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Starting Out Small
- A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
May 18, 1958
For people to be happy or sad, good or bad, all depends on the heart. The heart is what's in charge, the most important thing to be found in our body. That's because it's lasting and responsible for all the good and evil we do. As for the body, it knows nothing of pleasure or pain, happiness or sadness, and it's not at all responsible for anyone's good or evil actions. Why is that? Because the body isn't lasting. It's empty.
To say that it's empty means that as soon as it's deprived of breath, its four properties of earth, water, wind, and fire separate from one another and return to their original nature. The parts coming from the earth property return to be earth as they originally were. The parts coming from the water property return to be water as they originally were. The parts coming from the wind and fire properties return to be wind and fire as they originally were. There's nothing about them that's "woman" or "man," "good" or "bad." This is why we're taught, rupam aniccam, physical form is inconstant. Rupam dukkham, it's hard to bear. Rupam anatta, it's not-self, empty, and doesn't stay under anyone's control. Even if we try to forbid it from growing old, growing sick, and dying, it won't behave in line with our wishes. It has to fall in line with the processes of arising and wasting away in accordance with the nature of natural fabrications. This applies to everyone.
But you can't say that the body is entirely anatta, for some parts of it are atta. In other words, they lie somewhat under our control. For instance, if you want the body to walk, it'll walk. If you want it to lie down, it'll lie down. If you want it to eat, it'll eat. If you want it to take a bath, it'll take a bath. This shows that it lies somewhat under your control. So the body is both anatta and atta. But even so, both aspects are equal in the sense that they're empty and not responsible for the good or evil things we do. No matter how much good or evil you do, the body doesn't have any part in the rewards. When it dies, it gets cremated and turns into ashes either way. It's not responsible for anyone's happiness or sadness at all. When people do good or evil, the results of their good and evil all fall to their own minds. The mind is what's responsible for all our actions, and it's the one that experiences the results of its actions as well. This is why the Buddha taught us to cleanse our hearts and minds, to make them pure as a way of leading us to future happiness.
What do we use to cleanse the heart and mind? We cleanse the heart and mind with skillfulness -- in other words by developing skillful qualities within it through practicing concentration. We cut away all the thoughts of greed, anger, and delusion within the mind, such as the Hindrances of sensual desire, ill will, torpor & lethargy, restlessness & anxiety, and doubt. All of these qualities are things that soil the mind. When the mind is soiled in this way, it's bound to suffer. It's headed for darkness because of its own actions.
Our unskillful actions can be divided into the different ways they're dark. Some are dark like the darkness of night, i.e., totally devoid of any brightness. Some are dark like clouds, i.e., they alternate between being dark and bright, just as when the moon is bright at some times and covered by clouds at others. Some of our unskillfulness is dark like haze, obscuring all our vision whether by day or by night. This third kind of unskillfulness is ignorance, or avijja. It obscures the mind at all times so that we can't recognize which of the mind's objects are past, which are future, and which are present. This is why the mind concerns itself with past, present, and future so that it can't stay firmly in any one place. It has no certainty about anything. This is ignorance. From ignorance comes craving, the cause of all stress and suffering.
To get rid of this haze we have to meditate, getting rid of thoughts and concepts of past and future by seeing them as inconstant, stressful, and not-self; seeing all the aggregates of form, feeling, perception, thought-fabrication, and consciousness as inconstant, stressful, and not-self, to the point where there is no past, no future, no present. That's when the mind is released from the clouds and haze of its Hindrances and enters into brightness.
There are two kinds of people in the world. Some are like those with good eyes. They're the ones who develop skillful qualities within themselves, and so they see the brightness of the world both by day and by night. Then there are those who don't develop skillful mental qualities. They're like people born blind: even though the light of the sun and moon may be shining, these people are in the darkness -- in this case, the darkness of their own minds. This is why the Buddha taught us to remove the darkness from our minds, to remove our minds from darkness, as in the Pali verse,
which means, "Having abandoned dark qualities, the wise person develops the bright." When people develop brightness within themselves, they can use that brightness to illuminate all their activities. This will bring them success in all they do. But if they're in the dark, it's as if they were blind, so that the things they do won't succeed in full measure. For example, they may listen to the Dhamma, but if their minds are still wandering out all over the place, it's as if they were obscured by the clouds and haze of their Hindrances.
This is why we're taught to practice tranquility meditation, fixing the mind on a single preoccupation. Tell yourself that the qualities of the Buddha aren't separate from the qualities of the Dhamma, which aren't separate from the qualities of the Sangha. They're actually one and the same, as the Pali verse tells us:
Thus when we make the mind firm in its awakened awareness, it contains the qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha all in one. That's when our concentration will develop in the proper way.
So I ask that you abandon unskillful mental qualities and cleanse the mind so that it's clean and pure. Brightness will then arise within your heart. This way you'll experience ease and happiness without a doubt, as the Pali passage guarantees: Citte sankilitthe duggati patikankha. Citte asankilitthe sugati patikankha. "When the mind is defiled, a bad destination can be expected. When the mind is undefiled, a happy destination can be expected."
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