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Starting Out Small
- A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
Starting Out Small
May 17, 1959
The power of the Buddha is more tremendous than that of all other beings, human and divine. His body is enormous, in that we've been making representations of it from ancient times up to the present and yet still haven't finished the job. His mouth is enormously wide. Many are the things that he said only once but that other people have repeated without ceasing: here I'm talking about his teachings, which members of the Sangha have copied down into texts and delivered as sermons for us to hear up to the present. The Buddha's physical mouth was small, but his words are amazingly great, which is why we say that his mouth is wide. His eyes are wide as well: they've seen the true nature of the entire cosmos. This is the way it is with people who are really good: they tend to have this kind of enormous greatness.
Big things like this have to come from small things. Before the Buddha could become enormous in this way, he first had to make himself small. In other words, he cut himself off from his royal family and went alone into the forest to sit under the branches of the Bodhi tree on the banks of the Neranjara River. He let his in-and-out breathing grow smaller and smaller until it was extremely subtle, and there the fire of his defilements and mental fermentations went totally out without trace. He awakened to the foremost right self-awakening, becoming a Buddha. His heart, which he had let grow so extremely subtle and small, exploded outward in goodness in a way that is still blatant to us even today.
So I ask that we all set our minds on really practicing concentration. Don't worry about the past or the future or anything else. When the mind is firmly set in concentration, knowledge and discernment will arise without our having to worry about them. Don't let yourself think that you want to know this or see that. These things will come on their own. As the proverb says, "Those with a lot of greed get only a little to feed on; those content with only a pinkie's worth will get a whole thumb." Keep bearing this point in mind.
For the mind to range far and wide, wandering after outside concepts and preoccupations, saps the strength it needs to deal with its various affairs. Whatever it then thinks of doing will succeed only with difficulty. It's like a gun with a broad-gauged barrel. If you put tiny bullets into it, they rattle around inside and don't come out with much force. The narrower the gauge of the barrel, the more force the bullets will have when you shoot them out. It's the same with the breath: The more you narrow its focus, the more refined the breath will become, until eventually you can breathe through your pores. The mind at this stage has more strength than an atomic bomb.
Intelligent orchard owners get their bananas to help them plant their orchard, get their mangoes to help them plant their orchard. They don't have to invest a lot of capital. In other words, they clear the land bit by bit, plant it bit by bit, harvest bit by bit, sell bit by bit, until the orchard grows larger and larger all the time. This way they don't need to invest much in terms of labor or capital, but the results they get are large and lasting. As for stupid people, when they start an orchard, no matter how large, they pour all their money into it, hiring people to clear the land, plow it, and plant it all at once. If they run into a drought for three days or seven days running, their plants all wither and die. Grass and weeds spring up and overrun the place. At that point, there's nothing the owners can do, because the orchard is way too big for them. They don't have the money to hire the workers again, because they used up all their funds right at the beginning. All they can do is sit with their arms around their knees, blinking back the tears. They've lost all their capital and have no profits to show. That's the way it is with people who are greedy. As for those who keep at their work steadily, bit by bit, the results keep growing bigger and bigger all the time.
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