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Dhamma Everywhere: Why and How?

IMSRC, April 28, 2012

Translation from Burmese by Ma Thet and transcription and editing by S.C.L. Eiler

I am very glad to be here.  I am very happy to have the opportunity to speak to you about the Dhamma here.  I am interested in the practice.  I want to hear about the practice and I want to discuss the practice with all of you, because this is our life.  Without the practice, our mind can become full of unskillful thoughts and life can become very difficult for us all.  And so, in this retreat I am not even interested for you to have an insight.  I just want you to practice, that’s all, to be interested in the process of practice. 

Now, I am going to tell you a little about how I view practice.  The practice of the Dhamma is, in fact, the practice of cultivating or increasing the good qualities in our mind.  All of us have good qualities of mind, which in Burmese they call, “Dhamma mind,” basically minds that are reasonable, that are balanced.  The practice of sustaining these states of mind, of growing, cultivating these states of mind, learning how to have more of these states of mind, is called meditation.

The practice of meditation is something we do with our mind.  It’s the work of mind.  In the practice of meditation there are two bits:  the object bit of the practice and the mind bit of the practice.  You have to understand what an object is and what the nature of an object is.  Being an object means that whatever it is, is being known, it’s being observed. To have that role of being something that is being observed or being known is its nature, that’s its role.  

But the act of meditation is not done by the objects, which are being known.  The act of meditation is the act of using the mind to know.  And in that mind that is acting to do the meditation, it’s very important that those good qualities that we were talking about just now are co-existing in that mind.  It’s very important not to be trying to meditate in tandem with a mind that has greed, or in tandem with a mind that is aversive or deluded.  The most common unskillful partner in the act of meditation is greed.  But whether it’s greed, or aversion or delusion, if any of it is present in our meditation, then we will find that we are not meditating very well.  What the greed, or the aversion or the delusion is towards is actually the result:  when we want a result, or don’t want this result or don’t know what to do with this result.  

As much as you know how to practice and as much as you apply yourself to the practice, that’s how much you are already succeeding in every moment.  There is no future result to look for or to want, it’s already here right now.  That’s why I am more interested in the process of practice in every moment.  When we understand that there is a process of cause and effect in motion, then we are interested in the moments, which are causes and effects, and we are not interested in any future result anymore because we can learn from this process.  In every moment we understand that whatever we have done, the result is here now, and there is no need to hanker for anything more or less.  We just need to be practicing steadily in the right way, in a skillful way.

All of us have six sense doors, and through these six sense doors we only have these six objects that we can possibly be aware of at any time.  When we use these objects to develop sati, samādhi and paññā in the mind, this is the act of meditation or the practice of meditation.  Whether one is meditating or not, everybody experiences the six sense objects; but, what happens to the mind that is experiencing the six sense objects, that differs in one who is mediating and one who is not.  For one who is not meditating or one who has not the right view, then because of the six sense objects, lobha, dosa and moha can arise.  But for meditators, we can use these six sense objects and because we have some knowledge, we can use the six objects to try to develop sati, samādhi and paññā in the mind.  That basis, that knowledge, is very important.  There has to be some general knowledge about meditation and the Dhamma.  When we have some of this basic knowledge, we are able to think about things in a reasonable way or a skillful way; so, we are able to use these six sense objects in a skillful way.

I want to talk about how important this basic knowledge is; in the practice of vipassanā, paññā is very important to help the practice to grow, as well.  The objective of vipassanā is the development of wisdom.  To begin the practice of vipassanā, we also need the basic second hand knowledge.  We need to be able to think about it and process it in the right way, ourselves, and apply it to the practice in order to develop more wisdom.  There is general knowledge that is gained, sutamayā paññā, that you hear from someone or you read about it, it’s second hand knowledge.  You take that and you process it in your own mind and if it feels intuitive to you, if you are able to see it and think of it in a reasonable way, that’s cintāmayā paññā.  Then you apply that to the practice of meditation, and then when you’ve practiced for some time, you find that you are able to understand something more; and that is called insight:  the application of the first two kinds of knowledge leading to more experienced knowledge, bhāvanāmayā paññā.  

That basic knowledge you have, that second hand knowledge you have, if you receive the right kinds of second hand knowledge, you are able to think about things in a skillful way because you’ve got the right knowledge.  In the same way, when you have some experiential knowledge, it also feeds back into being able to think about things in skillful ways, progressive practice.  In the practice of meditation, actually that second hand knowledge has a very important role to play.  And so, we need to read a lot about the Dhamma; we need to listen to the Dhamma a lot; and, we need to ask about and discuss the Dhamma.  That will help us to grow our knowledge, so that we can think about things in ways that are skillful for us to progress in our own practice.

One of these kinds of second hand knowledge that we get is the concept of right view.  What is right view?  You take what is happening, there is a natural process, a progression, and you take it to be just that, a natural process:  not a person or a being but a process in motion.  Putting it simply, when you can see that nature is nature, then, because dhamma is nature and nature is dhamma, then your practice also becomes dhamma, or natural.  Whatever you experience, whatever you come across, remember to see it through the lens of understanding that this is a natural process:  not my body, not my mind.  And so, for the practice of vipassanā, knowing, recognizing wrong view and right view is very important.  

When you’re watching the mind and what it’s doing, and then you think, ‘why is my mind like this?’  ‘My mind,’ immediately makes everything more complicated.  But when you see it as a natural process:  there is this process of mind happening; then it feels more natural to also observe it.  You are able to bring a learning attitude to it, to observe it, to learn about it.  Whatever you experience, you can either bring this view to it that this is nature:  nature is just nature; or the view that this is just an object:  it is just being known.  The concept of nature, dhamma, is the concept that this is actually a process of cause and effect.  It’s happening on its own terms.  You have to watch yourself from this point of view. 

We are going to practice satipatthāna; so, we need to understand the word.  Satipatthāna are the foundations of mindfulness.  “Sati,” is mindfulness or awareness.  I want to do a little demonstration with you, with yourselves as guinea pigs, so that the nature of mindfulness awareness is highlighted.  Right now, you are seeing.  

You recognize that you are seeing, yes?  Does anyone say, “no?”  Put up your hand.  Are you sure?  When do you start recognizing that you are seeing?  

Student:  When you ask the question.

Yes, that’s what I want to point out.  That’s awareness.  When you recognize the experience, that nature.  You remember, actually, to notice it, this nature.  That’s mindfulness.  

We have our eyes open, but we don’t recognize the process of sight happening.  It’s because we’re full of delusion.  Awareness is the remembrance of the processes that are happening naturally within us, within our minds and our bodies.  Recognizing our own sense processes:  our hearing, our seeing, our feeling, thinking and other mind processes; recognizing them, remembering them, is meditation.  How much energy did you need to exert to recognize that you are seeing?  Zero, all you had to do was notice; you didn’t even have to put in any more than that, yes?  If you understand this, then you can start just taking in everything; you can be aware of:  it’s not having to put in, not exerting any energy, not having to focus or do something; and, because you’re not doing something, if you sustain that noticing all day long you won’t get very tired at all.

A yogi doesn’t have to do much but I have to talk a lot to get the yogis to understand that.  If the yogi doesn’t understand the nature of mindfulness, then the yogi cannot apply that to his practice.  Then, there are always hiccups in practice, up and down.  Because vipassanā is the work of wisdom, we need to apply some of our own wisdom, what we already have, to the practice.  If we are not even able to think about the theory clearly, then we find it also difficult to apply it in practice.  Yogis come and say to me, “you’re always saying, ‘watch the mind, watch the mind’ or ‘what’s happening in your mind?’ but I can’t see the mind.”  But that’s because they don’t understand the mind.  They’re looking for something special, something different, and so, they don’t find it because they don’t understand the nature of what is just mind.

In our lives we use the mind all the time.  That’s how we function.  That’s how we live.  That’s how we do everything; but when we don’t understand that it is mind, then we are not able to recognize that there is mind at work.  When we understand what mind is, what the nature of mind is, then we suddenly realize or recognize, ‘well this is mind, that is mind.’  For example, all of us think.  

The mind is thinking, thinking is the mind; but when yogis recognize thinking mind they get irritated.  But, in fact, we are practicing so that we know what’s happening, and now we see the mind, it’s thinking.  Why are we annoyed?  That’s because of wrong view, wrong understanding or wrong knowledge.  Thinking is mind, paying attention is mind, noticing is mind, feeling is mind, being aware is mind.  We use these every day, all the time.  If we recognize that we are doing this, we are recognizing the mind.  You want to do this or do that, that’s the mind wanting to do.

Can you now just see what the difference is between seeing and looking at something?  Can you look at something now, maybe look at Sayadaw?  Do you know that you are looking at Sayadaw, yes?  And that thing that is looking is the mind.  All of them have the same function:  looking, listening and paying attention.  

It’s a similar movement of mind.  They’re different sense doors.  Looking is through the eyes, listening is through the ears, paying attention is with the mind; but they all have the same function:  they bring attention to something you want to pay attention to.  When you pay attention, or are being aware, can you not then recognize that you are being aware?  Yes?  And when you understand something, like now you nod your head in understanding, can you recognize that there is understanding and that is the mind that is understanding?  If it’s hard for you or any of you to just observe the mind like that, or recognize the mind all the time like that, its okay, you can take other objects as well, anything that’s being known as an object anyway.  

When the awareness becomes continuous, it feels like there's a chain of something that's doing this awareness, this noticing, and then you can notice that quality at work as well, when it's more continuous.  In this practice, continuity is very, very important.  It's essential.  That's why I've taken away the timetable for this retreat, because I want you to practice continually, all the time, regardless of what you’re doing.  If there's a timetable, the habit is to do a session and then finish.  We sort of drop our mindfulness, ‘Phew!’ before reloading; and so, I don’t want any of this reloading and unloading, I want you to just keep going.  But as I explained, just now, I'm not asking you to do anything very tiring, and so it shouldn't be very difficult to sustain this, just this noticing of your processes and carrying on.  Just every moment is a moment of Dhamma, is a moment of mindfulness.  

Another element of practice is effort.  It's called effort but I prefer the word perseverance.  In Pāli, it's called, vīrya, but vīrya is better understood in English using the word, perseverance or persistence.  It's not so much an effort; it's actually a sustaining.  So just that little note saying, 'keep on going.'  

You just have to relax but you need to be interested, and then the mind has to work continuously.  I've talked about wisdom, how we need to bring wisdom to the practice, and interest is a kind of wisdom at work because when we're interested, we're curious.  When we're curious we want to know, and that brings light to our experience.  But there needs to be a simplicity in the curiosity.  If we want to know too much, which means we're already looking for a result and not just interested in the experience, that also can lead to problems.  

Samādhi is another element of the practice.  Often translated as concentration, but samādhi is, in fact, just a state of mind which is stable; so, stability of mind; not concentrating, just steady mind.  What brings about this steadiness is right view.  Concentration is not what brings the steadiness.  It's right view that brings steadiness of mind.  You’ll notice that the moment the mind has some unskillful way of relating to its experience, it falls off balance.  

It loses its samādhi when it has an unskillful response to the experience.  For example, a yogi was sitting in meditation, and he was aware, he was calm, and it felt like his arm disappeared; and the yogi panicked.  And so, the mind got off balance.  Why did he panic?  Because he didn’t have the right information; he didn’t have the wisdom to know what this experience was, and so it upset the balance of the mind; so, of course, his mind was not calm anymore.  When we have wrong view or wrong understanding, we will not have a steady mind.

The fourth element is saddhā, faith or interest.  The faith that we need is faith in ourselves and faith in the practice.  And when we have practiced and we see for ourselves the benefits of the practice, how practicing in the right way helps; we will have more faith.  The practice feeds on itself.   

The last element is wisdom.  I spoke about it earlier.  Basically, we have to have some wisdom to begin with.  We have to apply our wisdom.  We will gain new wisdom and then it will feed back into the cycle.  We need to have the curiosity; we need to have the right view; and, the interest to bring to the practice.  

So, you all understand right view, yes?  I spoke about it previously:  viewing nature as nature.  There is no need to put too much effort into the practice, just this recognizing of your experience and bringing that recognition with you through every movement, posture and activity.  If your mind doesn't naturally stay on one experience, allow it to take in as many experiences as it is aware of; there is no requirement for the mind to settle on one experience only and stay sustained on that.  All I am requiring is the awareness, the noticing of some experience or the other and sustaining that.  What you're trying to do is know what is happening; recognize what is happening.  You’re not trying to not know it or know something else, just know what you know.  Good or bad, please know it; you are here to try to know your experience.

You are here to know what is happening as it is.  You're not trying to make yourself become calmer.  You're not trying to make yourself happier.  You've not come here to achieve anything.  Whatever is happening to you has nothing to do with you, actually.  

It’s not your responsibility to take care of your experience; good or bad, it's nothing to do with you.  Everything you’re experiencing in every moment is an accumulation of causes in a chain of past events; and, it has resulted in this now, and the next now and the next now.  So long as there is a causative agent, there will be a result now and you are not in charge.  All you can do is remember to think of you, the experience, as nature, or an object.  And then, with some curiosity, observe what is happening as it is; and, if you can sustain that awareness as much as possible that will be good.  That's the three kinds of yogi jobs:  to have right view about the experience you have, to have the awareness of the experience, and to maintain it.  Yogis come to me and say, “what else should I do, Sayadaw?”  I say, “there's nothing to do, just carry on:  have right view, be aware, maintain that awareness.”  

Why do we have to do these three yogi jobs?  Vipassanā is about learning.  And until we've learned something, we just have to keep observing, because it's the observation that leads to the learning.  Whether you are lying down, or walking, or sitting, or washing pots, or ringing bells or whatever, or staring into space, your job is to do these three things.  And do remember to recognize your obscure senses, like seeing, because I notice that when the yogis close their eyes and practice meditation, a lot of problems come up because they start imagining things with their eyes closed.  

If you open your eyes these problems are all gone because there's only reality to see.  When we have our eyes closed, we sometimes think our bodies are becoming long and short, twisted and spinning; but if you open your eyes, it's just like this.  What happens is the mind takes its sensory input and it puts it's own layer on it when your eyes are closed; and, depending on what state of mind you have, it might feel like it's spinning, or twisting, or long, or short, or whatever or gigantic.  But if you open your eyes it’s just like this.  Also, we must actually know how to practice meditation with our eyes open, for only then will the practice be complete.  

Some yogis say to me, “Sayadaw, I don't dare to open my eyes, because when I open my eyes, I lose all my samādhi.”  But what sort of samādhi is that?  That's not very stable, if you just have to open your eyes to lose it all.  If you open your eyes and don’t have samādhi, then how can you function in this world?  We want to develop sati, samādhi and paññā all the time, and if we can't do it with our eyes open, it’s very difficult.  How can you practice in daily life, if you can't function with your eyes open because you lose your samādhi?  

There's so much Dhamma in the act of seeing, just as there is with everything else.  Who is seeing, what is seeing, what is the process of seeing?  Is there a being who’s seeing?  Actually, seeing is just a process, hearing is just a process.  There’s not a person who’s doing it.  Seeing is a process, seeing is dhamma.  Hearing is the same, and so are all the others, but we never pay attention to it to discover the dhamma nature of all our processes.  In all our sense contacts, such as seeing and hearing, very often what we're generating is unskillful mind states towards seeing, hearing and so on.

In order not to generate these unskillful states every time we see, hear and so on, we have to practice with those states of being to develop sati, samādhi and paññā about these processes, recognizing these processes with the right view.  How many times do you look in a day?  How many times do you know you are looking in a day?  We’re so busy being aware of the body we are not skillful at noticing every other varied experience that we have.  If we recognize mind and its movements and how mind is moving things, then the recognition of looking, listening and all, actually comes because it is mind at work that directs us to look.  These are movements of mind or mental activities.  

Only when we have a more complete picture of our being, of all our processes, will our understanding, our wisdom, grow.  We do a lot of rising and falling and defilements don't seem to arise, no unskillful states of mind arise; but we don’t dare to look or listen in case unskillful states of mind arise.  But then we never become skilful when looking and listening.  We need to practice.  The practice must cover all corners, aspects of our being, and only then will we become skillful at using the practice in our lives.  

I am quite famous for getting people to talk when practicing, but I'm not going to ask you to talk this week.  But next week, I will tell you when you can talk mindfully.  When I say when to speak, then I will be requiring you to actually choose someone and speak with someone.  I will give you a time to sit and actually mindfully talk to someone, and you must do it.  But this week, please don't talk if it's not necessary; especially if it’s unskillful, please don’t speak.  

This week, anything that will jeopardize your sati, samādhi or paññā, your awareness, your stability of mind or your wisdom, don’t do it.  This week is to help you gain momentum.  Momentum is so important for the practice.  I might even go so far as to say, it's only when you have momentum in the practice and it feels like the practice is doing itself, do you know what I mean?  It’s only when the mind is doing its own practice that vipassanā begins; and so, continuity, please.

In this continuity it is not wrong to often check how you are feeling, check your mind.  It is not wrong in this continuity to think about practice, to think about how to apply practice, because that helps the practice to think about:  ‘should I do it this way or should I do it that way?’ a little bit to help the practice; ‘what is the mind doing now, is it aware, is it not aware?’  Little thoughts that check your own practice to see whether you are practicing, how you are practicing, whether it's working.  When you are thinking about your body or your mind, as in like, ‘how is the pain here’ or ‘what is this confusion like?’  When you are thinking about your body and mind there is also awareness, because at that time, you have to pay attention to your experience, to think about it; so, awareness is present.  

When there is pain, you don't observe pain because you need to conquer it.  You’re not observing pain to make it go away.  The meditation is not to cure pain or to relieve pain; you're watching it so that you understand the process of mind and body interacting when there's pain.  You’re observing because you want to know, ‘what can I learn about my body and my mental reactions to pain and how they affect each other by observing it?’  That’s the goal:  to learn; it’s an investigation, to learn and understand.

Some yogis observe one object for a long, long, long time, but they don't understand anything about the object, just that they're observing it; and that's because of the mindset with which they observe.  They’re only observing because they want the mind to be quiet.  They’re not observing because they want to learn more; so, why you’re observing is very important, your own motivation directs.  For example, two fingers touching, and if the yogi just observes the touching sensation (maybe to calm the mind down), that’s all he'll know, if he’s not willing to explore.  There’s so much more to know in these fingertips, but he won’t discover it; there could be heat, pressure, intentions, all sorts of things, but if you don’t explore, you won’t know more.  That curiosity, the wanting to know, ‘what's this?’ and ‘what else is it?  Yes, that's very important to bring into your practice.  To practice without putting in too much effort, the key to it is interest; it doesn't feel effortful because you’re interested in watching. 

Why does the abdomen rise and fall?  Those who already know the answer please don't answer the question.  Why does the abdomen rise and fall?  Have you all done rising and falling in your practice?  Many years, huh?  So why does it rise and fall?   

Student:  Pressure?

Sayadaw:  Why is there pressure?

Student:  Movement of air?

Sayadaw:  Why is there this movement of air?

Student:  Intention to breathe?

Sayadaw:  Intention to breathe.  Right; so, because of breathing, there is a rising and falling of the abdomen.  Which comes first, breathing or rising and falling?

Student:  Together

Sayadaw:  So, you see, we observe a rising and falling but we have to know more about it, get a more complete picture.  So many things to discover, if we’ll allow ourselves, the body and the mind are always interacting.  The more we see these cause-effect interactions of mind and body, the clearer the understanding of anatta, no self.  

I think that's enough.  I think you will be able to practice, yes?  During interviews, then I'll say more and it will be more tailored to each person; and if not, then during the question and answer sessions you will also be able to ask more questions.  And you all have received a copy or taken a copy of my book, please read the book as well.  Tomorrow we will begin group interviews in the afternoon and evening, and on Monday morning, same time, I will do a question and answer.  Okay?  Thank you.