Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – August 23rd, 2019
Note: One can listen to this talk here.L uang Por Anan: What must we do to succeed in Dhamma practice? Not doing anything will not lead to success. If we use our existing wisdom, then we would not have enough parami, or spiritual development, to succeed. We need a sincere intention, determination, and to contemplate Dhamma often. Those of us here likely have the experience of success in our studies or our work. What did that take? Take a doctor, for instance. You can ask a doctor, what did it take to become a doctor? How much determination did you have, how much effort, how much sleep did you get, and how much did you study? The same goes for businesspeople, who need to set intentions, be determined, have diligence, and have effort to succeed. In terms of our practice, be determined to chant and meditate. See the drawbacks of attachment and the benefits of Dhamma practice—then make effort in your practice. When we have effort and set our intentions then this leads to success.
Welcome to all the monks and novices and welcome to all the faithful laypeople. Whether one is a monk or novice or layperson, all Dhamma practitioners, want to receive quick results in whatever they do. When laypeople work, they want to receive quick results. Isn’t that right? If we plant a fruit tree, we want the tree to grow big quickly and give out fruits quickly. Our mind has craving, the thoughts proliferate, and the mind is not peaceful. The mind is suffering just because of this craving. It makes the mind not feel at ease. And it is the same when we practice Dhamma, we want things quickly. We want to know Dhamma quickly. And the world is in an era of material prosperity. But the spiritual qualities in the minds of people, like the Dhamma virtues of patience, effort, and diligence, are getting less these days. When people come to practice Dhamma, they want results quickly. The quicker the better. We don’t want patience, we don’t want effort. We want it easy.
On this subject, I have one story to share with you from the time when I was with Luang Pu Chah. There was one layperson who came to practice at Wat Nong Pah Pong. After Luang Pu Chah had finished giving a Dhamma talk, the layperson paid their respects to Luang Pu Chah and asked Luang Pu Chah how they should practice for them to gain the quickest results. Luang Pu Chah looked at that young person’s face and said back instantly, “If you want to get quick results, then you don’t need to do anything.” This is a very bold answer and an answer that directly answers the question. But we are too dull to know what it means—if we want to practice to get results quickly, and we don’t do anything, then what will we gain, and how should we do this? I really couldn’t understand Luang Pu Chah’s answer at that time.
Later on, I could reflect on it, that it is like someone who has everything already. Like a layperson who is very rich and who has achieved success in life. They are a multi-millionaire. They have happiness from that wealth. And if someone who wanted to be like them as well, they come and ask that rich man, “What do I have to do, to gain success like you?” The rich man could answer, “There is no need to do anything.” He could answer like this because he was already a rich man. Here, Luang Pu Chah is the Dhamma millionaire, so he answered that there is nothing to do, because he had nothing more to do . When we want it quickly , there is no need to do anything. Just know that everything is emptiness. But can we do that? But he didn’t explain it much back then. He simply said that there is no need to do anything. But when our sati and samadhi is not sufficient, and our sila is still not firm and stable, then wisdom has not yet arisen. Then we need to have patient-endurance; we need to have effort. We have to be very patient in order to gain success.
And today I want to share a Zen story about the secret of success. There was once a Zen master who had many disciples. One of the disciples asked the Zen master, “Venerable Teacher, what do I have to do so that I can gain success in the practice?”
The Zen master then answered, “Today you will learn the most ordinary thing. It is something so easy, too. That is, for all of you, to swing your hands forward as far as possible, then swing your hands behind you as far as possible. Do 9 repetitions of this.” And the Zen master showed the disciples an example. Then he said, “From this day on, do this everyday, 300 times in a day. Can you all do it? Are you able to?”
The disciple of the Zen master was confused and asked, “For what reason do we have to do this?” He had doubts arise already.
The Zen master said, “If you can swing you arms like this 300 times each day for a whole year, then you will succeed in your Dhamma practice. You will understand the path that leads to true success.”
The disciples looked at each other and smiled. This was something so easy and simple. There was nothing hard about it. Doing this, anyone could do it. After that, each of them did this sincerely and did it continuously. Then, after 1 month, the Zen master asked the disciples: “The task of swinging your arms that I gave you, how is it going?” The disciples said that they could do it continuously. Most of the disciples proudly replied that the task that their teacher had given them, they hadn’t been careless in it and they were truly intent to practice it. The Zen master nodded in approval and was pleased with the diligence of his disciples. He said that it was very good.
Then the next month, the Zen master asked them like before, whether the disciples were still doing the task of swinging their arms? It so happened that half of the disciples were still doing it, but the other half of the disciples had doubts arise – they had done it but didn’t gain anything, it felt just the same as before. That meant that it wasn’t the path, it was better not to do it. They felt discouraged. They couldn’t see how swinging one’s arms would gain them success easily. They had doubts, and this obstructed their efforts. So they stopped.
Before 3 months had passed, half of the disciples had stopped doing it. After the 1 year given had passed, the Zen master asked them, “The task of swinging your arms that I had given you to gain success, that you all said was easy to do, is there anyone still doing it?” It so happened that there was only 1 person who had followed the Zen master’s instructions. “Can you see? It’s not as easy as one would think. You said it was easy, but who is still doing it?”
Only one disciple put up their hand, and said proudly, “I am still doing it.”
The Zen master told all the disciples, “I told you before that after this task had finished, then you would know the path to success. Here I want to tell you, in this world, the things that are the easiest to do, are also the hardest to do. And the hardest things to do, can also be the easiest things to do all the same. We can say it’s easy, but it’s just up to one’s determination to get down to doing it. Anyone can do it. But when we say it’s hard to do, it’s because there are only a few who can sustain that effort for a long time.
So, can we see? That the ones who will gain freedom from suffering do so from their effort. This is as the Buddha taught. All the Buddhas, whose virtues we praise, had great compassion that is unbounded and unequalled. The Buddhas were bodhisattvas with the goal to become a Buddha, and they built parami, spiritual perfections, with wisdom as the leading quality, or faith as the leading quality, or effort as the leading quality. And this is something no one can do. It takes such an incredibly long, long time, until the attainment to become a fully enlightened Buddha. Maitreya Buddha was one who built parami with effort as the leading virtue, and so he needed even more parami than the Buddha who uses faith or wisdom as the leading quality. So the extent of this practice of patience and effort I haven’t described with much detail at all. It’s like we are comparing a speck of dust to the great earth, that’s all. Or the sound of a small bird chirping into the boundless sky. All the Buddhas have great compassion that is unequalled. We all reflect on the great sacrifice of the Buddha, and so we ourselves must train in patience and having effort. Those that have effort are the ones that will be able to escape from all suffering. We must be determined.
The Zen master taught his disciples to have patience and effort. To not have doubts in their practice, that, whatever arose, to follow what the teacher has taught first. And the answer is in one’s actions—in walking without stopping. We take the first step, then keep walking without stopping, and this will make us get to our destination, we will get to the end of the path all the same. The longest paths start with the first step. The samadhi we say is hard to do, but if we do it without stopping and our effort doesn’t waver, we try to develop sati, we meditate, and we have sila as our foundation, then wisdom will arise. We watch over the mind to train it to not have liking or disliking. We train the mind like this continuously. We keep having recollection in this way, then, in the end, the wisdom, the all around knowing will arise. We will be able to see according to the truth. The suffering in the heart reduces, and this relies on our patience and effort. And this is what the Zen master was trying to teach the disciples to train in—to have patience. When we have patience and effort, then, when we practice meditation, we will be able to have success. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
Luang Por Anan: Luang Pu Chah said that if one makes effort without stopping, then one will reach one’s goal in Dhamma practice.
1. Q: How do you bring the mind back in meditation? I often hear the instruction to bring the mind back from many teachers.
Luang Por Anan: When thoughts arise, do not be interested in the thoughts, bring the mind back and put it on to the meditation object.
Q: Is this the same as in daily activity?
Luang Por Anan: Yes. Like thinking thoughts that are not important or relevant—aimless thinking. Use a chant to gather mindfulness together to have the strength of mind to go against moods. If one is peaceful one won’t follow thoughts—the mind and thoughts will be separate.
2. Q: We are studying some Abhidhamma here.
Luang Por Anan: In the Abhidhamma one learns about anger, fear, and delusion, how many mind moments these mind states exist for, and how they arise and pass away. But, in reality, it is hard to count how many mind moments these experiences last for.
3. Q: Are mindfulness and awareness different? Is there a pali term for awareness like how sati is pali for mindfulness?
Luang Por Anan: Mindfulness and awareness go together; you could say ‘sampajanya’ in pali means awareness, it is also often translated as ‘clear comprehension’. Establish mindfulness on the breath and see the breath arising, staying, then passing away. This is the same with life—awareness arises. This is based on the development of mindfulness. Mindfulness comes first, then awareness. Like we lift up a cup, and the knowing we are about to lift the cup is mindfulness. Then being aware that you have lifted the cup already is awareness or sampajanya. Or like having mindfulness of what the body is doing, then one can have awareness that the body is not-self. This knowing of not-self is not a thought; it comes from awareness. Another example is recollecting to change your bodily posture is mindfulness, then knowing that your posture has changed is awareness. Mindfulness recollects thought then awareness knows that one is thinking. These two qualities flow after one another. Having these two qualities continuously brings great benefit to one’s practice.
4. Q: How do we build determination?
Luang Por Anan: See the drawbacks of not having determination and the benefits of having determination. Determination is like a compass—set the compass in the right direction in order to move towards success. One needs to like what one does and have firm dedication. Do Dhamma practice, see the benefits of this and determine to do it, then one can have success.
5. Q: How do we deal with fear? I do not know the origin of the fear that I experience.
Luang Por Anan: There is a story from Luang Pu Chah. Luang Pu Chah was in a charnel ground staying in his glot, or umbrella tent. At that time there were daily cremations in that cremation ground. At night he heard steps near him and felt extreme fear. He felt he had no refuge. He asked his mind “What are you afraid of?” The mind answered “Afraid of death”. Another question arose: “Is there anywhere you can go where you won’t die?” The answer: “No”. Then wisdom arose, his mind became bright, and he never felt fear again. One fears decline, loss, and, ultimately, death. If one is peaceful then wisdom can arise and fear will not arise. If there is no concentration of mind then the mind will think and proliferate constantly and fear can come up. Meditation helps fear to subside.
Once, when I was in a cremation ground, I was struck by intense fear, and did not know what the fear was from. If a ghost showed up at that moment I would have run, and mindfulness would have broken down. My mindfulness knew at that time that if fear arose, this would be a dangerous state to be in. So I entered my umbrella tent and sat in meditation. The body and mind became light. I exited the umbrella tent and walked in meditation. I saw the bones all around and felt that this is simply nature, nothing to be afraid of. If there is no samadhi, then thinking arises and the mind follows the thoughts and can end up in fear. If there is samadhi, then wisdom and awareness can arise. One needs mindfulness and wisdom to overcome any danger.
6. Q: What does Luang Pu Chah’s answer mean: that the fastest way in Dhamma practice is to not do anything?
Luang Por Anan: One cannot do it this way. One must develop mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom, do effort and determination, practice meditation, be with the meditation object, contemplate Dhamma, then, at the end, one does not have to do anything. Its like someone has planted a tree, the tree has grown and bore fruit, then that person eats the fruit until they are full. Someone asks this person, “What is the quickest way to get full?” Then the first person answers: “You do not need to do anything.” But really the questioner will not feel full yet; they have no tree. They must first go plant a tree, water it, fertilize it, and wait for fruit. The questioner asked from their mental defilements, they wanted quick results, which is why Luang Pu Chah answered in that way.
7. Q: A child feels things that make them feel afraid and have bad dreams. I advised them to take refuge in the triple gem (Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha) and to recite “Buddho”.
Luang Por Anan: Chant “Itipiso”, the virtues of the Buddha chant. Explain to them that this chant dispels all fear, and that the power and virtues of the Buddha come to protect one who chants it—let them be certain of this. If one is confident and chants like this, then the mind can be peaceful and fear will subside over time.
There were three little novices who ordained here at one point, ages 7, 8, and 12. I taught them to chant ‘Buddho’ when they felt fear of ghosts. After they disrobed, they saw a ghost with red eyes floating in front of them. They were absolutely terrified. One ran and stuck his head in the ocean. Another ran away. The third remembered that I taught him to chant ‘Buddho’, and so he did. But he had learned that ghosts were supposed to go away when he chanted this, and this ghost was not running away. So he thought, “Why isn’t this ghost running away? Is it real?”. Then he saw that it was his mother pretending to be a ghost. The chant allowed his mind to become peaceful enough for some wisdom to arise.
I myself was very scared of ghosts as a child. If I heard that someone had died in a house, then I would run past that house, thinking that the ghost would not be able to catch up with me. I’d even start to prepare to run fast about 20 meters away before I reached the house. Before ordaining, at the age of 21, I stayed in a monastery taking on the 8 precepts as a kind of retreat. I was about 3 meters away from a coffin with dead bodies. There was heavy rain that night. I tried to lie down to sleep and I’d wake up after only 30 or 20 minutes, all night like that. There were monks nearby, but they could not help me; I had to help myself. Perhaps the child would benefit from practicing in the dark at a monastery.