Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – August 2nd, 2019
L uang Por Anan: As the world grows in material prosperity, so, too, does the darkness in human hearts. In India there are places that are less developed; perhaps in those places older traditions can be maintained.
Today we talk on wisdom and Zen. Zen means to awaken quickly. This relies on a foundation of good samadhi, or concentration. Luang Pu Chah would say that Zen is for grown-ups—this means that one needs samadhi to understand Zen.
Welcome to all the laypeople, monks, and novices. This Friday we all learn Dhamma as usual. There was one disciple of Ven. Ajahn Mun who taught in a Zen like manner. This was Ven. Ajahn Tongrat, who was Ven. Ajahn Chah’s teacher. Ven. Ajahn Tongrat would use a method to teach his disciples where they wouldn’t know that their teacher was testing them and teaching them deep Dhamma. There was one day when Ven. Ajahn Tongrat led a group of his disciples to go wandering to find a secluded place for meditation. As they were walking there was one cow going in the other direction, and after they had passed the cow, Ven. Ajahn Tongrat said, “Just then we passed a male cow, did anyone see it?”
Two of the disciples said, “Ajahn, it was a female cow.”
Ven. Ajahn Tongrat said it was a male cow.
The disciple said it was a female cow – because it really was a female cow. They had seen the organ of the female cow. It really was female.
The disciples argued and their faces turned red. Here they were definitely right. How could the Ajahn see it as a male cow? Both of the disciples had seen that it was a female cow. The disciples were showing their knowledge and expertise, and they were definitely right.
Ven. Ajahn Tongrat then asked them, “So who was it that originally named a male cow or a female cow?”
The disciple was aware that he had made a mistake. He had had a lapse in his mindfulness. He had let the mind go and proliferate, and he saw just the exterior. He saw it as an animal, an individual, a self, a me and them. He had seen it as a cow, and the sex of it. So he had mindfulness and asked for forgiveness from his teacher Ven. Ajahn Tongrat. Ven. Ajahn Tongrat didn’t take the issue any further. This was the Zen teaching style of Ven. Ajahn Tongrat. He taught for his disciples to know and to have mindfulness. To reduce their ego and conceit first.
And we look at another famous Zen story. The story of the tea overflowing the teacup. It shows that in China and Japan they prefer to drink tea, over coffee like is widespread these days in other parts of Asia. The story was that there was one venerable Zen teacher named Nan-in. He was very famous throughout the country. A professor who was also respected throughout the country came to visit Ven. Nan-in and to ask to learn about the Zen Buddhist teachings. Ven. Nan-in welcomed him and poured the tea into the professor’s tea cup until it was full and then kept on pouring. It was overflowing, the professor saw it, could no longer restrain himself, and he blurted out “How can you pour more in!?” In this day and age, we would say he got angry.
Ven. Nan-in said, “For you as well, how can I put any more in to you? You are full of thoughts and views, following your own attachments and opinions. These two things will make you unable to understand Zen Buddhism. This is called “the teacup that is overflowing”.”
The great teachers would remind us children to have mindfulness to know what we are thinking, and for us to know what is overflowing and what is not overflowing. May you find the path to this.
And in the old days, there was one Brahmin Tissa Pamokha, who wanted to mould steel to make a waist belt. He did this because he was afraid his stomach would burst because his knowledge was overflowing. Let us contemplate the meaning of this. We ourselves may be overflowing.
We may be full of knowledge and nothing more can go in. For some individuals, that which overflows may even harm others. And we can think that whatever overflows is that which is unusable. Please think and reflect on whether this is true or not. That which overflows out, we can’t use. Like the physical body can only receive that which is of benefit to it. So the true acariyadhamma, the noble teachings and truths – there is no day that it overflows. May you think and reflect on the teacher’s Dhamma. Or the real Dhamma. Does it have the characteristic of overflowing? If it can’t overflow – that means that that which overflows is not the acariyadhamma, the true teachings from the great teachers. It’s not Dhamma.
If it flows out and goes away then that is good, too. And on to speak on a deep level, “The true original mind, at no time does it overflow. That which overflows is the mind that proliferates. That which makes the mind proliferate, that is not the true mind. The many things that overflow out of the mind are not the true mind at all. What is the true mind? It has nothing to make it proliferate. So you have to find the true mind, the real mind. This is important and what we need to learn about in Buddhism.
And even since the time of the Buddha there were similar stories. There was one extremely knowledgeable teacher who would teach the scriptures, named Ven. Tuccho Pothila. But when he paid respects to the Buddha, the Buddha called him Venerable Empty Scripture every time. Ven. Tuccho Pothila was very ashamed. He had vast knowledge and many disciples but the Buddha called him Ven. Empty Scripture. He looked for someone to teach him but couldn’t find anyone willing to, as he was a great teacher already. He finally found one arahant novice.
The young novice said, “I can teach you, but you must listen and follow everything I say. Put your robes on properly and whatever I say you must do it.”
Ven. Tuccho Pothila accepted. The young novice told him to go walk into the muddy bog. Ven. Tuccho Pothila walked into the bog until it got to his neck. The novice said to stop and come back out. Here, the ego of Ven. Tuccho Pothila had shrunk. The novice taught that there is a termite mound with many holes and for him to close all the holes. Then the termite in that mound will come out, and he will be able to catch it. In this body there are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind. He closed all of them, then looked into the self and the mental defilements in the heart. Ven. Tuccho Pothila already had great knowledge in the scriptures, and when he gathered all his energies to have samadhi, he could restrain his heart and then contemplate to develop wisdom. Then he was able to attain to becoming an arahant with all the special abilities. This was all because he reduced his ego and conceit. He wasn’t a teacup that was overflowing.
But to get to this point, in the beginning, he had to follow the teachings of the Buddha. He had no refuge so he had to rely on the novice to teach him. Then he could succeed in understanding the mind and the heart. This is like the beginning teachings in the forest kammatthana tradition. When one stayed with a venerable teacher, like with Luang Pu Chah, he tried to teach his disciples to reduce their ego and conceit. To leave all of that in the front of the monastery. Be one who is easy to tell what to do, easy to teach. Then when one receives teachings, one will be able to practice them and will get true results in their Dhamma practice. May you all grow in blessings.
Questions and Answers:
Luang Por Anan: We have likely had experience ourselves with holding on to views and opinions like in the video.
1. Q:Whatever we experience, the ego comes in between the mind and the object being known; I feel like my own views are always coming in. It seems hard to see not-self. What is the way to see the self arising in the midst of experience?
Luang Por Anan: This is normal and you do not need to worry. In the beginning it is like this—it is hard to see impermanence, not-self, and emptiness. Do not worry. Do the easy things first—chant, do giving, practice morality, and, in this, one has a sense of self, but it is a sense of self that is doing good. Practice chanting and meditation every day. You do not need to see anatta, not self, right away. Keep practicing like this and seeing anatta will arise on its own. You do not need to worry, this is something that happens on its own as one keeps practicing and laying down the appropriate causes. When the causes are gathered sufficiently, then you will see not-self.
Q: It seems one needs patience.
Luang Por Anan: This is #1: one needs patience with Dhamma practice. In the beginning, the mind is 100% chaotic. Then, after practicing some, it gets 1% peace and 99% chaos. Keep going. Peace increases, patience increases. One still has anger, greed, a sense of self, and so on. Keep practicing concentration and lovingkindness. Later one will be able to overcome moods with wisdom. Others times it can take many days to overcome a mood. Use patience. You can even use ‘patience, patience’ as a meditation mantra that you repeat internally.
2. Q: If I do not have sila, virtue, will I still be able to share merit with others?
Luang Por Anan: A good mind is bright and pure with a good energy. A mind with no sila is dark and hot, and if you try to spread the darkness and heat, then what you are giving is bad—others do not want it. One thinks that one is giving something good, but really it is something bad. Would you want to receive rotten food on alms round?
3. Q: I notice my ego is there, but it is hard to subdue. Another person says to me, “If you cannot subdue your ego, then how can I have faith in Buddhism?” This especially happens when having a conflict.
Luang Por Anan: Dhamma practice does not make one perfect right away. In the beginning, bad things decrease. Fights and conflicts can last a shorter time. The mind starts to have more coolness. The ego diminishes. Be patient, be restrained in morality, and, if you are arguing, be the one to stop first. Accept the other and concede first. This is knowing how to keep cool and peaceful.
4. Q: I want to give advice to my family, but I am afraid I might offend someone.
Luang Por Anan: Look at the time and place, look for an opportunity, and see if the situation is appropriate or not. Do good practice first. Build your own heart in goodness first. Then one’s family will see for themselves. People listen to a good person.
5. Q: I heard news about two parents, who were students, who killed their newborn baby with toilet cleaner. How do we compare killing newborns with abortion?
Luang Por Anan: We can contemplate that as the world develops in material wealth, so, too, human hearts grow in darkness. The parents had no virtue. They killed their child, and this is wrong in terms of the law as well as in terms of morality.
6. Q: I feel like an overflowing teacup. I meditate and my mind feels quiet and peaceful, but I feel that I gain no wisdom.
Luang Por Anan: See the impermanence of the breath. Contemplate that you were once a child, then grew up, now you are older, and someday you will die. Reflect on this often.
7. Q: There was a 3 or 4 year old child in India who took its family to the site of its death in its previous life. The child was correct and they dug up a dead body at that location. The child identified the person who murdered them in that last life, then the murderer confessed. The child had a mark on its head that corresponded to a scar on the head of the corpse from the previous life.
Luang Por Anan: This is possible. There is a story from the Buddhist texts of a wealthy and stingy man who died and was reborn as a child of beggars. The child went to his former house and wanted to enter it. The man’s son from his last life, who was now the owner of the house, did not want to let the beggar child in. The son did not believe that the child was his father who had been reborn. The Buddha smiled and told them the story. They asked the child where it had buried his wealth in his last life. The child found the correct location, and then the son accepted that the child was previously his father. These things are possible. The strength of memory lies in the mind, and, in the case of the Indian child, he could have had a strong intention to catch the murderer.
8. Q: A family member craves food. This person has high cholesterol and knows that they should not eat certain things, but they do it anyway. They also know about having mindfulness with cravings. What should I do?
Luang Por Anan: You can give a book on this topic to them on their birthday or another holiday. Have a talk with them—say that you love them, want them to live long, and ask them: do they want to be healthy? What should they do to be healthy? Also be a role model, yourself.