by Ajahn Chah
Let us talk about the difference between studying Dharma ideas and applying them in practice. True Dharma study has only one purpose-to find a way out of the unsatisfactoriness of our lives and to achieve happiness and peace for ourselves and all beings. Our suffering has causes for its arising and a place to abide. Let us understand this process. When the heart is still, it is in its normal condition; when the mind moves, thought is constructed. Happiness and sorrow are part of this movement of mind, this thought construction. So also is restlessness, the desire to go’ here and there. If you do not understand such movement, you will chase after thought constructions and be at their mercy.
Therefore, the Buddha taught us to contemplate the movements of the mind. Watching the mind move, we can see its basic characteristics: endless flux, unsatisfactoriness and emptiness. You should be aware of and contemplate these mental phenomena. In this way, you can learn about the process of dependent origination. The Buddha taught that ignorance is the cause of the arising of all worldly phenomena and of our volitions. Volition gives rise to consciousness, and consciousness in turn gives rise to mind and body. This is the process of dependent origination.
When we first study Buddhism, these traditional teachings may appear to make sense to us. But when the process is actually occurring within us, those who have only read about it cannot follow fast enough. Like a fruit falling from a tree, each link in the chain falls so fast that such people cannot tell what branches it has passed. When pleasurable sense contact takes place, for example, they are carried away by the sensation and are unable to notice how it happened.
Of course, the systematic outline of the process in the texts is accurate, but the experience is beyond textual study. Study does not tell you that this is the experience of ignorance arising, this is how volition feels, this is a particular kind of consciousness, this is the feeling of the different elements of body and mind. When you let go of a tree limb and fall to the ground, you do not go into detail about how many feet and inches you fell; you just hit the ground and experience the pain. No book can describe that.
Formal Dharma study is systematic and refined, but reality does not follow a single track. Therefore, we must attest to what arises from the one who knows, from our deepest wisdom. When our innate wisdom, the one who knows, experiences the truth of the heart / mind, it will be dear that the mind is not our self. Not belonging to us, not I, not mine, ail of it must be dropped. As to our learning the names of all the elements of mind and consciousness, the Buddha did not want us to become attached to the words. He just wanted us to see that all this is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty of self. He taught only to let go. When these things arise, be aware of them, know them. Only a mind that can do this is properly trained.
When the mind is stirred up, the various mental formations, thought constructions, and reactions start arising from it, building and proliferating continually. Just let them be, the good as well as the bad. The Buddha said simply, “Give them up.” But for us, it is necessary to study our own minds to know how it is possible to give them up.If we look at the model of the elements of mind, we see that it follows a natural sequence: mental factors are thus, consciousness arises and passes like this, and so forth. We can see in our own practice that when we have right understanding and awareness, then right thought, right speech, right action, and right livelihood automatically follow. Different mental elements arise from that very one who knows. The one who knows is like a lamp. If understanding is right, thought and all the other factors will be right as well, like the light emanating from the lamp. As we watch with awareness, right understanding grows.
When we examine all that we call mind, we see only a conglomeration of mental elements, not a self. Then where can we stand? Feeling, memory, all the five-aggregates of mind and body are shifting like leaves in the wind. We can discover this through meditation.
Meditation is like a single log of wood. Insight and investigation are one end of the log; calm and concentration are the other end. If you lift up the whole log, both sides come up at once. Which is concentration and which is insight? Just this mind.
You cannot really separate concentration, inner tranquility, and insight. They are just as a mango that is first green and sour, then yellow and sweet, but not two different fruits. One grows into the other without the first, we would never have the second. Such terms are only conventions for teaching; We should not be attached to the language. The only source of true knowledge is to see what is within ourself. Only this kind of study has an end and is the study of real value.
The calmness of the mind at the beginning stage of concentration arises from the simple practice of one pointedness. But when this calm departs, we suffer because we have become attached to it. The attainment of tranquility is not yet the end, according to the Buddha. Becoming and suffering still exist.
Thus, the Buddha took this concentration, this tranquility, and contemplated further. He searched out the truth of the matter until he was no longer attached to tranquility. Tranquility is just another relative reality, one of numerous mental formations, only a stage on the path. If you are attached to it, you will find yourself still stuck in birth and becoming, based on your pleasure in tranquility. When tranquility ceases, agitation will begin and you will be attached even more.
The Buddha went on to examine becoming and birth to see where they arise. As he did not yet know the truth of the matter, he used his mind to contemplate further, to investigate all the mental elements that arose. Whether tranquil or not, he continued to
penetrate, to examine further, until he finally realized that all that he saw, all the five aggregates of body and mind, were like a red-hot iron ball. When it is red-hot all over, where can you find a cool spot to touch? The same is true of the five aggregates-to grasp any part causes pain. Therefore, you should not get attached even to tranquility or concentration; you should not say that peace or tranquility is you or yours. To do so just creates the painful illusion of self, the world of attachment and delusion, another red-hot iron ball.
In our practice, our tendency is to grasp, to take experiences as me and mine. If you think, ‘1 am calm, I am agitated, I am good or bad, I am happy or unhappy,” this clinging causes more becoming and birth. When happiness ends, suffering appears; when suffering ends, happiness appears. You will see yourself unceasingly vacillating between heaven and hell. The Buddha saw that the condition of his mind was thus, and he knew, because of this birth and becoming, his liberation was not yet complete. So he took up these elements of experience and contemplated their true nature. Because of grasping, birth and death exist. Becoming glad is birth; becoming dejected is death. Having died, we are then born; having been born, we die. This birth and death from one moment to the next is like the endless spinning of a wheel.
The Buddha saw that whatever the mind gives rise to are just transitory, conditioned phenomena, which are really empty. When this dawned on him, he let go, gave up, and found an end to suffering. You too must understand these matters according to the truth. When you know things as they are, you will see that these elements of mind are a deception, in keeping with. the Buddha’s teaching that this mind has nothing, does not arise, is not born, and does not die with anyone. It is free, shining, resplendent, with nothing to occupy it. The mind becomes occupied only because it misunderstands and is deluded by these conditioned phenomena, this false sense of self.
Therefore, the Buddha had us look at our minds. What exists in the beginning? Truly, not anything. This emptiness does not arise and die with phenomena. When it contacts something good, it does not become good; when it contacts something bad, it does not become bad. The pure mind knows these objects clearly, knows that they are not substantial.
When the mind Of the meditator abides like this, no doubt exists. Is there becoming? Is there birth? We need not ask anyone. Having examined the elements of mind, the Buddha let them go and became merely one who was aware of them. He just watched with equanimity. Conditions leading to birth did not exist for him. With his complete knowledge, he called them all impermanent, unsatisfactory, empty of self. Therefore, he became the one who knows with certainty. The one who knows sees according to this truth and does not become happy or sad according to changing conditions. This is true peace, free of birth, aging, sickness, and death, not dependent on causes, results, or conditions, beyond happiness and suffering, above good and evil. Nothing can be spoken about it. No conditions promote it any longer.
Therefore, develop samadhi, calm and insight; learn to make them arise in your mind and really use them. Otherwise, you will know only the words of Buddhism and with the best intentions, go around merely describing the characteristics of existence. You may be clever, but when things arise in your mind, will you follow them? When you come into contact with something you like, will you immediately become attached? Can you let go of it? When unpleasant experiences arise, does the one who knows hold that dislike in his mind, or does he let go? If you see things that you dislike and still hold on to or condemn them, you should reconsider-this is not yet correct, not yet the supreme. If you observe your mind in this way, you will truly know for yourself.
I did not practice using textbook terms; I just looked at this one who knows. If it hates someone, question why. If it loves someone, question why. Probing all arising back to its origin, you can solve the problem of clinging and hating and get them to leave you alone. Everything comes back to and arises from the one who knows. But repeated practice is crucial.