Extract 5 - Don’t Destroy Yourselves

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

Ven. Webu Sayadaw: If we take away even a little bit from the Buddha’s Teaching rather than preserving it as it is, or, if we add just a few little things, do we further the Sāsana or do we destroy it?

Disciple.: This would destroy the Sāsana, sir.

Sayadaw: If the Teachings are thus altered, do they perish? Or does the person who alters them perish?

D: Only the person who alters them is hurt, sir.

S: Yes, disciples, if the Buddha said, “Practise in this way,” then practise only in that way. Don’t destroy yourselves.

Duty and Mettā

Sayadaw: We have to look after ourselves. We have to look after our sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. It is not pos­sible to just stop looking after ourselves or others. Didn’t the Buddha preach that we had to fulfil all our duties towards children and relat­ives? Where does the fulfilment of these duties belong? It is part of sīla, right conduct. Is your sīla complete if you don’t fulfil your duties?

Disciple: No sir.

S: Will you be happy if your sīla isn’t complete?

D: No sir.

S:Can you fulfil your aspiration for the highest goal if you aren’t satisfied with yourselves?

D: It’s not possible to make progress in that case, sir.

S: Only if the mind is serene can we attain samādhi and only if there is samādhi can we really understand. The Buddha preached samāhito yathābhūtaṃ (attentiveness to things as they really are). But this you know very well — and not just one aspect of it, but all the different aspects. If we fulfil our duties, in the way we just mentioned, we fulfil sīla. We will be happy if we do this. It is easy to attain samādhi if we are happy, and samādhi is yathābhūtaṃ, “as things really are.”

You know all this. How do you know this? Through practice. If you know because someone else tells you, you only know words. If you practise, you don’t just carry out your duties towards your children and grandchildren, you practise sīla. This is caraṇa-kusala, the meritorious actions of right conduct. Is it not possible to keep your mind focused, unwavering, below the nostrils, at the spot you touched with your finger just now, while you practise right conduct? If you practise as we men­tioned just now, you fulfil right conduct. What do you practise if you keep your mind focused?

D: Understanding, vijjā, sir.

S: I think you will say that you have other things to do now, but that later on, when you are free, you will do it. But we have to really face it; we have to accept it just the way the Buddha explained it for us. We will understand that if we do this [fulfil our duties], it will not be in vain. If we neglect to do this, however, our minds will be unsettled. You know enough if you know this. You will be calm. If your mind is calm, you can attain samādhi. You may answer that it is easy for monks to do this since they don’t have anything else to worry about, but that you — you are disturbed by your children and grandchildren. Don’t you think like that sometimes?

D: We think like that every day, sir.

S: The disciples of the Buddha practised right action and right understanding simultaneously. This is work. If we don’t do this, noth­ing will come to fruition. If you exert effort, things will fall into place. If you strive with right effort, nothing needs to oppose you.

D: Tell me, sir, if a child cries and we sing it a song and the child smiles again, is singing right conduct in that case?

S: You sing a song because you want to sing. Now, is the child crying because of happiness or because of displeasure?

D: Because of displeasure, sir.

S: His distress is due to your lack of care. If he cries, it’s up to you to make him happy. That’s all. Does this child cry because he is bad or because he wants to cry or because he is happy or because he hurts?

D: Because he hurts, sir.

S: Does he want his mother or father to help him?

D: Yes sir, either one of them.

S: So, all you have to do is gently satisfy the child. If you can help the little child in this way, will you be happy or unhappy?

D: If the element of loving kindness (mettā) is present we perform a good action, sir.

S: If you are happy, the child’s crying will subside. Not only that, it will start to smile. This is right conduct, disciples. When the child is laughing again, will his mother or father or grandparents still be unhappy?

D: They will be very happy, sir. But sir, this is vedayita-sukha, pleasant sensations, and that is akusala.

S: No it isn’t. If you act out of the desire to make the child happy, it is mettā. You know much more about all these things that you do in order to make other people happy than I do. You could tell us much more about them. I don’t know all that much about it, but even so, I’ll tell you a story.

A long time ago, a mother cow in Sri Lanka was separated from her little calf. Do you think that this cow was happy or unhappy about the separation? I think she was very miserable. And what about the calf?

D: He must have been unhappy, too, sir.

S: This cow went in search of her calf. She looked everywhere. The calf was also looking for the mother. Eventually they found each other and immediately they felt deep affection. Before, the little calf had been crying with hunger. The cow had also been crying because of her intense longing for her calf. Do you think that they enjoyed them­selves and were happy?

D: This is suffering, sir. And suffering makes us cry.

S: And when they finally found each other, did they smile?

D: Because they had been suffering, they cried, sir.

S: When they found each other, they talked to each other, and only then could the mother give her milk to her hungry calf, her mind full of love. This is mettā, disciples — mettā that is one-pointed. There was no other thought in her mind aside from her love for her calf. At that moment a hunter threw a spear at her. Does it say in the story that the spear pierced her?

D: It didn’t pierce her, sir.

S: It didn’t pierce her. That’s right. Do you hear? Do you think the cow knew about these advantages, these benefits, that come through mettā?

D: She didn’t know about them, sir.

S: Was she unable to develop loving kindness because she didn’t know these things?

D: She was practising loving kindness, sir.

S: Because she had this mettā, she couldn’t be killed by this spear. If you throw a spear, you throw it to kill, and this hunter had a very sharp spear. As this cow was full of loving kindness, it seems she only felt as thought a little palm leaf had pricked her. If you throw a palm leaf at a cow, does it penetrate deeply into the flesh? What happens?

D: The palm leaf will bounce off the cow, sir.

S: Yes, you see? It is said that this spear bounced off just like it was a palm leaf. You all know about the advantages and benefits of a mind full of loving kindness. You can explain all this.

D: But we can’t, sir.

S: Of course you can. Why? Because the Noble Ones who are the masters of loving kindness and compassion have explained the benefits of mettā to you, both in detail and in brief. You have all become proficient in this. But let’s not talk about spears and things like that. Let’s just take the example of a tiny mosquito that pricks you with its little stinger. Will it penetrate your skin or not?

D: As far as I’m concerned, sir, it will.

S: You’ll send it mettā, won’t you?

D: Giving mettā is something I do only with my mouth, sir.

S: So, what happens when a little mosquito stings you?

D: I don’t really want to talk about this, sir. It’s a little embar­rassing to have to answer this in front of everyone else, sir. I usually hit the mosquito and brush it off.

S: But you do practise non-hatred, don’t you?

D: My non-hatred is not very perfect, sir. I just hit it.

S: This is called sending mettā, isn’t it? Is it difficult to practise mettā? To remember mettā?

D: For us, sir, it is fairly difficult.

S: Wait. I’ll ask you another question. What would you say? Which is higher, a man or a cow?

D: Human beings are much higher than cows, sir.

S: Really? What about pāramī? Would you say that a man has more pāramī than a cow?

D: We became human beings because of our pāramī, sir.

S: The poor cow doesn’t understand anything. But you send mettā, reciting sabbe sattā averā hontu (“May all beings be free of enmity”). The cow just experienced mettā for her little calf, and that is why the spear did not penetrate her. You understand this clearly, pro­foundly, and you can explain it to others.

D: We can’t, sir.

S: Yes, yes, you are able to explain this. Now, among lower forms of life such as bovines, which are not endowed with pāramī, which is higher, the males or the females?

D: They are both the same, sir.

S: If we had to decide which of these is more powerful, which would you choose?

D: The bull is more powerful, sir.

S: So — they are not the same?

D: The bull is the leader, sir. The cow can’t lead.

S: We have just been talking about a mere cow, haven’t we? And yet, this [higher power of mettā] was possible for her.

D: She could do this because she was a mother. We have never collected our minds to that extent in mettā, sir.

S: If I should say that the cow is therefore happier than man, what would you reply?

D: In this example, the cow has a very clear mind, sir.

S: Do you accept this? Do you accept what this disciple said? “We’re not as developed as this cow”? You others — you may not want to accept this.

D: I alone am responsible for what has been said, sir. I don’t know. Maybe they will beat me up when I leave this assembly. These are just my personal views.

S: So, who is happier?

D: We’ll have to leave it like that, sir.

S: So, if I say, “This disciple doesn’t even have as much under­standing as a cow,” are you happy with that?

D: I don’t like it, sir, but since it’s the truth, I’ll have to accept it.

S: What if I call you “The disciple who is equal to a cow”?

D: That’s a bit better, sir, as in this case I’m on the same level with a cow at least.

S: The cow wasn’t pierced by the spear because of her loving kindness. How about you? Would the lance enter your body?

D: It probably would, sir.

S: Then can we say that you are equal to the cow? It is true. You all have pāramī. What are you deficient in, then? You need effort (viriya). Do you hear? What is effort? It means to determine, “Hey, I’ll work!” With this attitude, nothing is difficult. Yes, what you need is effort, determination. You know that, of course. Will you find things difficult if you make the following determination: “I’ll establish effort that is equal to the effort put forth by the disciples of the Buddha”? Even a cow could do it. The Buddha’s Teachings are there, but the cow didn’t need to know them. There was no knowledge of the Buddha’s Teachings in the cow. Tell me, was she born in a good plane of existence?

D: She wasn’t, sir.

S: Her mind was one-pointed, through mettā. If we practise in the same way, won’t we become even more tranquil than this cow? If we reach the necessary calm and are able to maintain it, won’t we be able to practise right action? Once purity of action is established, we can proceed to concentrate on the touch sensation of the breath at the nostrils. Can’t we attain understanding in this way and proceed to fulfil our aspiration for awakening?