Wednesday, December 26, 2012

New year blessings The gift of inner calm

 The blessings for all 
New year blessings
The gift of inner calm 

By  Phra Paisal Visalo
 Published: 28/12/2010 at 12:00 AM
BangkokPost Newspaper section: Outlook

       The New Year is a gift-giving occasion. However, we mostly think about giving gifts to others, overlooking giving ourselves a gift, too, particularly what is valuable to our minds.

       Giving clothes, hosting feasts, taking someone out to dinner, to the movies, or the likes ... these are the gifts that please the physical senses.

       But our mind needs some treats, too. This is an important matter, but much overlooked and seriously lacking. What is it that the mind needs? It is inner calm and happiness, which we are in great shortage. That is why most people are yearning for inner calm.

        We should take the time to infuse our mind with the calm within. Happiness and inner tranquility will only emerge when we have mindfulness, mental concentration, and insight.  These things will nurture equanimity in our mind, which will help us to live our life smoothly.

       I would like to suggest that we use this New Year to give our mind the gift of inner calm. And we should not do this only on New Year's Day. We should keep on doing it, because every day is a new day for us. For the rest of the 364 days, I would like to suggest that we give a present to ourselves by living a life of mindfulness, by constantly practising meditation, and by cultivating insight, for they will eventually transform into inner peace and happiness in our hearts.

       Just a little bit of meditation every day is very beneficial. The time we wash and clean our body each day amounts to more than an hour. We spend just as much time nurturing our body by consuming food. But we don't pay much attention to our mind. We should pay more attention to our inner life. Let's give our mind tranquility. If we can do so, our New Year will be meaningful, and our life will be more worthwhile.

       The New Year is also a blessing-giving time. It is traditional to wish each other good fortune, such as longevity, glowing health, happiness, a strong body, and work success. However, good fortune comprises both opportunity and one's readiness. Opportunity means the situation and timing, which involve many other people, something that is dependent on many external factors.

       Winning first prize in the lottery. Being promoted to higher position. Winning a raffle. These things are often considered luck, which comes from external factors. But to have real good fortune it also depends on our internal factor - our readiness within. We might hit gold, but if we are not ready, it will turn into defective luck. We might win tens of millions of baht from winning the lottery, which is indeed a rare luck. But if we don't know how to spend money wisely, or if we spend it on heavy drinking and heavy partying, our life will plunge and probably end up in deep debt. Being drunk from celebrating the prize money, we might crash into electricity poles when driving home. This is broken luck. The opportunity is there. But it turns damaging because the internal factor, our mind, is not ready.

       If we want to have good fortune, it is not enough to wait for an opportunity. We must prepare ourselves to be ready; mental readiness, in particular. It comes from being mindful, insightful, careful, and knowing enough. This is in accordance with what I mentioned earlier - the need to give ourself a present through the cultivation of mindfulness, mental concentration, and insight. If we have these mores, our mind will be calm and composed and our life will constantly meet good fortune. If we are ready within - being mindful, insightful and prudent - we can turn every opportunity into good fortune that makes our life meaningful. Even when opportunity is not at hand, or when we face obstacles, our readiness within will help us transform any adversity into good fortune. When we fail in our work or our love life, we will be able to see it as not a misfortune, but good luck - that is, if we know how to think wisely, and how to learn from what happened. If we have discernment and mindfulness, then we have the inner readiness to turn a crisis into luck and opportunity.

       For this New Year, I wish you all the attainment of inner peace. I wish you the opportunity to help one another cultivate mental concentration, practise meditation, and nurture happiness within. I wish you becoming the source of moral support for one another to develop the mental readiness, so you can turn whatever you are facing into opportunity.
May your mind be governed with mindfulness and shining with firm mindfulness so you have access to luck and opportunity at all times. I wish you success both in life and spirituality. Whatever comes into contact with your mind, may it be the source of high spirits that emanate to your loved ones, relatives, and friends around you.
This is an edited translation of Phra Paisal Visalo's New Year talk at the Komol Kheemthong Foundation in 2003.

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

          Natural Duty for Its Own Sake.

By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

       Perhaps he thought that he was working to repay his debt to America which had done so much for the Jews. If he only thought of repaying the debt, then he would stop when it was paid. This needs to be done away with. The 'me' and the 'you' need not play a part anymore, leaving only one's natural duty and doing that duty for duty's sake. Thus, one can work with an empty mind — free of 'me' and 'mine,' of profit and loss, of success and failure — a mind most sharp, profound, and penetrating. Such a mind is just like having eyes of fire that instantly incinerate whatever one sets them upon. The empty mind sees through everything, just like the magical hermit we mentioned at the beginning.
      Of course people like Einstein didn't work for any personal benefit like that hermit who thought only of itself. Somebody like Einstein was better than that - he worked for the sake of the work, performed his duty for the sake of the duty. At that time there was neither 'me' nor 'us' nor 'ours.' There was nobody. At that time, Einstein wasn't a Jew, he wasn't indebted to the Americans, he was just a pure mind with pure intelligence. Thus he was able to discover something that ordinary people could never find. He could forget unimportant things, unnecessary things, in a way that's hard to believe: whether he had eaten or not, where things were - he didn't need to know any of that. On his work desk there was a bigger mess than any rat's nest or cow's pen because his mind wasn't concerned with how pretty things looked, or what his work desk was like. His mind focused only on going deeper into what he was researching.
       Nowadays, most people work with minds abashed and nervous. In general, whatever people are doing we lack confidence and don't pay all that much attention. We're worrying about whether we'll be successful or not, how much we'll be paid, and who will pay us. Our thoughts are all concerned with 'me' and 'mine,' which creates intense pressure and stress for us all the time. Their work desk is full of matters of me and mine pressuring them. Thus, they have headaches, their managers have headaches and have nervous breakdowns because they can't drop their concerns and worries. Busy mind has trouble thinking things through, is unorganized, and confuses things. This gives us an idea of how important it is to use wisdom in our work. Even when we consider rather crude or coarse work of the sort that most people think doesn't take much intelligence, such as sweeping and cleaning, if one sweeps and cleans at the same time that one is angry, it's like falling into hell while still alive. When we're sweeping the floors of our home, wiping the counters, if we're angry, how can we do a good job? If we're thinking only of pleasing the boss, of getting some reward or prize, this craving or hope.... there's no way that we will escape suffering and that work isn't as good as we might think - not as good as someone who forgets all those things and focuses completely on the duty at hand.
       Doing any kind of work with hopes of getting something in return is a matter of 'me' and 'mine' that people are so familiar with they don't even notice. If someone is watching and ready to give a reward, people will work, but when nobody is watching they do something else. Or they work only in front of someone with power or authority or someone they like, but behind their backs they do something different. These people are the kind who bow to your face and trick you behind your back. There's no way we can expect very good results from such behavior. When people work with a restless, scattered mind, concerned with, worried about what they must do to please someone, what that person will do for one, then one can't work with the full strength of one's heart. This also is called not working with a void mind. When we don't work with a void or free mind, we'll never have results as good as when the mind is free, even if it's exactly the same work, exactly the same place.
       If we're thinking about pleasing the boss, or a lover, or whoever, the first thought, the first feeling, the first decision is enough. But when we set to the work, we must work with a void heart without any 'me' or 'mine,' without any 'us' or 'them.' There's just mindfulness and wisdom. Then our labor will gather itself appropriately. Our strength is used wisely with a mind that is neither scattered nor sloppy, even in ordinary housework like dusting and mopping. In the end the results come back that the boss or our spouse is 100% pleased. If one worked with a mind all busy and bothered, there would be carelessness in this and that - some spots, some dust, some stains will remain.
      Working with a busy mind always leads to carelessness. This is because the mind isn't 100% settled in the work. It's busy with thoughts according to one's desires and hopes. Thus if we seek to work with good results, we must always work with an empty mind - empty of me and mine, gain and loss, and the like. Then there won't be any headaches and the work no longer has the meaning of work; it becomes something pleasurable, like a hobby.
       I spoke about this the other day - about working and giving up all meaning of work so that it becomes a game. Then it becomes fun. The trick of working with an empty mind (cit-waang) is making our work enjoyable. When working with a busy mind (cit-wun), work is suffering. So by now you should understand that there are just these two ways of working: with a void mind and with a busy mind.
       If we work with a busy mind full of me and mind, gain and loss, profit and the like which are all connected with me and mine, then the 108 things swarm our heads creating scattered restlessness. When the mind is void, there are no such feelings to disturb one. Wisdom is left alone, like when Darwin contemplated the plants and trees until squirrels would climb on his head. This means all the strength of the mind was used without any disturbance. This gives us an idea of the difference between working with a void mind and working with a busy mind.

      A special point is that some people have the character or the blessing to work like this quite easily. You can call it what you like - a blessing, or whatever - but it's easy for them. Some people don't have this kind of character, and some have nervous disorders that make it extremely difficult. Those who are neurotic, unstable, or crazy, just can't do it. One needs the punna to have a fit body/mind according to nature's standards, and that they have been trained and developed from childhood, to have a mind that is stable (look up 'B') such that one can train samadhi and do it easily.
       Working with an empty mind is difficult for people in general whose hearts are no longer fit. This is why there are so few geniuses. It's not that nature stipulates some fixed rule that geniuses are rare. It's mainly humanity's own failure. I don't know who to blame for this, this failing of humanity - of parents, of children, of all of us - is far too much.
Nature creates us well enough for what's needed. It's we who create our own messes. We build characters that are neglectful, sloppy, and selfish, thinking only of me and mine, thinking only of deliciousness and pleasures. In the end our minds lack the strength of samādhi. Without the necessary samādhi, there's no sharp, penetrating wisdom. Thus, it's so hard to find people like Einstein and Darwin. Such people are rare, and when they do turn up, they mainly explore material things.
      It would be wonderful if Einstein, Darwin, and others like them were to consider spiritual matters. In other words, the few geniuses that we have, have focused mainly on material things and haven't given much attention to matters of the mind and spirit. This is the failing, or error, more of humanity than of nature.
       Now, we have discussed and agreed to focus our attention upon the subject of quenching suffering. We've been born to end suffering. Consequently, we must turn around all our hopes, desires, and interests towards spiritual matters, in ways that everyone can follow, so that nobody need suffer.

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Friday, November 30, 2012

On living mindfully Greet the new day with a smile and mindfulness

On living mindfully
Greet the new day with a smile
 and mindfulness 

When waking up to a new day, we should realise how lucky we are to have today. Many of our fellow beings went to sleep last night and never woke up again. Yesterday was their last day on earth. We, too, might have left the world like them, had it not been for a variety of factors that make us live today.
We should, therefore, greet the new day as a precious gift. Greet it with a smile. Don't allow the mind to be sad or depressed. Don't demand anything from the world. And don't let the mind worry about things that have not yet come, nor be frustrated with what you have not attained. Don't forget that we are already very fortunate to have today.
Since death can befall us anytime, every morning when we wake up we should realise that today might be our last day. When awake, we should have the intention to make today valuable, by filling it with good conduct, benefit for the common good and generosity to others.
We should be in hurry to do things that are important or meaningful to life. Don't put it off, or let less important things such as fun, entertainment or socialising steal most of your time until you do not have the opportunity to do such worthy things as giving back to people to whom you owe gratitude, taking time for your family members and making time to develop your own spirituality.
Making the best of today also means not allowing negative emotions and desires to dominate your mind until it is full of suffering and desolation. Since we cannot be certain that we will live until tomorrow, we should live today with happiness and cheerfulness. Do whatever is good for life, and invite positive feelings to fill your heart. Don't be fixated with the past, or weigh yourself down with worries about the future. Be firm in staying in the present moment as best you can. And open your heart to the realities that unfold each and every moment with a mind that is fully alert and awake. It is only the present moment that is real.
Nowadays, we live one-third of our lives in a state of sleep. Even when awake, more than one-third of the day might be lived in delusion. We then do not really live. We only walk-sleep. This is a waste of time. Isn't it better if we live each day, each hour and each minute with mindfulness? It is through mindfulness that you can live your life to its full value. This is how to live with your full heart.
Begin a new day by immediately being alert to mindfulness after you wake. It may still be dark outside, the sun may not have risen above the horizon, but our mind will be radiant with an alert mind. Mindfulness will drive away lethargy and replace it with clarity, enabling us to do our morning chores with alertness.
Throughout the day, we should constantly observe our mind and do our activities mindfully. Be aware of the proliferation of thoughts and emotions. If so, our whole day will be light and full of bliss. We can generate beneficial actions without slipping or getting discouraged. We can pursue our priorities without postponement or absent-mindedness.
The whole day can be blissful even when we are surrounded by confusion. That is if only we smile at reality, live mindfully, are fully awake to each and every moment and are constantly aware of the uncertainties of life.

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Friday, November 16, 2012

Truth And Beauty

Truth And Beauty
By M. K. Gandhi

Inwardness of Art
THERE ARE two aspects of things--the outward and the inward…. The outward has to meaning except in so far as it helps the inward. All true Art is thus an expression of the soul. The outward forms have value only in so far as they are the expression of the inner spirit of man.
I know that many call themselves artists, and are recognized as such, and yet in their works there is absolutely no trace of the soul's upward urge and unrest.
All true Art must help the soul to realize its inner self. In my own case, I find that I can do entirely without external forms in my soul's realization. I can claim, therefore, that there is truly efficient Art in my life, though you might not see what you call works of Art about me.
My room may have blank walls; and I may even dispense with the roof, so that I may gaze out at the starry heavens overhead that stretch in an unending expanse. What conscious Art of man can give me the panoramic scenes that open out before me, when I look up to the sky above with all its shining stars?
This, however, does not mean that I refuse to accept the value of productions of Art, generally accepted as such, but only that I personally feel how inadequate these are compared with the eternal symbols of beauty in Nature. These productions of man's Art have their value only in so far as they help the soul onward towards self-realization.

Truth First
Truth is the first thing to be sought for, and Beauty and Goodness will then be added unto you. Jesus was, to my mind, a supreme artist because he saw and expressed Truth; and so was Muhammad, the Koran being, the most perfect composition in all Arabic literature--at any rate, that is what scholars say. It is because both of them strove first for Truth that the grace of expression naturally came in and yet neither Jesus not Muhammad wrote on Art. That is the Truth and Beauty I crave for, live for, and would die for.

Art for the Millions
Here too, just as elsewhere, I must think in terms of the millions. And to the millions we cannot give that training to acquire a perception of Beauty in such a way as to see Truth in it. Show them Truth first and they will see Beauty afterwards… Whatever can be useful to those starving millions in beautiful to my mind. Let us give today first the vital things of life and all the graces and ornaments of life will follow.I want art and literature that can speak to the millions.

Art to be art must soothe
After all, Art can only be expressed not through inanimate power-driven machinery designed for mass-production, but only through the delicate living touch of the hands of men and women.

Inner Purity
True art takes note not merely of form but also of what lies behind. There is an art that kills and an art that gives life… True art must be evidence of happiness, contentment and purity of its authors.
True beauty after all consists in purity of heart.
I love music and all the other arts, but I do not attach such value to them as is generally done. I cannot, for example, recognize the value of those activities that require technical knowledge for their understanding.
Life is greater than all art. I would go even further and declare that the man whose life comes nearest to perfection is the greatest artist; for what is art without the sure foundation and framework of a noble life?
We have somehow accustomed ourselves to the belief that art is independent of the purity of private life. I can say with all the experience at my command that nothing could be more untrue. As I am nearing the end of my earthly life, I can say that purity of life, is the highest and truest art. The art of producing good music from a cultivated voice can be achieved by many, but the art of producing that music from the harmony of a pure life is achieved very rarely.

Beauty in Truth
I see and find Beauty in Truth or through Truth. All Truths, not merely true ideas, but truthful faces, truthful pictures or songs are highly beautiful. People generally fail to see Beauty in Truth, the ordinary man runs away from it and becomes blind to the beauty in it. Whenever men begin to see Beauty in Truth, then true Art will arise.
To a true artist only that face is beautiful which, quite apart from its exterior, shines with the Truth within the soul. There is… no Beauty apart from Truth. On the other hand, Truth may manifest itself in forms, which may not be outwardly beautiful at all. Socrates, we are told, was the most truthful man of his time, and yet his features are said to have been the ugliest in Greece. To my mind he was beautiful, because all his life was a striving after Truth, and you may remember that his outward form did not prevent Phidias from appreciating the beauty of Truth in him, though as an artist he was accustomed to see Beauty in outward forms also.
Truth and Untruth often co-exist; good and evil are often found together. In an artist also not seldom [do] the right perception of things and the wrong co-exist. Truly beautiful creations come when right perception is at work. If these monuments are rare in life, they are also rare in Art.
These beauties ['a sunset or a crescent moon that shines amid the stars at night'] are truthful, inasmuch as they make me think of the Creator at the back of them. How else could these be beautiful, but for the Truth that is in the center of creation? When I admire the wonder of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in worship of the Creator. I try to see Him and His mercies in all these creations. But even the sunsets and sunrises would be mere hindrances if they did not help me to think of the soul is a delusion and a snare; even like the body, which often does hinder you in the path of salvation.
Why can't you see the beauty of colour in vegetables? And then, there is beauty in the speckless sky. But no, you want the colours of the rainbow, which is a mere optical illusion. We have been taught to believe that what is beautiful need not be useful and what is useful cannot be beautiful. I want to show that what is useful can also be beautiful.

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Monday, November 12, 2012

The best way to know yourself.

The best way to know yourself.


by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu 

(adapted and translated by Santikaro Bhikkhu) 

Sit up straight (with all the vertebrae of the spine fitting together snugly). Keep your head upright. Direct your eyes towards the tip of your nose so that nothing else is seen. Whether you see it or not doesn't really matter, just gaze in its direction. Once you get used to it, the results will be better than closing the eyes, and you won't be encouraged to fall asleep so easily. In particular, people who are sleepy should practice with their eyes open rather than closed. Practice like this steadily and they will close by themselves when the time comes for them to close. (If you want to practice with your eyes closed from the start, that's up to you.) Still, the method of keeping the eyes open gives better results. Some people, however, will feel that it's too difficult, especially those who are attached to closing their eyes. They won't be able to practice with their eyes open, and may close them if they wish.

Lay the hands in your lap, comfortably, one on top of the other. Overlap or cross your legs in a way that distributes and holds your weight well, so that you can sit comfortably and will not fall over easily. The legs can be overlapped in an ordinary way or crossed, whichever you prefer or are able to do. Fat people can only cross their legs in what is called the "diamond posture" (lotus posture) with difficulty, but fancy postures are not necessary. Merely sit with the legs folded so that your weight is evenly balanced and you cannot tip over easily -- that's good enough. The more difficult and serious postures can be left for when one gets serious, like a yogi.

In special circumstances -- when you are sick, not feeling well, or just tired -- you can rest against something, sit on a chair, or use a deck chair, in order to recline a bit. Those who are sick can even lie down to meditate.

Sit in a place with good air circulation, where you can breathe comfortably. There should be nothing overly disturbing. Loud noises which are steady and have no meaning, such as the sound of waves or a factory, are no problem unless you attach to them as a problem. Sounds with meaning, such as people speaking, are more of a problem for those just learning to practice. If you can't find a quiet place, pretend there aren't any sounds. Just be determined to practice and it will work out eventually.
Although the eyes are gazing inattentively at the tip of the nose, you can gather your attention or awareness or sati(1), as it's called in our technical language, in order to catch and note your own breathing in and out. (Those who like to close their eyes will do so from here on.) Those who prefer to leave the eyes open will do so continually until the eyes gradually close on their own as concentration and calmness (samadhi) increases.
In the beginning (and only at the beginning, for a few minutes, not forever!), to make it easy to note the breathing, try to breathe as long as you can. Force it in and out strongly many times. Do so in order to know clearly for yourself what the breath rubs against or touches as it draws in and out along its path. In a simple way, notice where it appears to end in the belly (by taking the physical sensations as one's measure rather than anatomical reality). Note this in an easy-going way as well as you can, well enough to fix the inner and outer end points of the breathing. Don't be tense or too strict about it.
Most people will feel the breath striking at the tip of the nose and should take that point as the outer end. (In people with flat or upturned noses the breath will strike on the edge of the upper lip, and they should take that as the external end.) Now you will have both outer and inner end points by fixing one point at the tip of the nose and the other at the navel. The breath will drag itself back and forth between these two points. Here make your mind just like something which chases after or stalks the breathing, like a tiger or a spy, unwilling to part with it even for a moment, following every breath for as long as you meditate. This is the first step of our practice. We call it "chasing after (or stalking) the whole time."
Earlier we said to begin by trying to make the breathing as long as possible, and as strong, vigorous, and rough as possible, many times from the very start. Do so in order to find the end points and the track the breath follows between them. Once the mind (or sati) can catch and fix the breathing in and out -- by constantly being aware of how the breath touches and flows, then where it ends, then how it turns back either inside or outside -- you can gradually relax the breathing until it becomes normal no longer forcing or pushing it in any way. Be careful: don't force or control it at all! Still, sati fixes on the breathing the whole time, just as it did earlier with the rough and strong breathing.
Sati is able to pay attention to the entire path of the breath from the inner end point (the navel or the base of the abdomen) to the outer end point (the tip of the nose or the upper lip). However fine or soft the breath becomes, sati can clearly note it all the time. If it happens that we cannot note (or feel) the breath because it is too soft or refined, then breathe more strongly or roughly again. (But not as strong or rough as before, just enough to note the breath clearly). Fix attention on the breathing again, until sati is aware of it without any gaps. Make sure it can be done well, that is, keep practicing until even the purely ordinary, unforced breathing can be securely observed. However long or short it is, know it. However heavy or light it is, know it. Know it clearly within that very awareness as sati merely holds closely to and follows the breathing back and forth the whole time you are meditating (2). When you can do this it means success in the level of preparation called "chasing after all the time."
Lack of success is due to the inability of sati (or the attention) to stay with the breathing the whole time. You don't know when it lost track. You don't know when it ran off to home, work, or play. You don't know until it's already gone. And you don't know when it went, how, why, or whatever. Once you are aware of what happened, catch the breathing again, gently bring it back to the breathing, and train until successful on this level. Do it for at least ten minutes each session, before going on to the next step.
The next step, the second level of preparation, is called "waiting (or guarding) in ambush at one point." It's best to practice this second step only after the first step can be done well, but anyone who can skip straight to the second won't be scolded. At this stage, sati (or recollection) lies in wait fixing at a particular point and stops chasing after the breathing. Note the sensation when the breathing enters the body all the way (to the navel or thereabouts) once, then let go or release it. Next, note when the breathing contacts the other end point (the tip of the nose) once more, then let go or leave it alone until it contacts the inner end point (navel) again. Continue like this without changing anything. In moments of letting go, the mind doesn't run away to home, the fields, the office, or anywhere. This means that sati pays attention at the two end points -- both inner and outer -- and doesn't pay attention to anything between them.
When you can securely go back and forth between the two end points without paying attention to things in between, leave out the inner end point and focus only on the outer, namely, the tip of the nose. Now, sati consistently watches only at the tip of the nose. Whether the breathing strikes while inhaling or while exhaling, know it every time. This is called "guarding the gate." There's a feeling as the breathing passes in or out; the rest of the way is left void or quiet. If you have firm awareness at the nose tip, the breathing becomes increasingly calm and quiet. Thus you can't feel movements other than at the nose tip. In the spaces when it's empty or quiet, when you can't feel anything, the mind doesn't run away to home or elsewhere. The ability to do this well is success in the "waiting in ambush at one point" level of preparation.
Lack of success is when the mind runs away without you knowing. It doesn't return to the gate as it should or, after entering the gate, it sneaks all the way inside. Both of these errors happen because the period of emptiness or quiet is incorrect and incomplete. You have not done it properly since the start of this step. Therefore, you ought to practice carefully, solidly, expertly from the very first step.
Even the beginning step, the one called "chasing after the whole time," is not easy for everyone. Yet when one can do it, the results -- both physical and mental -- are beyond expectations. So you ought to make yourself able to do it, and do it consistently, until it is a game like the sports you like to play. If you have even two minutes, by all means practice. Breathe forcefully, if your bones crack or rattle that's even better. Breathe strongly until it whistles, a little noise won't hurt. Then relax and lighten it gradually until it finds its natural level.
The ordinary breathing of most people is not natural or normal, but is coarser or lower than normal, without us being aware. (3) Especially when we do certain activities or are in positions which are restricted, our breathing is more or less course than it ought to be, although we don't know it. So you ought to start with strong, vigorous breathing first, then let it relax until it becomes natural. In this way, you'll end up with breathing which is the "middle way" or just right. Such breathing makes the body natural, normal, and healthy. And it is fit for use as the object of meditation at the beginning of anapanasati (4). Let us stress once more that this first step of preparation ought to be practiced until it's just a natural game for every one of us, and in all circumstances. This will bring numerous physical and mental benefits.
Actually, the difference between "chasing after the whole time" and "waiting in ambush at one place" is not so great. The latter is a little more relaxed and subtle, that is, the area noted by sati decreases. To make this easier to understand, we'll use the simile of the baby sitter rocking the baby's hammock.(5) At first, when the child has just been put into the hammock, it isn't sleepy yet and will try to get out. At this stage, the baby sitter must watch the hammock carefully. As it swings from side to side, her head must turn from left to right so that the child won't be out of sight for a moment. Once the baby begins to get sleepy and doesn't try to get out anymore, the baby sitter need not turn her head from left to right, back and forth, as the hammock swings. The baby sitter only watches when the hammock passes in front of her face, which is good enough. Watching only at one point while the hammock is in front of her face, the baby won't have a chance to get out of the hammock just the same, because the child is ready to fall sleep. (Although the baby will fall asleep, the meditator should not!)
The first stage of preparation in noting the breathing -- "chasing after the whole time" -- is like when the baby sitter must turn her head from side to side with the swinging hammock so that it isn't out of sight for a moment. The second stage where the breathing is noted at the nose tip -- "waiting and watching at one point" -- is like when the baby is ready to sleep and the baby sitter watches the hammock only when it passes her face.
When you have practiced and trained fully in the second step, you can train further by making the area noted by sati even more subtle and gentle until there is secure, stable concentration. Then concentration can be deepened step by step until attaining one of the jhanas (6), which, for most people, is beyond the rather easy concentration of the first steps. The jhanas are a refined and precise subject with strict requirements and subtle principles. One must be strongly interested and committed for that level of practice. At this stage, just be constantly interested in the basic steps until they become familiar and ordinary. Then you might be able gather in the higher levels later.
May ordinary lay people give themselves the chance to meditate in a way which has many benefits both physically and mentally, and which satisfies the basic needs of our practice, before going on to more difficult things. May you train with these first steps in order to be fully equipped with sila (morality), samadhi (concentration), and pañña (wisdom), that is, to be fully grounded in the noble eightfold path. Even if only a start, this is better than not going anywhere. Your body will become more healthy and peaceful than usual by training in successively higher levels of samadhi. You will discover something that everyone should find in order to not waste the opportunity of having been born.


1. Sati is a key term in Buddhist meditation. It means "recall, recollection, awareness, attention, mindfulness." All of these concern the present and do not involve memory or thought. In this article, the activity of sati is conveyed through a number of verbs: to fix, to note, to attend, to pay attention, to be aware, to experience. (Sati does not mean "to concentrate or focus.") Please study these various words and their meaning in each context, then you will have a correct understanding of sati, namely, what it is and how to use it to get free of dukkha.
2. Don't try to push other things out of awareness, that will create tension. Just keep your attention centered on the breathing in a balanced way. Let go of anything that takes you away from the breathing.
3. In fact, our breathing tends to be unhealthy, which contributes to many physical and mental problems. Please learn to breathe freely and naturally.
4. "Anapanasati" is the Pali term for the practice of mindfulness with breathing (the very subject of this essay).
5. In India and Thailand small hammocks are used instead of cradles.
6. The jhanas are states of one-pointedness which result from highly developed concentration which is turned inward. In them one is only aware of a particular object and certain mental factors.
For more instruction on anapanasati, please see:
The Anapanasati FAQ on this site.
Mindfulness With Breathing: Unveiling the Secrets of Life (published by Wisdom Publications).
Retreat talks Tan Ajarn gave at Suan Mokkh (being edited).
First electronic edition: September 1996
Transcribed directly from disks provided by Santikaro Bhikkhu.
Formatting & Proofreading: Scott Oser <>.
Later reformatted by Santikaro Bhikkhu.
This electronic edition is offered FOR FREE DISTRIBUTION ONLY. 

Updated 04 November 2002 © Evolution/Liberation 
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Monday, November 5, 2012

Learning to Listen

Learning to Listen

By Ajahn Chah

During an informal gathering at his residence one evening, the Master said, ''When you listen to the Dhamma, you must open up your heart and compose yourself in its centre. Don't try and accumulate what you hear, or make painstaking efforts to retain it through your memory. Just let the Dhamma flow into your heart as it reveals itself, and keep yourself continuously open to the flow in the present moment. What is ready to be retained will remain. It will happen of its own accord, not through forced effort on your part.
Similarly, when you expound the Dhamma, there must be no force involved. The Dhamma must flow spontaneously from the present moment according to circumstances. You know, it's strange, but sometimes people come to me and really show no apparent desire to hear the Dhamma, but there it is - it just happens. The Dhamma comes flowing out with no effort whatsoever. Then at other times, people seem to be quite keen to listen. They even formally ask for a discourse, and then, nothing! It just won't happen. What can you do? I don't know why it is, but I know that things happen in this way. It's as though people have different levels of receptivity, and when you are there at the same level, things just happen.
If you must expound the Dhamma, the best way is not to think about it at all. Simply forget it. The more you think and try to plan, the worse it will be. This is hard to do, though, isn't it? Sometimes, when you're flowing along quite smoothly, there will be a pause, and someone may ask a question. Then, suddenly, there's a whole new direction. There seems to be an unlimited source that you can never exhaust.
I believe without a doubt in the Buddha's ability to know the temperaments and receptivity of other beings. He used this very same method of spontaneous teaching. It's not that he needed to use any superhuman power, but rather that he was sensitive to the needs of the people around him and so taught to them accordingly. An instance demonstrating his own spontaneity occurred when once, after he had expounded the Dhamma to a group of his disciples, he asked them if they had ever heard this teaching before. They replied that they had not. He then went on to say that he himself had also never heard it before.
Just continue your practice no matter what you are doing. Practice is not dependent on any one posture, such as sitting or walking. Rather, it is a continuous awareness of the flow of your own consciousness and feelings. No matter what is happening, just compose yourself and always be mindfully aware of that flow.''
Later, the Master went on to say, ''Practice is not moving forward, but there is forward movement. At the same time, it is not moving back, but there is backward movement. And, finally, practice is not stopping and being still, but there is stopping and being still. So there is moving forward and backward as well as being still, but you can't say that it is any one of the three. Then practice eventually comes to a point where there is neither forward nor backward movement, nor any being still. Where is that?''
On another informal occasion, he said, ''To define Buddhism without a lot of words and phrases, we can simply say, 'Don't cling or hold on to anything. Harmonize with actuality, with things just as they are.''' 

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Tuesday, October 30, 2012


          By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu  
 Lecture at Suan Mokkhabalarama, Chaiya
Translated by Roderick Bucknell

"Heaven" in everyday language means some wonderful, highly attractive, celestial realm up above. Spend a certain amount of money in merit making and you're entitled to one mansion in heaven, where there are angels by the hundreds.  In Dhamma language, however, "heaven" refers first of all to infatuating sensual bliss of the highest order. This is the lower heaven, the heaven of sensuality. Higher up is the heaven called the Brahmaloka, where there are no objects of sensuality. It is a state of mental well-being that results from the absence of any disturbing sensual object. It is as if a certain person with a hunger for sense objects had indulged himself until becoming thoroughly fed up with all sense objects. Then he would want only to remain quite empty, still, untouched. This is the state of freedom from sensuality, the condition of the Brahma gods in the Brahmaloka. The ordinary heavens are full up with sensuality, the highest of them, the Paranimmitavasavatti heaven, being completely full of sensuality. The heavens of the Brahmaloka, however, are devoid of disturbance from sensuality, though the "self", the "I" still persists.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Whatever happens.

Whatever happens.
By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu   

Whatever happens don’t go chasing after the crowd.
One’s own wisdom has the duty of discerning,
checking the waters and winds, considering,
investigating the ins and outs conscientiously. 

Once seeing through past and future,
the present disappears without a trace.
Further, when patience and kindness steady us,
the more wisely we see all species as they are.  

In this world there’s nothing that lasts,
while things swing left, right, and all around,
hold your ground in the middle, balanced, free,
you’ll pass through all dangers and realize your goal. 


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Monday, October 15, 2012

The Seven Factors of a Peaceful Death: A Theravada Buddhist Approach to Death in Thailand

The Seven Factors of a Peaceful Death:
A Theravada Buddhist Approach to Death in Thailand 
By Phra Phaisal Visalo

Buddhist Care for the Dying and Bereaved

Care for the Dying in Thailand
In the past, most people in Thailand died in their own houses. When a person was going to die, a monk or a group of monks would be sent for in order to guide him or her to a peaceful death. Monks would perform Buddhist chanting or remind the dying of the Three Refuges of Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha as objects of veneration. The dying, with the help of relatives, would perform their last act of merit-making by giving offerings to the monks. In some parts of the country, such as the Northeast, the dying would hold flowers to pay homage to the Buddha’s sacred tooth relic believed to be located in heaven where they were hoping to be reborn. If the dying was conscious enough, they would sit upright, leaning against a pillar, and meditate or chant to calm the mind.
A peaceful mind at the moment of death was very important for Thai people since, according to Buddhism, it will lead to beneficial next life; whereas a negative state of mind will contribute to a harmful one. The atmosphere around the dying, therefore, was to be peaceful. Cousins would gather around the dying, reminding them of their good deeds in the past and helping to relieve them of all anxiety. Some would ask forgiveness from the dying or vice versa. Everyone was discouraged from crying near the deathbed.
However, nowadays the pattern of dying in Thailand has changed. There are more industrial diseases that require long and intense hospitalization. Thus, there is an increased need for palliative care, and this changes the sense of how to care for people in general. There is an increased focus on terminal care, and so spiritual and psychological care have become more important in the hospitals. The concept of holistic health (physical, social, psychological, and spiritual as defined by WHO) is becoming part of the mainstream and part of actual Thai law. Many hospitals are speaking about these four aspects, which are being put into practice in large hospitals and university hospitals, especially for the terminally ill. However, in practice, it is still difficult to provide such care because of a lack of understanding and skills among staff.
Palliative care is still centered in the hospital in Thailand, not in the home or in hospices. Some hospitals have programs for psychological and spiritual care without religious connections, especially for children. At Chulalongkorn University Hospital, there is the “Wishing Well” program where children are granted their last wish. Other large hospitals have encouraged some religious support by providing space for nurses or monks to do this work, since doctors cannot do it.
In Thailand, in the ICU or in a regular room, monks are typically invited to come and to provide the opportunity for the patient to “make merit” (Thai. tan-bun) or perhaps to guide the patient in meditation. Nurses also have begun to take charge in offering psychological and counseling care. Such counseling often involves calming the patient or helping them have reconciliation with their family. Nurses may also be active in getting the family more involved in supporting the patient, which helps the family with their guilt in not being able to do more. Nurses may even offer spiritual care, like meditation.
Recently, there is more encouragement for doctors and nurses to support home care and be involved in home care, especially pain control. Pain care management skill is important so as to enable patients to maintain clarity without pain. Doctors may also predict what physical stages will come next. For example, a friend of mine died at home from breast cancer a few years ago with good home support from her doctor. At a certain point, her doctor told her that her breathing would get difficult, so then she began to change her meditation method away from mindfulness with breathing (anapanasati).
In Thailand, there are only a few hospices. They are still not so popular, because the Thai health system is still centralized, and there is not the appropriate infrastructure for them. Today, only the rich can afford to pay for a hospice. The most famous and largest with over two hundred beds is the Dhammarak Niwet Hospice established in 1992 and located on the grounds of Phrabat Nampu Temple in Lopburi, a few hours north of Bangkok. However, this hospice is specialized for destitute and abandoned AIDS patients. There are also a few Christian and private hospices, but in general home care is more popular than hospice care.
After the success of the Dhammarak Niwet Hospice, other temples have begun establishing hospices. However, they are now decreasing, because it is quite difficult to maintain them. Monks still do such work, but on a small, temple by temple level, mostly in the countryside and mostly through home visits. In some ways, this a continuation of their old, traditional roles. However, this tradition is weakening as monks tend to focus now more on funerals, even in the countryside.
In hospital settings, medical professionals and monks unfortunately do not collaborate well. There is a gap between doctors and monks. Doctors do not know how to treat or talk with monks properly. Monks are welcomed into hospitals as ritualists or advisors but not as part of the care team or the advising medical team. They have to be invited first and are not part of the system. They are not on call, but they do often visit hospitals during festival seasons. Furthermore, not many monks are interested in this kind of work. More and more, monks are being seen as harbingers of death, so some people feel uncomfortable when they appear. In this way, families are actually better than monks in providing spiritual guidance since they have a close, personal relationship with the patient.
The End-of Life Care Network established in 2004 coordinates between the personnel of various hospitals and other concerned people like monks to amass and share knowledge on how to take care of the terminally ill. Every two months, this network holds a study session to develop skills and knowledge. It is hoped that this network can help promote change in the medical system for more spiritual care for the dying and in the curriculum in the medical schools. Spiritual care training is not provided by medical schools, but this network has begun to offered such training for nurses of all units and some doctors. There is increasing demand but limited human resources in this area.

Buddhist Spiritual Care for the Dying
Illness not only affects the body, but also the mind. Thus, when most people fall ill, they must contend not only with physical pain, but also mental pain. Especially in the case of patients who are close to dying, mental anguish is no less a cause of suffering than physical pain, and indeed it can even be the greater cause. This is because what these patients face right in front of them is death, along with a separation and loss that is final. All this provokes feelings of fear, anxiety, and isolation to surge up very intensely in a way they have never experienced before.
For this reason, patients need their spiritual well-being taken care of just as much as their physical well-being. Especially in the case of final-stage patients, whom doctors have determined to have no hope of recovery or improvement, taking care of spiritual well-being in fact becomes more important than physical well-being. This is because even though the body is irrevocably breaking down, the mind still has the opportunity to improve. It can cease its agitation and reach a state of peace, even in the last moments of life. Even though the body and mind are closely related, when the body suffers, the mind does not necessarily have to suffer too. One can take care of one’s mind such that it does not suffer along with one’s body.
In the time of the Buddha, there were many occasions wherein the Buddha and his disciples helped those who were sick and close to dying. The kind of help they gave directly focused on treating the suffering of the mind. In the Pali Buddhist Canon, there are several stories of people on the verge of death who were told by the Buddha to contemplate their imminent death and the true nature of all conditioned things, and eventually were able to realize high levels of attainment. Some even became fully enlightened.
From these stories, there are two major points to consider:

1. Being ill and close to dying is a time of crisis and physical disintegration, yet at the same time it can also be an opportunity to liberate the mind or elevate one’s state of mind. Being ill and close to dying are thus not conditions that are negative in and of themselves. If one knows how to use them well, they can be of great benefit. 

2. The Buddha’s teachings on illness and dying can be classified into two main parts:
        1) Incline the mind to have faith in the Three Refuges (the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha) and confidence in the morality one has upheld or good deeds one has done in the past. In other words, incline the mind to recollect that which is good and wholesome.
        2) Let go of worries and all things, having seen with wisdom that there is nothing at all that one can hold on to.

These teachings of the Buddha provide an excellent model of how to give spiritual help to dying persons applicable to the present day. This article will show how these principles put forth by the Buddha can be adapted for use by doctors, nurses, family, and friends in helping dying patients. Experiences from other real-life cases have also been drawn on to create the following guidelines.

1. Extending Love and Sympathy
Dying persons not only have to contend with physical pain but also fear, such as fear of dying, of abandonment, of dying alone, of what will come after death, or of pain. The fear may cause even more suffering than the physical pain. Love and moral support from family members and friends is very important during this time because it can reduce the fear and help them feel secure. One should remember that patients in their final stages feel very vulnerable. They need someone they feel they can rely on, someone who is ready to be there for them during times of crisis. If they have someone who can give them unconditional love, they will have the strength of spirit to deal with all the various forms of suffering that are converging on them at this time.
Being patient, forbearing, sympathetic, gentle, and forgiving are ways to show your love. Physical pain and a vulnerable state of mind can make patients act out in ill-tempered and abrasive ways. We can help them by patiently bearing with these outbursts and not reacting in negative ways. Try to forgive them and sympathize with them. If we are peaceful and gentle, it will help them calm down more quickly. Pointing out their negativity may be something we ought to do sometimes, but always in a gentle and loving way. Family and friends need to have mindfulness at all times, which helps us not to lose control of ourselves and keeps our hearts filled with kindness, love, and restraint.
Even if you don’t know what to say to make them feel better, just physically touching them in a gentle way will enable them to feel your love. We may hold their hand or touch their arm and squeeze it gently, embrace them, or touch their forehead or abdomen with our hands, while sending them our good wishes. For those who have some experience practicing meditation, while touching the patient, bring your mind to rest in a peaceful state. Loving-kindness (metta) that emanates from a mind that is peaceful and concentrated will have an energy that the patient will be able to feel.
For example, when two volunteers from my network came to visit a patient, they found him screaming out of suffering from the pain in his abdomen. They asked if the patient would allow them to receive (or share) some pain from him. After getting permission, they asked the patient to close his eyes while they touched his body gently with their hands. They began visualize his pain as grey smoke emerging from his body and entering theirs before being transformed into a white ray emitting back to him. After about five minutes of this compassionate practice, the patient said that he felt much better.

2. Helping Patients Accept Impending Death
If patients do not have long to live, letting them know will give them time to prepare themselves while they are still physically able to. However, there are a great many patients who have no idea that they have a serious terminal illness and are now in their final stages. To let time pass while keeping them in the dark will leave patients with less time to prepare themselves. Still, telling them the bad news without preparing them psychologically in some way beforehand may cause their condition to worsen. In general, doctors play the important role in telling the news, especially after they have built up close a relationship with patients and earned their trust. Nonetheless, patients’ acceptance of their impending death involves a process that takes a long time. In addition to love and trust, doctors, nurses, family, and friends need to have patience and forbearance and be ready to listen to the patient’s thoughts and feelings.
Sometimes, however, it is up to the family to break the news. Many families tend to think that it is better to conceal the truth from the patient. However, according to a survey done of patients in Thailand, the majority responded that they would rather be told the truth than be kept in the dark. Even when relatives try to conceal it, ultimately the patient can discern the truth from the changed manner and behavior of family and friends, such as unsmiling faces, softer speaking voices, or greater effort made to please the patient.
Not all patients can accept the truth after they are told. However, there could be several reasons for this besides the fear of death. They could have some unfinished business or other worries. Relatives ought to help them express their concerns. If they feel they have someone ready to listen to and to understand them, they will feel safe enough to confide their inner thoughts. Posing appropriate questions can also help them identify what it is that is preventing them from accepting death or help them realize that death may not be so fearsome. What relatives can do is listen to them with an open, nonjudgmental, and sympathetic heart. They should focus more on asking questions rather than lecturing or sermonizing. Helping patients lessen their worries about their children, grandchildren, spouse, or other loved ones may help them accept their death
Patients may become angry at doctors, nurses, and family for telling them the bad news, or concealing the bad news from them for a long time. Be understanding of these angry outbursts. If the patient is able to get past their anger and denial of death, they will be more able to accept the reality of their situation.
When patients are told the bad news, they should at the same time be given moral support and reassurance that family, friends, doctors, and nurses will not abandon them, but will stay by their side and help them to the utmost of their abilities until the very end. Giving moral support during crisis points when a patient’s condition takes a turn for the worse is also very valuable.
In Thailand, the patient’s right to information is not respected very much. Many cancer patients are not informed about their real situation, because their family or relatives are afraid that the patients’ situation will worsen. Since the doctor wants to have good relationship with the patients’ relatives, he or she has to conform to their wishes. In Thailand, relatives have a big say in dealing with the patient’s situation. Informed consent is therefore not practiced when two volunteers from my network visited. However, this right is becoming increasingly known and exercised by patients, especially those who have a high level of education. Furthermore, living wills and advance directives by patients are now legal and are being promoted in Thailand.
One useful benefit of telling patients the truth in a timely way is that it enables them to decide in advance what level of medical intervention they would like to receive when they reach a crisis point or fall unconscious, i.e. whether they would like doctors to prolong their lives as long as possible using all technological means available such as CPR, respirator, feeding tube, etc., or whether they would like doctors to refrain from using these measures, just maintain their condition, and let them gradually pass away peacefully. Many times patients do not decide in advance, because they do not know the real state of their condition. The result is that when they fall into a coma, relatives have no choice but to ask the doctors to utilize every possible measure to sustain the patient’s life. This often causes much suffering to the patient, with the only effect of prolonging the process of dying without helping to improve their quality of life at all, and at the same time wasting a large amount of money in medical expenses. 

3. Helping Patients Focus Their Minds on Goodness
Thinking of goodness helps the mind become wholesome, peaceful, bright, less fearful, and better able to deal with pain. What the Buddha and his disciples often recommended to those on the verge of death was to recollect and have firm faith in the Three Refuges. These can be thought of as something virtuous or sacred that the patient can worship. The Buddha also had them re-establish themselves in the observance of morality (sila) as well as recollect the good deeds they had done in the past. There are many ways to help incline patients to recollect these things. For example, you can:
- Place in the patient’s room a Buddha statue, other sacred objects, or pictures of respected spiritual teachers to serve as aids to recollection
- Invite the patient to chant or pray together
- Read dharma books out loud to the patient
- Play recordings of dharma talks or chanting
- Invite monks, especially ones the patient has a connection with, to visit the patient and provide counseling.

In applying these ideas, keep in mind the patient’s cultural background and personal habits. For example, patients of Chinese background may respond best to pictures of the bodhisattva Kuan Yin. If the patient is Christian or Muslim, one may use the appropriate symbols of these religions instead.
Another way to incline the patient’s mind towards goodness is by encouraging them to do good deeds, such as offering requisites to monks and making charitable donations. It is also essential to encourage the patient to think of the good deeds they have done in the past. This does not necessarily have to mean religious activities only, but also such actions as raising one’s children to be good people, taking care of one’s parents in a loving way, being faithful to one’s spouse, being helpful to one’s friends, or being dedicated in teaching one’s students. All of these are good deeds that can make the patient feel happy, proud of themselves, and confident that when they die they will go to a good place. This pride in the good deeds they have done and faith in the beneficial effect of such deeds becomes very important for those close to dying. At this time, it is becoming clear to them that they can’t take any of their material wealth with them when they die. It is only the merit they have accrued through good intentions and actions (karma) that they can take with them.
Everyone, no matter how rich or poor, or what mistakes they have made in the past, has to have done some good deeds worth recollecting. No matter how many terrible things they have done in the past, when they are close to dying, what we should do is help them to recollect their good deeds. If they are overwhelmed with feelings of guilt, they may not be able to see any of their good deeds. However, any good deeds, even small ones, will be valuable to them if remembered during this time of crisis. At the same time, patients who have been doing good deeds all along should not let any unwholesome deeds (of which there are very few) overshadow all the goodness they have done, making them feel badly about themselves. In some cases, family and friends may need to list out their past good deeds as a way of confirming and reiterating them, giving patients confidence in the life they have led.
One example that I learned from our network concerned an old terminal cancer patient who was suffering episodes of pain that need to be treated repeatedly in the hospital. In his last month, a niece came to visit him almost every day. Each time he asked the grandpa about his life in the past. The patient was delighted to speak about his heroic role in the World War I and his life as honest civil servant. Finally, they began to talk about the impermanence of life according to Buddhism. In his last days, he seemed happy and finally died in peace. It was remarkable that during his last month he never suffered from the pain that rushed him to hospital as before.
Another example was policeman who was trembling despite being in a comatose state. Witnessing this situation, his wife burst into tears, but the attending nurse warned her that her crying would make thing worse. She was encouraged to speak good things about her husband. After composing herself, the wife told her dying husband that she was proud of him as good policeman and loving husband who eagerly helped her to sell food in the market. His son also told him how a good father he had been. Gradually, the patient’s trembling calmed, and he died in peace.

4. Helping Patients Settle Unfinished Business
One major cause of suffering that prevents people from dying peacefully is unfinished business. Such anxieties or other negative feelings need to be released as soon as possible. Otherwise, they will cause the patient to suffer, feel heavy-hearted and push away death, thus becoming unable to die peacefully and resulting in an unfortunate rebirth. A patient’s family and friends should be very concerned about these matters and be quick to act on them. Sometimes patients may not bring the matter up directly. Those who are around the patients should thus be very sensitive to it and ask them about it with genuine concern and kindness, not annoyance. These are some general guidelines that can help in such situations:
- If they have remaining work, responsibilities, or a will that has not been settled\, find a way to help bring these matters to a conclusion.
- If they wish to see someone for the last time, especially a loved one or someone they wish to ask forgiveness from, hurry and contact that person.
- If they are nursing an angry grudge against someone or hurt feelings and grievances against a close intimate, advise them to forgive that person and let go of any anger.
- If they are feeling nagging guilt over some wrong they had done, now is not the time to judge or criticize them. Instead, one should help them release their feelings of guilt. One can help them open up and feel secure enough to ask forgiveness from someone, while at the same time guiding the other party to accept the apology and forgive the person.

Asking for forgiveness is not easy to do. One way to make it easier for dying patients is to have them write down their apology and everything they wish to say to the other person. They can have someone deliver it to that person or choose to keep it to themselves. The important thing is that by doing this exercise they have begun to open their hearts. Even if no real communication has ensued with the other person, there has still been some release of those feelings of guilt. If at some point they feel more ready to talk to that person directly, they may decide to do so on another occasion.
Often times the person that the dying patient seeks forgiveness from is someone close, who is right there by their bedside, such as a spouse or a child. In this case, it is easier if such a person initiates the conversation by offering their forgiveness first and telling the patient they do not bear any ill-will towards them for their past mistakes. However, in order to do this, the person must first let go of any pride or anger they may feel. By making the first move, the person opens the channel for the dying patient to ask for forgiveness more easily. Feelings of guilt, as long as they are not released, can greatly disturb the dying and make them unable to die peacefully. However, once the patient has been able to apologize and ask for forgiveness, they are able to die without distress.
In some cases, it is the child, relative, or friend of the dying patient who ought to ask for forgiveness. There is no other occasion where an apology is as important as it is at this point. However, oftentimes children do not dare to open up to their parents even when they are about to die. Partly, this is because they may not be accustomed to talking to their parents openly. Partly, it could be because they think their parents do not hold their misdeed against them or do not even know about it at all. This could be a serious and irreparable miscalculation.
Asking for forgiveness does not actually have to be done only with specific persons, because we all have probably done others harm without intending to or realizing it. As such, to have peace of mind and to avoid any lingering hostility with anyone, family and friends should advise dying patients to apologize and ask for forgiveness from anyone with whom they have had mutual hostility or from anyone whom they have ever offended or harmed.
Likewise, the family and friends of a dying patient ought to ask for forgiveness from them while they are still conscious and able to understand. This provides the opportunity for dying patients to grant their forgiveness. In the case where the dying person is a parent or elder relative, the children, grandchildren, and other family members may join together to hold a ceremony to ask forgiveness at the person’s bedside and select a representative to speak for the group. They can begin by speaking of the dying person’s virtuous qualities and the good things they have done for their descendants. Then they can ask for forgiveness for anything they have done that may have caused harm or offense. 

5. Helping Patients Let Go of Everything
A refusal to accept death and the reality of its imminence can be a great cause of suffering for people who are close to dying. A reason for such refusal can be that they are still deeply attached to certain things and unable to be separated from them. These things could be children or grandchildren, lovers, parents, work, or the entire world with which they are familiar. A feeling of deep attachment can be experienced by people even if they do not have any lingering feelings of guilt in their hearts. Once attachment is felt, it leads to worry and fear of separation from that which they love. Family and friends as well as doctors and nurses should help dying persons let go of their attachments as much as possible, such as by:
- Reassuring them that their children and other descendants can take care of themselves
- Reassuring them that their parents will be taken care of well.
- Reminding them that all their material possessions are only theirs temporarily. When the time comes, they have to be given to others to take care of.

In giving spiritual guidance to the dying, the Buddha advised that after helping them recollect and have faith in the Three Refuges and then establishing them in goodness of their past deeds, the next step is to advise them to let go of all their concerns. They are to let go even of any aspirations for rebirth in heavenly realms. All these things, if they are still attached to them, will hold their minds back, make them resist death, and be agitated until the end. Thus, when death approaches, there is nothing better than to let go of everything, even the notion of self.
Of all attachments, there is none that is as deeply and firmly rooted as attachment to self. In some people’s view, death means the annihilation of self, which is something they cannot tolerate and find very hard to come to terms with because deep down we humans need to feel our self continues on. The belief that heaven exists helps satisfy this deep-seated need, because it makes us feel reassured that we will live on after death. However, for people who don’t believe in heaven or rebirth, death becomes the most terrifying thing.
From the Buddhist point of view, there is actually no such thing as a self. It is something we have concocted ourselves out of ignorance. Those who have some grounding in Buddhism may understand this matter to some extent. However, for those whose experience of Buddhism has been limited to rituals or basic forms of merit-making, it is probably not an easy matter to understand the concept of no-self (anatta). Nonetheless, in cases where family, friends, doctors, and nurses have an adequate understanding of this truth, they should advise dying patients to gradually let go of their attachment to self.
Start with advising them to let go of the body, recognizing that we cannot control our bodies to be as we wish them to be. We have to accept their condition as they really are. One day, all our organs will have to deteriorate. The next step is to let go of their feelings, to not identify with or attach to any feelings as being theirs. Doing this will help greatly to reduce their suffering and pain, because suffering tends to arise when one attaches to pain and identifies with it as being ours. One holds that “I” am in pain instead of just seeing that the condition of pain has arisen.
To be able to let go in this way requires considerable experience in training the mind. However, it is not beyond the reach of ordinary people to do so, especially if one starts training the mind when one first becomes ill. There have been many cases of people with serious illnesses who have been able to deal with extreme pain without using any painkillers at all or only small doses. In the past, there were many people who died peacefully in an upright sitting posture, because they were able to let go of their identification with the pain as being theirs. It could be said that they used spiritual medicine to heal their minds. The method that is widely suggested is the practice of mindfulness of the breath (anapanasati), which helps to calm the mind and keep it from identifying with the pain.
It should be noted that a large amount of pain is caused by anxiety, fear, and other negative emotions. Pain can be reduced if the patient is thus relieved of these emotions. In one example that a doctor related to me, a patient was agitated during the terminal stage of his death. The painkiller worked for only ten minutes, after which he began to tremble again. Since he did not know how to do meditation, the doctor offered to guide him in total relaxation. He asked the patient to be aware of each part of his body, starting from the feet and moving to the head. He guided him to be just aware and to relax with the help of light music. After thirty minutes, he became peaceful, both in body and emotion. The doctor also taught his relatives how to help him do this exercise. With this practice, he became more responsive to the medicine, requiring smaller doses to help calm him.
I know of another case in which a woman got cancer. She was from a modern, urban, Chinese Thai family, and in her last stage also suffered from toxins in her liver. She declined to get further medication and decided to go home for her last period of life. According to the doctor, she was very likely to be unconscious and in pain during her last days. However, on the contrary, she retained her awareness until the last hour, because she tried to keep her mind in a positive way with the help of her relatives, as related below. 

6. Creating a Peaceful Atmosphere
For dying patients to be able to feel at peace and let go of all lingering concerns and attachments in a sustained manner, it is necessary for them to have the support of a peaceful atmosphere around them. If their room is swarming with people coming in and out, and filled with the sounds of people talking all the time or the sounds of the door opening and closing all day, it will naturally be difficult for them to maintain their mind in a wholesome and peaceful state. This includes a peaceful social environment as well as physical, such as a peaceful family. A quarrelsome or deeply mourning family is not helpful. That is why some people choose to die in their homes.
For example, a good friend of mine named Supaporn who had developed terminal breast cancer refused hospitalization and eventually decided to die in her home. She prepared an atmosphere in her home that was conducive to a peaceful death. She had cultivated a beautiful garden that could be appreciated from her bed. In her room, she had a Buddha image and pictures of her great teachers like Buddhadasa and Maha Ghosananda. Sometimes, she also listened to nice, spiritual music.
With regard to a patient’s spiritual well-being, the least that family, friends, doctors, and nurses can do is to help create a peaceful atmosphere for them. They should avoid talk that disturbs the patient. Family members should refrain from arguing amongst themselves or crying. These things would only increase the anxiety and unease of the patient. If family and friends can try to keep their minds in a healthy state - not sad or depressed - this will already be a great help to dying patients. The states of mind of the people surrounding the dying patient can affect the atmosphere in the room and the person’s mind. The human mind is sensitive; it can sense the feelings of other people even if they don’t say anything out loud. People do not only have this sensitivity when they are normal and conscious. It is possible even for patients in comas to sense the mental energy of those around them.
In addition, family and friends can create a peaceful environment by encouraging dying patients to practice meditation together with them. One form of meditation is anapanasati, or mindfulness of breathing. When breathing in, mentally recite “Bud”. When breathing out, mentally recite “Dho”. When put together, “Buddho” is the recitation of the Buddha’s name. Alternatively, with each out-breath, count, “1, 2, 3….10 ,” and then start again. If it is not easy for them to be mindful of the breath, they can focus their awareness on the rising and falling of the abdomen as they breathe in and out by placing both hands on top of the abdomen. On the in-breath, as the abdomen rises, mentally recite, “rising”. On the out-breath, as the abdomen falls, mentally recite, “falling”.
There have been reports of cancer patients who have dealt with physical pain using meditation. By keeping their minds focused on the breath or abdomen, they ended up needing to use very little pain medication. Moreover, their minds were clearer and more alert than patients who used many painkillers. Supaporn is one who preferred clear awareness over painkillers. Her regular practice of meditation helped her to withstand the pain without painkillers, much to the surprise of her doctor.
Encouraging dying patients to do chanting together with family and friends in a room that has been set up to create an aura of serenity and sanctity (as mentioned earlier, such as by placing a Buddha statue or other objects of veneration in the room) is another way to bring about a peaceful atmosphere around dying patients and incline their mind in a wholesome way. Even playing soft instrumental music has a beneficial effect on a patient’s mental state.
In the aforementioned case of the woman from a modern, urban, Chinese Thai family who died of cancer, she was actually more devoted to Theravada Buddhism than Chinese Buddhism. However, her mother liked the Chinese chanting of Amitabha Buddha’s name (namo ami-to-fo). It had more of a musical feel than what Thais typically chant at death, which is refuge in Shakyamuni Buddha (namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa). Chinese will typically chant to the Medicine Buddha up until the last possible moment, and then switch to Amitabha Budhha when death has become certain.
Until the very end, she retained awareness. In the end, she showed no signs of pain or struggle, and much of this was through the help of her family. They reminded her of all the good things she had done in her life. In the final hour, her family chanted Amitabha’s name in Chinese one thousand times, and she passed away almost unnoticeably, like a candle. This shows what the family can do without the help of monks, and this is why our network has started to hold workshops for nurses, doctors, and families so they can do this process by themselves.
Even though a peaceful mind is important, from the Buddhist viewpoint it is wisdom that is considered the most important thing for a person close to dying (and indeed all humans, ill or otherwise). Wisdom means clear knowledge of the truths of life: impermanence (anicca), subjectivity to change (dukkha) and selflessness (anatta). These three truths about all things show us that there is not a single thing that we can cling to. We will find death fearsome if we are still clinging to some things. However, once we fully understand that there is actually nothing we can cling to, death will no longer be fearsome. Once we realize that everything by nature must change, that there is nothing that is permanent, then death will become something that is natural. Finally, once we realize that we really do not have such a thing as a “self,” then there will be no “me” that dies. There will be no-one that dies. Dying itself becomes just a change of state from one form to another, according to causes and conditions. Wisdom, the knowledge and understanding of these truths, is what makes death no longer fearsome or loathsome, and enables one to meet death peacefully.

7. Saying Goodbye
For those who would like to say what is in their hearts to the dying person, such as saying sorry or goodbye, it is not too late to do so. As a person’s pulse weakens progressively and they approach the moment of death, if family and friends wish to say goodbye, they should first establish mindfulness and restrain their grief. Then they can whisper their final words in the ear of the dying person. They should talk of the good feelings they have towards the person, give them praise and thanks for all the good they have done, and ask for forgiveness for any wrongs committed. Then they can guide the person’s mind to ever more wholesome states by advising them to let go of everything, drop all worries, and recollect the Three Refuges or whatever the person venerates. If the person has some grounding in Buddhist teachings, ask them to let go of the “self” and all conditioned things, to incline the mind towards emptiness, and to keep the mind focused on nirvana; then, say goodbye.
Even if one has said goodbye to someone when they were still conscious, it is still useful to say goodbye again just before they die. The important thing to keep in mind is that being able to say goodbye and to guide the dying person’s mind to a wholesome state can only be done well if the atmosphere surrounding the person is peaceful and they are not disturbed by any attempts to perform invasive medical interventions. In most hospitals in Thailand, if patients are in the ICU and their pulse weakens to the point where they are close to dying, doctors and nurses will tend to do whatever it takes to keep them alive, such as by stimulating the heart with electric shocks (defibrillation) or using all other available forms of medical technology. The atmosphere around patients will be chaotic, and it will be difficult for family and friends to say anything to them. The only exceptions are cases where patients and family members inform hospital personnel in advance of their wish that the patient be allowed to die peacefully, free of any medical interventions.
For the most part, doctors and family members tend to think only about helping the patient in terms of their physical welfare and neglect to think about their spiritual welfare. Thus, they tend to support the use of all available forms of medical technology to prolong a patient’s life, even though when people are close to dying, what they actually need the most is spiritual help. Most relatives want the doctor to do whatever possible to prolong the life of the patient, because they think that this is the only way to help them. However, once they know that there is better choice, which is to help them die peacefully, most of them prefer this choice.
If the patient’s condition worsens to the point where there is no hope of recovery, family members ought to give greater consideration to taking care of the patient’s state of mind than of the body. This may mean asking others not to crowd around the patient, allowing them to die peacefully, surrounded by close family and friends who join together to create a wholesome and positive atmosphere that will help lead them to a good rebirth. In general, the place that is the most conducive to creating this kind of atmosphere tends to be the dying patient’s home. For this reason, many patients wish to die at home rather than in the hospital or in the ICU. If family and friends are ready to help meet the spiritual needs of dying patients, it is easier for patients to decide spending the last part of their life at home.
Six years ago our network initiated “The Facing Death Peacefully Project”, which aims to educate Thai people about peaceful death. Books and other media have been produced to give advice about this topic. It is interesting to find that many hospitals need such advice. Our workshops on peaceful death are now in much demand by many hospitals all over the country.

When death is imminent, nothing is more important than peaceful death. Whatever success one earns in this life, however, it does not guarantee a peaceful death. Only the appropriate quality of mind can enable one to die peacefully. Influenced by a materialistic worldview, people tend to focus on the physical aspects of illness, while ignoring the emotional or spiritual ones. Such an approach tends to increase the suffering of the dying and diverts them from a peaceful death.
A peaceful death is possible when the dying are embraced by love and relieved of anxiety. It is possible when one lets go of everything or focuses on the goodness either in one’s life or as represented by the sacred beings. Living a decent life also contributes to a good death. Life and death are actually one and the same matter. We will die in more or less the same fashion as how we have lived. If we live in ignorance, our final moment will likely be spent in agony, without any sense of peace and mindfulness. However, if we constantly cultivate merit and self-awareness, we should be able to pass away peacefully, being in a state of mindfulness until our last breath.
Health care systems should be geared to support a peaceful death, instead of prolonging life at all costs. Saving life is important, but when that mission is impossible, no other choice is better than facilitating a peaceful death by promoting an atmosphere conducive to spiritual practice and spiritual assistance to the dying. Hospitals should not be only the theatre to fight with death, but also the place where one can be at peace with death.

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