Mindfulness: The Path to the Deathless
The Meditation Teaching of
Venerable Ajahn Sumedho
The Need for Wisdom in the
We are here with one common interest among all of us.
Instead of a room of individuals all following their own views and opinions, tonight we
are all here because of a common interest in the practice of the Dhamma. When this many
people come together on Sunday night, you begin to see the potential for human existence,
a society based on this common interest in the truth. In the Dhamma we merge. What arises
passes, and in its passing is peace. So when we begin to let go of our habits and
attachments to the conditioned phenomena, we begin to realise the wholeness and oneness of
This is a very important reflection for
this time, when there are so many quarrels and wars going on because people cannot agree
on anything. The Chinese against the Russians, the Americans against the Soviets, and on
it goes. Over what? What are they fighting about? About their perceptions of the world.
'This is my land and I want it this way. I want this kind of
government, and this kind of political and economic system,' and it goes on and
on. It goes on to the point where we slaughter and torture until we destroy the land we
are trying to liberate, and enslave or confuse all the people we are trying to free. Why?
Because of not understanding the way things are.
The way of the Dhamma is one of observing
nature and harmonising our lives with the natural forces. In European civilisation we
never really looked at the world in that way. We have idealised it. If everything were an
ideal, then it should be a certain way. And when we just attach to ideals, we end up doing
what we have done to our earth at this time, polluting it, and being at the point of
totally destroying it because we do not understand the limitations placed on us by the
earth's conditions. So in all things of this nature, we sometimes have to learn the hard
way through doing it all wrong and making a total mess. Hopefully it is not an insoluble
Now, in this monastery the monks and nuns
are practising the Dhamma with diligence. For the whole month of January we are not even
talking, but dedicating our lives and offering the blessings of our practice for the
welfare of all sentient beings. This whole month is a continuous prayer and offering from
this community for the welfare of all sentient beings. It is a time just for realisation
of truth, watching and listening and observing the way things are; a time to refrain from
indulging in selfish habits, moods, to give that all up for the welfare of all sentient
beings. This is a sign to all people to reflect on this kind of dedication and sacrifice
of moving towards truth. It's a pointer towards realising truth in your own life, rather
than just living in a perfunctory, habitual way, following the expedient conditions of the
moment. It's a reflection for others. To give up immoral, selfish or unkind pursuits for
being one who is moving towards impeccability, generosity, morality and compassionate
action in the world. If we do not do this then it is a completely hopeless situation. They
might as well just blow it all up because if nobody is willing to use their life for
anything more than just selfish indulgence, then it is worthless.
This country is a generous and benevolent
country, but we just take it for granted and exploit it for what we can get. We do not
think about giving anything to it much. We demand a lot, wanting the Government to make
everything nice for us, and then we criticise them when they cannot do it. Nowadays you
find selfish individuals living their lives on their own terms, without wisely reflecting
and living in a way that would be a blessing to the society as a whole. As human beings we
can make our lives into great blessings; or we can become a plague on the landscape,
taking the Earth's resources for personal gain and getting as much as we can for
ourselves, for 'me' and 'mine'.
In the practice of.the Dhamma the sense
of 'me' and 'mine' starts fading away -- the sense of 'me' and 'mine' as this little
creature sitting here that has a mouth and has to eat. If I just follow the desires of my
body and emotions, then I become a greedy selfish little creature. But when I reflect on
the nature of my physical condition and how it can be skilfully used in this lifetime for
the welfare of all sentient beings, then this being becomes a blessing. (Not that one
thinks of oneself as a blessing, 'I am a blessing'; it is another kind of conceit if you
start attaching to the idea that you are a blessing!) So one is actually living each day
in a way that one's life is something that brings joy, compassion, kindness, or at least
is not causing unnecessary confusion and misery. The least we can do is keep the Five
Precepts so that our bodies and speech are not being used for
disruption, cruelty and exploitation on this planet. Is that asking too much of any of
you? Is it too fantastic to give up just doing what you feel like at the moment in order
to be at least a little more careful and responsible for what you do and say? We can all
try to help, be generous and kind and considerate to the other beings that we have to
share this planet with. We can all wisely investigate and understand the limitations we
are under, so that we are no longer deluded by the sensory world. This is why we meditate.
For a monk or nun this is a way of life, a sacrifice of our particular desires and whims
for the welfare of the community, of the Sangha.
If I start thinking of myself and of what
I want, then I forget about the rest of you because what I particularly want at the moment
might not be good for the rest of you. But when I use this refuge in Sangha as my guide,
then the welfare of the Sangha is my joy and I give up my personal whims for the welfare
of the Sangha. That is why the monks and nuns all shave their heads and live under the
discipline established by the Buddha. This is a way of training oneself to let go of self
as a way of living: a way that brings no shame or guilt or fear into one's life. The sense
of disruptive individuality is lost because one is no longer determined to be independent
from the rest, or to dominate, but to harmonise and live for the welfare of all beings,
rather than for the welfare of oneself.
The lay community has the opportunity to
participate in this. The monks and nuns are dependent upon the lay community just for
basic survival, so it is an important thing for the lay community to take that
responsibility. That takes you lay people out of your particular problems and obsessions
because when you take time to come here to give, to help, to practise meditation and
listen to the Dhamma, we find ourselves merging in that oneness of truth. We can be here
together without envy, jealousy, fear, doubt, greed or lust because of our inclination
towards realising that truth. Make that the intention for your life; don't waste your life
on foolish pursuits!
This truth, it can be called many things.
Religions try to convey that truth in some ways -- through concepts and doctrines -- but
we have forgotten what religion is about. In the past hundred years or so, our society has
been following materialistic science, rational thought and idealism based on our ability
to conceive of political and economic systems, yet we cannot make them work, can we? We
cannot really create a democracy or a true communism or a true socialism -- we cannot
create that because we are still deluded by the sense of self. So it ends up in tyranny
and in selfishness, fear and suspicion. So the present world situation is a result of not
understanding the way things are, and a time when each one of us, if we really are
concerned about what we can do, has to make our own life into something worthy. Now how do
we do this?
Firstly, you have to admit the kind of
motivations and selfish indulgence of emotional immaturity in order to know them and be
able to let them go; to open the mind to the way things are, to be alert. Just our
practice of anapanasati is a beginning, isn t it? It's not just another habit or
pastime you develop to keep you busy, but a means of putting forth effort to observe,
concentrate and be with the way the breath is. You might instead spend a lot of time
watching television, going to the pub and doing all kinds of things that are not very
skilful -- somehow that seems more important than spending any time watching your own
breath, doesn't it? You watch the TV news and see people being slaughtered in Lebanon --
somehow it seems more important than just sitting watching your inhalation and exhalation.
But this is the mind that does not understand the ways things are; so we are willing to
watch the shadows on the screen and the misery that can be conveyed through a television
screen about greed, hatred and stupidity, carried on in a most despicable way. Wouldn't it
be much more skilful to spend that time being with the way the body is right now? It would
be better to have respect for this physical being here so that one learns not to exploit
it, misuse it, and then resent it when it doesn't give you the happiness that you want.
In the monastic life we don't have
television because we dedicate our lives to doing more useful things, like watching our
breath and walking up and down the forest path. The neighbours think we are dotty. Every
day they see people going out wrapped up in blankets and walking up and down. 'What are
they doing? They must be crazy!' We had a fox hunt here a couple of weeks ago. The hounds
were chasing foxes through our woods (doing something really useful and beneficial for all
sentient beings!). Sixty dogs and all these grown up people chasing after a wretched
little fox. It would be better to spend the time walking up and down a forest path,
wouldn't it? Better for the fox, for the dogs, for Hammer Wood and for the foxhunters. But
people in West Sussex think they are normal. They are the normal ones and we
are the nutty ones. When we watch our breath and walk up and down the forest path at least
we are not terrorising foxes! How would you feel if sixty dogs were chasing you? Just
imagine what your heart would do if you had a pack of sixty dogs chasing after you and
people on horseback telling them to get you. It's ugly when you really reflect on this.
Yet that is considered normal, or even a desirable thing to do in this part of England.
Because people do not take time to reflect, we can be victims of habit, caught in desires
and habits. If we really investigated fox hunting, we wouldn't do it. If you have any
intelligence and really consider what that is about, you would not want to do it. Whereas
with simple things like walking up and down on a forest path, and watching your breath,
you begin to be aware and much more sensitive. The truth begins to be revealed to us
through just the simple, seemingly insignificant practices that we do. Just as when we
keep the Five Precepts, that is a field of blessing to the world.
When you start reflecting on the way
things are and remember when your life has really been in danger, you will know how
horrible it is. It is an absolutely terrifying experience. One doesn't intentionally want
to subject any other creature to that experience, if you have reflected on it. There is no
way in which one is intentionally going to subject another creature to that terror. If you
do not reflect, you think foxes do not matter, or fish do not matter. They are just there
for my pleasure -- it is something to do on a Sunday afternoon. I can remember one woman
who came to see me and was very upset about us buying the Hammer Pond.
She said, 'You know I get so much peace; I don't come here to fish, I come here for the
peacefulness of being here.' She spent every Sunday out catching fish just to be at peace.
I thought she looked quite healthy, she was a little plump, she was not starving to death.
She did not really need to fish for survival. I said, 'Well, you could, if you don't need
to fish for survival -- you have enough money, I hope, to buy fish -- you could come here
after we buy this pond, and you could just meditate here. You don't have to fish.' She
didn't want to meditate! Then she went on about rabbits eating her cabbages, so she had to
put out all kinds of things that would kill rabbits to keep them from eating her cabbages.
This woman never reflects on anything. She is begrudging those rabbits her
cabbages, but she can very well go out and buy cabbages. But rabbits can't.
Rabbits have to do the best they can by eating someone else's cabbages. But she never
really opened her mind to the way things are, to what is truly kind and benevolent. I
would not say she was a cruel or heartless person, just an ignorant middle class woman who
never reflected on nature or realised the way the Dhamma is. So she thinks that cabbages
are there for her and not for rabbits, and fish are there so that she can have a peaceful
Sunday afternoon torturing them.
Now this ability to reflect and observe
is what the Buddha was pointing to in his teachings, as the liberation from the blind
following of habit and convention. It is a way to liberate this being from the delusion of
the sensory condition through wise reflection on the way things are. We begin to observe
ourselves, the desire for something, or the aversion, the dullness or the stupidity of the
mind. We are not picking and choosing or trying to create pleasant conditions for personal
pleasure, but are even willing to endure unpleasant or miserable conditions in order to
understand them as just that, and be able to let them go. We are starting to free
ourselves from running away from things we don't like. We also begin to be much more
careful about how we do live. Once you see what it is all about, you really want to be
very, very careful about what you do and say. You can have no intention to live life at
the expense of any other creature. One does not feel that one's life is so much more
important than anyone else's. One begins to feel the freedom and the lightness in that
harmony with nature rather than the heaviness of exploitation of nature for personal gain.
When you open the mind to the truth, then you realise there is nothing to fear. What
arises passes away, what is born dies, and is not-self -- so that our sense of being
caught in an identity with this human body fades out. We don't see ourselves as some
isolated, alienated entity lost in a mysterious and frightening universe. We don't feel
overwhelmed by it, trying to find a little piece of it that we can grasp and feel safe
with, because we feel at peace with it. Then we have merged with the truth.
7. The Five Precepts are the basic moral
precepts to be observed by every practising Buddhist. [Back to text]
8. Being part of a Buddhist monastery,
Hammer Wood and Pond of course became wildlife sanctuaries.[Back to text]
Update : 01-12-2001