice consistently, it's like drops of water. The practice is not a continuous, uninterrupted flow. mindfulness or awareness is not sustained evenly. The important point is that the mind does the practice and nothing else. The body doesn't do it, the mind does the work. If you understand this, clearly, you will see that you don't always have to be in formal meditation for the mind to know Samadhi.
So hard to do to maintain awareness when we're not sitting. I think it's so hard to do that a lot of people maybe unconsciously just stop trying. The thing about practice is that what gets us over the hump is trying. Even if we fail, we need to keep at it. And just a little bit maybe things will start to get more seamless will begin to notice thoughts during our daily rounds in our lives more quickly than we did before. I'm sure everybody has had this experience. But still, it's hit it's hitting Miss it's intermittent. So we need to keep working
he says if you are maintaining mindfulness as an even an unblock broken flow, it's as if the drops of water have joined to form a smooth and continuous stream. Mindfulness is present from moment to moment. And accordingly, there will be awareness of mental objects at all times. Of course, by mental objects, we mean primarily thoughts will know when a thought has come into the mind. If you miss it, you're carried off. And then it takes a while to wake back up. And that waking back up is not really under your control, because you're lost in thought. If the mind is restrained and composed with uninterrupted mindfulness, you will know the wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise. You will know the mind that is calm, and the mind that is confused and agitated. Wherever you go, you will be practicing. If you train the mind in this way, your meditation will mature quickly and successfully.
You will know the wholesome and unwholesome mental states that arise you'll know when you're getting irritated. There are many people who are unfailingly polite, and their irritation is just floating underneath the surface. And I say unfailingly polite, I mean, they're not unfailingly polite, because when that irritation erupts, then they snap, it's out of proportion. It all comes back to not being aware what's really going on what you're feeling what you're thinking.
This type of awareness is truly a characteristic of Zen practice. Tension to where we place our shoes wareness while we're bowing.
One of the areas that people sometimes work on during term intensives is just eating at meals. Breaking the Habit of fork in one hand and a book in the other hand, or perhaps a fork in one hand, and the phone in the other hand. So many areas in modern life where our attention can leak away. We're encouraged to multitask. To forget that we're there.
He says Please don't misunderstand. These days. It's common for people to go on retreats for several days where they don't have to speak or do anything but meditate.
Maybe you have been on a silent retreat for a week or two. Returning afterward to your normal life. You might leave thinking you've done this the pasta for us we've practices in and because you feel you know what it's all about, you return to the old habits of sensual indulgence. When you do this, what happens? Before long, none of the fruits of the pasta will be left. If you do a lot of unskillful things that disturb and upset the mind wasting everything. The next year you go back, do another retreat for several days or weeks, come out and carry on partying and drinking. This isn't the path to progress
so you need to contemplate until you see the harmful effects of such behavior. This is what is meant by renunciation where it all starts is just noticing when I do this what happens when I stay up too late. doing things that I don't even really enjoy. How do I feel the next day? How is it when I get on the mat? How quickly can I take the practice backup? Just noticing these things helps us to make that decision that no, I'm going to change some things. I'm just going to drift with inclinations. What seems easy. We do that, of course, we're overcome with the power of habit. And of course, there are habits that are helpful. It's helpful to have the habit of brushing your teeth, helpful to have the habit of getting on the mat. So many other things, that when we look at them, we realize no, that's that's not what I actually want to be doing. He says, see the harm in drinking and going out on the town, reflect and see the harm inherent in all the different kinds of unskillful behavior you're accustomed to indulging in until that hand harm becomes fully apparent.
Ask yourself, ask yourself, what do I value I have to be careful to make this not make this into an exercise in beating ourselves up and pushing ourselves harder than we're really willing to be pushed. But in most cases, we could be pushing a whole lot harder. And in the end, we probably be a whole lot happier.
Reflect and see the harm inherent in all these behaviors. This will provide the impetus for you to take a step back and change your ways, then you will find some real peace. To realize peace of mind. You have to see clearly the disadvantages and pitfalls and such forms of behavior. This is practicing in the correct way. If you do a silent retreat for seven days where you don't have to speak or get involved with anyone, and then are chatting, gossiping and indulging all over for another seven months, how will you gain any real or lasting benefit from those seven days of meditation? The point that Roshi makes far sitting doesn't carry over into our lives. What is the point says I would encourage all of you to try to understand this point. It is necessary to speak in this way. So habits that are faulty become clearer to you. And thus you will be able to give them up. You could say the reason you came here is to learn how to avoid doing the wrong things in the future. What happens when you do the wrong things? It leads you to a state of agitation and suffering where there is no goodness in the mind. It's not the way to peace. This is how it is. But many places where meditation is taught don't come to grips with it. Really, you have to conduct your daily life and it consistently calm and restrained way.
Common restrained but not rigid, natural and free flowing. Back in the early 70s. Maybe it was even the late 60s When I was here at the center. Many people were trying to practice all the time. And sometimes it got carried to extremes. There was one couple that lived near us and they would during the day we would see them going from place to place walking and Keeney.
But as ridiculous as it seemed still there is an impetus to practice you have to respect that. But is it something that's sustained? Something that fits that's natural. We can be incredibly serious about practice and still be open and caring and enjoy things. Spend time with friends. It's not that we're all going to become rec looses. But that that determination to see what the mind is doing to know when thoughts creep in. That's that's something that we can't stop cultivate.
He says this is a form of reminder to you all. So I will ask your forgiveness. Some of you might feel I'm scolding you, the old monk is telling us off. But it's not like that is just that you may need reminders because in meditation, you have to be constantly turning your attention to the practice. Please try to practice consistently see the disadvantages of practicing inconsistently, and insincerely and try to sustain a dedicated and continuous effort in the practice that it can become a realistic possibility that you might put an end to the mental afflictions.
Moving on to another section a little back and forth between John John a student to start this off. And the student says, from what you were saying, it sounds like there is something else outside of the five aggregates. five aggregates are also known as the five skandhas.
Form feeling, perception, conceptualization and consciousness are five short names for each of the five skandhas is the Buddhist teaching where we think there is a self there's only the Skandhas the heaps it all that there is no self. So he says, It sounds like there is something else outside of the five aggregates is it called original mind or, and John Shaw says it's not called anything, all of that is finished. Someone may want to call it original something or other, but it is all done. It is all done with exhausted, the original things are exhausted. So it's not called original mind. John Chow says it's a convention we can say that. If we don't have any conventions, then there is nothing to talk about. No original or old or new or whatever. Anything we speak about. All those designations such as old or new are just convention. Without convention, there is no way to gain understanding, but you should know the limits of it. Mr. Mu mon said, Don't you know that after uttering the word Buddha, you must rinse out your mouth for three days. If a true Zen person hears this very mind is Buddha, she will cover her ears and runaway.
And yet, we need to use those words we need the finger pointing to the moon in order to know how to practice. The student says how much Samadhi is necessary to reach this kind of understanding. And John Shaw says, enough to have control of the mind. Without Samadhi what will you be able to do without a well focused mind you won't reach this point. It should be enough to be able to see enough for wisdom to arise. I don't know how to measure how much what degree of tranquility does the mind need to attain, let's say to the degree where you no longer have any doubt. And by that we could take it to mean no longer have concerns about conditions. You no longer standing outside yourself looking at how you're doing to the degree that you forget yourself. He says that's enough. If you ask I have to answer like this. And in truth, it's really hard to generalize because some people without having what we would call a deep thorough going absorption do have sudden insight
the student says are the one who knows and original mind the same. No, no. The one who knows is something that can be that can change. It is our awareness. Everyone has this. So not everyone has original mind. Original mind is in every person. Everyone has the one who knows but The one who knows is something you can never reach conclusion with. Original mind exists in everyone, but not everyone can see it. Student s is the one who knows itself. It isn't, is only an awareness arising. Questioning like this only leads to endless confusion. You won't come to clear knowledge just from hearing another's words, thinking that if you ask the right questions about all the fine details, you can find out the truth is not how it works, is really something to be realized for yourself. But take the words and investigate what they point to.
And the student goes on. You often teach us about meditating on the 32 parts of the body. When the mind has been called, should we investigate the 32 parts according to the formula, and John Shaw says, it's not like that, when the mind is in a state of tranquility, investigation occurs on its own. This is investigation within Samadhi. This is how truly work on a koan. It is not thinking. It's not thinking this is like this that is like that, that is ordinary mental activity, investigation outside of Samadhi. Of course, that does have some value. But when the mind is concentrated, there is no thinking. Contemplation arises within tranquility. The discursive mind that thinks about things during ordinary activities, and tries to specify how things are his course, it is course, but still compatible with Samadhi. The important thing, the important point is to have mindfulness in all situations. Or I'm happier to say awareness in all situations. He says, a mindfulness which is aware of the way things are, why is it that the Buddha did not have aversion or delusion is because he had this kind of awareness? There is no cause for anger coming about. There's no cause for delusion coming about. Where could they come from? This there is this awareness, ruling your experience, there's nothing to be done. You have reached the end of doing you can put it all aside with the mind in full awareness. You no longer need to place your attention on anything. Because the mind is doing its it on its own. It occurs naturally. Working on a koan, of course, we begin by consciously placing our attention on the koan looking into where it arises, trying to see what's there. But when we get going when we get deeply into it. The koan itself draws us in, no longer need to place our attention on it. He says, At this point, you don't need to practice Samadhi because it is already present. Things can still appear as right and wrong, there can still be feelings of like and dislike, but you just keep letting them go. Whenever things like this appear to you, let them go with the recognition that they are impermanent. You come to know the source of things and reach the place that is called original mind where nothing is permanent, where nothing is anything at all. That is truth. what's referred to as seeing the nature
whatever comes flowing down the stream, when it gets stuck, you cut it loose, let it flow away. What is it that comes flowing by? You don't know. But when it gets stuck, you release it and let it flow on. It is the phenomena of sense objects and mental activities. When phenomena keep appearing, you keep on sweeping them out. When nothing appears you've remained in equanimity. Just saying the words is easy, isn't it? So many people want to think about their thoughts. feel they can't just let them go. That changes over time. You get sucked up enough times. You begin to realize there's nothing there for me. It's easier, easier to let them go
Still, it's hard to do much easier to just say the words. He says this is similar to the business of morality, meditation and wisdom. The way it's usually presented in Buddhism, as you teach about morality in the beginning, with meditative stability in the middle, and wisdom in the end. This is a classification you can remember. But really with some people, it isn't necessary to begin by teaching morality, like Americans. They come to metta, they come to meditate met, they come to meditate, and immediately settle down into pacifying the mind. You don't need to say anything yet about the usual explanation of Sheila first Samadhi. Second, and wisdom third. So that's again, morality, Sheila, meditate meditation, Samadhi and wisdom, also known as prajna. He says, first let them sit to develop a tranquil mind, then some sensitivity will be born. It's as if there were a poisonous snake in a basket with a lid on it. Even if someone were to walk right next to it, they wouldn't be worried because they wouldn't know was there. They're not yet aware of the danger. Trying to teach morality is like that. You have to be aware of the habits and dispositions of people in different places. For a Westerner, you can just teach tranquil sitting meditation first. And when the mind is calmed, some change will take place, and the person will see things differently. At first, even if there is a poisonous creature about the person is unconcerned. Because she isn't aware it is there. Sheila is like that. It's not necessary to go through the precepts one by one, morality isn't just a matter of reciting, I vow to retain refrain from taking life, I vow to refrain from stealing. It's too slow. That way, it doesn't get to the point, like a stick of wood. It has a beginning, middle and an end. If you pick up the end, the beginning comes along with it. And you can get to the beginning by starting from the end. Or you can start at the beginning and get to the end. You can insist on telling someone that this is the beginning. And that is the end. If people are attracted to Samadhi practice, let them develop a peaceful mind through that, then sensitivity will arise and they will be able to see things in a new light. Picking up the end, they will get to the beginning. Because the beginning and the end are one piece. The changes that come about in the mind through Samadhi will enable them to see things and wisdom will start to permeate the mind. A feeling for what is right and what is wrong, will gradually develop
it can be said that one of the weaknesses of practice in in the West certainly seems to be the case for Zen practice is that people start in the middle with meditation. And they never seem to get to the beginning to the precepts into morality to right conduct. So many cases of bad behavior by teachers and students. But his point is valid. Somebody is ready for meditation you don't stop and give them a course on church class course on morality.
These three aspects morality, meditation and wisdom, rotate and developed by turns. Wherever you take a practice that is fine. There are traditional ways to talk about morality, meditation and wisdom. It is useful and shouldn't be discarded. But you can't cling to it as the only way what clarifies the mind so that it can be aware of the poisonous snake is useful. Then when there is awareness there is caution you will get to the same place either way. Someone who will teach others has to use whatever skillful means are appropriate.
Is love seems to be a little skip here and he says when a child from the city goes to the countryside for the first time, he will see all kinds of things he hasn't seen before and doesn't know about. He will see a duck and ask dad what is that? He sees Buffalo and cries up Mom, look at that big animal. He carries on like this over everything he sees until his parents are tired of answering. No matter what they explain, the child keeps on asking, because he's never seen these things before and is fascinated. Finally they just grunt in reply. The child doesn't get tired of it though. What's this? What's that thing? What could this animal be? There's no end to His curiosity and his questions. But when he grows up, he will know all about these things, and they won't be a mystery to him anymore. It's like this in meditation. I used to be this way too. But when real understanding came, the question stopped. Through gaining some maturity and practice and inclining the mind toward investigation, one is able to resolve the questions by oneself. So you have to observe yourself constantly. Each of you has to look carefully to see how honest you are with yourselves, and know when you are deceiving yourselves. Thinking is only a matter of conceptualization and creation. If we're not fully aware, we start to believe it is a matter of wisdom. So we follow after it and end up with dissatisfaction and suffering. If it were really wisdom, would it bring any suffering? Still, this is something that can still lead to wisdom, something that can cause us to see and to know, don't get the idea that they are far apart. Wherever conceptualization exists, wisdom is there. Wherever there is the created, the uncreated is also there. The uncreated is freedom from conceptualization, the created is conceptualization. Have to go beyond thought? frightening when thoughts drop away, sometimes, that's where we need to go. That's where we need to find our home. The Chan master Juan both said, if you can only rid yourselves of conceptual thought, you will have accomplished everything.
He said, as this is pointed out through many different methods by different teachers, in Zen, for example, they have their ways for imparting wisdom, you're asked a question, and when you answer, they beat you. Bam, they ask again, so you don't answer this time, but they hit you anyway. What's really going on here, I might lose my life over this, how should I respond? What should I do? These methods can bring about wisdom. What to do? Going forward is not right. Retreating is not right. standing still and giving no answer is not right either. Whatever you try, you only get a beating. Some feeling comes about and you start to seek more deeply for the answer. This is the method of Zen that I read about. It's curious, isn't it? It can really cause people to gain wisdom. However you answer or don't answer your beaten, you lose all your ideas about what is right and wrong. You can't move and you can't stand still. What do you do, you come to the end of your tether, but still there is something more to go through. So the mind keeps on investigating to find a way that methods are pretty good. I think it's mysterious. But for us that is in plasma is just a lot of thinking and guessing about the way things are. We know something but what we know is only what someone else has said. So there will always be more things to ask about and learn and there are always more doubts, the more things are explained the further we are from understanding why is it like this? What is blocking us this knowledge itself is blocking us so you really need to search inwardly what does that mean? To search inwardly?
Say just looking just this banding thoughts
sometimes it's groping in the dark. Zen it said the mind of wisdom is black as pitch. Have to keep looking. says when you keep looking, your understanding will become more subtle. This refined awareness will seem like something very good. But the Zen master doesn't accept it. Get rid of the subtle, I have no use for it, and you get another beating. When the subtle still remains, you have to drive it out. You don't know what to do, where to abide or to go, and you run out of options. It's better just to throw it all the way. It is taught that all our thoughts and feelings are just a fantasy world of mental concoction. It's not real knowledge is the creation of fantasy, but we feel it is genuine knowledge is knowing without letting go with real knowledge. One, let's go.
Samadhi has its difficulties, people can get sidetracked. And then he quotes when I sit, I have so many experiences, I see lights, I see colors. He says they really get caught up in all this. When they tell me about their Samadhi there's not much I can say. It's just more childish stuff. It really is like the child fascinated by the animals and asking endless questions. That's what a child has to do, because it doesn't know what things are. When it grows up, it will know it it won't have to ask anymore.
Skipping ahead a little bit with mindfulness and clear comprehension. Knowing yourself in all four postures of standing, walking, sitting and lying down. You are not grasping or whatever appears in your field of experience. When you are constantly aware of all that occurs, whether there is attraction or aversion, happiness or displeasure, doubt or certainty, there is investigating and knowing, getting the essence of practice and experiencing the fruit. Don't go fixating on the way things appear to be. We could say Don't concern yourself with conditions. Don't worry when the mind is dull or the mind is bright. Stay with the method. Not with conditions with how you're doing. Those thoughts come up. They can seem related to practice, it can seem like well, this, this is a thought I need to have because it's about my practice. Don't Don't go there. Let it go. Says recognize recognize whatever appears to the mind is merely so merely a moment of sensation and awareness, something impermanent that arises and passes away. There is nothing more than that. There is no self or other, no essence, nothing that could be grasped.
Which Yama, Roshi says, To open the hand of thought, when we have a thought, that isn't dropped, immediately we grasp it. All we need to do is to relinquish our grasp, let it go, and come back. Come back to our sitting come back to our practice.
When body and mind are seen thus with wisdom, we are aware of all the old habits and patterns. We're aware of them, but we don't need to have judgments about them. See it we see their effect don't need to beat ourselves up. Like the difference between apology and the resolve not to do it again. Who wants the apology? You want that resolved not to do it again.
He says seeing the impermanence of mind and body, seeing the impermanence of the totality of all feelings of happiness and suffering, of love and hate. We realize there's only so much to them. They're merely what they are. And the mind turns, it turns away and becomes weary of it all. Becomes weary of mind and body, these things that appear and pass away and are unreliable. Wherever we may be, we see this when the mind becomes weary, it's only concerned will be to find a way out. We no longer want to live as before, because we see the imperfections and liabilities of the worldly way say be careful here spiritual waves wrong to
it's not what sort of label we want to put on ourselves. It's our seeing directly, sorry, living out completely
says we see the liability of this life we have been born into. With this perspective wherever we go, we will see the facts of the impermanent, unsatisfactory and selfless nature of phenomena and there will be nothing we wish to get or grasp hold. Of course the impermanence unsatisfactoriness, selfless, no self these are the three characteristics of existence. Annika dukkha, and anatta. impermanence, suffering or unsatisfactoriness and no self. Says sitting beneath a tree we hear the teaching of the Buddha sitting atop a mountain, we are the teaching of the Buddha. Sitting on a plane we hear the teachings of the Buddha. We will see this world much more clearly. We will see body and mind more clearly the realms of form and formlessness we will see more clearly. They become clearer in the light of impermanence in the light of the unsatisfactory nature of things in the light of the absence of a self
Okay, think our time is well up. So we will stop now in the site to four vows