To train mindfulness and discernment to become progressively stronger and not to deteriorate, please train them in the method already mentioned. Don't let yourself be careless in any useful activity of any sort, no matter how small. Otherwise the carelessness that's already the lord of the heart will become a chronic disease taking deep root in the heart, ruining every aspect of your practice. Try to train yourself in the habit of being dependable and intent in your proper activities, within and without, at all times. Don't let carelessness or negligence incubate in your character at all, because people who have trained themselves in the habit of being true to their every duty are sure to be able to succeed in every sort of activity, whether inner or outer, without any obstacle to thwart them. Even when they train their hearts, which is the important job within, they are sure to succeed with circumspection in such a way that they will find nothing with which they can fault themselves -- because outer activities and inner activities both point to the same heart in charge of them. If the heart is habitually careless, then when it takes charge of any inner task, it's bound to ruin the task, without leaving even a scrap for itself to take as its refuge.
So for a bright future in the tasks that form your livelihood and source of happiness, you should train yourself in the habit of being dependable and true in your duties. Perform each task to the utmost of your ability. Then when you turn inward to perform your inner work for the sake of stillness or for the sake of discernment and discovery, you will be able to perform both sorts of work with precision and circumspection because of the habits you have developed in training yourself to be true and circumspect all along. To follow the practice from the beginning to the highest level depends mainly on your basic habits. The 'beginning' of the practice and the 'end' both refer to the one heart whose condition of awareness will develop when it's modified by the Dhamma, both in terms of causes -- the striving of the practice -- and in terms of the results, or happiness, just as a child gradually develops from infancy to adulthood when nourished by food and all sorts of other factors. The beginning of the practice thus refers to the training of the mind in the beginning stages so as to change its habits and sensibilities, making them reasonable and right, until it is knowledgeable and can maintain itself without any deviations from the reasonability and rightness appropriate to it. But when we come right down to it, the beginning and end of the practice are like a piece of fruit: We can't say exactly where it begins and where it ends. When we look at it, it's simply a piece of fruit.
The same sort of thing holds true with the mind. We talk about the beginning or the end of the practice in the sense that the mind has its various preoccupations, coarse and refined, mixed in with it. In modifying them, we have to keep coming up with new techniques, changing those preoccupations from their original state to more and more refined levels that should be called, where suitable, the beginning or the end of the path. Those of you listening should make yourselves reach this sort of understanding of the defilements and evil qualities in the heart that are given such a variety of names that they can go beyond the bounds of what the suppositions of a single mind can keep track of and resolve. Otherwise you won't have any techniques for curing yourselves of the condition just mentioned.
Let me stress once more the principle that guarantees sure results: Train yourself in the habit of being solid and true in your work and duties at all times. Don't be unsteady, uncertain, or undependable. If you say you'll go, go. If you say you'll stay, stay. If you say you'll do something, do it. Once you've settled on a time or a task, keep to it. Be the sort of person who writes with his hand and erases with his hand. Don't be the sort who writes with his hand and erases with his foot. In other words, once we've made a vow, no one else can come in and destroy that vow, and yet we ourselves are the ones who destroy it: This is what is meant by writing with the hand and erasing with the foot, which is something very unseemly. We have to be true to our plans and always decisive. Once we've determined that a particular task is worthwhile and right, we should give our life to that task and to our determination. This way we'll become dependable and self-reliant. The virtues we are maintaining will become dependable virtues and won't turn into virtues floating in the wind. Our practice of concentration will become dependable concentration on every level and won't turn into concentration floating in the wind, i.e., concentration only in name but without the actuality of concentration in the heart. And when we develop each level of discernment, it will be dependable discernment, in keeping with the truthfulness of our character, and won't turn into discernment floating in the wind, i.e., discernment only in name but without any ingenuity in freeing ourselves. What I've said so far is so that you will see the drawbacks of being undependable and desultory, without any inner truthfulness, and so that if you hope for genuine progress in terms of the world and the Dhamma, you'll look for a way to give these things a wide berth.
Now I'd like to say more about mindfulness and discernment, the factors that can make your character more stable and circumspect. You should always be aware that discernment isn't something that you can cook up like food. It comes from considering things carefully. A person without discernment is unable to complete his tasks with any sort of finesse and unable to protect his valuables -- in the sense of the world or of the Dhamma -- from danger. For this reason, the important factors in maintaining and practicing the teachings of the religion are mindfulness and discernment. Whenever an event, whether good or bad, makes contact with the mind, mindfulness and discernment should take it up immediately. This way you can be alert to good and bad events in time and can prevent the heart from straying after things that will harm it.
For the most part, whenever an issue arises, whether it's sudden or not, the heart can be swayed or harmed in line with that issue because it lacks the mindfulness and discernment to observe and inspect things carefully beforehand. It then sees everything as worth pursuing, and so you let the mind follow along with things without your being aware of it. By the time you realize what has happened, time has been wasted, and it's too late to put a stop to the mind, so you let things follow their own course until they all turn to ashes, without any way of being remedied. Don't think that this comes from anything other than a lack of the mindfulness and discernment that can lead out to freedom. If not for this, who would be willing to sacrifice his or her own worth -- with a value above that of anything else in the world -- for the sake of this sort of failure? Yet it's unavoidable and we have to give in -- all of us -- for when the chips are down, it's normal that mindfulness will lapse, and we won't be able to latch onto anything in time. We'll then let things follow their own course in line with the force of events too strong for the mind to withstand.
Thus it is only right that we should prepare ourselves from this moment onward to be ready for the events that lie in wait around us, within and without, and are ready to strike at any time or place. Even though it's still morning (even though you're still alive), don't let yourself delay. To be prepared is to strive to have a firm basis, both within and without, for your living and dying. Whether you live here or there, whether death will happen here or there, whether you live in this world or the next, or whether you're coming to this world or going to the next, you should prepare yourself, beginning now, in the immediate present. Otherwise, when life is up, you won't be able to prepare anything in time. I've never seen any Teacher's Dhamma that says to prepare yourself tomorrow or next month or next year or in the next life, which would simply encourage people to be complacent. I've seen the Dhamma say only that you should make yourself a refuge both within and without right now while you're alive. Even though days, nights, months, and years, this world and the next, are always present in the cosmos, they're not for worthless people who are born and die in vain without doing anything of any benefit to the world or the Dhamma at all.
In particular, now that we are monks and meditators -- which is a peaceful way of life, a way of life that the world trusts and respects, a way of life that more than any other in the world gives us the opportunity to do good for ourselves and others -- we should be fully prepared in our affairs as monks and shouldn't let ourselves be lacking. For our behavior as monks to be gracious in a way pleasing and inspiring to others, we must use mindfulness and discernment as our guardians, looking after our every movement. A person with mindfulness and discernment looking after his behavior is gracious within and without, and maintains that graciousness in a way that never loses its appeal at any time. When we use mindfulness and discernment to straighten out things within us -- namely, the mind and its mess of preoccupations -- the mind immediately becomes clean, clear, and a thing of value.
Remember the Dhamma you have studied and heard, and bring it inward to blend with your practice and to support it. Keep your mindfulness and discernment right with the heart and with your every movement. Wherever the eye looks or the ear listens, mindfulness and discernment should follow them there. Whatever the tongue, nose, and body come into contact with -- no matter how good or bad, coarse or refined -- mindfulness and discernment should keep track of those things and pry intelligently into their causes every time there's a contact. Even when ideas occur in the mind itself, mindfulness and discernment must keep track and investigate them without break -- because those who have gained release from the world of entanglements in the heart have all acted in this way. They have never acted like logs thrown away on the ground where children can climb up to urinate and defecate on them day and night. If anyone acts like a log, defilements and cravings from the various directions -- namely, from sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations -- will come in through the openings of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body to urinate and defecate on the heart that is making itself into a log because it doesn't have any intelligence or circumspection with regard to its inner and outer preoccupations. It simply lets cravings and defilements urinate and defecate on it day and night. This isn't at all fitting for those who aim at freedom from the cycle -- i.e., who aim at nibbana -- because the nibbana of the Buddha and his disciples is not a lazy nibbana or a log's nibbana. Those who want the Buddha's nibbana in their hearts must try to conform to the tracks left by the practice of the Buddha and his disciples. In other words, they must make an effort to develop mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence to keep abreast of the events occurring within and without at all times. Don't act like a log, simply going through the motions of walking, sitting, meditating, sitting like a stump in the middle of a field without any sense of circumspection in the heart. This sort of going through the motions isn't any different from the way people in general normally act.
To be a disciple of the Tathagata, whose fame has spread throughout the three levels of the cosmos, you should try to revive the mindfulness and discernment lying dormant in the heart so that they can support your efforts in extracting all the various defilements and cravings coming from the heart that at the moment is like a log. Greed, anger, delusion, laziness, discontent, jealousy, possessiveness: All of these things are excrement piled on the heart. Once mindfulness and discernment have been trained as we have mentioned, they will become stronger day by day, more and more accustomed to working, in the same way that we get accustomed to other forms of work. When we bring them to bear on the effort of the practice within the heart, they will be able to understand the affairs of the heart in due time, without taking long.
In order to be principled and methodical in your training, keep your awareness constantly with the body. Keep mindfulness focused there and use discernment to investigate within the sphere of the body. To do this is to follow the principles of the frames of reference (satipatthana) and the Noble Truths (ariya-sacca), which form the path of all the Noble Ones.
There are four frames of reference: the body, feelings, the mind, and phenomena. 'The body' refers to every part of the body. This is termed kayanupassana satipatthana. 'Feelings' refers to pleasure, pain, and indifference. This is termed vedananupassana satipatthana. 'The mind' refers to the mental states that are fashioned by the mind and color it. This is termed cittanupassana satipatthana. 'Phenomena' refers to anything, material or mental, that is the object or focal point of the mind's investigation. This is termed dhammanupassana satipatthana.
In investigating the four frames of reference, be sure to come to a right understanding from the outset that body, feelings, mind, and phenomena as frames of reference are a class separate from the mind that possesses them as frames of reference. Otherwise you'll get discouraged or upset when they exhibit change as part of their normal nature or as a result of the investigation, which is something that may happen in the course of the practice. In other words, these four factors normally undergo change that can give rise to pleasure or displeasure. When we are investigating them, they continue to undergo change, which can make the meditator pleased or displeased or sometimes even discouraged and fed up with the investigation. I mention this so that you'll be forewarned when it happens and will make yourself understand with circumspection that the mind in charge of the frames of reference hasn't changed along with its frame of reference in any way. Once you have come to a right understanding, you can become confident in your investigation of the frames of reference. No matter which frame of reference -- body, feelings, mind, or phenomena -- exhibits change or disappears, the heart -- a phenomenon that doesn't change or die -- will be able to investigate to the full extent of its strength and come to a clear comprehension of these four factors step by step without being affected by the pleasures and pains in the body and mind, which are the conditions exhibited by the frames of reference.
In investigating the body, you can deal either with the internal body or with external bodies, depending on the situation and what comes easiest to the heart. 'The internal body' refers to every part of your own body. 'External bodies' refers to the bodies of other people and animals. 'The body within the body' refers to any one part of the body. All of these things will show themselves to be disgusting and dismaying to the person who uses discernment to investigate them and know them as they actually are. Inside and out, both the internal body and external bodies, all share in the same characteristics. They always have to be washed and cleaned -- and thus the care of the body is a constant duty for everyone in the world. The things that are used to care for the body, to keep it alive and presentable, are thus the best-selling merchandise all over the world. The investigation of the body so as to see clearly with discernment into its origins, needs, and behavior, is thus a means of cutting off a well-spring of worries and stress in the heart -- because even a huge mountain of solid rock reaching to the clouds would never weigh on the heart causing it any stress, but the khandhas -- such as the physical khandha, or body -- oppress and weigh on the heart at all times to the point where we can find no chance to put them down. The affairs of stress that are related to the khandhas thus converge on the heart responsible for them. For this reason, the mind in charge of the khandhas should gain an all-around understanding of the khandhas, both in their good and their bad aspects, so as to manage them smoothly and comfortably, and not always be abused by them.
Normally, the khandhas take advantage of us all day long. Every move we make is for their sake. If the mind can find a way out by becoming wise to its khandhas -- even while it is still responsible for them -- it can then be in a position to contend with them and won't have to take on all their stresses and pains. At the same time, the stresses and pains in the khandhas won't set up shop to sell us all their suffering. Thus those who investigate the khandhas so as to see their benefits and drawbacks with discernment aren't destined to take on pain and nothing but pain from the khandhas. They are sure to find a way to reduce and relieve the tensions and strains in their hearts.
In investigating the body, you have to investigate it repeatedly, time and again -- as required for your understanding, and not as determined by your laziness -- until you really see clearly that the body is nothing but a body, and is in no way a being, a person, one's self, or another. This is called the contemplation of the body as a frame of reference.
As for feelings, the mind, and phenomena, you should realize that they are all present in this same body, but their characteristics are somewhat different, which is why they are given different names. Make sure that you understand this point well. Otherwise the four frames of reference and the four Noble Truths will turn into a cause of stress -- a source of worries and doubts -- while you are practicing, because of your confusion about where these phenomena begin and end.
As for feelings, there are three: pleasure, pain, and indifference -- neither pleasure nor pain. Feelings coming from the body and those coming from the mind have these same three sorts. To investigate them, you should ferret them out and examine them in line with their characteristics, but don't take the body to be a feeling. Let the body be the body. Let the feeling be a feeling -- in the same way as seeing a tiger as a tiger, and an elephant as an elephant. Don't take the tiger to be an elephant, or else your evidence won't be in line with the truth, and the issue will spread until it can never be resolved. In other words, ferret out and investigate the feeling displaying itself in the present moment so as to see how it arises, how it takes a stance, and how it disbands. The bases for the arising of all three kinds of feeling are the body and mind, but the feelings themselves aren't the body, nor are they the mind. They keep on being feelings both in their arising and in their disbanding. Don't understand them as being anything else or you'll be understanding them wrongly. The cause of stress will arise in that moment, and you won't be able to find any way to remedy or escape from it. Your investigation, instead of leading to the discernment that will release you from stress and its cause, will turn into a factory producing stress and its cause at that moment without your realizing it.