Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – June 1st, 2018
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
We have just passed the Visakha Puja full moon day that we hold as an important Buddhist holy day. This day commemorates when the Buddha was born, became enlightened and passed away into parinibbana. The place of the Buddha’s final passing away into parinibbana was Kusinara. It was in line with the Buddha’s renouncing of his remaining lifespan 3 months prior, which took place in Vesali City. With this conscious renouncing of his remaining lifespan, a mighty earthquake arose shaking the whole world. Venerable Ananda knew that this earthquake was not an ordinary occurrence. So he asked the Buddha of its cause and the Buddha told Venerable Ananda that the earthquake was because the Buddha had made the decision that he would relinquish his remaining lifespan. Venerable Ananda was shocked and appealed to the Buddha to live longer than this. The Buddha said it was too late.
The Buddha then set out to travel from Vesali to Kushinara, the distance no less than 200 kms. In the present day by road it would take around 7 hours by car. The Buddha contracted severe pains and dysentery as well. But the Buddha was determined to teach the lay people in the small town of Kusinara. Venerable Ananda asked for the Buddha to pass away in a large city like Rajagaha in Magadha Kingdom, or Savatthi City, where King Passendi was the ruler. But the Buddha said that Kusinara town used to be an extremely prosperous city called Kusavati in the past which was ruled by a wheel turning monarch. And the Buddha in one of his past lives was the wheel turning monarch ruling this city and he governed it with Dhamma principles. The city had great prosperity then. But in the present it was just a small town.
What was amazing that after the Buddha passed away in this small town and his body was cremated that all the great Kings of the continent came with their armies and asked for a portion of the Buddha’s relics. So what could they do? A small town wouldn’t be able to resist the big kingdoms. It was Dona Brahmin who undertook the duty to share the relics of the Buddha between all the Kingdoms, because all the Kings used to be disciples of Dona Brahmin in the past. So the distribution of the relics was done properly and fairly.
And on the night that the Buddha would pass away into parinibbana, the ascetic Subhadda was to become the last savaka, or last direct disciple of the Buddha while he was still alive. Venerable Anya Kodanya was the first savaka. And the ascetic Subaddha was the last. He wanted to go meet the Buddha, but Venerable Ananda wouldn’t give him permission. Yet here we know the heart of someone who wishes to attain to arahantship. Their heart and mind are set on really wanting to see the Buddha, really wanting to listen to the Dhamma from the Buddha. It’s already the last moments. And he had made the determination to be the last arahant disciple of the Buddha. The Buddha overheard and asked Venerable Ananda what it was. Venerable Ananda told the Buddha. Then the Buddha, with his great and unequalled compassion, even though he was about to pass away, he still taught the ascetic Subaddha. Subaddha had already entered the Buddha’s divine awareness, and the Buddha knew of his previous determination to become the last direct disciple.
Subaddha asked the Buddha, are their arahants in the other religions? The Buddha said that “There are no tracks in the sky. Outside the Noble Eightfold Path, there are no Noble beings.” So only the ones walking the Noble Eightfold Path – that we can summarise into sila, samadhi, panya, or virtue, concentration and wisdom – can have Noble beings and arahants arise. Outside of the Buddha’s teachings there are no arahants arising. In the same way, there are no tracks in the sky. His heart was uplifted. All the monks were seated full. There was no empty space at all. The devas were all gathered there fully. Subaddha gained confidence and asked to ordain from the Buddha. The Buddha told Venerable Ananda to ordain him. It was a special privilege, as usually it wasn’t that easy to ordain. But, the Buddha knew that he would become an arahant.
Subaddha ordained as a monk. And we should know that Subaddha had already built his parami or spiritual potential for a long time. He had a high level of jhana concentration, or mental absorption. But he didn’t yet have wisdom that could make him free. But now he was firm. He had faith and confidence in the teachings of the Buddha. He put forth effort and diligence. That night he didn’t sleep. He was sincerely practising. He wished to attain to see and attain to the dhamma. He used his wisdom to contemplate and investigate the Dhamma that the Buddha taught. He was sure that this path to attain to the Dhamma that was beyond the world, was certainly the path of virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
He gazed at the sky, and that night was the full moon. The moon was incredibly bright. The clouds floated back and forth in line with nature. They had moved liked this for a long time already. But his wisdom still had not yet arisen. This night his mind gathered into samadhi and was incredibly still. It was to the highest level already. With this inner stillness – he gazed at the moon and saw the clouds cover and pass by the moon. He didn’t just gaze normally and admire the beauty of nature. He gazed at it and brought his investigation within and contemplated. He saw his mind was still and peaceful like the full moon on this night.
He looked at his mind and saw his mind was luminous all the time. But sometimes there were mental objects that passed by the mind. The mind wasn’t yet wise so it attached to those mental objects. The state of the mind was lowered because it attached to these mental objects as ‘I’ and ‘mine’. But when Venerable Subhadda, the last direct disciple, saw clearly with wisdom that this was a mental object, it was not the mind itself, then wisdom arose and his mind gathered together. His mind went beyond the world. His insight was clear and he became the last direct disciple before the Buddha would pass away into parinibbana. Isn’t this amazing?
The Buddha gave the first sermon and there was the first disciple of the Buddha, Venerable Anya Kondanya, who saw the Dhamma, that “Whatever begins, ends.” Whatever is born must have old age, sickness, and death, as well. So we can contemplate: do birth and death come together? which one arises first? Whenever birth comes, death comes at the same time. They come together.
When we have no mindfulness, it is like we are dead already.
When I was with Venerable Ajahn Chah, he tried to make us have faith in the Buddha’s teachings. To develop a lot of mindfulness, have wisdom arise and to contemplate and see all things as impermanent. If it’s our thoughts, we should see them as impermanent. Like sometimes we feel we like something, we like it a lot. We are getting deluded in it. Then we teach the mind – “Ay, its not sure!” – sometimes we don’t like something, then we tell it – “Ay, its not sure! This feeling, don’t believe it. Or we may think “This is really really good!” We think like this and we think we are really correct. Then teach the mind “Ay, Its not sure!” Don’t believe in our thoughts 100%. Because our thoughts are not that bright. Our thoughts are still deluded a lot. When we teach ourselves in this way, the mind has wisdom and doesn’t get deluded.
So let us be confident that we are still in time for the Dhamma of the Buddha, and that the Buddha still exists. The great teacher taught us to practice and use wisdom to contemplate our body and all material things as impermanent, stressful, and not-self. If we have a firm foundation of concentration and we have virtue that has restraint over our speech and actions, then here wisdom can arise. May you be determined to practice in this way.
Questions and Answers:
Question: What is not-self (anatta), and why is it important?
Luang Por Anan: Everything is always changing. Because things change they are unsatisfying. And since we can’t control them they are not ours. Like our body – it changes and we can’t control it. This causes us to suffer if we attach to it. So it is not-self, or anatta – not our own.
The teachings on not-self are important because attaching to things as ‘mine’ or ‘me’ or ‘I’ causes suffering. The more self there is, the more problems there are for ourselves and for the world. Seeing no-self, we see the highest happiness.
Question: If a problem arises and it is really my own problem, how do I see this problem as ‘not-self’ in a way that is helpful?
Luang Por Anan: Not-self is the heart of the Buddha’s teaching. But we are still on the path of practice, so we will still have a self and have problems. Use wisdom to solve one’s problems and also let go of the self as a higher form of wisdom.
Question: If something unpleasant happens then I feel bad, sometimes I keep thinking about it and cannot feel better. But if I talk about the problem with someone else then I feel better. Why is this?
Luang Por Anan: When memory arises, the mindfulness is not strong enough, then the mind clings to the memory. Then one feels bad and suffers. If mindfulness is strong then one can see the memory come and go without a problem. Do chanting, meditate, or do “Buddho” or another mantra very quickly to help with the painful memory.
Talking with another is good if that helps, you can get some good advice maybe.
Question: Do arahants have emotions? How do they deal with emotions?
Luang Por Anan: Once a monk asked Luang Pu Chah if he had been angry. Luang Pu Chah said that others cannot understand the mind of an arahant. The mind of an arahant does not attach to moods. The mind and the moods are two separate things.
Question: If one person annoys another person, and the second person gets angry, who is the one who should improve?
Luang Por Anan: They both should try to see the fault in their behavior and improve.
Question: How does one make virtue strong?
Luang Por Anan: See the danger and fault in weak virtue and see the benefit in strong virtue. Virtue is a great wealth – one should look after and care for it. Virtue helps strengthen concentration.
Question: If one is peaceful should one look for deeper problems or defilements in the mind?
Luang Por Anan: No. Be with peacefulness first and build strength in the mind. When the mind moves then contemplate that mind movement as impermanent, or see the not-self nature of the body. There is no need to search for defilements, the defilements are right there in seeing the body as one’s self.