Don't feel any regret for the time it takes. Don't feel any regret for the cycles of rebirth, for the prison, for our wardens and torturers: the various kinds of defilement. These have been our greatest torturers from time immemorial. Even though we may not remember for how long, simply hold to the principle of the present as your primary guide and they'll all be scattered. The past, no matter how long, is simply a matter of this same mass of suffering. If we can't shed it, these things will have to continue this way forever.
Don't be interested in any other matters. Keep watch of the truth -- which is within you, proclaiming itself at all times -- by using mindfulness, discernment, conviction, and persistence. Don't let up or retreat. Don't see anything as having greater value than the effort of extricating yourself from these things that coerce and oppress you. You'll then be able to make something extraordinary of yourself. Whether or not you give yourself titles, make sure at least that you aren't burdened or attached right here. This is where the Buddha says the highest savor is found. Uproot the things that involve and entangle you each step along the way. Keep cutting your way in, beginning with the physical heap -- the body -- which is one wall or one thick covering.
Once you've passed the physical heap, ransacked this physical heap and known it clearly with understanding, without any remaining ties, it's as if you have amassed a large pile of capital, clear to your heart. You can be certain of progressing to release at one point or another in this present lifetime, with no need to anticipate it as happening in this year or that. Once the mind has attained this level, you can be sure of yourself. Persistence comes on its own. The pain and difficulties that come from making the effort are completely erased of their own accord, because the flavor of the Dhamma appearing clearly to the heart has a power far overriding the pains that come from the persistent effort. The heart becomes motivated through the principles of its nature. Persistence keeps spinning in the person who used to be lazy.
Laziness is a matter of the defilements resisting and fighting the Dhamma. When we start out making the effort, then laziness, weakness, discouragement, pain, and difficulty all come thronging in, oppressing us so that we can't take a step, and we finally fall down with a crash. That shows we've been shot. They don't have to shoot us a second time. One shot and we're down -- down on the pillow, snoring away. We keep getting shot by the defilements, again and again, till we're thoroughly mangled. Our efforts don't amount to anything. If this is the way things are, then we'll be sunk in the round of rebirth, sunk in the prison of the wheel of rebirth forever, with never a day when we'll gain release, never a day when we'll be free.
So slash away at the defilements, using the principles of the Dhamma that the Buddha taught and aren't otherwise. You'll then have to gain release from these things that coerce and oppress you without a doubt. The important points are persistence, mindfulness, discernment, and endurance. So. Keep enduring. What's wrong with endurance for the sake of making your way? Other things you can endure. Physical pain to the brink of death: No one else can endure it for you. You have to endure it for yourself. Haven't you already endured it before? So why can't you endure the pains and deprivations that come with the effort of the practice? After all, you endure them for the sake of the effort to extricate yourself from suffering. So why can't you endure them? Make it strong, your heart as a monk, your heart as a meditator. Once you've seen the dangers pointed out by the Dhamma, you'll see the benefits arising through your efforts.
In the beginning, you have to grapple a great deal with the body as your meditation theme. Once you've opened your way and seen causes and results as your starting capital, then the four mental khandhas -- vedanay, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana -- have already gotten into the act. There are feelingsin the body as well as in the mind, so when you're investigating the body, how can these things not rush in to connect? They're related phenomena. It's not the case that you finish investigating the body before you start investigating vedana, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana. Don't plan on things being that way, because it's wrong. In the truth of the practice, that's not the way things are. Once your work is focused on any one point, it has an impact on everything else, but these things become prominent only after the body has lost its meaning and value for us through the Dhamma. Before, we saw it as having a great deal of meaning and value, but once the Dhamma -- the truth -- has demolished the falsity of this sort of defilement and craving, these things lose their meaning and worth. The Dhamma now clearly has a value above and beyond them. This is when vedana, sanna, sankhara, and vinnana become prominent, because they've already opened the way from the stage of the physical body.
What is there to feelings? For the most part, they converge in on feelings of the mind. As for physical feelings, I've already explained them to you before. If you analyze them when you're sick or have been sitting in meditation for a long time, you'll know them. If you want to know them, focus on them today, using mindfulness and discernment, and you'll understand them. You're sure to understand them clearly if you use discernment. Don't simply endure them. To contend with pain, you have to use discernment. Simply fighting it, simply enduring it, doesn't count as the path. The path is mindfulness and discernment. The greater the pain, the more these things spin into work. You can't let mindfulness and discernment leave the point of the pain. As for the body, each part will be seen clearly as a reality in line with its nature, within the mind, because in accordance with the principles of nature that's what they already are.
No matter how much pain arises in the body, it's its own separate reality. Only the mind is what labels and interprets it. Once the mind has used discernment to investigate the pain to the point of being abreast of it, it will extricate itself from the pain to be its own separate reality on this level, so that each is a separate reality. When each is a separate reality, what harm can they do to each other? What impact can they have on each other? None at all. The body is the body, the pain is a pain, the heart is the heart, i.e., the mind is the mind. Each is a separate reality, with no impact on the others. Even if the pain doesn't subside, it has no impact. It has no impact on the mind at all. This is called seeing the truth. After you've done this many times, you'll be able to uproot your attachments to the body, and the pain in the body will be passed by as well. The only issue remaining will be feelings in the mind.
Sanna and sankhara are important. Once the body, the physical heap, is passed, sanna and sankhara -- thought-formations -- become prominent because there are no more problems involving the body. The mind isn't willing to investigate the body again, just as when we've eaten enough of this sort of food, we put it aside and continue eating whatever else still attracts us. When we're completely full, we put it all aside, no matter what kind of food it is, meat dishes or desserts. Our investigation is similar to this. It tells us on its own. When the mind has had enough of anything, it lets go and no longer investigates that thing. It then continues with other things, in the same way that when we've eaten enough of this sort of food, we go on to other sorts until we're completely full. Then we put it all aside. Our investigation is so that we will have enough and then let go.
Sankhara refers to the thought-formations in the mind -- good thoughts, bad thoughts, this issue and that. They keep forming all the time. Each of us falls for his or her own issues. Even if other people don't become involved with us, the mind has to paint pictures and form thoughts, past and future: a big turmoil within the heart. We get infatuated with this preoccupation, saddened by that one. Matters that passed months and years ago, we warm up and serve to torment the mind, to oppress and coerce it, because of our delusion, because of the fact that we aren't up on the tricks and deceits of this sort of defilement. This is why we have to investigate them. Whatever issues the mind forms, if they're good, they vanish; if they're bad, they vanish -- so what sense or substance can we gain from them? Wherever they arise, probe on down right there.
Sanna, labels and interpretations: They come labeling out of the mind. This is how the mind appears when it reaches a refined level. This is the way the natural principles of the investigation are of their own accord. Even if no one tells us, we come to understand on our own. Wherever anything makes contact, mindfulness and discernment spin around right there until they understand and let go.
Once discernment has cut the bridge to the body, it has also cut the bridges to external sights, sounds, smells, and tastes. The only things left in the mind are feelings, labels, thought-formations, and cognizance. These deal entirely with the mind itself. We investigate at that point with discernment, without becoming intimate with any of these four conditions. For example, feeling: Pleasure arises and vanishes. Pain arises and vanishes, there in the heart. The Buddha thus calls them inconstant and not-self. Inconstant and not-self. They arise and vanish. Labels are also inconstant, stressful, and not-self. What is there to become attached to? They're just like the body. In other words, they're all a heap of the three characteristics.
When we have investigated them time and again, these four conditions shrink into the mind. This is called giving chase to defilement. Probe into that point with discernment until you know and see it clearly. When the defilements can't find any place to hide, they'll go running into the mind. Mindfulness and discernment then come spinning into mano: the mind. This too the Buddha tells us not to hold onto. Listen! The mind too is inconstant, stressful, and not-self. Listen to that! How can the mind not share in the three characteristics when the defilements are in there? How can we hold to the mind as being us or ours when the entire army of defilement is in there? If we hold to the mind as being us or ours, it's the same as holding to defilement as being us or ours, so how can we gain release? Very profound, this point of Dhamma, here on the level of investigation.
The mind too is inconstant, stressful, and not-self because the defilements are in there. So strike on down with your investigation. Whatever gets smashed -- even if ultimately the mind itself is demolished along with everything else -- at least know it clearly with your discernment.
The defilement that forms the essence of the cycle (vatta) -- which in Pali is termed 'avijja-paccaya sankhara,' 'With unawareness as condition, there occur mental formations': This is the seed of becoming and birth, buried here in this mind. When its bridges are cut, it can't find any way out to go looking for food. The bridges out the eyes have been cut. The bridges out the ears, nose, tongue, and body have all been cut by discernment. The defilements can't find any way out to develop love for sights, smells, tastes, or tactile sensations, because all their bridges have been cut. We're abreast of things as they actually occur, so the defilements go running inside. If they try to become attached to the body, that's something we've already investigated and known with discernment, something we've already let go. Feelings, labels, thought-formations, and cognizance have all been investigated and seen to have the three characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self, so where do the defilements lie? They have to be hiding in the Big Cave: the mind. So discernment goes slashing in.
So now, is the mind us? Is it ours? Slash on down!Whatever is going to be destroyed, let it be destroyed. We feel no regrets. We want only the truth. Even if the mind is going to be smashed and destroyed along with everything else, let's at least know with our practice. Strike on down!Ultimately, everything counterfeit gets smashed, while the nature of pure truth, of supreme truth -- the pure mind -- doesn't die and isn't destroyed. See? So now whether you call it inconstant, stressful, and not-self or not, at least make the mind pure, and it will gain release from all conventional realities. Inconstancy, stress, and not-self lie within the realm of convention. Once the mind has gained release from these things, there's nothing more that can be said -- even though we are completely aware. So what is there now to doubt?
This is release from the prison, from the cycle that imprisons living beings, and us in particular -- our mind in particular, now extricated right here. Freed right here. All that is needed is for the defilements to be shed entirely from the heart: There is nothing else to pose the heart any problems. This is thus called the timeless heart, the timeless Dhamma, freed from time. It's a pure nature, always fully 'buddho' like that.
At this point, how can we not clearly see the harm of defilement? When such things as mindfulness and discernment have trampled defilement to bits, how can we not see its harm with our whole heart? How can we not see through the happiness that the defilements bring to feed us when we're ready to die, simply to keep us going? 'That's the sugar-coated happiness concocted by the defilements simply to keep us going. That's the flavor of defilement. But the flavor the Dhamma is like this, something else entirely.' How can we help but know?
To summarize, the mind that lies under the power of the cycle, with the defilements coercing and oppressing it, is not at all different from a convict in prison. When it has gained utter release from its prison of defilement, there's no comparison for it. Even so, we praise it as being supreme -- a convention, which doesn't really correspond to that reality. But even though it doesn't correspond, you can be assured that the difference is just like that, between the mind imprisoned and the mind released from all coercion, completely free and independent. They're different in just the way that we've said.
So be earnest and intent. You've come here for the purpose of learning and finding things of substance and value for yourselves. Investigate so as to see clearly in line with the principles of inconstancy, stress, and not-self as I have mentioned, because they underlie the way everything is throughout the three levels of the cosmos. There's nothing splendid enough for us to feel regret at leaving it. The only thing splendid is release. It's a nature truly splendid. We don't have to confer titles on it, because it's its own nature. It has had enough of everything of every sort. This is what is meant when we say that the flavor of the Dhamma excels all other flavors. Whatever kinds of flavors we may have experienced, the flavor of the Dhamma excels them all, lets them all go, because no other flavor can match it. Even this flavor, it isn't attached to. This flavor we say is supreme isn't attached to itself. It's simply a principle of truth, and that's all.
So. Be earnest, meditators. Don't get discouraged. Give your life to the Buddha. Even though we may have never said that we've given our life to defilement, that's what we've done for an infinitely long time, to the point where we can't count the times. Even in the single lifetime of an individual, we can't count the times. Take the realm of the present that's visible to us and work back to infinity: It's all come from the avijja-paccaya sankhara embedded here in the heart for countless lifetimes. Nothing else in the cosmos has caused us to experience becoming and birth, and to carry the mass of all sufferings, other than this avijja-paccaya sankhara.
For this reason, when they say the mind of a person who dies is annihilated, just where is it annihilated? Use the practice to get a hold on the matter. Don't speak simply in line with the tricks and deceits of defilement that close off our ears and eyes. Defilement says that death is followed by annihilation. See? It's blinded us completely. As for the defilement that causes people to take birth and die, where is it annihilated? If we want to see through its tricks and deceits, why don't we take its arrows to shoot it in return? It causes living beings to lie buried in the cycle, so where is defilement annihilated? And what does it coerce, if it doesn't coerce the mind? If the mind is annihilated, how can defilement coerce it? The mind isn't annihilated, which is why defilement has been able to coerce it into birth, ageing, illness, and death all along without ceasing. So why do we fall for the deceits of defilement when it says that death is followed by annihilation, without having the sense to see the harm of its deceits? This sneaky defilement has fooled living beings into falling for it and grabbing at suffering for a long, infinitely long time.

So investigate down to the truth. Find out what is and isn't annihilated. That's when you can be called skilled at the Dhamma, skilled at exploring and investigating down to the truth. That's how the Buddha proclaimed and taught the Dhamma. He taught the Dhamma using the truth he had already practiced by making the causes absolutely complete and attaining results satisfactory to his heart, and then taking that Dhamma to teach the world. So where did he ever say that death is followed by annihilation, just where? He taught nothing but birth, ageing, illness, and death, birth, ageing, illness, and death, over and over. All of the Buddhas taught like this. They never differed, because they all knew and saw the same sort of truth in line with the principles of that truth. So how can you make the mind be annihilated when it's already utterly true?

Birth and death, birth and death without ceasing: What is the cause? The Buddha has taught us, beginning with avijja-paccaya sankhara, sankhara-paccaya vinnana -- 'With unawareness as condition, there are formations. With formations as condition, there is cognizance.' These are the causes. They're buried in the mind, which is why they cause us to take birth without ceasing. As soon as we destroy avijja-paccaya sankhara, what happens? Avijjayatveva asesaviraga-nirodha sankhara nirodho -- 'All that is needed is for unawareness to be completely disbanded from the heart, then nirodho hoti -- everything else is disbanded.' What do you say to that? Evametassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti -- 'All that is needed is for unawareness to be utterly disbanded, and everything -- the entire mass of suffering and stress -- is disbanded.' And that which knows that unawareness is disbanded, that's the pure one. How can that pure one disband or be annihilated? It's an utter truth. So look. Listen. We Buddhists take the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as our refuge, you know. We don't take the defilements as our refuge.