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Key to Liberation and The Path to Peace
Talks on Dhamma Practice
Venerable Ajahn Chah
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q: Is it advisable to read a lot or study the scriptures as a part of practice?
A: The Dhamma of the Buddha is not found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about, you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings come and go, how thoughts come and go. Don’t be attached to anything. Just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life here is a chance to practice. It is all Dhamma. When you do your chores, try to be mindful. If you are emptying a spittoon or cleaning a toilet, don’t feel you are doing it as a favour for anyone else. There is Dhamma in emptying spittoons. Don’t feel you are practicing only when sitting still, cross-legged. Some of you have complained that there is not enough time to meditate. Is there enough time to breathe? This is your meditation: mindfulness, naturalness in whatever you do.
Q: What can I do about doubts? Some days I’m plagued with doubts about the practice or my own progress, or the teacher.
A: Doubting is natural. Everyone starts out with doubts. You can learn a great deal from them. What is important is that you don’t identify with your doubts. That is, don’t get caught up in them. This will spin your mind in endless circles. Instead, watch the whole process of doubting, of wondering. See who it is that doubts. See how doubts come and go. Then you will no longer be victimized by your doubts. You will step outside of them and your mind will be quiet. You can see how all things come and go. Just let go of what you are attached to. Let go of your doubts and simply watch. This is how to end doubting.
Q: What about other methods of practice? These days there seem to be so many teachers and so many different systems of meditation that it is confusing.
A: It is like going into town. One can approach from the north, from the southeast, from many roads. Often these systems just differ outwardly. Whether you walk one way or another, fast or slow, if you are mindful, it is all the same. There is one essential point that all good practice must eventually come to – not clinging. In the end, all meditation systems must be let go of. Neither can one cling to the teacher. If a systems leads to relinquishment, to not-clinging, then it is correct practice.
You may wish to travel, to visit other teachers and try other systems. Some of you have already done so. This is a natural desire. You will find out that a thousand questions asked and knowledge of many systems will not bring you to the truth. Eventually you will get bored. You will see that only by stopping and examining your own mind can you find out what the Buddha talked about. No need to go searching outside yourself. Eventually you must return to face your own true nature. Here is where you can understand the Dhamma.
Q: I still have very many thoughts. My mind wanders a lot even though I am trying to be mindful.
A: Don’t worry about this. Try to keep your mind in the present. Whatever there is that arises in the mind, just watch it. Let go of it. Don’t even wish to be rid of thoughts. Then the mind will reach its natural state. No discriminating between good and bad, hot and cold, fast and slow. No me and no you, no self at all. Just what there is. When you walk on alms-round, no need to do anything special. Simply walk and see what there is. No need to cling to isolation or seclusion. Wherever you are, know your self by being natural and watching. If doubts arise, watch them come and go. It’s very simple. Hold on to nothing.
It is as though you are walking down a road. Periodically you will run into obstacles. When you meet defilements, just see them and just overcome them by letting go of them. Don’t think about the obstacles you have passed already. Don’t worry about those you have not yet seen. Stick to the present. Don’t be concerned about the length of the road or about the destination. Everything is changing. Whatever you pass, do not cling to it. Eventually the mind will reach its natural balance where practice is automatic. All things will come and go of themselves.
Q: You have said that samatha and vipassana or concentration and insight are the same. Could you explain this further?
A: It is quite simple. Concentration (samatha) and wisdom (vipassana) work together. First the mind becomes still by holding on to a meditation object. It is quiet only while you are sitting with your eyes closed. This is samatha and eventually this samadhi-base is the cause for wisdom or vipassana to arise. Then the mind is still whether you sit with you eyes closed or walk around in o busy city. It’s like this: once you were a child, now you are an adult. Are the child and the adult the same person? You can say that they are, or looking at it another way, you can say that they are different. In this way samatha and vipassana could also be looked at as separate. Or it is like food and faeces. Food and faeces could be called the same and they can be called different. Don’t just believe what I say, do your practice and see for yourself. Nothing special is needed. If you examine how concentration and wisdom arise, you will know the truth for yourself. These days many people cling to the words. They call their practice samatha. It is essential to do samatha before vipassana, they say. All this is silly. Don’t bother to think about it in this way. Simply do the practice and you’ll see for yourself.
Q: I feel sleepy a great deal. It makes it bard to meditate.
A: There are many ways to overcome sleepiness. If you are sitting in the dark, move to a lighted place. Open your eyes. Get up and wash your face or take a bath. If you are sleepy, change postures. Walk a lot. Walk backwards. The fear of running into things will keep you awake. If this fails, stand still, clear the mind and imagine it is full daylight. Or sit on the edge of a high cliff or deep well. You won’t dare sleep! If nothing works, then just go to sleep. Lay down carefully and try to be aware until the moment you fall asleep. Then as you awaken, get right up. Don’t look at the clock or roll over. Start mindfulness from the moment you awaken.
If you find yourself sleepy everyday, try to eat less. Examine yourself. As soon as five more spoonfuls will make you full, stop. Then take water until just properly full. Go and sit. Watch your sleepiness and hunger. You must learn to balance your eating. As your practice goes on you will feel naturally more energetic and eat less. But you must adjust yourself.
Q: I have been meditating many years now. My mind is open and peaceful in almost all circumstances. Now I would like to try to backtrack and practice high states of concentration or mind absorption.
A: This is fine. It is beneficial mental exercise. If you have wisdom, you will not get hung up on concentrated states of mind. It is the same as wanting to sit for long periods. This is fine for training, but really, practice is separate from any posture. It is a matter of directly looking at the mind. This is wisdom. When you have examined and understood the mind, then you have the wisdom to know the limitations of concentration, or of books. If you have practiced and understand not-clinging, you can then return to the books. They will be like a sweet dessert. They can help you to teach others. Or you can go back to practice absorption. You have the wisdom to know not to hold on to anything.
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last updated: 05-05-2005