Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – August 16th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Learning Dhamma is important in order to meet with and develop peace. In daily life we need to reflect: too much of something leads to drawbacks; too little of something also has drawbacks. Like food—too much will be bad for us, and too little would be bad, as well. The same goes for the amount of rest we get. Make it just right. Having things just right has benefits for our Dhamma practice. Are mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom at a good enough level? If not, then we need to develop these qualities more.
Welcome to all the monks and novices and to all the lay people from your centers. Today we learn about Dhamma. This learning of Dhamma helps us to have wisdom. When we have wisdom, then we will be able to understand the truth of life, the truth of nature – that there is arising, persisting, and ceasing. Regardless of whether the Buddha becomes awakened, or doesn’t become awakened, the nature, the way things are, already exists. Our Buddha is the one who finds, understands, and becomes awakened to that nature. And after the Buddha has passed away into parinibbana, the nature of truth that is here already, is still here.
May you learn about nature with clarity, so that the suffering in the heart will lessen. This suffering arises because of attachment and clinging. And this suffering grows more because of the craving in the mind. The suffering grows more because we have no mindfulness and wisdom to restrain our mind. So attachment and clinging arises all the time. And suffering arises constantly. But, regardless, this attachment and clinging is still one type of Dhamma, that has arising, persisting and ceasing. When there is a cause then attachment arises, and when the cause ceases, then the attachment ceases as well. So we have to create the causes for attachment to cease. Because when we have attachment, then we have suffering. If we have no attachment, then we have no suffering. When our minds are proficient in mindfulness and concentration, then this will lead to wisdom arising, and this will be able to undo and lessen our attachments. Then suffering doesn’t arise.
So we now review that we need to meditate to have mindfulness in the present moment. The present means to have knowing about the body. And the awareness of knowing the in and out breath consistently is the development of mindfulness. But all day we don’t really have much awareness of the breath. Each day we have many duties going on, and we don’t stop breathing. But we have no mindfulness regarding whether our breath is going in or going out. All day the mind is preoccupied with all the many things that have passed, or the many things that have not arisen in the future. We are constantly thinking/proliferating about these things. This proliferation and thinking of the past and future means that we don’t have mindfulness in the present moment.
So the mind is full of disturbances and full of attachment and clinging. We need to train and instruct our minds by having mindfulness to know the in and out breath. Don’t control the breath to be any longer or shorter than it is. When the breath goes in, we mentally count 1; when the breath goes out, we count 1. This is the first pair. When the breath goes in and out – we count 2 for the 2nd pair. Breathe in and out – this is the 3rd pair. Breathe in and out – this is the 4th pair. Breathe in and out -this is the 5th pair. Then we start counting again from the 1st pair, and when we get to the 5th pair, we add another pair for the 6th pair. Then we go back to the start at the 1st pair, and when we get to the 6th pair, we add another pair for the 7th pair. Keep doing this until the 10th pair. If we forget where we are at, then start again from the 1st pair to the 5th pair. Do this till we are proficient and we aren’t making any mistakes.
We feel that the body and mind are at ease. Sometimes when we have peace arise, then we may stop counting the breath, and just simply know that there is the in and out breath. And different parts of the body or different feelings may feel as if they are disappearing from our awareness. For example, it may feel like one hand has disappeared, one foot has disappeared, the body starts feeling lighter, or one side of the body disappears. Then just know that the mind is starting to be peaceful. At this point, don’t have desire come up. If we desire to have peacefulness – then this desire will prematurely stop the mind becoming concentrated. We just let it go according to nature. If we have peace then that is good, but if we don’t have peace, we don’t have aversion towards that. We put our mind in the middle. When we develop mindfulness like this, then in the end the body and mind are light. It may feel like cotton, like we are sitting in the middle of the air. This is peace arising to one level. This is called samadhi, having collectedness of mind. The thoughts have reduced a lot. Even if there are still thoughts, they are just some small thoughts, and they don’t bother us. The mind is at ease. We can sit for 30 mins, sit for 1 hour, and we don’t feel that it is long at all. All the tiredness from work disappears completely. The peaceful mind has benefit, it has rapture and it has samadhi. The Buddha praised that the person who meditates and gains peace, gains a lot more merit than through giving dana or keeping sila, the moral precepts.
But we do need to be supported by dana in order to overcome our selfishness, and we do need to keep sila. Sila is the mother and father of the Dhamma that will arise. That is, the mindfulness, samadhi, and wisdom that will arise, comes from sila as their father and mother of all Dhamma. When we have dana and sila at a good level, then, when we do bhavana, developing the mind, we can have peace arise and have the wisdom to know this body and mind. We will understand Dhamma.
We take samadhi to contemplate the in and out breath, to see that the in breath arises, stays a little while, then the out breath occurs. This is the impermanence of life. We have knowing come up that this life is only possible with the breath going in, staying, then the breath going out. Without this we die. This is just the end of the breath – the in breath goes in and doesn’t come out, or the breath goes out and doesn’t come in – then life is not possible. All the things that we have, that we are, that are ours, will end and disappear. They have no value at all. We will have the wisdom that destroys the wrong view that sees that this body is a self, me, and mine. We will be able to understand Dhamma well, that this life is impermanent.
We learn about nature and can see the tree that has flowers blossoming. Sometimes there is a strong wind and the flowers are blown off the tree. There are big, large flowers that fall off, there are medium sized flowers, and there are also many small flowers that fall in that strong wind. Or the fruit that is not yet ripe may fall first. Or the branches break, or with a strong wind, the tree trunk breaks. All this happens a lot. This can be compared with life. We can’t take anything as certain. There are those that are conceived and die in the mother’s womb. Some within 1 month or 2 months they die, some within 3-4 months in the womb they die. Or some are born as a small baby and after not even a few months then they die. Some not even 1 year and they die. Some 3 – 4 years old and then they die. Some die as a small boy or small girl. It isn’t that only old people die. Life is uncertain like this. So we need to be established in not being heedless or careless. The Buddha’s teaching is that life is uncertain, and that death is certain. One day life must decay, must cease. We must be established in heedfulness.
When the Buddha was still a Bodhisattva, he contemplated the impermanence of one mango tree. It had many leaves and fruits but was damaged by the people. He contemplated that life is uncertain. So he went to practice and attained to jhana, the mental absorptions. He took the nature around him to learn about. So we should learn about nature – the way things are around us. Whether it is people, animals, material objects, trees, mountains, it all comes together under the law of impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. We contemplate that and then bring it in, to see that our life is like that as well. Then Dhamma will arise.
And we should learn Dhamma with mindfulness and wisdom. If we are attached to our own thoughts and views too much, then we may not understand Dhamma. This is compared to someone who has a long stick, who goes to cut mangoes off the tree. They can’t do it because the stick is too long. But if the stick is too short, then it won’t be able to reach to cut the mangoes. This is like when our thoughts are too small, there is no mindfulness, and our wisdom isn’t sufficient. This is like a short stick. It is too short to give us any benefit. May we be the ones who are just right. Learn and practice Dhamma just right.
Practicing just right means, not too much and not too little. Listen, think, and contemplate so that wisdom arises. That is contemplating and investigating Dhamma. Take Dhamma to investigate and take it to practice with. This is so we can understand the law of nature – the nature of truth. Here, we will have wisdom arise. And this wisdom will give benefit to our samadhi, improve our mindfulness, we will have better sila, and we will practice dana regularly. And this dana we do with wisdom and self-sacrifice.
If we are at the age of a child, a student – then we must be diligent in our studies. The young novices need to be diligent to learn about Buddhist theory while practicing it at the same time, too. When we are beyond the age of study, then we must be diligent in our practice. When we do our work, we practice and meditate as well. We try to develop the mind and have a lot of mindfulness. We can do many rounds of chanting the Itipiso chant 108x. This is a way to have more mindfulness. So may you all be determined to practice and meditate by knowing the in and out breath as your meditation object. The samadhi that arises will help you to have wisdom. Try to practice and learn like this every day without fail. Have knowing, mindfulness, and wisdom. Don’t be a stick that is too long or too short that can’t be used for any benefit. May you develop this quality of being just right. May you contemplate this and understand Dhamma. May you grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: If one does bad karma, then how will one meet with the Buddha and Dhamma in the future?
Luang Por Anan: The present is from past causes, and causes in the present affect the future. Do good in the present in order to have good later. One cannot change the past. If one is born poor, has few skills, and has other difficulties, one can still do good in the present. Like doing chanting in the present results in peace. Or, if you have lovingkindness, then others will love you and you can feel happy—this comes from giving lovingkindness to others. When you give to to others, the mind feels cool. A good present leads to a good future.
2. Q: A friend was feeling upset, and I said to chant Itipiso (the virtues of the Buddha chant) 108 times. The friend felt better after chanting. But later when the friend tried chanting again, then thoughts and disturbing feelings came up again in their mind.
Luang Por Anan: Have mindfulness—have more mindfulness with the chanting. After one is proficient with the chant and perhaps memorized it already, one should not let go of one’s mindfulness and just chant only with one’s mouth. One can chant Itipiso backwards to increase mindfulness. Or, in walking meditation, one can walk backwards if there are a lot of thoughts. If one chants in Pali, one can switch to chanting in one’s native language in order to get the meaning of the chant and reflect on the meaning in order to grow in wisdom.
3. Q: Yesterday was the holiday of ghosts and spirits in China. People offer fruits and other food to departed relatives. Do the ghosts come? Why on that day? Do they eat the offerings?
Luang Por Anan: There is a story in the suttas about hungry ghosts. King Bimbisara, a disciple of the Buddha, heard some disturbing sounds at night. He went to the Buddha to ask about this, as he was afraid the sounds meant a threat to his kingship or kingdom. The Buddha explained that the sounds were from 4 former relatives of his who were in a miserable existence as hungry ghosts. These 4 hungry ghosts had been hungry ghosts since the time of the previous Buddha, but they had been unable to gain merit in that time so waited until the time of the present Buddha. When King Bimbisara made merit in the present Buddha era, he did not dedicate merit to these former relatives, so they cried out. After hearing this, King Bimbisara dedicated merit to these 4 hungry ghosts, who then overcame their woeful state through growing in merit.
Another story is about a boy who died in a certain household. After his death, he entered the dream of someone still living in that house and asked for a bowl of condensed milk. The person offered a bowl of condensed milk the next day, but, seeing that the milk was still there, did not offer a second bowl on the second day. On the second day the boy entered the person’s dreams again and asked, “Why didn’t you give me any milk today?”. So the next day the person took the first bowl of milk and offered it again to the boy. That night the boy came in a dream again and said, “I already ate that bowl of condensed milk.” This is referring to a non-material phenomenon. The hungry ghosts feel like they ate the food even though the food is physically unchanged. All over Asian countries, each country has a day for this kind of offering, for spirits waiting to be born and dead relatives. These days, though, maybe spirits want cellphones and technology even more?
4. Q: Can we eat the offerings given to spirits?
Luang Por Anan: One should not. It has been given already. You might find the food has no taste left.
5. Q: I have had bad dreams the past two weeks. I cannot chant “Itipiso so”; the sound does not come out. But I can chant “Om mani padme hung”.
Luang Por Anan: You can chant “Om mani padme hung” then. Whatever chant makes the mind peaceful, that one has faith in, this is fine. Ask for the power of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha to help the bad dreams to go away.
6. Q: We are going to the forest to do all night meditation. Do you have any advice on how to not fall asleep or advice for a schedule for the night?
Luang Por Anan: If you are sleepy then stand up; you can start to walk. You can gaze at a bright object like the moon and use other methods that the Buddha taught for overcoming drowsiness like washing one’s face and body with water. You can also chant and chant quickly. Around 2 or 3am is a common time to feel sleepy, so at this time you can gather to discuss Dhamma. If there are any big snakes you will not feel sleepy for sure! Since you are staying in mosquito nets, you can chant the Karaniya Metta Sutta and the Khandha Paritta, both of which Luang Pu Chah recommended for monks staying in the forest.