It’s very nice when things go well.
If they don’t go well,
it’s nice until they do.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
From a talk given in Münster,
Germany, March 13, 2009.
It’s very nice when things go well.
If they don’t go well,
it’s nice until they do.
Ringu Tulku Rinpoche
From a talk given in Münster,
Germany, March 13, 2009.
Buddha is the cool moon,
Crossing the sky of utter emptiness.
The lake of the mind of beings quietens,
The moon reflects beautifully in it.
Thich Nhat Hanh,
The Blooming of a Lotus,
Beacon Press, Boston,
Massachusetts. (1993) p. 26
Suffering Is Not Enough
Thich Nhat Hanh
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.
If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are happy, if we are peaceful, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.
We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in such a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time–we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act like we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going on–in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die from hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice mediation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.
Recently I was sitting with a group of children, and a boy named Tim was smiling beautifully. I said, “Tim, you have a beautiful smile,” and he said, “Thank you.” I told him, “You don’t have to thank me, I have to thank you. Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful. Instead of saying, ‘Thank you,’ you should say, ‘You’re welcome.’”
If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work. When I see Tim smiling, I am so happy. If he is aware that he is making other people happy, he can say, “You are welcome.”
* * *
From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat. During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.
“Breathing in, I calm body and mind.” This line is like drinking a glass of ice water–you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.
“Breathing out, I smile.” You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.
“Dwelling in the present moment.” While I sit here, I don’t think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, “Wait until I finish school and get my Ph. D. degree, and then I will be really alive.” When we have it, and it’s not easy to get, we say to ourselves, “I have to wait until I get a job, in order to be really alive.” And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don’t know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive in our entire life. Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.
“I know this is the only moment.” This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most important task. “Calming. Smiling, Present moment, Only moment.” I hope you will try it.
* * *
Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other, “Good morning,” it must be a real “Good morning.” Recently, one friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.” I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our own sovereignty.
When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. When we open ourselves up to a TV program, we let ourselves be invaded by the program. Sometimes it is a good program, but often it is just noisy. Because we want to have something other than ourselves enter us, we sit there and let a noisy television invade us, assail us, destroy us. Even if our nervous system suffers, we don’t have the courage to stand up and turn it off, because if we do that, we will have to return to our self.
Meditation is the opposite. It helps us return to our true self. Practicing meditation in this kind of society is very difficult. Everything seems to work in concert to take us away from our true self. We have thousands of things, like video tapes and music, which help us to be away from ourselves. Practicing meditation is to be aware, to smile, to breathe. These are on the opposite side. We go back to ourselves in order to see what is going on, because to meditate means to be aware of what is going on. What is going on is very important.
* * *
Suppose you are expecting a child. You need to breathe and smile for him or her. Please don’t wait until your baby is born before beginning to take care of him or her. You can take care of your baby right now, or even sooner. If you cannot smile, that is very serious. You might think, “I am too sad. Smiling is not the correct thing to do.” Maybe crying or shouting would be correct, but your baby will get it–anything you are, anything you do, is for your baby.
Even if you do not have a baby in your womb, the seed is already there. Even if you are not married, even if you are a man, you should be aware that a baby is already there, the seeds of future generations are already there. Please don’t wait until the doctors tell you that you are going to have a baby to begin to take care of it. It is already there. Whatever you are, whatever you do, your baby will get it. Anything you eat, any worries that are on your mind will be for him or her. Can you tell me that you cannot smile? Think of the baby, and smile for him, for her, for the future generations. Please don’t tell me that a smile and your sorrow just don’t go together. It’s your sorrow, but what about your baby? It’s not his sorrow, it’s not her sorrow.
Children understand very well that in each woman, in each man, there is a capacity of waking up, of understanding, and of loving. Many children have told me that they cannot show me anyone who does not have this capacity. Some people allow it to develop and some do not, but everyone has it. This capacity of waking up, of being aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions, in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding and loving. Since the baby of that Buddha is in us, we should give him or her a chance. Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
From Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, edited by Arnold Kotler, Parallax Press, P. O. Box 7355, Berkeley, California.94707.
A present from Donald Rothberg.
From The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing
“It is like this, bhikkus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, and sits stably in the lotus position, holding his body quite straight. Breathing in, he knows that he is breathing in: and breathing out, he knows that he is breathing out.
1. Breathing in a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a long breath.’
Breathing out a long breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a long breath.’
2. Breathing in a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing in a short breath.’ Breathing out
a short breath, he knows, ‘I am breathing out a short breath.’
3. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of my whole body.
I am breathing out and am aware of my whole body.’ This is how he practices.
4. ‘I am breathing in and making my whole body calm and at peace.
I am breathing out and making my whole body calm and at peace.’ This is how he practices.
5. ‘I am breathing in and feeling joyful. I am breathing out and feeling joyful.’
This is how he practices.
6. ‘I am breathing in and feeling happy. I am breathing out and feeling happy.’
This is how he practices.
7. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of the activities of the mind in me.
I am breathing out and am aware of the activities of the mind in me.’ This is how he practices.
8. ‘I am breathing in and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace. I am breathing out and making the activities of the mind in me calm and at peace.’ This is how he practices.
9. ‘I am breathing in and am aware of my mind. I am breathing out and am aware of my mind.’ This is how he practices.
10. ‘I am breathing in and making my mind happy and at peace.
I am breathing out and making my mind happy and at peace.’ This is how he practices.
11. ‘I am breathing in and concentrating my mind. I am breathing out and concentrating my mind.’ This is how he practices.
12. ‘I am breathing in and liberating my mind.
I am breathing out and liberating my mind.’ This is how he practices.
13. ‘I am breathing in and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas. I am breathing out
and observing the impermanent nature of all dharmas.’ This is how he practices.
14. ‘I am breathing in and observing the fading of all dharmas. I am breathing out
and observing the fading of all dharmas.’ This is how he practices.
15. ‘I am breathing in and contemplating liberation. I am breathing out
and contemplating liberation.’ This is how he practices.
16. ‘I am breathing in and contemplating letting go. I am breathing out
and contemplating letting go.’ This is how he practices.
The Full Awareness of Breathing, if developed and practiced continuously according to these instructions, will be rewarding and of great benefit.”
From The Sutra On the Full Awareness of Breathing, by Thich Nhat Hanh, Parallax Press, P. O. Box 7355, Berkeley, California. 94707 (1988), pp. 6 – 8.
Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu
I didn’t come here today to give any formal sermon or lecture, but to have an informal chat among friends. I hope that you all agree to this, so that we can speak and listen to each other without formality and rituals, even if our talk here becomes somewhat different or unusual. Further, I intend to speak only about the most essential matters, important topics that people consider to be profound. Therefore, if you don’t listen carefully you may find it difficult to follow and might misunderstand, especially those of you who haven’t heard the previous talks in this series.
The last talk was called “What To Do To Be Void.” This time I intend to talk about “No Religion.” If you find the subject strange or incomprehensible, or if you simply don’t agree, please take the time to think it over. But remember, it isn’t necessary to believe or subscribe to what I say right away.
When we meet together like this, I feel there is something which prevents us from understanding each other and this thing is simply the problem of language itself. You see, there are two kinds of language. One is the conventional language that ordinary people speak, what I call “people language.”
People language is used by the ordinary people who don’t understand Dhamma very well and by those worldly people who are so dense that they are blind to everything but material things. Then, there is the language which is spoken by those who understand reality (Dhamma), especially those who know and understand reality in the ultimate sense. This is another kind of language. Sometimes, when only a few words or even just a few syllables are uttered, the ordinary listener finds Dhamma language paradoxical, completely opposite to the language he speaks. We can call it “Dhamma language.” You always must take care to recognize which language is being spoken.
People who are blind to the true reality (Dhamma) can speak only people language, the conventional language of ordinary people. On the other hand, people who have genuinely realized the ultimate truth (Dhamma) can speak either language. They can handle people language quite well and are also comfortable using Dhamma language, especially when speaking among those who know reality, who have already realized the truth (Dhamma). Amongst those with profound understanding, Dhamma language is used almost exclusively; unfortunately, ordinary people can’t understand a word. Dhamma language is understood only by those who are in the know. What is more, in Dhamma language it isn’t even necessary to make a sound. For example, a finger is pointed or an eyebrow raised and the ultimate meaning of reality is understood. So, please take interest in these two kinds of language – people language and Dhamma language.
To illustrate the importance of language, let’s consider the following example. Ordinary, ignorant worldly people are under the impression that there is this religion and that religion, and that these religions are quite different, so different that they’re opposed to each other. Such people speak of “Christianity,” “Islam,” “Buddhism,” “Hinduism,” “Sikhism,” and so on, and consider these religions to be different, separate, and incompatible. These people think and speak according to their personal feelings and thus turn the religions into enemies. Because of this mentality, there come to exist different religions which are hostilely opposed to each other.
Those who have penetrated to the essential nature of religion will regard all religions as being the same. Although they may say there is Buddhism, Judaism, Taoism, Islam, or whatever, they will also say that all religious are inwardly the same. However, those who have penetrated to the highest understanding of Dhamma will feel that the thing called “religion” simply doesn’t exist at all. There is no Buddhism; there is no Christianity and there is no Islam. How can they be the same or in conflict when they don’t even exist? It just isn’t possible. Thus, the phrase “no religion!” is actually Dhamma language of the highest level. Whether it will be understood or not is something else, depending upon the listener, and has nothing to do with the truth or with religion.
I’d like to give a simple example of people language, the language of materialism. “Water” will suffice. People who don’t know much about even the simplest things think that there are many different kinds of water. They view these various kinds of water as if they have nothing in common. They distinguish rain-water, well-water, underground-water, canal-water, swamp-water, ditch-water, gutter-water, sewer-water, toilet-water, urine, diarrhea, and many other kinds of water from each other. Average people will insist that these waters are completely different, because such people take external appearances as their criteria.
A person with some knowledge, however, knows that pure water can be found in every kind of water. If we take rain-water and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take river-water and distill it, we will get pure water. If we take canal-water, sewer-water, or toilet-water, and distill it, we will still end up with pure water. A person with this understanding knows that all those different kinds of water are the same as far as the water component is concerned. As for those elements which make it impure and look different, they aren’t the water itself. They may combine with water, and alter water, but they are never water itself. If we look through the polluting elements, we can see the water that is always the same, for in every case the essential nature of water is the same. However many kinds of water there may seem to be, they are all the same as far as the essential nature of water is concerned. When we look at things from this viewpoint, we can see that all religions are the same. If they appear different it’s because we are making judgments on the basis of external forms.
On an even more intelligent level, we can take that pure water and examine it further. Then, we must conclude that there is no water, only two parts hydrogen and one part oxygen. There’s no water left. That substance which we have been calling “water” has disappeared, it’s void. The same is true everywhere, no matter where we find the two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. In the sky, in the ground, or wherever these parts happen to be found, the state of water has disappeared and the term “water” is no longer used. For one who has penetrated to this level of truth, there is no such thing as “water.”
In the same way, one who has attained to the ultimate truth sees that there’s no such thing as “religion.” There is only a certain nature which can be called whatever we like. We can call it “Dhamma,” we can call it “Truth,” we can call it “God,” “Tao,” or whatever, but we shouldn’t particularize that Dhamma or that Truth as Buddhism, Christianity, Taoism, Judaism, Sikhism, Zoroastrianism, or Islam, for we can neither capture nor confine it with labels and concepts. Still, such divisions occur because people haven’t yet realized this nameless truth for themselves. They have only reached the external levels, just as with canal-water, muddy water, and the rest.
The Buddha intended for us to understand and be able to see that there is no “person,” that there is no separate individual, that there are only Dhamma or natural phenomena. Therefore, we shouldn’t cling to the belief that there is this religion and that religion. We added the labels “Buddhism,” “Islam,” and “Christianity” ourselves, long after the founders lived. None of the great religious teachers ever gave a personal name to their teachings, like we do today. They just went about teaching us how to live unselfishly.
Please try to understand this correctly. When the final level is reached, when the ultimate truth is realized, not even man exists. There is only nature, only Dhamma. This reality can’t be considered to be any particular thing; it can’t be anything other than Dhamma. It can’t be Thai, Chinese, Indian, Arab, or European. It can’t be black, brown, yellow, red, or white. It can’t be eastern or western, southern or northern. Nor can it be Buddhist, Christian, Islamic, or anything else. So please try to reach this Dhamma, for then you will have reached the heart of all religions and of all things, and finally come to the complete cessation of suffering.
Although we call ourselves “Buddhists” and profess Buddhist principles, we haven’t yet realized the truth of Buddhism, for we are acquainted with only a tiny aspect of our own Buddhism. Although we be monks, nuns, novices, lay devotees, or whatever, we are aware of only the bark, the outer covering which makes us think our religion is different from other religions. Because we have failed to understand and haven’t yet realized our own truth, we look down upon other religions and praise only our own. We think of ourselves as a special group and of others as outsiders or foreigners. We believe that they are wrong and only we are right, that we are special and have a special calling, and that only we have the truth and the way to salvation. We have many of these blind beliefs. Such ideas and beliefs show that we are still ignorant, very foolish indeed, just like little babies who know only their own bellies. Tell a small child to take a bath and to wash with soap to get all the dirt off; the little child will scrub only her belly. She doesn’t know to wash all over. She will never think of washing behind her ears or between her toes or anywhere like that. She merely scrubs and polishes her tummy vigorously.
In this same way as the child, most of the adherents of Buddhism know only a few things, such as how to take and how to get. Even while doing good, supporting the temples and monks, and observing the precepts, their only objective is to get something, they even want to get more in return than they gave. When they make offerings, some people expect back ten times what they gave, some a hundred times, some a thousand, and some even more. In this case, it would be more accurate to say that these people know nothing at all, for they are acquainted only with how to get and how to take. That isn’t Buddhism at all. It’s the religion of getting and taking. If ever they can’t get or can’t take something, they are frustrated and they suffer. Real Buddhism is to know how to get without getting and take without taking so that there is no frustration and no suffering at all.
This must be spoken about very often in order to acquaint everyone with the heart of Buddhism, which is Non-Attachment. Buddhism is about not trying to seize or grasp anything, to not cling or attach to anything, not even to the religion itself, until finally we realize that there is no Buddhism after all. That means, if we speak directly, that there is no Buddha, no Dhamma, and no Sangha! (The Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha (or Community) are the beloved Triple Gem which most Buddhists cherish as the basis of their faith.) However, if we speak in this way, nobody will understand; they will be shocked and frightened.
Those who do understand, see that the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha are the same thing, that is, just Dhamma or just Nature itself. The compulsion to seize and hang onto things as persons and individuals, as this and that, doesn’t exist in them. Everything is non-personal, that is, is Dhamma or Nature in its pure state or whatever we wish to call it. But we dare not think like this. We are afraid to think that there is no religion, that there is no Buddha, Dhamma, or Sangha. Even if people were taught or forced to think in this way, they still wouldn’t be able to understand. In fact, they would have a totally distorted understanding of what they thought and would react in the opposite way to what was intended.
For this reason, after the passing away of the Buddha, there appeared many new systems of religious practice. The teachings were reorganized into descending levels, with lower, more accessible aspects, so that even if someone wished to make offerings in order to gain heavy benefits in return, equal to dozens, hundreds, or thousands of times their “merits,” it could be done. This was a preliminary arrangement so that the rewards for good deeds would be a bait to attract people and keep them from going astray. As a starting point, people were encouraged to hang on to the good and its rewards as much as possible. If they continued to do so, they would eventually discover that it was unnecessary to cling, or be attached to goodness. They would come to see that any such attachment is unsatisfying and painful. Thus, they would gradually disentangle themselves from the habit of attachment. This is how Dhamma leads through successively higher levels and is why the practice of Dhamma in its earliest stage is based on “gaining merit” to let people get something they really like at the start.
The next step on the path of Dhamma is to voluntarily choose to live a plain and simple life, a pure life, in which one isn’t led astray or intoxicated by anything. On this level, there is still a sense of the “I” who is enjoying this mode of happiness, but it’s a better, more developed “I.”
The next highest level of Dhamma is to not let any traces of the “I” remain at all. It’s finished. The mind no longer has the feeling of being “I,” of being a self, and there is no way that suffering or dissatisfaction can happen, since there is no “I” to suffer. Suffering can’t occur because this egolessness is the highest possible happiness, if we speak in people language. If we speak in Dhamma language, however, there is nothing to say. There is nothing to get nothing to have nothing to be – no happiness, no suffering, nothing at all. We call this “void-ness.” Everything still exists, but it’s free and void of any feeling of being “I” or “mine.” For this reason we say “void-ness.”
To see that everything is void is to see things as being neither an aspect of oneself nor in anyway possessed by oneself. The words “void” and “void-ness” in the common language of ignorant people mean that nothing exists, but in the language of the Buddha, the Awakened One, the words “void” and “void-ness” mean everything exists, but without attachment to any of it in terms of “I” or “mine.” That there isn’t clinging or attachment to things as being “I” and “mine” is void-ness of I and void-ness of mine. When the words “void” and “void-ness” are used in this way, it’s the void-ness of Dhamma language. To use “void” in the sense that nothing actually exists is the language of worldly people who are trapped in their senses, is the language of materialism, is the language of householders who know nothing but their homes. Here, “void-ness” has given us another example of the difference between people language and Dhamma language.
We should always keep in mind this truth about language and discriminate whether the words we hear, read, and use are people language or Dhamma language. For example, the Buddha said, “Kill your father and kill your mother, then you shall attain Nibbána.” “Kill your father and mother, be an ungrateful child, then you shall attain Nibbána.” The Buddha didn’t mean that we should take this literally and kill our flesh and blood parents. Instead, he meant that ignorance is a kind of father and craving is a kind of mother. The two give birth to ego-consciousness and subsequently all forms of selfishness and sin. There’s no reason in feel any gratitude toward them; destroy them immediately and Nibbána is realized.
To speak in this fashion is to use the Dhamma language which the ordinary person is unable to understand. He must study and inquire, think and reflect, until finally he understands. But the Noble ones, those who have realized Dhamma already, will understand immediately, though only a few words are spoken and without any explanation or advice. Just one word is enough for them to understand, without further explanation, because they know Dhamma language thoroughly.
The words “birth” and “death” require the same discrimination regarding language. In people language, the word “birth” means to be born from a mother’s womb. In Dhamma language, however, the word “birth” means some form of attachment is born. This kind of birth happens every time we allow the arising of a thought or feeling which involves grasping and clinging to something as “I” or “mine,” such as, “I am,” “I have,” “I think,” and “I do.” This is the birth of the “I” or the ego.
For example, think like a criminal and one is instantly born as a criminal. A few moments later those thoughts disappear, one thinks like a normal human being again and is born as a human being once more. If a few moments later one has foolish thoughts, right then one is born as a fool. If one then thinks in an increasingly foolish and dull manner, one will be born as an animal immediately. Whenever an attachment is felt intensely – when it burns inside one with the heat of fire – one is born as a demon in hell. Whenever one is so hungry and thirsty that one could never be satiated, one is born as an insatiably hungry ghost. When one is overly cautions and timid without reason, one is born a cowardly titan. Thus, in a single day one can be born any number of times in many different forms, since a birth takes place each and every time there arises any form of attachment to the idea of being something. Each conception of “I am,” “I was,” or “I will” is simultaneously a birth. This is the meaning of “birth” in Dhamma language. Therefore, whenever one encounters the word “birth,” one must be very careful to understand its meaning in each particular context.
“Birth is suffering.” These words mean that the egoistic kind of birth described above is always painful and ugly. That is to say, if we allow “I” to be born in any manner, suffering occurs immediately. If we live simply and directly in the awareness of “not-being-I,” it’s like remaining unborn and never experiencing suffering. Although physical birth has happened long ago, there is no further spiritual birth of the egoistic “I.”
On the other hand, whenever an egoistic thought or feeling arises, there is suffering at once and the suffering always fits the particular kind of “I” that is being born. If “I” is human, it suffers like a human. If “I” is an angel, it suffers angelically. If “I” is demonic, it suffers hellishly. The manner of the grasping and clinging can change repeatedly, even being born as beast, hungry ghosts, and cowardly titans. In one day, there may be many birth many dozens of births, and every one of them is unsatisfactory, frustrating, and painful. To destroy this kind of birth is Nibbána.
2. Animals, demons, hungry ghosts (peta), and cowardly titans (asura) are the inhabitants of the “lower realms” in traditional Buddhist cosmology.
Concerning death, there’s no need to speak about what happens after the people language version. Why talk about what happens once we’re in the coffin? Instead, please deal with this most urgent issue of ego-birth, that is, don’t get born and there will be no suffering. Without the feeling of being born, there is no person anymore and all the problem disappear with it. That is all. When there isn’t this continual being born, there is no longer a “somebody” to have problems. It’s as simple as that. The time remaining in life is no longer an issue once we know how to experience the fact that this “I” will never be born again. This can be called “non-birth.” You may call it “death” if you prefer.
So you see, between people language and Dhamma language the words “birth” and “death” have opposite meanings. The same situation exists in the scriptures of other religions, especially those of Christianity. As a result, the Christians don’t understand their own Bible, just as we Buddhists don’t understand the Tipitaka (Buddhist scriptures). Thus, whenever members of the two meet, they end up arguing until they are blue in the face. The quarrels are simply unbelievable; they fight to the end. Therefore, let us develop some understanding concerning this matter of people language and Dhamma language.
We have discussed the word “birth” in a Buddhist context, now let us consider a word from the Christian scriptures, such as “life.” Matthew says that Jesus Christ “surrendered his life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28). Elsewhere, Jesus said, “If you would enter life, keep the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). These two statements show that the word “life” has more than one meaning. In the first statement, “life” is used in its people language sense. Jesus allowed them to kill the life of his body, which is the ordinary meaning of “life.” “Life” in the second passage is the same word “life,” but it now refers to a life that can never be killed. It’s a life which will never know death. By this we see that even the simple word “life” can have two very different meanings.
The word “die” provides another example. In people language, “to die” means that the bodily functions have stopped, which is the kind of death we can see with our eyes. However, “die” in the language used by God has quite a different meaning, such as when he spoke to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden telling them not to eat the fruit of a certain tree, “for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gen. 2:17). Eventually, Adam and Eve ate that fruit, but we know that they didn’t die in the ordinary sense, the kind that puts people into coffins. That is, their bodies didn’t die. Instead, they died in another way, in the Dhamma language sense, which is a spiritual death much more cruel than being buried in a coffin. This fate worse than death was the appearance of enormous sin in their minds, that is, they began to think in dualistic terms – good and evil, male and female, naked and clothed, husband and wife, and so on. The pairs of opposites proliferated making the pain very heavy, so much so that their minds were flooded by a suffering so severe that it’s impossible to describe. All this has been passed down through the years and inherited by everyone living in the present era.
The consequences have been so disastrous that the Christians give the same “Original Sin” to the first appearance of dualistic thinking. Original Sin first happened with that primordial couple and then was passed on to all their descendants down to this very day. This is what God meant by the word “death”; whenever we partake of this fruit of dualism (from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”) we must die right then and there. This is the meaning of “death” in Christian language.
“Death” has the same meaning in the language of the Buddha. Why is this so? Because both religions are pointing to the same truth concerning attachment and dualism. Whenever dualistic thoughts arise there is bound to be suffering, which is death. Death means the end of everything good, the end of happiness, the end of peace, the end of everything worthwhile. This is the meaning of “death” in Dhamma language. Most of us die this way many times each day.
It’s called “death” because it makes the heart heavy. It always creates a feeling of frustration and depression to some degree, not to mention worry, restlessness, and anxiety. The more intelligent and clever a person is, the more often one dies and the more profound the deaths. The clever person’s deaths are much more special and creative than those of an ignorant person.
We must know how to avoid death in order to be in accord with the teachings of the Buddha and Jesus (along with the other prophets). The objective of Buddhism is the same as of Christianity: don’t let this original sin overpower you; don’t let dualistic attachment dominate your heart or your mind. Refuse to let it dominate the mind ever again.
We must always be aware of the true nature of Dhamma, that in reality there is no duality of any sort – no gain, no loss, no happiness, no suffering, no good, no evil, no merit, no sin, no male, no female. There is absolutely nothing at all that can be separated and polarized into opposites. Rather than buy into them, we ought to transcend.
The dualistic pairs are the basis of all attachment, so don’t fall for their tricks. Don’t attach to any of them. Try to understand that these things can never be seized and held onto because they are impermanent, lack any real substance, and are not-self. Try to go about your business with a mind that is unattached. Work with a mind that clings to nothing and is free from all forms of attachment. This is called “working with a void mind.”
We should perform every kind of task with a void mind, no matter whether it’s at the office or at home. Even rest and recreation should be done with a void mind, a mind that always remains unattached and free because it’s above all dualities. If we work with a busy mind, a mind that is restless and always grasping and clinging to one thing or idea after another, a mind that is over-burdened with attachments, then there is suffering and we must inevitably be born in a lowly state. The lower realms spoken of by traditional Buddhists happen right then and there; birth as a demon in hell, as a beast, as a hungry ghost, or as a cowardly titan takes place at that very moment. This is the most serious problem facing humanity, it’s the most original sin, and it’s death in Dhamma language. Therefore, we should live, work, and play without attachments.
There is a short verse of mine which I’d like to discuss.
Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void
And to the void-ness surrender all of the fruits;
Eat the food of void-ness as the holy ones do,
You’ll have died to yourself from the very start.
Some people are unable to understand this verse and they keep saying that the author is crazy. Nonetheless, it isn’t so difficult to explain.
That we should do every kind of work with a void mind is a warning that the busy and agitated mind which jumps into things with attachment always becomes dark and clouded with delusion, is full of worries and fears, and becomes gloomy and insecure. If people insist on keeping this up, before long they are sure to suffer a nervous breakdown or some other kind of illness. If they let these mental diseases and related physical ailments accumulate, they end up confined to a sick bed. Even though they may be intelligent, talented, and sophisticated people who do important work and earn a great deal of money, they will still end up being confined to bed with nervous breakdowns, ulcers, and other disorders caused by insecurity and anxiety. All of these illnesses begin with attaching and clinging to such things as fame and money, profit and loss, happiness and unhappiness, and praise and blame.
So, don’t get involved with these things. Get free of all such attachments and the mind will be void. The mind will be brilliantly intelligent, as clear and sharp as possible. Then, do your work with just such a void mind as this. All your needs will be satisfied without the least bit of frustration or suffering. Sometimes, it will even seem to be a Dhammic sort of fun. Best of all, working like this is the kind of Dhamma practice which frees us from the false distinction between practicing Dhamma at the temple and working at home. Such a dichotomy is rather foolish; it’s what happens when people think only in people language.
According to Dhamma language, we must practice Dhamma in this body and mind at the same time that we do our work with this same body and mind. Both work and Dhamma practice are done in the same place or the same thing. The practice of Dhamma is there in the work; the work in itself is Dhamma practice. In other words, to do work of any kind without grasping or clinging is a way to practice Dhamma. Wherever and whenever we practice non-attachment, there and then is Dhamma practice.
Accordingly, whether we are engaged in training the mind to be unattached and calm, or whether we are working to earn a living in some occupation or another, if we do so with a void mind that forms no attachments, right there is the practice of Dhamma. It doesn’t matter if we are in an office, a factory, a cave, or whatever. To work like this without getting involved in attachments, obsession, and ego is what is meant by ” Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void. ”
The result of working this way is that we enjoy ourselves while working, and that the work is done well because our minds are very clear and sharp then, and there are no worries about things like money. The things we need are acquired in the usual ways and all this without the attachment forged by grasping and straining.
This brings us in the second line of the verse which is ” And to the void-ness surrender all of the fruits. ” When our work bears fruit in the form of money, fame, influence, status, and so forth, we must give it all to void-ness. Don’t be so stupid as to cling to these things as “belonging to me” – “my money,” “my success,” “my talent,” or “my” anything. This is what is meant by not attaching to the results of our work.
Most of us blindly cling to our successes and so our experiences of success increase our selfish desires and defilements (kilesa). Let ourselves be careless for only a moment and we will fall into pain immediately due to the weight of attachments and anxieties. In truth, this kind of mental or spiritual pain is always happening. Before long, if we aren’t careful, the pain manifests itself physically in the body as well. Some people have nervous breakdowns or go insane, while others develop one of the numerous varieties of neuroses so prevalent in the world today, even though they may be famous, knowledgeable, and wealthy. All this pain results from the fact that people the world over have misunderstood, abused, and ignored their own religious.
We shouldn’t think that the teaching of non-attachment is found only in Buddhism. In fact, it can be found in every religion, although many people don’t notice because it’s expressed in Dhamma language. Its meaning is profound, difficult to see, and usually misunderstood.
Please forgive me, I don’t mean to be insulting, but I feel that many religious people don’t yet understand their own religion. For instance, in the Christian Bible, St. Paul advises us to “Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those that buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it” (Cor.7:29-31). This passage is found in the New Testament of the Christian Bible; anyone can look it up. It should be understood in the same way as our basic Buddhist theme of non-attachment. That is, if you have a wife, don’t attach to having her; if you have a husband, don’t cling to having him. If you have painful or sorrowful experiences, don’t cling to them as “I” or “mine” and it will be as if they never happened. That is, don’t be sad about them. Don’t attach to joy, goods, and worldly dealings, either.
Unfortunately, the fact is that most people – whatever their religion – are dominated by these things. They let themselves suffer intolerably over such matters until finally they go insane or commit suicide. But those of us who follow St. Paul’s advice can go on as if nothing had happened. That kind of suffering doesn’t happen to us, we remain fine. We buy things without taking anything home, which means we never get attached to what we buy and take home. We bought it, we brought it home, but it’s like we didn’t buy anything, because we don’t give birth to the thought that we possess something.
This is how to buy and live as though having no goods, but if you discuss this passage with some Christians, you will find that they don’t understand it at all. Even some of the clergy, the teachers of their religion, couldn’t explain to me correctly how to practice in accordance with St. Paul’s instructions. Their explanations were vague and obscure. They beat around the bush and didn’t give any practical interpretation of the passage. In fact, this passage has the same meaning as “Do work of all kinds with a mind that is void and to the void-ness surrender all of the fruits,” which, of course, many Buddhism don’t understand either.
The third line of the verse is “Eat the food of void-ness as the holy ones do.” Here, some people might ask, “Then, what do we eat?” If everything is void or given away to the void-ness, what will there be to eat? The answer is to eat food that belongs to void-ness, the same way that the Noble Ones do. We work with a void mind and turn all the rewards over to void-ness. Void-ness then stockpiles it all and preserves it safely. When it’s time to eat, we can eat from the stock of void-ness too.
If you earn a million dollars from your work and store it in a safe or the bank, offer it to void-ness and don’t think “it’s mine, it belongs to me!” When you spend the money, do so with the same void mind. Simply use the money to buy some food to eat, or whatever we need to consume. This is what is meant by “Eat the food of void-ness as the holy ones do.”
In this line, “holy ones” means those who understand deeply and have no attachments. We ourselves ought to eat in the same way that these liberated ones eat. The Buddha ate food and all the enlightened disciples ate foods. So, we aren’t saying that a Buddha doesn’t have to eat food anymore, but from whomever he gets his food, it’s always the food of void-ness, for it’s received and eaten without any feelings of possession or attachment. And yet, a Buddha always has more than enough to eat. This is the meaning of “Eat the food of void-ness as the holy ones do.”
We can do the same. When we give all the rewards of our work to void-ness, they don’t disappear. Nothing is lost. Physically, in worldly terms, everything is still there. It’s stored and protected in the usual ways and the law still recognizes that it belongs to us. If someone tries to snatch it away, we can battle to protect our rights in court, but always with the same void mind. That is, we needn’t get angry or upset, we needn’t suffer, we needn’t feel personally involved, we needn’t attach. In fact, with complete non-attachment we will be able to argue our case even better. We needn’t create any problems for ourselves, things won’t become complicated and difficult, and we will be able to protect our rights most effectively.
To pursue this point a little further: even when caught in an argument or involved in a lawsuit we should be restrained and mindful at all times so that the mind is free of attachment. Take care not to be attached or emotionally involved. In other words, first make sure the mind is void, then argue and fight out the case to the finish. In this way, we will have the advantage. Our side will debate more cleverly, will argue more skillfully, and will experience a higher level of victory.
Even in cases when we are forced to be insulting, use the usual words but do so with a void mind. This may sound funny and hopelessly impractical, but it really is possible. The word “void” includes such strange aspects; they are all implications of working with a void mind, willingly giving all that we get to void-ness, and always eating food from the pantry of void-ness.
The fourth, final, and most important line of the verse is “You’ll have died to yourself from the very start.” We already have died to ourselves – that precious inner “me” is gone – from the very first moment. This means that when we re-examine the past and reflect upon it with clarity, mindfulness, and wisdom, we will know for a fact that there never was a “person” or “individual.” We will see that there are only the basic processes of life (khandha), the sensory media (ayatana), the elements (dhatu), and natural phenomena (Dhammas). Even the things we had previously clung to as existing no longer exist. They died in that moment.
Everything has died at the moment of its birth. There never was an “I” and there never was a “mine.” In the past, we were stupid enough to lug “I” and “mine” around all the time. Now, however, we know the truth that even in retrospect they never were what we took them to be. They’re not-me, they’re not-mine, the me-ing and my-ing died from the very start right up to this moment. They’re finished, even in the future. Don’t ever again fall for any “I” and “mine” in your experiences. Simply stop thinking in terms of “I” and “mine.” So you see, we needn’t interpret this verse to mean that we must physically kill ourselves. One has to be trapped in ones ego to understand it in such a way; such an interpretation is too physical, too superficial, and too childish.
This “I,” this ego, is just a mental concept, a product of thought. There’s nothing substantial or permanent upon which it’s based. There’s only an ever-changing process flowing according to causes and conditions, but ignorance misconstrues this process to be a permanent entity, a “self,” and an “ego.” So don’t let attached thoughts and feelings based on “I” and “mine” arise. All pains and problems will end right there and then, so that the body becomes insignificant, no longer a cause of worry. It’s merely a collection of the five aggregates (khandha), functioning according to causes and conditions, pure in its own nature. These five aggregates or component processes of life are naturally free of attachment and selfishness. As for the inner aspect, those habits of desire and selfishness, try to do without them. Keep striving to prevent them from being born until the defilements and selfishness have no more opportunities to pollute the heart. In this way, we force ourselves to die, that is, we die through the elimination of polluting selfishness and defilements (kilesa). Just don’t allow any egoistic consciousness, that’s the meaning of “death” in Dhamma language. Without anything masquerading as “I” and “mine,” where can suffering take place? Suffering can only happen to an “I” and its “mine”. So you see, possessing “I” and “mine” is the heart of suffering. Should there be some happiness, as soon as clinging comes in the happiness becomes painful, yet one more way to suffer.
Ignorant people are always attaching to something; they don’t know how to live without clinging to “I” and “mine.” As a result, even beneficial things are converted into causes of suffering. Happiness is turned into pain; goodness is turned into pain; praise, fame, honor and the like are all turned into forms of suffering. As soon as we try to seize and hang on to them, they all become unsatisfactory, painful, and ugly. Among good and evil, virtue and sin, happiness and unhappiness, gain and loss, and all other dualistic pairs, suffering inevitably happens whenever we attach to either pole of one pair or another. Clinging to one pole also traps us in its opposite partner.
When we are intelligent enough not to cling or be attached to any form of dualism, then we will no longer suffer because of these things. Good and evil, happiness and suffering, virtue and sin, and the rest, will never be painful again. We realize that they are merely natural phenomena, the ordinary stuff of nature. They all are naturally void and so there is no suffering inherent in any of them.
These are the consequences of not having an ego, of not having any “I” and “mine” in the mind. Outwardly, we may say “I” and “my” according to social conventions, but don’t let them exist in the mind or heart. As St. Paul said, “Let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those that mourn as though they weren’t mourning … and those who buy as though they had no goods.”
Externally, we should behave the same as others do; eat like they eat, work like they work, and speak like they speak. Speak in their people language: “this is my house, this is mine.” There’s nothing wrong in using these words when necessary, but don’t let the mind fall for them. Leave such words outside, don’t let them into the mind, don’t believe them. We ought always to train ourselves this way, that is “mouth is one and mind another.” The mouth says one thing, but the heart knows otherwise.
Actually, this phrase is usually an insult used to condemn liars and conmen, not something to be encouraged. In the end, however, it can be turned around and applied to a person who really practices Dhamma, that is, whose external behavior conforms with worldly conventions but whose internal reality is another story. While the external expressions actually take place, they don’t manifest in the mind. We call this, “mouth is one and mind another” or “external and internal do not correspond.” A behavior that we used to condemn and try to abandon because of its dishonesty and crookedness becomes the most noble and excellent form of speech. Sometimes Dhamma language seems rather strange!
To be honest in both mouth and mind, that is, speech and thought, is people language, not Dhamma language. Ordinary people demand that our words honesty reflect our thoughts, but when it comes to the Dhamma language of the Buddha, we practice in the manner called “mouth is one and mind another.” In other words, the outside appears one way, while the inside is the opposite. Outwardly, in our speech and actions, we may possess all the things that others possess, but in the mind we possess nothing. Inwardly, we are broke and bankrupt, without a penny to our names. So please remember this saying – “mouth is one and mind another” – in its Dhamma language meaning of course, not in the people language understanding. Please give it some thought.
Another common teaching concerns humility. The Buddha taught us not to boast or show off and Jesus Christ emphasized this point even more. There are many pages in the Bible concerning this subject. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches us to do our religious practices – such as praying, giving, charity, and fasting – in secret so as to not let others to see (Matt. 5-7, especially 6). If it’s something we want others to see, that means we want to show off, which is attachment. If we apply his teaching to our Buddhist practices, such as when we keep the special precepts on the observance days (uposatha), we shouldn’t dress up or powder and perfume ourselves. Don’t let anyone know we are keeping the special precepts, just keep them strictly. Jesus stresses this point in many ways, both in this sermon and elsewhere. When offering prayers to God, fasting, or practicing austerities, don’t let others see. If we wish to give alms or make a donation to charity, do so secretly; don’t let others know who the giver is. Jesus teaches us to do everything without any one knowing. In other words, his aim is to teach non-attachment. This kind of practice destroys selfishness and overcomes sin.
Buddhists should be able to understand this principle of giving without letting anyone know; giving in this way will destroy the giver’s self-centeredness much more than public giving. As you know, we like to say, “sticking gold on the image’s back.” This saying can be interpreted in two ways. As understood by foolish people, this should never be done, because sticking gold leaf on the back of an image won’t gain one any honor, reputation, or other benefits.
( In Thailand, putting small squares of gold leaf onto Buddha images and other respected objects is a popular form of making merit. According to popular Thai belief, by affixing gold leaf to the eyes, mouth, forehead, cheeks, etc., of a Buddha image, the one who affixes it will be reborn in her next life with beautiful eyes, mouth, forehead, cheeks, etc., just like those of the image decorated with gold. At the same time, her merit making is seen by all.)
On the other hand, wise people take the words “sticking gold on the image’s back” to mean something good, because one doesn’t receive any recognition, praise, status, or honor from the act. One hasn’t traded the goodness of the act for any worldly benefits. Thus, one makes more merit than if one were to stick the gold on the front of the image.
Here we see that the teachings of Christianity and Buddhism are the same; they have the same meaning, namely, to destroy attachment. We should do all religious duties and practices without others knowing. In the end, it’s like they don’t exist any more and we don’t exist either. There’s no good, no evil, no virtue, no sin, no happiness, no suffering, and, finally, not even any religion. This is the highest level of religion.
Now, let us consider the fact that non-attachment, the highest Dhamma, is something wonderful, priceless, and extraordinary. It’s the heart of every religion. It’s the essence of Dhamma. If there is a God, it can only be found right here in non-attachment.
Non-attachment, the highest Dhamma, is wonderful precisely because anyone seeking it need not invest anything. No money, gold, or jewels are needed, not even a single penny. According to people language, nothing can be obtained without an investment. If they listen to people language, those who wish to gain merit, goodness, or whatever must pay in money, silver, and gold, or invest their labor. If they listen to Dhamma language, however, the reality is quite different. The Buddha said that Nibbána is given free of charge. Nibbána – the coolness and peace experienced when there’s no attachment – doesn’t cost a penny. This means that we can practice for the sake of Nibbána without spending any money along the way. Jesus said what amounts to the same thing. He invited us to drink the water of life for which there is no charge. He said this at least three times. Further, he called us to enter eternal life, which means to reach the state where we are one with God and therefore will never die again.
“Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). This call of Jesus is identical to what is taught in Buddhism. The Buddha said that the Noble Path of Liberation, the Liberating Results, and Nibbána are free of charge, no monetary investment is required. We live according to the Noble Eightfold Path, which means we give up this, give up that, and keep giving up things until everything is surrendered. Give up everything and take nothing back. Don’t receive any payment and we won’t have to pay anything: we will realize what is called “the Noble Path, the Liberating Results, and Nibbána.” We can taste the flavor of Nibbána without paying a penny.
We spend a lot of money trying to buy Nibbána, but the money just get in the way. It’s like investing money in order to win a palace in heaven: the two have nothing to do with each other. In fact, they are incompatible. If we want to give charity, it should be solely for the sake of others. Nibbána is our first concern and requires no money.
Why do we make donations then? Not for ourselves, of course, but to help our fellow human beings so that they may also reach that which requires no financial investment. So, we contribute money to build temples and schools, we develop methods of teaching, and we publish books in order to help our fellow human beings to travel on the right path, to travel toward that which is obtained without payment – Nibbána. Those of us who intend to earn merit with their gold and silver should please think in this way.
If those who intend to invest their money for so-called spiritual rewards don’t reconsider, they will incur losses rather than make profits. Not only will they fail to make a profit, they won’t even be able to recover their investment. And when there is no profit and no breaking even, there is only loss. To act that way goes contrary to the words of the Buddha who said, “It’s free.” Jesus also said that it’s free.
Jesus added further that what “you received without pay, give without pay” (Matt. 10:8). It seems that the Buddha never said quite the same thing, but we can say, from the implications of his teaching, that he could easily have spoken these words. If something is obtained for free, we ought to pass it on for free, too. Don’t be unwilling or reluctant. Don’t go taking advantage of people by claiming favors or hinting that they’ll benefit by helping one in such-and-such a way or implying that students owe a debt of gratitude to their teachers. All of that is inappropriate. When we get something for free, we must give it away for free. Therefore, as the loftiest of all things, the Dhamma of each religion is something to be obtained for free. Once we have got it, we are obligated to pass it on to our fellow human beings for free, also. Don’t try to wheedle any benefits out of it in return.
When we make contributions to religious causes, they are for a particular purpose, which has no bearing on our realizing Nibbána. Such contributions are meant to be instrumental in helping people who don’t yet see the way to be able to find it and eventually arrive at that which is given away for free to everyone. In the end, they also will obtain that precious thing which is obtained for free, without any obstacles.
If we look carefully, we will see that the pinnacle, the most excellent of things, which we get for free, is called “Nibbána” (as well as by many other names). Jesus called it “Life.” This state in which we currently exist is death. Because everyone is dying, they don’t reach God, they don’t reach the Ultimate. Yet, if we follow the teachings of Jesus we are born again at once. After dying for so long, we need to be reborn. When we are born anew, we are born into eternal life, which is true life. The Buddha spoke in the same fashion. He said that we don’t realize that this existence is like being dead, that is, that it’s suffering. We must make the required knowledge, we must awaken into a new world, newly born. Then there will be no more suffering. To understand this is a fundamental principle.
Up until this realization, we were dead, that is, full of “I” and “mine.” Always living under the burden of ego and egoism is death. Because of “I” and “mine,” we died over and over again. Now we are reborn into eternal life, the life of Nibbána, the deathless life, the immortality in which all “I” and “mine” end. The word “reborn” here comes to means a life without ego, free of “I” and “mine.” This is the true life which can never die. The five aggregates (khandha), the basic processes of life, are now pure, the body and mind are free of attachment and selfishness. Prior to this, the five aggregates, the body-mind process, were continually being grasped at and clung to by means of “I” and “my” and were always stained by these corrupt attachments. That continuous “I” and “mine” was death.
When the polluting desires and attachments are completely gone there is a new birth in the world of the Noble Ones. “Rebirth in the world of the Noble Ones” is a people language expression. In Dhamma language, we speak of “quenching it.” Quench the “I” and the “mine”; quench ego and its selfishness. Then there’s nothing. There remains only supreme void-ness, which is Nibbána. So says Dhamma language.
If we speak in people language, as Jesus Christ often did, we say that one is reborn in the world of the Noble Ones and that one lives eternally in the Kingdom of God. That’s people language. When we translate it into Dhamma language, we use the opposite words and speak of “quenching.” One language speaks of “rebirth,” while the other talks about “utter quenching.” Only the words are different. In people language we talk about being reborn; in Dhamma language we talk about quenching completely.
Therefore, let us live a life of total quenching, a life that douses the flames of desire, a life of coolness. When we are burning, we are dying. A person who is hot inside is like a demon in hell, an animal, a hungry ghost, or a cowardly titan. Such a person is always dying. His attachment to “I” is never quenched. His ego hasn’t yet been doused; it boils and bubbles inside him with the heat of fire. It has to be cooled down.
To make things easier, we should remember that the word “nibbána” means “to cool down.” In India at the time of the Buddha, “nibbána” was a common everyday word spoken in the houses, streets, and markets. When something hot had cooled down, they used the word “nibbána”  to describe it. If the curry was too hot to eat, then cooled down enough to be eaten, they would say “the curry is nibbána, so let’s eat.”
( Actually, this word takes on different forms as a verb, noun, and adjective, and according to case and context. As Thai doesn’t conjugate words like the Indian language, only the form “Nibbána” is used.)
We can see that the word “nibbána” wasn’t originally an exalted religious term, but had an ordinary everyday usage in people language – the cooling down of something hot. For example, if a red-hot charcoal cools down until it can be picked up, we can call that “nibbána.” If we apply the term on a higher level, such as, to animals, then it refers to animals which are no longer hot. The heat of animals is the wildness and fierceness which is dangerous for humans. If a wild elephant or wild bull is tamed and well-trained so that finally its wildness, rebelliousness, and viciousness disappear and it’s safe for humans, we can say that it’s “nibbána,” meaning it has cooled down.
When we speak of humans, “hot” means a person who is burning and boiling as if in hell or the other netherworlds. That isn’t Nibbána. After we discover the way to apply Dhamma to cool ourselves off, we begin to nibbána, continue to nibbána, nibbána steadily, nibbána until everything is thoroughly cool, which is the highest level of Nibbána – absolute coolness.
Even now, we must nibbána to some extent in order to be able to sit here and discuss Dhamma like this. Otherwise, if the flames were flaring up within us now, we wouldn’t be able to remain sitting here. Therefore, we should understand that Nibbána is related to us at all times, with every inhalation and exhalation. If this weren’t so, if we had no connection to Nibbána whatsoever, we would all go out of our minds and die before we knew it. Fortunately, we have some relationship with Nibbána nearly all the time. It may disappear temporarily when lust, hatred, or delusion arise, when the mind is taken over by defilements and selfishness. But when lust, hatred, and delusion aren’t present in our minds, we experience a small degree of Nibbána, a brief taste or free sample of Nibbána. Due to the benefits of these recurring glimpses of Nibbána, we don’t go crazy and don’t die from overheat. We survive by virtue of Nibbána’s beneficial effects Therefore, we should thank Nibbána and acknowledge our gratitude to it by acting so as to have more and more Nibbána for longer and longer periods of time. Keep calming and cooling things, that is, destroy “I” and “mine.” Don’t let ego prick up its ears and point its tail. With self-discipline and good manners, keep the ego small and out of trouble. Lessen it, reduce it, shrink it, until at last nothing remains, then you will get the best thing that a human being can possibly get.
Whenever we quarrel due to opinions, pride, vanity, or stubbornness, it shows that we have lost touch with Nibbána. At such moments, we are crazy. If we argue, quarrel, or interfere with others at any time – no matter whether over an ordinary affair or a religious one – we are insane. In such moments, we aren’t really human anymore, because we’ve lowered ourselves to the level of arguing and fighting. And so, as was said before, if people remain foolish they will think that there are many different religions which are incompatible and opposed to each other, which are enemies that must compete, fight, and destroy each other. These are the most stupid and ignorant of people. They cause and experience a great deal of trouble.
When religions are regarded as in opposition and conflict, people become enemies as a result. Everyone thinks “We are right, they are wrong; they are wrong, we are right,” and so forth, and then there is quarrelling and fighting. Such people are incredibly foolish. What they are quarrelling about is only the outer shell. Everyone should recognize that these are only external forms, they aren’t the inner essence.
When people of intelligence and wisdom get together concerning the essentials of religion, they recognize that religions are all the same. Though outwardly they may seem different, intelligent people know that the inner spirit must be the same in all cases. The inner essence is the same no matter how different the external forms are, just like we saw with the analogy of water. The essential pure nature of water is always the same, no matter how putrid or filthy it appears from the outside. It isn’t the water that is dirty, but the other elements that are mixed in with the water that are dirty. We shouldn’t take those other elements. When we take those elements, it means we drink dirty water; it means we swallow the filth, urine, excrement, or whatever, and don’t drink pure water.
Whenever there is a quarrel, whether it’s among lay people, novices, nuns, or monks, it means that the people involved are eating filth, namely, the defilements of “I” and “mine.” This should never happen; it should be given up. Don’t prick your ears and point your tails. Don’t puff yourself with ego and create these conflicts of pride. That’s letting things go too far. Rather, our duty is try to pacify these things and cool them down.
How silly it is that the older a person gets, the more full of ego he or she becomes. I beg your pardon for speaking so frankly, but some facts can’t be ignored. Why do people become more egoistic with age? Because the older they get, the more accustomed they are to attachment; “I” and “mine” accumulate and pile up inside us as we age. Further, people have sons and daughters, so they puff themselves up with ego and determine to lord it over their children, “My son! How could he do that without my permission!” When they have grandchildren, they become even more puffed up and superior. Thus, elderly people are more obsessed with “I” and “mine” than children are.
If we look back at childhood, we will find that children have very little ego. Immediately after birth, it’s very hard to find much ego in them, while the child in the womb has hardly any traces of “I” or “mine” at all. However, as we grow into adulthood and become fathers and mothers, and later grandfathers and grandmothers, “I” and “mine” develop in a multitude of forms and personalities. These become deeply rooted in our minds and stick there with such tenacity that they are very difficult to remove. Therefore, old folks should be very careful and alert. They should try to return to being like children again. To be like children is a kind of Dhamma practice which leads to non-attachment and void-ness. Otherwise, the older they get, the further away from the Buddha and from Nibbána they will end up.
In truth, as we grow older we should grow closer to the Buddha. In other words, the more we age the younger we should be. The older we get, the more youthful we should become. As we get older we should become more light-hearted, cheerful, bright, and fresh. We shouldn’t end up dry and lifeless, so that we gradually wither away. Everybody should become increasingly fresh, bright, and light-hearted as they grow older. As we age, we should get closer to the Buddha, the Dhamma, and the Sangha, which means we understand Dhamma more and more. The more successful we are in making the inner flames recede, the cooler we become. As we get cooler, we feel increasingly more refreshed and hearty, we took brighter and more lively. When we have cooled down absolutely, we will absolutely sparkle with brightness and cheer. Therefore, the more ancient we get, the more youthful we should become, and the more cheerful and fresh we should look and feel.
The lively physical activity and fresh complexions of young people is one kind of youth, while the youthfulness of Dhamma language – of the mind, heart, and spirit – refers to a spiritual brightness, vigor, and serenity that comes with having more Dhamma. This is the youthfulness of heat subsiding so that coolness can enter and envelop us. Consequently, we feel increasingly refreshed, vibrant, and cheerful. So let all elderly people become fresh and full of life. May we all become more youthful until our age disappears. Just let youthfulness grow inside us and that problem of bickering and quarrelling will no longer exist.
Worse than that quarrelling is the habit of “extolling oneself while putting down others.” Vicious back-biting and name-calling has no place among Buddhists and anyone who does such things has ceased to be a Buddhist, except, perhaps, in name. Being a Buddhist in name alone doesn’t mean anything and can’t be depended upon. Just declaring oneself to be “Buddhist” because its written on one’s birth certificate or because one signed up at certain temples doesn’t accomplish much good because they aren’t sincere. We must be genuine Buddhists in the true sense of the word, which means to weaken and reduce “I” and “mine” in order to be cool and thereby be closer to Nibbána. So we needn’t discuss atrocities like disparaging and oppressing others, or extolling oneself while putting down others. These things should never happen.
What to do about those who still engage in such behavior? I don’t know what class to put them in: First grade? Kindergarten? Nursery school? These are still too high; there should be some lower class or grade for people who behave in such gross ways. In Buddhism, genuine lay followers never do such things. Even those who are at the kindergarten level and have not yet reached into the first grade of primary school know better than to do such things. They know that such behavior is hot and has nothing to do with Dhamma or Buddhism.
Progressing through the upper grades, through the junior and senior classes, there is less egoism until, finally, there is no more “I” and “mine.” On the highest level, there’s no self, everything is void of self. There’s no “I,” no “you,” no “we,” no “they,” which means there’s no Buddhism, no Christianity, no Islam, and no religion. How can different religions exist when there’s no “we,” no “they,” no “anybody, ” when there is nothing but Dhamma? There is only pure nature itself (suddhidhamma pavattanti), nature is all that exists – with either active aspects or still aspects, depending on whether something is conditioned and transient or unconditioned and absolute. Those who are in the upper grades already understand this. Those who are in kindergarten and primary school should also know about this so that they can prepare themselves to reach its level.
So don’t get caught up in envy and jealousy, in insults and praises, in harassing and interfering with others, in arguing and fighting, in extolling oneself while putting down others. Such behavior is worthless. It’s for those who don’t know how to learn on even the lowest level. It’s too low to have a place in the network of Buddhists.
All of us begin at a point where we’re full of clinging, then steadily reduce the clinging until we don’t cling to anything, anymore, until we reach the point where everything is void-ness: void of “I” and void of “mine. ” Understand that in essence everything has been void from the start. Whether physical or mental, look deeply into it’s essential nature and it will turn out to be void. There is no clinging there anymore.
Whatever clinging there was has just now happened. Originally, there was no attachment, just as all water originally is pure and clean. It’s pure as it forms in the clouds, but picks up fine particles of dust as it falls through the sky. Once it falls on roofs and collects in water jars, it becomes further contaminated. Even more contaminated is the water in wells, streams, ponds, and swamps. Worse is the putrid water found in ditches, sewers, and toilets. As we examine the external changes, we should recognize that the dirty elements aren’t the water and aren’t essential.
So look deeply into this very body and mind when they’re in their natural state, when they aren’t polluted by any defiled objects. The pure, natural, uncontaminated body-mind is the object of knowledge and study. Examine the “I,” the ego, knowing this, knowing that, this is good, that is good; see that they’re just dirty stuff. They mix with the mind, contaminate it, and muck it up. Naturally, in themselves, our bodies and minds aren’t dirty, but owing to stupidity and carelessness the newly spawned defilements invade. It’s these impure guests which enter the mind and contaminate it. Why then do we take these late-coming impurities to be “I,” “me,” or “my own true self”? They’re just new arrivals, there’s nothing genuine about them. They’re just dirt, isn’t it silly to take dirt as one’s self? One ends up with a dirty self, a dirty ego – no doubt about it.
The mind which is knowledgeable and wise, which is awakened (Buddha), doesn’t take anything to be self. It doesn’t take dirty things as its “self.” It doesn’t take defilements to be “self.” If it must have a self, the void-ness which is free of defilements must be the self. The void-ness of defilements doesn’t attach or cling to anything. Even though the mouth says “I am” or “I have,” the mind inside doesn’t feel any attachment. “Mouth is one and mind another” at all times. I hope that you will all practice in this way.
All I have said today is merely a chat among friends. If this were a public lecture or formal sermon, we couldn’t say these things in this way. It might create a big disturbance. However, this has been just an informal talk within our small circle of friends, among those who should be able to understand. I only mentioned these things because I thought the people here are capable of understanding. Indeed, I hope that everyone has listened carefully, has been able to follow, and will think over the issues seriously. Those who see the truth of and agree with these principles should try to live accordingly. Before long we will progress to a higher level on the path to void-ness and freedom from suffering. Then, we can do work of all kinds with a void mind and we can give all of the fruits to void-ness. We will be able to eat the food of void-ness. And so, we will be able to die completely from the very beginning. That’s the end. That’s the end of being a Buddhist; it’s the end of all religions.
In people language they say, “Don’t waste the opportunity of having been born human and of having encountered Buddha-Dhamma.” If we speak in Dhamma language, however, we would have to say, “It’s the end of everything. There is nothing left to be a problem ever again.” Such a life can be called “eternal life,” for there is no more birth, aging, illness, or death.
Are you ready to die before dying?
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with an impure mind
And trouble will follow you
As the wheel follows the ox that draws the cart.
We are what we think.
All that we are arises with our thoughts.
With our thoughts we make the world.
Speak or act with a pure mind
And happiness will follow you
As your shadow, unshakable.
“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Live with such thoughts and you live in hate.
“Look how he abused me and beat me,
How he threw me down and robbed me.”
Abandon such thoughts and live in love.
In this world
Hate never yet dispelled hate.
Only love dispels hate.
This is the law,
Ancient and inexhaustible.
You too shall pass away.
Knowing this, how can you quarrel?
How easily the wind overturns a frail tree
Seek happiness in the senses,
Indulge in food and sleep,
And you too will be uprooted.
The wind cannot overturn a mountain.
Temptation cannot touch the man
Who is awake, strong and humble,
Who masters himself and minds the law.
If a man’s thoughts are muddy,
If he is reckless and full of deceit,
How can he wear the yellow robe?
Whoever is master of his own nature,
Bright, clear and true,
He may indeed wear the yellow robe.
Mistaking the false for the true
And the true for the false,
You overlook the heart
And fill yourself with desire.
See the false as false,
The true as true
Look into your heart.
Follow your nature.
An unreflecting mind is a poor roof.
Passion, like the rain, floods the house.
But if the roof is strong, there is shelter.
Whoever follows impure thoughts
Suffers in this world and the next.
In both worlds he suffers
And how greatly
When he sees the wrong he has done.
But whoever follows the law
Is joyful here and joyful there.
In both worlds he rejoices
And how greatly
When he sees the good he has done.
For great is the harvest in this world
And greater still in the next.
However many holy words you read,
And however many you speak,
What good will they do you
If you do not act upon them?
Are you a shepherd
Who counts another man’s sheep,
Never sharing the way?
Read as few words as you like
And speak fewer
But act upon the law.
Give up the old ways –
Passion, enmity, folly.
Know the truth and find peace.
Share the way.
Wakefulness is the way to life.
The fool sleeps
As if he were already dead,
But the master is awake
And he lives forever.
He is clear.
How happy he is!
For he sees that wakefulness is life.
How happy he is,
Following the path of the awakened.
With great perseverance
He meditates, seeking
Freedom and happiness.
So awake, reflect, watch.
Work with care and attention.
Live in the way, and the light will grow in you.
The fool is careless.
But the master guards his watching.
It is his most precious treasure.
He never gives in to desire.
And in the strength of his resolve
He discovers true happiness.
He overcomes desire –
And from the tower of wisdom
He looks down with dispassion
Upon the sorrowing crowd.
From the mountaintop
He looks down on those
Who live close to the ground.
Mindful among the mindless,
Awake while others dream,
Swift as the race horse
He outstrips the field.
Indra became king of the gods.
How wonderful it is to watch,
How foolish to sleep.
The beggar who guards his mind
And fears the waywardness of his thoughts
Burns through every bond
With the fire of his vigilance.
The beggar who guards his mind
And fears his own confusion
He has found the way to peace.
As the fletcher whittles
And makes straight his arrows,
So the master directs
His straying thoughts.
Like a fish out of water,
Stranded on the shore,
Thoughts thrash and quiver.
For how can they shake off desire?
They tremble, they are unsteady,
They wander at their will.
It is good to control them,
And to master them brings happiness.
But how subtle they are,
The task is to quiet them,
And by ruling them to find happiness.
The master quells his thoughts,
He ends their wandering.
Seated in the cave of the heart,
He finds freedom.
How can a troubled mind
Understand the way?
If a man is disturbed
He will never be filled with knowledge.
An untroubled mind,
No longer seeking to consider
What is right and what is wrong,
A mind beyond judgements,
Watches and understands.
Know that the body is a fragile jar,
And make a castle of your mind.
In every trial
Let understanding fight for you
To defend what you have won.
For soon the body is discarded.
Then what does it feel?
A useless log of wood, it lies on the ground.
Then what does it know?
Your worst enemy cannot harm you
As much as your own thoughts, unguarded.
But once mastered,
No one can help you as much,
Not even your father or your mother.
Who shall conquer this world
And the world of death with all its gods?
Who shall discover
The shining way of the law?
You shall, even as the man
Who seeks flowers
Finds the most beautiful,
Understand that the body
Is merely the foam of a wave,
The shadow of a shadow,
Snap the flower arrows of desire
And then, unseen,
Escape the king of death.
And travel on.
Death overtakes the man
Who gathers flowers
When with distracted mind and thirsty senses
He searches vainly for happiness
In the pleasures of the world.
Death fetches him away
As a flood carries off a sleeping village.
Death overcomes him
When with distracted mind and thirsty senses
He gathers flowers.
He will never have his fill
Of the pleasures of the world.
The bee gathers nectar from the flower
Without marring its beauty or perfume.
So let the master settle, and wander.
Look to your own faults,
What you have done or left undone.
Overlook the faults of others.
Like a lovely flower,
Bright but scentless,
Are the fine but empty words
Of a man who does not mean what he says.
Like a lovely flower,
Bright and fragrant,
Are the fine and truthful words
Of the man who means what he says.
Like garlands woven from a heap of flowers
Fashion from your life as many good deeds.
The perfume of sandalwood
Rosebay or jasmine
Cannot travel against the wind.
But the fragrance of virtue
Travels even against the wind,
As far as the ends of the world.
How much finer
Is the fragrance of virtue
Than of sandalwood, rosebay,
Of the blue lotus or jasmine!
The fragrance of sandalwood and rosebay
Does not travel far.
But the fragrance of virtue
Rises to the heavens.
Desire never crosses the path
Of virtuous and wakeful men.
Their brightness sets them free.
How sweetly the lotus grows
In the litter of the wayside.
Its pure fragrance delights the heart.
Follow the awakened
And from among the blind
The light of your wisdom
Will shine out, purely
How long the night to the watchman,
How long the road to the weary traveler,
How long the wandering of many lives
To the fool who misses the way.
If the traveler cannot find
Master or friend to go with him
Let him travel on alone
Rather than with a fool for company.
“My children, my wealth!”
So the fool troubles himself.
But how has he children or wealth?
He is not even his own master.
The fool who knows he is a fool
Is that much wiser.
The fool who thinks he is wise
Is a fool indeed.
Does the spoon taste the soup?
A fool may live all his life
In the company of a master
And still miss the way.
The tongue tastes the soup.
If you are awake in the presence of a master
One moment will show you the way.
The fool is his own enemy.
The mischief he does is his undoing.
How bitterly he suffers!
For months the fool may fast,
Eating from the tip of a grass blade.
Still he is not worth a penny
Beside the master whose food is the way.
Fresh milk takes time to sour.
So a fool’s mischief
Takes time to catch up with him.
Like the embers of a fire
It smolders within him.
Whatever a fool learns,
It only makes him duller.
Knowledge cleaves his head.
For then he wants recognition,
A place before other people,
A place over other people.
“Let them know my work,
Let everyone look to me for direction.”
Such are his desires,
Such is his swelling pride.
One way leads to wealth and fame,
The other leads to the end of the way.
Look not for recognition
But follow the awakened
And set yourself free.
THE WISE MAN
The wise man tells you
Where you have fallen
And where you yet may fall –
Follow him, follow the way.
Let him chasten and teach you
And keep you from mischief.
The world may hate him.
But good men love him.
Do not look for bad company
Or live with men who do not care.
Find friends who love the truth.
Live in serenity and joy.
The wise man delights in the truth
And follows the law of the awakened.
The farmer channels water to his land.
The fletcher whittles his arrows.
And the carpenter turns his wood.
So the wise man directs his mind.
The wind cannot shake a mountain.
Neither praise nor blame moves the wise man.
He is clarity.
Hearing the truth,
He is like a lake,
Pure and tranquil and deep.
Where there is desire,
Happiness or sorrow –
Whatever befalls you,
Do not ask for family or power or wealth,
Either for yourself or for another.
Can a wise man wish to rise unjustly?
Few cross over the river.
Most are stranded on this side.
On the riverbank they run up and down.
But the wise man, following the way,
Crosses over, beyond the reach of death.
He leaves the dark way
For the way of light.
He leaves his home, seeking
Happiness on the hard road.
Free from desire,
Free from possessions,
Free from the dark places of the heart.
Free from attachment and appetite,
Following the seven lights of awakening,
And rejoicing greatly in his freedom,
In this world the wise man
Becomes himself a light,
Pure, shining, free.
At the end of the way
The master finds freedom
From desire and sorrow –
Freedom without bounds.
Those who awaken
Never rest in one place.
Like swans, they rise
And leave the lake.
On the air they rise
And fly an invisible course,
Gathering nothing, storing nothing.
Their food is knowledge.
They live upon emptiness.
They have seen how to break free.
Who can follow them?
Only the master,
Such is his purity.
Like a bird,
He rises on the limitless air
And flies an invisible course.
He wishes for nothing.
His food is knowledge.
He lives upon emptiness.
He has broken free.
He is the charioteer.
He has tamed his horses,
Pride and the senses.
Even the gods admire him.
Yielding like the earth,
Joyous and clear like the lake,
Still as the stone at the door,
He is free from life and death..
His thoughts are still.
His words are still.
His work is stillness.
He sees his freedom and is free.
The master surrenders his beliefs.
He sees beyond the end and the beginning.
He cuts all ties.
He gives up all his desires.
He resists all temptations.
And he rises.
And wherever he lives,
In the city or the country,
In the valley or in the hills,
There is great joy.
Even in the empty forest
He finds joy
Because he wants nothing.
Better than a thousand words
Is one word that brings peace.
Better than a thousand hollow verses
Is one verse that brings peace.
Better than a hundred hollow lines
Is one line of the law, bringing peace.
It is better to conquer yourself
Than to win a thousand battles.
Then the victory is yours.
It cannot be taken from you,
Not by angels or by demons,
Heaven or hell.
Better than a hundred years of worship,
Better than a thousand offerings,
Better than giving up a thousand worldly ways
In order to win merit,
Better even than tending in the forest
A sacred flame for a hundred years –
Is one moment’s reverence
For the man who has conquered himself.
To revere such a man,
A master old in virtue and in holiness,
Is to have victory over life itself,
And beauty, strength and happiness.
Better than a hundred years of mischief
Is one day spent in contemplation.
Better than a hundred years of idleness
Is one day spent in determination.
Better to live one day
How all things arise and pass away.
Better to live one hour
The one life beyond the way.
Better to live one moment
In the moment
Of the way beyond the way.
Be quick to do good.
If you are slow,
The mind, delighting in mischief,
Will catch you.
Turn away from mischief.
Again and again, turn away,
Before sorrow befalls you.
Set your heart on doing good.
Do it over and over again,
And you will be filled with joy.
A fool is happy
Until his mischief turns against him.
And a good man may suffer
Until his goodness flowers.
Do not make light of your failings,
Saying, “What are they to me?”
A jug fills drop by drop.
So the fool becomes brimful of folly.
Do not belittle your virtues,
Saying, “They are nothing.”
A jug fills drop by drop.
So the wise man becomes brimful of virtue.
As the rich man with few servants
Shuns a dangerous road
And the man who loves life shuns poison,
Beware the dangers of folly and mischief.
For an unwounded hand may handle poison.
The innocent come to no harm.
But as dust thrown against the wind,
Mischief is blown back in the face
Of the fool who wrongs the pure and harmless.
Some are reborn in hell,
Some in this world,
The good in heaven.
But the pure are not reborn.
Not in the sky,
Nor in the midst of the sea,
Nor deep in the mountains,
Can you hide from your own mischief.
Not in the sky,
Nor in the midst of the ocean,
Nor deep in the mountains,
Can you hide from your own death.
All beings tremble before violence.
All fear death.
All love life.
See yourself in others.
Then whom can you hurt?
What harm can you do?
He who seeks happiness
By hurting those who seek happiness
Will never find happiness.
For your brother is like you.
He wants to be happy.
Never harm him
And when you leave this life
You too will find happiness.
Never speak harsh words
For they will rebound upon you.
Angry words hurt
And the hurt rebounds.
Like a broken gong
Be still, be silent.
Know the stillness of freedom
Where there is no more striving.
Like herdsmen driving their cows into the fields,
Old age and death will drive you before them.
But the fool in his mischief forgets
And he lights the fire
Wherein one day he must burn.
He who harms the harmless
Or hurts the innocent,
Ten times shall he fall –
Into torment or infirmity,
Injury or disease or madness,
Persecution or fearful accusation,
Loss of family, loss of fortune.
Fire from heaven shall strike his house
And when his body has been struck down
He shall rise in hell.
He who goes naked,
With matted hair, mud-bespattered,
Who fasts and sleeps on the ground
And smears his body with ashes
And sits in endless meditation –
So long as he is not free from doubts,
He will not find freedom.
But he who lives purely and self-assured,
In quietness and virtue,
Who is without harm or hurt or blame,
Even if he wears fine clothes,
So long as he also has faith,
He is a true seeker.
A noble horse rarely
Feels the touch of the whip.
Who is there in the world as blameless?
Then like a noble horse
Smart under the whip
Burn and be swift.
Believe, meditate, see.
Be harmless, be blameless.
Awake to the law.
And from all sorrows free yourself.
The farmer channels water to his land.
The fletcher whittles his arrows.
The carpenter turns his wood.
And the wise man masters himself.
The world is on fire!
And are you laughing?
You are deep in the dark.
Will you not ask for light?
For behold your body –
A painted puppet, a toy,
Jointed and sick and full of false imaginings,
A shadow that shifts and fades.
How frail it is!
Frail and pestilent,
It sickens, festers and dies.
Like every living thing
In the end it sickens and dies.
Behold these whitened bones,
The hollow shells and husks of a dying summer.
And are you laughing?
You are a house of bones,
Flesh and blood for plaster.
Pride lives in you,
And hypocrisy, decay and death.
The glorious chariots of kings shatter.
So also the body turns to dust.
But the spirit of purity is changeless
And so the pure instruct the pure.
The ignorant man is an ox.
He grows in size, not in wisdom.
“Vainly I sought the builder of my house
Through countless lives,
I could not find him . . .
How hard it is to tread life after life!
“But now I see you, O builder!
And never again shall you build my house.
I have snapped the rafters,
Split the ridgepole
And beaten out desire.
And now my mind is free.”
There are no fish in the lake.
The long-legged cranes stand in the water.
Sad is the man who in his youth
Lived loosely and squandered his fortune –
Sad as a broken bow,
And sadly is he sighing
After all that has arisen and is passing away.
Love yourself and watch –
Today, tomorrow, always.
First establish yourself in the way,
And so defeat sorrow.
To straighten the crooked
You must first be a harder thing –
You are the only master.
And discover your master.
Willfully you have fed
Your own mischief.
Soon it will crush you.
By your own folly
You will be brought as low
As your worst enemy wishes.
So the creeper chokes the tree.
How hard it is to serve yourself,
How easy to lose yourself
In mischief and folly.
The kashta reed dies when it bears fruit.
So the fool,
Scorning the teachings of the awakened,
Spurning those who follow the law,
Perishes when his folly flowers.
Mischief is yours.
Sorrow is yours.
But virtue is also yours,
You are the source
Of all purity and impurity.
No one purifies another.
Never neglect your work
However great his need.
Your work is to discover your work
And then with all your heart
To give yourself to it.
Do not live in the world,
In distraction and false dreams,
Outside the law.
Arise and watch.
Follow the way joyfully
Through this world and beyond.
Follow the way of virtue.
Follow the way joyfully
Through this world and on beyond!
For consider the world –
A bubble, a mirage.
See the world as it is,
And death shall overlook you.
Come, consider the world,
A painted chariot for kings,
A trap for fools.
But he who sees goes free.
As the moon slips from behind a cloud
So the master comes out from behind his ignorance
This world is in darkness.
How few have eyes to see!
How few the birds
Who escape the net and fly to heaven!
Swans rise and fly toward the sun.
So do the pure conquer the armies of illusion
And rise and fly.
If you scoff at heaven
And violate the law,
If your words are lies
Where will your mischief end?
The fool laughs at generosity.
The miser cannot enter heaven.
But the master finds joy in giving
And happiness is his reward.
And more –
For greater than all the joys
Of heaven and earth,
Greater still than dominion
Over all the worlds,
Is the joy of reaching the stream.
THE MAN WHO IS AWAKE
He is awake.
The victory is his.
He has conquered the world.
How can he lose the way
Who is beyond the way?
His eye is open.
His foot is free.
Who can follow after him?
The world cannot reclaim him
Or lead him astray,
Nor can the poisoned net of desire hold him.
He is awake!
The gods watch over him.
He is awake
And finds joy in the stillness of meditation
And in the sweetness of surrender.
Hard it is to be born,
Hard it is to live,
Harder still to hear of the way,
And hard to rise, follow and awake.
Yet the teaching is simple.
Do what is right.
At the end of the way is freedom.
Till then, patience.
If you wound or grieve another,
You have not learned detachment.
Offend in neither word nor deed.
Eat with moderation.
Live in your heart.
Seek the highest consciousness.
Master yourself according to the law.
That is the simple teaching of the awakened.
The rain could turn to gold
And still your thirst would not be slaked.
Desire is unquenchable
Or it ends in tears, even in heaven.
He who wishes to awake
Consumes his desires
In his fear a man may shelter
In mountains or in forests,
But how can he hide there from his sorrow?
He who shelters in the way
And travels with those who follow it
Comes to see the four great truths.
The beginning of sorrow,
The eightfold way,
And the end of sorrow.
Then at last he is safe.
He has shaken off sorrow.
He is free.
The awakened are few and hard to find.
Happy is the house where a man awakes.
Blessed is his birth.
Blessed is the teaching of the way.
Blessed is the understanding of those who follow it,
And blessed is their determination.
And blessed are they who revere
The man who awakes and follows the way.
They are free from fear.
They are free.
They have crossed over the river of sorrow.
Live in joy.
Even among those who hate.
Live in joy,
Even among the afflicted.
Live in joy,
Even among the troubled.
Live in joy,
Like the shining ones.
The winner sows hatred
Because the loser suffers.
Let go of winning and losing
And find joy.
There is no fire like passion,
No crime like hatred,
No sorrow like separation,
No sickness like hunger,
And no joy like the joy of freedom.
Health, contentment and trust
Are your greatest possessions,
And freedom your greatest joy.
Free from fear and attachment
Know the sweet joy of the way.
How joyful to look upon the awakened
And to keep company with the wise.
How long the road to the man
Who travels with a fool.
But whoever follows those who follow the way
Discovers his family and is filled with joy.
Follow then the shining ones
The wise, the awakened, the loving,
For they know how to work and forbear.
As the moon follows the path of the stars.
Do not let pleasure distract you
From meditation, from the way.
Free yourself from pleasure and pain.
For in craving pleasure or in nursing pain
There is only sorrow.
Like nothing lest you lose it,
Lest it bring you grief and fear.
Go beyond likes and dislikes.
From passion and desire,
Sensuousness and lust,
Arise grief and fear.
Free yourself from attachment.
He is pure, and sees.
He speaks the truth, and lives it.
He does his own work.
So he is admired and loved.
With a determined mind and undesiring heart
He longs for freedom.
He is called uddhamsoto –
“He who goes upstream.”
When a traveler at last comes home
From a far journey,
With what gladness
His family and friends receive him!
Even so shall your good deeds
Welcome you like friends
And with what rejoicing
When you pass from this life to the next!
Let go of anger.
Let go of pride.
When you are bound by nothing
You go beyond sorrow.
Anger is like a chariot careening wildly.
He who curbs his anger is the true charioteer.
Others merely hold the reins.
With gentleness overcome anger.
With generosity overcome meanness.
With truth overcome deceit.
Speak the truth.
Give whatever you can.
Never be angry.
These three steps will lead you
Into the presence of the gods.
The wise harm no one.
They are masters of their bodies
And they go to the boundless country.
They go beyond sorrow.
Those who seek perfection
Keep watch by day and night
Till all desires vanish.
Listen, Atula. This is not new,
It is an old saying –
“They blame you for being silent,
They blame you when you talk too much
And when you talk too little.”
Whatever you do, they blame you.
The world always finds
A way to praise and a way to blame.
It always has and it always will.
But who dares blame the man
Whom the wise continually praise,
Whose life is virtuous and wise,
Who shines like a coin of pure gold?
Even the gods praise him.
Even Brahma praises him.
Beware of the anger of the body.
Master the body.
Let it serve truth.
Beware of the anger of the mouth.
Master your words.
Let them serve truth.
Beware of the anger of the mind.
Master your thoughts.
Let them serve truth.
The wise have mastered
Body, word and mind.
They are the true masters.
You are as the yellow leaf.
The messengers of death are at hand.
You are to travel far away.
What will you take with you?
You are the lamp
To lighten the way.
Then hurry, hurry.
When your light shines
Without impurity or desire
You will come into the boundless country.
Your life is falling away.
Death is at hand.
Where will you rest on the way?
What have you taken with you?
You are the lamp.
To lighten the way.
Then hurry, hurry.
When your light shines purely
You will not be born
And you will not die.
As a silversmith sifts dust from silver
Remove your own impurities
Little by little.
Or as iron is corroded by rust
Your own mischief will consume you.
Neglected, the sacred verses rust.
For beauty rusts without use
And unrepaired the house falls into ruin,
And the watch, without vigilance, fails.
In this world and the next
There is impurity and impurity:
When a woman lacks dignity,
When a man lacks generosity.
But the greatest impurity is ignorance.
Free yourself from it.
Life is easy
For the man who is without shame,
Impudent as a crow,
A vicious gossip,
Vain, meddlesome, dissolute.
But life is hard
For the man who quietly undertakes
The way of perfection,
With purity, detachment and vigor.
He sees light.
If you kill, lie or steal,
Commit adultery or drink,
You dig up your own roots.
And if you cannot master yourself,
The harm you do turns against you
You may give in the spirit of light
Or as you please,
But if you care how another man gives
Or how he withholds,
You trouble your quietness endlessly.
These envying roots!
And enjoy a lasting quietness.
There is no fire like passion,
There are no chains like hate.
Illusion is a net,
Desire a rushing river.
How easy it is to see your brother’s faults,
How hard to face your own.
You winnow his in the wind like chaff,
But yours you hide,
Like a cheat covering up an unlucky throw.
Dwelling on your brother’s faults
Multiplies your own.
You are far from the end of your journey.
The way is not in the sky.
The way is in the heart.
See how you love
Whatever keeps you from your journey.
But the tathagathas,
“They who have gone beyond,”
Have conquered the world.
They are free.
The way is not in the sky.
The way is in the heart.
All things arise and pass away.
But the awakened awake forever.
If you determine your course
With force or speed,
You miss the way of the law.
What is right and what is wrong.
Receiving all opinions equally,
Without haste, wisely,
Observe the law.
Who is wise,
The eloquent or the quiet man?
And loving and fearless.
For the mind talks.
But the body knows.
Gray hairs do not make a master.
A man may grow old in vain.
The true master lives in truth,
In goodness and restraint,
Nonviolence and purity.
Fine words or fine features
Cannot make a master
Out of a jealous and greedy man.
Or when jealousy and selfishness
Are rooted out of him
May he grow in beauty.
A man may shave his head
But if he still lies and neglects his work,
If he clings to desire and attachment,
How can he follow the way?
The true seeker
Subdues all waywardness.
He has submitted his nature to quietness.
He is a true seeker
Not because he begs
But because he follows the lawful way,
Holding back nothing, holding to nothing,
Beyond good and beyond evil,
Beyond the body and beyond the mind.
Silence cannot make a master out of a fool.
But he who weighs only purity in his scales,
Who sees the nature of the two worlds,
He is a master.
He harms no living thing.
And yet it is not good conduct
That helps you upon the way,
Nor ritual, nor book learning,
Nor withdrawal into the self,
Nor deep meditation.
None of these confers mastery or joy.
Rely on nothing
Until you want nothing.
The way is eightfold.
There are four truths.
All virtue lies in detachment.
The master has an open eye.
This is the only way,
The only way to the opening of the eye.
Follow it to the end of sorrow.
When I pulled out sorrow’s shaft
I showed you the way.
It is you who must make the effort.
The masters only point the way.
But if you meditate
And follow the law
You will free yourself from desire.
“Everything arises and passes away.”
When you see this, you are above sorrow.
This is the shining way.
“Existence is sorrow.”
Understand, and go beyond sorrow.
This is the way of brightness.
“Existence is illusion.”
Understand, go beyond.
This is the way of clarity.
You are strong, you are young.
It is time to arise.
Lest through irresolution and idleness
You lose the way.
Master your words.
Master your thoughts.
Never allow your body to do harm.
Follow these three roads with purity
And you will find yourself upon the one way,
The way of wisdom.
Sit in the world, sit in the dark.
Sit in meditation, sit in light.
Choose your seat.
Let wisdom grow.
Cut down the forest
Not the tree.
For out of the forest comes danger.
Cut down the forest.
And set yourself free.
While a man desires a woman,
His mind is bound
As closely as a calf to its mother.
As you would pluck an autumn lily,
Pluck the arrow of desire.
For he who is awake
Has shown you the way of peace.
Give yourself to the journey.
“Here shall I make my dwelling,
In the summer and the winter,
And in the rainy season.”
So the fool makes his plans,
Sparing not a thought for his death.
Death overtakes the man
Who, giddy and distracted by the world,
Cares only for his flocks and his children.
Death fetches him away
As a flood carries off a sleeping village.
His family cannot save him,
Nor his father nor his sons.
Seek wisdom, and purity.
Quickly clear the way.
OUT OF THE FOREST
There is pleasure
And there is bliss.
Forgo the first to pursue the second.
If you are happy
At the expense of another man’s happiness,
You are forever bound.
You do not what you should.
You do what you should not.
You are reckless, and desire grows.
But the master is wakeful.
He watches his body.
In all his actions he discriminates,
And he becomes pure.
He is without blame
Though once he may have murdered
His mother and his father,
Two kings, a kingdom, and all its subjects.
Though the kings were holy
And their subjects among the virtuous,
Yet is he blameless.
The followers of the awakened
And day and night they watch
And meditate upon their master.
They mind the law.
The know their brothers on the way.
They understand the mystery of the body.
They find joy in all beings.
They delight in meditation.
It is hard to live in the world
And hard to live out of it.
It is hard to be one among many.
And for the wanderer, how long is the road
Wandering though many lives!
Let him rest.
Let him not suffer.
Let him fall not into sufffering.
If he is a good man,
A man of faith, honored and prosperous,
Wherever he goes he is welcome.
Like the Himalayas
Good men shine from afar.
But bad men move unseen
Like arrows in the night.
Alone with yourself,
On the edge of the forest
From: The Buddha – Dhammapada
rendered by Thomas Byrom
Shambhala Press, 1976