Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – February 7th, 2020
L uang Por Anan: It has been 2608 years since the Buddha’s enlightenment, meaning it has been 2608 years since the Ovada Patimokkha was first given by the Lord Buddha. Tomorrow is the Magha Puja day where we celebrate the Ovada Patimokkha being taught. One year has gone by already since the last Magha Puja. We can reflect on the miracle of the Ovada Patimokkha, a teaching that has not changed in 2608 years. This was an amazing event where the Buddha gave the heart, the foundation of the teachings. The way to freedom is the same today as it was then.
Things change—today we have new viruses, need new vaccines, have new medicines, and things keep changing, but the way to freedom is the same. There is no single medicine that is able to cure all illnesses, but for the illnesses of the mind there is just one medicine that can cure all, and this the Buddha has taught already: to make the mind pure and good. This is a miracle. Simply follow the teachings that lead to purity and inner peace.
The Buddha had the best mindfulness and wisdom. Past and future scientists try to cure illnesses, and they will never find a medicine that can cure all illnesses. The medicine of the Buddha can cure suffering. Even a good wordly medicine only helps for one lifetime, then one gets reborn. The Buddha medicine, however, cures one for the whole of one’s samsaric journey, it cures for multiple lifetimes, it is a cure that lasts beyond time. Now let us learn about Magha Puja.
Today I want to talk about a remarkable teaching of the Buddha. On the full moon of the 3rd lunar month, which we call Magha Puja, an amazing event happened which had 4 unique factors. On Magha Puja, the Buddha gave the Dhamma that is the heart of the Buddha Sasana, the Buddha’s Dispensation, called the Ovada Patimokkha. There were 1250 monks who came together without any prior notice. These days, 2000 or 3000 monks could come together but with notice. Before the event, they would send invitation letters, but these days they may use a social messenger app to notify the monks of the day and time to meet. And these are monks that are not yet fully enlightened arahant monks.
In the present day, to find just 1 monk who is an arahant is not easy at all. But in the Buddha’s time, it was very prosperous in terms of the development of the mind. There were 1,250 monks who were all arahants and the type of arahant that the Buddha had personally ordained. They were arahant monks who had high mindfulness and wisdom, and had great knowledge and samadhi, that is, they possessed the 6 higher knowledges and the 4 analytical knowledges.
This day that the Sangha came together was a favourable occasion—the Buddha as the head of the Sangha gave this special teaching. Ovada means teaching. Patimokkha means the path to liberation. So the purpose of the teaching was to lay down the fundamental goal and the practice to enter into the Buddha’s dispensation. All of the arahant disciples there had already reached this goal.
But if future generations of Buddhists and disciples practiced following these teachings, then they would be able to see the Dhamma, attain to Dhamma, and attain to the supreme, which is Nibbana. Nibbana is the supreme teaching, and this is what differentiates Buddhism from other religions. “Nibbanam param vadanti Buddha.— The Awakened ones say Nibbana is supreme.”
We here likely know what the Buddha taught on that day. The core teaching of not doing any evil and cultivating what is wholesome, doing all types of good. Goodness starting from dana, or generosity, to sila, or morality, and to bhavana, or mental development. One practices to make the mind peaceful and calm.
When we look at sila and dana, we can compare them to parts of the same tree. If we talk of sila, this is like the bark of the tree. Dana is like the leaves that are green and fresh. Samadhi, or meditative concentration, is like the softwood of the tree. And when we talk about the heart of the Buddha’s teachings, this is like the heartwood of the tree. In one tree, it isn’t possible to have only the heartwood. The tree also needs the softwood, the bark, and the green leaves. Then we say it is in full bloom.
We can see that in tough weather conditions, the tree will drop all of its leaves. Though it still has the bark and the softwood, when we look at it, our heart feels dried up. Though we could say that the spiritual quality of generosity is just the leaves of the tree, when the tree has no leaves, then it has no greenness, no freshness. Like in this past season where it has been so hot around the world. It was so hot and dry that trees had to discard their leaves. But where there are moist conditions and fertile soil, then the leaves are green, and when we see this we feel refreshed and uplifted. Everywhere we look it’s green.
The goodness done through giving dana is the foundation with which one starts. And then with dana, we develop sila. Giving dana is like we are giving up evil. Giving up what evil? We don’t want the possessions of others. What we have we donate, we help for public benefit, we offer to the monastics (samanas), we support our relatives, and we support our family. This is one of the highest blessings. We support our mother and father. We support our children and wife. These days it may be the wife supporting the husband, which is also a highest blessing. So to sustain the conditions for favourable relationships, it starts with giving material support first. This is the highest blessing of our life. The Buddha taught people from the very beginning.
These beginning teachings of the Buddha’s start from sacrificing for the benefit of others first. To sacrifice what? Selfishness. This selfishness is this ‘me me me’ . It is what makes the world chaotic. First, selfishness makes our heart chaotic, then the family becomes chaotic, then the social group that we are in becomes chaotic. Because of selfishness, the world becomes chaotic. But, if we are not selfish, then we can help society be peaceful and happy.
Dana and making merit is giving up this selfishness. Keeping sila protects us from selfishness coming out through our actions and speech. When we do actions and speech without sila, this is like we are harming ourselves first. And then we harm others, as well! Not having sila harms others the same as it harms us. When we do have sila – we don’t harm ourselves, and we don’t harm others, we are keeping our inner defilements of greed, hatred, and delusion controlled.
But the mind still has the normal problem of thinking and mental objects coming up. Yet, if we are aware of these thoughts as they arise, knowing that the thoughts are not really ours, then there is no problem. On a deep level, we still believe these thoughts are ours: good thoughts are our thoughts, bad thoughts are our thoughts. When good thoughts arise we are pleased. When we have bad thoughts come up, we don’t want them to be there, and this makes us feel bad and suffer. The mind drops. This is because we don’t want those thoughts to come up. We don’t want to have any bad thoughts arising at all. This is wrong view. We must understand that bad thoughts are normal. When we practice, everything is there in the mind. May we be aware of it. If it is not good, then let it go. If it is good, then we use it for benefit.
The Buddha told us here to cultivate goodness to its completion. Give up all the bad: unskillfulness in our actions, speech, and mind. The Buddha didn’t teach us to only make our minds meritorious and good and then to purify the mind. The Buddha knew that this evil or unskillfulness is able to arise in everyone. But, we must strive to give up the unskillfulness. Strive to not let the bad arise. Strive to build goodness, strive to build merit. Train the mind, train in developing samadhi, do chanting and meditation. Make the mind still and peaceful. Chant a lot. Do ‘Buddho’ a lot.
By chanting I mean reciting a meditation mantra that is longer than the word ‘Buddho’ – like ‘Itipiso bhagava araham samma sambuddho’, until ‘buddho bhagava ti’. In one day, chant it 9x, 18x, 108x, or more than that is even better. Chant until the mind can be peaceful. Then we are just left with the repetition of ‘Buddho, Buddho, Buddho’. The mind is peaceful and still. It is samadhi. This is usable. Because this is goodness or a great level of goodness that has arisen.
This samadhi is harder to develop than other qualities. Dana we can do regularly. Sila we can do, whether it is the 5 moral precepts, the 8 precepts, the 10 precepts, or the 227 precepts of a monk. Training to develop samadhi is another level harder than this, but it is not beyond our ability. It is not beyond what we can achieve through our efforts as long as we do strive for it. Then we will be able to do it.
We must be determined and have the supreme goal in our sights. What is the supreme? Nibbana is the supreme happiness. We have the supreme goal that we will develop our minds from this life onwards. Even if, in this life, we cannot attain it, then the next life we will continue working at it until we can attain the supreme. We will get to Nibbana for certain. So we know the core principles – to refrain from all evil, to cultivate the good, and to purify the mind – these are the core principles. And what is the method to practice them?
How does one give up all evil? We give it up in the body – we don’t use bad speech. We don’t harm and hurt others in both our actions and our speech. We don’t tell lies, use speech that divides others, use speech that is harsh, and we do not gossip. We don’t harm others in our speech and actions. On the level of the mind, we train to have samadhi. We can have forgiveness to others.
We have to practice this in the modern day, as well. We can see that when infectious disease spreads there are people who aren’t cautious. This is also called not refraining from evil. They may have flu symptoms, runny or stuffy nose, fever, and they hide that they are sick and deny that they have caught anything. They spread the sickness, the flu virus is spread around a lot, and this makes others in society sick, who are then burdened, suffer, and may spread the virus even further. We can see this clearly in the present situation.
Hiding the information that we have flu symptoms like stuffy or runny nose and fever is evil. Then what is giving up evil? This is to be honest and to say that we have the flu, we have a fever. We need to cover up our nose and mouth, and we have to see the doctor. We try to relieve the sickness and to protect ourselves. One, this will help us to recover, and two, we don’t spread the sickness to others, and this is like giving up evil.
If one becomes infected with the disease, hides the information and doesn’t tell anyone, then it is increasingly spread around, more people become infected, and if there are many more infections the whole world could even get infected. So it is very dangerous. So giving out honest information is also giving up evil. Protecting oneself from the flu, using a mask, methods of protection, taking medicine to recover, these are like giving up evil or the unskilful.
And how to build goodness in this present situation? We can see an example in the doctors. They know if they treat the sick, they may become infected themselves. But doctors are building goodness. Some doctors even sacrifice for others’ benefit to the point where they end up losing their own lives. There are some who build a great amount of parami! Being a doctor and having the heart of a doctor is about sacrifice. There are some nurses who have shaved their hair to reduce the need to look after their own bodies so that they can spend more time looking after others. Those that are studying to become nurses and doctors are determined and have a mind that is willing to sacrifice a lot.
I had heard about a story of one patient who had chicken pox. If the doctor treated this patient, he would catch chicken pox and graduate as a doctor one year slower. But this doctor accepted the consequences because he had the heart of a doctor. He had to treat sick people, and, in the end, he finished his studies one year slower.
And these days in the world and society, there is this new coronavirus, and those doctors and nurses have to sacrifice their family duties first in order to fulfil their duties to help the public. This is the heart of a doctor. On the birthday of their child, they can’t be there and so have to call and talk over the phone instead. They have no chance to be there on their child’s birthday. They have to take leave of their child and wife because they will be gone for a long time. The wife takes leaves of the husband and family for the purpose of helping others. Helping people like this is building goodness as well. This is self-sacrifice.
Our Buddha made great sacrifices. When we think like this, we see people sacrificing in their own lives, and we then think back to the Buddha and reflect on the Buddha’s virtues. The Buddha sacrificed in order to help the lives of so many others. The Buddha sacrificed many of his past lives. Why? So that others could be free from all suffering. The doctors in the present day, they may be able to help free people from suffering in this present life. But the ones they help in future lives must still go around the cycle of birth and death and have ongoing suffering. The Buddha was the highest type of doctor of the mind and heart because the Buddha could free others from the ongoing cycle of birth and death in samsara. The Buddha had to devote his life, his heart, and his flesh and blood, many, many times over, until the Buddha could succeed and become a fully enlightened Buddha all through his own efforts.
The Buddha’s teachings on this day of Magha Puja are remarkable. They are very, very amazing! To refrain from all evil, to cultivate the good, to purify the mind. Nibbana is the supreme. The Buddha taught the monks in more detail: to dwell in a secluded place, to have effort, and to not be heedless. These teachings are not just for the monks and novices, but all of you are monks, too, because you see the dangers in the cycle of birth and death. We are all Dhamma practitioners, those on this spiritual path who see the drawbacks in the round of samsara. So we have to practice.
When the mind is peaceful and has samadhi, then it’s here that we contemplate! This body is a heap of suffering – it’s full of sicknesses, diseases, and pain. Can you see it in the present situation? If one gets the virus just a little bit in the body, then the body becomes a heap of suffering. Where will you have happiness? Will you escape death? Will you survive? If there are no medicines to treat it in time, then one may die, just like many have already. This is up to one’s spiritual development and kamma. Some recover. So we contemplate that life is uncertain. This body is a heap of suffering. The body is a physical form that sicknesses inhabit. Where does sickness arise in the world? If it arises in the air, then it’s not a problem. But when it arises within our body, then it’s a problem.
Make the mind peaceful and contemplate this body. See this body as impermanent, see this body as suffering, and see this body as not beautiful, that it must decay. The body is inherently empty. If we can see like this, then we are able to see nibbana. We must train in this way. The Buddha’s teachings are indeed very amazing! For us to be able to meet with these teachings is our great opportunity. We have met the most excellent jewel of Dhamma. On this Magha Puja we practice Dhamma as an offering. We strive to practice meditation, we strive to contemplate the Dhamma, and then we will gain knowing.
Refrain from evil, cultivate the good, and purify the mind to the highest. In society we can give up evil, like I have explained. Maintain a strong and healthy body. If one has the flu, be careful, treat oneself, and try not to spread the virus to others. Give up evil, cultivate goodness, and help others. If we have masks, don’t store them up, but share them with others. Sacrifice and share. When we live together, having harmony leads to happiness. Don’t be prejudiced or detest those who are infected. Just try to treat oneself and protect oneself not to get infected. May you contemplate and be diligent. May you all, the monastics and laity, may you all grow in Dhamma. May you be far from illness and sickness. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
Luang Por Anan: People in Thailand are afraid of the new coronavirus going around. No one has died in Thailand from it yet. Usually a protective face mask is 4 Thai baht but now they can be 24 baht and hard to find. One can line up in a queue even 1 kilometre long.
Fear is arising. Fear of what? Fear of death. Once, Luang Pu Chah was practicing in a cremation ground and felt scared, he felt he had no refuge. He only had his alms bowl. A big storm came and everything got all wet. He felt afraid. He asked, “What are you afraid of?”. The answer came “Afraid of death.” “Is there anywhere with no death?” “No, there is not.” After this, Luang Pu Chah’s mind became very bright, and he never felt fear after that.
Fear come from attachment, from the sense of “me” and “mine”. People do not share face masks and charge high prices, this is a problem. If one sacrifices and shares, one can make a lot of parami. If one tries to get a big profit, this profit is coming from the suffering of others—this is impurely gained wealth. If one charges the right price, then people can do okay. Self sacrificing and helping others is a good thing.
There have been many disease outbreaks that have arisen in my life, and I’ve never seen so many people so afraid. I have never seen this before; there is more fear. In Hong Kong, 25,000 masks were stolen. I’ve also never heard of this before. In the past, during wartime, a monk in Nakhon Ratchasima province had his robes stolen when bathing in a river, and medicine was also stolen. This was war time, so it was hard to find requisites. In the vinaya one must face one’s robes when going to bathe because in the Buddha’s time, people also stole robes. Whatever it is that is hard to find, people will steal.
1. Q: What did the Buddha advise regarding viruses and what does Luang Por Anan suggest?
Luang Por Anan: Chant the Ratana Sutta and the parittas, like we discussed in last week’s Dhamma conference. Great rain came down to cleanse the city in the story from the Buddha’s time, people gained strength of heart, and they were protected.
Do not be afraid. One must die at some point. Reflect on kamma. If one has good kamma one will be okay, if one has bad kamma, one will get sick and die. When it is time, then one must get sick and die, one cannot change this. But do not be heedless. Be careful, protect oneself, and build mindfulness. Such as touching one’s face with one’s hands: one must have mindfulness to not do this, to remember to wash one hands, and so on. This is in the foundations of mindfulness, which are very important.
Do not fear. Make the mind peaceful and use mindfulness and wisdom. When going about one’s daily life, have mindfulness with the fear. If one has bad kamma, then one can get infected and may die. Have faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha; have faith in kamma. Viruses arise from the harming of other living beings, a kamma which leads to illness and shorter length of life. If one has harmed other beings then one must face this kamma. Have mindfulness: did I wash my hands? Do I need to touch my face? Protect oneself.
2. Q: Do you plan to go to Wuhan to chant the Ratana Sutta?
Luang Por Anan: Firstly, the authorities would not let us go. One must also see if the people there have the appropriate kamma—they may not be able to escape this kamma, like a tree about to die from lack of water. If its roots are good, then it can recover, but if not, it will die. The Buddha taught to not be heedless. The Ovada Patimokkha teaches to do no evil. Going to Wuhan would be a danger for us, then the people there would have to be responsible for us, as well, which would be a burden for them. This is related to kamma. Protect oneself—do not burden others, like one would if one got sick in Wuhan. One helps all beings by not doing unskillful actions.
3. Q: In the Luang Pu Chah story, he asked himself a wisdom question. When I meditate, should I be with my chant or ask myself a question, like: “What am I clinging to?”
Luang Por Anan: Both methods work. One can go back to the chant after one has a thought and realize that the thought is not self—it arises and passes, then wisdom can arise. If the mind is peaceful one can ask: “Where did this thought come from? Who thinks this thought? What benefit does this thought have?” If one is not peaceful then do one’s kammathana, one’s normal meditation object, to make the mind still and peaceful first so that wisdom can arise.
4. Q: How can one gain faith in the law of kamma? Must one see rebirth and see the workings of kamma first?
Luang Por Anan: Use faith in the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha first. Use belief first. To really see and have firm faith one must practice first. At the beginning, one just has faith and no wisdom. Results happen, and one can’t see a cause, but one can think: “There must be a cause; it must be kamma.” One can read suttas about cause and result. Reflect: “Why is this? It must have a cause.” Do not think “Why…..why….”. There must be a cause. Like if someone’s life is long or short we can read that this is because of kamma, then faith can increase. Those with no faith maybe believe in modern science. One must practice to really believe. See the body as a heap of suffering. If one sees the body as empty just once, one will understand. Develop a peaceful mind, then contemplate the body as the four elements. Contemplate the body as not beautiful, as impermanent, stressful, and not one’s own. See it as empty just once, then one will have great faith with wisdom there as well.
5. Q: How does seeing the body clearly lead to faith in kamma?
Luang Por Anan: To see emptiness is to see the Dhamma of the Buddha. Wisdom arises, belief arises, and one sees that the Buddha really was enlightened. One gains unshakeable faith. If one practices in this way, then one will become free from all dukkha, all stress. The Buddha taught kamma—one is the owner of one’s kamma, the heir to one’s kamma, and so on, as we chant. One sees clearly that kamma is a law. One has no doubts left because one’s mind has seen the teachings of the Buddha. One has seen for oneself the teachings found in the suttas, and no doubts are left.
The law of kamma can be seen as the cycle of kilesa (defilement) leading to kamma (action), leading to results of action (vipaka kamma), which leads to reacting to those results, which leads to more kilesa, and the cycle repeats and revolves over and over again. With vipassana, or clear seeing, one knows clearly and can be free of this cycle, cutting off kilesas. One gains a deeper understanding of the process and how to be free of it. Maybe I will explain more next time. This is a deep and refined topic.
We see in the present situation that people gather together at certain times and places and get infected with the virus. One is the owner of one’s kamma. We see this disease has come now, in the past there were different diseases, there was World War 1, World War 2, and other epidemics. Depending on where we are in the cycle of birth and death, kamma manifests in different ways. We can learn more and understand more deeply.
May we give our blessings and spread metta around the world. May all beings be free from suffering, free from selfishness, and not get the virus.