1) The Root of Suffering
Today, we are still suffering because we have ignorance, we still have tremendous attachment to the ‘I’ and ‘mine’.
The practical approach to Dhamma is all about sīla (normal state of mind), samādhi (sturdy/stable state of mind) and paññā (wisdom) like we have all learned (in theory).
However, in the actual practice of Dhamma is much easier than the theory– that is:
“We just have to step out from the world of thoughts” and right in that moment, we will also experience the so-called momentary “tasting of nibbanic peace”.
Have you ever noticed that suffering is present only when we think about it?
But when we are at our normal state of mind, relaxed and not thinking about anything, suffering is not there, right?
That is because, whenever we are being absorbed into our own thoughts, we are also trapped inside ‘the world’ (the physical and psychological world we have created). By being in ‘the world’, we are bound to be suffering.
“This is because whenever thought arises, it creates the existence of ‘I’ and the sense of an individual also arises”.
The idea of having an ‘I’ or an individual is what promptly creates misconception (false view) of the truth. As a result of the false views, the mental impurities lying dormant in the unconscious get stirred up and manifested into turbidity in the mind.
At the same time, don’t develop aversion towards theses mental impurities and defilements because they have been accumulated at the deepest level of the mind for countless lifetimes. Don’t be bothered by them, but instead “just observe them as they are“.
Suffering will teach us to hurriedly practice and become fully liberated. As long as the ignorance, the mental defilements, the sense of an individual and the misconception of the truth are still there, we will continue to suffer like it has always been.
One should positively employ suffering as a reminder that
We are still not doing enough…
We are still not going anywhere…
Life is uncertain…
We don’t know how much time we have left in life.
Use suffering as a motivation for us to practice Dhamma and stop wasting the time.
2) The Normal State of Mind
How does one become completely free from ignorance and false views?
In fact, the Buddha state of mind (the enlightened state of mind) exists within every single one of us. What are the characteristics of an enlightened mind? It is the mind that can “clearly realize, be fully awake and be fully blossomed”.
To “clearly realize” is indeed the ability to see the reality as it is. It is a process without anyone being involved. It is a process of having just “pure awareness”, that is – when seeing, just be aware of what the true nature of sight reveals; when hearing, just be aware of what the true nature of sound reveals.
How can suffering arise if pure awareness is just a process of mere seeing without mental labeling or attaching meaning to what is being seen? “When seeing, just be aware of what the reality manifests”, that leaves no room for suffering to occur.
There are no mental labeling with like or dislike, no desire, satisfied or unsatisfied, craving or aversion. Suffering can never occur if one is fully aware of the true nature of things without labeling them in the mind.
The state of being “fully awake” is to wake up from the streaming of thoughts. It means to step out from the world of thoughts because that is the world you have created and give it your own meaning, it is not the real world.
You can think about anything you wish. Would anyone care if you think that you are the most handsome or the most beautiful person on earth? It is after all, your own thoughts.
Again, to be fully awake is to step out from the world of thoughts. As soon as one wakes up from the world filled with thoughts, the state of enlightenment will reveal itself right in the present moment.
Being “fully blossomed” is to be completely free from turbidity and idle state in the mind.
The closest explanation to the state of mind that can clearly realize, be fully awake, be fully blossomed, and one common characteristic they all share in common
…is simply the “normal, proper state of mind”.
“The proper state of mindis actually the state of being totally out of the world of thoughts and totally out of the habit of labeling things
It is a state without a person being involved, a state of being empty (nothingness)
This word ’empty’ (or nothingness) means being empty of a person, an individual, a me, a him, a her”
The question is, does everyone have this normal, proper state in their minds?
The answer is yes, it exists within the mind of every single one of us, otherwise we would have all gone insane!!!
Why is that the case? Imagine if the mind totally lacks this normal, proper state, we would be thinking all the time, thinking non-stop without a holiday, isn’t it?
If you think non-stop, you will become mentally ill, and eventually end up in a mental hospital. Because this normal, proper state is completely absent from the mind. Nevertheless, majority of the people already have it within their minds…it exists in everyone of us.
3) Lighting up the fire to see the ultimate truth
Human minds are already consisted of paramis (good qualities that one must perfect to reach the final goal) that is why we were born as human beings.
When we think about something, and have been thinking non-stop until we’re weary, the mind will just stop thinking by itself. It will just let go and stop grasping to those thoughts. However, once the mind eases itself down, it will start to rethink again because it is the old habit pattern arising from impurities lying deep in the mind.
In the actual practice of Dhamma, whether it is the old habit pattern of the mind, the ignorance, the false views or any other defilement are all regarded as being the darkness.
It is not our duty to chase away the darkness, the darkness cannot be dispelled. Our duty is to light up the fire, meaning that we have to be able to see the normal-proper state of mind.
Being aware of the mind that is free from the habit of labeling things is called “the normal, proper state of mind”. Seeing it once is like stepping out of the world of thought and lighting up the fire once. However, it will quickly die out because we are not a skilled lighter yet.
Nevertheless, if we keep on lighting, over and over again in a consistent manner, the flame of wisdom will flare up and turns into “intuitive wisdom” that leads to realization of truth with total clarity.
Every moment we see the normal state of mind that is the moment when the fundamental delusion about having a self disintegrates, and realize that there is really no self. At the same time, we will concurrently realize other manifestation of realities or Dhamma states as well. It is like …
We will realize two kinds of truths: “One, is the ultimate truth above the physical world, the Buddha’s state or the normal state of mind”
Second, is realizing the truth that all things in the conventional-physical world operate under the Three Characteristics of Existence (which are impermanence, suffering and no-self).
As the normal state becomes the foundation of the mind, when emotions like anxiety arises, we will be aware that there is anxiety, but at the same time we will also be clever enough not to react and add on to the intensity of the feeling.
As we are aware of the presence of normal state, we are also aware of a series of other manifestation of Dhamma states occurring in the mind through the lenses of no self involved.
When we look through the lenses of having no self, we will realize the truth about other occurrences as well, be it good or bad ones – they all fall under the law of impermanence.
And every time we see/realize this truth, the Buddha has defined this as “sati” or awareness.
Seeing the truth even for a brief moment from the basis of having no self, this is what the Buddha referred to as “summa-sati” or the right awareness.
However, if you see it repeatedly, the right awareness will turn into what the Buddha referred to as “the right samadhi” or the right stability state of the mind.
It’s similar to when you taste a fraction of sugar flake, it will not taste like anything since it is too small.
This is like having a very brief moment of summa sati occurring, we will not be able to understand the truth about what the Buddha taught. It is still unclear.
However, if you taste this fraction of sugar every second in time, while the old piece hasn’t melted, the new piece is being fed, it will gradually become a bigger piece. We will eventually taste a bit of its sweetness.
This is why we have to have continuity in our practice.
“Continuity will allow summa sati (the right awareness) to transform into summa samadhi (the right stability of the mind).”
4) That’s how it is
When we have summa Samadhi as a foundation of the mind, we will see things clearer. We will be able to see the two types of truths as mentioned before.
First we will see the normal state of the mind that exists in everyone,
and second, we will also see that all things in the world operate under the Three Characteristics of Existence (impermanence, suffering and no-self). We will always see these two realities concurrently.
If we can continuously see these truths, repeatedly and consistently, summa Samadhi will appear as a container that holds Seven of the Noble Eightfold Path or the wholesome merit or whatever we want to call them…
This will open up our third eye (spiritual eye) or the so called “intuitive wisdom” (the highest wisdom in Buddhism). It’s like everything joins synergistically as one and form into the intuition.
We will realize the truth that the world is like a big theatre, there is nothing in it. We will see the world as “empty”.
It is empty from everything, being empty of a person or an individual. It is a state that cannot be concluded whether there is something or nothing is there. There is a famous Dhamma verse by Ajahn Mun Bhuridatta Thera that says “somethingness and nothingness is a very profound Dhamma” because it is an indescribable state.
“This state of Truth, you could call it the ultimate truth, nothingness or nirvana, it is up to your preference”,
they are all referring to the same truth – an indescribable state and cannot be explained in words either. It is a state beyond any kind of explanation, it can only be understood through “direct experience”.
Once we see this Truth, we will be able to understand things beyond the Truth – that is, being able to understand the way things really are. We might have heard of the word “suchness”.
Buddhadasa Bhikkhu often refers to the word suchness as “when seeing, just merely see” and ends right there.
There is no further judgment in the mind, what we see or sense ends right there, “that’s the way it is”. One will develop understanding that personalities of a person is formed by his/her own karma, that’s what made them who they are.
Suppose that the ability to understand suchness is equivalent to a doctoral degree level, but if we are still at the primary school level it would be impossible to understand the doctoral concept.
However, what we can do is to remember that people in doctoral degree level have taught us that everything happens as such. If we feel miserable because of someone, we can remind ourselves with this teaching to ease out the suffering.
The path that leads to the understanding of suchness is to learn and familiarize yourself with the normal state of mind, step out of the world of thoughts and have the right awareness to realize the various manifestation of Dhamma states without a self involved. Remain equanimous and see that everything arises just to pass away.
Once these skills are developed, we will be able to understand a higher and deeper level of Dhamma without having to do anything else.
All that it takes is “to develop awareness and mindfulness. Whatever occurrence manifests itself from moment to moment, we just see it as it is (without reacting to it).”
5) Return to mindfulness
For those who just started practicing Dhamma, suppose that anxiety arises in your mind…
As a beginner, your mind would not have enough Samadhi or concentration just yet.
As a result, when there is anxiety … the mind lacks the ability to see it.
Or you could say that you kind of see anxiety, but it is more like your ‘self’ is feeling the anxiety, rather than simply observing it as it is.
Again, to counter this, as we see anxiety arises and we know that our strength in Samadhi is not enough to observe it as it is, just immediately return to “mindfulness”.
When we are mindful of the present moment, thoughts cannot arise. At the same time, we don’t need to try to see anxiety, either. Return to mindfulness of the present moment, and the anxiety will automatically fade away.
Similar to darkness and light, by analogy anxiety is the darkness of the ignorance. Because we still have the ignorance and defilements lying dormant in the unconscious, there is no need to chase them away. All we need to do is to light up the light, light up the awareness, light up the wisdom, and light up the Buddha state of mind within you. In short, just step out of the world of thoughts.
How do we step out?
Return to mindfulness of the present moment.
“When we are mindful of the present moment, the light will shine and the darkness will disappear”.
When we could stay with mindfulness of the present moment, see the presence of the normal state of the mind and being out of the world of thoughts, we are also at the very same moment, cultivating our sati (awareness) and samadhi (stable state of the mind) as well.
On the contrary, if we purposely jump in to observe the anxiety and waiting for it to disappear, chances are that we would instead be wondering:
I thought everything changes…
How come it doesn’t change?
Therefore, it can’t be changed.
This is because the mental defilements are still present, and so does the existence of the ‘I’ and ‘self’.
That is like we are using the darkness, or the ‘I’ and ‘self’, to look into the darkness. We gain nothing.
However, as soon as we return to the mindfulness of the present moment, there is ‘no-self’ involved. Only then could we observe the anxiety through the lens of ‘no-self’. This state can be compared relatively to the light being lit up in the midst of the darkness. The darkness will automatically disappear without having to chase it away.
For beginners, the anxiety or other defilements that arise in the mind may over power you in the beginning. Just turn around, and don’t even attempt to observe it….again, return to mindfulness of the present moment.
6) Having the normal state as a foundation in the mind
“Yoniso manasikāra” (to reflect your mind in a very analytical manner, be a good teacher to onself) is an essential tool to have when practicing Dhamma. We need this tool to analyze what we are experiencing in the present moment, and know what tactics to use to tackle the current situations.
When you are still small, you must accept that you can’t fight the big ones yet, you have to runaway first. Similarly, in practicing Dhamma, if you know that your Samadhi is not yet sturdy enough to fight off the defilements, you would need to train yourself first before confronting with them. Those defilements will certainly show up again because the ignorance is still there. So there’s no need to rush in to fight with them.
“No matter what situation you’re facing, if it still disturbs you terribly, return to mindfulness of the present moment.”
This is a wakeup call for you to hurriedly practice Dhamma. After your mind completely returns to the normal state, it is all up to your decision whether or not you would continue to seriously practice this Path. Only use your thoughts to think rationally when your mind is at the normal state. Otherwise, your thoughts will dominate and use you instead.
“Whenever thoughts overpower you. You will be drawn into the thoughts and won’t be able to remain equanimous. As a result, whatever you decide, will not be the best decision.”
Therefore, practice diligently until the normal state becomes the foundation of the mind. Consequently, whatever manifests itself in the present moment, be it the feelings or emotions, you will eventually be able to observe them as they really are.
If you continue to practice consistently, this so-called normal state or the Buddha’s state of mind will become the fundamental strength of the mind.
Subsequently, all the suffering and defilements that pass you by will no longer affect you. Since you now intuitively understand that everything arises just to pass away, they have no significance in your life.
However, if some issues require thinking, we would be thinking out of “emptiness”.
This means that we are thinking on the basis of no-self, we would then know how to act appropriately and resolve a certain situation which will correspondingly benefit yourself and others.
You will be able to resolve a problem in the most proper way possible. It might not necessarily be the best way, but it sure is the most appropriate way for the particular situation.
Wisdom is not about what is good or what is bad. It is about what is most appropriate at that moment.
7) We will use the thought, not letting the thought uses us
You have to understand that thought is like a train track— it will start to move from one to two to three to four to five to six tracks.
What is the trick here? As soon as you see thoughts starting to build up and you know that you can’t fight them off….
Just return to mindfulness of the present moment, and accept that your mind is still weary and weak, it does not have enough Samadhi.
Return to mindfulness of the present moment. Don’t give attention to anything else.
When the mind is at the normal state, if you need to think to resolve a problem either about your work, personal life, or whatever it may be….then do it.
Think on the basis of having no-self, on the basis of emptiness, on the basis of normal state of mind. “Only then can we use our thoughts, not the other way around.”
People in the world just simply let thoughts use them. When thought arises, the desires and greed also get stirred up. People are being used by their own thoughts their whole life, that’s why they are bound to suffer.
People in the world also have no idea about the reasons behind their suffering. They think they’re the owner of their own very lives.
In fact, that’s not true!
They’re being used by desires and greed throughout their lives…and yet, they don’t realize that.
Everyone must be suffering to let it teach us that we need to hurriedly practice Dhamma.
8) Practicing Dhamma as if it’s the food of life
While going to work in your everyday life…
The most important factor is “consistency”.
You have been told to be mindful about the present moment, to be aware and to see the normal state of mind consistently.
This means start doing it since the moment you wake up until you fall asleep. Even while you’re working during the day, you need to be aware and observe mindfulness at all time.
Examine yourself carefully, while you’re working in front of the computer, you can’t be thinking all the time. When you make movements, you’re aware of it but you just don’t pay enough attention to it. You must pay attention to the awareness of the body movements.
As we move or change positions, this is actually the way our body is trying to release suffering. After long hours of sitting, we feel at ease when moving or changing positions of the body. But we overlook this point of awareness. We just don’t see the realities that come with physical movements…we must be aware of this.
Once we can constantly observe our mind and body, our sati and Samadhi will be dwelling. However, if we forget to observe our mind and body throughout the day, when we go back to sit and meditate for half an hour towards the end of the day, we will not gain anything.
In this instance, even if you say that you’ve been practicing Dhamma for more than 10 years or twenty years, you will not achieve anything. It is just the relaxation of the mind. It’s like instead of going to the beach, you meditate instead.
To truly walk on this Path to full liberation and to really benefit from practicing Dhamma…
“You have to treat it like it’s the bread and butter that feed our lives”
We cannot live without it.
Like planting a tree, we need to water it everyday.
No one would water newly planted tree once a year…
it doesn’t work like that.
We have to be aware of every movement the body makes.
But it’s not something to be forced.
By listening to Damma, everything you’ve heard will be embedded deep in the mind. If you have passion and joy, and willing to walk on this Path, you have to observe your mind and body as mentioned before.
Passion (in practicing Dhamma) will also be embedded in the mind. This will also act as a constant reminder…
A reminder that you have to constantly be aware, be aware of the physical movement so that you gain strength.
Ahhhh….anxiety is building itself up now.
If you still can’t fight it, return to mindfulness of the present moment.
Every Dhamma that has been taught will be absorbed deep into the mind. If you have passion and diligence to sincerely practice and realize that this is not just a leisure listening, your mind will automatically remind itself to be mindful and be aware of every physical movement. With every move you make, you ought to be aware. Awareness will be present automatically.
At the same time, don’t turn yourself into a robot by doing it over intentionally and be aware like a robot. It doesn’t work like that.
It’s more like you will be reminded automatically to be aware. Though this will last only for seconds, and then you’ll forget to be aware. At later instant, you would remember to be aware again….and so on, this cycle will repeat itself.
When you sit in front of the computer and move your mouse. As soon as you move, you become aware of that movement and thoughts inside the head will also disappear. As a result, the normal state of mind also shows up for a split second.
If a split second of awareness happens repeatedly, it would be like blotting a dot on a piece of paper, blotting dots after dots repetitively, they will appear as a line. If the dots are spaced out too widely apart, a line will not appear, but if we blot the dots close to each other, it will look like a line from afar. This is called “samadhi”.
Therefore … consistency is the most important factor. It’s a key to success. It’s a key to advancement on the path. If there’s no consistency, don’t expect to succeed.It means you are still not passionate enough to sincerely practice on this Path as if it’s the main job in life.
Your day to day work in the world will give you monetary support and be able live comfortably in the society, but it is your secondary job.
If you don’t have a mindset like this, consistency would totally be impossible.
9) It is smarter not to suffer
You don’t have to be successful in the everyday world.
Suppose you want to really be successful in the world. How smart do you have to be, before you can say that you’re now “smart enough” to be successful?
If you think you’re a smart person, but to my judgment you’re not.
At the same time, ten other people also say that you are smart. In a situation like this, who would you choose to believe?
In reality, cleverness does not exist. It only appears to be real in the mundane world, in other words, it’s real only in the world of people’s thoughts.
But it does not exists in the world of ultimate truth,
“it is all about judgment and what one conceives in the mind”.
Smart or not smart, good or bad, or anything with two opposites are all what a person mentally conceives. In reality, it is “empty of a person!”.
The ultimate truth is emptiness. All things in the world are just reflections of what individuals mentally conceive. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu once said that the world is like a big theatre stage. One day when you finally understand the ultimate truth, you will realize that it is all just a dream, not a reality. It is a world our own ignorance has created to be like this and that in the mind, and we feel satisfied and unsatisfied with what we and the society have created up ourselves.
We are all like crazy people. Crazy about what we have created in the mind and forget that we have created them ourselves, which results in the feeling of contentment and dissatisfaction. But we are not alone though, the whole society is also a total madness because they take everything very seriously, so they ought to suffer.
Therefore, if you aim to be smart and successful in the world, you’d better think twice.
“There is no need to be smart in the mundane world; it is smarter to be free from suffering.”
I have never seen successful people in the world like Bill Gates, Warren Buffet or any other world notorious figures who no longer experience suffering.
No matter how smart people are, they are still suffering like anyone else. They’re still filled with worries, full of fear and in need of security like anyone else.
As we grow up, we were often told to become a politician, be a minister or a prime minister. We were told to grow up and be smart like the owner of CP company, or Bill Gates or Steve Jobs.
On the contrary, the Buddha is the greatest religious figure in the world, why don’t parents tell their kids to grow up and be like the Buddha? Not a single parent would want their kids to be smart like the Buddha.
Do you know why?
Because being smart like the Buddha means that…
We have to go against the main stream of the world,
We have to go against our own desire and greed.
But being smart like the well-known people in the world fulfills their desires.
This is what most people in the world would be fond of. They like us to be smart like those people because it fulfills their desire, favors their ego and pleases the societal norms, which firmly believe it is a good thing.
I usually say that people in the world “had never been the owner of their own lives”. This is the ultimate reality in the world.
We are living our lives according to what other people say all the time. We never had real happiness.
What’s more complicated than that is, some people will counter this and say “then why don’t you live a life in the way you that want?”
The answer is still, no!!
This is because even living a life in the way we desire and don’t care about what others think, we still suffer. We are still fulfilling our own desire and greed; we are still enslaved by something inside us that kept ordering us around.
Previously, we might be enslaved by others’ opinions and the society. However, even when we live our life like we desire, it is no different. We are still enslaved by our own desires and greed.
Therefore…what the Buddha taught was to be completely “free”.
Free from everything.
Free from attachment to an I or a self.
Free from ignorance/false views.
This is the Path to be completely free from suffering.
Everyone in this world, whether they’re good or bad people, “is trying everything they can to make themselves happy”.
But this is a wrong path…because there is only one Path … and that is to
“Light up the light and the darkness will automatically disappear”.
This is the one and only Path leading to freedom from suffering.
Most people, however, choose to chase away the darkness, or run away from the darkness, or even trying to understand the darkness.
Translated by Pavida Chitprasertsuk and Pilasinee Teptada