Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – February 22nd, 2019
Welcome to all of you from your centers. On the 19th February was the important Buddhist holy day that we know as Magha Puja. This commemorates when the Buddha gave the fundamental principles of the teachings of Buddhism. This sermon was given to 1,250 monks, who were all fully-enlightened arahants that the Buddha had ordained himself. All of the 1,250 monks came together without any prior announcement. Each monk thought of the Buddha and came together at Veluvana Monastery and listened to Buddha teach the ‘Teaching and Encouragement about the Training’.
All of the 1250 monks had excellent mindfulness and wisdom. Gathered there was also Ven. Sariputta, the Right Hand chief disciple of the Buddha, foremost in wisdom, and Ven. Maha Moggallana, the Left Hand chief disciple of the Buddha, foremost in psychic powers. And there were also Uruvela Kassapa, Gaya Kassapa, and Nadi Kassapa too, who had high concentration and excellent wisdom.
And having concentration is important. If concentration is well-established, then when one contemplates for the arising of wisdom, then one will get spiritual attainments quickly. This concentration has two aspects: right-concentration and wrong concentration. For instance, robbers and thieves, or those who cheat, steal, and deceive others, like many in the cyberworld – they all have to concentrate and persevere as well. But this is a concentration that is wrong and deluded. It has drawbacks, it harms others and it depresses their own mind. This is concentration that is not correct. This is concentration that is leading away from goodness and very wrong according to the Buddha’s teachings. The Buddha said to give up all evil and for one to have right concentration, not wrong concentration. One should give up bad thoughts and wrong intentions and give up all wrong actions of one’s body, speech, and mind.
But in our lives sometimes, we end up doing these wrong actions. So what should we do? We have to understand that the thing that makes us speak wrongly, think wrongly, and to have wrong intentions, it all comes from the mental defilements of greed, hatred and delusion. These have been in our hearts for a very long time. But we must be determined to get rid of them, because if we don’t, then these mental defilements in our hearts won’t become extinguished by themselves. They follow us each life and each realm onwards.
If they don’t disintegrate and disappear in this life, they follow our spiritual hearts each life onwards. The cycle revolves around continuously, without a holiday for even one day. That is, unless we can cut off the cause. When we have mental defilements, then we have karma or we act on the defilement. When we have karma, then we have the result of karma. And when we have the result of karma (vipaka) coming up, this then again makes the mental defilements arise. These 3 – defilement, action, and result – revolve around like this and become a cycle, which lead our minds to cycle around constantly being born and dying.
So if we have thoughts or actions that are wrong, we have to give them up in this life so that they will diminish. We have to restrain our body and speech to have morality. This is very important because it restrains the mind to stay on the right path. But we know that we have done things in the past that follow our thoughts, moods and emotions. And when we try to restrain our actions and speech, the mind becomes very heated. But it is just the mental defilements that are hot. So we must have a very high level of patience in all aspects. Back then, we used to not have a basic level of morality. But then when we saw the drawbacks of not keeping morality and the benefits of keeping morality, then we were determined to practice and maintain morality.
But then when we are good, we still need a lot of patient endurance. This is because we have to live with others who don’t have morality. We must meet with many people in work and other situations who don’t have morality, and this affects our minds a lot. We have to try to have high patience living in this present day society. And people with morality will likely get taken advantage by others a lot. But it’s not that we don’t try to go against them. If we do fight, we can win against them, but we will overcome them through practising Dhamma as well. So we have to have patient endurance. This is the inner fight between the the Noble Eightfold Path leading to enlightenment and the mental defilements. If our patience is small, and the defilements have more strength, then the defilements lead us to speak and act. We would for sure already be thinking badly.
These thoughts will lead us to speak and act in a way that breaks morality. We will proliferate and think all sorts of things. The mind will not be peaceful and will be chaotic. But if we have good mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, then Right Concentration can restrain our actions and speech to be kept within morality. This is when the Noble Path has strength and can win over the defilements in the heart. We can overcome them. So the inner fight in the heart can have 2 outcomes: if the Noble Path is strong, then it wins over the defilements, or if the defilements have more strength, then it wins against Noble Path. Then our mind will have suffering.
So we have patience. And we build our spiritual potential.
And on this Magha Puja day, the Buddha taught to the 1,250 monks about patience that it is the highest incinerator of the mental defilements. Even though all the monks listening were all fully-enlightened already. The Buddha didn’t need to teach them about patience, but the Buddha laid down one of the most important spiritual qualities. The Buddha also taught that Nibbana is the Dhamma that is the supreme and most important Dhamma. So patient endurance will lead the heart to coolness, and lead one to attain Nibbana.
But it’s not that all the monks will have sharp wisdom and firm concentration in the beginning.
In the Buddha’s time there was one monk, Cula Panthaka, who had dull wisdom in the beginning. His older brother, Maha Panthaka, had great wisdom. He learned the Buddha’s teachings and practiced them and attained to becoming an arahant. Maha Panthaka and Cula Panthaka were the grandchildren of a very rich man in Rajagaha City, who also had great faith in the Buddha. Maha Panthaka was the foremost out of all the Buddha’s disciples in mental cultivation.
He later took his young brother, Cula Panthaka to ordain as a monk. His young brother had very dull wisdom and and as much as he tried to teach his younger brother, Cula Panthaka couldn’t even remember any of the Buddha’s teachings, even short verses. He thought it was a waste of time for his younger brother to ordain as a monk, so told him to leave his monastery. It so happened that Maha Panthaka, who had the duty to assign monks to meal invitations, was assigning all the monks to have the meal at the invitation of Dr Jivaka the next day. But he wouldn’t assign or take Cula Panthaka to this meal invitation, because he had no wisdom. He wouldn’t even let him have the meal there, he only wanted the monks who had wisdom and spiritual attainment. But this had its consequences as well. Cula Panthaka felt saddened at being left out, and thought it was better to disrobe.
In the morning he was going to leave the monastery, but due to his past spiritual merits, as he was going to leave and disrobe, he met the Buddha walking meditation at the door of the monastery. The Buddha asked Cula Panthaka, “Where are you going at this time?” The Buddha knew but asked out loud. “My Lord Buddha, my brother drives me away, so I am going to disrobe.” The Buddha then said to bring up awareness in Cula Panthaka, “Cula Panthaka, when did you ordain for your older brother? Didn’t you ordain for yourself? When your older brother told you to leave, why didn’t you come to me? Come. Stay with me.” Cula Panthaka stayed and the Buddha stroked him on his head with his palm. When I hear this, I feel rapture. Imagine if it was us, if the Buddha stroked us on our head with his palm, we would have great rapture all through our body. So the Buddha led Cula Panthaka to sit in front of the Buddha’s perfumed kuti.
The Buddha gave him a clean, white cloth. And the Buddha had him sit and rub the cloth and gave him a meditation mantra to repeat “This cloth is dirty”. When he was rubbing it and repeating the mantra, in no long time, the cloth became dirty and soiled. He reflected that: “This cloth was white and pure, but when it was constantly rubbed by me, then it lost its original clean quality and became dirty.” Here, the monk recollected and gained insight that “this heap of aggregates that we call a self isn’t lasting or permanent.” The Buddha knew his mind, and taught him to see the impermanence of the physical and mental aggregates, and when the Buddha finished the sermon, Cula Panthaka attained to becoming an arahant, or fully enlightened. The Buddha and the 499 monks came to Dr Jivaka’s house, and as Dr Jivaka was going to give alms-food, the Buddha closed his bowl and said that all the monks haven’t arrived yet. There is still one monk in the monastery, and for Dr Jivaka to go and invite that monk to come.
So we can see that of the monks who ordain in the Buddhist religion, some attained to full enlightenment already and then the Buddha ordained them, while some monks first gained stream entry, and then they practiced and listened to the Buddha’s teaching and then became fully enlightened. Like Ven. Sariputta, who attained stream entry before ordination, then full enlightenment after being a monk for two weeks.
In the Ovada Patimokkha, the Buddha laid down the fundamental teachings of the Buddha’s dispensation, in a sermon only given once: to not perform any evil, to cultivate the good, and to train one’s mind to be purified. These are the teachings of all the Buddhas, every single one. So the Ovada Patimokkha was laid down as fundamental.
And the Buddha also taught in more detail for monks to practice. Such as for monks to have restraint in the the code of disciple; to be ones who sit and sleep in secluded places. To train their minds, to not harm others or insult others, to know moderation in eating. This is the path to Nibbana. And Nibbana is the supreme Dhamma. So all of us, even as lay people – can use the Ovada Patimokkha to practice with. Practicing to avoid evil, cultivate the good, and purify the mind. So try to build it! Try to let go of all that is unskilful or evil. This is building of great merit, because one gives up the unskilful first, and then does merit. Like when dying a cloth, one needs to wash and clean it first, and then one can dye it and it will turn out a beautiful colour. To make one’s mind good, one needs to give up evil or the unskilful first.
Practice concentration until it improves and becomes well-established. We do our chanting and Dhamma practice, we keep training the mind like this and it will improve, until the mind has concentration and gains the insight to see the body and mind as not permanent. This is entering insight, where the mind is purified little by little. We will then see that in this mind of ours, the mental defilements have been there for such a long time, that we don’t even know for how long – it is so long we can’t count. We don’t know when they began. And we can’t damage or overcome them with any other means. Only with the weapon of the Noble Eightfold Path can we damage the mental defilements within the mind. We do so bit by bit, until they are overcome completely. So you need to have patient endurance.
You have loving-kindness and compassion, because you share a part of your wealth to promote Buddhism. That is done in homage to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and shows we have a high-level of patience already.
This year, may you keep practising like this more and more regularly. Then the mind will be bright and radiant. Until one day the mind understands more and more Dhamma, until there are no more doubts in the teachings of the Buddha. This is when the ‘inner monk’ will arise in our minds. May you have success in all aspects of the world and in the Dhamma. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
Question 1: What kind of action did Cula Panthaka do to have such low wisdom?
Luang Por Anan: Likely he in the past would have focused mainly on cultivating concentration, later on even attaining the psychic powers. So it was likely that even before he attained he had some concentration there. Even after he attained he would give only short verses. Once some nuns got dissatisfied with his too short teachings and so he displayed his psychic powers, which made them gain faith, so this shows that he had more training in concentration than wisdom.
But in a past lifetime there was a monk reciting and memorizing the Dhamma, and this monk who was reciting and memorizing wasn’t very good, and he was having difficulty memorizing. So Cula Panthaka in that time made fun of this monk to the point of making him feel embarrassed and stop reciting and stop memorizing. So as a result of that act in the past, he had an obstruction in this lifetime.
Question 2: What does it mean to be wakeful and what are the conditions to be wakeful?
Luang Por Anan: So the conditions to bring up the state of wakefulness is mainly effort and not to indulge in sleeping. We should reflect on our life and consider the fact that the amount of time we have is short and that with each moment the time gets shorter, so we should try to bring up the effort to establish mindfulness.
And another important factor in bringing up wakefulness is moderation in eating. There are different levels but everyone should try to develop this as well, and we should also try to be heedful, to not be careless. This is a kind of reflection that leads to wakefulness.
Question 3: What are the reasons for wrong view?
Luang Por Anan: Wrong view comes from past actions based on mental defilements. For example, someone addicted to alcohol or gambling acts on their desire which leads them to do it again, becoming a cycle.
Question 4: Why do some people really hate Buddhism and the idea of being good, and they feel that there is nothing wrong with being angry and taking advantage of other people?
Luang Por Anan: If the mind has not practised, it is natural that it has defilements and thoughts coming from these defilements. But if the mind has wisdom, then it can separate from the defilements. Even in the time of the Buddha, some people behaved like this.
Q: If it is this way, how can we do good for those people?
Luang Por Anan: It’s better to help yourself first, until your mind is very firm and very strong, because if you try to help those people that have a lot of delusion, that don’t want to do good at all and your mind still isn’t strong, they can end up pulling you down. I give you a tip: Help yourself first, make your mind strong first.
Question 5: We know that meditation is something that’s good for us but sometimes it’s difficult to find time, please offer us some inspiration to meditate.
Luang Por Anan: In our current state we have minds that are used to thinking and proliferating. The first step is to see the disadvantages of having a mind that is is not peaceful and chaotic and to see the faults in that. We can reflect that the reason we’re not able to bring up much wisdom is because our minds don’t have peacefulness and stillness. So if we see our situation then we will want to work on developing some concentration.
Often the trouble is that our habit of being deluded will tend to pull us in in back in the direction of not meditating, so it’s like there’s a struggle between the wisdom in the mental defilements.
There are skilful means we can use here such as determining a Vow of Truth. So we determine that we will take certain times of the day to chant and meditate and then regardless of whether we’re feeling diligent or feeling lazy, at those times then we always will chant and meditate. To make those determinations even stronger we can say make a vow like “May I fall into hell if I don’t do it”. Then that will bring up a fear of falling from the human realm if we fail to do our practice. Luang Por Chah would teach this way to make people be determined to build goodness. And he would always advise that whether we’re feeling lazy or diligent we should practice.
Question 6: In my meditation I can experience feelings and sometimes not be affected by it, but in my daily life it is harder to do this. I realize that the awareness is not that strong and my mind is more easily affected by other things. What can I do to improve my meditation and not be affected by the defilements in these situations.
Answer: When you’re practising like you said, doing your meditation and then going about with your daily life, and you find your mindfulness is reduced, that’s because while you’re working and studying, this uses up energy from your body and mindfulness tends to be weaker at those times.
So you need to keep bringing up effort to develop mindfulness in your daily life. Also, when you finish your work and studies, do your meditation practices regularly and do it without failing. This will help you mind and your concentration to improve.
Keep doing it regularly. Later on, you’ll find that your concentration is stronger and even when you leave sitting meditation, the mindfulness and wisdom will still be strong, and this will lead to results throughout your daily life. This takes time, the practice takes effort to keep going, and it also takes a lot of patience.
While you meditate you may experience some good feeling, good mindfulness, better than your daily life where mindfulness may not be so good, but you need to have patience at those times. The important thing is to keep going with your meditation and do not stop.