A tape-recorded talk given to one of his students who had reached
an impasse in her meditation.
the mind is firmly established in the breath, you then try to
separate the mind from its object — from the breath itself. Focus
on this: The breath is an element, part of the wind element.
Awareness of the breath is something else. So you've got two
things that have come together. Now, when you can separate them —
through realizing the breath's true nature as an element — the
mind can stand on its own. After all, the breath isn't you, and
you aren't the breath. When you can separate things in this way,
the mind gains power. It's set loose from the breath, and is wise
to the breath's every aspect. When mindfulness is full, it's wise
to all the aspects of the breath, and can separate itself from
if it so happens that your mind is strong and your mindfulness
sharp while you're doing this, that's when insight occurs. The
knowledge will arise in that moment, letting you know that you've
really let go. If your mindfulness is still weak, though, you
won't be able to let go. Only when your mindfulness is really
resilient will you have mindfulness and insight arising together.
is something you have to keep contemplating whenever you have the
chance. When you can separate the mind from its objects, it'll be
freed from all its burdens. So focus your attention right down, in
the area of the heart. Keep it focused there, and then observe the
breath and what it is that's aware of the breath. Be as
observant as you can, and eventually you'll see that they separate
from each other. When they've separated, that gives you the chance
to investigate further inside. And once you've investigated this
one element, you'll find that what you learn applies to everything
you investigate the breath, you'll find that it's not a being, not
a person — so what is there to latch on to? You can't latch on to
it as your self, for it simply goes its own way. When you look at
the breath you'll see that it doesn't have a body — no head, no
legs, no hands, no feet, nothing at all. When you see this, you
let go of it, in line with the way it really is.
texts say, 'Cago patinissaggo mutti analayo': You move out
of the breath. You remove your concerns for it. You don't make it
your home any longer — because it's not yours. You let it go in
line with its original nature. You give it back. Whatever it's
got, you give it back to nature. All of the elements — earth,
water, wind, fire, and space — you give back to nature. You let
them return to what they originally were. When you examine all
five of these things, you'll see that they're not a being, not a
person, not 'us', not 'them'. You let them all return to their
original nature in every way.
then brings us to the mind, what it is that's aware of these five
elements. What is it going to stay with now? Turn your
powers of observation on this knowing element that is now standing
on its own, with nothing else left. Examine it to see what's what,
and that's when another level of insight will arise.
you want to gain the insight that will let go of all things in
line with their original nature, there has to be a special
realization that arises in the act of letting go. If there isn't
this realization, your letting go is simply an ordinary, everyday
label or perception. It's mundane discernment. But when this
special realization arises in the act of letting go — the instant
you let go, the result comes right back at you, verifying,
certifying what's happened for what it really is: You know. You've
let go. You then experience the purity within you.
is called transcendent discernment. When the realization arises
within you, verifying what you've seen and what you've done,
that's called transcendent discernment. As long as this
realization doesn't arise, your discernment is still mundane. So
you keep working at your investigation into things until all the
conditions are ripe. Then when they're ripe, there's nothing more
you have to do, for transcendent discernment penetrates things
completely the very instant it arises. It's not like mundane
discernment at all.
path we follow, then, is to be observant, to investigate things.
Keep making a focused investigation until you reach the strategic
point. When the mind reaches that point, it lets go on its own.
What happens is that it reaches a point of fullness — the Dhamma
within it is full — and it lets go. Once it lets go, the results
will appear immediately.
Keep on practicing. There's nothing to be afraid of. You'll
have to reap results, there's no doubt about it. You reap
results all along the way. Like right now, while you're sitting in
meditation here. You know that the breath and the mind are
comfortable with each other. That's a result of the practice. Even
though you haven't yet reached the end of the path, you're still
gaining a sense of comfort and ease in your meditation. The mind
is at peace with the in-and-out breath. As long as the mind and
breath can't separate from each other, they have to help each
other along. The mind helps the breath, and the breath helps the
mind until they can get fully acquainted. Once the mind gets fully
acquainted, it can let go. When it knows, it lets go. As long as
it doesn't really know, it won't really let go.
this means is that you have to associate with the breath, spend
time with it, and gradually come to know it. As the mind gets more
and more acquainted, it will be able to unravel its attachments to
body, feelings, perceptions, thought-constructs, and
consciousness. Its identity-views — seeing these things as the
self — will fall away. This is the way to freedom. The moment this
transcendent discernment arises, you'll be free. You'll be able to
disentangle yourself from all the conventional truths of the world
that say, 'person', 'self', 'man', 'woman', 'us', 'them', and so
as long as you can't yet let go, you still have to depend on these
things. They're your resting spots, but not your refuge.
You simply lean on each other, and help each other along, so that
you can make progress on your way. You can't abandon these things,
for they're the path of your practice. As long as you stick with
the practice, you won't fall back. But as soon as you let up on
the practice, you'll start back-sliding immediately. You'll fall
prey to doubts, wondering whether or not the Dhamma is true.
have to keep being observant of the mind: awareness itself. It's
not the case that the mind isn't aware, you know. Its basic nature
is awareness. Just look at it. It's aware of everything — aware,
but it can't yet let go of its perceptions, of the conventions it
holds to be true. So you have to focus your investigation on in.
Focus on in until the mind and its objects separate from each
other. Simply keep at it. If you're persistent like this, without
let-up, your doubts will gradually fade away, fade away, and
eventually you'll reach your true refuge within you, the basic
awareness called buddha that sees clearly through
everything. This is the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha appearing
within you as your ultimate refuge.
is when you'll know what's actually within, what's actually
without, what's actually a resting spot, and what's really your
refuge. You'll be able to distinguish these things.
Things outside are simply resting spots. Like the body: It's a
resting spot. For the brief moment that the elements of earth,
water, wind, and fire stay balanced together, you can rest with
the body. But as for your true refuge, you've already seen it.
It's this basic awareness itself, within the mind. Your awareness
of the breath is a refuge on one level. When it separates from the
breath, it's a refuge on another level. And as for your true
refuge — buddha — that's the awareness that lies further
within. Once you realize this, that's all there is. It's sovereign
in and of itself. It knows clearly and truly, all around. That's
the true refuge within you.
for things outside, they're just temporary supports, things you
can depend on for a little while, like a crutch. As long as
there's the breath to keep them alive, you make use of them. When
there's no more breath, that's the end of the problem. The
physical elements separate and no longer depend on each other, so
the mind returns to its own true refuge. And where is that? Just
where is that buddha awareness? When we've trained the mind
to be its own refuge, there will be no sorrow at that moment in
the meditating heart.
Buddha's own search was for this refuge. He taught all of his
disciples to take refuge in themselves, for we can depend on
others only for a little while. Other people merely show us the
way. But if you want what's really true and good in life, you have
to depend on yourself — teach yourself, train yourself, depend on
yourself in every way. Your sufferings come eventually from you.
Your happiness, eventually from you. It's like eating: If you
don't eat, how are you going to get full? If you leave it up to
other people to eat, there's no way you're going to get full. If
you want to be full, you yourself have to eat. It's the same with
can't let yourself latch on to things outside you. Things outside
are inconstant. Impermanent. Undependable. They change with every
in-and-out breath. This holds not only for you, but for everyone.
If you don't part from one another while you're still alive, you
part when you die. You part from things with every in-and-out
breath. You can't base the meaning of your life on these things —
and you don't have to. You can simply tell yourself that
this is the way things are all over the world. The world offers
nothing lasting. We don't want things to be that way, but that's
the way they are. They don't lie under anyone's control at all.
This is true not only with things outside, but also with things
within you. You want the body to stay alive, you don't want it to
die, but it's going to die. You don't want it to change, but it
is why you have to get your mind in shape so that it can take
refuge in itself, in line with the principles of the skill the
Buddha taught. And you don't have to feel doubts about the
practice, for all the qualities you need to develop in the
practice are already present within you. All forms of good and
evil are present within you. You already know which path is the
good one, which path is the shoddy one, so all you have to do is
train your heart to hold onto the good path. Stop and take a look
at yourself right now: Are you on the right path? Whatever is
wrong, don't latch onto it. Let go of it. Past, future, whatever,
let go of it, leaving only the present. Keep the mind open and at
ease in the present at all times, and then start investigating.
already know that things outside aren't you or yours, but inside
you there are many levels you have to examine. Many levels you
have to examine. Even the mind isn't really yours. There are still
inconstant and stressful things inside it. Sometimes it wants to
do this, sometimes to do that, it's not really yours. So don't get
too attached to it.
Thought-constructs are the big issue. Sometimes they form good
thoughts, sometimes evil thoughts, even though you know better.
You don't want to think those things, and yet they keep appearing
in the mind, in spite of your intentions. So you have to regard
them as not being yours. Examine them. There's nothing dependable
about them. They don't last. They're impersonal events, so let
them go in line with their own nature.
what is there that's lasting, solid, dependable, and true?
Keep looking on in. Focus your mindfulness on the breath, and ask
yourself right there. Eventually you'll come to see what's what
within you. Whenever you have any doubts or problems in the
practice, focus down on the breath and ask the mind right there,
and understanding will arise, to loosen up your wrong views and
help you past your impasse.
even this understanding is inconstant, stressful, and not-self.
Sabbe dhamma anatta: Everything that arises, the Buddha said,
is inconstant and not self. Even the understandings that arise in
the mind aren't constant. Sometimes they arise, sometimes they
don't. So don't get too attached to them. When they arise, take
note of them, and then let them follow their own course. Let your
views be Right Views: i.e., just right, not going overboard. If
you go overboard with them, you latch on tight to them, and then
they turn wrong on you, for you've lost sight of what you're
this all boils down to is that the more mindfulness in your
practice, the better. As your mindfulness gets more and more
mature, more and more complete, it turns into something
transcendent. The transcendent discernment we mentioned above
arises from the power of your mindfulness as it becomes more and
keep training your mindfulness until it's Great Mindfulness. Try
to keep it constant, persistent, and focused, until you see all
things for what they are. That's how you'll advance in the