Right effort?


You wrote:
“So I guess the answer is to continue to try to cultivate conditions, in the present, for the natural arising of panna in the future. This seems to me to pose a (no doubt false) dilemma: If kusala citta arise (and subside) only spontaneously due to previously ‘created’ conditions, what role to viriya or vayama, e.g., play? That is, is ‘effort’ as conventionally understood just an illusion? I really do understand, on a theoretcial level at least, that ‘attempting’ to arouse, say, viriya (or more to the point, sammavayama), is already a kind of sakkyaditthi–that is, the idea that effort is something that ‘I’ can exert. And that even the effort to be aware of nama and rupa arising and subsiding in the present moment is impersonal, and dependent on present accumulations. And yet everything seems to depend on this very cetana. That is, that if awareness is arising now, it is conditioned by past cetana (among other things), and that if awareness is to arise in the future, it will have been conditioned by present cetana (among other things).”

These reflections of yours are indicative of a certain level of understanding. Why did this dilemma arise in the first place? Obviously because you are starting to realise that satipatthana is not such an easy path to understand and that dint of will cannot make it occur. Well, this may not please you, but I think it will seem even harder after a little more time.

You write “yet everything seems to depend on this very cetana”. I don’t think so. Cetana is not a factor of the eight-factored path. Remember that the eight factored path is a name for the cetasikas that arise during satipatthana and that culminate in the experience of nibbana. Usually there are actually only five factors, cetasikas. Cetana is not among them. If we give preponderance to one cetasika I think this indicates an idea of control,somewhere.

All cetasikas are conditioned by various factors. Cetana, volition, intention, is one of the sabbacittasadharana (universals) that arise with every citta. In other words cetana is always present – although each cetana is different from the last. Cetana can be of the 4 jatis of kusala, kusala, vipaka and kiriya. Even when we are in deep sleep there is cetana. (I can give more details along these lines if you want me to?) Perhaps what you mean by cetana is intention in the usual sense – so for example I try to be aware of seeing, try to understand its true nature. In that case there are many cetasikas involved (classified under sankhara khanda)- not just cetana- although cetana may be predominant. What is actually occuring?

Let me give some scenarios as rough (very rough) illustrations: I’ll use “I” a lot just to make it conversational- but remember no “I” in reality.

1. I concentrate on seeing, trying to separate the colour(rupa) from the seeing (nama) – but with a citta rooted in lobha of some degree that is hoping to really understand. (the wrong way)

2. I concentrate on seeing but with a citta rooted in lobha and ditthi – I think I can control sati, samadhi and the other cetasikas – (wrong again).

3. I do nothing and just trust that one day sati and panna will arise out of the blue. (the opposite extreme).

4. I study in a very detached way colour or seeing or any other dhamma that is predominant at any door but without any hope for result or feeling that I can bring up sati. I realise that sati arises very seldom and that even this apparently detached study is still 99.99999% done with cittas rooted in lobha and moha. If I feel that I can control anything I know this shows a weakness in theoretical understanding. I am not sure if there was any sati at all actually. I have a slight headache right now and so the tightness and vibration in that area are apparent – if there is awareness then these dhammas are seen without aversion. But how easily the idea of “my awareness” comes in. And (assuming there was awareness) awareness of these elements could have been of the type that is samattha (the elements) or of vipassana – which was it? My son was just talking to me and I was studying the doorways of ear and eye. Studying sound and colour and breaking down, dissecting the concepts of “son” and “me”. Sound is not son, colour is not son. This is what I would call “considering in the present moment”- not clear understanding. Just now I looked up. But there is no “me”.

The commentary says (p121 Fruits of recuseship), talking about looking ahead or looking aside, “the eye is a support condition : forms are an object condition; adverting is a proximity, contiguity, decisive support, absence, and disapperance condition; light is a decisive support condition; feeling etc are conascence conditions. Thus looking ahead and looking aside are discerned in the assemblage of these conditions. Therein, who is it that looks ahead? Who looks aside?” Realities are arising at the six doors all the time. We need to learn to see that a moment at one door is different from a moment at another. There has to be study, investigation of these dhammas, but in the right way – and that is not easy, it is conditioned, it needs accumulations and study. In fact the meditation centers and the different methods, have got it right when they emphasize direct study of paramattha dhammas. The thing is, though, is that effort and intention can so easily be akusala, tied up in subtle ideas of self and achievement.

Understanding of arising and ceasing is an advanced stage of vipassana that comes after the first stage where the difference betwen nama and rupa are clearly seen. Everyone can see that cittas change and that rupas change. If we make it our life study we will see this change incessantly. Nonetheless this is not what is meant by arising and ceasing at the level of vipassana . Khun Sujin’s descriptions of vipassana nanas make it clear that at this level there is no idea at all of anyone making it happen. In fact it happens in a flash – it cannot be controlled. The mind door is revealed and the difference between nama and rupas is clearly seen. I can write more about this if you have specific questions.

We can live very productive and happy lives with an idea of self and a belief in control. We can develop kusala and samatha and jhana of all levels; but not vipassana or the lokuttara jhanas. By the 4th kind of kamma you are probably referring to Majjhima Nikaya 57 Kukkuravatika Sutta: “What is neither-dark-nor-bright kamma with neither-dark-nor- bright ripening that leads to the exhaustion of kamma? As to these (three kinds of kamma), any volition in abandoning the kind of kamma that is dark with dark ripening, any volition in abandoning the kind of kamma that is bright with bright ripening, and any volition in abandoning the kind of kamma that is dark-and bright with dark-and- bright ripening: this is called neither-dark-nor-bright kamma withneither-dark-nor-bright ripening. “”” This is the four supramundane paths and fruits. It is the culmination of the eighfold path. For the arahant there is cetana, intention, but it is kiriya (see many details on this in the Abhidhammathasangaha) it cannot give result. There is no new kamma being made.

Only if there is right view is the eightfactored path being developed: “Bhikkhus, just as the dawn is the forerunner and first indication of the rising of the sun, so is right view the forerunner and first indication of wholesome states. For one of right view, bhikkhus, right intention springs up. For one of right intention, right speech springs up. For one of right speech, right action springs up. For one of right action, right livelihood springs up. For one of right livelihood, right effort springs up. For one of right effort, right mindfulness springs up. For one of right mindfulness, right concentration springs up. For one of right concentration, right knowledge springs up. For one of right knowledge, right deliverance springs up. Anguttara Nikaya 10:121”

When we think of intention and choice and being able to control, this is thinking and it is not understanding the nature of cetana, intention, as a momentary phenomena -it cannot last even for a split second, nor can any feelings or consciousness. In the Nidanavagga (book of causation about Paticcasamuppada) the Buddha said in several suttas “Bhikkhus what one intends and what one plans and whatever one has a tendency towards this becomes a basis for the maintenance of consciousness..when consciousness is established there is the production of renewed existence, birth, ageing, death, sorrow … BUT bhikkhus when one does not intend, and one does not plan and one does not have a tendency toward anything no basis exists for consciousness…there is no production of renewed existence..no birth, ageing, death, sorrow,..”endquote see 576Bodhi

We have much ignorance about dhammas, they have to be known in detail. But when we emphasise intention and effort the knowing will be tied up with craving – and then the links of the Paticcasamuppada are strenghtened. Acharn Sujin always says that it must be with detachment otherwise self slips in and distorts.

Best wishes robert

Let me give some scenarios as rough (very rough) illustrations: I’ll use “I” a lot just to make it conversational- but remember no “I” in reality.

1. I concentrate on seeing, trying to separate the colour(rupa) from the seeing (nama) – but with a citta rooted in lobha of some degree that is hoping to really understand. (the wrong way)

2. I concentrate on seeing but with a citta rooted in lobha and ditthi – I think I can control sati, samadhi and the other cetasikas – (wrong again).

3. I do nothing and just trust that one day sati and panna will arise out of the blue. (the opposite extreme).

4. I study in a very detached way colour or seeing or any other dhamma that is predominant at any door but without any hope for result or feeling that I can bring up sati. I realise that sati arises very seldom and that even this apparently detached study is still 99.99999% done with cittas rooted in lobha and moha. If I feel that I can control anything I know this shows a weakness in theoretical understanding. I am not sure if there was any sati at all actually. I have a slight headache right now and so the tightness and vibration in that area are apparent – if there is awareness then these dhammas are seen without aversion. But how easily the idea of “my awareness” comes in. And (assuming there was awareness) awareness of these elements could have been of the type that is samattha (the elements) or of vipassana – which was it? My son was just talking to me and I was studying the doorways of ear and eye. Studying sound and colour and breaking down, dissecting the concepts of “son” and “me”. Sound is not son, colour is not son. This is what I would call “considering in the present moment”- not clear understanding. Just now I looked up. But there is no “me”.

Dear Robert,

This is the sort of thing I’ve been seeking lately: a clear phenomenological description of the practise of satipatthana. Would it be fair to conceptualise the above in this manner?



Dear Scott,
Actual moments of sati-sampajanna are brief. What I described in #4 above is what I call thinking in the present moment. It can help sati to arise, but no rule that sati will arise.

Dear Scott,
Actual moments of sati-sampajanna are brief. What I described in #4 above is what I call thinking in the present moment. It can help sati to arise, but no rule that sati will arise.

Thanks, Robert. I’m learning a lot about “practise” these days. Essentially, I think, anatta makes it a fiction.



I’m learning a lot about “practise” these days. Essentially, I think, anatta makes it a fiction.

Dear Scott & Robert,

I thought myself so glad having found the Dhamma in comparison to my chistian upbringing. Because there I always thought the delema similiar as you describe it for Satipatthana.

Where I have to work hard and put endless effort in removing an overwhelming Ego, without a change ever accomplishing it.

The Dhamma says: Just look clearly. And even though moments of Sati are really rare, maybe only 0.000001%, as you coneptualize it…

However, such moments can have the profound effect that the believe – an overwhelming Ego has to be removed (which is just a fiction as the idea to practice to remove such a fiction) makes place to the conviction: Nothing there to be removed – just again and again seen as it becomes in the present.

That most come with effort to practice Dhamma as they would try anything they would like to accomplish in daily life, with: “I want it” – does not make this practice a tiny bit worse – as if we keep our usual householders life going.

But if we sincerely persist in such practice (I mean for decades), the changes are 99% bigger (while never stopping to question our states in the context of the Buddha Dhamma) that such struggling for Satipatthana just drops. As only reading and living the householders life could have done for me.

At least for me it seems this way: If there would not had been so much Dukkha, I wouldn’t had been driven so unconciously and craved so much for release of being driven.

I would have not, with all my alleged Ego and tons of craving come to engage for years, in total, to see it as it becomes from the moment I wake up until the moment I fall a sleep. I would have not had that 0.000001 pecent moment of Sati – where this ignorance was just seen. I would still struggle to remove a fiction.

As they say on forums, my 2 Cents worth.

Kind regards,

Questions & Answers with Ajahn Chah

Question: I’m trying very hard in my practice but don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Answer: This is very important. Don’t try to get anywhere in the practice. The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try as hard as you wish, practise ardently night and day, but if it is still with the desire to achieve in mind, you will never find peace. The energy from this desire will be a cause for doubt and restlessness. No matter how long or how hard you practise, wisdom will not arise from desire. So, simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully but don’t try to achieve anything. Don’t cling even to the practice of enlightenment.

Jonathan Abbott writes:

Thanks for the reply and your comments. I agree that kusala needs to become our habit. However, we perhpas have different ideas of what that means. You say:

“I’m assuming that kusala actions that are unprompted could be our past karma habits. Hence to develop further kusala habit there should be some determined effort involved, until such habit becomes unprompted. Take for example again abt the letting of my seat in the public for other pple. If I constantly do a deliberate effort to let my seat to others, next time it will become naturally to me. There is no need for deliberate or determine effort. Hence this deliberate effort has become right effort in a sense. It has become natural, unprompted, arises spontaneously.”

Akusala is stronger than any deliberate effort, and it is also too ‘tricky’ to be displaced by effort. The only habit that will displace akusala is the habit that is accumulated kusala itself. Kusala is developed by being accumulated, moment by moment.

However, such displacement is only temporary subduing. No amount of accumulated kusala can actually eradicate akusala habits, except the kusala that is of the level of satipatthana/vipassana. This is kusala of the kind that is aware of, and comes to know the characteristic of, different realities. According to my study, the effort that arises at such moments has the fourfold function that is called the ‘supreme efforts’.

Kusala that arises without being prompted is actually already a ‘habit’, since it is already natural and spontaneous. If there is awareness of this kusala as and when it arises, this will be a condition for more unprompted kusala of the same kind in the future.

Just briefly on your other point:

“I do not know whether you classify a calm mind as kusala. In order to practise the breathing method to calm the mind, it does not come easily, one got to be discipline, notice the breath, able at first to endure the muscle and body pains etc…. It becomes naturally after constant and deliberate effort in the first place.”

I think in the texts it is put the other way around: at a moment of kusala the mind is calm, since it is free from akusala. Hence, the development of samatha is the development of kusala of a kind that subdues (again, temporarily) akusala. Deliberate effort, however, can be either kusala or akusala, even if the goal is the development of kusala. It can so easily result in the accumulation of more akusala instead of more kusala.

Dear Robert,

I read this in the Perfections:
Viriya which is a faculty, indriya, and has become a “leader”, must have been accumulated very gradually so that it could become a faculty. The controlling faculty of viriya should be regarded from the point of view of the four supreme efforts. We can notice ourselves whether we have viriya which only begins to develop and is still weak, or whether it is already right effort: the effort which avoids akusala not yet arisen, overcomes akusala already arisen, the effort to cause the arising of kusala which has not yet arisen. The kusala dhamma which has not yet arisen refers to samatha and vipassanå and to the path, magga, the fruition, phala, and nibbåna 5 . As to the words samatha and vipassanå in this context, these refer to satipaììhåna. Samatha and vipassanå are developed together and reach completion together by the four Applications of Mindfulness, they should not be separated from each other. Effort is necessary to maintain the kusala dhammas which have arisen, not to let them decline, further to develop them, to cause them to increase and reach completion.

See the Commentary to the “Book of Analysis”, the “Dispeller of Delusion” II, Ch 8, 292. It is on page 4 and further, see also p. 14, 15. According to the Abhidhamma and the Questionnaire, the four right efforts have to be seen as supramundane only. According to the Suttanta: mixed mundane and supramundane.

Nina van gorkom
The Venerable Dhammadharo was talking about sati of the eightfold path, leading out of samsara. This type of sati, even at the very beginning, is the province only of the Buddhas and their disciples.

Anguttara Nikaya Chapter XIII Suttai(124)p 165 Gradual sayings V
“Monks these ten states not yet arisen, arise not save in the discipline of the Wayfarer. What ten?

Sutta (127) Ending in Restraint
Monks these ten states end in restraint of lust, malice and delusion, but only in the discipline of the Wayfarer.What ten? Right view, …RIGHT MINDFULNESS..Right effort.”

Sutta v(127)CONDUCIVE
Monks these ten states conduce to downright revulsion, to fading, ending, calming, comprehension..to nibbana. But only in the disciplne of the Wayfarer. What ten? Right view, …RIGHT MINDFULNESS…Right effort..”

There is also sati when we give gifts, pay respect to monks etc. But the sati in the suttas above and what Ven. Dhammadharo meant is that associated with panna that knows, correctly, to some degree, the characteristic of an element.

The word mindfulness may make people think that when they are very aware of what they are doing that this is sati. However it is usually only sanna. Sati of the path is always wearing away the idea of self and control, it is different from what we usually mean by ‘being aware’.

— In dhammastudygroup@yahoogroups.com, “Scott Duncan” wrote:
Hello All,

I’ve enjoyed the threads I’ve been able to read lately. I have a question, but find it hard to word properly. Citta arises and falls away with a rapidity that defies perception (I surmise). With such a speed, and such a marvelous lack of control over this arising and falling away, I wonder about the dynamics of the effects of things that “I” express a will to undergo. I refer to practise in particular, I guess. How does an intention formed consciously and at such an obviously slow speed effect the flow of citta cycling away rapidly? Or, conversely, how does the effect of citta manifest, for example lokuttara citta?


Dear Scott,

All cittas arise and pass away rapidly as you say. Because of delusion it might seem that citta or vedana can last for split seconds- but actually they are gone even before they are known. However, panna is also a momentary reality that arises and passes away exactly as rapidly as citta. So panna can arise momentarily and know, do some degree, the nature of its object. Impossible for anyone to control this (i) because there is no one and (ii) it is all happening far too quickly.

Knowing this there will be detachment from trying to get something, letting go will happen naturally, and panna can then work its subtle ways. If there is not detachment then there is lobha (attachment) and this is combined with avijja (ignorance ) that is already so powerful. The wrong path becomes dominant and it may cut-off the right path completely.

These days Buddhists find this hard to understand, so there is much emphasis on trying to control and putting in effort. But without real understanding effort is counterproductive and is an aspect of wrong path. The pali term patipatti is often translated as Practice (in contrast to pariyatti, theory) and is taken to mean something one does. But genuine patipatti is momentary insight, it is not a matter of where or what one is doing, it is a mental phenomena.

Dear Robert,

I appreciate the following:
These days Buddhists find this hard to understand, so there is much emphasis on trying to control and putting in effort. But without real understanding effort is counterproductive and is an aspect of wrong path. The pali term patipatti is often translated as Practice (in contrast to pariyatti, theory) and is taken to mean something one does. But genuine patipatti is momentary insight, it is not a matter of where or what one is doing, it is a mental phenomena.


Here’s what Nina noted awhile back, on pa.tipatti:
“…pa.ti: against, towards. patti: attainment (in texts also referring to nibbaana).

Elaboration: the going towards the attainment. Dhammanudhamma: in accordance with the dhamma, here I think the commentaries explained it as : such that one will attain nibbaana. As I understood the second word dhamma refers to nibbaana. This cannot happen without realizing the true characteristics of realities.

I liked Scott’s elaboration:

“The ‘following a certain way’ and the ‘towards’ mean to me that, in accordance with Dhamma, etc., citta inclines towards a particular way – and that would be in the direction of Nibbaana – from moment to moment. This is ‘practise’. Naturally I don’t see it as someone who does something. I think, as you note above, learning, from time to time, to be aware of the dhammas which present themselves is pa.tipatti. It happens naturally. It is developed and is strengthened and shows up at the level of each citta (in the mental factors which are conascent) one after the other.”


Dear friends,

Some people separate pariyatti from pa.tipatti which they see as something that is not part of their normal daily life, as something particular they have to be engaged in. They forget that when they study the theory, pariyatti, they should study with the aim to understand the reality that appears at this moment. One should study in order to understand that any reality of this moment is dhamma, be it seeing or hearing, but one never knew before that it was dhamma. Thus, people should study with the aim to correctly understand that naama dhamma at this moment is the reality that experiences, the element that experiences. Naama dhamma is not theory, but there is naama dhamma while we are seeing now. One may have heard and understood that seeing at this moment is naama dhamma, because it is a reality that experiences something, but the expression “the reality that experiences” is most difficult to understand and to penetrate. When one sees, there is something that is appearing through the eyes, but the reality of naama that sees does not appear. Only when its characteristic appears, it can be known as an element or a kind of dhamma that is real.

When people have understood this, they know that what is appearing through the eyes at this moment could not appear if there would not be naama dhamma that has arisen and sees that object. One can gradually understand that seeing at this moment is dhamma. Therefore, when one studies the Dhamma one studies with the purpose to have right understanding of the characteristics of realities that are the truth of each moment in daily life. This can be a condition for sati to arise and to be aware and in this way one will gradually understand that when one sees at this moment, it is a reality, an element that experiences, or when one hears, that it is an element experiencing sound.

People who listened at the time when the Sammaasambuddha had not yet finally passed away, could understand immediately the characteristics of naama and ruupa. The reason was that they had developed understanding, that they had listened and considered what they had learnt to a great extent. When we read the life stories of those people we see that, before they could realize the four noble truths at the moment of enlightenment, they had to study and listen a great deal during many lives, so that they could become bahussuta. A person who is bahussuta (bahu is much, and suta is heard) is someone who has listened and studied a great deal in order to understand realities. As Khun Nipat has said, at that time there were no books.

Therefore, people listened with understanding and they did not think of textbooks or different subjects written down in books. They heard about realities that were appearing, they could investigate and understand them immediately. Their study was based on listening and considering, they knew that what they heard concerned the reality appearing at that very moment.

When the Buddha asked whether seeing was permanent or impermanent, they answered, “impermanent”. They did not memorize this from a textbook, but seeing was performing the function of seeing, and the pa~n~naa they had developed was the condition for understanding the truth of the reality at that moment.

There is no fixed determination and everything is possible and can happen – but only by the correct conditions. It is wisdom, understanding – panna – a conditioned, mental phenomena that has the function of seeing rightly and it comes with detachment. It is not a self.

Intention, cetana, arises all the time but it too is not a self, it is conditioned. Where did our wish and intention to learn about Dhamma come from? It was because of hearing Dhamma and so wisdom is conditioned by this and the intention to hear more strengthens, the intention cannot grow from nothing. Some people hear Dhamma and it means nothing to them. Why? Different tendencies, also conditioned.

All types of kusala; giving, sila, samatha can be successfully developed with sakkya ditthi (self view) still intact – all types except vipassana. Thus it is only when we want to understand the path of insight that such ideas as ‘freewill’ hinder.

The Buddha taught about the five khandhas , the elements, the ayatanas, so that we could begin to see what really exists. And what exists is evanescent, conditioned phenomenena, no person. But thinking about it can’t break up the idea of self and control; it is only by direct insight that takes any of these dhammas as an object that the (mis)perception of a whole, a person is erased. It seems like ‘we’ can control and do as we wish, but this is an illusion that is at the heart of the self view; as the different elements are resolved the ‘whole’ is found to be concept and instead there is a complex concantenation of conditioned dhammas with no controller or overlord, anywhere.

Resolution into the component parts is an antidote to the wrong idea of a self that exists and is somehow directing this conglomerate of namas and rupas. It is like a butcher; when he takes the whole cow he thinks
‘this is a cow’. But by the time he has skinned, chopped, cut, boned, diced, sliced and minced the carcase that idea of “cow” is gone.

When we think of intention and choice and being able to control, this is thinking and it is not understanding the nature of cetana, intention, as a momentary phenomena -it cannot last even for a split second, nor can any feelings or consciousness.

We have much ignorance about dhammas, they have to be known directly. But if we overestimate the role of intention the knowing is likely to be tied up with craving – and then the links of the Paticcasamuppada are strenghtened.

I believe the knowing and investigation should be with detachment otherwise self slips in and distorts. Effort is often “self effort”, but right effort is not obtrusive, it is associated with seeing rather than doing, it can feel almost effortless.

KH: Howard, I was alluding to our different understandings of ‘practice.’You believe practice needs to be preceded by an intention [to practise]. I don’t. In fact, I believe such an intention would indicate that the conditions for practice were not yet in place.

Howard: Yes, we certainly differ on that, Ken. IMO, one can no more practice without intention than consider the Dhamma or write posts without intention.

I’ll admit that considering and writing do seem to occur following an intention to do those things. No always, but often. But how could anyone intend to practise satipatthana? How could anyone intend to be aware of a paramattha dhamma? Remember, conditioned dhammas come and go in a trillionth of a second. They cannot possibly be detected in any conventional way. No reasonable person (who understood the meaning of satipatthana) would even think of trying.

As I was saying, I believe any intention to practise satipatthana indicates ignorance of the meaning of satipatthana.

Searching for a example in modern folklore I can only think of the boy who asked a shopkeeper for elbow grease. His mother had seen him lethargically scrubbing the floor and said, “Use some elbow grease!” But he didn’t understand what she meant.

Isn’t it the same when the Dhamma tells us to practise satipatthana? If we don’t understand what we are being told, any intention to comply must be wrong. And wrong intention does not result in right

Extending the metaphor, I picture the boy rejecting helpful advice and stubbornly insisting that his mother meant he was to use some new kind of cleaning product. ‘If there was no such product she would
not have told me to use it! She does not tell lies!’ In time, he would convince other gullible people and various new products would come onto the market, each promising cleaner brighter floors “With
Zen elbow grease!” “With Goenka elbow grease!” etc.

Venerable Ajahn Amaro –

A few days ago I was having a chat with Rinpoche and was expressing to him how profound the similarities are between what I have been hearing him say here and my own training in the Thai forest tradition. In fact I have to admit that the other day I suddenly realized that I’ve been practicing in a fashion somewhat akin to dzogchen [1] for about the last ten years. So, apart from sitting with my eyes closed, the practice I have been doing for at least the latter half of my monastic life, since about 1987, has been close to the practice that Rinpoche has been guiding here. If I had eyebrows, I would raise them a little bit.

Fundamentally we all have the same teacher: the Dharma comes from the Buddha and is rooted in our own nature. So this convergence shouldn’t be that surprising. In fact, I was telling Rinpoche that, particularly during the first few days here, listening to him was like listening to my own teacher, Ajahn Sumedho, with a weird robe on. Even down to the same phrases, let alone the same principles. Also, I must admit that the Tibetan teachings are much better on the fine anatomy of the details and particularities of View. Within the tradition that I come from, it is much more down to the eloquence and inspiration in the moment of that particular teacher. In other words, there is a lot of inconsistency in the ways that things are expressed. So I have learned a great deal from the very structured and well-patterned nature of the teachings that Rinpoche has been putting forth.

Rinpoche asked that I talk this evening about Ajahn Chah’s view of the View. There are many similarities so I’ll try to cover these as fully as possible, and also try to provide other angles or reflections from the Theravada tradition that have some bearing upon the same issues that we have been exploring.

“The faster you hurry, the slower you go…”
One very striking thing from the start of this retreat is how Rinpoche has been telling us (mostly the vipassana people [2] ), to stop meditating. He has been saying, “Stop, stop it! I can see you’re meditating aren’t you? Stop it. Put it down.” This is very similar in spirit to my experience with Ajahn Sumedho’s teachings.

When Ajahn Sumedho first started to offer this kind of teaching, to talk in this way, it would mostly be during the monastic retreat. Every winter we have a two- or three-month long retreat. For the first number of years, when the community was being established, he encouraged everyone to commit themselves to practice, to put a lot of energy forth. This spirit culminated in the winter retreat of 1986 when we were all getting up at 3:00 in the morning, staying up until the last sitting at 11:00 at night, while engaging in a full schedule all day, every day. It was a real “crack the whip, meditate or die” type of retreat — “knock ‘em down, drag ‘em out” Dharma. Some of the community were actually breaking the ice and diving at 3:00 in the morning into the swimming pool (now a fishpond) to freshen up for the first sitting of the morning. So there was that kind of a mood. I thought we were having a great time.

The next year Ajahn Sumedho was making noises before the winter retreat that he hadn’t really liked the results of this approach. He thought that people were fixated on the meditation practice as an end in itself and that more was being seen as intrinsically better. I was listening to this and thinking, “Interesting, interesting, though of course he’s not talking about me. Perish the thought.”

By this time I had begun to realize that I had become something of a fanatical monk. You might think this is an oxymoron but it is by no means impossible, I tell you. I mean fanatical in the sense that I was trying to do everything 120%. I would get up super-early in the morning and do all sorts of ascetic practices, all kinds of special pujas and suchlike things. I wasn’t even lying down. I didn’t lie down to sleep for about three years at this time. Finally I realized I had far too many things going.

I was chuckling to myself when Rinpoche was talking about being busy with the meditation. During that time, I realized my life was jammed full. I was so busy and fussy. I couldn’t even eat; I couldn’t even walk across the courtyard without it being a THING. Finally I realized, “Why am I doing this? This life is supposed to be lived for peace, for realization, for freedom, and my day is all clogged up.”

I should have got the clue during the previous winter retreat. I used to sit flat on the floor, the use of a zafu being a sign of weakness in my eyes. Well, one of the nuns was getting so fed up watching me fall asleep during every sitting that she came up to me and asked,

“Could I offer you a cushion, Ajahn?”
“Thank you very much, I don’t need it.”
She replied, “I think you do….”

I went to Ajahn Sumedho and said, “I’ve decided to give up all my ascetic practices. I’m just going to follow the ordinary routine and do everything absolutely normally.” It was the first time I ever saw him get excited. “At last!” was his response. I thought he was going to say, “Oh well, if you must.” But he was waiting for me to get the point that it wasn’t the amount of stuff that you do, the hours that you put in on the cushion, the number of mantras that you recite, or how strictly you keep all the rules. It was then that I began to realize that there were a lot of things in his teaching about non-striving that he had been saying for many years.

It was about that time during the winter retreat that Ajahn Sumedho began to stress the awareness of what we call “the becoming tendency.” In Pali the word for this is bhava, and in the Tibetan tradition they seem to use the word in the same way. This word describes the desire to become something. You do this to get that. It’s that kind of busy-ness and doing-ness — taking hold of the method, the practices, the rules, and the mechanics of it. As Rinpoche was saying, “You need the manure and the water and the sunlight.” It is as though the soil is full of manure and water but the seed is still in the bag in the potting shed. We’ve forgotten the seed. But if we are lugging the manure, we really feel like we are doing something. “I’m really working hard at my practice here.” Meanwhile there’s the teacher standing by the seed bag saying…[gestures as if pointing at a sack in the corner].

From that time on, Ajahn Sumedho began to emphasize the same principle: “Stop meditating.” Particularly at the beginning of the retreat, he would talk repeatedly about being enlightened, rather than becoming enlightened. “It is not about doing something now to become enlightened in the future. This is totally wrong. This kind of thinking is bound up with self and time. Be awake now; be enlightened to the present moment.” As Rinpoche has been imparting to us, it’s not a matter of finding Rigpa [3] as an object, or doing something now to get Rigpa in the future, but actually being Rigpa. As soon as we start to say, “Hey, look, I got it” or “How can I extend this,” or as soon as we start to do something with it, at that moment the mind has taken hold of that thought and has left Rigpa — unless that thought is witnessed as just another transparent formation within the space of Rigpa. So this teaching has had very strong echoes within me as well.

Ajahn Sumedho himself was not always so clear on this kind of point. He would often tell the story about his own obsessions with being a meditator. Ajahn Chah’s method was to emphasize formal meditation practice to quite a great extent. But also he was extremely keen on not making the formal meditation distinct from the rest of life. He would talk about the maintenance of a continuity of practice whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down and whether one was doing formal practice, eating, using the restroom, or working. The point was always to sustain a continuity of Awareness. If our peace lies on the meditation mat, then when we leave the mat, we leave our peace behind.

Ajahn Chah was once given a piece of forested land on a hilltop in his home province. The very generous supporter who had donated it said to him, “If you can find a way to make a road up to the top of the mountain, then I will build the monastery up there for you.” Always up for a challenge of this nature, Ajahn Chah spent a week or two on the mountain and found a pathway up. He then moved the entire monastic community out there to make the road.

Ajahn Sumedho was a newly-arrived monk. He had been there a year or two by this time and was a very serious meditator. He spent two or three days breaking rocks in the sun, shifting barrows of rubble around, and working with the rest of the community. He was getting hot, sweaty, and cranky. Everyone would sit down to meditate at the end of the day after a 12-hour shift and be reeling. He thought, “This is useless. My meditation has fallen apart completely. This is not helping the holy life at all.”

He said to Ajahn Chah with great seriousness, “I’m finding that all the work we are doing is harmful to my meditation. I really think it would be much better for me if I didn’t take part in it. I need just to sit in one of the huts and get on with my practice. That would be very helpful for me, and it’s what I think would be for the best.”

Ajahn Chah said, “Okay Sumedho. Yes, you can do that. But I’d better inform the Sangha so that everyone knows what’s happening.” He was really wicked in this way.

They had a Sangha meeting, and he said, “I want to make an announcement to everybody. Now, I know that we have all come up here to make this road. And I know that we are all breaking rocks and carrying gravel. I know this is important work for us to do, but the work of meditation is also very important. Tan Sumedho has asked me if he can practice meditation while we build the road, and I have told him that this is absolutely all right. I do not want any of you to think any critical thoughts. It is absolutely all right. He can stay in his hut and meditate, and we’ll all build the road.”

Ajahn Chah himself was out there from dawn until dusk. When he wasn’t working, he was receiving guests and teaching as well. So he was really cranking it out. Ajahn Sumedho then stayed in his hut for about two days. He felt pretty bad on the first day and even worse on the second day. By the third day, he couldn’t stand it any longer. His feelings were so tortured. So he joined the rock-breakers, pitched himself into it, and really gave himself to the work.

Ajahn Chah, of course, looked on with a foot-wide grin, “You enjoying the work, Sumedho?”
“Yes, Luang Por.” [4]
“Isn’t it strange that your mind is happier now in the heat and the dust than it was in the hut when you were meditating?”
“Yes, Luang Por.”

Ajahn Sumedho was creating a false division of what meditation is and isn’t. But actually, if we give our hearts to whatever we are doing, without our personal agendas or our preferences taking over, then whether its pain, heat, dust, hard work or whether it is being alone on your mountain top, the space of Rigpa is the same.

The Buddha is Awareness
Ajahn Chah’s teachings also parallel the dzogchen teachings regarding the nature of the Buddha. When you come right down to it, Awareness is not a thing. Nevertheless, it can be said to be an attribute of the fundamental nature of mind. Ajahn Chah would refer to that Awareness, that knowing nature of mind, as Buddha. “This is the true Buddha, The One Who Knows [Poo Roo in Thai].” The customary way of talking about Awareness for both Ajahn Chah and other masters of the forest tradition would be to use the term Buddha in this way — the aware, awake quality of our own mind. This is the Buddha. He would say things like, “The Buddha who passed into Parinibbana 2,500 years ago is not the Buddha who is a refuge.” (He also liked to shock people.) They think they have a heretic in front of them. “How can that Buddha be a refuge? He is gone. Gone…really gone. That’s no refuge. A refuge is a safe place. So how can this great being who lived 2,500 years ago provide safety? When you think about him, it makes you feel good? But this feeling on its own is not so secure….” A pleasant sentiment, an inspiring feeling is easily disturbed. When there is a resting in that Knowing, then nothing can touch the heart — this makes that Buddha, that Buddha Nature a refuge. It is invulnerable. What happens to the body, emotions, and perceptions is secondary because there is that Knowing. That Knowing is beyond the reach of the phenomenal world, so that is the true refuge. Whether we experience pleasure or pain, success or failure, praise or criticism, that Knowing, the awakened nature, the Knowing nature of the mind is utterly undisturbed, undisturbable, incorruptible. Like a mirror unembellished or untainted by the images it reflects, it cannot be touched by any sense perception, any thought, any emotion, any mood, any feeling. It’s of a transcendent order. Exactly as Rinpoche has been saying, “There is not one hair tip of involvement of the mind objects in Awareness, in the Nature of Mind itself.” That is why Awareness is a refuge; Awareness is the very heart of our nature.

“Has anybody seen my eyes?”
Another familiar theme of Ajahn Chah’s teaching is very similar to what Rinpoche has been talking about as the experience of looking for Rigpa with the conditioned mind — as it is also phrased in the verses of the Third Zen Patriarch: “To seek Mind with the discriminating mind is the greatest of all mistakes.” Ajahn Chah would use the expression: “You are riding your horse to go and look for your horse.” We are riding along saying, “Has anyone seen my horse? Anyone see my horse?” Everyone is looking as us strangely, so we ride over to the next village, “Anyone seen my horse? Anyone seen my horse?”

Another example that Rinpoche was using concerned the elephant — following the elephant’s footprints when the elephant is actually back at home in the stable. Ajahn Sumedho uses the image of the act of looking for our eyes: the very organ with which we see is doing the seeing, yet we go out searching, “Has anyone seen my eyes? I can’t see my eyes anywhere. They must be around here somewhere but I can’t find them.”

We can’t see our eyes, but we can see. This means that Awareness cannot be an object. But there can be Awareness. Within the tradition of the forest masters, and Ajahn Chah in particular, they would use this expression very often: being the Knowing. It is rather like being Rigpa. In that state, there is the mind knowing its own nature — Dharma knowing its own nature. That’s all. As soon as we try to make an object of that, then a dualistic structure has been created, a subject here looking at an object there. There is resolution only when that duality is completely let go of, when we relinquish that “looking for” and the heart just abides in Knowing. But our habit is to think, “I’m just not looking hard enough. I haven’t found it yet. My eyes must be here somewhere. After all, I can see. I need to try harder, then I would find them.”

Have you ever been in one of those interviews where you go in to describe your meditation, what your practice has been like, and the teacher looks at you and says, “More effort is necessary.” You think, “But I’m dancing as fast as I can!” It’s true that we need to put effort in, but we can do it in the wrong way. The type of effort we are exploring in this retreat refers explicitly to being more clear and doing less. This quality of relaxing is really crucial not only with the dzogchen teaching but also within my own experience of Theravadan monastic practice.

It’s an interesting and ironic point that this relaxation is necessarily built on top of a vast array of preparatory practices. Within the Tibetan ngondro training, one performs 100,000 prostrations, 100,000 visualizations, 100,000 mantras, and then years of study, keeping all the sila and so on. Similarly, within the Theravadan tradition, we have the sila: the practices of virtue for lay people, and for the monastic community there is the training in Vinaya discipline. We also do a lot of chanting and devotional practice, plus a huge amount of training in meditation practices such as mindfulness of breathing, vipassana, and so forth. Then there’s the practice of living in community. One of the elder monks once referred to communal monastic training as being the practice of 100,000 frustrations — we don’t qualify until we’ve had our hundred thousandth. So there is an enormous amount of preparatory work that is required to make the relaxation effective.

In this way, I like to think of that relaxation as a type of overdrive. We use the fifth gear — the same speed but less revs. Until I told Ajahn Sumedho that I had given up my ascetic practices, I was in fourth gear and racing. There was always a pushing, a “take it to the limit” attitude. What was really revealing, particularly during that retreat in 1987, was that when I dropped back one notch and was not quite so fanatical about the rules and doing everything perfectly the whole time (the irony being that I was still fulfilling 99.9% of my spiritual duties and practices and all the things that I was used to doing) — that one little element of relaxation actually allowed the whole thing to be consummated. Simply because I stopped the stress, stopped pushing it. We can relax without switching off and consequently we can enjoy the fruits of the work that has been done. In many respects that is what we mean by letting go of becoming and learning just to be.

Realizing Cessation
Another very important aspect of the View is its correspondence with the experience of cessation, nirodha. I would say the experience of Rigpa is synonymous with the experience of dukkha–nirodha, where suffering has ceased, where there is no experience of dukkha.

What happens, however, is that we are so used to letting go of things, we are so used to working with things, that when the mind becomes spacious and empty, we’re quite lost. “Oh! What do I do now?” We are so used to doing something with the mind, that when it is suddenly — whoom — open, clear, spacious, we don’t know how to leave that alone. Because our conditioning tells us, “I am supposed to be doing something. I am meditating. I am progressing on the Path.” When that space appears, we don’t know what to do with it or we just overlook it. It is as if each of us were a thief who thinks, “Well, there is not much to take here so I should just keep going.” This is a very common experience: when we let go of something, dukkha ceases, but we ignore that fact and go looking for the next thing instead. We don’t, as the expression goes, “taste the nectar,” the juice of Rigpa. We just zoom through the juice bar. We keep going because it looks like there is nothing here. It looks kind of boring: no lust or fear or other issues to deal with. We think, “I’ll be being irresponsible if I’m not dealing with my issues. Quick, let’s go and find something to deal with.” Out of the best of intentions, we fail to taste the juice that’s right there. We just keep going to find some other work to do.

However, when grasping ceases, that is the experience of Ultimate Truth. When Ananda and another monk had been debating about the nature of the Deathless state, they decided to consult the Buddha. They prepared themselves for one of those long, expansive explanations to the question: “What is the nature of Deathlessness?” However, the Buddha simply said, “The cessation of grasping is Deathlessness.” That’s it. When the grasping stops, there is Rigpa, there is Deathlessness — the ending of suffering — dukkha-nirodha.

Ironically, right in the Four Noble Truths themselves, the Buddha’s very first teaching, he spoke directly to this problem. For each of the Four Truths, there is a way in which they are to be handled. The First Noble Truth, that of dukkha, dissatisfaction, “is to be apprehended.” We need to recognize, “This is dukkha. This is not Rigpa. This is ma-rigpa (un-awareness), and therefore unsatisfactory.”

The Second Noble Truth, the cause of dukkha, is self-centered desire, craving. It “is to be let go of, relinquished, abandoned.”

The Fourth Noble Truth, the Eightfold Path, “is to be cultivated and developed.”

But what is interesting, especially in this context, is that the Third Noble Truth, dukkha-nirodha, the ending of dukkha, “is to be realized.” So, when the dukkha stops, notice it. Notice: “Oh! Everything is suddenly okay.” That is when we go into overdrive.
“Ah hah” — tasting the nectar of Rigpa — “aaaah, this is all right.”
In a way we were correct with our first impression, because it is no-thing. It is not a thing. But that doesn’t mean to say that there is nothing or no quality there. It is actually the experience of Ultimate Truth, if we allow the heart to fully taste it. So this is also an element of Dharma that is greatly stressed within the tradition I am familiar with — that conscious realization of the ending of dukkha, the conscious realizing of emptiness, the space of the mind.

Maybe the most significant of things that has come up during this week, and one of the points that Ajahn Chah liked to stress most strongly, is the question of “non-abiding.” Even during the brief time (two years) that I was in Thailand, Ajahn Chah spoke on this over and over again — and on the relationship between conventional and Ultimate Reality, and the establishment of Right View around that. The issue of non-abiding was something that he tried to convey as the essence of the Path, but it is a very subtle point.

Ajahn Chah gave a very significant teaching to Ajahn Sumedho on this point. During the summer of 1981, after Ajahn Sumedho had been in England for a couple of years, a letter arrived from Thailand. Ajahn Chah could write, but he hardly ever wrote anything, and he never wrote letters. It began, “Well, Ajahn Sumedho, you are not going to believe this but Luang Por wanted to write you a letter and asked me to take his dictation, so here we are.”

Ajahn Chah said, “Whenever you have feelings of love or hate for anything whatsoever, these will be your aides and partners in building parami [the spiritual virtues]. The Buddha-dharma is not to be found in moving forwards or backwards, nor in standing still. This, Sumedho, is your place of non-abiding.”
(It still gives me goose bumps).

His health collapsed a few weeks after he sent this, in September of 1981. He had a stroke and became unable to speak, walk, or move — it was his ‘final instructions’ to his disciple.
Ajahn Chah would use this kind of statement in exactly the same fashion that Rinpoche has been questioning people. It is a very good method: pressing people to see how they respond. Even when someone gets the “right” answer, that isn’t necessarily enough: “But that’s what you said five minutes ago Rinpoche.”
“So what? I want to know what you know, not just hear you repeat what I said.”
Ajahn Chah would often press people with this question: “If you can’t go forwards, and you can’t go backwards, and you can’t stand still, where do you go?” He’d have this look like a cobra. Occasionally you’d get past that one: “Go to the side?”
“Nope, can’t go to the side either.”
He would push you, and you would try to come up with different answers. The cleverer you got, the more he would make you squirm: “No, no, no, no, no!”

He would press it because as long as we are conceiving reality in terms of self and time, as a “me” who is some place and can go some other place, then we are not realizing that going forwards, going backwards, and standing still are all entirely dependent upon the relative truths of self and time. The only way out of the conundrum is to let go of self and to let go of time and, furthermore, to let go of place. In that abandonment of self, time, and space, all questions are resolved.

This principle is also contained within the ancient Theravada teachings. It isn’t just Ajahn Chah’s own insight or the legacy of some stray Nyingmapa lama who wandered over the mountains and fetched up in North-east Thailand a hundred years ago. Right in the Pali Canon the Buddha points directly to this.
In the Udana (the collection of ”Inspired Utterances” of the Buddha), he says:

There is that sphere of being where there is no earth, no water, no fire, nor wind; no experience of infinity of space, of infinity of consciousness, of no-thingness, or even of neither-perception-nor-non-perception; in that sphere there is neither this world nor another world, neither moon nor sun; this sphere of being I call neither a coming nor a going nor a staying still, neither a dying nor a reappearance; it has no basis, no evolution, and no support: it is the end of suffering. (Ud. 8.1)

Rigpa is the direct Knowing of this.
Similarly, when a wanderer named Bahiya stopped the Buddha on the street in Rajagaha, he said, “Venerable Sir, you are the Samana Gotama. Your Dharma is famous throughout the land. Please teach me that I may understand the Truth.”
The Buddha replied, “We’re on our alms-round, Bahiya. This is not the right time.”
“Life is uncertain, Venerable Sir. We never know when we are going to die, please teach me the Dharma.”

This dialogue repeats itself three times. Three times over the Buddha says the same thing, and Bahiya responds in the same way. Finally the Buddha says, “When a Tathagata is pressed three times then he has to answer. Listen carefully Bahiya and attend to what I say:

” In the seen there is only the seen,
in the heard, there is only the heard,
in the sensed there is only the sensed,
in the cognized there is only the cognized.
Thus you should see that
indeed there is no thing here;
this, Bahiya, is how you should train yourself.

Since, Bahiya, there is for you
in the seen, only the seen,
in the heard, only the heard,
in the sensed only the sensed,
in the cognized only the cognized,
and you see that there is no thing here,
you will therefore see that
indeed there is no thing there.

As you see that there is no thing there,
You will see that
you are therefore located neither in the world of this,
nor in the world of that,
nor in any place
betwixt the two.

This alone is the end of suffering.” (Ud. 1.10)

Upon hearing these words, Bahiya was immediately enlightened. Moments later, he was killed by a runaway cow. So he was right: life is uncertain. Later Bahiya was awarded the title of “The disciple who understood the teaching most quickly.”

This principle of non-abiding is incredibly frustrating to the conceptual/thinking mind because the conceptual mind has built such an edifice of ”me” around here, around there, around the past, around present, around future, around you, and around this and that. It is tied up with the phenomenal, dualistic world. In order to discover the place of non?abiding, we have to see that identification. We have to see what’s happening. Then we need to find the way to let go. The first part — seeing the identification — is mainly what we need to do. We don’t realize that we are identified. It seems the most normal thing. “I am Joe Schmoe — I was born in this place. This is my age, and this is who I am.” It seems so reasonable. But when we identify with that, there is no freedom. When we believe these attributes to be an absolute truth, then there is no freedom. It is a matter of recognizing how absolutely we take this identity to be true and real. It’s like tasting the sense of self and feeling how gritty that is and how real it seems to be. In recognizing the feeling of it, we are able to know, “This is just a feeling.” The feelings of ”I-ness” and ”my-ness”(ahamkara and mamamkara in Pali) are as transparent as any other feelings.

Not made of that
In the Theravada tradition, we’re very familiar with the three characteristics of existence — anicca, dukkha, anatta (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness, selflessness). These are the ”chapter one, page one” Buddhism. But the Theravadans also talk about another three characteristics of existence, at a more refined level: suññata, tathata, and atammayata. Suññata is emptiness, which is talked about a lot. That expression, suññata, derives from saying “NO” to the phenomenal world. It’s like saying, “I’m not going to believe in this. This is not entirely real.” Tathata means suchness. It has a very similar quality to suññata but derives from a “YES.” There is nothing, yet there is something. The quality of suchness is like the texture of Ultimate Reality. Suññata and tathata — emptiness and suchness — the Teachings talk in those ways. But this other quality, atammayata, is little known.

In Theravada, atammayata has been referred to as the ultimate concept. It literally means ”not made of that” but it can be rendered in many different ways, giving it a variety of subtle shades of meaning. Bhikkhu Bodhi and Bhikkhu Ñanamoli (in their translation of the MAJJHIMA NIKAYA) render it as ”non-identification” — picking up on the ”subject” side of the equation. Others have translated it as “non-fashioning” or “unconcoctability” — thus hinting more at the ”object” element of it. Either way, it refers primarily to the quality of Awareness prior to, or without, a subject/object duality.

The origins of this term seem to lie in a theory of sense perception of ancient India, in which the grasping hand supplies the dominant analogy. The hand takes the shape of what it apprehends. The process of vision is explained as the eye sending out some kind of ray which then takes the shape of what we see and comes back with it. Similarly with thought: mental energy conforms to its object (e.g. a thought) and then returns to the subject. This idea is encapsulated in the term tan-mayata, “consisting of that:” the mental energy of the experiencer becoming consubstantial with the thing being realized.

The opposite quality, atammayata, refers to a state where the mind’s energy does not ”go out” to the object and occupy it. It neither makes an objective ”thing” or a subjective ”observer” knowing it. Hence ”non-identification” refers to the subjective aspect, and ”non-fabrication” to the objective.

The way emptiness has been talked about during this retreat has made it very clear that this is a characteristic of Ultimate Reality. But also, when we talk about emptiness or about suchness, in that usage of those words there can still be a sense of an agent (a subject) which is a this looking at a that and the that is empty. Or the that is such, thus. What the word atammayata is attempting to convey is an ending of ”that-ness” — a complete abandonment of the idea that there can be anything other than Mind Essence. Atammayata is the realization that, in truth, there cannot be anything other than Ultimate Reality. There is no that. In letting go of that, then the whole relative, subject/object world, even at its subtlest level is dissolved. It is broken apart.

I particularly like this word because of the message it conveys. It may seem very obscure, but sometimes the most abstruse and subtle tools can bring about the most radical changes of heart. Among its other qualities, this concept deeply addresses that sense of always wondering: “What is that over there?” That hint that something over there might be a little more interesting, a little bit more real than what is here. Even the subtlest sense of overlooking this to get to that, not being content with this and wanting to become that, is an error. Atammayata is that quality in us which knows, “There is no that. There is only this.” Thereby even ”this-ness” becomes meaningless. Atammayata helps us to break the subtlest habits of restlessness as well as stilling the reverberations of the root duality of subject and object. That abandonment brings the heart to a realization of a complete spaciousness and fulfillment, a wholeness. The apparent dualities of this and that, subject and object, are known as essentially meaningless.

One way that we can use this on a practical level is a technique that Ajahn Sumedho has often suggested: thinking the mind is in the body, we say, “my mind” [points at his head] or “my mind” [points at his chest], right? “It’s all in my mind.” Actually we’ve got it the wrong way round because our body is in our mind, right? What do we know about our body? We can see it. We can hear it. We can smell it. We can touch it.

Where does sight happen? Where does seeing happen? In the mind. Where does touch happen? Where do we experience touch? In our mind. Where do we experience smelling? Where does that happen? In the mind.

Everything that we know about our body, now and at any time in our life, has all been known through the agency of our mind. We have never known anything about our body except through our mind. So our entire life, ever since we were an infant or before, everything we have ever known about our body and the world has happened in our mind. So, where is our body?

It doesn’t mean to say there isn’t a world, but what we can say is that the experience of the body, the experience of the world, happens within our mind. It doesn’t happen anywhere else. It’s all happening here. In that here-ness, the world’s externality, its separateness has ceased.

We may also use the word cessation, nirodha here. Along with its more familiar rendition, the word also means ”to hold in check,” so it can mean that the separateness has ceased. When we realize that we hold the whole world within us, its otherness has been checked, has ended. We are thus better able to recognize its true nature.

This is an interesting little meditation tool that we can use anytime. It is a very useful device because it is true. Whenever we apply it, it flips the world inside out because we are able to see that this body is a set of perceptions. The world is a set of perceptions. It doesn’t negate our functioning freely within it, but it puts it all into context: “It’s all happening within the space of Rigpa. It’s all happening within the space of the Knowing mind.” In holding it in this way, we suddenly find our body, the mind, and the world all arrive at a resolution — a strange realization of perfection. It all happens here.

Reflective inquiry
One of the other methods that Ajahn Chah would use for himself in sustaining the View, Right View, would be reflective inquiry. He would depict it almost as if he were having a dialogue with himself. Reflective inquiry is the deliberate use of verbal thought to investigate the Teachings, as well as particular attachments, fears, hopes, and especially the feeling of identification itself.

We should not overlook the use of conceptual thought. Oftentimes thinking gets painted as the big villain in meditation circles: “Yeah, my mind.…If only I could stop thinking, I’d be happy.” But actually, the thinking mind can be the most wonderful of helpers when it is used in the right way, particularly when investigating the feeling of selfhood. We can use reflective inquiry. When we are experiencing, seeing, or doing something, ask a question like: “What is it that’s aware of this feeling?” “Who owns this moment?” “What is it that knows Rigpa?” However we want to phrase it.

The deliberate use of reflective thought or inquiry in this way, when picked up and then focused, can reveal a set of assumptions, habits, and compulsions that we have set in motion but have remained unconscious of. This can be very helpful and can yield great insight. So, some of you might find this kind of inquiry a useful method.

What we find is that, regardless of whether it is a pleasant or a painful experience, whether profane or sublime, or whatever, when we ask, “What is it that knows this? What is aware of this moment? Who is it that feels pain? Who is it that is having this fantasy? Who is it that is wondering about supper?” — then, at that moment, a gap opens up. Rinpoche quoted Milarepa as saying (roughly), “When the flow of discursive thinking is broken, the doorway to liberation opens up.” In exactly the same way, when we pose that kind of question, it is like an awl being worked into a knotted tangle of identification and prying open a gap. It breaks the habit, the pattern of discursive thinking. When we ask “who?” or “what?” then for a moment the thinking mind trips over its own feet. It fumbles. In that space, before it can piece together an identity or an answer, there is timeless peace and freedom. Through that peaceful space, the innate quality of mind, Mind Essence, can appear.

Fear of freedom
The last thing that I thought I might bring up concerns the realization of emptiness, selflessness, and the blissful quality that can happen when the heart lets go of the sense of ”I.” It is true that the Buddha said that the letting go of the sense of ”I” is the supreme happiness (e.g. at Ud. 2.1 & 4.1). But over the years we have become very fond of this character, haven’t we? It is like an old friend. It can be a pain in the neck, like most old friends, but it is so familiar to us. As Ajahn Chah once said, “It is like having a dear friend whom you’ve known your whole life, who you’ve done everything together with all these years, then the Buddha comes along and says that you and your friend have got to break up.” There’s some heartbreak there.

So sometimes what happens when we let go of that sense of self, is that we experience freedom — there is freedom and peace or bliss — and to the heart itself there is delight, but the ego is suffering bereavement. To the sense of self, there is loss. There is a feeling of diminution, lack.

What can easily happen then is that we experience space and openness and deeply enjoy that for a moment, then comes the desperation. The ego habits kick in and want to engage with something because to the ego, undefined being is death. To the sense of self, ”being,” is always defined in terms of being some thing. But the practice and teachings point out very clearly that what we’re talking about here is undefined being. An Awareness: edgeless, colorless, infinite, omnipresent — you name it. It is Knowing, period. To the ego, when being is undefined in this way, it seems like death. And death is the worst thing. The egoic habits will kick in and search for something to fill up that space. Anything will do: “Quick, give me a problem, a meditation practice — that’s legal! — or some kind of memory, a hope, a responsibility I haven’t fulfilled yet.…Something to feel guilty about. Anything.”

Certainly for myself, I have experienced this many times. In that spaciousness, it is like having a hungry dog at the door, trying this door, that door, the window: “C’mon, lemme in, lemme in.” The hungry dog wants to know, ”When is that guy gonna pay attention to me? He’s been sitting there for hours like some goddamn Buddha. Doesn’t he know I’m hungry out here? Doesn’t he know it’s cold and wet? Doesn’t he care about me!?”
“All sankharas are impermanent. All dharmas are such and empty. There is no other.…” [makes forlorn, hungry dog noises].

These experiences have been some of the most telling points of my own spiritual practice, and explorations — where there is such a rabid, hungering to be. I am sure you have experienced this. Anything will do — anything in order just to be something: a failure, a success, a messiah, a blight upon the world, a mass murderer. “Just let me be something, please, God, Buddha, anybody.”
To which Buddha wisdom just responds, “No.”
It takes incredible resources and strength to be able to say “No” because the pleading of the egoic habits becomes phenomenally intense, visceral. We can find the body actually shaking and our legs twitching to run: “Get me out of this place.” Our feet start moving to get to the door because that urge is so strong.

What we are doing at this point is getting right at the root of being. We are pointing the light of wisdom right at the very root of separate existence. That root is a tough one. It takes a lot of work to get to that and to cut through it. So we should expect a great deal of friction and difficulty in engaging in this kind of work. That kind of hankering does arise. Don’t be intimidated by it.

In leaving that urge alone, there is a kind of grief, a feeling of bereavement. There’s a little being that just died there. The heart feels a wave of loss. Stay with that and let it pass through. The feeling that “Something is going to be lost if I don’t follow this urge” is the message of desire. Whether it’s a subtle little flicker of restlessness, or it’s a grand declaration, “I am going to be deeply diminished if I don’t follow this!” — that’s the message.

There is a wonderful line in a poem by Rumi where he says, “When were you ever made less by dying?” [5] Let that surge of the ego be born, and let it die. Lo and behold, not only is the heart not diminished, if we rouse the strength to let go of that, the heart is actually more radiant and alive than ever before. There’s a spaciousness, a contentment, an ease that is not attainable through grasping or identifying with any attribute of life whatsoever.
No matter how realistic, no matter how genuine the problems, the responsibilities, the passions, the experiences seem to be, we don’t have to be that. There is no identity that we have to be. Nothing whatsoever should be grasped at.

An afterthought
The words of a Vajra Song of the First Tsoknyi Rinpoche:

Don’t wander, don’t wander, place mindfulness on guard;
Along the road of distraction, Mara lies in ambush.
Mara is the mind, clinging to like and dislike,
So look into the essence of this magic, free from dualistic fixation.
Realize that your mind is unfabricated alpha purity;
There is no buddha elsewhere, look at your own face;
There is nothing else to search for, rest in your own place;
Non-meditation is spontaneous perfection so capture the royal seat. [6]

These lines remind me of one last story about Ajahn Chah. Through the early years of his life as a monk with Ajahn Chah, Ajahn Sumedho was full of inspiration and could find no flaw in his teacher. As time went by and the glamour wore off somewhat, more and more cracks started to be seen in Ajahn Chah’s perfection. After some time Ajahn Sumedho could not hold back any longer and decided to broach these criticisms with the Master. Even though such face-to-face criticism is much avoided in Thai society, Ajahn Sumedho was an all-American boy and decided to talk straight.
He went to Ajahn Chah and asked permission to recount his grievances, to which Ajahn Chah listened carefully and receptively. When Ajahn Sumedho reached the end of his litany of complaints, Ajahn Chah paused for a few moments and then said:

Perhaps it’s a good thing that I’m not perfect, Sumedho, otherwise you might be looking for the Buddha somewhere outside your own mind.

[1] Dzogchen is Tibetan for “great perfection,” its equivalent in Sanskrit is “maha-ati” which can also be translated as “great peak” or “summit.”

[2] Nearly two-thirds of the retreat participants were long-term practitioners of vipassana meditation.

[3] Rigpa is Tibetan for “non-dual awareness” also known as “the View.” Its equivalent in Sanskrit is “jñana,” and in Pali, “ñana” (“transcendent knowing” or “knowledge”).

[4] Luang Por means “Venerable Father” in Thai.

[5] Translated by Jonathan Star.

[6] Translated by Erik Pema Kunsang and Tony Duff, reproduced with the permission of Tsoknyi Rinpoche III.

Dhammapada, verse 172 –

He who, heedless before. This religious instruction was given by
the Teacher while he was in residence at Jetavana with reference to
Elder Sammuiijani.

Elder Sammunjani, it appears, went about sweeping continually,
both in the morning and in the afternoon, taking no account whatever
of the time. One day he took his broom, went to the cell where
Elder Revata spent the day, and found him sitting there as usual.
Thereupon he thought to himself, “This great idler enjoys the pious
offerings of the faithful, and then returns and sits in his cell. Why
should he not take a broom and sweep at least one room.^^” Elder
Revata thought to himself, ” I will give him an admonition.” So he
said to him, “Come here, brother.” “What is it. Reverend Sir.?”
“Go and bathe and then return to me.” Elder Sammunjani did so.

On his return he seated himself respectfully beside Elder Revata,
who thereupon admonished him as follows, “Brother, a monk ought
not to go about sweeping all the time. Early in the morning he should
of course sweep the rooms, and then he should go forth for alms.
Returning from his alms-pilgrimage, he should enter the monastery,
seat himself either in the night-quarters or in the day-quarters, and
rehearse the Thirty-two Constituent Parts of the Body, grasping firmly
the thought of the perishableness of the body. In the evening he should
rise from his seat and sweep the rooms again. But he should not spend
the whole day sweeping; rather should he allow himself a certain
amount of leisure.” Elder Sammunjani adhered scrupulously to the
admonition of Elder Revata, and in no long time attained Arahatship.

After that, however, all the rooms remained full of rubbish.
Therefore the monks said to Elder Sammunjani, “Brother, all the
rooms remain full of rubbish; why do you not sweep them.?” “Reverend
Sirs, I used to do that in the days when I was heedless; now,
however, I have become heedful.” The monks reported the matter
to the Teacher, saying, “This Elder does one thing and says another.”
But the Teacher replied, “Monks, my son the Elder spoke the truth;
formerly, in the days of his heedlessness, my son spent the whole
time sweeping, but now he spends his time in the enjoyment of the
bliss of the Paths and the Fruits, and therefore sweeps no more.”

Firstly quoting from the translation of the sutta by Sister Vajira & Francis
Story on ATI:

8. And the Blessed One addressed the bhikkhus, saying: “Behold now, bhikkhus, I
exhort you: All compounded things [sankhara] are subject to vanish. Strive with
earnestness [appamaada]!”

(Pali: Handa dani bhikkhave amantayami vo: Vayadhamma sankhara appamadena

Earnestness (appamada) is explained as “presence of mindfulness.”
Comy.: “‘You should accomplish all your duties without allowing mindfulness to
lapse!’ Thus did the Blessed One, while on the bed of his Parinibbana, summarize
in that one word on earnestness the advice he had given through forty-five

Secondly, from “The Buddha’s Last Days” (PTS), a translation of the commentary
by Yang-Gyu An, quoting a sutta translation of `Achieve with vigilance’:

“`Achieve with vigilance’: You should successfully perform all your duties with
no absence of mindfulness. Thus did the Blessed One, while lying on his
deathbed, give all the advice he had given for forty-five years by putting it
into the single word ‘vigilance’ (appamaada).”

A footnote says:
“In the commentaries it [“vigilance” (appamaada)] is often explained as the
presence of mindfulness.”


Interesting to note that this one word ‘appamaada’ (diligence, earnestness,
vigilance, etc) is said to signify the whole of the Buddha’s teaching.


— In dhammastudygroup@yahoogroups.com, “Tep Sastri” wrote:
> Hi Jon, Sarah, et al., –
> Energy (viriya) is included in the sankhara khandha (formations aggregate).
Energy is also known as endeavor, effort, and exertion.
> “When rightly initiates, energy should be regarded as the root of all
attainments.” [Vism XIV, 137]
> “It is the state of one who is vigorous (viira). Its characteristic is
marshalling(driving). It is manifested as non-collapse. … Its proximate cause
is a sense of urgency; or its proximate cause is grounds for the initiation of
energy. When rightly activated, it should be regarded as the root of all
> So, how possible for knowledge to arise without effort/exertion of the citta?
How possible is it for one who is not vigorous and driving to develop panna?
> ===============

J: First, what is being described here is a dhamma, an impersonal element
(“Energy (viriya) is included in the sankhara khandha (formations aggregate”).
The characteristic of that dhamma is “marshalling (driving)”. This describes
this dhamma’s effect on, or function with regard to, other dhammas: it marshals
or drives the other kusala dhammas.

So the text is not saying that viriya (the dhamma) is a matter of a person doing
something, such as trying to have awareness.

Secondly, it’s easy to overlook the importance of the opening words “When
*rightly* initiated” (and also the expression “When *rightly* activated” in the
last sentence). It goes without saying that only effort that is itself kusala
is right effort, and kusala effort is the effort that arises with kusala citta.
Effort to have/do kusala, not itself being a kind of kusala, cannot be right

Thirdly, when the text says, “It is the state of one who is vigorous (viira)”,
this means that the person in whom the state is present is called a vigorous
person. This is another case of the Buddha explaining how a commonly used term
is to be understood in the Dhamma sense.

You ask how it is how possible for knowledge to arise for the person who is not
“vigorous and driving” to develop panna, and I suppose you mean a person who
puts in effort in their ‘practice’. I think the answer is that since knowledge
(and its accompanying right effort) have been accumulated in the past, it can
arise again at any time given the right conditions. Those conditions are, as
the text says “a sense of urgency” or “grounds for the initiation of energy”.
These are mental states that in turn depend on a correct (intellectual or
deeper) understanding of the teachings.

It all comes back, as ever, to how well the teachings are understood, at an
intellectual level initially, including the impersonal and conditioned nature of
all dhammas and to how well is appreciated the importance of understanding
dhammas that are arising now as we go about our daily life.

> ===============
> T: Be diligent,
> ===============

J: Yes, but kusala diligence is based on an understanding of the teachings and
an appreciation of their relevance/application to the present moment.

Dhammanando wrote:
In the Suttas paṭinissagga and its synonym vossagga are the words that usually get translated ‘relinquishment’, ‘letting go’ and suchlike.

The corresponding verbs are vossajjati and paṭinissajjati.

Etamādīnavaṃ ñatvā, dukkhaṃ ārambhapaccayā,
Sabbārambhaṃ paṭinissajja, anārambhe vimuttino.

Ucchinnabhavataṇhassa, santacittassa bhikkhuno,
Vitiṇṇo jātisaṃsāro, natthi tassa punabbhavo ti.

“Knowing this peril, that ‘Misery is because of exertion’, giving up all exertion, for a bhikkhu who is released in non-exertion, whose craving for existence has been cut off, with calmed mind, the journeying on in [repeated] births has been crossed over. There is no renewed existence for him.”
— Dvayatānupassanāsutta, Sn. 745-6 (Norman tr.)

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