Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – April 5th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Today we come together to learn the Dhamma like we normally do. Last week we watched a story about a northern and southern temple. The southern temple monks didn’t get along with one another and would blame and argue with each other. The northen temple had the quality of harmony with one another and wouldn’t find fault with one another but would blame themselves instead. But we must also have wisdom so that we can avoid having problems in the future. Ideally we would have a temple that was like a middle ground between these two temples, that would be the best. If one monastery is a temple of happiness and the other a temple of suffering, then we need a tempe which is between these two extremes.
A few days ago it was my birthday and 137 monks came to gather together for this event. But the most important thing is the Lord Buddha. Even though many people came together for my birthday, they truly came in order to pay homage and respect to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. So let’s watch the video of this event together.
Today on the occasion of my birthday, all of you, the monastics, lay men and women, are intent to show your respect and ‘mudita’ (sympathetic joy). This pali word, mudita, also translates as tenderness. It is the mind that has tenderness. When we meditate by bringing up thoughts of sympathetic joy for others good fortunes, this can lead us to experience a very blissful state of mind. Developing this mind of mudita is very difficult to develop in meditation. This is because it is the nature of the mind to have regular thoughts of envy, ill-will, and harm. When we have delusion in the mind, then we have this feeling of “me” and “mine” and then there is no acknowledgment of the goodness of others.
But with the mind of mudita, or sympathetic joy, we train to think about the goodness of the great teachers, and also towards our friends that are practicing the Buddha’s teachings together with us. When it’s their birthday, we rejoice and show our appreciative joy with our monk and novice friends that have ordained in the Buddhist religion. For a person to renounce the world and come to practice following the teachings of the Buddha is something difficult to do. And for the laity as well, when it is our friend’s birthday, you show your joy and good wishes and this is how we express our mind of mudita. When this is someone that we love and respect, then it’s easy to show mudita. But when we train our mind to have more strength, then when we see an individual that has goodness, we are happy for them. We see them making merit and giving alms, or doing acts of goodness, and then we train our mind to anumodana, to be rejoice and be happy for them.
We rejoice with them in the success of their determination to build parami, their spiritual qualities. And everyone, the monks and laity, all have the one mind that has homage to the Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, and especially our great teacher, Venerable Ajahn Chah who we hold as the highest in the Sangha. He built his monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong since 1954. And when I was there, there were 60 monks, and some years even 70 monks. And when it was Ajahn Chah’s birthday, many monks would come to show their respect, and they would teach Dhamma to the laity to tell them how the Dhamma practice was back in the early days. So when it came to this time, the monks and laity would come together with great respect and it was really impressive to see.
Each individual’s mind has the underlying desire to have happiness, and not wanting suffering. They want to have knowing and understanding, want virtue, want to train to have concentration, and want to develop the wisdom to see and know clearly the truth of the way things actually are that one ought to see and know. This is the tradition of the Nobles Ones that the great teachers had trained in and had taught and instructed us in. They have passed on these traditions until the present era, and we are joyous that the disciples of Luang Por Chah have harmony and unity as one.
Whether one lives near or far away, within Thailand or overseas, if one has the opportunity and does not have responsibilities, then you can come and show your respect and reverence. And this expression of respect brings good results to one’s mind. This is a good starting point for the practice of Buddhism, it maintains the Buddhist traditions, and it makes our Dhamma practice grow stronger and we reap its benefits. It also spreads the Buddha’s teaching within Thailand and overseas, so that it is firm and strong. And this is also a refuge for the faith of all the laity. They have faith in the Buddhist religion, and faith in the monastic training and practice of Luang Por Chah.
Actually, back then I would call Ajahn Chah, Luang Por, which means Venerable Father. Later on as Ajahn Liem, (the current abbot of Ajahn Chah’s monastery) got older, they started calling him Luang Por, and so we changed to call Ajahn Chah, Luang Pu, which means Venerable Grandfather. It was quite difficult to adjust to this change in name, because we were so used to the warmth we felt from calling Ajahn Chah our Venerable Father. But this familiarity has attachment in it. It is natural that when Ajahn Chah became older, that we call Ajahn Chah, Venerable Grandfather. Later on we ended up getting used to it. So we can recognise that whatever has the nature to change, even when they are things that we are familiar with, it feels like we have to go against the natural tendencies of our minds to accept that change.
This is the same way with the thoughts and ideas, that we know as being ‘me’ and ‘mine’. One day we teach the mind that the thoughts and ideas we have are not me or mine. And it’s hard to change this feeling and to let go of it from the mind. But the Buddha taught that no matter how hard it is, that we must be determined to practice and develop our minds. We train in developing mindfulness and concentration, until it is good and firm, and then we will be able to gain wisdom. But we also have to do good deeds and develop goodness. The monks have to do the duties of the monks, like going to morning and evening chanting, and cleaning and looking after all the monastic buildings. These are what the great teachers advised us to do. And when the monastery and surroundings are clean and usable, then when the public come, they praise this cleanliness. This is then merit and goodness already which arises in the mind. The mind is pure and faith arises. The faith that was there already, grows, and if we didn’t have faith to begin with, we will then gain faith.
And it is important that the monks strongly maintain the monastic practices and duties not just on the outside, but on the inside as well. The monks must keep good Vinaya, the monastic rules, maintain sense-restraint, and think about how to use of the 4 basic requisites properly; the robes, almsfood, shelter, and medicines. And these days it’s not like the old days back in Wat Nong Pah Pong. Back then we didn’t have much requisites, just enough to get by. But it didn’t feel like there was anything lacking, because the most important thing was the desire to train in the Buddha’s teachings. Even though the 4 Requisites were few, the dhamma teachings that the great teacher gave us were really magnificent and deep. It was the food for the heart. This wasn’t lacking. And what is important is this food for the heart.
These days, in the monasteries and branches of Wat Nong Pah Pong there is an abundance of the 4 Requisites. But the abbot of those monasteries must practice to have a lot of goodness in their mind. They must keep the regular practices and observances of the monks well, and they must train to have mindfulness, keep their precepts well, have concentration, this firmness of mind, and have wisdom. This is the goal for all of us that are determined to see and know the truth of the way things are. This is also so that the abbot of the monastery can lead all the resident monks with harmony. The abbot needs to have self-sacrifice and have the 4 sublime qualities of loving-kidness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. And the resident monks in the monastery must also help out and have respect for the seniors, keep the rules and precepts well, and fulfil their duties to their teacher and preceptor. This they have to maintain and do well.
So today you all have come here, and this shows that you all follow good behaviours and discipline, and have respect and reverence. Even if we haven’t met for a long time, or usually live far from each other, but when its comes to this day and this opportunity, then it is the time where we think of each other and the goodness that we have towards each other, and we gather together today. May I express my appreciation in all of your good intentions. Some of the laity have come here from near and far, some have had to go back already because they had responsibilities to attend to, and there are those that weren’t able to come that have sent their good wishes that I may have good health and strength.
And for you that have come here, you have similar good wishes. By the power of the parami of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, may all the goodness and determination of the monks and laity, be the cause for you all to see and know the truth of the ways things are, and to meet with happiness, success and prosperity as a follower of the Buddhist religion. May all the laity have happiness and progress in their Dhamma practice and meditation. May you be established in goodness – in moral behaviour, concentration, and wisdom – and have prosperity in all your work and duties. May you meet with success in your families. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers
Luang Por Anan: If anyone has any questions please raise your hand.
Q: Firstly we would like to send our birthday wishes to you. May you have a long life for the benefit of the Buddhist religion. Also, I would like to ask you about some photos we saw of Luang Pu Boonyarit’s cremation. In the photo all of his body had been burnt with the exception of his heart. This is really amazing. Can you explain this?
Luang Por Anan : It seems like all of the spiritual goodness that he had developed caused this. He was a very special monk, a disciple of Luang Pu Chawp, who in turn was a disciple of Luang Pu Mun. He was well-practiced and had many good and powerful virtues. I myself have never heard of this before, that someone’s heart didn’t burn in a fire but instead became compact and turned into relics.
Q: Usually when people celebrate their birthdays they only think of themselves and their friends, but very few people seem to think of their parents. How do you think their parents feel about this?
Luang Por Anan: Well, it would be better to ask a parent this question. Yom’s mother, how did you feel during the day your son was born and also during his birthdays when he was a child, when he became a teenager and then an adult? What did you wish for during those days?
Yom’s Mother: I was delighted when he was born. When he was a child I wished him happiness during his birthdays. He would spend his time with his friends, then when he got older with his girlfriend too, but when he became an adult he started to think of me. When he asked me to go for dinner I was overjoyed.
Luang Por Anan: So we can see how much love parents have for their children. Children will often forget their parents’ birthdays, but the parents never forget their child’s.
Q: When I meditate in the morning my mind feels very empty and time passes quickly. It feels like my mind goes somewhere, but I don’t know where to. Is this right?
Luang Por Anan: Do you know that your mind is empty?
Mahabodhi: Yes. I know my body is sitting straight and my mind is blank.
Luang Por Anan: That’s right then. This is how it is when the mind first becomes peaceful. It turns empty like this. The important thing is to stay mindful.
Q: I posted a birthday blessing for one of our teachers on social media. Someone responded by writing, “Birth is suffering.” I thought to reply, “But the birth of a virtuous being is a great blessing.” But I didn’t. How should I understand this situation?
Luang Por Anan: Firstly we should express our appreciation for great teachers on their birthdays. Their lives are of great benefit to both monks and lay people. We should display our respect to them and be happy on that occasion. These actions come from a wholesome mind. In terms of truth, birth is suffering. Being born into these bodies brings us pain, and having a sense of self arise in the mind causes suffering. But perhaps the person who wrote this doesn’t really understand the truth of the way things actually are. They may have just memorised this quote from a book of something they’ve heard. They may not actually know what they are talking about.
Q: Throughout our lives we make a lot of mistakes. These may be things that we’ve done wrong towards the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, towards our teachers, or mistakes in the Vinaya. During meditation very heavy regret can arise about these bad things that we’ve done. How should we deal with this?
Luang Por Anan: This is an important issue. Normally during special events, like my birthday which just passed, we’ll do the ceremony of asking forgiveness from one another. We say that any act by body, speech or mind that caused pain or difficulty, whether it was intentional or not, whether is was done upfront or behind their back, may I ask for your forgiveness for these. Every evening we ask forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha during the chanting as well. When we do this our minds feel at ease and it helps our practice to develop. But if these bad actions stick in our mind then we have to train ourselves to be able to let them go. If it’s difficult then you can try chanting and ask forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha one more time. This should make the mind feel happy.
Q: Is equanimity (upekkha) the same as indifference?
Luang Por Anan: True equanimity comes from the mind that is stable and well concentrated. It doesn’t get involved in happiness and suffering or any other moods in the mind. This can only occur when the mind is very peaceful and collected. In the beginning, however, we often start off with equanimity that lacks wisdom. This is indifference. We see something that we should do, something that is our duty, but we don’t do it. We let go in this way. This kind of person has functioning eyes, but it’s like they are blind. They have healthy ears, but it is like they are deaf. So we need to have loving-kindness and sacrifice our own ease to help others out, not have selfish indifference.
In terms of the Dhamma, equanimity is a quality that we bring up when we simply aren’t able to help a situation. But when the appropriate occasion arises where we can help, then we have loving-kindness and give our assistance.
Q: What are the benefits of appreciative-joy (mudita)?
Luang Por Anan: The same as the benefits of loving-kindness. The mind is bright, one receives love from both humans and devas, one has pleasant moods and doesn’t have nightmares. At death, if one is mindful, one will go to the deva or brahma worlds. It is also very useful for developing concentration.
Q: We develop appreciative-joy to overcome jealousy, right? But even though I do this I can still feel very jealous of others.
Luang Por Anan: So you need to do it a lot. It’s similar to how we practice loving-kindness. We do it to ourselves first and have appreciation for the good things in our lives, and also to our relatives and friends. After that we can expand it to those we are jealous of. But we have to do it slowly, bit by bit.
Q: How can lay people develop loving-kindness?
Luang Por Anan: We can see that all beings that are born, like ourselves, want to be happy and don’t want suffering. So we can wish happiness for ourselves often and try not to act in ways that will make others hurt or feel sad. The generous deeds that we do are forms of loving-kindness, and so too is the keeping of moral precepts because in doing this we are committed to not harming others. As we do this the loving-kindness will reach deep into our hearts and make them peaceful.
Q: It is difficult to have loving-kindness towards those who have bad characters. If we have bad feelings towards these people are we creating a karmic connection with them?
Luang Por Anan: Having loving-kindness towards ourselves, those we love and those we feel indifferent to is easy. As for those who we don’t like or who are difficult people, this isn’t easy. So don’t try it just yet, because if you think about them anger will arise, and if you think angry thoughts about them then you are creating a bad karmic connection with them. So for now you just have to endure those difficult people and have a lot of kindness towards yourself.
Q: You described the monasteries in the north and south, so what would the monastery in the middle—the one that follows the middle way—be like?
Luang Por Anan: The monks in the southern monastery fought with each other and got jealous, so there wasn’t any harmony. In the north the monks were better because they blamed themselves and not others, so they could all get along. The monks in the middle would use mindfulness and wisdom to try and fix things so that problems didn’t arise in the first place. So with the wet floor they would try to dry it quickly, or put out a sign to let people know that it’s wet. The monks here would have a lot of wisdom.