Frames of Reference
Teachings of Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
For free distribution only, as a gift of Dhamma
Phra Ajaan Lee was born in 1906 in a rural village in Ubon Ratchathani province, northeastern Thailand. At the age of 20 he was ordained as a monk at the temple in his home village, and there began his study of Buddhist doctrine and monastic discipline. He discovered, much to his distress, that life in his temple as in most temples in Thailand at the time had little to do with the practice of the Buddha's teachings. As he wrote later in his autobiography, "Instead of observing the duties of the contemplative life, we were out to have a good time: playing chess, wrestling, playing match games with girls whenever there was a wake... Whenever I looked into the books on monastic discipline, I'd start felling really uneasy. I told myself, 'If you don't want to leave the monkhood, you're going to have to leave this temple.'"
Soon after making this resolution, he happened to meet a monk of the wandering ascetic tradition founded by Phra Ajaan Sao Kantasilo (1861-1941) and Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatto (1870-1949). Impressed both with the man's teachings and with his way of life, Ajaan Lee set out on foot to find Ajaan Mun and to become his student. He spent two very intensive periods studying with Ajaan Mun: once, that first year, in the forests of Ubon; and then again, four years later, at Wat Chedi Luang in Chieng Mai. Ajaan Mun and Ajaan Sao were unique in their time in teaching that the way to nibbana was still open, and the training they gave their students in the direction of that goal was also unique, involving not only intensive meditation practice, but also the total re-education of the student's character: his habits, values and powers of observation. As Ajaan Lee wrote in his autobiography, "Staying with Ajaan Mun was very good for me, but also very hard. I had to be willing to learn everything anew... Some days he'd be cross with me, saying that I was messy, that I never put anything in the right place but he'd never tell me what the right places were... To be able to stay with him any length of time, you had to be very observant and very circumspect. You couldn't leave footprints on the floor, you couldn't make noise when you swallowed water or opened the windows or doors. There had to be a science to everything you did hanging out robes... arranging bedding, everything. Otherwise, he'd drive you out, even in the middle of the Rains Retreat. Even then, you'd just have to take it, and try to use your powers of observation.
"In other matters, such as sitting and walking meditation, he trained me in every way, to my complete satisfaction. But I was able to keep up with him at best only about 60 percent of the time."
After Ajaan Lee's second period of training, Ajaan Mun sent him out into the forests of northern Thailand to wander and meditate on his own. Ajaan Lee's wanderings eventually took him through every part of Thailand, as well as into Burma, Cambodia and India. Of all of Ajaan Mun's students, Ajaan Lee was the first to bring the teachings of the forest tradition into the mainstream of Thai society in central Thailand. In 1935 he founded a temple, Wat Paa Khlawng Kung, in a cemetery near Chanthaburi, on the southeast coast; and in 1955 he founded Wat Asokaram in a marshy area at the mouth of the Chao Phraya River on the outskirts of Bangkok. He drew students monks and lay people, men and women from all levels of society and all walks of life. In 1957 he was given the ecclesiastical rank of Chao Khun, with the title Phra Suddhidhammaransi Gambhiramedhacariya. He passed away in 1961.
Even in his last years, though, he continued to retreat regularly into the forest. To quote again from his autobiography: "Living in the forest, as I like to do, has given me a lot to think about... It's a quiet place, where you can observe the influences of the environment. Take the wild rooster: If it went around acting like a domestic rooster, the cobras and mongooses would make a meal of it in no time... So it is with us: If we spend all out time wallowing in companionship, we're like a knife or a hoe stuck down into the dirt it'll rust easily. But if it's constantly sharpened on a stone or a file, rust won't have a chance to take hold. So we should learn always to be on the alert...
"Living in the forest, the mind becomes confident. The Dhamma you've studied or even that you haven't studied will make itself clear, because nature is the teacher. It's like the sciences of the world, which every country has used to develop amazing powers: None of their inventions or discoveries cane out of textbooks. They came because scientists studied the principles of nature, all of which appear right here in the world. As for the Dhamma, it's just like science: It exists in nature. When I realized this, I no longer worried about studying the scriptures, and I was reminded of the Lord Buddha and his disciples: They studied and learned from the principles of nature. None of them followed a textbook.
"For these reasons, I'm willing to be ignorant when it comes to texts and scriptures. Some kinds of trees sleep at night and are awake during the day. Others sleep by day and are awake by night."
This book on the frames of reference is based to some extent on my own thoughts and opinions. In some spots it may not be directly in line with the original texts, because my primary aim has been to get to the heart of the matter, so that it can be conveniently put into practice. Those who hold zealously to the texts may feel that what I have written is wrong; but as for me, I feel that whoever is able to practice in line with what is written here will find that it can be taken as a guide to the true principles of concentration, discernment and release. To hold to the texts isn't wrong, but they should be held to intelligently, just as in medicine: A doctor who thinks that the only way to cure a fever is to drink a concoction of boiled neem and quinine leaves is wrong. Some doctors may add the leaves of other trees; some may make a concentrated extract; others may vary the dosage. In the same way, when practicing the Dhamma, to go no further than the texts may in some cases be wrong. Actually, any path that leads to the abandonment of defilement and to release from suffering is right. The value of medicine lies in its ability to cure disease; the value of a method of practice lies in its ability to get rid of defilement. As far as I can see, there is nothing wrong with any method that has been found to work. In the end, all such methods must follow the basic principles of virtue, concentration and discernment, and differ only as to whether they are crude or sophisticated, direct or indirect, fast or slow.
Now, I don't want to set myself up as an absolute authority of any kind. Thus, I want you, the reader, to use your own discernment. Take whatever passage seems right for you as a basis for your practice. There is no need to follow the entire book. Simply focus on a single point, and that will be enough. Once you have mastered an important point, all the other sections will come together and connect right there.
When you are ready to meditate, you should try to find a quiet, solitary place to assist in your practice of the frames of reference. Otherwise, your practice won't go smoothly, because solitude is desirable for all spiritual seekers in general. Just as a person who wants to look at his reflection in the water will be able to see himself clearly only when there is no wind rippling across the surface, in the same way, a person who wants peace that is subtle and profound has to conduct himself in this manner.
Or to put it another way, there has to be external peace and quiet before internal peace will arise. When both forms of peace are present, you will know and see the Dhamma as it actually is. So when you put this form of meditation into practice, you should first say your chants and pay respect to the Buddha in whatever way you are accustomed to, and then begin sitting in meditation. You are sure to obtain genuine results in line with what I have written here.
If there is anything defective or wrong in this book, I trust that the reader will show me forgiveness, for I'm not much of an expert when it comes to the texts. I've simply learned a few parts, and put them into practice.
One more point: This practice of training the heart is very important in that it forms the source of all goodness and merit; and whatever is the source of goodness and merit deserves special care and attention. The heart is a vessel for all that is good. When the heart is pure, any meritorious actions you may perform externally will truly foster happiness. External merit is like a tasty curry. If it's served in a filthy dish, then even though the curry may be delicious, the person eating it won't want to eat his fill because of the filth. But if the dish is clean and the curry delicious, the person eating is likely to eat with confidence to his heart's content. In the same way, if the heart is clean, it will find itself attracted to performing externally meritorious actions. It will always be ready to make sacrifices, because in every case it will taste the nourishment of its goodness.
Not only that, a clean heart also forms the path for release from stress and suffering, leading ultimately to nibbana. Those who are to reach the paths (magga) and fruitions (phala) leading to nibbana will do so by way of the heart. If the heart isn't trained, then no matter how much external merit you may have, you won't be able to reach nibbana. Nibbana can be attained only by training the heart in the practice of virtue, concentration and discernment. Virtue forms the basis for concentration; concentration, the basis for discernment; and discernment, the basis for release. Concentration is especially important because it forms the basis for discernment and intuitive understanding (ρana), which are the crucial factors of the path. You can't do without concentration. If concentration is lacking, you can gain nothing but jumbled thoughts and conjectures, without any sound support.
Concentration is like a nail: and discernment, a hammer. If the nail isn't held firm and straight, the hammer will strike it only hit-or-miss, and the nail will never get through the board. For the heart to penetrate the world and get through to the highest Dhamma, it must take a firm stance in concentration so as to give rise to intuitive understanding. Intuitive understanding can occur only to those who have centered the mind in concentration. As for discernment, it's something we all have, but if it lacks intuitive understanding, it can never get beyond the world.
For this reason, we should all take an interest in the factors that form the path leading beyond suffering and stress to abundant well-being.
If you have questions about any part of this book, please feel free to ask at any time.
The merit coming from the writing of this book, I ask to dedicate to all those who have felt inspired to help pay for its printing costs so that it can be distributed freely as a gift of Dhamma. May the power arising from this gift bear them fruit, so that whatever they aspire to that is upright and just may succeed in bringing them happiness in every way.
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Wat Paa Khlawng
An explanation of the four frames of reference, which are for those who put them into practice a means for freedom from defilement:
In order to use these four frames of reference as a means for centering the mind, you must first familiarize yourself with the following three qualities. Otherwise, you can't say that you are standing firm on your frame of reference. The truth of the matter is that the translations given above are too narrow for in dealing with the frames of reference, mere mindfulness isn't enough. When it's not enough, and yet you keep being mindful of the body, you will give rise only to feelings of pleasure and displeasure, because the duty of mindfulness is simply to keep referring to an object. So in developing the frames of reference, you have to know your tools
This can be illustrated as follows: The body is like a saw mill. The mind is like a drive shaft. Alertness is the pulley that spins around the drive shaft in one spot. Mindfulness is the belt that ties the mind to its object, not letting it slip away to other objects. Focused investigation is the saw blade that keeps cutting the logs into pieces so that they can be of use. These three qualities must always be present for your practice of centering the mind to succeed.
Now we will discuss the work to be done, the objects for which focused investigation, alertness and mindfulness are responsible, each its separate way. The objects are four
These are the four things for which you must be responsible.
The term "body" here refers to conglomerations of the four properties, both those that have consciousness directing them and those that no longer do, but that still appear to the eye. Both sorts are termed physical bodies (rupa-kaya). Physical bodies can be considered under three aspects
The body, whether inner or outer, is simply a matter of the four properties. Now that you know your duties, you have to perform them properly. Sampajaρρa: Keep your alertness in place, right at the mind within. You don't have to direct it anywhere else. Sati: Your powers of reference have to be all-round. In other words, refer inwardly to the mind and then out to the object in this case, the body and then watch after the mind and its object to make sure that they don't slip away from each other. Atappa: Focus on investigating the body, analyzing it into its various aspects. This can be done in any of five ways:
These five activities are the duties of your focused investigation, fighting to see the true nature of the body. As for mindfulness, it has to follow its own duties, referring to the object under investigation, at the same time referring to the mind within. Don't make reference to anything else. Keep check on whether or not you have your mind on what you're doing: This is alertness. Keep track of your mind, observing it at all times to see in what ways it might be acting or reacting on you. Keep your awareness of this always in place, right at the heart.
All the activities mentioned here are aspects of taking the body as a frame of reference. Whether you are dealing with the inner body, with outer bodies or with the body in and of itself, you have to use the three qualities mentioned above. Only when you have them fully developed can you say that you are developing the great frame of reference (maha-satipatthana).
Normally, mindfulness is a quality we all have, but when it lacks alertness, it falls into wrong ways, becoming Wrong Mindfulness. But when you can follow the methods outlined above, you are sure to develop a disinterested steadiness of mind. You will come to feel a sense of dispassion and detachment that will make the mind quiet, calm and unperturbed. This is the ladder of liberating insight (vipassana-ρana), leading to nibbana, which people of wisdom and experience have guaranteed:
This ends the discussion of keeping the body in mind as a frame of reference.
The word "feeling" refers to the experiencing of sensations that arise from one's own actions, or kamma. There are three sorts of feelings: inner feelings or moods, outer feelings, and feelings in and of themselves.
By and large, whenever a mood or feeling arises, we tend to give rise to various hopes or desires. For instance, when a good mood arises, we want that sense of well-being to stay as it is or to increase. This desire gives rise to stress, and so we receive results contrary to what we had hoped for. Sometimes a bad mood arises and we don't want it, so we struggle to find happiness, and this simply piles on more suffering. Sometimes the heart is neutral neither happy nor sad, neither pleased nor displeased and we want to stay that way constantly, or else we start to think that staying neutral is stupid or inane. This gives rise to more desires, and we start to struggle for something better than what we already are.
When this happens, we can't say that we're firmly based on our frame of reference for even though we may be mindful of the fact that a good or a bad or a neutral feeling has arisen, we're not beyond it. This shows that we lack the three qualities that can nurture and support mindfulness in becoming a factor of the Path. In other words, start out with alertness firmly established, and then use mindfulness to connect the mind with its object. Don't let the mind slip away from the object, and don't let the object slip away from the mind. Keep mindfulness in firm reference to the object, and watch the mind to make sure that it stays fixed on its one object. As for the object, it's the responsibility of your focused investigation to keep track of whatever aspect of feeling may appear: inner or outer; happy, sad or indifferent.
For instance, when pain arises, what does it come from? Look into it until you know its truth. What does pleasure come from? It's the duty of your focused investigation to find out. In what mental moment does indifference occur? It's the duty of your focused investigation to keep watch until you really know. Whatever feelings may arise, inner or outer, are the responsibility of your focused investigation. You have to use your powers of analysis to burn into whatever spot a feeling may arise. This is the first round in your investigation.
2. The second round: Watch the arising of feelings in the present. You don't have to follow them anywhere else. Tell yourself that whatever may be causing these feelings, you're going to focus exclusively on what is present.
3. Focus on the fading of feelings in the present.
4. Focus on the passing away of feelings in the present.
5. Stay with the realization that feelings do nothing but arise and fall away simply flowing away and vanishing in various ways with nothing of any substance or worth. When you can do this, you can say that your frame of reference is firmly established in feelings in and of themselves and at that point, the Path comes together.
If we were to express this in terms of the factors of the Path, we'd have to do so as follows: The alertness that constantly watches after the mind, keeping it at normalcy, making sure that it doesn't fall into unskillful ways, is virtue. The mindfulness that keeps the mind connected with its object so that it doesn't slip away to other objects, is concentration. The focused investigation that penetrates into each object as it arises so as to know its true nature clearly knowing both that which arises and disbands, as well as that which doesn't arise or disband is discernment. These three qualities have to arise together in a single mental moment for the Path to come together (magga-samangi), and then the Path will function on its own, in line with its duties, enabling you to see clearly and know truly without having to let go of this or work at that, work at this or let go of that, let go of the outside or work at the inside, work at the outside or let go of the inside or whatever.
When all three of these qualities are gathered together, you can deal with any feeling at all past, present or future; pleasant, unpleasant or neutral because when these three qualities are fully developed, they all connect. This is why I made the comparison at the beginning: The mind is like a drive shaft. Alertness is a pulley spinning in place around the drive shaft. Mindfulness is the belt that keeps the mind and its objects from slipping away from each other. Focused investigation is the saw blade that works back and forth, cutting each object to pieces which is what is meant by "bhagavant."
Only a person who has the discernment to see in line with the truth in this way can be said to have mastered fully the use of feelings as a frame of reference.
III. The Mind
In using the mind as a frame of reference, there are three aspects to deal with:
"The mind inside" refers to a state exclusively in the heart when it isn't involved with any outer preoccupations. "The mind outside" refers to its interaction with such outer preoccupations as sights, sounds, etc. "The mind in and of itself" refers to the act of singling out any aspect of the mind as it appears, whether inside or out.
As for the modes of the mind inside, there are three
The mind outside is divided into the same three aspects states of passion, irritation and delusion but these are said to be "outside" because once any of these aspects arises, it tends to go out and latch onto an outer preoccupation that simply serves to further aggravate the original state of passion, irritation or delusion. The mind then doesn't clearly or truly understand its objects. Its knowledge goes off in various directions, away from the truth: seeing beauty, for instance, in things that aren't beautiful, constancy in things that are inconstant, pleasure in things that are painful, and self in things that are not-self.
All of these things are aspects of the mind outside.
"The mind in and of itself" refers to the act of singling out any one of these aspects of the mind. For example, sometimes passion arises, sometimes anger, sometimes delusion: Whichever aspect may be arising in the present, single it out. With your alertness firmly in place, be mindful of that aspect of the mind, without making reference to any other objects and without letting any hopes or wants arise in that particular mental moment at all. Then focus unwaveringly on investigating that state of mind until you know its truth. The truth of these states is that sometimes, once they've arisen, they flare up and spread; sometimes they die away. Their nature is to arise for a moment and then dissolve away with nothing of any substance or worth. When you are intent on examining things in this way with your mindfulness, alertness and powers of focused investigation firmly in place then none of these defilements, even though they may be appearing, will have the chance to grow or spread. This is like the baskets or jars used to cover new lettuce plants: If no one removes the baskets, the plants will never have a chance to grow, and will simply wither away and die. Thus you have to keep your alertness right with each mental state as it arises. Keep mindfulness constantly referring to its object, and use your powers of focused investigation to burn into those defilements so as to keep them away from the heart at all times.
To put this another way, all of the mental states mentioned above are like lettuce or green-gram seeds. Mindfulness is like a basket. Alertness is the person who scatters the seeds, while the power of focused investigation is the heat of the sun that burns them up.
So far, we have mentioned only bad mental states. Their opposites are good mental states: viraga-citta the mind free from the grip of passion; adosa-citta the mind free from the annoyance or anger that can lead to loss and ruin; amoha-citta the mind free from delusion, intoxication and misunderstandings. These are skillful states of mind (kusala-citta), which form the root of all that is good. When they arise, maintain them and observe them so that you can come to know the level of your mind.
There are four levels of good mental states
1. The level of sensuality: A mental state arises and connects with a skillful object any sight, sound, smell, taste, tactile sensation or idea that can form the basis for skillful mental states. When it meets with its object, it becomes happy, joyful, and glad. (Here we are referring only to those sensory objects that are good for the mind.) If you were to refer to the Heavens of Sensual Bliss as they appear within each of us, the list would run as follows: Sights that can form the basis for skillful mental states are one level, sounds are another, and same with smells, tastes, tactile sensations and ideas. Together they form the six levels of heaven on the sensual level.
2. The level of form: A mental state arises from thinking about (vitakka) a physical object that serves as the theme of one's meditation; and then analyzing (vicara) the object into its various aspects, at the same time making sure that the mind doesn't slip away from the object (ekaggatarammana). When the mind and its object are one in this way, the object becomes light. The mind is unburdened and can relax its sense of concern. Rapture (piti) and ease (sukha) arise as a result. When these five factors appear in the mind, it has entered the first level of jhana the beginning stage in the level of form.
3. The level of formlessness: The mind lets go of its physical object on the level of form, but is still attached to a very subtle mental notion the jhana of unbounded space, for instance, in which you are focused on a sense of emptiness and awareness with no physical object or image passing into your field of attention, so that you are unable to know its full range. What has actually happened is that you have curled up and are hiding inside. This isn't the kind of "going in to know" that comes from finishing your work. It's the "going in to know" that comes from wanting to run away. You've seen the faults of what arises outside you, but haven't seen that they really lie buried within you so you've hidden inside by limiting the field of your attention.
Some people, when they reach this point, believe that they have done away with defilement, because they mistake the emptiness for nibbana. Actually, it's only the first stage in the level of formlessness, and so is still on the mundane level.
If you seriously want to know whether your mind is on the mundane or the transcendent level, then observe it when you turn your awareness inward and make it still when you feel a sense of peace and ease that seems to have no defilements adulterating it at all. Let go of that mental state, to see how it behaves on its own. If defilements can reappear, you're still on the mundane level. Sometimes that mental state remains unchanged through the power of your own efforts, but after a while you become unsure of your knowledge. Your mind has to keep fondling, i.e., making a running commentary on it. When this is the case, don't go believing that your knowledge is in any way true.
There are many, many kinds of knowledge: The intellect knows, the heart knows, the mind knows, consciousness knows, discernment knows, alertness knows, awareness knows, unawareness knows. All these modes are based on knowledge; they differ simply in how they know. If you aren't able to distinguish clearly among the different modes of knowing, knowing can become confused and so you might take wrong knowing to be right knowing, or unawareness to be awareness, or knowledge attached to suppositions (sammuti) to be freedom from suppositions (vimutti). Thus you should experiment and examine things carefully from all angles so that you can come to see for yourself which kind of knowledge is genuine, and which is counterfeit. Counterfeit knowledge, merely knows, but can't let go. Genuine knowledge, when it goes about knowing anything, is bound to let go.
All three levels of the mind discussed so far are on the mundane level.
4. The transcendent level: This begins with the path and fruition of entry into the stream to nibbana. Those who reach this level have begun by following the threefold training of virtue, concentration and discernment on the mundane level, but then have gone on to gain their first true insight into the four Noble Truths, enabling them to free themselves from the first three Fetters (sanyojana). Their minds are thus released into the stream to nibbana. The three Fetters are
Such attitudes are an obstacle to what is truly good. Take, for example, the long-held belief that goodness means to practice charity, virtue and meditation on the sabbath days: stream-winners have completely let go of such beliefs. Their hearts are no longer caught up in beliefs and customs. Their virtues no longer have precepts. In other words, they have reached the essence of virtue. Their virtue is free from the limits of time. In this they differ from ordinary, run-of-the-mill people. Ordinary people have to hand goodness over to external criteria believing, for instance, that virtue lies on this day or that, during Rains Retreat, during this or that month or year and then holding fast to that belief, maintaining that anyone who doesn't follow the custom can't be virtuous. In the end, such people have a hard time finding the opportunity really to do good. Thus we can say that they don't know the true criteria for goodness. As for stream-winners, all the qualities of virtue have come in and filled their hearts. They are able to unshackle themselves from the conventional values of the world that say that this or that is good. What is truly good they have seen appear in their hearts. Good lies right here. Evil lies right here. Neither depends on external actions. This is in line with the Buddha's saying,
This is what is meant by "stream-winner."
Stream-winners are like people who have rowed their boats into the main current of the Chao Phraya River, and so are destined to float down to the river's mouth and into the sea of amata deathless nibbana. There are three ways they can reach the sea:
This reaching the stream to nibbana is the beginning stage of the transcendent level. If you were to simplify the three Fetters, you could do so as follows: To be attached to the body as being one's own is self-identification. To be attached to the actions of the body is attachment to precepts and practices. Not knowing how to separate the mind from the body or from one's actions makes one unable to see clearly and know truly: This leads to uncertainty and doubt.
These are simply my opinions on the matter, so you who read this should consider things carefully on your own.
This ends the discussion of the transcendent and mundane skillful states of mind.
When you know the characteristics of the various mental states, you should use the three qualities mentioned above as your tools: Keep your mindfulness, alertness and powers of focused investigation firmly in place at the mind. To be able to gain knowledge, you have to use the power of focused investigation, which is an aspect of discernment, to know how mental states arise and fall: pulling out, taking a stance, and then returning into stillness. You must keep your attention fixed on investigating these things constantly in order to be able to know the arising and falling away of mental states and you will come to know the nature of the mind that doesn't arise and doesn't fall away.
To know the arising and falling away of mental states of the past is one level of cognitive skill (vijja), and deserves to be called "knowledge of previous births." To know the states of the mind as they change in the present deserves to be called "knowledge of death and rebirth." To know how to separate mental states from their objects, knowing the primal nature of the mind, knowing the current or force of the mind that flows to its objects; separating the objects, the current of mind that flows, and the primal nature of the mind: To be able to know in this way deserves to be called "knowledge of the ending of mental effluents." The objects or preoccupations of the mind are the effluent of sensuality. The current that flows is the effluent of a state of becoming. Not knowing the primal nature of the mind is the effluent of unawareness.
If we were to express this in terms of the four Noble Truths, we would have to do so as follows: The objects or preoccupations of the mind are the truth of stress (dukkha-sacca). The current of the mind that flows into and falls for its objects is the truth of the cause of stress (samudaya-sacca). The mental state that penetrates in to see clearly the truth of all objects, the current of the mind, and the primal nature of the mind, is called the mental moment that forms the Path (magga-citta). To let go of the objects, the mental current, and the primal nature of the mind, without any sense of attachment, is the truth of the disbanding of stress (nirodha-sacca).
When the three qualities that assist the mind alertness, mindfulness and focused investigation are vigorous and strong, alertness becomes the awareness of release (vijja-vimutti), mindfulness becomes intuitive understanding (ρana), and focused investigation becomes liberating insight (vipassana-ρana), the discernment that can stay fixed on knowing the truth of stress without permitting any sense of pleasure or displeasure for its object to arise. Intuitive understanding fathoms the cause of stress, and the awareness of release knows the heart clearly all the way through. When you can know in this way, you can say that you know rightly.
Here I would like to back up and discuss the question of the mind in a little more detail. The word "mind" covers three aspects:
All of these aspects, taken together, make up the mind. If you don't know the mind in this way, you can't say that you really know it. All you can do is say that the mind arises and falls away, the mind doesn't rise or fall away; the mind is good, the mind is evil; the mind becomes annihilated, the mind doesn't become annihilated; the mind is a dhamma, the mind isn't a dhamma; the mind gains release, the mind doesn't gain release; the mind is nibbana, the mind isn't nibbana; the mind is sensory consciousness, the mind isn't sensory consciousness; the mind is the heart, the mind isn't the heart...
As the Buddha taught, there are only two paths to practice the body, speech, and heart; and the body, speech, and mind and in the end both paths reach the same point: Their true goal is release. So if you want to know the truth concerning any of the above issues, you have to follow the path and reach the truth on your own. Otherwise, you'll have to argue endlessly. These issues for people who haven't practiced all the way to clear insight have been termed by people of wisdom as sedamocana-katha: issues that can only make you break out in a sweat.
So I would like to make a short explanation: The primal nature of the mind is a nature that simply knows. The current that thinks and streams out from knowing to various objects is a mental state. When this current connects with its objects and falls for them, it becomes a defilement, darkening the mind: This is a mental state in interaction. Mental states, by themselves and in interaction, whether good or evil, have to arise, have to disband, have to dissolve away by their very nature. The source of both these sorts of mental states is the primal nature of the mind, which neither arises nor disbands. It is a fixed phenomenon (thiti-dhamma), always in place. By the primal nature of the mind which is termed "pabhassara," or radiant I mean the ordinary, elementary state of knowing in the present. But whoever isn't able to penetrate in to know it can't gain any good from it, like the proverbial monkey with the diamond.
Thus the name given by the Buddha for this state of affairs is really fitting: avijja dark knowledge, counterfeit knowledge. This is in line with the terms "pubbante aρρanam" not knowing the beginning, i.e., the primal nature of the mind; "parante aρρanam" not knowing the end, i.e., mental states in interaction with their objects; "majjhantika aρρanam" not knowing the middle, i.e., the current that streams from the primal nature of knowing. When this is the case, the mind becomes a sankhara: a concoctor, a magician, fabricating prolifically in its myriad ways.
This ends the discussion of the mind as a frame of reference.
IV. Mental Qualities
Mental qualities as a frame of reference can be divided into three sorts: inner mental qualities, outer mental qualities, and mental qualities in and of themselves.
A. Inner mental qualities can be either good or bad, but here we will deal only with the five Hindrances (nivarana), which are bad
These five Hindrances can be either inner or outer phenomena. For example:
If these five Hindrances are still weak and haven't yet streamed out to become involved with any external objects, they are called "inner mental qualities."
B. Outer mental qualities simply come from the inside:
These are thus called outer mental qualities. When any mental quality first arises in the mind, it's called an inner quality. When it flares up, grows stronger and streams out to an outer object, it's called an outer quality.
C. Mental qualities in and of themselves: This means to focus on any one of these Hindrances because not all five Hindrances can appear in the same mental moment. You can thus pick out any Hindrance at all to focus on and examine. For example, suppose that sensual desire has appeared: Keep your alertness firmly in place at the heart, and use your powers of reference to keep the mind on the phenomenon. Don't waver, and don't let any hopes or wishes arise. Keep your mind firmly in one place. Don't go dragging any other objects in to interfere. Focus your powers of investigation down on nothing but the quality appearing in the present. As long as you haven't gained clear, true insight into it, don't let up on your efforts. When you can do this, you are developing mental qualities in and of themselves as a frame of reference.
The qualities mentioned above are all unskillful qualities (akusala dhamma). They act as obstacles to such things as jhana, liberating insight and the transcendent. Thus, if you want to gain release from them, you must first center the mind firmly in concentration. To be able to center the mind firmly, you have to develop the following three qualities within yourself
Thus if you hope for the genuine happiness offered by the Buddha's teachings, you should take the three qualities mentioned above and make them permanent features of your heart and you will come to see clearly the quality free from fabrication, called the Unconditioned (asankhata dhamma), the genuine Dhamma. Uncreated, uncaused, it simply is, by its very nature. It doesn't circle about, arising and passing away. The Unconditioned is a perfectly ordinary part of nature, yet no one in the world can know it aside from those who have developed virtue, concentration and discernment. So if you sincerely want to go beyond suffering and stress, you should work to give rise to clear and true insight through your own efforts. When you can keep your alertness constantly in place, you will be able to know the nature of the mind. Your powers of reference and focused investigation will have to be constantly in place within for you not to be misled by the objects and preoccupations of the mind.
Most of us, ordinarily, have no clear sense of our own nature, and so we can't clearly see the thoughts and urges that arise within us. As a result, we go out to fasten onto their objects, giving rise to the wheel of rebirth (vatta-samsara), circling around and around without end.
Here I will refer to the wheel within: Not knowing the primal nature of the mind is the cycle of defilement (kilesa vatta), or unawareness, which is the beginning of the cycle. This gives rise to the act of mental fabrication or synthesis, which is the cycle of intention and action (kamma vatta). This in turn leads us to experience mental objects and preoccupations, which is the cycle of retribution (vipaka vatta). Thus there are three parts to the cycle.
The three parts of the cycle can be illustrated as follows: Unawareness is the hub of the wheel. Mental fabrications are the spokes; and mental preoccupations, the rim. The sensory organs form the yoke and harness, sensory objects are the oxen, and the driver is birth, old age, illness and death. Now pile on your belongings your defilements and with a lash of the whip, you're off: The oxen drag you away, leading you up the mountains and down, until in the end you crash and are smashed to smithereens, i.e., death.
For this reason, we must make our awareness penetrate into the nature of the mind at the center of the axle, which doesn't turn with the wheel and which is said to be "uncycling" (vivatta). Whoever can do this will find that the path is sudden and short, not slow. For example, in ancient times, monks and lay disciples were able to reach Awakening even while sitting and listening to a sermon, while going for alms, or while gazing at a corpse. From this we can gather that after they had imbued themselves with the qualities mentioned above, they focused their investigation on that particular point and gained clear and true insight right then and there, without having to pull in or out, back or forth. They were able to let go naturally, with no "in" or "out," no "coming" or "going."
Those who investigate will see the truth. Some people believe that they will have to abandon all mental preoccupations before they can train the mind, but the truth of the matter is that the mind is usually deluded right there at its preoccupations and the spot where you are deluded is the spot you have to investigate. If you don't solve the problem right where you're deluded, don't believe that you can let go by running away. Even if you do run away, you'll end up coming back and falling for the same old preoccupations once more.
People of discernment, though, whether they deal with what is inside or out, can give rise to virtue, concentration, discernment and release in every context. They have no sense that the inside is right and the outside wrong; that the inside is wrong and the outside right; or that the inside is refined and the outside base. Such opinions never occur to people of discernment. Discernment has to be all-around knowing or knowing all around before it can be called full-fledged discernment. Knowing all around means to know the inside first and then the outside. All-around knowing means to know the outside first, and then to bring that awareness all the way in. This is why they are called people of discernment: They can bring the outside in; what is base they can make refined; past and future they can bring into the present, because they have brought the parts of the Path together in equal measure mindfulness, alertness and focused investigation each performing its duties, forming the way that leads beyond all suffering and stress.
Those who can do this will be able to reach the truth in any posture. All that will appear to them will be the condition of stress (sabhava-dukkha) and the condition of things in themselves (sabhava-dhamma). To see things this way is called "yathabhuta-ρana" seeing things for what they really are.
The four frames of reference can be reduced to two: physical and mental phenomena, or another way of putting it body and mind. Even though they are divided into four, it is simply the current of the mind that is divided. When you come to the essence of the practice, it all boils down to the body and mind. If you want really to simplify the practice, you should focus on investigating the body, and then focus on investigating the mind.
1. To focus on investigating the body: Be aware of any one aspect of the body, such as the breath, and then when you can keep focused on it accurately, spread your awareness to observe other aspects of the body, examining them from various angles. While making your investigation, though, don't let go of your original focus the breath. Keep examining things until you've gained clear and true insight into the aspects of the body, and the mind becomes more quiet, still and subtle than before. If anything arises while you are investigating, don't fasten onto it in any way.
2. To focus on investigating the mind: Set your awareness at one spot or another, and keep that awareness perfectly still. After your mind has been still long enough, examine the ways it then changes and moves, until you can see that its movements, whether good or bad, are simply a form of fabrication (sankhara). Don't let yourself become preoccupied with anything you may come to know, think or see while examining. Keep your awareness in the present. When you can do this, your mind is headed towards peace and clear insight.
This way of practice falls in line with all four of the frames of reference. When you can do this, you will give rise to the mental moment that forms the Path and the moment the Path arises in full power is the moment you can let go.
Letting go has two forms: (1) Being able to let go of mental objects but not of one's own mind. (2) Being able to let go both of the objects of the mind and of one's self.
To be able to let go both of one's objects and of one's self is genuine knowing. To be able to let go of one's objects but not of one's self is counterfeit knowing. Genuine knowing lets go of both ends: It lets the object follow its own nature as an object, and lets the mind follow the nature of the mind. In other words, it lets nature look after itself. "Object" here refers to the body; "self" refers to the heart. You have to let go of both.
When your knowledge can reach this level, you don't have to worry much about virtue, concentration or discernment. Virtue, concentration and discernment aren't the nature of the mind; nor is the nature of the mind virtue, concentration and discernment. Virtue, concentration and discernment are simply fabricated phenomena, tools for extinguishing defilement. When defilement is extinguished, then virtue, concentration and discernment disband as well. Virtue, concentration and discernment are like water. Defilement is like a fire. The mind is like the person using the water to put out the fire. When the water has put out the flames, the water itself has vanished but the person putting out the fire hasn't disappeared. The fire isn't the water, the water isn't the fire. The person isn't the water, the water isn't the person. The person isn't the fire, the fire isn't the person. The genuine nature of the mind isn't defilement, nor is it virtue, concentration and discernment. It simply is, in line with its own nature.
Those who don't know the nature of the truth maintain that death is annihilation or that nibbana is annihilation of one sort or another. This is simply their own misunderstanding. Even those who have gone no higher than the level of stream-entry are able to know that the true nature of the mind isn't in any way annihilated, which is why they are people of strong, unwavering conviction, believing in the paths and their fruitions. Even though their hearts aren't yet entirely free from the admixture of defilements, those defilements can't efface the true nature of their hearts just as an ingot of gold, when it falls into the dirt, may be covered with soot, but the soot can't turn it into anything other than gold.
This is unlike ordinary, run-of-the-mill people. An ordinary person's mind may be pure from time to time, but it doesn't stay that way. It can't escape from being defiled again just as a sharpened knife will stay in shape only if it is kept bathed in oil. If you put the knife to use, or forget to keep it bathed, the steel of the blade might turn into something other than steel.
Thus each of us should earnestly make the effort to reach at least the Stream, for although all the qualities I have mentioned whether conditioned (sankhata dhamma) or Unconditioned (asankhata dhamma) lie mixed within every one of us, none of them are as exalted as viraga dhamma: the act of dispassion that extracts the Unconditioned from the conditioned as gold is extracted from crude ore.
The Buddha's teachings are subtle and deep. Whoever isn't set on truly putting them into practice won't know their taste like a cowherd hired to watch over cattle without ever knowing the taste of their milk.
Thus we are taught:
To study is to
The definitions given here are based on the meanings these terms have in Ajaan Lee's writings and sermons.
Avijja: Unawareness; counterfeit knowledge.
Ayatana: Sense medium. The six inner sense media are the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and intellect. The six outer sense media are their respective objects.
Bhagavant: An epithet for the Buddha, commonly translated as "Blessed One" or "Exalted One." Some commentators, though, have traced the word etymologically to the Pali root meaning "to divide" and, by extension, "to analyze," and so translate it as "Analyst."
Dhamma: Event; phenomenon; the way things are in and of themselves; their inherent qualities; the basic principles underlying their behavior. Also, principles of behavior that human beings should follow so as to fit in with the right natural order of things; qualities of mind they should develop so as to realize the inherent quality of the mind in and of itself. By extension, "dhamma" is used also to refer to any doctrine that teaches such things. Thus the Dhamma of the Buddha refers both to his teachings and to the direct experience of the quality of nibbana at which those teachings are aimed.
Dhatu: Element; property; the elementary properties that make up the inner sense of the body and mind: earth (solidity), water (liquidity), fire (heat), wind (energy or motion), space and consciousness.
Jhana: Meditative absorption in a single object, notion or sensation.
Kamma: Acts of intention that result in states of being and birth. "Kamma debts" are the moral debts one has to others either through having been a burden to them (the primary example being one's debt to one's parents) or from having wronged them.
Khandha: Component parts of sensory perception: rupa (sense data, appearances); vedana (feelings of pleasure, pain or indifference); saρρa (labels, concepts, allusions); sankhara (mental constructs or fabrications); and viρρana (consciousness, the act of attention that "spotlights" objects so as to know them distinctly and pass judgment on them).
Magga: The path to the cessation of suffering and stress. The four transcendent paths or rather, one path with four levels of refinement are the path to stream-entry (entering the stream to nibbana, which ensures that one will be reborn at most only seven more times), the path to once-returning, the path to nonreturning and the path to arahantship. Phala fruition refers to the mental state immediately following the attainment of any of these paths.
Mala: Stains on the character, traditionally listed as nine: anger, hypocrisy, envy, stinginess, deceit, treachery, lying, evil desires and wrong views.
Nibbana (nirvana): Liberation; the unbinding of the mind from greed, anger and delusion, from physical sensations and mental acts. As this term is used to refer also to the extinguishing of fire, it carries connotations of stilling, cooling and peace. (According to the physics taught at the time of the Buddha, the property of fire exists in a latent state to a greater or lesser degree in all objects. When activated, it clings and is bound to its fuel. As long as it remains latent or is extinguished, it is "unbound.")
Sankhara: Fashioning the forces that fashion things, the process of fashioning, and the fashioned things mental or physical that result. In some contexts this term refers specifically to the fashioning of thoughts in the mind. In others, it refers to all five khandhas (see above).
If anything in this translation is inaccurate or misleading, I ask forgiveness of the author and reader for having unwittingly stood in their way. As for whatever may be accurate, I hope the reader will make the best use of it, translating it a few steps further, into the heart, so as to attain the truth at which it points.
May all beings
always live happily,
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