Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – August 10th, 2018

One can listen to this talk here.

L uang Por Anan: Welcome to all of you. This Friday let us learn about Dhamma together. All of us have learnt about Dhamma and would have likely heard about one arahant monk, who was the son of a King in India. He had the faith to ordain as a monk and became an arahant. He was one possessed of great wisdom. And he became the great teacher of all the Zen monks in China. This monk’s name is Venerable Arahant Da Mo. When he was still a prince, he met one venerable monk, who he had never met before. He asked this monk, “Before I was born, who was I, and after I am born, who am I?” He used these two sentences to contemplate, until wisdom arose. Until he gave up all the happiness and pleasures of the palace that he would have got as a King.

He left it all to search for the true Dhamma following this venerable teacher. He studied and practiced with this teacher until he succeeded in becoming an arahant. And before the teacher was about to pass away, the teacher ordered him to go to spread the Dhamma in China, which he did. He would gain the name “The Great Teacher Da Mo”, and he was the first to build the Shaolin temple. When he went to China, in some monasteries he saw the monks meditating for many days. But he asked them, sitting like this, how would one attain this way? The monks had great doubts. But in the end, he taught the monks to contemplate with wisdom and many become arahants. This led to the Zen tradition spreading throughout China.

Today, I have one story to tell you from the Zen tradition for us to study together. There was one man who had the thought that his own life had no meaning. He was bored and weary of life. He couldn’t find the way to get out of this feeling. He had turmoil in his heart and a lot of suffering. He couldn’t find happiness at all. Then, one day, he met with a Zen teacher named Venerable Teacher Uji. He asked the teacher for advice on how to gain true happiness. He wanted to get the suffering out of his heart. The teacher Uji didn’t say anything. He just picked up one bamboo basket and took him to the bank of a small river. There was a cool breeze and the teacher Uji and the disciple walked along the river bank.

The teacher Uji asked the man, “Do you see the stones along this path? From this spot, walk one step, pick up one stone, and put the stone in the basket on your back. Agreed?” The man nodded in agreement. The man didn’t understand the intention of the monk, but because of his faith and confidence in the teacher, when he was told to pick up one stone and walk one step and pick up another stone, he would do it. This man walked and saw many different types of stones on the river bank. He picked up the stones and put them in the basket. He picked them up and thought with confusion in the mind, “Why is the teacher telling me to pick up stones? It’s a waste of time. I want to learn about Dhamma. I want to ask about Dhamma so that I can overcome the suffering in the heart. So why is he telling me to pick up stones? After I pick them up, what will I get out of it?”

He didn’t see the benefit of this at all. And he thought this way many times over. His mind was greatly confused, “Why do I have to pick the stones up?” He thought about this question over and over. But he still continued to do it. He walked one step and picked up one stone, walked another step and picked up another stone. He did this until he was very tired and weary, until all the thoughts and doubts that he had, and all the suffering he had before this had reduced. He kept continuing to pick up stones willingly because he had strong faith in the teacher Uji.

In no long time he felt very tired. The basket on his back was getting very heavy. And the teacher Uji saw this and knew that it was the right time to uplift the man’s mind and teach him. When the man got to the end of the path, the teacher asked him how he felt. The man shook his head and said, “The basket is getting heavier and heavier. I almost can’t lift it.”

The teacher smiled happily. “Do you know what is the reason your heart isn’t able to be happy? Because you are carrying too many things.” Then the teacher took a stone out of the basket one at a time. He said, “This stone is having power.”, and he threw it in the river. “This stone is wealth.”, and he threw it in the river. “This stone is pleasure, pleasures of all types.”, and he threw it in the river. “This stone is our anxieties. This stone is loneliness. This stone is proliferating thoughts. This stone is worry.” And with each stone he explained it and threw it into the river. “This stone is thinking and worry about the past and future.” He threw it in the river.

The man didn’t just listen to the teaching but contemplated it as well. The man picked up the basket once more and it felt light and easy to lift. And suddenly the mindfulness arose, that just to put it down and it’s happiness already. If one just is able to put it down, then happiness will overflow. Each day one should train in putting things down. This is letting go. Letting go of rank and status, which makes us anxious. Letting go of losing and winning, which makes us exhausted. Letting go of gaining and losing, letting go of the things that when we lose them, they make our heart hurt. Letting go of the relationships that we have that lead us to suffering and worry. Letting go of the pain and the hurt that have been persisting in our hearts for a long time, from different experiences and feelings that are of the past. Let it all go. Let go of suffering, sadness, loneliness, and all forms of sorrows. And this makes our life easier – we come back to joy and brightness again.

Putting down is happiness. Putting down is true happiness. This man gained insight and saw the Dhamma. He bowed and paid his respects to the teacher Uji, who had taught him and made him have deep understanding. Originally having great suffering and trying to search for happiness but not finding it, now he could understand in a direct and easy way, that putting down makes him have happiness. Picking things up is like picking up more and more stones and carrying them around, which it adds to the heaviness of the heart and weakens it. This is a Zen way of teaching that leads to the sudden arising of wisdom.

And this story is similar to Ven. Ajahn Chah, who was known to be the Zen teacher of Northeast Thailand. Ven. Ajahn Chah taught one man who came to pay respects to him. The man had great suffering in his heart. Ajahn Chah gave him one bucket of water to hold, and talked to him about other things first. He talked to him until Ajahn Chah felt that the man was more at ease. And then Ajahn Chah asked him, “Hey, holding that bucket, is it heavy?” Because this man had been holding the bucket for a long time already. He had forgotten about his suffering a lot already. The man replied that it was heavy. Then Ajahn Chah said , “If it is heavy, then why don’t you put it down?” In the process of putting the bucket down, the man gained the wisdom that the thing that was heavy in his heart, why doesn’t he put it down? So he let it go at the same time as he put down the bucket. He let go of the attachments to the different things that were causing him suffering in his heart. He got it all out of his heart. Here, Luang Pu Chah taught in a Zen-like way, similar to the teacher Uji teaching his disciple.

Paticca samuppada means dependent origination. And it is very deep Dhamma. It is very difficult to understand into the causes of arising and passing in dependent origination. Our wisdom will not reach it. Because this was a Dhamma that the Buddha contemplated to realize awakening. But these teachers taught in a wise and skilful way so that the disciple could understand this deep Dhamma and reach it. To teach them that suffering arises because of attachment. When we learn this story, we can contemplate and try to train in this way until we can have wisdom arise, little by little… until we can let go more and more. Gain wisdom like the venerable teachers Uji and Ajahn Chah teaching their disciples in a Zen way, until they can get to the heart of the Dhamma. Ven. Ajahn Chah said often that suffering arises because of attachment, and the suffering continues on because of craving. So we should try to let go of attachments and don’t let suffering continue on; that is, we let go of desire. So that all of us may ultimately reach to the heart of the Dhamma. May you all grow in blessings and in Dhamma. 

Questions and Answers:
Luang Por Anan: We can see in the Zen style the teachings can be short and simple, and people with wisdom can understand quickly.

Q: How do we let go? In the story it sounds easy, but I think it can be hard.

Luang Por Anan: One needs wisdom. If not enough wisdom, then keep practicing.

Q: Is not having hopes or expectations a form of letting go?

Luang Por Anan: Yes, partly. One puts down hopes and expectations then one can see for oneself that one feels lighter and happier.

Q: How to let go of both mental and physical suffering, like illness?

Luang Por Anan: One lets go of mental and physical suffering in the same way. Contemplate ageing, sickness, and death as inevitable and normal. This is not easy. But what happens when we accept ageing, sickness, and death? If we do not accept them, then we suffer a lot. So keep practicing.

Q: What is the best daily routine in the monastery for monks?

Luang Por Anan: Letting go is the same for monks as it is for laypeople. One needs to be careful of thinking that as a monk, you are higher or better than others. Attachment to this is wrong view and conceit. Attaching to a system of training and a schedule can just be another source of attachment. Monks should contemplate to let go of even a good schedule. As the leader of many monks do you have any suffering?

Q: No. I just want to know what is a good schedule for the rains retreat.

Luang Por Anan: Sit and walk meditation a lot. Sleep little. Like some monks here do not sleep at all at night.

Q: A 30 year old man called me. His mother had killed herself. He was suffering and crying a lot. He asked where she was born and why people commit suicide. How should I answer?

Luang Por Anan: When people kill themselves they are suffering very much and their minds are very dark. They look for a way out of this pain and cannot find a way out. So they think the death of their body will be an escape. Monks should send metta to the person who was died. This metta can be received by that person, help them overcome their suffering, and help them come to a better state of being.

Q: Does suicide become a habit from past lives and then will happen again in future lives?

Luang Por Anan: Yes this is possible, one sees it in the texts. If one likes a certain food, for example, liking that food can become a habit that goes with you into the future. Similarly, suicide can become a habit. But one can make new choices and new habits.

My teacher met a man who really wanted to be a vulture in his next life. He thought it was good that vultures only eat animals that are dead already. But he had only done good acts in his life and thought he needed to do bad things in order to be reborn as an animal. But my teacher told him that if he did not let go of this thought, then he would be reborn as a vulture. In fact, this monk said, he had been a vulture in past lives.

Q: If one kills oneself, I think there needs to be a lot of aversion in the mind to overcome natural self love and self preservation. Then one would be born in a bad state. So how to change this habit of suicide?

Luang Por Anan: One can change one’s beliefs as a human. Also sometimes people can be reborn in the same or a higher place if they have some merit to help them, even if they kill themselves. Some monks in the suttas had a good rebirth even after suicide due to their good merits. And some could be waiting in the place of death. Just don’t kill yourself and don’t worry about what happens to others.

Q: When something happens that makes us angry, how to we stop the anger from happening in the first place?

Luang Por Anan: Have mindfulness. Be patient. And do not speak out of anger.