Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – December 27th, 2019
L uang Por Anan: All throughout this year we have all been learning about Dhamma. Throughout this year we have had many duties and much work. This holiday period is Christmas where our Christian brothers and sisters celebrate Christmas, and we give our blessings to them, as well. This Christmas celebration, it is really about developing metta in the heart. This development of metta in the heart, or metta bhavana, this development of loving-kindness, is very important. The Buddha, when he was still developing the parami of a Bodhisatta in one of his lifetimes, was an ascetic living in the forest and had many disciples. During this lifetime, the Bodhisatta practiced metta. Although in that life he did not gain the fruits and paths of Nibbana, the development of metta led to much happiness in his heart and to all those around him who practiced this, as well.
For us in our Dhamma practice, we meditate, we chant, we recollect the virtues of the Buddha—we recollect these objects in our minds. This has a lot of benefits. When we have been doing this all through the year—recollecting the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, and developing metta—this shows that we have been developing kusala, skillfulness and goodness all throughout the year. Developing metta leads to happiness for those who practice it. Also, the individuals that develop metta are loved, much loved by beings, the devas, the divine beings, and human beings. This is a cause for beings not harming each other or having the intention to harm each other. We should develop metta frequently and consistently.
In our Dhamma practice, we follow the heart of the Buddha’s teaching, which is to avoid all evil, to develop what is skillful, and to purify the mind. So, these teachings, they come from a heart which has metta. All of our practice of dana (generosity) and sila (morality) has to come from this heart of metta. The mind that has peacefulness will have the quality of metta imbued in the mind. This develops mental stillness, calm, mindfulness, and samadhi, or concentration. This is very important. The practice of dana is important, but the importance becomes greater if dana grows and leads to sila (morality). This growth in sila is even more important and has even more benefits. Even more important than sila is bhavana, the development of the mind. We do this through practising to have stillness and calm in the mind so that the mind can be used to develop wisdom.
Homage to the Worthy One, the Blessed One, the Rightly Self-awakened One
When we listen to Dhamma, we do so with a peaceful mind. We establish awareness on the in and out breath. With right view, then we sit meditation and develop mindfulness – this is right concentration and right mindfulness, which is in the development of the Noble Eightfold Path. We understand about the arising of suffering, that it comes from causes. The causes that lead to suffering are craving and attachment.
Once, there were some Korean monks who went all around the world asking revered monks about the 4 Noble Truths. They came to Ven. Ajahn Chah to ask about this. They already understood about suffering – the discomfort in the body and discomfort in the mind, sorrow, birth, old age, sickness and death. Being with people who we don’t like; and separation from those we like. This suffering arises when it comes from causes. They asked Ajahn Chah about these 4 Noble Truths. Ajahn Chah didn’t answer in terms of the scriptures. He probably knew that they had learnt enough already. So Ajahn Chah asked them back, “Why do we eat food?” How do we eat? After we eat then what do we get?” We eat food because we are hungry. When we are hungry then we need to eat. This is simply because we have suffering. Eating food is in order to overcome suffering. The method to eat we already know. When we finish eating then fullness arises. The suffering disappears. The Korean monks liked this answer. Because it overcame the deep feeling in their mind that they didn’t have a clear understanding about this. They only understood it superficially. But, after Ajahn Chah answered in this way, they felt they had understood it clearly.
So for us, we may have been trying to train the mind for many years already. And now, this year, it is already close to the end of 2019. 1 year has passed already. The mind that we have been training the whole year, we may have gained some progress. But many people may not have progress. They may even feel like they have declined. They have many duties and work all through the year. Even when they have many days off work, they may not have used the time to practice Dhamma. They find pleasure and enjoyment to distract themselves and have restlessness in the mind.
But those who have wisdom and who are not heedless, they try to find inner peace. Staying at home, one can find a corner in the house – or a place that is peaceful. Then sit meditation, cultivate the mind, or do walking meditation. Even if it is for 15 minutes a day. We establish awareness of the in and out breath like this until the mind has stillness arise.
The arising of the still and peaceful mind relies on training. If there is no training of the mind, then the mind has no chance of becoming still. Like wild animals – like the elephant or horse – it is only after training that these animals can help us in our duties and work. If this mind is not trained, then it goes and follows all the moods and mental states that come in. The mind is deluded and then it attaches to things as being a self and really sees things as ‘me’ and ‘them’. Then one doesn’t see the Dhamma.
We have to train the mind until it has a good level of peace. Then contemplate the nature around us. In the forest, one can contemplate the trees and leaves that grow and fall according to nature. If, at our house we have a backyard or we go to a park , then we watch the trees. In the summer seasons the leaves may get dry because the trees don’t get enough water in their roots, or in some places where it is very hot there may be dangerous bush fires. Nature is like that. If we look closely, then we can see the leaves that fall have many colours – red, orange, brown – or sometimes if the strong wind comes then even the green leaves fall. We see the leaves fall to the ground, then we bring the reflection back to our own lives that it doesn’t last long in the same way.
We have been born already into this life, but this life has its own extent, or lifespan, as well. It’s not as if we have a never ending life. It doesn’t work like that. There has to come a day where it ends. We can try to calculate how many years we have left till it ends. We can think about the normal ways of the world – we have a car, we have a house like others, we have a wife or husband. We have children and grandchildren – this is the normal way of the world. Being born we need to learn; we have a family. This is fine, as well, as it’s natural for people to expand like this.
When I went to Australia there was one German couple in Adelaide who lived under a very large tree. They raised a family there and their first child was born there. Now, their family and extended family is over a thousand in number now. All year they have family gatherings. Can we see that in the family that expands, there are the old people who die and the new people who are born. And it grows like this. This is nature. Even living under a big tree their family grows bigger and bigger. This is normal in the world.
This is normal—in terms of Dhamma we must learn about the nature and the way of the body. When we are born, we then grow older and change. We call this old age and sickness. These are things we have to accept. This is our inheritance that we must embrace. And, at the end, we must receive death. But, we have a problem: when we are born and we have this body already, we don’t like the fact that we have to die and we don’t like that we have to grow old and get sick. We feel like we don’t want to have anything to do with this. This is the view that is not correct. We call this wrong view. When we have wrong view in the mind, then suffering arises, because we don’t accept even the slightest bit of truth. No one likes that we have to meet with suffering, that we have to meet with change in the body. We like having a body that is strong and permanent always.
Luang Pu Chah said something worth thinking about – he said, “If we don’t like change – then when we are born as a baby and if we just stay that way, would we like that?” Just staying as a small child, we wouldn’t like that, as well. We like the change where we grow bigger to be a young man or young woman. We have strength and can look after ourselves. But it doesn’t just stay unchanging like that. It is natural that life has its own length, or lifespan. We know that if we buy a car, it has its own lifespan, such that one day we will need to fix it. We may need to repair it because of rust, or the engine that we use a long time declines according to its nature and how long it is being used. This we understand. We can accept this because it is a material possession. If it breaks down and has changed – we can find a new car to replace it. For people with money, they may not have any suffering coming up from this.
But for this body that declines, the people with money may be able to repair it for a period of time, but to make it better and to overcome any health issues completely—this won‘t be possible. Even if we have money and wealth as large as a mountain, or have many bank accounts full of money, we won’t be able to have this body endure and stay for good.
The Buddha was one who had great wisdom, who was victorious against the mental defilements, cutting them off completely. He had kindness and compassion for all living beings, where he went through countless lifetimes of birth and death in order for us to learn Dhamma, overcome suffering, and purify our minds. The Buddha said that the physical form is impermanent, its nature is to decay. He addressed the Bhikkhus—Bhikkhus are those who see the drawbacks of the round of endless birth and death. This can also be a layperson who knows that the physical form is like this.
So don’t be heedless. When we are heedless, then we think that we will live to an average age of 80 years. We can count about how many years we have left. But, it isn’t sure if we will get to 80 years. We may live for longer than that, but maybe not by much. However, there are many who don’t make it to 80 years of age. We contemplate that this life isn’t very long. We can see that 2019 has passed by already. This time that passes goes by so quickly. If we think back in the past to the moment when we were born, then 10, 15, 20 years, or 30 years pass so quickly. The lifespan of humans isn’t for long. It’s compared to the dew on the tip of the grass. When the sun comes out then the dew dries up and is gone very quickly. This one lifetime is not long, so we have to be determined.
We are to the end of the year now and we can reflect on the result of our Dhamma practice. This whole year, how much happiness and suffering have we had? Has it reduced? Do we understand more Dhamma? If it isn’t more, then, “Hmph, this year has passed as usual, but, the coming year, I will be determined to train my mind.” We will be determined to give alms, make merit, at home we will practice Dhamma, and at work we will have as much mindfulness as we can. If we have many distracted thoughts, then we can chant the virtues of the Buddha beginning with “Itipiso” 108 times in one go, or chant the “Jinapanjara Gatha”, or, whatever verse that we like, we chant that one a lot. This trains the mind to have mindfulness and to have calm arise. We can do it this way.
For some people they can train to reduce in greed, hatred, and delusion by getting an aluminium food tin, and, each time anger arises, they put in a small stone. When they have a time of a lot of greed, a lot of restlessness in the mind, then they put in a stone. When they have delusion and attachment to the point where it leads to inner restlessness, they can’t eat or sleep, then they put a stone in. Then, at the end of the year, we can count how many stones are there in the tin. Is it a lot? If it is a lot, then it means that we haven’t had much results with our training of the mind. We then have to re-establish our determination that this new year we will train better than the year that has passed.
We can see that when it comes to the end of the year, we want to get new things. We want a big bonus from our work. In whichever year a company may give a bonus that is more or the same as last year—for instance, if last year was a bonus of 6 months of pay, this year is 7 months – then it is good. However, if it’s 6 months – then that’s just right. But, because the economy is not good this year, it might be down to 4 or 5 months of pay. We may wish that we have a certain amount of bonus, but when it’s less than what we wished for, then we may feel bad. But, if we think about it, it still is better than getting nothing. Because we still get something. We can buy some new things: new clothes, travel and go see new things overseas, or buy a new house, a new car, and so on.
We have the hope of getting better things. But the new thing that arises which is much more important is the newly born mind with more wisdom. The mind that is born new must be a mind that has mindfulness, concentration, and wisdom. Morality, concentration, and wisdom are what polish the mind from its usual state, which is a state that arises under the power of the defilements and is covered by the defilements. When the eye sees a form, the ear hears a sound, or whenever there is sense contact, then attachment arises. We could say it is still the old mind. However it is actually a new mind, but it follows from the old mind because it still has the old things there. These are the defilements that are like the rust that eats up the mind. We then have to make the new mind arise through the training and development of the mind.
This is the path that the Buddha found and taught us. The path that opens the heart to become awakened. The heart can become the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha if it sees the Dhamma. If we see the Dhamma, then we see the Buddha, we have Dhamma in the heart, and the heart becomes a Sangha because it relies on the teachings from the Buddha or from a disciple of the Buddha.
So we have to come to train the mind. In this new year that is approaching, we have to be determined to make our mind new. We will have new things come in. The new exterior things are normal for the world, but we need to make the new things arise in the mind. Make the mind better than in the past. And this comes from mental cultivation.
May you be very determined in this life. We have a very good chance to train in the Dhamma. We have met the Dhamma of the Buddha. The chance to meet the Dhamma and to have faith in it, this is something not easy to get at all. It relies on our building of spiritual accumulation and merit. If you still have birth, then may you have completeness, until you reach nibbana.
May you all grow in blessings.
I rejoice with all of the chanting that you all have been doing throughout the year. This chanting has a great many benefits. Venerable Ajahn Mun said that to chant with your full voice and to be fully intent to chant, then the chant will spread to even a hundred thousand universes. To chant clearly so that it is clear to someone listening, this actually spreads even further than just some people around you—its really limitless how far it can travel as this is coming from the chanting of the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. The chanting of the virtues of the Buddha has great benefit to oneself and is able to spread great distances. Chanting can reach the deva realms, brahma god realms, and even to the lower realms of suffering or the lower hell realms, where even they can receive some of the sound there, as well.
Ajahn Mun taught us all to be intent in doing our chanting in the morning, in the evening, and to do so with our full voice—being very intent to chant. This then makes it very sacred and is something that has great benefits. All through the year we have been developing metta and we have also been giving our anumodana, rejoicing at the goodness that others have done. With every Dhamma session we have we will rejoice by giving our sadhu at the end, like we do, and Venerable Ajahn Mun said that this has great benefits.
Ajahn Mun said that once, when he was in Chiang Mai, the north of Thailand, there was a villager who gave almsfood to Ajahn Mun. Ajahn Mun taught this villager how to say ‘sadhu’ and to say it out loud. That night, a devata (heavenly being) came to Ajahn Mun and said that they had heard someone saying ‘sadhu’ and so they went looking for where it had come from, then they found Ajahn Mun there. Ajahn Mun explained that there was a villager who was giving alms, and so he was teaching him how to say ‘sadhu’. The devata then rejoiced at this. So the devata gain even more happiness from giving their ‘sadhu’ and anumodana.
This human realm and the deva realm are connected. By giving our ‘sadhu’ and rejoicing at others, the devas can also gain fullness in their minds. As for ourselves, we gain more happiness in this life. This is one of the causes for us to attain to magga phala nibbana, or the paths and fruits of nibbana.
Someone once asked a question: “If we are travelling to busy places and there are other people and if we chant just internally, we don’t chant out loud, then does this have benefit or not?” I answered that chanting internally, reciting the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, has benefit and even this can spread to encompass ten thousand universes. If one is chanting out loud then this can go even further—a hundred thousand universes or even limitless distances. So, we should make time and chant even when we are travelling to other places, whether by car, train, or plane, we can chant internally: chant ‘Itipiso…, Svakkhato…, Supatipanno…’—the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha, maybe 9 times, and we should try to chant it everyday. This can bring up peace and calm in the mind.
Questions and Answers:
When we are walking on almsround what should we think?
Luang Por Anan:
When we go for almsround, it is important for us to be composed and restrained in body and mind. We should walk with our gaze directed a bit down maybe just 2 meters ahead, and we should not let the mind get distracted. We can recollect the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, or we can go through the chant ‘itipiso…’ as we go along. When we meet with the donors who offer the food, we should try to compose our mind and we can hold the bowl out for them. By keeping our mind in a wholesome state we can have metta (loving-kindness) at all times, then the donors receive a greater benefit from their offerings. But it is also important while walking in a city that you keep an eye out for cars or many dangers that might come up. This is an aspect of wisdom that we can cultivate.
One other point to consider is that sometimes we might run into foolish people or people with wrong views, and they may try to harass the monks and novices such as by asking, “What are you doing begging in the city, how come you don’t have a job and take care of yourself?”. People can ask you these kinds of questions, and sometimes you meet these kinds of people living even in Thailand, a Buddhist country. So, it is important that if we run into these kinds of people that we can still maintain our restraint and composure and certainly not try to argue back with them.
Also, here in Thailand we have quite a few dogs, and frequently the monks here have a little trouble where some dogs bite the monks. Sometimes, the monks need to protect themselves with an umbrella, for example, or by looking around when receiving alms, because the dogs can come from behind.
Lord Buddha has long hair, so why do the monks have to cut their hair so short?
Luang Por Anan:
The Buddha’s hair does grow after his enlightenment but it grows in small spirals and it doesn’t grow out long. But, for the monks, if we do not shave our heads, our hair would grow out long and we may look the same as lay people. So the Buddha laid down a rule that the monks need to shave their heads. The monks and novices shave periodically and they do not let their hair grow out long. If the Buddha did not lay down this rule, then the monks would probably grow their hair and have all different kinds of hairstyles and there would be a lot of chaos. So it is better to have this rule in place.