This Teaching is translated from a discourse given in the
Thai language by Venerable Pasanno at Buddhamonton (Buddhamandala)
near Bangkok in September, 1987: It was offered during a week
of formal meditation instruction and practice dedicated to His
Majesty King Bhumibol on the occasion of his 60th birthday.
we are lacking the richness of truth in our hearts,
then when we die and they cremate us, our lives will be
worth no more than the handful of ashes we produce.
offered his Teaching to the world with the intention of
showing a way to know Truth - Dhamma. His life-long gesture of
renunciation was made so we could personally know this Truth.
The fact that these Teachings are still with us shows that
they have been put to good use by both lay and ordained people
alike. It is important, however, that we understand the need
for personal contemplation of these Teachings for their true
value to arise. With such personal contemplation, if it is
right, we can come to sense the completeness, coolness and
calm that they offer.
As a foreigner living here in Thailand, I find life as a
Buddhist monk extremely beneficial. Sometimes people visiting
our monastery, Wat Nanachat, ask me how long I've been a monk.
'Over ten years,' I tell them. 'Is it good?' they like to ask.
'If it wasn't any good,' I reply, 'why would I have spent over
ten years living this way? I could be doing all sorts of other
things.' It is because I personally see the value of this Way
that I live it.
Without clear understanding of the processes of our
hearts, we create all kinds of problems. We become hot and
bothered and are dragged about by emotional states. For there
to be personal and global peace, these states need to be
understood: the ways of the heart need to be seen clearly.
This is the function and value of Dhamma.
In contemplating the Buddhist Way, it is important to see
that there is absolutely no obligation or intimidation
involved. Whether we take it up or not is our choice, we have
complete freedom in this regard - the Buddha only offered us
an introduction to the Path. There is no external judge
checking upon us. He pointed out that which leads to true
success, to liberation, peace and wisdom; and also that which
leads to failure and confusion. No external authority is
making absolute statements about what is good and bad, right
and wrong, and nobody is going to punish us if our preference
is not to follow. However, observe that there is always that
within our own hearts that knows what we are doing.
So it is important that we consider together how to
actually use the Buddha's Teachings and realize for ourselves
their true value. We have all heard many times about the Four
Noble Truths and The Eightfold Path. Maybe we have heard about
them to the point where we take them for granted; we don't
think they are so important any more. But these Teachings are
actually referred to as 'The Heart of the Buddha's Way'.
Throughout the forty-five years of his teaching the Buddha
never changed or abandoned them.
Last week in our monastery I was unable to do walking
meditation because I had sprained my ankle. I would join the
community for the sitting period and then when it came time
for walking I would go back to my hut. I made use of the time
to go over some of the chanting that we do. Many times I went
over the Buddha's first Discourse - the Dhammacakkappavattana
Sutta - which contains The Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold
Path. As a result I discovered many valuable points.
Let us first consider the context in which these Teachings
were offered. The Buddha had spent six long years striving to
see for himself the Truth. He had undergone an incredible
amount of hardship - not like meditators these days, who make
a lot of fuss if conditions are not exactly how they want
them. When the Perfect Enlightenment eventually took place he
carefully considered exactly how to go about sharing his
realization. He was thirty-five years of age at the time, not
old and senile - and, as he had been brought up a prince he
had had the best education available. He was in the prime of
his life and fully capable of articulating his understanding.
So he wasn't going to hand out the Teachings to just anybody.
He decided that his five companions during the time of his
asceticism were most suited. They were totally sincere in
their efforts, well experienced and intelligent. He then spent
several weeks walking to where they were staying. When
eventually he reached them, he gave the Teachings of the Four
Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path. So these Teachings are
not common and insignificant.
The fact that we have heard and talked about them many
times means we run the risk of their becoming mere theory for
us. However, if we were to talk in a worldly sense about
achieving something, we would understand that it would of
course require effort; likewise in the case of the Eightfold
Path. If we make the right effort then realization can take
Now let us consider what we mean by 'right effort'. The
Buddha gave an example of throwing a stick into a river. If
that stick didn't run aground on either the right bank or the
left, and if it didn't sink, then it would definitely reach
the sea. In terms of our practice, the left and right banks
are the extremes of clinging to pleasure -
kamasukhallikanuyogo - and clinging to pain -
attakilamathanuyogo. Not sinking means not relinquishing
effort. If it weren’t for becoming caught in sensuality,
indulging in negativity and giving up making effort, we would
reach Nibbana - Peace. This is one of the laws of nature. A
true appreciation and honest accordance with the Way shows us
that it must be like that.
The Eightfold Path is called the Middle Way, which means
our effort must be in the right amount. If our actions of body
and speech are not in harmony with this Way; if we are getting
caught up in seeking sense pleasure and really indulging in
states of anger and irritability, then definitely it is
impossible to see things as they actually are.
We must constantly endeavor to make the right kind of
effort or we will end up like the stick, and sink. When we are
feeling enthusiastic we can easily give ourselves to the
practice. But it can also happen that at times we are totally
disillusioned, even to the extent that we forget completely
the original confidence and faith we had. But that is natural.
It is like swimming a long way; we become tired. We don't need
to panic; simply be still for a while. Then when we have
regained strength, continue. Just don't sink! Understand that
much: in accordance with nature that state will change.
Despair, if that is what has arisen, will pass. Just keep
practising. Observing our minds and seeing how our attitudes
are continually changing shows us that impermanence is
Understand how necessary this kind of contemplation of
Dhamma is in our lives. It is like nourishment to the heart.
If we don't have clear understanding, then it is as if
something is missing. Often people who visited Ajahn Chah
would say they didn't have time to practise. They'd say they
had too many commitments. He would ask them: 'Do you have
enough time to breather They always replied, 'Oh yes! It's
natural to breathe.'
Isn't cultivating Dhamma as important as breathing? If we
stop breathing then we die. If we are not established in a
right understanding of the Truth of the Way Things Are, then
also we die; we die from that which is truly good, from true
ease and true meaning. If we are lacking the richness of truth
in our hearts, then when we die and they cremate us, our lives
will be worth no more than the handful of ashes we produce -
and that's not much! We must investigate how to live in a way
that truly accords with what the Buddha taught. Surely then we
could live in harmony without conflicts, difficulties and
problems to resolve.
Sila (morality) is that which shows us this Middle Way. It
points to the avoidance of the extremes of pleasure and pain -
it means knowing the right amount. When we live in the Middle
Way regarding action of body and speech then we don't cause
offence to others; we do what is appropriate for human beings.
The practice of formal meditation is to train our minds and
hearts to stay in the Middle Way.
These days, many people who meditate try to force their
minds to be as they want them to be. They sit there arguing
with their thoughts; if their attention wanders they forcibly
bring it back to the breath. Too much forcing is not the
Middle Way. The Middle Way is the ease that arises naturally
in the mind when there is the right effort, right intention
and right awareness. When practice is 'right' and there is
ease of mind, we can simply watch the different states that
arise and consider their nature. We don't need to argue with
anything. Arguing only causes restlessness. Whatever emotion
arises is within the domain of our awareness, and we simply
watch. Whether it's joyful or the absolute opposite, all
experiences are within the boundaries of our awareness. We
just sit, watch, contemplate and recognize them; they will
naturally cease. Why do they cease? Because that is their
nature. It is this realization of the true nature of change
that strengthens and stills the mind. With such insight
(panna) there is tranquility (samadhi) and peace.
The Buddha's wisdom is knowing the right amount. It doesn't
mean knowing everything about everything, but knowing
impermanence, knowing suffering, knowing selflessness. The
reason we get caught in seeing things as other than they
really are is our lack of wisdom. With wisdom we know how to
let go; to let go of craving, let go of clinging, let go of
beliefs. We let go of the tendency to always see things in
relation to a self.
What we call 'Me' is merely a convention; we were born
without names. Then somebody gave us a name and after being
called it for a while, we start to think that a thing called
'me and mine' actually exists. Then we feel we have to spend
our lives looking after it. The wisdom of the Buddha knows how
to let go of this 'self and all that pertains to it:
possessions, attitudes, views and opinions. It means letting
go of the opportunity for suffering (dukkha) to arise. It
means giving occasion for seeing the true nature of things.
So cultivating the Eightfold Path develops what is 'right'
for human beings. Through the practice of discipline,
tranquility and wisdom (sila, samadhi, panna) we can live in
harmony. Continually being caught up in extreme states is the
result of selfishness; of not knowing the right amount; of not
knowing the Middle Way. This Eightfold Path is a job that we
need to do. If done carefully and correctly the right result
On reciting the Buddha's First Discourse last week I was
reminded of how the Eightfold Path actually takes effect. It
says in the sutta: Cakkhukarani, nanakarani, upasamaya,
abhinnaya, sambodhaya, nibbanaya samvattati. Which means that
this Path functions by opening the 'Eye of Dhamma' -
cakkhukarani; 'giving rise to insight' -nanakarani; 'giving
rise to peace' - upasamaya; 'giving rise to knowing
accurately' - abhinnaya; 'to knowing fully' - sambodhaya; and
to 'realizing perfect freedom' -nibbanaya samvattati. This is
the complete Path that the Buddha teaches. It is a Path that,
when cultivated, opens the eye that sees the Dhamma, knows the
Dhamma, and becomes the Dhamma. This is the eye that sees that
any condition that arises also ceases.
In the scriptures we read, that when the 'Eye of Dhamma' is
opened, when we see clearly the way things are, then we 'Enter
the Stream of Dhamma'. It is only this knowledge that arises
from the practice of the Eightfold Path which causes
defilements to diminish, brings peace to the heart, and
eventually frees us from all suffering. Therefore it is of
supreme importance to all of us. The Eightfold Path has this
function - it is something that really works.
How we practise the Buddha's Teachings depends on how we
view them. It depends on what we consider as having value.
Please do try to investigate and see that your lives accord
with the Buddha Way.