1.(a) Question: What is the meaning of the words in the Anumodanarambha-gatha: “sabbe purentu sankappa”, which is translated as: “may all your wishes be fulfilled”. As the eightfold path is a path of renunciation and letting go, is it helpful, if all wishes are fulfilled?
1.(a) The giving of this blessing is giving strength of heart. The blessing you mention relates to success in ways that accord with siladhamma [virtue/morality], that which does not harm oneself or others.
For children, this could be to succeed in school; a bit older, to succeed in one’s exams; and, even older, to succeed in work—work that is in line with siladhamma. This is the giving of strength of heart to the listener.
Even higher than this is the building and development of goodness, such as in Right Livelihood, but, in this case, one is not yet at the point of overcoming dukkha [stress/suffering]. Depending on one’s circumstances, one should know how to live life as a couple, in a relationship, as a family, or having a job—knowing how to live life well given these different conditions.
Even higher than this is to succeed in doing goodness, doing dana [generosity], and cultivating lovingkindness. One gives this blessing, for instance, after an individual gives dana to the Sangha [monastic community], having made merit with the Sangha, and the Sangha has lovingkindness to give strength of mind to help one succeed.
For a Dhamma practitioner, success can relate to dana and sila, which result in happiness. However, the practitioner sees that this happiness is not permanent. The practitioner sees the drawbacks in conditioned phenomena—sees that they are anicca, not lasting, sees that old age, sickness, and death are inevitable, and sees the drawbacks in the world. Having seen in this way, one walks the Noble Eightfold Path of sila, samadhi, and panya [virtue, collectedness/concentration, and wisdom]. One develops samadhi, develops the mind, and contemplates the body as empty: merely a heap of elements; as not me, not mine, and not a self. This is seeing the Dhamma. This is developing true happiness.
1.(b). Is it true that for wishes to be fulfilled they need the right causes and conditions ?
1.(b). This is correct—one must develop merit and build the causes, as well. One builds wisdom, viriya—energy and effort—and one does not just get the blessing, but one also practices for oneself. One gets the blessing but must also lay down the causes on one’s own. Higher than this is to contemplate Dhamma to overcome dukkha.
2. Question: Could you please explain the deeper meaning of the words: “Mettāya, bhikkhave, cetovimuttiyā āsevitāya bhāvitāya bahulīkatāya yānīkatāya vatthukatāya anuṭṭhitāya paricitāya susamāraddhāya ekādasānisaṃsā pāṭikaṅkhā. Katame ekādasa?” [English translation: “Bhikkhus, for one whose awareness-release through good will is cultivated, developed, pursued, handed the reins and taken as a basis, given a grounding, steadied, consolidated, and well-undertaken, eleven benefits can be expected. Which eleven?”]
2. This is when we are developing metta until we reach cetovimutti, liberation of mind. In other words, we practice metta continuously until our mind is firmly established in samadhi. We can then use this samadhi to reflect on all phenomena as not-self. When we do more and more of this metta practice, it becomes a vehicle for us. Our training in metta will gradually lead us to higher and higher levels of inner stability and peace and it will gradually accumulate more strength. Metta practice is one form of samatha, tranquility, practice. When we practice metta consistently, our mind will feel at ease and become still. It will be a cause for samadhi to arise, and it may lead to a state of appana samadhi. We then use this samadhi to reflect and contemplate until the insight of vipassana arises—until wisdom arises. This is how the mind is liberated through the development of metta. This is cetovimutti. In this way, samadhi is developed first and then followed by contemplation.
Sometimes we practice metta and the mind becomes still and peaceful. Or it may be that we do contemplation, then metta arises through this, we keep contemplating, metta arises again, and we keep doing this until eventually the mind is brought to peace. This is metta pañña vimutti, liberation through lovingkindness and wisdom.
3. Question: May you please explain the refinement levels of all the Silas, starting in the mind. Are there some special Suttas, which would be helpful to get a better understanding in this respect?
3. To put it simply, what is of greatest importance when it comes to sila is our intention. Just like the story of Sumitta, the daughter from a wealthy family who was married to a hunter and helped prepare his weapons. People would look at her as lacking in morality, but, in reality, her intention was established in sila. Even though she lived with her husband who made a living through hunting deer, she never had the intention to kill any living beings. In this way, our intention is established in sila.
As the Buddha taught: cetanāhaṁ bhikkhave sı̄laṁ vadāmi – “Intention is the essence of moral training.” This is also how Ajahn Chah would teach. Do not overcomplicate it. The main purpose of sila is to take care of our bodily and verbal conduct in order to make the mind peaceful and at ease so that we can develop samadhi. The purpose is also not to cause harm to anyone.
When it comes to sila, one should not fall into obsessively finding fault. Do not dwell on thoughts like “Oh, my mind is not pure anymore, my sila is not good.” These kinds of thoughts will just cause us more distress. We should keep reminding ourselves that the purpose of sila is for the development of samadhi. Do not let it become a source of worry, because that is not what it is for. Sila is for making our mind peaceful.
4. Question: I am living in a partnership and would like to know more about the importance of the Brahmacarya [celibacy] vow. Could Ajahn Anan explain the refinement levels of such a Brahmacarya life. If I take the 8 precepts – is it okay to just live a celibate life or should I additionally take other points into consideration?
4. If one undertakes the brahmacarya vow, the celibate life, this gives one more time and opportunity to be alone and secluded, to practice and be less involved with others. This gives one more opportunity to bring the mind to peace and samadhi. With a partner, children, other family, and so on, it is more difficult to find this opportunity.
If one lives with a partner and the partner agrees to one’s undertaking the celibate life, then one can do this and realize samadhi more easily. A couple can undertake celibacy one day per week or more, but do not let this become a problem within one’s family or relationship.
For individuals with sufficient parami from the past, they may live as a couple; then, when it is time to put things down, they are able to know and see the Dhamma, just like Lady Visakha and Anathapindika. Even in this example, we can see that the young daughter of Anathapindika, Sumana, attained to sakadagami, once-returner, a higher level of awakening then her father. Sumana was able to achieve this because she had comparatively few duties and responsibilities. Lady Visakha and Anathapindika both had a spouse and a great many duties and responsibilities.
Therefore, the brahmacarya life gives one more solitude and is of a higher quality; one is able to realize the enlightenment level of anagami, non-returner, in this way.
Be determined. If you live alone, live the brahmacarya life, and if you live as a couple then be determined to make effort and practice more.
‘In the same way the sun lights the world, the Dhamma lights the mind.
There is no light, which is as bright as the light of wisdom.
There is no light, which is brighter than the light of wisdom.
There is no light equal to the light of wisdom.’
I would like to know, if the light of wisdom and the light of universal love are not equal and in what way are they different then?
5. Cultivating metta, lovingkindness, for all beings brings about the happiness of samadhi [collectedness/concentration]. The mind that is then gathered in samadhi is able to see anatta, not-self, clearly, which is wisdom. The pure mind, having been purified by wisdom, then has metta included in it.
In the beginning, lovingkindness is used to develop the mind to be collected in samadhi, which is one type of light. Then one sees anatta, the mind is pure through wisdom, and metta is part of this pure mind. Metta samadhi has degradation. The purified mind, with metta as a part of it, is lokuttara—beyond the world.
6. Question: Taking Ven. Sariputta as the one disciple with highest wisdom, is it correct to say that he set the causes in all his many previous lives in samsara for this highest wisdom and when he became an Arahat, the Dhamma did flow through his mind and words, based on all these set causes, which reflected his huge wisdom?
6. Yes, this is correct. Ven. Sariputta built great amounts of parami, spiritual virtues, in the past. Even in the time of the past Buddha Anumodassi, he already had a high level of wisdom. In that life, Ven. Sariputta was an ascetic named Sarada with a retinue of 84,000 followers. On one occasion, the Buddha and his disciples came to visit Sarada and his retinue. After the Sangha sat in deep meditation for seven days and seven nights, the Buddha and his two chief disciples gave Dhamma discourses, whereupon all 84,000 followers realized arahantship. Sarada did not attain to arahantship; instead, he made the aspiration to become the Right-Hand Chief Disciple of a future Buddha, having been inspired by the Right-Hand Chief Disciple of Buddha Anumodassi, named Nisabha.
Ven. Sariputta went on to build even more parami, which took a long time, in order to succeed in his aspiration. He had more wisdom then all the other arahant disciples, even more than the other 80 great disciples of the Buddha. Ven. Sariputta was known as the Marshal of the Dhamma, the Dhammasenapati. He could teach Dhamma in place of the Buddha. Just like a supreme commander has right and left hand chief commanders to help him, just so, every Buddha has right and left hand chief disciples.
7. (a) Question: I have a question regarding the spreading of lovingkindness, metta, to all beings. If I spread this lovingkindness equally to all the beings, is it correct to just let flow peace as wide as it goes into all directions simultaneously?
7. (a) This is correct. We spread metta in all directions—above, below, front, and back, wishing for all beings to be free from hostility and free from danger. In the same way that a mother loves the child in her womb, just so do we spread our love to all beings.
7. (b). If I remember certain groups of beings to whom I would like to send Metta, may I then also just observe somehow neutrally with a kind mind these groups of people and places and go ahead as if I would visit them in their dwellings?
7. (b) Yes, that is correct. When we spread metta, it is like sending our mind out to reach them. If the recipient’s mind has the calmness of samadhi and is sensitive enough, they may be able to feel this metta.
8. Question: To what extend is it a person’s responsibility to point out and/or correct people—for example about a break of sila [morality/virtue]. As far as I know, the intention should remain wholesome as much as possible (the best way unintentional). I notice and sometimes admit to myself that my mind vacillates between trying to connect and rejecting the behaviour of the other person. Most of the time I act and accept the unwholesome. I tell myself how else do I want to practise.
8. If you find yourself disliking others’ behaviour, that is okay. Just be aware of that reaction of disliking. When someone does something wrong, and you feel disliking, this is normal. We notice that feeling of disliking, and we put it down; we let it go. We can reflect that others act like this because of their ignorance. The ignorance in their mind is the cause of their wrong actions, wrong speech, or wrong thinking. We just reflect that: “Someone with ignorance is just like this”. We also remind ourselves that it is unlikely that we will be able to overcome their ignorance.
When others fall into ignorance like that, if we then react through delusion by feeling upset or angry about it, then this is allowing that ignorance to enter and take control of our own hearts, as well. We should therefore put our main focus on overcoming the ignorance in our own hearts.
As for other people’s ignorance, we have to let go of that and let it be in accordance with nature. For ourselves, we need to train to notice and catch our own ignorance when it arises. When we feel disliking or ill-will, we notice that feeling and we let go of it. Sometimes we may feel angry, but we let it go—we don’t feed the anger or let it turn into vengeance.
9. (a) Question: In order to act in a more unifying manner in everyday conversations, opinions and views, what kind of conditions are important that I can contemplate?
9. (a) It’s fine to express different opinions, but one should not argue and quarrel over them. Keep in mind the good intentions and commitment of all parties involved. It is normal that sometimes our views differ from one another. We should still strive to maintain a sense of communal harmony. This harmony is something valuable that will help empower and encourage us. We do not split into factions, nor do we have an us-versus-them attitude. We see and acknowledge the good intentions of everyone. For ourselves, we need to be aware of the wishes and desires of each person, including our self. Do not hold on to or attach to your own views.
9. (b) On the one hand I’m thinking of Metta [lovingkindness], Karuna [compassion], and Mudita [sympathetic joy]. How can these levels of wisdom (cinta-maya panna) be strengthened by contemplation? What other causes and conditions are important to know/contemplate in this context?
9. (b) If we all act out of conceit and hold strongly onto our own views, it will be very difficult to have harmony in the community. Each person needs to let go of their conceited views and instead focus on our common goals; we need to unify so that we can all work together towards our goal of attaining, knowing and seeing the Dhamma.
It is normal that, at times, there are objections or grudges and that people have an us-versus-them attitude. But, for ourselves, we should not follow this kind of divisive thinking. We should be willing to make compromises and to give in if necessary within the bounds of siladhamma. We may not always be in agreement, but sometimes we can go along with the ideas of others, and sometimes others will go along with our own ideas. Find things that will help unite and bring harmony to the community with an attitude of metta. Do not fall into conceit or have a strong sense of self.
10. Question: How do I strengthen patience and endurance?
10. See and contemplate the drawbacks of not having patient endurance and the advantages of having patient endurance.
Study the history of Lord Buddha, how the Lord Buddha had great patient endurance parami. One can study and reflect on the Khantivadi Jataka, where the Bodhisattva was tortured by a king and attained the utmost level of patient endurance parami.
One’s goal is nibbana. When greed, aversion, and delusion arise, then practice patient endurance. Patiently endure dukkha.
[The Khantivadi Jataka tale can be found here: https://www.sacred-texts.com/bud/j3/j3014.htm]
11. Question: To walk as a group towards Nibbana or to walk alone towards Nibbana, what kind of a difference with regards to later Dhamma-effects will this bring?
11. There is no difference. If one goes as a group, it can be like Venerable Yasa and his friends. Ven. Yasa practiced with his 54 friends in the past, then, in his final life, Ven. Yasa saw the Dhamma and realized arahantship first. These 54 friends, all of whom were close with Ven. Yasa, saw that the Buddhasasana must be very excellent because Ven. Yasa had immense wealth that he sacrificed in order to go ordain and was an intelligent person. Therefore, they thought that this Buddhasasana must be extraordinary.
The 54 friends went to listen to the Dhamma from the Buddha and succeeded in seeing the Dhamma, all 54 of them. All the friends succeeded in seeing the Dhamma in their own hearts. Before this success, however, they practiced together as a group. A group may succeed in seeing the Dhamma at the same time, or some group members a little bit before or some a little bit after others.
One can also look at the example of the three Kassapa brothers from the time of the Buddha: Uruvela Kassapa, the eldest with a retinue of 500 disciples, Nadi Kassapa, the middle brother with a retinue of 300, and Gaya Kassapa, the youngest, with a retinue of 200. The older brother, Uruvela Kassapa, went forth first then the middle, then the youngest brother, in that order. Then all the brothers and their disciples listened to the Fire Sermon and all realized arahantship together during that discourse. In this case they practiced together and saw the Dhamma together.
12. Question: Can you explain to us a bit more the words: Apacayanamaya [humility or reverence]; Ditthujukamma [straightening one’s views or forming correct views]?
12. Ajahn Anan said he would answer this question with Dhamma talks. Please see especially the talks from the week of November 15 onward or so, and especially the ongoing Friday night Dhamma videoconference talks for detailed expositions on these topics. [For example, the talks found online such as this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jfcA3_7n74I]
“Even though there might be thick clouds all around, the sun actually stays as bright as always, even if it’s hard to see. Just like this, even if the hindrances or defilements are thick and heavy, the mind stays as bright as always even if it’s hard to see.”
The statement, that the mind stays as bright as always, indicates that the hindrances or defilements are in no way influencing the brightness of the mind. The mind seems to be fully unaffected by all the kilesas. In the Pabhassara Sutta (AN 1.49-52) it is said that the mind is luminous but also defiled by incoming defilements, and later it is freed from incoming defilements through bhavana practice. How can it then stay as bright as always? On the other hand, if the mind would NOT be as bright as always, one would have no chance to purify the mind. Could you please give some deeper explanations?
13. In the beginning of our practice, sense impressions enter our mind, and our mind is still lacking in mindfulness and samadhi. Then the mind gets mixed with those sense impressions, like clouds covering the moon. The sense impressions cover the mind and get mixed with the mind so that we no longer see the brightness of the mind.
When the sense impressions have arisen and ceased, the mind is bright. Then new sense impressions enter and mix with the mind, and the mind is no longer aware of the brightness. Later, the mind may become bright for just a moment again. The situation goes back and forth like this, and we do not see the true luminous nature of the mind.
When we have mindfulness, and we are able to see through the sense impressions as they arise and cease, then the mind begins to become more and more luminous—it stabilizes. The clearer we see that all things are impermanent, stressful, and not-self, the more stable the brightness of the mind becomes. The mind gradually increases in brightness like the waxing moon, a little brighter each day, until the mind becomes awakened—Buddha. Then, even when sense impressions come, they simply arise and cease and the mind is as luminous as always. This is what full and complete understanding is like.
In the beginning, we only have a limited understanding of this, so we need to keep practising until, finally, we are able to see through sense impressions. We will then be able to see the mind and sense impressions as two separate things. The mind is one thing and sense impressions are another—they no longer get mixed with each other.
14. Question: Hearing the sound of the heating-system, which starts in the house, one meditator hears this sound and feels very peaceful and calm. She gets waves in the body and mind and even recognizes some smaller waves in her citta [mind]. Can you explain what is happening?
14. One’s attention is fully focused on the sound as a single object – such as the sound of the heater – which, even though it is a human made sound, has a natural and stable quality to it. When we remain in a state of stillness and stay with the sound until the mind becomes peaceful, we may then see refined visions in our body. We may see the energy that is flowing into and throughout the body. We may become aware of the electrical charges in the body that are already all around and throughout the body. We may see this as neutrons, protons and electrons moving around.
This is just how the more refined levels of reality are like—there is fine energy flowing through our bodies that is not visible to the eye. However, if we are well established in samadhi and the mind becomes still and peaceful, we may sometimes see this energy. If our samadhi is strong and wisdom arises, we will then see these phenomena as anatta, not-self.
We can go from seeing this body as being material in nature to seeing the body as consisting of mere energy—of very small particles of energy. When we reflect further on this energy, we can see that it is empty by nature—we see that all phenomena are empty by nature.
15. Ajahn Anan’s response to a sunrise/sunset photograph:
15. This golden sky is beautiful and lovely with an uplifting golden light.
We have the good fortune to be born as humans, to have the opportunity to build goodness, and to develop our minds to higher levels.
As we bring our attention to the sun, we incline our minds and pay homage to the boundless virtues of the Buddha, the boundless virtues of the Dhamma, and the boundless virtues of the Sangha.
When we incline our minds and pay homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha in this way, we bring our minds to the Dhamma, which means we contemplate and see arising and passing away. We see the sun rise, gradually cross the sky, and then set. The days come and go; they are ever passing by—there is only arising, staying for a short time, then passing away.
May you have effort to develop your minds, to reach the true Dhamma, and to be able to see the Dhamma.
Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – June 19th, 2020
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
Homage to the Blessed One, Noble One, the Rightly Self-Awakened One
Welcome to all the monks and novices and all the laity.
When we talk about dukkha, or suffering, there are many causes for it. Hunger, pain, and sickness. This is one type of cause. The arising of dangers or accidents. Receiving harm or being subject to theft or loss. All these are causes for physical suffering. But it has an effect on the mind. If we talk of the suffering of the mind, then there is just one cause. That is, suffering because of attachment. Clinging. Not willing to let go, not willing to put down. This is the cause for us to have suffering in the mind—due to not letting go, to not putting down—this is the fundamental cause for us to suffer in the mind.
For instance, attaching to things in the past, especially the disappearance of things that we love, the disappearance of people that we love. As well as the pain and grief that has been received from some particular person. In reality, it has passed already. But we hold on to it in the mind. We aren’t willing to let go. So we suffer, grieve, despair, and lament. If we do not suffer from attachment to the past, then we worry about the future. The bad thing hasn’t yet arisen, but we worry and proliferate about it. We have assessed the whole situation already. Sometimes we think of the obstacles that are coming up for us. Some people just get sick only a little, but they think and proliferate far off into the future that they will die from this. This worry of the future is another type of attachment that can make us have suffering.
And so whatever way it is, if we don’t think of the future, then worry won’t arise. Fear won’t arise, as well. Usually we fear what hasn’t arisen. Right now we are at ease, but we think about the bad things that may arise in the future. This is called thinking beyond the present moment. This makes us suffer on and on.
An example of this is of monks that are going to stay and meditate in the cremation ground. In the morning, when they go for alms-round, the mind has no suffering at all. During the day, the mind isn’t suffering. But when it has come to the evening, then the mind starts to suffer. Because they need to go into the cremation ground soon.
They need to go into a place that they are very afraid of. They are scared that there will be some spirits that come to give them trouble and make them lose their mindfulness. They have thought all about it already. But when they really go into the cremation ground, there is no spirit there to trouble them. But they see their thoughts and proliferation within their own mind, that there is a ghost troubling them each night. Why is this? It’s just because they are still attached to ‘me’ and ‘mine’.
Our proliferation may not be about something in the future, but it’s proliferation after we see something with our eyes. We may see a shadow in passing at night, and we may see it as a person or a ghost. Or a branch on the ground, we may think it is a snake. There is anxiety in the mind.
And to give one more example about a young novice monk. This young novice had the duty to sweep all the leaves in the monastery grounds each morning. He would sweep the leaves in the morning out in the frosty, cold winds. Every time after he woke up, he would be in a lot of suffering. Especially in the winter season, many leaves would be scattered all around the monastery grounds. Each morning, he had to spend a lot of time sweeping and picking up all the leaves. This made the young novice furious every day. He tried to think of a way to make it easier for himself. He thought that if this tree here didn’t exist, then he wouldn’t need to sweep its leaves every day, and it would be much easier for him. But he couldn’t do it, as he didn’t have the authority to cut a tree in the monastery which was the abbot’s responsibility.
There was one monk who said to the young novice, “Tomorrow before you start to sweep, use your strength and shake that tree. Shake it until all the leaves fall. Then the day after, you won’t need to sweep any leaves that have fallen.”
The young novice agreed and nodded his head in approval. So, the next morning, he woke up and shook the tree with all his strength. He did this so that he could sweep up all the leaves for today and for tomorrow, all in one go! On that day, the novice was in such a good mood all day. He was smiling and was so happy. He had never had this much happiness in his life since he ordained as a novice.
Then the next day, the young novice looked around the monastery grounds. He had to rub his eyes in disbelief. The monastery was full of leaves just like it was everyday. The young novice fell to the ground, with no strength and sapped of energy to do anything. The Venerable abbot came and saw him, the adorable state of this young novice, and he knew that the novice had shook the tree so that the leaves would all fall.
The abbot said, “You are a foolish child. Even if today you shake the tree with all your strength, the leaves will still fall just as usual.”
In the end, the young novice understood that there are some things in the world that one cannot do ahead of time. If we are fully into the things we are doing at that time, only then will there be the fullness of a human-being. So the young novice then had mindfulness in the present moment. He didn’t think to the next day where he would have to sweep the leaves again.
And the Venerable abbot said further, “The leaves fall, just like the things that contact with the mind. If we can see it according to truth, then we can see all things that arise, are there, and they are just the way they are. Whether there is a ‘me’ or not, when various things come to contact the mind and affect it – just like the leaves that come to contact with the mind of the young novice – then may you just have the duty to watch, be aware, and to stay in the present moment. Everything, all things, they arise, persist, and pass away. The importance is in our own minds – whether we are able to be aware of it in time, or we aren’t aware of it in time. Just this much.
For people, when we have suffering arise, we aren’t aware of it as suffering and we forget ourselves. But when we have mindfulness, we can see suffering and we know that we are carrying the suffering. Then we can put it down by itself, without needing to be ordered to put it down. When we see suffering as being simply of the nature to arise, then we don’t attach to it. Like when pain and tiredness arise—and we don’t go and attach and cling to it as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. The sense of importance and meaning that, “I am suffering. I am in pain. I am tired.”, does not arise. If we think of the past or of the future, and then anger arises, worry arises, then this is when we have forgotten ourselves temporarily. This worry is the object of attachment that makes suffering arise in our minds.
In regards to work, there are rules we follow, and we are assessed on the results we provide. Though we may suffer over other people’s judgments and assessments, may we see their words as just minor assessments that we can keep and use to contemplate ourselves further. Those people are just exterior causes, but it is the inner causes that decide whether we suffer or not. It’s up to us.
An example of this is of someone carving wood. The wood carver puts their whole heart into carving the wood. Then there is no person who is carving the wood. If we have thoughts and worry that enter in between the act of wood carving, then there is a person carving and there is a self arising instantly. All of what the Buddha taught is about suffering and about the ending of suffering.
Like when carving wood, we just know the carving of the wood, then there will be no suffering. We keep doing it continuously. If we are tired then we rest. But if we do it and then think whether we can sell it or not, then we will suffer. Even if one stops carving and is still thinking like that, then this is suffering. This means that whether one suffers or doesn’t suffer, it is not up to the work one is doing. Even whether one stops and rests, it is also not related to our suffering. It’s about the practice. That is, knowing what we are really doing. If we do not think and worry, then we don’t suffer. When we don’t keep our awareness with just what we are doing, when there is craving and wanting that is covering the doing, then that can be the cause for suffering to arise. Ven. Ajahn Chah taught: “Be immersed in the present moment, don’t be buried in the past.”
The Buddha taught us to contemplate all the things that arise in the mind. The Dhamma is not far away somewhere, it is right here. Just in this body and mind. So all Dhamma practitioners must be strong in the practice. Do it sincerely. Make the mind strong. Make the mind brighter and more radiant. It is then set free.
Whatever good we do, we let it go. Don’t attach to it. Or refraining from doing unwholesome actions—when we practice this way, we let go of that, too. The Buddha taught us to be with the present moment. Right here and right now. Not in the past or in the future.
There are a lot of wrong views and arguments over the teaching about letting go. Like saying “To work with an empty mind”. When we talk in this way, this is called talking in the language of Dhamma. But, when we talk about it through using the language of the world, then there is much confusion. They assume what it means and get it wrong: “Just follow whatever we feel like doing!”
In reality, it is just a simile. Like if we are carrying a heavy stone. We carry it and it feels heavy, but we don’t know what to do. So we just carry it like that. But, when someone tells us to throw the stone away, we think that if we throw it away, then we will have nothing left. So we keep carrying it, and we aren’t willing to throw it away. But, in reality, if we throw it away, there is something left. What is left is just Emptiness. But we see wrongly and we don’t like it. We like to carry it and so keep suffering on and on.
The Buddha gave a deep teaching that, “One shouldn’t have expectations of the future. What has passed is left behind. The future has not yet arrived. Whoever sees clearly in every presently arisen state, not taken in by it and unagitated, knowing like this, they develop it continuously. Eagerly doing what should be done today. For who knows, tomorrow death may come. Facing the mighty hordes of death, indeed, no-one can strike a deal. The Peaceful Sage called this one who is dwelling with energy aroused, tireless both day and night. This is truly a night of shining prosperity.” Worthy of true praise. May you grow in blessings.
Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 27th, 2020
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to all. Rules and regulations are very important to help the world control the current pandemic situation. If people do not follow rules and regulations, this would be trouble and could contribute to the virus spreading. Even in India, police are hitting people with sticks in order to enforce quarantine regulations.
In the backstory to the Ratana Sutta, in the city of Vesali, there was an outbreak of a deadly illness. The Buddha taught the Ratana Sutta as a way to help. The sutta was chanted, and the parami and power of the Buddha helped to clear the illness. 400 years ago there was disease, like tuberculosis, and a little over 100 years ago, in 1918, there was the Spanish Flu outbreak. It does seem like every 100 years or so there is something like this around the world. Closer to the present day, people were worried about World War III, the outbreak of nuclear war. Bill Gates said, back in 2015, that it would not be a nuclear war or World War III that would kill so many people, but it would be a disease. This is very interesting. Let us listen to what he had to say.
Welcome to all the monks and novices, and blessings to all the laity.
Being born into this world, it follows according to the nature that all things arise, persist, then cease. When there is birth, there is ageing. When there is ageing, there is sickness. When there is sickness, there is death. This is the sacca dhamma, the truth of life. But, when we have been born already, before ageing, sickness and death come, we should not be careless. We need to build goodness and virtue in this world.
And this world is a competitive one, where countries accumulate weapons and resources to fight and harm one another. The countries which have much wealth and great power try to build destructive weapons to protect themselves and have the capability to harm other countries. Then they take these destructive weapons to sell to other countries to gain profit for their own country. Then the world has no peace and happiness. We live in fear and mistrust.
When one country has destructive weapons, then other countries need to also develop in this way so that they will have superiority. Everyone has the fear that there will be war that will take the lives of many humans, and fear of a nuclear war. But the war that is needed to fight infectious viruses—there isn’t any country that has invested in the capability to be able to fight viruses. If an infectious virus spreads, then we need to have a great number of medical personnel—numbers in the hundreds of thousands. These are the words from Bill Gates, who we know well. Bill Gates said in his speech in 2015, 5 years ago:
“When I was a kid, the disaster we were scared most of was a nuclear war. And that’s why each person had a barrel like this down in their basement, which was filled with cans of food and water. If there was a nuclear war, then they were supposed to go downstairs and hide and eat out of that barrel.
“Today, the greatest risk of global catastrophe doesn’t look like this. How does it look? If anything kills over 10 million people in the next few decades, it’s most likely to be a highly infectious virus rather than a war. Not missiles, but microbes. Now, part of the reason for this is that we’ve invested a huge amount in nuclear deterrents. But we’ve actually invested very little in a system to stop an epidemic. We’re not ready for the next epidemic.
“Let’s look at Ebola. I’m sure all of you read about it in the newspaper, there are lots of tough challenges. I followed it carefully through the case analysis tools that we use to track polio eradication. And as you look at what went on, the problem wasn’t that there was a system that didn’t work well enough, the problem was that we didn’t have a system at all. In fact, there’s some pretty obvious key missing pieces.
“We didn’t have a group of epidemiologists ready to go, who would have gone, seen what the disease was, and seen how far it had spread. The case reports came in on paper. It was very delayed before they were put online and they were extremely inaccurate. We didn’t have a medical team ready to go. We didn’t have a way of preparing people. Now, the humanitarian medical organization (Médecins Sans Frontières) did a great job orchestrating volunteers. But even so, we were far slower than we should have been getting the thousands of workers into these countries. And a large epidemic would require us to have hundreds of thousands of workers. There was no one there to look at treatment approaches. No one to look at the diagnostics. No one to figure out what tools should be used. As an example, we could have taken the blood of survivors, processed it, and put that plasma back in people to protect them. But that was never tried.
“So there was a lot that was missing. And these things are really a global failure. The WHO is funded to monitor epidemics, but not to do these things I talked about. Now, in the movies it’s quite different. There’s a group of handsome epidemiologists ready to go, they move in, they save the day, but that’s just pure Hollywood.
“The failure to prepare could allow the next epidemic to be dramatically more devastating than Ebola. Let’s look at the progression of Ebola over this year. About 10,000 people died, and nearly all were in the three West African countries. There’s three reasons why it didn’t spread more. The first is that there was a lot of heroic work by the health workers. They found the people and they prevented more infections. The second is the nature of the virus. Ebola does not spread through the air. And by the time you’re contagious, most people are so sick that they’re bedridden. Third, it didn’t get into many urban areas. And that was just luck. If it had gotten into a lot more urban areas, the case numbers would have been much larger.
“So next time, we might not be so lucky. You can have a virus where people feel well enough while they’re infectious that they get on a plane or they go to a market. The source of the virus could be a natural epidemic like Ebola, or it could be bioterrorism. So there are things that would literally make things a thousand times worse.
“In fact, let’s look at a model of a virus spread through the air, like the Spanish Flu back in 1918. So here’s what would happen: It would spread throughout the world very, very quickly. And you can see over 30 million people died from that epidemic. So this is a serious problem. We should be concerned.
“But in fact, we can build a really good response system. We have the benefits of all the science and technology that we talked about here. We’ve got cell phones to get information from the public and get information out to them. We have satellite maps where we can see where people are and where they’re moving. We have advances in biology that should dramatically change the turnaround time to look at a pathogen and be able to make drugs and vaccines that fit for that pathogen. So we can have tools, but those tools need to be put into an overall global health system. And we need preparedness.
“The best lessons, I think, on how to get prepared are again, what we do for war. For soldiers, we have full-time, waiting to go. We have reserves that can scale us up to large numbers. NATO has a mobile unit that can deploy very rapidly. NATO does a lot of war games to check, are people well trained? Do they understand about fuel and logistics and the same radio frequencies? So they are absolutely ready to go. So those are the kinds of things we need to deal with an epidemic.
“What are the key pieces? First, we need strong health systems (in poor countries. That’s where mothers can give birth safely, kids can get all their vaccines. But, also where we’ll see the outbreak very early on.) We need a medical reserve corps: lots of people who’ve got the training and background who are ready to go, with the expertise. And then we need to pair those medical people with the military. taking advantage of the military’s ability to move fast, do logistics and secure areas. We need to do simulations, germ games, not war games, so that we see where the holes are. The last time a germ game was done in the United States was back in 2001, and it didn’t go so well. So far the score is germs: 1, people: 0. Finally, we need lots of advanced R&D in areas of vaccines and diagnostics. There are some big breakthroughs, like the Adeno-associated virus, that could work very, very quickly.
“Now I don’t have an exact budget for what this would cost, but I’m quite sure it’s very modest compared to the potential harm. The World Bank estimates that if we have a worldwide flu epidemic, global wealth will go down by over three trillion dollars and we’d have millions and millions of deaths. These investments offer significant benefits beyond just being ready for the epidemic. The primary healthcare, the R&D, those things would reduce global health equity and make the world more just as well as more safe.
“So I think this should absolutely be a priority. There’s no need to panic. We don’t have to hoard cans of spaghetti or go down into the basement. But we need to get going, because time is not on our side.
“In fact, if there’s one positive thing that can come out of the Ebola epidemic, it’s that it can serve as an early warning, a wake-up call, to get ready. If we start now, we can be ready for the next epidemic.”
This is the outlook from Bill Gates, and it is a very clear one. This is why he can be one of the wealthiest people in the world. Because he has the vision to take the past data, analyse it, and see how to overcome what might happen. Then he can predict what will happen to the world in the future. But it’s a shame that all the countries and people didn’t listen to Bill Gates at all. They didn’t prepare to fight a war against the virus we are facing now, and this is a problem that has led many to get sick and die.
This is not the last time that there will be an infectious virus. In the future, there may be an even worse infectious virus that is more harmful than this one now. We don’t know. But the speech of Bill Gates can have a lot of benefit on how we need to be prepared. We can’t be heedless. Now that we have come to this present situation, we all need to be prepared and have self-sacrifice. We need to have the Dhamma of the Buddha to support and maintain our minds. We need to speak that which has important meaning that can help to overcome these problems. We need brave people that can make decisions, solve this problem quickly, and to help us be prepared.
It’s not the time now to argue and fault others for what has happened, but it’s the time that every person needs to be careful. Each person should think that they may be sick with the virus—so we need to have metta, kindness, for others, by staying 1.5 metres apart from others. We do things distanced from others. We protect others so that the virus doesn’t infect them. If we all think like this and sacrifice like this, then the virus won’t spread.
Even if we aren’t infected, we think in this way to be on the safe side, because if we really are infected then we could spread the virus to others. Or we may not be sure if we really are sick or not. So we should be careful. Wash your hands, don’t use your hands to touch your face or eyes or put in your mouth. Maintain the cleanliness of one’s body well. Distance oneself from others. Put on a mask to stop the spread of the virus that may be within us.
This is metta, kindness. We have thoughts of metta to ourselves, to our family, to fellow colleagues, and to our fellow humans in the world. We all develop metta like this. We spread metta to all sentient beings: “May they be free from harm. May all beings have happiness, be free from suffering, from dangers, and from sickness. May the world have peace and happiness.”
We must be prepared to support medical personnel and support an army that can help move medical personnel quickly to help the sick. Whether it’s the doctors, nurses, or other support staff, we need to support them in all types of ways. We need to help those who make these sacrifices. Don’t hide information, that will be a danger. If one medical personnel gets sick – they won’t be able to treat thousands of people. This is killing people in an indirect way.
May you have truthfulness to yourself. Speak the truth. Look after oneself and protect oneself in order to protect others. May you all be safe and healthy, free from dangers and sicknesses. May all the people around the world be safe. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: If one does dana, sila, and bhavana (giving, morality, and mental development), will this prevent getting the virus?
Luang Por Anan: Dana, sila, and bhavana help one to have less chance of getting the virus. If one has sila, then one would not gather at bars, other places where alcohol is served, and place of gambling like horse races and so on. One would like quiet places, places to meditate, and this would give one a better chance of not getting the virus.
2. Q: How do the Buddha’s teachings show how to overcome the virus?
Luang Por Anan: The Vinaya, the monk’s discipline, helps us to be careful. In the Dhamma, we are taught to have mindfulness and not be heedless. For those that are ordained and follow the Vinaya rules, then one can overcome sickness to a degree. One rule is to not eat food if dust falls in it. The underlying meaning is that the dust could have bacteria. Another rule is that water should be filtered. Following the Vinaya leads to caution, mindfulness, and not being careless.
It is unsure if one will get the virus. Accept and follow societal rules and expert advice, like eating hot food, drinking warm water, and wearing a mask. Inside one needs sila—not to hide information and tell others what is going on, like if one is sick. Having sila can help others, as well.
3. Q: How does one develop wisdom?
Luang Por Anan: Practice samadhi (concentration/collectedness), to make the mind peaceful. Wisdom is supported by samadhi. If one is distracted and the five hindrances arise (sense desire, ill will, sloth and torpor, restlessness and worry, and doubt), do meditation to overcome the five hindrances. Then sila, virtue, arises. Then contemplate things such as one’s work, the truth of life, or the present day situation. Make the mind still.
In some people, the mind is not still, yet they can arouse mindfulness and wisdom. This means that such a person has made parami in the past. Such as Bill Gates, who likely trained his mind in the past in order to have a good, clear mind that could predict the future. He had lots of information and could analyse that in order to predict the future.
In Buddhism we see clearly into truth and also the 8 worldly winds of pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, and disrepute and fame. In the past the world had lots of pleasure—like travel, prosperity, and so on. Much more than 2,000 years ago. Also the world had the pleasure of longer life and less illness. All this growth and development in material things is accompanied by simultaneous growth and development in viruses and diseases.
If the virus could, it would laugh at us—to see humans develop weapons to hurt each other, but those weapons cannot hurt the virus. The virus can spread around the world anyway. Advancement comes paired with decline.
We need our own mindfulness and wisdom to know present conditions clearly. Know dukkha, unsatisfactoriness, as a Noble Truth. Do not push it away. Understand into dukkha in the present and prepare for potential future outbreaks, as well.
4. Q: Sometimes I have an emotion and only see one side of a situation, not a global view. Is it Mara (delusion, or the embodiment of delusion) that makes us see only one side? How to see the bigger picture?
Luang Por Anan: The Buddha is the knower of the worlds. The Buddha knows avijja, not-knowing, and overcame that. The Buddha knows all. Practice and train in sila, samadhi, and panya (virtue, collectedness, and wisdom). See the drawbacks of the heart that has attachment. See the benefits of wisdom.
This is like people not being afraid of the virus and wanting to do fun things—this is coming from heedlessness and ignorance. Others are not afraid, but they are heedful and protect themselves and others. The important thing is to develop wisdom to clearly see all sides—the truth of conditions. This can overcome Mara and the kilesas (mental defilements).
Build knowing. Build knowledge from listening, study, practice, associating with the wise, practicing samadhi, and contemplating Dhamma—wisdom arises slowly from this continuous practice.
If one cannot do it, then have patient endurance. Later one can see anicca, dukkha, and anatta (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, and not-self). One must endure a lot, make a lot of effort, learn more teachings, and still the mind—then one can see all things as anicca, dukkha, and anatta. These are all ways to develop wisdom.
5. Q: I feel fear and worry, and I think that this is natural due to the causes and conditions in the environment. Is this the right way to contemplate?
Luang Por Anan: This is the nature of the hart and mind, to go to moods of love, hate, anger, fear, and so on. The mind that is not trained will follow moods and has no refuge—this is the nature of the untrained mind.
The Buddha taught to practice and train the mind to have a refuge. Just like one needs a house or shelter for the body, one needs sila and samadhi (virtue and concentration) for the mind. Practice chanting, meditate, and think of the Buddha.
The Buddha taught that, if fear arises, then recollect the Buddha to change the mood in the mind. Whether it is fear of spirits, viruses, death, and so on, then think of the Buddha. Then rapture can arise, giving cool shade and making the mind cool. Fear goes away. If fear returns, then think of the Buddha again. Do this a lot. When the mind has the Buddha as a refuge, this is entering the Buddha, the state of awakening, to one level.
6. Q: When one meditates until one is peaceful, does this mean having no thoughts at all?
Luang Por Anan: One can still have thoughts, but there is more peace. There are thoughts, but one is aware of them. The mind that does not have samadhi will follow thoughts. If there is only a little bit of peace, one still has fear, but it is less. If there is a lot of peace, then fear disappears. This also leads to wisdom—one can contemplate the cause of fear to give rise to wisdom. If one knows fear clearly, then it disappears.
In our situation, one can recollect the Buddha—the Buddha is our excellent jewel and refuge. One can chant “Appamano Buddho, Appamano Dhammo, Appamano Sangho…”, (translation: Limitless is the Buddha, limitless is the Dhamma, limitless is the Sangha). In the mind that is peaceful and firm in the recollection of the Buddha, fear disappears.
7. Q: In the Karaniya Metta Sutta (the Discourse on Lovingkindness), it says to give metta, lovingkindness, to beings seen and unseen. How do we give metta to the virus?
Luang Por Anan: One does metta to make the mind peaceful. Maybe one doesn’t like the virus, then aversion arises in the mind. One feels angry, sad, and the mind is lowered and less bright. Give metta to oneself—“May I be happy and have the causes of happiness.” Then do this for others and so on to all beings, including viruses. Make this a practice of mental development. Spread metta and do this so that the mind isn’t lowered or depressed; make the mind bright and spread metta in all directions. Wish that no harm may come to others and that all may be free from ill will.
8. Q: People are under pressure—things are difficult with the virus and there is economic pressure. How to build mindfulness with this?
Luang Por Anan: In the present important situation, if there is fear, one can contemplate that maybe one will get sick and die from the virus. If there is fear coming from the economy being bad and it is hard to earn a living—we need to learn from this as gain and loss in the world.
We are born, then we get things. Then these things get lost and degrade. These are the 8 worldly winds and are natural— pleasure and pain, loss and gain, praise and blame, and disrepute and fame. These are natural. Train the mind to see them as normal and ordinary.
There is a story of a friend of Venerable Ananda. This friend was very rich and close to death. The Buddha told Ananda to go teach his friend that life is uncertain. The friend saw uncertainty, saw the Dhamma, then died.
This virus teaches us not to be heedless and to contemplate teachings that we have learned. People die in the womb, as infants, as children, or older—this is something we all share. It is uncertain. In the present time, we have an equal chance of getting infected—doctors and nurses, prime ministers and children.
If the economy is bad, but one has a strong body, one can still do work to regain things later if one is healthy. If one can’t get things, then try to have a healthy body. Even if one can’t get things, then keep doing goodness, and do goodness continually.
May all be safe and free from all dangers, suffering, and illness. May the parami of the Buddha protect all.