* [These are the two extremes pointed out as wrong paths by the Buddha in his First Discourse. They are normally rendered as "Indulgence in sense pleasures" and "Self mortification."]

But in your practice it doesn't tend to be like that, does it? You follow your inclinations. If you follow your inclinations it's easy, isn't it? But this is the ease which causes suffering, like someone who can't be bothered working. He takes it easy, but when the time comes to eat he hasn't got anything. This is how it goes.

So I've contended with many aspects of the Buddha's teaching in the past, but I couldn't really beat him. Nowadays I accept it. I accept that the many teachings of the Buddha are straight down the line, so I've taken those teachings and used them to train both myself and others.

The practice which is important is patipada. What is patipada? It is simply all our various activities, standing, walking, sitting, reclining and everything else. This is the patipada of the body. Now the patipada of the mind: how many times in the course of today have you felt low? How many times have you felt high? Have there been any noticeable feelings? We must know ourselves like this. Having seen those feelings can we let go? Whatever we can't yet let go of we must work with. When we see that we can't yet let go of some particular feeling we must take it and examine it with wisdom. Reason it out. Work with it. This is practice. For example when you are feeling zealous, practice, and then when you feel lazy, try to continue the practice. If you can't continue at "full speed" then at least do half as much. Don't just waste the day away by being lazy and not practicing. Doing that will lead to disaster, it's not the way of a cultivator.
Now I've heard some people say, "Oh, this year I was really in a bad way."

"How come?"

"I was sick all year. I couldn't practice at all."

Oh! If they don't practice when death is near when will they ever practice? If they're feeling well do you think they'll practice? No, they only get lost in happiness. If they're suffering they still don't practice, they get lost in that. I don't know when people think they're going to practice! They can only see that they're sick, in pain, almost dead from fever . . . that's right, bring it on heavy, that's where the practice is. When people are feeling happy it just goes to their heads and they get vain and conceited.

We must cultivate our practice. What this means is that whether you are happy or unhappy you must practice just the same. If you are feeling well you should practice, and if you are feeling sick you should also practice. Those who think, "This year I couldn't practice at all, I was sick the whole time" . . . if these people are feeling well, they just walk around singing songs. This is wrong thinking, not right thinking. This is why the cultivators of the past have all maintained the steady training of the heart. If things are to go wrong, just let them be with the body, not in mind.

There was a time in my practice, after I had been practicing about five years, when I felt that living with others was a hindrance. I would sit in my kuti and try to meditate and people would keep coming by for a chat and disturbing me. I ran off to live by myself. I thought I couldn't practice with those people bothering me. I was fed up, so I went to live in a small, deserted monastery in the forest, near a small village. I stayed there alone, speaking to no-one -- because there was nobody else to speak to.

After I'd been there about fifteen days the thought arose, "Hmm. It would be good to have a novice or pa-kow [*] here with me. He could help me out with some small jobs." I knew it would come up, and sure enough, there it was!

* ["Pa-kow: an eight-precept postulant, who often lives with bhikkhus and, in addition to his own meditation practice, also helps them with certain services which bhikkhus are forbidden by the Vinaya from doing.]

"Hey! You're a real character! You say you're fed up with your friends, fed up with your fellow monks and novices, and now you want a novice. What's this?"
"No", it says, "I want a good novice."

"There! Where are all the good people, can you find any? Where are you going to find a good person? In the whole monastery there were only no-good people. You must have been the only good person, to have run away like this!"
. . . You have to follow it up like this, follow up the tracks of your thoughts until you see . . .

"Hmm. This is the important one. Where is there a good person to be found? There aren't any good people, you must find goodness anywhere else, you must look within yourself. If you are good in yourself then wherever you go will be good. Whether others criticize or praise you, you are still good. If you aren't good, then when others criticize you, you get angry, and when they praise you, you get pleased.

At that time I reflected on this and have found it to be true from that day up until the present. Goodness must be found within. As soon as I saw this, that feeling of wanting to run away disappeared. In later times, whenever I had that desire arise I let it go.

Whenever it arose I was aware of it and kept my awareness on that. Thus I had a solid foundation. Wherever I lived, whether people condemned me or whatever they would say, I would reflect that the point is not whether they were good or bad. Good or evil must be seen within ourselves. However other people are, that's their concern.

Don't go thinking, "Oh, today is too hot", or, "Today is too cold," or, "Today is . . . . " Whatever the day is like that's just the way it is. Really you are simply blaming the weather for your own laziness. We must see the Dhamma within ourselves, then there is a surer kind of peace.

So for all of you who have come to practice here, even though it's only for a few days, still many things will arise. Many things may be arising which you're not even aware of. There is some right thinking, some wrong thinking . . . many, many things. So I say this practice is difficult.

Even though some of you may experience some peace when you sit in meditation, don't be in a hurry to congratulate yourselves. Likewise, if there is some confusion, don't blame yourselves. If things seem to be good, don't delight in them, and if they're not good don't be averse to them. Just look at it all, look at what you have. Just look, don't bother judging. If it's good don't hold fast to it; if it's bad, don't cling to it. Good and bad can both bite, so don't hold fast to them.

The practice is simply to sit, sit and watch it all. Good moods and bad moods come and go as is their nature. Don't only praise your mind or only condemn it, know the right time for these things. When it's time for congratulations then congratulate it, but just a little, don't overdo it. Just like teaching a child, sometimes you may have to spank it a little. In our practice sometimes we may have to punish ourselves, but don't punish yourself all the time. If you punish yourself all the time in a while you'll just give yourself a good time and take it easy either. That's not the way to practice. We practice according to the Middle Way. What is the Middle Way? This Middle Way is difficult to follow, you can't rely on your moods and desires.

Don't think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way then quickly change your thinking! Steady practice is having the attitude of practice while standing, walking, sitting and lying down. When coming out of sitting meditation, reflect that you're simply changing postures. If you reflect in this way you will have peace. Wherever you are you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly, you will have a steady awareness within yourself.

Those of you who, having finished their evening sitting, simply indulge in their moods, spending the whole day letting the mind wander where it wants, will find that the next evening when sitting meditation all they get is the "backwash" from the day's aimless thinking. There is no foundation of calm because they have let it go cold all day. If you practice like this your mind gets gradually further and further from the practice. When I ask some of my disciples, "How is your meditation going?". They say, "Oh, it's all gone now". You see? They can keep it up for a month or two but in a year or two it's all finished.

Why is this? It's because they don't take this essential point into their practice. When they've finished sitting they let go of their samadhi. They start to sit for shorter and shorter periods, till they reach the point where as soon as they start to sit they want to finish. Eventually they don't even sit. It's the same with bowing to the Buddha-image. At first they make the effort to prostrate every night before going to sleep, but after a while their minds begin to stray. Soon they don't bother to prostrate at all, they just nod, till eventually it's all gone. They throw out the practice completely.

Therefore, understand the importance of sati, practice constantly. Right practice is steady practice. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining the practice must continue. This means that practice, meditation, is done in the mind, not in the body. If our mind has zeal, is conscientious and ardent, then there will be awareness. The mind is the important thing. The mind is that which supervises everything we do.

When we understand properly then we practice properly. When we practice properly we don't go astray. Even if we only do a little that is still all right. For example, when you finish sitting in meditation, remind yourselves that you are not actually finishing meditation, you are simply changing postures. Your mind is still composed. Whether standing, walking, sitting or reclining you have sati with you. If you have this kind of awareness you can maintain your internal practice. In the evening when you sit again the practice continues uninterrupted. Your effort is unbroken, allowing the mind to attain calm.

This is called steady practice. Whether we are talking or doing other things we should try to make the practice continuous. If our mind has recollection and self-awareness continuously, our practice will naturally develop, it will gradually come together. The mind will find peace, because it will know what is right and what is wrong. It will see what is happening within us and realize peace.

If we are to develop sila (moral restraint), or samadhi (firmness of mind) we must first have panna (wisdom). Some people think that they'll develop moral restraint one year, samadhi the next year and the year after that they'll develop wisdom. They think these three things are separate. They think that this year they will develop, but if the mind is not firm (samadhi), how can they do it? If there is no understanding, (panna) how can they do it? Without samadhi or panna, sila will be sloppy.

In fact these three come together at the same point. When we have sila we have samadhi, when we have samadhi we have panna. They are all one, like a mango. Whether it's small or fully grown, it's still a mango. When it's ripe it's still the same mango. If we think in simple terms like this we can see it more easily. We don't have to learn a lot of things, just to know these things, to know our practice.

When it comes to meditation some people don't get what they want, so they just give up, saying they don't yet have the merit to practice meditation. They can do bad things, they have that sort of talent, but they don't have the talent to do good. They throw it in, saying they don't have a good enough foundation. This is the way people are, they side with their defilements.

Now that you have this chance to practice, please understand that whether you find it difficult or easy to develop samadhi is entirely up to you, not the samadhi. If it is difficult, it is because you are practicing wrongly. In our practice we must have "Right View" (sammaditthi). If our view is right then everything else is right: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Recollection, Right Concentration -- the Eightfold Path. When there is Right View all the other factors will follow on.

Whatever happens, don't let your mind stray off the track. Look within yourself and you will see clearly. For the best practice, as I see it, it isn't necessary to read many books. Take all the books and lock them away. Just read your own mind. You have all been burying yourselves in books from the time you entered school. I think that now you have this opportunity and have the time, take the books, put them in a cupboard and lock the door. Just read your mind.

Whenever something arises within the mind, whether you like it or not, whether it seems right or wrong, just cut it off with, "this is not a sure thing." Whatever arises just cut it down, "not sure, not sure." With just this single ax you can cut it all down. It's all "not sure."

For the duration of this next month that you will be staying in this forest monastery, you should make a lot of headway. You will see the truth. This "not sure" is really an important one. This one develops wisdom. The more you look the more you will see "not sure'-ness. After you've cut something off with "not sure" it may come circling round and pop up again. Yes, it's truly "not sure." Whatever pops up just stick this one label on it all . . . "not sure." You stick the sign on .."not sure' . . . and in a while, when its turn comes, it crops up again . . . "Ah, not sure." Dig here! Not sure. You will see this same old one who's been fooling you month in, month out, year in, year out, from the day you were born. There's only this one who's been fooling you all along. See this and realize the way things are.

When your practice reaches this point you won't cling to sensations, because they are all uncertain. Have you ever noticed? Maybe you see a clock and think, "Oh, this is nice." Buy it and see . . . in not many days you're bored with it already. "This pen is really beautiful," so you take the trouble to buy one. In not many months you tire of it again. This is how it is. Where is there any certainty?

If we see all these things as uncertain then their value fades away. All things become insignificant. Why should we hold on to things that have no value? We keep them only as we might keep an old rag to wipe our feet with. We see all sensations as equal in value because they all have the same nature.

When we understand sensations we understand the world. The world is sensations and sensations are the world. If we aren't fooled by sensations we aren't fooled by the world. If we aren't fooled by the world we aren't fooled by sensations.

The mind which sees this will have a firm foundation of wisdom. Such a mind will not have many problems. Any problems it does have it can solve. When there are no more problems there are no more doubts. Peace arises in their stead. This is called "Practice." If we really practice it must be like this.

Detachment Within Activity

Take a look at the example of the Buddha. Both in his own practice and in his methods for teaching the disciples he was exemplary. The Buddha taught the standards of practice as skillful means for getting rid of conceit, he couldn't do the practice for us. having heard that teaching we must further teach ourselves, practice for ourselves. The results will arise here, not at the teaching.

The Buddha's teaching can only enable us to get an initial understanding of the Dhamma, but the Dhamma is not yet within our hearts. Why not? Because we haven't yet practiced, we haven't yet taught ourselves. The Dhamma arises at the practice. If you know it, you know it through the practice. If you doubt it, you doubt it at the practice. Teachings from the Masters may be true, but simply listening to Dhamma is not yet enough to enable us to realize it. The teaching simply points out the way to realize. To realize the Dhamma we must take that teaching and bring it into our hearts. That part which is for the body we apply to the body, that part which is for the speech we apply to the speech, and that part which is for the mind we apply to the mind. This means that after hearing the teaching we must further teach ourselves to know that Dhamma, to be that Dhamma.
The Buddha said that those who simply believe others are not truly wise. A wise person practices until he is one with the Dhamma, until he can have confidence in himself, independent of others.

On one occasion, while Venerable Sariputta was sitting, listening respectfully at his feet as the Buddha expounded the Dhamma, the Buddha turned to him and asked,

"Sariputta, do you believe this teaching?"

Venerable Sariputta replied, "No, I don't yet believe it."

Now this is a good illustration. Venerable Sariputta listened, and he took note. When he said he didn't yet believe he wasn't being careless, he was speaking the truth. He simply took note of that teaching, because he had not yet developed his own understanding of it, so he told the Buddha that he didn't yet believe -- because he really didn't believe. These words almost sound as if Venerable Sariputta was being rude, but actually he wasn't. He spoke the truth, and the Buddha praised him for it.

"Good, good, Sariputta. A wise person doesn't readily believe, he should consider first before believing."

Conviction in a belief can take various forms. One form reasons according to Dhamma, while another form is contrary to the Dhamma. This second way is heedless, it is a foolhardy understanding, micchaditthi, wrong view. One doesn't listen to anybody else.

Take the example of Dighanakha the Brahmin. This Brahmin only believed himself, he wouldn't believe others. At one time when the Buddha was resting at Rajagaha, Dighanakha went to listen to his teaching. Or you might say that Dighanakha went to teach the Buddha because he was intent on expounding his own views . . .

"I am of the view that nothing suits me."

This was his view. The Buddha listened to Dighanakha's view and then answered,

"Brahmin, this view of yours doesn't suit you either."

When the Buddha had answered in this way, Dighanakha was stumped. He didn't know what to say. The Buddha explained in many ways, till the Brahmin understood. He stopped to reflect and saw . . .

"Hmm, this view of mine isn't right."

On hearing the Buddha's answer the Brahmin abandoned his conceited views and immediately saw the truth. He changed right then and there, turning right around, just as one would invert one's hand. He praised the teaching of the Buddha thus:

Listening to the Blessed One's teaching, my mind was illumined, just as one living in darkness might perceive light. My mind is like an overturned basin which has been uprighted, like a man who has been lost and finds the way."

Now at that time a certain knowledge arose within his mind, within that mind which had been uprighted. Wrong view vanished and right view took its place. Darkness disappeared and light arose.

The Buddha declared that the Brahmin Dighanakha was one who had opened the Dhamma Eye. Previously Dighanakha clung to his own views and had no intention of changing them. But when he heard the Buddha's teaching his mind saw the truth, he saw that his clinging to those views was wrong. When the right understanding arose he was able to perceive his previous understanding as mistaken, so he compared his experience with a person living in darkness who had found light. This is how it is. At that time the Brahmin Dighanakha transcended his wrong view.