Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – September 6th, 2019
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan: Typically, a layperson tries to gain happiness from wealth, affection, and family. A layperson in debt suffers, while being free from debt is experienced as happiness. One should lead a life with the right attitude—be sincere to earn wealth in the right way without harming others. Then one can gain happiness. If one has wrong view, then one won’t live life in a happy way—duties and obligations to others will lead to suffering.
Welcome to all the monks and novices, and welcome to all the faithful Dhamma practitioners. Today I will talk on a Dhamma topic from a Zen story. This story is named, “What is the path to happiness; where is happiness? There were once 3 men who had a lot of suffering in their hearts. They all had problems which they couldn’t overcome. So they went for advice from a Zen master named Uu Dtee. They went to go find this Zen master so that he could show them the way to overcome the suffering that filled their hearts and so that they would meet with happiness.
When they had paid their respects to the Zen master, the Zen Master listened all about the suffering these men were experiencing. And then he asked them, “What are you living for these days?”, The first man replied, “I am living because I don’t want to die.” The second person replied, “I am living because I have many children and grandchildren in this city. When I am older, I will have them look after and support me because I will be frail and will have to rely on them.” And the last person replied, “I am living because I need to look after the members of my family. I am their support. So I can’t die.”
When the Zen master heard their answers, he said “If it is really like as you have all said, then your path to happiness will be dark and obscured.” And to the first person he said, “Though it is true that you have life, it is with a fear of death.” And to the next person he said, “And you are just waiting for old age.” And to the third one, he said, “You carry a heavy burden so that you can support those in your family. Then you forget about using your life in the present. So how will you have happiness?”
Then the Zen Master Uu Dtee asked them all, “What makes you happy?” The first person said, “Having lots of money and wealth – that is my happiness.” The 2nd person said. “I see being loved as being able to give me happiness.” The last person said “Fame and a good reputation is what will give me happiness.”
And the Zen master Uu Dtee replied to them, “All that you have said, I don’t see any happiness, but instead I see suffering. If you accumulate all these different things – wealth, fame and reputation, then you will have more suffering.”
The 3 people looked at each other and were confused—they didn’t understand what the Zen master meant that their happiness was suffering.
The Zen master continued explaining: “If you have wealth, have people love you, have fame and reputation, have people praise you, then the worry, the eagerness, the craving, and the wanting to gain and to have will keep increasing more and more. This comes with the need to try to maintain these things constantly all the time, as well. This is creating a cycle of attachment, and ultimately it leads your hearts to suffering. But if you want to find true happiness, then all 3 of you need to change your views. If you want wealth, then you need to have the thought to share a portion of this wealth away through making merit and giving to help the poor, the needy, and victims of various disasters. Then you will have happiness arise in your heart. Because it is very difficult to have any material thing compare to the happiness in the heart.
“And in regards to wanting love, then you need to be a person who sacrifices for the benefit of others. It is not that we just receive, but we have to be givers and receivers. In this way we can receive true happiness. Because it is the givers who will receive happiness in return. When we want to have happiness, then we need to give happiness to others first. When we are receivers, and we feel happy from that, then we know we need to be givers of happiness. The ones who give will gain. So it is not just waiting to receive only, but we have both give and receive. This will lead to true happiness.
“And, lastly, in regards to seeking fame and reputation. If we get it and have it, then it’s no problem, but we need to understand about public benefit. If we have fame then we need to use that fame to give benefit to others. Then we will have true happiness arise. It is not just that we have that fame and reputation, but we need to make benefit for others arise. This true happiness arises from the heart that is good and the heart that is pure. Do you understand?” The three nodded their heads saying they understood.
The Zen master continued, “And in conclusion, the thinking of all you 3, is missing an important principle. That is, goodness. You think of yourself too much, and you don’t know the true meaning of life. For true happiness, you need to sacrifice; you must learn how to give, and cultivate kindness and compassion. In loving others, you will gain love back. The greatest sacrifices bring the greatest joy. So train yourself to be a giver. Have wealth, then be a giver. We have love and kindness, then others will give us love and kindness. We as humans can give this love and kindness to all living beings. If it’s a dog or a cat, they will then have love to us in return. So we need to be a giver and a receiver. We have fame and reputation, so we should use that to build our spiritual goodness a lot from the fame that we have. We have people following us, then we lead them to build goodness and to build merit.”
The 3 people were pleased and used this teaching in their lives, thereby gaining happiness that they were satisfied with.
For us here, we can look at whether we have thoughts like this or not? We should use the Dhamma that we learn to understand the true value of life, knowing how to find happiness in the life that we have. It is not that we are waiting for our children and grandchildren to look after us in our old age. If they don’t look after us, then we will have a lot of suffering. If we want to have life, not wanting to die – then that isn’t Dhamma. That isn’t understanding Dhamma. Because having life and not building goodness does not lead to much benefit. We need to have virtue, have sila Dhamma, have good qualities, and have goodness. If we have no goodness, then, even if we are breathing, then we are careless. It’s like we are someone who is already dead. Have you seen a dead person that is still breathing? They are walking around everywhere. They are already dead, because they are careless. Careless in building goodness and virtue. Careless in building goodness and virtue!
Luang Pu Chah has taught that most people are dead already, even while they are still breathing. This is just because these people are careless. So we need to be established in heedfulness. This is the Buddha’s teaching. Before the Buddha passed away, he said to give up evil, do good, and make goodness arise. Be established in heedfulness. This heedfulness encompasses the teachings the Buddha gave on all 84,000 occasions. It all comes down to not being heedless.
May you learn Dhamma and may you all be determined in your Dhamma practice, following the Buddha’s teachings. Then all of you will have happiness. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: A friend asked me about seeing great teachers, who were supposed to be arahants, or fully enlightened, smoking or chewing betel nut. Is this possible for an enlightened being to do? Can you please explain?
Q: The heart.
Luang Por Anan: If it is in the heart, then how would you know if they are an arahant or not?
Q: Their teachings.
Luang Por Anan: We can have faith, but we can’t know, really, if someone is an arahant or not; our wisdom is not enough to know this. Perhaps one sees someone smoking or chewing betel nut and think they are or are not an arahant. But, really, we do not have enough wisdom to know. So put it down. We can’t understand this, so focus on one’s own practice first, and train to see the Dhamma oneself.
One senior monk had faith and thought that Luang Pu Chah was an arahant, for sure. He went to ask many questions about this to Luang Pu Chah, like, “When did you attain?”. He was very interested. Luang Pu Chah answered, “Why are you interested in my food? Why aren’t you interested in your own food?” The meaning is: why was this monk interested in Luang Pu Chah’s practice? This monk should try to practice himself.
Some teachers, after their bodies are cremated, their bones turn into relics. On the outside, they may laugh, cry, be angry, and so on, but this is just external. One can’t judge from the external. It is better to look at oneself, follow the teachings and practice oneself.
Luang Pu Chah had one disciple who ordained with him for four years, then disrobed and lived in the USA. This individual held the idea that arahants do not hold onto conventions, they just had letting go. He believed that Luang Pu Chah was an arahant. Luang Pu Chah knew this person’s mind. Luang Pu Chah was visiting this man in the USA and came out of the bathroom. Luang Pu Chah pointed his cane at him and laughed out loud, a big laugh like he had no attachments. The disciple thought that Luang Pu Chah really was free.
2. Q: What do monks share to others to grow in happiness, and what do they have love for?
Luang Por Anan: Have sila, or morality, be dear to oneself, as well as the monastic observances and practices, meditation, the 4 divine abidings of lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity, and lovingkindness practice. One should know the suttas, the teachings, study the Dhamma and Vinaya, then see the Dhamma so that one can spread knowledge to others.
3. Q: Luang Pu Chah said that those who teach wrongly fall to hell. Sometimes quotes from great teachers are shared online. What if they are translated incorrectly or shared wrongly? Will this have consequences?
Luang Por Anan: Be careful—check to see if what is shared is correct or not. Compare the teachings to other teachings of the Buddha or other great teachers. If the shared teachings are wrong and others follow it, then this is karma.
4. Q: Everyone wants money. Some are born with money and others are not. If one makes a determination to have money, will this determination succeed?
Luang Por Anan: It is hard to succeed in determinations without past or present parami as a support. This is very difficult. Build merit and build parami. Wishing for health, long life, wealth, fame, rank and status, and heaven—all of these are hard to gain. One wants money but one must give first. Have effort, patience, diligence, and so on. If one does not lay down the appropriate causes, then it is difficult to gain wealth.
Similarly, with monks who want peacefulness, they must develop wisdom, concentration, mindfulness, have effort, have patience, and be sincere at all times to practice. One must see the benefits of morality, concentration, and wisdom, and investigate often. When the qualities are ready, then one can attain to morality, concentration, and wisdom—this relies on strong morality, or sila, as a foundation.
5. Q: What are the 3 phases and 12 aspects of the 4 Noble Truths?
Luang Por Anan: The three phases of each truth are knowing what the truth is, knowing what to do about it, and then knowing that what should be done has been done. For example, with the first Noble Truth, one knows that dukkha is there as a Noble Truth, one knows that dukkha should be understood, then one knows that dukkha has been understood. And similarly for the next three truths, which should be abandoned, experienced directly, and developed, respectively.
A Mahayana monk asked Luang Pu Chah about the 4 Noble Truths. Luang Pu Chah replied, “Why do you eat, how do you feel after you eat, and how do you eat?” One suffers, then eats, then feels better.
6. Q: (Monk asking) There is a big gap between the rich and the poor in society. How can this be fixed?
Luang Por Anan: This is not our duty to solve as monks. We contemplate: whether rich or poor, all have the breath as their support—if there is no breath, there is no rich and no poor. Fixing this is the job of society. Monks see that we are all in the same situation, we see what we all have in common.