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.
Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 20th, 2020
L uang Por Anan: This situation about the Covid -19 virus causes a lot of fear in people. This fear arises because we have a sense of self, because we have attachment to this ‘me’ and ‘mine’. When we have this physical body, this is the place where sickness arises, and if one doesn’t have wisdom, doesn’t have a firm mind, then one will only have attachment in the mind. Then one will attach to the five khandhas, or five ‘heaps’, that we take as a self, the heaps of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. One won’t understand the truth, and suffering will arise. Suffering arises simply because of attachment.
The Buddha wanted us to develop wisdom. To do this, one needs to have right concentration, or ‘samma samadhi’, in the Noble eightfold path. This is the kind of samadhi or concentration that leads to true wisdom.
In the time of the Buddha, there were many monks that attained to becoming arahants. There was one in particular, Ven. Girimananda, who, although he was sick with a lot of physical suffering, he was ready to attain to becoming an arahant. So the other monks asked the Lord Buddha what advice they should give to that monk that was sick and in pain. [Editor’s note: See Anguttara Nikaya 10.60].
The Buddha told them to give him the contemplation of the ‘ten perceptions’. The first one is to contemplate the perception of impermanence, especially the perception of the bodily form as impermanent: that this body is born in the womb and slowly grows larger and larger, until later it decays. If we look a bit deeper we can see it in terms of the cells, from one it goes to two, and then to four, and it expands like that. Or we look at later when the cells die off, and there are new cells that are born. When there are fewer and fewer cells that are born, we say that the body is decaying—which happens until this bodily form dies.
We can also look at the bodily form in terms of the four elements: the elements of earth, fire, wind, and water. If the mind has ‘samma samadhi’, concentration of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is able to contemplate into the bodily form as being impermanent like this, one gains true understand into it. Then one is able to ‘let go’, and the mind is able to attain emptiness. Contemplating in this way, wisdom will arise. We can contemplate first the material objects around us as impermanent—for instance our house, the things we use, like a cup, for instance—contemplate these things as impermanent. Then we bring this contemplation to our body, seeing it as impermanent.
In the beginning, one won’t have the wisdom to see clearly into what one is contemplating. Then one uses memories and perceptions in order to contemplate and see one’s object as impermanent. For example, one can recollect the change of the body all the way from the womb, then growing, decaying and dying. Or we can contemplate the people around us—there are old people dying, young people dying, sick or even healthy people dying, as well.
This is clearly seen in our present situation with this Covid-19 virus that is killing so many people. We contemplate into the body as the four elements, as impermanent, as suffering, and as subject to change, to see it in terms of Dhamma. For this we need to have ‘samadhi’, one-pointedness of mind. If we have a little bit of samadhi, then we will see only to one level. But, if we have good samadhi, then we will be able to see clearly into what we are contemplating. We will really understand into this truth of impermanence. This is where one lets go of one’s attachments, and the mind is able to separate from the things on to which it holds and attaches.
Developing this meditative concentration has a lot of benefits. If we are able to make the mind one-pointed, then we will be able to progress in our practice. We can make use of this concentration to contemplate into the heap of sanya or memories and perceptions. We simply see memories and perceptions as an aspect of mind. The mind is what attaches to these memories and perceptions as being ‘ours’, as being ‘me’ and ‘mine’, and this attachment is the cause for suffering to arise.
The Buddha told the monks to teach Venerable Girimananda about memories and perceptions—seeing them as impermanent and also to contemplate vedana or feelings: there are pleasing feelings or happiness, unpleasant feelings or suffering, and there are feelings that are neither painful nor pleasant. We can contemplate on this: have we ever felt a very happy feeling before? Have we ever had a very painful feeling before? Have we ever had a feeling that is neutral, neither pleasure nor pain? This is what the Buddha called ‘vedana’ or ‘feelings’. The Buddha wanted us to see feeling as impermanent. If there are pleasant, happy feelings, they arise, stay for while, and then pass away. Painful feelings also arise, stay for while, and then pass away. They are simply feelings. If one has very good mindfulness, very good samadhi, then they will be able to see feelings as being impermanent. One will be able to clearly see into happiness and pain as not being ‘me’ or ‘mine’. One will not see feelings in the usual way and that feeling will cease by itself. Even the rapture that arises from samadhi, a peaceful and cool feeling pervading the whole body—that is also impermanent. This is a contemplation the Buddha wanted the monks to teach Ven. Girimananda.
Seeing phenomena as impermanent, this is what we call vipassana – insight or clear seeing. Ven. Ajahn Chah taught to contemplate that, when a mental phenomena arises, to not have liking or disliking towards it, to contemplate it as being uncertain, and to contemplate it as something not sure.
One can also contemplate sankara – mental formations, or thoughts. There are good thoughts that arise, bad thoughts that arise, or thoughts that are neither good nor bad. One attaches to these thoughts as being ‘me’ and ‘mine’. When there are good thoughts arising, one is happy, and, when there are bad thoughts arising, one suffers from them. This comes from not understanding that these thoughts are simply one aspect of the mind that arises, stays, and passes away all the same. So we need to have the mindfulness to know in time that these mental formations or thoughts are arising. We need to know them as uncertain, a not sure thing. If it is a good thought, one can follow that thought; if it is a not good thought, then one knows that as not a sure thing and knows that one should not follow that unskilful thought. These five ‘heaps’ of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness—we have to contemplate them as being not a self, and this is when we can have wisdom arising. If we have wisdom arising to see into these five heaps clearly, then our mind is in the middle, away from liking and disliking. This is the path to Nibbana.
We need to keep training until the mind is able to know these five heaps clearly. The last heap is vinyana, or sense consciousness. This is what arises when the eye sees a form, the nose smells a smell, the tongue tastes a taste, etc. or when a mind object arises in the mind, this is what we call vinyana, or sense consciousness.
The perception that we think that is ‘us’: that is ‘us’ eating, is ‘us’ that is seeing, or that there is a person there, we have to see beyond that to see these as simply natural phenomena that are occurring. There is no ‘me’ or ‘mine’ there, it is simply a khandha, a heap, one of these five heaps that we call a self. If the mind doesn’t have this wisdom, this clear insight, it will see these five khandhas, these heaps, as ‘me’ and ‘mine’. This is when suffering arises.
The Buddha wanted the monks to teach Ven. Girimananda about the ten perceptions, starting with seeing the five khandhas as impermanent. The monk that received this teaching gained a lot of rapture when he contemplated it. His sickness was then able to lessen and disappear. He overcame his sickness from the joy of contemplating the Dhamma.
We also need to develop vipassana, or insight, in our practice. We practice meditation and developing good samadhi. Then we use that to contemplate to see into the truth of impermanence. We can contemplate the present day situation, such as what is happening in some countries, even in Europe. In the past, there where many tourists, and it was very busy, but now the situation has changed. There are no tourists there. This is something that is happening around the world, but this is something natural and normal if we understand the truth of impermanence. Then we bring our contemplation to our bodies: we cannot even control our own bodies, we can’t even tell them not to change. This is like the seeing that one has when one understands Dhamma. If one understands Dhamma, one is able to see the inner Buddha in one’s own mind.
The developing of samadhi has a lot of benefits. It leads to clear seeing and knowing. Ven. Ajahn Chah would teach very simply regarding any feelings or anything that arises in the mind: tell yourself that it is uncertain. If it is something you like a lot—that is impermanent, that is uncertain, and not a sure thing. Or, if it is something that you dislike a lot—that is also not a sure thing, it is uncertain. This is how wisdom arises.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: I remember from when I was a small novice with an immature mind, I have said something wrong against Dhamma in one occasion, or some times have used improper ways against a senior monk, or even broke my precepts back then, and thoughts about this keep coming back to my mind when I’m meditating. This disturbs the peace of the mind. How to overcome this disturbance of the mind, gain forgiveness of my senior monks, and resolve this kamma?
Luang Por Anan: You can overcome this. You should go to the daily chanting in your monastery there every day and ask forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha every day. And you need to develop your meditation. When you sit in meditation, you have these distractions from these negative thoughts from the past coming up. This is sanya, your memories and perceptions coming to your mind that you are attaching to as being ‘mine’. This is affecting your mind. This becomes an obstacle to your meditation. You need to contemplate these perceptions and memories as impermanent, uncertain, and not a self—do it a lot. Recollect that what you have done in the past is done already, arose and past away already. Do the best you can in the present rather than focusing on the past. The Buddha didn’t want us to think of the past. He wanted us to be in the present moment.
2. Q: When we are sick, what kind of meditation should we develop?
Luang Por Anan: When we are sick and are able to watch the breath, then use that as your meditation object. Breathe in: ‘bud’, and breathe out ‘dho’. Keep doing this until the mind is still, peaceful, and has samadhi. Then one can see the breath and the body as impermanent—something that arises and passes away. If one can see this clearly, one will see that the body is one thing and the mind another thing. Then the painful feelings can lessen or even disappear altogether. This happens because of the strength of the mind and the strength of the Dhamma.
One can use mindfulness of the in and out breath and then contemplate the pain. Or one can use mindfulness to contemplate the pain. Do it until one is able to separate the feeling from the mind. But, whatever you do, you have to develop a lot of patient endurance and try to separate the pain and the mind. You may be able to do it only sometimes, but you just have to keep at it.
3. Q: When was the first Buddha statue made?
Luang Por Anan: It was made in ancient Ghandara, where Pakistan is nowadays, by Greeks with a Greek style, a very beautiful style. It started when King Asoka sent the 500 Dhamma ambassadors to countries out from India, and some arrived in the kingdom of Ghandara around 200 years after the Buddha’s parinibbana. There they gained faith to make the first Buddha statue.
4. Q: Why are the Buddha statue’s eyes different from normal human eyes?
Luang Por Anan: People who make a Buddha statue do so out of great respect for the Buddha. If the Buddha statue was made as a normal human being, then it would seem very ordinary. To make this statue or painting, the artist has the idea that it must be something that is very special, much more special than an ordinary human being. You can imagine that, if someone was born in the time of the Buddha, the physical form of the Buddha was more special than that of any other human beings alive at the time. To make an image of the Buddha, one wants to make it very special so that whoever sees it will gain faith.
But, this is work of people. In Japan it is in the Japanese style, in Gandhara the Greek style, and so on, and so there are different Buddha images. But the compassion, loving kindness, purity, and wisdom of the Buddha remain the same.
You can pick whatever image of the Buddha that you like the most, when you look at it you feel happy—it gives you a good feeling. In your meditation, you can close your eyes and think about that image of the Buddha that you like a lot. This can bring calm and concentration to your mind.
5. Q: In the human realm we count the days and nights by the passing of the sun. How do they count days in the deva realm? They are said to shine in a way that makes the night become like day. If that is so, how do they count the time?
Luang Por Anan: It is said in the suttas that one day in the Tavatingsa heaven realm is equivalent to 100 years in the human realm. There is the history of a layman that went to visit the Tavatingsa realm for only half a day, and, when he came back, 50 years had already passed.
You can look at the mind. When one has a lot of happiness, time goes very quickly. If you are meditating and you feel very peaceful and happy, then half an hour will feel like it passes quickly. Even an hour can feel like just a moment.
However, if one is in a lot of suffering, the mind is agitated and disturbed, even one or two minutes can feel very long, like a hell realm. One can feel like a lot of time has passed then look at a clock and see that only one minute has passed. But, if one has happiness from samadhi in meditation, then even one hour can be very quick. This is how we can compare time. Maybe one hour has passed in the heaven realm, but many years have passed in the human realm in the same span.
Q: But how do they count? If they do not use the sun, how do they count days?
Luang Por Anan: They do not have dark and light like human days, they have the radiance of the devas. We can only think of it by comparing it to the human realm, which is in the middle. But devas don’t count days and nights because they have so much happiness and pleasure. If one wants to know how much time has passed, then it is possible to estimate, such as a lifespan of 90 million human years. Those with great happiness don’t count time, but one knows it goes by quickly. Those in suffering feel like its very long time. Humans are more in the middle between a lot of pleasure and happiness like devas and a lot of pain and suffering as in the lower realms. For devas, they don’t have anyone count. The devas are more lost enjoying their pleasure and happiness.
6. Q: I meditate one hour every day on the breath. After meditation, I contemplate the impermanence of the body. Sometimes during anapanasati (breath meditation), the image of a skeleton will appear. I try to focus on the breath, but the skeleton image stays. It only goes away when I disintegrate the skeleton with the mind. Should I continue to concentrate on the breath with the image of the skeleton there, or should I contemplate on the skeleton?
Luang Por Anan: Have mindfulness with the breath first. Because if you get rid of the breath, then concentration reduces, and the image can go away. At this time, the image is there, and never mind. Watch the breath and make the mind still and peaceful, good and peaceful, then the image of the skeleton can get clearer. Then one can contemplate it when the mind is more concentrated. Now, if you change the object, samadhi goes away, then the image goes away. Put mindfulness on the breath first.
7. Q: Why is it difficult to forgive even if one has high faith in the Buddha?
Luang Por Anan: This is normal and natural. We may give such as giving objects—this is easy. Giving forgiveness, overcoming one’s anger and hate, this is difficult, more difficult than normal. These negative states arise because the mind is not yet peaceful in samadhi. Wisdom has not yet arisen. If one has rapture in one’s meditation, then one can overcome and control those feelings of anger and hate. Then one can forgive. If samadhi reduces, then anger and vengefulness can increase. Then one contemplates the impermanence and uncertainty of these moods. One needs to practice this often, then these negative states can reduce gradually by themselves.
At the moment, we think that we want these negative thoughts to disappear completely. But we simply have to keep our knowing with that thought—just know it, know not to follow that thought, and then slowly be able to let it go. Just keep knowing it, then we are able to overcome it to one level—as in, we do not act on that thought. But, one day, when our samadhi is good, when we have wisdom, we can overcome it completely. In the beginning it is like this. It takes time.