The Discourses by Achaan Chah
A few years ago I published a synopsis of the discourses of Achaan Chah titled 'Just let it be". Readers have requested it. A slightly revised edition is given below with the permission of the authors of "A Still Forest Pool", The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter, USA, 1985.
JUST LET IT BE
I want to share with persons who may not have the opportunity to learn, study and practice the teaching of the late Achaan Chah of Thailand, regarded as a monk who attained nirvana. He was a world renowned Master of meditation and his discourses have been translated into English in the book "A Still Forest Pool" by the American meditation Master Jack Kornfield & Paul Breiter. I have taken excerpts from it, selecting, highlighting and re-arranging, to bring out the central theme of his teaching, arising from his own experience: just let it be.
Let us talk about the difference between studying Dhamma and applying them in practice. True Dhamma study has only one purpose - to find a way out of the unsatisfactoriness of our lives. Our suffering has causes for its arising and a place to abide. Therefore the Buddha taught us to contemplate the movements of the mind. Watching the mind move, we can see its basic characteristics: endless change, unsatisfactoriness, and emptiness. This is the process of Dependent Origination. But when the process is actually occurring within us, those who have only read about it cannot follow fast enough. Like a fruit falling from a tree, each link in the chain falls so fast that such people cannot tell what branches it has passed. Study does not tell you that this is the experience of ignorance arising, this is how volition feels. When you let go of a tree limb and fall to the ground you just hit the ground and experience the pain. No book can describe that.
The Buddha did not want us to become attached to words. He just wanted us to see that all is impermanent, unsatisfactory, empty of self. He taught only to let go. Just let them be, the good as well as the bad. The Buddha said simply, "Give them up". But for us, it is necessary to study our own minds to know how it is possible to give them up. We can discover this through meditation. Meditation is like a single log of wood. Insight and investigation are at one end of the log; calm and concentration are at the other end. If you lift up the whole log, both sides come up at once. Which is concentration and which is insight? Just this mind. Such terms are only conventions for teaching. We should not be attached to the language. The only source of true knowledge is to see what is within ourselves. Therefore, develop samadhi and vipassana, calm and insight; learn to make them arise in your mind and really use them. Otherwise, you will know only the words of Buddhism.
I did not practice using textbook terms; I just looked at this one who knows. If it hates someone, question why? If it loves someone, question why? Probing all arising back to its origin, you can solve the problem of clinging and hating and get them to leave you alone. Everything comes back to and arises from the one who knows. But repeated practice is crucial. If someone curses us and we have no feelings of self, the incident ends with the spoken words, and we do not suffer. If we do not stand in the line of fire, we do not get shot.
Move gracefully through the world not caught in evaluating each event, not discriminating, not thinking what it should be. Be aware of things just as they are. Do not put a mental construction on them. You will be a different person. Why not try it? Many people who have studied on a university level and attained graduate degrees and worldly success find that their lives are still lacking. The vulture flies high, but what does it feed on?
Dhamma is understanding that goes beyond the conditioned, compounded, limited understanding of worldly science. Progress in worldly wisdom can cause deterioration in religion and moral values. It is necessary to teach the basics first - basic morality, seeing the transitoriness of life, the facts of aging and death. Of course, the Dhamma books are correct, but they are not right. They cannot give you right understanding. To see the word hatred in print is not the same as experiencing anger. Only experiencing for yourself can give you true faith.
There are two kinds of faith. One is a kind of blind trust in the Buddha, the teachings, the master, which often leads to begin practice or to ordain. The second is true faith - certain, unshakable - which arises from knowing within oneself. Seeing clearly all things within oneself makes it possible to put an end to doubt, to attain this certainty in one's practice. You must go beyond all words, all symbols, all plans for your practice. If you do not turn inward, you will never know reality. Do not hold on to anything. Just observe things as they are. You need not study much. You will see the Dhamma for yourself. Observe your own mind. If you cut off this verbal, thinking mind, you will have a true standard for judging. Practice in this way and the rest will follow.
Traditionally, the Eightfold Path is taught with eight steps, Right understanding, Right Speech, Right Concentration, and so forth. But the true Eightfold Path is within us - two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, a tongue, and a body. These eight doors are our entire Path and the mind is the one that walks on the Path. Know these doors, examine them, and all the dhammas will be revealed. The heart of the Path is so simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are. That is all I do in my own practice. Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing. There are dozens of meditation techniques to develop samadhi and many kinds of vipassana. But it all comes back to this - just let it all be.
You will see that when the heart/mind is unattached, it is abiding in its normal state. When it stirs from the normal because of various thoughts and feelings, the process of thought construction takes place, in which illusions are created. Learn to see through this process. When the mind has stirred from normal, it leads away from right practice to one of extremes of indulgence or aversion, thereby creating more illusion, more thought construction. Good or bad only arises in your mind. If you keep a watch on your mind, studying this one topic your whole life, I guarantee you will never be bored.
For the most part, our thinking follows sense objects, and wherever our thoughts lead us, we follow. However, thinking and wisdom are different. In wisdom, the mind becomes still, unmoving, and we are simply aware, simply acknowledging. Normally, when sense objects come, we think about, dwell on and worry about them. Yet none of those sense objects is substantial. All are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty.
Mind is one thing, the one who knows is another. From the beginning I have practiced like this. We want to see the truth not in a book or as an ideal but in our own minds. As the mind becomes attached again, examine each new situation - do not stop looking, keep at it. Then attachment will find nowhere to rest. This is the way I myself have practiced. If you practice like this, true tranquility is found in activity, in the midst of sense objects. When you make contact with sense objects, contemplate: impermanent, unsatisfactory, not self. File everything under these three categories, and keep contemplating.
Everywhere you look is the Dhamma. There is nothing in the world that is not Dhamma. But you must understand. Happiness and unhappiness, pleasure and pain are always with us. When you understand their nature, the Buddha and the Dhamma are right there. It is simple and direct once you understand. When pleasant things arise, understand that they are empty. When unpleasant things arise, understand that they are not you, not yours; they pass away. If you don't relate to phenomena as being you or see yourself as their owner, the mind comes into balance. This balance is the correct path, the correct teaching of the Buddha that leads to liberation, non-grasping or vimukti.
When you understand this balance, then the path becomes clear. As you grow in understanding, when things come that are pleasant, you will realize that they are empty. Finally, as you travel further along the path, you will come to see that nothing in the world has any essential value. There is nothing to hold on to.
Everything is like an old banana peel or a coconut husk - you have no use for it, no fascination with it. When you see that things in the world are like banana peels, then you are free to walk in the world without being bothered or hurt in any way. This is the path that brings you to freedom.
The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try hard as you wish, practice ardently night and day, but if you still have the desire to achieve, you will never find the peace. The energy from this desire will cause doubt and restlessness. No matter how long and hard you practice, wisdom will not arise from desire. Simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully, but don't try to achieve anything. The practice is to sit and let your heart become still and concentrated and then to use that concentration to examine the nature of the mind and body. Otherwise, if you simply make the heart/mind quiet, it will be peaceful and free of defilement only as long as you sit. This is like using a stone to cover a garbage pit; when you take away the stone, the pit is still infested and full of garbage.
Examining the mind and body most directly does not involve the use of thought. There are two levels of examination. One is thoughtful and discursive. The other is a silent, concentrated, inner listening. Only when the heart is concentrated and still can real wisdom naturally arise. It is this seeing that leads you to learn about change, about emptiness, and about the selflessness of body and mind.
The Buddha talked about two styles of practice: liberation through wisdom and liberation through concentration. People whose style is liberation through wisdom hear the Dhamma and immediately begin to understand it. Since the entire teaching is simply to let go of things, to let things be, they begin the practice of letting go in a very natural way, without a great deal of effort or concentration. Some people on the other hand, depending on their background, need a lot more concentration. They have to sit and practice in a very disciplined way over a long period of time. For them, this concentration, if it is used properly, becomes the basis for deep, penetrating insight. Any of the tools of our practice can bring us to liberation. Even the precepts - whether five precepts for householders, the ten precepts for novices, or the 227 precepts for monks can be used in the same way. Because these are disciplines that require mindfulness and surrender. There is no limit to their usefulness. The Dhamma of the Buddha is not found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about, you don't need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings and thoughts come and go. Don't be attached to anything. Just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life is a chance to practice. It is all Dhamma. When you do your chores, try to be mindful. There is Dhamma in emptying spittoons!
The Dhamma belongs to no one; it has no owner. It arises in the world when the world manifests, yet stands alone as the truth. It is always here, unmoving, limitless, for all who seek it. It is like water underground - whoever digs a well finds it. Yet whether or not you dig, it is always here, underlying all things. What is this Buddha? When we see with the eye of wisdom, we know that the Buddha is timeless, unborn, unrelated to any body, any history, and any image. Buddha is the ground of all being, the realization of the truth of the unmoving mind. So the Buddha was not enlightened in India. In fact he was never enlightened, was never born, and never died. This timeless Buddha is our true home, our abiding place. When we take refuge in the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, all things in the world are free for us. They become our teacher, proclaiming the one true nature of life. Truth is hidden in untruth, permanence in impermanence.
The Buddha made a distinction between ultimate truth and conventional truth. The idea of a self is merely a concept, a convention. To understand not-self, you have to meditate. If you only intellectualize, your head will explode. When you see beyond self, you no longer cling to happiness, and when you no longer cling to happiness, you can begin to be truly happy.
The language of the Dhamma is the same for all people - the language of experience. There is a great difference between concepts and direct experience. Whosoever puts a finger into a glass of hot water will have the same experience of 'hot' but it is called by many words in different languages. In the Christian religion, for example, one of the most important holidays is Christmas. If Christmas is an occasion where people make a particular effort to do what is good and kind and helpful to others in some way, that's important and wonderful, no matter what system you use to describe it. I teach this way to enable people to let go of their attachments to various concepts and to see what is happening in a straightforward and natural way. Anything that inspires us to see what is true and do what is good is proper practice. You may call it anything you like. Greed and hatred are the same in an Eastern or a Western mind. Suffering and the cessation of suffering are the same for all people.
Our defilements are like a cat. If you feed it, it will keep coming around. Our suffering comes from our own wrong understanding, our attachment to various mental activities. We must train our mind like a buffalo: the buffalo is our thinking the owner is the meditator. Gradually we have to change our habitual ways of thinking and feeling. We must see how we suffer when we think in terms of me and mine. Then we can let go. Right understanding ultimately means nondiscrimination - seeing all people the same, neither good nor bad.
Our discrimination colors everything. This is the world we create. Two persons are watching a flag: one says it is the wind that moves the other say it is the flag. They can argue forever. For it is the mind that moves. Why is sugar sweet and water tasteless? It is just their nature. So too with thinking and stillness, pain and pleasure. Ultimately, things are just as they are - only comparisons cause us to suffer. It is like a monkey jumping senselessly. Its behavior is driven not by dispassion but by different forms of aversion and fear. You have to learn to control. We can see the mind as a lotus. Some lotuses are still stuck in the mud, some have climbed above the mud but are still under water, some have reached the surface, while others are open in the sun, stain-free. Which lotus do you choose to be? As you grow in Dhamma, you should have a teacher to instruct and advise you. Respect the teacher and follow the rules and system of practice.
True teachers speak only of the difficult practice of giving up or getting rid of the self. Whatever may happen, do not abandon the teacher. Alas, only a few who study Buddhism really want to practice. But some people can only study in a logical way. Few are willing to die and be born again free. I feel sorry for the rest. When I had been practicing only for two or three years, I still could not trust myself. I learnt to trust my own heart. You will reach a point where the heart tells you what to do. Continue contemplating. The Buddha taught that with things that come about of their own, once you have done your work, you can leave the results to nature, to the power of your accumulated karma. Whether the fruit of wisdom comes quickly or slowly, you cannot force it, just as you cannot force the growth of a tree you have planted. If the mind does not know what it needs to do, it will try to force the plant to grow and flower and give fruit in one day. Just practice in the right direction and leave the rest to your karma. Then, whether it takes one or one hundred or one thousand lifetimes, your practice will be at peace.
Proper effort is not the effort to make something particular happens. It is the effort to be aware and awake in each moment, the effort to overcome laziness and defilement, the effort to make each activity of our day meditation. Right effort and virtue are not a question of what you do outwardly but to constant inner awareness and restraint. Do not be attached to big and small, important and unimportant. If the human mind is left to so-called natural impulses, untrained, it is full of greed, hatred, and delusion and suffers accordingly. Yet through practice we can allow our wisdom and love to grow naturally until it blossoms in any surroundings.
Constantly watch over your mind as a parent watches over a child. You must constantly make the effort to know yourself. It is necessary as your breathing, which continues in all situations. Rely on yourself. Do not find fault with others. If they behave wrongly, there is no need to make yourself suffer. When the Buddha studied under various teachers, he realized their ways were lacking, but he did not disparage them. After he found enlightenment, he respectfully remembered those he had studied with and wanted to share his newfound knowledge with them. Real love is wisdom. What most people think of as love is just an impermanent feeling. If you have a nice taste every day, you will soon get tired of it. We cannot suppress nor forbid such feelings. We just should not cling to or identify with them but should know them for what they are. Boredom is a real problem; if we look closely we can see that the mind is always active. The Buddha says not to trust the mind because it is defiled, impure, does not yet embody virtue or Dhamma. The texts only provide an example and can cause you to lose yourself because they are based on memories and concepts. Conceptual thinking creates illusion and embellishment beyond the simple truth here in front of you. Do everything with a mind that lets go.
Doubting is natural. Everyone starts with doubts. You can learn a great deal from them. What is important is that you don't identify with your doubts. That is, don't get caught up in them, letting your mind spin in endless circles. Instead, watch the whole process of doubting, of wondering. See who it is that doubts. See how doubts come and go. Just let go of what you are attached to. Let go of your doubts and simply watch. This is how to end doubting
There is one essential point that all good practice must come eventually come to - not clinging. In the end, you must let go of all meditation systems. Nor can you cling to the teacher. If a system leads to relinquishment, to not clinging, then it is correct practice. Let go of your opinions and watch yourself. If you are annoyed, watch the annoyance in your own mind. Just be mindful of your own actions; simply examine yourself and your feelings. Then you will understand. This is the way to practice. Just try to keep your mind in the present. Whatever arises in the mind, just watch it and let go of it. Don't' even wish to be rid of thoughts. No discrimination between good and bad, hot and cold, fast and slow. No you and me, no self at all - just what it is. If doubts arise, watch them come and go. It is very simple. Hold on to nothing. It is as though you are walking down a road. Periodically you will run into obstacles. When you meet defilements, just see them and overcome them by letting them go. Don't think about the obstacles you've already passed; don't worry about those you have not yet seen. Stick to the present. Don't be concerned about the length of the road or the destination. Everything is changing. Whatever you pass, don't cling to it. Eventually the mind will reach its natural balance where practice is automatic. All things will come and go of themselves.
You must get rid of your cleverness. A cup filled with dirty, stale water is useless. Only after the old water is thrown out can the cup become useful. You must empty your mind of opinions; then you will see. If you think, "I am clever, I am wealthy, I am important, I understand all about Buddhism," you cover up the truth of anatta, or non-self. All you see is self, I, and mine. But Buddhism is letting go of self - voidness, emptiness, Nirvana. If you think yourself better than others, you will only suffer. Body, speech, and mind all make karma when we cling. We create habits that can make us suffer in future. All things are conditioned by cause. But you need not bother to think about past, present, or future; merely watch the body and mind now. Don't cling to or watch others. If I take poison, I suffer. No need for you to share it with me. When you get angry and feel sorry for yourself, it is a great opportunity to understand the mind. The Buddha called the defilements our teachers. People with little education and worldly knowledge can practice easily. You must be patient. When I was a young monk, I did not have it as hard as you. I knew the language and was eating my native food. Even so, some days I despaired. I wanted to disrobe or even commit suicide. This kind of suffering comes from wrong views. When you have seen the truth, though, you are freed from views and opinions. Everything becomes peaceful but peace too must be seen as impermanent. If you are attached to peaceful states of mind, you will suffer when you do not have them. Give up everything, even peace.
To act in ways that are kind and wholesome is the most basic way to further the teaching of Buddha. To do what is good, to help other people, to work with charity and morality, brings good results, brings a cool and happy mind for you and others. To teach other people is a beautiful and important responsibility that one should accept with a full heart. The way to do it properly is to understand that in teaching others you must always be teaching yourself. You have to take care of your own practice and your own purity. It's not enough to simply tell others what's correct. You must work with what you teach in your own heart, being unwaveringly honest with yourself and with others. Acknowledge what is pure and what is not. The essence of the Buddha's teaching is to learn to see things truthfully, fully and clearly. Seeing the truth in itself brings freedom.
You must examine yourself. Know who you are. Know your body and mind by simply watching. In sitting, in sleeping, in eating, know your limits. Use wisdom. The practice is not to achieve anything. Just be mindful of what is. Don't practice too strictly. Don't get caught up with outward form. Simply be natural and watch. Watching others is bad practice. Don't discriminate. Would you be upset at a small tree in the forest for not being tall and straight like some others? Don't judge other people. No need to carry the burden of wishing to change them all. Learn the value of giving and of devotion. Practice morality; live simply and naturally; watch the mind.
There is no one here, just this. No owner, no one to be old, to be young, to be good or bad, weak or strong. Just this, that's all. Various elements of nature playing them out, all empty. No one born and no one to die. Those who speak of death are speaking the language of ignorant children. In the language of the heart, of Dhamma, there is no such thing. In ending, I hope that you will continue your journeys and practice with much wisdom. Use the understanding that you have already developed to persevere in practice. With the proper effort and with time, understanding will unfold by itself. But in all cases, use your own natural wisdom.
What we have spoken of is what I feel is helpful to you. If you do it, you can come to the end of all doubt. Only you can do that. From now on it's up to you.
1. Consciousness (Vinnana): The knowing faculty of mind, that aspect of mind which knows the sense objects arising and passing away at the six sense doors.
2. Defilements (lobha, dosa, moha): The mental factors of greed, hatred and delusion, and mental states which arise with these as their root.
3. Dependent Origination (Paticcasamupada): The principle of this doctrine is given in a short formula of four lines:-
When this is, that is
When this is not, that is not
This arising, that arises
This ceasing, that ceases