Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Basis of Buddhist Practice by Ajahn Pannavaddho (Part 2)

Continue from The Basis of Buddhist Practice Part 1:

Q: Can I ask you a question on wisdom. It is possible for a layman to develop the calm that will produce the wisdom. Such as a monk is able to do it?
A: Yeah, you can do that. You must not make such distinction between monk and layperson. I mean, here we’ve got human beings and they take on different modes of life and different rules and so on. Now, the mode of life is important though it makes it more easier to do it as a monk. Cause the monk haven’t got the restless activity that the average layperson does. We don’t.

And as monks, we don’t have to go catching train or buses, driving cars here and there, go shopping, fighting one’s way down the street through crowds of people and all the rest of it. We don’t have to do this. And because we don’t have to do this, the environment we’re in is natural, more calm so it’s much easier to cool off and getting into oneself. Whereas the layperson has more difficulty in that way.

I’ll can put it roughly like this I would say: the layperson is not one person. It is whole range. And they are those laypeople who can end up develop calm and concentration and they can develop wisdom while living their lay life. But there are few and far between. They are some, not many. They are other laypeople and try as they will, never do it because they’re too involved in the world and the world takes over them and they can’t stop themselves. They can’t control themselves. But between that, there are people who can develop but much more slowly as layperson. The layperson tries to really see the way and to cure oneself- is not easy. The world takes all- the world crams everything into the person. It takes their body, their interest, their mind and their heart and really, they’ve got nothing left.

Q: You mentioned before for layman there are 5 precepts to practice. And do you have any suggestion for meditation practice for layman who is involved in the world and want to calm his mind, and be able to better live in the world and at the same time develop himself as a Buddhist?

A: Yeah, but the first thing is that they should realize is the importance of morality. This is very first thing because without that, meditation practice is likely to go wrong. They may get results from it but the results wouldn’t be the rightful ones.
So there must be some basis in morality. To think that can do meditation, some people teach that way to do medication without having morality and morality does not matter. This is really nonsense.
Coz they have not understood morality or what it means. You got to have the basis in morality. At least one should practising moral way of life. Even if one have been bad in the past in that direction, what one does in the past does not suddenly disappear, it may take a long time before the effects of what one have done wears off. But you got to be at least have to be practicing the moral way of life in the present. Now with that as the basis, anyone can do techniques for developing calm.
Probably the best one for most people in the West to just sit down quietly.
One does not have to sit cross legged, just comfortably is the best way. Sit in a chair. Should’nt be too comfortable or too soft chairs that incline one to go to sleep. It’s best to sit somewhere upright without being too tensed.

And then one puts one’s attention one one’s breathing. Now putting attention on one’s breathing does not mean one tries to breathe more deeply or to modify it. We don’t. Just watch it. By watching it, it is really more feeling. Feeling it going in and out. Normally the nostrils, at the tip of the nostrils or anywhere at the nostrils you can use. One should put one’s attention on where one feels most strongly. And then you just keep your attention on the breath. Next thing you go in and out, in and out. Try to keep your attention just on that.

First thing that people find is that their attention remains on it, for about maybe half a minute if they can concentrate well. Mostly about 15 seconds and their mind jumps away sometime. And it can be 10, 20 minutes before they realize they are doing sitting meditation. They don’t bring it back. Now the thing lacking here is what we call mindfulness. Mindfulness means keeping one’s mind the present. It means what I like to call presence of mind. It doesn’t go daydreaming, wondering, thinking about this, thinking about that or all over the place all over the time. One keeps one’s mind right here and now. One keeps it in the meditation practice on the breath. The breath is an anchor. Don’t think there is anything special with the breath here. Breath is merely a device, it is mainly just a convenient way to put and hold your attention there. Later as the meditation progress, and develops, the breathing can be dropped. It is usually quite a long time before that happens.

The thing is some people may find with this meditation practice, they gets results quite quickly. Most people, it’s a hard slough for quite a long time. There are some who gets results quite quickly and they find they get absorbed and often they see things, images, maybe hear sounds. All sorts of things can happen. Now if the person is such a type and they see things coming up, then they should see all these things are distraction. It maybe very intriguing to try and follow these things- if you see images of streets or houses or people or things like that. This is what one seen in a day and they’re coming up in one’s mind. Then again, it is possible that some people may see things more deep. They may see things like the gods or the angels, that sort. It is possible. But to begin with, one must not have anything to do with any of them. These are realms in which the person can go into once they have skills, once they know what they are doing, once their minds is really strong. But until it is strong, it mustn’t go playing in that field. It is dangerous. But provided they keep on to the breathing or they keep within their own body, keep the attention to the body, the meditation practice is quite safe. Danger can come if they let their mind go wondering outside when one becomes concentrated. They can be danger in this but if you keep it inside, there is no danger.

Q: Can I ask a question about a layperson who is involved in the world and his mind is very active and thinking about different things, worrying about things and planning things, how this person might cut that off, let go of that and relax without being preoccupied with that once it is down at meditation?

A: It is very difficult because when you started the flywheel there, don’t expect it to stop. It goes on. I mean it is like that for the world, it does not happen to stop. It goes on. And because of that, it is only by training that one can learn to drop it. I mean, there are methods of dropping – I can tell you that it will not be much useful because a person who have not trained themselves in this way can’t really do it. And one way is to stop words. Most one’s thinking is kept going by words. That says all dialogues, speech going on the whole time. One way is to block the words but I mean unless one had trained oneself to do it, most people can’t do it. If you block those words, and thoughts they will die away suddenly. If you keep them blocked, they’ll die down, calm down, calm down, calm down. This is one way.

The other way is to put one’s attention firmly on the breathing. This is probably the best way for most people. And if they do that, they will find that the breath becomes more like a friend. Anytime they do that, if they are not doing anything in particular like waiting for the train or whatever they wait for, then they put their attention on the breath and they can calm down. And they find that very beneficial. They find it helps them a great deal.

But whatever one does, whatever method one tries or uses to try to overcome these thoughts, you mustn’t think it is easy. It doesn’t. Controlling the mind is very difficult. But the more one trains oneself, the more one learns mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches presences of mind, keeping oneself in the present, not allowing the mind to go wondering away. This is the real thing. And generally speaking people get no success in meditation practice simply because there isn’t not enough mindfulness. That’s the thing that is lacking in everything.

(to be continued............)

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Basis of Buddhist Practice by Ajahn Pannavaddho (Part 1)

Dear all, this is the first part of the transcribed talks of the teachings of Ajahn Panna. Basically I listened to the audio and typed out the conversations between Ajahn Pannavaddho and laypeople who went and learn the Dhamma from him. I feel a lot of the issues covered in the talk is useful and relevant to many Buddhists.

I have listened through several times and make corrections as much as I can. Please forgive me if there are errors in the texts. To listen to the original talk in MP3, please go to

For purpose of simplifying, text in black is spoken by Ajahn Panna and text in blue (denoted by Q at the front) is by the laypeople.


Q: Do you have any suggestion for someone who is the West or America for someone who is interested to practice as the Buddhist they may practice well including practice with sila including area of sex.

A: Yeah but I can certainly suggest things but how many people are prepared to put up with the difficulty. The trouble is when people have to apply restraint to themselves, they don’t like, it’s unpleasant because their pleasures are bound up in sensual desires. And when their pleasures are bound up with sensual desires, the tendency to see any restriction as being something unnecessary, unpleasant and ‘why the heck should we do this’? What for? They don’t see the results of it because the results is not necessary immediately. They come much later on. And the results are very important. Main thing is before saying what can do, one should have reason why one can do. And frankly with sila (Precepts) , with morality, the Westerners do not have any idea what it is.

The point is, we in the West people have been brought up with the idea that there is some God up there who is looking down on us and is writing thing down in black books- everything we do good or bad in the black book and when we die, He is going to come along and we are for it. Like a judge of course. This is not the real Christianity I know. The real Christianity is something deeper than that. This is a popular concept. And even if they realize it is rather na├»ve, at the same time it still lurking there like a childhood concept that they never bothered to change. This is the way they think. Because if there was a God up there writing something down in black book, you may be able to evade it if you are skillful to do it while He is not looking. But the trouble with morality is that you can’t be because there is no one to write it down in black book, you yourself write it down. The one person who always knows is yourself and whatever you do, you know goes into you and it lurks there. It goes into the cause and later on, one way or another, that cause will bring results and that result is going to come out at the most awkward time. And people who do immoral thing, they sort of loading themselves, there is no one else who bring back the trouble back to them, it is them that come.

For example, one way you can see it if a person does bad actions, evil action very frequently, the doing of these actions changes their characters. This is because the actions they do, it changes their character. You get someone who is always killing animals and see what they’re like: they are dull and stupid people. You don’t find clever people doing that. So is the other immoral things- people going taking drugs all the time, they are just dead beat, these people. And when a person is dead beat like that or dull or stupid like that, what results are you going to get from that? The result is going to be something bad, something unpleasant. In that stupidity, they will be a lot of suffering. And they themselves suffer because of what they have done. In other words, morality or true morality is the practice which maintains one human state or proper human state. That’s all.

It maintains it because it keeps actions within the bounds of what is going to bring reasonable results in the future for one self. If you keep doing things that are going to bring bad results to yourself, you’re just going to go down and down and down. The more down you go, the more stupid you get, the more dull. The less you are able to see the faults you are in you go down and down until end result is pretty bad. It’s really bad. People don’t see it, they don’t know it it comes to them. But in one of the results they come to you, they just go to any mental hospital that are around. You don’t look at any of the burnt out cases and see what they are like- this is the sort of thing that come back. So this is the reason why one should be moral, just to keep themselves sane. It is a sort of mental hygiene. I mean, you do not go eating things that are filthy and getting yourself absolutely dirty and filthy all the time without having to wash. This isn’t the way of people. Not in the West anyway, because they are afraid of disease.

These are the disease of the body but they don’t care about the disease of the mind. And most people got diseases in their mind, right lurking in them now. And these diseases in the mind comes from all states of bad morality- they don’t know anything else. Someone should have morality. As to what you should do, well there are standards- 5 silas (5 precepts) we call them. 5 precepts in Buddhism, it is very good to train oneself not to kill- it doesn’t mean just human beings. It means animals as well. Not to steal, not to indulge in any wrong form of sex, not to use bad language, false speech, lies, slander, gossip and so on, and not to take drinks and drugs. This is the training which is really the basis of a human being. If you can’t even keep this, you became less and less human.

Q: What specifically constitutes wrong sex?
A: We can say if you look at the general norms of sex as they have been built up in many hundreds of years in society, the thing that goes against it is wrong sex. It is a rough guide but I think most people had gotten a fair idea of what it means. It means you don’t go sleeping about all over the place. It means you tend to keep to one partner and the partners agree to together. In Buddhism, Buddhism is not like Christianity where we have marriage and so on, Buddhism have no dues in marriage, you know that. The thing is that the question of sex is much more open. As far as in Buddhism, as far as we are concerned, when a man and a woman agree to live together and to keep together, they’re married. Whether if they have a ticket to do, it’s just legal matter. But as far Buddhism is concerned, they’re married. And they’re married and if they break it up, they should try not to break it up.

As far as the other forms of sex, all I can say is that I advise people to be very cautious. They can lead to lots of damage and sex is something that is very important in morality. Something that in the West people don’t see the results of. The results are there, rather, and they see them but they don’t realize where it comes from. They don’t see, they can’t link the cause and effects. They don’t see the effects that comes from bad sex or wrong forms of sex. And because of this, they don’t see any reasons why they shouldn’t do it.

Q: You mentioned before this that a couple living together in Buddhism is considered as being married. Now in the West, there are a lot of people who are living together. Now in the situation like that, either one partner sleeps with another person or another person sleeping with another. Now does this constitutes wrong sex or adultery, won’t you say?
A: I say yes.

Q: Perhaps we are getting a little end results but taking the morality first. Perhaps maybe you can give just a general introduction to Buddhism, a general basic view of Buddhism for someone who had have no exposure. In other words, 4 Noble truths and the Noble 8 Fold path and what Buddhism is?
A: Really, the fundamental truth is almost the end results and the thing is you got to ask yourself what are our problems? What are our main problems that we have in life? What are the things that we always try to end for? What are our purpose or goals?

By and large, you can say in the goal in all cases…I say all cases is attaining happiness. Content. Now this point is the trouble, the thing that is always wrong- that is discontent. The fact is, everybody is discontent. They are discontent with little things, big things all the time. If there is nothing to be discontent, they find something to be discontent. Always the discontent.

I use this rather than the usual translation of dukkha which is suffering because discontent brings in English much wider and better understanding of the nature of dukkha. All the time, from moment to moment, hour to hour and day to day, we always got discontent. And the thing we want is happiness which is contentment. So this is really our problem. In fact, it is our motive. Whatever we do, we do it because we think that it is going to bring us more happiness.

Now if we were very wise and we were to see the way of cause and effect and know them very well, we will do the things that bring us true happiness and we will get it. The trouble is, we’ve got lots of ignorance. Lots of stupidity. Because of this, we always do the wrong thing. We do causes that don’t bring us happiness. They bring us suffering. And discontent. So we’re always putting ourselves in the same trouble that we are trying to get out of.

You can see this in the newspaper, in any paper that you pick it up. Just look at the front page. You’ll find endless instances where people who think they are doing things that will bring them happiness. They’re right at the opposite direction. It brings discontent the whole time.

In Buddhism, it is said the cause of this discontent or the basis of this discontent is always wanting, craving. We crave for things. We want this, we want that and we are always wanting because we feel deficient, we feel we are lacking. When we feel we are lacking, we want things, and we have to work damn hard to get it. All because no money, and we spent years paying back the credit and what they call it now- mortgage. People always want things, and when they get those things, okay it is nice for a short while then they lose interest. They want something else, they want something better the same sort.

I mean a person wants a car, they get a car. And after a while, they look at it and say, ‘it’s a very ordinary car’ they want a bigger one, better want. They focus on the want. And all the time, they have the craving. And this craving is bound up with discontent the whole time. Because when one craves, one is deficient. One feels deficient. And one thinks of the things one craves will make up for this deficiency, will make one whole, complete. But it doesn’t. Because that one thing that one wants is outside, it’s external and the deficiency is in oneself.

And that thing outside remains outside whether one gets it or not. And to call oneself the owner of thing does not make it anymore oneself’s. It means oneself have control but it doesn’t internally belong to him. It is not part of oneself. It still remain separate.
Because of that, it is not really satisfactorily good things- position, status, whatever you want in the world.

So Buddhism the underlying causes or underlying basis of this discontent is craving. And this craving arises because of ignorance. We don’t understand. We don’t know the way cause and effect works. We don’t know the way things are in this world. We are very clever at science and we know a terrific amount of the way of the world but when it comes to ourselves, we’re absolutely ignorant. And the person doesn’t know about themselves at all. They don’t even like looking because they might find things that show them that they’re not who they think they are. So they keep their mind outside in the world of its own. Full of admiration, full of knowledge of the world outside, ways of science and all the rest of it. But those things don’t really bring us content and happiness. Because content and happiness arises in oneself. It doesn’t arise out there. And to make them arise within oneself, one got to change oneself internally and this requires a lot of work. One have to get down and work really that hard. I mean, morality we’re are talking about is part of it. A lot of working, a lot of restraint, a lot of control, a lot of doing without, a lot criticism from friends who think that you should go doing things just the way everyone else does in their sloppy way and so on.

Now, we say if the discontent are causes to it, there must be possible to stop it. If it wasn’t cause by a God or something or that sort, maybe it will not be possible. But if it is caused by ourselves, by our own wrong actions and misunderstanding, then we should be able to do something. In fact, the teaching is that one can come to the cessation of this discontent. By getting rid of those defilements in oneself which constantly leads one to the wrong direction, which constantly blind us and prevent from seeing. And the way to get rid of these defilements is in fact first morality. Practice morality. So that one can become feeling of freedom towards the world. It doesn’t feel like owing any debts, monetary or otherwise.

Secondly, training one’s mind so that it becomes stronger, more powerful, more capable, more useful, more unified. And the third thing is using that mind to develop wisdom to search, to investigate and find out all about oneself, what one is and what one made of, how one works and what’s wrong. And to get rid of what’s wrong. Coz it is the wisdom that get rids of what’s wrong. It’s the wisdom that put things right. There is no good trying to develop the wisdom without having basis of calm concentration. Because otherwise it will not be wisdom. It will be discursive thoughts. Wisdom is something different, much deeper, much more penetrating. Whereas the discursive thoughts are just on the surface. It flips about without going deeply.

There are 4 factors of discontent and the cause of it : the cessation of discontent and the cause of that. These are 4 Noble Truths.

(to be continued............)