An Heir In The Dhamma
by Ajahn Maha Boowa
When the ordinary mind that doesn’t yet have any standards meets up with things that drag it in the wrong direction, it will tend to go rolling after such preoccupations without letup, to the point where it can’t find any foundation for sustaining its peace and calm. In terms of the Dhamma, these preoccupations are called defilements.
We can see this when we begin to practice. Because the defilements are strong, the mind stumbles and crawls along, not at all willing to follow the way of Dhamma. This is something I haven’t forgotten, from the time I first set out to practice up until now, because it’s a truth that lies embedded in the heart.
When I first began to meditate, my practice lacked a solid foundation. Since I had yet to discover the right method to look after my mind, my practice was in a state of constant flux. It would make steady progress for awhile only to decline rapidly. My practice continued to deteriorate, but I didn’t know how to reverse the decline. So I thought long and hard, trying to find a firm basis on which I could stabilize my mind. Eventually, I came to the conclusion that mindfulness had deserted me because my fundamentals were wrong: I lacked a meditation-word to act as a precise focus for my attention.
By focusing exclusively on the meditation-word, the mind became cen- tered and never slipped back again. The way it had regressed before was an excellent lesson. I felt I’d rather die than let my mind suffer another decline. I couldn’t stand to stay in the world bearing the mass of suffering that would come if it regressed again, because I had already been through it before – more than a year of the most acute suffering. There’s no suffering that burns more than the suffering that comes when one’s meditation deteriorates. If mine were to deteriorate again, it’d kill me; which was why I was really meticulous in keeping watch over my mind from then on. I wouldn’t let the mind regress, and so it kept on progressing.
The first time I saw the wonder of the mind was when I began sitting in meditation all night – right from the very first night. I was investigating pain, and was it ever severe! At first, I hadn’t planned on sitting until dawn. But the more I sat, the more the pain began to grow. No matter how I contemplated it, I didn’t have any success at all. “Eh. What is this? Okay, if I’m going to die today, let me die.” So I made a resolution in that moment: “From this moment on, I’ll remain seated in this posture until dawn. If I survive, so be it. If not, so be it.”
I probed right into the pain, forcing the mind into action. Wisdom had never been mobilized in that way, but when the mind was really cornered, at the end of its rope, wisdom stirred itself into action, keeping up with events from every angle until it was fully alert to the pain, fully alert to the body and fully alert to the affairs of the mind. Each was known as a separate reality. Pain, body and mind then split away from one another and disappeared completely, even though nothing like that had ever happened to me before. The body disap- peared from my sense of awareness. The pain completely vanished. All that was left was an awareness that was simply aware. It wasn’t the sort of outstanding awareness we might imagine it to be. It was just simple awareness, but very subtle, very refined and very amazing in that moment.
When I withdrew from that state, I renewed my investigation, but when I used the strategies I had used before, I didn’t get the same results, because the old strategies were now memories from the past. I had to come up with new strategies to keep up with events of the present moment. The mind then settled down again. That night, it settled down three times, and then dawn arrived. Was I ever amazed at myself!
That morning when I got the chance, I went to tell Venerable Ajaan Mun. Normally, I’d be very intimidated by him, but that morning I wasn’t intimidated at all. I wanted to tell him the truth, so that he could see the results of my stead- fast determination. I spoke with audacity, even though I had never spoken that way with him before. I really told it to him straight – crash! bang! – and after he had listened, he said, “That’s the way it’s got to be!” That’s just what he said! He really let me have it. He explained things to my complete satisfaction. As soon
as he praised me and spurred me on, I felt like the master’s pet dog, all raring to bark and bite.
After one or two more days, I sat up in meditation all night again. After another two or three more days, I did it again, until my state of mind was thor- oughly amazing. The fear of death disappears when the mind really knows. When you separate the physical elements to investigate the nature of life and death, the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire dissolve down into their original properties. Space returns to its original property as space. The mind that used to fear death becomes even more prominent. So what is it that dies? When the mind knows so prominently in this way, how can it die? The mind doesn’t die. So what’s it afraid of? We’ve been lied to. The defilements have lied to the living beings of the world, making them fear death, even though actually nothing dies.
When I’d investigate on one day, I’d get one approach; on another day, I’d get another approach, but they were all hard-hitting and amazing. The mind was more and more amazing and brave, to the point where I felt, “When the time comes to die, what sort of pain do they think they’re going to bring out to fool me? Today’s pain is complete in every way. Beyond this, there’s simply death. I’ve seen all the aspects of pain; I’ve understood and dealt with them all. So when the time comes to die, what sort of pain can they possibly bring out to deceive me? There’s no way pain can deceive me. As for death, nothing dies. So what is there to fear aside from the defilements that lie to us, making us fall for their deceitful tricks? From this point on, I’ll never fall for their tricks again.”
That’s the way the mind is when it knows, and it knew clearly right from the very first night. As for the constant fluctuations of my mental state, since that first night it never regressed again. That first night it became clear: “This is how the mind that doesn’t regress is supposed to be.” It was as if the mind had been climbing up and falling down, climbing up and falling down, until finally it climbed up and grabbed hold tight, 100 per cent sure that it would never fall again. This was why I accelerated my efforts full speed.
During that rains retreat, I sat up all night in meditation nine or ten times, but never two nights in a row. Sometimes I’d skip two or three nights, sometimes six or seven. I got to the point where I was completely sure about pain – heavy or light, big or small. I understood how to deal with pain – how to sidestep it or how to cure it right in time – without being shaken by it. I wasn’t even afraid of death, because I had investigated it with the most adroit strategies. Mindfulness and wisdom were completely up on death in every way.
Speaking of effort in the practice, my tenth rains retreat was when I made the greatest effort. In all my life, I have never made a more vigorous effort than I did during that rains retreat. The mind went all out, and so did the body. From that point on, I continued making progress until the mind became solid as a rock. In other words, I was so skilled in my samadhi that the mind was as unshakeable as a slab of rock. Soon, I became addicted to the total peace and calm of that samadhi state; so much so that my meditation practice remained stuck at that level of samadhi for five full years.
Once I was able to get past that samadhi, with the help of Venerable Ajaan Mun, I set out to investigate. When I began to investigate with wisdom, things went quickly and easily because my samadhi was fully developed. It was as if
all the materials for building a house were right at hand, but I hadn’t yet put them together to build the house, and so they remained just useless pieces of wood. My meditation practice simply stalled at samadhi. Because I didn’t com- bine samadhi with mindfulness and wisdom, it couldn’t progress any further.
As soon as I investigated with wisdom, I began to know what was what. I was able to steadily cut off the defilements. I began to wake up: “All this time I’ve been lying in samadhi as if I were dead and it hasn’t accomplished a thing!” So I stepped up my efforts at wisdom, making it work day and night without putting a brake on it at all.
I’m the sort of person who goes to extremes. Whatever tack I set out on, that’s the only tack I take. When I began following the path of wisdom, I started criticizing samadhi as being like lying down dead. Actually, samadhi is a means for resting the mind. If you practice properly, that’s the way it is. But instead, I criticized samadhi as being like lying down dead. “All these years, and it hasn’t given rise to wisdom.”
So, I accelerated my efforts at wisdom, beginning first with body contem- plation. When I contemplated unattractiveness, it was remarkable how adroit and audacious the mind became. I could perceive right through whatever per- son I looked at. To tell you frankly how audacious my mind was (and here I have to ask the forgiveness of both the men and women involved if it’s wrong to speak too frankly), it wouldn’t have to be a question of old women, you know. If a gathering was full of young ladies, I could march right in without any sign of lust appearing at all. That’s how daring the mind was because of its contempla- tion of unattractiveness.
Looking at a person, I saw just bones wrapped up in skin; nothing but flesh, all glaring and red. So where could I see any beauty? The power of the unattractiveness was really strong. No matter whose body I looked at, that’s how I’d perceive it. So where would I find any beauty to make me feel desire? This was why I’d dare march right in… really beautiful young ladies, you know (I’ll have to keep asking forgiveness until I’ve finished with this “forest mad-
ness”). When I felt daring like that, I could march right in with no trouble at all, because I was sure of my strength.
But this daring wasn’t entirely correct, in the sense that the mind was rather intoxicated with its own power; which is why I criticized myself after the mind had passed that point. This daring was a kind of madness, but while I was following the path, it was the right course, because that was how I had to follow it through.
I contemplated unattractiveness until no physical desire appeared at all. It gradually faded away, all on its own, without giving any specific indication that it was gone. It didn’t give me any assurance that lust or passion for the human body had disappeared at this or that point in time, so I had to deliberate again. I couldn’t go along with lust simply fading away on its own. That is, my mind wouldn’t accept it. If lust had been wiped out at any particular point, there should have been some sort of indication, so that I could know clearly that it was all gone for this or that reason, at this or that moment. It should have had its moment.
So the mind had to back up and discover new approaches to remedy the situation. If lust were really all gone, why hadn’t there been a clear indication that it had been wiped out at this or that moment? As soon as I saw a person’s body, I would perceive right through it. I saw nothing but flesh and bones in that body. I wouldn’t see a beautiful woman or a beautiful person, because the power of my contemplation of unattractiveness was so strong that I’d perceive everyone as a pile of bones. What could possibly make the mind feel attraction or desire when it’s in a state like that?
I now had to turn around and take a new approach. I brought attractive- ness in to force out the unattractiveness. I covered the pile of bones with skin to make it beautiful. At first, I had to force the mind to do it. Otherwise, it imme- diately broke through to unattractiveness, because it was so adept in that way. I forced the mind to visualize the bones covered with skin so that they’d appear beautiful, and then had that beautiful body cling right to mine. That was how
I contemplated. I’d do walking meditation visualizing the beauty of that body clinging to mine, clinging right to mine as I walked back and forth. If there was any desire still left, it would have to show. If not, then let me know that it was gone.
I practiced this way for four full days without any physical attraction or desire appearing at all. Even though it was an extremely beautiful body, nothing appeared. The image kept trying to change into a pile of bones wrapped in skin, but I forced the mind to stay just at the skin level.
On the fourth night, tears began to flow. “I’ve had enough. I give in.” In other words, the mind wasn’t feeling any pleasure. It said that it had had enough, so I tested it again: “Enough of what? If you admit that there’s no more desire, then let me know. I won’t accept your giving in like this. To give in like this is just a ruse. I won’t go along with it.”
I continued contemplating every facet to find which one would make the mind feel desire and to see at which moment the desire would arise, so that I could then take whatever might appear and focus on it as an object to be con- templated and uprooted. The night got later and later, and I kept on focusing in – but I wasn’t focused on contemplating unattractiveness at that point. I was contemplating nothing but attractiveness for those entire four days, because I was determined to find an approach to test the truth of the situation.
At about 10 p.m. on the night of the fourth day, there was a flickering, as if the mind was going to feel lust for that beautiful body that had been constantly clinging to me during that period. It was a peculiar sort of flickering. Mindful- ness was alert to it, because mindfulness was there all the time. As soon as the flickering appeared, I kept encouraging it. “See that flickering? We’ve caught the criminal who has been in hiding. See? So how can it be gone? If it’s gone, why does it have to behave like this?” I focused in on it. That flickering was a condition of the mind that appeared only slightly, with no effect on the body at all. It was inside the mind. When I encouraged it, it flickered again, which proved that lust wasn’t all gone.
So now that it wasn’t all gone, what was I supposed to do?
I now had to alternate my tactics again. Since this was a path I had never taken before, something I had never known before, it was very difficult to pro- ceed. As soon as I focused on unattractiveness, attractiveness would vanish in the flash of an eye. It would vanish extremely fast because I was already adept at unattractiveness. As soon as I focused on unattractiveness, the body would turn immediately into a pile of bones, so I would have to focus on attractive- ness to make it beautiful again. I kept changing back and forth between the two this way. This took a long time because it was a path I had never trod. I didn’t understand, so I had to try out different methods until I had enough confidence to settle on one path or another.
I finally came to the truth when I sat visualizing an image of unattractive- ness right in front of me. The mind focused on unattractiveness standing still right there. I wouldn’t let it move or change in any way. I made it stay right there like that. If it was an image of bones wrapped in skin or a pile of bones with the skin removed, I made it stay right there in front of me. The mind stared right at it, with mindfulness focused, waiting to learn the truth from that image of unat- tractiveness, to see what it would do, to see how this pile of unattractiveness would move or change.
Because of my mental adeptness, the image stayed just as I wanted it to. If I didn’t want the mind to destroy the image, it wouldn’t destroy it. If I had fo- cused on destroying it, it would have been demolished in an instant because of the speed of wisdom. But I didn’t let the mind destroy it. I had it stay right there in front of me in order to find the truth that would give me certainty.
As I kept focusing in, the image of unattractiveness standing there before me was gradually sucked into the mind, absorbed into the mind, until I finally realized that unattractiveness was a matter of the mind itself. The state of mind that had fixed on the idea of unattractiveness sucked it in – which meant that attractiveness and unattractiveness were simply a matter of the mind deceiving itself.
The mind then let go in a flash. It let go of external unattractiveness. It understood clearly now because it had made the break. “This is how it’s sup- posed to be. It’s been merely a matter of the mind painting pictures to deceive itself, and getting excited over its shadows. Those external images aren’t pas- sion, aversion and delusion. The mind is what has passion, aversion and delu- sion.” As soon as the mind knew this clearly, it extricated itself from external affairs and moved inward. As soon as the mind focused outward, it knew that this outflow was the inner affairs of the mind displaying themselves. So now the image of unattractiveness appeared exclusively within the mind.
I then focused my investigation within the mind. But now it wasn’t a matter of worldly passion. It was something very different. The affairs of worldly pas- sion were all gone. The mind understood clearly and had passed its verdict. It had understood. What remained was the image appearing within the mind. It was known clearly that this internal image came from the mind. When it dis- appeared, it disappeared there and didn’t go anywhere else. The instant after I focused on making an image appear, it vanished. Before I had focused on it for long, it would vanish.
After that, it was just like a lightning flash: As soon as I focused on making an image, it would vanish immediately. Because of the speed of the arising and disappearing, there was no time to elaborate on its being attractive or anything else. The instant it appeared – blip! – it vanished.
From that point on, there were no more images in the mind. The mind became completely empty. As for external unattractiveness, that problem had already been taken care of. I had understood it from the moment it was sucked into the mind, and the mind had immediately let go of external unattractive- ness. It let go of sights, sounds, smells, tastes and everything external – because the mind was what had been the deceiver. Once I understood that point clearly, those other things were no longer a problem. The mind understood immedi- ately and let go of external things once and for all.
After the internal images had all disappeared, the mind was empty. Com- pletely empty. Whatever I focused on was completely empty. I looked at trees, mountains and buildings and saw them merely as shadows. The major part
– the mind – was totally empty. Even when I looked at my own body, I saw it simply as a shadow. As for the mind itself, it was empty clear through – to the point where I exclaimed to myself, “Is the mind really this empty?” It was empty at all times. Nothing passed into it.
Even though it was that empty, I formed mental pictures as a way of exer- cising it. The images I formed were a means of exercising the mind to make it even more adept at emptiness, to the point where after a single blip it would be empty – a single blip and it’d be empty. The moment anything was formed – blip! – the mind would be empty right then.
At that point – the point where the mind was empty in full measure – the mind’s awareness was also prominent in full measure. It fully comprehended body, feeling, memory, thought and consciousness. It fully let go of them on its own, with nothing remaining. Only awareness was left. There was a feeling of relatedness and intimacy, a very subtle sensitivity for that awareness that’s hard to describe in line with its reality. There was a feeling of absorption exclusively
for this awareness. Any other condition that arose would vanish in the same instant.
I kept watch over it. If this were the time of the Buddha, we would call this level of mindfulness and wisdom supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom; but in our day and age we shouldn’t reach for those labels. It’s enough for our purposes to call them automatic mindfulness and wisdom. That’s appropriate enough. There’s no need to call them anything more exalted than that, for this doesn’t deviate at all from the truth as it exists. Automatic mindfulness and wis- dom were the reason why the mind was prominent, and this prominence made it bright all the way through.
One day, I was doing walking meditation on the western side of Wat Doi Dhammachedi. I had gone without food for three or four days, and that day was the lunar observance day, so people were coming to the monastery to give alms. At daybreak I began doing walking meditation. While I was standing in contemplation on the meditation path that morning, an uncanny feeling of wonder arose, to the point where I exclaimed, “Why is it that my mind is so amazing? Whatever I look at – even the earth on which I tread and see clearly with my eyes – why is it that the mind, which is the major part, is completely empty? There are no trees or mountains in the mind. It’s completely empty, with nothing left. Nothing but emptiness fills the heart.”
I stood there contemplating for a moment, when suddenly a realization arose: “If there is a point or a center of the knower anywhere, that point is the nucleus of existence.” That’s what it said, and I was bewildered.
Actually, the word “point” referred to that point of the knower. If I had understood this problem in terms of the truth that appeared to warn me, things would have been able to disband right then and there. But instead of understand- ing, I was bewildered – because it was something I had never before known or seen. If there was a point, it would be the point of the knower. If there was a center, it would mean the center of the knower. But where was it? There in that knowing mind. That was the essence of existence. The statement that appeared in my mind already said so clearly. There was noth- ing at all wrong about it, but I was simply bewildered. “What is this?” So, for the time being, I didn’t get any benefit from it at all. I let more than three months pass by in vain, even though the problem was still weighing on my mind. I couldn’t put it down.
When the time came for me to know, I was contem- plating just the mind – nothing wide-ranging – because the mind already knew everything on the external level. Whatever sights, sounds, smells, tastes or tactile sensa- tions there might be throughout the universe, the mind had already known and relinquished them. It was no longer interested in investigating them. It wasn’t even willing to investigate body, feeling, memory, thought or consciousness. Its only interest lay in that conspicu- ous awareness, together with the subtle feelings that pervaded the mind.
Mindfulness and wisdom continued making con- tact with that awareness, examining it back and forth. But you should know that the “point” I refer to was a conventional reality. No matter how magnificent it might appear, it was still magnificence in the realm of convention. No matter how radiant or splendid it might be, it was still radiance and splendour in the realm of convention, because it was still permeated with delu- sion.
Delusion forms the essence of conventional reali- ty. The focal point of that prominence eventually began to show its ups and downs – in keeping with the very refined level of the mind – so that I was able to catch sight of them. Sometimes it was a little tarnished, some-times radiant. Sometimes there was a slight dissatisfaction, sometimes complete contentment. The changes were very slight, in line with the refinement of the mind at that level, but they were enough for me to detect its irregularities.
Greed, for example, is something blatant, easy to understand and plainly harmful, and yet the world is still content to feel greed. Think about it! Anger is also blatant, and yet the world is still content to feel anger. Infatuation, love, hate: All these things are blatant, easy to understand and plainly harmful, and yet the world is still content to feel them.
But this was not the same sort of thing at all. The mind had gone way be- yond external objects. It had let go of all those other things, but why was it still attached to this amazing radiance? Using mindfulness and wisdom that were continually focused inside at all times, I noticed that it occasionally became slightly tarnished. Or it displayed a slight dissatisfaction – which was a form of change and so nothing constant or trustworthy.
Ultimately, there was no escaping it: I had to see that this state of mind was not to be trusted, so I came to reflect, “Why is it that this state of mind can be so changeable? Now it’s defiled, now it’s radiant, now there’s satisfaction, now there’s dissatisfaction. It’s not always constant and true. How can a mind as refined as this still show such a variety of conditions?
As soon as mindfulness and wisdom turned to take an interest in inves- tigating this state of mind, a totally unexpected realization sprang up within the mind: “Defilement, radiance, satisfaction and dissatisfaction: These are all conventional realities. They are all not-self.”
That was enough. Mindfulness and wisdom realized that a state of mind immersed in delusion was a conventional reality that should simply be let go. It shouldn’t be held to. A moment after this realization arose to warn mindfulness and wisdom, which were acting as the sentinels at that moment, both mind- fulness and wisdom appeared to become impartial and impassive, not stirring themselves to perform any duty at all. At that moment, the mind was neutral,
not focused on anything. Wisdom didn’t do any work. Mindfulness was alert in its normal way, without being focused on anything.
That moment – when the mind, mindfulness and wisdom were each im- passive and impartial – was the moment when the mental universe over which delusion held sway trembled and quaked. Delusion was thrown down from its throne on the heart. In its place, the pure mind appeared at the same moment that delusion was toppled and eradicated through the power of triumphant mindfulness and wisdom – the moment when the sky came crashing down and the universe within trembled and quaked, showing its final marvel on the border between convention and release. Judgement was passed in the court of justice, with knowledge and vision of release acting as judge. The Middle Way, the truth of the path, was declared absolute winner, while the truth of the origin of suffering was knocked out and carried off on a stretcher, with no way of reviving ever again.
I was utterly astounded and exclaimed, “Isn’t it amazing? Isn’t it amazing? Where has this Dhamma been hiding? How is it that the genuine Dhamma, this amazing Dhamma, exceeding all expectations – exceeding all the world – has now appeared in the mind and is one with the mind? And where were the Buddha and Noble Sangha before this? How is it that these tremendously amaz- ing refuges have now become one with the heart? Is this what the true Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are like?” They didn’t fit in with our speculations at all, but were simply a pure truth dwelling with a pure truth.
Then I reflected with dismay on the plight of my fellow living beings: “Since this is what the genuine Dhamma is like, how could it be brought out and taught so that others would know and understand? Wouldn’t it be more appropriate to live alone until the day the body breaks apart, rather than try to teach anyone?”
As soon as I considered this, a kind of realization suddenly appeared to me: “The Lord Buddha knew this amazing Dhamma all by himself but was able to become the Teacher of all living beings throughout the three levels of existence. How is it that I have been able to teach myself and yet I get discour- aged at the thought of being able to teach others? The teaching methods are not hidden or mysterious, nor is the knowledge that comes from them.” When I realized this, my discouragement at the thought of teaching my fellow monks gradually faded away.
This event made me think of the first moments after the Buddha’s Enlight- enment, when he wearied at the thought of taking the excellent Dhamma in his heart and teaching it to the world because he felt that it lay beyond the capabil- ity of other people to understand. Even though he aspired to be a Teacher to the world, he felt that the Dhamma he had realized was a Dhamma beyond reach, so that it would be hopeless to encourage the world to accept it and practice for its realization. But, when he reflected on the path he had followed to Enlight enment, he realized that the Dhamma wasn’t beyond reach or beyond hope, that there would be infinite benefits for the world if he were to teach the way of the Dhamma whose results he had come to see beyond a doubt. This was why he made up his mind to teach the world from that point on.
I felt the same way because it was an utterly amazing Dhamma that I had never before experienced. When I looked solely at the results in the present, without reflecting back on the causes – the path I followed – I felt disheartened and aban- doned the idea of telling others about this Dhamma. But after reflecting back on the path I followed, I felt more like speaking about the various facets of the Dhamma to the people who have studied and trained with me ever since.
This Dhamma is a fixed truth. Those who know this prin- ciple of truth all trust it in the same way, because the true Buddha, the true Dhamma and the true Sangha exist in the heart. The heart that is truly pure is the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha in full measure. I ask that you take this teaching and earnestly put it into practice. Gain release so as to see it clearly in your heart. The heart that is currently oppressed by defilement and the heart when it has attained release from that oppression: How do they differ in value? Come to see this clearly in your own heart! You won’t see it anywhere else! It will become immediately apparent within the meditator who practices correctly.