Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – January 10th, 2020
Note: One can listen to the audio of the “Video” portion of this talk here: https://watmarpjan.org/en/podcast/respecting-those-worthy-of-respect/
L uang Por Anan: We have come together to learn the Dhamma so that we can develop brightness and radiance in our mind. All of us here are very fortunate that we have faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. We can say that this is our good merit that we have done in the past for us to have this good fortune. Whatever level of faith that we have, it doesn’t matter. A westerner once came and asked me a question. They said that they were born in the west and that faith in Buddhism and in the Buddha were not that strong yet.
I answered that although it may be true that your faith is small, you should practice Dhamma and contemplate into truth for the purpose of freeing your mind from suffering. It is true that things we can’t see with our eyes such as the deva (heavenly) and Brahma realms are hard to prove. However, what the Buddha taught was to free ourselves from suffering in our heart.
Some may ask about the next life, “Is it true that there is the next life, a future life?” We could ask them, “Well, does tomorrow really exist?”
We could say, “Yes, it does exist. But is it something that we can bring out and show you right now? It exists. And it isn’t something that we can show you.”
The important thing is the Dhamma in the present moment. We do need an element of faith in order for us to come to Dhamma practice and really put effort into it for the purpose of seeing the Dhamma.
We need faith in the beginning. As we learn more about faith, then we learn more about the practice. Today we will learn about puja (veneration, homage, worship) and faith: how do we have faith, who do we have faith in, and how should we practice this faith?
Today we learn the Dhamma topic of puja or respect, veneration and homage. The Buddha said that to honour and respect those worthy of honour is the highest blessing.
Offering puja has many aspects. Sitting meditation is an offering of one’s practice. Offering dana, offering all types of material things – donating a kuti or hut, monastery land, building an Uposotha Hall or Vihara – these are all considered a type of offering. Today we sit here and we keep the 5 moral precepts. We meditate and chant. We recollect the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma & Sangha. These are offerings of one’s Dhamma practice.
This honour and respect that is the highest blessing is the 3rd highest blessing given in the Mangala Sutta. The first is to not associate with fools. The second is to associate with the wise. And the third is to honour and respect those worthy of respect. These are the highest blessings of one’s life. The background to the Mangala Sutta is indeed very amazing. Back then, there was no one in the human world, the deva world, or the Brahma world who knew what actions are considered auspicious blessing and what are not a blessing.
The humans were debating over this, and this subject went to the devas. When they asked each other there, there was no one who could answer. The devas went to ask the Brahma God, and he, too, couldn’t answer. Then they went back to Sakka, the King of the Devas. Sakka had great wisdom and spiritual accumulations, being a Bodhisattva, though he didn’t have full understanding of all Dhamma. But, he knew what to do. Sakka asked, “Why do you ask me, why don’t you ask the Lord Buddha?”
All the devas who had such an uproar over this question finally went to go pay respects to the Buddha and ask him about this problem. Then the Buddha gave the sermon on the 38 highest blessings, the Mangala Sutta. We can see here that no one had enough wisdom to answer this problem. But the Buddha knew all aspects in their entirety, on all the aspects of the Dhamma: of morality, concentration, and wisdom. His knowledge was complete. The Dhamma of the Buddha was really amazing.
The Buddha was one who could clearly expound the Dhamma that is deep. He was the Knowing, Awakened, and Radiant One. What are blessings and are not blessings, the Buddha has full knowledge of them. The Buddha built his spiritual perfections over such a long time and listened to teachings from many Buddhas in the past. His wisdom was clear which no one could argue against. And one couldn’t easily hear the Dhamma that came directly from the Buddha’s mouth.
In this era, we don’t hear the direct words of the Buddha, but his Dhamma is still here. If we learn it, it will be like we are learning the Dhamma in the Buddha’s time. So now is a good opportunity that we have the good fortune and have this excellent wealth to meet the Jewels of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha. When he taught on this good thing already – about how to respect and give honour – then we should practice following it. Then we will gain benefit in the practice. This will be our great merit and goodness. We need to do this because, although we are good people and our minds are imbued with sila, morality, and goodness, it is normal that our minds are not yet strong enough to see deeply into the Dhamma.
If we compare our mind to a tree, it is like a small tree sapling, it is still a tiny tree, so we need to find something to protect it against the wind. We need some wood protecting it so that the tree doesn’t get damaged. Then, when there is a strong wind and heavy rain coming, the sapling will have a protected place. Our minds are the same. We also need a protected place. Giving honour and respect to those worthy of honour gives us the strength of faith and confidence, a strength to put forth more effort, and a strength to build more goodness. This, we say, is having faith as our foundation, which we have inherited from our elders in previous generations who have had faith in the Buddha’s Dispensation.
People in the world also have faith, but it is not in the Buddha’s Dispensation. It is faith in those who are skilled and who have knowledge like a professional football player, a basketball player, or a volleyball player. One may have faith in whoever is skilled at a sport or in those who sing well. There are a lot with this type of faith. But, this faith does not lead to our minds becoming peaceful or lead to the arising of inner purity. However, faith in the Buddha will make our minds established in goodness, and then we can lead our minds to knowing and seeing the true Dhamma.
The beginning of Venerable Ajahn Chah’s overseas branch monasteries was a monastery built in England. This started with an offering of land by an English man. It was amazing that Ajahn Chah went to England, and there was someone who offered him land. In the present day, this is called Cittaviveka Monastery. This land was offered after Ajahn Chah went for alms round there. The English people saw, gained faith, and offered land to build a monastery.
The building of monastery buildings and offerings of food and other requisites has relied on the faith of the Buddhists in Asia – Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore – this was the foundation that helped to support Buddhism there. And from there, Cittaviveka Monastery developed a strong foundation which later expanded into building monasteries around many other countries such as America, Portugal, and Italy. Those with faith, even if their home is far away from the monastery, they have the faith to drive and go offer alms and make merit. This is worthy of rejoicing in.
The faith of all of us is the type which has sila, or morality, too. We have sila. The faith of those with sila, when they come to practice, gives better results and goodness which make their minds have more happiness and peace. We do not associate with those people or unwholesome thoughts that are not good, which we call ‘fools’: of the outside environment and inside of our mind.
We associate with wise people, and this brings us towards goodness. The mind that is wise is important. It is important that our mind does not associate with those unwholesome thoughts inside the mind that aren’t good. This new year we try to associate with good things and not to associate with bad things. We honour and respect those who are worthy of honour. This will make our practice progress.
We have effort and patience, and we are joyous at giving dana and making merit. This merit, we know that it arises in the mind. Where is the merit? The merit is just in this mind. When we chant and recollect the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, we can see that there is a great merit arising because of the vastness of the parami of the Buddha that is without limit and is boundless.
We chant praising the virtues of the Buddha loudly, and the chant echoes to an unlimited number of universes. There is no limit of universes because the parami of the Buddha is boundless and unlimited. When we chant praising someone with boundless goodness, then our mind becomes good along with it. Even if we chant in the mind, it’s amazing that the sound can echo to 10,000 universes, not just 1 universe. And when we chant like this, our mind is cool and happy. We chant every day at home, or chant together when we have group activities like today.
This year, for the New Year chanting, there was a record number of more than 20 million people chanting around Thailand. All the monasteries formally organised chanting events on this day to receive the new year. This is a blessing to oneself, to the country, and to friends around the world. This is honouring and respecting those worthy of veneration (puja), and it gives our mind something to hold on to. Whether it’s a wise person or a noble teacher, they will help us to see those things that aren’t good in us and help us to remove them. That is, if we listen and believe their teachings. So may we practice accordingly.
We should regularly recollect that we are not heedless. We have the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as our highest refuge and homage. Sometimes we may have strong anger, strong greed, and strong delusion arising, and it is then that we can think of the Buddha.
In a past life, when the Buddha was a Bodhisattva born as a naga named Bhuridatta, he was caught and tortured. It was possible that he would lose his life. But the Buddha had patience – he was not angry in return. The Buddha kept the 8 moral precepts. This was sila parami, the perfection of morality. We can take this as an example to practice and cultivate.
Sometimes we don’t fight, dispute, or argue with anyone, but our mind has anger. But, we don’t let it get to the point of harming or having ill-intentions to anyone. We think of the Buddha when he cultivated sila parami. We practice following him and giving veneration to the Buddha in the time when he was practicing as a Bodhisattva.
In this way, we have the Buddha as our refuge in the mind. This becomes a foundation for our mind. This makes our mind have the strength to practice, and we have strong faith to keep sila. We have faith in making merit and faith in chanting to praise virtues of Buddha. So try to practice this a lot.
Some people have anger towards their mother and father because they remember the time their parents wanted to take away their life when they were babies. They were just born from their mother’s womb and were able to survive. Yet, this bad feeling is buried in the mind, and they hold on to this anger.
With this, we should think of Dr. Jivaka, who was thrown away by his mother after he was born in a heap of rubbish. However, he had the merit and parami that, after that, he was saved by the son of King Bimbisara who brought him up and helped him to gain an education as a doctor. He became so skilled that he was the best doctor in the world, and he was the Buddha’s doctor. When we have this human body already, then we take this human body to build goodness.
Don’t think of the past – the past has passed already. Yesterday has passed. It won’t come back. Let us use today to the fullest. Tomorrow, we don’t know if we will have a chance to use it. In this world, there are just three days: that is, Yesterday, Tomorrow, and Today. There is no need to think so far ahead. When it is like this, then we won’t blame anyone. Whatever we receive, it’s likely from what we have done in the past. When we think like this, we won’t get angry or have ill-will towards anyone or want to harm anyone. This is having the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as refuge and giving them respect and honour.
Living in the world, we have a noble teacher, we have a leader who has goodness and virtue, and we respect them following the Buddhist traditions of respect for each other. If we are a worker or under them, we have to be able to give respect to the those above us, and then we will have prosperity. Those above others, or those with seniority, need to have love and care for those that they look after. One should have effort and striving at work.
For monks, they should be diligent in the practices and duties of a monk according to what they have been taught. For a young layperson, they need to be determined to study according to what parents and noble teachers have advised them. When they are older and start working, when their colleagues or bosses advise them, they should try to improve.
In this new year that has come we need to develop ourselves better than before. Work better than last year. Have more respect than last year. Have more metta, loving kindness, in the mind than last year. Try to build more goodness in the aspects of mindfulness, collectedness, and wisdom.
Contemplate to understand all things that change according to nature. See this always-present changing nature. It is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and can’t be called a self. To see the Dhamma, or to have the growing faith to see the Dhamma, we need to have effort and diligence. Giving honour and respect is the path that we need as a foundation of the mind to lead our minds to the shore of nibbana. Then, in the world, we will succeed in our work. We will have success in our studies and education.
These are the teachings of the Buddha, which are a blessing of our life. When we hear about these highest blessings, then we have to take it to practice. When the monks chant and give us the Mangala Sutta, just by hearing it, it is already a blessing, because it’s all about blessings.
However, for it to be a greater blessing to us, then we have to take it to practice. Even if we don’t chant it a lot or hear it a lot, if we take one or more of the 38 highest blessings to practice with – like giving respect and honour, then our minds will improve and become more pure. Our education will get better, our work will get better. May we take this Dhamma and contemplate what we have learned today.
May you all grow in the Dhamma.
Questions and Answers:
1. If, at our work, we have a boss and they say something in front of our colleagues about us, and maybe we think that what they said isn’t right, can we argue against them because we feel like we haven’t been treated fairly?
Ajahn Anan seeks answers from any employer:
Answer from an employer:
Personally my opinion is, if whatever the employee says is factual, then the boss is supposed to reflect and see whether that is correct despite the boss feeling very angry. When the employee gives a reflection on something, it means it is worth it for the boss to think about it. The employer should reflect on whether it is true and whether the feedback can be taken as constructive feedback for future improvement. Thank you Tan Ajahn.
Luang Por Anan:
I rejoice with the answer. It is worth reflecting about this in terms of Dhamma. When I was with venerable Ajahn Chah, he said, regarding our juniors, that even if a novice monk speaks on Dhamma, something that is Dhamma and something that is correct, then we should listen and we should reflect on it.
When a bad thought is coming into the mind, how do we overcome that bad thought? For instance, thoughts of greed that keep proliferating. How to overcome them?
Luang Por Anan:
This is normal for the mind to have good and bad thoughts arise. The mind simply is that which knows these mental states that arise. So, if the mind has delusion or ignorance, then it will follow and create thoughts based on illusion. This leads to liking, disliking, greed, and even wishing to harm others. But there are also good thoughts that arise, and these are what we call meritorious or skilful thoughts.
For instance, maybe a child has a determination to study and they focus on their studies. Or, perhaps an adult wants to put effort into their work. These are called meritorious thoughts. When these thoughts arise, one needs to establish mindfulness. When the bad thoughts arise, one needs to put effort into giving up that thought, to let it go and put it down. If the bad thoughts have not yet arisen, then one has to put the effort in so that they do not arise. Then, one can put the mind on good wholesome objects—contemplating good things. Have mindfulness in whatever one is doing and put in effort in this way. Then the mind will be in a state which is skilful and good.
How can lay people practice the meditation on the 32 body parts?
Luang Por Anan:
These 32 parts are parts of the body of the outside and inside. The outside is the part that we can see—the hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, and skin. These cover the body and the inner parts. There are another 27 parts that are referred to in this contemplation. For instance, the heart, lungs, liver, brain, blood, bones, and so on. We can contemplate on this.
We can also contemplate the exterior parts, for instance, the hair of the head. We can contemplate that we usually see it as something beautiful—whether it’s our own hair or someone else’s hair, we think its beautiful. But, we can contemplate: if we have a plate of delicious food and just one strand of hair 10cm long falls into it, then straight away the perception of this food changes. We would think that it is something dirty, something that we wouldn’t eat.
If we don’t wash this hair even for two days, it starts to get itchy and dirty, and we can see into this dirtiness and the fact that it isn’t beautiful. If we contemplate in this way regarding the hair and the other exterior body parts, then we can see clearly into them. This reduces our liking, attraction, and being enchanted with this body. Then the mind grows a sense of peace and stillness in turn.
On the 12th of January this year, there will be 15 doctors who will be coming to take initiation to become Buddhists with their family. We would like to seek Bhante’s advice and suggestions with regard to this and on how should we conduct this event.
Luang Por Anan:
The ceremony then is about offering one’s body and heart to the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha so that one will be considered to be a Buddhist. One can use offerings of flowers, incense, and candles and offer them to the Buddha statue or image inside the sacred place whether it is an Uposatha hall, a vihara, or a chedi/stupa. Then one will take the three refuges and five precepts there with folded palms in front of the Buddha. This will formally show one’s faith in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha.
The one taking part in the ceremony or initiation can say something to the effect of “I have come to the Buddha, and, even though the Buddha has passed away into Maha Parinibbana long ago, I take the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as my highest refuge”. They can repeat that 3 times. The Sangha of monks can give their ‘Sadhu’ and ‘Anumodana’ after the laity repeat that. The coming of these doctors who are skilled and learned will be of great benefit to Buddhism.
A question about respect. For the monks and novices, when they are talking or asking something of a senior monk, they will put their hands up in anjali (palms raised and pressed together in front of the heart area) to them as a form of respect while speaking to them. For the laity it may be just more of having a sense of restraint when they are asking something of an elder monk. But for the tradition of the monks and novices you will see this holding up the hands in anjali when talking to a senior monk.
There was one attendant monk at the time when venerable Ajahn Chah was sick. Monks looked after Ajahn Chah, as this was the time when Ajahn Chah couldn’t move, was bedridden, and sick. At times, Ajahn Chah would cough, and he would make a sign that there was phlegm in his throat. The attendant had to go get a tissue or something to tend to Ajahn Chah. This one monk who was doing this, he would put his hands up in anjali before he would take anything for Ajahn Chah. For instance, when getting a tissue, he would put his hands in anjali and then take the tissue and give it for Ajahn Chah’s use. But there was another attendant monk there who wouldn’t do that. If he needed to get tissues, he would lift up the tissue and then look after Ajahn Chah in that way. So the question is which way is better: just to take it, or anjali first and then take that item.
Luang Por Anan:
So to have respect or a type of respect where you anjali in the way that you mention, which is good. But one also has to be aware of the situation one is in. If one is in a situation where one needs to attend on another monk or has a certain duty one needs to fulfil, then one needs to do it in a timely manner and to do whatever the situation calls for. So if one raises one’s hands in anjali, it may mean that one is being too slow to do one’s duty properly. One should reflect that, if one is doing that duty or nursing, then it’s already showing that one has a high form of respect by doing that duty.
This is comparable to situations related to following the monks’ rules and discipline (vinaya). In Thailand, a monk isn’t allowed to drive a car, but in Australia there was once a fire approaching. There was a car there, but there was no lay person to drive that car. So the monks had to go drive the car in order to get water to put out the fire. One may ask if that’s the right thing to do or not. It is the right thing to do because, although one maybe shouldn’t drive, in that situation one has to help oneself and others by putting out the fire because the situation calls for it.
A few weeks ago near Ajahn Larry’s monastery in Sydney, Australia, there was a bushfire that got less than about 10 kilometers away from the monastery. Winds were very strong on that day. It was very dangerous. Even within 10 minutes the fire could easily come in and destroy the monastery. I asked everyone to help spread metta and to ask for protection from the devas and nagas. On that day, in the evening, the wind changed direction and a very strong wind blew the fire in the other direction. The monastery was able to be free from any damage and destruction. I rejoice with all of you who shared your good wishes and made aspirations in order for the monastery to be safe.
If there are a lot of ants around us, then how should we sweep them away?
Luang Por Anan:
This problem is a problem for those that are keeping the precepts. The big problem tends to be the ants, insects and mosquitoes. At first you may have metta to them—‘may they be well, may they be happy’; but the ants may not go away, so what do you do?
You have to sweep them away. It is true that, in the process, some may die, but that isn’t your intention. Your intention is not to kill them. It’s just to sweep that area and keep it clean. You have the metta, the kindness, for them. If there are any that accidentally die, then you should have kindness for them and wish that may they be reborn well. However, the important thing is that the mind shouldn’t be worrying about this constantly. You may try methods like getting sugar and throwing it somewhere far away—this may reduce the problem. It does work to an extent because I have tried it before.
Ajahn Anan asked Kruba Nisabho and Tan Ajahn Som Chai:
Sometimes laypeople might have termites coming up to their house. They are keeping the 5 precepts, and they don’t want to kill the termites. So what can they do?
From what I have heard from other well practiced teachers’ sayings, this is one of the situations where one has to take precautions and begin by making your house as protected against infestation as much as possible. This way you don’t have to deal with the situation where it is already infested, but, rather one can prevent it from becoming infested. I think when you come to a point where termites have entered already, then what you can do is use chemicals that prevent the termites from entering again. Possibly, before that, one lures them out by putting a food source outside. If they have already got to the ceiling, then you can remove the infested part of the wood, which might be quite expensive, or using the chemicals, as mentioned before.
Tan Ajahn Som Chai:
If one is determined to keep the 5 precepts, then it is far better to try to prevent this problem from happening and spraying chemicals which will prevent the termites from entering to begin with. This way, one won’t get into a situation where one is engaging in a way of destroying the infestation that might actually kill the termites. This would leave one without ease in the heart, feeling like perhaps they have not held their precepts well. So the best is to prevent them if possible.
However, if the termites have entered the house already, then finding some method of making them leave or getting them out that does not kill them would be highly preferable. If one is trying to get them out, and they do die a bit, but one’s intention is not to kill, then this is comparable to stepping on an ant when passing by. Intention is the essential element, and it’s not explicitly against sila.
Luang Por Anan:
If the termites have already gone into the structure, then one is faced with a difficult situation. One can’t have the intention to kill them, and, if they remain, one is without a place to live—and that’s not a good situation either. The monks face this where we have a sala, Uposatha hall, and some other important Sangha structures. The structures have been offered, and, if it gets infested, to let it go and do nothing about it is irresponsible and not something that we can actually allow.
At that point, there might have to be skilful speech with companies which do approach situations like this asking them to sort of ‘take care of things’ and encourage the termites to move. How they actually move them we might be looking closely at. Skilful speech might have to be used here. To specifically say ‘kill the termites’ is not something we can do, but skilful speech in this case might be necessary as it is a difficult situation. Allowing it to continue, and for the building to fall apart is not appropriate either.
There is a story where an American novice went to a branch monastery, and, after the vassa (rains retreat) that he spent there, he quickly wanted to come back to Wat Marp Jan. He said that he couldn’t stay there because the Abbot had given him something to spray termites with. He said that he couldn’t do it because he was keeping the 10 precepts, and he wouldn’t do it or go back there at all. So I had to tell the Abbot there that you shouldn’t do something like that directly. That wasn’t correct. Even to this day, that novice won’t go back to that branch monastery because the Abbot doesn’t keep the precepts at all.
When we make an adhitthana (determination/aspiration), should we do it in front of a Buddha statue?
Luang Por Anan:
It is good when one is making a determination to have a strong mind and intention when one is doing so. A Buddha statue may help that determination. If one can see the Buddha, then one can reflect on the Buddha first in front of the Buddha statue, then make the mind peaceful and still, then make that adhitthana, that determination, and this will have more strength. Your mind will have more strength to follow through with it.
But you can also do it without a Buddha statue. Make the determination if the mind is strong enough. You could also do it when you go back to your dwelling place. If there is a Buddha Statue there, and you do so in your own dwelling it is also okay. It is the same thing when one is keeping sila, for instance, with laypeople it is the 5 precepts. In the beginning they may do so in front of the monks formally, and it gives more strength to them to follow the precepts. But later on, they know exactly what the precepts are, and it is easier to do it by themselves. There is no need to do it in front of the monks whether it is the 5 or the 8 precepts.
How do we contemplate death in our daily life?
Luang Por Anan:
We can contemplate when we wake up that we may not even make it to the morning chanting. Even at the time when we are doing the morning chanting we may think that we may not make it to the end of this chanting. We can reflect in this way throughout the day. We reflect regarding the future that we think it may come, or it may not come—we may die even before that. If we can reflect on this properly then we will be more heedful in our life, less careless in our life.
We can contemplate if the termites come out, and we start to reflect on death thinking that they are impermanent, death is certain for them—then that’s wrong thinking. That’s breaking sila then. But, if one is reflecting on death and one does so in a way that one thinks, ‘I’m going to die anyway, why should I bother doing anything then, doing anything productive at all?’, then that is also wrong. One ends up being lazy and it is a wrong way to think. One doesn’t do anything then. One needs to put effort into being heedful and do so in a careful way so that it makes one do one’s duty. One has a duty to chant and one does that. If one needs to put effort into work and other duties, then one does so. One has to reflect on death in a right way so that it makes one more diligent and gives rise to more effort in building goodness.