When people would say to Ajahn Chah that they found it impossible to practise in society, he would ask them, "If I poked you in the chest with a burning stick, would you say that indeed you were suffering, but since you live in society you can't get away from it?" Ajahn Chah's response makes a point not unlike the Buddha's parable of the poisoned arrow. The Buddha tells of a man who had been shot by an arrow and would not let anyone pull it out until his questions about the arrow, the bow and the archer were all answered. The only problem was that the wounded man would probably die before he could get the replies to all of his questions. What the wounded man had to realize was that he was in pain and dying, and he should do something about that right away.
Ajahn Chah emphasized this point over and over again in his teachings: You're suffering; do something about it now! He wouldn't spend much time talking about peace, wisdom, or nibbanic states, but rather the practice of constantly being aware of what was happening within the body and mind in the present moment, learning how to simply watch and let go. Meditation, he'd say, was not getting things, but getting rid of things. Even when asked about the peace that one could attain through practice, he would instead rather speak of the confusion that one should first get rid of, for, as he put it, peace is the end of confusion.
This collection reflects not only on suffering and meditation practice, but also gives us some insight into impermanence, virtue, non-self and so on. We hope that the reader will take this little book as a companion and "good friend" for moments of quiet reflection, and perhaps get a glimpse of the "no-ajahn Chah" who used to say, "I'm always talking about things to develop and things to give up, but, really, there's 'nothing' to develop and 'nothing' to give up."
BIRTH & DEATH
1. A good practice is to ask yourself very sincerely, "Why was I born?" Ask yourself this question in the morning, in the afternoon, and at night...every day.
2. Our birth and death are just one thing. You can’t have one without the other. It’s a little funny to see how at a death people are so tearful and sad, and at a birth how happy and delighted. It’s delusion. I think if you really want to cry, then it would be better to do so when someone’s born. Cry at the root, for if there were no birth, there would be no death. Can you understand this?
3. You’d think that people could appreciate what it would be like to live in a person’s belly. How uncomfortable that would be! Just look at how merely staying in a hut for only one day is already hard to take. You shut all the doors and windows and you’re suffocating already. How would it be to lie in a person’s belly for nine months? Yet you want to be born again! You know it wouldn’t be comfortable in there, and yet you want to stick your head right in there, to put your neck in the noose once again.
4. Why are we born? We are born so that we will not have to be born again.
5. When one does not understand death, life can be very confusing.
6. The Buddha told his disciple Ananda to see impermanence, to see death with every breath. We must know death; we must die in order to live. What does this mean? To die is to come to the end of all our doubts, all our questions, and just be here with the present reality. You can never die tomorrow; you must die now. Can you do it? If you can do it, you will know the peace of no more questions.
7. Death is as close as our breath.
8. If you’ve trained properly, you wouldn’t feel frightened when you fall sick, nor upset when someone dies. When you go into the hospital for treatment, determine in your mind that if you get better, that’s fine, and that if you die, that’s fine, too. I guarantee you that if the doctors told me I had cancer and was going to die in a few months, I’d remind the doctors, "Watch out, because death is coming to get you, too. It’s just a question of who goes first and who goes later." Doctors are not going to cure death or prevent death. Only the Buddha was such a doctor, so why not go ahead and use the Buddha’s medicine?
9. If you ’re afraid of illnesses, if you are afraid of death, then you should contemplate where they come from. Where do they come from? They arise from birth. So don’t be sad when someone dies - it’s just nature, and his suffering in this life is over. If you want to be sad, be sad when people are born: "Oh, no, they’ve come again. They’re going to suffer and die again!"
10. The "One Who Knows" clearly knows that all conditioned phenomena are unsubstantial. So this "One Who Knows" does not become happy or sad, for it does not follow changing conditions. To become glad, is to be born; to become dejected, is to die. Having died, we are born again; having been born, we die again. This birth and death from one moment to the next is the endless spinning wheel of samsara.
11. If the body could talk, it would be telling us all day long, "You're not my owner, you know." Actually it’s telling it to US all the time, but it’s Dhamma language, so we’re unable to understand it.
12. Conditions don’t belong to US. They follow their own natural course. We can’t do anything about the way the body is. We can beautify it a little, make it look attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everyone is in the same boat. That is the way the body is. We can’t make it any other way. But, what we can improve and beautify is the mind.
13. If our body really belonged to US, it would obey our commands. If we say, "Don’t get old," or "I forbid you to get sick," does it obey US? No! It takes no notice. We only rent this "house," not own it. If we think it does belong to US, we will suffer when we have to leave it. But in reality, there is no such thing as a permanent self, nothing unchanging or solid that we can hold on to.
14. There are people who are born and die and never once are aware of their breath going in and out of their body. That’s how far away they live from themselves.
15. Time is our present breath.
16. You say that you are too busy to meditate. Do you have time to breathe? Meditation is your breath. Why do you have time to breathe but not to meditate? Breathing is something vital to people’s lives. If you see that Dhamma practice is vital to your life, then you will feel that breathing and practising the Dhamma are equally important.
17. What is Dhamma? Nothing isn't.
18. How does the Dhamma teach the proper way of life? It shows US how to live. It has many ways of showing it - on rocks or trees or just in front of you. It is a teaching but not in words. So still the mind, the heart, and learn to watch. You’ll find the whole Dhamma revealing itself here and now. At what other time and place are you going to look?
19. First you understand the Dhamma with your thoughts. If you begin to understand it, you will practise it. And if you practise it, you will begin to see it. And when you see it, you are the Dhamma and you have the joy of the Buddha.
20. The Dhamma has to be found by looking into your own heart and seeing that which is true and that which is not, that which is balanced and that which is not balanced.
21. There is only one real magic, the magic of Dhamma. Any other magic is like the illusion of a card trick. It distracts US from the real game: our relation to human life, to birth, to death and to freedom.
22. Whatever you do, make it Dhamma. If you don't feel good, look inside. If you know it's wrong and still do it, that’s defilement.
23. It’s hard to find those who listen to Dhamma, who remember Dhamma and practise it, who reach Dhamma and see it.
24. It’s all Dhamma if we have mindfulness. When we see the animals that run away from danger, we see that they are just like us. They flee from suffering and run toward happiness. They also have fear. They fear for their lives just as we do. When we see according to truth, we see that all animals and human being are no different. We are all mutual companions of birth, old age, sickness, and death.
25. Regardless of time and place, the whole practice of Dhamma comes to completion at the place where there is nothing. It’s the place of surrender, of emptiness, of laying down the burden. This is the finish.
26. The Dhamma is not far away. It’s right with us. The Dhamma isn’t about angels in the sky or anything like that. It’s simply about us, about what we are doing right now. Observe yourself. Sometimes there is happiness, sometimes suffering, sometimes comfort, sometimes pain....this is Dhamma. Do you see it? To know this Dhamma, you have to read your experiences.
27. The Buddha wanted us to contact the Dhamma, but people only contact the words, the books and the scriptures. This is contacting that which is "about" Dhamma, and not contacting the "real" Dhamma as taught by our Great Teacher. How can people say that they are practising well and properly if they only do that? They are a long way off.
28. When you listen to the Dhamma you must open up your heart and compose yourself in the center. Don’t try to accumulate what you hear or make a painstaking effort to retain what you hear through memory. Just let the Dhamma flow into your heart as it reveals itself, and keep yourself continuously open to its flow in the present moment. What is ready to be retained will be so, and it will happen of its own accord, not through any determined effort on your part.
29. Similarly when you expound the Dhamma, you must not force yourself. It should happen on its own and should flow spontaneously from the present moment and circumstances. People have different levels of receptive ability, and when you’re there at that same level, it just happens, the Dhamma flows. The Buddha had the ability to know people’s temperaments and receptive abilities. He used this very same method of spontaneous teaching. It’s not that he possessed any special superhuman power to teach, but rather that he was sensitive to the spiritual needs of the people who came to him, and so he taught them accordingly. HEART & MIND
30. Only one book is worth reading: the heart.
31. The Buddha taught US that whatever makes the mind distressed in our practice hits home. Defilements are distressed. It’s not that the mind is distressed! We don’t know what our mind and defile-ments are. Whatever we aren’t satisfied with, we just don’t want anything to do with it. Our way of life is not difficult. What’s difficult is not being satisfied, not agreeing with it. Our defilements are the difficulty.
32. The world is in a very feverish state. The mind changes from like to dislike with the feverishness of the world. If we can learn to make the mind still, it will be the greatest help to the world.
33. If your mind is happy, then you are happy anywhere you go. When wisdom awakens within you, you will see Truth wherever you look. Truth is all there is. It’s like when you’ve learned how to read - you can then read anywhere you go.
34. If you’re allergic to one place, you’ll be allergic to every place. But it’s not the place outside you that’s causing you trouble. It’s the "place" inside you.
35. Look at your own mind. The one who carries things thinks he’s got things, but the one who looks on only sees the heaviness. Throw away things, lose them, and find lightness.
36. The mind is intrinsically tranquil. Out of this tranquility, anxiety and confusion are born. If one sees and knows this confusion, then the mind is tranquil once more.
37. Buddhism is a religion of the heart. Only this. One who practises to develop the heart is one who practises Buddhism.
38. When the light is dim, it isn’t easy to see the old spider webs in the corners of a room. But when the light is bright, you can see them clearly and then be able to take them down. When your mind is bright, you’ll be able to see your defilements clearly, too, and clean them away.
39. Strengthening the mind is not done by making it move around as is done to strengthen the body, but by bringing the mind to a halt, bringing it to rest.
40. Because people don’t see themselves, they can commit all sorts of bad deeds. They don’t look at their own minds. When people are going to do something bad, they have to look around first to see if anyone is looking: "Will my mother see me?" "Will my husband see me?” "Will the children see me?" "Will my wife see me?" If there’s no one watching, then they go right ahead and do it. This is insulting themselves. They say no one is watching, so they quickly finish their bad deed before anyone will see. And what about themselves? Aren’t they a "some-body" watching?
41. Use your heart to listen to the Teachings, not your ears.
42. There are those who do battle with their defilements and conquer them. This is called fighting inwardly. Those who fight outwardly take hold of bombs and guns to throw and to shoot. They conquer and are conquered. Conquering others is the way of the world. In the practice of Dhamma we don’t have to fight others, but instead conquer our own minds, patiently resisting all our moods.
43. Where does rain come from? It comes from all the dirty water that evaporates from the earth, like urine and the water you throw out after washing your feet. Isn't it wonderful how the sky can take that dirty water and change it into pure, clean water? Your mind can do the same with your defilements if you let it.
44. The Buddha said to judge only yourself, and not to judge others, no matter how good or evil they may be. The Buddha merely points out the way, saying, "The truth is like this." Now, is our mind like that or not?