Discourse 1 - What Really Matters

For an explanation of words in Pali - the language of the time of the Buddha - please see the Pali Glossary.

Ven. Webu Sayadaw: You have taken up moral conduct (sīla). Now that you have undertaken to perfect yourselves in the Perfection of Morality (sīla-pāramī), fulfil it to the utmost. Only if you fulfil sīla to the utmost will all your aspirations be met. You will be happy now and in the future.

Only the teachings of the Buddha can give you real happiness — in the present and in the remainder of saṃsāra. The teachings of the Buddha are enshrined in the Three Collections of the canon (Tipiṭaka). The Tipiṭaka are very extensive. If we take the essence out of the Tipiṭaka we shall find the thirty-seven Factors of Awakening (Bodhipakkhiyā-dhammā). The essence of the thirty-seven Factors of Awakening is the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path (maggaṅgas). The essence of the Noble Eightfold Path is the threefold training (sikkhā): higher morality, higher mindfulness, and higher wis­dom (adhisīla, adhicitta, and adhipaññā). The essence of the threefold training is the unique Universal Law (Eko Dhammo).

If your body and mind are under control, as they are now, there can be no roughness of physical or verbal action. This is adhisīla or Perfect Morality.

If adhisīla becomes strong, the mind will become peaceful and tranquil and lose its harshness. This is called adhicitta.

If adhicitta (samādhi) becomes strong and the mind stays one-pointed for a long period, then you will realize that in a split second matter arises and dissolves billions and billions of times. If mind (nāma) knows matter (rūpa), it knows that matter becomes and disintegrates billions and billions of times in the wink of an eye. This knowledge of arising and disintegration is called adhipaññā.

Whenever we breathe in or out, the in-coming and the out-going air touches somewhere in or near the nostrils. The sensitive matter (kāya-pasāda) registers the touch of air. In this process, the entities touching are matter and the entity knowing the touch is mind. So do not go around asking others about mind and matter; observe your breathing and you will find out about them for yourselves.

When the air comes in, it will touch. When the air goes out, it will touch. If you know this touch continuously, then wanting (lobha), dislike (dosa), and delusion (moha) do not have the opportunity to arise and the fires of greed, anger, and delusion will subside.

You cannot know the touch of air before it actually occurs. After it has gone, you cannot know it any more. Only while the air moves in or out can you feel the sensation of touch. This we call the present moment.

While we feel the touch of air, we know that there are only mind and matter. We know for ourselves that there is no “I,” no other person, no man and woman, and we realize for ourselves that what the Buddha said is indeed true. We needn’t ask others. While we know in-breath and out-breath, there is no I or attā.

When we know this, our view is pure; it is right view. We know in that moment that there is nothing but nāma and rūpa, mind and matter. We also know that mind and matter are two different entities. If we thus know how to distinguish between nāma and rūpa, we have attained to the ability to distinguish between mind and matter (nāma-rūpa-pariccheda-ñāṇa).

If we know the touch of air as and when it occurs, our mind is pure and we get the benefits thereof. Do not think that the benefits you get thus, even in a split second, are few. Do not think that those who meditate do not get any advantages from their practice. Now that you are born in a happy plane and encounter the teachings of a Buddha, you can obtain great benefits. Do not worry about eating and drinking, but make all the effort you can.

Sayadaw: Is this present time not auspicious?

Disciple: Yes sir, it is.

S: Yes, indeed! Can’t those good people attain their aspiration of Nibbāna who with an open mind receive and practise the teachings of the Buddha, just as the noble people of the past who received the instructions from the Buddha himself?

D: Yes sir, they can.

S: So, how long does the Buddha’s Sāsana (teaching) last?

D: For five thousand years, sir.

S: And now tell me, how many of these five thousand years have passed?

D: Sir, about half this time span has gone.

S: So, how much remains still?

D: About two thousand five hundred years, sir.

S: What is the life span of a human being now?

D: About one hundred years, sir.

S: How old are you?

D: I am thirty-seven years old, sir.

S: So, how much longer do you have to live?

D: Sixty-three years, sir.

S: But can you be sure that you will live that long?

D: That I don’t know, sir.

S: You don’t know yourself how long you are going to live?

D: No sir, it isn’t possible to know this for sure.

S: But even as we are born we can be sure to have to suffer old age, disease, and death.

D: Yes sir.

S: Can we request old age, pain, and death to desist for some time, to go away for some time?

D: No sir.

S: No, they never rest. Can we ask them to stop their work?

D: No sir, we cannot.

S: In that case we can be certain that we have to die?

D: Yes sir, it is certain that we all have to die.

S: It is certain that all have to die. What about living?

D: We can’t be sure how long we have left to live, sir.

S: Someone whose life span is thirty years dies when the thirty years are up. If your life span is forty or fifty years, you will die when you are forty or fifty years old. Once someone is dead, can we get him back?

D: No sir, we can’t.

S: However many years of your life have passed, have passed. What is it that you have not accomplished yet?

D: The happiness of the Paths and Fruition States, Nibbāna.

S: Yes, inasmuch as you haven’t attained the Paths and Fruition States yet, you have been defeated. Have you used the years that have passed well or have you wasted your time?

D: I have wasted my time, sir.

S: Then do not waste the time that you have got left. This time is there for you to strive steadfastly with energy. You can be sure that you will die, but you can’t be sure how much longer you have got to live. Some live very long. Venerable Mahā-Kassapa and Venerable Mahā-Kaccāyana lived to over one hundred years of age. Some live for eighty years. To be able to live that long we have to be full of respect for those who deserve respect, and we have to be very humble. Do you pay respects to your father and mother?

D: We do, sir.

S: Do you pay respects to people who are older than you or of a higher standing than you?

D: We do pay respects to people who are older than us or are holding a higher position than we do. Even if someone is just one day older or even just half a day older, we pay respects, sir.

S: When do you pay respects to them?

D: At night, before we go to bed, we pay respects to the Buddha, and at that time we also pay respects to our seniors.

S: What about other times?

D: At other times we do not pay respects, sir.

S: You say that you pay respects to your seniors after you have paid respects to the Buddha. But do you show respect to those who live with you and to those who are of the same age? If I were to put parcels of money worth $1000 each along the road for anyone to take, would you fellows take one?

D: Of course we would, sir.

S: And if you found a second one, would you take that too?

D: Of course we would, sir.

S: And if you found a third bundle of bank notes, would you take that as well?

D: We would take it, of course, sir.

S: After having got one, wouldn’t you want someone else to have one?

D: We wouldn’t think that way, sir.

S: If you happened to be with a friend, would you let him find one bundle of notes thinking, “I shall pretend not to see that one. After all, I have one already”? Would you let him have one or would you grab them all and run for it?

D: I would grab all I could get and run for it, sir.

S: Yes, yes, you fellows are not very pleasant. When it comes to money, you are unable to give to anyone. But then you say that you are respectful and humble just because you pay respects to the Buddha in the evenings. If you cherish thoughts such as, “Why is he better off than I am? Is his understanding greater than mine?”, then your mind is still full of pride. If you pay respects to your parents, teachers, to those older, wiser or of higher standing, without pride, then you will live to more than one hundred years. If you show respects for such people, will you get only $1000? Will you get only money?

D: It will be more than just money.

S: Yes indeed! And though you know what really matters, you wouldn’t even give $1000 to someone else, but rather run and get it for yourselves. When the Buddha, out of compassion, taught the Dhamma, did everybody understand it?

D: No sir, not everyone understood it.

S: Why is this so?

D: Some didn’t listen to the Buddha, sir.

S: Only if you take the teachings of the Buddha for yourselves can you attain sammā-sam-bodhi (Buddhahood), pacceka-bodhi (Pacceka-Buddhahood), agga-sāvaka-bodhi (Chief-discipleship), mahā-sāvaka-bodhi (Leading-discipleship), pakati-sāvaka-bodhi (Arahatship). If you want to attain one of these forms of awakening, you can. Through the teachings of the Buddha you can attain happiness now, a happiness that will stay with you also in the future. How long does it take for a paddy seed to sprout?

D: Only overnight, sir.

S: It takes only a day for it to sprout. Now, if you keep the seed, a good quality seed of course, after sprouting and do not plant it, will it grow?

D: No sir, it won’t.

S: Even though you have a good quality seed, if you do not plant it, it will not grow. It is just the same with the Teachings of the Buddha; only if you accept them will you understand them. If you learn how to live with the awareness of mind and matter arising, what do you achieve?

D: This awareness is called vijjā, sir.

S: If one lives without the teachings of the Buddha, what do you call that?

D: That is avijjā, sir, ignorance.

S: If you live all your life with vijjā, understanding of the Buddha-Dhamma, then where will you go after death?

D: To some good existence, sir.

S: What will happen after a life full of ignorance?

D: One will go to the lower realms, sir.

S: Now, say an old man about seventy years old is paying respects to the Buddha. While doing so, he cannot keep his mind focused on the Dhamma, but he allows it to wander here and there. If this old man dies at that moment, where will he be reborn?

D: He will go to the lower worlds, sir.

S: Really? Think carefully before you answer. He is paying respects to the Buddha, and he is meditating. So, where will he go if he dies at that moment?

D: He will go to the lower worlds, sir.

S: But why?

D: Because his mind is wandering all over, sir.

S: Yes. What are the qualities arising in the mind of a person living in ignorance?

D: They are wanting (lobha), aversion (dosa), delusion (moha).

S: What is lobha.

D: Lobha is to want something, sir.

S: Lobha includes any liking, being attracted by something, wanting. One who dies with any liking or wanting in his mind is said to be reborn as a ghost. But what is dosa?

D: Dosa is enmity, sir.

S: Yes, dosa is the cause for your fighting. Dosa arises because you do not get what you want, and what you get you don’t want. Dislike is dosa. If you die with dislike in your mind, you are reborn in hell. Moha is ignorance about benefits derived from being charitable, being moral, and practising meditation. If you die with delusion in your mind, you will be reborn as an animal. Nobody, no god, no Deva or Brahmā has created body and mind. They are subject to the law of nature, to arising and dissolution, just as the Buddha taught. If a person dies concentrating on the awareness of mind and matter and knowing about arising and dissolution of these, then, according to the teaching of the Buddha, he will be reborn as a man, Deva or Brahmā. If someone is going where he wants to go, does he need to ask others for the way?

D: No sir.

S: Does one have to ask others, “Do I live with knowledge or in ignorance”?

D: No sir.

S: No. Indeed not. Therefore, work hard to bring the perfections (pāramī) you have accumulated in the whole of saṃsāra to fruition. Be steadfast in you effort.

Act as the wise people of the past did after receiving the teachings directly from the Buddha; they worked for Nibbāna. Knowing that you too have been born in a favourable plane of existence, nothing can stop you from working up to the attainment of the eight stages of Nibbāna.

Practise with strong effort and with steadfastness, and make sure that not even a little time is wasted. Advise and urge others to practise also. Strive with happiness in your heart and when you are successful, be truly happy.