Discourse 4 - A Roof That Does Not Leak

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

Ven. Webu Sayadaw: The contents of the three baskets of the sacred scriptures taught by the Buddha are so vast that it is impossible to know all they contain. Only if you are intelligent will you be able to understand clearly what the monks have been teaching you out of great compassion. You have to pay attention only to this.

Disciple: Sir, we don’t quite understand what you mean by “You have to pay attention only to this.”

Sayadaw: Let me try to explain in this way. If you build a house, you put a roof on it, don’t you?

D: Yes, sir, we cover our houses with roofs.

S: When you put the roof on, you make sure that it is watertight, don’t you? If you cover your house well and it rains a little, will the roof leak?

D: No, sir, it won’t.

S: And if it rains very hard, will the roof leak?

D: No, sir.

S: And when the sun burns down, will it still give you good shelter?

D: It will, sir.

S: Why is this so? Because your roof is well built. Will you be able to know whether your roof is leaking or not after it rains?

D: Yes, sir, when it rains it is easy to find out.

S: You see, you think that the Teachings of the Buddha are vast and varied, but really they are just one single way of escape from suffering. Only if you take up one object of meditation given by the Buddha and pursue it with steadfast effort to the end can you justly claim that your roof is not leaking any more. If your roof is not rain-proof yet, you have to be aware of this. There must be many houses in your neighbourhood and they all have roofs. What are the materials used for roofing?

D: There are corrugated iron roofs, there are tiled roofs, there are houses roofed with palm leaves or bamboo.

S: Yes, of course. Now, if a palm-leaf roof is well built, is it reliable?

D: Oh yes, sir, it won’t leak.

S: If a tin roof is well assembled, is it rain proof?

D: Yes, sir, it is.

S: What about a well-made tile roof?

D: No rain will come through, sir.

S: What about bamboo roofs or roofs made out of planks?

D: If they are well done, they are watertight, sir.

S: So, if you take the roofing material you like best and build a good roof, will it give you shelter when it rains and when the sun shines?

D: If we build it well, it will not leak, sir.

S: We are building roofs because we don’t want to get wet when it rains, and we want to avoid the scorching sun. The Teachings of the Buddha are available now. Take up one of the techniques the Buddha taught, establish steadfast effort and practise. Only if you are steadfast does your practice resemble a roof, and greed, anger, and ignorance cannot leak through. Only if the roof is not leaking can we say that we are sheltered. If the roof is still leaking rain, is this because it is good or because it is not so good?

D: Because it is not so good, sir.

S: Is it leaking because the palm leaves are not a good roofing material?

D: No, sir, palm leaves are a good roofing material.

S: Or is it because corrugated iron, or tiles, or bamboo, or planks are not suitable as roofing materials?

D: No, sir, all these are quite OK.

S: Then why is the roof leaking?

D: Because it isn’t well built, sir.

S: But of course, the mistake is made now. Is it difficult to repair it?

D: If one is skilful, it is quite easy, sir.

S: Tell me then, if it leaks in a certain place, what do you have to do?

D: We have to patch up the leak, sir.

S: It is just the same in meditation. Now that you exert effort, there is no leak; you are safe. If greed, anger, and ignorance still drip in, in spite of your practising the Teachings of Buddha, you have to be aware of the fact that your roof is not yet rain-proof. You have to know whether the roof you built for your own house is keeping the rain out or not.

D: Sir, we have all the roofing materials, but the roof is still leaking. We would like to know the technique of building a good roof.

S: Don’t build a thin, shaky roof; build a thick, strong roof.

D: How are we to build a strong roof, sir? While we are sitting here like this, we still have to endure being drenched by the rain.

S: The wise people of old practised the Teachings without allow­ing their efforts to diminish in any of the four postures, and they kept up such a perfect continuity of awareness that there never was any gap. You too have to practise in this way. The disciples of the Buddha established awareness of the spot and then did not allow their minds to shift to another object. Now, can the rains of greed, anger, and ignorance still affect those who are steadfast?

D: No, sir, they can’t.

S: If you establish the same quality of awareness whether sitting, standing, or walking, will the rain still be able to penetrate your protecting roof?

D: Sir, please teach us the technique which will give us shelter.

S: Tell me, all of you are breathing, aren’t you?

D: Oh yes, sir, all are breathing.

S: When do you first start breathing?

D: Why, when we are born of course, sir.

S: Are you breathing when you are sitting?

D: Yes, sir.

S: Are you breathing while you are standing, walking, and working?

D: Of course, sir.

S: When you are very busy and have a lot to do, do you stop breathing saying, “Sorry, no time to breathe now, too much work!”

D: No, sir, we don’t.

S: Are you breathing while asleep?

D: Yes, sir, we are.

S: Then, do you still have to search for this breath?

D: No, sir, it’s there all the time.

S: There is no one, big or small, who doesn’t know how to breathe. Now, where does this breath touch when you breathe out?

D: Somewhere below the nose above the upper lip, sir.

S: And when you breathe in?

D: At the same spot, sir.

S: If you pay attention to this small spot and the touch of air as you breathe in and out, can’t you be aware of it?

D: It is possible, sir.

S: When you are thus aware, is there still wanting, aversion, ignorance, worry, and anxiety?

D: No, sir.

S: You see, you can come out of suffering immediately. If you follow the Teachings of the Buddha, you instantly become happy. If you practise and revere the Dhamma, you remove the suffering of the present moment and also the suffering of the future. If you have confidence in the monks and teachers, this confidence will result in the removal of present and future suffering.

The only way out of suffering is to follow the Teachings of the Buddha, and at this moment you are revering the Teachings by establishing awareness. Do you still have to go and ask others how the Dhamma, if practised, brings immediate relief from suffering?

D: We have experienced it ourselves, so we don’t have to go and ask others any more.

S: If you know for yourselves, is there still doubt and uncer­tainty?

D: No, sir, there isn’t.

S: By keeping your attention at the spot for a short time only, you have understood this much. What will happen if you keep your mind focused for a long time?

D: Understanding will become deeper, sir.

S: If your time were up and you were to die while your attention is focused on the spot, would there be cause for worry?

D: There is no need to worry about one’s destiny if one dies while the mind is under control.

S: This frees us from suffering in the round of rebirths, and having discovered this for ourselves, we need not ask others about it. If we establish strong and steadfast effort in accordance with our aspiration for awakening, is there still cause for doubt: “Shall I get it or shall I not?”

D: No, sir, we have gone beyond doubt.

S: So, then you have full confidence in what you are doing and due to your effort the viriya-iddhipāda factor arises. Suppose people come and say to you, “You haven’t got the right thing yet; how could you ever succeed?” Will doubt arise in you?

D: No, sir.

S: You know that though you are certain that you will be able to reach the goal with your practice, other people might tell you that you will not.

D: Sir, knowing for oneself, one will not have doubts, whatever people may say.

S: What if not just a hundred people or a thousand people come to tell you that what you are doing is no good, but say the whole town?

D: Even if the whole town comes, no doubt will arise, sir.

S: Suppose the whole country came to contradict you?

D: Even so, sir, there will be no space for doubt to arise, because we realized this happiness for ourselves.

S: Yes, you know how much effort you have established. But don’t think that your effort is perfect yet. You are only at the beginning. There is still much room for improvement. While you sit, walk, stand, and work it is always possible to be aware of the in-breath and the out-breath, isn’t it?

D: Yes, sir.

S: If you focus your attention on the spot, are you unhappy?

D: No, sir.

S: Does it cost you anything?

D: No, sir.

S: The men, Devas, and Brahmās who received the Teachings after the Buddha’s awakening practised continuously, and therefore their respective aspirations for awakening were fulfilled.

What the Buddha taught is enshrined in the Tipiṭaka. If you keep your attention focused on the spot and on the in-breath and the out-breath, the whole of the Tipiṭaka is there.

D: We don’t quite understand this, sir.

S: Oh dear. Why shouldn’t you understand this? Of course you understand.

D: But we would like to be certain that we understand this in detail, sir.

S: You have understood already. Have you checked whether all of it (the Buddha’s Teaching) is contained in this awareness?

D: But, sir, our awareness is not deep enough to check this.

S: But you can talk about the Buddha’s discourses, the monks’ rules, and about Abhidhamma philosophy.

D: When we discuss these, we just talk without really knowing.

S: Talking into the blue. Now, if you keep your attention at this spot, can you tell me whether the whole of the Teaching is present there?

D: We don’t know, sir.

S: Are you not telling me because you are tired?

D: No, sir, we aren’t tired. We would like to answer.

S: If we want to make an end to suffering we have to observe the behaviour of mind and matter. Everyone says this. Matter is composed of eight basic elements. There are fifty-three mental concomitants. All of you can tell me this off the top of your head.

You are intelligent. When others discuss the Teachings you correct them and tell them where they went wrong and where they left something out. You refute them and criticize them. You are debating like this, aren’t you?

We said just now that the thing that doesn’t know is matter and the entity that knows is mind. These two entities must be evident to you. Under which of the two comes the spot below the nose; is it mind or matter?

D: I think that the spot is matter, sir. The kāya-pasāda (sensitive matter) through which we feel touch sensation is rūpa. But those who study Abhidhamma philosophy tell us that we are just concepts (paññatti) and that the spot too is but a concept, sir … When we have debates with people who are proficient in the Abhidhammatthasaṅgaha we become angry and agitated and get little merit.

S: If you can’t keep your attention on the spot, you will of course get involved in discussions.

D: But, sir, if we don’t answer, we have to admit defeat.

S: Tell me, what do you have to do when you are hungry?

D: We have to eat rice, sir.

S: What about monks, what do you have to give them to still their hunger?

D: We have to give them oblation rice, sir.

S: Are the oblation rice they eat and the rice you eat two com­pletely different things?

D: They aren’t different, sir. In order to show respect to the monks we call their rice oblation rice, but it is the same as the one we eat.

S: So, whether we call it rice or oblation rice, it will satisfy our hunger.

D: Yes, sir, both fill the stomach.

S: Now what about the nose, the spot? You can call it by its conventional name, or you can talk about sensitive matter. It’s just the same as with rice and oblation rice. Is it worth arguing about?

D: No, sir, there is no need for long discussions.

S: Having understood this, will you stop arguing, or will you carry on with your debates?

D: No, sir, we shall not debate, but those Abhidhamma students will.

S: In that case you just don’t take part in the discussion of such issues. You have known all along that rice and oblation rice are the same, but we have to talk about it so that you understand. Now, what do we call the entity that is aware?

D: It is called mind, sir.

S: Only if you have gained such control over your mind that it doesn’t jump from one object to another are you able to distinguish clearly between mind (nāma) and matter (rūpa).

D: Yes, sir, now we are able to distinguish between mind and matter.

S: Is this knowledge of mind and matter you have gained called understanding (vijjā) or ignorance (avijjā)?

D: It is understanding, sir.

S: Is there still ignorance present when you are able to distin­guish clearly between mind and matter?

D: No, sir, avijjā has run away.

S: When you concentrate at the spot there is understanding, and ignorance has been banned. Now, if we continue to concentrate on the spot, will ignorance spring back up again?

D: No, sir, it won’t.

S: Yes, you see, you have to establish understanding in this way. You have found it now; don’t allow it to escape again. Can you again suddenly be overpowered by delusion if your understanding keeps growing moment by moment? Do good people still have to moan and complain, saying that it is difficult to get rid of avijjā once they have been given the Teachings of the Buddha, which are the tool to overcome and defeat ignorance?

D: No, sir, they shouldn’t complain. All they need to do is to put forth effort.

S: So, you realize that all the Buddha taught is contained in this meditation. If you put forth effort, establish yourselves in perfect effort, then you will reach full understanding. You told me that many types of material are suitable to build a good roof. Not only a tin roof or a palm leaf roof are safe; you can choose from many different materials. I think you have collected quite a variety of good roofing materials. Now you have to build a roof that really protects you against rain. Once you have built a good shelter, you won’t get wet, and you won’t have to suffer the heat of the sun anymore. If you build your shelter in the jungle, will it be good?

D: Yes, sir, it will.

S: If you build your roof in a city?

D: It will be safe, sir.

S: Does it make any difference whether you build your shelter in this country or in any other country?

D: Sir, it will give shelter here and there.

S: Are you happy if you’re drenched by rain or if you have to live under the scorching sun?

D: No, sir, I would be unhappy.

S: In that case, put forth full effort in order not to have to suffer sun and rain ever again.