Sensual Pleasures Are Painful


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


When we join this meditation retreat, we are committing ourselves to practicing nekkhamma or distancing ourselves from sensual pleasures that derive from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting or touching. This kind of happiness cannot make us fully satisfied or at peace with ourselves.  It is happiness filled with worries and anxieties, because when we come into contact with what we like, whether it is a person, or thing, we tend to cling on to it.  We want to own it forever but are anxious that it may soon leave us one day.  Sadness or dukkha then replaces this initial happiness.  Hence, it is happiness tainted with pain.  When we have what we like, we want to keep it to ourselves and become anxious that it may be gone one day.  Then one day it really happens because nothing in this world lasts forever.  They are constantly changing and we cannot control them or make them stay with us forever.  We then become miserable.

However, there is one thing that we can make stay with us forever, that can give us happiness forever, that is permanent and never changing.  That one thing is what we are striving for, namely our mind or citta that never dies.  It is like water, which can never be destroyed.  You boil it. It evaporates.  Then it becomes cloud before falling down again as rain.  It goes round in a circle.  Human mind is the same.  It never dies.  It moves from one body to another, guided by kamma. Kamma is what we do, what we say, and what we think.  If we do good kamma, we shall go to a good place, sugati or heaven.  The Buddha said that he who practices the five precepts will go to heaven, and he who constantly breaks the five precepts will go to hell.  When we die, the mind will leave the body and go to another body or another state of existence.  The mind does not die.  It will go on to a new body or a new state of existence depending on that person’s kamma.

Normally no one is totally good or totally bad.  We do good kammas, bad kammas, and neutral kammas depending on our emotions and circumstances.  Therefore, the results of our kammas are sometimes good, sometimes bad.  Some people do very good kammas in this life but feel that they are not fully rewarded.  That is because the good kammas are not yet producing results.  What they encounter now is the result of past life’s bad kammas.  This gives the impression that good kammas are not rewarded.  On the other hand, people who do bad kammas are being constantly rewarded.  That is because the present bad kammas are not producing results yet.  What reward they are receiving now comes from the good kammas they did in the past.  This makes us feel that people who do bad kammas are rewarded while people who do good kammas are not rewarded.

We must understand that there are past and present kammas.  The consequences of these kammas may occur quickly or slowly depending on the type of each kamma.  It can be compared to trees or plants.  Some give flowers quite quickly.  Others slowly.  If we plant large trees, it will take many years before we get their fruits.  However, if we plant rice or corn, we can harvest in 3 months.  Kammas are the same.  Some consequences occur quickly, others slowly.  Nevertheless, there will be consequences, and what is affected is none other than the mind of the person who commits such kammas.

Therefore, it can be concluded that the consequences of kammas are similar to cart wheels rolling on a path.  They leave marks on the path just as our kammas will always have consequences, sooner or later.  Good kammas, like making merits, will bring good consequences; bad kammas will result in bad consequences.  Good kammas bring happiness.  While bad kammas, such as breaking the precepts or hurting others will bring misery.  Effect on the mind is very fast.  It occurs immediately.  For example, when we help others or making merits we feel happy.  This is the result of doing good kammas.  If we break the precepts, hurt others, or cause them to suffer, we ourselves become miserable.  The consequences that follow such as being put in jail, being praised, receiving rewards may come slowly, or in some cases, never come.  But these are not considered important.  Once we feel happy, we do not really need anything else.  Prestige and money are useless for a person who is full of contentment.  This kind of happiness is fulfilling and makes one no longer want anything more.  If we are always wishing for this or that, we can never be satisfied with what we have.   Suffering is caused by never-ending wishes because we feel we never have enough.

For example, today you give someone 500 baht.  Then tomorrow you give him another 300 baht.  He will then feel that 300 baht is too little because he used to receive 500 baht.  This is kilesa, namely greed, hatred and delusion.  Human wants have no bound.  Therefore, we can never be happy if we cannot curtail our wants.  On the other hand, happiness resulting from giving makes us feel contented.  When we have more than we need, we become worried about how to take care of them.  If we give them away, we shall be more at peace because we no longer have to worry.  Therefore, giving things, which we do not really need, can bring us real happiness. 

If we take advantage of others, assault them, kill them, or hurt their feelings by stealing their possessions or committing adultery, we are inflicting pain on them.  If we lie to them or lead them to falsely believe us, they will feel hurt once they know the truth.  They may want to revenge or get the police to arrest us.  Once we break the precepts, we can never have peace of mind.  We will be nervous and jittery because we are hiding skeletons in the cupboard.  When we see policemen, we become frightened even if the police neither know us nor want to arrest us.  We become nervous every time we see policemen.  This is dukka or suffering.  On the other hand, if we keep the precepts, we shall not have these worries. There will be contentment instead.

Happiness, which occurs as a result of peaceful mind, is what we all wish to attain.  This state of tranquility will occur if we can control the mind from wandering around.  It is similar to our sitting here.  Controlling our body is not so difficult.  We can make ourselves sit still for one hour or two hours.  On the other hand, to keep the mind from wandering for 2 or 3 seconds is very, very difficult.  It is difficult because we lack the necessary tool to control the mind. The tool, which can control the mind, is called sati, or mindfulness, or awareness.  Awareness means we must be aware of the present, here and now.  If we are sitting, the mind must acknowledge that we are sitting.  To be aware of the in and out breath is called anapanasati.  By being aware of our breathing we can control our mind.  Anapana means breathing in and out. Sati means mindfulness or awareness.  Anapanasati, which means being mindful of the breathing, is the method to control the mind from wandering around.

If the mind is made to continuously follow the breathing rhythm, it will gradually stop wandering. Eventually, it will stay still.  This is when we will feel something extraordinary happening in our mind which we have never experienced before.  It is the feeling of emptiness, calmness, delightfulness, happiness, and bliss. Sometimes, we get goose bumps or tears falling down, an extraordinary kind of feeling never experienced before in our life!  This is happiness resulting from peace.  The Buddha says that no other kind of happiness in this world can be greater than the happiness resulting from peace of mind.  The tremendous amount of wealth or the ability to buy things, to own high-rise buildings and expensive cars may bring us happiness. But that happiness is very minute compared to the happiness resulting from peace of mind.  The Buddha says that the taste of Dhamma surpasses all other tastes.

This kind of happiness that arises from samadhi, mental calm and concentration, is just a beginning stage of happiness.  There are higher levels of happiness, which are even more sublime than the happiness resulting from samadhi.  They are the happiness resulting from wisdom, leading to liberation, or vimutti.  We have to practice step by step to attain succeeding levels of happiness, starting with the happiness that arises from giving, to the happiness from keeping the precepts, not hurting others, to the happiness from samadhi or mental discipline. When the mind is calm, it will stop wandering.  We no longer have to force it to remain still.  After we concentrate on our breathing and the mind stops wandering around, we gain samadhi.  That is when we can stop concentrating on the rhythm of our breathing.  We can let go. The breathing rhythm is gone.  The mind remains still, like a prisoner who is too exhausted to run away.  He is sitting still.  The wardens no longer have to guard him.

Once the mind stops wandering and we attain samadhi, we are free from stress unlike while we concentrate on the breathing.  During that time we have to fight within ourselves to remain aware of the breathing.  Our mind has a tendency to wander away from being mindful of our breathing.  We have to keep bringing it back.  Then it goes away to some far away places again.  It is a fight between the one that wants to keep the mind from wandering and the other that wants to take it on tour.  If sati is more powerful, it will keep the mind at bay.  Then the other side will tire out, letting the mind stay still.  It is similar to two teams pulling rope.  When one team gives up and lets go of the rope, the winner no longer has to pull.  When the mind stops wandering and we attain samadhi, there is no more stress.  We no longer have to fight to keep the mind from wandering.  The mind automatically remains still.  It stops imagining things.  It stops wandering.  It is at peace.

It is a very wonderful experience!  Anyone who has experienced such happiness will be glad to leave all other happiness behind.  He will gladly give up palaces, possessions, servants, all the money he has.  These things no longer mean anything to him.  He will henceforth search for a quiet place, away from people.  In the past he used to be outgoing, now he is tired of people.  He no longer wants to socialize or talk to anyone.  It is meaningless and useless to chat.  It is more fruitful to be alone, concentrating on one’s breathing and keeping the mind from wandering.  When one achieves that, one finds true happiness.

However, happiness from samadhi is only temporary.  When the mind first stops wandering, it may be for only a fraction of a second.  But that short moment is so wonderful, it will never be forgotten for the rest of one’s life.  It can make one leave all the worldly happiness behind.  From someone who used to put on a lot of make-up, wear beautiful clothes, socialize, one now prefers solitude and peace of mind.  This is the result of happiness caused by samadhi, even though a short-lived one.

Unfortunately, when one is not meditating, the mind starts wandering again.  It will start imagining things, jumping from one topic to another.  The mind no longer stays calm.  Nonetheless, it still moves within moral boundaries. It still wants to make merits.  In some cases, one who has attained samadhi may become anxious when making merits because one worries about making appointments and preparations.  When arrangements do not go according to one’s plans, one becomes worried.  Therefore, if one has attained only samadhi but not yet wisdom, one may not make much progress towards higher level of Dhamma.

On the other hand, a wise person will know how to keep watch on the mind.  When he is not meditating, his wisdom will be on the look out.  It will monitor the mind.  When the mind starts wandering and worrying, it will steer the mind onto the right path.  Without wisdom, the mind will be falsely led by the kilesas.  Before one attains samadhi, making merits was a good thing, because it was a stepping-stone to the higher level of Dhamma.  Once he gets up there though, he risks being led by the kilesas to become more obsessed with making merits, to the point where he has no time to meditate.  He will then retreat back to the lower level of Dhamma.

Therefore, for those who have attained samadhi, they must use their wise judgment to see if the mind is making progress towards the higher Dhamma levels or being dragged down. With a little common sense, one can make merits without a fuss and in a simple way.  If one has a check, just simply write it out.  Then everything will be taken care of.  There is no need to make a lot of preparations, causing undue worries.  Our time can be better used in trying to attain higher levels of Dhamma. To progress, one must think wisely to rid the mind of the kilesas and worldly attachment.  One must practice insight development or vipassana to realize that nothing is worth being attached to.  The five khandhas or elements of existence are what the kilesas tie our mind to, making us believe that these elements are us and belong to us.

The five khandhas or elements of existence consist of body, feelings, memories, thoughts, and sense awareness.  Body is the gross physical body.  Feelings can be happy, sad, not happy nor sad.  Memories remember whose image or whose voice it is.  Thoughts can be both ways: spiritual or worldly.  Worldly thinking, for example, are thoughts about traveling, eating out.  While spiritual thinking are thoughts about going to a meditation retreat to strengthen one’s mind in order to fight the kilesas, such as cravings and greed.  Without will power, without patience, without morality, the fight against greed will be an uphill one.

Thoughts can be good or evil; it can be the path to the extinction of suffering or the path to the arising of suffering.  Thoughts on greed and worldly happiness are the cause of suffering.  They will bring misery and pain.  Thoughts on finding solitude, being away from people, away from gossiping and useless talks, while concentrating on one’s breathing will enable one to proceed towards right mindfulness and right concentration.  This will be the one who will be on the Noble Path leading to the cessation of suffering.

These thoughts are very important.  Thinking about Dhamma is called wisdom or insight.  Thinking about worldly matters is called kilesas.  Normally, we do not think about the Dhamma or about the Noble Path.  It is our habit to be led by the kilesas.  In fact, the kilesas are in our sub consciousness.  When our friends ask us to go shopping or to see movies, we quickly accept.  On the other hand, when we are asked to go to the temple, we take time, maybe years, before going.  This is because we lack Dhamma.  We have not been promoting and guiding our thoughts toward the Dhamma.  Because we never have any experience with the Dhamma before.  We have not experienced the happiness resulting from making merits, from keeping the precepts, from the tranquility of samadhi.  But as soon as we begin to acquire the samadhi experience, we must be careful and make sure that our thoughts proceed along the path that we want it to go.

When we are not meditating, we must watch our mind, our thoughts and impulses.  Look to see which way they are taking us.  If in the past we used to think of going to the temple or going to the meditation retreat just once a week, now we are thinking of staying for a week, ten days, a month, or three months to increase time for Dhamma activities, then we are proceeding in the right direction, toward nibbana.  If we want peace of mind, we must follow the path laid down by the Buddha, the path of moral conduct, meditation, and wisdom.

One should look for seclusion, a quiet place like our temple, where there are sense-restraining rooms, where people who wish to control the mind and the sense faculties can come to stay.  The sense faculties consist of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body.  One should restrain them from contacting those visual objects, sound, smell, flavor and tactile objects, that will stir up one’s emotions and incite the kilesas to crave for them to the point where one can no longer remain staying at the temple.  One will keep hankering for those sensual pleasures that one used to experience but forget the accompanying pains.  Sensual pleasures are short-lived, similar to a sugar coated bitter pill.  At first, it tastes sweet in your mouth.  As time goes on, the sugar is gone, then comes the bitter taste, just like worldly happiness.  When one acquires something new, one feels happy and entertained.  Later on, one becomes bored with it and no longer cares for it.

Therefore, once we have attained samadhi, we should work towards attaining wisdom to realize that sensual pleasures are painful.  The duration that we can remain in samadhi is very brief.  After emerging from samadhi the kilesas, which prefer sensual pleasures, are still in charge and will drag us back.  Do not think that people who meditate will not go to bars and nightclubs.  They do, if one lets the kilesas to have their way!  They will come up with excuses like they should not hurt their friends’ feelings by not going out with them.  People like this meditate without using wisdom.  If they use wisdom, their mind can withstand the pressure and refuse to follow the kilesas.

One must therefore strive in developing insight or vipassana to realize that worldly happiness is not permanent.  It is painful, like a bitter pill covered with sugar.  That kind of happiness is very short-lived and is soon replaced by boredom.  Then one has to constantly search for new kinds of happiness.  The truth is there is nothing new in this world.  Everything has been here since time immemorial.  They are all composed of earth, water, wind, and fire.  Combined together into various shapes and sizes, and making various noises, enough to entice us into enjoying them for a time.  After a short while, novelty wears off and they become boring.  We will then have to look for something new, something different again.  Look at clothing.  Fashion changes all the time, just like skirt lengths.  They are long, then short, then long again.  They move in a cycle, changing all the time.  They keep turning around like vatta or the rounds of rebirths. They just keep turning around and around. But these changes do not turn us into better persons or make us let go of these things.  Instead, they bind us and make us cling to them.

We cannot stay young forever.  When we grow old, we will not be able to keep up with the latest fashion.  One day we will feel like living in a different world.  Then, it will come to us like a shock and we will find it hard to accept, simply because we never tried to live with the truth before.  Some people aged 70 or 80 years old still dress up and go to parties until they die because they are so attached to having fun.  When they die, their mind still remains at the same level.  It has not developed to a higher and better level in order for it to experience the subtle kind of happiness that is pure and genuine.

But if you regularly go to the temple, go on retreats to meditate and listen to the Dhamma talks, you will know what you have to do.  You will know that taking good care of your mind, keeping it calm and peaceful, as much as you can, is the ideal thing you can do for yourself.  If everyday you can do only these two things, namely walking meditation and sitting meditation that would be ideal.  Just keep on sitting and walking.  Control your mind so that it cannot go wandering like it used to do.  Discourage it from wanting things or wanting to go to various places.  Say no!  These desires are impermanent.  They are painful.  You have already done it so many times before. You have already been there so many times too.  Nothing good will come out of them.

The best thing is to control our mind, stop it from wandering around, free it from all attachment and worries, and minding only our business.  However, apart from walking meditation and sitting meditation, we need to do other things too, such as looking after ourselves.  These activities can be done at the same time as we practice meditation.  If we concentrate on what we do, we are actually practicing walking meditation and sitting meditation.  For example, while we sweep the floor, if we concentrate on using the broom, we are in fact meditating.  The mind is with the activity and not wandering.  The mind is not imagining things or creating undue worries.

If we can keep the mind with us, not allowing it to wander around, we will be cool, calm, collected.  We will find peace of mind in whatever we do because the mind is under control.  We have the wisdom to fight off all the vices, not allowing them to lure us to useless things that we used to do.  Nothing is better than to be always mindful of what we do and attain peace of mind.  This is the ultimate happiness.   When we are at peace, we do not feel hungry.  We may be used to eating a lot, but now we only eat just enough to keep us going.  The mind is not so attached to the taste of food.  Enjoyment which one gets from eating delicious food is nothing compared to the happiness of a mind at peace.  In the past, when we ate, it was to enjoy the tastes of the food and its beautiful arrangement.

When monks eat, they mix different kinds of food and deserts together in the alms bowl, whether they are curry, rice, grapes, or apples.  You should try it sometime. It is quite tasty.  Eventually, all this different kinds of food will go down to the same place anyway, in the stomach.  Once we have acquired this unconventional way of eating, we will not have to bother with the eating rituals.  We will not crave for food any more because we know that they are just made up of the four flavors, namely sweet, sour, salty and oily.  That is all.  We should not eat because the food tastes good.  We should eat only in order to survive so that we do not get sick or go hungry for lack of food.   We only have to eat just once a day because the meal will keep the body going for the next twenty-four hours.

Human greed is never ending.  Having just finished a meal, we already want to eat again upon hearing someone mentioning about delicious food.  If we want to stop ourselves, we have to use reasons.  Why do we want to eat again?  We just finished eating and we are full.  The food is still being digested.  Wait till tomorrow if we really want to eat it.  This is an example of how we use reasons to stop our craving.  Never ending desire is what causes problems for all of us.

If everyone thinks rationally, we all can live peacefully on this planet.  The world has plenty of everything, more than we ever need.  However, due to unrelenting greed, it feels like we never have enough.  We think that the more we have, the happier we will be.  This creates problems.  Wars occur because of greed.  If everyone is a Buddhist, people can live peacefully together.  There is no need to invade other countries or to take advantage of other people.  We, Buddhists, live and eat in simple ways.  We do not take too much food.  We are content with what we have.  We eat only what our bodies need.  We consume only what is necessary.  Two sets of white garments are enough.  We can wear them alternately.  Today we wear this set. Tomorrow we wear the second set while we wash the first set.  On the following day, we change again.

Monks use only three pieces of garments.  They consist of an inner robe, an outer robe and a double-layer outer robe for use during the cold season. Normally, only two pieces are used.  If we live according to the Buddha’s teachings, we do not need much.  There is no need for closets to keep our clothing.  However, in reality people have so many kinds of clothing for various uses, such as morning dress, daytime dress, evening dress, and nightgown.  These clothes need to be cleaned and taken care of.  This give rise to all kinds of problems because we don’t think rationally, and not know how much or how many is enough for us.

If we think wisely and logically, we will live peacefully together in this world.  Real happiness is within us.  It is having peace of mind.  Unfortunately, we never keep the mind under control.  We allowed it to be dragged by the force of our kilesas that cause so much suffering and pain, pain from greed, pain from anger, and pain from delusion.  The Buddha says our mind is aroused and agitated by what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch.    When we see or hear something, we immediately want it.  When we have this desire, we become restless.  On the other hand, if we are rational and follow the Buddha’s teachings, we can tell our mind not to blindly want things.  In this world, no matter how much money we have, be it in the millions or billions, we can never buy the kind of happiness, which the Buddha points out to us.  That kind of happiness is inside us.  We only have to make it happen. We will then be free from all kinds of problems.

We can be forever happy because when we have this kind of happiness we can keep it. It is truly our own possession.  Other belongings can be stolen.  They can deteriorate. Cars can be stolen.  Thieves can break into our houses.  Even our husbands and our wives will one day leave us.  But no one can take from us the happiness that comes from having peace of mind.  I would like you to think about this, keep it close to your heart and mind, and to strive with all of your might to achieve the real kind of happiness that arises from a peaceful mind.


Source : http://www.kammatthana.com

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