Nurturing Buddhism through contemplation of mind

(Venerable Acharn Chah)

There are two ways to nurture Buddhism. One is known as amisapuja, nurturing through material offerings, such as four supports of clothing, food, shelter and medicines. This is nurturing Buddhism by giving material support to the Sangha of monks and nuns so that they can live in reasonable comfort, thus fostering the practice of Buddhism, which in turn leads to the continued direct realization of the Buddha’s teaching, bringing increased prosperity to the Buddhist religion.

It can be likened to a tree. A tree has roots, a base, a trunk, branches and leaves. Every single leaf and branch including the trunk depends on the roots to absorb nutriment and send it up to those other parts. A tree is dependent on the roots to sustain it. We are the same. Our actions and our speech are the “branches”, “twigs” and “trunk”. The “mind” is the root which absorbs nutriment and sends it out to sustain the “trunk”, “branches” and “leaves” which in turn bear fruit. Whatever state the mind is in, be it based on wrong view, it expresses that wrong view or right view outwardly also, through our actions and speech.

Therefore the nurturing of Buddhism through the practical application of the Teachings is very important; in fact there is nothing else to it. For instance, in the ceremony of determining the precepts on observance days, the Acharn describes those unskillful actions which laypeople should refrain from. But if one simply determines the precepts without meditating on or contemplating their meaning, progress is difficult. One will be unable to establish oneself in the true practice. The real nurturing of Buddhism is therefore achieved through patipatipuja – the “offering” of practice. Establish true Restraint (sila), true Concentration (samadhi) and true Wisdom (panna), and then one will know what it’s all about. If one doesn’t understand through practice, one won’t understand Buddhism. Even if one learns the whole Tripitakaone still won’t know.

In the time of the Buddha there was a monk known as Tuccho Pothila. Tuccho Pothila was very astute, thoroughly learned in the scriptures and texts. He had eighteen branch monasteries and was an eminent teacher, so famous that people all about revered him. When people heard the name “Tuccho Pothila” they where awe-struck and nobody would dare question anything he taught, so much were they in awe of his command of the Teachings. Tuccho Pothila was one disciple in the Buddha’s time that was eminent in learning.

One day he went to visit the Buddha. As he was paying respects the Buddha said:

“Ah, so you have come, Venerable Empty Scripture!”…just like that! They spoke for a while about this and that, and then, when it was time to take leave of the Buddha and return to his monastery….

“Ah, going back to your monastery, Venerable Empty Scripture?”….That was all He said: When Tuccho Pothila arrived, “Ah, so you’ve come, Venerable Empty Scripture!”; when it was time for him to go, “Ah, so you’re going now, Venerable Empty Scripture!” He did not expand on it that was all the teaching the Buddha gave. Tuccho Pothila was an eminent teacher, so he thought to himself, “Now why did the Lord Buddha said that? What did he mean?” He thought and thought, contemplating and going over everything he had learned, until he realized…. “Oh, what the Buddha said is true – “Venerable Empty Scripture” – a monk who only studies but has never practiced.” When he looked into his heart he saw that really he was no different from laypeople. Whatever laypeople aspired to he also aspired to. Whatever laypeople enjoyed he also enjoyed. There was no real “samana” within him. There was no really profound quality within his mind which could firmly establish him in the Way and provide true peace.

So he decided to practice…but there was nowhere he could go to. All the teachers he went to see were his own students, so they wouldn’t accept him. Usually when people meet their teachers they become timid and reverential, they don’t dare speak. So nobody would accept him. He had a lot of learning, a lot of knowledge, so nobody would accept him as a student. Nobody would dare to teach or instruct him.

Finally he went to see a certain boy novice, who was enlightened and asked to practice under him. The novice said, “Yes, sure you can practice with me…if you sincerely want to practice. But if you are not sincere I won’t accept you.” So Tuccho Pothila pledged his life as a student of the novice.

The novice then told him to put on all his robes. Now there happened to be a muddy bog nearby. When Tuccho Pothila had neatly put on all his robes the novice said, “Okay, now run down into this muddy bog. If I don’t tell you stop, don’t stop. If I don’t tell you come up, don’t come up. Okay…run!” Tuccho Pothila, neatly robed, plunged into the bog…squelch! Squelch! Squelch! The novice didn’t tell him to stop and so he kept running until he was completely covered with mud. Finally the novice said, “Okay, you can stop”…so he stopped…”Okay… come on up!”… So he came out.

This clearly showed that he had given up personal pride. He was ready to accept teaching. If he hadn’t been ready to learn he wouldn’t have run into the bog, a teacher of such eminence, but he agreed to do it. The boy novice, seeing this, knew that Tuccho Pothila was really determined to practice.

When Tuccho Pothila had come up, the novice taught him. He taught him to observe the sense objects; to know the mind and to know the sense objects. The novice used the simile of a certain man catching a lizard, which had run into a termite mound. The mound had six holes in it. Now if the lizard had run in there, how could one catch it? One would have to close off five holes, seal them with something, and leave just one hole open. Then one would have to sit and guard that one hole. When the lizard ran out one could catch it. Observing the mind is similar to this. Closing off the eyes, the ears, the nose, the tongue and the body, one leaves only the mind. To “close off” the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body means to restrain and compose them, observing only the mind.

Meditation is the same as catching the lizard. For instance, when noting the breath, there is sati. Sati is the quality of recollection, as in asking, “What am I doing?” Sampajanna is the self-awareness that “now I am doing such and such”. One observes the in-and-out breathing with sati, recollection, and sampajanna, self-awareness.

That quality of recollection is something that arises in the mind; it’s not something that can be learnt from somewhere else. Know the feelings that arise. Perhaps the mind is fairly inactive and then a feeling arises… There! That’s a feeling. Sati goes hand-in-hand with those feelings. So there is sati, the recollection that “I will speak”, “I will do”, “I will come”, “I will go”, “I will sit” and so on. This is sati, recollection. Sampajanna is awareness that “now I am walking”, “I am sitting”, “I am lying down”, “I am experiencing such-and-such a mood”.

With this two things, sati, recollection and sampajanna, knowing oneself in that act of recollection, one will be able to know the activity of the mind in the present moment. When it receives such-and-such an impression how does it react? We will know this.

That which is aware of those impressions is called “mind” (citta). The impression (arammana) is that which “wanders into” the mind. For instance, there is a sound, like the sound of the electric plane here. It enters through the ear and travels inwards. The mind acknowledges that it is the sound of an electric plane. That which acknowledges the sound is called “mind”.

Now this mind, which acknowledges the sound, is still quite coarse. It’s just the everyday mind. Perhaps we hear the sound of the plane and annoyance arises within the one who acknowledges. We must further train this “one who acknowledges” to be “one who knows in accordance with the truth”, buddho. If we don’t clearly know in accordance with the truth then we may get annoyed at the sound of people, of cars, of the electric plane or whatever. This is just the ordinary mind, which acknowledges annoyance. It knows in accordance with our interpretations, not in accordance with the truth. We must train the mind to know with nanadassana, the power of the refined mind, so that it knows that the sound of the electric plane is simply sound. If we don’t cling to it, then it won’t annoy us at all. The sound arises and we simply know it. This is called truly knowing the arising of sense objects. If we develop the buddho, if we have clear realization of the sound of the plane, then the sound doesn’t annoy us. It just arises according to conditions. The sound is not a being, an individual, a self, an “us” or “them”. It’s just sound. The mind “turns over”, it lets go.

If we know in this way, this knowing is called buddho. It is the knowledge that is penetrating, clear, it knows the truth. We can just let the sound go on its way. It doesn’t disturb us unless we cling to it, thinking, “Oh, I’m annoyed at that sound. I don’t want to hear people speak like that. I don’t want to hear sounds like that”. So suffering arises. Right here is the cause of suffering. What is the cause of suffering? It’s that we don’t know the truth of the matter, we haven’t developed buddho, and we are not yet clear, not yet awakened, and not yet aware. There is just the raw unpurified mind. It is the mind which is not yet truly useful.

Therefore the Buddha taught to train the mind, train it to be strong. Strengthening the mind and strengthening the body are similar, but are done in different ways. To exercise the body we must move it around, massage it, stretch it, jog in the morning and evening and so on. This is called exercising the body. The body thus becomes stronger, more nimble, the respiratory and nervous systems become more efficient than if we hadn’t exercised.

Strengthening the mind is not done by making it move around as is done to strengthen the body, but by bringing the mind to a halt, bringing it to rest. For instance, when we practice samadhi, we take an object, such as the in-and-out breathing, as our base. This will be the focus of our attention and contemplation. We note the breathing. To note means that we follow the breathing with our awareness, note its coming in and going out, note its rhythm. We put awareness into the breath, we follow the natural in-and-out breathing and try to let go of all else. Our mind will become energized because it has only one object of attention. If we just let the mind think of this, that and the other, there are many objects of attention the mind doesn’t unify. The mind won’t stop.

When we say that the mind stops, we mean that it feels as if it’s stopped, it doesn’t go running about here and there. It’s as if we have a sharp knife. If we go and cut away at things at random like stones, bricks and grasses, without choosing carefully, our knife will quickly blunt. We must cut only those things, which are useful to cut. Our mind is the same. If we let our mind wander after thoughts or feelings, which have no value, the mind will become weak because it has no chance to rest. If the mind has no energy, wisdom will not arise, because the mind without energy is a mind without samadhi.

If the mind hasn’t stopped then one can’t clearly perceive the sense objects. The knowledge that the mind is the mind, the object is the object, is the root from which Buddhism has been able to grow. It is the heart of Buddhism.

We must cultivate this mind, develop it. We cultivate samatha (Calm), and vipassana (Insight). We train this mind to have restraint and wisdom (sila-dhamma) by letting the mind stop, by allowing wisdom to arise in the mind, by knowing the truth of it.

Actually you know, we human beings, the way we do things, the way we are, are really like children. A child doesn’t know anything. If an adult observes the actions of a child, the way it plays and jumps around, its actions don’t seem to serve much purpose. If our mind is untrained it is like a child. One speaks without awareness and acts without wisdom. One may degenerate but not know it; one may go bad but not know it. A child is ignorant, it just plays as children do, and our ignorant mind is the same.

Therefore this mind should be trained. The Buddha taught to train this mind, to teach this mind. Even though we may nurture Buddhism with the four supports, this is only superficial, and it is only the “bark” or the “softwood” of the tree. The real nurturing of Buddhism is the practice, nothing else, the training of our actions, speech and mind according to the teachings, which in turn has far-reaching consequences. If we are straight and honest, if we have restraint and wisdom, our practice will bring only prosperity in the future. There will be no cause for jealousy or hostility. The religion teaches us to be like this. Understand it in this way.

If we determine the precepts simply in order to follow the established custom, then even though what the Acharn says is true, we are still lacking in the practice. We may be able to repeat the teachings and to study them, but it remains for us to practice them in order to really understand. If this practice, patipatipuja, does not come about, this may well be the cause of our not penetrating to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha for many lifetimes, or one can simply say that we won’t know a thing about the real essence of this Buddhist religion. It’s as if we had a certain fruit which was said to be sweet or tasty, a good strain of fruit, but having planted it, when it blossoms we don’t smell the blossom; the fruit ripens and we don’t eat the fruit. That fruit isn’t much use to us. No matter how good the strain is, we won’t know it if we haven’t yet experienced the taste of that fruit. Buddhism is like this. If we don’t reflect, then we won’t understand the meaning of giving (dana), restraint (sila) or meditation (bhavana).

Therefore the practice is like a key, the key of meditation. If we have the right key in our hand, no matter how tightly closed the lock is, when we take the key and turn it, that’s all that’s needed. If the lock has no key then it’s useless to us. Whatever is in the trunk we can’t get at it. That’s why the Buddha taught us to study and know these things.

Actually there are two kinds of knowledge. One who knows the Dhamma doesn’t simply speak from memory, he speaks the truth. Worldly people usually speak from memory, and what’s more they usually speak out of vanity. For example, suppose there was a certain person who we hadn’t seen for a long time, suppose we had lived in different countries or different provinces for a long time, and then one day we happened to meet on the train… “Oh, I’m so glad to see you! I was just thinking to look you up!”…Actually it’s not so at all. Actually one hadn’t even thought of them, but one says so at the time simply out of gladness. And so it becomes a lie. Yes, it’s lying out of heedlessness. Really one hadn’t thought of visiting that person at all, the thought had never crossed one’s mind, but the feeling arises at the time and one speaks accordingly. One lies at that time. This is lying without knowing it. This happens too, it’s a kind of defilement. The mind concocts the feeling, which causes us to say it. This is a refined form of lying, and actually people tend to speak like this.

So with regard to the mind, Tuccho Pothila followed the teachings of the novice; breathing in, breathing out… contemplating with sati and sampajanna, with thorough awareness… until he saw the liar within him, the lying of his own mind. He saw the defilement’s as they came up, just like the lizard coming out of the termite mound. As soon as they arose he saw them, he perceived their nature. He saw that one minute the mind would create one thing, the next it would concoct another; creating in this way, concocting in that.

Thinking is a sankhata dhamma, something which is created or concocted from supporting conditions. It’s not asankhata dhamma, that which is neither created nor concocted. The mind, which has been well trained, has good awareness, does not concoct or create mental states. One doesn’t have to believe others; one has penetrated to the truth, known as the ariyasacca (the Four Noble Truths). Knowing according to the ariyasacca is knowing according to the truth. One’s mental creations will try to get around it and say “that’s good” or “this is beautiful” or whatever, but if there is buddho in one’s mind it can no longer lie to one, because one knows the truth of the mind already. It can’t create any more deluded mental states. One sees all mental states as unstable, as unsatisfactory, and that one who clings to those mental states will suffer because they are not lasting.

Wherever he went the One Who Knows was constantly there. Tuccho Pothila came to this understanding. He looked at the mental states as they arose in the mind; he looked at the various creations of the mind. He saw that the mind lied in many ways. He saw the truth of the matter. He grasped the essence of the practice by seeing that “Oh, this liar here is the one to watch. Just this is what leads us to extremes of happiness and sadness, making us spin around in this cycle of samsara with its happiness, unhappiness, good and evil. All because of this one.” Tuccho Pothila saw the truth of the matter; he was able to grasp the point, just like the man who caught the lizard. He grasped the workings of the deluded mind.

It is the same for us. There is just this one mind which is the important thing. So it is said that we should train this mind. But if the mind is the mind what are we going to train it with? If we have sati and sampajanna constantly we will know the mind. The One Who Knows is a step further beyond the mind. It is that which knows the state of the mind. The mind is the mind. That which knows the mind as simply mind that is the One Who Knows. It is above the mind. The One Who Knows is above the mind and that is how it is able to look after the mind, to teach the mind to know what is right and what is wrong. In the end it all comes down to this mind, to this concocting mind. If it is enmeshed in its concoctions and there is no awareness beyond it then the mind will be spiritually barren.

So we must use this mind to hear the Teachings, to cultivate buddho, the clear and radiant awareness, that which exists above and beyond our ordinary mind and knows all that goes on within it. That is why the Buddha taught us to cultivate and meditate on the word buddho, until we know the mind and know beyond the mind. Just observe all the mind’s movements, whether good or bad, until the One Who Knows perceives that mind is simply mind, it’s not a person or a self. This is called cittanupassana (Contemplation of mind). If one sees in this way one sees that the mind is aniccam, dukkham and anatta. This mind still doesn’t belong to us; it can still lie to us.

So we can summarize the above thus: the mind is that which acknowledges sense objects. The sense objects are the sense objects and the mind we call “mind”. The One Who Knows both the mind and the sense objects is beyond both.

And there is that which constantly purifies: it’s known as sati. Everybody has sati, even a cat has sati when it is going to catch a mouse. A dog has it when it barks at or bites people. That’s a form of sati also, but it’s not sati according to dhamma. Everybody has sati, but it’s like when we say to contemplate the body….

“What is there to contemplate in this body?” they say, “Anybody can see it! Kesa we can see, loma we can see, nakha we can see… Hair, nails, teeth and skin… we can see them already, so what?”

That’s how people are. They can see it all right but their seeing is incomplete, they don’t see with the buddho, the One Who Knows, the Awakened One. They only see the body in the natural way; they only see the body visually. Simply to see the body is not enough. If one merely sees the body, there’s trouble. One must further see the body within the body, and then things will become clearer. If one merely sees the body one gets fooled by it, the beauty of it charms one. One doesn’t see aniccam, dukkham and anatta, so kamacchanda (Delight in objects of the senses) arises. One is still fascinated by forms, sounds, smell, tastes and bodily sensations. Seeing in this way is seeing with the mundane eye of the flesh. One only knows that one loves this person and hates that person, that is beautiful and that’s not. The Buddha taught that this is not enough. One must see with the “mind’s eye” as well. See the body within the body. If one looks within the body, looking inward at what is there… Ugh! It’s really repulsive. There are things from today in there and things from yesterday, one can’t tell what’s what. In this way one will see more clearly than by simply looking with the eye. Contemplate, observe with the eye of the mind, with the Wisdom Eye. See with wisdom.

Therefore outlook can differ like this. Some people, if taught to contemplate kesa, loma, nakha, danta, taco, don’t know what there is to contemplate. They say they can see all those things already, but they see only with the flesh-eye, with this madman’s eye. It only looks at what it wants to look at, what isn’t attractive it won’t have anything to do with. It picks and chooses like this. When we say to “see the body within the body” it means to see more clearly than that.

This practice is the one which can uproot clinging to the five khandas. If one uproots attachment, it’s just the same as if one were uprooting suffering because those five khandas are the base of suffering. If suffering arises it arises here, at the clinging to the five khandas. It’s not that the five khandas in themselves are suffering, but the clinging to the five khandas, attaching to them as being oneself… that’s suffering. If one clearly sees the truth of the matter through meditation, then suffering will become “unwound”, just like a screw or a bolt. One unwinds it and it withdraws. It’s not tightly fixed, not taut as when we screw it clockwise. The mind withdraws like this, it lets go, and it relinquishes. It’s not tightly bound within good and evil, within possessions, praise and blame, status, happiness or suffering.

If we don’t know the truth of these things it’s like tightening the screw all the time. One screws it down until it’s crushing one, one suffers over everything. If one knows what’s what with these things it’s like unwinding the screw. In Dhammalanguage this is called the arising of nibbida, disenchantment. One is weary of those things so one lays down the fascination, infatuation and attachment to them. And if one “unwinds” the clinging to those things one is really at peace.

For example with regard to the head. In Thailand here the head is really important, one can’t touch it. If one touched a person’s head in the street he’d probably bash you. This is because he hasn’t consented. But if the person has consented, like the military officers who come to see me, then it’s okay. I can touch their heads and it’s okay, they even like it. However they only agree to it on that occasion. If I met them in the street and touched their heads they might clobber me! Here is where suffering arises, at clinging.

I’ve been to some overseas countries where people, regardless of sex can just go and touch other’s heads, and actually they’re right in a way, too. If one doesn’t cling then it’s really all right. When one comes to Thailand, one can touch a person’s knee and there’s no offence, we don’t regard that as important, but when it comes to touching someone’s head we really take offence, it’s really important. This is clinging. Actually all the parts of our body are the same, but this is one part we really hold onto and so tie ourselves up with more and more attachments.

That’s the cause. That’s the cause for the arising of suffering. So we should get rid of the cause, cut of its roots and not allow it to be a base for suffering to arise. For example, if one contemplates the body, it’s all the same. The lower parts, the sides and the head are all much the same. If one thinks about it, even if someone were to come and slap one’s face it’s all the same, it doesn’t matter. This is to be one who has let go of the cause of suffering. People only have this one problem: the problem of clinging. Just because of this one thing people will kill each other. Just because of this, nothing more. Whether talking about the individual, family or national problems, there’s nothing else. Nobody wins… they kill each other but in the end no one gets anything. I don’t know why they go on like that, just killing each other pointlessly.

There’s power, possessions, status, praise, happiness and suffering. These are Worldly Dhammas, the dhammas which swamp worldly beings. Worldly beings are led around by the Worldly Dhammas: gain and loss; status and loss of status; praise and criticism; happiness and suffering. These dhammas are insidious, they lead to trouble. If one doesn’t reflect on their true nature one will suffer. One could even commit murder for wealth, status or power. And why? Because if we don’t understand them we take them too seriously. One is appointed to this or that position, perhaps head of the village or city councilor, this or that… and one “becomes” that position. An old man once told me about a certain obnoxious village headman. After they had appointed him as head of the village he became “power-drunk”. If his old friends came to see him for a chat he wouldn’t associate with them as before. He’d say, “Don’t come around here now, things aren’t the same anymore.”

Be it possession, status, praise or happiness the Buddha taught to understand their nature. Take those things as they come and let them be. Don’t be changed by them. If one doesn’t really understand possessions, status, praise, criticism and so on one may even kill over them; one becomes fooled by one’s power, by one’s children and relatives, by everything. If one understands them clearly one knows that they’re all much the same. They are only impermanent conditions, and yet when clung to they become defiled. They are called Worldly Dhammas. These things lead around worldly beings. There is the Buddha’s teaching, which states that all these things arise subsequently. When people are first born they are simply rupa (form) and nama (mentality), that’s all. We add on the “Mr. Jones” or whatever later. This is done according to convention. Still later we add on the business of General or Colonel or whatever. If one doesn’t really know these things one thinks they are real and so carry them around. One “carries” possessions, status, name and reputation around. I one has power, one calls all the tunes, one can do anything… “take this person and execute him. Take that one and throw him in jail”… One has power because of one’s rank. This word “rank” here is where upadana, clinging, takes hold. As soon as one gets rank one starts giving orders. Right or wrong, one just acts on one’s own power, on one’s own moods. So one just goes on making the same old mistakes, deviating further and further from Dhamma.

If one already knows the practice of Dhamma one won’t behave like that. Good and evil have been in this world since who knows when… when possessions and status accrue to us then let them be simply the possessions, simply the status, but don’t let them become one’s identity. Just use them to fulfill one’s obligations and leave it at that. One is just as before. If we have meditated on these things no matter what accrues to us we won’t be fooled by it. We will be untroubled, unaffected, and constant. Everything is pretty much the same, there’s not a great deal to it.

This is how the Buddha wanted us to contemplate in order to know the truth of things. No matter what one receives, the mind has nothing to concoct or add onto it. They appoint one as a city councilor… “Okay, sure I’m the city councilor but I’m not.”…They appoint one as head of the village… “Okay, so I am… but I’m not!” What ever they make of you… “yes, I am… but I’m not!” In the end what are we anyway? We all just die in the end. Whether they appoint one as city councilor or village headman, in the end it’s all the same. What can one say? If one can see it like this one will be really content, firm and stable. Nothing is changed.

This is to be the one who isn’t fooled. Whatever they give us it’s just that; simply sankhara. There’s nothing, which can lead this mind to create or concoct, there’s nothing which can seduce it again. There are no longer any conditions which can seduce the mind into raga (Lust), dosa (Aversion), or moha (Delusion).

Now this is to be the one who is nurturing Buddhism. Whether we are among those who are being nurtured (the Sangha) or those who are nurturing (the laity) let us thoroughly consider this. Let the sila-dhamma arise within us.

In short this is the surest way to nurture Buddhism. To nurture it by giving food, shelter and medicine are correct also, but they are only correct in so far as the “soft-wood” of Buddhism is concerned. All you lay devotees who have come to listen to Dhamma and cultivate good tendencies today should not forget this. A tree has bark, softwood and heartwood. These three parts are inter-dependent. There is heartwood due to the presence of the bark. There is bark because of the softwood. There is softwood due to the heartwood. They come together just like the Three Teachings of sila, samadhi and panna. Sila is establishing one’s speech and actions in uprightness. Samadhi is firmly fixing the mind. Panna is thorough understanding of the sankharas. Study this, practice this and one will be one who nurtures Buddhism in the most profound way.

If we don’t realize these things within us then if one has many possessions one will be fooled by them; if one has status one will be fooled by it. That’s the way it is. If we only nurture Buddhism in the external way, the arguments and squabbling will never cease the building of grudges and feuds between people will never cease, the stabbing and shooting will never cease. If they are to cease we must contemplate the matter of possessions, status, praise, happiness and suffering. We must contemplate our practice and bring it into line with sila-dhamma. We should reflect that all beings in the world are parts of one whole. We are like them, they are like us. They have happiness, they have suffering, and so do we. It’s all much the same. If one contemplates in this way, peace and understanding will arise. This is the foundation of Buddhism. One who nurtures Buddhism must develop sila, samadhi and panna until they are constantly with one. This is to be one who nurtures Buddhism in the right way.

On this occasion the expounding of Dhamma seems adequate for now. Finally may you all set your minds firm on contemplating what you have heard today so that you can nurture Buddhism with the true practice.

May you all be happy!