Discourse 5 - The Flight Of An Arrow

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 sīla. Having taken sīla, practise it. Only if you fulfil the perfection of morality completely can you be successful in attaining all the various aspirations for awakening without exception.

Now that you have understood that you have been born at an auspicious time and into a good existence, take up the practice of the Teachings of the Buddha with all your strength and establish yourselves in them. The noble disciples of the teacher practised without slackening in their effort and were mindful in all the four postures of the body, without ever resting. They worked with steadfastness, and they all attained the goal they desired. You too should take up this practice with this strong will to reach your goal.

What is this practice without break or rest to be compared to? It is like the flight of an arrow. If we shoot an arrow with a bow, we take aim according to our desire. Now tell me, does the arrow at times slow down and then speed up again after we shoot it? Does it at times take rest and then again proceed toward the target?

Disciple: Sir, it flies fast and at a steady speed.

Sayadaw: And when does it stop?

D: It stops only when it hits the target, sir.

S: Yes, only when it hits its aim, its target, does it stop. In just the same way did the direct disciples of the Buddha strive to attain the goal they had taken as their target. Moving at a steady pace without a break, without interruption, they finally attained that type of awakening (bodhi) they desired in their hearts.

Of course, there are various types of awakening. All of them can be attained if you work without resting. If you work for sammā-sam-bodhi(Buddhahood), you have to work continuously. If you work for pacceka-bodhi (Non-teaching Buddhahood), you have to keep up the continuity of practice. If you aim for sāvaka-bodhi (Arahatship), you have to practise steadily, just as an arrow flies steadily. If you practise with steadfastness you will be able to attain your goal.

Though you practise without interruption, you will not get tired or exhausted. As you take up the Teachings of the Buddha, incomparable happiness will come to you.

Some people think that the Buddha taught many different things. You all remember some parts of the holy scriptures as the monks out of great compassion taught them to you. At times you may think, “The Teachings of the Buddha are so vast and manifold. I can’t follow and understand all this and therefore I can’t attain my goal.” Or some people say, “What is true for oneself one can only know oneself.” Or others, “I can’t work because I can’t feel the breath yet.” Now tell me what is your excuse?

D: Saying that we have to make a living to maintain our body, we postpone meditation from the morning to the evening and from the evening to the morning. In this way we keep delaying putting forth effort.

S: And what else do people tend to say?

D: Some say they can’t meditate because of old age and some are afraid that it will make them ill.

S: What do those say who are young still?

D: That they can’t meditate because they have to study. While they are young and healthy they want to enjoy themselves.

S: And if you are unwell and ill?

D: Then, sir, we worry. We call the doctor and think about medicine, but we still don’t practise.

S: And when you have recovered?

D: We somehow manage to postpone meditation day by day and let time pass.

S: But you do actually want to attain happiness, don’t you?

D: Yes, sir.

S: So, if you really want it, why then postpone striving for it?

D: I don’t want it really, sir.

S: Does this apply to you only or to all of you here?

D: There must be some in this audience who really aspire to attain happiness and others like me who are not so serious about it.

S: If you put forth effort as you are doing now, you will of course get it. But thoughts and doubts may come up in your minds, “Will I have to suffer? Will this practice be trying?” You have already acquired some knowledge of the Buddha’s Teachings according to your individual capabilities. Thinking about these, however, will slow down your progress. So listen well to the Teachings now and practise. If you practise, you will arrive at your goal, and the reality of it may or may not correspond with your thoughts about it.

Only when you know for yourselves will you also know that your thoughts and speculations about the goal were not correct. All of you know from Dhamma lectures that if you follow the Teachings of the Buddha, you will get great happiness in the present and in the future. In fact, you are all preachers of the Dhamma yourselves. Don’t you think that thinking and speculating will slow your progress down? If you think and analyse, will every thought be correct?

D: No, sir.

S: If you establish your goal as I told you and keep thinking about your wanting to attain it, will this help?

D: No, sir.

S: So, will you continue to think and ponder?

D: If we analyse and think all the time we shall go the wrong way, sir.

S: Once we start thinking there will be very many thoughts. Will much of what we think be of use to us?

D: It is difficult to think useful thoughts. Thoughts often become quite useless and misleading.

S: The community of noble monks has expounded the Teachings which are real and true to you and still your thoughts are apt to mislead you. How is this possible?

But tell me, where are you from? … You are from Kemmendine. Your house must have a garden and a fence around it.

D: Yes, sir, this is correct.

S: On which side of the compound is the gate?

D: I have one gate opening to the south and one opening to the north, sir.

S: How many stories does your house have?

D: It is a single story house, sir.

S: On which side do you have your door?

D: There are two doors, sir, one in the west wall and one in the south wall.

S: So, now we know that you live in Kemmendine, that you have a fence around your garden with gates to the North and South. Your house is a one story building and has two doors facing South and West respectively. You see, because you told me, I know everything about your place. Now my knowledge and your knowledge about your house are about the same, aren’t they?

D: They cannot be, sir.

S: But why? You know your village, your garden, and your house; you told me that you live in Kemmendine; and you described your garden and your house to me as you know them. Therefore I know your village, your garden, and your house. I know the reality about it, as you do.

D: You don’t know it in the same way I know it, sir.

S: My dear friend, why should what I know be different from what you know? Just ask me where you live and I shall reply that you live in Kemmendine. Furthermore, I know about your garden and house just as you do. What is there that you can tell me that I don’t know already?

D: Even if I told you the house number and the street it is in, you wouldn’t be able to find the house, sir.

S: Tell me then what you know more about this matter than I do.

D: I can’t tell you more about it, sir, but I know more because I have actually been there.

S: In that case I shall think about it and figure out where Kemmendine is.

D: You can’t find out by thinking about it, sir.

S: I shall think a lot and for a long time. Some of it is bound to be right. I will think about a house in Kemmendine with two gates, two doors, one story. Will some of my findings about your house be correct?

D: I don’t think so, sir.

S: Is it that difficult then? Well, I’ll think in many different ways; some of it will turn out right. I shall ponder over this problem for about one year. Will I find the answer then?

D: If you just think about it, sir, you won’t find it. But if you please come and look, you will really know for yourself.

S: Now, what if I were to think about it really deeply for about forty or fifty years? Or … better, if I don’t just think but also talk about it. Will I come to know it then?

D: Even if you think and talk about it, sir, you will never get there.

S: Then please tell me where Kemmendine is.

D: From here you would have to walk towards the south-west.

S: So, if I walk in a south-westerly direction, will I get there?

D: Yes, sir, you will, but you will still not find my house.

S: Well I’ll begin now. I’ll think very deeply and at the same time I’ll recite (your instructions and descriptions). In this way I will come to know.

D: No, sir, I don’t think so.

S: You tell me that you know all this about your house, but if I repeat what I know from you, then you tell me that I am talking into the blue. I cannot bear this.

D: Sir, you simply repeat what you heard, but you don’t actually know.

S: So, all I say about this house is correct, but he claims that I still don’t know it the way he does. I don’t know whether this is true … But now if I were to think about it deeply and recite my thoughts, would there still be a difference in understanding? Or if I were to recite all you said day and night, would it still not be possible for me to really know?

D: Sir, you would still not know it in the same way you would if you went there yourself.

S: Before you told me about your house I didn’t know anything about it, but now I know something.

D: Yes, sir, this is true, but if you came to see it you would know everything about it.

S: Tell me, if I were to walk according to your directions, would I arrive at your house?

D: Yes, sir.

S: And if I didn’t know the house number?

D: You would wander aimlessly, sir.

S: And if you go there?

D: I head straight for my house, sir.

S: Will you worry about how to get there and whether you are on the right road?

D: If you come with me, sir, you can’t get lost, because I have been there before.

S: The Buddha taught what he had realized for himself. Now, all of you have the quality of being able to accept good advice. The Buddha’s Teachings are vast. There is the Suttanta, the Vinaya, and the Abhidhamma. You need not study all these. Choose one object of meditation, one technique that suits you, and then work with firm determination. Once you have established yourselves in this way and you arrive at the goal, all of you will understand deeply and completely.

But even now, before I finish speaking, you do get some under­standing, and this immediate understanding is called akāliko, immedi­ate understanding.

Our teachers and parents, who instruct us out of great compassion and love, tell us, “Learn this and that …,” and when we go to bed at night they call us and say: “Why didn’t you pay respects to the Buddha before going to bed? Come, pay respects.” If we don’t follow their instructions, they may even have to beat us. They have to do this even though they don’t wish to do it. Through their help these resistances in us are overcome. But of course, we get immediate knowledge of the Buddha-Dhamma only if we are interested in it ourselves. When does it actually become akāliko, immediate?

D: Only when we really find the Dhamma, sir.

S: And when will we really find the Dhamma?

D: After having worked for it, sir.

S: At what particular time do we have to practise in order to be successful?

D: The hour of the day or night is of no importance. If we practise and then reach the goal we shall gain immediate knowledge, sir.

S: It is very easy. You have received the Teachings of the Buddha. All you have to do is to make efforts in the same way the disciples of the Buddha did. It is easy. This is not my own knowledge. I too have learned the Teachings of the Buddha, and I am passing them on to you. All of you are very intelligent and bright. What I am telling you, you know already. Why do you think the Buddha taught the Dhamma?

D: He taught people to be continuously aware of mind and matter.

S: He taught so that people who desire to attain the goal may be able to do so. He taught because he wished them to be able to travel on the path. But some of you may say that this is not a good time to practise. The mind is not settled with all this coming and going of people. “We shall meditate when the mind is tranquil,” you may decide. And if the mind becomes tranquil after some time, what will happen?

D: When the mind is calm, we will go to sleep, sir.

S: Oh really, and this you call meditation?

D: Sir, we are only perfect in talking about meditation.

S: And then, when you have a bad conscience about not having practised and decide to go to a meditation centre, what do you take along?

D: We take food with us, sir.

S: Tell me, after having taken the precepts, do you stuff your­selves?

D: Yes, sir. The ladies offer food, and we just eat. We start early, and then we continue eating right up until twelve noon.

S: Do you eat more than on ordinary days?

D: Oh yes, sir, much more.

S: Tell me now, do you stop eating at noon?

D: Well, you see sir, some say that even then it is all right to continue eating. Once one stops, then one can’t start again after twelve noon, but if I started before noon I can continue eating even after midday, I’ve heard.

S: What about you? Do you carry on eating?

D: I continue eating even while we are talking like this, sir.

S: And what do you do after you have finished eating?

D: Then my stomach is full, sir, so I lie down flat on my back.

S: And then?

D: Then I sleep, sir.

S: And when do you wake up again?

D: At about 3.00 or 4.00 p.m., sir.

S: Do you meditate then, being fully awake and alert?

D: No, sir, then I ask for some juice and lemonade.

S: Do you drink a lot or just a little?

D: I drink to the full, sir.

S: Even if you drink a lot, some will be left over. Do you share that with others?

D: No, sir, I drink it all myself because I like to keep it for my­self.

S: But, do you feel good if you drink too much?

D: No, sir, not very good.

S: Tell me, do you meditate then?

D: Well, sir, as I don’t feel very good I have to lie down.

S: And then what happens?

D: I sleep again, sir.

S: And when do you get up?

D: The following morning, sir, when the sun rises. I say to myself, “Well, look, the sun has risen,” and I get up and have breakfast.

S: Now tell me, if you don’t attain Nibbāna, do you think that it is because there is no such person as a fully awakened Buddha and that Nibbāna doesn’t exist?

D: No, sir, it’s because I eat too much.

S: Well, you do make some efforts, but this greed is still a little strong, I think. Tell me, when you start to meditate and someone whispers near your ear, do you hear it or not?

D: If the concentration is not so good, we prick up our ears and listen to what is being whispered, sir.

S: When you hear this whispering, do you accept it and respect the people who are whispering?

D: Sir, when the determination to meditate is strong, then I do get angry at the people who are whispering.

S: Meditators get angry?

D: If people come and whisper in the place where I’m meditating, I will of course get angry, sir.

S: Is it skilful to get angry and think, “Do they have to whisper here? Where is this chap from anyway? Who is he?” Will a meditator who reacts in this way attain his goal quicker? If he becomes angry and then dies, where will he be reborn?

D: He will be reborn in the lower worlds, sir.

S: Even if he is observing the eight Uposatha precepts?

D: If he becomes angry, he will go to the lower worlds even then, sir.

S: How should we approach the problem of being disturbed by whispers while we are meditating? We should reflect in the following way: “I have come here to meditate. My fellow meditators are whisper­ing and I hear them. If the others find out that I pay attention to whispers, I will feel ashamed because all will know then that I don’t make sufficient effort. I shall make more effort.” We should be grateful to the people who show us through their whispering that our effort isn’t sufficient. If your effort is good, your concentration will be good, and you won’t hear anything. Being grateful, you should hope that these people continue talking, and you should continue to meditate. There is no need to go up to them and actually say, thank you. Simply continue to meditate, and as your awareness of the object of meditation becomes continuous, you don’t hear disturbances any more. Would you hear people if they spoke quite loudly?

D: If they spoke loudly, I think I would hear them, sir.

S: Again we have to be grateful. “They are telling me to improve my efforts.” Being grateful to those people, I steady my mind and focus on the spot again. To meditate means to be so closely aware of the object that it never escapes our attention.

D: Please, sir, explain to us how to be so closely aware of the object.

S: You just have to keep your attention fully collected, concen­trated on the spot. All of you have been breathing ever since the moment you were born. Can you feel where the air touches as you breathe in and out.

D: Sir, for me the touch sensation is most evident under the right nostril.

S: Not in two places?

D: No, sir, only in one place.

S: Yes, it touches at this small spot when you breathe in and when you breathe out. Tell me, does it enter with intervals or is it a continuous flow?

D: There are intervals, sir.

S: Is it the stream of air that is interrupted or the awareness of it? Is the touch of air continuous while you breathe in and out?

D: It is uninterrupted, sir.

S: Then you have to know this flow of air without interruption. Don’t look elsewhere. Just know this touch of the breath. If you can’t feel it, then try touching the spot of contact with your finger. When you know the sensation of touch, then take your finger away and stay with the awareness of touch-feeling at the spot. You have to become aware of the touch of air which is continuous as being continuous. If you are aware of this spot without a gap in the continuity of awareness, will you still hear whispers?

D: No, sir, I don’t think so.

S: If the attention is firmly and steadfastly anchored at this spot, will you hear loud voices?

D: No, sir.

S: You know this spot below the nose above the upper lip so exclusively that you don’t hear sounds any more. Is this spot matter (rūpa) or mind (nāma)?

D: It is matter, sir.

S: And the entity that knows that, is aware, what is it?

D: That is mind, sir.

S: So, if you are aware of the spot without interruption, you are continuously aware of mind and matter, are you not?

D: Yes, sir, this is true, sir.

S: If you are aware of mind and matter in this way, you know that there is no self, there is no man, there is no woman, there are no human beings or Devas or Brahmās? This is what the Buddha taught. If we are aware of mind and matter, do we still think in terms of human beings, Devas, and Brahmās?

D: No, sir, we don’t.

S: Is it easy to be thus aware?

D: Yes, sir, it is easy.

S: This is knowing things as they are. Mind and matter arise without interruption. They arise and then disintegrate. How many times do they disintegrate in a flash of lightning?

D: I have heard that they disintegrate one hundred billion times in the wink of an eye, sir.

S: Tell me then, how can you count to one hundred billion in the wink of an eye?

D: I can’t, sir.

S: Suppose you were given one hundred billion gold coins and would have to count them, how long would it take you?

D: I think it would take about a month, sir. Even if I were to count greedily day and night, it would take about that long.

S: The peerless Buddha penetrated all this with his own super-knowledge and then was able to teach it. But what can we know for ourselves? We can know mind and matter simultaneously. And what will we get from this awareness? We will be able to understand the characteristic of their behaviour. You needn’t do anything special. Just practise as you are practising now. Keep your attention focused on the spot and as you gain the ability to keep your attention with the aware­ness of breathing and the spot, mind and matter will talk to you.

D: Do we have to think of anicca (impermanence) when one in-breath comes to an end, sir?

S: It is good if you think of anicca as a breath comes to an end. If you know anicca in this way, will you be able to attain Nibbāna?

D: Not yet, sir.

S: So if you can’t get Nibbāna yet, keep concentrating on the spot and you will come to know.

D: What do we have to know as being impermanent, sir?

S: You say that sugar is sweet, don’t you? But if I have never before tasted sugar, how are you going to explain sweetness to me?

D: It is much better than even palm sugar, sir, but we can’t explain it so that you will really know.

S: But you have tasted it, so why can’t you tell me about it?

D: Well, sir, sugar looks like salt, but ants don’t go for salt while they do like sugar. But this won’t help you very much, sir. You have to taste it, sir.

S: So salt and sugar look similar. Now, if I eat some salt, calling it sugar, will I taste sugar?

D: No, sir, salt will remain salty.

S: In that case I’ll think that sugar is salty.

D: This is just the same as us not knowing how to recognize impermanence, sir.

S: When we talk about the outer appearance of sugar, there are many possibilities of mistaking something else for sugar. Only if you explain the taste of sugar properly can I understand.

D: We would like to advise you to eat some sugar, sir.

S: Will you have to sit next to me while I’m eating it and say, “It is sweet, it is sweet …”?

D: If I recited this, it would just bother you, and it isn’t necessary to do this for sugar to be sweet. As soon as you put sugar into your mouth, you will be able to taste its sweetness, sir.

S: But let’s say there is a jungle bhikkhu who wants to taste sugar. Will the sugar think, “This is a jungle bhikkhu. I shan’t be fully sweet for him. I shall be only half as sweet for him as I am for people in towns”?

D: Sugar isn’t partial, sir; it is as sweet for one as for the other.

S: It is just the same with the awareness of mind and matter. If you keep up this awareness you will taste the Dhamma immediately, just as you taste sweetness when you eat sugar. Is it possible that you still mistake salt for sugar? You go to the market so many times, and you can easily distinguish between salt and sugar. You are not going to buy salt for sugar. The peerless Buddha penetrated the truth and really knew it. He can distinguish between what is liberation and what is suffering, and therefore he gave this liberation to human beings, Devas, and Brahmās alike. He just asked them to “eat”. Just eat, it is real. Will you remain here without eating, fearing that it could turn out not to be true liberation?

D: We haven’t reached that point yet, sir. We are just listening to your words.

S: Eat as I told you. You will not go wrong. And why can’t you go wrong? Because mind and matter are actually arising and disinte­grating continuously.

Why should you concentrate on the spot, though you don’t know liberation yet? If you don’t eat something, will you ever know what it tastes like? You know a lot about the Dhamma. You know about nāma and rūpa; you know what the Suttas are and you know about the Vinaya and the Abhidhamma. You know this is samatha, this is Vipassanā.

D: But, sir, all this is mixed up in our head like a giant hodgepodge.

S: Let it be a mix up. Pay attention to this spot only, as I taught you. Later this mix up will be disentangled, everything will fall into place. If we go east we will get to a place in the east; if we go west we will arrive at a place in the west. The spot is like a vehicle. If you want to go to Mandalay, you have to board a train to Mandalay and stay on it. The spot is like the train; don’t leave it. Keep your attention focused on it very closely. This is all I have to say. There is nothing to be said apart from this.

Do you know the eight constituents of the Eightfold Noble Path? How do you think they apply to this practice of concentrating on the spot?

D: If one concentrates on the spot with right concentration then one attains the knowledge of right view, sir.

S: Are the other elements of the Noble Eightfold Path pertinent to this practice?

D: Sir, the eight constituents of the Noble Eightfold Path are (1) Right view, (2) Right thought, (3) Right speech, (4) Right action, (5) Right livelihood, (6) Right effort, (7) Right mindfulness, (8) Right concentration. When our mind is fixed on the spot, we don’t think unskilful thoughts in any way. Therefore right thought is there, sir. As we are not talking at all, we don’t speak lies and therefore there is right speech. As awareness of breathing is a good action, right action is in­cluded in this practice. There is right livelihood too, as we are not trying to make a living by deceiving others, sir. We are putting our entire effort into keeping our attention at the spot, so there is right effort. Because we focus our attention on the breath without letting go, we have right attentiveness, and as the attention remains at the spot without wandering here and there, we have attained right concentration.

S: So, do you think this is like a boat or a train?

D: Yes, sir, it is like a boat, a train, or a cart or car that takes a person to his goal.

S: Do not leave this vehicle, do you understand? Keep your attention firmly focused here, on the spot, and never leave this spot. In this way you will reach your goal.

Sometimes you may become impatient travelling on the train to Mandalay and think, “I want to go to Mandalay, but is this train really going there or is it going to Rangoon?” If this happens, will you get off? Don’t! Continue on your journey and you will see that you will eventually arrive in Mandalay.

If you get fed up and bored, don’t leave the train. When you are enjoying yourselves, don’t get down. When you are ill, stay on the train, and stay also when you are strong and healthy. When you have plenty of company, stay. When you are all alone, don’t leave. When people say unpleasant things to you, persist, and when they speak to you respectfully, don’t get off your train. What would you do if people were to hit you because they don’t like you?

D: Sir, I think I would run away.

S: Just keep your attention on the spot. Even if robbers hit you, they can’t strike down this awareness.

D: True, sir, but I think this awareness would go if they struck me.

S: Not necessarily. Our Bodhisatta, in one of his lives, became the king of monkeys. One day he found a brahman who had fallen down a precipice in the jungle and was helpless and certainly going to die down there. This brahman was lamenting his fate and crying, “Oh poor me, I have fallen into a chasm a hundred yards deep. I shall certainly die down here. Oh poor me, oh, oh, oh… My relatives and friends, my wife and children don’t know about my misfortune. Nobody is here to help me. Oh, oh …,” and he cried.

Now, noble beings are always concerned with the welfare of all beings, without exception. And as the Bodhisatta is such a noble being, the monkey king felt pity for the brahman in the same way he would have felt pity for his own children. And so he climbed down the precipice and went up to the brahman. “Do not fear, do not despair, I won’t let you die. I shall take you back to the place you want to go,” he said to the brahman to reassure him and to cheer him up. And he meant it too. But he wasn’t ready yet to put him on his shoulders and carry him up the rocks, because he was afraid that he might fall and that the brahman might be hurt. He took a big rock of about the same weight as the brahman, put it on one shoulder and tried to carry it up the precipice, jumping from rock to rock. Only after having passed this test did he carefully take the brahman on his shoulders and climbed back up jumping from one boulder to the next.

After this great effort, the monkey king was exhausted. He was happy while performing this good action, but he was still happier when he had accomplished it and had saved a life. He was confident that the brahman he had saved from certain death was trustworthy, and said, “After carrying you up, I am a little tired. Please keep watch for a while so that I can rest,” and he placed his head in the brahman’s lap thinking himself well protected from all the dangers of the jungle. But while the king of the monkeys slept, the brahman thought, “I shall go back home soon, but I have nothing to give to my wife and children. I shall kill this big monkey and give his flesh to them as a gift. He took the rock the Bodhisatta had carried up for the test-run and dealt the Bodhisatta’s head a deadly blow. He didn’t do this hesitatingly, feeling sorry for his saviour, but he hit him hard, so as to kill him with the first blow.

When the Bodhisatta felt the pain of the blow, he quickly climbed the next tree, and he asked himself who or what had attacked him. He then saw that there was no enemy around, but that the brahman himself had tried to kill him, and he thought to himself: “Yes, there are people like this in the world too.” As the Bodhisatta was thinking this, the brahman started lamenting again, exclaiming that he was lost in this big jungle and that he would perish after all. But the monkey king said to him, speaking from the tree, “Don’t worry; don’t be afraid. I have promised to take you back to your home, and I shall not break this promise. I shall take you home. I can’t carry you on my shoulder any more, but as you opened my skull, there is blood dripping to the ground continuously. Just follow the track of blood I shall make for you from up in the trees.”

This is how the Bodhisatta acted. He took all this on himself, because his goal was Omniscience, Buddhahood. He worked on all the ten pāramīs.

Did the Bodhisatta turn away from accomplishing the good deed he had undertaken to complete because he was afraid that the man who had attempted to take his life might try again to kill him? Did he abandon him in the jungle?

D: No, sir, the Bodhisatta lead the brahman home with great loving kindness, in order to perfect his pāramīs.

S: You see, if one aspires to omniscient Buddhahood, he has to fulfil the perfections, the ten pāramīs in this way, without ever taking a break, without ever resting. Otherwise he can’t attain Buddhahood. Do you understand? He never rests, he never becomes lax, he works on the ten perfections all the time.

You told me only a moment ago that you couldn’t keep up your awareness if robbers attacked you and tried to kill you?

D: I couldn’t keep it up as yet, sir.

S: But you are aspiring to awakening, aren’t you?

D: Yes, sir, I am.

S: If you want it you can achieve it. If you keep your attention focused as I taught you, you will get much out of it, even if people should hit you, pound you, and destroy you. Have you heard the story of Tissa Thera?

D: No, sir, I haven’t.

S: Tissa Thera received the Teachings of the Buddha and appreciating their value he thought, “Now I can’t continue living in this grand style,” and he gave all his possessions to his younger brother. Then he became a monk and went to live and meditate in the jungle with his begging bowl and his set of three robes.

Now his brother’s wife thought, “It is very enjoyable to possess all the riches of my husband’s older brother. If he remains a monk we shall have these riches for the rest of our life. But maybe he will not attain awakening, and then he will possibly return to lay-life. So, I had best have him killed.” And she gave money to some robbers and said to them, “Go and kill Tissa Thera. I shall give you more money after you have completed the job.”

So, the robbers went to the forest where Tissa Thera lived and grabbed him. He said, “I don’t possess anything, but if you want to take my bowl and my robes, please do so.”

“We only want to kill you,” the robbers replied. “Your brother’s wife gave us money to kill you, and she will give us more still after we completed the job. That is why we have to kill you.”

Tissa Thera thought, “I am not emancipated from suffering yet,” and he felt ashamed of himself. He said to the robbers, “Yes, yes, you have to kill me, but please give me until dawn and then only make an end to my life.”

The bandits replied, “Everyone is afraid of death, and if this monk escapes, we shall not get our money.”

“You don’t trust me?” Tissa Thera asked. “Well, I shall make you trust me.” And he took a rock and smashed both his legs. Then he said, “Now I can’t run away any more, so, please don’t kill me until dawn.”

Though the robbers were very rough people, due to the loving kindness of Tissa Thera, they felt compassion and decided to let him live until daybreak.

Tissa Thera admonished himself, “Venerable Tissa, there is not much time left, dawn is close. Put forth effort!” He put forth strong effort in the practice of the Buddha’s Teachings, and as he worked with a steady mind, dawn arrived. As the sun rose, he fulfilled his aspiration and attained happiness. “I have attained release from the cycle of birth and death!” he rejoiced. He then woke the robbers and said, “The day has dawned, rise and come!” And he was full of joy. Now, was Tissa Thera a real disciple of the Buddha, an Arahat?

D: Yes sir, he was.

S: Who has faster development do you think, someone who meditates with both legs broken, or someone who meditates as you do?

D: Sir, I would prefer to meditate without first breaking my legs.

S: Tissa Thera got it before dawn even with both his legs broken. Will you get it before the day breaks?

D: I don’t think that I could get it, sir. It will take me longer than that. We take it easy, sir. If one doesn’t have to break one’s legs, effort is less, and progress therefore slower.

S: In that case, you are not so eager to attain your goal quickly?

D: Sir, we like to go slowly, slowly.

S: Well, then maybe you should break your legs and then meditate.

D: I don’t have the courage to do that, sir. I say that I aspire to Nibbāna, but in my mind I am still fearful. I don’t have the strength to accept being killed after breaking my own legs.

S: In that case, work just the same, but without breaking your legs.

D: We shall work hard in the way you taught us, sir. We are emulating Visākhā and Anāthapiṇḍika, sir. It says in the scriptures that they are enjoying a good life in the Deva planes now and we would like to have that same type of enjoyment also, sir.

S: They are enjoying a good life after having attained a lot. But you have not attained to the same stage yet, have you? Are you really doing as they did? Anāthapiṇḍika went to Rājagaha as a banker on business. Only when he reached there did he come to know that a Buddha had arisen in the world. He didn’t go to Rājagaha to meditate or to pay respects to the Buddha. But when he was told about the Buddha, he went to him immediately, in the middle of the night. He had to leave the city walls to go to the place where the Buddha resided. When he stood before the Buddha, he attained what he had aspired for. If someone drops everything and hurries to the Buddha in the middle of the night, is the effort of that person great or small? Do you think he ever let go of the Buddha as the object of his mind while on the way to him?

D: No, sir, he didn’t.

S: Now, tell me about yourselves.

D: We lose the awareness of the object while we walk, or while we think, and so on, sir.

S: If you want to become like Anāthapiṇḍika, you have to strive as he strove.

D: Anāthapiṇḍika had to go through a cemetery on his way to the Buddha, sir. That much we can do too, sir.

S: It is said that Anāthapiṇḍika began his mediation in the first watch of the night and attained release (Sotapatti-magga-phala) when the day broke. But if you can’t get it by daybreak, never mind. It is good enough if you can get it by the time the sun has risen and it is light. Tell me, will you work so that you can attain the goal by tomorrow?

D: Sir, we too shall go through a cemetery to come to your monastery and in this way we shall emulate Anāthapiṇḍika.

S: Did he allow the continuity of awareness to be interrupted?

D: He didn’t, sir, but we are doing the same as he did only as far as the way is concerned.

S: If you really want to become like Anāthapiṇḍika, you have to work. If you work, you can fulfil your aspiration. If you don’t work, you won’t achieve anything. Is it not possible for you to concentrate on the spot where the air touches?

D: It is possible, sir.

S: To become like Anāthapiṇḍika you have to practise as I taught you. Will you tell me tomorrow that you attained your goal?

D: I shall tell you that I haven’t attained it yet, sir.

S: Do you know how much Anāthapiṇḍika did after he had attained the first stage of awakening? He thought, “This is incom­parable! My king, my people, my relatives, my sons and daughters, the city dwellers and country folk, all of them have not yet heard that a Buddha has arisen. I want them to experience the same bliss I have experienced. Now, how can I accomplish this? I have to invite the Buddha and make him stay for some time in my city, Sāvatthi, and all can go and meet him. The Buddha, out of great compassion, will teach them, and at the end of the teaching human beings and gods alike will attain the bliss I have attained.”

Anāthapiṇḍika understood the ultimate truth, and he knew the reason he understood it. He invited the Buddha in order to help others to understand also. He had rest houses built every ten miles along the road from Rājagaha to his native city. In Sāvatthi he built the Jetavana monastery for the Buddha, and he arranged everything in such a way that there was place for everyone. He provided everything, giving to all, from beggar to the king. Thanks to Anāthapiṇḍika’s arrangements, the people who met the Buddha on his journey to Sāvatthi, gained benefits also. During the Buddha’s journey, many people, Devas, and Brahmās attained what they had aspired to. How many do you think were those who benefited?

D: We don’t know, sir.

S: How many human beings, how many celestial beings attained Nibbāna then?

D: A great many, sir.

S: How many beings fulfilled their aspiration in the wink of an eye? It was 180 millions of Brahmās and one asaṅkheyya of Devas. How many beings attained awakening as time went by?

D: They must be innumerable, sir.

S: Anāthapiṇḍika continued to support the Teachings of the Buddha and due to his effort many attained the deathless. Understand­ing this, you have to make a lot of effort to attain your goal by tomor­row. Will you do this?

D: Do not think too highly of me, sir. I don’t think I am able to get it by tomorrow.

S: You are hungry and your wife offers you food, but still you don’t eat?

D: When it comes to food, I will even force my way to the table, sir.

S: Do you eat even though you don’t want to eat or because you want to eat?

D: Because I want to eat, sir.

S: For how long is your hunger appeased if you eat once?

D: For about half a day, sir.

S: For how long will your hunger be stilled if you eat the way Anāthapiṇḍika ate?

D: For the remainder of the cycle of birth and death, sir.

S: Tell me, what is the best for you? The food your wife offers you and that keeps you satisfied for half a day, or what the Buddha offers you that keeps you satisfied for the remainder of the cycle of birth and death?

D: I have to answer that what the Buddha offers is best for me, sir.

S: You eat what your wife offers you. What then do you do with the food the Buddha offers?

D: I’m hesitant about that, sir. That’s why I don’t approve of myself, sir.

S: Good, good. Work hard. You put so much effort into doing all these other things because you don’t view mind and matter properly. But you do feel respect for the Buddha. Having decided to meditate, meditate. As you meditate you may find that your limbs grow aching and stiff. Now, don’t think: “Why do I get this pain? Is it dangerous?” But make a resolve: “Let it be dangerous! If I have to die, so be it. I have died in the past also.” How many times have you died, do you think?

D: Innumerable times, sir.

S: Tell me, have you ever died while you were meditating?

D: No, sir, I have died while being unskilful only. That is why I am still so agitated.

S: So, if we have to die, how should we look at it? “I have never died so far while meditating. I shall not wait until dawn. Let me even die right now, so that I can get the experience of dying while meditat­ing.” You should think in this way. If you die while meditating, will you become miserable?

D: No, sir.

S: If you live a life of laziness and sloth, will you become happy?

D: No, sir. I shall continue going round in the cycle of birth and death, saṃsāra, sir.

S: “I have never, in the whole of saṃsāra, had stiff and aching limbs because of meditation. It is good if I experience these troubles now.” Thus should you look at your pains. Even though your limbs ache, do not give up. Know that wise people of the past have walked on the same path. You have to work. If you only talk about putting forth effort, you will not attain anything. Only if you meditate can you come to understand. Now you are probably thinking, “We want to meditate, but this venerable monk is talking for a long time.” So, focus your mind now as the Buddha taught you to, and meditate with firm effort and with perseverance.

Aspirations for awakening: There are three types of awakened individuals (Arahats): Teaching Buddhas, Pacceka Buddhas, and ordinary Arahats (sub­divided into two chief disciples, eighty leading disciples, and innumerable Arahats). All these individuals have attained to the complete realization of the Four Noble Truths and are thus free from all cravings, aversions, and delusions about reality.

Teaching Buddhas and Pacceka Buddhas are self-awakened, i.e., they attain Nibbāna without being taught by anyone, while ordinary Arahats can attain Nibbāna only after receiving the teachings of a Buddha. A Pacceka Buddha, though he has attained Nibbāna without the help of a Buddha, does not have the ability to teach others the practice that leads to the realization of Nibbāna.

The period of time an individual needs to perfect himself in the ten pāramīs to become a Buddha is infinitely longer than the periods required for the attainment of Pacceka Buddhahood or the attainment of ordinary Arahat­ship after receiving the Teachings of a Buddha, but even an Arahat is said to need one hundred to one hundred thousand world cycles to develop the potential to attain Nibbāna. When Ven. Webu Sayadaw mentions aspirations he is always and exclusively referring to aspirations for the attainment of one of these forms of awakening.