Selections by No Ajahn Chah
- By No Ajahn Chah
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from Reflections, Compiled and Edited by Dhamma Garden
|A visiting Zen student asked Ajahn Chah, "How old are you? Do you live here all year round?" "I live nowhere," he replied. "There is no place you can find me. I have no age. To have age, you must exist, and to think you exist is already a problem. Don't make problems; then the world has none either. Don't make a self. There's nothing more to say."
Once there was a layman who came to Ajahn Chah and asked him who Ajahn Chah was. Ajahn Chah, seeing that the spiritual development of the individual was not very advanced, pointed to himself and said, "This, this is Ajahn Chah."
On another occasion, Ajahn Chah was asked the same question by someone else. This time, however, seeing that the questioner's capacity to understand the Dhamma was higher, Ajahn Chah answered by saying, "Ajahn Chah? There is NO Ajahn Chah."
The "One Who Knows" clearly knows that all conditioned phenomena are unsubstantial. So this "One Who Knows" does not become happy or sad, for it does not follow changing conditions. To become glad is to be born; to become dejected is to die. Having died, we are born again; having been born, we die again. This birth and death from one moment to the next is the endless spinning wheel of samsara.
Conditions don't belong to us. They follow their own natural course. We can't do anything about the way the body is. We can beautify it a little, make it look attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everyone is in the same boat. That is the way the body is. We can't make it any other way. But, what we can improve and beautify is the mind.
If your mind is happy, then you are happy anywhere you go. When wisdom awakens within you, you will see Truth wherever you look. Truth is all there is. It's like when you've learned how to read - you can then read anywhere you go.
Because people don't see themselves, they can commit all sorts of bad deeds. They don't look at their own minds. When people are going to do something bad, they have to look around first to see if anyone is looking: "Will my mother see me?" "Will my husband see me?" "Will the children see me?" Will my wife see me?' If there's no one watching, then they go right ahead and do it. This is insulting themselves. They say no one is watching, so they quickly finish their bad deed before anyone will see. And what about themselves? Aren't they a "somebody" watching?
Strengthening the mind is not done by making it move around as is done to strengthen the body, but by bringing the mind to a halt, bringing it to rest.
Where does rain come from? It comes from all the dirty water that evaporates from the earth, like urine and the water you throw out after washing your feet. Isn't it wonderful how the sky can take that dirty water and change it into pure, clean water? Your mind can do the same with your defilements if you let it.
Any speech which ignores uncertainty is not the speech of a sage.
If you really see uncertainty clearly, you will see that which is certain. The certainty is that things must inevitably be uncertain and that they cannot be otherwise. Do you understand? Knowing just this much, you can know the Buddha, you can rightly do reverence to him.
If your mind tries to tell you it has already attained the level of sotapanna, go and bow to a sotapanna. He'll tell you himself it's all uncertain. If you meet a sakadagami, go and pay respects to him. When he sees you, he'll simply say, "Not a sure thing!" If there's an anagami, go and bow to him. He'll tell you only one thing. "Uncertain!" If you meet even an arahant, go and bow to him. He'll tell you even more firmly, "It's all even more uncertain!" You'll hear the words of the Noble Ones: "Everything is uncertain. Don't cling to anything!"
Sometimes I'd go to see old religious sites with ancient temples. In some places they would be cracked. Maybe one of my friends would remark, "Such a shame, isn't it? It's cracked." I'd answer, "If they weren't cracked there'd be no such thing as the Buddha. There'd be no Dhamma. It's cracked like this because it's perfectly in line with the Buddha's teaching."
Some of you have come from thousands of miles away, from Europe and America and other far-off places, to listen to the Dhamma here at Nong Pah Pong Monastery. To think that you've come from so far and gone through so much trouble to get here. Then we have these people who live just outside the wall of the monastery but who have yet to enter through its gate. It makes you appreciate good kamma more, doesn't it?
Don't think that only sitting with the eyes closed is practice. If you do think this way, then quickly change your thinking. Steady practice is keeping mindful in every posture, whether sitting, walking, standing or lying down. When coming out of sitting, don't think that you're coming out of meditation, but that you are only changing postures. If you reflect in this way, you will have peace. Wherever you are, you will have this attitude of practice with you constantly. You will have a steady awareness within yourself.
I went all over looking for places to meditate. I didn't realize it was already there, in my heart. All the meditation is right there inside you. Birth, old age, sickness, and death are right there within you. I travelled all over until I was ready to drop dead from exhaustion. Only then, when I stopped, did I find what I was looking for ... inside me.
Whatever we do, we should see ourselves. Reading books doesn't ever give rise to anything. The days pass by, but we don't see ourselves. Knowing about practice is practicing in order to know.
The basics in our practice should be first, to be honest and upright; second, to be wary of wrongdoing; and third, to be humble within one's heart, to be aloof and content with little. If we are content with little in regards to speech and in all other things, we will see ourselves, we won't be distracted. The mind will have a foundation of virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
Of course there are dozens of meditation techniques, but it all comes down to this - just let it all be. Step over here where it is cool, out of the battle. Why not give it a try?
Regardless of time and place, the whole practice of Dhamma comes to completion at the place where there is nothing. It's the place of surrender, of emptiness, of laying down the burden. This is the finish.
The Dhamma is not far away. It's right with us. The Dhamma isn't about angels in the sky or anything like that. It's simply about us, about what we are doing right now. Observe yourself. Sometimes there is happiness, sometimes suffering, sometimes comfort, sometimes pain... this is Dhamma. Do you see it? To know this Dhamma, you have to read your experiences.
The Buddha taught us that whatever makes the mind distressed in our practice hits home. Defilements are distressed. It's not that the mind is distressed! We don't know what our mind and defilements are. Whatever we aren't satisfied with, we just don't want anything to do with. Our way of life is not difficult. What's difficult is not being satisfied, not agreeing with it. Our defilements are the difficulty.
We don't become monks or nuns to eat well, sleep well, and be very comfortable, but to know suffering: -how to accept it...-how to get rid of it... -how not to cause it. So don't do that which causes suffering, like indulging in greed, or it will never leave you.
People have suffering in one place, so they go somewhere else. When suffering arises there, they run off again. They think they're running away from suffering, but they're not. Suffering goes with them. They carry suffering around without knowing it. If we don't know suffering then we can't know the cause of suffering. If we don't know the cause of suffering then we can't know the cessation of suffering. There's no way we can escape it.
Some people get bored, fed up, tired of the practice and lazy. They can't seem to keep the Dhamma in mind. Yet, if you go and scold them, they'll never forget that. Some may remember it for the rest of their lives and never forgive you for it. But when it comes to the Buddha's teaching, telling us to practise conscientiously, why do they keep forgetting these things? Why don't people take these things to heart?
It was Christmas and the foreign monks had decided to celebrate it. They invited some laypeople as well as Ajahn Chah to join them. The laypeople were generally upset and skeptical. Why, they asked, were Buddhists celebrating Christmas? Ajahn Chah then gave a talk on religion in which he said, "As far as I understand, Christianity teaches people to do good and avoid evil, just as Buddhism does, so what is the problem? However, if people are upset by the idea of celebrating Christmas, that can be easily remedied. We won't call it Christmas. Let's call it 'Christ-Buddhamas.' Anything that inspires us to see what is true and do what is good is proper practice. You may call it any name you like."
Once you understand non-self, then the burden of life is gone. You'll be at peace with the world. When we see beyond self, we no longer cling to happiness and we can truly be happy. Learn to let go without struggle, simply let go, to be just as you are - no holding on, no attachment, free.
All bodies are composed of the four elements of earth, water, wind and fire. When they come together and form a body we say it's a male, a female, give it names, and so on, so that we can identify each other more easily. But actually there isn't anyone there - only earth, water, wind and fire. Don't get excited over it or infatuated by it. If you really look into it, you will not find anyone there.
Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.
If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace.
Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught us that sort of home is not our real home. It's a home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace.
Virtue, concentration, and wisdom together make up the Path. But this Path is not yet the true teaching, not merely the Path that will take you there. For example, say you traveled the road from Bangkok to Wat Pah Pong; the road was necessary for your journey, but you were seeking Wat Pah Pong, the monastery, not the road. In the same way we can say that virtue, concentration, and wisdom are outside the truth of the Buddha but are the road that leads to this truth. When you have developed these three factors, the result is the most wonderful peace.
Someone once asked Ajahn Chah about the way he taught meditation: "Do you use the method of daily interviewing to examine the mind-state of a person?" Ajahn Chah responded by saying, "Here I teach disciples to examine their own mind-states, to interview themselves. Maybe a monk is angry today, or maybe he has some desire in his mind. I don't know it but he should. He doesn't have to come and ask me about it, does he?"
A devout elderly lady from a nearby province came on a pilgrimage to Wat Pah Pong. She told Ajahn Chah she could stay only a short time, as she had to return to take care of her grandchildren, and since she was an old lady, she asked if he could please give her a brief dhamma talk. Ajahn Chah replied with great force, "Hey, listen! There's no one here, just this! No owner, no one to be old, to be young, to be good or bad, weak or strong. Just this, that's all - just various elements of nature going their own way, all empty. No one born and no one to die! Those who speak of birth and death are speaking the language of ignorant children. In the language of the heart, of Dhamma, there are no such things as birth and death."
The heart of the path is quite easy. There's no need to explain anything at length. Let go of love and hate and let things be. That's all that I do in my own practice.