The Joy of Impermanence
by Peter Morrell

According to the great Zen masters of old the secret essence, the most fundamental truth is knowable only through direct insight and cannot be expressed in words. Thus the adage: 'Those who know remain silent; those who speak do not know'. But we can say some things about the world and the nature of life which can be expressed in words and which do still have profound meaning. Such as the illusory nature of the world and the ultimately transient and flimsy nature of that which seems to us to be so solid and real. That external reality is much more like a mirage than something concrete.
Today I had a very strong and persistent feeling of the illusory nature of the world and a sense of impermanence so strong and which never left me all day. I truly had the feeling that the world is illusory, that our time here is so short and a very elongated sensation of the nature of time. A sense of not being embedded or anchored in this world but only in the mind. That mind is supreme and eternal and everything else is just fleeting change and transience of little consequence. We come with mind, we leave with mind, it is our only constant. Essentially that is all we are, a bundle of simple things: consciousness, desires, aversions and good and bad karmic seeds.
This strong feeling seemed to be sustained even further by thinking and dwelling upon it. In two ways I seemed able to sustain it. Firstly, by looking at each object and asking if it was ultimately real and indestructible. Nothing fits that definition and so each component or substance can be scrutinised and shown not to be a permanent indestructible entity, but to exist solely as a product of other phenomena or component parts. Secondly, I sustained my sense of impermanence by recalling that moment by moment things die and disintegrate of their own accord. Every second is new and different from the one it follows. And every second that is the case. In this way we can come to regard the solid and permanent appearance of the perceived world is an illusion.
Thus the world and all its component parts do not persist for very long. Even mountains crumble into the sea. Even our parents and most dearly loved friends die and disappear and we never see them again. Only mind, consciousness, persists and goes forward. Thus by hewing to impermanence, and a close inspection of the flow of events and our reactions to them we gain glimpses of deep truth.
The reason that Buddhism in general and impermanence in particular, might be regarded by some people as a frighteningly nihilistic philosophy, is probably that it somehow implies that mind, consciousness, is also equally as transient and impermanent a thing as substance. Maybe we extrapolate from the external physical world to the internal world of mind and transfer the qualities from one sphere to the other. Maybe we project onto mind the characteristically fragile features and properties of matter. But as soon as we posit that mind is NOT a transient entity, but that it stands supreme, goes forwards and is eternal, then immediately we have in our hands a far more joyous and uplifting, affirmative philosophy and one we can use as a tool to transform our life, even on a daily basis. Knowing this and taking it as our beacon we can delight in the joy of life.
We suffer the feeling of sadness and loss when we realise that things are transient. We feel attached to them and their external loss offends us internally. The loss of anything causes us to experience a subtle form of pain, a sadness, and the sadness increases in proportion to one's attachment. Loss of what we hold the dearest causes deep and often lasting grief. But things change and fall apart; nothing endures and we experience pain and loss as part of the natural order of things. Knowing the impermanent nature of phenomena helps us to gain a more profound grasp, eases back our attachment to things and enables us to prepare for loss that is inevitable. We can then ease back our clinging to anything. It becomes a life path.
The lesson of impermanence is chiefly that being composed of desires and aversions, we so easily and unwittingly become attached to those things we love. Their inevitable loss causes pain and sorrow. We have no power to control such events. All we can learn to control is our own internal responses and our general response to the world itself. The more deeply we cling to things the greater will be our sorrow when they take their inevitable leave of us. Thus to live a sweeter life we can be mindful of this and strive to reduce our attachment and to cultivate non-attachment. That is the meaning of Tsong Khapa's powerful but elusive phrase: 'without cultivating the definite thought to leave cyclic existence how can one begin to negate enjoying the sensations of embodied existence?'
Finally, we can say that the moral basis of Buddhism is always in accord with karma. Doing good and avoiding evil has no point except to avoid causing future suffering. Arguably there is no other sound basis for morals or ethics. To avoid causing suffering to self and others is the fundamental basis of a Buddhist life. Thus to live mindful of impermanence and in tune with not causing suffering is to live a truly Buddhist life. To then add joy and delighting in the joy of others and some compassion and pity for the myriad suffering beings, and this then comprises a very enjoyable and meaningful way to live. Then perhaps we can begin to regard not just a ten year stretch of our life as a gift we should be grateful for, but that each hour, each minute, nay each second, as a blessing we sometime earned and for which we can be truly grateful.


A Path between East and West?
Astrid Schillings, Focusing Certifying Coordinator,

A few waves plucked from the ocean of synchronicities, given that icebergs drift endlessly in the sea of the implicit.
Over fourteen years ago now, I put these waves into an article on 'Zen and Symbolising, Zen and Focusing', and fell between all the stools. For Buddhists it was too much based in therapy, for therapists it was too radical.
Coming fresh from Japanese Zen, I felt deeply in me an existential need to resolve this "falling between the stools" in a pragmatic way: to rearrange my life, to resume practising as a psychotherapist, while at the same time not smothering my burning question about life, which I experienced at the time as a painful but fertile rent in the fabric of existence. The path of western philosophy and religion was closed to me - I could not bear to hear philosophising or preaching about this rent. What I needed was a way that was lived and experienced - which I found in the East in meditation and in the West in the person-centered approach of the psychologist Carl Rogers and the philosopher Eugene Gendlin. I insist on the term "person-centred". "Gesprächstherapie" (talking-therapy) is an unfortunate and superficialising way of putting it in German. The point is to free the person as existential process.
In the mean time, discussing meditation, focusing, spirituality and therapy together has become acceptable, even normal. And yet - for me the important thing is the "in-between", Gendlin's "....", when there is something which will not come and there is only a living and pulsating bareness between what is already known. This "in-between" is the subject of this essay at various different levels. Focusing as the finger pointing to the moon? - A moon beyond a particular tradition or culture?
Let me approach these different levels circumspectly with a brief sketch or two, in the knowledge that the few pages available to me will not be enough. Please bear with my highly compressed language.
Many people brought up in a Christian culture see pictures and symbols from the Christian tradition when they meditate. This also happened to me. It was "Lord, forgive them, for they know not what they do." Since my Japanese Zen teacher did not want to talk to me about it, I turned to the Jesuit and Zen master Father Enomiya Lassalle, whom I met in Tokyo and who gave me the following to think about on my journey: many Christians consider Buddhists to be immature because they have not yet arrived at a personal God; many Buddhists would say the same of Christians because they still stick to a personal God. "What is it really about here?" asked Lassalle with his own inimitable and youthful wisdom. It dawned on me that he meant presence. Absolute presence. With or without names, personal, transpersonal, beyond the transpersonal. All this is not the point. Absolute presence is undivided ... not fragmented, to speak with Krishnamurti.
I will come back later to this pearl of absolute presence because it is critical to an examination of what focusing is saying or not saying.
The Buddha himself, after attaining enlightenment, spoke of the non-self (anatman) as one of the characteristics of all beings. He meant that nothing is imperishable, completely of and for itself, existing in its own right as something fixed. He contrasted this with the doctrine of atman, which Hindus understand as the highest self. Buddha used the negative form of the word to convey the inexpressible truth - in the Judeo-Christian tradition "thou shalt make to thyself no image ..." - not allowing concepts to interpose themselves.
Now it is interesting that Buddhism talks of the Middle Way, that is to say neither belief in a substantial self (form) nor belief in a non-self (emptiness) is the right way. To cling to either is regarded as ignorance. Even staying attached to the "neither-nor" is ignorance. Adhering to projections (concepts) is seen as an illusion about true reality. That old word "way" or "path" is what we mean by "process" in today's language. No substantial self, as a fixed entity, but not simply nihilistic nothingness either. In other words, a complete interpenetration of simultaneous emerging and disappearing in a "total interaction" as we would put it today, or in Gendlin's language: an order carried forward without beginning or end, in which everything is continually being crossed with everything else. In the "Shobogenzo" of Zen master Dogen (Japan, 1200-1253) we read: Therefore, knowing, practising, and enlightening the essence of continuous development is to go beyond the ordinary. 'Complete interpenetration' does not mean that everything is all mixed up together. Each thing is contained in every other and at the same time is separate in and for itself. A person as process is no exception to this.
In essence it is a radical form of disidentification. Again, I would like to keep this point for later, to see how it can apply in focusing.
What I would like to concentrate on here is Professor Gendlin's discovery that we can in fact translate between philosophical systems that are logically self-consistent by appealing to the felt sense, going with what the body feels to be the meaning and switching to the language of another system. We do not have to take on board all the concepts in the other self-consistent system in order to make our felt meaning understood. Exactly what we are not saying is that one theory or philosophy is being blindly translated into the other.
The same goes for the understanding of the self or the non-self in eastern philosophies, which are psycho-philosophies in the form of a path that is lived. Thus if a realised Hindu says "I am that", he is everything, boundless. And this for him is God. If a realised Buddhist says her ego, her 'I' has died, she means just that. A Tibetan Buddhist master, Kalu Rinpoche, has put it this way: "If you are no-thing, you are everything, if you are everything, you are no-thing."
The Christian mystics of the West talk about the emptiness of God. Here once again - the reference systems, the roadmaps are different and equating them over-quickly with each other can bring confusion, and yet when it comes to the ultimate truth ... unity? The really enlightened ones probably argue among themselves less often, that is more the business of the institutionalised officials of the faith, who of course exist in most traditions in East and West. The former seek the "experience" of revelation, the latter seek the power to lay down definitions, which can also lead to holy war. In other words, identification with the symbols removed from the "felt" meaning.
In the West, direct revealing of the ultimate ground and the way to get there have either not been cultivated or been punished at the stake, because experiencing, direct insight into the nature of the divine, does not fit the church's idea of God and the world.
Wondering how people capable of creating and upholding ethical and cultural values could also legitimise destruction, violence and discrimination caused Gendlin the philosopher - an Austrian Jew who as a boy escaped the Holocaust - to investigate the links between experiencing and thinking, experiencing and symbolising. He became interested in Rogerian psychotherapy because that was where this connection was being worked on. Gendlin's philosophical work "Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning" was turned for the first time into a research project.
The valuing of the individual as a person has not always been so self-evident to us in the West and looks back on only a short history of 300 years. The bloody combats fought to establish human rights have their origins in this fragile source. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is indefatigable in stressing the importance of these rights. As I have said already at a conference on psychotherapy and Buddhism, a person cannot be quickly written off as a neurotic ego-trip. A person should be seen for what they are - a process state of being - valuable, sentient, gifted with the potential for illumination, love, creativity and suffering.
As our western rootedness in a tradition of community and shared security has faded in both secular and spiritual terms, we have gradually discovered the "individual" as intrinsically valuable. In step with this evolution, we have come to see the other face of that tradition: violence, oppression, corruption and abuse of power. This other face is present in both East and West, with one difference. The East kept open, within its feudal and fossilised-seeming traditions, an entryway for directly accessing the ultimate ground.
For example, it is impressive how paradoxical language or actions in Zen, as instanced in the koan question, provide a highly specific means of pointing to the implicit behind the implicit (David Bohm), that which is not nameable or even, in the end, experienceable in the customary sense. By this constant "breaking" of concepts, our experiencing - our direct insight - is carried forward (to use Gendlin's language) in the direction of the unnameable. Of course we must first understand the words that are being broken in their conventional meanings because only then will the breaking process raise/remove (Hegel's 'aufheben') the meaning to a "higher" or "deeper" level. The purpose of the exercise is to break through the confines of logic by paradoxical, non-logical use of (say) language by forcing the disciple into experiencing. The mind which was trapped in logical thinking and natural, organismic expectations is then ideally released into a state of unconditional openness and awakeness. This state should take one beyond experiencing, it is absolute presence, described as dynamic, brilliant and empty.
Here is a Zen koan, from an unknown source.
When the Many
are reduced to One,
to what is the One
In Tibetan Buddhism this is called "crazy wisdom". Here again it is paradoxical, illogical, crazy language or action which carries experiencing forward towards attainment of the ultimate ground. In Buddhism, this ultimate ground or emptiness is seen as pure potentiality, the fullness before manifestation. The fullness that comes before the concepts of life and death.
So where does this felt-sense come from which drives some of us more, some of us less, to ask about the meaning of life: "Where do we come from, where are we going?" Where does that fertile rent come from, the rent in the self-evident quality of felt existence as well as in the logic of thought? This felt-sense must surely also have given birth to philosophy in the West. The dictionaries define philosophy as love of wisdom and the search for knowledge about nature and the meaning of existence. Gendlin stresses ('Thinking at the Edge' seminar in 1998) that he is not teaching in the field of the spiritual or the absolute, that he is only a "customer" there himself, and yet the language and practice of his approach to experiential process implies that also ... opens a door ...
Since I only have a few pages available to me, I would like now - perhaps a little prematurely - to draw some of these threads together.
Gendlin gave the following short definition of focusing during a seminar (in 1992): "Focusing is what I call the time we spend being with something which is there in the body but not yet known inside us." The steps of change which follow, the opening up of many new possibilities, are no longer part of the focusing, Gendlin said at the same seminar. But the change steps come through the focusing, according to him. In essence it is all about friendly attention, staying with what is unclear. Giving space for the unfolding by being present in a non-intrusive way.
The six classic focusing steps and the various manuals, as we know them from using their support in psychotherapy, creativity, and many other areas, are like extra help for when things get stuck and the process is frozen. All the many methods of meditation fulfil much the same purpose. They too are an aid so that awareness can simply stay with what is and let unfolding happen ...
Both meditation and focusing work by pushing us up against the limits imposed by our identification ... using friendly presence as a tool. If our awareness is directed toward the stream of direct experiencing ('focusing on the ongoing experiencing'), Gendlin speaks of focusing. The meaning lies in the experiencing, not in the concepts, and the concepts and symbolisations help to carry experiencing forward. Here precisely is the meditative/contemplative quality of the person-centred approach. The key is to accompany what is, to be present, without judging. This intentionless but friendly presence opens up space, space for change, whether it be in focusing, meditation or elsewhere ...
You are more than your states of annoyance, rage, more than your thinking, your problems. In focusing we say that you have them, you are not them. Via what is felt in the body, we can come closer to these places of meaning, where we can take up an inner relationship with them. This means listening, being with them, attending to them. In our focusing we let them become personal, let them speak, move, paint, whatever. A repeating "angry-cramped" will perhaps let out a small, abandoned girl. Gendlin explains: there is no negative energy, because what is negative, what is blocked, always bears the solution implicitly in itself. As long as I identify unconsciously with the small girl, I will keep falling into a state of anger. Once the identification becomes conscious, I can work with it. To express it in a Buddhist way: evil as such does not exist, only ignorance, by which is meant obstruction through identification.
It is important to realise that this also applies at a transpersonal level. "Transpersonal" means "going beyond the person". If we identify with a group, a nation, a tradition or a symbol, this is still identification. This is why the Nazi propagandists used transpersonal symbols like the barred cross (crux gammata), a sun wheel or swastika turned the wrong way round, in order to concentrate power. The "small self" is left behind so that we can serve the transpersonal - it is the identified ego which conquers, murders, moralises or prays and meditates. That is seductive because identifying with a larger cause is strongly energising. But this is "borrowed" energy, not energy we have worked for. I am trying to make clear the narrow line we walk, not indulging in polemics. We can even identify ourselves with focusing.
What we need, therefore, is a personal process of unfolding through all the levels. The person understood as unfolding process, who identifies less and less with the contents of consciousness, less and less with a solid self.
Gendlin points out that we usually think of situations as outside us, split off from us inside. But the felt-sense, the physical feeling of the whole situation or the whole problem, is "inside". By bringing this internal feeling of the whole in all its complexity (its intricacy) into consciousness, by forming a relationship with it, we experience it as "not me"; I have a sense of the situation, it changes, it opens, and I am not that sense. Yet at the same time the situation is not simply "out there". And it is presence, being with this experiencing, which brings us closer to the self which is no contents.
We can use focusing, as well as certain forms of meditation, to solve our problems, to work on our traumas or to reduce stress. That too is important and valuable. But we can also shift the axis and use these tools to work every day on the felt edge of the question "Who is this presence from moment to moment?"
I still need some of that extra help. To be continued.
(Translation: Bill Fraser - 1999)


A View from the Buddhist Middle Way
by Ian Clark

The History of the Middle Way
Shakyamuni Buddha lived in India around 500 BC. He realized beings were in a state of suffering and that the origin of these sufferings was delusion. Buddha believed that if a being really desired permanent happiness, he or she could meditate on ways to end that suffering and thus find happiness, just as he had.
He realized suffering could be quite subtle and is related to happiness. Happiness occurs and is grasped by those who experience it because they want repetition. Yet the repetition (of the happy experience) can itself fall short of the original experience or, just the opposite, be too much to the satiated. That's why in the Sanskrit "Dukkha" means "unsatisfactory" or "suffering" and that term came to represent the human condition.
At the time of Buddha, there were many people in India who were proto-materialists because they believed that things had absolute existence. Buddha preached a great sermon (or sutra) known as the "Heart of the Perfection of Wisdom" in which he spoke of the "inherent non-existence" of all things, which means that although things exist in a conventional way, they do not exist "from their own side." We perceive the world with the senses, interpret it with the mind, and then create objects in the world which we then impute with "goodness." We give the objects names and treat them as if they were permanent and of great value so much so that for some we are quite prepared to give up our lives. The desire to possess these things not only motivates us to take action (karma), but it mostly prompts us to take non-virtuous action.
In the 2nd century, a Buddhist saint, Nagarjuna, addressed the philosophy of "inherent non-existence" and created a series of philosophic works which was carried in a very pure form to Tibet by Atisha and Je Tsongkhapa. This work became known as "Madhyamika Prasangika" or "The Middle Way." It was a way of viewing the world which, for a student, could be first understood conceptually; then, as a non-conceptual realization, it could provide the basis of liberation from rebirth for anyone who so chose. Liberation consists of a visceral realization after much meditation that everything exits only conventionally and that nothing exists "from it's own side." Everything is a factor of mind.
This realization was more than a nihilistic repudiation of the existence of things. It was a realization of their "inherent non- existence" and, at the same time, a recognition of their "conventional" existence. This awareness applied not just to objects in the world, but also to the self. The essence was that nothing has inherent existence and that all depends on the co-arising of other events in order to achieve what seems to be an ephemeral, impermanent state of being.
If this philosophy is true, it is a pity that we devote so much of our lives wanting to possess these things. Our full prisons and wartime cemeteries are a testament to this. There has not been such a significant statement of existence in Western Philosophy until just recently when Ludwig Wittgenstein left his native Austria and tilted philosophic lances with Bertrand Russell at Cambridge. Perhaps spurred by the intellectual ferment of early quantum physics, Wittgenstein expressed his philosophy in the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus Note: I would like to draw your attention particularly to what Wittgenstein has to say about Science in the Tractatus, 6.371 and 6.372.
But it was not Wittgenstein who first thought along the lines of the Buddhist Middle Way in the West. It was the Greeks, who just about thought of everything and, true to form, Parmenides of Elea Heraclitus of Ephesus tried to define whether the world was comprised of things or events. Heraclitus believed the world existed because of the play of events (panta rhei), but it was Parmenides whose ideas of immutable things and of creation seemed easier to understand to Plato.
The rest, they say, was history. It seems the philosophy of the Buddhist "Middle Way" had a parallel in Western thought which died an untimely death until the "Alice in Wonderland" world of Quantum Physics overcame the simplistic, confident materialism of the late Victorian era.
Cyberspace and the Mind
Buddhists regard mind as the route to liberation. It is a way to both erase desire and non-virtuous action traces from the mind. The mind is, in its natural state, clear, an empty slate on which our consciousness constructs reality. "The world in which we live seems to be solid and real and shared with others, but what we experience is our individual construction," says Dorothy Rowe, a British clinical psychologist and author of "Living Together." The clear mind is the "tabla rasa" on which our consciousness constructs reality. Its nature reflects a Buddhist interpretation. There is a chain of causation and of events co-arising--a displayed Web page meeting eye-consciousness, a subject selected by desire and motivated by intent, the display illusory and impermanent, a reflection of mind and ultimately unsatisfactory.
As Joanna Macy comments in her "Mutual Causality in Buddhism and General Systems Theory," "self and being are both unique and inseparable from its natural and social matrix--a fleeting meeting ground of intricately woven relations, its nature being profoundly participatory." Here we have the idea that the self is merely an event!
The Internet is an ideal medium for reflecting and searching for the "self." Some projections of the mind occur when, for example, we react in abhorrence to views with which we are uncomfortable or possibly become attracted to a person with whom we have established some intimacy on the Net. The Net is useful because it allows us to begin isolating the "self" that is an always-present projection. The Web gives so many opportunities for reaction! With this clear observation of the "self" as pre-requisite, we can then meditate on its inherent emptiness. This is a way of liberation.
CyberSangha, The Electronic Support System
The Internet, used intelligently, provides a Buddhist with practice on the path of wisdom and compassion. His Holiness, The Dalai Lama and other Buddhist leaders have already commented on their delight in the Web and the opportunity it gives of spreading the Dharma (teachings). It can meet many of the requirements of talking about Buddhism such as:
" providing a "CyberSangha" by which people can gain support in their practice either from books, journals, indexes, Buddhist center home pages, Sutras, commentaries, debates, and advice;
" providing emanations of the Buddha in the form of thankas and mandalas for contemplation;
" using hypertext as an ideal structure for the expression of the logic of the Path to Liberation Lam Rim or studying the nature of mind (Lorig);
" teaching only when asked, implied by a user downloading a page;
" practicing the four virtues of speech when engaging in debate in a newsgroup--not to slander, lie, use hurtful speech or gossip;
" being aware of the nature of suffering Dukkha and developing compassion for others now connected globally on the Web and
" turning difficulties into the path when working with others on the Web and if anger arises, transforming the energy to patient versatility, sorrow to empathy with others, jealousy to admiration and so on.
Ian Clark ( is a practicing Buddhist and has traveled in South Asia and the Middle East for ten years during 1973-83. His trade is computing and he is presently a systems engineer with an oil-company. He has spent much time studying and learning about Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, the I-Ching, Sufism, Vedanta and Modern Philosophy.
Copyright © 1997 by Ian Clark. All Rights Reserved.


Anatta in its theoretical aspect


Here is the most abstruse, perfect and at the same time subtlest doctrine that has ever been expounded throughout mankind's history. Its special feature is rooted in the fact that it can only be taught, explored, taught, revealed and expounded by an omniscient Buddha, a "tathagata", that is to say a perfect being.

It all happened twenty five centuries ago, when, by renouncing the world, sensuous pleasures, any ambition or project, the prince Siddhattha had been engrossed in various practices and spiritual exercises. Being always dissatisfied about the results they produced, he had an experience, reached a complete realisation, and in the wake of this attainment, taught that new doctrine, unheard of before and which is taught nowhere else save by his disciples who succeeded him.

It is essential to well understand that the doctrine of anatta, as it is taught and expounded in what we call theravæda, is totally unknown in any other system of thought or exegesis whatsoever, including the modern and so called speculative Buddhism also called mahayæna Buddhism.

From the very beginning, the monk Gotama, the awakened one, whom we call Buddha, has discovered this principle. He has discovered something entirely new in the course of evolution of all the spiritual traditions of humanity. He will display this discovery under the name anatta.

It is essential that, each of us, according to his or her own skills, at least succeeds in achieving a basic and accessible understanding of anatta.

Only the ones who achieved complete realisation, who reached arahanthood, that is to say complete awakening, master a very wide, complete and subtle capacity of reflection and investigation into this doctrine. The ones who have not reached this stage yet, can but have an incomplete and truncated understanding, their investigations' skills being more limited. As to the ones who never saw nibbæna during their living, they won't be able to correctly and effectively understand this doctrine... However, someone well versed into the scriptures, who is a very learned scholar, whom intellectual faculties have sufficiently developed, will be able to overview a fairly good idea about this thing, or we could say not too bad.

anatta is a Pali word, and not a Sanskrit word, which has absolutely nothing in common with its Sanskrit equivalent "anatman". If Buddha refused to make use of the Sanskrit language, if he chose to use his native dialect called "Magadha", there was a reason backing it.

Buddha is someone who claimed having reached omniscience, that is to say the capacity to know all in all. Being particularly strengthened by this omniscience (as claimed by him, but at the depth how can we be sure that it is true?), he made some choices, concerning as much what he endeavoured to avoid as what he wished to cultivate.

The Pali dialect

One of the 5 required conditions for a "tathagata" ( a Buddha) to appear in this world is that he appears in a specific area of what, in present day India, we call "majjhimadesa", which means the central land, the land of the middle, as it is geographically located at a medium distance between the coastal areas, the mountains and the forests. It more less constitutes the heart of the Indian peninsula. Also, in this specific area, the Magadha dialect is being utilised. Later on, owing to the simple fact that Buddha's words have been put into written script that became canonised, we will use the word Pali, conveniently rendered into English by the word "canon". To refer to this dialect, we have therefore replaced the word "magadha" by the word "pæli".

In Pali, the literal meaning of the word anatta is divided into two parts described as follows:

"a", which is the privative particle, whose counterpart can be found into French language and "atta", which is the reflexive particle, translated into English by "self" and that doesn't really have any accurate equivalent into French. We usually say "en soi" ("in itself"). It is worth knowing that forms such as "m', t', s'" that we use in French will be genuinely expressed in Pali by the word "atta".

Buddha didn't use technical words. He refused to use Sanskrit words that refer to spiritual techniques, religious or mystic beliefs. He instead used words of everyday life, specifically used by the Magadha people. In Pali language, we indeed cannot find any specific vocabulary related to philosophical or religious teachings, ideas or concepts. As soon as one wished to teach such things, one had to use Sanskrit language. It is worthy of quotation that Sanskrit and Pali are very close to each other, but not necessarily identical.

The translation of the word anatta

"anatta" is therefore the conjunction of two particles: the privative particle and the particle designating the idea of "reflexivity", of reciprocity. If we wished to find an appropriate French word in order to synthesize anatta, we could say: "absence d'un soi" ("absence of a self"), "absence d'une nature propre" ("absence of a self-inherent nature").

Very often, the word anatta, in literature, is translated by "le non-soi" ("non-self") or "le non-égo" ("non-ego"). This translation is quite inconvenient. Even if, in its wider or deducted meaning, the idea of anatta suggests the absence of an ego, a self or soul, the word anatta in itself doesn't mean "absence of an ego", "absence of a self" or "absence of a soul". There are other words designating this in Pali language. In English, we are compelled to use a word like "not self" or "none self" because British, have, in their vocabulary, a word designating the reflexive particle that is "self". For instance, "myself" means "moi-même", "himself" means "lui-même".

We can therefore likewise trace back, in Pali language, the adding of the particle "self" for designating "soi-même" ("oneself"). That's why British have legitimately translated the word anatta by "not self" or "none self".

The problem lies in the fact that, when we started to translate into French, we mostly translated from English sources. Therefore, naturally, French academic circles, who, for most of them, didn't understand well the teachings of the Enlightened one , have translated "not self" by "non soi". This is a mistake that unfortunately leads to a misunderstanding on the behalf of the majority of French readers.

Our views being already expressed, we can however claim that in Sanskrit language, the word "anatman" can indeed convey the idea of "absence of a self", "absence of a soul", "absence of an ego". But we deal with a Sanskrit word and not with a Pali one. Indeed, backing up with this Sanskrit word, translators took the abusive liberty to render into French the word "anatta" by "non soi", "non égo" or "non âme".

The absence of "in itself"

anatta, that is the absence of "in itself", applicable to everything, every idea, every characteristic and virtually all mental or material phenomena. From this starting point, we can, naturally, give details and explanations so as to understand that in such and such cases, such and such field, in this manner, should the anatta doctrine be expressed or perceived. The standard description that you probably already heard of lies, for instance, in saying: Let's take a cart. This cart undergoes the law of anatta. We cannot claim that a cart exists in a true sense. Indeed, if we take it to pieces and we spread it out on the ground, we can no longer claim that this is a cart. However, all its pieces are spread before us.

Here is outlined a quite superficial and easy way to try to make you understand the concept of anatta. But it yields the disadvantage to stand firm on this idea of absence of substance, seed or soul. And still, it is interesting to ascertain that when we ask this question to Buddha himself, and it is essential to find out what he himself expounded as being anatta, this latter didn't mention the cart's example. He was not the one who took this example. One of his disciples took this example in order to make himself understood by someone. We also sometimes take the example of a cow butchered into pieces on the butcher's block.

When Buddha explains anatta

When Buddha expounds what he conceives to be endowed with this character of absence of "in itself" (absence of self inherent reality), he chooses a different and, we could have guessed so, remarkably effective option. He tells: "There is no "atta" in this body. Because if, in this body, there was a "atta", at this very moment, "atta" may have this power to decide or to choose that this body should assume this shape or shouldn't."

We can trace back this demonstration in numerous suttas. Throughout his life span, he very often used this method in order to make his talks understood. Here is the way he carries out...

Someone is convinced that in this body is seated a substance, a seed, an entity, or that in all cases this body and this mind are the emanation of an immutable, unconditioned and eternal principle.

Buddha tells this fellow:

" - Is that body motionless, immutable or does it undergo changes?

- It undergoes changes (old age, illness, decay, etc...), Lord.

- That which undergoes changes, is it a source of pleasure or a source of dissatisfaction?

- That which undergoes changes is a source of dissatisfaction, Lord.

- How can a source of dissatisfaction be considered as our property? "

One must be crazy to keep held in hands a burning coal, which is a source of intense pain. One would be silly to keep this body, source of transformations and dissatisfactions. Here is the specific point that Buddha, in his demonstration about anatta, focused on. That is the idea of total absence of control. That is not only the idea that there is neither a "owner", nor an "entity". That is also the idea of absence of control as anatta suggests the total absence of control or mastery.

For example, we would like to put an end to the ageing process. We would like to keep a young, dynamic, flexible and, in every possible way, beautiful and attractive body. However, there is an uncontrollable and natural ageing process taking place. There is no means at all to control that, not only because there is no one, no individual, no ego, but also because it's impossible to control that. It is explained by the simple fact that in this material body, there is no inner regent that controls its material constitution. Neither is there any "self control", nor is found a "self controlling" agent. Matter cannot control itself. The same process is applicable to mental phenomena, as these latter cannot control matter and matter cannot control these former either.

Here is fathomed out the somehow theoretical aspect of it. Let's try to figure it out in a more practical way, which befits daily life's realities...

anatta in its practical aspect

"I" clothe myself, "I" eat

Usually, we enjoy to wear clothes that are as beautiful and handsome as possible, convenient in all respects, noticeably to reach our professional aim. We will therefore make efforts to look handsome, especially when we go to work. We think, we conceive: "I clothe myself.", "I have chosen these clothes because I like this colour, that shape, I prefer trousers rather than skirts."

But in reality, but what is this all about? In reality, as a matter of fact, it is inconceivable to go to work naked, even in a hot country. Because, being naked, we fall prey to the aggressions of the insects, and moreover, in particular in our western civilisation, of other people's opinion. Indeed, no other choice is ever left to us. This is ineluctable, necessary and compulsory to wear clothes. Here is the starting point. This idea of the ineluctable character of things is what anatta implies.

From this point onward, we can dream up, we can extrapolate. We can try to make handsome, pleasant clothes and devout ourselves to a style by wearing them. We can work out some philosophical discourses about the social and sociological finality of clothes. At the beginning, it all starts with a basic need to cover up the body with some material.

The same law is applied to food, even in a more true fashion. It would still be possible, from a biological viewpoint, to live naked, some of us are doing it. But is it biologically possible to abstain from taking food? To eat nothing, beyond two days, two weeks or even two months? That's a low prospect! In one way or the other, we must feed up our bodily machine because no other choice is left to us. It is ineluctable, uncontrollable. The digestive function is totally uncontrollable. One can refrain from going to toilets for one hour, one can abstain from eating for a whole day, but soon or later on, whether one wants it or not, one will have to purge his intestines, beyond his/her own volition, one will have to feed the "machine" from above. This is ineluctable, and this ineluctable character, that is anatta.

If we believe to have chosen "Mac Donald's" because it is tastier than "Burger King", we are allowed to. If we believe that we have concocted some pizzas because we like pizzas, fair enough. Whatever the dye, the aesthetic quality or the embellishments that we can put into our life might be, the hard fact is that we eat for only one reason, not to die, not to be diseased, not to decay. However, through our attachment, erroneous views and desires, we will try to make that food enjoyable. This is inevitable. One must be mad to eat loathsome food. It is perfectly natural to go after tasty and pleasant foods.

When we really enjoy a delicious dish that we like, which we have prepared and we do believe that it is so because we have chosen it, in fact, we are only subject to quite a natural law: the need to feed ourselves, and the fact that we can't refrain from experiencing pleasure while cooking. Cooking tasty dishes is a natural tendency inherent to all of us. Admittedly, some people are less fond of food than others and more interested by clothes, everyone has got his own likes.

The "walking" posture

When we walk, some of us do some sport or train themselves in cultivating an athletic pace, but in all cases, we walk because there is no other option left to us except walking. We must walk to go to toilets, to the kitchen, to work too, to pick up mails in the mail's box as well, even if it is done on a short distance. Afterwards, we can put up all the embellishments we want: dressing in more comfortable shoes, doing gymnastic exercises, wearing clothes more befitting the discipline, no matter what it is!

We walk because walking is needed and this is the reason why, besides, Buddha includes walking among what he calls the four bodily postures. This is a bit unusual when we consider that Buddha includes walking, or a trip, as a bodily posture. We could think: "posture = motionless". Buddha tells that going on a trip is also a bodily posture. The proof for it lies in the fact that it is impossible to maintain a bodily posture for long. If we walk a long time, there will always occur a moment when we will have to stop or rather change the posture. We will then have to adopt a lying posture. If we remain laid down for long, there will always occur a moment when unbearable pains will manifest. Therefore, we will have to change the posture by sitting for example. If we remain seated for a long time, there will occur a moment when will be experienced a significant number of feelings of dissatisfactions, painful things within the bodily complex that are difficult to endure, we will have to change our posture, by standing for instance. What to say about standing for long while doing nothing, when, for instance, we queue up in an administrative office... At the worst, better to edge forward a hundred steps than to remain standing motionless.

In all this, no one took a decision. In all this, nobody has exerted any control on anything, contrarily, admittedly, to what we usually imagine.

The uncontrollable character

Nothing is ruled in advance

anatta is specifically this ineluctable and uncontrollable character of all happenings of our lives and everything that we do. In fact, we cannot really say: "we do". It just happens, this is mechanics set in motion, that unfolds in elapsing time. But this is a cautious warning, one should abstain from claiming: "As it is an automatic machine, therefore, at last, man's life comes down to a robot piloted by an automatic pilot. Therefore nothing remains to be done whatsoever. I just have to let myself go as in all cases, everything is ruled in advance". This is false, nothing is ruled in advance! It just happens, it unfolds, admittedly, but it is not however defined, established or ruled in advance.

We will never find any laws, in mathematics, which can predict with perfect accuracy everything that or which will occur. Is there a proof backing such claim? Let's just try to remain doing nothing... We won't be able to!

The example of the boat

Let's take the example of a boat: if we back up with the purely mechanistic and deterministic viewpoint, which asserts that everything is automatically ruled by some laws, the boat will therefore proceed where it has to. Indeed, there is a navigator. There is somebody holding the boat's helm. The boat has no power to decide, to choose. Obviously, there is somebody operating the helm. And however... Whilst accepting that the boat navigates on a straight line, it would still go somewhere and end its trip by beaching or by even colliding against a reef. As a matter of fact, it changed its direction and it proceeded to a different destination; it reached the deserved harbour. In fact, neither the boat itself nor its navigator, have exercised any control on anything.

In fact, it occurred in this way and not otherwise. That's why we should refrain from sticking to this erroneous belief in a kind of pre-established determinism. We could almost say that, here, a paradox is involved.

It is well understood that we are not the ones who keep a control over this "machine". If someone attends university and works hard, he will finally pass on his diploma. There is no control, there is no entity, but if he chose not to register on a university course, he wouldn't have passed and got his diploma.

Therefore, we should avoid the extremes of a pure determinism, on one hand, and also shun, on the other, the entire opposite view, which is a kind of absolutism, of perfection of behaviour. In this latter, there would be someone who decides, controls and chooses.

The problem related to spirituality

Here we face a sensitive issue. The problem related to spirituality. In today's world, whether in the East or the West, we can find what is called progress, technologies. We summarise this by the word "materialism".

And so, some of them come, with their robe, their traditional dresses, their turban, their bells, their trumpet, their crucifix, their candelabra, their candle, their incense sticks, their shaven head, their hat, etc. And they will tell you: "material welfare is good, but there is something better, which is spiritual development". How many times didn't we hear: "external wealth, that is good, but inner wealth is better". Who is telling us this? Pursuant to what spiritual growth is better than material growth? By virtue of what could spiritual development constitute the only alternative to all sufferings and pains endured in a given material existence?

It is interesting to see how the monk Gotama, the awakened one, Buddha, has dealt with this point. He did it in a quite unique manner, which is totally alien to everything that has been taught elsewhere. Buddha tells that, all beings, whoever and whatever they are, without exception, conceive "atta". It is therefore essential to back up with this assertion.

He tells: " All beings, whatever they are, from the moment that, of course, they are conscious, do conceive, comprehend, experience, live and imagine "atta". There are two ways to deal with this topic. There is the way of nihilists called "uccheda", and the way of eternalists called "sassata". Even if there are these two ways to deal with "atta", as a matter of fact, all deal with "atta".

The three ways to deal with atta

And so, when we talk about transcending the ego, about non-ego or spirituality, whose aim and vocation lies in transcending materialism and egotism, we are still, whether we like it or not, indulging in the erroneous conception of "atta", in the wrong experience of "atta". To worldly beings, two ways to deal with "atta" do prevail.

The first one lies in dealing with "atta" by means of mental speculations. These latter are expressed in a twofold way, the so called nihilist conception and the eternalist one. The second one deals with "atta" by means of desire and fixation. There is a third way to deal with "atta", being far the most difficult and sensitive to be expounded, as it can be perceived only while experiencing satipa¥¥hæna vipassanæ. Here is involved a way to deal with "atta" through identification. The ultimate and supreme identification.

"We live only once "

And so, some of them believe that we live only once and tell us: "As in all cases, it is so, why not living to the sake of pleasure". These ones will usually dedicate this existence to the search for material pleasures. That is to say, pleasures that gratify the sphere of the five material senses: -pleasures of the eyes, the ears, the palate, the nose, the tactile sense and the skin. These latter think within themselves. "In all cases, at the end of this life, everything will be over, nothing will remain whatsoever". Those ones can also, of course, elaborate some concepts, some philosophies.

We can therefore globally comprehend all these concepts and philosophies under the generic rendering "political philosophies". That is to say a peculiar form of ideation, a certain form of ideology, which asserts that it is possible to experience in today's world, through a socio-political organisation, a specific form of happiness and welfare. We do believe that in this world of the living there is something, truly speaking, a spirit, a soul... We believe that things that we experience truly exist, that they are infused with life, that they bear a monolithic character, that they are fixed, immutable, solid, even if we are aware of their limited life-span.

These latter think this way: "All our experiences are ultimately true. Our social, professional, family successes or failures are all self-existing things. Our car, television etc. are all existing things upon which we retain a right of ownership. The Law, the Law system, are existing things. We must therefore reach happiness, sensuous happiness, through a structured and intelligent organisation of our pleasures, laws and rules". Those fellows therefore elaborate a compound of thoughts, concepts and philosophies ascribable, in a broad sense, to political philosophies. They will develop and conceive what we call a " materialistic society".

"Something survives death"

Some of them believe and imagine something surviving physical death. They believe in after life experiences. When the body will be reduced to dust and will be totally pulverised, a stream of consciousness will keep on experiencing things.

One of the most blatant (glaring) beliefs in these regards, is the one in what we can call "intermediate stages". Namely some stages into which, skinned from our physical body, there would remain some conscious aggregates that keep on experiencing things. In a sutta, it is interesting to notice that Buddha tells: "There is this belief in the intermediate stages". This belief, did he claim, is a wrong belief, which entangles the one who adheres to it into the net of false views, suffering and the cycle of becoming and rebirths.

In short, there is a belief that after death, something else and new is going to happen. The ones who believe in or imagine this, think that in reality there is no intrinsic truth to be found within phenomena. They think that the things that we perceive do not really exist the way we do perceive them, that they are illusory and empty of self-inherent reality. But whether beyond, within or outside of them or likened to an ultimate nature inherent to them, they imagine the existence of "atta". It is believed to be a thing, a principle, and a transcendent, immutable and pure truth that is never touched and affected by the relative truth in contingency with phenomena.

These ones distinguish two worlds:

The world of experiences, of phenomena, the material world, the world of thoughts (about which, generally, they tend to say that it does generate suffering, impurity and that the ones who are bogged down into it are subject to veils, obstructions).

The distinct world, supposed to be "something else", an absolute, ultimate and transcendent world, a truth, a consciousness, a conscious state, a stage of being, totally unaffected, immutable, unconditioned, non-created and eternal. They therefore create a duality.

These latter, as taught by Buddha, the ones believing in the dualistic doctrine, in this idea, are also blinded by the veil of false views and will be subject to many sufferings and to the rebirths cycle. They elaborate what we can call "spirituality" in a broad sense, or a "religious philosophy". Usually, those are people who will endeavour not to let themselves be spoiled by sensuous pleasures, so as to be committed to something that is allegedly superior, a specific form of discipline, ascetic training or yoga. All this is done to the sake of reaching spiritual experiences, which lie beyond the five sensuous spheres.

Buddha tells that in reality, they are not really aware of what they are doing. Obviously, what they do simply lies in transferring their consciousness to a more abstract state of pleasure and desire. Instead of revelling in the nice pleasures and sensations given by the bodily and material organs, these former pertaining to a strongly emotional and profound casual nature, they will choose another option. As their mind is inclined towards this eternalist conception, they will instead only cling to mental experiences. That is the intuitive sense, which is not a material sense but a mental one.

The same mistake

Buddha tells, that both of them commit the same mistake and that someone very "material" has the same chances to go around in circles in the rebirths' cycle as someone who is very "spiritual".

Buddha does establish no hierarchy. He doesn't say that the ones are baser than the others, he doesn't say that the ones are more intelligent and higher than the others. He simply says that both are mistaken. Whether we follow a political philosophy, steps through which we try to convey a meaning to this world, a sociological, political and economical truth, or else a step of self-purification, penance, yoga, spiritual uplifting or transcendence, he tells: "This is the same mistake".

Even if these steps apparently exclude one another, they both fit in the same type of reality, the same concept. It is here about an erroneous concept that it does exist in a way or the other an entity, whether found in this world or beyond, in this body or being this body itself, whatever it is. Whether it is a transcendent stage, a state of being, a state of consciousness, or simply the truth of cosmic matter, which, one day or the other, will have to totally disappear, in all cases, we find this concept of atta.

Whether it is a sensual experience, a thought or an idea, we imagine this latter to be, in a way or the other, an intrinsic reality, a self-inherent nature. As apart from "atta", there is not, in Pali language, any word to express this, it is here convenient to rather use the Sanskrit word "buddhatathata", which means: the intrinsic nature of what rests upon itself. This may not be a perfect grammatical translation, but it is however the idea that is conveyed by this word. You will also hear some "spiritual masters" giving a talk about something by telling you: "This is ineffable, this is transcendental, it is THIS and that's the way it is, when you have totally transcended the world of phenomena, the world of duality, of egotism, the material world, you have permeated the "SUCHNESS", the "SELF"".

The conception of the divinity

Everyone has got his own

Afterwards, everyone according to his religion; some of them will claim: "That, this is Brahma, the supreme being". Some others will say: "This is God" or: "This is Allah". Here, we will find a school that imagines that this being, "beinghood" and reality, indeed is a being. We find the ones who are telling you: "No, this is not a being who created the world, this is simply an impersonal reality, a fact, a state of being that is ..."HERE"... that simply IS!".

Thus, Buddha, owing to his omniscient knowledge, and mostly backed up with his own experience, has noticed that among eternalists, there are two ways to conceive the deity or "buddhahood": We find the ones who believe in a being, supreme, an eternal, immutable, omniscient, unconditioned and supreme God who has, in a way or the other, created the world. The world may be constituted of a compound of phenomena which follow one another, superimpose one another and among which, each of them is the fruit of the previous one. If by the way, we go back to immemorial times, there would be a primal moment, a primal cause that is the divine being.

This explanation given by Buddha is almost, in the same words, also well explained in the theological summa of Saint Thomas d'Aquin into which this latter almost paraphrases the monk Gotama.

Buddha tells that it's one of the two ways, obviously erroneous by nature, to conceive or explain "atta", the deity. In this case, Buddha will prefer to use a specific word. He will talk about "brahma". Indeed, "atta" and "brahma" are one and the same thing, but, when we back up with the viewpoint of a creative being, Buddha uses the word "brahma" instead.

There is the other way to conceive the "beingness", the "suchness", "buddhahood", the "such isness". In this case, Buddha will rather use the word "atta". It lies in asserting that the world is a compound of phenomena, which follow one another, superimpose one another, since immemorial times, these latter being devoid of primal cause and end. But we can also find in this world, whether within or outside of phenomena, or as a nature inhabiting (inherent to) them, an eternal, transcendent, perfect, ineluctable and immutable principle.

The brahmajala sutta

You will find the above mentioned description in the "brahmajala sutta" into which Buddha, in an extraordinary manner, gives a clear account of all the conceptions and views being expressed throughout all the political and religious philosophical systems found world wide.

He tells: "There are altogether thirteen conceptions, which are the foundations of all teachings"; whether one of these latter is philosophy, politics, economics, sociology, religion, spirituality or else nihilism or eternalism. Buddha, who most certainly was not a god and obviously, despite of the claim of some, not the emanation of an eternal and immutable principle, perfectly understood that.

I beg you, study this sutta and do it under the guiding light of a direct and living experience of vipassanæ and you will see how, twenty five centuries ago, this man, the monk Gotama, has, in a few sentences, summarised and integrated all that is taught and known today as Nazism, Communism, fascism, capitalism etc... In short, he has "classified" all the forms of beliefs that we can find, on one hand, among all the socio-political systems, all that has been taught in religious systems such as Christianity, Judaism, Islam, including a part of Hindu teachings and, on the other, what is taught into what we call "mahayæna" Buddhism, also known as speculative or modern Buddhism.

There is no truth

Through his own life's experience, the monk Gotama has discovered that there is nothing like this as such. The world is desperately void. It is void of substance and truth. Anyway, Buddha doesn't use this word, save in a quite specific context. He doesn't speak about THE truth. We are longing for a kind of solidity, of steadiness. We have thus imagined to find it in material and social achievements or else, according to our sensitivity, in a spiritual realisation, a unitary experience of transcendence.

Unfortunately, according to Buddha, this unity, this "buddhahood", is still a transitory experience. Exactly in the same range of skills and the same manner (as the one which has been expounded above) as someone who has reached a certain level of social or professional achievement. From a certain viewpoint, there is no difference between the fact of having achieved a spiritual realization, on one hand, and having acquired a property on the other. Because in both cases, a minimum of efforts will then be needed to maintain them both. All this tends to prove that they are not eternal, as if those spiritual masters genuinely reached unity, then why do they need to do any further practices whatsoever? Any recitations whatsoever? Any prayers whatsoever? Why praying any longer? No need for any yogic practices whatsoever! If they still do perform it, it is pursuant to the need to reach this unitary experience (in the best of cases) again and again. The main goal is to maintain something.

There is nothing to maintain

When Buddha reached awakening, he did nothing then for maintaining anything whatsoever. Since he discovered that, indeed, there is NOTHING to maintain. There is one thing that men, gods, beings of the universe daily cultivate, at any moment, in any of their activities... It is their ignorance! They do cultivate their ignorance because they are sure that there does exist an ultimate, immutable, unconditioned, eternal essence, an eternal rest, a substance, an immortal and unconditioned essence, which remains undefiled by mental defilement, by pollution. Moreover, they get entangled in and attached to their experiences, whatever the nature these latter pertain to; musical, related to taste, spiritual or mystical.

Beware, please, don't read between the lines the books written by these "masters"', by these so-called self-realised beings, who have, you understood it at least I hope, at the most, reached something. You will find out that they are totally attached to their experiences, completely immersed into, identified to their "truth".

The underlying unity of all spiritual paths

Even if it is good form to claim that there is a unity transcending all spiritual paths, we have seen not yet a rabbi shaving his head and reciting mantras; we haven't seen yet a Buddhist monk prostrating or bowing before a mosque while praying "Allah" either. And obviously tomorrow will still not be the day when we will see a Moslem putting up his hair in pigtails (bunches), wearing a hat and toppling over his chest before the wailing wall of Jerusalem...

Charming spiritual traditions

Asians, with their spiritual traditions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. have a know-how, and beyond contest a very touching and appealing way to go on that pleases westerners strongly bogged down into materialism (the same thing applies to some South American spiritual traditions). The fact remains that it is the same thing; whoever they are, they all exactly behave the same way.

Buddha, in a sutta, brings to our acknowledgement the fact that a "spiritual master" is someone who talks only about two things: himself and his own experiences.

Please read your books again

I beg you, read again your books about all these great Buddhist masters, Hindu masters, mystics of Christianity who are meditative persons inclined towards mysticism...

I don't refer here to these books that merely give a dry and terse account of a philosophical doctrine or belief, I am talking about books into which we try to touch readers' hearts. You will obviously notice that these masters only talk about two things: About transcendental and spiritual experiences that they have the skill and the style to make us believe that they reached them without really mentioning it and ultimately, what do they talk about except themselves?

There are several ways to talk about oneself and we could fill up a whole book if further details were given in these regards. One of the ways to talk about oneself is to talk about "buddhahood".

A world devoid of substance

What the monk Gotama did discover

Here is disclosed what the monk Gotama did discover: This world is totally empty of substance. There is no Buddha seated within our heart or mind, nor is found Brahmæ or a God. There is no duality, no soul, no ego. There is neither a non-ego nor a transcendence of the ego, no impure veils of karma, which we ought to purify again and again until a continuum of consciousness is reached, this immutable and primeval consciousness. None of these things is found, did he claim.

But then, what is to be found? There is a hard fact, which is tangible, visible and experienced by all of us. We are "HERE". In fact, this is not really God or "buddhahood", which would be a kind of essence, which would Quite simply, we are the ones who are "here", experiencing our daily lives. And all the problem revolves around this simple fact; whether we want it or not, whichever the way we do reflect upon the world is, the hard fact is that we are immersed and completely bogged down into it!

Is there any exit gate?

But then, what can the exit gate be, what can liberation (freedom from rebirths) be? Does this world have an exit gate? No. The world is likened to a jail. There are bars fixed on the windows. Even if by chances, we could, on short occasions, observe some glimmers of light, meanwhile, there are still bars fixed on the windows. We can't escape from the world, there is no exit gate, it revolves in an enclosed chamber. It turns around because we are the ones who make it turn. If we make it turn around, it is due to the false conceptions that we do imagine. We make it turn around because we waste our time in running after culminations, realisations, fulfilments, experiences that, admittedly, are always described as sublime, wonderful, blissful, happy and joyful (whether through material or spiritual experiences).

At the worst, what can happen to us is precisely achieving one of these experiences of unity, of merging into the Divine or "Buddhahood". Because unless is imparted to us a fair knowledge of that which "tathægata" Buddha taught, it is definitely very difficult to realise that it is precisely THAT, the final trap, the mother of illusions.

Of course, the world is not illusory by nature as, if it was so, then how could it be here before us? Of course, our sorrows, pains, difficulties are not illusions. The hard fact is that they are here, something happens, we are aware of it and owing to it, we are dissatisfied to some extent. We are more less aware of their constant setting in motion. Of course, beyond what we do perceive, NOTHING does exist.

There is nothing

And so, what Buddha has discovered, this is not an essence or a substance hidden behind the world. What he himself discovered, specifically, and that is the main point where theravadæ teachings stand strongly opposed to all other spiritual traditions of mankind, is precisely that there is NOTHING!

This is the reason why when we ask him: "Within this cohort of spiritual masters, among this crowd of awakened beings, of fully enlightened Buddhas who teach all sorts of things, what do you teach, yourself, at the depth? Buddha replies: " I teach suffering and the cessation of suffering." By telling that, he still gives us a glimpse of the end of this dissatisfaction, as a possible prospect. It is therefore possible to achieve the end of suffering, but not by crossing the door, neither by climbing the window or the loft, nor by removing the tiles from the roof. It is not by crossing something or by trying to escape from the gravitational pull, which always bogs us down into this world, ineluctably, that we will put an end to our suffering.

So, what to do? What happens when a being reaches cessation, the end of this dissatisfaction and sorrow? It precisely occurs when the world CEASES, when phenomena that constitute the world CEASE to appear, to be produced. It's as simple as this. It is so stupid, but no one had thought about and experienced it.

The experience of the monk Gotama

It is precisely this experience, which the monk Gotama had made, and no one else (before him). He has actually seen and experienced something totally new, which peculiarly is CESSATION. The cessation of these transcendental states of consciousness. Because while being still ignorant and in search of the "truth", being looking for "something", as all of us do, he naturally started to perform all these yogic practices, all these mystical exercises. And he reached their ultimate stage of realisation (This is well mentioned in the canonical scriptures), with his spiritual master, he reached "buddhahood", the deity, let's call it the way we want.

Contrarily to his master, he didn't believe that it was the ultimate goal. He had an intuition, quite natural for a being like him, that it was still "something", that he had reached something and that the main problem revolved precisely around this simple fact. That was therefore still something, that was still a worldly phenomenon, even if we claim that this type of experience lies beyond samsæra.

And so, by himself, by means of his own intuition, intelligence, patience, did he succeed in seeing what occurs in it so that it ceases to appear. To do so, he took for object, of his observation and attention, those very stages of the divine, divinity or "buddhahood". When he realised that these states only rise and pass away, as soon as he developed a direct insight into this reality, which is REALITY, but which is NOT the "truth", he experienced by himself something entirely new whose existence he had never imagined or guessed before. He experienced the complete cessation of this stage and the consciousness that experiences it. At this moment, he did experience nibbæna.

This is not an annihilation, neither a total destruction, nor a disappearance. When the cycle of phenomena comes to an end, as a matter of fact, this is nibbæna. That's the way it is, according to nature. That's the way the world functions. The world appears, and it inherently bears the property of no longer appearing. When the world does no longer appear, this is nibbæna.

This is what the monk Gotama taught. No matter how much paradoxical and unbelievable it may seem to us, we can say that the teaching of theravæda, the teaching of these monks, the monk Gotama's disciples, starts from the point where all other teachings end.

For some of them, the goal precisely is complete "buddhahood", supreme godhead, fullness of being. To us, sons of the Sækhya, disciples of the monk Gotama, this is precisely HERE that the problem starts.


I have tried to explain this doctrine in a concise form (perhaps not with the skilfulness required by this subject), this fact being recognized, tasted, experienced and heartfelt by the monk Gotama, which we can all perceive and experience as well. We can all deeply reflect upon it, so as to clearly acknowledge that it is effectively the way it is. That is to say the fact that there is absolutely NOTHING, do I claim indeed: absolutely NOTHING, in the material or spiritual world, which could, in an eternal and immutable manner, exist in or by itself.

Having read this, sincerely wishing that it will make you enthusiastic in doing this experience and verifying by yourself the genuineness of so incredible an assertion, which strongly contradicts all that which we usually hear, I sincerely hope that you will reach nibbæna as shortly as possible and under the best conditions.

Questions and answers about anatta

Can we experience "atta"?

All the previous teachings only endeavoured to explain that there is NO "atta". Therefore, we cannot discover "atta", whatever the method we utilise might be. We can figure it out, conceive it, get attached to it, achieve identification with it, but in REALITY, there is nothing as such. This is what theravæda teaching is all about. Not only to say it, but mostly, to lead anyone to experience it.

Whatever you do, there is no chance left to you to reach "atta", nor to permeate "atta" as there is no "atta".

This is where the dilemma lies: Very often, people are facing problems related to the ego, or the self, while believing to be victims of the ego, whereas in fact, there is no ego. In fact, whatever you do, you do not take any risks.

Religions, religious systems, religious philosophies induce in us the idea that we are today ordinary beings who live in a conditioned world. A world plunged in ignorance, into which whatever we do, we do it under the influence of sin from which we must be purified. Or else we do it under the influence of the veils of karma (You probably already heard such expressions) whose we should purify and transcend.

Buddha, from the beginning, tells: " No. It is FALSE". This problem DOESN'T exist. The only thing we are the victims of, at the most, that is our desires and erroneous conceptions. All these problems related to the ego and its transcendence are absent from the teachings of theravæda. Owing to the simple fact of hearing this, we already have the feeling to have reached a certain level of liberation.

Can beings dwelling in the celestial worlds (deva) experience nibbæna or can only humans seize this opportunity?

It is more difficult for them than it is to us. In the human world, we live in a world that is split apart between pains, sufferings, desires and satisfaction. Still, more opportunities are left to us than to them so as to become aware of the emergency to follow this step and this path. There are a few advantages inherent to the fact of dwelling in the celestial worlds, precisely the fact of experiencing less pains and sorrow. As a general rule, it is quite difficult to them to reach nibbæna.

Save when there is an omniscient Buddha who, on his behalf, knows how to find the appropriate words, is gifted enough to succeed in drawing their attention and teaching them. As to the ones dwelling in the highest abodes, who are the brahmas, to them, it is by definition impossible as precisely dwell in those abodes the ones who are depicted to have reached the state named "buddhahood ", the deity.

These religious men are not totally wrong in what they do teach us. In this sense that it is true that after death, it is possible to remain, in a certain state of being, of a purely blissful and delightful nature, without being subject to hassles and encumbrances inherent to a physical body. Among what is depicted to us as being the panacea, Buddha tells us that it is not the case at all. He is the one who saw, precisely out of his science, his omniscience, that even if those are states of extreme jubilation, extreme purity, and mostly states that last an incommensurably long period, the fact remains that dwelling in divine spheres still involves to be entangled into the deaths and rebirths' cycle.

According to nature, we all have a certain memory, certain skill to recollect upon our mind all the events of our present life from its beginning. However, as each of us will notice, in the human world, we can't remember our life's first moments, which occur at the time of our impregnation. We can't, besides, even remember the first months or years, which come in the wake of our birth (after the child's delivery).

Likewise, those beings do not remember when they came into embodied existence, when they took birth into this world or realm of existence. They are deeply convinced that they dwell in it since times without beginning, that they are eternal beings. But, it is not the case at all. To succeed in making Gotama's teaching understood by those beings is definitely a very difficult task.

We should also be reminded that it is possible to reach nibbæna while being in the human world at a first stage, and to then be reborn into those "divine" spheres. Besides, in those spheres, are found many beings who already reached nibbæna in the human world and who can experience nibbæna again and again as many times as they wish. With even more opportunities to do it as they do not undergo any constraints whatsoever. Let us keep in mind that we here refer to beings who reached nibbæna in the human world.

However, to the one who hasn't experience nibbæna yet, once he has attained this " upper" mansion, the simple fact to listen to the teaching, to practice it and to reach nibbæna thereafter is impossible.

Once we have reached nibbæna, is it possible to travel from one world to another?

It is possible even if we haven't reach nibbæna.yet. Many beings do have the potency to see all the worlds, to perform a journey through these latter without having ever reached nibbæna. This is what Buddha explains, he tells that some of them have acquired these powers and utilise them. Unfortunately, they reach out through them some erroneous conceptions about the world.

We can succeed in doing so even if we have not reached nibbæna yet and the fact to have reached it, doesn't constitute in itself a propitious help for doing these types of things. It is independent, these are simply faculties that we sometimes call psychical powers.

We could easily believe that by freely moving from one world to another, which is the ineluctable fact to get rid of various barriers, we reach a certain mastery, that is already a stage of progress on the path.

That is the problem. The more we progress on any path whatsoever, the more we reach an advanced stage, this is precisely where the problem lies. The more we progress, the more we jump to the conclusion that we have reached something, we have led to something, or even we have achieved complete realisation.

Someone can believe that he is someone important in this world, higher ranked than others in the social scale because he can proceed from one continent to others aboard his private jet. It doesn't really make him a liberated being, because, even if he looks smart while travelling by jet, he always keeps on turning around the earth.

In the same way, those beings who developed this supernatural power to travel from worlds to other worlds, don't do anything else than going on a trip, in THE world.

I began to see the possibility of a mission, the one of a "bodhisattva", who completes a journey for granting help to others who are afflicted by sorrow.

A kind of charitable spiritual mission? A "bodhisattva" (bodhisatta) is not, by definition, in a very good position to lead others to the state of liberation. Because if he is a " bodhisattva", it forcibly means that he didn't reach himself yet. A Buddha proves to be much more effective to that sake.

Indeed, once he had reached full awakening, Buddha travelled a lot. He performed numerous journeys from world to world (except, admittedly, among the lower worlds, animal worlds, where there is not much that can be done) in order to make his teaching known by the many. Prior to having himself experienced this cessation, he couldn't forcibly be very helpful to sentient beings.

An action whose intentions are not rooted in a state of being, is it essential that much? Can we call this nibbæna?

No intention can have a state of being as its root cause. nibbæna, that is when there is no more intention nor action. That is the complete cessation of all the process and all the "machine". As long as there is an action and an intention, whatever the philosophical speculations that we can elaborate about those may be, that is not nibbæna. This is what we call samsæra.

We can't remain performing no action!

Absolutely. We can't stay doing nothing, that is inconceivable. There is no other option left to us than to do, or let do, undergo or act. That is the nature of the world, this is the way it functions. A video cassette player can't do anything else than reading or recording videocassettes, never will a video cassette player be able to grind some coffee or warm up some milk. In the same way, the world will never be able to do anything else than perpetuating itself. Living beings will never be able to do anything else than, as you say, performing actions, having intentions.

Why do a monk hide his face upon giving dhamma talks?

There are several reasons for it. The main reason lies in that it is better for the audience not to watch the one who is giving his talk in order not to discard away personal judgements about his physical beauty, ugliness or about expressions that could eventually appear on his face.

The main idea is that everyone may receive the teaching, Buddha's word, in its crude form. As it is. A bit as if it came out of a video cassette player. That's why Buddha emphasised on the point that monks shouldn't express at all on their faces any inner emotions or feelings while giving dhamma talks. They should also speak in a perfectly monotonous manner because only what is spoken is essential. The surrounding has no importance whatsoever. One of the ways to behave to that sake lies in hiding the speaker's face.

The best way to listen to a teaching lies in closing one's eyes so as to better concentrate on what one hears. Or eventually directing one's gaze to the ground, avoiding to look around oneself, so that one doesn't reflect upon the aesthetic quality of what one looks at.

Where do we find a smile in its human nature?

First of all, there is no nature as such so it would therefore be vain to search for one, that is in all case what is taught in theravæda, and a smile, what do you mean by a "smile" in its human nature?

The joy for existence.

We tend to mistake certain moments of intense pleasure with that joy for existence precisely. We find it difficult to realise that it is only a moment of intense pleasure. Indeed, even if it is abstract, very spiritual or purely mental by nature, it still remains a moment of intense pleasure. And we are, admittedly, after those types of experiences.

All this is difficult to accept!

Absolutely! It actually caused several attempts of murder against the first monk who expounded something like that. Because you can easily understand that the (would be) great incarnate Buddhas who lived during his time, while seeing so great a number of their disciples abandoning their teachings to go to listen to the sermons of the monk Gotama, didn't like it at all.

The problem that monks of this epoch had owed to the fact that many followers gathered around them. The problem that monks in today's world have is that we rather tend to make all the people RUN AWAY from us! (Laughter)

The teaching of a "tathægata", in some of its aspects, is unbearable. If you minutely look at it, search for it, there is no other teaching whatsoever, which makes us feel ill at ease. All other teachings immediately try to bring a kind of solace to its followers, let's say a certain form of intellectual comfort, at first. The teaching of a "tathægata", bears this specific property to be very uncomfortable by nature. It is so precisely because it directs us, makes us trip over scales, pebbles found in this world, whenever we tend to try to forget them, to ignore them.

That is a realistic teaching, a teaching about reality. The reality precisely lies in the fact that this world partakes of an unsatisfactory nature. As soon as we get close to reality, we inevitably feel a lot of discomfort. Otherwise, we haven't come close to it yet!

Does this "questioning" still keep on bothering you?

To me, things are going better. Because it still does occur a moment when things are going better. Indeed, on the path, there are three stages, and a conclusion, a "cherry on the cake". The first stage, this is precisely that feeling of discomfort, it can sometimes be harmful, painful, we can experience very uncomfortable things. Afterwards, when we have progressed a little, we reach the crossing point of a second obstacle, maybe worst than the first, because we precisely reach a certain stage of self-contentment, comfort and well being, a certain degree of bliss. That is still a trap. In a third stage, we are led to something even more vicious, more insidious, more effective, due to its anaesthetising effect, that is what is called experiences of equanimity and neutrality. It is treacherous and misleading because we haven't reach the final goal yet. The final goal is achieved only when cessation of all experiences is reached.

Are mad people happier than we are? Because they do not think, whereas to us, a lot of time is spent on thinking, fabricating, imagining.

This is a bit easy to point the finger at some specific categories of people by telling: "Look, they are the mad fellows". When one looks around himself, the question one may ask is not: "Where are the mad fellows ", but instead: " Where are the ones who are not mad? ". After all, is madness not mankind's natural condition? Admittedly, some degrees of madness are more advanced among some of us than others. At last, are we not all mad? Mad to endure this life. Mad to keep on wandering and going around in circles in this life, which can give us absolutely nothing.

It is true that some people, pursuant to various pathological, medical or psychological reasons, give us the feeling to be totally unconscious. Let's say that they don't express anything. Because they are, as we say, afflicted with mental disturbances. Their mind is a bit less balanced than ours. However, everyone has got his own way to be mad to endure all the sufferings he has to. Without being really aware of the stage where he is. Of course, there are always people more crazy than us. Then, we will point the fingers at that fellow by telling: "look at him , he is, beyond contest, completely insane! He spends a whole day thinking he is Napoleon, he is beyond help!" In a sense, we think of ourselves to be Peter, to be Jasmina, we think we are a man or a woman. In fact, we are exactly as crazy as he is. As Sigmund Freud very well claimed: "The whole of humanity is my patient. "

One shouldn't believe that " insane " people do not suffer. I have personally got the chance to come close to the psychiatric universe; the suffering of all those beings is quite abominable, but they do not openly express it the same way as we do, that is to say, they don't complain, they don't indulge into big metaphysical questionings, but within their own mind, do plague a lot of darkness. They sometimes go through very terrific states of suffering, mental suffering. At a physical level, we could draw a comparison with someone who suffers because he is inside of a metro, he is tied, stuffed, it is very hot, there are wooden seats, it gives him pain on the buttocks. And so sometimes, to the ones whom you call mad fellows, it is the same thing as if you literally thrust a red-hot iron into their own flesh, into their body. This is what they experience within their own mind.

We are free to some extent, we can do whatever we want, go wherever we want, when we want, as compared with criminals who are locked up in jail. If they have committed such horrible actions, it means that they definitely have mental problems. Why are monks not paying visits to jails or psychiatric hospitals to teach the cause of suffering to those people?

What you tell calls for several reflections. Everything is relative. A prisoner is locked in a jail, he does have a limited space, but we are also locked in a jail. Our space of freedom is very limited. If to you, freedom lies in choosing between New York and Hong Kong, we could say that in a sense " you are free". In all cases, beyond the surface of the earth, you don't enjoy, in today's world, the freedom to proceed WHEREVER you really want to. If you want to complete a journey to the moon or the planet Mars, you won't be able to. To a certain extent, a prisoner is someone who enjoys a certain form of freedom; he can proceed from the kitchen up to the library, the library up to showers (sometimes, he can even have access to some Internet sites!). Nevertheless, there are locations where he cannot have access due to coercive reasons: there are security doors, bars fixed on the windows, everything is very relative.

When a monk teaches the word of a tathægata, as a matter of fact, he always does it to some prisoners. Afterwards, it's a matter of degree. If the opportunity to do it into what we call, in our society, a prison environment, a place of detention, he will do it. However, the monk won't have the feeling to teach to people who are more imprisoned than others, simply because all the locations of the universe are linked with one another like in an entangling jail of inter-dependence. He will teach to other people who, on their behalf, are deeply caught up into the world's cage, the cage of the life they lead, through their obligations, social or professional needs. Life is a jail. Someone who has a job, who got married and has children...… In this existence, we undergo a lot of obligations and, in a sense, someone locked in jail is not more imprisoned and bounded by his obligations than we are.

Afterwards, we are facing the issue of the values promoted by our society, we stick to some peculiar ideals of freedom, which make us think that prisoners are more imprisoned than we are, that to live in a prison environment is something shameful and humiliating; it can be, besides, a very painful experience. On the contrary, owing to the simple fact to be free to choose, for our next vacations, between Hawaii and South of Spain, according to our social conventions, we can say that we enjoy more freedom. However, it doesn't really make a difference. As I told you, we don't really choose what we do, we don't really control the "machine".

Even if they face a lot of inconveniences, prisoners still enjoy a lot of advantages. They still have time to think a bit about the reason that brought them here, about what they do, whereas very often, in professional life, we don't even spend time on it because we are very busy in doing all sorts of things. They are quite isolated from the rest of the world, they undergo a certain form of physical solitude, which is certainly not a bad thing for following a path; please don't laugh, I am serious, they get free food and lodging, they don't really have to work, to make efforts to get their food, to maintain their place to live. To some extent, all this gives them some type of freedom that, in the world outside, we don't have. We must go for devices, do cooking, constantly worry about our food and lodging, pay the rent.

A prisoner''s problem perhaps lies in the fact that he is imprisoned, that he would like to go out. Through my own experience, I could tell you that once I had to face a problem, which was the exact opposite of the one previously mentioned, and I was precisely threatened of eviction from my lodging. Obviously, I didn't like it at all!

The monk, the bhikkhu, is the one who, from a certain viewpoint, is neither in the situation of a prisoner detained in a prison compound, nor in the situation of the other prisoner, who believes to enjoy freedom. It is still a slightly different situation. But in fact, a genuine freedom is only achieved upon reaching emancipation, that is to say succeeding in putting a definitive end to this belief we have in the "truth" , in definitely putting an end to our attachment, our fixation on sensuous pleasures and self-pride.

Once we have reached that, we have definitely achieved genuine freedom, total emancipation from this world. Afterwards, whether our body is located in a prison compound, a monastery or in a street, it no longer makes a difference.

A young child who comprehends the world with a poetic inspiration, writes a text, does a drawing, and then turns his attention away from the artistic work into which he has had a nice time. Could we say that this young child (or this adult) has entered a path conducive towards happiness. If later on, he prolongs it by some meditation sessions while observing a balanced life, is it a good start?

What do these notions of poetry and childhood have to do with your question? I find it difficult to understand.

We tend to think that children conceive the world in a simpler way than adults do. These non-attached eyes, eyes that do exercise no influence at all. Could we this consider this as a state of freedom?

I am not expert at all in child psychology but what I can remember about children whom I observed in my adult life, and mostly how far I remember the child I was, doesn't make me think at all that children are far more natural and free beings than adults are. Admittedly, adults build a certain image about childhood, but it seems to me that the life of a child is an abomination to some extent! They express themselves in a very spontaneous manner, have a better capacity to experience pleasure than we have. A child visiting a leisure park will enjoy himself to the full, he will fully take delight in the situation. We perhaps have a lesser capacity to do this type of experience once we have become adults, but in all other aspects, the life of a child is abominable, plenty of rules, when it is not literally knocks or humiliations.

In all cases, it involves a lot of totally potty principles, which are instilled in them, which they do not understand at all, a discipline that they are compelled to observe. And let us not forget that in France, and it is not the case only for France, we are led to a situation where children work more than adults. One should know that at school, a child daily works a larger number of hours than an adult does. Let's not talk about children who do not attend school but instead work in factories or elsewhere.

There are moments of explosion into laughter, of spontaneity, which, as adults, we like to ascertain in children. But aren't moments of blissful ecstasy we can experience upon listening to a cantata of Bach similar? Even if we don't openly express our sentiments of plenitude in the same way as children do. After all, is a child so different from an adult?

I just wanted to talk about living in this natural state of full awareness.

But are children really experiencing a natural state of mind that is fully aware? More than we do?

I imagine that we ascribe to children, who don't have a mind hindered with philosophical systems, perceive the world, or the noise of a river in a vivid manner, this feeling of mental peace, a pristine joy to live for the present moment, a certain degree of mental purity. Yes. At the level of recurrence of thoughts, passionate reflections that we have, we don't accept things as they are whereas children do. We can indeed say that there is a form of suffering that children never experience. But the comparison being drawn should end here itself. There are also other forms of sufferings inherent to childhood that adults usually never experience, noticeably the total privation of freedom. When they enter the adult world, many young people go through an experience of quest for what we call freedom: "Here I am, now I have grown mature, I drive my car, I can go wherever I want!"

We do enjoy liberties that children don't and these latter, among themselves, do experience specific forms of suffering, which are of a lesser range. As far as I believe to know, having never really been a gifted child, I remember having had times of passionate reflections and cogitating, which drew me to states of deep uneasiness. Nevertheless, it is true that a child can be pleased by anything, but one shouldn't be too idealistic and mainly shouldn't try to reach this state of mind.

I also wished to evoke this state of pristine communion with the whole world. Such as aboriginals do, as they harmoniously commune with nature.

We are supposed to find, as you did utter the word, a state of communion, reflected by the simple and spontaneous relationship, which takes place among a brethren of monks. However, daily realities very strongly disavow these beautiful ideals. On the contrary, to the one who succeeds in getting rid of a few of these defilement, false views, which we call kilesæs in pæ¹i language, the more he will eradicate these "pollution", the more he will connect with his environment in a quite spontaneous, neutral, adult, simple and healthy manner. We could imagine a brethren of liberated monks to be a model of perfection.

Indeed, it is true that there are communities, civilizations, primitive tribes, as we still dare to call them, who give us the feeling of a greater spontaneity, a better way to communicate. But once more, let's not be beguiled by appearances at all; someone totally naked, who wears a loincloth around his waist, with colour strokes painted on his body and who walks with naked feet in his jungle; doesn't forcibly need more communication and spontaneity than some allegedly "civilized" adults, modern as we say, equipped with a mobile phone and owning a car, do. Among those latter, we meet a few who, visibly, are quite simple folks endowed with a clear mind and who communicate with the surrounding in a way, which seems to us quite free and spontaneous.

One should be cautious while dealing with these notions and stereotypical bias, and mostly shouldn't create for himself an imaginary, emancipated, "cool", "relax", "peace and love" personality; I love you, I love you, we are all brothers belonging to the same human species. There is, besides, something very unhealthy found in those attitudes. Mainly, when they spread at the community level and around a spiritual and charismatic master, allegedly radiating with light, etc.

In fact, our step doesn't lie in trying to lead to an emancipated and perfect society, a spontaneous, clear and limpid community. Our step lies in achieving the cessation of suffering. There is a great chance that the more we will find beings who have reached the ultimate goal or have crossed significant steps on the path leading to it, the more the result, even if it wasn't the goal at first, would be a quite balanced and emancipated society, indeed, where there will be, as you say, these moments of truthfulness, of plenitude.

The most difficult (at last, the most difficult among them because it is the first) of obstacles to get rid of is this erroneous conception we have about the existence of a substance on which all world religions are based.

Unfortunately, even in theravæda we can sometimes hear monks falling into this trap. Whereas it is obvious that in the scriptures (canonical) Buddha considers this conception as precisely the first among these mental defilement and the root-causes constantly leading us to experiencing worldly sorrows.

If you undertake a training into satipa¥¥hæna, vipassanæ, you will succeed, and let's not talk about awakening or anything as such, indeed, in clearly perceiving that all this is quite empty! That there is no such a substance or nature.

Even if there is no ego, as to the wish of a person who wants to improve his human nature, to search for enlightenment, what is the real nature of that wish?

It is EXACTLY the same as the one that leads you to toilets when you want to urinate. In reality, it is nevertheless the same thing. There is, admittedly, a difference: All human beings go to toilets or behind a tree to urinate but unfortunately all beings do not follow the path leading to the end of suffering. In all cases, all beings are, in a way or another, inclined towards the achievement of a certain form of well being, of happiness. Everyone according to his affinities, his degree of maturity, will rather follow a path instead of another. Animals' capacities, in these regards, are very limited obviously but, in a sense, an animal wishes the same thing, feels that need, has this desire to reach a certain state of self-contentment. To it, however, it will be limited; it will only lie in getting its food, finding a place to sleep, etc. To us humans, there are many more opportunities made available but this idea, that inspirational impulse that does incite us to take a certain step for having a better life, still remains a perfectly in born tendency.

When we reach all this, we realise that it is the same thing. That is exactly the same mechanism that takes place when we go to toilets. It is done for the sake of getting rid of an uneasy sensation. When we go to toilets, we don't do it while being aware that there is a biological cycle taking place, that the body naturally eliminates the toxins. We don't even go to toilets to urinate but also to get relieved.

In the same way, when we tread a path, in particular the one disclosed by Buddha, we have an idea in mind. Therefore, there is no ego, nature just follows its course. Even if we indeed have more time to think, because there is no urgent matter bothering us, we ask a lot of questions within ourselves, there are some highs and lows, we keep in mind: "In a sense, I am only a mean egoist, I do my little meditation while there is a lot of suffering and misery surrounding me". Upon being seated on the "throne" while answering the call of nature, we don't tell unto ourselves: "In a sense, I am only a mean egoist, I try to get relieved while all this misery is surrounding me."

But it does occur in such a short span of time that we don't have time to go through all those questionings within ourselves. When we tread a path supposedly leading us to the complete liberation from all the burden that life binds on us, it's a much longer process. We indeed have sufficient time to go through many questionings within ourselves. Indeed, it is the same process, the same thing occurs. That is to say, we feel a certain need to succeed in being relieved, being totally delivered from something that we perceive to be an hindrance, a weight, something oppressive indeed. To tread this path, from this moment onward, is a perfectly natural thing. And in all cases, hopefully, it will deliver us from this hindrance.

Venerable Sãsana - 1999
Translated from French into English by Lambrou Dharmachandra 2001


Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way
By Khenpo Tsultrim Gyamtso

Part One
I am very happy to meet with you all again. This evening's teaching will be on a song by Milarepa, The Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. We will start by singing it. We will begin by singing because this will allow our minds to relax. If anyone is coming into the teaching late, they can hear the song. You may have come from a long distance and be tired and this will be a way for you to rest. Because Milarepa first sang this song, for us to sing it is very good. So now we will sing
Please begin by arousing bodhicitta, thinking that you will listen to the teachings in order to be of benefit to all sentient beings. This evening we are looking at a text that explains the middle teaching of the wheel of dharma. The middle turning is well taught by Nargarjuna in his Fundamental Teaching of the Middle Way. It was explained by Chandrakirti in his Entering the Middle Way. And Milarepa's song, Teaching the Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way summarizes it. The lord of yogins, Milarepa, underwent great difficulties to get the teachings. He first practiced eleven months in a cave meditating with a butter lamp on his head. Then he further practiced meditation his entire life in six outer, six inner, and six secret fortresses (caves), two further fortresses. four famous, and four unknown fortresses. This teaching arose from his wisdom and thus is especially precious. Milarepa had an innumerable number of students, but his foremost human student was Gampopa. And among nonhumans his foremost student was Tseringma. Milarepa sang many songs to Tseringma and her sisters. They are grouped into four cycles. The first cycle is called the Pearl Garland. The main song in this cycle is called Distinguishing the Provisional from the Definitive Meaning in Mahamudra. The second cycle is called the Radiant Garland of Nectar. Its main song is Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way . The third cycle is the Golden Garland [of something]. Its main song is the Six Bardos. The fourth cycle is the Profound Bliss. Its main song is Skillful Means. Among all the songs this one comes from the Light Garland of Nectar and is called the Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. In the present time knowing the context of the song is important so I have explained in detail where this song comes from. We live in age of research and we look into topics in great detail. So it is important to look into the profound view of Dharma and the profound meditation very well. And it is important for we, who are Milarepa's disciples to look into his key instructions very well.
His song begins by stating that from the ultimate perspective nirvana is not truly existent. Also there are no Buddhas, attainment, paths, or levels To begin with we need to distinguish between the way things seem to exist and the way they truly exist. When one has not engaged in analysis, conventional expressions are used and it is said that samsara and nirvana exist. Since conventional expressions are used it seems that it is being said that they truly exist. The best example for understanding this type of explanation is when you don't recognize you are dreaming. The next stage is when one has done a small amount of analysis. At this stage one uses reasoning's such as the one and the many to establish that things do not truly exist. The third stage is when one has done thorough analysis. At this stage one has transcended all elaborations such as thinking things are empty or not, dual or non-dual.
The song begins by saying nirvana does not truly exist. This corresponds to the stage when one has done slight analysis. There are two ways to give teachings: one is through reasoning and the other is through explanations. If one uses reasoning, one gives logical argument. If we were to look at the first verse in terms of logical reasoning, we would say nirvana does not exist because the wisdoms and fruition kayas do not truly exist. In this verse Milarepa has presented a syllogism. In a syllogism there are three parts. The first is the subject. In this verse the subject is nirvana. Then we have the consequence. What we are trying to prove is that nirvana does not truly exist. And we have the reason, which is that the wisdom and fruition kayas do not truly exist. To have a more detailed understanding of syllogism you have to study valid cognition, where it goes into this in great detail. So we will leave it at this for now. The reason given here is that nirvana does exist because the kayas do not exist. But someone may not accept the reason. The next thing you would say is that it's true because of the line above in the verse, which says there are no destination, Bhumis, paths or signs. If these do not exist the kayas and wisdoms cannot exist. But someone might not accept this use of the reason as proof, so then you have to prove the reason given to them. So you have to say there are no destinations, Bhumis, paths or signs because there is nothing meditated upon. And if they don't accept that there is no meditation, we say there is no meditator, because there is no truly existent self who is the meditator. Looking at this in a logical way, so we can start at the top of the song where it says there is no meditator. Therefore there is no object of meditation because that would be illogical. And if we accept that, we have to accept there is no truly existent path. If this is accepted, it would be illogical to accept that there is a truly existent fruition. And if this is accepted it is illogical to accept that there is a truly existent nirvana. So it all comes down to accepting that there is no truly existent meditator. So the way we can prove nirvana does not truly exist is to work through the reasons in the song in a sequential way starting with the first reason. Because there is no meditator therefore there is no object of mediation, therefore no paths and levels, therefore no fruitions, and no nirvana. So this is how one proves that nirvana does not exist. If we were t really look at this from the style of tradition or debate it would get very involved. One would have to give supporting arguments for each of these reasons. If someone does not accept the reason, you do not just leave it at that, you have to give support for the reasoning's. In the colleges there are two ways of presenting teachings. The first is debate and the second is explanation. So it is good for you to understand how debate is used. We haven't yet discussed the first two lines of the song. The first two lines say that from the ultimate standpoint there are no hindering spirits and no Buddhas. Not only do demons not exist, Buddhas also do not exist. This explanation in the verse so far is from the perspective of slight analysis. From the standpoint of thorough analysis one does not make any statements about things being empty or non-empty. From the ultimate or final perspective things are as Nargarjuna explains in The Fundamental Teaching of the Middle Way: "In the state of peace there is neither empty or non-empty, both or neither." From this perspective you cannot say things are empty or non-empty. The last line in this section says nirvana is simply imputed using names and terms. Nirvana is simply a conceptual imputation made with names and terms. If you wonder if nirvana does not truly exist, then what is it? It is just a name or a label, which we conceptually impute. Ultimately nirvana does not exist, so in what way it is existent? It only exists as an imputation., It is just a name we use. If we didn't talk of nirvana in this way we would have nothing to say. It is important to understand the way in which things exist. It is simply a name we use in a conceptual fashion. Tonight we will just explain the first section of the song. So let us sing the song again. When listening to the song in another language, you should not anticipate it being finished, but instead rest your mind in the union of sound and emptiness.
The reason why we haven't make a separate time for meditation is that we were meditating while we were singing. In Vajrayâna there is no distinction made between chanting or meditating. So we need to look at our minds if we are practicing in this way. Songs are very important in our tradition. There are melodies that are very drawn out so that you can meditate when you are singing. Also in Vajrayâna various musical instruments are used. When the instruments are being played, this is another time when you can meditate. So this is another aspect of Vajrayâna that you should understand. After I have given the explanation of the whole song, then you can ask questions. You have all heard a lot of explanation of dharma so I will only give a detailed explanation of the profound points. This a time when people study a lot, such as studying the behavior of animals in a detailed way. So therefore all of us need to look at these profound topics in a detailed way and then experience them. That's the way it is.
Part Two
Please begin by arousing the attitude of bodhicitta, thinking that you will apply yourself to the teachings so that you will attain enlightenment for all beings. Today's teaching is a continuation of the song the Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. Last night we had a short explanation of why nirvana does not exist. This morning we will explain why samsára does not exist. In the song this is explained in the verses "All animate, inanimate - the three realms to "That's the way these are in the final picture." If we look at this section of the song and put in the form of a syllogism, the subject is samsara, which is the three realms and all that is animate and inanimate within these realms. Samsara does not have a truly existent basis of designation. Not only that, even its name does not exist. This because from the beginning it does not exist, it is unborn it has no base, it is not connate, and karma and the maturation of karma do not exist.
There are six reasons used here. The first is samsara does not exist from the beginning. Why is that we say the three realms of samsára, all beings, and their environment are primordially nonexistent? It is because of the interdependence of the support and the supported. The support is the world and the supported is all beings within it. Do we first have the support and not the beings? That is impossible and so in the reverse, because they only exist in dependence on each other. They exist in dependence and only arise on the basis of causes and conditions., Thus we can understand all beings and the world do not exist from the very beginning. Why do we say that it is logically impossible that there is a support before the supported? Because if we don't have the supported, then how can there be the support? There cannot even be the designation of the support. It's also not feasible to say that the supported (all beings) come first and later there is the support for them. We cannot speak of sentient beings as supported if there is no support for them. There would be no reason to speak of the supported. It would also be logically impossible for sentient beings and their support to truly exist at the same time. If they are truly existent, they cannot have a dependent relationship. Thus they cannot be truly existent and arise at the same time. So then how should we understand support and supported? We should understand that they depend on each other and we can only think of the support in relation to the supported. These two only exist in relation to each other and are the mere appearance that arise due to the coming together of causes and conditions. Thus all beings of the three worlds do not truly exist from the very beginning. The concordant examples are dreams, illusions, rainbows and the moon's reflection in water.. This has been a short explanation of the first reason. If we were to look into every aspect of this it would be a very long explanation. The main point to think of is to understand this is like the dream state and think how you perceive the world and the beings in it during a dream.
The second reason is that samsara is unborn is that it does not truly arise. In the sutra on the ten Bhumis it says there are ten ways in which things are equal. One way is that they do not truly arise. This is the easiest way to understand equality and for this reason the Madhyamika texts explain equality in terms of non-arising. So the second reason Milarepa gives is that samsara does not truly exists is that it does not arise. If we put this in the form of a syllogism, we take as the subject all outer and inner things. The reason is that they have no true arising because they do not arise from themselves, from others, from both self and other, or from no cause. This reasoning establishing this is called the vajra slivers. We won't be looking into this reasoning in any more detail than that because it would take a long time to go over it. The third reason samsara does not truly exist is because it does not have any truly existent basis or foundation. In another of Milarepa's songs he says the characteristic of samsara is that it has no truly existent basis or root. and if you think that it has such a root that is just a conceptual fiction. We can understand how samsara has no true basis by looking at the world and beings. We understand space has no center or edge. Within this endless space we have our planet. We cannot say one part of this planet is up or down. Nor can we say there is a truly existent self or other because each being thinks of themselves as a self and everyone else as other. So in this way we see that there is no truly existent base for samsara. The best way to understand there is no truly existent basis is to use the reasoning of the one or the many. Samsara is neither a truly existent single thing or truly existent multiplicity. By using this analysis we can understand samsara has no truly existent basis and thus does not truly exist.
The fourth reason is that samsara does not coexist. The best way to understand this is to relate this to consciousness and wisdom. Consciousness and wisdom are not present at the same time. If consciousness and wisdom were each truly existent and present at the same time they could not have an interdependent relationship. In the Mahamudra teachings the intrinsic mind is referred to as wisdom. Mahamudra teachings are presented from the perspective of asserting. This teaching is presented from the view of negating and from the standpoint of the middle turning of the wheel of dharma. The fifth reason given here is that because there is no truly existent karma. Why is this said? This is clear, because there is no truly existent person who performs actions so there can be no truly existent actions. Karma, mental afflictions and suffering are all dependent on each other so all three are not truly existent. In order for karma, mental afflictions and sufferings to be truly existent, there would need to be a truly existent self. But because there is not, karma, mental afflictions and suffering do not truly exist. The basis for karma is the self and therefore when we are starting out on the path when we need to develop weariness with samsara we are taught in a way that the self truly exists so we can give up harmful actions. Then from the standpoint of slight analysis we are taught the self does not exist. Finally from the standpoint of thorough analysis both self and the absence of self are transcended. This is the view of the Prasangika School.
The sixth reason samsara does not truly exist is because there is no maturation of karma. It is because of these 6 reasons that the song says even the name of samsara does not exist. For these reasons there is no truly existent basis of designation for samsara and even the name of samsara does not exist. And the last line in this section says that is the way things are in the finale picture. Another way is to say that this is the way things are from the view of ultimate reality and from the standpoint of the abiding nature of samsara. The reasoning's used in this song are developed in much more detail in works such as Nargarjuna's Fundamental Treatise of the Middle Way and Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Path and they explain these reasoning's in much more detail. The Fundamental Treatise has twenty-seven chapters and Rinpoche has explanations of these verses in a book that will soon be published. Rinpoche says it would be very good if you studied his new book. Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Path was commented on by Mikyo Dorje, the eighth Karmapa and Rinpoche will be presenting the first five chapters of this text. This has been a brief explanation of how samsara does not truly exist from Milarepa's song An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. Now, because we don't have so much time we shall only sing the English translation of the song once. Those who do not understand English should meditate on emptiness
Part Three
Please begin by developing the attitude of bodhicitta as you have done before. Continuing on in the explanation, we come to the section of the song that explains relative truth. This section begins in Tibetan with the expression of amazement, e ma! Since in the Buddha's tradition it is said that all beings have the essence of enlightenment, all beings will become Buddhas. If there are no sentient beings, where will the Buddhas of the three times come from? Since it is impossible to have a result without having a cause, where will the Buddhas come from? So from the standpoint of relative truth, samsara and nirvana are taught. In terms of the ground or basic nature of all beings we say that the true nature of mind is the inseparability of clarity and emptiness. This is what we call ground Sugata-garbha. After this true nature of mind is realized there is the stage of the path where coarse and subtle stains are removed. This is known as path Sugata-garbha. When all stains including the habitual tendencies are clarified, this is known as the result Buddha nature. Thus we can see if sentient beings are not present, Buddhahood is also not possible. There are some examples we can use to illustrate this. If there is no milk, we cannot get butter. If there are no sesame seeds there is no sesame oil. And if there is no ore we cannot get silver or gold. These examples establish that we cannot get Buddhas without sentient beings.
The next two lines say that from the standpoint of relative truth samsara and nirvana are said to exist. The next part of the song speaks of the union of appearance and emptiness. They say existence and non-existence are inseparable and of one taste. The first three lines in the next section of the song talk about the inseparability of appearance and emptiness. On the one hand there are existents, and on the other hand dharmata or emptiness, but these are indistinguishable and of one taste. You might ask this may be so for phenomena, but what about mind? There are two kinds of awareness, self or reflexive awareness and the second type, which is awareness of other, or external objects. Both these types of awareness lack an inherent nature and therefore are inseparable from emptiness. Ultimately all awareness is emptiness and awareness inseparable.
The next four lines of the song describe what it is like when you realize what the song explained above. Wisdom is seen instead consciousness. To understand this we must look at it from a Shentong perspective. The wisdom that is seen is a wisdom free from conceptual elaborations and stains. This wisdom can be directly realized. The next line says they do not see sentient beings but instead see Buddhas. Sentient beings are false mistaken perceptions. The ultimate nature of all sentient beings is Buddha. The final line says they don't see relative phenomena, what they see is dharmata or luminosity. In these three lines there are three things that are not seen and three that are. This threefold non-seeing is presented from the standpoint of the middle turning of the wheel of dharma. It is presented from the viewpoint of the intelligence that analyzes and does not find anything. The way in which these three aspects is seen is by letting the mind settle into its nature, so the mind is not analyzed and the mind experiences clarity emptiness, bliss emptiness and non-conceptual emptiness.
To summarize this, when our intelligence investigates, it does not find anything and if we let our minds rest in that state there is the quality of clarity or brilliance. By seeing in these three ways compassion rises up and the force of this compassion enables us to develop all the excellent qualities of a Buddha. The powers, strength, fearlessness, and clairvoyance develop as if one has a wish-fulfilling jewel. This line in the song that says the excellent qualities are present in the manner of a wish-fulfilling jewel is like the chapter in the Uttaratantra shastra that describes Buddha activity. This chapter describes how Buddhas benefit sentient beings without intending to do so.
The last line says this is what I the yogi have realized. It is Milarepa's own song and the expression of his direct realization that arose from his meditation. It is not something that he had merely reflected on using names and terms, but something he had realized. This song states samsara and nirvana do not truly exist this is the view of the Prasangika school. It also presents what full realization is like, which can be understood from the perspective of the Shentong School. This completes a brief explanation of the song by Milarepa, An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way. If you are interested in having a fuller explanation of this song, there is a text by the omniscient Pema Karpo that is a commentary on Nargarjuna's, Fundamental Treatise on the Middle Way, Chandrakirti's Entering the Middle Path, and Milarepa's song An Authentic Portrait of the Middle Way that joins all three of these texts together and discusses them as one.
So now in order to do analytical meditation we are going to sing a song. In this case, analytical meditation and recitation are the same. In the Vajrayâna there are some practices that go on for twelve hours that mostly consist of chanting. So meditators need to know how to meditate while they are chanting. And you may think when you are reciting when doing mantra practice, but at that time you are also meditating on light rays going out and back. So that is another combination of recitation and meditation. This song presents very conclusively the ultimate perspective. To understand this we need to analyze with very subtle intelligence. So when singing this song we also need to use our intelligence is a subtle way. So singing this song becomes a kind of analytical meditation.. While you are singing this song you need to remember the reasons why samsara and nirvana do not exist. And also when you get to the section where it discusses the three things that are not seen and the three things that are you need to keep in mind the meaning of this. Analytical meditation is good because it develops the intelligence. Right now we are not making a separate time for meditation, we are meditating while singing the song, so that the song becomes a kind of analytical meditation, We are also singing in two languages. If you do not know one language, while it is being sung you can rest your mind! When the singing is happening in a language you don't understand you can focus on the sound and how it is inseparable from emptiness. And do the same when singing in a language you know. In this way the song becomes a meditation on emptiness. In the Mahamudra tradition we meditate in on appearance as being inseparable from emptiness. We use sounds as being inseparable from emptiness and meditate on that In another of his songs Milarepa says Mahamudra should be done for sort periods of time repeatedly. From its side Mahamudra is neither short or long, but beginners are recommended to study for short periods of time again and again. When you are focusing on the empty sounds of our singing the words are always changing so you are just meditating for short periods of time on the sounds. In fact to understand this you have to experience it yourself. So you have to do the practice.


Beginning Anew:
© Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear friends, today is the 10th of May, 1998. We are in the Upper Hamlet, and we are in the Spring Retreat. Today is Vesak, the day of the nativity of the Buddha. The life of the Buddha was supported by a kind of aspiration, a kind of desire, a kind of energy, that is to help, to help reduce the amount of suffering in the world, to bring about transformation and healing, to bring joy. That energy is important, that aspiration is important. The vitality of the life of the Buddha is the energy of compassion, the energy of understanding that can make the Buddha alive, that can help him to continue the teaching so that many people will be able to liberate themselves. To be born means to begin anew, and all of us want to begin anew.
When we know how to begin anew we get a lot more energy, joy and aspiration that can help us transform what is negative in us, and help us have more joy, more capacity to transform the situation around us. To be born is a form of beginning anew. And that is why we should be able to be born as a new being at every moment of our lives. There are people who may say, "I am too old to begin again." That is because they have not seen the true nature of life, of the practice of Beginning Anew. We can practice Beginning Anew at any moment of our lives. To be born is to begin anew. When you are three years old you can begin anew, and when you are sixty years old you can still begin anew, and when you are about to die, that is still time to begin anew. We need to practice looking a little bit more deeply in order to see that Beginning Anew is possible at any time of our daily lives, at any age.
Suppose a cloud is floating in the sky, and is about to die, to become rain. The cloud could be caught in anger, in fear: "Why does this happen to me? Why do I have to die? Why can't I continue to be a cloud floating in the sky? So anger and fear may come to the cloud and make the cloud very unhappy; but if the cloud is intelligent enough, if the cloud knows how to look deeply into its true nature, then it can practice Beginning Anew. Tonight is also an opportunity to be reborn, and that is a preparation. We should not be caught in any form, because to be a cloud floating in the sky is wonderful, but to be the rain falling on the mountain or the river, on the trees and on the grass is also a wonderful thing. Even excitement is possible, hope is possible, joy is possible when dying. We know that there are people who are capable of dying in a very peaceful and happy way. I have seen people who die with contentment, with happiness, with a sense of fulfillment, and who do not regard their dying as the end of something, of their life. They have been able to look deeply into the nature of life, and they are emancipated from the notions of being and non-being. There are people who sit on the threshold of their house, and look at the children playing in the morning sunshine in the front yard, and watch their grandchildren playing happily. And when they look like that, they suddenly become their grandchildren. They see themselves as playing in the morning sunshine in the grass. They see their continuation in their grandchildren. They know that they have done everything that they could do in order for these children to be happy, to be well-prepared in order to enter life. They are ready to begin anew. They have already begun anew, and they can see themselves in new forms of life.
Of course, during their lifetimes they have made some mistakes. Because we are human beings, we cannot avoid making mistakes. We might have caused someone else to suffer, we might have offended our beloved ones, and we feel regret. But it is always possible for us to begin anew, and to transform all these kinds of mistakes. Without making mistakes there is no way to learn, in order to be a better person, to learn how to be tolerant, to be compassionate, to be loving, to be accepting. That is why mistakes play a role in our training, in our learning, and we should not get caught in the prison of culpability just because we have made some mistakes in our life.
If you can learn from your mistakes, then you have already transformed the garbage into a flower, for your own joy, for the joy of your ancestors, for the joy of the future generations, and also for the joy of the person who was the victim of your ignorance and your lack of skillfulness. Very often we have done that out of our unskillfulness, not because we wanted to harm that person, or we wanted to destroy the person, or because we wanted him or her to suffer. We were unskillful, that is all. I always like to think of our behavior in terms of it being more or less skillful, rather than in terms of good and evil. If you are skillful, you can avoid making yourself suffer, and making the other person suffer. If there is something you want to tell the other person, then yes, you have to tell it, but there is a way to tell it and make the other person suffer, and make you suffer. But there are other ways to say it that would not make the other person suffer, and yourself suffer also. So the problem is not whether to tell or not to tell what you have in your heart, the problem is how to tell it so that suffering will not be there. That is why this is a matter of art, and of our practice also.
Your goodwill is not enough for the practice-you have to be artful in your practice. Walking, eating, breathing, talking, working, you should learn the art of mindful living, because if you are a good artist, you will be able to create a lot of happiness and joy around you and inside of you; but if you have only your goodwill, if you count only on your goodwill, that will not be enough, because out of goodwill we may cause a lot of suffering. As a father, as a mother, as a daughter, as a son, we may be filled with goodwill, we may be motivated by the desire to make the other person happy, but out of our clumsiness we make them unhappy. That is why mindful living is an art, and each of us has to train himself or herself to be an artist. Instead of saying to someone, "You are right or wrong," which is a very difficult thing to hear, you might say , "You are more skillful or less skillful." In our Five Contemplations before eating we say that we want to be aware of our unskillful states of mind, instead of saying that we want to be aware of our evil states of mind. Unskillful-if you are angry or if you are jealous, that is only unskillfulness. Because we are unskillful, anger and jealousy become mental formations. You know that that deed, that sentence, if we can do it or if we can pronounce it with art, it will help the other person, and it will help us.
All of us have to learn the art of living. And if you have the chance to meet with parents, friends and teachers who are skillful in the art of mindful living, then you can learn, and you will be able to make many people around you happy, and therefore you make yourself happy. But if you are not lucky, you cannot learn that art from your parents or from your brothers and sisters, or your friends, and you continue to be unskillful, and you make the people around you unhappy, and yourself unhappy. If we know how to look at things from that angle, we suffer much less already. That person who has caused me a lot of suffering just because he is unskillful, he didn't know what he said, he didn't know what he did. And we know our parents are full of love for us, they only want our happiness, but out of their unskillfulness they make us suffer so much. And we also have our love for our parents, we don't want them to suffer, but our way of acting or reacting can make them suffer terribly. So it is not the issue of goodwill here, it is the issue of art.
Walking meditation is an art. You can make steps that create stability and joy, and that will nourish you every moment, but only if you have goodwill. "I will practice walking meditation!" And you become very stiff and very serious, you don't enjoy every step you make. You have to allow yourself to be natural, to be relaxed. You have to learn how to allow yourself to breathe naturally, allow your face to be relaxed, allow your feet to walk naturally; you know how to coordinate your steps with your breath, and allow nature to welcome you. Just a few steps can already introduce you to the Pure Land of the Buddha. You walk as an artist. When other people see you walking, they are inspired: "How wonderful! How beautifully that person walks! I can see the stability, the serenity, the joy." And they will be inspired, and they will learn the practice. It is not by writing letters or giving a sermon that we can help another person get in touch with the Dharma. Maybe because of our willingness to teach him, to share with him our practice, that person will want to get away from us. So there must be an art in order to share the Dharma and the spiritual life with the person we love.
In Asia, Buddhism is the practice of whole families. Everyone in the family is supposed to be a Buddhist. But in the West it happens that just one member of the family is fond of practicing mindfulness, but the other members of the family don't know anything about it and even find the practice very queer. And if you are not artful in your practice, you alienate yourself from the rest of the family. So you have to learn to practice in such a way that your practice will inspire the people around you. We have to practice not being caught by the form of the practice. You can practice in such a way that people don't see you practice. You can walk in such a way that people see that you are very natural, very relaxed, very joyful. There are those people who practice walking meditation that turn you off: it's too serious, too tight, not natural at all. And if you practice Buddhism in such a way you will not help the people in your family. Practice so that each day you become calmer, smiling more, and more open. Then one day your companion will be inspired to ask, "How can you do it? In such a situation, how can you still smile? What is your secret?" That is the time when you can share your practice-but not before. You cannot impose your practice on him or on her. This is an art.
We know that the core of the Buddha's teaching is non-self. This is something people find very hard to accept, because everyone believes that there is a self, and you are yourself, you are not the other person. But with the practice of looking deeply, we see things differently. You see yourself as a person, a human being; you say that you are not a tree, you are not a squirrel, and you are not a frog. You are not the other person. That is because we have not looked deeply into our true nature. If we do, we will see that we are at the same time a tree. It is not only in our past lives that we have been a tree or a rock or a cloud, but even in this life, in this very moment, you continue to be a tree, you continue to be a rock, you continue to be a cloud. In fact you cannot take the tree out of you, you cannot take the cloud out of you, you cannot take the rock out of you., because if you could, you would no longer be there as yourself. In the Jataka stories it is said that in past lives the Buddha had been a squirrel, a bird, deer, an elephant, a tree. It's very poetic, but it does not mean that when the Buddha was a human person living in the city of Sravasti, he was no longer a tree, a rock, a deer. He continued to be all of these. So when I look into myself, I see I still am a cloud, not only during a past life, but right now.
There is a lady who wrote a poem about her husband, who is a student of mine. That student of mine is very fond of my teaching. And she said, "My husband has a mistress, and his mistress is an old man who sometimes dreams of being a cloud." I don't think that description of me is correct, because I am not dreaming of being a cloud-I am a cloud. At this very moment you could not take the cloud out of me; if you took the cloud out, I would collapse straight away. You cannot take the tree out of me; if you did, I would collapse. So looking deeply into our true nature, we see that what we call self if made only of non-self elements. This is a very important practice, and it does not seem as difficult as we may imagine. So you are the son, but you are not only the son, you are the father. If you take the father out of you, you collapse. You are the continuation of your father, of your mother, of your ancestors. That is non-self. Son is made of father, and father is made of son, and so on. And the practice is that every day we have the opportunity to look at things in such a way--otherwise we live in a very shallow way, and we don't get to the heart of life. A young man may say, "I hate my father. I don't want to have anything to do with my father." He is very sincere, because every time he thinks of his father, anger is coming up. It's very unpleasant, so he wants to separate himself from his father, and he is determined to do so. But how could such a thing be possible? How can you take your father out of you? The hard fact is that you are your father. It's better to reconcile with your father within. There is no other way out. You can behave like that when you believe in the reality of self, but the moment that you see the true nature of self, you can no longer behave like that. You know that the only way is to accept, to reconcile and to transform. You know that it is the discrimination, it is the ignorance in you which has caused the suffering.
The other day Sister Phuoc Nghiem practiced Touching the Earth alone in the meditation hall to pray for her grandmother. She had also asked all her big sisters and younger sisters to gather in order in order to pray and to send energies to her grandmother who had passed away, but she also practiced alone, touching the earth. During the first year of practicing here she thought very often that one day one dear member of her family might pass away, and how she would deal with that. And every time in Plum Village that there was a ceremony of prayer for someone who passed away, that thought would reoccur: "How shall I deal with the situation when I hear that a member of my family has passed away?" Then one day she heard that the baby that her sister had given birth to had passed away just a few hours after birth, and her sister suffered quite a lot. Her sister lives in Germany. And when she talked to her, Sister Phuoc Nghiem noticed the suffering, the instability, and the despair in the voice of her sister. Because her sister suffered so much, Sister Phuoc Nghiem also suffered, and she tried to practice in order to suffer less, because she knew that if she did not suffer less, she would not be able to help her sister. She telephoned her mother in Vietnam, and her mother said, "It was better like that than to raise the child for two or three years and then have him die later, when the suffering would be much more intense. Because after two or three years of raising a child, attachment will be much deeper, and of course the suffering would be much greater. So, you consider it to be like the squash in the garden…there are flowers that wither and do not become a squash, and that is true with humans. There are children that we can keep, and there are children that we cannot keep, right from the beginning. That is something that happens."
When Sister Phuoc Nghiem talked to me, I told her the story about my brother. Before I came, my mother was pregnant, and she miscarried. Sometimes I asked whether that was my brother or that was me, who did not want to come out, because I judged that the time was not appropriate for me to come out. That was also a meditation on self and non-self. When I said, "Was that my brother or was that me?" I was using the words "brother" and "me" as two separate entities. But if we look deeply into it, we see that my brother is me, and I am my brother, so you can see the reality of not-one, not-two in it. When we look at the father and the son, and we see the non-dualistic reality, the interbeing of the two, we can see the same thing with our brother and ourselves. I cannot take my brother out of me, my brother cannot take me out of himself, so my brother and I inter-are. We cannot say that we are one or we are two, because one and two are concepts. "The same" is a concept, "the different" is another concept, and reality transcends all concepts. So it is applied with father and son, younger brother and big brother, and we can see a stream of life.
When Sister Phuoc Nghiem practiced Touching the Earth for her grandmother, she found out many interesting things. Before doing so she was practicing walking meditation on Sunset Boulevard of the Upper Hamlet, and she saw the vineyard, the wheat fields, and she was walking and seeing that her grandmother was walking with her. She remembered that when she was a little girl her grandmother used to lullaby her with Vietnamese lullabies. During her first and second years as a nun in Plum Village, she would often think of the days she would go back to Vietnam and she would walk like that with her grandmother, whom she loved so much. She had good times with her grandmother. She said that now she doesn't have to wait anymore-her grandmother has come here and is doing walking meditation with her, and that her grandmother would be happy to see the fields of wheat, because they look very much like the rice fields in Vietnam. While she practiced Touching the Earth she saw that her grandmother also practiced Touching the Earth before, but this is the first time that she had practiced Touching the Earth in the Plum Village way. In the Plum Village style you stay in the position of Touching the Earth for a long time, at least three in-breaths and three out-breaths, and she found it wonderful that her grandmother was practicing Touching the Earth in the Plum Village style with her. She looked at her hand and said, "This is my hand, but this is also my mother's hand, and this is my grandmother's hand..." So she could see the presence of her grandmother in her left hand, and then she held her left hand with her right hand, and she felt very clearly that she was holding the hand of her grandmother. And this was something very real, and not imagination. And she cried because of that happiness. She no longer felt that she was separated from her grandmother, her grandmother is within her and is practicing with her, and any smile she makes is to liberate herself and to liberate her grandmother at the same time. So that is a good practice: you can see the nature of interbeing between you and your grandmother. It's like when I look into myself and I see the nature of interbeing between the cloud and myself. The cloud and I cannot be taken away from each other.
What you did in the past out of your unskillfulness is like that. If in the past you did something unskillful, it is because of many conditions: you did not have a father that could help you at that moment; you did not have a mother or a teacher to help you in that moment to be more skillful than you were; and the seed of that lack of skillfulness has been transmitted to you by many generations. You were not able to recognize that seed in you; you made a mistake; you did unskillful things. It means that all of your ancestors did it together with you at that moment. Looking from the insight of non-self, you see that everyone was doing the unskillful thing that you did, with you. You have to see it, and the essential is that you are free from the notion of self. It is clear that when you are able to breathe in mindfully and smile, all generations of ancestors in you are smiling at the same time. Not only your ancestors, but the future generations in you are able to smile with you; so every time you made a mistake, every time you did an unskillful thing, everyone was doing it with you. Now that you have come in touch with the Dharma, you realize that that was an unskillful thing to do, and you are motivated by the desire that you will never do it again.
I said before that if we have not made any mistakes, there is no way for us to learn. So that is why to look deeply, and to see the nature of the act, the nature of interbeing of the act in the light of non-self, we see that that is a kind of act, that is a kind of speech that has created suffering. That moment when you see it, when you recognize it, that is enlightenment, because enlightenment is always enlightenment of something, or about something. The moment when you see that this is the lack of skillfulness on your part and on the part of many ancestors who have transmitted the seed to you, then that is already enlightenment, that is already meditation, that is already deep looking. And out of that enlightenment you are motivated by a desire that you would not like to do that again. So that desire, that aspiration is a strong energy, a strong energy that can make you alive, that can help you to protect yourself, to protect all the future generations within you, and that insight is very liberating. And if you know that you are not going to do the same thing again, you are already free, and your ancestors are also free, and there is no need to be caught in your feeling of culpability.
The Buddhist teaching on Beginning Anew is very clear: "The unskillfulness comes from our mind, and the unskillfulness can be transformed by our mind. If the transformation happens in your consciousness, then the unskillfulness will disappear as a reality in the manifested world. The mind is like a painter." This is the Buddha's teaching, that the mind is a painter. The painter can paint anything, and the painter can erase everything. So if in the past you have painted something you don't like, and if you are determined not to paint it again, then you erase all of that. It depends on your mind, your consciousness. If there is light, there is enlightenment in your consciousness, there is a strong determination, the awareness that "This is something negative, this is something harmful, this something not beneficial, and I am determined not to allow it to happen again," and then the mind is transformed. And when the mind is transformed, liberation is already there for you and all your ancestors, and if you are still caught in that feeling of culpability, that is because you have not done the work of Beginning Anew, it means that you have not practiced looking deeply into your clumsiness, your lack of skillfulness. If you had, then you would see that many conditions had come together for that action or that sentence to become possible. And now, with your enlightenment, with your determination, you will never allow these conditions to come together again in order to repeat the same thing. Your awareness, your enlightenment, is the element that will prevent these conditions coming together again.
If your practice of Beginning Anew has not been successful, that is because your capacity of looking deeply into the reality of the situation is not deep enough, because there has not been any transformation within your consciousness, or within the consciousness of your partner, the other person. It's not because the method isn't effective, it's because you have not really practiced it. The practice of Beginning Anew is to transform your mind deeply, and in order to get a transformation, you have to look very deeply, in the light of interbeing. I always tell my students that whatever you do, I do it with you, so please be careful. That is true; and whatever I do, you do it with me. If I break the precepts, if I behave in an irresponsible way, all my students will bear all the fruit, that is very clear. So I cannot afford to make you suffer. That is a very strong energy that keeps me in the good practice, because I know very well that if I am not mindful, if I am not practicing correctly, all my students, my disciples will suffer. The same thing is true with my disciples: if they don't practice mindful manners, if they don't practice the precepts, if they make each other suffer, I suffer; I will have to shoulder everything, because we inter-are. We cannot be separated. The teacher cannot be a teacher without students, and the students cannot be students without a teacher.
So if Beginning Anew has not brought the wanted result, it is because you have not done it at the base. You might have done it with talking back and forth, but you have not seen deeply that you and the other person inter-are. If you have seen that, the result will come right away. When I was in Italy, we held a retreat not far from Rome and we went to a field of olive trees. I noticed that the olive trees were growing in groups of three or four, and I was surprised. But I found out that there had been a very cold year and all the olive trees had died, and for that reason they had cut all the trees at the level of the ground, and then they brought in more soil, and the next year the young olive trees came up. From one olive tree, there were now two or three or four olive trees. And I gave a Dharma talk to the children in Italy, and I said that you and your brother and your sister, you think that you are three, but in fact, if you touch your roots deeply you will see that you are one. So to get angry with your sister or your brother is wrong; instead, you have to help him or her, because to help him or her is to help yourself. So that is the way I taught "non-self" to the children, and they understood right away.
There was a little girl who did not like her brother, and since she was watching a lot of television, she had the tendency to eliminate what she didn't like. And one day she said, "Why don't we eliminate younger brother?" It was very dangerous. You don't like your young brother, you just wish your young brother would vanish, and you imagine you can do it easily, like using a remote control. But after the Dharma talk I gave to her, and the teaching given by some brothers and sisters who accompanied me, the girl went home and was transformed. And one day she told her brother, "Brother, I'm here for you. What do you need? I'll do it for you." So wisdom and enlightenment are possible even with very young children. If you touch the ground of being deeply, you will find the nature of interbeing, and you will feel it's much better to help the other person, than to be angry at him and to punish him, because when you punish him you punish yourself somehow. Imagine a father and son always trying to punish each other: both of them suffer, and continue to suffer.
During the Vietnam War there was an American soldier who got very angry because most of the soldiers in his unit got killed in an ambush by Vietnamese guerrillas; that happened in a village in the countryside, so out of his rage he wanted to retaliate. He wanted to kill a number of people who belonged to that village. So he took out a bag of sandwiches, and he mixed explosives into the sandwiches and left them at the entrance to the village. He saw children coming out and happily taking the sandwiches, thinking that someone had left these delicious sandwiches, and they ate together, enjoying a lot. And just half an hour later he saw them begin to show signs of suffering. Their father and their mother and sister came, and tried to help, to give them massage and medicine, but the American soldier who had hidden himself not far from there, knew very well there was no way to save these children, and that they would die. He knew that even if they had a car to transport these children to the hospital it would be too late. Out of anger he had done things like that. If anger is strong in us, we are capable of doing anything, even the cruelest things.
When he went back to America he suffered because of that: that scene appeared to him in his dreams, and he could never forget it. Any time during the day if he found himself alone in a room with children, he could not stay, and had to run out of the room right away. He could not talk about that to anyone except to his mother, who said, "Well, that was the war, and in a war you cannot prevent these things happening." But that did not help him, until he came to a retreat organized by Plum Village in North America. During many days he was not able to tell people of his story. It was a very difficult retreat. We sat in circles of five or six people, and invited people to speak out about their suffering, but there were those who sat there unable to open their mouths. There were war veterans who were deeply wounded inside, and fear and despair were still there. When we did walking meditation I saw one or two walking far behind, at least twenty meters behind us. I did not understand why they did not join us, but walked far away like that. When someone inquired, they learned that these ex-soldiers were afraid of being ambushed. So they walked far behind so that if something happened they would have enough space to run away. And one war veteran set up a tent in the jungle, and in order to appease his fear, he set up booby traps around his tent. That happened in the retreat in North America…he always had the guerrillas around him, and in him, ready to kill him at any time. Finally that American Vietnam War veteran was able to tell us the story of the explosives put into the sandwiches. It was very good for him to be able to tell it, especially in front of the Vietnamese people, his former enemies. I gave him a prescription. I had a private consultation with him, and I said, "Now look, you killed five children, yes. And that is not a good thing to do, yes. But don't you know that many children are dying in this very moment, everywhere, even in America, because of lack of medicine, of food? Do you know that 40,000 children die every day in the world, just because of the lack of medicine and food? And you are alive, you are solid physically. Why don't you use your life to help the children who are dying in this moment? Why get caught in the five children who have died in the past? There are many ways…if you want, I will tell you how to save five children today. There are children who need only one table of medicine to be saved, and you can be the one who brings that tablet of medicine to him or to her. If you practice like that every day, the children who died because of the explosives will smile in you, because these five children have participated in your work of saving many children who are dying in this very moment."
So, the door was opened, so that the man was longer trapped in the feeling of culpability. That is the amrita, the ambrosia of compassion, of wisdom, offered by the Buddha: there is always a way out. So that war veteran has practiced and has been able to help many other children in the world. He has gone back to Vietnam, has done the work of reconciliation, and the five children who died have begun to smile in him and to become one with him. In the beginning it was a distressing image, but now the five children have become alive, have become the energy helping him to live with compassion, with understanding. The garbage can be transformed into flowers if we know how to do it.
If you are a person who has been sexually abused as a child, and if you have suffered, you can also practice in order to heal your wound, in very much the same way. What you should do is described very clearly in the Five Mindfulness Trainings: "I vow to protect the integrity, the safety of families, couples. I vow to do my best to protect children from sexual abuse." That is something you can do. And if you take the vow in front of the Sangha, the Buddha, and the Dharma, to devote your life to protecting children who are now being threatened in this very moment, your childhood wound will be healed. You'll get a lot of joy, and your suffering will be turned into a flower. If you had not suffered like that you would not be a protector of children, as you are today. So you look back at your suffering and you are thankful to it, thankful that it happened, so that you could become a bodhisattva protecting children. That is the wonderful thing about the Dharma: the Dharma always offers a way out, provided that you know how to look deeply into the nature of your suffering. There's no need to cling to that suffering. If you are still caught, that means you have not practiced looking deeply, you have not given rise to the energy of compassion in yourself, so that you become an instrument of the Dharma, an instrument of the Buddha.
If you have offended someone, if you have made someone suffer, that wound is still in you. And if you want the wound to heal, you can practice like this: you sit quietly and you look into the nature of the deed, or the speech you have made in the past. You say, "I am sorry, I did it out of clumsiness, out of a lack of understanding; I was ignorant, no-one had shown me. I have made you suffer, my dear, and I have made myself suffer a lot also, so I promise that I'll never do it again. And I do it for myself, for you, and for many generations to come." If you can do it, you will see that the person in you will smile. Usually we think that the past is already gone, you cannot go back to the past and repair things in the past, but that is not true. There is always a way out, according to the Dharma, because according to the Dharma the past is there in the form of the present, because the wound is still there. So touch your wound deeply, and say, "This is a product of a lack of wisdom, compassion, the product of ignorance. I can see its effect on me, on the world and on the other person, and I am motivated by the desire not to allow it to happen again." That kind of wisdom, that kind of light, that kind of determination, that kind of love, becomes a very powerful source of energy that will prevent conditions coming together in order for the same thing to happen again. Just sit down and breathe quietly, and tell him or her that you are sorry and that you will not do it again, and you do it for you, for him, for her, and you will see him or her smiling to you, and you are free. And your freedom is his freedom, your freedom is the freedom of all your ancestors, your children and their children. Everything comes from the mind. If the mind is transformed, everything will transform. That is the teaching of Beginning Anew in Buddhism.
In the practice we always go back to the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, not as notions but as reality. The Sangha is something that you can touch, that you can live with every day. The Dharma also, the living Dharma. The living Dharma is something you can produce with every step you make, with every breath you take, with every minute of sitting, of working. The Buddha said, let us take refuge only in what is solid. There is an island within, you should go back to the island of mindfulness, and touch the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha in it, and you should not rely on things that are impermanent, that can collapse at any time. If you have a strong conviction in the Dharma, there is no reason for you to be afraid of anything. In order to have confidence in the Dharma, you have to be successful in the practice. There is anger, there is jealousy, there is confusion, and because you have been offered the Dharma to practice, you have had a chance to transform these afflictions in the past, and because of that your faith, your confidence in the Dharma has increased a lot. That is for your benefit and the benefit of all of us. Therefore, taking refuge in the Dharma is very important. You will no longer be afraid. If you take refuge in the Dharma, you know that whatever happens to you, you will be able to manage in order to preserve your peace, your stability. The Buddha said take refuge in the Dharma and not anything else. Of course, as a practitioner you need a teacher, you need a Dharma brother, you need a Dharma sister. But what makes the teacher a teacher, is the Dharma. What makes a Dharma brother a Dharma brother, is the Dharma. So you rely on the substance of Dharma, and not just the physical presence of that person you call teacher, or brother or sister. If he is your brother in the Dharma, it is because he has the Dharma in him. If he is your Dharma teacher, it is because the Dharma inhabits him. So if you learn how to take refuge in the Dharma, then even if the teacher is no longer there, the Dharma brother is no longer there, you are still solid, you will not collapse, because it is the Dharma that you take refuge in, and not something else.
Suppose you have had the experience of a panic attack, or a depression; if you have adopted some practice in order to survive that panic attack, that depression, you know that you have the Dharma in yourself. Next time it comes I can smile to it, because I know how to deal with a storm. So to rely on the dharma, and not to rely on anything else, is the recommendation made by the Buddha. There are people who ask how they can survive without a house, a bank account, or this person or that person, but if you have confidence within yourself, wherever you go you can create conditions to be alive, in such a way that you can contribute to the well-being of the world. There was a lady who was a refugee among the boat people who arrived on the coast of Thailand, and she was robbed of all the gold that she had brought. Because the sea pirates took everything from her-all her belongings, the money, the jewels-she was only able to keep one tiny piece of gold in her mouth. Upon arrival she asked, "How can I survive with only this much gold?" Next to her there was a gentleman who had been robbed of everything except his shorts-his shirt was taken, his trousers, everything-and he was laughing and laughing. He said, "How can I survive with only these shorts?" He was very happy because he had confidence in himself. To be alive, that was largely enough for him; he did not need anything else. So we should cultivate a kind of non-fear: if we practice the Dharma, and we can count on the Dharma, then there is no reason why we should be afraid of anything, even if we know that life is impermanent. We can lose a beloved one in the future, and the whole world is our refuge.
There are still many other questions which have not been answered. One more question is about the feeling of not being good enough: "How can you know that you are not good enough, based on what criterion do you see that you are not good enough?" In the retreat that we offered at the University of California at Santa Barbara, there were many new people, and they were not used to the Buddhist way of bowing, of standing, of greeting, and they were a little bit confused as to what was the right thing to do. And my answer was that you don't have to do anything: if you are mindful, that is good enough. The problem is not to bow, or not to bow, the problem is to be mindful or not be mindful. So if you know that you are practicing mindfulness, and mindfulness has become more of an energy, a reality in your daily life, you know that you are advancing well on the path. Even if you still have many shortcomings, much unskillfulness, if you know that you are cultivating mindfulness every day, I think that is good enough, not only for you, but for all of us.
(three bells)
(End of talk)


Entrance to the Middle Way
(Selected Verses)
By Chandrakirti

(i.e. of the subject: refers to dharmas belonging to the subject)
Since it has no inherent nature,
The eye is empty of being an eye.
The ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind are the same way.
They are all described in a similar way.
(Chap. 6., v. 181)
They are not stable nor forever lasting,
Nor do they remain for a short time and decay.
The eye and the rest that are the six inner ones
Are things that have no essential nature at all.
This is what is meant by "emptiness of the inner." (182)
(i.e. of the object: refers to object- related dharmas)
For these reasons, form's nature is emptiness;
Therefore form is empty of being form.
Sounds, odors, things that are tasted, and what the body feels too,
All these phenomena are exactly the same. (183)
Form and so forth have no essential nature:
This very lack of essence is called "emptiness of the outer." (184)
(i.e. of the subject and the object: refers to dharmas which are both subject- related and object- related)
That both inner and outer lack an essential nature
Is what is called "emptiness of the inner and the outer." (184)
All phenomena lack the essential nature, and
The wisest of all call this "emptiness."
Furthermore, the Wise One said,
This emptiness is empty of being an inherently existent emptiness. (185)
The emptiness of what is called "emptiness"
Is the "emptiness of emptiness."
The Buddha taught it to counteract
The mind's tendency to think of emptiness as something truly existent. (186)
(i.e. the great emptiness: the ten directions are devoid of the characteristics of the ten directions and that this represents "great emptiness.")
The "great" is what the ten directions encompass:
All sentient beings and the entire universe.
The "immeasurables" prove the directions' infiniteness:
They pervade the limitless directions, so they cannot be measured in extent. (187)
That all ten directions in their whole vast extent
Are empty of essence is the "emptiness of the great."
The Buddha taught about its emptiness
To reverse our conception of the vast as being real. (188)
(i.e. the emptiness of the supreme meaning: Nirvana)
Because it is wanderer's supreme of all needs,
Nirvana's cessation is the ultimate here.
Nirvana, the Truth Body, is empty of itself,
And this is what the emptiness of the ultimate is. (189)
The Knower of the Ultimate
Taught the "emptiness of the ultimate"
To counteract the mind's tendency
To think that nirvana is a thing. (190)
(i.e of the conditioned)
Because they arise from conditions
The three realms are "composite," it is taught.
They are empty of themselves,
And this, the Buddha taught, is the "emptiness of the composite." (191)
(i.e. of the unconditioned)
When arising, cessation, and impermanence are not among its characteristics,
A phenomenon is known as being "uncomposite."
They are empty of themselves.
This is the "emptiness of the uncomposite." (192)
(i.e. the absolute emptiness: emptiness of the Two Truths, transcendence.)
That to which extremes do not apply
Is expressed as being beyond extremes.
Its emptiness of its very self
Is explained as the "emptiness of that which is beyond extremes." (193)
(i.e. the emptiness of beginninglessness: samsara, being, ignorance)
That which has no point from which it begins
Nor boundary where it ends is the cycle of existence.
Since it is free from coming and going,
It is just mere appearance, like a dream. (194)
Existence is void of any existence:
This is the emptiness of
That which neither begins nor ends.
It was definitively taught in the commentaries. (195)
(i.e. the emptiness of dispersion: emptiness of the dharma, the path)
To "discard" something means
To throw it away or to abandon it.
What should not be discarded is
What one should never cast away from oneself "the great vehicle". (196)
What should not be discarded
Is empty of itself.
Since this emptiness is its very nature,
It is spoken of as the "emptiness of what should not be discarded." (197)
(i.e. the emptiness of a nature; the true nature of being emptiness)
The true essence of composite and all other phenomena is pure being,
Therefore, neither the students, the solitary realizers,
The bodhisattvas, nor the buddhas
Created this essence anew. (198)
Therefore, this essence of the composite and so forth
Is said to be the very nature of phenomena.
It itself is empty of itself.
This is the emptiness of the true nature. (199)
(i.e. the emptiness of all dharmas)
The eighteen potentials, the six types of contact,
And from those six, the six types of feeling,
Furthermore, all that is form and all that is not,
The composite and the uncomposite "this comprises all phenomena". (200)
All of these phenomena are free of being themselves.
This emptiness is the "emptiness of all phenomena." (201)
(i.e. the emptiness of individual characteristics)
All composite and uncomposite phenomena
Have their own individual defining characteristics.
These are empty of being themselves.
This is the "emptiness of defining characteristics." (215)
(i.e. the emptiness of the unattainable)
The present does not remain;
The past and future do not exist.
Wherever you look, you cannot see them,
So the three times are called, "imperceptible." (216)
The imperceptible is in essence empty of itself.
It is neither permanent and stable
Nor impermanent and fleeting.
This is the "emptiness of the imperceptible." (217)
(i.e. the emptiness of non-existent dharmas)
Since an entity arises from causes and conditions,
It lacks the nature of being a composite.
This emptiness of there being anything that is a composite
Is the "emptiness that is the absence of entities." (218)
* * *
The sixteen emptinesses are condensed into four emptinesses that follow.
These four emptinesses are a summary of the previous sixteen.
(i.e. Not realism.)
In short, "entities" are
Everything included in the five aggregates.
Entities are empty of being entities,
And this is the "emptiness of entities." (219)
(i.e. Not idealism / nihilism. The emptiness of non-composite dharmas)
In short, "non-entities" are
All uncomposite phenomena.
Non-entities are empty of being non-entities,
And this is the "emptiness of non-entities." (220)
(i.e. Not monism. The is no real Oneness. Emptiness of the true nature of being empty.)
The nature of phenomena is that they have no essence.
It is called their "nature" because no one created it.
The nature is empty of itself,
And this is the "emptiness of the nature." (221)
(i.e. Not dualism.)
Whether or not buddhas appear in the world,
The natural emptiness of all entities
Is proclaimed to be
The "entity that is other." (222)
Other names for this are the "genuine limit" and "suchness."
They are empty of themselves and this is the "emptiness of the entity that is other."
In the sutras of The Great Mother, The
Transcendent Perfection of Wisdom,
These twenty emptinesses are explained in great detail. (223)


Insight Meditation on The Middle Way
{ The Dhamma talk, given by the Most Venerable Kaba Aye Sayadaw
Aggamahã Saddhamma Jotikadhaja Bhaddanta Paññãdipa
at a ceremony of the Sayadaw's 78th birthday. }
(Date=March the 4th, 2001, Place=Singapore)

The Buddha's teaching (Buddha Desanã) is originally based on the Middle Way. The Buddha Himself was awakened in the Four Noble Truths and fully enlightened only by following and treading the path of the Middle Way.
The path is very simple, practical, applicable and relevant to each and every one of us. You can apply in your daily life and will enjoy your work and activities you do every day.
You will be happy and comfortable if you can go on the Middle Way. You usually feel unhappy and uncomfortable unless you are in accord with the principles of the Middle Way.
For instance, If you feel either, too hungry or too full, too cold or too hot, too sleepless or too much sleep, too overwork or too less work and so on and so forth.
So here you will have to balance yourself with the principles just on the Middle Way; walk along the Middle Way; Keep it up with you all the time; live up to your daily life and try to apply it to all activities in your day to day life.
There is no discrimination of class, colour, faith or religion. The path is human principle, universal truth and righteous law for our life. You do not need to find for the happiness of life and rely outside on the unseen, unnatural Heavenly Power or Brahma, Creator or God, but truly within yourself - your own Mind and Body.
The Middle Way is open to all for freedom of thoughts and guides you towards par-excellent way of blissful peace and happiness of your life. The path only shows the true way avoiding two wrong conceptions, that is, two extremes, the one is enjoyment in sensual pleasures and another self- mortification or torturing oneself in pain.
The first extreme indulgence in sensual pleasures usually makes one low, vulgar, worldly, unworthy and unprofitable. The second extreme self-mortification makes one painful, unprofitable and unworthy. These two, in fact, retard the development of mind purification. If one is going on either in the wrong right side or in the wrong left side one can never be liberated from the sufferings of life in Samsara.
The original source of these two extremes is due to two defilements of ignorance (Avijjã) and craving (Tanhã) which are opposite to concentration (samatha or samãdhi) and insight meditation (vipassanã). So they are called one-sided or too extreme (anta). So long as one is deluded by ignorance and attached to craving he cannot be liberated from the cycle of sufferings in Samsara.
When you can see and understand that the real original source of suffering is only due to these two defilements, you will have to dispel them through the practice of concentration and insight meditation. The former can eliminate craving and the latter ignorance. . In actuality, suffering arises only due to these two defilements and you can develop your mind towards the attainment of enlightenment by realizing intrinsic nature of mind and body (nãma and rûpa). From this very stage, you can go on from stage to stage up to the stage of "discerning the superior knowledge of Noble Truth (saccã) or Enlightened Wisdom."
The benefits of the Path is enormous and immeasurable for both the physical and spiritual life so long as you can utilize it and apply the Path regularly to everything you do in a systematic and proper way. You will see yourself the wonderful experience and the real blissful peace and happiness in your life. But you always need to be mindful of yourself that you should keep up your mind with constant awareness of the word'' Middle Way, Middle Way." whatever you do anything or any activity. It is neither pleasure nor pain. So you are free from greed craving, attachment inclining on one side, and you also cannot have any feeling for agitation, ill-will and mental distress on the other. Thus your are only between the balanced equilibrium of the mind. It is indeed a golden path for your life.
Regarding the middle way, there are two kinds of aspect, e.g. for theoretical aspect, you will have to study or acquire knowledge from books and from other teachers. If you study the scriptures of the Buddha Desanã, you learn there are eight factors in the path deseribed in the following order:
1.Right Understanding,
2.Right Thought,
3.Right Speech,
4.Rigth Action,
5.Right Livelihood,
6.Right Effort,
7.Right Mindfulness,
8.Right Concentration.
These eight factors are again summed up into three stages, namely 1. for morality (sila), 2. for concentration (samãdhi) and 3. for Wisdom (paññã). Here I am going to mention the path from the practical point of view.
The Stage of Morality (Sila)
"Theoretical Principles of Daily Life"
Right Action here means doing only bodily good deeds which are not harmful and wrong to oneself and to others, such as, dangers, crimes, tortures, inflicts and bodily hurt and other improper ways of troubles and sufferings.
A person of right action therefore must refrain from killing any living being, from stealing, from indulging in sexual misconduct, from taking any intoxicating drinks and drugs. He must also abstain from rude and fearful manners and behaviors of violent strikes, shoots, hurts, transgressions and so on.
Right speech here means speaking only pleasant, virtuous, truthful words. The actual follower of right speech must refrain from telling lies, tricky talks, twisty speeches which give other people much troubles and sufferings, from speaking ill of others, from slandering, from rude and abusive talks, from frivolous and idle gossip and so on.
The speaker must choose only sincere and honest words, with a kind, loving, pleasant, profitable, faultless, wholesome and good will in accord with the Buddha's Teaching. His intention or volition should be very honest and pure without giving anyone the inflicts or conflicts.
Right livelihood here means earning one's living justly, honestly and purely. A person of right livelihood therefore only follows righteous and faultless occupations. He never commits himself in deceit, tricky or fraud in his living, but deals only with the work which is fair, just and profitable and virtuous for himself as well as for others.
In his earning, he avoids trading in arms, dealing in poisons, flesh, intoxicating drinks or drugs and living beings. If a person can follow these principles of morality in his daily life, he is perfectly pure in morality and is also recognized as a morally upright man in his society. Other people around him will pay respect and regard him. And therefore he is, quite fit and relevant and happy in dealing with other fellow beings all the time and enjoys moral virtue of pure life. All people will see him as a civilized gentleman or lady. He or she becomes well known as the crown of the public and enjoys the real blissful peace and happy life. He or she is loved by many who usually give him or her with due bountiful helping hands. He or she is therefore successful and prosperous in all walks of life.
The Stage of Concentration (Samãdhi)
The next three stages on the path have to do primarily with the practice of meditation. The first of the three, right effort is very much important, because without making any effort nothing can be done. It is the root of all achievements and the foundation of all attainments. No one can succeed without effort. Whatever you have to do, you will have to rely only on your effort. Those who succeed are to depend only on their perseverance. But you will have also to balance with tranquillity, otherwise hindrances like overacted exertions or anxious mental states may arise when you make an effort.
So you have to preserve with a persistent effort neither too tight nor too loose. This is the very essence of the Middle Way. Every time, you have to do everything with released and balanced mind being mindfully aware of it. In this way, you will have to walk your way by yourself to solve all problems of life.
Therefore a person of right effort has to live a moral and blameless life by following the four main principles of effort, namely,
1. The effort to prevent evils from arising.
2. The effort to overcome evils which have already arisen.
3. The effort to develop good and meritorious acts which have not yet arisen and
4. The effort to concentrate and reflect frequently on the meritorious acts already arisen or developed.
Right Mindfulness is the most important in the practice of meditation. Mind usually is fleeting very swiftly, it is very difficult to guard and control it. If mind drags you then you will have to follow either good side or evil side. When you go to the evil side you are sure to confront sufferings of life; if you follow the good side you will be happy and enjoy a good way of life.
So long as you cannot control and restrain your mind you are the real victim of your own evil mind. Here is a particular and definite way in the Dhamma of the Buddha without which you can never control it even for a moment. It is nothing, but practice of in-and-out breathing which is the best and only way for all breathing individuals. The technique is very simple and easy for each and every one of us.
You can try by yourself even without a teacher. First sit in a quiet place, keeping your body comfortably upright and relaxed and make your mental note at the nostrils while breathing in and breathing out. The air is touching at the tip of the nose. You will have to notice just on the touch and be mindfully aware of it. If you can go on for some minutes with your normal breathing, you are sure to get some kind of concentration. This is the real practical experience by you. The more you can practice it, the more you will have stronger and stronger concentration.
Right mindfulness here means being aware of what is happening in the present moment. It is the work of noting the process or flow of things; when walking, to be aware of the movements of the body, in observing the breath, to be aware of the sensations of in and out breathing at the nostrils and to notice it to be aware of it without attachment or grasping which inclines to conduce to greed; (lobha) or without condemning (ill-will) and agitation which inclines to conduce to hatred; (Dosa) and without sluggish or dull which inclines to conduce to delusion. (Moha); but just observe the flow or process how it is going on at the present moment. Thus when your mindfulness is well cultivated, it becomes very appropriate and rhythmic for mental balance and relaxation. In this way, your meditation practice is quite in accord with the Teaching in the Dhamma that indicates as the following:
"Majjhimãti samkilittha sukhadukkanam abhãva majjhe bhavãti majjhimã." The Middle Way means that there is no defiled mental states, either pleasant (sukha) or unpleasant (dukkha) and just remains at the middle without inducing any consciousness of greed or ill-will and delusion. "Sãeva nibbãnam patipajjanti etãyãti patipadã, Only by this Middile Way, Nibbãna can be attained and so it is called Way (patipadã). ( Patisam...tha)"
Thus, when you can concentrate your mindful awareness just on the touch at the nostril constantly at every present, you are now on the Middile Way; You have obtained the higher tranquility of mind, you are quite light and alert to some extent, free from defilements or cankers (kilesã). That is, you can enjoy the Blissful Peace and Happiness of Nibbãna for a moment (Tadanga pahãna) and then for some moments or minutes (Vikkhambhana pahãna).
Eventually, when your meditative wisdom has arrived at the final stage where all defilements are completely exhausted, then it is called the utter discarding passions (kilesã). (Sammuccheda pahãna)
Mindfulness indeed brings you the wonderful qualities of serene, poise and equilibrium to the mind keeping it sharply with an alert awakening.
When the meditator can go on along the same practice of meditation, he will be more watchful and aware of each and everything, for instance, whatever he sees he is only to be aware of "seeing, seeing", no further any mental states whether good or bad, or whom he is seeing etc. In the same manner, for hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking, he should mentally notice each one at the present moment. Thus there is no room for any sensual desire, ill will, pleasant or unpleasant, like or dislike craving or disinterestedness, clinging or no attachment. In such a state the meditator is quite mindful and more aware of how his consciousness of an object itself arises and then immediately passes away. The meditator now comes to notice that the first knowing consciousness itself arises and then the second knowing consciousness comes into being again and the continual process of consciousness goes on forever.
In actuality, there is no knower, no personality, no existing entity, no self, no ego, no being, no life. Here he discerns only noting process of mind (nãma pariccheda) is going on nothing more. But the meditator must endeavor to watch every moment of his awareness on all objects of consciousness arisen from seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, touching and thinking. Eventually, in his meditation practice, the process of consciousness, so-called 'Mind' which is always restless and flitting about now settle down into a more peaceful calm and tranquil state.
The meditator now comes to see only the process of cause and effect and effect and cause of mind-body is going on. A meditator who has attained to that stage is called a minor stream enterer winner who gains ease and firm stand of destiny and thus he is destined only to the higher and better abodes of existence.
When the meditator, with his insight meditative knowledge advances on in his meditation practice, he will become mindfully aware of that: -
(1) The first knowing consciousness and the second are going on in the same process (nãma pariccheda) but they go separately.
(2) Whatever he sees any man, woman, he sees only physical elements or particles, not the personality which are arising and passing away in their own nature discerning the knowledge of (Rupapariccheda ñãna)-discrimination process of physical body. Both these are also called Discerning the knowledge of discrimination of conditional phenomena (Sankhara pariccheda ñãna).
When the meditator goes further along the same insight knowledge, he reaches the stage of wisdom "Right Understanding (Sammãditthi) and Right thought" (Sammã sankappa).
1. In this way, he will reach the first stage of insight knowledge (Vipassana ñãna) and then pass through the following stages of Insight knowledge (Ñãna), this is the real foundation of (Vipassanã ñãna)- that can penetrate into the separation between mind and matter - (Nãmarupa paricchedañãna.)
They are:
2. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of differentiation between cause and effect of mind and matter (Paccaya pariggahañãna).
3. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of seeing, being aware or observing the nature of impermanence (Anicca), suffering (Dukkha) and impersonality (Anatta) of mind and matter (Sammasana ñãna.)
4. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of all process of arising and passing away of mind and matter (Udayavaya ñãna).
5. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of dissolution or destruction of mind and matter (Bhanga ñãna).
6. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of danger or loathsome dreadful conditional states of mind and matter (Bhaya ñãna).
7. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of displeasure, aversion or banefulness of mind and matter (Ãdinava ñãna).
8. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of willing or desire for deliverance (Muccitukamyatã ñãna).
9. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of fully reflection on impermanence, misery and lack of permanent ego or personality, (Patisankhã ñãna).
10. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of equanimity regarding all phenomenal formations of mind and matter (Sankhãrupakkhã ñãna).
11. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of discerning how to attain the Noble Truth (Saccãnuloma ñãna).
12. Insight knowledge or wisdom in the realization of proper adaptation leading towards the first stage of the Path (magga) called (Gotrabhu ñãna).
i.e., The meditator's mind adapts itself how it will go and pass over from the Nãmarupa phenomenal existence in Samsara towards (Lokuttarã ñãna) the superior awakened knowledge of the Path and Fruition (Magga ñãna Phala ñãna). And then he enters the domain or realm of supramundane level and becomes a genuine Sotãpanna.
When he becomes a Sotãpanna he has discarded and eliminated the wrong self-illusive view (Sakkãya ditthi), doubt about the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha (Vicikicchã) and the superficial futile rites and rituals of hereditary or traditional biases or attachments. (Silabbataparãmãsa) For this reason, he is never destined to go down the four lower woeful planes of existence (Apãya). He is to be reborn only in the upper and better planes of existence.
He has unshakable faith and confidence in the Buddha, in the Dhamma and in the Sangha, he never violates the Five Precepts keeping them very fastened for life. He is called The Noble Holy person or Saint (Ariya Puggala.)
He only has to ascend to other three noble stages of the Path and Fruition till he attains the final Arahathood-the Most Holiest Noble One (Arahanta).
We can say that he is quite fortunate to be born as a human being coming across the dispensation of the Buddha Sãsanã.
The second stage of the Noble one is called the Once Returner (Sakadã gãmi) who has diminished the two lower fetters called sexual desire (Kãma rãga) and ill-will or agitation (Byãpãda).
The third stage of the Noble one is called the Never Returner (Anãgãmi), who has amihilated the five lower fetters mentioned above and the fourth and final stage of the Most Holiest Noble One (Arahanta) has completely and utterly detached the five upper levels of fetters, namely,
1. Desire for fine-material existence (Rupa rãga)
2. Desire for immaterial existence (Arupa rãga)
3. Conceit (Mãna)
4. Restlessness (Uddhacca)
5. Ignorance (Avijjã)
As a final result, he is no longer subject to the cycle of rebirth and death (Samsara). He is absolutely liberated from the sufferings of Samsara and has attained the Supramundane Blissful Peace, Happiness, Higher Wisdom and Enlightenment of Nibbãna.


Looking Within
Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu

Now we come to the word "nibbana." We often hear old people say that they want to be reborn after death in the Land of Gems, or in the Land of Immortality. They think of nibbana is a land of gems, having seven levels, and so on, because that is what they have been told it is like. They think that nibbana is a land with a definite location. Somtimes they confuse nibbana with the western paradise of the Hindus and Mahayanists. Some people think of nibbana as similar to heaven, but ten times, a hundred times, a thousand times better. They think that if you multiply heaven by 10, by 100, by 1000, that is nibbana. They are materialists infatuated with sensual pleasures. They take nibbana to be one and the same as heaven. This is what comes of always thinking of nibbana in terms of outward things, thinking of it as something objective. In reality, as we said before, this thing called nibbana is voidness, the epitome of purity, enlightenment, and peace, because it is the absence of all mental defilements, of all mental suffering.
This brings us to a word that we very often misunderstand: the word "religion" (sasana). In Buddhism, as in any other religion, older people always have in mind the physical side of it. They identify religion with temples and with rites and rituals. But these are all just outward forms, just fragments of the tangible, material side of it. They are not the real religion, not what the Buddha meant by religion. The word "religion" as used by the Buddha referred to three things: knowledge; practice in accordance with that knowledge; and the purity, clarity, and calm that come as the fruit of that practice. These three together are religion. In Pali they we called pariyati-dhamma, patipatti-dhamma, and pativedha-dhamma (theory, practice, and experience), the three components of religion. It is to this religion that we must penetrate and attain; whether for the knowledge, or for the practice, or as a refuge, you must realize this religion. And what I have just said is true in a very broad sense; it is true of all religions.
Now we come to some miscellaneous matters, an assortment of concepts which are nevertheless very important. There are things that are very important to us as human beings, because they are the very basis of suffering and happiness. Consider beauty, goodness, truth, and justice. Just what is beauty? What is goodness? What is truth? What is justice?
Physical "beauty" is perhaps easy enough to understand. Some people make their living out of bodily beauty and are concerned only about that aspect of beauty. Such people are of two kinds: those who themselves possess the bodily beauty and those who come to buy it from them. That is physical beauty, beauty in the body, beauty in skin and flesh. Then there are people who consider that there is beauty in the possession of wealth, and there are some who see beauty in knowledge, such as in a high level of education. Such people are concerned with the body, wealth, or level of education, but these forms of beauty are all of the physical kind. They are just what we see when we look without, at the outside.
Real beauty is something within, something in the mind. If the beauty of Dhamma is present in a person, than that person is beautiful. That person possesses the beauty of Dhamma in body, speech, and mind. It has nothing at all to do with external appearance, wealth, or level of education, though a person who has superficial beauty also, is beautiful in both ways, both within and without. If you must choose between external beauty and internal beauty, which kind will you take? Think it over.
On the question of "goodness" the materialist is bound to consider that goodness consists in getting. To get this or that and make it "mine" is good, and everything else is not good. Let's have a look at this. Let's look at ourselves and at other people, at all the people in the country, and see what kinds of things they consider to be good. They all consider the things which they get and the process of getting them as good, don't they? Some people just accept as good whatever everyone else accepts as good. They think, "If everyone else considers such-and-such things as good. How could I possibly disagree? How could I be the one and only person to have a different opinion?" The Buddha never thought like that. Even if everyone in the country disagreed with him, he didn't mind. For him the good had to be genuinely good; and the genuine good, the ultimate good, consisted in freedom from sorrow, anxiety, suffering, and ignorance. The genuine good had to consist in purity, clarity, and calmness.
Some later schools added to this definition. There have been numerous schools that have come into vogue and then gone out of vogue again, just like short-lived fashions in men's shirts. Each introduced its own particular concept of good. Each was localized to a certain region and lasted only a short while. At a certain historical period it was considered that the good consisted in this or in that; and then in the next period it was no longer thought to be so. These kinds of good are all just deception and delusion; each of them is a function of the then current level of sophistication.
As for the real and genuine good, that good which human beings ought to attain in this life, there is nothing higher than the coolness of the kind that is found in Dhamma. This alone can be called "the Good."
Now let us talk about "truth." Each of us has eyes, ears, a nose, a tongue, and a touch-sensitive body, so all of us can judge things as true according to what our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body tell us. We can test and verify material things. Worldly truth, which has nothing to do with Dhamma, is a matter of what we see or feel or believe to be true. We are deceived as to the nature of objects and of cause-effect relationship, all of which we subject to change. What is true one moment may not be true the next. Even the laws of science are subject to change, a scientists well know. A "law" which at one point in time is firmly believed to be true is later found not to be true and so is thrown out. This is because the truth at any particular point in time is a function of our ability to perceive it, of our resources for testing and verifying. This is worldly truth, the kind of truth that has nothing to do with Dhamma.
Truth that is truly truth does not change. In identifying "suffering" we must identify true suffering; "freedom from suffering" must be true freedom from suffering; the "cause of suffering" must be the true cause of suffering; and the "way to the elimination of suffering" must be the true way, not some false lead. These truths are the very special truth of the Buddha and of all enlightened beings. Let us think of truth or of truths in this way. The whole purpose of education in whatever form is to get at truth. The purpose of all philosophy is to arrive at truth. But as things are, education and philosophy are incomplete, are half-baked, go only half way. They just fumble and bumble around with no hope of finding the truth. In seeking truth let us concentrate our attention on the most important matter of all, namely, the matter of suffering (dukkha) and the elimination of suffering. To realize this truth is to arrive at the most useful, the most precious, and the best thing there is, although there are countless other things we might examine which would be of no use whatever. This is why the Buddha said, "One thing only I teach: suffering and the climination of suffering." There were countless other things about which he might have talked but regarding which he remained silent. From the first day he spoke only of one thing, the thing that is the most useful of all.
Finally, we come to the word "justice" or "rightness." In this world, it may sometimes be the case that "might is right," or that expediency is right, or that the evidence given by a witness is made the basis for rightness and justice. Now if the witness is lying, or if he is mistaken regarding the accuracy of his evidence, then the supposed justice based upon it is totally deceptive. Real justice can only be based on Dhamma. Justice based on worldly criteria is worldly justice; it is always only outward, relative justice. On the other hand, justice that is based on Dhamma is totally independent of human error. It is absolute. Examples are the law of kamma; the law of impermanence, suffering, and non-self; and the truth of suffering, the cause of suffering, the extinction of suffering, and the way leading to the extinction of suffering. These are absolute and they are totally just. They do not favour anyone; no-one has any special priviledges in respect to them. They are laws of nature which have fixed, absolute force.
Let us keep in view the kind of justice that we can genuinely rely on, and make it our refuge. Don't become infatuated with worldly justice, which is inconsistent and relative. Don't be too much for it or against it, because worldly justice is bound to be only as it is. Sometimes we may disagree with worldly justice, sometimes we may totally disapprove of it. The workings of worldly justice sometimes make us feel elated and sometimes make us weep. This is an intolerable situation. We need a kind of justice which doesn't make us weep, feel elated, or get excited about worldly matters. That kind of justice is to be found in the principles of Dhamma; they are the best criteria for rightness. Holding to Dhamma as the basis for justice, we shall be able to laugh within, nor without; we shall be able to smile within forever after, and that is the elimination of suffering (dukkha).
There is just one more little thing that I would like to say: something about charms and talismans --outward talismans and inward talismans. Outward talismans are the sort that people wear around their necks, foreheads, and waists. They are so common that I don't need to tell you anything about them. But what kind of protection do they really give? We can go and look at the corpses of people who have been killed and find that they were wearing talismans. And we can see people yet living who are suffering greatly, people who are being burnt up with distress and anxiety. The more distressed they become the more talismans they hang about themselves and the more they perform rituals like pouring prayer water. And the more they do all this, the more distressed and anxious they become. The more they do this, the more deluded they become, too. These are the benefits of outward talismans.
The benefits of inward talismans, the genuine Buddhist talismans, are just the opposite. Anyone who wears the talismans of calmness and coolness acquires instant purity, clarity, and calm. If, in the ultimate case, he wears the highest of a talismans, he dwells in total voidness, in total freedom from harassment and annoyance of any kind. This is the effect of the Buddha's talismans.
All that has been said here simply explains the conditions and characteristics necessary for an understanding of looking within. Should we look without or look within? How should we look? Which way of looking is most important? If we are loyal to Dhamma, to religion, or to the Buddha, there's nothing to do but hurry and practice looking within. In particular, we ought to extinguish inner suffering. The genuine cessation of suffering is an internal matter; it must happen within. Thus, there are no sacred objects, holy ceremonies, divine powers and persons, or any such holy things. Dhamma alone is sacred and holy.
Genuine Dhamma is reality. We needn't mention "holiness," for Dhamma far surpasses holiness. Compared with the word "Dhamma," "holiness" has very little value. So it is best to give up all of the holy objects and sacred ceremonies. If one falls for such holy things, one will never meet the truly sacred and holy thing --Dhamma. Trust in, dependence on, or complacency towards superficial, external things prevents one from realizing the essence within. It's like only eating the bitter rinds of mangosteens but never the sweet flesh. The refreshing fruit is never experienced, although such benefits exist in the world because Nature has created them for us and created us with the ability to realize them.
Realizing the fifth essence is one of the fruits of looking within. Realizing the sixth essence, voidness, is an even better one. This looking within penetrates to the heart and center of all things. In the end there is oneness with voidness --being empty of "I" and "my."
These are the fruits and benefits of knowing how to look within, of realizing the subjective state that becomes apparent when we look within. Looking within is characterized by activity rather than passivity, and the active one is always victorious. We should be victorious, undefeated in this way, as is appropriate for disciples of the Buddha. The Buddha is sometimes called "The Victorious One" (jina), "The Victorious Lion" (jinasiha), and "The Victorious Monarch" (jinaraja), for he is victorious over everything. We too can be victorious by using his methods. As explained above, success comes with expertise in looking within.


Middle Way

The middle way in Buddhism is neither a metaphysical path nor a ritualistic path; neither dogmatism nor scepticism; neither self-indulgence nor self-mortification; neither eternalism nor nihilism; neither pessimism nor optimism and neither absolutely this worldly nor other worldly. It is a path of enlightenment, a means of deliverance from suffering.
(A Western writer)


Practicing the Middle Way
Devadaha Sutta
Majjhima Nikaya 101

On one occasion, when he was visiting his homeland among the Sakya clans, the Buddha is said to have given a lengthy discourse on the nature of exertion and striving. The context of the discussion was his criticism of the Jain ascetic practices, so common in ancient India, but his remarks on the subject are of immense importance to the contemporary practice of insight meditation.
And how is exertion fruitful, bhikkhus, how is striving fruitful? Here, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu is not overwhelmed by suffering and does not overwhelm himself with suffering; and he does not give up the pleasure that accords with Dhamma, yet he is not infatuated with that pleasure.
He knows thus: 'When I strive with determination, this particular source of suffering fades away in me because of that determined striving; and when I look on with equanimity, this particular source of suffering fades away in me while I develop equanimity.'
He strives with determination in regard to that particular source of suffering which fades away in him because of that determined striving; and he develops equanimity in regard to that particular source of suffering which fades away in him while he is developing equanimity.
When he strives with determination, such and such a source of suffering fades away in him because of that determined striving; thus that suffering is exhausted in him. When he looks on with equanimity, such and such a source of suffering fades away in him while he develops equanimity; thus that suffering is exhausted in him.
This is the dilemma: If we "try" too hard to practice meditation, if we deliberately exert ourselves to "succeed" at the task, then we may tap into an entire complex of unwholesome conditioning so prevalent among Western students. "Striving mind" can be extremely counterproductive, unleashing a crippling self-judgment if we don't match up to the goals we have set for ourselves. On the other hand, if we do not strive at all, and merely "go along" with whatever is arising in all situations, then we may simply drift to wherever the "monkey mind" happens to take us. Our underlying tendency to pursue pleasure and avoid pain, left to its own devices, can result in our mindfully avoiding any significant transformation.
The Buddha's profound teaching of the middle way, applied particularly to the dynamics of meditation practice, is the theme of this passage from the Devadaha Sutta. The point is finding the right balance between "striving with determination" and "looking on with equanimity." Neither approach is correct all the time, but each can be used as a skillful technique for addressing certain mental states. The two approaches complete one another.
"Striving with determination" (samkharam padahato) can mean disciplining oneself in morality, as when one might want to cover up a misdeed by lying or one might want to consume something greedily. Through a certain strength of character or dedication to what we know to be right, we can sometimes determine to do the proper thing, even though it means the acceptance of certain difficulties (as in the former case) or the renunciation of certain immediate pleasures (as in the latter). But in a more delicate way, such determined striving is also what we do when we gently return the wandering mind to awareness of the breath during sitting practice. The practice of meditation differs from an hour of spacing out on a zafu precisely in this quality of recollecting to return our attention to a primary object-again and again as it inevitably drifts off.
"Looking on with equanimity" (ajjhupekkhato), in the context of meditation practice, refers to the non-judgmental quality of open, choice-less awareness, so crucial to bring to whatever enters the field of experience. Equanimity is described in Buddhist literature as that quality of mind that is in equipoise-neither drawn to what entices nor shunning what is painful or disgusting, but balanced evenly amidst all phenomena. It is the perspective that allows us to open to the full spectrum of our experience-the pain in the knee as much as the songbird outside the meditation hall window, the beautiful thought of inspired insight as much as the ugly realization of personal shortcomings-while holding it all with a selfless, mindful awareness.
As this text says so clearly, there are certain sources of suffering that fade away by determined striving, and others that do so by looking on with equanimity. This is the example the Buddha gives to illustrate what he means by looking on with equanimity:
Suppose, bhikkhus, a man loved a woman with his mind bound to her by intense desire and passion. He might see that woman standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing. What do you think, bhikkhus? Would not sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair arise in that man when he sees that woman standing with another man, chatting, joking, and laughing?
"Yes, venerable sir. Why is that? Because that man loves that woman with his mind bound to her by intense desire and passion...."
Then, bhikkhus, that man might think: '…What if I were to abandon my desire and lust for that woman?' He would abandon his desire and lust for that woman.
On a later occasion he might see that woman standing with another man, chatting, joking and laughing. What do you think bhikkhus? Would sorrow, lamentation, pain, grief, and despair arise in that man when he sees that woman standing with another man....?
"No, venerable sir. Why is that? Because that man has no attachment to that woman."
Whether or not we would all find it quite so easy to simply abandon desire for a person we loved (or, as the story more precisely describes, a person with whom we were possessively infatuated), the point is that we look upon something very differently when we look with desire and with equanimity. Sometimes, the bonds of grasping are best loosened by this gentle technique of simple non-attachment. On the meditation cushion this is manifest as treating no arising object as more dear than another, but observing all phenomena with equal interest.
The story told in this sutta about striving with determination is put in the language of turning away from what is pleasurable, even if it means temporarily opening up to what is painful. The point is that while this may seem difficult at first, it becomes easier as one become habituated to it, until it is no longer painful at all:
Again, bhikkhus, a bhikkhu considers thus: 'While I live according to my pleasure, unwholesome states increase in me and wholesome states diminish; but when I exert myself in what is painful, unwholesome states diminish in me and wholesome states increase.
What if I exert myself in what is painful?' He exerts himself in what is painful. When he does so, unwholesome states diminish in him and wholesome states increase.
At a later time he does not exert himself in what is painful. Why is that? The purpose for which that bhikkhu exerted himself in what is painful has been achieved....
Suppose, bhikkhus, an arrowsmith were warming and heating an arrow shaft between two flames, making it straight and workable. When the arrow shaft had been warmed and heated between the two flames and had been made straight and workable, then at a later time he would not again warm and heat the arrow shaft and make it straight and workable. Why is that? The purpose for which that arrowsmith had warmed and heated the arrow and made it straight and workable has been achieved….
Our mind may find pleasure in pursuing its whimsical trains of thought into one story after another; and indeed it is the very pursuit of pleasurable experience that leads the mind's meandering. At first it may feel like a chore to retrieve the mind from its excursions and return it to the primary object of attention, but as we practice this we gradually get used to it and it can in fact become a most rewarding habit. This is just one example of how striving with determination, though interventionist in the short run, can before long lead to very beneficial results.
Balance is the key. As we're told in the Upakkilesa Sutta (M128), grasp a quail too tightly and it will die then and there; but grasp the quail too loosely and it will fly out of your hands. Or, as in the metaphor of the lute string told by the Buddha to the monk Sona (A6.55), neither too much striving nor too much acquiescence is as effective as tuning our method carefully to bring the factor of effort (viriya) into perfect harmony with the moment.
--Andrew Olendzki
Translators note: I follow the translation of Bhikkhus Nanmoli and Bodhi in The Middle Length Discourses of the Buddha, Wisdom Publications, Boston (1995), with some minor changes to the end of 2nd passage.