The mind constantly coerced or oppressed
at all times and the mind absolutely released from that coercion and oppression
are two very different things -- so different that there is no conventional
reality that can be compared to the mind released. This sort of mind doesn't
lie in the realm of conventional reality in such a way that anything may rightly
be compared to it in keeping with the reality of its nature. Even though some
comparisons can be made, they're simply a manner of speaking. They aren't really
in line with the truth of that nature as it exists. We have to make comparisons
simply because the world has its conventions and analogies.
We see prisoners in jail who are coerced and oppressed, who are deprived of their freedom at all times beginning from the day of their imprisonment to the day of their release. What sort of happiness do they have? Even though they may have their laughter, in line with the things that may make them laugh, it's still the laughter of prisoners. Just hearing the word 'prisoner' is enough to tell us that happiness isn't what produces their laughter. Their penalty is what produces their laughter. It keeps coercing and oppressing them. So where can we find any happiness and pleasure among them?
We can take this and compare it inwardly to the state of affairs between the mind and the defilements that coerce and oppress it. These things control and coerce it with every mental moment. Even when the mind isn't forming any thoughts, it's still controlled and coerced in this way, in line with its nature. When this is the case, where can it find any true happiness? The happiness it does have is happiness like the food fed to prisoners. And what sort of food is that? Even though we may never have been imprisoned, we know what sort of food is fed to prisoners. Is there anything satisfying about it, the food they feed prisoners?
The foods -- the temptations -- with which the defilements feed the mind, if we were to speak in the way of the world, are simply to keep it from dying, in the same way that prisoners are fed. The defilements feed the mind so that it can be put to work, in the same way that prisoners are fed so that they can be put to work, so that we can get the fruits of their labor. The food for the mind that the defilements bring to sustain us is thus like the food fed to prisoners. There's no difference at all. If we compare them, that's the way they are.
But if we look from a different angle, we can see that prisoners are still better off than we are, because they know that they eat their food out of necessity. They don't eat it out of satisfaction with it or its taste or anything, because there's nothing at all gratifying about the food they are fed. But we meditators are still content to be attached to the flavor of worldly pleasures, so we're said to be stuck. When we're attached to visual objects, it's because we find flavor in them. When we're attached to sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations, it's simply because we find flavor in them. It's not the case that the only flavor is the flavor we taste with the tongue. All forms of contact -- with the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, and mind -- have their flavor, and we've been attached to them in such a way that we haven't even realized our attachment for aeons and aeons.
The mind is attached, bound, and feels love for these things without knowing that they are flavors that tie us down, that they are all matters of defilement: the flavors of defilement. So we are attached to the point where we will never know the harm of these flavors at all if we don't use mindfulness and discernment to investigate them wisely. Regardless of how many aeons may pass, we will have to be attached to these flavors, engrossed in these flavors, without ever coming to our senses. This is the ingenuity, the cleverness of the defilements. How ingenious and clever are they?
If you want to know, then set your heart on the practice. And don't forget what I'm saying here. Someday it's sure to become clear to your heart as a result of your earnest practice. There's no escaping it. Listen carefully to the Buddha's words: 'The flavor of the Dhamma surpasses all other flavors.' What sort of flavor is the flavor of the Dhamma that it has to surpass all other flavors? Those other flavors are the flavors of the food of prisoners, imprisoned in the wheel of death and rebirth through the power of defilement. They aren't food or flavors that can keep the heart satisfied. They aren't true flavors. They aren't the flavors of the truth. They're the flavors of the counterfeits that the defilements whip up into being for us to touch or to eat. They aren't the flavors of the true Dhamma.
The flavor of the Dhamma will begin to appear when the mind is centered in concentration. As soon as the mind begins to be still, pleasure will begin to appear as its flavor, depending on the amount of stillness in line with the levels of its tranquility. When we say 'levels of tranquility', don't go thinking that they're separate steps, like those of a ladder. It's simply a way of speaking. Actually, they're all connected, from the pleasure of basic concentration progressively up to the levels of refined concentration. The pleasure that arises will become correspondingly more and more refined. This counts as one of the flavors of the Dhamma -- the Dhamma of concentration, the Dhamma of peace -- in the levels of the stillness of the mind.
As soon as the mind has stillness for its food, it lets go of its concerns for the various flavors of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations step by step, because the flavor of this stillness begins to excel them. Even this is enough to begin excelling all other flavors. Even more so when the mind begins to investigate things with its discernment, analyzing them in terms of the three characteristics or the meditation theme of unattractiveness -- because in the beginning we tend to develop the theme of unattractiveness, contemplating every part of our own body and the bodies of others, inside and out, as seems most appropriate and natural for us to investigate, because they all share the same conditions for us to see clearly step by step: The flavor of the Dhamma will then intensify, becoming an ingenious flavor. And in addition to being an ingenious flavor, it's a flavor that comes from being able to let go.
The nature of the mind is such that once it investigates anything to the point of seeing it clearly, it lets go. When it hasn't let go, when it grasps with attachment, these are the chains and fetters with which defilement keeps it bound. The defilements confer titles, telling us, 'This is good. That's pretty. This is beautiful.' They never tell us that the body is filthy, ugly, inconstant, stressful, and not-self -- not belonging to us or to anyone else. These are things the defilements never tell us, never mention, never suggest in line with the principles of the truth. Instead, they bring their own principles in to interfere with the Dhamma, telling us just the opposite -- that this or that is beautiful, lasting, valuable -- denying the truth every step of the way because they are very powerful. For this reason, we need to keep track of their deceits, counteracting and removing them, by using such qualities as mindfulness and discernment.
Our world is entirely stuck in the deceits of defilement. When discernment has investigated inward, in line with the principles of unattractiveness as we have already mentioned, and in line with the three characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, probing and analyzing back and forth, time and again, the truths that the defilements have kept concealed will be revealed in line with these principles of truth -- because these principles are truth pure and simple. There's nothing counterfeit about them. What's counterfeit -- our false views -- are an affair of defilement, not an affair of the Dhamma.
We will be able truly to see things as they are -- without a doubt -- once we can remove the counterfeit things that conceal them. For example, beauty: Where, exactly, is the body beautiful? What is there about it that you can claim to be beautiful? If you speak in terms of the principles of the truth, how can you even look at the human body? It's entirely filled with filthiness, both within and without, which is why we have to keep washing it all the time. Even the clothing and other articles on which the body depends have to be dirty because the main part -- the body -- is a well of filth within and without. Whatever it comes into contact with -- robes, clothing, dwelling, bedding -- has to become dirty as well. Wherever human beings live becomes dirty, but we don't see the truth, mainly because we aren't interested in looking.
As meditators we should investigate so as to see this truth. Don't run away from it. This is the genuine truth. The things that fool us into seeing the body as beautiful are counterfeit and false. So. Look into your body. Which part can you claim to be beautiful, to contend with the truth of the Dhamma? Look for it. Is there any part that dares claim to be above the Dhamma and more true than the Dhamma -- unless it's simply more false than the Dhamma?
The fact that the Dhamma isn't appearing in our heart is because at the moment falseness is more powerful, more established, and conceals things completely. Even though there's filth throughout the body both within and without, we're still able to regard it as beautiful and lasting. The issues between truth and falsity lie within our body and mind, because the defilements themselves lie within the mind and spread their power out throughout the various parts of the body, and then splash out beyond, throughout the world of rebirth, saying that this is us, that's ours, everything is us, ours, beautiful, lasting, enjoyable -- depending on the song with which the defilements, the deceivers, fool the mind into jumping, bouncing, and spinning much more than a soccer ball. And what happiness can we find in jumping along with all the deceits we've mentioned here?
If we haven't yet awakened and come to our senses, when will we, and where? If the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha hasn't awakened us meditators, who in the world will be able to awaken us? As they say, 'svakkhato bhagavata dhammo': 'The Dhamma of the Buddha is rightly taught' -- rightly taught in a way clear to see, with nothing hidden or esoteric. What's hidden about it? If we look with our eyes, we'll see in line with what I've said here.
So. Look on in, from the skin on in. Skin-scum and sweat-scum: Is there anything good about them? Anything clean and beautiful? If they were clean, how could we call them scum? Then look on inside. What is there inside that can contend with the Dhamma and claim to be pretty and beautiful? The Dhamma tells us that there's nothing pretty or beautiful in there, that it's all filthy. So which part is going to contend with the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha? If the Dhamma is false, if the Buddha didn't teach it rightly, then find something to prove it wrong. All of the things that the Dhamma criticizes: When you penetrate into them with discernment, you'll find that that's just how they are. There's no point with which you can argue.
All of these things have been true ever since before we investigated them, but the defilements have closed our eyes to them. Even though we see them, we don't see them for what they are. Even though filth fills the body, the defilements deny it entirely and turn it into something beautiful -- and we believe them, without looking at the Dhamma that's waving its arms at us, ready to help us at all times, as if it were calling to us: 'Hold on. Hold on to the Dhamma. Hurry up, and you'll escape from danger. Hurry and let go of the defilements. They're a fire burning you.'
See what happens when you smash the defilements to bits. Fight with them until you have no more breath to breathe. That's when the Dhamma will fully reveal itself in every facet for you to see clearly. This is the way of digging into the things that conceal so as to uncover the truth: the genuine Dhamma. If we see the truth, we begin to see the genuine Dhamma step by step. Even on the level of stillness, we're already not embroiled with anything, because we have the savor of the Dhamma. The heart can drink of the Dhamma: mental peace and calm. The heart doesn't jump or run, isn't vain or proud, restless or distracted, flying out after various preoccupations, because it has found a satisfying food to sustain it.
When we use discernment to investigate -- to prepare our food, so to speak -- to make it even more exquisite than the food of tranquility, turning it into the food of discernment, this has a flavor even more exquisite and refined, without limit, which comes from investigating and analyzing the body, the theme of our meditation. The basic principle on which we depend to counteract and remove the defilements lies right here, which is why the Buddha focuses his teachings right here. It wouldn't work to focus anywhere else, because this is the primary place where living beings are attached. Attachments outside come second to this. When we have investigated so as to see in line with this truth, step by step, without retreating in our investigation or letting it lapse until we have clearly understood, then the point of 'enough' in our investigation, together with the point where we let go of our attachments, will appear of its own accord through the power of the discernment that has removed all things concealing, has dismantled all things counterfeit so as to see the truth clearly in the heart. Discernment on this level will then stop of its own accord.
As for the affairs of attachment, we needn't say anything, because they are simply the results of delusion. Wherever knowledge penetrates, delusion will immediately retreat, so how can attachment remain? It will have to retreat without a doubt. The more we investigate in preparing our food -- the flavor of the Dhamma -- through the power of mindfulness and discernment, unraveling things to see them clearly for what they are, the more the mind becomes light and airy. Disenchanted and dismayed. 'How long have I been attached this way? Why have I dared to make things up in such a bull-headed way?' This is the exclamation with which we reproach ourselves -- because things actually haven't been what we've made them up to be. So why have we made them up that way? We then immediately see through the make-believe that has led to this state of affairs, because discernment is what penetrates and makes its choices. How will it not know what's true and what's not? If we analyze the body to pieces, we can clearly see that it's a living cemetery. When it dies, it's a dead cemetery. How can we stand to look at it? Look all over the world: Is there any place where there are no cemeteries? There are cemeteries wherever living beings dwell.
Investigate on down to the truth. Is our discernment for us to make into food? It's for us to cure our bankruptcy, so that we can escape from being prisoners held in custody by the defilements. Why shouldn't we be able to escape? The Dhamma of the Lord Buddha is perfectly suited to us human beings, which is why he taught it to the human world. He saw this as the central point of existence, the most appropriate place. There's no one more intelligent than the Buddha, the foremost Teacher who taught the Dhamma to the most appropriate place: our human world.
At the moment, what are we? We're human beings. Of this we're certain. In addition, we're monks -- meditating monks at that, so why shouldn't we be able to seize the excellence of the flavor of the Dhamma to taste as our own treasure through our own practice? If we aren't capable, who in the world is capable? To whom should we hand over this capability? At the moment, whose hearts are being squeezed by suffering and stress? Aren't these things squeezing our own hearts? So to whom are we going to hand over this capability? To whom are we going to hand over all the duties and responsibilities involved in attaining freedom? Should we hand them over to suffering? We already have suffering in our hearts. The only thing to do is to remove suffering and stress through persistent effort.
We're fighters. We have to be defiant. We can't let ourselves say retreat. So. Whatever the pain, however great it may be, we're ready for it. The pain and suffering that come with the effort won't lead us to bankruptcy. They're better than the pain and suffering that are already putting a squeeze on us at all times and serve no purpose at all. So dig on down, meditators. This is one step in the investigation.
The Buddha teaches us to visit cemeteries because we don't yet see the cemetery within. We first have to visit external cemeteries to open the way for bringing the mind into our own internal cemetery. It's full of corpses. Aside from the fact that the body itself is a cemetery, the corpses of all sorts of animals fill our belly. What sorts of things have been stuffed in there? For how long? Why don't we look at this cemetery? Look so as to see it clearly. Unattractiveness, inconstancy, stress, and not-self are all heaped right here. We don't have to go looking for them anywhere else.
When we look in terms of changeability -- inconstancy -- we can see it clearly. The body keeps changing all the time, from the day it's born to the day it dies. Even feelings keep changing in their way: pleasure, pain, and indifference, both in body and mind. They keep spinning around in this way. When do they ever stop? If we have any mindfulness and discernment, why don't we see these things as they do their work in line with their natural principles? If we use our mindfulness and discernment, we have to see, we have to know. These things can't be kept hidden. They can't be kept hidden from mindfulness and discernment. We have to see right through them. There's no doubt about this.
Stress. Which part of the body gives us any pleasure or ease? There's nothing but stress and pain filling the body. We've constantly had to tend and care for the body so that it has been able to survive this far, so are we still going to be attracted to this mass of fire?
Not-self. The Buddha has already proclaimed it. 'It's not the self. Don't mess with it.' As if he were slapping our wrists: 'Don't reach for it. Don't touch. It's dangerous.' Whenever you say that it's you or yours, your attachment is like grabbing fire, so extricate yourself, using discernment. See these things as being truly inconstant, stressful, and not-self. The mind then won't dare to reach for them or touch them. Step by step it will let go of its burdens -- its attachments, which are a heavy weight.
When the mind extricates itself from its attachments, it becomes lighter and lighter, more and more at ease. The savor of the Dhamma will appear step by step, even more exquisite than on the level of concentration. When the flavor of the Dhamma surpasses the flavor of these various defilements, they have to be discarded and trampled underfoot.
The physical khandha -- the body -- is important. It has a really great impact on the mind. To love it is to suffer. To hate it is to suffer. To be angry with it is to suffer. The affairs connected with the body are more prominent than any others. If the mind has no stillness, there's nowhere it can find any relief. There's nowhere we as monks can retreat to find any pleasure. For this reason, we must try to still our minds and make use of the Dhamma to attack our defilements.