Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – January 31st, 2020
L uang Por Anan: Let us spread lovingkindness to all beings. May all beings have good health. As you all know, there is a virus spreading around the world, the Wuhan coronavirus. In the present day there is more prosperity and development, so the happiness and suffering of others around the world affects those in different places quickly. The events in one country affects other countries.
The Ratana Sutta is a very important chant that praises the parami of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha so that all bad things may disappear and that we may have safety. Tonight we will talk on this topic.
Welcome to all the monks and novices and blessings in the Dhamma to all the laity from your centres that have come together for our regular Dhamma session today.
These days we can see that the world is very developed. There is much technological advancement. Communication and transportation around this world is very quick. There is much convenience and ease. But as we know, material development means that darkness in the mind also develops. This means that decline follows, as well.
In some places, there are infectious diseases that are spread. Like we know at the moment, in the city of Wuhan, an outbreak of the coronavirus started. There were 5 million people who travelled by airplane from Wuhan City. Each person wouldn’t have known if they had the virus inside them and infecting others. By going to different cities, they were taking this virus around to all the cities around the world. And this led to the problem the world is facing now. All of us live together in this world. We share happiness and we share suffering. Being born into this world, we aren’t happy or suffer alone, but we share it with others.
Like if the economy in one country is good, then the people there with money can travel abroad. The other cities around the world gladly accept them because it helps that country’s economy improve. The people there earn a living and can share it with others. The ones travelling share their resources and use it to visit other places, and they gain happiness and feel good in return. But being born in this world, this world has different diseases that are prepared to damage the human body. And the more that humans harm the lives of other living beings, then the more the world becomes like an animal realm. If we consume food in a way that is not right, then viruses can arise as well. And it can come to harm human-beings.
And this was so even in the Buddha’s time. Though back then, when a disease was spreading in a city – like an outbreak of cholera – the people fled away to another city, and the virus didn’t really follow. But in the present day, a virus arises in one country, and in no long time it spreads quickly to other countries all around the world. And this is due to the development of transportation around the world.
Yet we can see that the people who get infected with the coronavirus, not all of them die from it. Those who have a strong body, have good immunity, no regular illnesses, no problems with breathing or their lungs, of a younger age, and physically strong, they may have the immunity to resist diseases. And even though they may become infected by a virus that is capable of quickly taking away one’s life, they are able to recover if they receive prompt treatment.
So the strength of this body is important. If we are strong or aren’t strong, it will likely be up to one’s merit and karma that one has done before. For example, those that don’t have the karma to die early, they will have strong health and can resist this virus, or they won’t meet the people who are infected with this virus.
And it is important that the mind is also strong. If the mind is strong then it will have the power to fight against sickness and diseases. This is important. And even if one can’t overcome the illness, the mind won’t be affected. It will just affect the body. And the mind will have the strength to look after itself well. This means there is mindfulness and wisdom to look after the mind.
This virus today didn’t only arise in this year, but in past years there were incidents similar to this one. Even in the Buddha’s time, there were cases of outbreaks of infectious diseases. The people who lived in those places would move their homes to live in another city. It would be very chaotic.
The City of Vesali during the Buddha’s time had much prosperity. Vesali was located in the Kingdom of the Licchavis, governed by a group of Kings, that we could say was the first oligarchy in history, or some say that it was similar to a democracy.
The city had strong foundations, because the Kings who managed the country had unity, harmony and goodwill to each other. They had respect for those who had virtue like their teachers and parents. No harm came to women. They had an attitude of sacrifice for the greater good, and there was generosity and merit-making practiced regularly. The Licchavi Kingdom’s capital city was more prosperous compared to all the other cities of the other 16 kingdoms of the Continent.
And one day, an incident arose, similar to what we are having this year around the world. We can see places with a great drought. Rice plants, grass, various trees lack water which is a big problem. And this year, there are very bad fires in different continents, and in Thailand there is drought which is a big problem for agriculture.
In the past, in the Licchavi Kingdom, it was similar. There was drought. The rice crops died, and there was a food shortage. The people had nothing to eat. The poor people who had nothing to eat, died. And the wealthier people didn’t share with others. They left the corpses outside for a long time. And soon diseases arose. After these diseases arose, then what happened? The diseases spread. The people who were strong, as well as those who were sick, got the disease, and more and more people died. The corpses were left to rot out in the open and in the water. The city was full of people who had died.
The people thought that this must be happening because the king who was leading the country had no more virtue. This rumour spread, but in the end they couldn’t find any fault with the king, as he was virtuous. There was one minister who was wise, and he said that the Lord Buddha had great parami and a lot of psychic powers. They should invite the Buddha to come and solve this problem they were facing.
One of the Kings of the Licchavi, named Mahaali, was close to King Bimbisara, and so they chose an ambassador to go ask permission from King Bimbisara to invite the Buddha to come to Vesali City. King Bimbisara said that if the Buddha wished to make the journey then he would allow it. So they approached the Buddha, asked for his compassion, and the Buddha kindly accepted to travel. But he said to ask King Bimbisara first and King Bimbisara agreed. King Bimbisara sent the Buddha off on his journey. He had a boat splendidly adorned. He sent the Buddha off by walking into the water up to his neck, and kept his eyes on the Buddha until the Buddha had left his sight.
The Licchavis on the other side, they also had a deep affection for the Buddha. They adorned themselves to receive the Buddha. When the Buddha reached the front of the gate of the city of Vesali, due to the power of the Buddha and the Buddha’s parami, a great miracle arose. There was a great rain which poured down, the type that flooded the whole city and washed away all the corpses and all the disgusting things away to the Ganges River.
And the Buddha told Ven. Ananda to learn the Ratana Sutta, which we still chant to this day, which begins with,
Yaŋ kinci vittaŋ idha và huraŋ và Saggesu và yaŋ ratanaŋ panitaŋ
Na no samaŋ atthi Tathàgatena. Idam’pi Buddhe ratanaŋ panitaŋ.
Whatever treasure there is here or beyond, Or whatever superb jewel is in the heavens, None is equal to the Tathàgata (the Buddha). Verily, in the Buddha is this superb jewel. By virtue of this truth may there be well-being!
The Buddha sat in meditation and spread metta, until it became bright. Then the Buddha took blessed water and sprinkled it around the entire city until it was also bright. The next day, Vesali City reverted back to its original state, and the people had their normal lives and happiness back. This was after tens of thousands of people had died from disease.
The Kings of the Licchavis offered to the Buddha to use as a residence the Sala Bpaa Maha Vana, which was a pavilion hall in a sacred forest. This Sala Bpaa Maha Vana was a very important residence of the King of the Licchavis. This was the place where King Asoka built an Asoka pillar, and it was the location of the Second Buddhist Council. This Sala Bpaa Maha Vana was also the place where Maha Pajapati Gotami ordained as a Bhikkhuni.
The Buddha had Ven. Ananda chant the Ratana Sutta, and well-being arose in the Licchavi Kingdom. All the diseases and illness disappeared. The people had gained faith in the Buddha as a refuge. After listening to the Buddha’s teaching, a great many saw the Dhamma.
There was also once in Sri Lanka during the reign of King Upatissa the Second, when a famine and plague had spread. The King invited the Sangha to recite the Ratana Sutta, and all the famine and plague subsided and disappeared. But in this present day, some countries don’t have faith to that extent. Also, the Sangha of monks is difficult to find, not like in the past.
So what should we do? We have to use the methods of science. As science advances, there are vaccines developed, or there may be alcohol that could kill the virus, though this may not have that much effectiveness.
But if there was a great rain that could cleanse the whole city, this could help a lot and ease the difficulties. If it really poured a lot. But however it is, may China, that has this virus and disease, may they find a vaccine, may the public there and around the world be safe from all illnesses. May we all help to spread a mind of metta. May we and others be safe and free from dangers. May it be so.
We should strive to have a strong body. It’s not just because of the coronavirus in the present, but there may be other sicknesses, as well. If we have a strong body that has more immunity, then our lives will have happiness.
Like the monks have given the blessings, ayudo balado dhiro…. —this is a blessing to give us strength of body and mind. May you have happiness and strength. This is an excellent blessing. It’s from the speech of the monks who are determined to practice Dhamma. The strength of the mind is an excellent blessing. The monks who have practiced well and the monks who have good sila, they have spiritual power. This power of their mind is sent to us, then we can have happiness, peace, and strength of mind arise in us, too.
Or, when we chant, it’s the same as well. We chant the Parittas, we have strength of mind, and we gain parami. This is because what we are chanting is praising the great virtues of the Buddha, who has vast parami, to the Dhamma, and to the Sangha, those that have purity of mind. If we chant and the mind becomes peaceful, we have samadhi, then the body will adjust to become more balanced. The water element in the body will improve; the water molecules will become better molecules. This is to do with an important aspect of the mind that is peaceful and that has samadhi. So this chanting the Parittas has great power and many benefits.
And if we practice bhavana and meditate a lot, and gain peace, we can overcome sicknesses as well. I want to share with you a story of one disciple of a distinguished meditation monk, who had a lot of parami, in Chiang Mai. This layman had stage 4 cancer in the bone. He didn’t try to treat it any more and went to stay in the monastery to meditate and practice fully. He fought against the pain and illness. Until at times he thought he wouldn’t make it. Sometimes his screams would fill the whole monastery, and he even wanted to commit suicide. He thought many things as his mind was chaotic. He struggled with it fully. From the parami of that revered monk, of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, of his great efforts and striving, and of his firm refuge in the Triple Gem, peace arose in his mind. His mind gathered together and it became radiant. The sickness, his stage 4 cancer, slowly eased, diminished, and eventually disappeared. And he is still alive to this day. It is amazing that the Dhamma can treat sickness like this.
So whatever the case may be, if we are at the end and we have no other refuge, then we have to hold on to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as our highest refuge. We chant, meditate, and become determined to make the mind peaceful. Because if the mind is all over the place and worried, then the sickness is aggravated. If our mind is firm and has peace, like this lay man’s mind was, the sickness may disappear. Even if it doesn’t disappear, the mind is pure and peaceful and the mind will go to a good place for certain.
Be determined like this. May you build your goodness first. All the goodness that you are doing now each day is for the purpose of using it in times of need. When it is a time of need, our mind will have the strength of sila, samadhi, and panya, and that of bhavana. The mind will be able to fight against the sickness. This is important. But however it is, may you have good health, strength, have all that you need, have a long life, and may you stay and build up your parami – until the end of your lifetime. May all the monks and laity see and understand the Dhamma of the Buddha. May you meet with ongoing success and prosperity. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: If we are sick what should we chant to help ourselves?
Luang Por Anan: If we are sick then we should use the chant that we are skilled in, such as the chant: “Itipi so bhagava…” and this can help make our mind peaceful. One can do the Bojjhanga Paritta, the Factors of Awakening Protection chant (page 194), or the Pakinnaka Gatha, the Having Revered the Jewel of the Buddha chant (page 198), or the Ratana Sutta. Usually people chant the Bojjhanga Paritta. Venerable Maha Mogallana and Ven. Kassapa were sick and listened to this chant. Then Dhamma rapture arose and cured their illnesses.
Maybe we are not to that level yet, but we can get relief from a crazy and distracted mind full of thoughts and our minds can become more peaceful. One builds stillness of mind, for which the Bojjhanga Paritta is often used. One can still do modern medical treatments in conjunction with this, but to have a basis in a peaceful mind, firm faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, and building mindfulness, these are important, and the mind can then naturally look after the body by itself.
2. Q: Compared to other chants that go into detail on the Noble Eightfold path or the Discourse on Setting the Wheel of Dhamma in Motion, the Bojjhanga Paritta does not go into much detail. The Bojjhanga Paritta praises the factors of awakening but does not explain them. Why is this chant effective even though it does not go into detail?
Luang Por Anan: The 7 Bojjhangas, or Factors of Awakening, are part of the 37 Wings to Awakening that the Lord Buddha taught. These 37 Wings to Awakening are: The Four Foundations of Mindfulness, the Four Right Efforts, the Four Bases of Supernormal Power, the Five Spiritual Faculties, the Five Strengths, the Seven Factors of Awakening, and the Noble Eightfold Path.
One needs the Factors of Awakening to awaken to the Dhamma, like Dhamma investigation and mindfulness, for example. Bojjhangas are higher than the qualities one uses in everyday practice. Mindfulness as a Factor of Awakening is stronger than the normal mindfulness that we practice every day. With strong mindfulness then viriya, or effort/energy, arises, and then the mind can have the strength to see the Dhamma. Dhamma investigation also has more energy as a Factor of Awakening than one would typically experience. In the beginning, we need to keep trying and having effort in our practice, then, as the Factors of Awakening get stronger, the practice can become effortless. The Bojjhangas are a great strength that we aim for.
Mindfulness leads to effort and energy—effort in developing the foundations of mindfulness. Rapture as a Factor of Awakening is a part of samadhi. Rapture as a Factor of Awakening has insight, wisdom, concentration, and equanimity with it; they all gather together. In reality, these 7 factors are not separate. Once one develops the seven factors, one can then retrospectively analyse them as separate Bojjhangas. It is amazing that the Buddha was able to teach in this way, in such detail about these Factors of Awakening. One who has awakened to the Dhamma already can reflect on their experience with these fully developed Factors of Awakening, and, through this reflection, they can recover from illness.
Luang Pu Chah used to go to quiet branch monasteries when he was in a period of illness and sit in samadhi all day. Luang Pu Chah said it was to treat his illness. After he returned from such trips, he seemed to be improved. He did this many times.
3. Q: Someone here has asked about seeing and hearing unusual things and feeling a presence near him since his father died 2-3 years ago. What is going on with him? Some say it could be black magic. What should he do?
Luang Por Anan: Do not worry. Some people with a little or a lot of samadhi can see unusual things that others cannot see. After you see or hear something, ask: “Am I afraid?” Do not be afraid. Send merit to those who have passed away and establish mindfulness well. One can do chanting. If one is worried about black magic, then this worry wastes one’s mental energy. Dedicate merit. Establish faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, make the mind steady, and keep the mind peaceful. Sometimes what one sees is real or not real, never mind about this. Do not believe or judge what one is experiencing. Sometimes it is true and sometimes not. Be mindful and keep the mind collected.
4. Q: When should one do lovingkindness practice and for how long? If I sit for 1 hour, how should I do lovingkindness, or metta, practice?
Luang Por Anan: This depends on how proficient you are at metta and what your main meditation object usually is. If you have chosen metta as your main practice then you can do it a lot. For a character type with a lot of anger and aversion, metta practice is an antidote that helps them become more peaceful. If one has chosen another meditation object, like the breath, as one’s main meditation object, then one can do metta at the beginning of the meditation, spreading metta to oneself and others, saying “May I be well, may I be happy”, for example.
Luang Por Anan: If one has a similar situation to people being quarantined in their city for a long time like is happening now with the coronavirus, what would you do? What if there was a food shortage? One could meditate many hours with the extra free time. One would likely feel stress. One could experience peace sometimes and other times not. One might need ways to relieve stress.
Train in uncertainty. Its uncertain. Bangkok has the virus and could shut down. The public could be chaotic and worried. This is worth thinking about.
42 years ago communists were close to Ubon Ratchathani province where I lived with Luang Pu Chah. People were worried about the communists coming. Someone asked LP Chah, “If the communists come, what will you do? Why not run away?” LP Chah answered, “Where would I run to? The communists have been after me since I was born.” The meaning is that death is with us from birth. LP Chah was not afraid. One cannot run from death.
5. Q: I am going on a pilgrimage to India for the first time. Does Luang Por Anan have any advice?
Luang Por Anan: Have a lot of mindfulness. On one’s first trip there may be doubts: “Did the Buddha really awaken? Is this really the right location where the Buddha did awaken?” These thoughts do not lead to wisdom. They are the thoughts of a wisdom type, but they are thoughts that one cannot answer. So take the qualities of the Buddha as the object in one’s mind—recollect these qualities. Chant on the long trip to India. Continuously recollect the Buddha through chanting, for example, even while travelling. One can get a deep impression from the pilgrimage if one has a peaceful mind. One can have rapture, faith, wisdom, and insight into the Dhamma arise. If one tries to figure out the accuracy or historical truth of the pilgrimage sights, then one will not get that much out of it. Build mindfulness and samadhi.
6. Q: Why did Lord Buddha teach the Abhidhamma in the Tavatingsa heaven, the heaven of the 33 gods, and not the Tusita heaven, where his mother had been reborn?
Luang Por Anan: The Buddha knows where and to whom a teaching should be given. The Abhidhamma is a very high teaching. One can realize stream entry up through to arahantship with this teaching. The Tusita heaven is more for Bodhisattvas and those following the Bodhisattvas—the path of building parami. But the Abhidhamma is about anicca, dukkha, and anatta, for realizing the paths and fruits to end suffering like stream entry up to arahantship. This is my view.
I can ask: If you are sitting in first class in an airplane, would the crew let you go to economy class? And if you are sitting in economy class, would they let you go up to first class? Devas in the Tusita heaven can travel to the Tavatingsa heaven since they have more merit and parami. But for Tavatingsa devas to travel to Tusita heaven is difficult, as perhaps they have less merit. Therefore, teaching in the Tavatingsa heaven allowed more devas to be able to attend and listen. Also, Tavatingsa heaven has Indra, the lord of the devas, and it has a gathering place used for teaching Dhamma that the Buddha knew was a suitable place to teach. So, the Buddha knew that the place was ready and the audience was suitable in the Tavatingsa heaven.