Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – March 20th, 2020
L uang Por Anan: This situation about the Covid -19 virus causes a lot of fear in people. This fear arises because we have a sense of self, because we have attachment to this ‘me’ and ‘mine’. When we have this physical body, this is the place where sickness arises, and if one doesn’t have wisdom, doesn’t have a firm mind, then one will only have attachment in the mind. Then one will attach to the five khandhas, or five ‘heaps’, that we take as a self, the heaps of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness. One won’t understand the truth, and suffering will arise. Suffering arises simply because of attachment.
The Buddha wanted us to develop wisdom. To do this, one needs to have right concentration, or ‘samma samadhi’, in the Noble eightfold path. This is the kind of samadhi or concentration that leads to true wisdom.
In the time of the Buddha, there were many monks that attained to becoming arahants. There was one in particular, Ven. Girimananda, who, although he was sick with a lot of physical suffering, he was ready to attain to becoming an arahant. So the other monks asked the Lord Buddha what advice they should give to that monk that was sick and in pain. [Editor’s note: See Anguttara Nikaya 10.60].
The Buddha told them to give him the contemplation of the ‘ten perceptions’. The first one is to contemplate the perception of impermanence, especially the perception of the bodily form as impermanent: that this body is born in the womb and slowly grows larger and larger, until later it decays. If we look a bit deeper we can see it in terms of the cells, from one it goes to two, and then to four, and it expands like that. Or we look at later when the cells die off, and there are new cells that are born. When there are fewer and fewer cells that are born, we say that the body is decaying—which happens until this bodily form dies.
We can also look at the bodily form in terms of the four elements: the elements of earth, fire, wind, and water. If the mind has ‘samma samadhi’, concentration of the Noble Eightfold Path, and is able to contemplate into the bodily form as being impermanent like this, one gains true understand into it. Then one is able to ‘let go’, and the mind is able to attain emptiness. Contemplating in this way, wisdom will arise. We can contemplate first the material objects around us as impermanent—for instance our house, the things we use, like a cup, for instance—contemplate these things as impermanent. Then we bring this contemplation to our body, seeing it as impermanent.
In the beginning, one won’t have the wisdom to see clearly into what one is contemplating. Then one uses memories and perceptions in order to contemplate and see one’s object as impermanent. For example, one can recollect the change of the body all the way from the womb, then growing, decaying and dying. Or we can contemplate the people around us—there are old people dying, young people dying, sick or even healthy people dying, as well.
This is clearly seen in our present situation with this Covid-19 virus that is killing so many people. We contemplate into the body as the four elements, as impermanent, as suffering, and as subject to change, to see it in terms of Dhamma. For this we need to have ‘samadhi’, one-pointedness of mind. If we have a little bit of samadhi, then we will see only to one level. But, if we have good samadhi, then we will be able to see clearly into what we are contemplating. We will really understand into this truth of impermanence. This is where one lets go of one’s attachments, and the mind is able to separate from the things on to which it holds and attaches.
Developing this meditative concentration has a lot of benefits. If we are able to make the mind one-pointed, then we will be able to progress in our practice. We can make use of this concentration to contemplate into the heap of sanya or memories and perceptions. We simply see memories and perceptions as an aspect of mind. The mind is what attaches to these memories and perceptions as being ‘ours’, as being ‘me’ and ‘mine’, and this attachment is the cause for suffering to arise.
The Buddha told the monks to teach Venerable Girimananda about memories and perceptions—seeing them as impermanent and also to contemplate vedana or feelings: there are pleasing feelings or happiness, unpleasant feelings or suffering, and there are feelings that are neither painful nor pleasant. We can contemplate on this: have we ever felt a very happy feeling before? Have we ever had a very painful feeling before? Have we ever had a feeling that is neutral, neither pleasure nor pain? This is what the Buddha called ‘vedana’ or ‘feelings’. The Buddha wanted us to see feeling as impermanent. If there are pleasant, happy feelings, they arise, stay for while, and then pass away. Painful feelings also arise, stay for while, and then pass away. They are simply feelings. If one has very good mindfulness, very good samadhi, then they will be able to see feelings as being impermanent. One will be able to clearly see into happiness and pain as not being ‘me’ or ‘mine’. One will not see feelings in the usual way and that feeling will cease by itself. Even the rapture that arises from samadhi, a peaceful and cool feeling pervading the whole body—that is also impermanent. This is a contemplation the Buddha wanted the monks to teach Ven. Girimananda.
Seeing phenomena as impermanent, this is what we call vipassana – insight or clear seeing. Ven. Ajahn Chah taught to contemplate that, when a mental phenomena arises, to not have liking or disliking towards it, to contemplate it as being uncertain, and to contemplate it as something not sure.
One can also contemplate sankara – mental formations, or thoughts. There are good thoughts that arise, bad thoughts that arise, or thoughts that are neither good nor bad. One attaches to these thoughts as being ‘me’ and ‘mine’. When there are good thoughts arising, one is happy, and, when there are bad thoughts arising, one suffers from them. This comes from not understanding that these thoughts are simply one aspect of the mind that arises, stays, and passes away all the same. So we need to have the mindfulness to know in time that these mental formations or thoughts are arising. We need to know them as uncertain, a not sure thing. If it is a good thought, one can follow that thought; if it is a not good thought, then one knows that as not a sure thing and knows that one should not follow that unskilful thought. These five ‘heaps’ of form, feeling, perception, mental formations, and consciousness—we have to contemplate them as being not a self, and this is when we can have wisdom arising. If we have wisdom arising to see into these five heaps clearly, then our mind is in the middle, away from liking and disliking. This is the path to Nibbana.
We need to keep training until the mind is able to know these five heaps clearly. The last heap is vinyana, or sense consciousness. This is what arises when the eye sees a form, the nose smells a smell, the tongue tastes a taste, etc. or when a mind object arises in the mind, this is what we call vinyana, or sense consciousness.
The perception that we think that is ‘us’: that is ‘us’ eating, is ‘us’ that is seeing, or that there is a person there, we have to see beyond that to see these as simply natural phenomena that are occurring. There is no ‘me’ or ‘mine’ there, it is simply a khandha, a heap, one of these five heaps that we call a self. If the mind doesn’t have this wisdom, this clear insight, it will see these five khandhas, these heaps, as ‘me’ and ‘mine’. This is when suffering arises.
The Buddha wanted the monks to teach Ven. Girimananda about the ten perceptions, starting with seeing the five khandhas as impermanent. The monk that received this teaching gained a lot of rapture when he contemplated it. His sickness was then able to lessen and disappear. He overcame his sickness from the joy of contemplating the Dhamma.
We also need to develop vipassana, or insight, in our practice. We practice meditation and developing good samadhi. Then we use that to contemplate to see into the truth of impermanence. We can contemplate the present day situation, such as what is happening in some countries, even in Europe. In the past, there where many tourists, and it was very busy, but now the situation has changed. There are no tourists there. This is something that is happening around the world, but this is something natural and normal if we understand the truth of impermanence. Then we bring our contemplation to our bodies: we cannot even control our own bodies, we can’t even tell them not to change. This is like the seeing that one has when one understands Dhamma. If one understands Dhamma, one is able to see the inner Buddha in one’s own mind.
The developing of samadhi has a lot of benefits. It leads to clear seeing and knowing. Ven. Ajahn Chah would teach very simply regarding any feelings or anything that arises in the mind: tell yourself that it is uncertain. If it is something you like a lot—that is impermanent, that is uncertain, and not a sure thing. Or, if it is something that you dislike a lot—that is also not a sure thing, it is uncertain. This is how wisdom arises.
Questions and Answers:
1. Q: I remember from when I was a small novice with an immature mind, I have said something wrong against Dhamma in one occasion, or some times have used improper ways against a senior monk, or even broke my precepts back then, and thoughts about this keep coming back to my mind when I’m meditating. This disturbs the peace of the mind. How to overcome this disturbance of the mind, gain forgiveness of my senior monks, and resolve this kamma?
Luang Por Anan: You can overcome this. You should go to the daily chanting in your monastery there every day and ask forgiveness from the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha every day. And you need to develop your meditation. When you sit in meditation, you have these distractions from these negative thoughts from the past coming up. This is sanya, your memories and perceptions coming to your mind that you are attaching to as being ‘mine’. This is affecting your mind. This becomes an obstacle to your meditation. You need to contemplate these perceptions and memories as impermanent, uncertain, and not a self—do it a lot. Recollect that what you have done in the past is done already, arose and past away already. Do the best you can in the present rather than focusing on the past. The Buddha didn’t want us to think of the past. He wanted us to be in the present moment.
2. Q: When we are sick, what kind of meditation should we develop?
Luang Por Anan: When we are sick and are able to watch the breath, then use that as your meditation object. Breathe in: ‘bud’, and breathe out ‘dho’. Keep doing this until the mind is still, peaceful, and has samadhi. Then one can see the breath and the body as impermanent—something that arises and passes away. If one can see this clearly, one will see that the body is one thing and the mind another thing. Then the painful feelings can lessen or even disappear altogether. This happens because of the strength of the mind and the strength of the Dhamma.
One can use mindfulness of the in and out breath and then contemplate the pain. Or one can use mindfulness to contemplate the pain. Do it until one is able to separate the feeling from the mind. But, whatever you do, you have to develop a lot of patient endurance and try to separate the pain and the mind. You may be able to do it only sometimes, but you just have to keep at it.
3. Q: When was the first Buddha statue made?
Luang Por Anan: It was made in ancient Ghandara, where Pakistan is nowadays, by Greeks with a Greek style, a very beautiful style. It started when King Asoka sent the 500 Dhamma ambassadors to countries out from India, and some arrived in the kingdom of Ghandara around 200 years after the Buddha’s parinibbana. There they gained faith to make the first Buddha statue.
4. Q: Why are the Buddha statue’s eyes different from normal human eyes?
Luang Por Anan: People who make a Buddha statue do so out of great respect for the Buddha. If the Buddha statue was made as a normal human being, then it would seem very ordinary. To make this statue or painting, the artist has the idea that it must be something that is very special, much more special than an ordinary human being. You can imagine that, if someone was born in the time of the Buddha, the physical form of the Buddha was more special than that of any other human beings alive at the time. To make an image of the Buddha, one wants to make it very special so that whoever sees it will gain faith.
But, this is work of people. In Japan it is in the Japanese style, in Gandhara the Greek style, and so on, and so there are different Buddha images. But the compassion, loving kindness, purity, and wisdom of the Buddha remain the same.
You can pick whatever image of the Buddha that you like the most, when you look at it you feel happy—it gives you a good feeling. In your meditation, you can close your eyes and think about that image of the Buddha that you like a lot. This can bring calm and concentration to your mind.
5. Q: In the human realm we count the days and nights by the passing of the sun. How do they count days in the deva realm? They are said to shine in a way that makes the night become like day. If that is so, how do they count the time?
Luang Por Anan: It is said in the suttas that one day in the Tavatingsa heaven realm is equivalent to 100 years in the human realm. There is the history of a layman that went to visit the Tavatingsa realm for only half a day, and, when he came back, 50 years had already passed.
You can look at the mind. When one has a lot of happiness, time goes very quickly. If you are meditating and you feel very peaceful and happy, then half an hour will feel like it passes quickly. Even an hour can feel like just a moment.
However, if one is in a lot of suffering, the mind is agitated and disturbed, even one or two minutes can feel very long, like a hell realm. One can feel like a lot of time has passed then look at a clock and see that only one minute has passed. But, if one has happiness from samadhi in meditation, then even one hour can be very quick. This is how we can compare time. Maybe one hour has passed in the heaven realm, but many years have passed in the human realm in the same span.
Q: But how do they count? If they do not use the sun, how do they count days?
Luang Por Anan: They do not have dark and light like human days, they have the radiance of the devas. We can only think of it by comparing it to the human realm, which is in the middle. But devas don’t count days and nights because they have so much happiness and pleasure. If one wants to know how much time has passed, then it is possible to estimate, such as a lifespan of 90 million human years. Those with great happiness don’t count time, but one knows it goes by quickly. Those in suffering feel like its very long time. Humans are more in the middle between a lot of pleasure and happiness like devas and a lot of pain and suffering as in the lower realms. For devas, they don’t have anyone count. The devas are more lost enjoying their pleasure and happiness.
6. Q: I meditate one hour every day on the breath. After meditation, I contemplate the impermanence of the body. Sometimes during anapanasati (breath meditation), the image of a skeleton will appear. I try to focus on the breath, but the skeleton image stays. It only goes away when I disintegrate the skeleton with the mind. Should I continue to concentrate on the breath with the image of the skeleton there, or should I contemplate on the skeleton?
Luang Por Anan: Have mindfulness with the breath first. Because if you get rid of the breath, then concentration reduces, and the image can go away. At this time, the image is there, and never mind. Watch the breath and make the mind still and peaceful, good and peaceful, then the image of the skeleton can get clearer. Then one can contemplate it when the mind is more concentrated. Now, if you change the object, samadhi goes away, then the image goes away. Put mindfulness on the breath first.
7. Q: Why is it difficult to forgive even if one has high faith in the Buddha?
Luang Por Anan: This is normal and natural. We may give such as giving objects—this is easy. Giving forgiveness, overcoming one’s anger and hate, this is difficult, more difficult than normal. These negative states arise because the mind is not yet peaceful in samadhi. Wisdom has not yet arisen. If one has rapture in one’s meditation, then one can overcome and control those feelings of anger and hate. Then one can forgive. If samadhi reduces, then anger and vengefulness can increase. Then one contemplates the impermanence and uncertainty of these moods. One needs to practice this often, then these negative states can reduce gradually by themselves.
At the moment, we think that we want these negative thoughts to disappear completely. But we simply have to keep our knowing with that thought—just know it, know not to follow that thought, and then slowly be able to let it go. Just keep knowing it, then we are able to overcome it to one level—as in, we do not act on that thought. But, one day, when our samadhi is good, when we have wisdom, we can overcome it completely. In the beginning it is like this. It takes time.