The heart

There are times when the heart is in bad shape. Bad mental qualities get mixed up with it, making it even worse, making us suffer both in body and mind. These bad mental qualities are said to be “unskillful” (akusala). The Buddha teaches us to study these qualities so that we can abandon them.

There are other times when the heart is in good shape: at ease with a sense of well being. We feel at ease whether we’re sitting or lying down, whether we’re alone or associating with our friends and relatives. When the heart gains a sense of ease in this way, it’s said to be staying with the Dhamma. In other words, skillful (kusala) mental qualities have appeared in the heart. The skillful heart is what gives us happiness. This is why the Buddha taught us to develop these skillful qualities, to give rise to them within ourselves.

– Ajaan Suwat, Thai Forest Tradition. 

Buddha’s advice to his son

As many of you may know, the Buddha (before he was the Buddha) grew up in a wealthy household and had a family. He had a wife (probably from an arranged marriage) and a son, Rāhula. He left his family on the day his son was born, to explore the spiritual life. His son was raised by his wife for his first seven years. When Rāhula reached seven he came under the care of his father who then raised him into adulthood.

There are three famous lessons that the Buddha gave to his son;

  • At age seven – about lying and virtue.
  • As a teen – about meditation.
  • In his twenties – liberating wisdom.

By adulthood it was said that Rahula had reached enlightenment under his father’s guidance.

Here is the story of the teaching given to seven year old Rāhula:

One evening, after meditation, the Buddha went to speak to his son, Rāhula. Seeing his father coming, seven year old Rāhula got a seat ready and got water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on the seat and washed his feet. Rāhula sat to one side.

After washing, the Buddha said to Rāhula, “Do you see, Rāhula, this small quantity of water left in the bowl?”

“Yes, Lord.”, Rāhula replied.

“Similarly, Rāhula, insignificant indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of uttering deliberate lies.”

The Buddha threw away the water.

“Did you see, Rāhula, that small quantity of water, thrown away?”

“Yes, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, discarded indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lying.”

Then the Blessed One turned the bowl upside down and then set the bowl upright on the table.

“Do you see, Rāhula, this bowl, empty and void”?

“Yes, Lord.”

“Similarly, Rāhula, empty and void indeed is the spiritual life of those who are not ashamed of deliberate lies.”

“When someone is not ashamed to tell a deliberate lie, there is no evil that he or she would not do. Therefore, Rāhula, train yourself to not utter a lie even as a joke.”

“What do you think, Rāhula; for what purpose is a mirror?”

“For the purpose of reflecting, Lord”

“Similarly, Rāhula, you should reflect on your actions to see if they are fit or unfit. Bodily action, verbal action, and mental action should be reflected on.

“Before you do an action, Rāhula, you should reflect: ‘Will this action lead to my own harm, or the harm of others, or both?

If the answer is yes then on no account should you perform the action.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think the action will not cause harm then feel free to do it.

When you are doing the action, reflect: ‘Now, is this action I am doing causing harm or suffering to me, others, or both?’

If the answer is yes, Rāhula, you must stop doing it.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think the action is not causing harm or suffering then continue to do it if you wish.”

“After you have done something, Rāhula, you should reflect: ‘Now, did my actions cause harm or suffering?”

If the answer is yes it should be confessed to a Teacher or a wise person. After confessing you should resolve not to do it again.

“If, on the other hand, Rāhula, you think your actions caused no harm or suffering then you should be happy and train yourself to do such things again and again!”

“This is how you should train yourself, Rāhula. By constantly reflecting we can purify our bodily actions; by constantly reflecting we can purify our verbal actions; by constantly reflecting we can purify our mental actions.”

Delighted, Rāhula rejoiced at his words.


If the mind is continually in good shape, evil won’t have any place to land or catch hold. But if our goodness isn’t constant, evil will be able to find a perch. It’s like rowing a boat out into the ocean. If we stay close to shore, crows flying from the shore will be able to perch on the mast of the boat. If you don’t want them perching there, you have to row out as far as you can. The crows then won’t be able to perch on the mast. If any crow tries to keep flying out to the boat, it’ll lose sight of the shore and is likely to die out there in the ocean, because it’ll run out of strength, it’ll run out of food. It’ll have to die.

In the same way, if goodness catches hold of the greater part of the mind, evil will have to circle aimlessly around with nowhere to land. If it stays close by — meaning that goodness has only a small part of the heart — evil will be able to come flying in. Sometimes it waits on the opposite shore. If your strength of mind runs low, it’ll stay right nearby and catch hold of you easily.

– Ajahn Lee.

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