Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 8th, 2019
Welcome. Last Friday I showed a video about the Bodhi tree that was hundreds of years old in the North of Thailand, which had fallen down after a big storm. About 20 people were cutting the branches of the Bodhi tree. After cutting the branches, the Bodhi tree suddenly stood back upright. At the time when the tree came back upright, the roots were already above the ground. How could it happen like this? There must be something amazing happening. If we look at it in a practical sense, one may say that there was some strength that pulled the tree upright, or the roots were firmly attached, so it could pull the tree back upright. But if we explain it this way, then when the branches were being cut, the strength left in the roots should pull the Bodhi tree back upright gradually. But in this case, almost all the branches were cut and the tree came up suddenly. It was like there was a great energy that helped to lift it back up. It could be possible that the devas that were supported by this Bodhi tree helped to look after it. The devas had the great faith and respect for the Buddha, who had attained to becoming a Buddha underneath a Bodhi tree. It is likely that this particular Bodhi tree would have had monks paying homage to it, faith from the laypeople, and devas paying respects to it, for hundreds of years. This may have given rise to this amazing occurrence.
And there is one story about a Bodhi tree and our great teacher, Luang Pu Chah. There was once when Luang Pu Chah’s father became ill. Luang Pu Chah went to go attend on him and looked after him very well until his father passed away. Luang Pu Chah contemplated into the body as his meditation object. He reflected on the changing condition of the body. Luang Pu Chah gained a lot of weariness and disenchantment in his heart. The body arises like this and ceases—just like this. However a person is, poor or rich, they may struggle as much as they can, but all lives must decay like this at the end. He had great weariness in his heart. Even after going back to continue his study in the district of Nong Rak, he would often think back to his father and still couldn’t get rid of this feeling of weariness, thinking of death and the uncertainty of life.
So he thought he had to lead himself to the freedom from this never-ending cycle of birth and death. He made a vow of truth to himself, that he would give up this one life to dedicate it to following the teachings of the Buddha. He would gain insight in this very life so that he would not need to have unceasing difficulties, suffering, and have to be born and die again. He would practice wholeheartedly, no matter how difficult it would be. He said that sometimes he would be practicing, and he wanted to eat food so badly. His mind would be very disturbed by it, to the point where he would be imagining breaking a banana and putting it in his mouth. Luang Pu Chah said he had to fight and struggle with difficulties of every type. He said he was determined to practice to end all suffering.
In 1944, Luang Pu Chah’s mother, Yoom Pim, had a dream that 2 of her teeth came out of her mouth. Luang Pu Chah’s mother Yoom Pim felt very upset, but someone came to tell her not to worry. They were just ordinary teeth, and they would give her gold teeth to replace the them. She woke up and wondered about the dream and what it meant. And later there was a Bodhi tree that grew from the stairs on the bottom of their house. This Bodhi tree grew as 8 trees, and grew extraordinarily well. Yoom Pim was very happy about this. She told what had happened to one senior monk at a nearby monastery. He said it was very auspicious because the Bodhi tree is of the same breed as the Buddha, because the Buddha had attained enlightenment underneath the Bodhi tree. But the monk said that one shouldn’t plant the Bodhi tree at home—in a monastery would be more suitable.
Yoom Pim told her youngest son, Banpot, to take the Bodhi trees to plant at a monastery.
The meaning of these events is that Luang Pu Chah would have great parami that would be able to spread the teachings of the Buddha to many countries around the world. This was Luang Pu Chah’s merit and spiritual development that he had already, which can be compared to an open vessel. When he learnt the Dhamma and practiced it, it was like the rain fell into his vessel until it was full. This was the Dhamma that was full in his heart, so that he could spread the teachings of the Buddha to other countries.
The first time Luang Pu Chah went to the UK, Luang Pu Chah said that wherever he went and saw the prosperity of the West, he was never impressed about their material advancement. With whatever he saw, he said that the Buddha was teaching him all the time. The Buddha was with him all the time. What did this mean? The Buddha has attained parinibbana already, but Luang Pu Chah said that the Buddha was with him all the time. This is the knower who understands about nature according to the way it is. The knower that teaches his mind to have understanding arise and to not be deluded in material advancement. This is Dhamma that is very important. And he said that whatever questions he would ask himself, the answer would come up immediately. This is the intelligence of Luang Pu Chah, this is the wisdom that he had trained in already. This wisdom is not able to be given to others, it is a spiritual development that must be built and trained in.
So the Buddha said that even though the Buddha had many amazing psychic abilities, there was still 4 things that he couldn’t do for his disciples. His disciples must do and practice these things for themselves. The Buddha can only show the way. What are these 4 things?
1. The Buddha is unable to change the results of karma of people. Whoever builds that karma, no one else can receive the results of that karma on behalf of that person. One must receive karma oneself.
2. Wisdom is unable to be given. One must train for oneself until wisdom can arise within one. One must learn and memorise, read and listen a lot, develop vast knowledge, and must stay close with people of vast knowledge. One does this until one can gain wisdom. This is something that can’t be given.
3. The essence of the Dhamma cannot be conveyed through language. Ultimately, one needs to practice for oneself to see the reality of the universe. There is only one path that will lead one to experience the truth of Dhamma. Whatever nationality or language one has, if one is only learning the scriptures, one won’t be able to gain understanding into the Dhamma. It is just like the spoon in the curry, which is unable to taste the curry. One must practice to gain proof of the truth, and then one will truly understand the Dhamma.
4. One who has no spiritual development will be unable to receive the Dhamma. This is like if it rains heavily, and one has no vessel to receive the rain, or one’s vessel is turned upside down, then however much the rain falls, no rain will go into that vessel. Or the rain would give no benefit to grass that has no roots. The grass can’t grow. So, even if the Dhamma is so big and great, it is difficult for an individual to have the spiritual development to receive it. Like the Dhammas of patience and endurance, of concentration, and of mindfulness, if one doesn’t use them to practice, then they will give no benefit to oneself. We have to use the Dhammas of patience and endurance, mindfulness and wisdom to get their benefits. But if we don’t practice these qualities, then the patience and endurance has no power of itself to enter into our hearts and make us have patience and endurance. We must practice in order for that Dhamma to have great, incomparable benefit arise in our hearts. This is the boundless nature of the Dhamma.
We could see that when the Buddha taught there was often someone who saw the Dhamma while listening. So may you contemplate that seeing the Dhamma of the Buddha, this is up to our own spiritual development and accumulations. We are born into this present era, and we need to put forth effort to build up our spiritual power and wisdom so that we can receive the Dhamma. If, in this life, we can’t see the Dhamma, then we must build the causes for it to happen in the future. We keep building this tomorrow, next month, next year, until we have the causes to know and see the Dhamma. In this way, we will have spiritual growth. May you keep building your spiritual qualities, and then you will have success in the world and in the Dhamma. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Can we plant Bodhi trees at home or in a garden? Do they have to grow at monasteries?
Luang Por Anan: Bodhi trees can get very large with branches and roots that destroy buildings and walkways. Also, when Buddhists see the Bodhi tree, they recollect the Buddha, so it is good to put the tree in a place where many people can come respect it, like a monastery or big meditation center.
2. Do you have any advice for the new meditators we have with us tonight?
Luang Por Anan: Develop your mind. It is natural to have selfishness in the beginning. One does not think of others. So start to reduce selfishness through different kinds of generosity, like giving items to the Sangha and others. Then, you start to see that all life wishes for happiness and does not want suffering. This leads you to become more ethical—not wishing to kill, steal, do sexual misconduct, lie (because all beings want to receive truth and not falsehood) and speak harshly, and consume things that lead to bad behavior. Then one wishes to be more mindful and concentrated, and wishes to see the Dhamma that the Buddha taught. The Buddha taught to let go of this sense of self. To let go of self we need wisdom, and we use our mindfulness and concentration to build wisdom. This is the Noble Eightfold Path that destroys delusion in one’s heart and leads one to the heart of the Buddha’s teaching.
3. In the world, one sets goals and deadlines to achieve those goals in order to know that one has progressed. How should we do this in terms of spiritual practice?
Luang Por Anan: Spiritual goals are higher than wordly goals and need to be treated differently. One can set the goal to have a pure, awakened heart with perfect mindfulness and concentration. If mindfulness is good, then one can win against the defilements. But if mindfulness is weak, then the defilements can win.
And if one practices with clinging and desire then suffering will result. So one should not cling to the goal. Also, if one fails to achieve the goal, then one will get disappointed and maybe even give up completely. This happens to many people. So keep building the causes for goodness and purity, and the results will come on their own. One’s progress depends on the factors of the Noble Eightfold Path. So this type of spiritual goal is different from setting worldly goals.
4. How is Buddhism different from other religions and spirituality?
Luang Por Anan: In Buddhism we see the results of practice for ourselves, then we believe. There is one case, where the Buddha asked his right-hand chief disciple, Sariputta, who was foremost in wisdom, if Sariputta had faith that what the Buddha had said is true. Sariputta said: “No, I do not have faith that this is true, but I know and see for myself that this is true.” Other religions usually involve more faith with less evidence based on experience.
5. In the deva worlds, can one still make merit and build parami? If yes, then how?
Luang Por Anan: Yes. Tree and sky dwelling devas can help spiritual practitioners. They have powers and psychic abilities. There is one story of Luang Pu Chorp, a disciple of Luang Pu Mun. Luang Pu Chorp was resting in his kuti during a strong storm. He then clearly heard the voice of a nun calling him to come receive robe cloth from an important visitor. He got up quickly to go meet the visitor, but there was no one there at all. When he got back to his hut, he saw a tree had fallen and destroyed the hut along with his belongings. If he had stayed he would have died. If he had no spiritual potential he likely would have died that day.
So devas can rejoice in the goodness done at ceremonies and help us in various ways.
6. In practice, should we set the goal to realize full enlightenment, arahantship, or stream entry? If we set the goal too high would we make too much effort?
Luang Por Anan: Know yourself and know your own abilities. If you make 300,000 or 500,000 baht per month, but you hope for 5 or 50 million baht per month, is this goal too high?
There are people in the world who use mindfulness and wisdom every day, are diligent, and over time become very wealthy. If one’s goal is very high this can lead to craving and suffering. Do the best that you can in the present moment. Have the best mindfulness and wisdom that you can. Good causes in the present lead to good results in the future. Craving to be this or that increases your suffering.
7. How can a beginner create a sustainable practice? How can one transfer the practice to daily life?
Luang Por Anan: Practice meditation and chanting every day and at the same time every day. Then the heart will become used to being peaceful at that time every day. If one stops, the defilements come back.
When you let go of the self, lovingkindness and compassion increase. You become more aware of feelings throughout the day. More virtue, concentration, and wisdom arise, which reduces the sense of self even more, which leads to more lovingkindness. It is possible for the mind to achieve peacefulness every day, but, in the beginning, one needs to have a lot of patience and endurance.
8. We have a test coming up. Do you have any advice to pass it? Also we ask for your blessing.
Luang Por Anan: I can give you my blessing for the test, but this blessing is to give you inspiration to study and put effort into studying and learning.