The Path to Enlightenment


Dhamma Talk No.10 
August 22, 2007
By Ajaan Suchart  (Abhijato Bhikkhu)
Transcribed  by Eurmporn Pechapan
Edited by June Gibb


The following talk was given to a group of university students from the European Union.


Let me start by welcoming you all to Thailand and to Buddhism.  Buddhism is the teaching of the Buddha, an enlightened person who knows  what we donít know, sees what we donít see, namely, the mind, the other half of ourselves. We only see our body, but we donít see the mind. We donít know what the mind is, donít know how to make our mind happy. Instead we tend to do the opposite. We make our mind unhappy all the time.  We worry, are anxious and restless.  We donít know how to take care of our mind.  We donít even know that we have a mind to look after. So we only take care of our body and our desires.  This is where the problem is. We donít know what the mind needs,  what makes the mind happy. We need someone like the Buddha to tell us. If we believe him and follow his teaching then our mind will always be happy and content.


Buddhism arises from the enlightenment of the Buddha.  After the Buddha became enlightened he spread this knowledge to other people.  People who heard and took up his teaching eventually became enlightened.  They then helped spread this knowledge further until today.  Buddhism is now 2550 years old. Why is Buddhism still practical and useful today?  Itís because it can teach us to find what weíre looking for, which is happiness and contentment, that nothing else in this world can.  No matter how much money we have, we will still be hungry, still want more.  We will never find contentment or be free from stress, anxiety, worry and fear. Because we donít know how. 


What we should know is that our existence, our life, is composed of two parts: the body and the mind.  The body is the servant, the mind is the master.  Before the body can do anything, like standing, walking, going here and there, it first has to take command from the mind. For example the mind has to think first that you want to come to Thailand. Then your body begins making preparations, getting your passport, visa, and money ready.  The mind  initiates all our physical and verbal actions, which can be either good, bad, or neither good nor bad. A good action generates feelings of peace and happiness. A bad action creates stress, anxiety, worry, agitation and restlessness.  Action that is neither good nor bad produces neither good nor bad feelings.  These are the three types of actions that are initiated by the mind.


Good action is when we think of doing something good for other people, helping other people. Like buying a piece of cake for your friendís birthday.  It makes you and your friend feel good.  This is a good action.  Bad action is when you hurt someone like stealing your friendís camera. It makes you feel bad, worried that you might be caught.  Your friend also feels bad.  This is a bad action resulting in bad feelings. Action that is neither good nor bad is when you neither hurt nor help other people, like eating, exercising and sleeping.  These three actions are called karma:  actions of body, speech and mind.  The most important action is the mental action, what you think.  The Buddha therefore teaches us to watch our mind, watch our thoughts and steer them in the right direction, the good direction.  Every time you want to do something good, you should do it right away.  Donít wait.  Every time you want to do something bad, you must stop it right away,  because it will hurt yourself and other people.


The Buddha teaches the way to perfect peace of mind free from bad feelings in three stages: charity, morality and mental development.   Charity is giving or helping others.  Give away what you donít need.  What you need, you keep.  Instead of spending your money buying luxury items or going out , which doesnít benefit you mentally, you should give that money to charity.  It will make you content and happy.


 Morality is abstaining from hurting others by observing the five precepts: 1.  Abstain from killing other living beings, whether animals or human beings.  2. Abstain from stealing or taking things that do not belong to you.  3. Abstain from sexual misconducts such as adultery.   You should have one partner at a time, one husband or one wife.  4. Abstain from telling lies.  You should tell the truth.  If you cannot tell the truth just keep quiet.  5. Abstain from taking stuff that will intoxicate your mind, like alcoholic drinks or drugs because you will not be able to watch and control your thoughts nor to distinguish good from bad, right from wrong.  These five precepts will protect you from getting into trouble, both externally and internally.  Outwardly, you will not run into trouble with other people, with the law, with the police.  inwardly, you will not worry or be afraid that you will be caught or punished for what you did. 


Mental development is developing your mind higher and better.  Right now your mind is unstable. You are continually bombarded by all kinds of emotions.  One day you feel good, the next day you feel bad.  Sometimes you get mad, sometimes you are sad, sometimes happy.  You cannot control these emotions.  By developing your mind you will be able to control both your mind and emotions.  Eventually you will always be at peace and happy.


Mental development is divided into two parts:  calm and insight.  First you calm the mind by going to a secluded, quiet place, sit cross-legged in a lotus position, close your eyes and concentrate on a meditation object to prevent your mind from thinking about other things.  If the mind keeps thinking, it will not be still, calm and stable.  When you think about something you donít like, you feel bad.  If you think about something you like,  youíll want to go for it.  You will not be still and peaceful.  You can be peaceful only when you stop thinking.  You can do this by concentrating your mind on a meditation object, like  your breathing for example.  Just be mindful of your breathing.  When you breathe in, you know youíre breathing in.  When you breathe out, you know youíre breathing out.  Just be aware of your breathing, not letting your mind think about other things. 


To prevent you from falling asleep you should sit with your back straight but relaxed.  Donít be tense.  Put your hands on your lap face up, your right hand over your left hand, close your eyes and just watch your breathing.  Focus your attention at the tip of your nose where the air makes contact when it comes in and out.  Make sure that you donít think about other things.  If you do, you should come back to your breathing.  Breathing in, you know youíre breathing in.  Breathing out, you know youíre breathing out.  Just be aware whether you are breathing in or out, whether the air is coarse or subtle.  Just be aware of it.  Donít force your breathing.  Be natural.  Do not think of the past , things that had already happened this morning or yesterday, nor think of the future, things that will happen tomorrow.


The goal of meditation for calm is to get rid of your thinking.  If you persist on your concentration, sooner or later, your mind will gradually become calmer and calmer and eventually it will drop into the state of single-mindedness that feels like falling into a well, where it will stop thinking. Once you have reached that state, you donít have to concentrate on your breathing any more because you have achieved your goal.  However long you might remain in that state, you should  leave it alone.  For most beginners it will remain just briefly, maybe just a few seconds and then it will withdraw from that state.  While you are in that state, youíll feel a sense of peace, happiness, liberation from all kinds of anxiety and worries. All emotions will disappear.  Your mind will be  clear like still water.


If you can do this, then you will know how to clear your mind when you feel bad.  It doesnít do you any good to worry or be saddened by things externally because you canít do anything about it anyway.  You cannot control things around you.  They can make you mad, sad, worried and unhappy.  With meditation you can eliminate them by concentrating on your breathing and forget about the things that upset you.  You can remain peaceful and happy for a while.  But you cannot remain in meditation all the time, you have to come out and face the world, face your problems and your responsibilities.  You can face them calmly if you have insight, understanding the nature of things around you.  They all have three common characteristics.


The first is impermanence.  All things are impermanent, unstable, constantly changing.  For instance, our body does not remain the same. Every second it is changing slowly.  We are getting older and older all the time.  If you donít believe me, go back and look at the picture you took ten years ago of yourself, and look at yourself now, you will see that you donít look the same.  Itís the same body that has gradually evolved into what you are now.  It will not remain as it is because ten years from now it will look different from what it is today.  This is impermanence or change.   Everything around us changes, not just people but materials things as well.  When you buy something, it is brand new.  After a while it becomes old and will eventually break down.  When you buy a watch or a radio for example, after a few years you will have to take it to the repair shop.  If it is beyond repair, youíll have to throw it away. 


You should contemplate on impermanence all the time. Tell yourself that whatever you have in your possession will not last.  Once you know this you will be prepared to face the eventuality that things change from good to bad.  You will not be emotionally affected.  Youíll feel as if nothing has happend, because you know in advance that this will happen. Everything around you and your body is not stable, but always changing.  You donít know when you will get sick.  But if you are prepared to get sick, you will not be miserable.  Youíll just take some medicine or see a doctor.  Whether youíll get well or not will not bother you.  Youíll tell yourself:  Thatís the way it is.  Your mind will not be affected by the illness of the body.


The second characteristic is dukkha or suffering.  Whatever you have will eventually hurt you.  For example, you are single and think that having a boyfriend or a girlfriend will make you happier. But that is not the case.  Because after you get married you will inevitably quarrel and get upset.  Everything is like this. They will make you sad and miserable sooner or later.  They donít always make you happy.  There are two sides to a story. Not just the good side, there is also the bad side.  The Buddha teaches us to look at the other side of the story as well.  When you know ahead of time what will happen, you will change your mind.  Youíll choose to remain single when you find that the misery outweighs the happiness.


The third characteristic is anatta or not-self.  Thereís no self in anything.  Everything is without a self, like this bouquet, this shack or your body.  The Buddha says they are just the composition of the four elements:  liquid, solid, gases and heat. In other words: earth, water, wind and fire.  Your body comes from the food that you eat which in turn comes from the four elements.  They are all elements: carbon dioxide, oxygen, hydrogen and so forth.  There is no self in the body.  If you dissect it, you wonít find a self in this body.  Itís the delusion of the mind that creates the perception that there is a self in this body.  This body is ďIĒ.   ďIĒ am this body.  This body is ďmyselfĒ.  The Buddha says this is not truth, it is a delusion.  The truth is that there is no ďself.Ē


In order to see this truth, you have to meditate until your mind fully rests in peace, in full concentration.  When that happens the mind and the body will temporarily separate.  The feeling that there is a body will disappear from the mind.  During that time, there is just the mind by itselfóthe knowing, but there is nothing to know.  Right now you have the body in your awareness.  But when you meditate until the mind enters into full concentration it will be temporarily severed from the sense doors and objects, from sight, sound, smell, taste and tactile objects, from the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body.  


You will then see that your existence is composed of two parts: the physical part which is the body, and the mental part which is the mind.  The physical part is impermanent while the mental part is permanent.  Eventually, this body will break up, returning to where it comes from.  The water element will go back to the water element. The wind element will go back to the wind element.  The fire element will go back to the fire element.  The earth element will go back to the earth element.   The mind will go on to a new existence propelled by the three cravings, namely craving for sensual pleasures, craving for being and craving for non-being.  


But if the mind realizes that to be born again is painful and miserable it will strive in cutting off the three cravings to stop it from taking birth again.  By doing so it does not annihilate itself because the mind is indestructible.  It is one of the six basic elements of the universe called the knowing element.  The other five elements are earth, water, wind, fire and space.  All animate beings are made up of these six elements, while all inanimate objects are made up of just five elements, minus the knowing element.  


The culprit here is our delusion that prevents the mind from seeing the three characteristics of impermanence, dukkha or suffering, and anatta or not-self, causing it to cling or become attached to whatever it comes into contact with.  Whatever we have, we will cling to it,  want it to last and stay with us forever. But nothing lasts forever.  When it leaves us or changes, weíll become sad.  When itís still with us, we are worried, wondering when it will leave us.


The Buddha therefore teaches us to look at these three characteristics.  Once we are able to see them we will let go of our attachment.  Then whatever happens will not cause us any pain.  We will always be at ease, at peace with everything, regardless of what happens.  This is the goal of Buddhism, which is to teach the mind to let go of everything, not to cling to anything, to know that nothing lasts forever, that they are not really good for us, they donít really make us happy.  They do not belong to us.  They are not us.  They have no self.  Self is just the delusion of the mind.  When we see that we will let go of everything.  We will then live in peace.   No matter what happens, we already know and have already let go. We wonít care what happens.  We can live without them.  But we have to do these three stages of practice namely charity, morality and mental development. 


Be charitable.  Donít keep what you donít need.  Keep only what you need for your existence, like the four basic requisites of life: food, shelter, clothing, and medicine. Anything more than that is considered to be a surplus.  The more you have them, the more problems, worry and mental stress you will have.  Live simply, have as little as possible.  You should not seek the happiness that arises from acquiring money and material things.  You should instead seek the happiness that results from giving away your money and possessions because itís true happiness, without any anxiety or stress.


Live a moral life.  Avoid doing anything that will hurt other people and thus in return hurt yourself,  by making  you  worried and afraid.


Practice meditation, control your mind to always stay calm, not to worry about anything, by telling yourself that there is nothing to worry about because whatever going to happen will happen.  You cannot cling to anything. You cannot always have it your way.  If you can do this at all times, you will be able to control your mind and emotion.  This basically is the core of the Buddhaís teaching. 


Q:  How long can we stay in the state of mental concentration or single-mindedness?


A:  You might have heard of some yogis or meditators who can remain in meditation for days, like seven days at a time, without getting out of the sitting position.  It takes years of training before you can do that.  But this is not the goal of Buddhism.  You shouldnít remain in that state all the time but should live a normal life that is capable of coping with lifeís trials and tribulations with  insight, knowing that everything is impermanent, not conducive to happiness, not your possession.  If you know this you will not be afflicted by any mental stress which is more important than sitting in mental absorption, because after you come out of that state you can still be unhappy when you see things you donít like.  You will still be emotionally unstable. The only thing that will make you emotionally stable is the knowledge of the three characteristics, which you must always have close to you.


But you tend to forget.  As soon as you see something, youíll forget that it is impermanent.  When you see something you like, youíd say ďI want to have that.Ē  You have to train your mind to be quicker than your desire.  When you want something,  you should say ďNo, it is not good for me.Ē  If you could do this, it means you have insight.  But if you say ďI want to have this.  I want to become that.  I want to go there.Ē  It means you are still deluded.   You still donít have insight or wisdom.  You have to contemplate on the three characteristics all the time.  If the mind gets tired, you should rest it by concentrating on your breathing, to stop you from thinking, to recharge your mental strength.  After you have rested, you will feel refreshed and strong, ready to contemplate the three characteristics again until it becomes second nature.  Then you donít have to contemplate any more because when you want something you will say ďI shouldnít have it.  Itís not good for me.Ē  You have become enlightened. 


You no longer want anything.  You can live alone and be happy.  All you need are the four requisites of food, clothing, shelter and medicine,to take care of your body.  You donít need other things because you have something better inside yourself: calmness, peace of mind, which arises from insight, by letting go of your detachment.  If you are truly detached, you will feel liberated, no longer affected by what happens.   You are not emotionally involved.  You  know whatís going on.   Know thatís the way it is.


Q:  What happens to you when you die?


A:  It depends on how much you have developed your mind.  The higher state of development will give you a better birth.  You could be born as a human being again and continue your development until becoming a Buddha.  Thatís what the Buddha did.  He spent many life cycles developing his mind until he reached the highest state of mind development.  Once you reach that state, then you will not born again.


Q:  Are you aware of your previous life?


A:  Not through vision. Through meditation experience you can see that the mind is different from the body.  From there you can deduce that your mind must have come from a previous life, because the mind does not die with the body.  But I could not see what I was in my previous life, a dog, a cat or a human being.  Some meditators can recollect their past lives but it is not the goal of Buddhism, whose aim is to achieve insight into the three characteristics of existence, that will enable the mind to detach from everything.


Some meditators can acquire a sixth sense: the ability to read other peopleís minds, or see things that others canít see, or contact spirits, which are minds that have no physical body.  Once the mind leaves the body itís called spirit.  When it reaches a good state of existence or heaven, that mind is then called angel.  When it reaches a bad state of existence or hell it is called devil.  But this is not the goal of Buddhism.  The Buddha warns us to stay clear of those things.  If you happen to acquire them you should be careful not to assume them to be your intended goal, which is to rid yourselves of all forms of attachments that are the cause of your worry, anxiety and stress, and to realize peace and contentment, which is another kind of happiness.  It is not the happiness that arises from seeing, hearing, or getting.  Itís better because it is free of stress and sadness.


Q:  What is the meaning of life?


A:  According to Buddhism, we are here to develop our mind to the highest state.  Every time we are born as a human being, we should cultivate the three stages of practice: charity, morality and meditation.  This is the purpose of life according to Buddhism because our goal is to reach enlightenment, no longer have to be reborn, because every time you are born you have to get old, get sick and die.  Itís not good.  No one likes it.  But we all have to go through it.  Itís like getting on the plane, you have to land somewhere.   Once you are born, you have to get sick, get old and die, sooner or later.  If you donít get on the plane, you donít have to land.  If you didnít have rebirth you wouldnít have to die. The mind doesnít die with the body.  The mind is always there.  Delusion makes us think that being born is good.  We can do all sorts of things, like getting married.  This is the upside of life.  We forget that thereís also the downside.  Weíll  eventually get old, get sick and die.


The purpose of life is to be charitable, to abstain from hurting other people and to practice meditation.  Instead of watching television, you should meditate. If you have some free time and donít know what to do with it, you should sit in meditation.  Concentrate on your breathing and donít think about anything.  When you can no longer sit and feel you have to get up, then you should do walking meditation.  Find a space where you can walk for10 to 20 steps.  While walking back and forth you should contemplate on the impermanence of your body.  It will get old, get sick and die.  Youíll have to leave everything behind.  Keep teaching yourself this way. The truth will slowly sink into your consciousness and make you let go of your attachment to things that you rely on to make you happy. You will see that youíre happier doing meditation and letting go of things.


This may be contradictory to what you are doing right now because you are studying, which is good for you because you need to have an occupation.  You have to maintain life and look after yourself.  Once you have achieved that, donít forget your main goal which is enlightenment.  You must first take good care of your body because you will need it to help you achieve enlightenment.  You have to study hard in order to graduate and get a good job that will provide you with the money to look after your body.  Donít spend your money on other things because it does not get you closer to enlightenment.  You should give your surplus money to charity to get you closer to enlightenment.  It will make you become kinder, nicer and less greedy and less selfish.


When you are greedy you tend to neglect other people.  You only think of yourself and donít care if you hurt other people.  But if you are charitable,  you will think of other people. You will be kind and helpful.  Your mind will be calmer and happier.  Youíll want to do more meditation because it will make you calmer and happier.  Youíll see that this is more rewarding than having lots of money or being a king,  a president or a prime minister.


I hope youíll take what you have learned today and apply it in your daily life. Iím sure that your life will be better.  I myself went to college and graduated with a civil engineering degree.  But it didnít improve my mind.  My mind was still as greedy, angry and deluded as ever.  It didnít eliminate my greed, hatred and delusion.  To get rid of them you have to practice charity, morality and meditation.  After you have eliminated them, you will have peace of mind, happiness and contentment.  You will know this is the real thing.  This is what really matters to the mind.  Money or fame doesnít satisfy the mind, doesnít make the mind happy, content, peaceful or enlightened.


Q:  It does for a very short time.


A:  Briefly.  Then youíll want more.


Q:  How do you overcome fear?


A:  By teaching yourself the truth of the three characteristics.  When you know that you will die one day you will not be afraid.  We are afraid because we want to live forever.  We donít want to die.  We cannot accept the truth.  Once you see that life is like the rising and setting of the sun, you will not be afraid of dying as it is like the setting of the sun.  You have to teach yourself all the time  that one day you will die, using this as your meditation object.  It will make your mind calm and peaceful.


Thatís why monks have to live in the forest in order to be close to life threatening situations that will spur us to let go of our attachment to our body.  When we have truly let go, we will not be affected by whatever happens to the body. Itís better to live without fear for one day than to live with fear for a hundred years.   Because fear is very damaging to the mind.  You can get rid of fear by accepting the truth, through the practice of meditation.  You will need a calm mind to reflect on this truth.  If your mind is not calm, you will be prevented by your aversion to contemplate on this truth because this is the delusionís protective mechanism.  The delusion will always try to protect its dominance.  The truth will liberate you from this delusion.


You must first calm your mind by concentrating on your breathing.  Once you have achieved some calm, you can then contemplate on the three characteristics of existence, on the fact that you will die one day.  You might be able to do this for a while.  After a while the calmness will disappear then the delusion will come back causing you to have a feeling of aversion to the truth.  You must then meditate to calm your mind again.  When the mind becomes calm you can then return to contemplating on impermanence again.  Go back and forth like this until the truth sink deeply into your mind where you will find that accepting it is more beneficial than denying it.  Denial of the truth will always cause you to be afraid.   But once you have accepted it, you will never be afraid.  Thatís all there is to it. The problem is in your mind.  You canít change the external things.  Whether you think about it or not, you will die anyway.  But by thinking about it and accepting it, you will get rid of your fear.  But if you donít think about it, denying it,  you will always be afraid.


Q:  All kinds of fear or just the fear of death?


A:  All kinds of fear because they all come down to the fear of death.


Q:  Do you appreciate beauty?


A:  I appreciate beauty just as I appreciate ugliness because they are two sides of the same coin. I see both the upside and the downside of life.  Beauty is temporal.  It will fade away and be replaced by ugliness.  When you are young you look handsome and beautiful.  Forty years from now youíll be old and ugly. You have to see both sides of the story in order to have insight or wisdom.


Q: What about having an ego, selfishness?


A: Ego is a delusion created by the mind.  ďI think I am, therefore I am.Ē  Itís just a thought that we are deeply attached to.   When you meditate until the mind stops thinking, then the ďIĒ or ďmyselfĒ will disappear because itís just a thought.  When there is no thought, thereís no ďIĒ.  All there is is just the consciousness, or the mind, by itself.  Right now you can only imagine it.  You have to meditate to really see it. You have to get to the point where the mind totally stops thinking.  Itís like turning off the television.  When you turn on the television, you see pictures on the screen, and you become emotionally involved in what you see.  You laugh or cry at what you see.  When you turn off the television, what happens?  You see just a blank screen and youíre not emotionally involved.  No emotions or thoughts appear in the mind when you meditate until the mind stops thinking.  No self. Itís like turning off the television.  No pictures, no sound, nothing.   Totally blank, empty.  This state remains very briefly for beginners. For an experienced mediator it can last for many hours. 


You have to use your good thought to destroy your bad thought.  This good thought is called insight or wisdom, like thinking that everything is impermanent.  Everything is changing.  When the mind thinks that this thing is good and will give you happiness, you must say it is not so.  Each  happiness is always accompanied by sadness.  You can eliminate your bad thoughts, itís like reprogramming a computer.  Your mind has been programmed to think that this is I myself.  You are now reprogramming your mind to think that it is not I, not myself.  Itís just a knowing element or knowingness.  First you have to empty your mind in order to see your mind and to see that the thoughts and emotions appearing in your mind are temporal.  You are just mind and body.  The body is the physical part, an instrument of the mind which is just a knowing element that knows and thinks.  When you realize this you will let go of your attachment to a self, to think that people and things are permanent and give you happiness.  Instead of thinking of permanence, you will think of impermanence.  Instead of thinking of happiness, you will think of  unhappiness.  Instead of thinking of I, myself or mine, you will think this is not I, not mine, not myself.  Reprogramming the mind will take time because old habits die hard.


Q:  It could be very painful.


A:  Very painful because itís like giving up drugs or things that you are attached to, like giving up smoking. You tell yourself smoking is not good for you.  But you cannot stop it.  If you keep telling yourself all the time, maybe one day youíll be able to do it.  The Buddha did it.  He was a prince.  He was rich.  He had everything.  But he could see that it was not true happiness because it could not stop him from worrying about getting old, getting sick and dying.


If you are really interested in meditation and want to learn more you can use the Internet and search for the Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the discourse in which the Buddha taught the monks how to develop the mind, how to meditate.  He predicted that whoever follows his instruction will achieve the result of becoming enlightened in either seven days at the earliest, or seven years at the latest.  You can all realize this if youíd devote the time and effort to it. There are people who, after reading the discourse, become interested and decide to become a monk in order to have all the time to practice what the Buddha teaches.


If you want to do some intensive meditation, you should join a meditation retreat which usually lasts seven or fourteen days, where you do nothing else but meditation.  I think it will be a time worth spending.  It will lead you closer to enlightenment, to lasting peace and happiness, free from greed, hatred and delusion.  I hope you will all have a good time studying in Thailand,  learn and benefit from your stay here.


Source : http://www.kammatthana.com

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