The talks of AjahnChah

Food for the Heart
by Venerable Ajahn Chah

„h Introduction
„h Dhamma Fighting
„h Understanding Vinaya
„h Maintaining the Standard
„h Right Practice — Steady Practice
„h Samma Samadhi — Detachment Within Activity
„h The Flood of Sensuality
„h In the Dead of Night…
„h Sense Contact — the Fount of Wisdom
„h “Not Sure!” — The Standard of the Noble Ones
„h Transcendence
„h Distribution Agreement


One of the most notable features of Venerable Ajahn Chah’s teaching was the emphasis he gave to the Sangha, the monastic order, and its use as a vehicle for Dhamma practice. This is not to deny his unique gift for teaching lay people, which enabled him to communicate brilliantly with people from all walks of life, be they simple farmers or University professors. But the results he obtained with teaching and creating solid Sangha communities are plainly visible in the many monasteries which grew up around him, both within Thailand and, later, in England, Australia, Europe and elsewhere. Ajahn Chah foresaw the necessity of establishing the Sangha in the West if long-term results were to be realized.
This book is a collection of talks he gave to the monastic communities in Thailand. They are exhortations given to the communities of bhikkhus, or Buddhist monks, at his own monastery, Wat Ba Pong, and some of its branches. This fact should be born in mind by the lay reader. These talks are not intended to, and indeed cannot, serve as an introduction to Buddhism and meditation practice. They are monastic teachings, addressed primarily to the lifestyle and problems particular to that situation. A knowledge of the basics of Buddhism on the part of the listener was assumed. Many of the talks will thus seem strange and even daunting to the lay reader, with their emphasis on conformity and renunciation.

For the lay reader, then, it is essential to bear in mind the environment within which these talks were given — the rugged, austere, poverty-stricken North-East corner of Thailand, birth place of most of Thailand’s great meditation teachers and almost its entire forest monastic tradition. The people of the North-East are honed by this environment to a rugged simplicity and gentle patience which make them ideal candidates for the forest monk’s lifestyle. Within this environment, in small halls dimly lit by paraffin lamps, surrounded by the assembly of monks, Ajahn Chah gave his teachings.
Exhortations by the master occurred typically at the end of the fortnightly recitation of the Patimokkha, the monks’ code of discipline. Their content would be decided by the current situation — slackness in the practice, confusion about the rules, or just plain “unenlightenment”. In a lifestyle characterized by simplicity and contentment with little, complacency is an ongoing tendency, so that talks for arousing diligent effort were a regular occurrence.

The talks themselves are spontaneous reflections and exhortations rather than systematic teachings as most Westerners would know them. The listener was required to give full attention in the present moment and to reflect back on his own practice accordingly, rather than to memorize the teachings by rote or analyze them in terms of logic. In this way he could become aware of his own shortcomings and learn how to best put into effect the skillful means offered by the teacher.

Although meant primarily for a monastic resident — be one a monk, nun or novice — the interested lay reader will no doubt obtain many insights into Buddhist practice from this book. At the very least there are the numerous anecdotes of the Venerable Ajahn’s own practice which abound throughout the book; these can be read simply as biographical material or as instruction for mind training.
From the contents of this book, it will be seen that the training of the mind is not, as many believe, simply a matter of sitting with the eyes closed or perfecting a meditation technique, but is, as Ajahn Chah would say, a great renunciation.
— The Translator

Dhamma Fighting

Fight greed, fight aversion, fight delusion . . . these are the enemy. In the practice of Buddhism, the path of the Buddha, we fight with Dhamma, using patient endurance. We fight by resisting our countless moods.
Dhamma and the world are inter-related. Where there is Dhamma there is the world, where there is the world there is Dhamma. Where there are defilements there are those who conquer defilements, who do battle with them. This is called fighting inwardly. To fight outwardly people take hold of bombs and guns to throw and to shoot; they conquer and are conquered. Conquering others is the way of the world. In the practice of Dhamma we don’t have to fight others, but instead conquer our own minds, patiently enduring and resisting all our moods.
When it comes to Dhamma practice we don’t harbor resentment and enmity amongst ourselves, but instead let go of all forms of ill-will in our own actions and thoughts, freeing ourselves from jealousy, aversion and resentment. Hatred can only be overcome by not harboring resentment and bearing grudges.

Hurtful actions and reprisals are different but closely related. Actions once done are finished with, there’s no need to answer with revenge and hostility. This is called “action” (kamma). “Reprisal” (vera) means to continue that action further with thoughts of “you did it to me so I’m going to get you back”. There’s no end to this. It brings about the continual seeking of revenge, and so hatred is never abandoned. As long as we behave like this the chain remains unbroken, there’s no end to it. No matter where we go, the feuding continues.
The Supreme Teacher [*] taught the world, he had compassion for all worldly beings. But the world nevertheless goes on like this. The wise should look into this and select those things which are of true value. The Buddha had trained in the various arts of warfare as a prince, but he saw that they weren’t really useful, they are limited to the world with its fighting and aggression.
* [That is, the Buddha]

Therefore, in training ourselves as those who have left the world, we must learn to give up all forms of evil, giving up all those things which are the cause for enmity. We conquer ourselves, we don’t try to conquer others. We fight, but we fight only the defilements; if there is greed, we fight that; if there is aversion, we fight that; if there is delusion, we strive to give it up.
This is called “Dhamma fighting”. This warfare of the heart is really difficult, in fact it’s the most difficult thing of all. We become monks in order to contemplate this, to learn the art of fighting greed, aversion and delusion. This is our prime responsibility.
This is the inner battle, fighting with defilements. But there are very few people who fight like this. Most people fight with other things, they rarely fight defilements. They rarely even see them.
The Buddha taught us to give up all forms of evil and cultivate virtue. This is the right path. Teaching in this way is like the Buddha picking us up and placing us at the beginning of the path. Having reached the path, whether we walk along it or not is up to us. The Buddha’s job is finished right there. He shows the way, that which is right and that which is not right. This much is enough, the rest is up to us.

Now, having reached the path we still don’t know anything, we still haven’t seen anything, so we must learn. To learn we must be prepared to endure some hardship, just like students in the world. It’s difficult enough to obtain the knowledge and learning necessary for them to pursue their careers. They have to endure. When they think wrongly or feel averse or lazy they must force themselves before they can graduate and get a job. The practice for a monk is similar. If we determine to practice and contemplate, then we will surely see the way.
Ditthimana is a harmful thing. Ditthi means “view” or “opinion”. All forms of view are called ditthi: seeing good as evil, seeing evil as good . . . any way whatsoever that we see things. This is not the problem. The problem lies with the clinging to those views, called mana; holding on to those views as if they were the truth. This leads us to spin around from birth to death, never reaching completion, just because of that clinging. So the Buddha urged us to let go of views.
If many people live together, as we do here, they can still practice comfortably if their views are in harmony. But even two or three monks would have difficulty if their views were not good or harmonious. When we humble ourselves and let go of our views, even if there are many of us, we come together at the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. [*]

* [The Triple Gem: The Buddha, the Dhamma, His teaching, and the Sangha, the Monastic Order, or those who have realized the Dhamma.]
It’s not true to say that there will be disharmony just because there are many of us. Just look at a millipede. A millipede has many legs, doesn’t it? Just looking at it you’d think it would have difficulty walking, but actually it doesn’t. It has its own order and rhythm. In our practice it’s the same. If we practice as the Noble Sangha of the Buddha practiced, then it’s easy. That is, supatipanno — those who practice well; ujupatipanno — those who practice straightly; nayapatipanno — those who practice to transcend suffering, and samicipatipanno — those who practice properly. These four qualities, established within us, will make us true members of Sangha. Even if we number in the hundreds or thousands, no matter how many we are, we all travel the same path. We come from different backgrounds, but we are the same. Even though our views may differ, if we practice correctly there will be no friction. Just like all the rivers and streams which flow to the sea . . . once they enter the sea they all have the same taste and color. It’s the same with people. When they enter the stream of Dhamma, it’s the one Dhamma. Even though they come from different places, they harmonize, they merge.
But the thinking which causes all the disputes and conflict is ditthi-mana. Therefore the Buddha taught us to let go of views. Don’t allow mana to cling to those views beyond their relevance.

The Buddha taught the value of constant sati, [*] recollection. Whether we are standing, walking, sitting or reclining, wherever we are, we should have this power of recollection. When we have sati we see ourselves, we see our own minds. We see the “body within the body”, “the mind within the mind”. If we don’t have sati we don’t know anything, we aren’t aware of what is happening.
* [Sati: Usually translated into English as mindfulness, recollection is the more accurate translation of the Thai words, “ra-luk dai.”]
So sati is very important. With constant sati we will listen to the Dhamma of the Buddha at all times. This is because “eye seeing forms” is Dhamma; “ear hearing sounds” is Dhamma; “nose smelling odors” is Dhamma; “tongue tasting flavors” is Dhamma; “body feeling sensations” is Dhamma; when impressions arise in the mind, that is Dhamma also. Therefore one who has constant sati always hears the Buddha’s teaching. The Dhamma is always there. Why? Because of sati, because we are aware.

Sati is recollection, sampajanna is self-awareness. This awareness is the actual Buddho, the Buddha. When there is sati-sampajanna, understanding will follow. We know what is going on. When the eye sees forms: is this proper or improper? When the ear hears sound: is this the appropriate or inappropriate? Is it harmful? Is it wrong, is it right? And so on like this with everything. If we understand we hear the Dhamma all the time.
So let us all understand that right now we are learning in the midst of Dhamma. Whether we go forward or step back, we meet the Dhamma — it’s all Dhamma if we have sati? Even seeing the animals running around in the forest we can reflect, seeing that all animals are the same as us. They run away from suffering and chase after happiness, just as people do. Whatever they don’t like they avoid; they are afraid of dying, just like people. If we reflect on this, we see that all beings in the world, people as well, are the same in their various instincts. Thinking like this is called “bhavana”, [*] seeing according to the truth, that all beings are companions in birth, old age, sickness and death. Animals are the same as human beings and human beings are the same as animals. If we really see things the way they are our mind will give up attachment to them.
* [Bhavana — means “development” or “cultivation”; but is usually used to refer to cittabhavana, mind-development, or panna-bhavana, wisdom-development, or contemplation.]

Therefore it is said we must have sati. If we have sati we will see the state of our own mind. Whatever we are thinking or feeling we must know it. This knowing is called Buddho, the Buddha, the one who knows . . . who knows thoroughly, who knows clearly and completely. When the mind knows completely we find the right practice.
So the straight way to practice is to have mindfulness, sati. If you are without sati for five minutes you are crazy for five minutes, heedless for five minutes. whenever you are lacking in sati you are crazy. Sati is essential. To have sati is to know yourself, to know the condition of your mind and your life. This is to have understanding and discernment, to listen to the Dhamma at all times. After leaving the teacher’s discourse, you still hear the Dhamma, because the Dhamma is everywhere.
So therefore, all of you, be sure to practice every day. Whether lazy or diligent, practice just the same. Practice of the Dhamma is not done by following your moods. If you practice following your moods then it’s not Dhamma. Don’t discriminate between day and night, whether the mind is peaceful or not . . . just practice.

It’s like a child who is learning to write. At first he doesn’t write nicely — big, long loops and squiggles — he writes like a child. After a while the writing improves through practice. Practicing the Dhamma is like this. At first you are awkward . . . sometimes calm, sometimes not, you don’t really know what’s what. Some people get discouraged. Don’t slacken off! You must persevere with the practice. Live with effort, just like the schoolboy: as he gets older he writes better and better. From writing badly he grows to write beautifully, all because of the practice from childhood.
Our practice is like this. Try to have recollection at all times: standing, walking, sitting or reclining. When we perform our various duties smoothly and well, we feel peace of mind. When there is peace of mind in our work it’s easy to have peaceful meditation, they go hand in hand. So make an effort. You should all make an effort to follow the practice. This is training.

Understanding Vinaya

This practice of ours is not easy. We may know some things but there is still much that we don’t know. For example, when we hear teachings such as “know the body, then know the mind within the body”; or “know the mind, then know the mind within the mind”. If we haven’t yet practiced these things, then we hear them we may feel baffled. The Vinaya [*] is like this. In the past I used to be a teacher, [**] but I was only a “small teacher”, not a big one. Why do I say a “small teacher”? Because I didn’t practice. I taught the Vinaya but I didn’t practice it. This I call a small teacher, an inferior teacher. I say an “inferior teacher” because when it came to the practice I was deficient. For the most part my practice was a long way off the theory, just as if I hadn’t learnt the Vinaya at all.
* [“Vinaya” is a generic name given to the code of discipline of the Buddhist Monastic Order, the rules of the monkhood. “Vinaya” literally means “leading out,” because maintenance of these rules “leads out” of unskillful actions, and, by extension, unskillful states of mind; in addition it can be said to “lead out” of the household life, and, by extension, attachment to the world.]
** [This refers to the Venerable Ajahn’s early years in the monkhood, before he had begun to practice in earnest.]

However, I would like to state that in practical terms it’s impossible to know the Vinaya completely, because some things, whether we know them or not, are still offenses. This is tricky. And yet it is stressed that if we do not yet understand any particular training rule or teaching, we must study that rule with enthusiasm and respect. If we don’t know, then we should make an effort to learn. If we don’t make an effort, that is in itself an offense.
For example, if you doubt . . . suppose there is a woman and, not knowing whether she is a woman or a man, you touch her. [*] You’re not sure, but still go ahead and touch . . . that’s still wrong. I used to wonder why that should be wrong, but when I considered the practice, I realized that a meditator must have sati, he must be circumspect. Whether talking, touching or holding things, he must first thoroughly consider. The error in this case is that there is no sati, or insufficient sati, or a lack of concern at that time.
* [The second sanghadisesa offense, which deals with touching a woman with lustful intentions.]

Take another example: it’s only eleven o’clock in the morning but at the time the sky is cloudy, we can’t see the sun, and we have no clock. Now suppose we estimate that it’s probably afternoon . . . we really feel that it’s afternoon . . . and yet we proceed to eat something. We start eating and then the clouds part and we see from the position of the sun that it’s only just past eleven. This is still an offense. [*] I used to wonder, “Eh? It’s not yet past mid-day, why is this an offense?”
* [Referring to pacittiya offense No. 36, for eating food outside of the allowed time — dawn till noon.]
An offense is incurred here because of negligence, carelessness, we don’t thoroughly consider. There is a lack of restraint. If there is doubt and we act on the doubt, there is a dukkata [*] offense just for acting in the face of the doubt. We think that it is afternoon when in fact it isn’t. The act of eating is not wrong in itself, but there is an offense here because we are careless and negligent. If it really is afternoon but we think it isn’t, then it’s the heavier pacittiya offense. If we act with doubt, whether the action is wrong or not, we still incur an offense. If the action is not wrong in itself it is the lesser offense; if it is wrong then the heavier offense is incurred. Therefore the Vinaya can get quite bewildering.

* [Dukkata — offenses of “wrong-doing,” the lightest class of offenses in the Vinaya, of which there are a great number; parajika — offenses of defeat, of which there are four, are the most serious, involving expulsion from the Bhikkhu-Sangha.]
At one time I went to see Venerable Ajahn Mun. [*] At that time I had just begun to practice. I had read the Pubbasikkha [**] and could understand that fairly well. Then I went on to read the Visuddhimagga, where the author writes of the Silanidesa (Book of Precepts), Samadhinidesa (Book of Mind-Training) and Pannanidesa (Book of Understanding) . . . I felt my head was going to burst! After reading that, I felt that it was beyond the ability of a human being to practice. But then I reflected that the Buddha would not teach something that is impossible to practice. He wouldn’t teach it and he wouldn’t declare it, because those things would be useful neither to himself nor to others. The Silanidesa is extremely meticulous, the Samadhinidesa more so, and the Pannanidesa even more so! I sat and thought, “Well, I can’t go any further. There’s no way ahead.” It was as if I’d reached a dead-end.

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Things as They Are
Wings to Awakening
Taste of Freedom
Living Dharma

About meditation
About this mind
How to purity one’s morality
Our real home
Path to peace

Practice of Concentration Training
Questins and Answers
The arising of wisdom