Discourse 2 - Extinguishing the Fires Within

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

Ven. Webu Sayadaw: There are duties towards the cetiyaṅgaṇa, the bodhiyaṅgaṇa, towards teachers, parents, wife and children. If we fulfil these, we practise good conduct (caraṇa), and this is sīla.

While we are fulfilling our duties, is it not possible to practise mindfulness of breathing also? If we do not fulfil these duties, can we say that our sīlais complete? If our sīla is not perfect, can we expect to experience the happiness we aspire for? If we are not happy, if we can’t get good concentration, and if our mind is not concentrated, we can’t attain insight wisdom (paññā)

[In accordance with the rules of Buddhist monkhood, twice a month, Ven. Webu Sayadaw assembled the monks in the ordination hall to recite the 227 monks’ rules (the Pātimokkha) and to attend to other matters of the community. At the completion of this meeting, he used to give a discourse to the lay people present.]

Sayadaw: Today is the Uposatha day. At dawn you all got up with the thought, “Today is the Uposatha day,” and you undertook to keep the eight precepts. Have you been mindful continuously since then?

Disciple: No, sir, we haven’t.

S: How much of this time have you spent being aware of in-breath and out-breath?

D: At times we are aware, at times we are not, sir.

S: How long did your mind stay with the object and how much time did you lose?

D: (No reply)?

S: As you remain silent, I assume that you have been able to keep up your awareness all the time.

D: No, sir, we haven’t.

S: In that case I have to ask you some more questions. How many times does your mind dissolve in a flash of lightning?

D: Billions and billions of times, sir.

S: So it arises and disintegrates billions of times. Every time the mind arises it takes some object, pleasant or unpleasant, liked or dis­liked. Is there a time when this constant, continuous stream of mental objects is cut or interrupted?

D: No, sir, the mind always takes an object.

S: Yes, and these good and bad friends arise in your mind due to the skilful and unskilful deeds or kamma you have done in the past. Now, if a pleasant object which we call a good friend enters the stream of consciousness, what happens?

D: Liking or lobha arises, sir.

S: If liking arises, is this good or bad?

D: It is bad (akusala), sir.

S: But if a bad friend, an unpleasant mind-object arises, what happens then?

D: Dislike or dosa arises, sir.

S: If we allow dosa or dislike to arise, are we skilful or unskilful? Is this action kusala or akusala?

D: It is unskilful, sir.

S: So, if we accept the agreeable mind-objects, liking, craving, wanting and lust arise, and we are creating unskilful acts which lead to the four lower planes of existence. But, if unpleasant thoughts or images arise and we take possession of them, then worry, grief, suf­fering, anger, and aversion arise, and these mental states lead to the lower planes too. Now, when is the time at which no pleasant or unpleasant thought or image or sound or sight or taste or touch arises?

D: There is no such time, sir. The mind always takes an object.

S: And all these objects arising in our minds are the results of the deeds we have done in the past, in saṃsāra. If an object is pleasant or unpleasant, when it arises, what do you normally do?

D: We react unskilfully and create akusala-kamma for ourselves, sir.

S: If a pleasant object arises in the mind, liking, craving, wanting arise. This craving, this lobha, what is it like? Is it not like a fire? Lobha (craving) is like a fire. What about dosa, disliking, aversion, and hatred?

D: Dosa is also like a fire, sir.

S: So, whatever arises, we have to suffer the burning of fire, don’t we?

D: Yes, sir.

S: But of course, if lobha and dosa have to arise, let them arise. If we are practising the teachings of the Buddha, can they affect us? While we are practising Ānāpāna meditation, lobha and dosa don’t get an opportunity to possess our minds.

The teachings of the Buddha resemble the great lake Anottata.[ii] If the fires of lobha or dosa or any other fires fall into this lake, they are extinguished, and we don’t have to suffer their scorching heat any longer.

Only if we know each arising of the mind in the billions of times it arises in a split second, can we justly say that we have achieved adhipaññā or real wisdom and insight.

Mind and body arise billions of times in the wink of an eye, and with it your good and bad friends. If you are not watchful, these good and bad deeds of yours will again be accumulated in you billions of times. Now, who is responsible for the pleasant and unpleasant sensa­tions that continuously arise in your body?

D: We are responsible for them ourselves, sir.

S: The debts you have accumulated in the incalculably long period of saṃsāra are with you. If you don’t apply the Buddha’s teach­ings and practise them, you will accumulate the same debts again and again, billions of times in every split second. Are you able to count these debts?

D: No, sir, they are incalculable.

S: Therefore, you should apply this practice the Buddha taught. If you don’t accept what arises and disintegrates of its own accord, then your accumulated debts will diminish and no new debts will accumu­late. If you realize this arising and vanishing for yourselves, then you don’t make new debts and you get rid of the old ones. Thus you attain to adhipaññā.

This technique of being aware of in-breath and out-breath can be practised anywhere. You can practise it while you are alone or in company, while you are sitting, walking, standing, or lying down. Wherever you are, you can practise it. Now, do you have to spend money in order to practise Ānāpāna?

D: No, sir.

S: Do you have to take time off work to practise?

D: No, sir.

S: In that case, what is so difficult about it? Will this practice make you feel tired?

D: No, sir.

S: If you make great profits with your business and people ask you, “How much gold, how much silver have you got?”, will you tell them?

D: No, sir.

S: And why not?

D: One shouldn’t tell others such things, sir.

S: Now, which jewel is more precious, gold and silver, or the Dhamma?

D: The Dhamma is more precious, sir.

S: Then don’t talk to others about your achievements. What is the time now?

D: Seven p.m., sir.

S: How much time have you got left until sunrise?

D: About ten hours, sir.

S: Do you think that you can practise meditation for that long without a break? Work hard to rid yourselves of your debts. The efforts of the past and meritorious deeds performed in the past are giving their good results.