Ajahn Chah

Colossal Buddha Image at Avukana,  Sri Lanka. 5th Century  A.D. Height 44 feet.

I would like to ask you about your practice. You have all been practicing meditation here, but are you sure about the practice yet? Ask yourselves, whether you are confident about the practice yet? These days there are all sorts of meditation teachers around, both monks and lay teachers, and I am afraid it will cause you to be doubtful and uncertain about what you are doing. This is why I am raising these questions. As far as Buddhist practice is concerned, there is really nothing greater or higher than these teachings of the Buddha, which you have been practicing here. If you have a clear understanding of these teachings, it will give rise to an absolutely firm and unwavering peace in your heart and mind.

Making the mind peaceful is known as practicing meditation, or practicing samadhi (concentration). The mind is extremely changeable and unreliable.  Have you observed this through your practice yet? Some days you sit in meditation and in a matter of seconds the mind becomes calm. Some days you sit and struggle without being able to concentrate - the mind constantly struggling to get away with unproductive thinking, until it finally does. Some days it goes well, some days it is frustrating. This is the way the mind displays the different states of mind. You must understand that the eight factors of the Noble Eightfold Path (ariya magga) merges sila (moral restraint), samadhi and panna (wisdom). They don't come together anywhere else. This means that when you bring the elements of your practice together, there must be sila, there must be samadhi and there must be panna, simultaneously present in the mind. It means that in practicing  meditation here, you are creating the conditions for the Noble Path in a very direct way.

In sitting meditation you are taught to close your eyes, so that you can observe and study your own mind without being distracted to look at other things. Buddha told us that we should know our own mind. When you close your eyes, your attention will naturally be focused inwards - towards your own mind - the source of many different kinds of knowledge. This is a way of training the mind to give rise to samadhi.

Once sitting with the eyes closed, establish awareness with the breathing – understanding that breathing ismore important than anything else. By following the pattern of breathing – inhaling and exhaling – and concentrating you will find that place which is the focal point of sati (mindfulness), the focal point of the knowing and the focal point of the mind's awareness. Whenever these factors of the path are working together, you will be able to watch and see your breath, feelings, mind and arammana (mind objects), as they exist in the present moment. Finally, you will know that place which is  the focal point of samadhi and also the unification point of the path factors.

When developing samadhi, fix attention on the breath and imagine that you are sitting alone with absolutely nothing else around to bother you. Develop this perception in the mind, sustaining it until the mind completely lets go of the world outside and all that is left is simply the knowing of the breath entering and leaving. The mind must set aside the external world. Don't allow yourself to start thinking about this person who is sitting over here, or that person who is sitting over there. Don't give space to any thoughts that will give rise to confusion or agitation in the mind- it's better to throw them out and be done with them. There is no one else here and you are sitting all alone. Develop this perception until all the other memories, perceptions and thoughts concerning other people and things subside, and you are no longer doubting or wandering about the other people or things around you. Then you can fix your attention solely on the inhalations and exhalations. Keep on breathing normally and allow the breathing to continue naturally, without forcing the inhalations or exhalations to be longer or shorter, stronger or weaker than normal. Allow the breathing to continue in a state of normality and balance, and then attentively and vigilantly, observe this process.

Once the mind has let go of external hindrances, you will no longer be disturbed by the sound of traffic or other noises. You will not feel irritated or disturbed by forms, sounds or objects because the minds attention will be solely centered upon breathing and will not pay attention to anything else.

If the mind continues to feel agitated by different things and you are unable to concentrate, try taking an extra-deep breath until the lungs are completely full.  Then release all the air until there is none left inside. Do this several times, then reestablish awareness and continue to develop concentration. Having reestablished mindfulness, it's normal that for a period of time the mind will be calm, but then change and become agitated again. When this happens repeat the previously explained deep breathing process to reestablish mindfulness on breathing. Fix sati on the inhalations  and the exhalations and continue to maintain awareness.

The practice tends to laborious and needs your undivided attention, and will have to repeat many sittings  before you become proficient. Once you are, the mind will let go of the external world and remain undisturbed. Mind-objects from the outside will be unable to penetrate inside and disturb the mind itself. Once this penetration stops, you will see the mind very clearly. You will see the mind as one object of awareness, the breath as another and mind-objects as another. They will all be present within the field of awareness, centered at the tip of your nose. Once sati is firmly established with the breathing process, you can continue to practice at your ease. As the mind becomes calm, the breathing, which was originally coarse, correspondingly becomes lighter and more refined. The object of mind also becomes increasingly subtle and refined. The body will feel lighter and the mind too will feel progressively lighter and unburdened. The mind will let go of all external mind-objects and will continue to observe the internal process.

From here onwards your awareness will be turned away from the world outside and is directed inwards focusing only on the mind. Once the mind has gathered its forces and become concentrated, it will maintain awareness and be focused. As you breathe, you will see the entire process with clarity, sati will be sharp and awareness of mind-objects and mental activity will be clearer. At that point you will see the characteristics of sila, samadhi and panna and the way they merge together. This is known as the unification of the Path factors. Once this unification occurs, your mind will be free from all forms of agitation and confusion. It will become one pointed and this is what is known as samadhi. When you focus attention in just one place, in this case the breathing, you gain clarity and awareness due to the uninterrupted presence of sati. As you continue to see the breathing process clearly, sati will become stronger and the mind will become more sensitive in many different ways. You will see the mind in the center of that place  (the breathing process), awareness focused inwards, rather than turning towards the world outside. The external world gradually disappears from your awareness and the mind will no longer perform any outside work. It could be said that you've finally entered "your own house " where all your sense faculties have come together to form one compact unit. You are at your ease and the mind is free from all external objects. Awareness remains with the breathing and over time it will penetrate deeper and deeper inside, becoming progressively more refined. Ultimately, awareness of the breathing becomes so refined that the sensation of the breath seems to disappear. You could say either that awareness of the sensation of the breathing has disappeared, or that the breath itself has disappeared. Then there arises a new kind of awareness -awareness that the breathing has disappeared. In other words, awareness of the breathing becomes so refined that it becomes difficult to define it.

So it might be that you are just sitting there without breathing. In reality, the breathing is still there, but it has become so refined that its presence is not felt anymore. Why? It is because the mind is at its most refined state, with access to a very special kind of knowledge - awareness. All that remains is the knowledge. Even though the breath has not vanished, the mind is still concentrated with the knowledge that the breath is not there. As you continue, what should you  take  as the object of meditation? Take this very awareness as the object of meditation- in other words the knowledge that there is no breath - and sustain this. You could say that a specific kind of knowledge has been established in the mind.

At this point, some people might have doubts arising, because it is here that nimitta can arise. These can be of many kinds, including both forms and sounds. It is at this stage all sorts of unexpected things can arise during the course of the practice. If nimittas do arise (some people have them, some don't) you must understand them in accordance with the truth. Don't doubt or allow yourself to become alarmed.

At this stage, you should make the mind unshakable in its concentration and be especially mindful. Some people become startled when they notice that the breathing has disappeared, because they're used to the breathing process. When it appears that the breath has gone, you might panic or become afraid that you are going to die. Here you must establish the understanding that it is just the nature of the practice to progress in this way. What will you observe as the object of meditation now? Observe this feeling that there is no breath and sustain it as the object of awareness as you continue to meditate. The Buddha described this as the firmest, most unshakable form of samadhi. There is just one firm and unwavering object of mind. When your practice of samadhi reaches this point, there will be many unusual and refined changes and transformations taking place within the mind, which you can be aware of. The sensation of the body will feel at its lightest or might even disappear altogether. You might feel like you are floating in  midair and seem to be completely weightless. It might be like you are in the middle of space and wherever you direct your sense faculties they don't seem to register anything at all. Even though you know the body is still sitting there, you experience complete emptiness. This feeling of emptiness can be quite strange.

As you continue to practice, understand that there is nothing to worry about. Establish this feeling of being relaxed and unworried, securely in the mind. Once the mind is concentrated and focused, no mind-object will be able to penetrate or disturb it. You will be able to sit like this for as long as you want. You will be able to sustain concentration without any feelings of pain or discomfort.

Having developed samadhi to this level, you will be able to enter or leave it at will. When you do leave it ,it is at your ease and convenience. You withdraw at your ease, rather than because you are feeling lazy, unenergetic or tired. You withdraw from samadhi because it is the appropriate time to withdraw, and you come out of it at your will.

This is samadhi: you are relaxed and at your ease. You enter and leave it without any problems. The mind and heart are at ease. If you genuinely have samadhi like this, it mean that sitting meditation and entering samadhi for just thirty minutes or an hour will enable you to remain cool and peaceful for many days afterwards. Experiencing the effects of samadhi like this for several days has a purifying effect on the mind- whatever you experience will become and object for contemplation. This is where the practice really begins. It is the fruit that arises as samadhi matures.

Samadhi performs the function of calming the mind. Samadhi performs one function, sila performs one function and panna performs another function. These characteristics on which you focus attention and develop through practice are linked, forming a circle. This is a manifestation in the mind. Sila samadhi and panna arise and mature from the same place. Once the mind is calm, it will become progressively more restrained and composed due to the presence of panna and the power of samadhi. As the mind becomes more composed and refined, giving rise to an energy which acts to purify sila. Greater purity of sila facilitates the development of stronger and more refined samadhi, and this in turn support the maturing of panna. They assist each other in this way. Each aspect of the practice acts as a supporting factor for each other, becoming synonymous in the end. As these three factors continue to mature together, they form one complete circle, ultimately giving rise to magga. Magga is a synthesis of these functions of the practice working smoothly and consistently together. As  you practice, you have to preserve this energy. It is the energy that will give rise to vipassana (insight) or panna. Having reached this stage (where panna is already functioning in the mind, independent of whether the mind is peaceful or not) panna will provide a consistent and independent energy during the practice. You will see that whenever the mind is not peaceful, you shouldn't attach and even when it is peaceful, you shouldn't attach. Having let go of the burden of such concerns, the mind will accordingly feel much lighter. Whether you experience pleasant mind objects or unpleasant mind objects, you will remain at ease. The mind will remain peaceful .

Another important thing is to know that when you stop doing the formal meditation practice, if there is no wisdom function in the mind, you will give up the practice altogether without any further contemplation, development of awareness or thought about the work which still has to be done. In fact, when you withdraw from samadhi, you know clearly in the mind that you have withdrawn. Having withdrawn, continue to conduct yourself in a normal manner. Maintain mindfulness and awareness at all times. It isn't that you only practice meditation in the sitting. Posture-samadhi means the mind which is firm and unwavering. As you go about your daily life, make the mind firm and steady and maintain this sense of steadiness as the object of mind at all times. You must be practicing sati and sampajanna (all round knowing) continuously. After you get up from the formal sitting practice and go about your business- walking riding in cars and so on - whenever your eyes see a from or your ears hear a sound, maintain awareness. As you experience mind objects that give rise to likes and dislikes, try consistently to maintain awareness of the fact that such mental states are impermanent and uncertain. In this way the mind will remain calm and in a state of normality.

As long as the mind is calm, use it to contemplate mind objects. Contemplate the whole of this form, the physical body. You can do this at any time and in any posture; whether doing formal meditation practice, relaxing at home, out at work, or in whatever situation you find yourself. Keep the meditation and the reflection going at all times. Just going for a walk and seeing dead leaves on the ground under a tree can provide an opportunity to contemplate impermanence. Both, we and the leaves are the same; when we get old, we shrivel up and die. Other people are all the same. This is raising the mind to the level of vipassana, contemplating the truth of the way things are, the whole time. Whether walking, standing, sitting or lying down, sati is sustained evenly and consistently. This is practicing meditation correctly- you have to be following the mind closely, checking it at all times.

Practicing here and now at seven o'clock in the evening, we have sat and meditated together for an hour and now stopped. It might be that your mind has stopped practicing completely and hasn't continued with the reflection. That’s the wrong way to do it. When we stop, all that should stop is the formal meeting and sitting meditation. You should continue practicing and developing awareness consistently, without letting up.

I have often taught that if you don't practice consistently, it is like the trickle of drops of water. It is like drop of water because the practice is not a continuous, with an uninterrupted flow. Sati is not sustained evenly. The important point is that the mind does the practice and nothing else. The body doesn't do it. The mind does the work and the mind does the practice. If you understand this clearly, you will see that you don't necessarily have to do formal sitting meditation in order for the mind to know samadhi. The mind is the one who does the practice. You have to experience and understand this for yourself, in your own mind.

Once you do see this for yourself, you will be developing awareness in the mind at all times and in all postures. If you are maintaining sati as an even and unbroken flow, it's as if the drops of water have joined to form a smooth and continuous flow of running water. Sati is present in the mind from moment to moment and accordingly there will be awareness of mind-objects at all times. If the mind is restrained and composed with uninterrupted sati, you will know mind objects each time that wholesome and unwholesome mental states arise. You will know the mind that is calm and the mind that is confused and agitated. Wherever you go you will be practicing like this. If you train the mind in this way, it means your meditation will mature quickly and successfully.

The sacred Tooth Relic temple. 

 Kandy,

Sri Lanka

 

Please don't misunderstand. These days it's common for people to go on vipassana courses for three or seven days, where they don't have to speak or do anything but meditate. Maybe you have gone on a silent meditation retreat for a week or two, afterwards returning to your normal daily life. You might have left thinking that you've done vipassana and, because you feel that you know what it's all about, then carry on going to parties, discos and indulging in different forms of sensual delight. When you do it like this, what happens? There won't n be any of the fruits of vipassana left, in the end. If you go and do all sorts of things, that could disturb and upset the mind, you could waste everything gained so far.  Going back again next year and doing another retreat for seven days or a few weeks, and then following the same routine is not the method of true practice. It isn't patipada or the path to progress.

You need to make an effort to renounce. You must contemplate until you see the harmful effects that could come from such behavior. See the harm in drinking and going out. Reflect and see the harm inherent in all the different kinds of destructive behavioral patterns until it becomes fully apparent. This would provide the impetus for you to take a step back and change your ways. Then you would find some real peace. To experience peace of mind you have to clearly see the disadvantages and danger in such forms of behavior. This is practicing  the correct way. If you do a silent retreat for seven days, where you don't have to speak  or to get involved with anybody, and then go back to chatting, gossiping and overindulging for  seven months right after, how will you gain any real or lasting benefit from those seven days of practice ? 

I would encourage all the lay people here, who are practicing to develop awareness and wisdom, to understand this point. I request them  to practice consistently. See the disadvantages of practicing insincerely and inconsistently, and try to sustain a more dedicated and continuous effort in the practice.  It can then become a realistic possibility that you might put an end to the kilesa (mental defilements). But that style of not speaking and not playing around for seven days, followed by six months of complete sensual indulgence, without any mindfulness or restraint, will just lead to the squandering of any gains made from the meditation - there won't be anything left, in the end. It is like earning twenty dollars and spending thirty dollars a day!  You will not have any money saved in the end but will be in debt!  It's just the same with the meditation the losses will outweigh the gains!

This is a form of reminder to you all, but I will ask for your forgiveness for speaking bluntly. It's necessary to speak in this manner, so that we can  accordingly correct our faults. You could say that the reason why you have come to practice is to learn how to avoid doing the wrong things in the future. What happens when you do the wrong things? Doing wrong things leads you to agitation and suffering, and hinder our progress.  When there is no goodness in the mind there will be no peace of mind. This is the way it is.  At many places where meditation is taught, they don't really get to grips with or get beyond this problem.

In meditation you have to constantly turn your attention to  practicing. It’s like planting a tree. If you plant a tree in one place and after three days pull it up and replant it in a different spot, then after a further three days pull it up and plant it in yet another place, it will just die without producing any fruit. Meditational practice like this, won't bear any fruit either. This is something you have to understand for yourselves. Contemplate it. Try it out for yourselves, when you go home. Get a sampling and plant it one spot, and after every few days, go and pull it up and plant it in a different place. It will just die without ever bearing any fruit. It's the same doing a meditation retreat for seven days, followed by seven months of unrestrained behavior, allowing the mind to become soiled, and then going back to do another retreat for a short period, practicing strictly without talking and subsequently coming out and being unrestrained again. As with the tree, the meditation just dies-none of the wholesome fruits will be retained.

Actually I am not fond of giving talks like this. It is because I feel sorry for you that I have to speak critically. When you are doing the wrong things, it is my duty to tell you, but I am speaking out of compassion for you. Some people might feel uneasy and think that I am just scolding them. Really I am not just scolding but trying to explain where you are going wrong. Some people might think, "Luang Por is just telling us off," but it is not like that. It's only once in a long while that I am able come and give a talk- if I was to give talks like this everyday, you would really get upset ! But the truth is, it is not you who gets upset, it is only the kilesa that are upset. I will say just this much for now.