Friday, October 24, 2014

Buddhist perspectives on end of life care – a conversation with Phra Paisal Visalo

Buddhist perspectives on end of life care – a conversation with Phra Paisal Visalo
Author: Dr Suresh Kumar

Alongside a busy schedule of training in Thailand, Dr Suresh Kumar spoke to Phra Paisal Visalo, abbot of the Buddhist Monastery, Wat Pasukato, and founder of the Buddhist Network for a Good Death.
What does Buddhism say about suffering in general and suffering at the end of life in particular?

In the Buddhist perspective, suffering is the reality that no one can escape from. We are all facing ageing, sickness, separation and loss, either sooner or later. The reason for this is that life is uncertainty. Everything in this world is only temporary. But change is certainty. That is: Impermanence. Our life is pressurised by internal and external factors which lead to constant changes. Everything ultimately is rotten and disintegrated, that is: suffering. There is no 'self' which is independent or permanent. We can only delay or escape suffering for a while but it is inevitable. What we can do is to alleviate suffering and lessen its effects when it occurs.

However, it is possible that those conditions of suffering can only affect us physically but not necessarily affect our mental conditions. Buddhism believes that every human can cultivate their mind to be free from suffering. Even though we all face ageing, sickness and death, our minds need not to be painful from these, if only we accept the reality with no refusal and no resistance. Acceptance is the most important factor for us to be free from suffering. 

Instead of being affected by physical suffering, we can use it to our benefit; open our eyes to the fact that nothing is certainty. Wisdom is also the key success to enlighten our minds to be free from suffering. There have been numerous monks and laypeople who received enlightenment while they were facing suffering due to sickness and the death. In other words, sickness and death can develop our wisdom to realize the ultimate truth and achieve enlightenment.

How relevant is learning from these ideas to the end of life care of non-Buddhists?

Buddhism believes the happiness is possible at the end of life. There should be no fear when the time has come. Every human has it in his own capacity to be happy, regardless of which religion he professes, or even if he has no religion at all. Peaceful death is possible for all human beings. 

What do you consider as a good death? 

Good death, from Buddhist perspective, is not determined by the way one dies, or the reason for death. It is rather characterized by the condition of mind at the time of death; dying in peace, without fear or mental suffering. This is possible when one accept one’s own death and lets go of everything – no attachment to anything or any person. Good death is also characterized by the blissful states of existence where one is reborn. Best of all is death with an enlightened mind, achieving the ultimate wisdom concerning the true essence of nature. This enables the mind to be free from suffering and realize nirvana, with no rebirth. 

What is good life?

Good life means life with well-being, free from sickness, poverty or exploitation. Good life also means living a life with morality; not taking advantage of others but also doing good deeds for others and society. It involves peaceful mind, having compassion and not being dominated by greed, anger and delusion. It is life not inflicted by suffering, resulting from understanding the reality of life and being capable of solving the problems that arise.

Do you think that good living always leads to a good or comfortable death?

Good life could lead to a peaceful death, but not always. When a person is dying, if his mind is in sorrow, or worried about his children, parents, the loved ones or could not let go of his properties, if he is guilty, or has unfinished business, he would refuse and fight with death at any cost. This will lead to torment, agitation and restlessness, with woeful existence after death. Besides, physical pain from sickness may cause patients to be angry and agitated and find no peace at the end of life.

On the other hand, do you think that a good death is possible without a good life?

Good death could happen to those who have unwholesome life, though it is very rare. This is because those who have unwholesome life are afraid that they will go to evil states after death. So they are fearful of death. Many suffer from guilt or are haunted by their bad conduct in the past. As for those who are dominated by greed, anger or delusion, they always find difficulty in letting go of their property or ill will. This will inevitably lead to death in torment. However, if they are lucky enough to have friends who can help them to recall good deeds and let go of everything, their mind will become wholesome and a good death will be possible for them. 

Death being certainty in life, how can one prepare for it?

Preparing for death is a necessity for all human beings, because we all will face it no matter how we are or who we are. We should prepare for death by exercising ‘the Contemplation of Death’. This means we should remind ourselves constantly that we will die sooner or later. We do not know when, where and how. Then we ask ourselves: If we were to die soon, are we ready for that? Have we done any good deeds to our loved ones and others? Is it enough? Are we sufficiently responsible for everything that we have? Are we ready to let things go yet? If the answer is: ‘not ready yet’, we must do good deeds from now on and try to complete those tasks and responsibilities. Finally, we have to learn how to let things go. Doing good deeds means we have nothing to be sorry for. Then letting things go will enable us to face the death and ready for it now and in the future. 
Fear of death is one of the major factors causing distress in the dying. Are there ways of addressing this, irrespective of one’s faith? 

The fear of death occurs when we tend to forget we all die sooner or later. We may have unfinished business and worry about beloved ones or belongings. One may be fearful of death because one is uncertain about what will happen after death. The fear of death can be relieved if we regularly practice the contemplation of death, try to do our best to our beloved ones and try to complete our important tasks and responsibilities. Meditation is a good way to cultivate our minds to accept death: seeing death as a part of life with no fear at all.

Can interventions like meditation assist in alleviating suffering towards the end of life? How? Even in a person who has not practised mediation till the final days of his or her life?

Meditation helps lessen suffering. At the end of life, when pain occurs, one can focus on one’s breath – in-breath and out-breath. Once mind and breath are in harmony, concentration and calmness will take place. Calmness of mind will produce some chemistry in one’s body that can gradually lessen the pain. Calmness meditation also diverts the mind from physical pain, and can enable one to be unaware of the pain or feel less pain.
Mindfulness meditation can also relieve suffering. Mindfulness meditation helps the mind to let go of the pain. Instead of 'being pain', mindfulness enables one to be aware of the pain. This will reduce mental pain. Only physical pain will exist.

Experienced mediators can give advice to anyone to eliminate the degrees of suffering. An appropriate and peaceful environment can also help relieve pain. Reminding oneself of good deeds in the past, or concentrating on sacred things in which one has faith can support mindfulness meditation as well.

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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Practical Vipassana Meditational Exercises

Practical Vipassana
Meditational Exercises 
 By Ven. Mahasi Sayadaw

practice of Vipassana or Insight Meditation is the effort made by the meditation to understand correctly the nature of the psycho-physical phenomena taking place in his own body. Physical phenomena are the things or objects which one clearly perceives around one. The whole of one's body that one clearly perceives constitutes a group of material qualities [rupa]. Psychical or mental phenomena are acts of consciousness or awareness [nama]. These [nama-rupas] are clearly perceived to be happening whenever they are seen, heard smelt, tasted, touched, or thought of. We must make ourselves aware of them by observing, hearing, hearing, "smelling, smelling, tasting, tasting" touching, touching, 'or thinking, thinking'.
Every time one sees, hears, smells, tastes, touches, or thinks, one should make a note of the fact. But in the beginning of one's practice one cannot make a note of every one of these happenings. One should, therefore, begin with noting those happening which are conspicuous and easily perceivable.
With every act of breathing, the abdomen rise and fall, which is always evident. This is the material quality known as vayodhatu [the element of motion]. One should begin by noting this movements, which may be done by intently observing the abdomen in mind. You will find the abdomen rising when you breathe in, and falling when you breathe out. The rising should be noted mentally as rising, and the falling as falling. If the movement is not evident by just nothing it mentally, touch the abdomen with the palm of your hand. Do not alter the manner of your breathing, Neither slow it down, nor make it faster. Do not breathing too vigorously, either. You will tire if you change the manner of your breathing, Breathe steadily as usual and note the rising and falling of the abdomen as they occur, Note it mentally, not verbally.
In Vipassana meditation, what's your name or say doesn't matter. What really matters is to know or perceive. While noting the rising of the abdomen, do so from the beginning to the end of the movement just as if you are seeing it with your eyes. Do the same with the falling movement. Note the rising movement in such a way that your awareness of it is concurrent with the movement itself. The movement and the mental awareness of it should coincide in the same way as a stone thrown hitting the same goes for the target. The falling movement.
Your mind may wander else where while you are noting the abdominal movements. This must also be noted by mentally saying wandering, wandering. When this has been noted once or twice, the mind stops wandering, in which case you go back to noting the rising and falling of
the abdomen, if the mind reaches somewhere, note it as 'reaching, reaching'. Then go back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. If you imagine meeting somebody, note it as meeting, meeting'. Then back to the sing and falling. If you imagine meeting and talking to somebody, note it as 'talking, talking'.
In short, whatever thought or reflection occurs should be noted. If you imagine, note it as 'imagine. If you think, 'thinking'. if you plan, 'planning'. If you perceive, 'perceiving'. If you reflect, 'reflecting'. If you feel happy, 'happy'. If you feel bored, bored'. If you feel glad, 'glad'. If you feel disheartened, 'disheartened'. Noting all these acts off consciousness is called Cittanupassana. Because we fail to note these acts of consciousness, we tend to identify whit a person or individual. We tend to think that it is ""I" who is imagining, thinking, planning, knowing (or perceiving). We think that there is a person who from childhood onwards has been living and thinking. Actually, no such person exists. There are instead only these continuing and successive acts of consciousness. That is why we have to note these acts of consciousness and know them for what they are. That is why we have to note each and every act of consciousness as it arises. When so noted, they tends to disappear. We then go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
When you have sat meditating for long, sensations of stiffness and heat will arise in your body. These are to be noted carefully too. Similarly with sensations of pain and tiredness. All of these sensations are dukkhavedana (feeling of unsatisfactoriness) and noting them is vedananupassana. Failure or omission to note these sensations makes you think, "I am stiff, I am feeling hot, I am in pain. I was all right a moment ago. Now I am uneasy with these unpleasant sensations." The identification of these sensations with the ego is mistaken. There is really no "I" involved, only a succession of one new unpleasant Sensation after another. It is just like a continuous succession of new electrical impulses that light up electric lamps. Every time unpleasant contacts are encountered in the body, unpleasant sensations arise one after another. These sensations should be carefully and intently noted, whether they are sensations, of heat or of pain. In the beginning of the yogis meditational practice, these sensation may tend to increase and lead to a desire to change his posture. This desire should be noted, after which the yogi should go back to noting the sensations of stiffness, heat, etc. patience leads to Nibbana,' as the saying goes. This saying is most relevant in meditation effort. One must be patient in meditation. If one shifts or changes one's posture too often because one cannot be patient with the sensation of stiffness or heat that arises, samadhi [good concentration] cannot develop. if samadhi cannot develop, Insight cannot result and there can be no attainment of
magga [the path that leads to Nibbana], phala [the fruit of that part] and Nibbana. That is why patience is needed in meditation. It is mostly patience with unpleasant sensations in the body like stiffness, sensations of heat and pain, and other sensations that are hard to bear. One should not immediately give up one's meditation on the appearance of such sensations and change one's meditational posture. One should go on patiently, just noting them as stiffness, stiffness' or 'hot, hot'. Moderate sensations of these kinds will disappear if one goes on nothing them patiently. When concentration is good and strong, even intense sensations tend to disappear. One then reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
One will of course have to change one's posture if the sensations do not disappear even
After one has noted them for a long time, and if on the other have they become unbearable. One should then begin noting them as 'wishing to change, wishing to change'. If the arm rises, note it as 'rising, rising'. If it moves, note it as 'moving, moving.' This change should be made gently and noted as 'rising, rising,' 'moving, moving' and 'touching'. If the body sways, 'swaying, swaying'. If the foot rises, 'rising, rising'. If it moves, 'moving, moving' If it drops, 'dropping, dropping'. If there is no change, but only static rest, go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. There must be no intermission in between, only continuity between a preceding act of noting and a succeeding one, between a preceding samasdhi [state of concentration] and a succeeding one, between a preceding act of intelligence and a succeeding one. Only then will there be successive and ascending stages of maturity in the yogi's state of intelligence. Megga and mala nana [knowledge of the path and its fruition] are attained only when there is this kind of gathering momentum. The meditative process is like that of producing fire by energetically and unremittingly rubbing two sticks of wood together so as to attain the necessary intensity of heat [and the flame arises].
In the same way, the noting in Vipassana meditation should be continual and unremitting, without any resting interval between acts of noting whatever phenomena may arise, for instance, if a sensation of itchiness intervenes and the yogi desires to scratch because it is hard to bear, both the sensation and the desire to get rid of it should be noted, without immediately getting rid of the sensation by scratching.
If one goes on perservingly noting thus, the itchiness generally disappears, in which case one reverts to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. If the itchiness does not in fact disappear, one has to ofcourse eliminate it by scratching. But first, the desire to do so should be noted. All the movements involved in the process of eliminating this sensation should be noted, especially the touching, pulling and pushing,and scratching movements, with and eventual reversion to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen.
Every time you make a change of posture, you begin with noting your intention or desire to make the change, and go onto noting every movement closely, such as rising from the sitting posture, raising the arm moving and stretching it, you should make the change at the same time as noting the movements involved. As your body sways forward, note it. As you rise, the body become light and rises, concentrating your mind on this you should gently note it as 'rising, rising'. The yogi should behave as if he were a weak invalid. People of normal health rise easily and quickly or abruptly, not so with feeble invalids, who do so slowly and gently. The same is the case with people suffering from 'back-ache' who rise gently so their back hurts less ( lest the back hurt and cause pain.)
So also with meditating yogis. They have to make their changes of posture gradually and gently; only then will mindfulness, concentration and insight be good. Begin therefore with gentle and gradual movements. When rising, the yoga must do so gently like an invalid, at the same time noting it as rising, rising. Not only this; though the eye sees, the yogi must act as if he does not see. Similarly when the ear hears. While meditating, the yogi's concern is only to note. What he sees and hears are or his concern. So whatever strange or striking things he may see or hear. He must behave as if he does not see or hear them, merely noting carefully.
When making bodily movements, the yoga should do so gradually as if he were a weak invalid, gently moving his arms and legs, bending or stretching them, bending down the head and bringing it up. All these movements should be made gently. When rising from the sitting posture, he should do so gradually, noting it as "rising, rising" When straightening up and standing, noting it as "standing, standing". When looking here and there, noting as "looking, seeing". When walking noting the steps, whether they are taken with the right or the left foot. You must be aware of all the successive movements involved, from the raising of the foot to the dropping of it. Note each step taken, whether with the right foot or the left foot. This is the manner of noting when one walks fast.
If will be enough if you note thus when walking fast and walking some distance. When walk slowly or doing the cankama walk [waling up and down], three movements should be noted in each step; when the foot is raised, when it is pushed forward, and when it is dropped. Begin with noting the raising and dropping movements. One must be properly aware of the raising of the foot, similarly, when the foot is dropped, one should be properly aware of the 'heavy' falling of the foot.
One must walk, noting it as raising, dropping' with each step. This noting will become easier after above, as 'raising, pushing forward, dropping,. In the beginning, it will suffice to note one or two movements only, thus'right step, left step' when walking fast and 'raising, dropping'when walking slowly. If when walking thus, you want to sit down, note as wanting to sit down, wanting to sit down'. When actually sitting down, concentratedly note the heavy' falling of your body. When you are seated, note the movements involved in arranging your legs and arms. When there are no such movements, but just a stillness (staticrest) of the body, note the rising and falling of the abdomen. While noting thus and if stiffness of your limbs and sensations of heat in any part of your body arise, go on to note them. Then back to "rising, falling". While noting thus and if a desire to lie down arises, note it and the movements of your legs and arms as you lie down. The raising of the arm., the moving of it, the resting of the elbow on the floor, the swaying of the body, the stretching of legs, the listing of the body as one slowly prepares to lie down, all these movements should be noted.
the path and its fruition). When samadhi (concentration) and nana (insight) are strong, the distinctive knowledge can come at any moment. It can come in a single "bend" of the arm or in a single "stretch of the arm. Thus it was that the Venerable Ananda became an arahat.
The Ven.Ananda was trying strenuously to attain Arahatship over night on the eve
Of the first Buddhist council.He was practising the whole night a form of Vipassana meditation
Known as kayagatasati, noting his steps,right and left,raising,pyshing forward and dropping of the feet;noting,happening by happening by happening,the mental desire to walk and the physical movement involved in walking. Although this went on till it was nearly dawn,he had mot yet succeeded in attaining Arahatship. Realizing that he has practiced the walking meditation to excess and that, in order to balance samadhi(concentration)and viriya (effort), He should practice meditation in the lying posture for a while, he entered his chamber. He sat on the couch and then lay himself down. While doing so and noting 'lying, lying' he attained Arahatship in an instant.
The Ven.Ananda was only a sotapanna (that is ,a stream winner or one who has attained the first stage on the path to Nibbana)before he thus lay homself down. From sotapannahood, he continued to meditate and reached sakadagamihood(that is, the condition of the once-retuner or one who has attained the third stage on the path)and arahatship (that is the condition of the noble one who has attained the last stage on the path.) Reaching these three successive stages of the higher path took only a little while. just think of this example of the Ven.ananda's attainment of arahatship. Such attainment can come at any moment and need not take long. That is why the yogi should note with diligenceall the time. He should not relax in his noting, thinking "this little lapse should not matter much." All movements involved in lying down and arranging the arms and legs should be carefully and unremittingly noted. If there is no movement, but only stillness(of the body),go back to noting the rising and falling of the abdomen. Even when it is getting late and time to sleep, the yoga should not go to sleep yet, dropping his noting. A really serious and energetic yogi should practise mindfulness as if he were forgoing his sleep altogether. He should go on meditating till he falls asleep. If the meditation is good and has the upper hand, drowsiness has the upper hand he will not fall asleep. If, on the other hand, he will fall asleep. When he feels sleepy, he should note it as 'sleepy, sleepy'. If his eyelids drop, 'dropping' if they become heavy or leaden 'heavy', if the eyes become smarting, 'smarting' Nothing thus, the drowsiness may pass and the eyes become clear again.
The yoga should then note that as "clear, clear" and go on to note the rising and falling of the abdomen. However perseveringly the yogi may go on meditating, if real drowsiness intervenes, he does fall asleep. It is not difficult to fall asleep; in fact. It is easy if you meditate in the lying posture, you gradually become drowsy and eventually fall asleep. That is why the beginner in meditation should not meditate too much in the lying posture. He should meditate much in the lying posture. He should meditate much more in the sitting posture and walking But as it grows late and becomes time to sleep, he should meditate in the lying position, noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen He will then a naturally (automatically) fall asleep.
The time he is asleep is the resting time for the yogi. But for the really serious yogi, he should limit his sleeping time to about four hours. This is the midnight time permitted by the Buddha. Four hours sleep is quite enough. If the beginner in meditation thinks that four hours'sleep is not though for his health, he may extend it to five or six hours. Six hours'sleep is clearly enough for one's health. When the yogi awakens, he should at once resume noting. The yoga who is really bent on attaining magga and phala nana, should rest from meditational effort only when he is asleep. At other times, in his waking moments, he should be noting contnuously and without rest, That is why, as soon as he awakens, he should note the awakining state of his mind as'awakening, awakening'. If he cannot yer make himself aware of this, he should begin noting the rising and galling of the abdomen. If he intends to get up from bed, he should note it as 'intending to get up, intending to get up'. He should then go on to note the changing movements he makes as he arrages his arms and legs. When he raises his head and rises, noting it as 'rising, rising'. When he is seated,noting as,sitting,sitting.
If he makes any changing movement as he arranges his arms and legs, all of these movements should also be noted.If there are no such changes, but only a sitting quietly, he should revert to noting the rising and falling movements of the abdomen.
One should also note when one washes one's face and when one takes a bath. As the movements involved in these acts are rather quick, as many of them should be noted as possible. There are then acts of dressing, of tidying up the bed, of opening and closing the door; all these should also be noted as closely as possible. When the yoga has his meal and looks at the meal-table, he should note it as "looking, seeing." When he extends his arm towards the food, touches it, collects and arranges it, handles it and brings it to his mouth, bends his head and puts the morsel of food into his mouth, drops his arm and raises his head again, all these movements should be duly noted. (This way of noting is in accordance with the Burmese way of taking a meal. Those who use fork and spoon or chopsticks should note the movements in an appropriate manner.)
When he chews the food. He should note it as 'chewing, chewing.' When he comes to know the taste of the food. He should note it as 'knowing knowing.' As he relishes the food and swallows it, as the food goes down his throat, he should note all these happenings. This is how the yogi should note as he takes one morsel after another of his food. As he takes his soup, all the movements involved such as extending of the arm, handling of the spoon and scooping with it and so on, all these should be noted. To note thus at meal-time is rather difficult as there are so many things to observe and note. The beginning yoga is likely to miss several things which he should note, but he should resolve to note all. He cannot of course help it if he overlooks and misses some, but as his samadhi (concentration) becomes strong, he will be able to not closely all these happenings. Well, I have mentioned so many things for the yogi to note. But to summarize, there are only a few things to note. When walking fast, note as 'right step,' left step.' And as raising, dropping' When walking slowly. When sitting quietly, just note the rising and falling of the abdomen. Note the same When you are lying , if there is nothing particular to note. While noting thus and if the mind wanders, note the acts of consciousness that arise. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen note also the sensations of stiffness pain and ache, and itchiness as they arise. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. Note also, as they arise, the bending and stretching and moving of the limbs, bending and raising of the head, swaying and straightening of the body. Then back to the rising and falling of the abdomen. Beginner in meditation encounters the same difficulty, but as he becomes more practiced, he becomes aware of every act of mind-wandering till eventually the mind does not wander any more. The mind is then riveted on the ofject of its attention, the act of mindfulness becoming almost simulaneous with the object of its attention such as the rising and falling of the abdomen. (In other words the rising of the abdomen becomes concurrent with the act of nothing it, and similarly with the falling of the abdomen. (In other words the rising of the abdomen becomes concurrent with the act of noting it, and similarly with the falling of the abdomen.)
The physical object of attention and the mental act of noting are occurring as a pair. There is in this occurrence no person or individual involved, only this physical object of attention and the mental act of noting occurring as a pair. The yogi will in time actually and personally experience these and falling of the abdomen he will come to distinguish the rising of the abdomen as physical phenomenon and the mental act of noting it as psychological phenomenon; sumultaneous occurrence in pairs of these psycho-physical phenomena.
Thus, with every act of noting, the yogi will come to know for himself clearly that there are only the material quality which is the object of awareness or attention and the mental quality that makes a note of it. This discriminating knowledge is called namarupa-paricheda-nana. It is important to gain this knowledge corredtly. This will be succeeded, as the yogi goes on by the knowledge that distinguishes between the cause and its effect, which knowledge is called paccayapariggaha-nana. As the yogi goes on noting, he will see for himself that wat arises passes away after a short while. Ordinary people assume that both material and mental phenomena go on lasting throughtut life, that is, from youth to adulthood. In fact, that is not so. There is no phenomenon that lasts forever. All phenomena arise and pass away so rapidly that they do not even last the twinkling of an eye. The yogi will come to know this for himself as he goes on nothing. He will then become convinced of the impermanence of all such phenomena. Such conviction is called anicca nupassan-nana.
This knowledge will be succeed by dukkhanupassana-nana which realizes that all this impermanence is suffering. The yogi is also likely to encounter all kinds of hardship in his body, which is just an aggregate of sufferings. This is also dukkhanupassana-nana. Next, the yogi will be come convinced that all these psycho-physical phenomena are occurring on their own accord, following nobody's will and nobody's will and subject to nobody's control. They constitute no individual or ego-entity. This realization is anatta nupassanna nana.
When, as he goes on meditating, the yogi comes to realize firmly that all these phenomena are anicca, dukkha and anatta, he will attain Nibbana. All the former Buddhas, Arahats and Aryas realized Nibbana follwing this very path. All meditating yogis should recognize thatthey themselves are now on this satipatthana path, in fulfilment of their wish for attainment of magga-nana (knowledge of the path), phala-nana (knowledge of the fruition of the path) and Nibbana-dhamma, and following the ripening of their parami perfection of virtue. The should feel glad at this and at the prospect of experiencing the noble kind of samadhi (tranquillity of mind brought abourt by concentration) and nana (supramundane knowledge or wisdom) experienced by the buddhas, Arahats and Aryas and which they themselves have never experience before.
It will bot be long before they will experience for themselves the magga-nana, Phata-nana and Nibbana dhamma experienced by the Buddhas, arahats and Aryas. As a matter of fact, these may be experienced in the space of a month or of twenty or fifteen days of their meditational practice Those whose parami is exceptional may experience these dhammas even within seven days. The yogi should therefore rest content in the faith that he will attain these dhammas in the time specified above, that he will be freed of askka ya-ditthi (ego-belief) and vicikiccha (doubt or uncertainty) and saved from the danger of rebirth in the nether worlds. He should go on with his meditational practice in this faith.
May you all be able to practice meditation well and quickly attain that nibbana wich the Buddhas, Arathats and arayas have experienced.
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Thursday, June 26, 2014

The happiness that you can grow.

The happiness that you can grow
Blurb: Can we buy happiness?
How can we achieve true and lasting joy?
Here are some views from Phra Paisal Visalo,
an abbot of Mahawan forest monastery in Chaiyaphum.

Phra Paisal Visalo

True happiness cannot be bought. It is something we have to cultivate ourselves. There is a Chinese saying that "if you want three hours of ecstasy, try gambling. For three weeks of rapture, go traveling. For three months of bliss, get married. Build a new house, and you will enjoy three years of heaven. But if you want a true and lasting happiness, grow and live with trees." Growing trees make us happy not only when we see them blossom and give us fruits and shades. We already experience the feeling of joy the moment we put the seeds into the soil, pour the water over it, till and take care of the land constantly. As the seeds grow into saplings, and eventually bigger trees, so does our sense of happiness. Those who have spent time living in the midst of nature know how what seems to be a life of monotony is indeed a blessed one, brought about by innate peace and tranquility.

To have a chance to grow trees, to take care of the environment, to become a part of nature, that is, to me, real happiness. And we should not be just the beneficiaries; we should also take an active role in the nurturing of our surrounding. Nowadays, such opportunity has become few and far between: the wild woods have been continuously shrinking. We need thus to join hands in bringing them back. That is the beginning of growing happiness by our own hands.

At the same time, what is no less important is to take care of "a tree" in our own heart. When that flourishes, so will our peace of mind. The question is: how is the tree faring? Is it growing healthily? Or has it been withering away? How much are we attending to this tree in our own mind? Most may not realise that there is ?a tree? inside each of us that needs looking after. We may not be aware at all if it is still alive, or is it wilting away? This is because we often spend little time with ourselves. Much of the time, we keep ourselves busy with things from the outside: friends, work, TVs, shopping, and so on. We think they are indispensable. We look outward to avoid the problems inside. The tree in our mind has been neglected. It becomes vulnerable to pest, weeds, and drought. But now is the time to go back and nurture our own tree.

That is not difficult at all. When we do something good, when we give something away or make someone happy, we are watering the tree inside us. We have been taught to believe that the more we possess, the happier we will be. Thus a number of people think happiness can be purchased; they run after things to fulfill their craving all the time. Few realise that the happiness gained from giving away is more profound, more refined; it waters the tree inside our mind. And when that grows, prospers, it will give the flowers, fruits, and shades _ an unsurpassable peace _ to us.

The Jit Arsa volunteer programmes have drawn a number of people [who volunteer on various projects]. Incidentally, many participants talked about the discovery of happiness in the process. At the end of a two-day tree-planting project, a lady confessed that she initially felt overwhelmed at the sight of the barren hills in front of the temple. She felt like she was just a clump of lowly grass. Having planted numerous trees, her spirit soared. She no longer felt like the grass. She now feels like the trees. The trees in their minds have grown. Just two days of working on something meaningful with other people has given her the energy. From the grass, she suddenly becomes the trees. It is so instant. It is up to us how we will grow, take care and nourish it.

Our happiness is not different from the tree. When it is small, it needs water from the sky, from the gardener. As it grows, the tree does not only spruce upwards; its roots also dig deeper into the earth. And when the roots reach the water source, even in the drought, the tree will continue to stay green because there is a constant supply of water underneath.

Thus even the dry, parched earth may have some source of water underneath. Some of us may feel every now and then like the sun-scorched earth _ desolate, without any hope. We seek happiness from traveling, searching for delicious food, fun and excitement. But such feelings do not last. It is like the tree that still depends on water from the sky. It will wither in the dry season. But the tree with the roots digging deep into the soil, reaching the fount of water inside, will be able to absorb the happiness from within. It is already inside us. When we have time to be with ourselves, to experience the various phenomena of the mind, we will become aware that both suffering and happiness is up to us, to our ability to get in touch with the inner depth inside ourselves.
From giving, doing something good, helping others, spending time with oneself, we begin to touch the inner peace, and gradually realise true happiness. This is called the spirituality. In the secular realm, happiness is already with us. We are, however, usually not aware of it until we get sick. Only then shall we realise how happy we were yesterday. We kept looking for something else, unaware that we were already happy, with our good health, friends, family, having someone we love. We did not recognise our own happiness. Our heart kept yearning for something else all the time.

During his talk organised by the Komol Kheemthong Foundation [early this year], Pramual Pengchan described his climb up the Doi Inthanont. Before he reached the top of the mountain, he became so exhausted and finally got a lift from a passing driver. On the way down, he was in awe by the scenery of both sides of the road. He was amazed at the beauty of nature. Then he understood that he could not see and appreciate the beauty on the way up because his mind was concentrated on reaching the top of the mountain. It reflects the reality of life that people are not happy because their minds are always in the future, what they call wishes and dreams, wealth, fame and glory, success in their career. We long for happiness in the future even though it is right in front of us. People today are not happy because they cannot appreciate the good things they already have in the present. We keep looking for the happiness that lies ahead. And when it has not yet materialized, we suffer. When we run after happiness, thinking that we will achieve it at the end of our destination, we then forget that we can make it real everyday. By spending time with our children, family, by doing exercise, by meditating, or doing something we love. Instead of concentrating on the future, we can begin to pay attention to today, to appreciate what we have in every moment. To pay attention to the present moment does not only mean to be contented with what we have, but also not to worry about the past nor the future. Most of us suffer because we carry things that have already passed, or worry about what's yet to come. If we can live with the present, we will become more peaceful. We will have better concentration. But nowadays, a lot of us tend to be more interested in what we don't have yet, or what we have already lost.

To nurture mindfulness, to be constantly alert, is to open our heart to happiness in the present. It helps our mind to reach the inner happiness, the spiritual side of us. Only then shall the wisdom arise, and we will not be afraid of anything.
The tree is not afraid of the sunlight. As it grows and branches out, it can transform the sunshine into shades. Its roots are not afraid of waste, because they can transform this into nourishing foods, into fragrant flowers and tasty fruits. When we look after our mind, always contemplating with mindfulness and wisdom, we will not be afraid of suffering, losses, pain, and even death. We will be able to transform suffering into happiness, misfortune into a blessing. It is like the tree that can transform the heat of the sun into the cooling shade, the waste into sweet fruits and flowers.

But we have to invest in all this by growing, nurturing, both the trees in nature and the tree in our own mind. Only then will they flourish, growing deep and tall, to give us the shade, and the happiness.

This is a translation of an article that summarised Phra Paisan Visalo's closing speech on the celebration of the tenth anniversary of Sarn Saeng Arun Magazine and was published in the bi-monthly for May-June 2007 edition.

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Monday, June 9, 2014



By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
This bring us to the expression "the heart of Buddhism." In discussions about what constitutes the heart of Buddhism, all sorts of strange ideas are brought forward. some people recite this or that formula, such as VI-SU-PA. This sort of "heart" is everyday language, the language of stupid people. People with no knowledge of Dhamma will just rattle off a couple of Pali words or some other cliche and proclaim this to be the heart of Buddhism.
The heart of Buddhism, as this expression is understood in Dhamma language, as the Buddha has put it, is the realization that nothing whatsoever should be grasped at and clung to.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya."
Nothing whatever should be grasped at and clung to as "me" or "mine" This is the heart of Buddhism as understood in Dhamma language, the language of the Buddha. So anyone who is after the heart of Buddhism should be very careful not to get just the "heart" of everyday language, the language of people ignorant of Dhamma. That sort of "heart" is likely to be something ridiculous, laughable, and childish.
What I have said so far ought to be sufficient to enable you to realize how a single word may have two different meanings. An intelligent and discerning person will be capable of considering both modes of speaking. " A wise person is one who is careful to consider both modes of speaking." "Both modes of speaking" means both of the possible meanings of a word. One is the meaning the word has in everyday language; the other is the meaning that same word has in Dhamma language. A discerning person must consider both meanings, as we have done in the numerous examples dealt with above. The words we have considered so far as examples are rather high-level terms. Let us now consider some more down-to-earth examples. I apologize if some of these appear a little crude.

Thursday, May 29, 2014



By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
Now we shall consider the word "Sangha." In everyday language, the word "Sangha" refers to the community of monks who wear the yellow robe and wander from place to place. This is the Sangha as it is understood in everyday language, the language of the unenlightened person who has not yet seen the Truth. In Dhamma language, the word "Sangha" refers once again to the Truth, to the Dhamma itself. It refers to the high qualities, of whatever kind and degree, that exist in the mind of the monk, the man of virtue. There are certain high mental qualities that make a man a monk. The totality of these high qualities existing in the mind of the monk is what is called the Sangha.

The Sangha of everyday language is the assembly of monks themselves. The Sangha of Dhamma  language are those high qualities in the minds of the monks. The Sangha proper consists of these four levels: the stream-enterer (sota-panna), the once-returner (sakadagami), the non-returner (anagami), and the fully perfected being (arahant, worthy one, undefiled by any egoism), These terms, too, refer to mental rather than physical qualities, because the physical frames of these people are in no way different from those of anyone else. Where they do differ is in mental or spiritual qualities. This is what make a person a stream-enterer, once-returner, non-returner, or arahant. This is how the word "Sangha" is to be understood in Dhamma language.

Monday, May 19, 2014



By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

The second word to consider is "Dhamma" (Dharma in Sanskrit). At the childish level of everyday language, the word is understood as referring to the actual books that contain the scriptures, the "Dhamma" in the bookcase. Or it may be understood as referring to the spoken word used in expounding the Teaching. This is the meaning of the word "Dhamma" in everyday language., the language of deluded people who has not yet seen the true Dhamma.
In term of Dhamma language, the Dhamma is one and the same as the Enlightened One. "One who see the Dhamma sees the Tathagata. One who sees the Tathagata see the Dhamma." This is the real Dhamma. In the original Pali language, the word "Dhamma" was used to refer to all of the intricate and involved things that go to make up what we call Nature. Time will not permit us to discuss this point in detail here, so we shall mention just the main points. The word "Dhamma" embraces:
1. Nature itself;
2. The law of Nature;
3. The duty of each human being to act in accordance with the Law of Nature;
4. The benefits to be derived from this acting in accordance with the Law of Nature.

This is the wide range of meaning covered by the word "Dhamma." It does not refer simply to books, palm-leaf manuscripts, or the voices of preachers. The word "Dhamma," as used in Dhamma laungage, refers to non-material things. Dhamma is all-embracing; it is profound; it includes all things, some difficult to understand and some not so difficult.
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Monday, May 12, 2014

Vesak Day The Victory Day of Lord Buddha (ํYou too)

"Visakhapuja Day"
Vesak Day
 The Victory Day of Lord Buddha

The Buddha’s Birth

In the sixth century B.C., in the prosperous city of Kapilavatthu in northern India (modern Nepal), lived Queen Sirimahamaya, wife of King Suddhodana. The Queen was faithfully observing Buddhist vows (precepts). One day, she dreamed of a beautiful white elephant carrying a lotus came encircled her and entered her body from the right hand side. Perplexed by this dream, the King summoned some wise brahmins to analyse it. They predicted a beautiful son would be born to the royal couple. If the child remained in the palace, he would become a Universal Monarch; if he renounced from royal life he would become a Buddha, a fully-enlightened Awakened One.

The Buddha’s Enlightenment

When Prince Siddhattha was 29 years old, Princess Yasodharā gave birth to their son Rāhula. Great was his love for the two dearest, greater was his compassion for the suffering humanity. He was not worried about the future worldly happiness and comfort of the mother and child as they had everything in abundance and were well protected. Time was ripe to depart. Leaving all behind, the prince with his loyal charioteer Channa left the palace on the royal steed Kanthaka. Thus did he renounce the world in search of ways to eliminate sufferings so as to liberate all sentient beings from the Samsara.

The Buddha’s Parinibbana

Lord Buddha was a most energetic and active teacher, His daily routine was fully occupied with religious activities. They were divided into five parts, (i) the Morning Session, Alms Round; (ii) the Afternoon Session, Deliver Discourses to the Laities; (iii) the Night Session, Coaching the Monastic Disciples; (iv) the Mid-Night Session, Answer Queries from the Celestial Beings; and (v) the Dawn Session, Survey the World with His Divine Eyes for Potential Person to Receive His Transcendental Aid. The Great Teacher provided guidance with magnificent determination without any discrepancies, leading to an exponential increase in the number of followers.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014


By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
The first example is the word "Buddha." As you know, the word "Buddha" in everyday language refers to the historical Enlightened Being, Gotama Buddha. It refers to a physical man of flesh and bone who was born in India over two thousand years ago, died, and was cremated. This is the meaning of the word "Buddha" in everyday language.
Considered in terms of Dhamma lanugage, however, the word "Buddha" refers to the Truth which the historical Buddha realized and taught, namely the Dhamma itself. The Buddha said:

One who see the Dhamma sees the Tathagata. (a word the Buddha often used to refer to himself) One who see the Tathagata sees the Dhamma. One who sees not the Dhamma, though grasping at the robe of the Tathagata, cannot be said to have seen the Tathagata.

Now, the Dhamma is something intangible. It is not something physical, certainly not flesh and bones. Yet the Buddha said it is one and the same as the Enlightened One. "One who sees the Dhamma sees the Tathagata." Anyone who fails to see the Dhamma cannot be said to have seen the Enlightened One. So in Dhamma language, the Buddha is one and the same as that Truth by virtue of which he became the Buddha, and anyone who sees that Truth can be said to have seen the true Buddha. To see just his physical body would not be to see the Buddha at all and would bring no real benefit.

During the Buddha's lifetime, the majority of people were unfavorably disposed towards him. Some abused him and even did him physical harm. They didn't understand him because what they saw was only his physical body, the outer shell, the Buddha of everyday language. The real Buddha, the Buddha of Dhamma language, is the Truth in his mind, knowing which the man because "Buddha." When he said, "Whoever sees the Truth see me. Whoever sees me sees the Truth," he was speaking Dhamma lanugage.

Again, the Buddha said, "The Dhamma and the Vinaya (Discipline), which I have proclaimed and have demonstrated, these shall be your teacher when I hae passed away." Thus the real Buddha has not passed away, has not ceased to exist. What ceased to exist was just the physical body, the outer shell. The real Teacher, that is, the Dhamma-Vinaya, is still with us. This is the meaning of the word "Buddha" in Dhamma language. The "Buddha" of Dhamma language is the Dhamma itself, which made him Buddha.

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Friday, April 25, 2014



      By Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
I didn't come here today to give any formal sermon or lecture,
but to have an informal chat among friends.  I hope that you all agree
to this, so that we can speak and listen to each other without
formality and rituals, even if our talk here becomes somewhat
different or unusual.  Further, I intend to speak only about the most
essential matters, important topics which people consider to be
profound.  Therefore, if you don't listen carefully you may find it
difficult to follow and might misunderstand, especially those of you
who haven't heard the previous talks in this series.  (As a matter of
fact, it's also difficult for me, for with each new talk I must
maintain a connection with the previous ones.)

 The last talk was called "What To Do To Be Void."  This time I
intend to talk about "No Religion."  If you find the subject strange
or incomprehensible, or if don't agree, please take the time to think
it over.  But remember, it isn't necessary to believe or subscribe to
what I say right away.

 When we meet together like this, I feel there is something
which prevents us from understanding each other and this thing is
simply the problem of language itself.  You see, there are two kinds
of language.  One is the conventional language that ordinary people
speak, what I call "people language."

 People language is used by the ordinary people who don't
understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so
dense that they are blind to everything but material things.  Then,
there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality
(Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the
ultimate sense.  This is another kind of language.  Sometimes, when
only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the
ordinary listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely
opposite to the language he speaks.  We can call it "Dhamma language."
You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.

 People who are blind to the true reality (Dhamma) can speak only
people language, the conventional language of ordinary people. On the
other hand, people who have genuinely realized the ultimate truth
(Dhamma) can speak either language.  They can handle people language
quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language, especially
when speaking among those who know reality, who have already realized
the truth (Dhamma).  Amongst those with profound understanding, Dhamma
language is used almost exclusively, unfortunately, ordinary people
can't understand a word.  Dhamma language is understood only by those
who are in the know.  What is more, in Dhamma language it isn't even
necessary to make a sound.  For example, a finger is pointed or an
eyebrow raised and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So,
please take interest in these two kinds of language--people
language and Dhamma language.
 To illustrate the importance of language, let us consider the
following example.  Ordinary, ignorant worldly people are under the
impression that there is this religion and that religion, and that
these religions are different, so different that they're opposed to
each other.  Such people speak of "Christianity," "Islam," "Buddhism,"
"Hinduism," "Sikhism," and so on, and consider these religions to be
different, separate, and incompatible.  These people think and speak
according to their personal feelings and thus turn the religions into
enemies.  Because of this mentality, there come to exist different
religions which are hostilely opposed to each other. 
 Those who have penetrated to the essential nature of religion
will regard all religions as being the same.  Although they may say
there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, or whatever, they will also
say that all religions are inwardly the same.  However, those who have
penetrated to the highest understanding of Dhamma will feel that the
thing called "religion" doesn't exist after all.  There is no
Buddhism; there is no Christianity; there is no Islam.  How can they
be the same or in conflict when they don't even exist?  It just
isn't possible.  Thus, the phrase "No religion!" is actually
Dhamma language of the highest level.  Whether it will be understood
or not is something else, depending upon the listener, and has
nothing to do with the truth or with religion.

 I'd like to give a simple example of people language, the
language of materialism.  "Water" will suffice.  A person who don't
know much about even the simplest things thinks that there are many
different kinds of water.  They view these various kinds of water as
if they have nothing in common.  They distinguish rain-water,
well-water, underground-water, canal-water, swamp-water, ditch-water,
gutter-water, sewer-water, toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many
other kinds of water from each other.  Average people will insist that
these waters are completely different, because such people take
external appearances as their criteria.

 A person with some knowledge, however, knows that pure
water can be found in every kind of water.  If you take rain-water and
distill it, you will get pure water.  If you take river-water and
distill it, you will get pure water.  If you take canal-water,
sewer-water, or toilet-water, and distill it, you will still get pure
water.  A person with this understanding knows that all those
different kinds of water are the same as far as the water component is
concerned.  As for those elements which make it impure and look
different, they aren't the water itself.  They may combine with water,
and alter water, but they are never water itself.  If we look through
the polluting elements, we can see the water that is always the same,
for in every case the essential nature of water is the same.  However
many kinds of water there may seem to be, they are all the same as far
as the essential nature of water is concerned.  When we look at things
from this viewpoint, we can see that all religions are the same.  If
they appear different it's because we are making judgments on the
basis of external forms.

 On an even more intelligent level, we can take that pure water
and examine it further.  Then, we must conclude that there is no
water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen.  There's no water
left.  That substance which we have been calling "water" has
disappeared, it's void.  The same is true everywhere, no matter where
we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen.  In the sky,
in the ground, or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state
of water has disappeared and the term "water" is no longer used.  For
one who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing
as water.
 In the same way, one who has attained to the ultimate truth
sees that there is no such thing as religion.  There is only a certain
nature which can be called whatever we like.  We can call it "Dhamma,"
we can call it "Truth," we can call it "God," "Tao," or whatever we
like, but we shouldn't particularize that "Dhamma" or that "Truth" as
Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, or
Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels or
concepts.  Still, such divisions occur because people haven't yet
realized this nameless truth for themselves.  They have only reached
the external levels, just as with canal-water, muddy water, and the

 The Buddha intended for us to understand and be able to see
that there is no person, that there is no separate individual, that
there are only dhammas or natural phenomena.  Therefore, we shouldn't
cling to the belief that there is this religion and that religion.  We
added the labels "Buddhism," "Islam," and "Christianity" ourselves,
long after the founders lived.  None of the great religious teachers
ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today.  They
just went about teaching us how we should live.

 Please try to understand this correctly.  When the final level
is reached, when the ultimate is known,  not even man exists.  There
is only nature, only Dhamma.  This reality can't be considered to be
any particular thing; it can't be anything other than Dhamma.  It
can't be Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arab, or European.  It can't be black,
brown, yellow, red, or white.  It can't be eastern or western,
southern or northern.  Nor can it be Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or
anything else.  So please try to reach this Dhamma, for then you will
have reached the heart of all religions and of all things, and finally
come to the complete cessation of suffering. 

 Although we call ourselves "Buddhists" and profess Buddhism,
we haven't yet realized the truth of Buddhism, for we are acquainted
with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism.  Although we be monks,
nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we are aware of only the
bark, the outer covering which makes us think our religion is
different from the other religions.  Because we have failed to
understand and haven't yet realized our own truth, we look down upon
other religions and praise only our own.  We think of ourselves as a
special group and of others as outsiders or foreigners.  We believe
that they are wrong and only we are right, that we are special and
have a special calling, and that only we have the truth and the way to
salvation.  We have many of these blind beliefs.  Such ideas and
beliefs show that we are still ignorant,  very foolish indeed, just
like little babies who know only their own bellies.  Tell a small
child to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dirt off;
the little child will scrub only her belly.  She doesn't know to wash
all over.  She will never think of washing behind her ears or between
her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her
tummy vigorously. 

 In this same way as the child, most of the adherents of
Buddhism know only a few things, such as how to take and how to get.
Even while doing good, supporting the temples and monks, and observing
the precepts, their only objective is to get something, they even want
to get more in return than they gave.  When they make offerings, some
people expect back ten times what they gave, some a hundred times,
some a thousand, and some even more.  In this case, it would be more
accurate to say that these people know nothing at all, for they are
acquainted only with how to get and how to take.  That isn't Buddhism
at all.  It's the religion of getting and taking.  If ever they can't
get or can't take something, they are frustrated and they suffer.
Real Buddhism is to know how to get without getting and take without
taking so that there is no frustration and no suffering at all. 

 This must be spoken about very often in order to acquaint
everyone with the heart of Buddhism:  Non-Attachment.  Buddhism is
about not trying to seize or grasp anything, to not cling or attach to
anything, not even to the religion itself, until finally realizing
that there is no Buddhism after all.  That means, if we speak
directly, that there is no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha!(*) 
However, if we speak in this way, nobody will understand; they will be
shocked and frightened.

[* The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (Community) are the beloved Triple
Gem which most Buddhists cherish as the basis of their faith.] 

 Those who understand, see that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the
Sangha are the same thing, that is, just Dhamma or just Nature itself.
The compulsion to seize and hang onto things as persons and
individuals, as this and that, doesn't exist in them.  Everything is
non-personal, that is, is Dhamma or Nature in its pure state or
whatever you wish to call it.  But we dare not think like this.  We
are afraid to think that there is no religion, that there is no
Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha.  Even if people were taught or forced to
think in this way, they still wouldn't be able to understand.  In
fact, they would have a totally distorted understanding of what they
thought and would react in the opposite way to what was intended.

 For this reason, after the passing away of the Buddha, there
appeared many new systems of religious practice.  The teachings were
reorganized into descending levels, with lower, more accessible
aspects, so that even if someone wished to make offerings in order to
gain heavy benefits in return, equal to dozens, hundreds, or thousands
of times their "merits," it could be done.  This was a preliminary
arrangement so that the rewards for good deeds would be a bait to
attract people and keep them from going astray. As a starting point,
people were encouraged to hang on to the good and its rewards as much
as possible.  If they continued to do so, they would eventually
discover that it was unnecessary to cling or be attached to goodness.
They would come to see that any such attachment is unsatisfying and
painful.  Thus, they would gradually disentangle themselves from the
habit of attachment.  This is how Dhamma leads through successively
higher levels and is why the practice of Dhamma in its earliest stage
is based on "gaining merits" to let people get something they really
like at the start.
 The next step on the path of Dhamma is to voluntarily choose
to live a plain and simple life, a pure life, in which one isn't led
astray or intoxicated by anything.  On this level, there is still a
sense of the "I" who is enjoying this mode of happiness, but it's a
better, more developed "I." 

 The next highest level of Dhamma is to not let any traces of
the "I" to remain at all.  It's finished.  The mind no longer has the
feeling of being "I," of being a self, and there is no way that
suffering or dissatisfaction can happen, since there is no "I" to
suffer.  Suffering can't occur because this egolessness is the highest
happiness, if we speak in people language.  If we speak in Dhamma
language, however, there is nothing to say.  There is nothing to get,
nothing to have, nothing to be--no happiness, no suffering, nothing
at all.  We call this "voidness."  Everything still exists, but it's
free and void of any feeling of being "I" or "mine." For this reason
we say "voidness." 

 To see that everything is void is to see things as being
neither an aspect of oneself nor in anyway possessed by oneself.  The
words "void" and "voidness" in the common language of ignorant people
mean that nothing exists, but in the language of the Buddha, the
Awakened One, the words "void" and "voidness" mean everything exists,
but without attachment to any of it in terms of "I" or "mine."  That
there isn't clinging or attachment to things as being "I" and "mine"
is voidness of I and voidness of mine.  When the words "void" and
"voidness" are used in this way, it's the voidness of Dhamma language.
To use "void" in the sense that nothing actually exists is the
language of worldly people who are trapped in their senses, is the
language of materialism, is the language of householders who know
nothing but their homes.  Here, "voidness" has given us another
example of the difference between people language and Dhamma language.

 We should always keep in mind this truth about language and
discriminate whether the words we hear, read, and use are people
language or Dhamma language.  For example, the Buddha said, "Kill
your father and kill your mother, then you shall attain Nibbana."
"Kill your father and mother, be an ungrateful child, then you
shall attain Nibbana."  The Buddha didn't mean that we should take
this literally and kill our flesh and blood parents.  Instead, he
meant that ignorance is a kind of father and craving is a kind of
mother.  The two give birth to ego-consciousness and subsequently all
forms of selfishness and sin.  There's no reason to feel any
gratitude toward them; destroy them immediately and Nibbana is

 To speak in this fashion is to use the Dhamma language
which the ordinary person is unable to understand.  He must study and
inquire, think and reflect, until finally he understands.  But the
Noble ones, those who have realized Dhamma already, will
understand immediately, though only a few words are spoken and
without any explanation or advice.  Just one word is enough for them
to understand, without further explanation, because they know Dhamma
language thoroughly. 

 The words "birth" and "death" require the same discrimination
regarding language.  In people language, the word "birth" means to be
born from a mother's womb.  In Dhamma language, however, the word
"birth" means some form of attachment is born.  This kind of birth
happens every time we allow the arising of a thought or feeling which
involves grasping and clinging to something as "I" or "mine," such as,
"I am," "I have," "I think," and "I do."  This is the birth of the "I"
or the ego.  

 For example, think like a criminal and one is instantly born
as a criminal.  A few moments later those thoughts disappear, one
thinks like a normal human being again and is born as a human being
once more.  If a few moments later one has foolish thoughts, right
then one is born as a fool.  If one then thinks in an increasingly
foolish and dull manner, one will be born as an animal immediately.
Whenever an attachment is felt intensely--when it burns inside
one with the heat of fire--one is born as a demon in hell.
Whenever one is so hungry and thirsty that one could never be
satiated, one is born as an insatiably hungry ghost.  When one is
overly cautious and timid without reason, one is born a cowardly
titan.(*)  Thus, in a single day one can be born any number of times 
in many different forms, since a birth takes place each and every time
there arises any form of attachment to the idea of being something.
Each conception of "I am," "I was," or "I will" is simultaneously
a birth.  This is the meaning of "birth" in Dhamma language.
Therefore, whenever one encounters the word "birth," one must be very
careful to understand its meaning in each particular context. 

[* Animals, demons, hungry ghosts (peta), and cowardly titans (asura)
are the inhabitants of the "lower realms" in traditional Buddhist
 "Birth is suffering."  These words mean that the egoistic kind
of birth described above is always painful and ugly.  That is to say,
if we allow "I" to be born in any manner, suffering occurs
immediately.  If we live simply and directly in the awareness of
"not-being-I," it's like remaining unborn and never experiencing
suffering.  Although physical birth has happened long ago, there is no
further spiritual birth of the egoistic "I." 

 On the other hand, whenever an egoistic thought or feeling
arises, there is suffering at once and the suffering always fits the
particular kind of "I" that is being born.  If "I" is human, it suffers
like a human.  If "I" is an angel, it suffers angelically.  If "I" is
demonic, it suffers hellishly.  The manner of the grasping and
clinging can change repeatedly, even being born as beasts, hungry
ghosts, and cowardly titans.  In one day, there may be many births,
many dozens of births, and every one of them is unsatisfactory,
frustrating, and painful.  To destroy this kind of birth is Nibbana.

 Concerning death, there's no need to speak about what happens
after the people language version.  Why talk about what happens once
we're in the coffin?  Instead, please deal with this most urgent issue
of ego-birth, that is, don't get born and there will be no suffering.
Without the feeling of being born, there is no person anymore and all
the problems disappear with it.  That is all.  When there isn't
this continual being born, there is no longer a "somebody" to have
problems.  It's as simple as that.  The time remaining in life is no
longer an issue once we know how to experience the fact that this "I"
will never be born again.  This can be called "non-birth."  You may
call it "death" if you prefer. 

So you see, between people language and Dhamma language the words
"birth" and "death" have opposite meanings.  The same situation exists
in the scriptures of other religions, especially those of
Christianity.  As a result, the Christians don't understand their own
Bible, just as we Buddhists don't understand the Tipitaka (Buddhist
scriptures). Thus, whenever members of the two meet, they end up
arguing until they are blue in the face.  The quarrels are simply
unbelievable; they fight to the end.  Therefore, let us
develop some understanding concerning this matter of people
language and Dhamma language. 

 We have discussed the word "birth" in a Buddhist context, now
let us consider a word from the Christian scriptures, such as "life."
Matthew says that Jesus Christ "surrendered his life as a ransom for
many" (Matt. 20:28).  Elsewhere, Jesus said, "If you would enter life,
keep the commandments" (Matt. 19:17).  These two statements show that
the word "life" has more than one meaning.  In the first statement,
"life" is used in its people language sense.  Jesus allowed them to
kill the life of his body, which is the ordinary meaning of "life."
"Life" in the second passage is the same word "life," but it now
refers to a life that can never be killed.  It's a life which will
never know death.  By this we see that even the simple word "life" can
have two very different meanings.

 The word "die" provides another example.  In people
language, "to die" means that the bodily functions have stopped,
which is the kind of death we can see with our eyes.  However, "die"
in the language used by God has quite a different meaning, such as
when he spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden telling them not
to eat the fruit of a certain tree, "for in the day that you eat of it
you shall die" (Gen. 2:17).  Eventually, Adam and Eve ate that fruit,
but we know that they didn't die in the ordinary sense, the kind that
puts people into coffins.  That is, their bodies didn't die.  Instead,
they died in another way, in the Dhamma language sense, which is a
spiritual death much more cruel than being buried in a coffin.  This
fate worse than death was the appearance of enormous sin in their
minds, that is, they began to think in dualistic terms--good and
evil, male and female, naked and clothed, husband and wife, and so on.
The pairs of opposites proliferated making the pain very heavy, so
much so that their minds were flooded by a suffering so severe that
it's impossible to describe.  All this has been passed down through
the years and inherited by everyone living in the present era. 

 The consequences have been so disastrous that the Christians
give the name "original sin" to the first appearance of dualistic
thinking. Original Sin first happened with that primordial couple and
then was passed on to all their descendants down to this very day.
This is what God meant by the word "death"; whenever we partake of
this fruit of dualism (from the "tree of the knowledge of good and
evil") we must die right then and there.  This is the meaning of
"death" in Christian language. 

 "Death" has the same meaning in the language of the
Buddha.  Why is this so?  Because both religions are pointing to the
same truth concerning attachment and dualism.  Whenever
dualistic thoughts arise there is bound to be suffering, which is
death.  Death means the end of everything good, the end of happiness,
the end of peace, the end of everything worthwhile.  This is the
meaning of "death" in Dhamma language.  Most of us die this way many
times each day. 

 It's called "death" because it makes the heart heavy.
It always creates a feeling of frustration and depression to some
degree, not to mention worry, restlessness, and anxiety.  The more
intelligent and clever a person is, the more often one dies and the
more profound the deaths.  The clever person's deaths are much more
special and creative than those of an ignorant person. 

 We must know how to avoid death in order to be in accord with
the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus (along with the other prophets)
The objective of Buddhism is the same as of Christianity:  Don't let
this original sin overpower you; don't let dualistic attachment
dominate your heart or your mind.  Refuse to let it dominate the mind
ever again. 

 We must always be aware of the true nature of Dhamma, 
that in reality there is no duality of any sort--no gain, no loss,
no happiness, no suffering, no good, no evil, no merit, no sin, no
male, no female.  There is absolutely nothing at all that can be
separated and polarized into opposites.  Rather than buy into them, we
ought to transcend. 

 The dualistic pairs are the basis of all attachment, so don't
fall for their tricks.  Don't attach to any of them.  Try to
understand that these things can never be seized and held onto because
they are impermanent, lack any real substance, and are not-self.  Try 
to go about your business with a mind that is unattached.  Work with 
a mind that clings to nothing and is free from all forms of
attachment.  This is called "working with a void mind." 

 We should perform every kind of task with a void mind, no
matter whether it's at the office or at home.  Even rest and
recreation should be done with a void mind, a mind that always remains
unattached and free because it's above all dualities.  If we work with
a busy mind, a mind that is restless and always grasping and clinging
to one thing or idea after another, a mind that is over-burdened with
attachments, then there is suffering and we must inevitably be born in
a lowly state.  The lower realms spoken of by traditional Buddhists
happen right then and there; birth as a demon in hell, as a beast, as
a hungry ghost, or as a cowardly titan takes place at that very
moment.  This is the most serious problem facing humanity, it's the
most original sin, and it's death in Dhamma language.  Therefore, we
should live, work, and play without attachments. 

There is a short verse of mine which I'd like to discuss.

 Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
 And to the voidness surrender all of the fruits;
 Eat the food of voidness as the holy ones do,
 You'll have died to yourself from the very start.

Some people are unable to understand this verse and they keep saying
that the author is crazy.  Nonetheless, it isn't so difficult to

 That we should do every kind of work with a void mind is a
warning that the busy and agitated mind which jumps into things with
attachment always becomes dark and clouded with delusion, is full of
worries and fears, and becomes gloomy and insecure.  If people insist
on keeping this up, before long they are sure to suffer a nervous
breakdown or some other kind of illness.  If they let these mental
diseases and related physical ailments accumulate, they end up
confined to a sick bed.  Even though they may be intelligent,
talented, and sophisticated people who do important work and earn a
great deal of money, they will still end up being confined to bed with
nervous breakdowns, ulcers, and other disorders caused by insecurity
and anxiety.  All of these illnesses begin with attaching and
clinging to such things as fame and money, profit and loss, happiness
and unhappiness, and praise and blame. 

So, don't get involved with these things.  Get free of all such
attachments and the mind will be void.  The mind will be brilliantly
intelligent, as clear and sharp as possible.  Then, do your work with
just such a void mind as this. All your needs will be satisfied
without the least bit of frustration or suffering.  Sometimes, it will
even seem to be a Dhammic sort of fun.  Best of all, working like this
is the kind of Dhamma practice which frees us from the false
distinction between practicing Dhamma at the temple and working at
home.  Such a dichotomy is rather foolish; it's what happens when
people think only in people language. 

 According to Dhamma language, we must practice Dhamma in this
body and mind at the same time we do our work with this same body and
mind.  Both work and Dhamma practice are done in the same place or the
same thing.  The practice of Dhamma is there in the work; the work in
itself is Dhamma practice.  In other words, to do work of any kind
without grasping or clinging is a way to practice Dhamma.  Wherever
and whenever we practice non-attachment, there and then is Dhamma

 Accordingly, whether we are engaged in training the mind to be
unattached and calm, or whether we are working to earn a living in
some occupation or another, if we do so with a void mind that forms no
attachments, right there is the practice of Dhamma.  It doesn't matter
if we are in an office, a factory, a cave, or whatever.  To work like
this without getting involved in attachments, obsessions, and ego is
what is meant by "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void." 

 The result of working this way is that we enjoy ourselves
while working, and that the work is done well because our minds are
very clear and sharp then, and there are no worries about things like
money.  The things we need are acquired in the usual ways and all this
without the attachment forged by grasping and straining. 

 This brings us to the second line of the verse which is "And
to the voidness surrender all of the fruits." When our work bears
fruit in the form of money, fame, influence, status, and so forth, we
must give it all to voidness.  Don't be so stupid as to cling to these
things as "belonging to me"--"my money," "my success," "my talent,"
or "my" anything.  This is what is meant by not attaching to the
results of our work. 

 Most of us blindly cling to our successes and so our
experiences of success increase our selfish desires and defilements
(kilesa). Let ourselves be careless for only a moment and we will fall
into pain immediately due to the weight of attachments and
anxieties.  In truth, this kind of mental or spiritual pain is always
happening.  Before long, if we aren't careful, the pain manifests
itself physically in the body as well.  Some people have nervous
breakdowns or go insane, while others develop one of the numerous
varieties of neuroses so prevalent in the world today, even though
they may be famous, knowledgable, and wealthy.  All this pain results
from the fact that people the world over have misunderstood,
abused, and ignored their own religions. 

 We shouldn't think that the teaching of non-attachment is
found only in Buddhism.  In fact, it can be found in every religion,
although many people don't notice because it's expressed in Dhamma
language.  Its meaning is profound, difficult to see, and usually

 Please forgive me, I don't mean to be insulting, but I feel
that many religious people don't yet understand their own religion.
For instance, in the Christian Bible, St. Paul advises us to "Let
those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn
as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they
were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods,
and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with
it"  (Cor. 7:29-31). This passage is found in the New Testament of the
Christian Bible; anyone can look it up.  It should be understood in
the same way as our basic Buddhist theme of non-attachment.  That is,
if you have a wife, don't attach to having her; if you have a husband,
don't cling to having him.  If you have painful or sorrowful
experiences, don't cling to them as "I" or "mine" and it will be as if
they never happened.  That is, don't be sad about them.   Don't attach
to joy, goods, and worldly dealings, either. 

 Unfortunately, the fact is that most people--whatever their
religion--are dominated by these things.  They let themselves
suffer intolerably over such matters until finally they go insane or
commit suicide.  But those of us who follow St. Paul's advice can go
on as if nothing had happened. That kind of suffering doesn't happen
to us, we remain fine.  We buy things without taking anything home,
which means we never get attached to what we buy and take home.  We
bought it, we brought it home, but it's like we didn't buy anything,
because we don't give birth to the thought that we possess something. 

 This is how to buy and live as though having no goods, but if
you discuss this passage with some Christians, you will find that they
don't understand it at all.  Even some of the clergy, the teachers of
their religion, couldn't explain to me correctly how to practice in
accordance with St. Paul's instructions.  Their explanations were
vague and obscure.  They beat around the bush and don't give any
practical interpretation of the passage.  In fact, this passage has
the same meaning as "Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void and
to the voidness surrender all of the fruits," which, of course, many
Buddhists don't understand either. 

 The third line of the verse is "Eat the food of voidness as
the holy ones do."  Here, some people might ask, "Then, what do we
eat?"  If everything is void or given away to the voidness, what will
there be to eat?  The answer is to eat food that belongs to voidness,
the same way that the Noble Ones do. We work with a void mind and turn
all the rewards over to voidness. Voidness then stockpiles it all and
preserves it safely.  When it's time to eat, we can eat from the stock
of voidness, too. 

If you earn a million dollarsfrom your work and store it in a safe or
the bank, offer it to voidness and don't think "it's mine, it belongs
to me!"  When you spend the money, do so with the same void mind.
Simply use the money to buy some food to eat, or whatever we need to
consume. This is what is meant by "Eat the food of voidness as the
holy ones do." 

 In this line, "holy ones" means those who understand deeply
and have no attachments.  We ourselves ought to eat in the same way
that these liberated ones eat.  The Buddha ate food and all the
enlightened disciples ate food.  So, we aren't saying that a Buddha
doesn't have to eat food anymore, but from whomever he gets his
food, it's always the food of voidness, for it's received and eaten
without any feelings of possession or attachment.  And yet, a Buddha
always has more than enough to eat.  This is the meaning of "Eat the
food of voidness as the holy ones do." 

 We can do the same.  When we give all the rewards of our work
to voidness, they don't disappear. Nothing is lost.  Physically, in
worldly terms, everything is still there.  It's stored and protected
in the usual ways and the law still recognizes that it belongs to us.
If someone tries to snatch it away, we can battle to protect our
rights in court, but always with the same void mind.  That is, we
needn't get angry or upset, we needn't suffer, we needn't feel
personally involved, we needn't attach.  In fact, with complete
non-attachment we will be able to argue our case even better.  We
needn't create any problems for ourselves, things won't become
complicated and difficult, and we will be able to protect our rights
most effectively. 

 To pursue this point a little further: even when caught in an
argument or involved in a lawsuit we should be restrained and mindful
at all times so that the mind is free of attachment.  Take care not to
be attached or emotionally involved.  In other words, first make sure
the mind is void, then argue and fight out the case to the finish.  In
this way, we will have the advantage.  Our side will debate more
cleverly, will argue more skilfully, and will experience a higher
level of victory.
 Even in cases when we are forced to be insulting, use the
usual words but do so with a void mind.  This may sound funny and
hopelessly impractical, but it really is possible.  The word "void"
includes such strange aspects; they are all implications of working
with a void mind, willingly giving all that we get to voidness, and
always eating food from the pantry of voidness. 

 The fourth, final, and most important line of the verse is
"You'll have died to yourself from the very start."  We already have
died to ourselves--that precious inner "me" is gone--from the
very first moment.  This means that when we re-examine the past and
reflect upon it with clarity, mindfulness, and wisdom, we will know
for a fact that there never was a "person" or "individual."  We will
see that there are only the basic processes of life (khandha), the
sensory media (ayatana),  the elements (dhatu), and natural phenomena
(dhammas).  Even the things we had previously clung to as existing no
longer exist.  They died in that moment. 

 Everything has died at the moment of their birth.  There never
was an "I" and there never was a "mine."  In the past, we were stupid
enough to lug "I" and "mine" around all the time.  Now, however, we
know the truth that even in retrospect they never were what we took
them to be.  They're not-me, they're not-mine, the me-ing and my-ing
died from the very start right up to this moment.  They're finished,
even in the future.  Don't ever again fall for any "I" and "mine" in
your experiences.  Simply stop thinking in terms of "I" and mine.  So
you see, we needn't interpret this verse to mean that we must
physically kill ourselves.  One has to be trapped in one's ego to
understand it in such a way.  Such an interpretation is too physical,
too superficial, and too childish.

 This "I," this ego, is just a mental concept, a product of
thought.  There is nothing substantial or permanent upon which it's
based. There is only an ever-changing process flowing according to
causes and conditions, but ignorance misconstrues this process to be a
permanent entity, a "self," and an "ego."  So don't let attached
thoughts and feelings based on "I" and "mine" arise.  All pains and
problems will end right there and then, so that the body becomes
insignificant, no longer a cause of worry.  It's merely a
collection of the five aggregates (khandha), functioning according
to causes and conditions, pure in its own nature.  These five
aggregates or component processes of life are naturally free of
attachment and selfishness.  As for the inner aspect, those
habits of desire and selfishness, try to do without them.  Keep
striving to prevent them from being born until the defilements and
selfishness have no more opportunities to pollute the
heart.  In this way, we force ourselves to die, that is, we die
through the elimination of polluting selfishness and defilements

 Just don't allow any egoistic consciousness, that's
the meaning of "death" in Dhamma language.  Without anything
masquerading as "I" and "mine," where can suffering take place?
Suffering can only happen to an "I" and its "mine."  So you see,
possessing "I" and "mine" is the heart of suffering.  Should there be
some happiness, as soon as clinging comes in the happiness becomes
painful, yet one more way to suffer. 

 Ignorant people are always attaching to something; they don't
know how to live without clinging to "I" and "mine."  As a result,
even beneficial things are converted into causes of suffering.
Happiness is turned into pain; goodness is turned into pain; praise,
fame, honour and the like are all turned into forms of suffering.  As
soon as we try to seize and hang on to them, they all become
unsatisfactory, painful, and ugly.  Among good and evil, virtue and
sin, happiness and unhappiness, gain and loss, and all other dualistic
pairs, suffering inevitably happens whenever we attach to either pole
of one pair or another.  Clinging to one pole also traps us in its
opposite partner. 

 When we are intelligent enough not to cling or be attached to
any form of dualism, then we will no longer suffer because of these
things.  Good and evil, happiness and suffering, virtue and sin, and
the rest, will never be painful again.  We realize that they are
merely natural phenomena, the ordinary stuff of nature.  They all are
naturally void and so there is no suffering inherent in any of them. 

 These are the consequences of not having an ego, of not having
any "I" and "mine" in the mind.  Outwardly, we may say "I" and "my"
according to social conventions, but don't let them exist in the  mind
or heart.  As St. Paul said, "Let those who have wives live as though
they had none, and those that mourn as though they weren't mourning
. . . and those who buy as though they had no goods." 

 Externally, we should behave the same as others do:  eat like
they eat, work like they work, and speak like they speak.  Speak in
their people language: "this is my house, this is mine."  There's
nothing wrong in using these words when necessary, but don't let the
mind fall for them.  Leave such words outside, don't let them into the
mind, don't believe them.  We ought always to train ourselves this
way, that is, "mouth is one and mind another."  The mouth says one
thing, but the heart knows otherwise. 

 Actually, this phrase is usually an insult used to
condemn liars and conmen, not something to be encouraged.  In the
end, however, it can be turned around and applied to a person who
really practices Dhamma, that is, whose external behavior conforms
with worldly conventions but whose internal reality is another
story.  While the external expressions actually take place, they don't
manifest in the mind.  We call this, "mouth is one and mind another"
or "external and internal do not correspond."  A behavior that we
used to condemn and try to abandon because of its dishonesty and
crookedness becomes the most noble and excellent form of speech.
Sometimes Dhamma language seems rather strange! 

 To be honest in both mouth and mind, that is, speech and
thought, is people language, not Dhamma language.  Ordinary people
demand that our words honestly reflect our thoughts, but when it comes
to the Dhamma language of the Buddha, we practice in the manner called
"mouth is one and mind another."  In other words, the outside appears
one way, while the inside is the opposite.  Outwardly, in our speech
and actions, we may possess all the things that others possess, but in
the mind we possess nothing.  Inwardly, we are broke and bankrupt,
without a penny to our names.  So please remember this saying   -
"mouth is one and mind another" -- in its Dhamma language meaning
of course, not in the people language understanding.  Please give it
some thought. 

 Another common teaching concerns humility.  The
Buddha taught us not to boast or show off and Jesus Christ
emphasized this point even more.  There are many pages in the Bible
concerning this subject.   In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches
us to do our religious practices--such as praying, giving charity
-  and fasting, in secret so as to not let others see (Matt. 5-7,
especially 6).  If it's something we want others to see, that means we
want to show off, which is attachment.  If we apply his teaching to
our Buddhist practices, such as when we keep the special precepts
on the observance days (uposatha), we shouldn't dress up or powder and
perfume ourselves.  Don't let anyone know we are keeping the special
precepts, just keep them strictly.  Jesus stresses this point in many
ways, both in this sermon and elsewhere.  When offering prayers to
God, fasting, or practicing austerities, don't let others see.  If we
wish to give alms or make a donation to charity, do so secretly; don't
let others know who the giver is.  Jesus teaches us to do everything
without anyone knowing.  In other words, his aim is to teach
non-attachment.  This kind of practice destroys selfishness and
overcomes sin. 

 Buddhists should be able to understand this principle
of giving without letting anyone know; giving in this way will
destroy the giver's self-centeredness much more than public giving.
As you know, we like to say, "sticking gold on the image's back."
This saying can be interpreted in two ways.  As understood by foolish
people, this should never be done, because sticking gold leaf on the
back of an image won't gain one any honour, reputation, or other
benefits.(*)  On the other hand, wise people take the words "sticking
gold on the image's back" to mean something good, because one doesn't
receive any recognition, praise, status, or honor from the act.  One
hasn't traded the goodness of the act for any worldly benefits.  Thus,
one makes more merit than if one were to stick the gold on the front
of the image. 

[* In Thailand, putting small squares of gold leaf onto Buddha images
and other respected objects is a popular form of making merit.
According to popular Thai belief, by affixing gold leaf to the eyes,
mouth, forehead, cheeks, etc., of a Buddha image, the one who affixes
it will be reborn in her next life with beautiful eyes, mouth, forehead,
cheeks, etc., just like those of the image decorated with gold.  At
the same time, her merit making is seen by all.]

 Here we see that the teachings of Christianity and
Buddhism are the same; they have the same meaning, namely, to
destroy attachment.  We should do all religious duties and practices
without others knowing.  In the end, it's like they don't exist any
more and we don't exist either.  There's no good, no evil, no virtue,
no sin, no happiness, no suffering, and, finally, not even any
religion.  This is the highest level of religion. 

Now, let us consider the fact that non-attachment, the highest Dhamma,
is something wonderful, priceless, and extraordinary.  It's the heart
of every religion.  It's the essence of Dhamma.  If there is a God, it
can only be found right here in non-attachment. 

 Non-attachment, the highest Dhamma, is wonderful precisely
because anyone seeking it need not invest anything.  No money, gold,
or jewels are needed, not even a single penny.  According to people
language, nothing can be obtained without an investment.  If they
listen to people language, those who wish to gain merit, goodness,
or whatever must pay in money, silver, and gold, or invest their
labor.  If they listen to Dhamma language, however, the reality is
quite different.  The Buddha said that Nibbana is given free of
charge.  Nibbana--the coolness and peace experienced when
there's no attachment--doesn't cost a penny.  This means that we
can practice for the sake of Nibbana without spending any money along
the way.  Jesus said what amounts to the same thing.  He invited us to
drink the water of life for which there is no charge.  He said this at
least three times.  Further, he called us to enter eternal life, which
means to reach the state where we are one with God and therefore will
never die again. 

 "Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the
water of life without price" (Rev. 22:17).  This call of Jesus is
identical to what is taught in Buddhism.  The Buddha said that the
Noble Path of Liberation, the Liberating Results, and Nibbana are free
of charge, no monetary investment is required.  We live according to
the Noble Eightfold Path, which means we give up this, give up that,
and keep giving up things until everything is surrendered.  Give up
everything and take nothing back.  Don't receive any payment and we
won't have to pay anything: we will realize what is called "the Noble
Path, the Liberating Results, and Nibbana." We can taste the  flavor
of Nibbana without paying a penny.  

 We spend a lot of money trying to buy Nibbana, but the money
just gets in the way.  It's like investing money in order to win a
palace in heaven; the two have nothing to do with each other.  In
fact, they are incompatible.  If we want to give charity, it should be
solely for the sake of others.  Nibbana is our first concern and
requires no money. 

 Why do we make donations then?  Not for ourselves, of course,
but to help our fellow human beings so that they may also reach that
which requires no financial investment.  So, we contribute money to
build temples and schools, we develop methods of teaching, and we
publish books in order to help our fellow human beings to travel on
the right path, to travel toward that which is obtained without
payment  - Nibbana.  Those of us who intend to earn merit with their
gold and silver should please think in this way. 

 If those who intend to invest their money for so-called
spiritual rewards don't reconsider, they will incur losses rather than
make profits.  Not only will they fail to make a profit, they won't
even be able to recover their investment.  And when there is no profit
and no breaking even, there is only loss.  To act that way goes
contrary to the words of the Buddha who said, "It's free."  Jesus also
said that it's free.  

 Jesus added further that what "you received without pay, give
without pay" (Matt. 10:8).  It seems that the Buddha never said quite
the same thing, but we can say, from the implications of his teaching,
that he could easily have spoken these words.  If something is
obtained for free, we ought to pass it on for free, too.  Don't be
unwilling or reluctant.  Don't go taking advantage of people by
claiming favors or hinting that they'll benefit by helping one in
such-and-such a way or implying that students owe a debt of gratitude
to their  teachers.  All of that is inappropriate.  When we get
something for free, we must give it away for free.  Therefore, as the
loftiest of all things, the Dhamma of each religion is something to be
obtained for free. Once we have got it, we are obligated to pass it on
to our fellow human beings for free, also.  Don't try to wheedle any
benefits out of it in return. 

 When we make contributions to religious causes, they
are for a particular purpose, which has no bearing on our realizing
Nibbana.  Such contributions are meant to be instrumental in
helping people who don't yet see the way to be able to find it and
eventually arrive at that which is given away for free to
everyone.  In the end, they also will obtain that precious thing
which is obtained for free, without any obstacles. 

 If we look carefully, we will see that the pinnacle, the most
excellent of things, which we get for free, is called "Nibbana" (as
well as by many other names).  Jesus called it "Life."  This state in
which we currently exist is death.  Because everyone is dying, they
don't reach God, they don't reach the Ultimate.  Yet, if we follow the
teachings of Jesus we are born again at once.  After dying for so
long, we need to be reborn.  When we are born anew, we are born into
eternal life, which is true life.  The Buddha spoke in the same
fashion.  He said that we don't realize that this existence is like
being dead, that is, that it's suffering.  We must make the required
knowledge, we must awaken into a new world, newly born.  Then there
will be no more suffering.  To understand this is a fundamental
 Up until this realization, we were dead, that is, full of "I"
and "mine." Always living under the burden of ego and egoism is death.
Because of "I" and "mine," we died over and over again.  Now we are
reborn into eternal life, the life of Nibbana, the deathless life, the
immortality in which all "I" and "mine" end.  The word "reborn" here
comes to mean a life without ego, free of "I" and "mine."  This is the
true life which can never die.  The five aggregates (khandha), the
basic processes of life, are now pure, the body and mind are free of
attachment and selfishness.  Prior to this, the five aggregates, the
body-mind process, were continually being grasped at and clung to by
means of "I" and "my" and were always stained by these corrupt
attachments.  That continuous "I" and "mine" was death. 

 When the polluting desires and attachments are completely gone
there is a new birth in the world of the Noble Ones.  "Rebirth in the
world of the Noble Ones" is a people language expression.  In Dhamma
language, we speak of "quenching it."  Quench the "I" and the "mine";
quench ego and its selfishness.  Then there's nothing.  There remains
only supreme voidness, which is Nibbana.  So says Dhamma language. 

 If we speak in people language, as Jesus Christ often did, we
say that one is reborn in the world of the Noble Ones and that one
lives eternally in the Kingdom of God.  That's people language.  When
we translate it into Dhamma language, we use the opposite words and
speak of "quenching."  One language speaks of "rebirth," while the
other talks about "utter quenching."  Only the words are different.
In people language we talk about being reborn; in Dhamma language we
talk about quenching completely. 

 Therefore, let us live a life of total quenching, a life that
douses the flames of desire, a life of coolness.  When we are burning,
we are dying.   A person who is hot inside is like a demon in hell, an
animal, a hungry ghost, or a cowardly titan.  Such a person is always
dying.  His attachment to "I" is never quenched.  His ego hasn't yet
been doused; it boils and bubbles inside him with the heat of fire.
It has to be cooled down. 

 To make things easier, we should remember that the word
"nibbana" means "to cool down." In India at the time of the Buddha,
"nibbana" was a common everyday word spoken in the houses, streets, and
markets.  When something hot had cooled down, they used the word
"nibbana" to describe it.  If the curry was too hot to eat, then
cooled  down enough to be eaten, they would say the curry is "nibbana,
so let's eat."(*)

[* Actually, the words takes on different forms as a verb, noun, and
adjective, and according to case and context.  As Thai doesn't
conjugate words like the Indian languages, only the form "Nibbana"
is used.]

 We can see that the word "nibbana" was not originally
 an exalted religious term, but had an ordinary everyday usage
in people language--the cooling down of something hot.  For
example, if a red-hot charcoal cools down until it can be picked up,
we can call that "nibbana."  If we apply the term on a higher level,
such as, to animals, then it refers to animals which are no longer
hot.  The heat of animals is the wildness and fierceness which is
dangerous for humans.  If a wild elephant or wild bull is tamed and
well-trained so that finally its wildness, rebelliousness, and
viciousness disappear and it's safe for humans, we can say that
it's "nibbana," meaning it has cooled down. 

 When we speak of humans, "hot" means a person who is burning
and boiling as if in hell or the other netherworlds.  That isn't
Nibbana.  After we discover the way to apply Dhamma to cool ourselves
off, we begin to nibbana, continue to nibbana, nibbana steadily,
nibbana until everything is thoroughly cool, which is the highest
level of Nibbana--absolute coolness. 

 Even now, we must nibbana to some extent in order to
be able to sit here and discuss Dhamma like this.  Otherwise, if the
flames were flaring up within us now, we wouldn't be able to remain
sitting here.  Therefore, we should understand that Nibbana is related
to us at all times, with every inhalation and exhalation.  If
this weren't so, if we had no connection to Nibbana whatsoever, we
would all go out of our minds and die before we knew it.  Fortunately,
we have some relationship with Nibbana nearly all the time.  It may
disappear temporarily when lust, hatred, or delusion arise,
when the mind is taken over by defilements and selfishness.  But when
lust, hatred, and delusion aren't present in our minds, we experience
a small degree of Nibbana, a brief taste or free sample of
Nibbana.  Due to the benefits of these recurring glimpses of Nibbana,
we don't go crazy and don't die from overheat.  We survive by virtue
of Nibbana's beneficial effects.  Therefore, we should thank Nibbana
and acknowledge our gratitude to it by acting so as to have more and
more Nibbana for longer and longer periods of time.  Keep calming and
cooling things, that is, destroy "I" and "mine."  Don't let ego prick
up its ears and point its tail.  With self-discipline and good
manners, keep the ego small and out of trouble.   Lessen it, reduce
it, shrink it, until at last nothing remains, then you will get the
best thing that a human being can possibly get. 

 Whenever we quarrel due to opinions, pride, vanity, or
stubbornness, it shows that we have lost touch with Nibbana.  At such
moments, we are crazy.  If we argue, quarrel, or interfere with others
at any time--no matter whether over an ordinary affair or a
religious one--we are insane.  In such moments, we aren't really
human anymore, because we've lowered ourselves to the level of arguing
and fighting.  And so, as was said before, if people remain foolish
they will think that there are many different religions which are
incompatible and opposed to each other, which are enemies that must
compete, fight, and destroy each other.  These are the most stupid and
ignorant of people.  They cause and experience a great deal of trouble. 

 When religions are regarded as in opposition and conflict,
people become enemies as a result.  Everyone thinks "We are right, they
are wrong; they are wrong, we are right," and so forth, and then there
is quarrelling and fighting.  Such people are incredibly foolish.
What they are quarrelling about is only the outer shell.  Everyone
should recognize that these are only external forms, they aren't the
inner essence. 

 When people of intelligence and wisdom get together concerning
the essentials of religion, they recognize that religions are all the
same.  Though outwardly they may seem different, intelligent people
know that the inner spirit must be the same in all cases.  The inner
essence is the same no matter how different the external forms are,
just like we saw with the analogy of water.  The essential pure nature
of water is always the same, no matter how putrid or filthy it appears
from the outside.  It isn't the water that is dirty, but the other
elements that are mixed in with the water that are dirty.   We
shouldn't take those other elements.  When we take those elements, it
means we drink dirty water; it means we swallow the filth, urine,
excrement, or whatever,  and don't drink pure water. 

 Whenever there is a quarrel, whether it's among lay people,
novices, nuns, or monks, it means that the people involved are eating
filth, namely, the defilements of "I" and "mine."  This should never
happen; it should be given up.  Don't prick your ears and point your
tails.  Don't puff yourself with ego and create these conflicts of
pride.  That's letting things go too far.  Rather, our duty is try to
pacify these things and cool them down. 

 How silly it's that the older a person gets, the more full of
ego he or she becomes.  I beg your pardon for speaking so frankly, but
some facts can't be ignored.  Why do people become more egoistic with
age?  Because the older they get, the more accustomed they are to
attachment; "I" and "mine" accumulate and pile up inside us as we age.
Further, people have sons and daughters, so they puff themselves with
ego and determine to lord it over their children.  "My son!  How could
he do that without my permission!"  When they have grandchildren, they
become even more puffed up and superior.  Thus, elderly people
are more obsessed with "I" and "mine" than children are. 

 If we look back at childhood, we will find that children have
very little ego.  Immediately after birth, it's very hard to find much
ego in them, while the child in the womb has hardly any traces of "I" or
"mine" at all.  However, as we grow into adulthood and become fathers
and mothers, and later grandfathers and grandmothers, "I" and
"mine" develops in a multitude of forms and personalities.  These
become deeply rooted in our minds and stick there with such tenacity
that they are very difficult to remove.  Therefore, old folks should
be very careful and alert.  They should try to return to being like
children again.  To be like children is a kind of Dhamma practice
which leads to non-attachment and voidness.  Otherwise, the older
they get, the further away from the Buddha and from Nibbana they will
end up. 

 In truth, as we grow older we should grow closer to the
Buddha.  In other words, the more we age the younger we should be.
The older we get, the more youthful we should become.  As we get older
we should become more light-hearted, cheerful, bright, and fresh.  We
shouldn't end up dry and lifeless, so that we gradually wither away.
Everybody should become increasingly fresh, bright, and light-hearted
as they grow older.  As we age, we should get closer to the Buddha,
the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which means we understand Dhamma more and
more.  The more successful we are in making the inner flames recede,
the cooler we become.  As we get cooler, we feel increasingly more
refreshed and hearty, we look brighter and more lively.  When we
have cooled down absolutely, we will absolutely sparkle with
brightness and cheer.  Therefore, the more ancient we get, the more
youthful we should become, and the more cheerful and fresh we should
look and feel.

 The lively physical activity and fresh complexions of young
people is one kind of youth, while the youthfulness of  Dhamma
language  - of the mind, heart, and spirit--refers to a spiritual
brightness, vigor, and serenity that comes with having more Dhamma.
This is the youthfulness of heat subsiding so that coolness can enter
and envelop us.  Consequently, we feel increasingly refreshed, vibrant,
and cheerful.  So let all elderly people become fresh and full of
life.  May we all become more youthful.  Just let youthfulness grow
inside us and that problem of bickering and quarrelling will no longer

 Worse than that quarrelling is the habit of "extolling oneself
while putting down others." Vicious  back-biting and name-calling has
no place among Buddhists and anyone who does such things has ceased to
be a Buddhist, except, perhaps, in name.  Being a Buddhist in name
alone doesn't mean anything and can't be depended upon.  Just
declaring oneself to be "Buddhist" because its written on one's
birth certificate or because one signed up at certain temples doesn't
accomplish much good because they aren't sincere.  We must be
genuine Buddhists in the true sense of the word, which means to weaken
and reduce "I" and "mine" in order to be cool and thereby be closer to
Nibbana.  So we needn't discuss atrocities like disparaging and
oppressing others, or extolling oneself while putting down others.
These things should never happen. 

 What to do about those who still engage in such behaviour?  I
don't know what class to put them in:  First grade?  Kindergarten?
Nursery school?  These are still too high; there should be some lower
class or grade for people who behave in such gross ways.  In Buddhism,
genuine lay followers never do such things.  Even those who are at the
kindergarten level and have not yet reached into the first grade of
primary school know better than to do such things.  They know that
such behaviour is hot and has nothing to do with Dhamma or Buddhism.

 Progressing through the upper grades, through the junior and
senior classes, there is less egoism until, finally, there is no more
"I" and "mine."  On the highest level, there's no self, everything is
void of self.  There's no "I," no "you," no "we," no "they,"  which
means there's no Buddhism,  no Christianity,  no Islam, and no religion.
How can different religions exist when there's no "we," no "they," no
"anybody," when there is nothing but Dhamma?  There is only pure
nature itself (suddhidhamma pavattanti), nature is all that exists
-  with either active aspects or still aspects, depending on whether
something is conditioned and transient or unconditioned and
absolute.  Those who are in the upper grades already
understand this.  Those who are in kindergarten and primary
school should also know about this so that they can prepare
themselves to reach its level. 

 So don't get caught up in envy and jealousy, in insults and
praises, in harassing and interfering with others, in arguing and
fighting, in extolling oneself while putting down others.  Such
behaviour is worthless.  It's for those who don't know how to learn on
even the lowest level.  It's too low to have a place in the network of

 All of us begin at a point where we're full of clinging, then
steadily reduce the clinging until we don't cling to anything anymore,
until we reach the point where everything is voidness: void of "I" and
void of "mine."  Understand that in essence everything has been void
from the start.  Whether physical or mental, look deeply into it's
essential nature and it will turn out to be void.  There is no
clinging there anymore.

 Whatever clinging there was has just now happened.
Originally, there was no attachment, just as all water originally is
pure and clean.  It's pure as it forms in the clouds, but picks up
fine particles of dust as it falls through the sky.  Once  it falls on
roofs and collects in water jars, it becomes further
contaminated. Even more contaminated is the water in wells, streams,
ponds, and swamps.  Worse is the putrid water found in ditches,
sewers, and toilets.  As we examine the external changes, we should
recognize that the dirty elements aren't the water and aren't

 So look deeply into this very body and mind when they're in
their natural state, when they aren't polluted by any defiled objects.
The pure, natural, uncontaminated body-mind is the object of knowledge
and study.  The "I," the ego, knowing this, knowing that, this is
good, that is good:  this is just dirty stuff.  They mix with the
mind, contaminate it, and muck it up.  Naturally, in themselves, our
bodies and minds aren't dirty, but owing to stupidity and
carelessness the newly spawned defilements invade.  It's these
impure guests which enter the mind and contaminate it.   Why then do
we take these late-coming impurities to be "I," "me," or "my own true
self"?  They're just new arrivals, there's nothing genuine about them.
They're just dirt, isn't it silly to take dirt as one's self?  One
ends up with a dirty self, a dirty ego--no doubt about it. 

 The mind which is knowledgable and wise, which is awakened
(Buddha), doesn't take anything to be self.  It doesn't take dirty
things as its "self."  It doesn't take defilements to be "self."  If
it must have a self, the voidness which is free of defilements must be
the self.  The voidness of defilements doesn't attach or cling to
anything.  Even though the mouth says "I am" or "I have," the mind
inside doesn't feel any attachment.  "Mouth is one and mind another"
at all times.  I hope that you will all practice in this way. 

 All I have said today is merely a chat among friends.  If it
were a public lecture or formal sermon, these things couldn't be said
like this.  It might create a big disturbance.  However, this has been
just an informal talk within our small circle of friends, among those
who should be able to understand.  I only mentioned these things
because I thought the people here are capable of understanding.
Indeed, I hope that everyone has listened carefully, has been able to
follow, and will think over the issues seriously.  Those who see the
truth of and agree with these principles should try to live
accordingly. Before long we will progress to a higher level on the
path to voidness and freedom from suffering.  Then we can do work of
all kinds with a void mind and we can give all of the fruits to
voidness.  We will be able to eat the food of voidness.  And so, we
will be able to die completely from the very beginning.  That's the
end.  That's the end of being a Buddhist; it's the end of all

 In people language they say, "Don't waste the opportunity of
having been born human and of having encountered Buddha-Dhamma."  If
we speak in Dhamma language, however, we would have to say, "It's the
end of everything.  There is nothing left to be a problem ever again."
Such a life can be called "eternal life," for there is no more birth,
aging, illness, or death. 

 Are you ready to die before dying?

                            * * * * * * * *


anatta,  not-self, selflessness:  the fact that all things lack any
    lasting essence or substance which could properly be
    called a "self."  (Cf. sunnata.)

dukkha,  pain, hurt, suffering, dissatisfaction:  literally, "hard
    to bear"; the stressful quality of all experiences which
    are accompanied by desire, attachment, and ego.  Dukkha
    is also said to be a universal characteristic of all phenomena; 
    because things are impermanent, they are undependable and can
    never satisfy us.  The inherent decay and dissolution of things 
    is dukkha.

Dhamma, Nature, Natural Law, Duty, Truth:  the way things naturally
    are and the way we must live so that things (dhammas) don't become
    problems for us.

khandha, groups, heaps. aggregates:  the five basic processes
    or sub-systems which make up human life, namely,
    body, feeling, perception, thought, and consciousness.  

kilesa, defilement, pollution, impurity:  the various 
    manifestations of selfishness which defile the mind, 
    especially greed, anger, and delusion.

Nibbana,  coolness:  the ultimate goal of Buddhist practice.
    The cool peacefulness of Nibbana manifests when the
    fires of defilement, selfishness, and suffering are 
    thoroughly and finally quenched.

noble eightfold path:  the way of life leading to Nibbana,
    namely, right understanding, right aspiration, right
    speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right
    mindfulness, and right concentration.

Noble Ones:  human beings who have eradicated all or almost
    all of the attachments and defilements.  They are the
    exemplars of Buddhist life due to their wisdom, coolness, 
    calmness, and compassion.

sunnata, voidness:  the reality of being void and free of
    selfhood, ego, or anything that could be taken to be "I"
    or "mine."  (See anatta.)

upadana, attachment, clinging, grasping:  to hold onto some
    thing foolishly, that is, to regard it as "I" or "mine"; to
    take things personally

                            * * * * * * * *

                            ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has been the most important interpreter and
reformer of Thai Buddhist thought in this century.  Since he began
Suan Mokkh, "The Garden of Liberation," in 1932, he has undertaken the
most innovative, influential, and wide-ranging study of the Pali
scriptures of Theravada Buddhism.  These studies were the underpinning
for his experiments and researches into life and nature, out of which
developed a commanding body of work.  His talks, lectures, and
writings, along with the monastic community he founded, have inspired
many to take a fresh look at Buddhism and religion. 

 Buddhadasa Bhikkhu has always had a profound interest in other
religions and has made many friends among them.  In particular, he has
been in dialogue with Christianity through foreign missionaries and
local Christians who were delighted to find a Buddhist monk who sought
only to understand their religion, without looking down on it.  This
book reveals some of his thoughts on religion.    

 The sixtieth anniversary of Suan Mokkh was observed on May 27,
1992. Despite the after effects of a heart attack and minor strokes,
Ajarn Buddhadasa spent the last few years of his life as he had spent
the previous sixty. 

 The Venerable Ajarn passed away at Suan Mokkh on July 8, 1993.
Suan Mokkh, aided by the Dhammadana Foundation and other supporters,
carries on his with his work.

                            * * * * * * * * 
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