Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – June 22nd, 2018
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
Welcome to all of you. We meet again as usual and today I will talk about the Dhamma topic on directing oneself on the right course. To direct oneself on the right course is one of the 38 highest blessings of one’s life, as taught by the Buddha in the Mangala Sutta, the discourse given at Jetavana Monastery in the City of Savatthi. So what does it mean to direct oneself on the right course? For those people who don’t have sila, morality, who don’t have faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, for those who don’t know how to lead their life properly, then these people need to direct themselves on the right course.
Too direct oneself on the right course – this means those people without faith, just develop faith and have it arise within them. For those who have stinginess in their hearts, then they determine to make donations and practice generosity. For those who don’t put effort and diligence into their Dhamma practice, then they determine to put forth effort and energy in leading their life with Dhamma and in building goodness. In leading one’s laylife properly, one needs to have determination to learn and to study. To read and learn until you can be successful in your field. You must determine to do your work and duties so that it progresses well.
If we are lacking in some aspects of inner goodness, then we need to add and fill that goodness until its full. And we make sure not to fill up the things that aren’t good in unskilful and unwholesome ways. If we have these tendencies, then we need to improve oneself so that we go in the right and proper direction. People who practice this way are called wealthy people that have noble wealth. Their life is not without benefit. So what is the wealth that we call noble wealth? This noble wealth is comprised of saddha, that is the faith and confidence in the Triple Gem, the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. Having sila or morality. And for sila to be kept one needs to have hiri, a moral shame, and ottappa, a fear of doing wrong. And also listening often – which we call sutta in pali, that is listening, learning and reading. And chaga, that is the giving up or sacrificing of one’s wealth for the benefit of others. All of these types of noble wealth are supported by the quality of wisdom. If we have wisdom, then our faith is supported by wisdom and isn’t blind faith. If we have wisdom, then we understand the importance of keeping sila. If we listen to things that lead to delusion, then our mind may become deluded. And so this is why we need wisdom to listen and to contemplate along with it. And for Chaga – that is when we give up things, we don’t do it with delusion. We don’t do it because we want to become rich and wealthy. The Buddha taught us to give in order to give up our selfishness, and to share things with others so that we can live with others in harmony. We each contribute and share a portion of our things, and in this way we don’t compete and fight each other.
So all this is about setting oneself on the right course. Why do we need to set oneself on the right course? Because every person has love for themselves. Everyone has a self – has an “I” and a me, an us, our child, our husband, our wife. Everyone knows that this self is the most loved thing of ours. So in this way, then we need to avoid leading this self to a bad destination. We need to lead this self to a good destination – a place where there is happiness. This is because everyone wants to have happiness. And those people who want real happiness, then they won’t do any bad karma or bad actions. It will be hard for them to do those things that are unwholesome and unskilful. This is because they see that unskilful and bad actions will have suffering as a result. So they won’t do it. But on the other hand, the person who does unskilful and bad actions regularly, it will be difficult for them to turn around and direct themselves onto the right course. But all of us here, we have a love for one’s self and we will set ourselves on the right course. We need to maintain and look after our minds well and be people imbued with wisdom. Since we have a love for ourself and we desire happiness, then we need to look after our minds from a young age, through the middle of our life and all the way till old age. Then we will be considered to have success in our life.
And the happiness of a householder, who aims to have the bliss of wealth, they need to have skill and knowledge in a certain profession. They need to have a desire to learn and grow in knowledge. For a child, they need to determine to study at school. The young children these days, they become addicted to games, and, doing so, their studies decline. Then they have to determine to stop playing games and reduce it to as little as possible and to determine to study well. Because when they learn properly, their mind is a good person. And all the things we gain, whether it is wealth, a high position in work, fame, a large following, good associates and friends, they all come from our diligence and effort. And this extends even to the way we maintain and look after our body to have a long life. We need to eat food, exercise, rest, and maintain our minds to have a good temper, all that is conducive to having a long life.
It isn’t that we just ask for blessings from the monks, that the monks give us blessings so we will have long life – is it like this? Is that possible? The blessings the monks give us is to boost our self-confidence. But in terms of wisdom, we must set ourself on the right course. If we are deluded in this, we think we have received blessings from the monks for long life, then we can do whatever we want. This is someone with no wisdom. If we have true wisdom, then we know the monks have given us some self-confidence already. And we need to give ourselves confidence, that is, by setting ourselves on the right course. If we want our body to be strong, then we need to watch what we eat, look at the environment that we live in, to exercise and to maintain a good temper, and to rest enough. Then we can have a long life.
Or when we desire to be safe from dangers, then we may want to get blessings from monks so that we can be safe from everything. But we may then drive at 140km – 160 km/h like this. There was once a person who went to Luang Pu Kuun – a revered monk in the Korat district in Thailand who was known for giving blessings. The man asked for Luang Pu Kuun to protect him from dangers and to keep him safe. LP Kuun asked – how fast do you drive? The man answered, 120-130 km/h. Then LP Kuun answered in a very casual and direct manner, “If you are driving at 100 km/h, I would have gotten out of the car already.” See LP Kuun himself would’ve gotten out of the car already. Because its dangerous. He didn’t want you to put yourself in danger. He wanted for us to have mindfulness and wisdom. And for the monks, we have to set up ourselves rightly, by having sense-restraint and carefulness, having patient-endurance, being firm in sila or the monastic discipline, and practicing well in the daily practices and routines of a monk. And the important thing is to have wisdom.
And as monks what are we trying to get? We want to have the coolness in the heart and to have happiness. So we need to work at it. For the happiness to arise we need to build the causes in the present for that happiness. It’s not that we have ordained as a monk already and so that is enough. It’s not like that. That is a monk on a conventional level. We put the robes on, and that is the Buddha’s parami, his spiritual merit, that covers us. But that is a monk on the outside. We must build the monk that arises on the inside. So this means that a real monk can’t ordain. The ones who ordain aren’t true monks. The true monk has to come from practice. Even a layperson if they practice well and have wisdom, on the outside they may be a lay person,, but on the inside is a monk. They need to have a sense of sacrificing for the benefit of others, being well-established in the 5 moral precepts, and have giving as normal habit. This is to have directed oneself on the right course. And this leads to the arising of happiness. This is important in the starting out in the right direction. If we haven’t set oneself rightly yet, then we need to walk and head in the right direction. That is, the right direction with wisdom. And then the results we receive will be good. If we haven’t set our self in the right course and our actions are bad, then the results we receive won’t be good.
For us to succeed in life, our upbringing requires many aspects. Some people have a good upbringing – a good family, good father, mother and relatives, but they don’t end up succeeding in life – they decline, they don’t become wealthy, have debt, and they may even have their own families, and their family declines, they may end up divorced, and some people even have no opportunity to progress in life, because they have broken the law and may go to jail for different crimes and become outcasts of society.
Yet on the other hand, some people may have had a very difficult upbringing – a poor family, their father and mother have problems and their education is not good. But some people with these hardships, are determined to learn and really try to get out of this difficult situation. They lead their life with wisdom, and they learn well and are diligent and hard-working. This is called their spiritual merits aiding them, and their own family becomes good, they have good children, a loving family, have wealth, no debt, develop a good reputation in society, are physically healthy, they know how to grow their knowledge, and they work hard and make merit. This is the spiritual merits and wisdom that has been built. So those people that succeed – they have good sila, inner goodness and perseverance. But those that set themselves up in the wrong direction, they may lose out through indulging in gambling, alcohol, being lazy, and they don’t gain success. And there are many of these type of people.
So we can’t choose anymore where we are born, we can’t change our upbringing, because we are born already. But if now we set ourself in the right direction, and we proceed in that direction with effort, and using mindfulness and wisdom, having patience and perseverance – then we will succeed in life. Like we may see some successful business people in our country or around the world, who also have virtue, honesty, gratitude, a high level of patience, and imbued with mindfulness and wisdom.
So what do the parents give to their child? They may give them many things. But a father and mother cannot give dhamma that will be an excellent things of ours. They can’t give their child samadhi or give them a heart that has happiness. They might be able to give wealth to us, but can they make us look after the wealth well? Is that possible? Here, it’s up to us. We must build our hearts to have happiness, and this we must do ourself. So we have received a certain amount of merit and good things from our mother and father, but we ourself need to make a lot more of this merit and goodness. We need to direct ourself on the right course. We need to have a goal in life. Develop the right aspirations. If we set ourself rightly and correctly, then we will meet with success in life and in this world. Or even if we go to the next world, we will also meet with success.
So to set up oneself rightly – we should be imbued with faith, in sacrificing for the benefit of others, and in sila. This is important. We are born already, so don’t focus on what’s wrong with others and try to find faults with them. Whoever is wrong, then we forgive them. And the ones who have done wrong, they should renew their aspirations and determinations so they can become excellent individuals. Those that have done wrong in the past, if they establish themselves rightly now, they can be more excellent than those that criticised them in the past. We can see that there are many people in the world, who have received criticism and been put down, but they set themselves up rightly and correctly and they can succeed.
One child who went to study in London, was addicted to playing games, and his teachers and friends would criticise him because he was playing too many games and wasn’t interested in his studies. But when he developed the determination to study, then he could pass his subjects, and his grades got better and better, till he was able to gain very high grades and receive distinction in his studies. And this was because of his determination and having the right effort.
One follower of the Buddha, he was born in a very wealthy family. He had a very easy life since a child and didn’t do any work, and was just indulging in the external world. One day a caravan of acrobats came into the city to perform. Watching them this rich son became infatuated with the daughter of the lead acrobat. But it wasn’t a passing infatuation, because he ended up giving up all his wealth away and following the acrobat’s caravan to be with her. And this rich son, did he have any skills? He couldn’t do anything. His new wife had to support him. They had a baby together. And one day, he was doing his usual duty to keep watch over the caravans, then the wife who had some duties was rocking the baby and singing to it, “you are the son of the one who looks after the caravan. You are the son of the cart-driver.” This was heard by the man, who used to be a wealthy son, and now he could reflect back that he used to be from a wealthy family and he had eloped with this girl and now had to receive this type of mocking. He became determined to learn to become an acrobat from his wife’s father.
He had set his mind now to learn and because he had a lot of parami he had built up in the past, he could learn well and become an expert acrobat. He could go to top of a long pole and balance on just one plank. This shows he must have had firm samadhi or concentration and he trained well. Now, he had entered the Buddha’s net of divine knowledge on who he would teach, and the Buddha saw that this man had the parami to become an arahant. The Buddha with his metta came and gave a sermon in front of him telling him that he is deluded and trying to find happiness here, but isn’t it better to go beyond the reach of the defilements? ”
Listening to the Buddha’s sermon, his mind gathered together and he attained to becoming an arahant and could float away. That is he could set himself on the right course, from a past that was a failure and being criticised, he could improve and make a new life, being determined and becoming the best acrobat in that group. He received much praise, and could do feats that none of the others could do. And in the end his spiritual potential became full and he could attain to becoming an arahant.
But those that do wrong and don’t correct it and drown like that, and continue like that, then they lose the opportunity to gain the good things from this world and the next world. So to set oneself on the right course is important. Especially, for those that haven’t set themselves up rightly and they have accumulated painful karmic results that comes back from their many past lifetimes, then this makes the situation even more difficult and is really hard to overcome. So may you be determined to learn about Dhamma – this is called sutta – listening, and have chaga – to give up your time to listen to the Dhamma, which requires sacrificing pleasure from sensual enjoyments and practice generosity, by giving up wealth and practicing generosity often. You maintain your morality – having moral shame, and fear of wrong doing. And keep being determined to learn dhamma with wisdom. So may you all be determined to succeed in your aspirations, in this life, which will also be the good causes for your next life. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
Luang Por Anan: Like a boat needs a direction when it is traveling through the water, so each of us needs a direction in life whether we are students, adult lay people, or monastics. Without a direction life would be difficult.
Q: Is seeing one’s self receiving merits in the future wrong view? Like getting a good rebirth? How to deal with this?
Luang Por Anan: In the beginning we all have a sense of self and other and do things for that sense of self to feel good and at ease. This is the first step. Like drinking cool water or turning on a fan when feeling hot. One is not yet at the level of realizing no-self. Luang Pu Chah is an example of someone who had gone beyond the sense of self. When there was little food for all the many monks he took only a small amount so others could eat. Those with wisdom share more.
We practice based on a sense of self in order to let go of the sense of self in the future. Just look at the present moment and the results in the present, there is no need to think about a future sense of self. Set the goal to be free from suffering then put forth effort and persevere through obstacles, that is all.
Q: But don’t we still need to get rid of the sense of self to know the right way to practice?
Luang Por Anan: Put aside all doubts and determine to be mindful in the present moment. Put effort into the practice. All questions will solve themselves in time.
Q: When we ask for forgiveness, what if the other person does not want to forgive?
Luang Por Anan: Do not worry what the other person does. One’s own intention and action in asking for forgiveness is good already.
Q: Sometimes when helping another, I feel forced into helping. How to practice with this?
Luang Por Anan: You help others out of kindness, but you also have to look at your own strength so that you can be free from suffering, as well. If you do not have the strength to help then say no with lovingkindness.
I can ask all of you: If a person has birds in cages and you can pay to release them, would you do so?
Q: I would feel sad but not pay to free them.
Q: The same here. The birds might die as they are being captured, and I would not wish to support that business.
Luang Por Anan: Once Luang Pu Chah said to a man selling caged birds: “Whoever caught these birds should release them. We didn’t catch them so its not our responsibility.”
The meaning here is that we should solve problems at the source. Like the question about the sense of self from India that we started with. We should solve suffering at the source. Put down all of one’s doubts, put down one’s book learning, then practice the Buddha’s path of virtue, concentration, and wisdom. Otherwise doubts will never end.