Developing the Brahma Viharas
We have all come together here to keep precepts, to develop meditation and to cultivate wisdom in our hearts. This intention is something very hard to find in the minds of people in this present day. When we have mindfulness and wisdom, we can see the harm there is in acting in unskillful ways and doing things which transgress the precepts. In keeping the five precepts, always maintaining them in one’s daily life, one will come to see the benefit of the precepts. Within the heart of each person there has to be a moral conscience, along with a fear and dread of the consequences of one’s unwholesome actions. The maintaining of the five precepts is considered as being a quality of a consummate human being. People who do not keep the five precepts can be considered as not being truly human, since the least humans can do is to keep these precepts.
When we have this sense of moral conscience and a dread of the consequences of our actions, it truly elevates our minds – it is like having the mind of a devata, or a celestial being. And when we wish to further develop and cultivate our minds, we should then practice the Brahma Vihāras, or the four sublime states, nurturing them in our hearts: firstly, having mettā or loving kindness; secondly, karunā or compassion; thirdly, muditā or sympathetic joy; fourthly, upekkhā or equanimity. All these are the states of mind or properties of a Brahma.1
Having loving kindness, mettā, means that we have friend- liness and kindness towards our friends as well as all living beings, not wishing to harm or hurt them, or to take the life of any being.
Compassion, karunā, is the quality that arises when we see other people, animals or any kind of beings experiencing suffering. If we are able to help them, we try to do so with the best of our ability, according to our level of mindfulness and wisdom. This means that we have an attitude of kindness and the wish to help one another.
The quality of sympathetic joy, muditā, means that if we see any person experiencing happiness, we as a consequence, are happy for them. We feel happy too, having no envy or jealousy for the happy person, because in reality we all wish for happiness and so when we see other people experiencing happiness, we are happy for them and feel pleasure too.
As for the quality of equanimity, upekkhā, if we see other beings or animals experiencing suffering or hardship and we are unable to be of assistance, we must then let the mind rest with equanimity by feeling neither happy nor unhappy with the situation.
In our daily life, as we experience things, we can develop and cultivate these qualities of loving kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy and equanimity, as appropriate to the situation. These are the qualities that nourish the heart, bringing about continual peace, happiness, coolness and tranquility. This peacefulness and happiness will create the conditions for one to have the mindfulness and wisdom to clearly see the suffering in one’s own life, and therefore look for the way and the practice that will enable one to let go of this suffering.
Therefore in observing the five precepts (the main quality of a human being), having this moral conscience and dread of the consequences of our bad actions (the property of a celestial being) and having these four Bramha Vihāras, (the state of mind of a Brahma god), all of these qualities when they are combined with our practice of developing sīla, samādhi and pañña (virtue, concentration and wisdom) will help us in developing correct view. As a consequence, when one dies, one’s heart will not drop into a lower, unfortunate realm. There will only be continuous growth and development taking place in one’s mind. Happiness and benefit will arise, as a result, both in this present life as well as in one’s future lives.
Therefore I ask all of you to have the confidence to go about performing virtuous deeds.
If anybody has any questions, please feel free to ask.
You have spoken a lot about training the mind and you have made some reference to the heart. How do the heart and the mind work together in meditation and in life?
Actually these two words have the same meaning. The Pali word is citta. Sometimes we use the word ‘mind’ and sometimes the word ‘heart’. We are just making use of conventional language. Some may use the word ‘mind’ and others the word ‘heart’, but they are talking about the same thing. Except for when we are talking about the contents of the mind, or the heart, then the heart and the mind are one thing, but their contents are another thing.
Since ordaining, what and how much have you studied? How much reading and studying do you recommend for others?
Since beginning the practice, I have mainly just studied this body and mind. As for reading, I have hardly done any and I do not recommend a lot of formal Dhamma study. It is not necessary, whereas bhāvanā (meditation practice) is necessary. If you can use reading as a means for making the mind peaceful, that is fine. For example, if the mind will not settle down, maybe reading a few pages of an appropriate book will help to make it calm. But then, go back to meditation. If you do too much theoretical study, this can become an obstacle for developing meditation. While sitting, the mind may start to wonder if this is upacāra samādhi (access concentration) or jhāna (meditative absorption). The mind tries to compare the present experience with what has been studied in the scriptures and this can hinder insight or prevent the mind from deepening in calmness.
However I do recommend reading the biographies of the Forest meditation masters, as it can be both inspirational and educational to see how they practiced and how they lived their lives.
How essential is body contemplation? Didn’t the Venerable Ajahn Chah teach ‘letting go’?
It is essential to investigate the body to see the mind clearly. Sometimes people take Luang Por Chah’s teachings from the end of the path and forget about the instructions for the beginning. If one has not passed beyond all attachment to the body, it is impossible to clearly investigate the mind. The investigation of citta and dhamma satipatthānas (the four foundations of mindfulness: the body, feelings, mind and dhammas) is the path of practice for anāgāmis. Before that, they can be investigated, but only superficially. Sometimes you hear people say, ‘Kilesas are in the mind, not in the body, so it is the mind that should be contemplated.’ But it is only by passing beyond attachment to the body that the other khandhas (the five physical and mental components of personality:
body, feeling, memory, thinking and consciousness) become clear. Without investigating the body as elements, as asubha, as thirty- two parts, one will not be able to realize sotāpanna. Even those with great pāramī, such as Luang Por Tate and Luang Ta Mahā Boowa, had to go through the body to realize the path.
It is important to note that in the higher ordination ceremony to become a Buddhist monk, the preceptor must instruct the candidate for ordination on the five principal objects of meditation: hair, body hair, nails, teeth and skin. To not give this instruction invalidates the whole ordination. And why? Because the Lord Buddha knew that by not instructing a candidate on such an essential topic would be the cause for those persons Holy-Life to be unfruitful, or more precisely, they will not realize the noble paths to awakening, their fruitions, nor Nibbāna.
How deep can one go with the practice of being mindful in daily life?
Being continuously aware of mental objects throughout the day is an essential support for one’s meditation practice, but it is samādhi that gives sati (mindfulness) the strength to be firmly established. If we are mindful throughout the day, letting go of mental objects as they arise, then when we sit in meditation, the mind becomes deeply peaceful more easily. However, this kind of awareness and letting go is like trimming the branches of a tree: no matter how much you trim them, they keep growing again. To uproot the tree altogether, you have to uproot the attachment and identification with the body as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. I experimented with simply watching mental objects for a while: one day attraction to sense objects would arise and I would focus my awareness upon it, causing the delight to cease. But the next day, there would be delight with other objects. There is no end to it. However, with body contemplation, it comes to an end.
When I have recommended body contemplation to others, some answered: “That is only one valid way of practice, but other ways are equally good. To say that only one way will lead to path attainment is narrow-minded. Luang por Chah taught to practice more openly and broadly than that, using reflections such as ‘Don’t attach’ or ‘It’s not sure.’” How would you answer this, Ajahn?
If I did not feel the people were open and receptive to being taught, I would not say much at all. It is easier to remove a mountain than to change people’s attachment to their views. In twenty or thirty years you can gradually blow up a huge mountain, but people’s views can remain steadfastly fixed for a lifetime, many lifetimes. Those who say body contemplation is a narrow path, are themselves trapped in narrow thinking. In truth, body contemplation is very broad and leads to great freedom due to true insight.
From my experience and from seeing the results of others in their practice, to realize Dhamma, to attain at least sotāpanna, is impossible without thoroughly and deeply uprooting the identification with the body. Even the likes of Luang Pu Tate and Luang Ta Mahā Boowa, monks with enormous pāramī and refined awareness throughout the day, had to go back and contemplate the body before they realized the Dhamma. It is not enough to do it just a few times either. The great Forest teachers had to contemplate over and over. They would then get results in accordance with their pāramī and effort. It is not enough simply to be aware of postures of the body. You must train yourself to be an expert at seeing the body as asubha (not beautiful). When one who has mastered this sees other people, especially someone of the opposite sex, the asubha perception is immediately brought up to counter any kilesas that appear. The body must be
repeatedly broken up into parts or deeply seen as impermanent for real insight to arise. It is possible to realize the first stage of the path through contemplating the death of one’s own body. When mastered, body contemplation is amazing and wonderful in all sorts of ways – not narrow at all. Wherever Luang Pu Mun went, he would rely on body contemplation to keep his heart light and at ease
There are many monks with a lot of pāramī who claim that their mind is continually light and bright, that kilesas do not arise at all or only in subtle ways and that Dhamma is clear to them. They claim that they see everything arising and passing away and that they do not attach to any of it – so they do not see any need to investigate the body. However, this is just samādhi, being stuck in samādhi, being attached to a self-image of being enlightened, of being someone who understands Dhamma. But they are still stuck in saṁsāra without anything preventing them from falling into lower realms in the future. Kilesas are very tricky, very clever. If you look at the practice of truly enlightened people, you will see that they all followed the path of body contemplation.
Luang Por Chah himself practiced this way. He taught asubha practice – especially investigation of hair, body hair, nails, teeth and skin or seeing the body as a rotten corpse – but he would teach this more in private to specific individuals. Publicly he tended not to emphasize it as much as some of the other Forest teachers. I think this was because he saw that the majority of people were not ready for it. They still needed to work with general mindfulness as a base for developing samādhi, so he taught general ‘letting go’. It is not correct to say that Luang Por Chah did not teach body contemplation.
If the mind is not concentrated, body contemplation will only be superficial. However, it is still necessary to become acquainted with it from the beginning. Then gradually nimittas (images and
perceptions of the asubha, anicca, dukkha, anattā nature of the body) will arise.
When should one investigate one’s own body and when the body of others?
In the beginning, it is usually easier to contemplate the bodies of others because there is so much upādāna (clinging or attachment) bound up in our relationship with our own body. However, having become skilled with external contemplation (e.g. through looking at skeletons or seeing others as skeletons), you bring it back into your own body. If you already have nimittas (mental images/ visions) of your own body, there is no need to look at the bodies of others. Going to an autopsy has much less impact on the mind than internal nimittas.
How does one know when one has enough samādhi (concentration) for contemplating the body?
Samādhi is the fundamental support upon which wisdom is developed. When developing concentration, bring your awareness to focus upon a meditation object that you feel comfortable with, without having any expectation or desire for results. Make the mind as calm as you can without having any thoughts as to what degree of concentration you have achieved: ‘Is this the first or second jhāna…?’ Believe me, there are no signs that come up and tell you, so don’t look for any. If you are able to make your mind peaceful, then allow the mind to rest in that peace. When the mind starts to withdraw from this peaceful state, the thinking process will gradually resume. It is at this moment that we can take up the body for contemplation instead of allowing the mind to think aimlessly. Some meditators are not able to make their mind quite as peaceful as this, but still they are able to contemplate upon the body.
Actually, the easiest way to see if you have sufficient concentration is by simply trying to contemplate. If your mindfulness is firm enough to keep the mind on its object of reflection, without it wandering away with any passing thoughts, then this shows one has sufficient concentration, or the strength of mind for the work of contemplating. If, however, the mind keeps straying off with all kinds of thoughts, then this clearly shows the mind is not yet strong enough to be put to work. One must then return to further developing concentration to help strengthen one’s mindfulness.
Developing concentration is no different to an athlete that has to do weight training to make their body strong. They start off with light weights and as they become stronger gradually move up to heavier weights. Likewise, the meditator frequently practices sitting and walking meditation to develop strong mindfulness and concentration in order to have the strength of mind needed for contemplation.
Alternatively, you could compare developing concentration to the act of sharpening a kitchen knife. Having sharpened one’s knife, one takes some vegetables or meat that requires cutting. If the knife cuts through the food with great ease and little effort, this tells one that the knife is sharp enough for the task at hand. But if cutting the food requires great effort, with many attempts, one will conclude that the knife isn’t up to the task, and so one should re-sharpen it. Developing concentration is just the same. If one’s samādhi is strong, it is comparable to a sharp knife. When one comes to contemplate the body, the mind will cut incisively into its object of contemplation, enabling the mind to clearly see and understand that object. However, if one’s attempt at contemplating proves to be a difficult struggle due to the mind not accepting its given task, or there are still too many unrelated thoughts moving through the mind, then this clearly shows that one’s mindfulness and concentration are lacking in strength. One must therefore strengthen them by further developing concentration; that is, we sharpen the knife again. Always remember that if all you ever do is sharpen your knife but never use it, that knife is of no real use. However, if all you ever do is use your knife but never re-sharpen it, then ultimately that knife will also be of no use to you either.
Could you please explain death contemplation, like how to do it and how often? Can one realize the Dhamma by death contemplation, and if so, up to what stage?
Regarding the practice itself, we may consider death many times a day, depending upon the time and opportunity, but at the very least we should contemplate death once a day. This can even be done in daily life. For example, if we are traveling in a car and we seen an animal which has been run over, laying dead at the side of the road, we will see that it is made of flesh and bones and other different things and that it will eventually decompose and break apart. Then we can turn this contemplation inward to oneself, one’s own body, realizing that we are of the very same nature. If a friend or relative were to die and one attended their funeral, we should not go thinking that it is a party where we will meet up with old friends. We should think of the life of this dead person, think of the course their life had taken and see that ultimately they have ended up in this state. They are going to be buried in the ground or burnt to ashes. Some people are older than we are, others are younger, and still they die. So we must come back and contemplate ourselves and realize that ultimately we will end up the same – awaiting burial or ready to be burnt.
We contemplate death so as to remember not to be heedless in our lives, therefore attempting to develop and practice virtue to its utmost for as long as we still have life. So, in the course of our practice of keeping precepts, developing virtue, meditation and wisdom in our minds, if we include death contemplation and we give it a lot of emphasis, we shall be able to know and see the Dhamma to the level of sotāpanna, the first stage of enlightenment, without having to contemplate the thirty two parts of the body, the loathsomeness of the body, or the four elements of the body. However, if we wish to go on to a higher attainment, we must revert to contemplating either the thirty-two parts of the body, the loathsomeness of the body, or the four elements.
There was a time when I was still a layman, when I contemplated upon death. This actually hastened my coming to ordain. I thought that if I continued my studies and then started a career, if it happened that I should suddenly die, either due to sickness or accident, I would not have developed virtue and goodness to any real extent. There was this fear that if death came to me, I would not have done enough wholesome deeds, or cultivated enough virtue in my life. So finally, having reflected upon my life like this, and having previously given the possibility of future ordination some thought, it happened that all by coincidence, late one evening, I picked up a Dhamma book that opened at the last words of the Buddha. The Buddha said, ‘Take heed monks, I caution you thus: all things that arise are of a nature to cease. Therefore, strive on ceaselessly, discerning and alert both for your own benefit and the benefit of others.’ Reading this, and contemplating its meaning, I decided to renounce the lay life and come to ordain.
Once ordained I was very resolute, extremely determined in my practice. Everyday I would consider death, at least once. The contemplation of death and making this awareness very real within my mind was something that I firmly established. Sometimes in the morning when I awoke, I would think to myself, ‘So I have still not died’ and then just tell myself that I would only have life for this one day and one night. For example, if I was going to take my rest at 10 p.m., then that is when I would die – at 10 p.m.; or if I was going to take my rest at 11 p.m., then I would die at 11 p.m. This is something which really stimulates the mind to get energetic about the practice. In those days at Wat Pah Pong they would ring the morning bell at three in the morning and we would have morning chanting at either 3.30 or 4 a.m. depending on whether we had sitting meditation before or after the chanting. And in the evenings there was a meeting that started at 7 p.m. However, I wished to profit from the situation, so I got up at 2 a.m. and I contemplated and focused upon death until there was a clear awareness of it present in my heart.
In those days I did not take a rest during the day. We came together in the mornings to sit in meditation as a group, but the time outside of that was free time for individual practice which, for myself, I would use by alternating between sitting and walking meditation. Normally I would take a rest at 10 p.m., just resting for four hours. Some days I rested at 11 p.m. and would wake up at 3 a.m. In those days at Wat Pah Pong, on the Uposatha2 we would practice throughout the night, standing, walking or sitting in meditation, without lying down.
This is the way I used to practice meditation about eighty percent of the time. Another ten percent was when I was even more diligent in my practice, I would only take two or three hours rest at night. And the other ten percent was when, after keeping up a period of maybe five to ten days of strenuous practice, my body would feel tired and weak, so I would take a rest in the afternoon for maybe thirty to forty minutes.
The contemplation of death made me never want to think about tomorrow. Even though, when I first ordained, there were still thoughts about the future, there was always this awareness reminding my heart that I may die tonight, so what is the point of thinking about tomorrow? Such thoughts bring us back to the present moment. As a consequence, the mind’s proliferation about
the future – tomorrow, next week, next month and so on – gradually slows down and lessens till eventually we just have mindfulness firmly established in the present moment.
It could be compared to having a ball which we throw against a wall. When thrown, the ball does not penetrate the wall. In our case, when we allow the mind to keep thinking off into the future would be like the ball penetrating the wall and going on and on. But if we have a strong wall, that is, the awareness of death, once the ball hits it, it just comes back, and so the mind is always coming back to the present moment.
This was the cause of my being able to make my mind quiet very easily and it was peaceful nearly all the time. Therefore I ask of all of you to develop this practice of maranānussati, death contemplation. Give it some consideration each day. The contemplation of death is not done so as to give rise to fear, but to make us heedful. In doing so, we will no longer be lost in, or deluded by the world; we are no longer heedlessly caught up in the world.
I told my mother that I would be with her, to help her when she is about to pass away. Can you please advise me as to how I can help her in her dying moments?
At this moment, while she is still alive, you should be taking the best possible care of her. In doing so you would be repaying some of your debt of gratitude to her, for she has taken great care of you right from when you were in her womb and throughout your life up until adulthood. This debt of gratitude that we have to our parents is immense. Sometimes we may try to repay it for our whole life and still be unable to fully do so.
Before I ordained, I sometimes thought that I would work and then try to financially assist my father; however, I came and ordained and so I would sometimes think, ‘How will I ever repay my debt of gratitude to my father?’ I felt that even if I was to find money, wealth and possessions to give him, I would still be unable to fully repay my debt to him. So I found a shortcut: I encouraged him to come and ordain, so that I would be able to take good care of him, meet his needs as he got older and also give advice on the Dhamma. I felt that if I could give him good advice about his Dhamma practice, this would be fully repaying my debt of gratitude to him. My father was a person who had wholesome views and a strong faith in the Buddha’s teaching, so he ordained and lived with me for sixteen years. He died about two years ago and I was able to talk to him until the very last moments. I do feel that I was able to truly repay my debt to him.
If we look for material things and wealth to repay our debt to our parents, we cannot completely repay it. The way to do so is to give the Dhamma to our parents and to set them on the right course in Dhamma practice. This is the way to repay our debt of gratitude towards them.
If you feel a sense of gratitude towards your mother, this is very good. You should take the greatest care of her. Right now, you should teach her to practice meditation. If she shows strong attachment towards her body, teach her ways to gradually let go of this attachment. Teach her to contemplate the truth that these bodies of ours are not within our command, and that it is the elements of the body going out of balance that causes aging, sickness and death to occur. She should contemplate like this to make her mind quiet, practicing as time avails. When the moment of death comes, you should instruct her to use her mindfulness and wisdom to contemplate the body so as not to attach to it, but rather just let it go on its natural course. Having made the mind be at peace, she should then focus upon her meditation object.
All of us here in this room should be practicing this contemplation of death, not leaving it until the moment of death comes. Just look at boxers: they have to train before going up into the ring for the real fight, they do not just go up there unpracticed. Athletes also
must train before competing. The same goes for us: we have to practice and get an understanding of death before death actually comes to us. Consequently, we have to practice contemplating the body and death every day.
Could you please explain all the stages of letting go of the kilesas? Also, can you please explain the state of mind of one who has attained to these stages of awakening, and what should the meditation object be for each of these stages?
To explain all this would require a lot of time, so I will just do so briefly.
We say letting go of one portion of the kilesas is the attainment of sotāpanna, one who has entered the stream; letting go of the second portion is the attainment of sakadāgāmī, the once-returner; letting go of the third portion is the attainment of anāgāmī, the non-returner; and the letting go of the fourth, and final, portion of the kilesas is the attainment of arahant, a fully enlightened being.
Now for the second part of the question: ‘Explain the state of mind of one who has attained to these states.’ A sotāpanna is one who, to some extent, has let go of attachment to the body by clearly realizing that this body is not the mind and the mind is not the body. The kilesa of greed has been lessened to some extent by the fact that one’s actions and speech will always be within the bounds of the five precepts or, if one is a monastic, within the bounds of the eight, ten or 227 precepts. Sotāpannas are content with what they already have. That does not mean that they have no interest to do anything, but rather, that they will apply their mindfulness and wisdom towards any duties, work, or responsibilities that they may have by doing them to the best of their ability. The kilesa of anger is also weakened on account of its strongest properties, that of ill-will and vindictiveness, being completely let go of – never to return. For
the sotāpanna anger will manifest in the form of dissatisfaction or displeasure. This they can let go of very quickly due to there being no residue of anger’s intensity, ill-will, remaining in their heart. Within the heart they are continually cultivating loving-kindness and forgiveness.
A sotāpanna has no fear of sickness or death for they have contemplated death before it actually comes to them. This is similar to what Ajahn Chah used to teach when he would say to see something as being broken before it actually breaks. For example, if somebody gives you a very nice cup, you have to realize that one day, sooner or later, this cup will eventually break. You know it is a very beautiful object, but at the same time you have the awareness that this cup will break someday. So you use this cup, you take good care of it, you clean it and so forth, but the day it breaks, you don’t have any feelings of sadness or regret because you had conceived the cup breaking before it actually broke. The mindfulness and wisdom of a sotāpanna works in just the same way: it sees the breaking apart, or death of the body before death actually occurs.
Also a sotāpanna will not intentionally break any of the five precepts. Suppose somebody brought a chicken or a bird, put it down beside them and tried forcing them to kill it, saying ‘If you don’t kill this bird I am going to kill you.’ The sotāpanna will choose not to kill the animal, but rather accept to be killed. This is one of the characteristics of a sotāpanna: the strong conviction that they will not do any unwholesome, immoral deeds, for they know the harm or danger that comes from performing unwholesome kamma. So this quality of keeping the five precepts is automatic or natural for them. The mental defilements that have been let go of do not come back. Laypeople can also attain to this level if they keep developing the path of virtue, concentration and wisdom. Monks have exactly the same practice: developing sīla, samādhi and pañña – virtue, concentration and wisdom.
To achieve the second level of attainment on the noble path to awakening; that is, sakadāgāmiphala, the fruition of once-returning, the path of practice is to further develop sīla, samādhi and paññā so as to let go of attachment to the body by another portion. To become a sotāpanna one may use the contemplation of death, but to realize the level of sakadāgāmī one’s contemplation and investigation have to be more refined by either contemplating the thirty-two parts of the body or using the asubha reflections on the loathsomeness or unattractiveness of the body. At this second level of path development, one’s mindfulness and wisdom need to see and understand the body more clearly so as to enable the mind to let go of a more refined degree of attachment and clinging towards one’s self. For the sakadāgāmī, greed and anger have been further weakened. For example, anger will manifest in a subtle form of dissatisfaction. It will arise infrequently and can easily be let go of. Sometimes one may not have the time to contemplate this emotion due to it quickly ceasing all by itself. At other times, mindfulness and wisdom are able to contemplate this dissatisfaction at the very moment it arises, thus letting it go, putting it down quickly. In summary, at this second level of attainment, one has let go of one more portion of greed and anger, due to the lessening of one’s deluded attachment to one’s self. If one is to see or realize this for oneself, one must cultivate the path of sīla, samādhi and paññā to its respective degree.
To realize the third level of attainment, that of an anāgāmī, a non-returner, one must further develop the path of sīla, samādhi and paññā. At this third level of path development, anāgāmīmagga, one’s contemplation of the body becomes even more refined, requiring one to contemplate on either the asubha reflections or upon the four elements. One’s investigation probes so deeply and subtly that one’s mindfulness and wisdom will eventually penetrate right through its meditation object to enter into the emptiness of the mind. Practicing in such a way, one’s heart will begin to develop
a very thorough understanding about the nature of the body. One can now begin to let go of the final portion of attachment towards one’s own body, for one clearly realizes that the body, be it one’s own or that of others, is merely an aggregate of earth, water, air and fire coming together temporarily. These are the two themes of investigation: asubha and the four elements. The taking of them into emptiness is what we call magga, the path, or the course of practice leading to the attainment of anāgāmīphala, the fruition of non-returning. Through frequently seeing the true nature of the body in such a subtle way, one’s heart will obtain a complete understanding about one’s own body until there will be no doubts of any kind remaining within the heart as to the body’s true nature. The body of the past is known to be merely elements; likewise, the body of the future when it breaks apart and one’s present body are also known to be merely elements that conform to the laws of nature. The mind can now uproot all remaining attachment towards the body. The bodies of other people are seen to be just four elements that comply with nature. All material objects; that is, inanimate objects without consciousness, are even more readily seen to be just combinations of the four elements that bind together temporarily in conformance with nature.
The human mind is deluded into attaching to one’s own body as being or belonging to oneself, into viewing the bodies of other people as being something beautiful or attractive, and also into considering material objects as having ownership. Consequently, greed, anger and delusion arise within one’s mind. We are therefore obliged to contemplate one’s own body so as to see its true nature of being merely the four elements that function in compliance with nature, and that the bodies of other people and all material objects are of the same exact nature. Thus all attraction and pleasure with the sensory world falls away. Greed and anger no longer exist. When the fires in one’s heart have been extinguished, only coolness will remain. There is peacefulness and coolness all through the day and night. The kilesas that have been let go of will never come back again. The mind moves down the middle, down the center, never moving to either side of attraction or aversion. The mind is not attached to anything at all in the world. Even if the world was to change into gold, or if it became a huge piece of diamond, the mind would not be moved or attracted by this, for the mind has realized the truth and knows that these things are merely the four elements. The mind is not attached to the conventions of conditioned reality. This is the state of mind of one who has attained to the level of anāgāmī.
However, an anāgāmī still has some subtle delusion remaining within the heart, in so much as they still attach to the subtle processes or modes of the mind; that is, the four mental khandas: feeling, memory, thinking and consciousness. So the practitioner must cultivate mindfulness and wisdom, to see these four khandas as being fleeting, a source of suffering or discontent, and that they are completely without any abiding essence that could be called a ‘self’. When the mind fully accepts this it will let go of its attachment towards everything within it. Even the mental formations or the thinking processes are not the mind: that which thinks is not the mind; that which does not think is the mind. The purity of heart that has gradually increased, stage by stage, by eliminating all traces of greed, anger and delusion from within the mind, will at this point, completely and permanently suffuse the heart of the practitioner. Letting go of this final portion of the defilements is what is called arahattaphala or the attainment of arahantship.
It is only for the first three levels of attainment that one must contemplate the body. Body contemplation is a truly amazing practice. It can give rise to many marvelous natural phenomena or conditions arising within the mind. For example, sometimes seeing the whole body as just being a pile of earth (earth element), or seeing the whole body as being a flowing stream of water (water element). These natural phenomena may arise in the mind in many,
many forms. Those who have mindfulness and wisdom will be wise to the truths that these phenomena reveal.
When people start contemplating the body, some may have a natural inclination for contemplating the loathsomeness of the body. They may be able to see the people in this room as corpses in various stages of decomposition, or see everybody as skeletons. Sometimes when other people are seen, they will completely break apart, separating out into pieces, only then to reconstruct themselves back into their original form – before one’s very eyes. These are just some of the natural phenomena that arise within the mind of one who is cultivating the contemplation of the loathsomeness of the body.
For one whose practice is at the level of arahattamagga, the course of practice leading to arahantship, these amazing states will not arise because their practice is to cultivate a very refined degree of mindfulness and wisdom so as to give up the subtle delusion that still remains within the mind. We could compare one who has attained the third level of anāgāmī as having filtered dirty water to make it clean whereas the arahant filters clean water to make it pure. They have made their own heart pure. This is what the Buddha called the ‘Dhamma element’ – the absolute purity of mind. The Buddha said, ‘There is no happiness greater than peace’, meaning the peace experienced within a heart freed from all greed, anger and delusion.
Ok then, that’s probably enough for tonight.