Right Speech

Summer Floral BeautyAs my teacher once said, “If you can’t control your mouth, there’s no way you can hope to control your mind.’ This is why right speech is so important in day-to-day practice.

Right speech, explained in negative terms, means avoiding four types of harmful speech: lies (words spoken with the intent of misrepresenting the truth); divisive speech (spoken with the intent of creating rifts between people); harsh speech (spoken with the intent of hurting another person’s feelings); and idle chatter (spoken with no purposeful intent at all).

Notice the focus on intent: this is where the practice of right speech intersects with the training of the mind. Before you speak, you focus on why you want to speak. This helps get you in touch with all the machinations taking place in the committee of voices running your mind. If you see any unskillful motives lurking behind the committee’s decisions, you veto them. As a result, you become more aware of yourself, more honest with yourself, more firm with yourself. You also save yourself from saying things that you’ll later regret. In this way you strengthen qualities of mind that will be helpful in meditation, at the same time avoiding any potentially painful memories that would get in the way of being attentive to the present moment when the time comes to meditate.

In positive terms, right speech means speaking in ways that are trustworthy, harmonious, comforting, and worth taking to heart. When you make a practice of these positive forms of right speech, your words become a gift to others. In response, other people will start listening more to what you say, and will be more likely to respond in kind. This gives you a sense of the power of your actions: the way you act in the present moment does shape the world of your experience. You don’t need to be a victim of past events.

For many of us, the most difficult part of practicing right speech lies in how we express our sense of humor. Especially here in America, we’re used to getting laughs with exaggeration, sarcasm, group stereotypes, and pure silliness — all classic examples of wrong speech. If people get used to these sorts of careless humor, they stop listening carefully to what we say. In this way, we cheapen our own discourse. Actually, there’s enough irony in the state of the world that we don’t need to exaggerate or be sarcastic. The greatest humorists are the ones who simply make us look directly at the way things are.

Expressing our humor in ways that are truthful, useful, and wise may require thought and effort, but when we master this sort of wit we find that the effort is well spent. We’ve sharpened our own minds and have improved our verbal environment. In this way, even our jokes become part of our practice: an opportunity to develop positive qualities of mind and to offer something of intelligent value to the people around us.

So pay close attention to what you say — and to why you say it. When you do, you’ll discover that an open mouth doesn’t have to be a mistake.

©1999 Thanissaro Bhikkhu.

The text of this page (“Right Speech”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of the license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Transcribed from a file provided by the author. Last revised for Access to Insight on 8 March 2011.

Source: “Right Speech”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 8 March 2011, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/authors/thanissaro/speech.html .

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ACCEPT: All-Encompassing Goodwill

Peaceful RiverTogether, we’re in this mystery called life, with its joys and sorrows. Yet, receiving and accepting one another are not always easy. The acronym, ACCEPT, can remind us of six sublime truths about life.

Allowing – give people the freedom and joy to be themselves, and don’t project expectations, demands, and judgments on them.

Cherishing – love and cherish people equal to one’s self-cherishing, and show them loving-kindness whenever possible.

Compassion – care for people’s welfare and foster their well-being, deeply desiring to alleviate any suffering.

Equanimity – strive to be free of attachment and aversion, and show goodwill equally to all (don’t hold some close and others distant).

Patience – forbear difficult situations with people, and refrain from reacting with annoyance, anger, or aggression (realize that hatred breeds more hatred, and is only conquered by love).

Thankfulness – be grateful for our precious human existence (because any life can end quickly and unexpectedly), and extend empathetic joy toward others, rejoicing with them in their happiness and successes (why be envious and jealous?).

These noble qualities of goodwill – when used with all-important discernment and wisdom – are an ideal way of relating to all living beings. They free the heart and mind from needless suffering and unhappiness.

May all beings have happiness and the causes of happiness.
May all beings be free from suffering and the causes of suffering.
May all beings never be separated from the supreme joy
that is beyond all sorrow.
May all beings abide in equanimity free from attachment and aversion.

(Above four aspirations taken from The Heart of Dharma Collection by
SourcePoint Global Outreach)

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Questions and Answers

Buddhism: A Westerner’s Quest for Meaning

   For most of my life, I have been drawn to spirituality in the Christian faith tradition. In the search for deeper meaning, I acquired both undergraduate and graduate degrees relating to theology and spirituality.

It was within my Christian heritage that I was first indirectly introduced to Buddhism through a well-respected and internationally-known Christian meditation teacher. Sometimes he would quote from the Dhammapada is his meditation talks.

This source piqued my interest, and from that small, insignificant beginning, my interest in Buddhism and Buddhist spirituality has grown over the past few years.

Now, on this page, I am seeking to answer questions that have crossed my path and have at times puzzled me. May the questions and answers prove instructive and enlightening for all who may be drawn to explore Buddhism for one reason or another. [This is a new category on my blog. Questions and Answers will be forthcoming.]

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Suffering – Is There Really a Way Out?

As I look at life in the world, as well as into my own existence, suffering is a reality. It’s universal. We have all suffered, are perhaps suffering, and will suffer in one way or another. Birth, illness, aging, separation, and death all bring suffering. Simply put, suffering is all around us, and is a part of life. Is there a solution?

In this context of universal suffering, I find remarkable the words of the Buddha, spoken over 2,500 years ago. His claims are extremely bold. However, the onus of proof lies with each listener to his words. Each of us can take up the responsibility of proving his words in our own lives and experience.

I do find comfort in the fact that down through the centuries, thousands have discovered the veracity of his words. And presently, I too am on a quest to prove the reality of these daring statements in my own life. Here, then, are four incredible assertions:

The Four Noble Truths

Buddha ImageThus has it been said by the Buddha, the Enlightened One:

‘It is through not understanding, not realizing four things, that I, Disciples, as well as you, had to wander so long through this round of rebirths. And what are these four things? They are:

The Noble Truth of Suffering (dukkha);

The Noble Truth of the Origin of Suffering (dukkha-samudaya);

The Noble Truth of the Extinction of Suffering (dukkha-nirodha);

The Noble Truth of the Path that leads to the Extinction of

Suffering (dukkha-nirodha-gamini-patipada). (From Digha Nikāya, 16)

As long as the absolutely true knowledge and insight as regards these Four Noble Truths was not quite clear in me, so long was I not sure that I had won that supreme Enlightenment which is unsurpassed in all the world with its heavenly beings, evil spirits and gods, amongst all the hosts of ascetics and priests, heavenly beings and men. But as soon as the absolute true knowledge and insight as regards these Four Noble Truths had become perfectly clear in me, there arose in me the assurance that I had won that supreme Enlightenment unsurpassed. (From Samyutta Nikāya, LVI.11)

And I discovered that profound truth, so difficult to perceive, difficult to understand, tranquilizing and sublime, which is not to be gained by mere reasoning, and is visible only to the wise.

The world, however, is given to pleasure, delighted with pleasure, enchanted with pleasure. Truly, such beings will hardly understand the law of conditionality, the Dependent Origination (paticca-samuppada) of everything; incomprehensible to them will also be the end of all formations, the forsaking of every substratum of rebirth, the fading away of craving, detachment, extinction, Nibbana.

Yet there are beings whose eyes are only a little covered with dust: they will understand the truth.’ (From Majjhima Nikāya, 26)

Source: Nyanatiloka (compiler, translator). The Word of the Buddha: An Outline of the Teaching of the Buddha in the Words of the Pali Canon. 14th edition. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1967. (Pages 5-6)

Photo Credit: Intellimon Ltd.

The Noble Eightfold Path

The Noble Truth of the Path that Leads to the Extinction of Suffering

The Two Extremes and the Middle Path

To give oneself up to indulgence in Sensual Pleasure, the base, common, vulgar, unholy, unprofitable; or to give oneself up to Self-mortification, the painful, unholy, unprofitable: both these two extremes, the Perfect One has avoided, and has found out the Middle Path, which makes one both to see and to know, which leads to peace, to discernment, to enlightenment, to Nibbana.

The Eightfold Path

It is the Noble Eightfold Path, the way that leads to the extinction of suffering, namely:

III. Wisdom (Panna)

1. Right Understanding (Samma-ditthi)
2. Right Thought (Samma–sankappa)

I. Morality (Sila)

3. Right Speech (Samma-vaca)
4. Right Action (Samma-kammanta)
5. Right Livelihood (Samma-ajiva)

II. Concentration (Samadhi)

6. Right Effort (Samma-vayama)
7. Right Mindfulness (Samma-sati)
8. Right Concentration (Samma-samadhi)

This is the Middle Path which the Perfect One has found out, which makes one both see and know, which leads to peace, to discernment, to enlightenment, to Nibbana. (From Samyutta Nikāya, LVI.11)

The Noble Eightfold Path (Ariya-atthangikamagga)

The figurative expression ‘Path’ or ‘Way’ has been sometimes misunderstood as implying that the single factors of that Path have to be taken up for practice, one after the other, in the order given.

In that case, Right Understanding, i.e. the full penetration of Truth, would have to be realized first, before one could think of developing Right Thought, or of practising Right Speech, etc.

But in reality the three factors (3-5) forming the section ‘Morality’ (sila) have to be perfected first; after that one has to give attention to the systematic training of mind by practising the three factors (6-8) forming the section ‘Concentrations’ (samadhi); only after that preparation, man’s character and mind will be capable of reaching perfection in the first two factors (1-2) forming the section of ‘Wisdom’ (pañña).

An initial minimum of Right Understanding, however, is required at the very start, because some grasp of the facts of suffering, etc., is necessary to provide convincing reasons, and an incentive, for a diligent practice of the Path. A measure of Right Understanding is also required for helping the other Path factors to fulfil intelligently and efficiently their individual functions in the common task of liberation. For that reason, and to emphasize the importance of that factor, Right Understanding has been given the first place in the Noble Eightfold Path.

This initial understanding of the Dhamma, however, has to be gradually developed, with the help of the other Path factors, until it reaches finally that highest clarity of Insight (vipassana) which is the immediate condition for entering the four Stages of Holiness and for attaining Nibbana.

Right Understanding is therefore the beginning as well as the culmination of the Noble Eightfold Path. (From Nyantiloka)

Free from pain and torture is this path, free from groaning and suffering: it is the perfect path. (From Majjhima Nikāya, 139)

Truly, like this path there is no other path to the purity of insight. If you follow this path, you will put an end to suffering. (From Dhammapada, 274-75)

But each one has to struggle for himself, the Perfect Ones have only pointed out the way. (From Dhammapada, 276)

Give ear then, for the Deathless is found. I reveal, I set forth the Truth. As I reveal it to you, so act! And that supreme goal of the holy life, for the sake of which sons of good families rightly go forth from home to the homeless state: this you will, in no long time, in this very life, make known to yourself, realize, and make your own. (From Majjhima Nikāya, 26)

Source: Nyanatiloka (compiler, translator). The Word of the Buddha: An Outline of the Teaching of the Buddha in the Words of the Pali Canon. 14th edition. Kandy, Ceylon: Buddhist Publication Society, 1967. (Pages 27-29)

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Nearing Life’s End . . .

Phra Ajaan Chah writes to an older person nearing the end of their life. The essence of the teaching includes: remain aware, don’t hang on to anything, let go, and surrender to the way things are. Specifically, heCemetery covers the following points with them:

  • Let go the fabrications of life.
  • Train the mind to let go, and leave things be.
  • Realize that nothing in this world is lasting.
  • Beware of false suppositions.
  • Know that wrong view creates suffering.
  • Remember that awareness is your refuge.
  • Remain aware, awake, and serene
  • Be aware and let go.
  • Think with discernment; be aware with discernment.
  • Let preoccupations go.
  • Don’t cling to fabrications.
  • Remember your real home: The presence of peace.
  • See the arising and passing away of fabrications.
  • Accept change.
  • See birth, aging, illness, and death in perspective.
  • Let things be the way they are . . . let go.
  • See how everything is getting ready to leave.
  • Recognize inconstancy, stress, and not-self.
  • See the Dhamma.
  • Value disenchantment – the heart sobering up.
  • See the constant.
  • Let the mind be at peace.
  • Be ready for when parents become children again.
  • Show heartfelt benefaction and gratitude.

Our Real Home

Namo tassa bhagavato arahato samma-sambuddhassa.
Homage to the Blessed One, the Worthy One, the Rightly Self-awakened One.

Silena sugatim yanti: Through virtue they go to a good destination.
Silena bhogasampada: Through virtue there’s consummation of wealth.
Silena nibbutim yanti: Through virtue they go to nibbana.
Tasma silam visodhaye: So virtue should be purified.

Now, Grandma, set your heart on listening respectfully to the Dhamma, which is the teaching of the Buddha. While I’m teaching you the Dhamma, be as attentive as if the Buddha himself were sitting right in front of you. Close your eyes and set your heart on making your mind one. Bring the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha into your heart as a way of showing the Buddha respect.

Today I haven’t brought you a gift of any substance, aside from the Dhamma of the Buddha. This is my last gift to you, so please accept it.

You should understand that even the Buddha — with all his virtues and perfections — couldn’t avoid the weakening that comes with aging. When he reached the age you are, he let go. He let go of the fabrications of life.

Letting Go the Fabrications of Life

“Letting go” means that he put these things down. Don’t carry them around. Don’t weigh yourself down. Accept the truth about the fabrications of the body, whatever they may be: You’ve relied on them since you were born, but now it’s enough. Now that they’re old, they’re like the utensils in your home — the cups, the saucers, and the plates — that you’ve held onto all these years. When you first got them they were bright and clean, but now they’re wearing out. Some of them are broken, some of them are lost, while the ones remaining have all changed. They haven’t stayed the same. That’s just the way things are.

The same holds true with the parts of your body. From the time of birth and on through your childhood and youth, they kept changing. Now they’re called “old.” So accept the fact. The Buddha taught that fabrications aren’t us, they aren’t ours, whether they’re inside the body or out. They keep changing in this way. Contemplate this until it’s clear.

This body of yours, lying here and decaying, is the truth of the Dhamma. This truth is a teaching of the Buddha that’s certain and sure.

He taught us to look at it, to contemplate it, to accept what’s happening. And it’s something you should accept, regardless of what’s happening.

Training the Mind to Let Go and Leaving Things Be

The Buddha taught, when we’re imprisoned, to make sure that it’s only the body that’s imprisoned. Don’t let the mind be imprisoned. And the same thing applies here. When the body wears out with age, accept it. But make sure that it’s only the body that’s wearing out. Make sure that the affairs of the mind are something else entirely. This gives your mind energy and strength, because you see into the Dhamma that this is the way things are. This is the way they have to be.

As the Buddha taught, this is the way the body and mind are of their own accord. They can’t be any other way. As soon as the body is born, it begins to age. As it ages, it gets sick. After it’s sick, it dies. This truth is so true, this truth you’re encountering today. It’s the truth of the Dhamma. Look at it with your discernment so that you see.

Even if fire were to burn your house, or water were to flood it, or whatever the danger that would come to it, make sure that it’s only the house that gets burned. Make sure your heart doesn’t get burned along with it. If water floods your house, don’t let it flood your heart. Make sure it floods only the house, which is something outside the body. As for the mind, get it to let go and leave things be — because now is the proper time, the proper time to let go.

Nothing in this World Is Lasting

You’ve been alive for a long time now, haven’t you? Your eyes have had the chance to see all kinds of shapes, colors, and lights. The same with your other senses. Your ears have heard lots of sounds, all kinds of sounds — but they were no big deal. You’ve tasted really delicious foods — but they were no big deal. The beautiful things you’ve seen: They were no big deal. The ugly things you’ve seen: They were no big deal. The alluring things you’ve heard were no big deal. The ugly and offensive things you’ve heard were no big deal.

The Buddha thus taught that whether you’re rich or poor, a child or an adult — even if you’re an animal or anyone born in this world: There’s nothing in this world that’s lasting. Everything has to change in line with its condition. The truth of these conditions — if you try to fix them in a way that’s not right — won’t respond at all. But there is a way to fix things.

False Suppositions

The Buddha taught us to contemplate this body and mind to see that they aren’t us, they aren’t ours, they’re just suppositions.

For example, this house of yours: It’s only a supposition that it’s yours. You can’t take it with you. All the belongings that you suppose to be yours are just an affair of supposition. They stay right where they are. You can’t take them with you. The children and grandchildren that you suppose to be yours are just an affair of supposition. They stay right where they are.

And this isn’t just true for you. This is the way things are all over the world. Even the Buddha was this way. Even his enlightened disciples were this way. But they differed from us. In what way did they differ? They accepted this. They accepted the fact that the fabrications of the body are this way by their very nature. They can’t be any other way.

This is why the Buddha taught us to contemplate this body from the soles of the feet on up to the top of the head, and from the top of the head on down to the soles of the feet. These are the parts of your body. So look to see what all is there. Is there anything clean? Anything of any substance? These things keep wearing down with time. The Buddha taught us to see that these fabrications aren’t us. They’re just the way they are. They aren’t ours. They’re just the way they are. What other way would you have them be? The way they are is already right. If you’re suffering from this, then your thinking is wrong. When things are right but you see them wrong, it throws an obstacle across your heart.

Wrong View Creates Suffering

It’s like the water in a river that flows downhill to the lowlands. It flows in line with its nature. The Ayutthaya River, the Muun River, whatever the river, they all flow downhill. They don’t flow uphill. That’s their nature.

Suppose a man were to stand on the bank of a river, watching the current flowing downhill, but his thinking is wrong. He wants the river to flow uphill. He’s going to suffer. He won’t have any peace of mind. Whether he’s sitting, standing, walking, or lying down, he won’t find any peace. Why? Because his thinking is wrong. His thinking goes against the flow. He wants the water to flow uphill, but the truth of the matter is that the water can’t flow uphill. It’s not appropriate. The nature of the water is that it has to flow along with the flow. That’s its nature.

When this is the case, the man is upset. Why is he upset? Because his thinking is wrong, his ideas are wrong, all because of his wrong view. Right view sees that water has to flow downhill. This is a truth of the Dhamma that we can contemplate and see that it’s true. When that man sees this truth, he can let go — he can let the water flow along with its flow. The problem that was eating away at his heart disappears. When the problem disappears, there’s no more problem. When there’s no problem, there’s no suffering.

It’s the same here. The water flowing downhill is like the life of your body. After it’s young, it’s old. When it’s old, it flows along in its way. Don’t think that you don’t want it to be that way. Don’t think like that. We don’t have the power to fix it.

Awareness as One’s Refuge

The Buddha looked at things in line with their conditions, that they simply have to be that way. So we let them go, we leave them be. Take your awareness as your refuge. Meditate on the word buddho, buddho. Even though you’re really tired, put your mind with the breath. Take a good long out-breath. Take a good long in-breath. Take another good long out-breath. Focus your mind again if you wander off. Focus on the breath: buddho, buddho.

The more tired you feel, the more refined you have to keep focusing on in every time. Why? So that you can contend with pain. When you feel tired, stop all your thoughts. Don’t think of anything at all. Focus the mind in at the mind, and then keep the mind with the breath: buddho, buddho. Let go of everything outside. Don’t get fastened on your children. Don’t get fastened on your grandchildren. Don’t get fastened on anything at all. Let go. Let the mind be one. Gather the mind in to one. Watch the breath. Focus on the breath. Gather the mind at the breath. Just be aware at the breath. You don’t have to be aware of anything else. Keep making your awareness more and more refined until it feels very small, but extremely awake.

The pains that have arisen will gradually grow calm. Ultimately, we watch the breath in the same way that, when relatives have come to visit us, we see them off to the boat dock or the bus station. Once the motor starts, the boat goes whizzing right off. We watch them until they’re gone, and then we return to our home.

We watch the breath in the same way. We get acquainted with coarse breathing. We get acquainted with refined breathing.

As the breathing gets more and more refined, we watch it off. It gets smaller and smaller, but we make our mind more and more awake. We keep watching the breath get more and more refined until there’s no more breath. There’s just awareness, wide awake.

Aware, Awake, and Serene

This is called meeting with the Buddha. We stay aware, awake. This is what buddho means: what’s aware, awake, serene. When that’s the case, we’re living with the Buddha. We’ve met with awareness. We’ve met with brightness. We don’t send the mind anywhere else. It gathers in here. We’ve reached our Buddha. Even though he’s already passed away, that was just the body. The real Buddha is awareness that’s serene and bright. When you meet with this, that’s all you have to know. Let everything gather right here.

Let go of everything, leaving just this singular awareness. But don’t get deluded, okay? Don’t lose track. If a vision or a voice arises in the mind, let it go. Leave it be. You don’t need to take hold of anything at all. Just take hold of the awareness. Don’t worry about the future; don’t worry about the past. Stay right here. Ultimately you get so that you can’t say that you’re going forward, you can’t say that you’re going back, you can’t say that you’re staying in place. There’s nothing to be attached to. Why? Because there’s no self there, no you, no yours. It’s all gone.

This is the Buddha’s teaching: He tells us to be “all gone” in this way. He doesn’t have us grab hold of anything. He has us be aware like this — aware and letting go.

Aware and Letting Go

This is your duty right now, yours alone. Try to enter into the Dhamma in this way. This is the path for gaining release from the round of wandering-on. Try to let go, to understand, to set your heart on investigating this.

Don’t be worried about this person or that. Your children, your grandchildren, your relatives, everybody: Don’t be worried about them. Right now they’re fine. In the future they’ll be just like this: like you are right now. Nobody stays on in this world. That’s the way it has to be. This is a condition, a truth, that the Buddha taught. All the things that don’t have any truth to them, he has us leave them be. When you leave them be, you can see the truth.

If you don’t leave them be, you won’t see the truth. That’s the way things are. Everybody in the world has to be this way. So don’t be worried. Don’t fasten onto things.

Thinking with Discernment; Being Aware with Discernment

If the mind is going to think, let it think, but think using discernment. Think with discernment. Don’t think with foolishness. If you think about your grandchildren, think about them with discernment, not with foolishness. Whatever there is, you can think about it, you can be aware of it, but think with discernment, be aware with discernment. If you’re really aware with discernment, you have to let go. You have to leave things be. If you think with discernment and are aware with discernment, there’s no suffering, no stress. There’s just happiness, peace, and respite, all in one. The mind gathers like this. All you need to hold onto in the present is the breath.

This is your duty now. It’s not the duty of anyone else. Leave their duties to them. Your duty is your duty. And your duty right now is to keep your awareness at your mind, making sure it doesn’t get stirred up. Your duty is to know how your mind is doing. Is it worried about anything? Is it concerned about anything? Examine the mind while you’re lying here sick. Don’t take on the duties of your children. Don’t take on the duties of your grandchildren. Don’t take on the duties of anyone else. Don’t take on any outside duties at all. They’re none of your business. Now’s the time for you to let go, to leave things be. When you let go in this way, the mind will be at peace. This is your duty now, right here in the present.

Letting Preoccupations Go

When you’re sick like this, gather the mind into oneness. This is your duty. Let everything else go its own way. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, whatever: Let them go their own way. Just stay focused on your duty.

If any preoccupation comes in to bother the mind, just say in your heart: “Leave me alone. Don’t bother me. You’re no affair of mine.” If any critical thoughts come up — fear for your life, fear that you’ll die, thinking of this person, thinking of that person — just say in your heart, “Don’t bother me. You’re no affair of mine.”

This is because you see all the Dhammas that arise. What are Dhammas? Everything is a Dhamma. There’s nothing now that isn’t a Dhamma.

What’s the world? The world is any preoccupation that gets you stirred up, that disturbs you right now. “How is that person going to be? How is this person going to be? When I die will anyone look after them?” All of this is the world. Whatever we think up — fear of death, fear of aging, fear of illness, whatever the fear — it’s all world. Drop the world — it’s just world. That’s the way the world is. If it arises in the mind, make yourself understand: The world is nothing but a preoccupation. Preoccupations obscure the mind so that it can’t see itself.

Not Clinging to Fabrications

Whatever arises in the mind, tell yourself: “This isn’t any affair of mine. It’s an affair of inconstancy, an affair of stress, an affair of not-self.”

If you think that you’d like to keep on living a long time, it makes you suffer. If you think that you’d like to die right now and get it all over with, that’s not the right way either, you know. It makes you suffer, too, because fabrications aren’t yours. You can’t fix them up. They’re just the way they are. You can fix them up a little bit, as when you fix up the body to make it look pretty or clean. Or like children: They paint their lips and let their nails grow long to make them look pretty. But that’s all there is to it. When they get old, they all end up in the same bucket. They fix up the outside, but can’t really fix things. That’s the way it is with fabrications. The only thing you can fix is your heart and mind.

Our Real Home: The Presence of Peace

This house you’re living in: You and your husband built it. Other people can build houses, too, making them large and lovely. Those are outer homes, which anyone can build. The Buddha called them outer homes, not your real home. They’re homes only in name.

Homes in the world have to fall in line with the way of the world. Some of us forget. We get a big home and enjoy living in it, but we forget our real home. Where is our real home? It’s in the sense of peace. Our real home is peace.

This home you live in here — and this applies to every home — is lovely, but it’s not very peaceful. First this, then that; you’re worried about this, you’re worried about that: This isn’t your real home. It’s not your inner home. It’s an outer home. Someday soon you’ll have to leave it. You won’t be able to live here anymore. It’s a worldly home, not yours.

This body of yours, that you still see as you and yours, is a home that stays with you a while. You think that it’s you and yours, but it’s not. It, too, is a worldly home. It’s not your real home. People prefer to build outer homes; they don’t like to build inner homes. You rarely see any homes where people can really stay and be at peace. People don’t build them. They build only outer homes.

Arising and Passing Away of Fabrications

Think about it for a minute. How is your body right now? Think about it from the day you were born all the way up to the present moment. We keep running away from progress. We keep running until we’re old, running until we’re sick. We don’t want things to be that way, but we can’t prevent it. That’s just the way things are. They can’t be any other way. It’s like wanting a duck to be like a chicken, but it can’t because it’s a duck. If you want a chicken to be like a duck, it can’t, because it’s a chicken. If you want ducks to be like chickens, and chickens to be like ducks, you simply suffer — because these things are impossible. If you think, “Ducks have to be the way they are, and chickens the way they are; they can’t be any other way,” then that kind of thinking gives you energy and strength.

No matter how much you want this body to stay stable and permanent, it can’t be that way. It’s just the way it is. The Buddha called it a fabrication.

Anicca vata sankhara: How inconstant are fabrications!

Uppada-vaya-dhammino: Their nature is to arise and pass away.

Uppajjhitva nirujjhanti: Arising, they disband.

Tesam vupasamo sukho: Their stilling is bliss.

This fabrication — this body-and-mind — is inconstant. It’s not dependable. It’s here and then it’s not. It’s born and then it passes away. But we human beings want it to be constant. That’s the thinking of a fool.

Accepting Change

Just look at your breath. It goes out and then it comes in. It comes in and then it goes out. That’s the nature of breath. It has to be that way. It has to change, to go back and forth. The affairs of fabrication depend on change. You can’t have them not change. Just look at your breath. Can you keep it from coming in? Does it feel comfortable?

If you draw in a breath and then don’t let it go out, is that any good? Even if you want it to be constant, it can’t be constant. It’s impossible. It goes out and then it comes in. It comes in and then it goes out. It’s such a normal thing.

We’re born and then we age; we age and then we get sick and die. It’s so normal. But we don’t like it. It’s as if we wanted the breath to come in and not go out; or to go out and not come in. When it comes in and out, out and in, we can live. Human beings and animals have been living right up to the present because fabrications follow their duty in line with their conditions. That’s their truth.

Birth, Aging, Illness, and Death

So we have to see their truth in line with their truth. As with the affair of birth, aging, illness, and death: Once we’re born, we’re already dead. Birth and death are all the same thing. One part is the beginning, and one part the end. Just like a tree: When it has a base, it has an upper tip. When it has an upper tip, it has a base. When there’s no base, there’s no upper tip. There’s no upper tip without a base. That’s the way things are.

It’s kind of funny, you know. We human beings, when somebody dies, get all sad and upset. We cry and grieve — all kinds of things. It’s delusion. It’s delusion, you know, to cry and lament when somebody dies. That’s the way we’ve been since who knows when. We hardly ever reflect to see things clearly. In my opinion, and you’ll have to forgive me for saying this, but if you’re going to cry when somebody dies, it’d be better to cry when somebody’s born. But we have things all backwards. If somebody’s born we laugh; we’re happy and glad. But really, birth is death, and death is birth. The beginning is the end, and the end is the beginning. When someone dies or is about to die, we cry. That’s foolishness. If you’re going to cry, it’d be better to cry from the very beginning. For birth is death. Without birth, there’s no death. Do you understand? Death is birth, and birth is death.

Letting Things Be the Way They Are . . . Letting Go

Don’t think in a way that puts you in a turmoil. Just let things be the way they are. This is your duty now. No one else can help you. Your children can’t help you; your grandchildren can’t help you; your wealth can’t help you. The only thing that can help you is if you correct your sense of things right now. Don’t let it waver back and forth. Let go. Let go.

Even if we don’t let things go, they’re already ready to go. The parts of your body are trying to run away. Do you see this? When you were young, your hair was black. Now it’s gray. This is how it’s already running away. When you were young, your eyes were bright and clear, but now they’re blurry. Do you see this? They’re already running away. They can’t hold out any longer, so they have to run away. This is no longer their place to stay. Every part of your body has started running away. When you were young, were your teeth solid and sturdy? Now they’re loose. You may have put in false teeth, but they’re something new, not the original ones. The original ones have run away. Every part of your body — of everybody’s body — is trying to run away.

Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body: All of these things are trying to run away. Why? Because this isn’t their place to stay. They’re fabrications, so they can’t stay. They can stay for only a while and then they have to go. And it’s not just you. Every part of the body — hair of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth, skin, everything — is getting ready to run away. Some parts have already gone, but not yet everything. All that’s left are a few house sitters. They’re looking after the house, but they’re no good. The eyes are no good; the teeth are no good; the ears are no good. This body’s no good because the good things have already run away. They keep running away, one after another.

You have to understand that this is no place for human beings to stay. It’s just a shelter where you can rest a bit, and then you have to move on.

Everything Getting Ready to Leave

So don’t let yourself be worried about so many things. You’ve come to live in the world, so you should contemplate the world to see that that’s the way it is: Everything’s getting ready to run away. Look at your body. Is there anything there that’s like what it used to be? Is the skin like it used to be? Is your hair like it used to be? Are your eyes like they used to be? Are your ears like they used to be? Are your teeth like they used to be? No, they’re not. They’ve run off to who knows where.

This is what their nature is like. Once they’ve served their time, they have to go. Why do they have to go? Because that’s their duty. That’s their truth. This isn’t a place where anything can stay permanently. And while they’re staying here, they’re a turmoil: sometimes pleasant, sometimes painful, with no respite or peace.

It’s like a person who’s traveling back home but hasn’t yet arrived. He’s still on the way, sometimes going forward, sometimes going back:

a person with no place to stay. As long as he hasn’t reached home, he’s not at his ease: no ease while he’s sitting, no ease while he’s lying down, no ease while he’s walking, no ease while he’s riding in a car. Why? Because he hasn’t yet reached home. When we reach our home, we’re at our ease because we understand that this is our home.

It’s the same here. The affairs of the world are never peaceful. Even if we’re rich, they’re not peaceful. If we’re poor, they’re not peaceful. If we’re adults they’re not peaceful. If we’re children they’re not peaceful. If we lack education, they’re not peaceful. If we’re educated, they’re not peaceful. All these affairs are not peaceful: That’s just the way they are. That’s why poor people suffer, rich people suffer, children suffer, adults suffer. Old people suffer the sufferings of old people. The sufferings of children, the sufferings of rich people, the suffering of poor people: They’re all suffering.

Inconstancy, Stress, and Not-Self

Every part in your body is running away, one thing after another. When you contemplate this, you’ll see aniccam: They’re inconstant. Dukkham: They’re stressful. Why is that? Anatta: They’re not-self.

This body you’re living in, this body sitting and lying here sick, along with the mind that knows pleasure and pain, that knows that the body is sick: Both of these things are called Dhamma.

The mental things with no shape, that can think and feel, are called nama. They’re nama-dhamma. The things that have physical shape, that can hurt, that can grow and shrink, back and forth: That’s called rupa-dhamma. Mental things are dhamma. Physical things are dhamma. That’s why we say we live with the Dhamma. There’s nothing there that’s really us. It’s just Dhamma. Dhamma conditions arise and then pass away. They arise and then pass away. That’s how conditions are. They arise and then pass away. We arise and pass away with every moment. This is how conditions are.

Seeing the Dhamma

This is why, when we think of the Buddha, we can see that he’s really worth respecting, really worth bowing down to, for he spoke the truth. He spoke in line with the truth. Once we see that that’s the way it is, we see the Dhamma. Some people practice the Dhamma but don’t see the Dhamma. Some people study the Dhamma, practice the Dhamma, but don’t see the Dhamma. They still don’t have any place to stay.

So you have to understand that everybody, all the way down to ants and termites and all the other little animals, is trying to run away. There’s no one who can stay here. Living things stay for a while and then they all go: rich people, poor people, children, old people, even animals. They all keep changing.

Disenchantment – the Heart Sobering Up

So when you sense that the world is like this, you see that it’s disenchanting. There’s nothing that’s really you or yours. You’re disenchanted — nibbida. Disenchantment isn’t disgust, you know. It’s just the heart sobering up. The heart has seen the truth of the way things are: There’s no way you can fix them. They’re just the way they are. You let them go. You let go without gladness. You let go without sadness. You just let things go as fabrications, seeing with your own discernment that that’s the way fabrications are. This is called, anicca vata sankhara: Fabrications are inconstant. They change back and forth. That’s inconstancy.

Seeing the Constant

To put it in simple terms: Inconstancy is the Buddha. When we really see that these things are inconstant, that’s the Buddha. When we look clearly into inconstancy, we’ll see that it’s constant. How is it constant? It’s constant in being that way. It doesn’t change into any other way. Human beings and animals, once they’re born, are all that way. They’re constant in that way — in that they’re inconstant. They keep changing, changing from children to young people to old people: That’s how they’re inconstant. But the fact that everyone is that way: That’s constant. That doesn’t change. Things keep changing in that way. When you see this, your heart can be at peace, for it’s not just you. It’s everyone.

Letting the Mind Be at Peace

When you think in this way, it’s disenchanting. Nibbida arises. It cures you of your lust and desire for sensuality, for the world, for the baits of the world. If you have a lot of them, you abandon a lot. If you have a little, you abandon a little. Look at everyone. Have you seen any of these things since you were born? Have you seen poor people? Have you seen rich people? Have you seen people who die young? Have you seen people who die old? We’ve all seen these things. They’re no big deal.

The important point is that the Buddha has us build a home for ourselves, to build a home in the way I’ve described to you.

Build a home so you can let go, so that you can leave things be. Let them go and then leave them be. Let the mind reach peace. Peace is something that doesn’t move forward, doesn’t move back, doesn’t stay in place. That’s why its peace. It’s peace in that it’s free from going forward, free from moving back, free from staying in place.

Pleasure isn’t a place for you to stay. Pain isn’t a place for you to stay. Pain wears away. Pleasure wears away. Our foremost Teacher said that all fabrications are inconstant. So when we reach this last stage in life, he tells us to let go and leave things be. We can’t take them with us. We’ll have to let them go anyhow, so wouldn’t it be better to let them go beforehand? If we carry them around, they weigh us down. When we sense that they weigh us down, we won’t carry them around. Wouldn’t it be better to let them go beforehand? So why carry them around? Why be attached to them? Let your children and grandchildren look after you, while you can rest at your ease.

When Parents Become Children

Those who look after the sick should be virtuous. Those who are sick should give others the opportunity to look after them. Don’t give them difficulties. Wherever there’s pain, learn how to keep your mind in good shape. Those who look after their parents should have their virtues, too. You have to be patient and tolerant. Don’t feel disgust. This is the only time you can really repay your parents. In the beginning you were children, and your parents were adults. It was in dependence on them that you’ve been able to grow up. The fact that you’re all sitting here is because your parents looked after you in every way. You owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

So now you should understand that your mother is a child. Before, you were her children, but now she’s your child. Why is that? As people get older, they turn into children. They can’t remember things; their eyes can’t see things; their ears can’t hear things; they make mistakes when they speak, just like children. So you should understand and let go. Don’t take offense at what the sick person says and does. Let her have her way, in the same way you’d let a child have its way when it won’t listen to its parents. Don’t make it cry. Don’t make it frustrated.

It’s the same with your mother. When people are old, their perceptions get all skewed. They want to call one child, but they say another one’s name. They ask for a bowl when they want a plate.

They ask for a glass when they want something else. This is the normal way things are, so I ask you to contemplate it for yourself.

At the same time, the sick person should think of those looking after her. Have the virtue of patience and endurance in the face of pain. Make an effort in your heart so that it isn’t a turmoil. Don’t place too many difficulties on the people looking after you. As for those looking after the sick person, have the virtue of not feeling disgust over mucus and saliva, urine and excrement. Try to do the best you can. All of the children should help in looking after her.

Heartfelt Benefaction and Gratitude

She’s now the only mother you have. You’ve depended on her ever since you were born: to be your teacher, your nurse, your doctor — she was everything for you. This is the benefaction she gave in raising you. She gave you knowledge; she provided for your needs and gave you wealth. Everything you have — the fact that you have children and grandchildren, nice homes, nice occupations, the fact that you can send your children to get an education — the fact that you even have yourself: What does that come from? It comes from the benefaction of your parents who gave you an inheritance so that your family line is the way it is.

The Buddha thus taught benefaction and gratitude. These two qualities complement each other. Benefaction is doing good for others. When we’ve received that goodness, received that help: Whoever has raised us, whoever has made it possible for us to live, whether it’s a man or a woman, a relative or not, that person is our benefactor.

Gratitude is our response. When we’ve received help and support from benefactors, we appreciate that benefaction. That’s gratitude. Whatever they need, whatever difficulty they’re in, we should be willing to make sacrifices for them, to take on the duty of helping them. This is because benefaction and gratitude are two qualities that undergird the world so that your family doesn’t scatter, so that it’s at peace, so that it’s as solid and stable as it is.

Today I’ve brought you some Dhamma as a gift in your time of illness. I don’t have any other gift to give. There’s no need to bring you any material gift, for you have plenty of material things in your house, and over time they just cause you difficulties. So I’ve brought you some Dhamma, something of substance that will never run out.

Now that you’ve heard this Dhamma, you can pass it on to any number of other people, and it’ll never run out. It’ll never stop. It’s the truth of the Dhamma, a truth that always stays as it is.

I’m happy that I’ve been able to give you this gift of Dhamma so that you’ll have the strength of heart to contend with all the things you face.

Source: “Our Real Home”, by Ajaan Chah, translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 2 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/thai/chah/our_real_home.html .

Note: ©2011 Metta Forest Monastery.

The text of this page (“Our Real Home”, by Metta Forest Monastery) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of the license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Transcribed from a file provided by the translator. Last revised for Access to Insight on 2 November 2013.

Phra Ajaan Chah was born in 1918 in a village in the northeastern part of Thailand. He became a novice at a young age and received higher ordination at the age of twenty. He followed the austere Forest Tradition for years, living in forests and begging for almsfood as he wandered about on mendicant pilgrimage. He practiced meditation under a number of masters, including Ajaan Mun, who had an indelible influence on Ajaan Chah, giving his meditation the direction and clarity that it lacked. Ajaan Chah later became an accomplished meditation teacher in his own right, sharing his realization of the Dhamma with those who sought it. The essence of the teaching was rather simple: be mindful, don’t hang on to anything, let go and surrender to the way things are.

Ajaan Chah’s simple yet profound teaching style had a special appeal to Westerners, and in 1975 he established Wat Pah Nanachat, a special training monastery for the growing number of Westerners who sought to practice with him. In 1979 the first of several branch monasteries in Europe was established in Sussex, England by his senior Western disciples (among them Ajaan Sumedho, who is presently senior incumbent at the Amaravati Buddhist Monastery, England). Today there are ten branch monasteries in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.

Ajaan Chah passed away in January, 1992 following a long illness.

Biographical Source: Adapted from A Tree in a Forest (Chungli, Taiwan: Dhamma Garden, 1994) and Bodhinyana.

This article was prepared by Alexander Peck based on the original material cited above, with sub-headings added to aid readability.


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Walking the Path to Awakening

Red Bottle Brush FlowerI have created a table to provide an overview or highlight some aspects involved in a mindfulness of breathing practice. The table consists of four boxes, with information as follows:

Mindfulness of Breathing

  1. Breathing: Focus on the breath. It’s the ideal place to watch both what is going on in the body and in the mind. In a sense, it is home because you can always come back to the breath – right here where the body and the mind meet.
  2. Mindfulness: Stay with the breath. Come back to it when the mind wanders, without any self-recrimination.
  3. Develop alertness, awareness, and awakeness.
  4. Experience peace, calm, and serenity.
  5. Develop concentration.
  6. Receive insight for living.
  7. Maintain equanimity.

In this way, one begins to observe things as they actually are – as they are happening and being fabricated. One sees where habits of fabrication are causing needless suffering and stress – and that stress is unnecessary. In fabricating one’s experience out of the raw materials that come from past actions, choices are being made. Through the path, one learns how to make these choices more and more skillfully.

Factors for Awakening

  1. Mindfulness: Keep the breath in mind.
  2. Analysis of qualities: See how the sense of the body and mind are being fabricated through the breath and the perceptions about the breath.
  3. Persistence/energy/effort: Do the best to fabricate in skillful ways and abandon unskillful fabrications.
  4. Rapture: Realize that refreshment will come through skillful action.
  5. Serenity: Realize that ease will come through skillful action.
  6. Concentration: Develop concentration.
  7. Equanimity: Watch with equanimity all these aspects as they are happening.

These seven factors lead to knowledge and release – the knowledge of awakening (understanding what the mind has been doing that is causing stress), and release (how the mind can let go of the cause). When one has completed all the duties with regard to the Four Noble Truths (to understand suffering; to abandon its origin; to cultivate the path; and to realize cessation) the mind no longer creates any unnecessary burdens for itself. It tastes the deathless!

Karma (Volitional Action)

Typically, volitional action is based on craving or aversion, and ignorance. It involves the will, and is enacted mentally or physically. Three stages of karma are:

  1. Intention: Involves the will, and is the wanting to do something. It can be skillful or unskillful.
  2. Action: Is the action itself, which can be physical, verbal, or mental. It can be skillful or unskillful.
  3. Result: Is a sense of relief or satisfaction. It can be skillful or unskillful.

Three factors influence the experience of the present moment: (1) results from past actions, (2) present actions, and the (3) results of present actions. Present actions shape not only the present, but also the future.

Skillful intention is shaped by appropriate attention (which focuses on questions that help foster skillfulness in one’s actions) and right view (which provides a proper understanding of actions and their potential).

Brahma-viharas (Divine Abodes)

Begin by cultivating these four sublime states toward oneself, and then one can begin to radiate them outward toward all others.

  1. Goodwill (metta) – having the desire for true happiness for oneself and for others.
  2. Compassion (karuna) – seeing suffering and desiring for it to stop.
  3. Empathetic joy (mudita) – seeing happiness and desiring for it to continue and expand.
  4. Equanimity (upekkha) – seeing the universality of the principle of actions and their results.

These Four Limitless Ones are sublime expressions of love. They: (1) transform greed, aversion, and delusion; (2) purify the heart and generate positive energy; (3) provide the answers to all situations in life; and (4) represent the enlightened heart.

Source: Notes by Alexander Peck with indebtedness to the Dhamma talks and writings of Thanissaro Bhikkhu – http://www.dhammatalks.org/

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The Two Truths

Sunset by the LakeThe main focus of Buddhist philosophy is the nature of reality – to accurately understand how the world exists. What, then, is this reality? Two aspects come to the fore: (1) how things exist (this is ultimate truth), and (2) how we perceive they exist (this is conventional, or relative, truth).

Understanding the nature of reality is important. We suffer because we misconceive reality – we fail to see how things exist. Ignorance is this gap between reality (ultimate truth) and how we conceive reality (relative truth), and is that which leads to all of our problems.

Relative and Ultimate Truth

Relative (Conventional) Truth Ultimate Truth (Emptiness)
● We see that the universe consists of things and events – they exist and function.● We ascribe to them a concrete reality.● We simply look at outward appearances. ● We realize that things and events come into existence due to causes and conditions.● We recognize that there is a mode of existence of phenomena at a deeper level.● We seek to understand reality at this more profound level.

We need to narrow the gap between (1) how things appear to exist (relative truth) and how they actually exist (ultimate truth). The more accurate our vision of reality is, the more informed our judgments will be, and therefore fewer mistakes and less suffering will occur.

If we are misinformed, we make incorrect judgments and mistakes, and we suffer. This is a vital key to happiness because as long as we are tied up in misconceptions about reality, we will also continue to develop attachment and aversion.

An example of a misconception: We see our own sense of identity as static and eternal – and so we reify objects and situations. (Reify means to regard or treat [an abstraction] as if it had concrete or material existence. In other words, it is to regard [something abstract] as a material or concrete thing.) This is a reason for why we then continue to develop attachment and aversion.

In other words, we get locked into a worldview where “I” is the centre and all else must serve the “I” – and so we have no space to help others, and paradoxically, no space to be happy. The more egocentric we are, the tighter our mind is, and consequently the unhappier we are. Only by seeing how we misconceive both the “I” and the universe that this “I” inhabits will we be able to break away from the rigid me-me-me space we inhabit now and loosen up into a lighter, happier mindset that cherishes others.

Furthermore, both the emotional (which may for a moment be linked with relative truth) and logical (which may be linked with ultimate truth) sides of our nature need to be developed together. By developing a good heart (relative truth), we will become a better person; by seeing the reality (ultimate truth) of our situation we will be able to improve it in a meaningful way.

Compassion (relative truth) must be supported by a right view of reality (ultimate truth) – or it will be flawed. One can be full of compassion, but very short on wisdom – so despite good intentions, one can harm more than help. We need love, compassion, altruism, and all the positive aspects of our emotional life (relative truth), but we need wisdom (ultimate truth) as well.

To understand both relative and ultimate truth takes effort. Understanding emptiness (a synonym for ultimate truth) is difficult. However, we need to shed light on the reality of our lives, and break free from our mundane thinking. We actually need to break through the fog of misunderstanding and start to see a glimmer of the meaning of the two truths.

A starting point is to begin to doubt whether things and events exist inherently – this goes a long way toward understanding reality. Ask: Does the appearance match reality? This doubt about the intrinsic nature of things is an exceptional quality – it approaches a real understanding of emptiness and, thus, of ultimate truth.

However, to come to know how the world truly exists, we first need to know how it appears to exist for us – thus, it is vital to understand relative, or conventional, truth as well. Finally, one cannot become a fully realized being without understanding both conventional and ultimate truth. And, through the study of the two truths the possibility opens up for us that we can truly free ourselves from samsara.

Source: Tsering, Geshe Tashi. Relative Truth, Ultimate Truth (The Foundation of Buddhist Thought, Volume 2). Somerville, MA: Wisdom Publications, 2008 (Notes based on chapter one entitled “The Evolution of Buddhist Thought”, Pages 1-16).

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Karma and Rebirth

Peaceful LakeThe following notes by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Metta Forest Monastery) in his translator’s introduction to “Itivuttaka: This Was Said by the Buddha” provides an overview of two important Buddhist teachings: karma and rebirth. “The Buddha’s teachings on action, or kamma, and his accompanying teachings on rebirth,” writes Thanissaro Bhikkhu, “are often dismissed as unessential to his teaching, something he simply picked up from his Indian environment. Actually, they are central to his teaching, and form one of his most original insights.”

The Itivuttaka

The Itivuttaka, a collection of 112 short discourses, takes its name from the statement at the beginning of each of its discourses: this (iti) was said (vuttam) by the Blessed One. The collection as a whole is attributed to a laywoman named Khujjuttara, who worked in the palace of King Udena of Kosambi as a servant to one of his queens, Samavati. Because the Queen could not leave the palace to hear the Buddha’s discourses, Khujjuttara went in her place, memorized what the Buddha said, and then returned to the palace to teach the Queen and her 500 ladies-in-waiting. For her efforts, the Buddha cited Khujjuttara as the foremost of his laywomen disciples in terms of her learning. She was also an effective teacher: when the inner apartments of the palace later burned down, killing the Queen and her entourage, the Buddha commented (in Udana VII.10) that all of the women had reached at least the first stage of Awakening.

The name of the Itivuttaka is included in the standard early list of the nine divisions of the Buddha’s teachings — a list that predates the organization of the Pali canon as we now know it. It’s impossible to determine, though, the extent to which the extant Pali Itivuttaka corresponds to the Itivuttaka mentioned in that list. . . .

The early history of the Itivuttaka is made even more complex by the fact that it was originally an oral tradition first written down several centuries after the Buddha’s passing away. . . . Whatever the history of the text, though, it has long been one of the favorite collections in the Pali canon, for it covers a wide range of the Buddha’s teachings — from the simplest to the most profound — in a form that is accessible, appealing, and to the point.

However, although the discourses in the Itivuttaka cover many topics, they all relate to a common theme: the consequences of one’s actions, or kamma. Because this theme is so central to these discourses, and because it is so commonly misunderstood, I would like briefly to explain it here.

The Buddha’s teachings on action, or kamma, and his accompanying teachings on rebirth, are often dismissed as unessential to his teaching, something he simply picked up from his Indian environment. Actually, they are central to his teaching, and form one of his most original insights. Although many people assume that the Buddha derived his teachings on kamma from a view of the cosmos as a whole, the line of experiential proof was actually the other way around.

After directly observing and analyzing the role of action in shaping his experience of time, he then followed the implications of his observations to confirm his vision of the process of rebirth and the structure of the cosmos that lies under the sway of time.

In the course of his Awakening, the Buddha discovered that the experience of the present moment consists of three factors: (1) results from past actions, (2) present actions, and the (3) results of present actions. This means that kamma acts in feedback loops, with the present moment being shaped both by past and by present actions; while present actions shape not only the present but also the future. This constant opening for present input into the causal processes shaping one’s life makes free will possible. In fact, will — or intention — forms the essence of action.

Furthermore, the quality of the intention determines the quality of the act and of its results. On the mundane level there are three types of intentions: (1) skillful, leading to pleasant results; (2) unskillful, leading to painful results; and (3) mixed, leading to mixed results, all these results being experienced within the realm of space and time.

However, the fact that the experience of space and time requires not only the results of past actions but also the input of present actions means that it is possible to unravel the experience of space and time by bringing the mind to a point of equilibrium where it contributes no intentions or actions to the present moment. The intentions that converge at this equilibrium are thus a fourth type of intention — transcendent skillful intentions — which lead to release from the results of mundane intentions, and ultimately to the ending of all action.

The Buddha’s direct perception of the power of intention confirmed for him the process of rebirth: if experience of the present moment requires the influence of past intentions, then there is no way to account for experience at the beginning of life other than through the intentions of a previous lifetime. At the same time, the power of the quality of intention provided the framework for Buddha’s vision of the cosmos in which the process of rebirth takes place: (1) there are pleasant levels of rebirth — the worlds of the Brahmas and the higher devas; (2) unpleasant levels — hell, the realms of the hungry shades, common animals, and the angry demons; and (3) mixed levels — the human realm and some of the lower deva realms.

Even in the pleasant levels of rebirth, however, the pleasure is unstable and impermanent, giving no sure release from suffering and pain.

The only secure release comes through transcendent skillful intentions, leading to the experience of nibbana, totally beyond the process of rebirth and the constraints of space and time.

Nibbana itself is totally unconditioned and so cannot be analyzed, apart from a distinction in how it is experienced before and after death. However, the path of practice leading to nibbana can be analyzed. It has eight factors — right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, and right concentration — and goes through four levels of Awakening.

The early texts say very little about the content of these Awakening experiences, but are very specific about how these experiences function in effecting lasting changes in the mind.

(1) Stream-entry — in which one enters the “stream” to nibbana, gaining one’s first glimpse of the deathless and cutting through the mental fetters of self-identity views, uncertainty, and grasping at precepts and practices — ensures that one will be reborn at most only seven more times.

(2) Once-returning ensures that one will be reborn only once more on the human level.

(3) Non-returning — which cuts through the mental fetters of sensual passion and resistance — ensures that one will never be reborn on the human level. If one goes no further in this life, one will be reborn in one of the five Brahma realms called the Pure Abodes and attain full Awakening there.

(4) Arahantship — which cuts through the mental fetters of passion for form, passion for formlessness, restlessness, conceit, and ignorance — frees one entirely from the suffering caused by craving, and from the cycle of rebirth as a whole.

This, then, is the picture of the cosmos that derives from the Buddha’s insight into the power of intention. And what shapes skillful intention? Two connected qualities: (1) appropriate attention and (2) right view.

Appropriate attention focuses on questions that help foster skillfulness in one’s actions, and avoids questions that get in the way of developing that skill. On the mundane level, right view provides a proper understanding of action and its potential for producing mundane pleasure and pain.

On the transcendent level, it reduces experience simply to cause and effect, skillful and unskillful — expressed in terms of the four noble truths — without focusing on whether there is anyone performing the action or experiencing the result. This untangles the mind from issues of space and time, and allows it to act in a way that opens to transcendent release.

Simply put, appropriate attention asks the right questions; right view provides the right answers. The interplay between these two mental qualities explains the question-and-answer format used in many of the discourses in the Itivuttaka. And, given the role of right view in skillful action, the fact that all of the discourses deal with right view means that they are all aimed — directly or indirectly — at helping the reader reach true happiness by using those views to foster skillful intentions in his or her own life.

Source: “Itivuttaka: This Was Said by the Buddha”, translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.intro.than.html .

Notes: ©2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Metta Forest Monastery). This article is taken from the translator’s introduction to the “Itivuttaka”. “Itivuttaka: This Was Said by the Buddha”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of the license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Transcribed from a file provided by the translator. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013. Minor editorial changes in this document by Alexander Peck.

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Loving-Kindness Meditation

Floral Beauty by the SeaLoving-kindness meditation (also called metta meditation) is a practice that aims to cultivate unconditional love toward all beings. In the practice, one starts with oneself and then gradually expands love and kindness out toward all sentient beings. Specific words and phrases may be recited to help generate a more boundless love. It is a love (including a feeling of warmth and kindness) that is not restricted to certain individuals, religions, classes, or space.

On Extending Goodwill

Loving-kindness meditation (metta meditation) – or extending goodwill to others – develops our ability to radiate an unconditional love to all living beings. It should not be determined by our likes and dislikes – or our judgements about people, or our perceived rights and wrongs of a relationship.

Rather, we understand that all living beings seek the same thing – freedom from suffering. In the way we desire happiness for ourselves, we then extend that same wish to all other sentient beings.

One way to practice loving-kindness meditation is to first show goodwill to ourselves, and then to those we respect and like. From there, we move on to people we feel neutral about or even dislike. Finally, we then encompass all other humans and eventually all other living beings.

Gradually, over time, the heart will begin to open more and we will feel love flowing out more freely. In this practice, liking all people is not the issue – we are not expected to like all others. We will, however, slowly be able to extend goodwill toward others.

When people first begin this practice, they may use statements such as “May you be well; may you be happy”. These are not intended as mantras or be a part of mantra meditation, but a way to start involving the feeling or emotion of loving-kindness or goodwill. Later, such specific statements may no longer be needed.

The goal is to allow our goodwill or loving-kindness to flow and emanate generously and impartially toward all others – without a desire to change any person. We share our kindness and warmth without any expectation of reward. We also remember that all sentient beings need love.

Finally, we learn to be gentle with ourselves – and perhaps see those with whom we have had difficulty, as their actions being a response to their own suffering.

Some specific instructions include: To begin, allow 20 to 30 minutes for each session. If possible, practise at a regular time each day in a quiet place. Keep your purpose for the meditation in mind, and let go any analysing or planning. Let your breathing be normal, without trying to change its rhythm or depth.

Benefits of Loving-Kindness Meditation

Eleven benefits of loving-kindness meditation are given in the Metta (Mettanisamsa) Sutta: Discourse on Advantages of Loving-kindness:1

Thus have I heard:

On one occasion the Blessed One was living near Savatthi at Jetavana at Anathapindika’s monastery. Then he addressed the monks saying, “Monks.” — “Venerable Sir,” said the monks, by way of reply. The Blessed One then spoke as follows:

“Monks, eleven advantages are to be expected from the release (deliverance) of heart by familiarizing oneself with thoughts of loving-kindness (metta), by the cultivation of loving-kindness, by constantly increasing these thoughts, by regarding loving-kindness as a vehicle (of expression), and also as something to be treasured, by living in conformity with these thoughts, by putting these ideas into practice, and by establishing them. What are the eleven?

1. “He sleeps in comfort. 2. He awakes in comfort. 3. He sees no evil dreams. 4. He is dear to human beings. 5. He is dear to non-human beings. 6. Devas (gods) protect him. 7. Fire, poison, and sword cannot touch him. 8. His mind can concentrate quickly. 9. His countenance is serene. 10. He dies without being confused in mind. 11. If he fails to attain arahantship (the highest sanctity) here and now, he will be reborn in the brahma-world.

“These eleven advantages, monks, are to be expected from the release of heart by familiarizing oneself with thoughts of loving-kindness, by cultivation of loving-kindness, by constantly increasing these thoughts, by regarding loving-kindness as a vehicle (of expression), and also as something to be treasured, by living in conformity with these thoughts, by putting these ideas into practice and by establishing them.”

So said the Blessed One. Those monks rejoiced at the words of the Blessed One.

Why Extend Goodwill Toward Everyone?

In reflecting on the Loving-Kindness medittion, I have asked myself: Why extend goodwill toward everyone? Or, conversely: Why should I wish anyone ill will? Why should I not wish anyone goodwill? My answers are:

  1. In not wishing goodwill toward others, I am content – just as happy – to allow them to continue suffering. Is this what I intentionally want? No.
  2. We are all inter-connected in our universe. If I extend ill will toward others, sooner or later, I will be harming and suffering myself – it will come back to me. Is this what I want? No.
  3. If I continue to extend ill will toward others, I am programming or conditioning my mind in a harmful manner. These negative seeds will sprout and multiply (the laws of harvest state that “we reap what we sow” and “we reap far more than we sow”). Is this what I want to inflict on myself? No.
  4. Thoughts involve energy – my ill-will is going to hurt the other person, even at a subtle, sub-conscious level. Every thought or feeling – whether positive or negative – is a tiny pulse of energy which flows out into our universe, and that pulse of energy will reach the person I am thinking about. Positive energy can help the person; negative energy can harm the person. Would I wish to be hurt in that way? No. Then, why should I inflict hurt in this manner on anyone else?

The conclusion is that to extend ill will toward anyone else is harmful not only to the other person, but also very harmful toward my own self. It is never a good investment of mental energy! Do I want to continue harbouring ill will? No.

Background to Metta Meditation

Loving-kindness meditation was taught by the Buddha in the Karaniya Metta Sutta.2 The following is a translation from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu (2004). He uses the term goodwill in place of loving-kindness.

This is to be done by one skilled in aims who wants to break through to the state of peace: Be capable, upright, and straightforward, easy to instruct, gentle, and not conceited, content and easy to support, with few duties, living lightly, with peaceful faculties, masterful, modest, and no greed for supporters.

Do not do the slightest thing that the wise would later censure.

Think: Happy, at rest, may all beings be happy at heart. Whatever beings there may be, weak or strong, without exception, long, large, middling, short, subtle, blatant, seen and unseen, near and far, born and seeking birth: May all beings be happy at heart.

Let no one deceive another or despise anyone anywhere, or through anger or irritation wish for another to suffer.

As a mother would risk her life to protect her child, her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.

With good will for the entire cosmos, cultivate a limitless heart: Above, below, and all around, unobstructed, without enmity or hate. Whether standing, walking, sitting, or lying down, as long as one is alert, one should be resolved on this mindfulness.

This is called a sublime abiding here and now. Not taken with views, but virtuous and consummate in vision, having subdued desire for sensual pleasures, one never again will lie in the womb.

The value of goodwill is also mentioned in the Itivuttaka3 (a collection of 112 short discourses; it takes its name from the statement at the beginning of each of its discourses: this [iti] was said [vuttam] by the Blessed One).

This was said by the Blessed One, said by the Arahant, so I have heard:

“All the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising (in heaven) do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness-release through goodwill. Goodwill — surpassing them — shines, blazes, and dazzles.

“Just as the radiance of all the stars does not equal one-sixteenth of the radiance of the moon, as the moon — surpassing them — shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising in heaven do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness-release through goodwill. Goodwill — surpassing them — shines, blazes, and dazzles.

“Just as in the last month of the rains, in autumn, when the sky is clear and cloudless, the sun, on ascending the sky, overpowers the space immersed in darkness, shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising in heaven do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness-release through goodwill. Goodwill — surpassing them — shines, blazes, and dazzles.

“Just as in the pre-dawn darkness the morning star shines, blazes, and dazzles, even so, all the grounds for making merit leading to spontaneously arising in heaven do not equal one-sixteenth of the awareness-release through good will. Goodwill — surpassing them — shines, blazes, and dazzles.”

When one develops — mindful — goodwill without limit, fetters are worn through, on seeing the ending of acquisitions.

If with uncorrupted mind you feel goodwill for even one being, you become skilled from that. But a Noble One produces a mind of sympathy for all beings, an abundance of merit.

Kingly seers, who conquered the earth swarming with beings, went about making sacrifices: the horse sacrifice, human sacrifice, water rites, soma rites, and the “Unobstructed,” but these don’t equal one sixteenth of a well-developed mind of goodwill — as all the constellations don’t, one sixteenth of the radiance of the moon.

One who neither kills nor gets others to kill, neither conquers, nor gets others to conquer, with goodwill for all beings, has no hostility with anyone at all.


  1. “Metta (Mettanisamsa) Sutta: Discourse on Advantages of Loving-kindness” (AN 11.16), translated from the Pali by Piyadassi Thera. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 13 June 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/an/an11/an11.016.piya.html .

Note: ©1999 Buddhist Publication Society. You may copy, reformat, reprint, republish, and redistribute this work in any medium whatsoever, provided that: (1) you only make such copies, etc. available free of charge and, in the case of reprinting, only in quantities of no more than 50 copies; (2) you clearly indicate that any derivatives of this work (including translations) are derived from this source document; and (3) you include the full text of this license in any copies or derivatives of this work. Otherwise, all rights reserved. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. From The Book of Protection, translated by Piyadassi Thera (Kandy: Buddhist Publication Society, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Buddhist Publication Society. Used with permission. Last revised for Access to Insight on 13 June 2010.

  1. “Karaniya Metta Sutta: Good Will” (Sn 1.8), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/snp/snp.1.08.than.html .

Note: ©2004 Thanissaro Bhikkhu. The text of this page (“Karaniya Metta Sutta: Good Will”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of the license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Transcribed from a file provided by the translator. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013.

  1. “Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones” (Iti 1-27), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (Legacy Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/kn/iti/iti.1.001-027.than.html .

Note: ©2001 Thanissaro Bhikkhu. The text of this page (“Itivuttaka: The Group of Ones”, by Thanissaro Bhikkhu) is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. To view a copy of the license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/4.0/. Documents linked from this page may be subject to other restrictions. Transcribed from a file provided by the translator. Last revised for Access to Insight on 30 November 2013.

© 2014 Compiled by Alexander Peck



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