Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – October 6th, 2017
L uang Por Anan: Welcome to everyone.
Real wisdom comes from mindfulness and a mind gathered together, both of which come from morality and giving up things we have desire for, or renunciation.
We have made determinations that have allowed us to practice building goodness through this 3 month rains retreat. When we make these determinations sincerely, and we follow them, then our minds will have goodness or merit, skilfulness or the building of good karma. We are born into this life and we make good and bad karma. Whatever karma we do – good or bad – it will follow us. This life of ours, there isn’t much to it – we are heading towards our death every day. The thing we are scared of the most in this life is death. We are scared of death, but everyone must die. So, how do we build the strength of mind so that this fear of death will diminish? The people who have goodness or merit and have done good karma won’t be frightened of death. Because they have built the assurance that if they die, then it’s just the body that dies. The mind doesn’t die or disappear with it. It must follow the good or bad karma that we have made. When we have built good karma, then we are certain that we will receive good results and that we will have a pleasant rebirth. But if we are scared of death, and we have done bad karma, when we receive the bad results of that, then it will be even worse than this life. So, determine to keep truthfulness, sincerity and goodness, like how we have practiced throughout the whole rains-retreat.
The Buddha was enlightened for the sake of all of us. If the Buddha was simply seeking his own enlightenment, then he would have succeeded long, long ago. He met many Buddhas along his path, and if he wanted to be an arahant under another Buddha, he would have done so easily. But he had to sacrifice uncountable lives, and who was this for? He sacrificed his bodily organs for only us, so that we may receive the taste of the Dhamma. So, the Buddha taught us to follow the path of purifying our minds and that leads to enlightenment. Even if we aren’t at that stage where we will become enlightened quickly, we can still become enlightened bit by bit. The Buddha taught us to practice dana or generosity, so we do and we make offerings. But we should see that dana can arise from many levels of mind. Everyone has the chance to give of the ordinary type. But there are others who gain their money and wealth through cheating or swindling others, through stealing or robbing others.
These days there are many more methods of stealing due to the technological advancements of the world. In the old days, the thieves would rob the wealthy houses. But these days there may be theft through stealing online or through embezzling. But the general conclusion is that they don’t have sila, morality. People without sila can practice dana too. If you ask is that a lot of merit? Offering material things that is obtained through harming others isn’t purely obtained. The mind doesn’t have sila, the mind isn’t pure. And if the receiver of the gift doesn’t have sila, then they will receive very little merit. But if the receiver has sila and Dhamma, then they will receive more than that, but still only a little, as the money or donations given aren’t obtained purely. It’s like planting a seed that isn’t intact. When you plant it, it will only grow a little. This is dana from one who doesn’t have sila.
There is one story of one monastery, named Khanikapon monastery, after the person who built it. Her occupation was that of a prostitute. She built one Uposatha hall and asked a revered monk whether this offering will have much merit? He said that the merit is tiny, like compared to a one cent benefit. It is so little merit, because the money has come from an impure way. So, if one cheats and steals from others and donate with that, they will get very little benefit. The merit is related to purity. And what about someone who has sila and makes an offering. We offer one spoonful of rice, one bottle of water, a little bit of food, but our heart grows full of joy and happiness. To earn that money was very tiring and difficult, but our faith and confidence is full in our hearts. We do dana with sila as a foundation. The material offering then is pure, and the receiver is pure with sila and Dhamma, then the fruit is great to our hearts. This is a lot of merit.
The Buddha in one of his past lives gave an old piece of cloth to be used in the Kathina ceremony, but by doing so was victorious over the worry and stinginess in his heart. He said “I conquered.” He conquered the stinginess in the heart that is very difficult to do. Because the Buddha then was a Brahmin, part of the upper caste, and he only had this one piece of cloth to show his status. When he went to listen to the Buddha of that time, his wife had to stay at home because they only had this 1 cloth between them both that showed their status. If one of them went out without their cloth that showed their caste, then they could have even been mistaken for the lowest caste – the untouchables. The sacrifice of this 1 cloth was so difficult, because they had to give up their caste. You have to remember that in India the caste system is very important. People would be willing to die rather than lower their caste. For example, a person in the Brahmin caste, even if they had difficulties with no money to buy food, they would rather die than to be a cleaner on a plane. This is because the job of cleaning isn’t for a Brahmin. They attach to that caste like their race. So, the giving up of that 1 cloth by the Buddha, was the giving up of his caste of the Brahmin. But from the amazing consequence of that offering, there was an immense result. The king offered him a great offering of many cloths. And because of that offering, he was born in heaven for a great, many lifetimes.
Like yourselves, you have sila, and you practice dana. The benefit of sila and dana has great merit. So, may you be clear about making merit. Even if we only have a little bit of money, but we help with providing service. Like during this Kathina ceremony, people that help through physical labour – cutting grass, or helping to set up for the event, coming to meet about organising the Kathina – they will get just as much merit. And this Kathina ceremony is a combined offering from the laypeople. Even if there are people with a lot of money, and they want to sponsor the Kathina here, I ask for them to save it, so that everyone, whether they have a lot of money or just a little, they all come together, as one, and make the Kathina offering together in harmony. This harmony is important. The harmony of a group leads to the arising of happiness. There is the harmony within the Sangha of 5 or more monks during the 3 month rains retreat in one monastery, before they can have the benefit of receiving Kathina cloth. Then the laypeople will have the opportunity to offer the Kathina cloth. And there is the harmony in setting up of the event, where not just one person can do it alone. Here then everyone receives the benefit equally.
To look at whether it is a lot of merit or a little bit of merit, we look at whether we can get rid of our greed, hatred and delusion. When we make offerings and we don’t try to get anything in return, but we are just trying to get rid of greed, hated and delusion, then the benefits of the merit is great. Especially if we chant and meditate to make mind peaceful. This still mind is the highest merit. That is inner peace.
Maybe back then in your home you had only few possessions and little wealth, but the family unit was happy and peaceful. There was just the one problem of not enough money. But later if we gain more wealth is there peace? There may be more problems and difficulties than before when we had just a little.
The panya or wisdom that will make the mind still is the knowing and wisdom that follows the path of sila and Samadhi or morality and concentration, as taught by the Buddha. If we follow this – sila, samadhi and panya – even if we have only a little wealth, we will be peaceful. Even if we have a lot of wealth later, we will still be peaceful. This is because we have sila and wisdom as the foundation of the heart. It’s like we are following the Noble Eightfold Path, which trains the mind to be pure and leads one to be free from greed, hatred, and delusion, little by little. When greed, hatred, and delusion slowly diminishes then the peace in the heart arises, which is the true happiness.
If we can do this to the highest level, this is nibbana. To get to nibbana, we must train and practice. It doesn’t arise by itself. Nibbana is there already. It is a place where the mind has no suffering at all. But if we are born and die in the cycle of samsara – then we will have suffering. Therefore Nibbana is the highest point that the mind can develop to. But if we can’t yet, never mind. In this life may you try to understand and see the Dhamma that the Buddha taught, so that we can understand the truth of sankharas, or conditioned things. Sankharas consist of physical and mental conditioned things. We should contemplate that whatever you get or whatever you have, what is it that will stay forever? Is there anything? We get this body, will it stay for ever? The different cells within constantly deteriorate. If the new cells can’t grow in time then this is old age arising, pain arising. In the end, all the cells perish, then this is called death. This is nature. Whatever is of the nature to arise is of the nature to cease. The learning of Buddhism is the learning of nature. May we see the nature of conditioned things. If we can see clearly this truth of nature, then we see the Dhamma.
We all have a good opportunity because Buddhism is strong in Thailand. Even in India, the country where the Buddha was born, enlightened and passed away, these days the people there mostly don’t have faith in Buddhism. There are a very small group of Indians there, who want to have a practice monastery, a branch of Ajahn Chah there. They are starting to attempt it. But it’s not easy. When they think that India was the place where the Buddha was born, enlightened and passed away, but now there is so little Buddhist practice and training left, and the monks teaching are so few, they feel saddened.
But even in other parts of the world – Australia, Europe, Scandinavia, it is still hard to find practice monks to teach there. But in Thailand it is a very suitable country that has the faith of the people who make offerings, keep sila and practice meditation throughout the rains retreat. There are monks who hold the austere practices – not sleeping at night, eating only in the bowl, eating only what is given on alms round, living content with little, and practicing for the paths and fruits of nibbana. The paths and fruits of nibbana still exists. The Buddha taught that if we practice without stopping then we will get there. Like digging for water, if we don’t stop, we will find water. We must practice without stopping. Train the mind to be still and peaceful, then we can see the Dhamma. Because to see the Dhamma, to develop wisdom, it requires the mind to be still. When the mind isn’t peaceful, it is because it thinks all over the place, it’s distracted – it’s called having hindrances. The mind follows distracted thoughts, liking and disliking, vengeful thoughts, doubts, irritation. How do these arise? When sights, sounds, tastes, feelings, and mind objects enter through the sense doors of the eyes, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind, this makes confusion arise in the mind.
So do you see? A person without sila who donates gains little merit. One who steals and cheats then gives gains very little merit. So, we must give up evil first, then develop merit. When we give up evil, then we have sila, then when we develop merit and we gain more benefit, we have more peace in the mind. When we develop merit, we will see that our mind is still disturbed. So, we have to train the mind to be still. We establish knowing with the in-breath and out-breath, along with the internal recitation of the meditation word, Buddho, as an object of the mind. When sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, we keep Buddho, Buddho in mind. If we are unable to stay with Buddho, then we can try, “Itipiso bhagava araham samma-sambuddho”, or we can use Buddho, Dhammo, Sangho, or we can use “Buddham (Dhammam/Sangham) saranam gacchami”. We do this so that our mind has a meditation object, what we call kammaṭṭhāna, in order to make the mind peaceful. When the mind is peaceful, then we will see the truth of body and mind that is sitting here. Before we saw it as “me”, then later we see it as “not me”. The body is still the same, but the mind has changed, because brightness has arisen in the heart – seeing the body as not ours. When we see the body as not ours, we call this seeing the Dhamma.
Try to mentally separate the body into its 32 parts and see which part is really ours. The head hairs, body hairs, nails, teeth and skin … is that ours? The blood, take out say 300cc, the blood doesn’t think anything. The blood in our whole body feels nothing. Because it is just elements. The skeleton is just elements. The water, earth, breath are just elements. So, get the mind to contemplate the body. The mind that gradually grows peaceful, let it contemplate the body. Then we will slowly understand, that this body that we depend on, isn’t really ours. It is just a physical body and relies on the balance of the elements to survive. If we have no breath right now, say the oxygen is gone from this hall, then we will die right here – both the Monks and the laity. The body survives through oxygen. Or if we don’t drink water for many days we will die, or having no food for many days then we will die. Do you see? What does this body depend on? The Buddha asked us to contemplate this with wisdom. See with wisdom that all the sankharas, conditioned phenomena, are impermanent. When we see that the sankharas are impermanent then we will grow weary of the sankharas. When we grow weary, then we develop dispassion, and we will see the Dhamma.
May you all practice following your sincere determinations that you have made throughout the whole rain-retreat. We are now almost leaving the rains-retreat. But don’t think that we end the rains-retreat and so we end our determinations. We may have determined to not drink alcohol for the 3 months, and then we go back to drinking at the end. Or if we have determined to not kill any living beings, to not steal, commit sexual misconduct, then we should continue committing to it. One enters the rains-retreat for 3 months and leaves it for 9 months. If we have no sila for 9 months, and just keep sila for 3 months, then it’s not equal. The Buddha taught that once we get rid of evil that has arisen, be careful of evil arising. And we have to maintain the mind that has merit and skilfulness. We do dana, sila and meditation, and continue building goodness. We leave the rains-retreat but we still keep our determinations. We do goodness in the rains and outside of it. This is the path that is correct.
May you all be determined. Give up evil first, then build merit. By not cheating, not stealing, not performing corruption, then the nation will prosper. If the nation prospers, then the companies will prosper. If the nation doesn’t prosper, the companies won’t prosper, the other organisations won’t prosper, just because of corruption. There is a lot of corruption. Maybe out of 2 million Baht that should go towards a project just 700,000 Baht is left. Or in the small shops in a mall, if there is stealing, then they can’t survive. So, we must have honesty, truthfulness, and keep our sila well. Have a foundation of virtue. Then society will prosper.
Questions and Answers:
Q: Is there anything we can do to help the Rohinya in Burma?
Luang Por Anan: The Buddha taught not to do any evil and cultivate the good. We need to follow this teaching. If a monk harms others or teaches others to harm, then that person is not a true monk even if they wear monk robes. We should have metta for all beings. We are all companions in birth, ageing, sickness, and death. We should spread metta to those suffering in Burma. We should all maintain our morality with the five precepts as the foundation – even as monks the 227 precepts are based on the five precepts. If you keep only 4 precepts you are only 80% human and so on with only 2 or 0 precepts.
Q: Can you explain the importance of sitting on the floor versus sitting on a chair? What are the benefits of sitting with a lot of pain on the floor?
Also can you please explain suitable living situations for laypeople, like living in a monastery or a house?
Luang Por Anan: Sitting for a long time with pain in the body, we need to ask ourselves if we have enough strength of mind and mindfulness to benefit from this practice. Then when we get sick or die we can bear with or even overcome painful feelings. We can also separate the mind from the feelings. But we should only do this according to our ability, not all the time.
True peace is found in right view. If we go to a peaceful place then go back home and find our minds are disturbed, it means we should train in being mindful at home. We need to develop wisdom and right view and focus on that, not focus on trying to find a good place to live.
Luang Por Anan: If we don’t have much money, how should we make merit in that situation?
Q: Meditation is the highest merit, and offering physical labor as help is even better than money or other offerings. So I would do those things if I had no money.
Luang Por Anan: Some people have a lot of wealth, but if that wealth is gained in a dishonest way, they make very little merit from donating it. The merit of keeping the five precepts is higher than the merit of generosity, so someone who keeps the precepts and gives up greed makes more merit.
Q: Sometimes when doing breath meditation I get a headache. What should I do?
Luang Por Anan: You’re forcing the breath too much, let the breath be natural. Otherwise you will get a headache.
Q: How do you relax the breath?
Luang Por Anan: Count the breaths in pairs: in-1, out-1, in-2, out-2. Like that.
Q: A blessed amulet on a chicken made it so that when shooting the chicken the bullet did not pass through the chicken, how did this happen?
Luang Por Anan: Some monks with samadhi bless an amulet to give the wearer safety. Luang Pu Chah has said this.
Wat Than Sang Pet had a dog that ate the monks’ leftover food regularly. Luang Pu Chah warned the dog not to steal the villager’s chickens since the villagers would kill the dog. They tried to shoot the dog and the bullet did not go through, so they beat the dog to death instead.
Q: It seems I think more and more the more I sit to meditate. What should I do?
Luang Por Anan: Take three very deep breaths to help with thinking. Then try holding the breath or holding the tongue to the roof of the mouth and taking three very deep breaths.
Q: Like Robin Hood, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor, what does the Ajahn think about this?
Luang Por Anan: Let Ajahn G. answer.
Ajahn G.: Sometimes those in a tough situation need help. Like in the USA in the past, Italian immigrants needed the mafia to help them even though the mafia also did bad things, like when the Bodhisatta killed the demon in the story from last week.
Q: Why is someone in Australia who did not donate the money celebrated?
Luang Por Anan: It is bad karma to steal from the rich and those who celebrate his actions also make bad karma.
Luang Por Anan: Ajahn Somchai – if someone makes money in a corrupt way can monks receive that offering?
Ajahn Somchai: If the monks know it is made in a bad way then the monks should not receive the offering, if they don’t know, then they receive it then they don’t make bad karma since there is no intention.
Q: In the chanting book I am not disgusted by the body contemplation pictures. I feel more fascinated. Is this okay?
Luang Por Anan: If we have attraction towards bodies we can contemplate to make the mind peaceful. If we are studying medicine we can contemplate in that way, and that is fine too.
Q: A husband recently committed suicide and someone said that their husband will keep committing suicide in future lives. Is this true?
Luang Por Anan: The wish to kill oneself is a mental karma, and killing oneself is also bodily karma. In future lives they are likely to think in this same way since they have that old habit. One should try not to do this. If one finds themselves in that situation again one should try to find a path of Dhamma practice to overcome this unhelpful habit.
Q: Can the wife help the dead husband in any way?
Luang Por Anan: Meditate, keep the precepts, make merit, make offerings, and spread metta, then share that goodness with the husband.