Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – January 3rd, 2020
Please note: One can listen to the “Video” portion of this talk here: https://watmarpjan.org/en/podcast/new-years-impermanence-and-chanting/
L uang Por Anan: The old year, 2019, has ended and the new year, 2020 has begun. This is the first Friday Dhamma session of the year, and it is our first beginning to the building of goodness, to building merit for the year. We have to be determined this year to learn and practice Dhamma, and we do so with all our work and duties. For the new year, we all want to have new things in our lives. We want a new car, house, clothes, and we also want things that will makes us look better. However, the most important thing for this new year is to make the mind newer and better than before.
We have to be determined to train the mind this new year. Those that have the character to get angry very easily, in a way, this is normal. The other side of someone who has this type of character of anger is that they tend to have a lot of wisdom, and they make very quick, fast decisions. But, they need to train this anger. They need to overcome this anger, and they do so by having a mind that has metta or loving-kindness. They will have to be able to smile easily and they have to be able to put down their ego and conceit. When they keep training and practising this way, then the mind is more balanced, and peace and calm will arise.
This training of the mind is difficult, and we recognise that. All through last year we have been practising to train the mind and, at times, the mind seems peaceful and, at other times, the mind wasn’t able to be peaceful. This is normal. But, we need to have patience with it. That’s the first quality that we need to develop—this patience with the mind. And we need to keep putting forth our effort in this training of the mind. Just keep striving—we do so without stopping. If we keep doing this, then one day the mind will gain peacefulness and calm, and that level of peacefulness will be enough for us to use to really learn and understand the Dhamma.
Let us make our minds peaceful. This new year, we should establish the mind well, even better than the previous year. According to nature, the sun rises in the east, and it sets in the west. In one year the earth revolves around the sun. We know this nature because we have studied it. Last year it was like this, for 5 years,10 years, 50 years, and 100 years ago it was like this. It follows the law of nature.
All the things in this world are of the nature to change. Since a long time ago, the bodies of people who were born into this world have evolved according to nature. However, people with a mind that is not trained, their mind doesn’t evolve. It doesn’t develop and improve. We can say that this body is influenced by the mind. If the mind if good, then it uses the body to build goodness.
This year, we have come to improve our minds. We should have an unwavering determination to build goodness. Whether it is in our education or in our work, we should have effort and steadfast determination. We should do our best in it following the resolutions that we have made. And we shall then be successful in them.
The Buddha, when he was still a Bodhisattva, held the aspiration for such a long time to become a Self-Awakened Buddha. Because of his unwavering resolution, he was able to succeed. We all venerate and pay homage to the Buddha. The Buddha is our highest refuge in our hearts. When we have firm determination, then we will be able to succeed in whatever we aspire to do. No matter how tired we get, we will endure and strive. The mind plays a very important part to direct our efforts. When we are established in morality and Dhamma, established in goodness, then we will maintain the 5 moral precepts. Beyond and higher than just establishing moral precepts, we must train the mind to be peaceful.
We all have a good start and foundation—and that is our faith in the Buddha. The meditation object that is appropriate for those with faith is developing Buddhanusati, the recollection of the virtues of the Buddha as the object of the mind. Whether we are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, we meditate by internally reciting Buddho, Dhammo, Sangho, or Buddho, Buddho, Buddho.
If we recite Buddho and the mind doesn’t get peaceful, then we need to do chanting. We can chant from ‘Itipiso bhagava araham…’ up to ‘Buddho bhagava ti’. We make a determination to chant with mindfulness. And we repeat this over frequently in a day, 9 times, 18 times, 27 times, on up until we have completed 108 times in a day.
There is no need to worry about chanting until the number of times we have set, or whether we have chanted less, or if we have chanted more. If we have chanted more, then that is good. If we have chanted less, don’t worry. We do need to set up the resolution, but we also do so with an attitude of letting go. If we do so with attachment then it may make us too tense and lead to worry and restlessness. We are practicing Dhamma, we should not have worry, but we make our minds peaceful.
Whenever we are travelling, whether near or far, and we have the opportunity and the time, then we can recollect the Buddha. We chant and develop the mind. This is the work for the mind to do. The work of the world we have to do so that we gain the 4 material requisites of food, clothing, shelter, and medicine. However, if we don’t do the work of the mind, then the mind stays the same without any improvement—our age increases, but the mind doesn’t change.
This new year, we need to improve the mind, too. We call this bhavana. That is, making the mind better and developing it. This bhavana is necessary for everyone. It’s not just for the monks. For the monks, it is their direct work because they have a lot of time. But if we look at it, we all have the same breath. So, if we are determined as well, then we won’t be any different than the monks.
In this world, we need to do the work of the body and the mind together. We improve our knowledge, and we develop our virtue at the same time. We learn about the nature that is already present here. We learn about the principles of truth. But, if our mind is not peaceful, then we won’t be able to see this with clarity.
We need to train and practice in developing a kammatthana. Kamma means work, and thana means the place. This is the place where we establish the mind. We internally recite, ‘Buddho, Dhammo, Sangho’ until the mind becomes peaceful. When the mind becomes peaceful, then the darkness in the mind retreats temporarily. The brightness of the mind then arises. We call this samadhi, or meditative concentration.
Khanika samadhi is a small amount of samadhi. The peace is small, but, even though it is small, if it arises frequently then the level of calm will be greater. Ultimately, the feeling that the body and mind becomes light arises. Samadhi arises. Whether we are standing, walking, sitting or lying down, the mind can be peaceful. So may you recollect the virtues of the Buddha as the object of the mind continually.
Or, we can recollect the meaning of one verse of the chanting. We can recollect it until a deep understanding arises. Like ‘Araham Sammasambuddho’. The Buddha was one far from the defilements, and he was awakened all through his own efforts. Our mind has faith and confidence, and, when we think of this, inner joy arises very easily. There is rapture, and the mind and body are light. The mind is expansive and feels at ease.
This is samadhi. This is one type of happiness. This doesn’t depend on external factors, but it depends on the inner peace of the mind. If a lot of peace arises, then the mind will become one-pointed. This is called appana samadhi. We all are able to develop our minds to this point. If the mind has peace to this level of one-pointedness, then it will have the strength to understand Dhamma and to enter the heart of the Buddha’s teachings. However it is, if we train the mind in this way according to our opportunity and time, and if we are diligent, then we will be able to accomplish everything.
The Buddha has said that one will be able to become free from suffering because of their striving and diligence. No matter how hard and difficult it is, we can do it. The feelings that are unwholesome or bad, we let them go. Try not to let them arise. The things that are meritorious and good, we maintain them when they have arisen. This is effort.
Whatever is an obstacle to our education, then we try to remove it and give it up. We are fully intent in what we want to achieve—whether it is the knowledge which we are studying or something else, we have to be focused. If we have this full determination, then this will overcome all our obstacles, and we will succeed. We won’t become discouraged or retreat. Even if sometimes we have not yet succeeded, we still won’t give up our determination.
This year may we be determined to be good, be moral, do work with patience, sacrifice, and kindness, and to maintain the health of the body. This is because, if we practice Dhamma and the body is not healthy, then it can be an obstacle. However, those whose bodies are sick can utilise the mental strength that they have developed in the past and support the sick body to become healthy and recover. The mind is extremely important!
What is this mind? It is a faculty of awareness. In Thai it is ‘taat ruu’ – the element of knowing (faculty of awareness). We can develop this faculty of awareness to become purified and liberated. But, if we don’t develop it, then this faculty of awareness will become deluded with all the outside or external sense and mental objects. And the more deluded the mind is in these objects, the more darkness is present in the mind.
In this new year, we want to have brightness in our minds. So, we need to develop goodness. Like here we keep sila, listen to the paritta chanting, we make the mind peaceful, and we chant the virtues of the Buddha, we chant: ‘Itipiso Bhagava, Svakkato, Supatipanno’. When we chant and the mind becomes peaceful, then the mind will have mental strength.
This chanting has great benefits. If we chant internally, the great Buddhist masters say that the chanting can reach 10,000 universes or world systems. Just chanting with a regular voice, then it can reach 100,000 world systems. And chanting loudly can reach an unlimited number of world systems. This is because of the parami, the spiritual perfections of the Lord Buddha, are boundless and reach an unlimited number of universes.
When we chant and recollect the virtues of the Buddha in this way, then the mind becomes sacred and has merit. The mind will be bright, and inner joy arises. This is Buddhanusati as our meditation object. Practicing Buddhanusati, one will see the Dhamma very quickly. This is because we have the faith already. It’s our foundation. Our samadhi must be firm. We should chant with determination, firm but not tense, and we make the mind peaceful. But, some may chant and they have a more profound feeling when they contemplate the meaning of the chanting instead of chanting out loud. This is fine and it is also bhavana.
This new year, we will make it better than the last year. We have had greed in the past, but we will make it lessen. We have anger, but we will make it lessen. We have delusion, but we will make it lessen.
We should reflect on what we spend our time on in one day. Do we have more time to practice Dhamma? If we practice more, then we will have more chance for our mind to become peaceful. In this way, the mind will improve and will become peaceful. And ultimately we will understand the Dhamma.
May we be determined like this. What has passed already, we let it pass. May we have new wholesome things arise in our life. This is all up to kamma. The old kamma and new kamma. We build the good kamma, that is, the good causes, then the results that follow will be good. The old kamma that has passed, we can’t change it any more. May we be determined to build new good kamma.
Like today, we have built goodness since the morning by giving alms, making merit, chanting in the evening puja, sitting meditation, and listening to the Dhamma for the arising of wisdom. For wisdom to arise when we are listening to Dhamma, we need to have a peaceful mind. The mind doesn’t go off anywhere. We keep the mind in the present, staying with ‘Buddho’ or the breath. Sometimes, we may know and see the Dhamma at the time we are listening to Dhamma. We gain insight that all things are conventions and how they have arisen.
The mind that sees into conventions is liberated from them. According to convention, we say that the sun rises in the east and sets in the west. However, if we have wisdom, then we know that this is just a convention. In reality there is no east or west. It is just the way it is according to nature. We understand clearly, then the mind has emptiness, the mind is bright. Greed, hatred and delusion lessen. The mind is radiant. Just like the radiant moon appearing. But, when we have delusion arise, then it darkens again. It alternates like this.
As Buddhists, we need to train the mind to have Dhamma. Dhamma here means the qualities of patience and endurance – that is sila or morality. We train in developing samadhi, mindfulness, and developing the all-knowing wisdom that understands into the sankharas, the heaps of aggregates of the body and mind that we take as a self.
All of this arises from our own actions. The merit that arises is from the results of our own actions. It leads to completeness and not lacking. When we have enough of everything, then we can come with ease to the practice.
May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
I have heard that some venerable teachers say that we live on this world for three days. That there are three days in this world. Can Ajahn explain this statement?
Luang Por Anan:
In a year there are 365 days. This saying that there are only three days on this world has meaning in terms of Dhamma. Just thinking and contemplating it, it should be about the past, the present, and the future. If there’s a past then you could also look at it in a broader way that there is the past life, present life, and the future life. If you narrow it down, it could be yesterday, today, and tomorrow. If we look deeper, the meaning would be that the days would have passed already and they are not going to come back. We can reflect that yesterday has ended already, it’s not permanent, and it won’t come back around.
The present, or today, is all that we have. We only have this day to use. But this day is also going to end—it’s not permanent as well. Tomorrow is something that we have and we can look forward to, but it is also uncertain that we will actually reach that day. This can also mean that we should do our best today, now. The past, yesterday, is already gone and the only day we know is today. This is what we have; this present moment is what we have. Tomorrow is uncertain. We don’t know for sure if we will get there or get to use that day. This means that we must do the best today and now.
Whether it’s our work or in our Dhamma practice, in our meditation we should be fully committed towards doing our best. In this way, these things that we do will have great benefit. The Buddha said that even a small amount of peace is equivalent to having a whole lifespan of a hundred years. This means that the mind that can find calm and peace brings a great amount of benefit. It is difficult to develop this stillness and peace, but it isn’t beyond our ability—so we should be determined in it.
A person has a lot of proliferation and the mind is constantly thinking of many different things. When they meditate, they are unable to develop calm or stillness or settle the mind. So what should they do? They keep thinking lots of thoughts about the future. How do they make the mind peaceful then?
Luang Por Anan:
For those characters or individuals who have a lot of restlessness and thinking, when they sit in meditation, they need to cut off all of those worries and distractions. Whatever subject—whether it’s work, family, relatives or other things, they need to cut that off and put it down. During the time that they meditate, they have to be sincere and determined that they are going to put all that down, and they are not going to be concerned about it. Then these worries and concerns won’t come out when one is meditating.
The Buddha advised that if one has this character of a lot of thinking and restlessness, then one appropriate meditation object is the mindfulness of breathing. One knows the in and out breath as the object of the mind and tries to make that mindfulness continuous. One also reflects that the reality of life is uncertain. It’s not sure how long one will live for. One should put effort into doing one’s best to put those distractions and restlessness down. We do so by being mindful of the in and out breath, then it will be easier to make the mind still and calm.
Does eating chocolate after noon break a precept?
Luang Por Anan:
When you’re keeping the eight precepts, you have to understand that you don’t eat solid food after 12 pm. The chocolate is coco mixed with sugar, so this is allowable—you can eat that in the afternoon. This chocolate is just for the purpose of giving the body strength so that you can practice and learn Dhamma. It isn’t breaking sila to have chocolate. If you do have chocolate there, you can eat it in the evening, but, if you don’t have it there, then I guess you can’t eat it.
If a person keeps forgetting because of dementia, and the people around them tell white lies just to make peace, what is the level of kamma and impact of the white lies?
If we tell small untruths for the sake of not hurting others’ feelings or promoting harmony, what sort of kamma is that and what is the weight?
Luang Por Anan:
In a case like this, the intention is what counts and is most important. If we are speaking to a person with dementia with the intention of not hurting them, then the intention is the defining factor here. A good intention shouldn’t produce bad kamma.
There was a time when Ajahn Anan was attending on Venerable Ajahn Chah, and there was one novice sitting there attending to Ajahn Chah, as well. A lay person came up to pay respects to Ajahn Chah and the lay person asked Ajahn Chah “What country is this novice from?” The truth is that this novice was from Ubon Ratchathani province in Thailand where Ajahn Chah’s monastery is. But he had a very white face or complexion and Ajahn Chah then answered “Oh… he’s from Japan.” The lay person then said “Sadhu…”.
To add on to that story, this novice, when he later on ordained about two years as a monk, he went to Bangkok for some errand. He was taking the taxi from the Bangkok airport to a monastery in Pathum Thani, which is in the outskirts of Bangkok. He went into the taxi and asked how much is the fare to the monastery. This was about 30 years ago, and the taxi driver said “300 baht”.
The monk thought to himself “Why is it so expensive for the taxi ride? It is probably because the taxi driver thinks I am a foreigner”.
Then the monk said in the northeast dialect to the taxi driver “What district do you come from?”
The driver answered, “Oh… from Udon Thani.”, which is a province in the northeast.
The monk said “Well, I’m from Ubon Ratchathani, which is in the northeast, as well.”
Then the taxi driver said “Oh, really? I thought you were from Japan. That’s why I charged you 300 baht. But, since you are from Ubon, you only need to pay 30 Baht.”
It is quite strange because Venerable Ajahn Chah could say something like that even a long time before that happened. Maybe there’s some connection there. So, to say something that’s not correct but it has benefit for that person isn’t wrong or bad.
If we have been meditating for a long time already, and the mind still has not realized peace and calm, then what should we do?
Luang Por Anan:
We may have been meditating a long time in our life or even in one session. We might have been walking meditation a long time, sitting a long time, maybe 2 hours or 4 hours, but we have to see if our mindfulness has been there during that time. If the mind is getting very distracted, is proliferating, and is all over the place, then it shows that peacefulness and stillness are not going to arise. It may be that we are sitting for a long time and there is no peace arising because we don’t have mindfulness in the present moment. We can then look first at what are we actually worrying about. It is usually something that is really distracting the mind.
During that time, we have to cut off that worry or distraction first before we sit and practice. We are probably unable to practice all throughout the day. So we should be determined that in this one session that we meditate and practice, we are going to cut off that distraction or worry. We can then contemplate, reflect on the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. We can spread metta or loving-kindness to our kammic debtors, and then we take up a meditation object, a kammatthana.
For those who have this quality of restlessness and like to think a lot, they should meditate on the breath—have mindfulness on the breath as their object. Some like to think about cause and effect, actions and results, and these individuals have a more wisdom orientated way of thinking. They don’t tend towards faith or confidence that easily, so taking up the breath may not be appropriate. Instead, they can take up the contemplation on nibbana or emptiness as their meditation object.
You can also use the method of listening to Dhamma teaching a lot while you are meditating. When you are listening to a Dhamma talk, you can establish awareness with the breath. This will help the mind to develop peace and help it not to be so distracted with thinking.
When we do Buddhanusati, we recite each of the qualities of the Buddha 108 times. While we do this, should we just chant, or do we need to contemplate each quality of the Buddha?
Luang Por Anan:
You can contemplate each quality of the Buddha. If the mind feels great joy and fullness from this contemplation, and the mind becomes peaceful, then that’s good. Then one can just be with the stillness that came from this contemplation.
The second method is that one just has mindfulness with the chanting. If you don’t know the meaning, or you don’t contemplate the meaning, then just have mindfulness with the chanting. Whether it is contemplation or just developing mindfulness with chanting, whichever one is better for you and has better results, then that is the one you should do.
When I have unwholesome thoughts, and this has become a habit, is it good to just stop it, which is very difficult, or is it better to contemplate and watch the thoughts? But, if I watch the thoughts, then I will easily drown, or I will follow the thoughts and emotions will get out of control. Should I stop it, or should I watch it? And which one will lead to peace?
Luang Por Anan:
If you’re meditating and thoughts arise, whether they are unwholesome or even wholesome, then you should equally let them go. Just keep your mindfulness with the breath or chanting. That is your object, your sole object for the mind while you’re meditating. Whatever comes in the gap, whatever type of thought that is, just don’t be interested in it.
Keep mindfulness with your meditation object. It will be natural that the mind will get pulled away from the meditation object if you become interested in those thoughts. So just let them go and continue on with your meditation practice. It is normal that the mind thinks of good things and bad things. Just keep mindfulness, whether it is a repetition of ‘Buddho’, ‘Dhammo’, or ‘Sangho’, or with your chanting, and that’s the foundation for your meditation.
In the video, it is mentioned that one who gets angry easily also has a lot of wisdom. Could Ajahn explain further on why is this so?
Luang Por Anan:
One with anger as a more prominent feature of their character we call a ‘dosa caritta’. This anger is paired with the ability for quick decision making. They will decide things very quickly, and they will also cut off things completely and quickly. A ‘vittaka caritta’ is one who is more of a deluded type or one who thinks a lot. When they decide on something, they will still worry about it, and so they won’t be able to cut things off completely. But one with an anger character often has this quick wisdom. When they reflect and contemplate on something, then they quickly cut it off.
What constitute gossiping? If I have a bad encounter with someone, and I share this bad encounter with other people repeatedly, does that constitute gossiping?
Luang Por Anan:
This is up to one’s intention (cetana). If one speaks to another person about this other person or this incident and one’s own mind feels bad, it makes one’s mind feels worse, then there’s underlying dislike there. Then that is wrong and a kind of bad kamma that’s being made. One keeps talking about it, and it again makes the mind feel bad or go down to a lower state of mind.
However, if one is talking to the other person with a different intention, such as wanting to solve the problem, to make the situation better, to help the other person, or to help themselves, then that’s okay to do. That’s considered skilful action which is imbued with metta, loving-kindness, as well. We’re all Dhamma practitioners here and having some gossip is almost normal. One may have a certain dislike to one person and you’re not able to talk about it and discuss it with them. Instead, you’ll talk to another person about that, and that is normal in a way.
It is natural that we do have some gossiping, but, when you’re meditating, then you put that down. When you have finished talking, then you put that down, and you are determined to establish your awareness and mindfulness well. When you have more wisdom then it is natural that gossiping will lessen on its own.
One may not gossip, but these thoughts of gossiping and of criticising others may still be in the mind. That is normal, but we have to let it go. Do not attach to it and let it go. There was one monk who went to India and the Holy sites. He was very proud that he got a Bodhi leaf from the tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment, and he brought the leaf back to offer to Venerable Ajahn Chah. At that time when he was going to offer it, they were still eating. Ajahn Chah would put a lot of food in front of him while he was eating, but he would give some to the lay disciples in the monastery, some to the workers and so on. He would put that food in front of him first.
This monk who came back from India—he was one who slept little, ate little, and was content with little. When he saw Ajahn Chah there, the thought came up in his mind that “Oh…Ajahn Chah is a monk who likes to eat.” He thought that he himself only ate a little bit. After that thought, he forgot about it, and the monks finished eating. He went up to Ajahn Chah to offer the Bodhi leaf to Ajahn Chah.
Ajahn Chah asked, “What leaf is this?”
“A Bodhi leaf”, the monk replied.
Ajahn Chah asked, “Where’s this from?”
The monk replied, “India.”
Ajahn Chah: “What good does it do? Does it have any benefit?”
“Yes it does”, the monk replied.
Then Ajahn Chah asked, “Can I eat it?”
“No you can’t”, replied the monk.
Ajahn Chah asked, “Why can’t I eat it ? I like to eat.”
If one criticised Ajahn Chah or had a criticism in their mind, if one was around Ajahn Chah, this criticism would actually echo from one’s head and then come out. So you definitely got into trouble if you were around Ajahn Chah.