Aware in time

When Luang Pu was undergoing treatment at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, large numbers of people came to pay their respects and listen to his Dhamma. Mr. Bamrungsak Kongsuk was among those who were interested in the practice of meditation. He was a student of Ajaan Sanawng of Wat Sanghadana in Nonthaburi province, one of the strict meditation centers of our day and time.

He broached the topic of the practice of the Dhamma by asking, “Luang Pu, how does one cut off anger?”

Luang Pu answered,

“There’s nobody who cuts it off. There’s only being aware of it in time. When you’re aware of it in time, it disappears on its own.”

Buddha’s advice to his son – Part 2


In my last post I shared the story of the lesson the Buddha gave his seven year old son, Rāhula.

Now in his teens, Rāhula get another famous lesson. This time on meditation. The instructions that the Buddha gives to Rāhula are very detailed, so much so that they are still used today as a guide to developing as meditator.

Here is the story:

The Buddha was on an alms round with some of his disciples, including Rāhula. 

Rāhula was preoccupied by his personal appearance, as teenagers sometimes are, and he confessed this to his father. The Buddha advised Rāhula:

“When seen with wisdom, the physical body should not be viewed as me, myself or mine.  In fact, one shouldn’t see any feeling, perception, mental activity or consciousness through concepts of me, myself or mine.”

Rāhula decided he would abandon the alms round and sit under a tree to meditate on the words. One of the Buddha’s closest disciples, Venerable Sarriputa, saw him and gave him some advice on cultivating mindfulness of the breath, and the benefits of this. 

Later that day Rāhula approached the Buddha for further advice on breath mediation – how to do it and how to get the benefits Sariputta talked about.

The Buddha began:

“Develop meditation that is like the earth: as the earth is not troubled by agreeable or disagreeable things it comes into contact with, so if you meditate like the earth, agreeable and disagreeable experiences will not trouble you.

“Develop meditation like water, like fire, like air and like space: as all of these are not troubled by agreeable or disagreeable things they come into contact with, so if you meditate like water, fire, air or space, agreeable and disagreeable experiences will not trouble you.”

Next the Buddha gives Rāhula advice on different subjects of meditation for different issues:

“Develop the meditation on loving-kindness, Rāhula. For by developing loving-kindness, ill-will is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on compassion, Rāhula. For by developing compassion, cruelty is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on sympathetic joy, Rāhula. For by developing sympathetic joy, aversion is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on equanimity, Rāhula. For by developing equanimity, hatred is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on impurity, Rāhula. For by meditating on impurity, lust is abandoned.

“Develop the meditation on the concept of transience, Rāhula. For by meditating on the concept of transience, pride of self is abandoned.”

Once this is explained, the Buddha then gives detailed instructions to Rāhula on the type of mediation he asked about – mindfulness of breath mediation:

“Inhaling and exhaling with mindfulness, cultivated and frequently practised, has many advantages.

“In order to learn, there are steps to take to train yourself. First find a quiet place, sit with legs crossed and the body held erect. Set an intention to be mindfulful.

“Consciously inhale; consciously exhale.

“When taking a long inspiration know ‘I am taking a long inspiration’; When making a long expiration, know ‘I am making a long expiration.’ When taking a short inspiration, know ‘I am taking a short inspiration’; When making a short expiration, know ‘I am making a short expiration.’

“Once you have mastered this, train yourself to be conscious of the whole body when breathing.

“Next, train yourself to experience calm when inhaling, calm when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to experience pleasure when inhaling, pleasure when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to experience happiness when inhaling, happiness when exhaling.

“Next, train yourself to be conscious of the body process when inhaling, and when exhaling.

“The next step is to train yourself to calm the body process when inhaling, and when exhaling.

“Next, perfectly conscious – inhale, perfectly conscious – exhale, thus you should train yourself.

“Next, with enraptured mind – inhale, with enraptured mind – exhale, thus you should train yourself.

“Next, thoroughly composing the mind you will inhale, thoroughly composing the mind will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, emancipating the mind you will inhale, emancipating the mind will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on transience you inhale, reflecting on transience you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on freedom from lust – inhale, reflecting on freedom from lust – exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Next, reflecting on Cessation – inhale, reflecting on Cessation – exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Then, reflecting on complete emancipation you will inhale, reflecting on complete emancipation will you exhale, thus you train yourself.

“Mindfulness on inhaling and exhaling, Rāhula, cultivated in this way and frequently practised, is productive of much fruit and manifold advantage. When, Rāhula, inhaling and exhaling with mindfulness is thus cultivated and frequently-practised, even the last inspiration and expiration ceases consciously, not unconsciously.”

The venerable Rāhula, delighted, rejoiced at his words.

The Bamboo Acrobat

The Buddha told a story:
Once upon a time a bamboo acrobat, setting himself upon his bamboo pole, addressed his assistant Medakathalika:

“Come you, my dear Medakathalika, climb up the bamboo pole, stand upon my shoulders.”

“Okay, master” the assistant Medakathalika replied to the bamboo acrobat; and climbing up the bamboo pole she stood on the master’s shoulders.

So then the bamboo acrobat said this to his assistant Medakathalika:

“You look after me, my dear Medakathalika, and I’ll look after you. Thus with us looking after one another, guarding one another, we’ll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down the bamboo pole.”

This being said, the assistant Medakathalika said this to the bamboo acrobat:

“That will not do at all, master! You look after yourself, master, and I will look after myself. Thus with each of us looking after ourselves, guarding ourselves, we’ll show off our craft, receive some payment, and safely climb down from the bamboo pole. That’s the right way to do it!”

After the story the Buddha said the following:

Just like the assistant Medakathalika said to her master:

“I will look after myself,” so should you, monks, practice the establishment of mindfulness.

You should also practice the establishment of mindfulness by saying

“I will look after others.”

Looking after oneself, one looks after others. Looking after others, one looks after oneself.

And how does one look after others by looking after oneself? By practicing mindfulness, by developing it, by doing it a lot.

And how does one look after oneself by looking after others? By patience, by non-harming, by loving kindness, by caring for others.

Thus looking after oneself, one looks after others; and looking after others, one looks after oneself.

– From the Sedaka Sutta. 

See your choices

People who do not see their choices do not believe they have choices. They tend to respond automatically, blindly influenced by their circumstances and conditioning. Mindfulness, by helping us notice our impulses before we act, gives us the opportunity to decide whether to act and how to act.

– Gil Fronsdal, Vipassana Teacher.

The taste of Banzo’s sword

Matajuro Yagyu was the son of a famous swordsman. His father, believing that his son’s work was too mediocre to anticipate mastership, disowned him.

So Matajuro went to Mount Futara and there found the famous swordsman Banzo. But Banzo confirmed the father’s judgment. “You wish to learn swordsmanship under my guidance?” asked Banzo. “You cannot fulfill the requirements.”

“But if I work hard, how many years will it take to become a master?” persisted the youth.

“The rest of your life,” replied Banzo.

“I cannot wait that long,” explained Matajuro. “I am willing to pass through any hardship if only you will teach me. If I become your devoted servant, how long might it be?”

“Oh, maybe ten years,” Banzo relented.

“My father is getting old, and soon I must take care of him,” continued Matajuro. “If I work far more intensively, how long would it take me?”

“Oh, maybe thirty years,” said Banzo.

“Why is that?” asked Matajuro. “First you say ten and now thirty years. I will undergo any hardship to master this art in the shortest time!”

“Well,” said Banzo, “in that case you will have to remain with me for seventy years. A man in such a hurry as you are to get results seldom learns quickly.”

“Very well,” declared the youth, understanding at last that he was being rebuked for impatience, “I agree.”

Matajuro was told never to speak of fencing and never to touch a sword. He cooked for his master, washed the dishes, made his bed, cleaned the yard, cared for the garden, all without a word of swordmanship.

Three years passed. Still Matajuro labored on. Thinking of his future, he was sad. He had not even begun to learn the art to which he had devoted his life.

But one day Banzo crept up behind him and gave him a terrific blow with a wooden sword.

The following day, when Matajuro was cooking rice, Banzo again sprang upon him unexpectedly.

After that, day and night, Matajuro had to defend himself from unexpected thrusts. Not a moment passed in any day that he did not have to think of the taste of Banzo’s sword.

He learned so rapidly he brought smiles to the face of his master. Matajuro became the greatest swordsman in the land.

– Zen story from the Collection of Stone and Sand. 

Mindfulness alone can’t do all the work

Liberating insight comes from testing, experimenting. This is how we learn about the world to begin with. If we weren’t active creatures, we’d have no understanding of the world at all. Things would pass by, pass by, and we wouldn’t know how they were connected because we’d have no way of influencing them to see which effects came from changing which causes. It’s because we act in the world that we understand the world.

The same holds true with the mind. You can’t just sit around hoping that a single mental quality—mindfulness, acceptance, contentment, oneness—is going to do all the work. If you want to learn about the potentials of the mind, you have to be willing to play—with sensations in the body, with qualities in the mind. That’s when you come to understand cause and effect.

And that requires all your powers of intelligence—and this doesn’t mean just book intelligence. It means your ability to notice what you’re doing, to read the results of what you’ve done, and to figure out ingenious ways of doing things that cause less and less suffering and stress: street smarts for the noble path. Mindfulness allows you to see these connections because it keeps reminding you always to stay with these issues, to stay with the causes until you see their effects. But mindfulness alone can’t do all the work. You can’t fix the soup simply by dumping more pepper into it. You add other ingredients, as they’re needed.

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Thai Forest Tradition.