The Two Faces of Reality
Venerable Ajahn Chah (Pra Bodhinyana Thera)
delivered to the Assembly of Monks after the recitation of the Patimokkha,
Monk's Disciplinary Code, at Wat Pah Pong during the Rains Retreat 1976)
In our lives
we have two possibilities: indulging in the world or going
beyond the world.
The Buddha was someone who was able to free Himself from the world and thus realized
In the same
way, there are two types of knowledge--knowledge of the worldly realm and
knowledge of the spiritual, or true wisdom. If we have not yet practised and trained
ourselves, no matter how much knowledge we have, it is still worldly, and thus cannot
really look closely! The Buddha said that things of the world
spin the world
around. Following the world, the mind is entangled in the world, it defiles itself whether
coming or going, never remaining content. Worldly people are those who are always
looking for something--who can never find enough. Worldly knowledge is really
ignorance; it isn't knowledge with clear understanding, therefore there is never an end to
it. It revolves around the worldly goals of accumulating things, gaining status, seeking
praise and pleasure; it's a mass of delusion which has us stuck fast.
get something, there is jealousy, worry and selfishness. And
when we feel
threatened and can't ward it off physically, we use our minds to invent all sorts of devices,
right up to weapons and even nuclear bombs, only to blow each other up. Why all this
trouble and difficulty?
the way of the world. The Buddha said that if one follows it
around there is no
reaching an end.
practise for liberation! It isn't easy to live in accordance
with true wisdom, but
whoever earnestly seeks the Path and Fruit and aspires to Nibbana will be able to
persevere and endure. Endure being contented and satisfied with little; eating little,
sleeping little, speaking little and living in moderation. By doing this we can put an end to
If the seed
of worldliness has not yet been uprooted, then we are continually troubled
confused in a never-ending cycle. Even when you come to ordain, it continues to pull
you away. It creates your views, your opinions, it colours and embellishes all your
thoughts--that's the way it is.
realize! They say that they will get things done in the world.
It's always their
hope to complete everything. Just like a new government minister who is eager to get
started with his new administration. He thinks that he has all the answers, so he carts
away everything of the old administration saying, "Look out! I'll do it all myself. " That's
all they do, cart things in and cart things out, never getting anything done. They try, but
never reach any real completion.
never do something which will please everyone--one person likes a little,
likes a lot; one like short and one likes long; some like salty and some like spicy. To get
everyone together and in agreement just cannot be done.
All of us
want to accomplish something in our lives, but the world, with all of its
complexities, makes it almost impossible to bring about any real completion. Even the
Buddha, born with all the opportunities of a noble prince, found no completion in the
The Trap of the Senses
talked about desire and the six things by which desire is gratified:
sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mind-objects. Desire and lust for happiness, for
suffering, for good, for evil and so on, pervade everything!
. . there isn't any sight that's quite the same
as that of a woman. Isn't that so?
Doesn't a really attractive woman make you want to look? One with a really attractive
figure comes walking along, 'sak, sek, sak, sek, sak, sek,'--you can't help but stare! How
about sounds? There's no sound that grips you more than that of a woman. It pierces
your heart! Smell is the same; a woman's fragrance is the most alluring of all. There's no
other smell that's quite the same. Taste--even the taste of the most delicious food cannot
compare with that of a woman. Touch is similar; when you caress a woman you are
stunned, intoxicated and sent pinning all around.
once a famous master of magical spells from Taxila in ancient India.
his disciple all his knowledge of charms and incantations. When the disciple was
well-versed and ready to fare on his own, he left with this final instruction from his teacher,
"I have taught you all that I know of spells, incantations and protective verses. Creatures
with sharp teeth, antlers or horns, and even big tusks, you have no need to fear. You will
be guarded from all of these, I can guarantee that. However, there is only one thing that I
cannot ensure protection against, and that is the charms of a woman. *
( * Lit. creatures with soft horns on their chest)
I can not
help you here. There's no spell for protection against this
one, you'll have to
look after yourself. "
arise in the mind. They are born out of desire:
desire for valuable
possessions, desire to be rich, and just restless seeking after things in general. This type
of greed isn't all that deep or strong, it isn't enough to make you faint or lose control.
However, when sexual desire arises, you're thrown off balance and lose your control.
You would even forget those raised and brought you up--your own parents!
The Buddha taught that the objects of our senses are a trap--a trap of Mara's. *
( * Mara:
the Buddhist 'Tempter' figure. He is either regarded as the
deity ruling of the
highest heaven of the Sensuous Sphere or as the personification of evil and passions, of the
totality of worldly existence and of death. He is the opponent of liberation and tried in vain
to obstruct the Buddha's attainment of Enlightenment.)
be understood as something which harms us. The trap is something
binds us, the same as a snare. It's a trap of Mara's, a hunter's snare, and the hunter is
are caught in the hunter's trap, it's a sorrowful predicament.
They are caught
fast and held waiting for the owner of the trap. Have you ever snared birds? The snare
springs and 'boop'--caught by the neck! A good strong string now holds it fast.
Wherever the bird flies, it cannot escape. It flies here and flies there, but it's held tight
waiting for the owner of the snare. When the hunter comes along, that's it--the bird is
struck with fear, there's no escape!
of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mind-objects is the same.
catch us and bind us fast. If you attach to the senses, you're the same as a fish caught on
a hook. When the fisherman comes, struggle all you want, but you can't get loose.
Actually, you're not caught like a fish, it's more like a frog--a frog gulps down the whole
hook right to its guts, a fish just gets caught in its mouth.
to the senses is the same. Like a drunk whose liver is not
destroyed--he doesn't know when he has had enough. He continues to indulge and drink
carelessly. He's caught and later suffers illness and pain.
A man comes
walking along a road. He is very thirsty from his journey and
is craving for
a drink of water. The owner of the water says, "you can drink this water if you like; the
colour is good, the smell is good, the taste is good, but if you drink it you will become ill. I
must tell you this beforehand, it'll make you sick enough to die or nearly die. " The thirsty
man does not listen. He's as thirsty as a person after an operation who has been denied
water for seven days--he's crying for water!
same with a person thirsting after the senses. The Buddha taught
that they are
poisonous--sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mind-objects are poison; they are a
dangerous trap. But this man is thirsty and doesn't listen; because of his thirst he is in
tears, crying, "Give me water, no matter how painful the consequences, let me drink!" So
he dips out a bit and swallows it down finding it very tasty. He drinks his fill and gets so
sick that he almost dies. He didn't listen because of his overpowering desire.
how it is for a person caught in the pleasures of the senses.
He drinks in sights,
sounds, smells, tastes, touch and mind-objects--they are all very delicious! So he drinks
without stopping and there he remains, stuck fast until the day he dies.
The Worldly Way and Liberation
die, some people almost die--that's how it is to be stuck in the way of
world. Worldly wisdom seeks after the senses and their objects. However wise it is, it's
only wise in a worldly sense. No matter how appealing it is, it's only appealing in a
worldly sense. However much happiness it is, it's only happiness in a worldly sense. It
isn't the happiness of liberation; it won't free you from the world.
come to practise as monks in order to penetrate true wisdom, to rid ourselves
attachment. Practise to be free of attachment! Investigate the body, investigate
everything around you until you become weary and fed up with it all and then dispassion
will set in. Dispassion will not arise easily however, because you still don't see clearly.
and ordain--we study, we read, we practise, we meditate. We
determine to make
our minds resolute but it's hard to do. We resolve to do a certain practice, we say that
we'll practise in this way--only a day or two goes by, maybe just a few hours pass and we
forget all about it. Then we remember and try to make our minds firm again, thinking,
"This time I'll do it right!" Shortly after that we are pulled away by one of our senses and it
all falls apart again, so we have to start all over again! This is how it is.
Like a poorly
built dam, our practise is weak. We are still unable to see
and follow true
practice. And it goes on like this until we arrive at true wisdom. Once we penetrate to the
Truth, we are freed from everything. Only peace remains.
aren't peaceful because of our old habits. We inherit these
because of our
past actions and thus they follow us around and constantly plague us. We struggle and
search for a way out, but we're bound by them and they pull us back. These habits don't
forget their old grounds. They grab onto all the old familiar things to use, to admire and to
consume--that's how we live.
of man and woman--woman cause problems for men, men cause problems for
women. That's the way it is, they are opposites. If men live together with men, then
there's no trouble. If women live together with women, then there's no trouble. When a
man sees a woman his heart pounds like a rice pounder, 'deung, dung, deung, dung,
deung, dung'. What is this? What are those forces? It pulls and sucks you in--no one
realizes that there's a price to pay!
same in everything. No matter how hard you try to free yourself,
until you see the
value of freedom and the pain in bondage, you won't be able to let go. People usually just
practise enduring hardships, keeping the discipline, following the form blindly and not in
order to attain freedom or liberation. You must see the value in letting go of your desires
before you can really practise; only then is true practice possible.
that you do must be done with clarity and awareness. When you
there will no longer be any need for enduring or forcing yourself. You have difficulties
and are burdened because you miss this point! Peace comes from doing things
completely with your whole body and mind. Whatever is left undone leaves you with a
feeling of discontent. These things bind you with worry wherever you go. You want to
complete everything, but it's impossible to get it all done.
case of the merchants who regularly come here to see me. They
say, "Oh, when
my debts are all paid and property in order, I'll come to ordain. " They talk like that but will
they ever finish and get it all in order? There's no end to it. They pay up their debts with
another loan, they pay off that one and do it all again. A merchant thinks that if he frees
himself from debt he will be happy, but there's no end to paying things off. That's the way
worldliness fools us--we go around and around like this never realizing our predicament.
In our practice
we just look directly at the mind. Whenever our practice begins
off, we see it and make it firm--then shortly after, it goes again. That's the way it pulls you
around. But the person with good mindfulness takes a firm hold and constantly
re-establishes himself, pulling himself back, training, practising and developing himself in
with poor mindfulness just lets it all fall apart, he strays off and gets
side-tracked again and again. He's not strong and firmly rooted in practice. Thus he's
continuously pulled away by his worldly desires--something pulls him here, something
pulls him there. He lives following his whims and desires, never putting an end to this
ordain is not so easy. You must determine to make your mind
should be confident in the practice, confident enough to continue practising until you
become fed up with both your like and dislikes and see in accordance with Truth.
Usually, you are dissatisfied with only your dislike, if you like something then you aren't
ready to give it up. You have to become fed up with both your dislike and your likes, your
suffering and your happiness.
see that this is the very essence of the Dhamma! The Dhamma
of the Buddha is
profound and refined. It isn't easy to comprehend. If true wisdom has not yet arisen,
then you can't see it. You don't look forward and you don't look back. When you
experience happiness, you think that there will only be happiness. Whenever there is
suffering, you think that there will only be suffering. You don't see that wherever there is
big, there is small; wherever there is small, there is big. You don't see it that way. You
see only one side and thus it's never-ending.
two sides to everything; you must see both sides. Then, when
arises, you don't get lost; when suffering arises, you don't get lost. When happiness
arises, you don't forget the suffering, because you see that they are interdependent.
In a similar
way, food is beneficial to all beings for the maintenance of the body.
actually, food can also be harmful, for example when it causes various stomach upsets.
When you see the advantages of something, you must perceive the disadvantages also,
and vice versa. When you feel hatred and aversion, you should contemplate love and
understanding. In this way, you become more balanced and your mind becomes more
The Empty Flag
I once read
a book about Zen. In Zen, you know, they don't teach with a
explanation. For instance, if a monk is falling asleep during meditation, they come with a
stick and 'whack!' they give him a hit on the back. When the erring disciple is hit, he
shows his gratitude by thanking the attendant. In Zen practice one is taught to be
thankful for all the feelings which give one the opportunity to develop.
there was an assembly of monks gathered for a meeting. Outside
the hall a flag
was blowing in the wind. There arose a dispute between two monks as to how the flag
was actually blowing in the wind. One of the monks claimed that it was because of the
wind while the other argued that it was because of the flag. Thus they quarrelled because
of their narrow views and couldn't come to any kind of agreement. They would have
argued like this until the day they died. However, their Teacher intervened and said,
"Neither of you is right. The correct understanding is that there is no flag and there is no
the practice, not to have anything, not to have the flag and not to have
the wind. If
there is a flag, then there is a wind; if there is a wind, then there is a flag. You should
contemplate and reflect on this thoroughly until you see in accordance with Truth. If
considered well, then there will remain nothing. It's empty--void; empty of the flag and
empty of the wind. In the great Void there is no flag and there is no wind. There is no
birth, no old age, no sickness or death. Our conventional understanding of flag and wind
is only a concept. In reality there is nothing. That's all! There is nothing more than
If we practise
in this way, we will come to see completeness and all of our problems will
come to an end. In the great Void the King of Death will never find you. There is nothing
for old age, sickness and death to follow. When we see and understand in accordance
with Truth, that is, with Right Understanding, then there is only this great emptiness. It's
here that there is no more 'we', no 'they', no 'self' at all.
The Forest of the Senses
with its never-ending ways goes on and on. If we try to understand
it all, it
leads us only to chaos and confusion. However, if we contemplate the world clearly, then
true wisdom will arise. The Buddha Himself was one who was well-versed in the ways of
the world. He had great ability to influence and lead because of His abundance of worldly
knowledge. Through the transformation of his worldly mundane wisdom, He penetrated
and attained to supermundane wisdom, making Him a truly superior being.
So, if we
work with this Teaching, turning it inwards for contemplation, we will
attain to an
understanding on an entirely new level. When we see an object, there is no object. When
we hear a sound, the is no sound. In smelling, we can say that there is no smell. All of
the senses are manifest, but they are void of anything stable. They are just sensations
that arise and then pass away.
If we understand
according to this reality, then the senses cease to be substantial.
are just sensations which come and go. In Truth there isn't any 'thing'. If there isn't any
'thing', then there is no 'we' and no 'they'. If there is no 'we' as a person, then there is
nothing belonging to 'us'. It's in this way that suffering is extinguished. There isn't
anybody to acquire suffering, so who is it who suffers?
arises, we attach to the suffering and thereby must really suffer.
same way, when happiness arises, we attach to the happiness and consequently
experience pleasure. Attachment to these feelings gives rise to the concept of 'self' or
'ego' and thoughts of 'we' and 'they' continually manifest. Nah!! Here is where it all
begins and then carries us around in its never-ending cycle.
So, we come
to practise meditation and live according to the Dhamma. We
homes to come and live in the forest and absorb the peace of mind it gives us. We have
fled in order to contend with ourselves and not through fear or escapism. But people
who come and live in the forest become attached to living in it; just as people who live in
the city become attached to the city. They lose their way in the forest and they lose their
way in the city.
praised living in the forest because the physical and mental solitude that
gives us is conducive to the practice for liberation. However, He didn't want us to
become dependent upon living in the forest or get stuck in its peace and tranquillity. We
come to practise in order for wisdom to arise. Here in the forest we can sow and cultivate
the seeds of wisdom. Living amongst chaos and turmoil these seeds have difficulty in
growing, but once we have learned to live in the forest, we can return and contend with
the city and all the stimulation of the senses that it brings us. Learning to live in the forest
means to allow wisdom to grow and develop. We can then apply this wisdom no matter
where we go.
senses are stimulated, we become agitated and the senses become our
antagonists. The antagonize us because we are still foolish and don't have the wisdom to
deal with them. In reality they are our teachers, but, because of our ignorance, we don't
see it that way. When we lived in the city we never thought that our senses could teach
us anything. As long as true wisdom has not yet manifested, we continue to see the
senses and their objects as enemies. Once true wisdom arises, they are no longer our
enemies but become the doorway to insight and clear understanding.
A good example
is the wild chickens here in the forest. We all know how much
afraid of humans. However, since I have lived here in the forest I have been able to teach
them and learn from them as well. At one time I began throwing out rice for them to eat.
At first they were very frightened and wouldn't go near the rice. However, after a long time
they got used to it and even began to expect it. You see, there is something to be learned
here--they originally thought that there was danger in the rice, that the rice was an enemy.
In truth there was no danger in the rice, but they didn't know that the rice was food and so
were afraid. When they finally saw for themselves that there was nothing to fear, they
could come and eat without any danger.
learn naturally in this way. Living here in the forest we learn
in a similar
way. Formerly we thought that our senses were a problem, and because of our ignorance
in the proper use of them, they caused us a lot trouble. However, by experience in
practice we learn to see them in accordance with Truth. We learn to make use of them
just as the chickens could use the rice. Then they are no longer opposed to us and
as we thing, investigate and understand wrongly, these things will oppose
But as soon as we begin to investigate properly, that which we experience will bring us to
wisdom and clear understanding, just as the chickens came to their understanding. In
this way, we can say that they practised "Vipassana". They know in accordance with
Truth, it's their insight.
In our practise,
we have our senses as tools which, when rightly used, enable us to
become enlightened to the Dhamma. This is something which all meditator should
contemplate. When we don't see this clearly, we remain in perpetual conflict.
So, as we
live in the quietude of the forest, we continue to develop subtle feelings
prepare the ground for cultivating wisdom. Don't think that when you have gained some
peace of mind living here in the quiet forest that that's enough. Don't settle for just that!
Remember that we have to cultivate and grow the seeds of wisdom.
matures and we begin to understand in accordance with the Truth, we will
longer be dragged up and down. Usually, if we have a pleasant mood, we behave one
way; and if we have an unpleasant mood, we are another way. We like something and we
are up; we dislike something and we are down. In this way we are still in conflict with
enemies. When these things no longer oppose us, they become stabilized and balance
out. There are no longer ups and downs or highs and lows. We understand these things
of the world and know that that's just the way it is. It's just "worldly dhamma".
"Worldly dhamma"* changes to become the "Path". **
( * Worldly
dhamma: the eight worldly conditions are: gain and loss, honour
happiness and misery, praise and blame.)
( ** Path:
(the Eightfold Path) comprises 8 factors of spiritual practice leading
to the extinction of
suffering: Right View, Right Thought, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness, Right Concentration.)
dhamma" has eight ways; the "Path" has eight ways. Wherever
dhamma" exists, the "Path" is to be found also. When we live with clarity, all of our
worldly experience becomes the practising of the "Eightfold Path". Without clarity,
"worldly dhamma" predominates and we are turned away from the "Path". When Right
Understanding arises, liberation from suffering lies right here before us. You will not find
liberation by running around looking elsewhere!
be in a hurry and try to push or rush your practice. Do your
and gradually step by step. In regard to peacefulness, if you want to become peaceful,
then accept it; if you don't become peaceful, then accept that also. That's the nature of
the mind. We must find our won practice and persistently keep at it.
wisdom does not arise! I used to think, about my practice,
that when there is no
wisdom, I could force myself to have it. But it didn't work, things remained the same.
Then, after careful consideration, I saw that to contemplate things that we don't have
cannot be done. So what's the best thing to do? It's better just to practice with
equanimity. If there is nothing to cause us concern, then there's nothing to remedy. If
there's no problem, then we don't have to try to solve it. When there is a problem, that's
when you must solve it, right there! There's no need to go searching for anything special,
just live normally. But know what your mind is! Live mindfully and clearly
comprehending. Let wisdom be your guide; don't live indulging in your moods. Be
heedful and alert! If there is nothing, that's fine; when something arises, then investigate
and contemplate it.
Coming to the Center
a spider. A spider spins its web in any convenient niche and
then sits in the
center, staying still and silent. Later, a fly comes along and lands on the web. As soon as
it touches and shakes the web, 'boop!'--the spider pounces and winds it up in thread. It
stores the insect away and then returns again to collect itself silently in the center of the
a spider like this can give rise to wisdom. Our six senses
have mind at the
center surrounded by eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. When one of the senses is
stimulated, for instance, form contacting the eye, it shakes and reaches the mind. The
mind is that which knows, that which knows form. Just this much is enough for wisdom
to arise. It's that simple.
Like a spider
in its web, we should live keeping to ourselves. As soon as
the spider feels
an insect contact the web, it quickly grabs it, ties it up and once again returns to the
center. This is not at all different from our own minds. "Coming to the center" means
living mindfully with clear comprehension, being always alert and doing everything with
exactness and precision--this is our center. There's really not a lot for us to do; we just
carefully live in this way. But that doesn't mean that we live heedlessly thinking, "There is
no need to do siting or walking meditation!" and so forget all about our practice. We can't
be careless! We must remain alert just as the spider waits to snatch up insects for its food.
all that we have to know--sitting and contemplating that spider.
Just this much
and wisdom can arise spontaneously. Our mind is comparable to the spider, our moods
and mental impressions are comparable to the various insects. That's all there is to it!
The senses envelop and constantly stimulate the mind; when any of them contact
something, it immediately reaches the mind. The mind then investigates and examines it
thoroughly, after which it returns to the center. This is how we abide--alert, acting with
precision and always mindfully comprehending with wisdom. Just this much and our
practice is complete.
is very important! It isn't that we have to do sitting practice
throughout the day
and night, or that we have to do walking meditation all day and all night long. If this is our
view of practice, then we really make it difficult for ourselves. We should do what we can
according to our strength and energy, using our physical capabilities in the proper
important to know the mind and the other senses well. Know
how they come and
how they go, how they arise and how they pass away. Understand this thoroughly! In
the language of Dhamma we can also say that, just as the spider traps the various insects,
the mind binds up the senses with Anicca-Dukkha-Anatta (impermanence,
unsatisfactoriness, not-self). Where can they go? We keep them for food, these things
are stored away as our nourishment. *
( * Nourishment for contemplation, to feed wisdom.)
there's no more to do, just this much! This is the nourishment
minds, nourishment for one who is aware and understanding.
If you know
that these things are impermanent, bound up with suffering and that none
is you, then you would be crazy to go after them! If you don't see clearly in this way, then
you must suffer. When you take a good look and see these things as really impermanent,
even though they may seem worth going after, really they are not. Why do you want them
when their nature is pain and suffering? It's not ours, there is no self, there is nothing
belonging to us. So why are you seeking after them? All problems are ended right here.
Where else will you end them?
a good look at the spider and turn it inwards, turn it back unto yourself.
see that it's all the same. When the mind has seen Anicca-Dukkha Anatta, it lets go and
releases itself. It no longer attaches to suffering or to happiness. This is the nourishment
for the mind of one who practises and really trains himself. That's all, it's that simple! You
don't have to go searching anywhere! So no matter what you are doing, you are there, no
need for a lot of fuss and bother. In this way the momentum and energy of your practice
will continuously grow and mature.
of practice leads us towards freedom from the cycle of birth and death.
We haven't escaped from that cycle because we still insist on craving and desiring. We
don't commit unwholesome or immoral acts, but doing this only means that we are living
in accordance with the Dhamma of morality: for instance, the chanting when people ask
that all beings not be separated from the things that they love and are fond of. If you think
about it, this is very childish. It's the way of people who still can't let go.
the nature of human desire--desire for things to be other than the way
that they are;
wishing for longevity, hoping that there is no death or sickness. This is how people hope
and desire, then when you tell them that whatever desires they have which are not fulfilled
cause suffering, it clobbers them right over the head. What can they say? Nothing,
because it's the Truth! You're pointing right at their desires.
talk about desires we know that everyone has them and wants them fulfilled,
nobody is willing to stop, nobody really wants to escape. Therefore our practice must be
patiently refined down. Those who practice steadfastly, without deviation or slackness,
and have a gentle and restrained manner, always persevering with constancy, those are
the ones who will know. No matter what arises, they will remain firm and unshakeable.
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