Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – August 17th, 2018L uang Por Anan: Do you want to see the fruits of practice? A young man asked Luang Pu Chah how to get the results of the practice quickly. Luang Pu Chah said that to attain results quickly one should do nothing at all. But then I thought to myself, “How would you get anything from doing nothing?” We are not at this level yet of being able to do nothing. We must start at the beginning, which we will discuss in the Dhamma video.
Welcome to all of you from all of your centres. Today we talk about Dhamma like we usually do every Friday. And we gather together to share our views. And The Dhamma topic that we will talk about is something that is usually near to us. We meet with this Dhamma subject constantly. Today we talk about the topic of what is being selfish like, and what is being unselfish like? How do we differentiate between these two behaviours? All of us live in this world in different social groups. We don’t just live alone. And when we are together in these social groups, some people will have selfishness – they see and act for their own benefit. And some people will have acts of sacrificing for others benefit.
For ourselves, we probably have met with certain difficult situations, where we try not to be selfish, but end up being selfish anyway. Or we may later on be able to bring up enough mindfulness to know that we were being selfish, and then we quickly change and do something about it. We are likely to have experienced this.
So here we will look at what do we call selfishness? And what is called unselfishness?
Q: I have a question as well. If in society, in work, I have friends and co-workers and sometimes I don’t help them out, but I am not harming them – is this called selfishness?
A: Here we have to learn about this, as it is important. Let us discuss what views you have about this selfishness and unselfishness? Meet and talk about it.
Let us see what do people usually think about this subject. Is it an interesting topic ?
Q: It is interesting
A: Ok, then go discuss it.
Can you see that every person has this problem of selfishness. This selfishness isn’t something trivial. It is the first step on the ladder for us to become a good person. And from a good person to develop into someone who has the higher dhammas – until letting go. So letting go is like the highest point. Selfishness is like the floor. But Dhamma practitioners want to go for letting go, but they aren’t interested in doing anything about their selfishness. They do everything for their own good. Like this, they won’t get anywhere. Because being together in society – as a lay person or at work – they need to help each other out. It is a foundation.
This topic is actually something that is quite refined. For instance, if the monks go to group chanting and one monk chants loudly, then another monk just lets that monk chant loudly themselves, and they don’t themselves don’t chant loud. This is selfishness already. It’s like going to group chanting, but not really going to chanting.
Q: They may think it is letting go.
It’s not. This is letting go in terms of someone who has no wisdom – of a stupid person. Letting go is a Dhamma that is extremely high. It’s for someone who has wisdom that has sacrificed fully. Someone who understands completely about sacrificing for others benefit. When they are at this level – then they can truly let go. But when we can let go sometimes – that is good. But it shouldn’t be that our normal foundation is that we are selfish – and that we say we are letting go. That is letting go of sensibility.
For example, our friend is working and lifting something heavy and we see them and we don’t do anything. We don’t help them out. It’s like we have eyes , but we don’t have eyes.
Or if we hear the bell to indicate that one must go to morning chanting. We have ears, we hear the sound, but we sleep in, and don’t go to chanting. It’s like we have ears but we don’t have ears. This is not right.
Ven. Ajahn Chah would strictly emphasise about selfishness. When the monks get food and gather it together, it’s not that we are sitting ahead of 9 monks, and we go to get the food first and then we take 2 or 3 bags of food, so that it’s not enough for the monks at the back of the line. That is being selfish already.
Is it good to look after the monks dwellings and monastery buildings. Check to see if the water is leaking. Is the tap turned off fully? Help to look after all the buildings and things in the monastery. Don’t be like a blind or deaf person.
If we earn money, and we don’t donate anything – is that selfish? It’s not selfish, because it’s ours. But a smart person will exchange part of their wealth to become merit, to be wealth in their heart.
And there is another example. There was one woman who was going to a job interview, and she was walking there and she came across some rubbish that had spilled out of a fallen rubbish bin. She picked all of the rubbish up first, and then she went to go to the interview. When she got there, the boss said, “We don’t need to interview you. You’ve got the job.” Because he had seen on the cctv camera when she had picked up the rubbish.
Wherever there are many people like this, that place will prosper. But if there are places where there are selfish people – then it’s trouble.
Another example of this was of a disciple of Luang Pu Chah. Part of the roof of this monk’s dwelling had collapsed, and he didn’t go fix it. He said he was letting go. Ajahn Chah said this was the letting go of someone stupid. If he was really letting go, then there would be no need to move over. Just be in the sun and rain.
So this topic is important, about being selfish and being unselfish. We must train from this important beginning foundation. Those coming to Luang Pu Chah’s monastery, Wat Nong Pah Pong, would learn that if there was any work, everyone had to help out – whether it was light or hard work, they all had to take it up and do it. And it was everything – hauling water, going for alms, group chanting – you couldn’t miss out!
Q: It would lead to harmony as well, right?
Luang Por Anan: Yes harmony as well too. So in conclusion, many people have and will have this behaviour of selfishness, but we need to work at giving it up. When we can give it up and can improve at it, in the end we will be able to let it go completely. In the beginning we need to let go of selfishness. Be firstly, someone of sacrifice – through words and actions. Do benefit for yourself and benefit for others. This is important. So you understand?
Q: I understand!
Questions and Answers:
Q: Is going to ordain selfish, like when the Buddha left home and family to go be a renunciant?
Luang Por Anan: Some people misunderstand in this way, that ordaining is a way to selfishly try to be happy. But the Buddha really sacrificed everything in order to help others. He gave up everything, all his pleasures and attachments, in order to build his spiritual perfections for the sake of helping all beings. He gave up more than anyone else could, more than any other being.
Q: If one earns money but does not donate to any charity and only helps family, is this selfish?
Q: If one donates to charities but does not help one’s family then is this selfish?
Q: Sometimes at work I use time to surf the internet or message friends. Is this selfish or stealing?
Luang Por Anan: If you make 30,000 baht per month then waste 1 hour per day on the internet, this is 30 hours per month. If the employer then gives you 25,000 baht at the end of the month due to your taking internet time, is this selfish of the employer?
Q: How is illness related to the 7 factors of enlightenment (investigation, energy, rapture, mindfulness, calm, concentration, and equanimity).
Luang Por Anan: The 7 factors of enlightenment are important in order to see the truth of reality. Contemplating the Dhamma can lead to rapture arising, which can then help one feel better from one’s illness. If one does not feel physically better then at least one feels mentally better. Getting benefit from the 7 enlightenment factors depends on the strength of mindfulness.
Q: I read about a big king cobra snake that followed Luang Pu Chah on alms round. Can you tell us about this story?
Luang Por Anan: Yes, the snake followed him from the monastery to the village and back. Luang Pu Chah told the snake to wait outside the village to avoid scaring people, which it did. Then the snake disappeared one day.
Q: What was the snake doing?
Luang Por Anan: It seems the snake had faith in Luang Pu Chah and was acting like a lay attendant, following Luang Pu Chah to and from the village for alms round. If you were a monk, would you let a snake follow you like that?
Luang Por Anan: There is a story from a branch temple of a big black cobra, about 4.5m long and as thick as a human thigh. It would wind its way in between the monks close to them, even while they were washing their bowls. One monk wanted to grab its tail but I said to not do that.
Another story is that of Pra Ott, who entered a toilet stall and locked the door. Then he saw a 4m long cobra in the stall and jumped with fright. He changed his meditation mantra from “Bud-dho, bud-dho” to “Big-snake, big-snake”. The snake probably wondered why its peace and quiet had to be disturbed and maybe used a mantra for itself “A monk has come, a monk has come.” The snake tried to leave, running up the wall and falling down again over and over, while the monk jumped up and down with fear, as well. Eventually after they both jumped up and down the monk got tired, regained some mindfulness, and realized he should open the bathroom door. He did so and he and the snake both exited the bathroom stall at the same time.
We can see that monks and snakes live together in close quarters. The monks should have lovingkindness, not be selfish, help others, and this helps the monks and snakes to get along well.
Q: Does the Khandha Paritta, or the “Group Protection” (The traditional chant to send metta to snakes and other animals) really work to protect oneself?
Luang Por Anan: Luang Pu Chah had a monk who was going off into the forest chant the Lovingkindness Sutta and the Group Protection chants every day. This indicates that they are helpful chants. These chants can help protect from animals, ghosts, and other beings. It is good to do these chants.
Q: If I feel scared as an animal attacks, I might forget the chants. Could I then do the “Buddho” mantra or just say mentally “I am here to practice, not here to hurt anyone.”
Luang Por Anan: Yes, this is good. Have the metta not to harm others in your heart. The Pali chants are filled with instructions on how to do this, like, in the Lovingkindness Sutta, it teaches to care for all beings like a mother cares for her only child.
Q: On a retreat in Penang, Malaysia, we did the Group Protection chant ever day. Working in the garden I got close to a green snake. A friend said to give it metta. I think animals are peaceful by nature and only harm us when provoked.