Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – June 8th, 2018
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
Q: May I ask a question? I’ve heard that there are many different methods of attaining to the paths and fruits of nibbana. I would like to ask is there any method that is easy and direct and that is simple to practice?
A: This is a big problem for Dhamma practitioners. Because we learn and study from Dhamma literature. This teacher teaches this way, that teacher teaches that other way. There are many schools of practice. In Thailand they teach this way. In Burma or Sri Lanka, they may teach a different method. For the new Dhamma practitioner who reads the suttas and uses them to practice, they may become even more confused.
When I stayed with Venerable Ajahn Chah, he told us to put down all our thoughts and views first and to listen to the teachings of the Ajahn or teacher and use them to practice.
He taught the fundamentals of the practice in a simple way. To the monks he taught us to composed, restrained, and careful in our actions.
There are many rules for the monks, but it all comes down to one thing – that is our intention – that we should be determined to keep the rules and to practice by them. And we need to put forth effort and to have mindfulness.
The more mindfulness we have the better. Whenever we have mindfulness, we come close to the Buddha in that moment.
No matter how much mental suffering we have, we can set a clock/stopwatch and see how long this feeling lasts for. Will this suffering last forever?
Here Luang Pu Chah taught for us to easily understand. He gave an example, of Venerable Ajahn Tongrat, who, together with Luang Pu Ginaree, were Ajahn Chah’s teachers and also one of the first senior disciples of Venerable Ajahn Mun, the founder of the Thai forest tradition. Luang Pu Chah said Luang Pu Tongrat taught in a very simple way. An old man came to ordain with Luang Pu Tongrat. And Luang Pu Tongrat taught him to go see that small tree stump. Luang Pu Tongrat told that elderly monk to go train his mind just like that tree stump. The elderly monk contemplated how to train the mind like that tree stump. He sat meditation and did walking meditation and gained the realisation that “Oh, the tree stump, doesn’t have liking or disliking. Whoever does anything to it, whether someone waters it or sweeps the leaves around it, it doesn’t have liking or disliking – it is peaceful. Just like that.”
This follows the Buddha’s teaching that
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
Not taken in, unshaken, that’s how you develop the mind.
– in summary we can say that it is, not liking, not disliking, staying in the middle. When in the middle here, you will understand the nature of the mind that arises, stays and passes away; arises, stay and passes away, constantly. Simple. It all comes together that he taught us to let go. Let go!
These teachings are close to the Zen teachings. Like the Zen way. Ajahn Chah was known to be the Zen master of the Northeast of Thailand. Luang Pu Buddhadasa was the Zen master of the South of Thailand.
So all the different methods or teachings from different schools or different countries, or in Thailand, the many different ways of practice, it all comes together, in having awareness.
Have mindfulness to know the body and mind.
Here it is very simple, just this much. When we have happiness, say it is not sure, its not permanent, suffering will arise later on. When we have suffering, then again say its not sure and not permanent. We watch both sides. Actually, we can compare it to a bird that has happiness in its family of birds. And then there arises forces of nature such as heavy rain, strong winds, and the birds get separated, and there is suffering arising. And later on the family of birds come together again, and they regain that happiness.
Even if we are together as a family, or we have separation in one’s family, this is natural.
There is happiness, there is suffering. If we know these conditions for what they really are, then our mind will be beyond happiness and beyond suffering, beyond the world, and beyond conventional reality.
Luang Pu Tongrat was the senior monk that taught in a Zen manner. A simple example, there was an elderly lady, who he would teach to practice generosity. He stood nearby on alms and as the lady was boiling rice, Luang Pu Tongrat said – quickly boil the rice, do it quickly. And he stood there waiting for the rice to be boiled, so she could give the rice to him. And one monk complained that it was like he was asking for the food, and it wasn’t appropriate. Luang Pu Tongrat said – he didn’t eat the rice. He didn’t eat it. He was there solely to teach her about practising generosity.
Once, he was walking alms with Luang Pu Mun and some monks, and there was one cow who looked as if he was going to hurt Luang Pu Mun. The monk directly behind Luang Pu Mun didn’t do anything because he respected Luang Pu Mun. But Luang Pu Tongrat further down the line, also respected and had great affection for Luang Pu Mun, so he was worried that Luang Pu Mun would be hurt, and so he ran out in front of Luang Pu Mun and kicked the cow away. He kicked the cow! AW, the cow is about to harm his father. It was going to harm his father, so he kicked it. It was going to harm his Kruba Ajahn, his great teacher, so he kicked it. There was no time to ask respectfully for permission. But his mind had nothing. This was the actions of a teacher who taught in a Zen manner.
Even Luang Pu Chah went to go for the first time to pay respects to Luang Pu Tongrat, Luang Pu Tongrat immediately called his real name out, “Tan [Mr.] Chah you’ve arrived have you?” He knew where he came from and who he was. Just meeting for the first time and he already called out his name without knowing prior. And Ajahn Chah would become a disciple of Luang Pu Tongrat. Luang Pu Chah studied with Luang Pu Tongrat till he could attain to success in the practice. Luang Pu Tongrat took 4 years to attain to becoming an arahant.
He stayed with Luang Pu Mun and when Luang Pu Mun taught him to eat little and sleep little, Luang Pu Tongrat then fasted without eating for 15 days. He got very skinny. There was no evening drinks at all those days. And when it came around to the Uposatha day where the monks gather together, when Luang Pu Tongrat took off his outer robe, one monk, went to Luang Pu Mun, and said “Luang Pu Tongrat is going to die already, he’s so skinny already!” Luang Pu Mun, acknowledged it, and signalled him to practice the appropriate amount. Luang Pu Tongrat knew already though. Luang Pu Mun taught, and Luang Pu Tongrat would follow those teachings. His mind was extremely single-minded. So focused. And later he would teach like a Zen master.
In his biography there is one story, a monk went alms and usually just got sticky rice, but that day the monk got one egg and wanted to eat it. Usually the monks would gather all the food together and take food in terms of seniority. But this monk wanted to really eat the egg so clumped the sticky rice around the egg to hide it for himself. Luang Pu Tongrat shouted out to everyone, pointing to the monk, “AW, what’s up with this monk, sticky rice can lay eggs!” So they opened the sticky rice clump and found the egg.
There were many stories that Luang Pu Chah told of Luang Pu Tongrat. Another story is once around the mealtime, where usually monks would eat out of the bowl gathering all the food together, and there was one monk who didn’t want to gather the sticky rice into the wet curry or liquids, so stuck the rice to the side of his bowl above the curry and was waiting for the blessing to be given so that he could eat the food separately. Luang Pu Tongrat just sat there silently not giving the blessing, until the rice fell into the liquid ‘DTUM’ then Luang Pu Tongrat begun the blessing, “Yatha varivaha…” Haha. He let it slide into the wet curry first. He taught them to be in the present moment. He taught like a Zen master. And this was the teacher to our Luang Pu Chah who taught similarly.
This Dhamma practice doesn’t need to be difficult and confusing. Just have the knowing to watch the mind. Watch the mind. See how the state of the mind is, what is it thinking, what is it feeling, and let go. And see the body that is of the nature to decay. Here we do this everyday. It’s not ours. Let the mind be above the world and above mind objects. Practice this way until the mind understands clearly, until it sees all things as emptiness. This is seeing the Dhamma already.
There was once someone who praised Luang Pu Chah, “Luang Pu Chah you have such radiant features.”
Luang Pu Chah responded, “Its blood. It’s just blood.” He didn’t go along with that mood. Doing it like this is the simple way.
Questions and Answers:
Q: How do we do walking meditation?
Luang Por Anan: Pick a walking path, be restrained, and do “Buddho”. “Bud” with one foot, and “Dho” with the other. At the end of the path pause mindfully before turning around. If there is no room to walk then just move the foot back and forth.
Q: Why is there so much greed? Also how can I eat less?
Luang Por Anan: Luang Pu Chah taught to see food as medicine, just eat enough to maintain the body. After chewing and digesting the food, what does it then look like? Contemplate like this. Also contemplate with greed: is it ever enough? Since life is short and death will come at any time, does it really make sense to desire and consume things?
Being generous with giving time and material things helps with greed.
Q: How do we train not to have like and dislike?
Luang Por Anan: When you feel liking or disliking, contemplate death. Since we will die, why bother with liking or disliking? Keep the mind in the middle. This leads to true happiness.
Q: Is it okay to offer flowers instead of incense? I heard incense can cause cancer.
Luang Por Anan: If indoors, just flowers is fine. Respect and homage come from the heart. If outdoors, one can offer incense.
Q: Do actors and singers make bad karma? Is it wrong livelihood?
Luang Por Anan: If the actor or singer helps people to relax then I think it can be okay. Modern people can be very stressed these days. But there should not be too much delusion or attachment to that enjoyment. If the goal is to be deluded then that is bad. Occupations have mixed good and bad karma, the future rebirth is uncertain. One should focus on doing good. It is not wrong livelihood to be a singer or actor– if no one watches the entertainment then no money is made and no harm is done.
Q: Is it bad karma to play jing-joe, the gambling game? For example, to relieve stress.
Luang Por Anan: Relieving stress can be just an excuse. Gambling leads to decline – loss of respect from peers, loss of wealth, and other bad effects. Thinking gambling is okay is wrong. One alcoholic used to say that lifting the glass of alcohol was his exercise. He died of liver cancer.
Q: If the game helps prevent Alzheimers disease then is that okay?
Luang Por Anan: One has to look at the intention. Like an old person playing a game because they need social activity, but they are not interested in gambling or winning so much, this can be okay.
Q: Too much perfectionism in my culture feels stressful. How can I improve this and increase lovingkindness and wisdom?
Luang Por Anan: Perfectionism is not a bad thing by itself. The Buddha had to be perfect and be the best in order to be the Buddha. Train with your moods with mindfulness then accept the results. If one is too inflexible and expecting results then one will suffer.