Mental Development


Dhamma Talk
July 1997
By Ajahn Suchart  (Abhijato Bhikkhu)
Translated by Chantaporn  Gomutputra  
Edited by June Gibb


When we come to the temple to give alms to the monastic order, to keep the moral precepts and to cultivate mental development, we are in effect creating happiness for ourselves.  There are two kinds of happiness namely, physical and mental.  To feel good physically is not hard to do, all we need are the four requisites of life such as food, clothing, shelter and medicine to prevent the body from getting sick, go hungry or thirsty.  But the happiness of the body is insignificant when compared to that of the mind both in strength and intensity.  Though the body may be well and fit, the mind could still be afflicted with sorrow and pain that could adversely affect the body.  On the other hand when the body is not well, has aches and pains here and there, a happy mind could diminish or eliminate them entirely. Taking good care of the mind has therefore become the central theme of the Buddha’s teaching.

When the body gets sick it doesn’t hurt so much if the mind is happy. A happy mind could rise above the physical pain.  But when the mind is unhappy, it could cause the physical fitness or well-being to diminish or disappear entirely. For this reason the Buddha kept stressing the importance of taking good care of the mind, more than taking care of the body.  The mind needs the Dhamma, meritorious and wholesome kamma to make it happy.  Otherwise it could never be happy.  What we are doing here today is installing the Dhamma inside our heart and mind because the Dhamma is like medicine that could cure the sorrow and pain caused by the mental defilement or kilesa that have been embedded inside our heart and mind since time immemorial and accompanied us through countless rounds of rebirth.  We have to use the Dhamma, wholesome, skillful, good and meritorious kamma to cleanse our heart and mind of the kilesa in order to eliminate all of our sorrow and pain.

The Buddha’s enlightenment is cause for rejoicing and celebration because of the invaluable assistance he could offer to all sentient beings, as he is the only person in the entire universe who has discovered the secret to true happiness or supreme bliss that results from the elimination of the kilesa from the mind by the good and wholesome kamma.  The kilesa are like germs and viruses inside the body that could cause sickness and death such as the HIV virus that causes aids, an incurable disease.  While the kilesa are not eradicated from the mind, stress and suffering can still afflict all of us.

We are fortunate because we have the Buddha to help us cure our mental illness.  He is like a physician who has discovered the Dhamma medicine to heal our mind.  Unfortunately no one has yet found a cure for Aids and, for those afflicted, death seems to be the only outcome.  Before the Buddha became enlightened no one in this world knew how to make the mind stay happy all the time.  Now we know by his teaching that bliss and contentment can only be realized through the eradication of the kilesa, namely greed, anger and delusion from our mind by the cultivation of Dhamma, good and meritorious kamma, a message he had been propagating for forty-five years.

The purpose of our coming to the temple is to cultivate the various levels of Dhamma, skillful and wholesome kamma as much as we can. Some of us could only cultivate dana, the giving of the four requisites such as food, clothing, medicine and shelter to the monastic order. Others could do more, like keeping the five or eight precepts depending on the strength of our indiriya or mental faculties like saddha (conviction), viriya (persistence), sati (mindfulness), samadhi (concentration), and panna (discernment) that we have developed thus far.  If they are highly developed we would be able to practice bhavana or mental development in order to lift the mind up to higher planes of bliss, tranquility and purity by eliminating the various kinds of kilesa.

The Buddha exhorts us to calm our mind as the first priority because when the mind is restless and agitated it is confused, it can’t tell north from south, cause from effect, right from wrong, good from bad, pain from pleasure; it is deluded, not seeing things clearly as they are, such as seeing pleasure in sensual gratification when in fact it’s miserable and painful. When we are addicted to sensual pleasure we are subjected to stress and discontent like a drinker or a drug user, whereas a non-drinker or a non-user of drugs would know the difference, that it’s better not to be addicted to alcohol or drugs.

When we are possessed by the kilesa or delusion we would not be able to see clearly.  It is therefore imperative that we should first make the mind calm in order to clear up the clouds of defilement blinding the mind like purifying water of pollutants.  Once the water is separated from the pollutants it would become clear and transparent and would enable us to see what’s in the water.  It is the same with the mind, when it’s defiled it would become murky, couldn’t see clearly, not knowing what is obscuring its vision.  But once the mind has calmed down it would temporarily be cleared of the defilement of greed, anger and delusion, enabling it to experience a brief moment of joy and peace, long enough to let it know what true happiness is and where to find it.

Next we must use discernment (panna) to separate good from bad, right from wrong, wholesome from unwholesome, etc., just like separating the pollutants from the water.  With a mind calm and content we would see that the defilement (kilesa) such as greed, anger and delusion are really a threat to our happiness and contentment because when the mind is calm and tranquil, it would render the kilesa temporarily inactive, creating peace and contentment as a result, but as soon as the mind emerged from repose (samadhi) the kilesa would become active again by inciting greed, anger and delusion into action causing it to become restless and agitated.  We would be able to see the harmful effect caused by the kilesa very clearly if we have already developed samadhi even if we haven’t heard of the kilesa before, we would know them by their destructive impact on our peace of mind and mental well being.

When we realize this, we must apply panna (insight) based on the four noble truths (ariya-sacca) and the three characteristics of existence (ti-lakkhana) inherent in all conditioned phenomena namely, being inconstant (anicca), stressful (dukkha), and anatta (not-self) to eliminate them.  If we cling to anything in this world we would be consumed by stress, sorrow and pain because they are impermanent, subject to change and dissolution and are not ours or ourselves such as our body for example, which we can see clearly will get old, get sick and die one day, sooner or later.  If we cling to it we would then wish it to live for as long as possible which is a form of greed or craving that runs contrary to the truth of the Buddha’s teaching that says all bodies are impermanent, cause stress and anguish, and not a self.

If we have the Dhamma teaching residing in our mind to remind us of the truth of the ti-lakkhana we would be able to eliminate our attachment to our body because it’s like a lump of burning coal that would burn our hands if we scoop it up.  But if we merely look, it would not cause us any pain, because the body is just a lump of the four physical elements namely, earth (solidity), water (liquidity), wind (gas) and fire (heat) that our deluded mind happens to take possession of.  If we know this and let go of our clinging, it would then not cause us any pain or anguish.  It’s similar to taking possession of a plot of land that doesn’t belong to anybody and claims it to be our property.  If someone should snatch it away from us we would be sorry because we were attached to something that doesn’t really belong to us in the first place and would not permanently remain with us anyway. Our body is like this plot of land that we stake our claim to by considering it to be ours and ourselves.  When it becomes old, sick and dies, we would be consumed by sorrow and pain because we lack panna or insight into its true nature.

If we continually contemplate on the truth of the three characteristics of existence such as anicca (impermanence), dukkha (stress) and anatta (not-self), we would not dare to cling to anything or wish for things to be as we would like them to be, but instead we’d let them be as they are and will be, and be ready to see them depart even if they are our possessions.  If we could really do it, then we wouldn’t be consumed by pain and sorrow because we have panna (wisdom) and vipassana (insight) to eliminate the kilesa from our mind leaving it peaceful, content and blissful.  We’d have achieved the supreme bliss that the Buddha had pointed out to us by declaring that the happiness of this world can never equal or surpass the supreme bliss that arises out of a mind permanently subdued by the total removal of the kilesa from the mind.

The bliss that results from the development of samadhi (concentration) is not this supreme bliss because of its temporary nature.  Once the mind emerges from this samadhi, the kilesa which were also subdued by the power of samadhi would also emerge to wreak havoc on the mind again, which is not the same as the supreme bliss that results from the work of panna (wisdom) that has completely eradicated the kilesa from the mind, not allowing them to ever return again, like the minds of the Buddha and his noble disciples. If we truly aspire to this supreme bliss, we must develop both samadhi and panna.  Do not be content with just samadhi because it’s like a piece of rock sitting on a patch of grass preventing the grass from growing.  But when the rock is removed the grass would eventually grow again, because it was not uprooted, just like the kilesa, which can’t be uprooted by samadhi alone.  We need panna (wisdom) or vipassana (insight) to do the job. 

Therefore after we have developed samadhi we must then turn to the development of panna or vipassana by continually contemplating on the characteristics of all conditioned phenomena such as the five khandha or the five physical and mental components of our existence namely, rupa (body), vedana (feeling), sanna (memory or perception), sankhara (thought), and vinnana (sensory awareness) as being impermanent, stressful and not-self.  By continually contemplating on these three characteristics of conditioned phenomena panna (wisdom) would gradually transform from conceptual to practical.  Conceptual wisdom is contemplation of the truth while practical wisdom is the application of the truth in our daily life like when we get sick and become anxious.  We must let go of our attachment to the body if we want to eliminate our anxiety.  We should always be vigilant by constantly developing panna and vipassana after we emerge from samadhi.

After contemplating for a while, the mind gets tired.  We must then return to samadhi for a rest, after having rested we would then do more contemplation.  This is the way to develop samadhi and panna - they go together like the left and right foot we use for walking, taking turns stepping.  Don’t listen to those who say skip samadhi, develop panna straight away, or those who say once you have developed samadhi, panna would automatically appear. These views are not correct.  In fact both of them have to be cultivated and developed, one at a time alternatively.  They perform different duties. Samadhi is for resting and recharging the mental energy, while panna is like a knife for cutting our attachment to things that agitate and vex the mind.

We must watch what we are getting into in our practice.  If we are devoting all our time to samadhi even after we have already mastered it, we should turn to developing panna or vipassana by contemplating on the three characteristics of all conditioned phenomena such as our body, feeling, memory, thought and sensory awareness. But if we are engaging entirely in contemplating without the support of samadhi, we could become more deluded by our contemplation, by thinking that we have become enlightened when no such thing has actually occurred.  We should therefore rest and recharge the mind from time to time to keep it in balance.  Samadhi and panna are interdependent; they support and assist each other.  Cultivating both would make our journey toward nibbana smooth and trouble-free.


Source : http://www.kammatthana.com

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