Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 1st, 2019
L uang Por Anan: Last week we studied about the monk with low intelligence. He received the help and compassion of the Buddha, the great teacher of humans and devas. Then he was able to realize full enlightenment, and he obtained psychic powers. He had the power of mind to multiply his body 1,000 times. But do not think about how he was able to do this. The Buddha said one should not try to figure this out – one would think until one is crazy without figuring it out.
There are four things that the Buddha taught should not be thought about:
1) The knowledge and power of a Buddha.
2) The abilities of those with deep concentration (jhana).
3) The details of how karma works.
4) The origin and fate of the universe.
Welcome to all of you from your centres. The last week we learnt about Ven. Maha Panthaka and Ven. Cula Panthaka. We learnt that Cula Panthaka had very dull wisdom so that he couldn’t even remember short teachings of the Buddha. But because of the parami, or spiritual accumulations, that he had built up, he entered the net of compassion of the Buddha. And the Buddha taught him by getting him to keep rubbing a clean, white cloth. While he was doing this he repeated “This cloth is dirty”. Through the power of the Buddha, the clean white cloth the Buddha gave him became dirtier until it became very black. When he opened his eyes and saw the black cloth, dispassion arose. He thought: “This cloth was clean and pure, but when it was rubbed by me it changed to be like this. The body and mind are impermanent like this.” With this, the Buddha gave him a teaching and he attained to becoming an arahant, or fully enlightened.
That morning, the Buddha received a meal invitation at Dr. Jivaka’s house. But the Buddha would not receive the food given by Dr. Jivaka, because the Buddha told him that there was still 1 monk in Veluvana monastery who hadn’t come yet. Dr. Jivaka told his attendant to go there to invite that monk to come. But when he went to the monastery there were 1000 monks, all with the same face. It was Cula Panthaka that had created 1000 bodies with his psychic powers. The attendant didn’t know which monk he was looking for. So he went back to tell Dr. Jivaka. The Buddha told him “to get whichever monk speaks first.” The attendant of Dr. Jivaka went again and asked the monks, “Which monk is Cula Panthaka?” Then 1 monk answered “I am Cula Panthaka” – and then the attendant grabbed his hand. Then the other 999 monks disappeared . And Cula Panthaka came to the meal invitation.
This was to show that he had attained to becoming an arahant already. The Buddha wished to show the great virtue that had arisen in his disciple. He wasn’t the old Cula Panthaka with dull wisdom anymore. He had attained psychic powers, as well as becoming a noble arahant that had gotten rid of all the mental defilements.
In this story, you can also see that the subject of karma is difficult to comprehend. Because in Cula Panthaka’s past life, there was one monk who was learning Dhamma and memorising, but he had dull wisdom and Cula Panthaka laughed and teased him. And this made that monk stop putting effort into learning the Dhamma. And this resulted in karma which followed Cula Panthaka. Even though in this last life he would attain to becoming an arahant, because of the very good karma he had done, but the bad karma would result first and made him not remember anything.
This is knowledge of the workings of karma. And many people won’t believe that it is true that the law of karma exists, that karmic actions that one has done gives results, leading one to receive happiness and suffering in various lifetimes. Cula Panthaka had built merit and done good karma, which would give results leading to happiness, until ultimately he was able to attain to becoming an arahant.
So this subject is something that should not be thought about. It’s beyond the ability of humans to be able to think about and comprehend. One may think and ponder constantly over it, and try to find the answer, but even after a long time no answer maybe found. And to think too much about it, one’s views may become distorted.
So what are the subjects that are incomprehensible, that is, not able to be understood?
The first is the range of what is known by a Buddha. This is known only by a Buddha. The Buddha has the knowledge to clearly know the world. Though we humans have wisdom, this wisdom is tiny. There are some problems that humans aren’t able to think about or solve. It is only for a Buddha to be able to know these. Even the chief disciples of the Buddha aren’t able to know on the level of a Buddha. There was once on a rainy day that Ven. Sariputta, the right hand chief disciple, was wishing to enter samadhi to count the number of raindrops that fell. The Buddha said to Ven. Sariputta, that this is not to be known by a disciple, it is only a Buddha that can do this. So this is an example. This is to show that the development of wisdom and knowledge depends on the spiritual accumulations of the individual. The Buddha is the highest level, where even the chief disciples aren’t able to know at this level. The normal noble disciples of the Buddha, have wisdom and knowing lower than the chief disciples. It goes down like this. So no one can know the range of knowledge of the Buddhas. One can’t think to that level, and to do so may make one become crazy.
The 2nd subject is jhana, the mental absorptions, which means deep concentration. People with deep concentration can do more than normal people. So we shouldn’t think, for example, “How come they can do it like that? Why is it more special than what ordinary humans can do?”
So we have to be careful not to get deluded in special or amazing things, that are still on a mundane or worldly level, as they can still degrade. Like Devadatta, who used his worldy psychic powers to get the faith of King Ajatashatru.
But one can use them to give benefit to others, such as through making the minds of others reduce their conceit and making them open to accepting Dhamma teachings.
There was one child who came to Wat Pah Pong, who took a bottle of water to Ven. Ajahn Chah to get it blessed by him. He placed the bottle down, and Ajahn Chah was just talking about this and that, on and on and eventually the child asked for permission to leave. Luang Pu Chah told him to take the bottle of water back with him. He felt that Luang Pu Chah didn’t even touch his bottle of water to bless it. He felt disappointed and he was having unwholesome thoughts. He decided he didn’t want the water, so he went to pour it out. He had no more faith in it, so didn’t want it anymore. But when he tried to pour it, the water wouldn’t come out. However he tried, the water couldn’t be poured out. So he had to go back to ask for forgiveness from Luang Pu Chah . This could happen from the power of the high concentration of Luang Pu Chah that was able to lower people’s ego and stubbornness, so that he could then teach them Dhamma. But he didn’t do this often, and only to some people.
He also didn’t boast about himself – that he had the different knowledges and abilities. Sometimes I would think whether Luang Pu Chah knew the minds of others. Whether he knew at what level and attainments a monk’s practice was. When I asked Luang Pu Chah, he simply said – “When the monks and novices are just walking here and there, I see their behavior and I already know how their minds are.” He never said that “I can see their mind with my mind. I have a high level of samadhi and jhana. I know the minds of others. I know where people’s practices are at and to what level of attainment.” Luang Pu Chah never boasted like this. But how he replied was on a higher level of wisdom, “I see how the monks behave themselves and I know what their minds are like.” He talked in a way with wisdom of the highest level. That is being modest and not boastful. And behaving in this way truly shows the sharp wisdom of Luang Pu Chah. But we have to be careful about this knowledge of the range of jhana.
The third thing to not think about are the details of the law of karma. We may like to ask, what is the cause that the result was like this; why did they need to receive that type of suffering and what was the karma they did? We shouldn’t think too much in this way. If we do, then it will be suffering. We won’t be able to overcome it and it can damage our mindfulness.
In regards to this, I want to share a story with you of when Luang Pu Chah had spent the rains-retreat in the province of Ayutthaya. In Ayutthaya there is a lot of water, and in that place the monks would have to row a boat to go for alms-round. On this particular alms-round there was one monk who had a large-sized alms bowl and one other monk whose alms bowl was small. The one who had a small alms bowl had to row the boat, because the monk with the large-sized alms bowl didn’t know how to row. And the monk with the small bowl would get less food on alms. The other monk with the big bowl got a lot of food, but did not have to expend any energy rowing. The monk with the small bowl, proliferated about this a lot: “Why is it like this? I row, I get tired rowing, but I get less food. He has a big bowl and gets more food.” The monk kept thinking like this, over and over, that he was being taken advantage of. Luang Pu Chah told that monk, “Don’t think too much, you will go crazy!”
The monk didn’t believe Luang Pu Chah, and in the end, this monk really did go crazy. Luang Pu Chah knew what was happening in the present and what would happen in the future. He warned that monk, but he didn’t listen. It may have been his karma that it turned out this way, but this is about the working of karma that one cannot comprehend.
And this is similar to Ven. Cula Panthaka, who was an arahant, but he had the results of karma that were both good and bad. The bad result of karma made him have dull wisdom, but the good result of karma led him to attain to becoming an arahant, because he could meet with the Buddha.
And for us it’s not a sure thing. In this long cycle of samsara, the continuous cycle of birth and death, we may have met a Buddha. We may have given food to him, we may have built merit and parami with a Buddha. All of us have firm faith in the Buddha Sasana, or Buddhist Teaching, in this life, and we are determined to build goodness in this life. In the future if we are to attain to becoming an arhant, we won’t be reborn again. But if far into the future we have not yet attained and are still building parami in this round of samsara, we may be reborn and and gain the knowledge that in this life we have now, we had built goodness and learnt Dhamma every Friday. We practiced chanting and meditation. We helped to build monasteries, buildings, and stupas. We may have ordained in the Buddha Sasana. We chanted pujas with sincerity and joy, recollecting the virtues of the Buddha with a mind full of true faith. You all have built merit and goodness in this life. So we can reflect on that. So in this present life, we believe in the law of karma and so we determine to do the most good karma that we are able to, and we are determined to give up all the bad karma to the best of our ability. And we train our mind to develop concentration the most that we can in this life. We now have a good opportunity, because we have met the teachings of the Buddha. Later if we are born sometime in the future, and we think back to the past, we would think that we had done really well. So may you all be intent in doing this.
And the 4th thing that one cannot comprehend is the state of the world. This may be thinking about the cycle of samsara, or endless wandering of beings, or thinking about the world in ways such as: who created the sun, the moon , the mountains, the trees, or about this world and the next world, or about whether heaven and hell are real. To think like this has no benefit. Or thinking did we have a previous life? What were we born as? Later on, what will we be born as? This line of thinking keeps going on and on and never ends. The knowledge of the Buddha saw that the cycle of samsara that has passed has no end and that there was an original mind that had no mental defilements. But we won’t be able to comprehend it.
Thoughts like “When did the original mind arise? And when did the mental defilements arise?” – we can’t know them. We can reflect that in this present life, there have been things that we have forgotten, such as forgetting the code for our safe or forgetting our keys. There have been important things that we have forget about or lost. And so this cycle of samsara, which has carried on for an inconceivably long time, how would we know this mind in the beginning, or when the mental defilements arose, or what was it like back then. This is too difficult and impossible to know. If we think like this we can go mad. This is a subject about the world that we shouldn’t think about.
So the 4 incomprehensible things – they are the knowledge of a Buddha, the working of jhana, the workings of the Law of Karma, and the speculation about the world. Don’t think about them and waste time on it. It is better to instead contemplate on how to build goodness as much as we can in this life. How to give up the evil and unskilful in the mind the most that we can in this life. And how to purify our mind. This is walking the path by practicing as an offering to the Buddha. So may we learn about the things that we should do and shouldn’t do and the things that have benefit and don’t have benefit. Some questions have no answer. One may keep asking and asking them, and we think that it will be good, but even the one being asked the questions may have anger arise.
However, some problems have answers arise on their own. May you practice Dhamma and stay within the range of reflection that all things arise from karma – good karma gives happy and pleasant results. Bad karma has bad results of suffering. But we all have done a lot of bad and good karma in our lifetimes in the cycle of samsara. May your merit and goodness give you the mindfulness and wisdom to have true knowing and have happiness, in the world and in the Dhamma. May you all understand and see the Dhamma of the Buddha.
Questions and Answers:
Q: If we only do good things in this life, why do we have bad and difficult things happen?
Luang Por Anan: There are causes for bad things to happen. This is true for everyone, laypeople and monks, that bad things happen. Maybe we did a bad action in a past life, but then we wonder why the bad result is happening in this life.
There is a story from Pra Somdeto, a famous monk in Thai history: Two monks came to him. One monk had hit the other and both came to Pra Somdeto to resolve their conflict. Pra Somdeto said it was the fault of the monk who received the hit. This monk thought that this was an unfair decision. But Pra Somdeto, when asked, explained that the monk who received the hit, in a past life, had hit the other monk. So the fault lay with the monk who hit first in a previous life. He said for them to forgive and not hit each other again to end the cycle of karma and revenge. They lived in harmony after this.
Q: Some sick people consult with monks. The monks tell the sick person what bad karma they did and to whom, so that the sick person can go ask forgiveness of the people that they had harmed in past lives. Is it okay to do this?
Luang Por Anan: It is not sure if these monks are 100% accurate and correct. One should believe that one’s actions have results. Try to build goodness in the present as much as you can. Send lovingkindness and merit to karmic debtors one has harmed in the past. This can improve illnesses. But it is best to try to practice and build goodness.
Q: What happens if one person wants to forgive and let go of the issue but the other person does not?
Luang Por Anan: Then the issue will continue, bound by ill will or anger.
Q: Is there any way to end the issue?
Luang Por Anan: Try to build goodness and send metta. When one has enough parami then the other person can change their heart and forgive.
Q: Understanding karma leads us to want to do good. A person in a good life but doing bad feels bad in the moment. A person in a bad life but doing goodness, feels good in that moment. Is this correct?
Luang Por Anan: Yes, correct. Like when having an illness, we realize the illness is from past harmful actions we have done, and then our hearts can feel at ease and not suffer.
We try to do good and not do evil in the present and keep practicing this. Then we can reach true happiness.
Q: In two weeks I will teach about karma to secondary school students. They probably do not believe in future lives. Is it okay to teach them to watch their minds in the present to do good and not bad in order to be free from suffering in the present?
Luang Por Anan: Yes. Also you can teach that yesterday affects today, and today’s actions affect tomorrow, then one can build faith in actions having results. For example, committing a crime today can lead to being in jail tomorrow.
Q: The monk that went crazy, what happened to him?
Luang Por Anan: He could not stop thinking. He had trouble sleeping and went crazy. He probably disrobed.
Q: In Kashmir, why do the soldiers suffer in this conflict? What bad karma did they do? What are the consequences for the terrorist suicide bombers?
Luang Por Anan: Killing others leads one to have a shorter life. If a group dies together, this means that they did some bad karma together previously. Like in a plane crash, some people miss the flight and survive, whereas others have the karma that leads them to die.
Q: Is it correct livelihood to trade stocks and international currencies? Many youth today take up this trade.
Luang Por Anan: Yes. It is not wrong livelihood. Correct livelihood means not harming others. Poor people tend to play the lottery, rich people tend to play the stock market. One should ask: is playing these stocks going to harm anyone? One should use wisdom. If you put in all your money then lose it, this would harm oneself. If one has a lot of greed and plays the stock market, this can lead to harm. If a company owner manipulates stocks for person gain then this is very bad.
I had one disciple in a western country. He knew the Thai baht was going to change value. He could make tens or hundreds of billions of baht by trading Thai and American money. But, he realized that if everyone did this, then the Thai economy would be greatly damaged and many would suffer. So he did not act on this knowledge. He had good virtue, an inner wealth more valuable than any monetary wealth he could gain.
Q: I have heard some say that one should go beyond good and bad. What does this mean?
Luang Por Anan: Luang Pu Chah used to say this, that we should go beyond good and bad. First we do goodness and try to let go of evil. But if we attach to goodness then the mind is not pure and this will lead to suffering. You have to practice to go beyond goodness. If you do good, then the mind is peaceful. If you let go of the good as well, then the mind is peaceful and cool, completely at ease.
Q: Do you have any advice about someone who does not want to have anything to do with someone else in the present or future life? Like someone that is angry at another person a lot and one does not want to meet with that person again.
Luang Por Anan: That person should reflect that they are already connected due to past life actions. In order to not be connected in the future, then that person must practice to be free from all suffering. In the meantime, one should try to keep doing goodness and ask for forgiveness from these people with whom one has a bad relationship.