You are on page 1of 113

Foreword

It was about eighteen years ago that Supawan Green came to my monastery with her
husband. It is quite usual, in Southeast Asian countries, that whenever people have any
problems they go to see a monk to express their feelings. She had just arrived in England,
a strange land, and it was probably because of culture shock that she wanted to speak to a
monk. Then I was the only Buddhist monk residing in this part of the country.
Unfortunately, I could not understand Thai, and she could not yet express her feelings in
English either. So we didn’t have much communication, and she left without being able
to express her thought.

A few years later, when I met her somewhere in Birmingham, she was speaking fluent
English, and seemed to have a sound command of the language. When she came to see
me last year, I was very impressed by the improvement she had made, both in English
and in her professional status. I then learnt that she was teaching Tai chi at the University
of Birmingham, and writing books and articles in English.

When I received the manuscript for “A Handful of Leaves” I was astonished that she had
so much talent to express her understanding of the Dhamma in writing. Many people can
speak a foreign language, and a few can give a talk in public but writing down one’s
thoughts and feelings in articulate English is difficult. In this book, Supawan expresses
her thoughts fluently on the page, which is a remarkable achievement for a working
mother from Asia.

When I started to read the manuscript, I was surprised to learn that she studied with
Ajahn Buddhadasa in Thailand. Ajahn Buddhadasa was one of the greatest contemporary
teachers in Thailand. His teachings, ideas and views were controversial for mainstream
Thai Buddhists. In Thailand and other Theravada countries, Buddhism is well-
established, and most teachings are based on traditional interpretations of the Pali texts. If
anyone differs from this traditional interpretation, it soon becomes controversial. Ajahn
Buddhadasa was fearless and had no hesitation to publicly express his thoughts and
feelings, whether people agreed with him or not. Nevertheless, his teachings are now
widely accepted by intellectuals in Thailand, and those outside the Theravada tradition.
Personally, I appreciate his ideas because his approach is very straightforward, logical
and easy to comprehend.

In this book, Supawan explains Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teaching in uncomplicated language
that will be easy for ordinary people to follow. Her explanations on the essence of
Buddhism, the nature of nibbana and on ultimate reality are particularly lucid. I very
much appreciate her efforts to present Ajahn Buddhadasa’s teachings in non-scholastic
language.

Supawan relates how to apply the four foundations of mindfulness to understand nibbana,
and realise the truth. In some chapters she expresses her own views about the degenerate
condition of Thai Buddhism, western culture, Christianity, etc. Though it may be
challenging for them to read, this book will help Thai people to better understand their

1
own culture and religion. It will also be very beneficial for others who want to understand
Buddhism from a modern Asian’s point of view.

I expect that this publication will prove very successful, and hope that she will achieve
her aim to promote the understanding of Thai Buddhism as taught by Ajahn Buddhadasa.
I hope that her book will help to reverse the decline in Thai Buddhism and culture, above
which she is so concerned.

Ven. Dr. Rewata Dhamma (M.A., PhD.)
Spiritual Directory
Birmingham Buddhist Vihara
August 1999

Foreword
Those of us who have had the precious opportunity for training and practising in Thailand
in accordance with the teachings of the Lord Buddha, feel an enormous gratitude to the
wise monks and generous lay people of that country.

Mrs. Green's book 'A Handful of Leaves' is excellently presented and well thought-out. It
is, no doubt, the skilful result of Ms. Green's many years of practice and reflection on life,
the meaning of life and the practical means for the realisation of the Ultimate Truth. Her
vision and hope for humanity are most uplifting. Her recognition of the superb
opportunity we all share to find the inner peace which lies at the heart of all religions and
indeed all human beings is both practical and inspiring.

2
Even though Ms. Green says herself that we may accuse her of 'naivety and foolishness';
in fact, the vision she presents offers hope as well as some clear directions for realising
Truth.

The Buddha's teaching is simply about 'awakening' - it is not about becoming a Buddhist.
Therefore, all the teachings are for encouraging and directing our attention, investigating
and examining experience in the present moment. To do this, you need to be fully awake.
You have to pay attention to life as it happens.

'A Handful of Leaves' is a guide. Mrs. Green is writing from her insights, therefore it is
not just another rehash of Buddhist teaching by someone who has not practised it. It has a
freshness and a confidence that can only come from direct insight knowledge.

I was fortunate enough to have lived for ten years in North East Thailand, training and
practising as a bhikkhu.1 So I was able to immerse myself in the changing and fading
Buddhist culture - The Enlightened Culture - in its relatively classic and traditional form. I
can't help but agree with Mrs. Green's respect and appreciation for that culture.

All conventions, however, are subject to change and there is no way back to the past. Our
faith is in the timeless reality. In Europe, the awakening is taking place. In spite of the
usual depressing news on the mass-media, I still have only confidence in the goodness of
humanity and rejoice in the "inconceivably vast oceans of good actions performed by
conscious beings since beginningless time". Mrs. Green’s reflection helps us to establish a
positive relationship with one another and encourage in us the energy to cultivate an open
and responsive attitude to our daily life experiences, our habits and emotions which
otherwise might intimidate us and lead to cynicism and negativity.

Mrs. Green's 'A Handful of Leaves' is a most welcome addition to the library of Buddhist
literature.

Ven. Ajahn Sumedho
September 1999

Amaravati Buddhist Monastery,
Great Gaddesden,
Hemel Hemstead,
Hertfordshire.

1
A Buddhist monk

3
HP1 3BZ
UK

Foreword
In a world full of suffering, with people desperate to find the meaning of life they
struggle through each day, a word which brings peace and happiness is always a most
precious gift. This book – A Handful of Leaves - is filled with such words in that it
shows the way to find peace in the midst of the turmoil of our inner lives. Supawan Green
teaches Tai chi and Buddhist meditation, and in both she shares directly from her own
experience to bring people to know for themselves the way to the peace of a still mind.
The great strength of this book is that it is based on the lived reality of actual experience,
not merely on academic research or book learning. It is the sincere conviction of her own
experience which carries the reader through and gives him or her a taste of the reality of
the still mind.

It is also a book which is not afraid of saying things which may challenge those within
the established religions, especially Buddhism and Christianity. I don’t think we need to
be offended by such a frank expression of a point of view. It is only by the open sharing
of our true thoughts and feelings that we will be able to reach any kind of lasting
understanding. Christians may not agree with everything that this book says about
Christianity, but that should not prevent them from learning from the different
perspective Supawan Green brings to their own religion. In particular, it should not
prevent them from learning from the wonderful teaching of the four foundations of
awareness which is explained here with the clarity and vividness of personal experience.

Supawan Green is a lay-woman who has gone deeply into her own religious tradition of
Buddhism. As a wife and mother, she knows how difficult it is for people in the ordinary
occupations of life to make time for spiritual disciplines such as meditation. Nevertheless
she has persevered and so is an excellent guide for others in a similar situation. I myself
have greatly benefited from her encouragement on the spiritual path and in my practice of
meditation as a Christian. I hope many others will be similarly inspired by this book.

Brother Nicholas Alan

4
The Society of Saint Francis

Preface
I first met Supawan in 1991, when I was studying at Birmingham University for my
Master of Science degree in Cognitive Science, I had always had a keen interest in
Eastern philosophies, which I suspected offered a different sort of understanding to
Western knowledge (as well as painstaking methods of making tea!) One day, I was
looking for some relief from the intense knowledge accumulation on my course. I found
myself in Supawan’s Tai chi class, learning a detailed sequence of movements and being
encouraged to observe the movement of the mind. What a task that turned out to be! I
must have one of the most leaping-about-the-place minds ever. Watching it is so
exhausting. Perhaps it moves so much because I have spent a long time trying to make it
jump in the right direction.

After my year at Birmingham, I moved on to Oxford, where I completed a PhD in
Experimental Psychology. And after a spell lecturing in psychology, I am now a research
scientist investigating development disorders in children. It is in this capacity that
Supawan has asked me to write this preface, from a scientific and intellectual point of
view. In return for setting me on the path of my mental observations, I can but oblige!

In some ways, I feel defensive on behalf of science. It is a discipline that can even-
handedly discover penicillin and yet design the atom bomb. I think there is a parallel here
with one of the messages of Supawan’s book. We should not pursue meditation without
morality. Equally, we should not pursue science without morality. I think Supawan might
be surprised by a scientific viewpoint on her book. I believe that if Nirvana is reached by
practising a physical (and mental) technique, it will not lie outside the realm of science.
That is, science may well be compatible and complementary to an Eastern approach to
achieving enlightenment.

To understand this, it is important to be clear about the role of science. The aim of
science is to come up with descriptions of the structure of the world that can be
objectively verified. Historically, the agenda of science has been to both predict and
control the physical environment to make life easier to live. Modern psychology is the
science of our mental lives. Interestingly, at its birth, this discipline had a heavy emphasis
on internal experience. This approached, now called ‘Introspectionism’, flourished at the
turn of the century. Its aim was to build a science of the mind that was intended to work
like chemistry. However, instead of working out the structure of physical substances, it
would derive the structure of our inner lives. Introspectionists wanted to work out the

5
basic elements of experience – the taste of lemon, the colour of a rose – and work out the
laws determining the way these elements could be combined to make more complex
experiences. Twenty years after it began, this approach was abandoned. Why? For one
simple reason. There was no way to settle disagreements about what experience was
really like. The experience of each person is only available to that person. It can’t be
externally verified. So there was no way to decide whose description of experience was
right. After that, scientists of the mind decided that the only evidence they would use in
their theories would have to be open to everyone to see. Since then, psychology has
focused on people’s behavior. Just recently, the technology has become available to let us
externally examine the activity of people’s brains while they think, providing us with
another source of verifiable evidence.

The scientist, then, comes to the mind from an external viewpoint. Today, we see the
brain as a type of computer, and the mind as the program running on the computer. We
ask questions like ‘how does this program allow the individual to get by in the physical
and social world he or she faces?’ and ‘how did evolution produce such a computer?’.
When I read about the four foundations of awareness, two interesting ideas came to mind.
Firstly, although enlightenment is necessarily unobservable to anyone but the individual,
it is verifiable, because every individual who carries out the practice correctly will
achieve it. This has been true over hundreds of years. In this sense, enlightenment is
scientific. Secondary, it illustrates to me the quite different aims of science and of
Buddhist practice. If I can put it like this science will tell us how the computer works.
Buddhist practice will tell us how to use the computer in the right way.

As a scientist, I can conceive of how enlightenment might works in terms of the brain.
Science is quite happy with the notion that knowledge can come in the form of skills
rather than verbal facts. It is quite happy that skills may need to be learnt in a very
different fashion from factual knowledge, in the form of guided practice as opposed to
explicit communication. In considering meditation practice, it seems clear that the aim of
the practice is to train attention to monitor and ultimately intervene in the processes of
associative thoughts (that is, the way one thought leads to another). The terminology of
‘thoughts causing feelings’ is readily characterised in terms of the interaction between the
more sophisticated parts of the brain involved in reasoning and the more primal parts of
the brain that underlie our experience of emotion.

On the other hand, as an ordinary person, I can’t immediately see how this sort of
information about how the brain works can help me use my mind in the best way. (My
apology for the artificial distinction between me and the mind!). It certainly offers me no
clue as what the goal of life is. It is in this respect that Supawan has offered us such an
essential, de-mystifying guide about how to use our minds and what they are for. I have
frequently been discouraged from Buddhist writings by their use of (to me) impenetrable
terminology. And I had difficulty separating the essence of the practice from its cultural
trappings. In this book I find exactly that essence, along with many helpful analogies to
better convey it. Here I find that the goal of life is mental stillness. That mental stillness
is 50% morality and 50% meditation. Here I find that mental stillness can be achieved
through the four foundations of awareness, which are

6
1) be aware of sensory experiences;
2) be aware of mental experiences;
3) watch thoughts without pursuing them;
4) watch the emptiness between the thoughts (but not, however, the thought of
emptiness!)

This clearly stated practice will ultimately lead to enlightenment. So easily stated but so
hard to pursue, because thoughts and feelings follow each other so quickly that we have
the illusion of mental life as an unbreakable, endless ribbon. In a very clear form,
Supawan offers us the scissors!

There is much else in this book. We find out too about the dangers of cult leaders, about
the merits of different greeting techniques, and about the burden that Western people face
in having long legs!

In A Handful of Leaves, Supawan Green tells us that her dream is of a non-religious
universal method to reach enlightenment. In that dream, I can only offer her my support,
and hope that one day, science will aid her in achieving it.

Michael Thomas, BSc, MSc, D.Phil (Oxford)

7
Introduction
Three months ago, I went through a long episode of mental turmoil which lasted for
eighteen hours but it seemed like a lifetime to me. Not only could I feel every twist and
turn in my heart but I could also feel the pain seeping through every living cell of my
body. It seemed to me that such an extraordinarily painful experience was almost
purposeful because once I had come out of it, I gained so much strength that I told myself
I must reach out to more people, especially the Thai, and share with them the way to
overcome suffering. No matter how strange it may sound, that was indeed the incident
leading to the birth of this book-A Handful of Leaves.

I have talked about the Thai people because ever since I understood the dhamma a bit
better, I had always shared mainly with my students in Britain and all my work has been
written in English but not in Thai. This time however is rather different. I would like to
give something back to the Thai as a way to show my appreciation and to return my
gratitude to all my spiritual teachers and to the Thai ancestral culture which nurtured me
until I found the matchless dhamma. Therefore, the approach of this book aims at Thai
Buddhists, especially the modern generation who have a scientific mind and may be
caught up in between the two worlds of science and religion.

Modern Thai people might be a bit reluctant to explore a bit deeper into their own
religion due to the frequent scandals in the Sangha institution. The first eight chapters,
which I keep short, have the preliminary contents from which I draw issues from
different angles so that I can connect them to the supreme concept of Buddhism, Nirvana
and finally to the core practice of the four foundations of awareness. This is to give
readers a clear picture of what life is all about. I spent a longer time delving into talking
about the four foundations of awareness so that readers may begin their mind journey if
they feel ready to. The enlightening culture which is the last section can help the Thai to
understand better their Thai way of life, which I think is the final touch in creating the
sense of harmony for this book. I cannot possibly forget the people I am living with right
now in Britain, so I decided to write the English version too. I do my best to keep the
chapters and the outline the same as in the Thai version but the details might be a bit
different since I have to talk with a different approach and I also found it difficult at times
to write the same thing twice. I would suggest the Thai who are fluent in English to read
the English version of this book too and vice versa.

Having gone through the process from being ignorant about the ultimate purpose of life
to the struggling of trying to get the practice right and to the present stage of knowing
what is what, I have a clearer vision of how I can help others to speed up their difficult
journey to Nirvana, in other words, to enter the kingdom of God. I think the way I share
with readers in this book is exactly the way I would have wanted to be taught myself. I
can vividly remember the two contrasting feelings frustration and peace trying to claim
the seat in my heart whilst I was in the process of trying to get the practice right. It was a

1
moment of sheer frustration at the time. That is, you cannot walk back and you cannot
walk forward either.

The way to eliminate those feelings among readers is to confirm the ultimate purpose of
life in a way that it is within our reach. That’s why I try to find all the different ways and
approaches to convince people that the enlightenment of the Buddha has a direct impact
on every one of us. To enter Nirvana or to go back to the kingdom of God is our prime
duty as a human being and that we must not waste any more time before beginning our
mind-journey. Compared to the indefinite length of samsara (the cycle of rebirth), the
span of a lifetime is far too short to pursue something that has less significance than the
ultimate spiritual freedom. We must live our lives up to the standard of the Thai saying: it
is extremely fortunate to be born as a human being and to bump into Buddhism.

I hope that this book can help to encourage readers to take their first step of a long
journey towards the ultimate destination of life. Please be very patient and do your best.

I wish everyone all the best of luck.

Supawan Green

17 May 1999

2
Chapter one

What is Buddhism all about?
People who are interested in Buddhism know that the Buddha taught the Four Noble
Truths. Some may think that Buddhism is about gaining merit so that one can go to
heaven.

The following story may give us a clearer picture of what Buddhism is all about. Once a
hermit used his magical wand and instantly changed a man into a tiger. What is the most
important thing for this man? Should he carry on living as a tiger or should he quickly
find a way to change himself back into a man again? Obviously, there is only one sound
answer. We must find the magic wand and say the magic word so that we can return to
our normal self. The point is that someone else has to do it for us. The person who can
help us has to know that this tiger is not truly a tiger but one under a spell. With the
power of loving-kindness and compassion, such a person searched extensively until he
found the magic wand and the magic words. He quickly came back to the tiger and
changed the tiger back to his normal self at last.

This story contains the essence of Buddhism. The magic wand is the ignorance. The man
refers to the innocent mind, which is totally free from suffering. The tiger refers to the
mind, which is taken over by greed, anger and delusion. The kind and compassionate
man refers to the Buddha who found the way to end all suffering. Metaphorically, we
were all tigers until the Buddha came along, found the magic wand and helped us to
return to be normal once again. The normal self is indeed the state of Arahantship.

We have lost our innocent mind because of ignorance. Our only duty in this life is to get
rid of the ignorance so that we can return to our innocent mind or to enter Aranhantship.
Metaphorically speaking, the Buddha was the one who told us that we were not tigers and
that he would help all of us to return to be men.

There is, however, a problem. When the kind man came to tell the tiger about the good
news and asked him to stand still so that he could undo the magic, the tiger refused and
said that he had always been a tiger and there was no need to return to anything else. This
is the type of person who thinks that they don’t need the dhamma. As long as they can
make money, indulge themselves and survive physically, there is no need to have a
religion.

As for those who do merit and expect to go to heaven, this is compared to changing from
a tiger to a leopard. That is all there is to it. All the sentient beings in the different realms
of samsara (reincarnation) from Brahmas, deities (gods), humans, ghosts, animals to
hellish beings, were different types of tigers, in the comparative sense, of course.
However, among the Brahmas, gods and humans, there are some who are in the process
of transformation from tiger to human. Those who are deeply interested in Buddhism and

12
engage in the vipassana-bhavana may know about the 16 levels of insight or Solasa-nana.
However, the 13th level of insight is called Gotrabhu-nana or the knowledge at the
moment of the “change-of-lineage”. In other word, it is the moment when a person is
leaving human status and entering holy status. Comparatively speaking, this is the
moment when the tiger transforms back to a human in different stages accordingly. They
are as follows:
1) Sotapana- Stream-Enterer (25% transformation)
2) Sakadagami-Once-Returner (50% transformation)
3) Anagami-Non-Returner (75% transformation)
4) Arahanta-the worthy one (100% transformation)

Phra Arahants are those who have completed their duty for their lives and have
successfully claimed their innocent mind back forever. That is to enter the state of the
supreme simplicity and ordinariness or Ta-tha-ta or Nirvana. They all refer to the same
state.

The above comparison allows us to understand the structure of life. The ultimate purpose
of life for all sentient beings is indeed to reach that supreme simplicity or becoming a
Phra Arahant. We cannot be content even in reaching the three levels of holiness let alone
just being gods or Brahmas. As long as we have not yet returned to our normal self-to
enter Arahanship, our lives are not complete and we cannot afford to stop our effort in
practising the dhamma. The vipassana-bhavana is the exact practice, which allows the
transformation to take place. People who can truly understand this piece of good news
will quickly ask experts to teach them the vipassana-bhavana, which exists only in
Buddhism.

Being born as a human is considered a greatly fortunate event because it allows us to
learn about this piece of good news or the four Noble Truths and that we also have a
chance to engage in the crucial practice so that we can be normal again. If we cannot
complete our task in this lifetime, the parami or the good kamma will at least pass
forward to our next incarnation and we can be a bit nearer to Aranhantship.

The most important thing is whether we have heard about this piece of good news yet.
Paying no attention to the dhamma and the dhamma practice means we accept our tiger
status. To the enlightened ones, these people are refered to as being ignorant.

13
Chapter two

Why did the fruit come before the path?

I have told a story about a man who was under a spell and turned into a tiger. This story
can depict a clear picture of the good news the Buddha told us. The ultimate purpose of
life is about going back to our first-hand normality - to enter Arahantship.

As for this chapter, I will stress the goal and the path. The enlightenment of the Buddha
meant that he had seen the goal before the path. This is the significant point that people
must understand in order to grasp the essence of Buddhism.

This story might help us to gain a clearer picture. A man was lost in a jungle. Suddenly,
he found a pond of holy water, which could offer people eternal life. When he knew that
this holy water was good for humankind, he slowly and carefully came away from that
pond and tried to remember the way to get back there.

Before the enlightenment of the Buddha, all sentient beings were living in the darkness of
spiritual ignorance. No one knew what life was all about: What is the purpose of life?
What is the ultimate truth? What is the end of all suffering? Prince Siddhatha was born
during the time when Indian society was at the peak of searching for the answers to those
questions in all sorts of ways e.g. self-indulgence, self-mortification, exploring into high
levels of meditation, etc. Nonetheless, no one knew exactly what was what. Ascetic
Siddhartha also joined in with the culture of searching for ultimate enlightenment. Just
like the others, he tried all kinds of methods until he was on the verge of losing his own
life. All those activities can be compared to the man lost in the jungle. However, the
enlightenment of the Buddha can be compared to the man just by chance finding the pond
of holy water or knowing that we are not tigers after all. The enlightenment of the
Buddha meant that he had found the ultimate truth or the absolute entity, which nothing
can go beyond. He subsequently called that very thing Nibbana or Nirvana.

The ultimate truth relates to us as an individual in the sense that it is our ultimate goal of
life, which also means the end of all suffering. This is the goal of all sentient beings.
Before that, no one knew the truth that we are not tigers. This is how unique the Buddha
is. He found something that no one ever knew before. After his enlightenment, he knew
that it was difficult for people to understand such a thing and was inclined not to teach.
However, he subsequently thought that people had different levels of spiritual abilities;
those who have little dust in their eyes could understand. With great compassion and
loving-kindness to all sentient beings, he carefully worked out the way or the path to that
goal so that we could see the truth like him.

We can now understand why the fruit comes before the path. According to the four noble
truths, the third noble truth or the end of suffering comes before the fourth noble truth-the
noble eightfold path. Scientifically speaking it seems illogical because the path should

12
come before the end. It cannot be wrong because this is the first person’s experience. The
four Noble truths are the result of the Buddha’s unique experience just like the man who
found the magic pond by chance. If no one found out the fact that we are not tigers, there
is no way we could know the truth, is there? We would then live and struggle like tigers,
being stupid and totally ignorant for eternity. We can clearly see that without the help of
the Buddha, we wouldn’t be this lucky as far as knowing the truth is concerned. The
enlightenment of the Buddha not only benefits us humans but also benefits all sentient
beings who live in different realms of samsara (re-incarnation). Alternatively, the
enlightenment of the Buddha sends tremors to the three worlds heaven, earth and hell.

Once we accept the enlightenment of the Buddha, the process for us to know the truth is
now based on the normal structure of the path to the end. In the same way that we have to
follow the clear signposts to the magic pond, we have to follow the noble eightfold path
to know the ultimate truth. That’s why in Buddhism, we have a very familiar concept of
the path, the fruit and Nibbana.

We have a Thai saying that it is extremely lucky to be born as a human-being and find
Buddhism; those who pay no interest to the dhamma practice are considered to have
wasted their precious human status. That is because they might not be so lucky in their
next life. It is a shame that most people cannot understand the true meaning of such a
saying. I hope this article can help people to have a better understanding.

Now, we reach the point of how we can follow the path to know the truth. The noble
eightfold path begins with right view. This means that we must first of all accept the
enlightenment of the Buddha. Without this view, we have no faith to follow the
subsequent difficult practice. It means we would rather admit our tiger status and there is
no need to talk further. Wise people who can understand this fundamental concept will
quickly ask experts like Buddhist monks a very direct question: “Please show me the
way to the find the truth.” The most direct practice to ultimate enlightenment is
vipassana-bhavana or the four foundations of awareness.

We must not be complacent nor waste time in finding ultimate truth. We cannot possibly
know anything else if we don’t know the fundamental truth about ourselves, although we
may appear to have a great deal of intellectual knowledge.

13
Chapter three

Where is Nirvana?
When I was a little girl, I used to imagine that Nirvana was the most beautiful place in heaven
where handsome gods and gorgeous goddesses in their glittering costume lived and we normal
people could never get there because it was beyond our reach. People who could get there were
the Buddha and all the old privileged Buddhist monks. I believe that most Buddhists still think so.
My mythical image changed when I learnt the teaching of the late teacher Ven. Buddhadasa of
Suan Mokkh, the forest monastery in Chaiya, Surajthanee province. I was very surprised to hear
the late teacher say that Nirvana was not a heaven but it could mean cool element. I was then
twenty years of age and a student at Thammasat University who had just gone through the
horrendous crackdown on students, the event of October 14th 1973. As a result, my heart was
taken over by numerous questions about life in general. I was desperate for someone to tell me
why those good-hearted young ambitious students who wanted to help the country were
murdered. I began to question what the true meaning of life was. I especially wanted to know
what ultimate truth was. Having met the late Ven. Buddhadasa and Suan Mokkh, I felt that I was
a bit closer to ultimate truth, though I still did not have much of an idea what it was. The political
upheaval, which caused death to my fellow students, as well as my own personal problems, had
plunged me into deep depression and created so much pain in my heart that I needed to relieve
them somehow. That was the reason why I held tightly on to the meditation technique that Suan
Mokkh had taught me because it took some of my pain away. It has now been 25 years.

Although not every question has been answered, I have managed to answer some of them. They
are however enough to enable me to lead a fulfilled life which fits in with the Thai saying that I
am lucky to be born as a human and meet Buddhism. To pass on my knowledge is one way that I
can show my humble gratitude to all my spiritual teachers, especially the Buddha.

I can now relate that the ultimate truth and Nirvana is in fact the same thing. Besides, I also know
that Nirvana is not a beautiful place in heaven reserved only for the Buddha and privileged people
like old monks, and to which normal people like us cannot go. As a matter of fact, Nirvana is
right here in front of us. The only trouble is we cannot see it. This is something that I could never
think of in the past and dared not even think so. That’s why the Buddha said that those who had
little dust in their eyes could see it. The following comparison may help readers to have a better
understanding.

I believe readers know about magic eye pictures in which a beautiful three-dimensional picture is
hidden within a two dimensional pattern. If we place such a picture in front of us, although the
three-dimensional image is right here in front of us, we can’t see it. Should we want to see it for
the first time, we need to learn a skill. One of the popular techniques is by placing the whole
picture close to our face, relax our eyes and slowly distance the picture away from our face.
Gradually the beautiful three-dimensional picture will be revealed. The unskillful person might
not be able to sustain the three-dimensional picture very long before it disappears from sight. The
skillful people, who quite often are children, might only need to relax their eyes a bit and they can
easily see the hidden three-dimensional picture. Nevertheless, there are some people who can
never master the skill and cannot appreciate the beauty of the hidden picture.

The above comparison works exactly the same for whether or not we can see Nirvana. Nirvana is
not an issue that we can tackle with our thoughts to understand. We can think whatever we want

12
about the image of ten red tulips in three-dimensions. We also know that the image we think of is
nowhere near the actual image. In the same way, to understand Nirvana is a matter of finding the
true experience and definitely not about reasoning in the intellectual manner. To be more precise,
I would like to stress for the moment that we can truly see Nirvana with our naked eyes just like
we can see a hidden three-dimensional picture. The difference is that the hidden three-
dimensional picture is not the same as the two dimensional one, whilst Nirvana and our normal
sight are exactly the same image. We sit two persons in front of a vase filled with different
flowers, one knows nothing about the four foundations of awareness and the other is either at the
third level of holiness (Phra Anagami) or the fourth level of holiness (Phra Arahant). We let the
two persons look at the same vase with flowers, the first one cannot see Nirvana but the other can.
Both Phra Anagami and Phra Arahant can see Nirvana whilst they look at the vase. The
difference is that Phra Anagami cannot sustain seeing Nirvana all the way through like Phra
Arahant. He will lose sight of Nirvana just as those unskillful persons lose sight of the three-
dimensional picture. Phra Arahant can see Nirvana without having to make any extra effort. It has
become his nature. This is just a very brief explanation for the reader to capture the precise
concept of Nirvana.

We can equally say that seeing Nirvana is the easiest as well as the most difficult matter at the
same time. It is easy because it is right here in front of us. It is difficult because if something is
right here in front of our nose and we cannot see it, what else can be more difficult than this? This
is indeed a matter of a single hair hindering a whole mountain, as in the Thai saying. It is far too
simple until we totally overlook it. Those who can see Nirvana know that it is indeed a very
simple matter. Those who cannot see have to face great difficulties until they have to travel
through the different realms of samsara for a long time just to hope that maybe all the
accumulated good karma or parami will enable them to see Nirvana in one of their future lives.
This is how unique Nirvana is.

Finally, we reach the essential question of how we can prepare ourselves to see Nirvana. In the
same way that we have to learn a technique to see the hidden three-dimensional picture, we have
to learn a skill to see the hidden Nirvana. The most direct technique that the Buddha taught all
sentient beings in samsara (reincarnation) is called vipassana-bhavana or the four foundations of
awareness. The practitioner must find one or two techniques that suit his or her personality and
stick with them. One of the popular techniques is mindfulness with breathing. Walking
meditation is also very effective if one can master the skill. Veteran practitioners will be taught to
observe the arising and passing away of thoughts and other mental formations. All these are the
different techniques we have to learn and master if we want to see the hidden Nirvana. It is like
learning how to drive or holding the picture at the right angle so that we can see the hidden three–
dimensional picture. All these meditation skills are not about reasoning but about learning a new
habit. We all have a habit of having excessive thoughts while we engage in activities throughout
the day e.g. walking, eating, etc. The new habit resulting from meditation skill is for us to have
fewer thoughts so that we can just do the walking, just eating and so on.

I would like to encourage people that Nirvana is not as far as we think. We only need to find the
right access to it. Thanks to the Buddha that he told us the short cut to Nirvana. Those who have
never heard about the four foundations of awareness must find experts and quickly learn from
them. Please be very patient and keep on with the practice, there will be a day that the hidden
Nirvana will be revealed to us. If it doesn’t happen this life time, at least the right effort we have
done in this life will be carried on to our next incarnation and there will be a time when we will
definitely see Nirvana. Seeing Nirvana permanently and reaching the end of all suffering are
indeed the same thing.

13
Chapter four

Where is Ultimate Truth?

If Nirvana is right here in front of us like the hidden three-dimensional picture, ultimate truth
is also right here too because they refer to the same thing. To have a better comprehension,
readers must not forget the fact about a single hair hindering the mountain. The first thing we
must do is change the word “truth” to “reality” and we leave the term “ultimate” aside for the
moment. I will first of all explain the term “reality”.

Initially, I must ask readers not to think too far away and too complex. I am not talking about
reality in terms of real events happening in the world, which relate to all sorts of today’s
problems. We are going to look at something much closer to us; so close that it is a matter of
here and now. It doesn’t matter where we are and what we are doing. I would like you to
look around yourself at this very immediate moment. Our sensory experience right now is the
exact kind of reality I want to talk about. Our sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touch right
now are the only real things that no-one can deny their existence. These are reality and
certainly not dreams, thoughts or concepts. If we are standing in the midst of a vast daffodil
field, and someone comes along and says these are not daffodils but puppies, we know that
there is no need to argue. Alternatively, if we are listening to our favorite music and someone
says this is the sound of an airplane; or if we are stroking our new soft wooly cardigan and
someone says it feels very smooth like stroking plastic, we know that there is no need to talk
any further.

Our sensory experiences are real enough that we need no confirmation. Consequently, what
we cannot experience right now is not reality according to the above definition. Suppose we
are doing our private business in the bathroom, we know the three bedrooms are next to the
bathroom and the living room is downstairs and our children are watching television, but
although we know they are facts, they are not reality. Reality is our immediate sensory
experience, which is everything we can sense in the bathroom. Everything apart from that,
although they are facts, they are not real and therefore they can be faulty because our children
could be in the kitchen instead and our living room might be on fire or flooded. We can see
that the immediate event of the bedrooms and the living room exist only in our thoughts and
memory and therefore not reality. Consequently, all the thoughts which are too far away like
thinking about yesterday, tomorrow or thinking about our intellectual knowledge and so on
are not reality according to this meaning I put forward. They are not reality because they are
not our immediate sensory experience. We can subsequently see that reality in this meaning
moves with ourselves. If there are no sensory organs, there is no reality. As a result, reality as
the immediate moment is a constant dynamic moment, which exists exactly like the second
hand of a clock, which doesn’t stop. Once we finish our business in the bathroom and walk
into the bedroom, our reality changes. The bathroom becomes a dream and the bedroom
becomes reality. We later come downstairs and into the living room, our immediate reality
moves along with us. If we want to understand the ultimate reality or Nirvana that the
Buddha talked about, we must first of all understand reality in this simple meaning.

12
Next, I will relate this to the Buddha’s term Rupa which means matter, corporeality. Most
Buddhists think that it only refers to our physical body when it is used together with Nam,
which means mental function. In fact, when the Buddha mentioned Rupa, he means
everything that we can sense with our eyes, ears, nose, tongue and skin. In other words, Rupa
refers to all sights, sounds, tastes, smell and touches. Sometimes the Buddha used the term
world, universe or ocean in place of Rupa. The Buddha did not refer to the round globe or the
unlimited space or the vast area of water. World, universe and ocean are only a few sights
among all the sights we can perceive through our eyes. Consequently, Rupa, world, universe
or ocean have the same meaning which refers to all sights, sounds, smells, tastes and touches
and this meaning covers absolutely everything in the universe. We can begin to see the
connection between Rupa or universe and the term reality I talked about earlier. The reality
of the universe in the Buddha’s term means the reality of our sensory experience at this
immediate moment. To find the reality of the universe does not mean that we have to get on a
space ship and travel into space so that we can find a new experience and probably the final
frontier. The reality of the universe is right here in front of us.

If we can understand reality in such a simple meaning, we only need to bring back the term
“ultimate”. Where is the ultimate reality of the universe? Wherever our reality is, the ultimate
reality is also there. It cannot be elsewhere. The following true story might be able to help
those who have little dust in their eyes understand the ultimate reality of the universe.

When Ajahn Kowit Khemanandha, my most beloved spiritual teacher, was a monk on a
remote island in Songhla province, a boy of 7-8 years old asked him a very direct question.
“Venerable Uncle sir, why does everything have a name?” many people might think that this
is a child’s innocent question. Some might even think what kind of stupid question was that?
Of course, everything has got to have a name. I have brought this story up every now and
again in my writing because to me this question is the answer to the heart of Buddhism.

To be more precise, this boy could see the ultimate reality of the universe and that’s why he
asked such an intriguing question. This is the exact experience when Pahiya begged the
Buddha to teach him the essence of Buddhism. The Buddha kindly told him:
“Pahiya, when you see sights, just see; when you hear sounds, just hear; when you smell
smells, just smell; when you taste tastes, just taste; when you feel something, just feel. If you
can do all these things, Nirvana is not far from you.” Pahiya entered Arahantship the moment
the Buddha finished his teaching.

If we can do what the Buddha told Pahiya, we will not see names in everything. This was
what the boy could experience; he saw no names in everything and that’s why he could not
understand why adults call everything by a name. In other words, this boy could see things as
they are (Ta-tha-ta). This is the state of the ultimate reality which nothing can go beyond. The
state that cannot be anything else but being what it is (A-nan-ya-tha-ta). However, although
this boy could see the ultimate reality of the universe, he was not enlightened like Pahiya
because he did not know what that state was for. To see ultimate reality and to know what it
is for are two different states. To see the experience is compared to holding a piece of jigsaw
puzzle in our hands whilst to know what is for is compared to being able to find the right
place for that piece of jigsaw puzzle. We can hold a piece of jigsaw puzzle for a long time but
we cannot find the right place for it. After we can see or experience ultimate reality, we still
need to have the intuitive knowledge (nana) which tells us that this experience is indeed the
ultimate reality. This intuitive knowledge (nana) can only happen when we follow the fourth

13
noble truth or the noble eightfold path which begins with having the right view and ends with
practising the right meditation. That’s why this boy on the island cannot enter Arahantship
like Pahiya did. Nonetheless, this boy is holding a crucial piece of jigsaw puzzle in his hand.
Should he be lucky enough to practise the four foundations of awareness, he will not have
problems in understanding the fourth foundation of awareness.

I told the story about the boy because I want to encourage people to see that ultimate reality
is not as far as away as we think. It is right here hidden away like the three dimensional
picture. We only need to remove the single strand of hair from our eyes and then we can see
the whole mountain right in front of us. This boy could see ultimate reality where everything
has no name because his mind was innocent and less complex. We adults have too many
thoughts and memories and think in such a complex way that it obstructs our innocent
perception. People whose minds revolve around gain and loss can never see the mountain
right in front of them. Nevertheless, ultimate reality or ultimate truth where everything has no
name, Nirvana and the end of suffering are all the same thing.

Finally, we reach the point of asking the crucial question of how we can make ourselves
experience ultimate reality. The answer is we must practise Vipassana-bhavana or the four
foundations of awareness. These are the different stages of practice which can help to reduce
the complexity of the mind. The simplicity of the mind will allow us to experience the
universe of sights, sounds, smells, taste and touch in the most innocent way. On the day we
can truly see no names in absolutely everything, we can also see ultimate reality or the
ultimate truth. Metaphorically speaking, we have found the crucial piece of the jigsaw puzzle
and we begin to hold it in our hands. As long as we keep on with the practice, the intuitive
knowledge (nana) will follow and then we will know exactly how ultimate reality link with
us. When that happens, to enter Nirvana or to end suffering permanently is the light that we
can clearly see at the end of the tunnel. People who haven’t heard of the four foundations of
awareness should quickly find experts and learn from them. If we cannot know ultimate
reality, we can hardly know anything else although we appear to know so much.

14
Chapter five

The structure of life

I have tried to make the reader understand what was involved in the Buddha’s
enlightenment. If the reader still has doubts about the enlightenment of the Buddha and
does not believe that he indeed has found ultimate truth, it will be very difficult to
understand the following message. As for those who have no doubt in the Buddha’s
wisdom, we’ll see what the structure of life should be. Scholars and intellectuals are very
keen to talk and analyse the structure of this and that but no one seems to talk about the
structure of our life as a whole.

Without the enlightenment of the Buddha, we would not have known what our structure
of life is. The structure of life has to begin at the point of knowing the ultimate reality or
the ultimate goal of life. For the reader’s better comprehension, I will gather all the words
and terms relating to the ultimate goal so that we know that they all mean the same thing.

The ultimate goal of life is the same as seeing ultimate truth or ultimate reality
which allows us to know what is what. This is the same as entering Nirvana and
becoming Phra Arahant permanently, which is also the end of all suffering. This is
also the state of returning to the great simplicity or becoming what it is (Ta-tha-ta).

Without the enlightenment of the Buddha, we cannot possibly weave our life’s net
because we wouldn’t have known what we are supposed to connect to. To make it easy
for the reader to see the picture and for me to explain, I will depict the structure of life as
a triangle.

Seeing ultimate truth, entering Nirvana, the end of suffering, becoming Phra Arahant

Moral principles wisdom meditation, bhavana

The pinnacle of the triangle is the third Noble Truth - the ultimate goal of life and all the
different terms, which refer to the same thing. The base of the triangle is the method or
the means of how to reach the goal, which is the fourth Noble Truth or the Noble
Eightfold Path. Alternatively, we can regroup the fourth Noble Truth into three main
groups, which are morality, wisdom and meditation. I place wisdom in the centre whilst
morality is on the left and meditation on the right.

12
Finally, we have a triangle, which can clearly explain what the structure of life should be.
The middle arrow pointing from wisdom to the Zenith tells us that we need to know the
ultimate goal of life which allows us to know what is what. The term “to know what is
what” has a profound meaning and covers the widest meaning of life. It means one knows
exactly where his standing point is within this gigantic universe. Once we know the goal,
next we have to know how to achieve that goal. Alternatively, we should know how we
can become Phra Arahants and enter Nirvana permanently. As far as the means is
concerned, there are two main principles, which are observing the moral precepts and
engaging in meditation practice or bhavana in Pali. So wisdom is about knowing
“what”, whilst morality and meditation are about knowing how to get to that
“what.”

Among the two principles of knowing how, most people may wonder what is more
important, morality or meditation. Some school stress more on morality whilst some
emphasise more on meditation. To find the answer, we have to check the zenith again. It
will be easier if we understand what the mind of a Phra Arahant is like. To enter
Arahantship means that the mind has ceased to swing either up or down. A completely
still mind is the mind of a Phra Arahant who has reached the end of all suffering. If this is
the goal we want to achieve, we will understand clearer the relationship between morality
and meditation. Human’s mind is far from being still. To help the mind to be still, we
need to observe moral precepts. The mind can settle by half if we can follow the moral
principles because we do not have to worry about being caught out due to our wrong
doing. People who cross the moral threshold have to look over their shoulders all the time
and cause their minds to be restless. If this compared to a piece of work, this work is half
way done in simply observing the moral precepts.

However, the unsettled mind does not relate only to whether we are good or bad persons.
We can do our best and try to be whiter than white but it doesn’t stop us from having fear
e.g. fear of darkness, fear of being aged, fear of being laughed at, fear of being poor, fear
of having cancer, fear of losing our loved ones and the ultimate fear of death. Besides
having fear, no matter how good we are, we still have jealousy, envy, resentment, hatred
and anger whether we show them of not is another matter. When that happens, our minds
swing up and down and cause us lots of grief and unhappiness. We also have desire no
matter how good we are. We all want the best for our children. Although we never want
to expect anything from others, we still want something at times. We want to be noticed
when we do something good and noble. We all want to be special. We won’t be human if
we don’t have those feelings. The trouble is when we cannot have what we want, we feel
unsettle and restless. Life is not as easy as we would like it to be, is it?

The other fifty percent of our mental unsettlement can be sorted out by different
meditation techniques. There are two main meditation techniques, which are samatha-
bhavana and vipassana-bhavana. If we focus only on the samatha-bhavana, we can easily
be attached to calmness and that won’t resolve the problem of mind-swinging. We may
be quite calm and peaceful while we are in meditation but when we come out of it, we
may find it rather difficult to live in the real world. To really solve the problem, we must

13
engage in vipassana-bhavana until we reach the third or the fourth foundations of
awareness. Vipassana practice will bring us much closer to the point of stopping the mind
from swinging up and down. To make the mind completely still is the ultimate goal of
life.

We can see that this structure of life is the direct result of the enlightenment of the
Buddha, which is simple and straightforward. There are only two significant questions –
knowing what and knowing how. If our wisdom towards the ultimate goal of life is not
clear enough, we can easily lose track of the reason why we observe moral precepts and
engage in meditation practice. Good and moral people can easily think that they are better
than others and cause the ultimate white sin. We cannot be whiter than white, can we?
Those who are good in meditation practice can be hooked on the state of calmness and
pursue other spiritual purposes rather than the simple state of Ta-tha-ta (just being). We
must understand that moral precepts and samatha-bhavana existed even before the
enlightenment of the Buddha, they were not new. However, they are the compliment
factors for people to enter Nirvana. The brand new practice resulting from the
enlightenment of the Buddha is indeed vipassana-bhavana or the four foundations of
awareness.

Fortunate people who have heard about this piece of good news should quickly follow the
path to fit in with the Thai saying that it is extremely lucky to be born as a human and
meet Buddhism.

14
15
Chapter six

The universal truth
Having found Suan Mokkh and the late Ven. Buddhadasa was like finding a pot of
wisdom, which allowed me to understand life inwardly in a way that I had never
experienced before. There was indeed a seedling of thought that the late teacher had
planted in my heart. He said that Nirvana, Tao and the tree of life were in fact the same
thing. I must admit that I very much doubted what he said. I could not see how Buddhism
and Christianity could possibly have anything in common. I was not convinced at all. I
am sure a great number of Buddhists in Thailand were not convinced either. I kept my
doubt for many years.

My intuitive wisdom grew and flourished as time went by. Having lived in England for
18 years and worked as a Tai chi teacher in a university are also the main factors which
allow that little seedling to grow in my heart. Now, I no longer doubt the religious
concept left behind by the late teacher. I am totally convinced that the goal of Buddhism
and Christianity indeed the same. My confidence comes with the experience of seeing the
ultimate truth in front of me. Consequently, I have earned enough courage to express my
view which may benefit the public despite the difficulties. Having lived in the Christian
society has made me realise that the late teacher’s concept is really a bit much for a
Christian to take in and that this concept is virtually unknown in the western society
dominated by Christian tradition. Having seen how troubled the world has become and
how unstable people’s minds are, I think that maybe people can gain some benefit if this
thought is brought up once again with a new approach.

I cannot express anything newer than what the two teachers have said. If there was an
ultimate truth at all, there must be only one truth, not two or three. We cannot say that the
Buddhist truth is different from the Christian truth or any other truth claimed by other
religious believers. Whenever there is a reference to ultimate truth, it has to be that one
universal truth. Those who witness ‘that one truth’ will definitely express the same thing.
The taste of ultimate truth is one taste just like the taste of oceans. As a matter of fact,
our saints have talked about the same thing all along but we cannot understand their
language. Our minds are too limited and therefore we twisted and interpreted their
language wrongly. As far as I am concerned, the Buddha, the author of the book of
Genesis, Christ and Lao Tzu shared the same experience. No matter if it is called
Nirvana, the tree of life, the kingdom of God or Tao, all these different names refer to the
same universal truth. That’s why all these saints can claim that their arrivals are to set
humanity free from the bondage of spiritual ignorance. What I can add is to point out the
different means used by the different saints to reach the truth.

Knowing how to get to the destination is as important as knowing the destination itself. If
we know the destination but have no idea of how to get there, it is still useless. Likewise,
knowing ultimate truth as the goal of life but not knowing how to get there, means that
we have not yet moved out of our ignorant shelter. In my previous chapter, I introduced a
triangle representing the structure of life. Whilst the top of the triangle is the ultimate

12
purpose of life, the foundation is the means to the goal. We can see that such a structure
of life is not reserved only to the Buddhists but is for all sentient beings in samsara (the
circle of re-incarnation). This structure of life can however determine the ability of the
different great teachers in the past. The witness of the truth always points out wisdom
first (the middle arrow) by telling people about that universal entity in nature. The very
first sentence in the Tao Te Ching says Tao has no name that which has a name is not
Tao. Such a unique sentence depicts a clear witness to ultimate truth. This ultimate
wisdom is mentioned throughout both the Old and the New Testaments. The almighty
God warned people from day one to eat plenty of fruit from the tree of life (Tao) and not
to go near the tree of knowledge (not Tao). In the book of Psalms 46:10 it says Be still
and know that I am God. Christ came along to confirm the existence of the only God by
telling people to love God more than anything else. He even took a step further by telling
people that he was the Son of God. If anyone wants to know God, they have to go
through him. All those unique words and the overwhelming courage can exist only in
those who truly witness the truth. Lao Tzu made it very clear that ultimate truth cannot be
penetrated by language and therefore can remain universal. So, it is not strange for
different people who were born in different periods of time and in different cultures to
see the same universal truth. Although the real truth has no language, for the reason of
communication, a name has to be used to let people know about the existence of that
ultimate entity in nature. Once a name is used even for the most crucial reason, it has
become a double-edge blade ever since. People grab the words and interpret from the
words without witnessing the real truth. As far as knowing the ultimate truth is
concerned, this is the mind’s journey which adds further difficulties in trying to tell
people.

Telling the way to the ultimate destination is the exact issue, which makes the Buddha
distinctively stand out. Although the Tao Te Ching emphasises wisdom to begin with, the

Nirvana, Tao, God, Ultimate Truth

Morality Wisdom Meditation
Ingdom
contents does notultimate truth clear guidelines of how to penetrate wisdom more than
give people
telling people to harmonize with nature. Indeed, to live in harmony with Tao or nature is
the exact practiceuultimate trutheasily be cheated too if people do not know exactly how to
but this can
do so. So, looking from the triangle representing the structure of life, the Tao Te Ching
stresses only one arrow in the middle but still lacks of the two arrows of both sides.

13
As for Christianity, the emphasis covers two arrows, wisdom and morality, which causes
the triangle to topple to the left-hand side. All the concepts about loving enemies and
neighbours just like we love ourselves, turning the other cheek, run after people and give
them the shirt too and so on are part of the very unusual moral principles which prepare
people for the gateway of Heaven. Those who succeed in following such high moral
principles must have a unique quality and a very high potential in them. A great number
of Christians have failed to follow such practice because of one reason. It is too difficult.
It is difficult because there is too much resistance in people’s minds. To get rid of the
resistance is the direct answer to why we need to do meditation. Meditation is the practice
that is still very much lacking in mainstream Christianity. The Buddha’s way is rather
wholesome because it consists of wisdom, morality and meditation and forms the perfect
triangle. Meditation as in vipassana-bhavana is the actual practice of how to live in
harmony with Tao and how to vomit the already eaten fruits from the tree of knowledge
and to enter the kingdom of God. This practice obviously is not recorded clearly in either
the Tao Te Ching or the Bible. Ultimate truth cannot be reached by thinking but by
witnessing only. When the life map is not clear, people can easily get lost in their
spiritual jungle. In my opinion, this is the main reason which weakens Christianity and
there is too much evidence to prove this point nowadays. The success of science cannot
tune in with the supreme concept of the almighty God. While the devout believers in God
try to hang on to their God, science tries to prove the non-existence of God. As a matter
of fact, it is words and their definitions that they do not agree on and not the actual
ultimate entity itself. The different cult movements are also the obvious result of being
lost in a spiritual jungle.

If we want to go to an island in the Pacific, without a good map, we will definitely get
lost. The ultimate entity of nature is right in front of us. We can get there through mind
journey only. If the map is not detailed enough, we can never get there although it is right
here. The Buddha is the only world teacher who gives us the most detailed map to get to
that destination. The four foundations of awareness are the exact mind journey, which are
the complete cycle in themselves. Practitioners who follow the four foundations of
awareness will be placed right in front of the gateway of wisdom without having to go far
away from their own homes. When the gate of wisdom is opened, one no longer needs to
rely on the holy book anymore and that is the true spiritual freedom. All holy books are
only maps; once we reach the destination, we do not need the map anymore.

Looking back at my own experience, I can only say that there is no way I could have
made this life journey without the Buddha’s map of the four foundations of awareness.

14
Chapter seven

Refining the diamond

The world is preparing to say good bye to the 20th century. Indeed, it has been nearly two
thousand years since the birth of Christ as well as his work and his life-sacrifice for
humanity. If he physically returned now, he would be very shocked to see that his life
sacrifice meant very little to people nowadays. The Christian institution is losing its grip
on society. People deny the God to whom Christ introduced them and replace him with
the God who has the power of purchase. The spread of consumerism and websites have
rapidly destroyed good values and traditions which have been with individual societies
for so long. The institution of the family which used to hold society tightly together is
being ruined. Religious institutions, which are supposed to be a tower of strength for
members of society has been challenged and shaken on a scale that has never happened
before. Consequently, people’s minds are in great turmoil and totally lost. When they
don’t know what to cling on to, for the sake of comfort, they turn back to searching for
more wealth, power and fame in whatever way, even if it means grabbing arms and
shooting innocent people including children at school. People are being trapped in a
vicious circle. Mental turmoil has pushed a group of people in society into searching for
spiritual freedom.

This is the reason why Buddhism is flourishing in the West, but how well people can
understand eastern concepts is another matter. It is difficult for born Buddhists who grow
up in a Buddhist culture to tackle the essence of Buddhism. It is even more difficult for
western people who grow up in a culture that does not prepare them to think and practise
the eastern concept. Recently a football manager was sacked because he expressed his
view that people are born handicapped due to their previous karma. The public found his
view extremely offensive and controversial and this eventually caused him to lose his job.
Had he said it in any Buddhist country, people would not raise their eyebrows because
Buddhists grow up with such a view. Believing in re-incarnation is a big part of people’s
lives. People do all kinds of things in this lifetime because they want to guarantee that
they will have a better life in their next incarnation. This is something that western people
will find very difficult to understand. The football manager’s case is a very good example
of what I want to say about how much western people can really understand Buddhism.
Some people say that Buddhism might die out from the East and dawn in the West. I can
never agree with such a view. As far as I am concerned, what might be possible is trying
to make westerners see the common ground where both the Budddhist and the Christian
can share.

In my opinion, Christianity is a priceless diamond, which hasn’t been fully refined. As I
said in my previous chapter, both the Old and the New Testaments already contain the
ultimate wisdom which tells people the ultimate goal of life. The Knower told us that by
eating the fruit from the tree of life, we would live in eternity. The birth of Christ was to
confirm that eternal destiny and that’s why he told us to love God more than anything

12
else. Having seen the truth right in front of me, I know that the tree of life and God are
merely personifications that have not been properly revealed among the Christians and
this is the main reason that weakens the whole of the institution. The person who has seen
the ultimate truth which is the neutral state in nature, until there is not the slightest grain
of doubt in their heart, will know how difficult it is to penetrate that only real truth.
Proper foundations (moral principles and meditation) need to be prepared before
practitioners can balance their minds well enough to witness the ultimate truth in front of
them. I have no doubt whatsoever that the neutral state in nature (abyakata), in which no
name can penetrate, is the only truth that all knowers have seen, including the writer of
the Book of Genesis and Christ. This ultimate state is named God and the tree of life. In
the Book of Psalms 46:10 it says Be still and know that I am God . To me such a verse
contains the most distinctive message to confirm that God is indeed the still mind which
is also pursued by the Buddhists and indeed all other religious believers and non religious
believers too. That is because the still mind is the peace of mind, which is a universal
feeling. It is the still mind or God who plays the key role of keeping our sanity in place.
Without this still mind or God, the world is in chaos. The fact is that the world is in chaos
right now because people do not have the still mind or God.

The trouble is that such wisdom is known only among the knowers. The not-knowers do
not understand that God is indeed the still mind. Although the profound wisdom is
already there in the holy book, the means to the goal are not clear enough. As a result,
people gain less benefit from it, which is a shame. When the true meaning of God is not
properly revealed, God has become a supernatural being who is beyond questions and
people have got to have faith in him. Having faith in God basically revolves around the
fundamental process of thinking and imagining, unless one can truly witness God as the
still mind where there is no thought involved. Thinking or imagining God and truly
witnessing God as the still mind or the neutral state in nature are two different states that
are not worth comparing. There is nothing to compare. This is the downfall of
Christianity. Having faith in God cannot stand up to the challenge of science but
witnessing God as the still mind can answer the questions that science cannot answer and
does not interfere with the revelation of science. As a matter of fact, science can help to
enhance the power of God in this respect. All the answers that science wants to know
already exist in Buddhism, but of course in the same way that scientists need scientific
language to reveal the relevant truths in nature, one needs to use the right language and
approach to reveal the ultimate truth the Buddha has found.

Faith can easily be undermined and this is what has happened to the whole of the
Christian institution. When the means regarding how to go back to the kingdom of God
(still mind) are not clear, people create God according to their own imagination.
Consequently, the Bible has been interpreted and twisted to suit people’s need. When I
tried to find out what caused the Balkan war right now, the truth is as much complicated
as shocking. The war in the Balkans can be traced back to a war which happened nearly
500 years ago. The defeated Serbs have made sure that they do not forget that painful
event. Consequently, hatred and vengeance have been passed down for many generations,
and the institution which makes this painful memory fresh is the Christian church. This is

13
the main reason for the current ethnic cleansing which causes so much unnecessary
suffering to humanity.

I am sure that it will make a great deal of difference if people can see God as a still mind
instead of a He or Him. When God is mentioned as a He or Him, people tend to look up
in the sky and they will miss seeing everything right in front of them. There is a great
deal of difference because when God is regarded as the still mind, people will look
straight forward and they will see everything including the sky too. It means that if we
can find an approach to all believers in God in such a way that they do not have to come
out of their own familiar culture, the public will benefit right away. What I want to
suggest is; do we need to find a new approach to that ultimate wisdom (God as still mind)
if the world already has it? Indeed the world already has the knowledge about the way to
find God as the still mind. Do we need to search for something else which might risk us
getting lost in the spiritual jungle?

To get right to the point, the four foundations of awareness or vipassana-bhavana is
indeed the path which can quickly lead us to witness God not as a He or Him but simply
as a still mind. This is the only way in which all believers in God can see God as the
Light, the Truth, the still mind or simply as the neutral state in nature. The four
foundations of awareness can tell people exactly how not to eat the fruit from the tree of
knowledge. People who have gone through the practice of the third foundation of self-
awareness know that this is the stage of vomiting all the accumulated knowledge which
has been built up in our thoughts and memory. Only when we finish getting rid of all our
built-up knowledge, can our minds be still and stable. The still mind is the same as the
innocent mind which allows us to witness the innocent world or universe which is the
same place as the kingdom of God or the garden of Eden or the tree of life. The still mind
or innocent mind has been clearly defined by the Buddha and is the focus point of the
fourth foundation of awareness. All these religious personifications are not as remote as
we are led to think and believe. The God and the ultimate truth that we all want to know
so much are right here in front of us; they are everything about us and about the universe
we live in.

I strongly believe that if all believers in God can follow the life map of the four
foundations of awareness, they will soon find out that every single human is facing the
same ultimate truth right in front of them. Indeed, this is the only way that humanity can
truly be united. I know that this view is far too much for the believers in God to take in. If
only Christ had the chance to live as long as the Buddha did, his way of finding God
might have turned out to be the four foundations of awareness. This is a possibility. One
day a few years ago, I came across the column of questions and answers in the Daily Mail
where people wrote in to ask all kinds of questions under the sun and the columnist
would search for the answer for readers. The question and answer on that particular day
was the following:

Question: From which eastern country did the Wise Men travel?
Answer: Further to the earlier answer, German theologian Holger Kerstern’s theory
about the wise Men is that they were Buddhist monks from Kashmir, India, seeking the

14
reincarnation of a Buddhist spiritual master, who turned out to be Jesus. Later at the age
of 13, Jesus traveled to India before returning to Palestine in his late 20s, where he
gathered and taught his disciples until his crucifixion.
He survived this and returned to India, spending the rest of his life there until he died at
the age of 120, according to the prophet Mohammed. His tomb remains there still.
How seriously you can take all of this is anyone’s guess.
George Gordon, Cardonald, Glasgow.

I also heard Ajahn Khemananda say on different occasions that there was a temple in
Tibet where on the wall it was recorded that there was a boy named Jesu who came to
stay and learnt meditation. After the boy returned to his hometown and preached what he
believed, he was crucified on the cross. It will never be easy to find out the historical
truth about Christ. I brought this up just in case there might be some link. I wouldn’t be
surprised at all if Christ had been influenced by the Buddhist concepts. Having watched
the documentary on Christianity at the Millenium on BBC2 recently, I am amazed to
learn that some people say the Bible is unreliable, and their views have gained wide
acceptance. Many today dismiss what the Bible says as untrustworthy, especially the Old
Testament. If the Christians are still arguing whether the Bible is trustworthy or not, I
think we still have a long way to go to find the ultimate truth or God. I am not a Christian
as such and I have not yet read the whole of the Bible but whenever I read the Bible, I
always find the words of truth and nothing but the truth. How can we possibly doubt the
person who wrote the Book of Genesis who talked about the tree of life and the tree of
knowledge? He tried to tell us about a gigantic mountain existing right here in front of us
but we cannot see it because we are too small and too stupid, so we blame him or her as a
liar. It isn’t fair, is it? I can say that I have no doubt in the Bible whatsoever. I have no
doubt because I can see the truth myself, or metaphorically speaking, I can see the
mountain. The Bible confirms to me further about the truth I can see right here in front of
me. We must not get mixed up and cling on to the Bible as the objective itself. The Bible
is only a guide, a map pointing the way to our destination. We must be free from the
Bible before we can reach our eternal destination. Having faith in God is totally different
from witnessing God ourselves. If we still have faith in God, it means that we haven’t yet
found the real God. If we have found the real God, we don’t need faith anymore, we can
speak the word of truth ourselves. What we need right now is the know-how, which will
enable us to find the real God. This is the reason why I must talk about this issue
seriously.

People will wonder how can we apply the Buddhist practice into the Christian way of
life? Well, this is the whole point of this chapter. People who have gone through the
detailed practice of the four foundations of awareness know that it is a matter of creating
a new habit which enables people to come a step closer to seeing the ultimate truth or
God as the still mind. The practice itself is universal just like learning how to drive or
swim. People can easily forget their national and religious identity while the practice is
proceeding. Therefore, there is no need to involve any religious ceremony if we don’t
want to. This will benefit those who have no belief in God. On the other hand, if we want
to, we can always mould the four foundations of awareness into any religious tradition so
that people do not feel too alienated. People can practice the four foundations of

15
awareness within their own and familiar religious culture which can easily help them to
root deeper. It means that the practicality and the technique have to be very clear among
the teachers first.

I must emphasise at this stage that I do not talk about this idea from the top of my head
nor do I imagine it. My work at the University of Birmingham as a Tai chi teacher is all
about luring the young people in the West to engage in this positive practice of the four
foundations of awareness. Of course no one asked me to do it but I do it because I know
that people can benefit from this practice right away. It hasn’t been easy at all in trying
to find the right way and right approach for them, especially as I had to think alone and
do alone all these years. Nonetheless, all those thoughts and concepts have been
materialized and become more and more distinctive especially in the past two years
following my unique experience. This is how I gain my courage to put this thought
forward. I am sure that if both the Buddhist and the Christian can pay attention to this
view, the public can certainly gain the benefit.

Of course, it means that all people concerned must put their ego aside. My talk today not
only can cause uproar among the Christians but also among the Buddhists. It is quite
natural for people to think that their own religion is better than others’ and that we should
not mix. But this is exactly the problem happening in the world today. What people do
not realise is that to be able to witness the ultimate truth or to see God as the still mind,
people need to destroy the barrier put up by different religious beliefs first. As soon as the
still mind or God or the innocent world is truly witnessed, that person is no longer being a
Christian, Buddhist, Muslim and so on, let alone having any national, sexual, age or
racial regards. This is the only real wisdom of the universe, which has been shared by all
enlightened ones of all time and place.

I know that it is really not my business to interfere in what the Christians believe about
their God since I do not consider myself a Christian and why do I want to put my foot
into it ? I am sure people can see that I do not gain anything out of saying all these things
but probably mockery, controversy and even hostility from all sides. This is not what a
mother of three teenagers would want. I can be quite happy and content doing things
around my house for the rest of my life just like any mother in the world. I am sure
people can see that. The only reason that makes me speak up is my duty to the truth. I
owe it to the truth I can see right in front of me and owe it to those people no matter how
small the number is who might be able to understand. I can only be totally crazy and
don’t know what I am talking about or I know exactly what I am talking about. This is
not for me to judge. The judgement is yours. Nonetheless, I truly think that the world has
become so troubled that we should not be too stubborn to agree on something that might
create some positive result for a change. I would like to take this opportunity to urge all
religious leaders to talk seriously about this issue.

16
Chapter eight

How to switch off unwanted thoughts

Nearly every problem in the world today can be traced back to one cause. That is the
excessive thinking of an individual and the failure to switch off the thoughts. The three
groups of defilement - greed, anger and delusion - that all Buddhists know well cannot
happen on their own. They can only come with a transporter and that is thought.

The owner of the thought which carries greed who fails to stop it will certainly respond to
his or her greedy thought, which depends on what and how much he or she craves. People
who have less greed will grab less whilst those who have more greed will naturally grab
more. Mahatama Gandhi said that the natural resources in the world are enough to feed
every single human on earth but they are not enough to satisfy just one greedy person.
We only need to look around and we know that Gandhi was quite right. Poverty in the
world is certainly man-made. This world has only a few wealthy people who can
engineer the destiny of so many things and events as well as their own wealth. As for
thought which carries anger and hatred with it, we all know what such destructive
thought is capable of and can lead to. When people cannot switch off their angry
thoughts, they subsequently cannot stop their boiling angry feeling.1 The owner of that
angry thought will be forced to respond and react to whatever his or her thought tells him
or her to do. A much lesser degree is merely a touch of resentment in the owner’s heart,
which develops into arguments between two persons, to being violent towards other
person, to committing different levels of crime leading finally to the extreme degree of
causing a war. The greedy thought and the angry thought are related by nature in that if
we cannot have what we want or crave for, we get angry. However, both greedy and
angry thoughts are overruled by delusion. Delusive thought, as it is described, does not
have a distinctive nature like greed and anger. Nonetheless, delusion reflects itself in the
following thoughts and feelings e.g. embarrassment, uncertainty, doubt, insecurity,
discontentment, boredom and fear. Among those feelings, fear is the worst of all e.g. fear
of ghosts, poverty, being laughed at, ageing, illness, death, etc.

We all know as well that if we do not think about our problems, we won’t have problems.
The trouble is we cannot switch our thoughts off and therefore we cannot solve our
problems. The persistent thought itself becomes the problem in which we are trapped and
which forms a vicious circle. As a result, people seek their way out in all sorts of ways so
that they can stop thinking about their problems. If the problem is not a major one, people
can go out, enjoy themselves and soon forget about the problem. If the problem is
serious, people need to take some stronger measure to stop thinking about their problems

1
While I am writing this article, the American people are trying to come to terms once again with the massacre at a High
School in Corolado which left 15 people dead and many more injured. This bloodbath was the sixth such event spreading
over the past 18 months in America.

12
and the most popular solution is anti-depressant drugs, although a great number in our
modern society choose to take illegal drugs. Eating disorders and heavy drinking are also
alternative ways that many people choose so that they can stop thinking. If all those
measures fail to work, many people have no choice but use the ultimate solution, suicide.
There is no doubt that depression is one of the most common illnesses of our modern
society. This serious mental condition which hits one in four Britons, costs Britain more
than 8 billion pounds a year in health care, loss of productivity and social security
benefit. The World Health organisation predicts that in 20 years’ time depression will be
the second most burdensome illness in the world.2

Every day, we hear the phrase “don’t think about it”. We are either the one who dishes
out the precious advice or we take the advice ourselves. We all know that it is easier said
than done especially if we are on the side of taking the advice. None of us want to keep
our painful, unpleasant and disturbing thoughts. When we are face to face with the
bombarding thoughts shooting at us like machine guns, we are all powerless. This is the
condition that the Buddha compared to dust being trapped in a cart’s wheel. To free
ourselves from that vicious circle is the most difficult task on earth. Without the help of
the Buddha, we are all still being trapped in the cart’s wheel for as long as it takes.
However, the sad truth is that the majority of people in the world still do not know that
there is indeed a way out of that vicious circle. This is the main reason for all these
words.

Temple-goers nowadays are being looked at as those who have personal problems and
that’s why they need to seek help from monks. Very few people can link their mental
illness (due to being unable to stop the unwanted thoughts) to the enlightenment of the
Buddha. As a matter of fact, the enlightenment of the Buddha can directly help us to cure
this most fundamental problem; that is to be able to stop thinking when we want to. To
see the state of Nirvana or ultimate truth is a direct matter of finding stability for the mind
and indeed about dealing with thoughts. The four foundations of awareness or vipassana-
bhavana is the exact practice of creating a new mental habit. That is the habit of
switching off unwanted or rubbish thoughts, at the same time generating useful and
creative thoughts. This is exactly the mental habit that people do not have and is the root
cause of all problems in the world today. People do not realise that letting our minds drift
away with thoughts, imagination, fantasy and dreams is a bad mental habit which needs
to be corrected. People may ask, what is wrong with having fantasies, dreams and
imagination? Let’s not mention the positive dreams, fantasy and imagination which can
brighten the world up but look closely at the negative ones. I am sure that at least once in
our lives, we all have had some weird (waking) dream, fantasy or imagination. In fact,
once in our lives is an extreme understatement just in case someone might say I have
never had one, because a great number of people are literally living in their dream,
fantasy and imagination all the time. The next thing is the degree of weirdness which
adds to the shocking result. I am sure readers begin to get the picture of crimes relating to
bizarre fantasy. Paedophile and serial killers are the obvious examples of people who
cannot stop thinking about their weird fantasy. As for the two teenagers who have just

2
Daily Mail Thursday 22 April 1999 page 15

13
gunned down 15 youngsters in a high school including themselves: this was also the
result of being unable to stop their hate-filled thoughts, plus a few other factors which
made the massacre become possible. One main factor is Hollywood which helped to
build the fantasy of killing people they hated just like their stars did in the films they
idolised. Another main factor is that guns are available items in America. If those two
boys were in Britain, that chilling incident might not have happened because they would
not have been able to get hold of guns so easily. Another crucial factor to make this crime
so horrendous is the Internet. I don’t know whether I should use the term fortunate or
unfortunate that our modern society has such a high technology as the Internet which was
meant to unite humanity. Now, we can see the very dark side of this technology. Without
the Internet, the two boys would not have had the easiest access to the resources of how
to make bombs. However, we must understand that Hollywood, the gun law in the US
and the Internet are only subsequent factors which make the weird fantasy become
possible. The root of this problem still comes back to the failure to switch off weird and
destructive thoughts. This is how dangerous this bad mental habit can be. The suffering
of people in the world today is the sheer result of all our bad mental habits which we not
only inflict upon ourselves but also on others. The trouble is we don’t need that many
people to exercise their destructive fantasy to cause mayhem. The heart-wrenching plight
of the Bosnian refugees right now is caused by just one person. During the past fifty
years, five key persons were responsible for the tragic death of approximately 50 million
innocent people or more. We must not take this bad mental habit too lightly.

The bad mental habit (drifting away with thoughts and fantasy) is not something that
people can easily detect and put right by themselves. We even know that biting finger
nails is a bad physical habit and it is difficult to change even though we can see what is
happening. What chance do we have to change our mental habits which are something we
cannot see. In the end, we must admit that we need help. The arrival of all great teachers
in the past, the Buddha and Christ for example, was meant for this very purpose, but we
cannot understand those holy words well enough to gain the benefit from them and turn
to other forms of refuge instead. This is a great shame!

I am doing my best to make things simpler for people. To get right to the point, the four
foundations of awareness are about correcting our mental habits until we can truly find
our real mental freedom. People who have never heard of the four foundations of
awareness should quickly find experts and learn from them.

14
Chapter nine

The four foundations of awareness

No matter what angle I talked about in the previous eight chapters, I always linked up to the
four foundations of awareness. However, to make this chapter more relevant to people’s
immediate need, I will make this chapter as the continuation of chapter eight where I talked
about the excessive thinking which is the root cause of all problems. Alternatively, this
chapter is about how exactly we can switch off our unwanted thoughts and feelings. This is
the refuge, which does not leave us any side effects and is recommend to us by the Buddha.

False view

When we talk about practising self-awareness, the majority of people are inclined to wonder
why we need to do so since we already seem to have a sense of self-awareness. Therefore, it
is very important to get this concept right before we talk about the actual practice. We must
understand that the self awareness of people who have not yet engaged in the four
foundations of awareness cannot yet be considered as the right kind of awareness. According
to the Fourth Noble Truth or the Noble Eightfold Path, right awareness (Samma-sati) has to
be initially guided by right view or right understanding (Samma-ditthi) of the ultimate
purpose of life. In other words, we must accept the enlightenment of the Buddha first.
Without being guided by right view, the self-awareness that we have tends to cling closely to
material value, fame, status, gain and loss, etc. If it isn’t linked with material awareness,
meditation nowadays is used for relaxation purposes which prove to be quite popular both in
the West and the East. People reach out for different types of healing which involve having
higher levels of self-awareness. Some people think that such positive practices might have
something to do with Buddhist meditation. This is precisely the point I mentioned in chapter
five. It is very important that the goal of life is clear at least on the thinking level. If not we
are risking losing our way in the process since this whole thing is extremely complex. Doing
meditation and having a higher level of self-awareness are like sitting on a boat but without
knowing the right destination (right view or Samma-ditthi). This boat can easily drift to
anywhere in the ocean. We must know where we are going first. That’s why I must keep on
emphasising the ultimate goal of life, which is the result of the Buddha’s enlightenment. We
must be very careful.

The material-related awareness is considered as wrong awareness (Miccha-sati) as far as the
Buddha’s teaching is concerned. The terms “wrong or false” do not necessarily mean
destructive. People whose work demands absolute concentration e.g. surgeons, sports men &
women, guards at Buckingham palace, etc. undoubtedly have a high level of self-awareness
and their minds are fully focused. Such positive self-awareness is still considered as false
awareness or Miccha-sati. To be able to understand this chapter clearly, let’s understand that
the four foundations of awareness are the practice which leads us to a particular purpose.
That is to go beyond all sufferings or enter Nirvana, which is the same thing as having our
absolute normality back. As for the Christian point of view, the four foundations of
awareness are the practice which helps us to throw up all the fruits from the tree of
knowledge so that we can begin to eat the fruits from the tree of life with relish. This is also

12
about how we can truly love God more than anything else as well as reach eternal life while
we are still living. This ultimate goal of life is distinctively clarified in the Maha-sati-pattana-
sutra, The Buddha said:

This single path which leads to the innocence of all lives, to go beyond all misery and
suffering, to achieve the right Dhamma, to witness Nirvana, is the four foundations of
awareness. This is the cause to one of these results - to enter Arahantship at present, or if
not, to reach anagamiship (the non-returner) from within 7 days to within 7 years.”

People who are ready to engage in the practice of the four foundations of awareness should at
least have faith and not doubt the enlightenment of the Buddha. This is the most significant
and supporting factor to enable the practitioner to see and understand the Buddha’s profound
wisdom. Believers in God must not be put off by thinking that this is a Buddhist practice and
has nothing to do with them. That is because when the practice is proceeding, I can assure
everyone that the practitioner will forget not only about their religious status but also their
age, sexuality, nationality and race. This practice is purely a scientific experiment, which
involves our body and mind, which every single human being has all the same.

The foundation of awareness is the tool for catching the speed of thoughts.

Drifting away with thoughts, fantasy and imagination is considered as lacking a strong sense
of self-awareness as far as Buddhism is concerned. This is our bad mental habit, which
seriously and urgently needs to be put right because this is the root of all problems as I have
said. Alternatively, I can say that the reason that we drift away with our thoughts is because
the thoughts come into our heads at a staggering speed and we cannot catch them quickly
enough to stop them. Consequently, we drift along with them and become powerless just like
dust being trapped in a cart’s wheel. To be able to stop drifting or stop having unwanted
thoughts, we must catch the thoughts red-handed. This sounds rather complicated. To make it
more precise and right to the point, the four foundations of awareness as a whole are the tool
(means) used to catch the staggering speed of thoughts. As a result, we can stop being carried
away with some awful fantasy and subsequently stop the destructive action.

Contemplation of the body (Kaya-nu-passana)

The first foundation of awareness is the contemplation of bodily movements, which is the
process of calling back the fundamental self-awareness. Practitioners will learn to be aware
of their own breathing, and all the detailed movements of daily life e.g. walking, bending,
stretching, reaching and so on. The serene movements of Tai chi are an ideal way of
practising this fundamental technique of self-awareness. By simply and directly knowing our
breath or our movements without thinking about anything is the precise practice of this first
level. Practitioners should find one or two suitable techniques and stick with them. Some
people might find that mindfulness with breathing is too structured and tend to fall asleep,
whilst some people might find sitting cross-legged too much to bear. It can be modified by
sitting on a higher chair instead of sitting cross-legged, especially for westerners who have
long legs. Walking meditation and Tai chi can be good alternatives for those who tend to fall
asleep. However, some people might think that they can forget about being mindful after they
come out of an hour or so of structured meditation. As a matter of fact, practitioners must do
their best to be mindful all the time or whenever they can remember. This is the secret of
advancing the practice. That is to be mindful of all the detailed movements as the day is

13
moving on. To be mindful is to do everything with a full mind. If we are cleaning windows,
we clean them with the full mind and try not to drift away from that immediate movement,
not for too long anyway. This is the whole idea of this exercise. This practice is most ideal
for those whose work does not demand too much use of the brain or involve deep thinking.
Housework or simple tasks that involve the hands’ movements are quite perfect for this level
of practice.

To be mindful of the immediate moment is the direct way of giving the new habit to our
minds. This practice is tangible because practitioners know exactly what to focus on.
Although this level is classed as easy and fundamental compared to the other three levels,
nonetheless, beginners will certainly find it extremely difficult. The main reason is that the
mind will not stop drifting away from the immediate moment. Practitioners will be faced
with repeated failure. As long as practitioners do not give up the practice, they will move up
and soon learn by themselves that those presumably repeated failures are in fact a giant leap.
If practitioners do not feel so and are on the verge of giving up, it is important to listen to
those who have more experience. What I am talking about right now is what I have been
through. Although we tend to think that we have not made any major progress, in fact, the
process of training an appropriate habit for the mind has already begun since we took on the
practice of self-awareness. Alternatively, we are actually in the process of preparing
ourselves to be enlightened, although we hardly feel so. Compared to other people who have
never done this kind of practice, we have actually gone a long way away from them.
Practitioners must find ways to comfort, encourage and cajole themselves to keep up
with the practice and never give up hope. It is very much like learning a new language
which fundamentally is about giving a new habit to the tongue. It is difficult at first but when
the tongue is used to the new habit of movement, it will become easier. In the same way,
when our minds are used to the new mental habit, we will find the practice easier. How long
it takes depends on how much effort we have put into it.

Contemplation of the feelings (Vedana-nu-passana)

Whilst the contemplation of the bodily movements is tangible, the contemplation of the
feelings becomes a bit more subtle, refined and intangible. Provided that practitioners keep
on with the first level of practice, they will begin to notice the sensations (feelings) of both
the body and mind. Physical sensations revolve around sensing heat, cold, softness, hardness,
pain and so on. With guidance from a teacher, students will learn to notice their physical
sensations in a way they never experienced before. An experienced teacher is a great bonus
for students because the most difficult part regarding this practice is dealing with the
simplicity. We tend to wonder what on earth we can gain by just observing the sensations
which we like to think we already know. Consequently, such simplicity cannot capture our
attention and our minds drift to fantasy and imaginations which can offer us far more
excitement. That’s why there are always only a small number of people who can truly survive
this path to enlightenment. We must not forget that we are engaging in a mind journey where
all signposts are abstract, formless and intangible. Therefore, listening to the guidance of an
experienced teacher is very important.

However, I train my Tai chi students to observe the tingling and buzzing sensations in their
hands and body according to what is applicable. To observe the physical sensation requires a
better skill of concentration because it is very easy to drift away. I will normally remind the

14
students not to drift away just for a few seconds at a time. Ten seconds of observing any
physical sensations without drifting away is considered a great achievement for novices.
They will have a good base to develop further.

Mental feelings

Besides, we also have mental feelings: positive feelings, negative feelings and neutral
feelings, although this is merely a generalisation.1 Actually, there are so many different faces
of mental feelings, some of which are impossible to describe. Mental feelings are very
individual, profound and private and at times extremely difficult to express. Only the owner
of the feelings knows exactly what they are like. Contemplation as regards feelings is a
precise way to understand feelings objectively, not by explaining with excessive words but
by quietly and patiently observing the feelings as they are. Therefore, if we do not try to
understand our feelings by practising self-awareness, we cannot expect others to understand
us fully when we are hit by emotional turmoil.

Observing mental feelings

To observe physical feeling is one thing but to observe mental feeling is something rather
different and can be difficult at times. Provided that practitioners have enough patience, they
begin to experience the restless mind which constantly fidgets and wiggles every time
thought arises. The mind can only move either upwards (positive feelings) or downwards
(negative feelings). We will find out that every time the mind twitches especially downwards,
we as the owner of that feeling will be bitten and get hurt. This is the time when we can
experience the different faces of feelings and emotion in the way that we look at them, just as
we look at wounds in our hands. Just by observing our feelings with great patience, wisdom
arises, and we subsequently find that those feelings do not stay still for long. They actually
come, stay for a while and go (being impermanent). When we do something fun and exciting,
our minds rise up with joy and excitement and then those feelings disappear into thin air.
When we meet and talk to someone who is better off than us, we feel sad, inadequate and
probably envious. Then, these compound feelings stay with us for a while and then disappear
into thin air. Nonetheless, every time we think about those conversations and moments, every
feeling comes back and bothers us again. Not until we earnestly look and observe in this
manner, will we begin to see such an impermanent pattern. To see all these feelings coming
and going is a painful matter. If the wounds are in our hands, we can put some antiseptic
cream on them and make the wounds better. But how can we make our mental wound better?
The answer is exactly what this level of practice is all about. As long as practitioners have
enough patience to observe the mental movements in the above manner, this exercise can be
compared to putting antiseptic cream onto our mental wounds. Of course, practitioners do not
feel so because the process is so painful at times. Nonetheless, whoever has reached this
point knows that there is no return. This is a one way ticket to the ultimate freedom of life.

1
As far as the contemplation of feelings is concerned, it is necessary to talk about both
physical and mental feelings. In my opinion, I would consider observing the mental
feelings as the third level of awareness because of its location-the mind. However, to
observe the rough scale of mental feelings as happiness and sorrow can be classed as the
second foundation of self-awareness.

15
The most we can do is comfort ourselves and have faith in the Buddha and in the teacher who
is guiding us.

Whilst practitioners are doing the second foundation of awareness, it doesn’t mean that they
let go of the first foundation completely. Practitioners soon learn that the practice of the first
foundation enables them to observe better their physical and mental feelings. Whenever they
feel a bit complacent regarding the first foundation of awareness, they soon find themselves
trapped in their own feelings instead of looking over them as they used to do when they were
fully aware. People who engage in the practice can easily understand what I mean by that,
whilst those who have never practised might be rather puzzled. The following comparison
might help to understand what observing feelings actually means.

There are two ways to know a train.

Since feelings and emotions exist in our life form, we cannot see them with our naked eyes.
We can only feel them. This is the tricky bit. Let’s suppose a train is the feeling or emotion
and “we” is our consciousness or knowing nature (vinnana). People who know nothing about
this practice will experience their feelings in the same way as sitting in a train. It looks as
though we know the feelings or know exactly how we feel because we are sitting in it. Such
an experience, however, is totally different from those who learn to observe their feelings.
Observing the feelings can be compared to the person (consciousness or vinnana) who
chooses to sit on the platform of a station instead and look at the train (feeling & emotion)
coming and passing through the station. Therefore, practitioners can see the feelings but in a
different way from non-practitioners. We can see that all this is very abstract and can be
made clear only by witnessing the experience. An intellectual genius will certainly find all
this very difficult to understand because this practice has nothing to do with reasoning and
thinking. Yet, this is only the beginning of the complication and difficulties, because later on
this train will turn into thoughts and run at a staggering speed. This is not a threat to put
people off but it is important to understand the early stages clearly before we move on.

16
Chapter ten

The third foundation : awareness of thoughts
Be spontaneous

I was talking about never being complacent and letting go of the first foundation of self-
awareness. Practitioners will learn to apply the appropriate practice spontaneously. For
example, we might be observing our breath and suddenly a mosquito bites; we suddenly
notice the itch which means we naturally move to the second foundation of self
awareness. We then look at the itch in the way we have been trained until it disappear and
subsequently shift our focus point back to our breath again. These two foundations are
very important because they will be the boosters to the third foundation of awareness.
Provided that practitioners have consistently kept on with the practice, their minds will
naturally be refined. As the practice is in progress, practitioners will find themselves
more at ease and have less struggle with the practice, which is the sign of advancing. This
is the precise process of taking away our old mental habits (spitting out the fruit from the
tree of knowledge) and replacing them with good mental habits (having more self-
awareness). However, there is still lot of work to do.

The contemplation as regarding thoughts (Citta-nu-passana)

Before I go into the details of this foundation of awareness, I would like to say that the
four foundations of awareness are a natural progression, which can only be understood
when practitioners have gone through the stages and look back. I am saying this because
now I can look back and see what happened to me, which I couldn’t understand at the
time. I remember vividly that I blamed myself terribly and considered myself a failure
whilst I was in the middle of struggling through the third level of self-awareness. The
more I could see my thoughts, the more I thought I was no good and quite often was hit
by guilt. All these are pitfalls that only a veteran can bring a student out of. If not, the
student has to be extremely patient to pull himself or herself through. Nonetheless, I
realised that what I thought was failure was in fact progress in a funny way, I supposed.
This realisation came many years after I had gone through such a difficult stage. This is a
tip, if I may call it, for those who might be going through the same kind of experience as
myself. So what I am going to talk about as regards the third foundation will be based on
my present experience when I can actually look back and describe the whole picture of
my mental journey. Practitioners who are going into this level or are in the middle of this
level might not be able to see or feel the same. All I can say is please be very patient and
earnestly keep on with the practice. You will come out of it and be all right.

Observing thought is like catching a runaway train

The third foundation of awareness is about catching every single thought running through
our heads. How exactly can we do this? We must come back to the comparison of the
train again. This time the train is our thoughts instead of our feelings and emotions.
Provided that practitioners are very good with the first two levels of self-awareness, the

12
third level regarding catching each thought will gradually happen although practitioners
do not fully realise it. Whether we are ready or not to engage in the third level of practice
is not really our choice. This is a matter of natural mechanism - as long as the right cause
is put in, the right result will be produced on its own. This is exactly why the Buddha
claims that his enlightenment is a challenge to be proven, because the whole practice is
scientific but of course difficult to imagine. Those who are ready are those who can
actually understand what I am saying which is about sitting on a platform and watching
the train coming and going. This is a precise analogy for observing our thoughts
independently. As a matter of fact, noticing the arising and the passing away of thoughts
already happened when we first adopted the contemplation of bodily movements but at
that time we didn’t really know the involvement.

As our self-awareness becomes more acute and spontaneous, we’ll begin to notice
thoughts independently just as if we are sitting on the platform of a station and doing
train-spotting. This is the most painful stage of the practice but most rewarding because
we are about to enter the gateway of most profound wisdom. The pain is the result of
coming face to face with every thought and every feeling in the way that we cannot turn
back and run away like we used to do anymore. Readers might be confused by the term
running away from thoughts and feelings. I must clarify this matter first.

Putting stone over growing grass

Apart from this practice, whether we would like to hear it or not, we all run away from
our own thoughts and feelings one way or another. Our problems initiate within the
compound of thoughts and feelings. When it happens, we tend to smooth them over
somehow. The very first way we do this is by trying to think about something else which
we call positive thinking, which may involve reasoning with ourselves and so on. If not,
we would go out and do something totally different so that we can forget about our
troubles. If the problem is not major, we can succeed in forgetting about the whole thing
quite easily by going out and enjoying ourselves. However, sometimes our problems are
too much and they won’t go away just by reasoning with them, we then need to seek
professional help either from doctors, psychiatrists and so on. Consequently, we might be
offered counseling or prescribed drugs, e.g. anti-depressants or Prozac so that we can
calm our troubled mind down. Not to mention those who choose to use drinking and
illegal drugs as their refuge, which plunges them deeper into their mental abyss.
However, if all those options do not work out and people can no longer cope with their
mental turmoil, the last measure people take to run away from their problem is suicide.

We might think that reasoning with ourselves to solve our problem is the most civilised
and positive way, which is very true in this context. I have no argument with that. What I
want to emphasise is that all these options are still in the nature of covering the problems
up and not undoing the problem at source, just like putting a stone over growing grass
instead of pulling the grass out by its roots. This will offend a great number of people
especially intellectuals who think that they can handle their problems in the most
civilised and intellectual way. I cannot say anything more or less than the truth. The truth
is that solving our mental problems at source can only mean observing the arising

13
thoughts independently. And how can we do that? It means that we have to engage in the
four foundations of awareness. Maybe readers begin to understand why I see the urgent
need to let this awakening culture seep through into the Christian way of life as well as
all religious traditions. The sole reason is that the four foundations of awareness are the
shortest route for the mental journey which can bring immediate stability to our mental
state regardless of sex, age, religion, nationality, race and social status.

Pulling grass out by its roots

Every problem in the world is initiated by thoughts. In other words, if we don’t THINK
about it, we don’t have a problem. As long as we think about it, we will always have a
problem. Indeed, the problem comes with our thoughts. Now, we are reaching the point
of delving into that very source of the problem, which is dealing with our thoughts.
Bluntly speaking, if we can stop our thoughts, we can stop our problems. I know this
must sound silly and even stupid especially for intellectuals. I can only say that the true
wisdom is hidden in the greatest simplicity and probably what people regard as stupidity.
If people are so arrogant as to think that this is all nonsense, they are about to deny the
most profound wisdom in the universe.

Practitioners engaging in the third foundation of self-awareness soon find out for
themselves that there is no smoothing over their problems anymore. On the contrary, they
will have to confront their problems. It isn’t the content or context of the problem they
have to face but just simply understand the overall nature of thoughts. As this level of
practice is progressing, practitioners will come face to face with each individual thought
and will experience every twist and turn of the feelings brought on by each thought. This
is certainly a very painful process, although it is most rewarding. We can begin to catch
the moment when thought arises and instantaneously causes the subsequent feeling,
which has the ability to bite our mind or heart1. So, although we are bitten (both in the
indirect way as positive feeling and in the direct way as negative feeling) every time the
mind moves from its neutral state, this time we also know the reason why we are bitten.
This knowledge is the key wisdom, which will bring us to our ultimate mental freedom
later on.

Notice the difference between sitting in a train and watching a train from the
platform.

If thought is compared to a train and we are the consciousness or knowing nature, at the
beginning of this level of practice, we begin to notice the difference between sitting in a
train and merely sitting on the platform and looking at a train. We gradually learn that
whenever thoughts arise in our heads and we are not fully aware of the arising of those
thoughts, we’ll drift along with them for as long as it takes until we are aware and snap

1
In the West, mind refers to the area in our head where the brain is situated, whilst in the
East, mind or Citta refers to the area in our heart, not the physical organ but the abstract
nature behind our chest. I make it very clear to my students that the abstract area behind
our chest is the focus point of the third foundation of self-awareness.

14
ourselves out of them. This can be compared to catching the train the moment it comes
into the station, sitting in there and letting the train take us along as far as the end of that
train journey or maybe jumping off a bit earlier. When this (drifting along with thought)
happens inside us, we soon find out as well that feelings follow. We can see our minds
either move up (positive feeling-joy, happiness, etc.) or down (negative feelings -
sadness, pain, etc) according to the contents of our thoughts. This is the moment that I
said can be quite painful because we can see those feelings so clearly. However, the
training from the first two foundations of self-awareness gives enormous strength to
practitioners and enables them to snap the thought away simultaneously. This is just like
jumping off a train the moment we realise we have got on the wrong train. This is the
process of resisting or not to being dragged along by our own thoughts or not jumping on
the train too quickly.

Nevertheless, it doesn’t mean that thoughts don’t come into our head at all. Thoughts still
come into our heads as usual but this time we can sit back on a bench on the platform and
watch the train coming and going for a change. It means that we don’t have to drift along
with thoughts anymore, we can just watch them coming and going. This nature is
considered the peak of this level of practice. What actually happens is that we merely
stop the proliferation of thought. We must understand that thoughts come into our heads
one at a time but at staggering speed. So, the nature of drifting away with thoughts is in
fact a successive chain of thoughts which keeps on reproducing itself endlessly. We jump
from one thought to another all the time without being aware of it. This is how our
problems can generate. Thoughts also bring along with them all faces of feelings and
emotions. Once feelings and emotions are set in our minds, our problems become messy,
sticky and entangled. That is because feelings in return regenerate more thoughts and
more feelings and create a vicious cycle. If our awareness is sharp enough to catch the
arising of each thought, we can stop the proliferation of thought right away and break the
vicious circle. It means that we just let that one thought pass through our heads, just like
watching a train coming through the station without jumping on it. In other words, we
keep our thoughts short by not drifting along. Consequently, we have less thoughts by
just keeping them short and subsequently we have less feelings which means we have
less problems. As I said, our problems come with thoughts and feelings. Simply being
aware of the arising of thought is solving our problem at source, which can be compared
to pulling the grass out by its roots. This unique ability cannot happen without training in
the first two foundations of self-awareness. Once we have less thoughts, our perceptions
towards the world will become pure and innocent which is the fourth foundation of
awareness. I’ll talk about it in later chapter.

From Genesis to Mahabharata

I have no doubt in the slightest that to be aware of the arising of thought (the third
foundation of self-awareness) is the precise action of how not to eat the fruit from the tree
of knowledge. This is the warning of God or whoever knew the function of the mind so
well that he had to tell people by hiding the true meaning in such ingenious metaphors as
the tree of life and the tree of knowledge. The true hidden meaning of these two trees has
not yet been revealed properly due to the lack of practice. The know-how is indeed the

15
missing link in the Christian holy book. When the know-how is not clear, people do not
understand God’s warning about how not to eat the fruit from the wrong tree.
Consequently, we are still eating the poisonous fruits with relish and that’s why we can
never get rid of our problems.

Whilst the book of Genesis depicts the two significant natures of our minds as the tree of
knowledge and the tree of life, the Mahabharata which is a great Indian epic, depicts the
same nature of our minds from another angle and that is fighting in a battlefield. To come
face to face with our thoughts and to try not to go along with them is a painful process for
all vipassana-practitioners. This has been depicted as war between two brothers and their
families in the great epic, Mahabharata. This is a personification of what is going on in
human’s minds, between the good thoughts and the bad thoughts. Practitioners who are in
the midst of training in the third foundation of self-awareness realise that this mind is
indeed a battlefield. To observe each thought and let it go is very much like fighting in a
battlefield. If we are strong (having acute awareness), we’ll win and manage to kill
thoughts. However, if we are weak (having weak awareness), the thoughts will kill us by
dragging us along with them and bite us as they turn into feelings. This battle goes on all
the time while we are awake but we don’t know. Sometimes, it still goes on in our sleep
by having dreams unless we can go into a deep sleep without dreams. To be aware of
every thought is indeed an exhausting job, which goes on in the most private and
individual manner. No one knows except the practitioner.

The significant point in regard to the great epic Mahabharata is the question of why we
should kill our close relatives. Killing enemies is a straightforward action as far as war is
concerned but killing our close relatives and loved ones is a much more complex matter.
What is the meaning behind this personification? We can understand the reason of getting
rid of our bad and destructive thoughts and feelings which is a straightforward combat.
To get rid of our good thoughts and good feelings too can raise a lot of puzzles and
doubt. This is why we cannot be satisfied by just being morally good because problems
haven’t been solved at source yet. People who determine to stand on their moral ground
still have problems and heartache. We all know that. Actually and sadly, this type of
person is an open target and subjected to bullying in our modern society where there is a
vacuum of morality. That’s why morality is not enough to make people fully happy. This
is why we need to talk about the four foundations of awareness.

The author who wrote the Mahabharata and especially the Bhagavad-Gita must have had
some clear understanding of the third foundation of self awareness - observing the arising
of thoughts - to be able to create such a unique story line. Not until we engage in the third
level of practice do we realise that confronting thoughts is a one task business. If we
(consciousness) are sitting on a platform spotting trains, our job is merely spotting all
trains (thoughts) that come through the station; some trains are painted black (bad
thoughts) and some are painted white (good thoughts). The trains (thoughts) and us
(consciousness) are two separate natures. This means that just simply observing the
coming and going of each thought, we (consciousness) also cut short good thoughts and
good feelings. This has to be understood very carefully. Please don’t quickly conclude

16
that we must get rid of all creative thoughts too. It isn’t like that. Later on I will talk
about how to generate creative thoughts.

Good thoughts and good feelings in the above context point to the attachment to our
loved ones. We all know that to love someone is good. On the radio this morning, I just
heard someone say jokingly that whoever created love should be shot. I laughed and said
to my husband “But it was God who created love”. Well, I don’t quite understand in what
context that person said such a sentence, which strikes at the heart of this issue. It is
rather ironic but it is also very true that love, no matter how positive it may sound, also
creates heartache, pain and immense suffering. The cause of most suffering among
humans in the world today is the loss of love. In war-torn countries, the familiar heart-
wrenching scene of women who have lost their loved ones as we often see on the news
coverage says it all. Love is a double-edged blade. It can create enormous strength and
creativity when it lasts. But when things go wrong for whatever reasons, love can easily
be replaced by hatred and all hell can break loose. This is when we can see the
destructive side of love. Love acts like glue, which attaches people to people or objects
and people together. When the object of love disappears, we grieve over that loss and the
pain can be horrendous at times. When we think about our loved ones, we cannot deny
that we can also sense fear - the fear that something awful might happen to them. When
parents look at their children, thoughts run through their heads and they can see worries
and fear which come with those thoughts. This is the cause which urged the young prince
Siddhattha to search for the end of suffering, and he finally found it. To see the arising of
each thought means that the practitioner can also detect the attachment, worry and fear
which come with some positive thoughts. This leads to the reason why we also need to let
those good thoughts pass through our heads without clinging to them. It is as difficult to
explain as to understand because it relates closely to the practice. Logic cannot help to
explain this issue very well, I am afraid to say. Only experience can clarify.

I mention it just to link with the theme in the Bhagavad-gita of why Arjuna had to kill all
his relatives. This context has to be correctly clarified, otherwise it can be used for a
wrong and evil purpose. I don’t know how true this was. I only heard from my teacher’s
tape saying that Hitler ordered a great number of copies of the Bhagavad-Gita for the
Nazis so that they could be encouraged and find no wrong in killing the Jews. I can
remember vaguely that the Thai tyrants also mentioned Bhagavad-Gita to support them in
killing their fellow countrymen in the uprising of May 1992. We have to be very careful
about this issue.

It will become automatic

Observing the arising and passing away of thoughts is an extremely difficult task at first.
How long it takes will depend on different factors. The most important factor is not to be
complacent and heedless. At first, practitioners often blame themselves in failing to catch
the thought on time and this causes them to drift away. Practitioners must never be
discouraged although they cannot see any progress in themselves. It can only be realised
later that it is still a progression. However, as long as practitioners do not leave behind
the first two levels of practice, they will find that spotting each thought has gradually

17
become easier and almost automatic. There is less and less effort involved and the
practice becomes more natural. This is the stage when practitioners can be sure that they
are indeed on the third foundation of self-awareness which is something they could not
have convinced themselves of before. At this point, practitioners can sit back on the
platform quite comfortably and spot every train running through the station without
jumping on it although it still happens occasionally. All practitioners who reach this stage
will talk about the automation of their mental mechanism. They will talk about the
similar experience of having an observer and the observed which is something that non-
practitioners or even the lower level of practitioners cannot fully understand. But no one
should be discouraged because as long as the walking along the path is going on, they
will soon reach such a stage. Otherwise, how can the Buddha even put down the length of
time for one to be a Phra Arahant? It can only mean that he has to be so sure about what
he knows.

Another similar experience is that practitioners who reach the automatic stage, have their
own signals to brush away each thought. Every time thought arises, they might just shake
their head or say a word and that thought will disappear instantaneously. For the past 12
years at least, my family have got used to me saying either one of these phrases
depending on what contents my thoughts are “ya loog (no son), oh no, please don’t, damn
you, I don’t like you…” Sometimes it could be very annoying for them when suddenly I
burst out with a startling “Leave me alone, I hate you!” This is a version of the automatic
stage, which belongs to a lay woman who also runs a busy household. Please do not ask
why. There is no logic to it. Logic can only make sense when we believe that we are the
one who does the thinking. When we can truly spot the arising and passing away of each
thought, we will know that there is not an “I” who does the thinking. We can only see a
natural mechanism going on as far as our mental state is concerned. Those words of mine
are the result of vipassana wisdom - being aware of thought - and work like mental reflex
so that they can instantaneously eradicate the unwanted thoughts. Just like physical reflex
which is involuntary response to a stimulus, in the same way that I have no control over
my sneeze, blink or hiccup, I have no control over my instantaneous words whenever any
unwanted thoughts arise.

Mental automation and the anti-missile

Our heart or the abstract nature behind our chest is compared to a battlefield because it is
the place for all feelings to land on. Feelings and emotions are the result of thoughts. To
protect our battlefield not to be bruised by feelings, thoughts have to be destroyed in the
air before any feelings can land on our hearts. When the practice reaches the mature
stage, this function works automatically and it works very much like an anti-missile
(awareness) destroying a missile (thought) in the air. Every time thought arises, the
awareness (anti missile) will shoot up and automatically intercept the thought (missile) in
thin air. Consequently, the mind can be totally still and stable and not be hurt or shaken
by any feelings no matter how faint they are. The veteran can even be quick and sensitive
enough to detect the vibration of the formation of thought just like the anti-missile can
detect the vibration of the missile even before it shows up on the radar screen.
Consequently, the awareness or anti-missile is sent to the source and intercepts the hidden

18
enemy at source. Under such circumstances, practitioners do not even know what thought
has just been destroyed. This is how sharp and acute the awareness is when it reaches the
automatic stage. This level of awareness is known as wisdom, which has the ability to
annihilate darkness or spiritual ignorance which comes with thoughts.

Only Phra Arahants have no problems.

Although the automatic mechanism sounds ideal and complete as far as walking the path
is concerned, we cannot stop our effort as long as we have not yet become Phra Arahants.
If this cursed tiger has not yet transformed back to being totally human, we cannot say
that our duty has finished. We cannot admit our status as being half human and half tiger,
can we? We can see that life has only one exit and that is to gain complete spiritual
freedom -that is to enter Nirvana or to be one with God. Should practitioners who reach
the automatic stage still be Sekha2 persons who are complacent and heedless, the
automation can easily disappear according to the law of impermanence. Even though
Sekha persons do work hard, the automation can still disappear at times. Out of the blue,
the anti-missile (awareness) which normally shoots up on its own to intercept the missile
(thought) in the air fails to work and the battlefield (heart or mind) is smothered with
casualties (bruised by feelings and emotions). When this happens, the automation, which
is taken for granted, seems as far as a galaxy away. This can easily happen. Practitioners
who reach this automatic stage will greatly appreciate the profound meaning of the
Buddha’s last sermon when he reminded us not to be heedless. So wise people, who may
watch the coming and going of their thought effortlessly, will never neglect the first two
foundations of self-awareness.

Although the automatic stage is indeed the holy stage, the sense of I or self-centredness
gradually disappears. The non-self, voidness or Annata becomes clearer to the learners.
The Sekha person will see the natural mechanism of mental states. It is a matter of input
and output, cause and effect. As long as we put a cause (the four foundations of
awareness) into our lives, we will experience mental freedom (reaching the automatic
state). This is exactly why Buddhism is reputed for being scientific and logical. The
whole process is indeed scientific but all in a formless style.

The four noble truths are a matter of witnessing

All enthusiastic Buddhists know about the four noble truths but it still doesn’t make any
of us become a Buddha. Unlike any intellectual knowledge, which can be passed on by
just telling or reading, the four noble truths are matters of witnessing and definitely not
about thinking. Although the Buddha describes the wider scale of suffering (the first
noble truth of Dukkha) as birth, ageing, illness and death are suffering, which we can still
think and reason about, the profound state of suffering however cannot be rationalised.

2
Sekha or Sekkha means the learner, i.e. one who is in the course of perfection; one who
has reached one of the stages of holiness, except the last and has yet to undergo the
higher training. Page 411, Dictionary of Buddhism by Phra Thep Thevee (Prayut
Prayuto), published by Mahachulalongkorn Buddhist college.

19
The four noble truths can only be comprehended when one can comfortably watch the
coming and going of thoughts, preferably having reached the automatic state. Profound
suffering occurs whenever the mind moves from its neutral state due from the arising of
thoughts and feelings. This is the much deeper meaning of suffering which the Buddha
wants us to witness. Thoughts are the direct cause of the subsequent feelings which land
on our mind or heart in the western term - the abstract nature behind our chest. Every
time a feeling lands onto our mind, the mind will either move up as having positive
feelings (joy, happiness, excitement) or down as having negative feelings (pain, fear,
fright, embarrassment, etc.). It doesn’t matter whether the mind moves upwards or
downwards, as long as it is away from the equilibrium, it is considered as suffering in the
Buddha’s terminology. This can confirm what I said earlier about why we need to kill off
our positive feelings as described in the Bhagavad-Gita. The pure reason is that they are
still in the realm of suffering. The equilibrium state of mind, however, is the most ideal
and holy state which all wise people admire and take refuge in.

Having witnessed the true face of suffering as the mind moves away from its neutral
state, Sekha persons can see the subsequent cause of suffering which is the state of
clinging or drifting along with the flow of thoughts. Metaphorically speaking, the second
noble truth is about catching the train and sitting in it until the end of the journey. This is
the state when all the greed, anger and delusion engulf us. The three groups of
defilement initiate themselves with thoughts. The third noble truth is about snapping
away from thought and moreover watching the coming and going of thoughts. It can be
compared to jumping off the train-ride, sitting on a platform-bench and watching trains
passing through the station. This is the state of seeing mental freedom. The mind is
independent from thought and does not cling to thought anymore. This level of freedom
can only happen when one reaches the third foundation of self-awareness. Once mental
freedom is witnessed, the forth noble truth or the noble eightfold path is about everything
that leads the practitioner up to that point of seeing mental freedom.

What I can add is that anyone who can truly see mental freedom can become independent
from their sacred holy book, it doesn’t matter what religious tradition they belong to. The
Buddha found the third noble truth before the fourth. He found the pond of holy water
which can offer eternity to people, then he came out and drew a life map for people to
follow the trail to the pond of holy water. The rest of us are the Buddha’s faithful
followers. We enthusiastically follow his life map until we can find real mental freedom
like the Buddha did. Now, if we can help and want to help others, we can also create a
life map which offers the best short cut to people. I realise for myself that the Buddha has
actually offered us the best short cut that we can possibly have. The four foundations of
awareness are indeed the shortest route to our mental freedom. I cannot add anything
further but to put them in modern terms and language so that people of my generation can
understand better.

However, I just want to emphasise that the four noble truths are a matter of gaining real
experience and not just sitting back, reading and thinking about them. We can never find
our mental freedom in that manner.

20
Chapter eleven

The fourth foundation of awareness

What is the fourth foundation of awareness or dhamma-nu-passana ?

Finally, we have reached the fourth foundation of awareness. I always wondered what
precisely we needed to focus on as far as the fourth foundation was concerned. Whilst the
focus points of the first three levels of awareness are obvious and distinctive, I could
never fully comprehend the focus point of the fourth foundation. What was the very
“dhamma” I needed to focus on? I often asked myself as well as teachers but I never had
an answer which could pacify my doubt. I just knew that the fourth foundation could not
have anything to do with thinking or contemplating the different topics of dhamma which
is indeed necessary at one stage but not when the automatic state has happened. Sekha
persons who have reached the automatic state would know that the task they are supposed
to undergo seems complete in the sense that there is the path and the fruit. As for entering
Nirvana, it is not a matter that anyone can ask for, this is the final automation; it will
happen on its own. As long as there is the path and the fruit, entering Nirvana is a natural
event just like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. No one can rush or
prolong entering Nirvana. So, what else does one have to do?

The day I knew the answer

The question about the fourth foundation of awareness was answered one day about two
years ago when I was leading my Tai chi class. I was indeed explaining the four
foundations of awareness to my advanced class and wrote down the details on the white
board. Whilst I was walking away from the board and looking back at it, a flash of
thought sparked up in my head. It was very much like someone throwing a beam of light
or wisdom into my heart. My doubt about the forth foundation of awareness became clear
on its own and I even knew that it was the right answer. When this kind of experience
happens, one can never forget it. Unlike the knowledge gained from hearsay and reading
which we’ll soon forget, self-knowledge or intuitive wisdom cannot be wiped out; it stays
in our bones and soul forever. The answer I had in my head on that day was not totally
new but it was somehow very new for me and was put forward to me in the way that I
had not heard from any teachers in my generation. Maybe there are indeed some teachers
who talk about it, but I do not read extensively so I couldn’t have known.

With that spontaneous knowledge, the first thing I realised was that the four foundations
of awareness are placed in the order of natural progression. They start from knowing
something rough and easy, and climb to something much more refined and difficult. The
next thing I understood was the true meaning of “dhamma” as the focus point of the
fourth foundation of awareness. As a matter of fact, the term “dhamma” is not unfamiliar
to the Buddhist. All keen Buddhists know that it means everything. But how this

12
“dhamma’ or “everything” becomes the focus point of the fourth level is intriguing and
not a straightforward matter. My intuitive knowledge on that day just confirmed and
made clearer what I knew before. In fact, to understand the fourth level was the same
process as to understand the third level of awareness. We need to come further away from
it before we can see the clearer picture. It is like looking at the view of Bangkok. We can
see what Bangkok looks like from the third storey of a building, but we can see a clearer
connection of different roads when we climb up to a higher storey of the building.
Likewise, the experience of engaging in the four foundations of awareness is the same.
When I started my first meditation session some 25 years ago, I didn’t have a clue what I
was doing. I just followed what my teacher told me to do e.g. watching my breath, being
aware of my footsteps and so on. I didn’t even know that I was in the process of
practising the four foundations of awareness. At that time, we just knew ourselves to be
“doing meditation”. In fact, within those first few years of my so called “doing
meditation”, I could notice the coming and going of thoughts but I did not know that it
was the early stage of the third foundation of self-awareness. It was very much like going
into a slow labour. To me, I thought I was still struggling to understand the fundamental
skill of meditation. I only realised that I was literally practising the third foundation of
self-awareness when at least ten years had gone past. This was the time when I began to
notice the automation of my mental state. To notice the automation of my mental state
was a giant leap for me at that time, it made me understand life more deeply. I had kept
that experience a secret and never talked about it until recently. Then, after another 12
years had gone by (two years ago) from the point of noticing the automation, I
experienced yet another essential knowledge which is yet another great leap forward.
Since then, my knowledge about life in general has been rooting even deeper. That
intuitive experience gives me the courage to talk about the subject of this section
extensively.

Squeezing from a narrow hole to an open end

As I said that the process of understanding the forth foundation of awareness was the
same as that by which I understood the third level. Whilst I was struggling on the third
level of awareness, I had seen what was supposed to be the focus point of the fourth
foundation of awareness but somehow I could not put my finger on it. My unique
experience on that day in my Tai chi class confirmed what I saw. The third and the fourth
level of awareness are in fact leaning against each other. If practitioners have reached the
third level, they cannot miss the fourth level, but they are not sure about it, not until they
have their own intuitive wisdom to confirm them like I had mine. When the mind is free
from thought, there is a void or blank moment before the next thought arises. That void
moment is the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness. We can see that the void
moment is the direct result of the third foundation of self-awareness.

Let’s imagine ourselves squeezing through a narrow tunnel as wide as the size of our
bodies, we struggle to get ourselves through that hole; once we are through, we reach a
vast and unlimited piece of land where there is no boundary. Likewise, the third
foundation of awareness is very much like squeezing ourselves through a narrow tunnel
in the face of great difficulty. The fourth foundation of awareness is the moment when we

13
get through that narrow tunnel and face the vast piece of land where we can experience
unlimited freedom. We can see that these two stages are the cause and effect of each
other or it is called “dependent origination” (patichasamupada). It means that every time
we can snap away from our thought, we’ll see the voidness which is the focus point of the
fourth foundation of awareness. However, it was the knowing which is in between or in
the twilight zone. It is as if we know that this is the voidness, nonself or anatta that the
Buddha and all the spiritual teachers talked about, but somehow there is also something
else that is not clear and that we are unsure about. This is what I mean by being in the
twilight zone. I can clearly recognise the feeling of that twilight zone now that I have
passed it, but I could not understand while I was in it. However, the twilight zone will
disappear when wisdom arises.

How can we use Nirvana as a focus point if we don’t know what it looks like?

All vipassana practitioners hear their teacher saying “use the voidness or use Nirvana as
the focus point”. I tried to reason with it in the past wondering how we could possibly do
that if we didn’t know what voidness or Nirvana was. Now, I can fully understand that it
means the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness or dhamma-nu-passana. This
is the connection I put together myself. No teacher has confirmed it to me like this before,
not the teachers I know of anyway. The traditional way of teaching meditation can
confuse people especially if the teachers have not reached the different stages themselves
but follow the traditional way of teaching meditation. As I said, the foundations of
awareness are a natural progression. If practitioners do not practise the first three levels
and witness the experience accordingly, it is impossible to use the voidness or Nirvana as
the focus point. We cannot jump the queue.

As a result, it can easily cause a false voidness or Nirvana. I mean that practitioners can
create their own concept or image of voidness and Nirvana by thinking. This is totally
wrong because to witness the true voidness, there is no thought involved whatsoever. If
that false concept becomes a fixation and the person is a teacher guiding people, it will be
very damaging. It can be even more dangerous if the teachers become famous and are led
astray by fame and power. This kind of problem happens not only within the Buddhist
tradition but also in other religious traditions. Cult movements are certainly one example.
This is something that all practitioners have to be extremely careful about whenever a
spiritual path is taken.

So the voidness or Nirvana is indeed the blank moment when we are free from thought.
This is the moment where no language can penetrate because language is the direct result
of thought. Where there is no thought, there is no word and no language. As a result, that
moment is universal. This is the moment when this life form returns to the embrace of
mother nature where the mental-self no longer exists. This final focus point or dhamma
does not require any effort like the previous three foundations of awareness. It is a matter
of just being. It is the moment when one sees all or nothing or a single being and this fits
in perfectly with the term dhamma-nu-passana. Although there is no more work and
effort required in the forth foundation of awareness, the Buddha still places it as the focus
point of the final stage of practice. The simple reason is that as long as the person is still a

14
learner or a Sekha person, he or she still needs to be aware of this focus point but it is the
kind of awareness that requires no more work. Not until that person is a Phra-Arahant or
Asekha person, then, that same dhamma experienced by the Sekha person will become
natural and permanent. There is no more talk about any focus point.

At this point, I can only surrender to the wisdom of the Buddha and his ingenious ability
to be able to come out with the four foundations of awareness, which are a unique
strategy in helping people to the final exit from conditioned life. There is no doubt that
the four foundations of awareness are the most detailed life map apart from being the
shortest route to spiritual freedom. There is no teacher in the world who could match up
to the Buddha’s ability as far as the path to the ultimate goal of life is concerned. As a
matter of fact, the Buddha could have left out the fourth foundation of awareness but he
did not. He put it there until he could make sure that the Sekha person reaches the final
exit permanently and becomes a Phra Arahant before they can let go of the practice.

Life is a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces

The best analogy, which can help us to understand life is by looking at a pile of jigsaw
puzzle pieces. If we represent every single thing both material and abstract in the
universe including every single thought1 as the different pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, we can
imagine that we are literally standing in the midst of an uncountable pile of jigsaw puzzle
pieces. Our job is to piece all these jigsaw puzzle pieces together to form a perfect
picture. The trouble is we do not know what the outcome of this whole picture should be.
To understand our life in relation with the universe is exactly the knowledge that all
intellectuals especially scientists try to find out. The revelation of scientific research is
about piecing together the jigsaw puzzle but scientists can only manage to do it in
patches, a bit here and there. The universe along with its mystery is far too enormous for
our precious intellect (thought) to cope with. We need wisdom to deal with such a huge
scale of comprehension. The enlightenment of the Buddha means that he can piece
together this gigantic pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces and that he can see the finished picture.
Consequently, he knows exactly where our standing point is within this gigantic and
mysterious cosmos. This is really an understatement for people who do not have a belief
in re-incarnation. As a matter of fact, the Buddha’s wisdom penetrates much further
away. He can see the whole picture of the realm of samsara or re-incarnation; he can see
that all lives are subjected to endless rebirth which is a horrifying and frightening matter.
His enlightenment has brought an end to that vicious circle of rebirth. People who have
never heard about the ultimate goal of life and never practised meditation can be
compared to someone standing in the midst of this gigantic pile of jigsaw puzzles pieces.
That’s why we feel so confused, in doubt and unable to understand a lot of things that are
happening both to ourselves, our loved ones and to the world right now. While I am
writing this chapter, the British people are trying to understand why their favorite TV
presenter Jill Dando was murdered. No one can understand. We can say the same of
Diana, the princess of Wales. Not to mention wars and the suffering of people affected by
them. Do we understand anything at all?

1
The Buddha refers to everything in the above sense by the one word “dhamma”.

15
All this confusion can cause uncertainty and insecurity and is enough to make our lives
miserable at times. However, they are the direct result of not knowing the full picture of
life. Buddhist meditation, to be more precise the four foundations of awareness, is the
direct action of piecing the real life jigsaw puzzles together. By engaging in the practice
of the four foundations of awareness, we are literally picking up pieces of puzzle and
placing them down in the right places. Provided that they are walking on the right track,
all vipassana-practitioners share the similar experience that they are less confused and
that their lives are more stable. They begin to understand what is what. When
practitioners reach the third level of self-awareness, their understanding of life will
become much clearer. They gradually find themselves.

There are two different stages to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle.

We initially have to pick up a piece of jigsaw puzzle from the pile, examine it and then
we find a proper place for it. Having advanced to the automatic stage of the third
foundation of self-awareness until witnessing the state of voidness or non-self can be
compared to having found an essential piece of real life jigsaw puzzle hidden within the
gigantic pile. This is merely the first stage but it is the most important stage. Compared to
others who do not have a clue of what life is all about, having found this essential piece
of the puzzle (witnessing the voidness) is indeed a giant leap for the individual. This is
the stage which I mentioned earlier that is as if we are in the twilight zone. On the one
hand, we kind of know what non-self, voidness or Nirvana is about; on the other hand,
there is something that we are not really certain about, of which we are unsure and cannot
lay our fingers on. This uncertainty causes our understanding to be fragmented.

The uncertainty is due to the inability to find the right place for this piece of jigsaw
puzzle, which is the second stage. How long Sekha persons hold this piece of puzzle
depends on different factors. I just realised that I had been holding this essential piece of
real life jigsaw puzzle and examining it for as long as twenty years. I had been able to see
the state of voidness since the early years of my practice when I was at Suan Mokkh, the
Forest monastry in the south of Thailand. This is the state, which gives people a profound
sense of peace and calmness, and encourages people to pursue the path. However, what
happened to me two years ago in my Tai chi class was the day I could finally find the
right place for this significant piece of jigsaw puzzle, which is the second stage. Then, I
fully realised that this is the last piece of the puzzle, which has to be placed right in the
middle of the picture to form a perfect outcome. This is the piece, which enables every
other piece of the puzzle to link up. That most crucial intuitive wisdom I experienced
gave me the most distinctive standing point of myself as a human being within this
gigantic mysterious universe, and its powerful light has been shining as time goes by.
This wisdom enables me to connect the minute details of our life form such as the
formation of thought to the vast scale of the universe so that I will no longer lose my
way. As a result, I no longer have doubts about re-incarnation. I cannot explain in too
many words but I just know that as long as we have not put in the right cause to end all
our karma (action), there is no doubt that we have to be subjected to endless and
horrifying rebirth. Life has only one exit – to enter Nirvana.

16
If practitioners have reached the state of holding the essential piece of real life puzzle but
have not yet found the right place for it, and if they are also spiritual teachers, their
teaching will still be somehow fragmented.2 They cannot be completely free from the
holy book. This was exactly what happened to me before. I talked about the different
topics of dhamma in a fragmented way. The connection between the different topics of
dhamma was not as clear as what I can do now. Sharing this experience is just to give
practitioners a better picture of where they are on this extremely obscure path to our final
destination because we do need some signposts to guide us along. Listening to those who
have a bit more experience along this difficult path is one of the most essential factors of
this practice.

2
There is no formula of how to bring forward quicker the essential wisdom. There are
still a lot of mystery. I suppose we just have to stick with what the Buddha told us about
not to be complacent and heedless as far as the practice is concerned. As long as we can
consistently keep up with the practice, the result will come.

17
Chapter twelve

The four foundations of awareness are a complete
cycle
Mantra

The most popular meditation teachings in Thailand and elsewhere I suppose are on the first
foundation of awareness, of which there are many different techniques due to the expertise of
each teacher. Some schools like their followers to be aware of the breathing or movements in
silence whilst some schools prefer to use words or a mantra to accompany the movement. With
walking meditation for example, practitioners are guided to say lifting, stepping and touching as
their feet movements are going on. If the observation is based on the arising (pong) and the
collapsing (yoob) of the stomach, practitioners are advised to say pong-nor, yoob-nor as they are
watching the movement of their stomach. If the observation is based on the breathing, Buddho is
normally the term used; breathing in saying Bood, breathing out saying dho.

The reason I bring this up is because there are often debates about which technique should be the
right one - to observe in silence or to use words. I have had experience of both schools of
teaching. The latest school I attended two years ago was a congregation of eighty people. To
make sure that the members were practising correctly and that the teachers could see, we were
lined up in rows and had to do the movement as well as repeating words in unison. The whole
building was filled with the roaring sound of “lifting, stepping and touching” of eighty people
while walking meditation was proceeding. I was told off a few times when a teacher spotted me
and said that my foot movements and my words were not matching. They should have happened
exactly at the same time. The head teacher said that this was the only way that would work with
teaching a big group of people.

Having understood the fourth foundation of awareness, I can now put forward my view about
which technique is better. I can see that to repeat words on top of the movement may prolong the
advancing of the practice. We must understand that to think is to talk either loudly in our head or
uttering sounds and resulting languages. Not until we have fully understood the third foundation
of self awareness, do we know that it is about eradicating all thoughts, sound or language in our
heads. The focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness is the silent mind which is the same
state as voidness, non-self and Nirvana, and is completely void of thought. The silent mind and
the thinking mind cannot share the same seat, just like playing musical chairs. If the silent mind is
the president, the thinking mind will disappear and vice versa. Silence and sounds cannot claim
the same moment. Therefore, in deliberately creating the sounds, although they are totally
harmless while observation of the movements is proceeding, we have unintentionally taken away
the silent mind or the voidness or Nirvana which in itself is indeed the focus point of the fourth
foundation of awareness. This practice will definitely obstruct practitioners from seeing the
voidness, although they have come so close to the jackpot. As I said, every teacher can teach up
to the level they have achieved and no further. I am sure that teachers who can see and fully
understand the fourth foundation of awareness will not encourage practitioners to utter any word
accompanying the movement. I taught this myself in the past and now I want to undo it.

However, to compromise this issue, I do not say that to utter words accompanying the movements
is wrong. It isn’t wrong. In some circumstances, especially when novices experience a scattered
mind and day-dreaming, words and mantras are important to them so that their minds can be led

12
to the right track and reach a certain level of calmness. Different people have different habits and
character and can tune in with certain techniques only. Nevertheless, the most important factor is
that the teacher must be able to point out certain things for his or her pupils. Then again, it also
depends on what level the teacher has achieved. If the teachers have not yet understood the third
foundation of awareness, they cannot guide their pupils further than they know. As I said, the four
foundations of awareness are a natural progression. If the path is correctly walked, signs of
progress will definitely show. If the development does not happen after so many years of practice,
practitioners must question both themselves and their teachers. I think this is the fairest view that
I can put forward.

When we are told that this station is called Nirvana

Let’s come back to the analogy of train spotting again. Whilst the third foundation of awareness
is the ability to spot the train coming in and out of the station, the fourth foundation of awareness
is indeed spotting the whole train station the moment between the immediately departing train
and the immediately arriving train. That is the moment when the station is quiet and empty
because there is no train. Our mental mechanism works exactly the same as the above analogy
except that the speed involved is staggeringly faster. The third foundation of awareness enables
us to notice that the nature of thought is coming and going. Alternatively, we can say that thought
is illusive. As a result, there is a gap in between the just passing thought and the arriving thought
and this simple gap is the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness. This gap might last
only a fraction of a moment and it is impossible for non-practitioners to notice it. Now, we can
understand that the four foundations of awareness prepare human consciousness to be sharp and
quick enough to spot this almost undetectable nature in our minds. That is really all there is to it
as far as the practice is concerned.

Those who can understand the third foundation of awareness will definitely have a sharp and
acute sense of self-awareness so that they are able to detect the formation of each thought and to
notice the sudden flash of the gap in between two thoughts. This is a lifetime training according
to the Buddhist culture.

Despite its overwhelming simplicity and ordinariness, this humble gap is however the spring of
wisdom, which gives us endless knowledge containing all the answers about life in relation to the
universe in which we live. This humble and simple gap is indeed the state of Nirvana or non-self
which Sekha persons have seen before but still lack the final connection. Not until the train
spotter asked the station controller: “Sir, could you please tell me which train I can catch if I want
to go to Nirvana ?”, will the answer be revealed. We’ll come to our senses when the controller
answers “There is no need to catch any train at all, this very station you are sitting in is indeed
called Nirvana.” The train-spotter then exclaimed: “ Goodness me, Nirvana is indeed our home
station all along. I have been sitting here for a long time but I didn’t have a clue until you
confirmed it to me.” Such an analogy is the intuitive wisdom which comes to confirm all
practitioners about the state of Nirvana when the time is right. This was what happened to me two
years ago.

Finally, Nirvana is like the home we have been living in from day one of our lives and we gain
endless gifts and benefit from it without realising. Alternatively, we have been eating rice since
we were born but we didn’t know that the white steamy grains on our plates were called rice until
someone told us. However, it is the rice that has made us grow and survive all this time. So does
Nirvana do to us. We have been gifted by Nirvana by keeping our sanity intact since day one of
our lives without us knowing. The four foundations of awareness are the only access that can take
us along the path to have this knowledge confirmed to us. Although I can tell people about

13
exactly what happens, all this is still my knowledge which I have earned. I can only share with
people so that the signpost can be clear to them, but everyone has to earn their own knowledge.
No one can do this on behalf of another. For those who have a strong belief in God, they need to
just change the term Nirvana to God and they will find their only real God. This is the unique and
universal experience of human lives. Every religious tradition only assists us to have the same
experience since we are human all the same.

Thinking without foundation can cause disaster

Since we are on the topic of train spotting or catching the formation of thought, I will take this
opportunity to talk about the use of thought. Whenever the issue of voidness arises, many people
especially intellectuals have doubts and are put off by it. They don’t like to think that their brains
are completely void from thoughts; they can’t help thinking of the vegetative state. That is hardly
the case.

For people who have no knowledge of the ultimate purpose of life, nor the four foundations of
awareness, their use of thoughts can be compared to catching every train which arrives at the
station. There is no question as regards where they are going and what train takes them to where
and where they should get off, etc. All these fundamental questions have never been asked, they
only know that whenever a train comes along, they will jump on and sit in there as long as it
takes. They will get off from one train and get on another train all the time. They never notice
anything else around them. It may sound patronising and offending but this is the nature of people
who have no ultimate purpose in life and especially have no foundations of awareness. Naturally,
they will follow and engage in their thoughts just like sitting in a train. Intellectuals are extremely
good at boosting such a nature. They can be absorbed in their thoughts and concepts (group of
thoughts) and delve deeper and deeper in them according to whatever interests them. The nature
of thought and the use of thought can easily be profuse and proliferated. It can go on and on like a
chain reaction. During the process of thought profusion, a lot of things are created as well as
destroyed. We must be very careful with terms like development and achievement. We think that
we have developed and advanced much farther than our ancestors as far as materials and
technology are concerned. There is no doubt that we can now live better because of the use of our
brain, thoughts or intellect.

But this is the point: while we are thinking that we can live better than our ancestors, this same
statement will be repeated over and over by our younger generations. Our technology now will
undoubtedly be classed as ancient by the end of the next century. There is no reason why a
fantasy like Star Trek cannot be true in the far future. That is what being human is all about. We
can leap away from animals because we have the ability to use our thoughts and subsequently
materialise abstract thoughts into action. This is humanity’s unique ability. Consequently, we can
make a metal fish float and a metal bird fly exactly like what we have in our minds. We can
transform what we think into a real thing. This transformation has been happening since day one
and will go on forever. But then, we have to look again. If our future fantasy still involves killing
and destroying, it means this is what will happen too. I see no reason why the fictional future like
Star Trek cannot really happen. Our thoughts, imagination and fantasy shape our future. The
point is wars are still going on between the Cadasian, the Clingon, the Bejourant and so on. The
Ferangis are still known as being greedy and selfish. What is the difference between now and
then. It doesn’t matter what style of weapons we will advance into, the bottom line is that the
destruction will still be there which means that we have not yet leapt away from our ancient
ancestors at all. At the end of the day, we still cannot answer all the fundamental questions e.g.
birth, ageing, illness, death and especially about our standing point within this mysterious

14
universe. If we cannot answer those questions, it is very important that we question the use of our
intellect.

Thoughts and the use of thoughts are the most obscure nature. If we don’t know the definite goal
of using thoughts and have no foundation of awareness, we can easily get lost. The worst thing is
that we are lost in a way that we don’t even know. If we are born in a dark cave and live there all
our lives, there is no way we can know that there is light outside the cave unless someone who
knows tells us. This is the sole reason why we must listen to the knower. This is why the Buddha
and Christ had to work so hard for humankind. They try to tell us that there is light outside this
cave because they have seen it. I am now confirming their words of truth. I have no doubt when I
say that our education and the advancing of our precious technology are in the realm of darkness.
We are on the wrong track. Our modern culture is based on a disastrous route, which is taking us
to a brick wall or a dangerous cliff and disaster is imminent.

Spiritual ignorance is the most difficult thing to detect. We have intellectuals and scholars who
can talk and answer questions as if they knew everything. As a matter of fact, their knowledge is
based on piecing together a small patch of jigsaw puzzle which is considered very minute
compared to the whole outcome. If people still cannot stop their unwanted thoughts and feelings,
it means that they are still in the dark. It is a painful truth but it can also be a u-turn for someone.
Our trouble in the world is mainly the result of pursuing the thoughts that we should not have
pursued. Consequently, we transform the destructive thoughts into action and subsequently cause
various kinds of crimes from domestic to international. Biology, the finding of DNA will be an
area of knowledge that can threaten the whole of humanity in the future if scientists cannot stop
their curious thoughts and still pursue the experiment. We cannot do much to stop the overall
destruction, not until we talk about the ultimate purpose of life.

The Buddha is the greatest thinker

This doesn’t mean that people who know the ultimate purpose of life, as well as engaging in the
four foundations of awareness, do not have any thought or don’t know how to think. It is quite the
contrary. Those people actually have a better ability to think because they know the goal of
thinking, which closely relates to the ultimate goal of life. As a result, they do not lose track
whilst the thinking process is going on. If their use of thought begins to get sidetracked, they can
adjust by stopping thinking when they want to. This is the ability that non-practitioners do not
have. The best example is by looking at the Buddha. Despite living in the state of voidness or
Nirvana where there is no thought, whenever the Buddha wants to use his thought, he can
generate the issue he wants to talk about as well as methodically and systematically arrange the
various subjects. This exceptional ability has not happened to any other great sage in the world.
As a matter of fact, Nirvana or the ultimate truth is the only thing that the Buddha wants people in
the world to witness but he knows that it is difficult. So, he does his best to plan his strategy and
draws a detailed life map so that people can follow the trail just like the man who found the pond
of holy water. By the time the Buddha died, his followers could gather 84000 different dhamma
topics laid down by the great teacher of the world. This detailed life map obviously aims at
helping people of all backgrounds, qualities and potential so that people from all walks of life can
witness the ultimate reality already existing right in front of them.

This is never an easy matter to explain especially to those who do not know the practice, because
the experience is unique and indescribable. However, knowing the ultimate goal of life and
engaging in the four foundations of awareness can truly help people to have a better discipline of
thinking. They can delve into their thoughts as deeply as they want to when it is needed to do so,
at the same time they can switch their thoughts off when they finish with them. In this way, they

15
do not waste their energy. Above all, they don’t lose track. As long as they know that the home
station is called Nirvana, they can jump on any train, which comes into the station, sit in it and
ride as far as they need to. No matter how far they go, they can always come back to their home
station or Nirvana or the kingdom of God.

That Ayatana1 exists

Once the Buddha, surrounded by his followers, was staying at the Shetawan monastery offered to
him by the kind millionaire, Anandhabhindika. He suddenly expressed his solemn utterance to his
Bhikkus who had great enthusiasm in listening to their teachers’ dhamma.

“Listen to this Bhikkus, that Ayatana does exist. That Ayatana is not earth, nor water, nor wind,
nor fire, nor space, etc.. It isn’t this world, nor the next world. It isn’t the moon, nor the sun. It
isn’t coming, nor going, nor existing, nor leaving, nor arriving, nor proceeding, nor becoming. It
is not a sense object. That Ayatana is indeed the end of all suffering.”

I used to wonder why the Buddha uses the term “that Ayatana” to describe the state of Nirvana.
This is also another term that I have just recently realised its full meaning. I can now understand
why and know that it is the most suitable term too. There is no doubt that that Ayatana is the
neutral state in nature, the state of the ultimate reality or truth, the state of Godhood, Tao, Nirvana
or the end of all suffering depending on whatever we want to call it. However, this unique state in
nature cannot be sensed with the fragmented six sense bases, it has to be witnessed by the
harmonious one sense or “that Ayatana” where there is no observer or observed. We cannot say
that ultimate reality is witnessed by our eyes, nose, ears, tongue, body or even the mind. This
single being has to be experienced by that Ayatana only. This is the only way to witness the
Dhamma (everything) which is the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness.

Nirodha-samabat or Sanna-vedayitanirodha

Many readers, especially the enthusiastic Buddhists, would think like me that there is no way we
can understand such a difficult term as Nirodha-samabat. I always thought that it had nothing to
do with me and I never paid any attention to find out. I think my lack of enthusiasm was due to
being misled somehow. Having read some spiritual fictions, I was led to believe that Nirodha-
samabat was about sitting in meditation with eyes closed and the spirit would leave the physical
body and travel near and far for so many days. The teacher always asked his faithful follower to
guard his physical body well so that no one would make the mistake of thinking that the teacher
had died and cremate it. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any body for the teacher to come back to.
In the Tripitaka or the Pali cannon, it has been recorded that the Buddha also entered Nirodha-
samabat from time to time. I do not know whether Nirodha-samabat has anything else involved or
not, anything that I do not know about.

1
Ayatana means the sense-bases or sense fields. There are twelve sense-bases which are
made up of six internal sense-bases - eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind; and six
external corresponding sense objects - sights, sounds, smells, tastes, touch and thought.
The Buddha classes the mind as the sixth sense. It doesn’t mean telepathic ability. It has
the rather straightforward meaning of an abstract mental sense organ, which has the
ability to know mental objects or thought. That is all there is to it. I pinpoint the location
of the mind to my student as the abstract nature behind our chest just to make the practice
become easier.

16
It was just recently as well that I came across this word in a Buddhist Dictionary, so I thought that
I would find out the meaning this time. After I scanned through the meaning, I realised that I
could understand this experience although it had never happened to me before since I had always
been put off by this term in the past. It was obvious to me that Nirodha-samabat is the same state
as the dhamma-nu-passana, which is the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness.
Nirodha-samabat or Sanna-vedayitanirodha is known as the highest level of meditation. It is the
attainment of extinction where memory (sanna) and feelings (vedana) come to an end. Anyone
who can retain the state of voidness long enough will know that it is also the moment when there
is no memory. Memory is also a function in our life form which needs thought as its transporter.
When we can remember something, thought has to come into our head. Without thought, memory
disappears too. As for the extinction of feelings, I am sure it refers to mental feelings. Thought is
the cause of mental feeling, without thought, there is no feeling. If this is the case, can it mean
that whenever we can slip into the state of voidness, this is also the state of Nirodha samabat or
Sanna-vedayitanirodha? If it is so, it means that we don’t need to have our eyes closed to enter
Nirodha-samabat. This is all I know as far as this difficult term is concerned. If there is anything
else more than this, I do not know due to having no experience.

The four foundations of awareness are a complete cycle

Having understood the focus point of the fourth foundation of awareness, I can now clearly see
that the four foundations of awareness are indeed a complete cycle of practice. This cycle starts
from the point where we don’t know what is what; that is seeing the world or everything in front
of us attached to names, concepts, price and value as well as having an “I” who observes
everything. This is the state of lacking ultimate harmony. Then luckily, we meet a good friend
(kalayanamittata) - a friend who guides us into the right path to know ourselves. We then listen to
someone talking about the dhamma (Paratoghosa).2 The mind journey subsequently begins; we
then grasp the fundamental practice of the first and second foundations of self-awareness. This is
the process of coming back to know our very self from our movements to our physical feelings
and mental feelings. Then, we gradually move up to the third foundation of self-awareness which
is catching up with the staggering speed of thoughts. This stage is called having
yonisomanasikara which is the important factor to get rid of all doubts about life in relation to the
universe in which we live. The Buddha greatly admires his Bhikkus who have yonisomanasikara.

These three foundations of awareness are however internal factors. Readers might have noticed
that whenever I mention the first three foundations, I always use the term self-awareness. The
reason is purely because they are indeed about self-awareness, about coming back to observe this
very life form of ours from knowing our rough movements to the abstract nature of the arising
and passing away of thoughts. Having seen how the mind works until it reaches its automatic

2
The two sources or conditions, which pave the way to the arising of the right view are:
1) Paratoghosa meaning hearing or learning from others or Kalayanamittata (good friends
who can tell us about the dhamma). 2) Yonisomanasikara meaning placing the mind in
the right frame. To understand this term better, it is easier to say that practitioners
engaging in the third foundation of self-awareness are indeed having yonisomanasikara
when the mind is governed by wisdom and not darkness. The Buddha said “ I cannot see
any factor which is more beneficial to the Sekha monks than yonisomanasikara. Bhikkus
who have yonisomanasikara can get rid of their sinful thought and bring forward the
noble and righteous thoughts.”

17
state, we have taken away a thick layer of clutter or darkness from our mind (heart). The mind
then becomes innocent, pure, alert and awakened. The innocent mind is indeed the true nature of
the mind. This is when the sense of mental self or I has disappeared from moment to moment.
We then use our innocent mind to perceive the world. This state is what I call having innocent
perception and then we’ll see the innocent world or the innocent universe. Witnessing the
innocent world is indeed the fourth foundation of awareness. But this time, the six sense bases
have disappeared along with all the names, concepts, price and value which used to be attached to
everything we perceived. Our mental-self too has disappeared during the process of having
yonisomanasikara. We can finally know the universe with just one harmonious sense or that
Ayatana where there is neither observer nor observed. The universe in front of us is still exactly
the same as before we knew the practice, but being able to witness through the torchlight of
wisdom, we know that everything is not the same. It is as if we were wearing a pair of dark
glasses before, but by the time we finish with the four foundations of awareness, we merely take
our dark shades off our eyes. That is all there is to it. So we still witness the same world but with
our naked eyes. This is the difference between those who engage in the practice and those who
don’t. We can see that the four foundations of awareness are a complete cycle from the point of
knowing nothing to knowing everything.

Always observing mindfulness with breathing

Sekha persons who have not yet completely and permanently entered Nirvana must not be
heedless and complacent although they have reached the automatic state at some point. No one is
safe as long as he or she has not yet entered Arahantship. Consequently, all Sekha persons still
keep up with the first three foundations of self-awareness although the practice has become rather
natural by now. How can Sekha persons not do that because even Asekha persons or Phra
Arahants still do mindfulness with breathing? I was quite surprised to come across in the
Tripitaka that the Buddha still advised his Bhikkus who had finished their duty or had already
become Phra Arahants to do Anapanasati or mindfulness with breathing. Once the Buddha said:

“Listen to this Bhikkus, Bhikkus who have finished their duty, become Phra Arahants, have
done all the tasks that they were supposed to do, have put down all their burdens, have
achieved their self-worth, have demolished all defilements which are the cause of attachment,
have gone beyond all suffering because of right understanding, the Anapanasati which those
Bhikkus have developed and cultivated is for the present happiness and for self-awareness.”3

Having read the above paragraph from the Tripitaka, I realised that the happiness resulting from
being aware of the breathing is indeed a very natural physical mechanism. This is simply a
scientific reality - the cause is being aware of the breathing, the result is feeling good both
physically and mentally. Everyone can prove this mechanism right now and know that it is very
true. It is like being thirsty and hungry; drinking a glass of water and having some food will
naturally make us feel better. Although Phra Arahants no longer have any mental feelings, their
life forms are still under the law of nature. They are still thirsty and hungry and they have to act
accordingly. Their physical bodies and minds too can still lack settlement and happiness although
they are totally detached from all things. This unsettlement of both body and mind is not the

In other occasions the Buddha said: “ I cannot see any dhamma but yonisomanasikara
which cause the unborn doubt not to be born and the existing doubt to disappear.
“Yonisomanasikara is for great benefit, for rooting, for not disappearing and for the
nurture of ultimate truth.”
3
Tripitaka, Sangyutnigai, mahawarawak 19/413

18
result of spiritual ignorance any more but due to the natural mechanism of how body and mind
work. Phra Arahants who still have to live with people and especially have to do administrative
work can experience the unsettlement of body and mind but this can easily be put right by a dose
of Anapanasati. That’s why the Buddha said that mindfulness with breathing or Anapanasati done
by Phra Aranhants is for their present happiness and self awareness. We must understand
correctly. As far as mindfulness with breathing is concerned, I think we should use the term
practising Anapanasati for Sekha persons and doing Anapanasati for Asekha persons. The simple
reason is that Phra Arahants do not have to practise anymore. Their duty has finished but they do
Anapanasati in the same way that they have to drink, eat and go to toilet.

Summary

The four foundations of awareness are the detailed life map which can guide us to the ultimate
purpose of life. This life map is indeed the result of the Buddha’s matchless ability and is aimed
to help humanity which is made up of diverse individuals who have different levels of potential.
The most profound wisdom which ever existed in the universe is to be able to witness ultimate
reality (truth), Nirvana or God right in front of us. When people cannot see it despite its
distinctiveness, it makes this whole thing become the most difficult task on earth. Nonetheless,
the Buddha manages to offer us the shortest route possible so that we can engage in the mind
journey and witness the only real thing in nature – the innocent world. This is the way of the four
foundations of awareness or vipassana-bhavana.

If anyone has not yet heard about this practice, they should quickly find a teacher and learn from
him or her, to fit in with the Thai saying “It is lucky to be born as a human being and bump into
Buddhism.”

19
Chapter thirteen

The Enlightening Culture

The ancestral culture1

I heard about the enlightening culture some twenty-five years ago from my spiritual
teacher, Ajahn Khemanandha who previously learnt it from the late Ven. Buddhadasa of
Suan Mokkh. At that time, the teacher used the term “the ancestral culture”. I can vividly
remember that my heart was filled with great joy and happiness when I heard how noble
the Thai people had been in the past. I was very proud that I was born into one of the
wealthiest cultures in the world. I was quite disappointed that I was not old enough to
witness some of the rich traditions such as people building huts for passers-by and
stocking food for them and so on. At that time, the idea of a “peace and friendship water-
jar” was a popular talking point among us, Ajahn Khemanandha’s followers.

Having grown up in the hectic city of Bangkok, I was inspired by the notions of my two
spiritual teachers, which caused me to fall in love with the countryside where I could
soak up the rich tradition that our ancestors had created for us. Having spent some time
with villagers in various part of the country and learnt about their simple way of life
closely linked to their local temples, I could truly appreciate such a valuable culture.
Although Thailand before I left for England some eighteen years ago had already shown
the signs of cultural deterioration due to opening her arm to the spread of consumerism
during the last three decades, the signs of cultural ruin are undoubtedly much worse by
now. Having said that, living in Britain for eighteen years also makes me realise that
although Thai culture has been terribly ruined, Thai people as well as other Buddhist
nations have a better chance to understand the supreme goal of life than other religious
traditions. The reason is that the direct route to ultimate reality is with these people. If we
could make the Buddhists understand the real value of their priceless culture, it might be
possible to restore those valuable traditions and way of life. This might be a way to slow
down the speed of destruction, which is spreading rapidly all over the world.

Why do we have to preserve the old and create the new enlightening culture?

Although to enter Nirvana or to return to the great kingdom of God and live in eternity, is
the ultimate purpose of all lives, it doesn’t mean that everyone has the same ability and
potential to reach that supreme state. The Buddha compares humans to the four types of
lotuses, which bloom at different times. Likewise, there are three out of four types of

1
I have talked about this concept in my first book “Dear Colin: what is the meaning of
life?” published in 1995 by Minerva Press. It can be ordered in most bookshops in the
UK.

12
people who have the ability to know the dhamma;2 some can know quicker than others.
To understand and to witness the real dhamma is indeed an individual matter. There is no
formula of teaching which can make a mass of people know the dhamma at the same
time. Even when the Buddha taught a congregation, he had the telepathic ability to know
which individual would know the dhamma on that day. He then would aim his teaching
to help that person to reach the dhamma.

Although to enter Nirvana is the result of the maturity of the different internal factors e.g.
faith, effort, awareness, concentration, wisdom and so on, there are however external
factors too. Faith cannot just happen on its own, should we not be in the right
environment. Being born in a Buddhist culture as well as in a family which has the right
view (samma-dhitti)3 are significant factors leading to having faith. We cannot expect
someone who grows up among a tribe in Africa to enter Nirvana if he has never heard of
the four foundations of awareness. Although tribal people have the highest potential to
know the dhamma due to their natural surroundings and they have indeed been gifted by
the dhamma, they won’t be able to know it because there is no appropriate culture. If they
are Thai, Laotian or Burmese who grow up within a Buddhist environment e.g. hearing
monks chanting every morning and night, helping parents to prepare food for alms
offering, being cajoled to do meditation with parents, etc. these people will certainly have
a better chance to understand the dhamma. Therefore, we can see that growing up in the
appropriate culture is a most significant factor to help and prepare people to easily
understand the dhamma.

This is precisely why we need to talk about the enlightening culture, which indeed is
aggregated by morality, wisdom and meditation (the noble eightfold path). That is
because such a culture can prepare people from all walks of life to understand the
dhamma some day in their lifetime. Simply living within the atmosphere of the
enlightening culture, members of society will be prepared one way or another to know
the path (morality, wisdom and meditation) which can help them to reach the goal of life

2
According to the Dictionary of Buddhism written by Phra Thep Weatee (Prayut
Prayuto), Dhamma has eleven meanings, some of which are. 1) the doctrine, the teaching
of the Buddha 2) the law of nature 3) ultimate reality 4) the supramundane or Nirvana 5)
righteousness; virtue, morality, good conduct; right behavior; 6) tradition 7) justice 8)
thing, everything, phenomena
The most popular meaning known among the Buddhists is the teaching of the Buddha.
The meaning I refer to in this chapter and the overall of this book is mainly ultimate truth
or ultimate reality or Nirvana.
3
The noble eightfold path or the fourth noble truth consists of eight righteousnesses: 1)
samma-ditthi, right understanding 2) samma-sankappa, right thought 3) samma-vacca,
right speech 4) samma-kammanta, right action 5) samma ajiva, right livelihood 6)
samma-vayama, right effort 7) samma-sati, right awareness 8) samma-samadhi, right
concentration. These can be rearranged into three groups. One and two are wisdom, 3,4
and 5 are morality, 6,7 and 8 are meditation.

13
sooner or later4. In this way, members of the society do not feel like they are doing
anything special or putting in any extra effort but in fact they have indeed gained spiritual
benefit by just living their normal way of life. This is how rich it is for the society which
already has the enlightening culture. Such a cherished culture is also what the Thai
people already have because our Thai ancestors have created it for us. It indicates that
people who lived in this region must have understood Buddhism right to the core once in
the past, to be able to create such a way
of life which assists and cajoles people into the right path. Not only Thailand, in fact the
whole of the South East Asia used to be a great Buddhist kingdom once, judging from the
Buddha images, temples, spectacular monuments like Ankor Wat in Cambodia,
Borobudur in Java and so on. Even Indonesia which is now an Islamic country, must
once have been Buddhist, and its people must have deeply understood the core practice of
Buddhism to be able to build a stone monument as grand as Borobudur. All these great
architectural structures show how deeply people were involved in the Buddhist way of
life which we can still witness nowadays. But as I said, it is rapidly fading away due to
the lack of understanding of the core practice. This enlightening culture can be compared
to a priceless diamond of which the owner must take good care. If not, it will be
swallowed by consumerism which has the ability to eat everything up. As a matter of
fact, this precious gem has already been partially ruined. As a result, Thai culture has
been reduced to just a showcase which is there to be shown off to tourists and foreigners.

This is the reason why I see the need to bring this issue up again and seriously connect it
with the ultimate goal of life, so that people can see the reason why it is so urgent that we
must preserve it. I can only talk from my own cultural background which is Thai and
Chinese but it doesn’t mean that other cultures do not have the taste of dhamma. All
Buddhist countries share similar Buddhist traditions and some of them are still quite
faithfully maintained. Due to the suppressive political atmosphere in Burma,
consumerism has not really laid its hand on the Burmese, so ironically the Burmese
culture still contains a strong flavor of the enlightening culture. Many years ago, I
watched a documentary program on Burma. I believe that it might be on the pavement of
Rangoon where I spotted a few water jars with the scoops for passers-by to quench their
thirst. I do not believe that people were employed to fill these water-jars up which means
people in the immediate area must have been responsible for the availability of the water
in those jars. If it was so, people must have done it from their kind hearts. This is why it
is called ‘a peace and friendship water-jar’. I don’t know whether people still do this
noble activity in Burma or not. I know that Thai people did but it has almost completely
disappeared now unless we still do it in the country. I have never visited Burma yet so I
cannot possibly talk much about the Burmese way of life although I would love to visit
this country some day. Let alone Burma, even Thailand I still know very little about, as
far as the enlightening culture is concerned.

Moral-related culture

4
If they cannot reach the ultimate goal this lifetime, the seedling will pass on to future in-
carnations.

14
To observe moral principles is one of the most significant factors for preparing people for
meditation practice and to gain the subsequent wisdom. Observing moral precepts can be
compared to taking rough edges off a gem stone for further refinement, which is
compared to meditation practice. People’s minds nowadays are rough in the sense of
seriously lacking self-awareness (samma-sati) according to the Noble Eightfold path. The
free economy promoting the atmosphere of high competitiveness conditions people’s
minds to be aware of gain and loss more than their own physical and mental well-being.
Although it seems that people are aware of what they are doing, it is still awareness in the
realm of darkness. Consequently, the innocent world (the ultimate dhamma) has been
twisted and is closely attached to names, concepts, price and value. This is what I mean
by people’s minds being rough. The only way to refine the mind is for people to see the
importance of morality so that they can be happy to observe the moral precepts. If not, it
is very difficult to bring back morality. Morality has existed in every society in the world.
Every sage and great teacher of the world emphasised that people should follow moral
precepts. This is the stage of taking away destructive thoughts and not pursuing them.
The fundamental moral principles are quite universal; they are not to kill, lie, steal,
commit adultery and intoxicate oneself. It is obvious that any society, whose members
can follow the five basic moral principles, is guaranteed to have less social problems.
Such a society can live in peace and harmony. The shocking fact is that not only do the
members of some societies in the world almost completely neglect moral values, they
have also twisted and turned good values into badness and bad values into goodness. This
wrong attitude contains the most disastrous and dangerous ingredients, which not only
destroy individual peace of mind but also world peace. People nowadays can step over
the moral threshold without feeling ashamed or guilty about it. Attitudes towards lying,
cheating, sex, infidelity, drugs, and so on become more liberal. What used to be a stigma
has become acceptable in some modern societies. Contraceptive pills are prescribed to
young girls, parents offering cigarettes and drink to their own children which was
unheard of in the past become normal events in some parts of western society. Such a
moral vacuum allows human’s defilement and the hidden evil quality to flourish. There is
less and less fighting between good and bad conscience in people’s hearts. Most people
are keen to quickly agree with the concept of listening to our hearts, which fundamentally
means we can do whatever we want to do. Consequently, society is in turmoil. Different
kinds of law have to be passed to control people not to cross over the line. The trouble is
if people cannot control their own thoughts and the drive to respond to their destructive
thoughts, punishment, no matter how severe it is, cannot stop people from wrong-doing.
A society that has many laws to control people indicates a severe absence of moral
conscience and a lack of peace within the members of that society.

The deterioration of moral vision in the world society is the direct result of lacking an
understanding of Nirvana and God. That is because religious leaders also have their own
trouble in fighting with their defilement. When the practice is not successful among the
religious leaders of all levels, the supreme essence of religion cannot be propagated.
Religious leaders subsequently preach with less conviction. As a result, they fail to
convince people about the real purpose of life. People cannot make the link between
moral principles and the ultimate purpose of life; therefore, they cannot understand why
they have to stick with the moral instructions against their will. Naturally, it is easier to

15
answer to our desire, which is our mental ruler or governor who has power to manipulate
and control our mental self. People are keen to find happiness, which is the result of
sensual pleasure. In other words, we do whatever our hearts crave to do and worry about
the consequence later. When the majority of people do the same thing, it reaches a point
when no one blames anyone anymore. Consequently, shame and guilt due to wrongdoing
disappear from our way of life. When this attitude happens across the globe, total disaster
is imminent.

If only people can understand correctly the concept of Nirvana, God and the ultimate
purpose of life, they will know that there is also a profound kind of happiness which is
the result of being able to fight and resist our wrong desires. They will understand also
that to observe the basic moral principles can make their lives less messy. Furthermore, it
is the main factor for them to achieve their ultimate goal of life. Therefore, to follow the
moral vision successfully means that people must understand the supreme goal of life.
That is to understand Nirvana, God or ultimate truth in a way that it is not too far for
them to reach. When that happens, to observe moral precepts is not a difficult matter
anymore because people can understand the reasoning behind them.

In retrospect of the Thai society, the Thai ancestors have created a way of life which
closely relates to moral principles. Unfortunately, they are quickly disappearing from our
society. People overlook the significance of this because they lack an understanding of
Nirvana.

Buddhist day (wan-phra)

It was only seven to eight years ago when I was visiting my family in Thailand that I took
a boat trip into the Klong (canal) Bangkoknoi and immensely enjoyed looking at the
people whose simple way of life by the canal hasn’t really changed much over the years.
I ended up in a noisy market by the canal in the suburb of Bangkok where people were
busy getting on with earning their living. I stopped by a local noodle shop where I could
sit on the pavement where tables and chairs were laid out for customers. It wasn’t the
food that I was interested in particularly; it was the people and their conversation that I
wanted very much to see and hear. No sooner had my bowl of noodles been placed in
front of me than I heard people talking about “wan-phra”. It was from the couple who
prepared the noodles for me. The husband and wife were talking about what they had to
do and prepare for the coming Buddhist day which obviously still plays a big part in
people’s lives. Then someone stopped by and chatted, the conversation went on and was
still revolving around the wan-phra. Later on, a male customer in the shop joined in with
the talk and they still talked about the wan-phra. My heart began to tremble with joy and I
thanked my Thai ancestors who made wan-phra become our way of life. Such
conversations, in fact, happen all over Thailand especially in the country. That was when
I realised that Thai people still have a brilliant chance to know the profound dhamma if
only Thai people can work a bit harder to make people understand the heart of Buddhism.

Buddhist day or wan (day) phra (Buddha or monk) comes once a week according to the
lunar calendar. It doesn’t always fall on Sunday like the Christian culture but the meaning

16
is very much the same. It is a traditional day for making offerings and re-affirming a
religious commitment. It is the day when people go to the temple and make the
Buddhist-merit or Tam-boon which involves offering food and other requisites to monks
as well as listening to the chanting and preaching. The day before the wan-phra is called
wan (day) gon (shaving) which is the day when all Buddhist monks shave their heads.
This is also the day when pig slaughter houses will be closed down, and when the wan-
phra arrives on the next day, all pork stalls in the market are empty. This is a way to give
respect to the Buddha on that particular day. With the invasion of supermarkets
nowadays, the empty pork-stall is fading away from people’s way of life. I can remember
that when I was young and visited my father who lived in the country during my school
holiday, wan-gon and wan-phra were the centre point of conversation, especially in the
market.

Before the food and requisites offering ceremony begins, the abbot will lead the
congregation to take the five precepts. This is the time when the smell of incense, candles
and fresh flowers in front of the shrine mingles with the familiar smell of hot steamy rice,
aromatic curry, various kinds of Thai food and sweets which are carefully prepared and
well presented. Colors spring out from everywhere - the set-up of the shrine with the
majestic Buddha’s image, the monks’ yellow saffron, people’s neat clothes, food and so
on. On top of those are the smiling faces and the kind-heartedness of people. The whole
event creates the most inspiring and holy atmosphere and sums up how glorious this
tradition is. The monk will then say the words of each precept and the congregation will
follow those words in unison which are all in Pali - they are refraining from killing,
stealing, committing adultery, lying and becoming intoxicated. Older people and the
more devout ones will choose to take the eight precepts instead which include not to eat
after midday, not to elaborately dress up and use perfume and not to sleep on thick and
comfortable mattresses. This ceremony must have been repeated over and over countless
times in all Buddhist countries since the olden days until it became a tradition. It is a
shame that most people nowadays do not know the duty behind this familiar tradition.
They think that whatever the monk says in Pali must be sacred words and people must
repeat those words because tradition says so and without knowing what they mean. As a
matter of fact, the wan-phra is a day when people will be reminded to refrain from any
wrongdoing by promising the Sangha or the group of monks that they will observe the
five moral principles.

However, this tradition is about taking rough edges off people’s rough minds and
preparing them for further refinement or meditation practice.

Tam-boon

It is almost impossible to find an equivalent word in English for the term tam-
boon. The term that has been used most in English is “making-merit”, which I am not
totally satisfied with. Merit in the Oxford English dictionary is refered to as fact, action
or quality that deserves reward and therefore the usage ‘making merit’ is not correctly
used.

17
The simple reason is that there isn’t any tam-boon culture in Western society.
The word tam means to do, action; boon means goodness, virtue or righteousness. It is
often linked with giving something away. However, this term boon links very closely
with Buddhist belief. When Thai people say the word tam-boon, apart from referring to
giving something away, they also think of the gain in relation to their religious goal. To
the mainstream lay Buddhist, that religious gain is about earning a place in heaven or
being born in a better incarnation as a deity or Brahman. Although this is the mainstream
Buddhist understanding, monks who see a bit deeper into Buddhism try to steer people
away from such an understanding because tam-boon becomes a matter of investment for
a better incarnation and leads to bad monks making a profit by selling tickets to heaven.
This is a classical notorious act carried out by infamous religious officers of all religious
traditions. There are often scandals about monks exploiting people with this tam-boon
concept. Good monks try to tell people that tam-boon is simply an action which makes us
feel good and lighthearted and just that should be enough.

I think the ultimate meaning of tam-boon is creating a righteous action, which
helps to take away the strong sense of self (ego) such as stinginess, selfishness, self-
centeredness and so on. Whenever people do tam-boon, the rough quality of their minds
is being taken away. This is a way to prepare the mind for higher practice and to
eventually enter Nirvana. When tam-boon is in the culture and is people’s way of life, it
means that people are prepared to create factors which help them to develop further along
the right path without feeling that they are doing anything extra to their minds. So, if
people can give things away or do the Tam-boon without any reluctance and also feel
good and happy about it, it means that those people have kept on taking away all the bad
qualities from their minds. There is a term called im-boon used among the Thai people
who love tam-boon and are very happy due to their righteous actions. Im means being
full up after eating. Im-boon means being full up with joy and happiness after tam-boon.
This is indeed the richness of Buddhist culture which can mobilise people from all walks
of life to take away their selfishness.

Bin-dha-bat, sai-bat

Every religious tradition has different ways of urging people to give or to take
away their selfishness. The Buddhist way is however rather unique and intensive. Only
the Buddhist has the culture of giving or getting rid of their selfishness every morning.
Buddhists in the Theravadan tradition are familiar with the sight of a row of monks in
their orange saffron robes, holding their alms bowls walking serenely in the street early in
the morning to accept alms from well-wishers. This is a spectacular sight, which happens
in every corner of Thailand every morning. Bin-dha-bat is the term used when monks go
for their alms round and sai-bat is the term used for well-wishers putting food in the
monks’ alms bowls. Bat means monks’ bowls, which are usually made from aluminium
in a round shape with a lid on.

Getting up at the crack of dawn to prepare food for sai-bat is people’s way of life
in the Theravadan tradition. Although Thai people’s faith in the Buddhist institution has
been challenged quite drastically by controversial monks over the past two decades,

18
causing the number of people giving sai-bat to dwindle, such a giving spirit is still
relatively rich compared to other religious cultures. Women know well the amount of
work they have to do in the kitchen when they want to give sai-bat especially on the
Buddhist day (wan phra) when requisites have to be prepared too. Tam-boon-sai-bat, by
which term people combine the two words together, involves a lot of hard work and
usually the women in the house are responsible for it. Food is cooked in abundance to
guarantee that there is enough to feed everyone. The tam-boon-sai-bat among people in
the countryside is carried out with great generosity and dedication. People carry food on
their shoulder-poles and walk a fair distance to the nearest temple just to give it away.

During my student years, I used to spend some time with a family in a remote
village in Saraburi province, their daily events began at 4.30 am when three women of
three generations got up to prepare food. By 9 am, the grand daughter aged 15, had to
start walking her four miles journey so that the monks whose forest monastery in the
valley, could have his meal by 11 am. There was a day when we had done half way of
our journey, the grand daughter and I were stranded behind a big herd of cows taking
over the whole width of the country lane. There was no room for us to walk pass the
approximately 200 cows. The only way for us to get to the temple on time was to walk
through the big herd of cows. We walked along with the cows for a while until a few of
them could work out that we weren’t the same species as them and all hell broke loose.
Before I knew anything, both of us were leaning tightly against a barbed wire fence on
one side of the country lane and in the midst of the cloud of dust, three angry cows were
yards away from us. One of them was pointing her horns down and in the position of
attacking. Both of us did nothing but scream away quite nicely. That was the second time
in my 21 years of life when I thought that I was going to die and was sorry that I didn’t
have a chance to say good-bye to my mother. I just remember that the cows ran towards
us three times but for some unknown reasons, they never hurt us. The cowboy came and
rescued us in the end. Although we both were in a state of shock, we picked up the
carnage of the food and resumed our journey to the temple. The monks never had our
food on that day.
I am sure that people in Thailand especially in the countryside have so many
stories to tell about their journeys to their temples. Such an incident like the above does
not stop people from doing their duty because they are happy to do it. The grand daughter
still carried on with her two hours journey along that country lane on the next day. They
love to see that monks have the taste of their food so that they can be comforted by the
thought that they have received something greater in return and that is boon which will
give them a good send-off to their next life. This has to be considered a very rich culture
by which people are willing to lose their selfishness. Westerners must not wrongly
interpret the spirit of tam-boon.

I was driving in the car one day with my Thai friend who was on a business trip to
the UK. It was a couple of weeks before Christmas. As we were chatting along, my friend
was looking at the people busy doing their Christmas shopping and she uttered:
“I don’t see anything that special about Christmas. I see people busy shopping
and exchanging presents. I think it’s better at home in Thailand). At least we can go to
the temple and tam-boon.”

19
That was my friend’s observation. What struck me is that I knew that my friend was
not a devout Buddhist. She is like millions of other lay Buddhists who tam-boon-sai-bat
only occasionally, but somehow she knew that tam-boon culture is better. Should I ask
her to explain why, she might not be able to give me a sound answer. Her judgement was
purely based on her upbringing. The culture told us that tam-boon is good. Westerners
and other religious traditions often get the wrong idea when they see Buddhist monks
with their alms bowls. They think that monks go out to beg which they consider a
disgraceful and demeaning action. I read a story about an English monk (Phra Farang)
who was verbally abused by a group of English tourists in Bangkok, while he was going
out for his alms round for the first time after his monkhood ordination. However, on that
same morning, he also experienced the overwhelming kindness and generosity of the
native Thai too. It isn’t easy for people outside a Buddhist culture to understand our way
of giving. If people do not train themselves to give, it is very difficult when they need to
do so. It is like bending a piece of thin metal. At first, it is a bit hard to bend but once we
keep on bending it, it will become easy and break in half. Our minds work in the same
way. There will be resistance and reluctance always, if not tight-fistedness, whenever we
have to give. It creates lots of unpleasant feelings although it doesn’t seem harmful.
However, if we have the habit of easily giving, we will feel good right away.
From observing religious traditions like tam-boon-sai-bat, the generous spirit
remains in people’s hearts and affects other areas of life too. A glass of water is served
within minutes following a guest’s arrival into the household. Special drinks and food too
will be offered and served later unless the guest insists not to bother the host. A guest
arriving at mealtime is not a problem in the East, the host will just grab a chair and ask
the guest to join in. This big-hearted spirit can get out of hand in the working
environment. Bosses are expected to treat their circle of employees or junior workers at
least once a year, apart from treating clients and colleagues from time to time. This can
lead to corruption when there is a problem with cash flow in just trying to keep up with
the generous spirit.

Nevertheless, the Thai people need to understand their own precious culture. If
not, a few bad monks and consumerism can demolish the way of life which took a
thousand years to establish and root deeply and which we can still be part of today. Thai
ancestors created a way of life which helps people on mass to get rid of their stinginess
and selfishness every morning. Of course, not every Thai does the Tam boon but if
anyone want to lose his or her selfishness, the tradition is there for him or her to practise.
This is not a tradition that comes easy. Thai ancestors had to work very hard to make it
stay. As I said earlier there is an astronomical amount of work involved in tam-boon-sai-
bat but all this hard work becomes easy and willing because it has become part of our
culture. After the tam-boon finishes, people all round are happy. I cannot emphasise
enough how fertile the Thai ancestral culture is. People slowly have their minds shaped
and moulded into the right frame so that they can develop further along the road to
ultimate enlightenment. The tam-boon-sai-bat tradition has conditioned the Thai as well
as the Burmese, Laotian and Cambodian people to be generous, hospitable, kind and
giving. These are qualities which have been well known to Westerners. Apart from the
breath-taking sight of the Royal palace and temples in Thailand, it is also the easy-going
and relaxed nature of the Thai people which impresses Westerners. How long this unique

20
quality will stay with the Thai people is indeed an alarming matter. I just know that if the
Thai people are not careful and keep on taking this culture for granted, we can lose our
precious enlightening culture in no time at all.

Filial piety and having respect for elders

Eastern children are brought up to have respect towards the elders and are taught to have
filial piety or feel gratitude to their parents, grandparents or those who bring them up. To
fulfil our duty and express gratitude to our parents for having brought us up, sons and
daughters, once they have reached adulthood must look after their older parents by
tending to their needs. It is customary for Thai and Chinese children once they are
earning to give their parents money on a regular monthly basis. This is the first sign of
fulfilling their filial duty and expressing their gratitude. As for big families, elder brothers
and sisters will automatically take responsibility for their younger siblings by providing
for their school fees. We often hear that older brothers and sisters have to leave school
early to help their parents earn a living so that the younger children can afford to go to
school. It is very much so in my generation although modern families are relatively small
with just one or two children. I am the sixth among the seven of us; my elder brother and
sisters helped my parents to pay for my school fees. Among Thai girls who live in
England, one of the main topics of conversation is about sending money home to their
parents and family. The Chinese who were left behind in Thailand after Mao Tse Tung
closed the country, also had a tradition of sending money back to their families in China.
It is a very natural thing for Eastern people to do and that is because the way we are
brought up is to show our gratitude to our parents.

This concept does not really exist in Western society simply because the standard of
living is higher and the government takes over the role of social security; whilst in the
East, children are parent’s social security. To fulfil the filial duty is in fact the Buddhist
way of thinking. Whilst in the West, sometimes people think that it is the parents’ fault
for giving life to a person who might not want to be born; therefore, parents have to look
after their children and take responsibility. The Buddhist way of thinking is somehow in
reverse; we think that it is very fortunate to be born as a human being. It is boon or good
karma in this sense, which gives us the chance to be born in a human form. It is a very
fortunate event because we shall have a golden chance to cultivate our minds along the
path to ultimate enlightenment. This golden chance is made possible because our parents
give birth to us and nurture us until we can stand on our own two feet. Therefore, our
parents are compared to god or Phra Arahant in the household whom we must always pay
respect to and care for. We believe that any children who are very good to their parents
will receive good things in return. Their lives will progress because showing gratitude to
parents is the best boon or the best karma apart from vipassana-bhavana.5 The Buddha
said that if we carried our parents on both our shoulders and let them do their business
there for the rest of their lives, it would still not be enough for us, children, to express
gratitude to our parents.

5
Vipassana-bhavana or the four foundations of awareness is the direct route to Nirvana
and this is the best action of all.

21
Once again, such a positive concept towards our parents is fading away from Eastern
society too. That is because the family unit is becoming smaller. The free economy
resulting in competitiveness makes people become more selfish. The crumbling of
religious institutions cannot offer the profound wisdom of Buddhism to people and makes
people drift away from the Buddhist way of life. Consequently, a vicious circle begins.

22
Chapter fourteen

Meditation-related culture
Whilst observing moral precepts is about taking the rough element off the mind,
meditation practice adds further refinement to the mind. Why do we have to refine the
mind? The answer is so that we can reach the gateway of wisdom and be able to witness
the profound dhamma as the ultimate simplicity existing right here in front of us.
Meditation practice which is not related to the ultimate goal of life can be a dangerous
matter. Therefore, when I talk about meditation-related culture, I only mean right
meditation or samma-samadhi which initially is led by right view or samma-dhitti
according to the Noble Eightfold path. Right view at the very least means accepting the
enlightenment of the Buddha and the four noble truths and at the very most means having
a glimpse of the ultimate truth. Therefore, let it be understood that I do not talk about
meditation that leads to achieving other activities like paranormal experiences or a mere
mental relaxation, which is quite popular in Western society.

I emphasise once again that samatha-bhavana or meditation that is aimed at calming the
mind down already existed in India before the arrival of the Buddha. Even the young
Prince Siddhartha joined in with the samatha-bhavana culture while he was in the process
of searching for ultimate enlightenment until he had perfected the technique. Despite the
success, samatha-bhavana did not help people to end their suffering after all. The new
technique, which is the direct result of the Buddha’s enlightenment, is vipassana-bhavana
or the four foundations of awareness. However, samatha-bhavana is the stepping stone,
which helps practitioners to develop into vipassana-bhavana. So, let’s understand that we
are talking about meditation that aims at entering Nirvana, which is the ultimate purpose
of life.

Moot-ta-ra

This word is not recorded in the Thai dictionary or the Buddhist dictionary that I have.
Some Thai Buddhists might have heard this word moot-ta-ra from somewhere. I first
heard this term from my teacher Ajahn Khemanandha but I could not understand much of
what he tried to link it to. My understanding of this word has now become clearer. Moot-
ta-ra refers to the slow, serene and calm movement of a person plus the quality of being
aware, confident and stable. As a matter of fact, those who engage in meditation practice
for a long period of time naturally have moot-ta-ra movement and a refined quality about
them. This is the quality of those who practise self-awareness or having sati-
sampashanya. Sati means awareness or mindfulness. Sam-pa-shan-ya is the immediate
moment right after sati when our consciousness really sinks or digs into the activity we
are engaging in e.g. walking, stretching, looking, etc. People can be aware of their
movements or have sati without having sam-pa-shan-ya (full or deeper consciousness).
Consequently, their movements might not be rough but are certainly unrefined. The quick
pace of life means that people nowadays may have sati or awareness, but still very much
lack sam-pa-shan-ya. We skim through our movements very rapidly without really

12
sinking into and enjoying them. Sam-pa-shan-ya is the element which allows us to really
enjoy the immediate moment (here and now) of our lives.

It is sam-pa-shan-ya or deep consciousness, which conditions moot-ta-ra movements. The
movements of the Buddha and all his followers are indeed moot-ta-ra movements, which
are slow, serene, calm and tranquil. At the same time, they are fully aware, sinking in,
secure, stable and confident. Observing the 227 moral precepts is a way to shape and
mould the Buddhist monks to have self awareness or have sati-sam-pa-shan-ya which
results in moot-ta-ra movements. Once people have self-awareness or sati-sam-pa-shan-
ya, concentration (samadhi) and wisdom (panna) will follow accordingly. Anyone who
has practised self-awareness and gained concentration (samadhi) will move in a much
more refined way than those who have never practised, except those who are calm and
peaceful by nature.

Now, once we have understood how moot-ta-ra movement comes about, we can easily
understand how the Thai ancestors brought this movement into Thai culture. The Thai
ancestors must have understood Buddhism right to the core to appreciate the full
significance of moot-ta-ra movement. The soft, slow and serene movements are in fact
characteristics of traditional Thai ladies. Despite social change and the rapid way of life,
this unique quality is still very much within our Thai ladies, especially those who are
brought up in a strict traditional Thai family. Thai ancestors would train their children to
walk with moot-ta-ra movements i.e. soft, gentle, calm and serene. When these refined
qualities are combined with the respect which children had to give to elders, they create a
unique combination which results in a refined and noble personality in a person. Children
are taught to bow every time when walking past elders, to walk on their knees when
approaching elders or if elders are sleeping, children have to tip toe so that a single sound
is not heard and so on. Thai dancing is undoubtedly based on moot-ta-ra movements. All
these unique qualities in people have hidden in them the two most significant factors -
morality and meditation - which will enable people to easily develop further along the
spiritual path. By living this way of life, children are slowly cajoled into the stream of the
enlightening culture. Whenever children have to walk slowly and serenely in front of
adults, they are forced to be aware of themselves ( having sati-sam-pa-shan-ya.) Without
this awareness, they cannot control their movement to be slow and serene. Consequently,
they are learning to adjust their minds to the stable or equilibrium state, which is the most
significant mental habit a person can ever have. They will learn to calm their minds
down in this manner and in a way that they don’t even know because the culture moulds
them in this way. When these children are adults and want to pursue meditation practice,
they have already achieved half of what they need to do as far as training mental habits is
concerned. My Tai chi students can begin to link what they do in class to this moot-ta-ra
concept. All these positive qualities are key factors, which can help people to reach
ultimate enlightenment. They only need to put in a bit more effort to achieve the result.
This is how rich our Thai ancestral culture is. Unfortunately, the moot-ta-ra movements
are fading away from Thai women at an alarming speed due to social change.

The greeting tradition

13
Among the greeting traditions, placing both hands palms together at the chest is practised
widely, especially among the Buddhists and the Hindus. I must admit that Thai people
can do this greeting gesture rather gracefully and elegantly due to the moot-ta-ra
movement. The correct movement should be done slowly and serenely without rushing
and with the head bowed; juniors must always observe the level of head bowing when
greeting elders. This is a way of paying respect to elders. If this greeting gesture is being
done properly, the persons have created for themselves a crucial factor for their
subsequent spiritual gain. Learning to bow to others even though they are not related to
us is a way to get rid of our self-importance bit by bit. This factor is very important for
our ultimate enlightenment. Being self-centered, arrogant or having self-importance,
apart from creating self-delusion, also entails other problems in our society. A clash
between two people can often be traced back to a clash between each other’s ego. People
who are totally self-absorbed are likely to be arrogant and will find it very hard to bow
their heads to others. However, if people can truthfully bow their head to someone, that
gesture will naturally chip away some rough element from their minds. Therefore, just
simply bowing our heads to someone upon greeting, our minds are being shaped and
moulded into a supportive nature which subsequently will boost us towards the path to
ultimate enlightenment. Although this is not a straightforward dhamma practice, people
already engage in this crucial practice without realising it. This is to stress how fertile this
enlightening culture is. If only people could truly understand the hidden meaning of what
they are doing everyday, this precious culture would be well preserved and the seed of
enlightenment would be spread. The Japanese also very much observe head bowing. It is
a shame that modern children who are brought up in a materially aware environment are
losing grip of the traditional way of greeting.

Whilst placing hands with palms together and head bowing can get rid of our self-
importance, hand-shaking on the other hand can convey a sense of friendship and
truthfulness. Whether people are truthful and sincere or not can be sensed from hand-
shaking. Hugging and kissing can express warmth, closeness and sincerity to each other.
However, hand-shaking, hugging and kissing do not take away the sense of arrogance
and self-importance in the way that head-bowing can.

Placing the hands palm to palm and bowing the head is a tradition deriving directly from
Buddhism. This gesture comes from the way we pay respect to the Buddha image. Paying
respect to the Buddha while he was living or to the Buddha image is a way to surrender to
the Buddha. It is because the enlightenment of the Buddha is so great that nothing else in
the universe is better. Therefore, we as the Buddha’s followers do not have any doubt in
him and we wholeheartedly give in to him so that he can lead us along the path. Upon
surrendering to the Buddha’s wisdom, his followers pay the most genteel and highest
respect to their sublime teacher. This results in the prostration in which five parts of the
body touch the ground -the head, two hands and two feet. As for the Mahayana tradition
like the Tibetans, they have to have eight parts of their body touch the ground. Giving in
to the Buddha, having no doubt in him and letting him be our spiritual leader are the
supportive elements we create for our minds every time we pay respect to the Buddha
image. Paying respect to the Buddha’s image as well as those who deserve to be
respected with a moot-ta-ra gesture, is considered auspicious and favorable to the people

14
who do it. This is a way to accumulate all the refined factors within ourselves so that we
can easily see the profound dhamma in the future.

Jantalee

In the Pali cannon, there is a story of an old woman named Jantalee who went to heaven
only because she had paid respect to the Buddha. It is recorded that:

Once, the Buddha was staying at the Veruwan monastery. Early one morning, he
telepathically knew that an old lady named Jantalee who lived in the village of Jantala,
was about to die and would be reborn in hell. The Buddha then said ‘I will help this old
lady to tam-boon so that she can go to heaven’ Later that morning, the Buddha,
accompanied by a large group of monks, walked towards the city of Rajgir. It was also
the time Jantalee, holding her old, wooden walking stick, walked towards the suburbs of
the city. She saw the Buddha along with the huge group of monks walking towards her.
The crooked old lady stopped right in front of the Buddha. Meanwhile, Phra-maha-
Mokalana1 knew telepathically that the Buddha had come especially to help the old lady.
He then walked up to Jantalee and said ‘Listen, Jantalee, please quickly go to pay your
humble respect to the sublime Buddha. He who is the fourth Buddha stands here to help
you. Please have faith in the Buddha who is the fully enlightened one. Please put your
hands together and pay your greatest respect to him because your life will end very
soon.’
Having listened to what the monk said, the old lady was deeply sad to know that she was
about to die. She then looked at the Buddha; her mind was overwhelmed with great joy
and faith in the Buddha. She subsequently went down on her knees and paid the highest
respect to the Buddha with the five parts of her body touching the ground. When the
Buddha had seen the old lady with a crooked back and aching bones pay respect to him,
he walked away. He knew that the old lady had already done something most worthwhile
for herself.

Whilst the old lady was watching the departing Buddha, her heart was elated with
overwhelming joy and great happiness, when all of a sudden, a mother cow ran towards
the old lady and hit her. Jantalee died in an instant and went to be reborn in the heaven
called Daowadeung with one thousand angels as her attendants. Once Jantalee was born
in heaven, she came down to earth while still sitting in her celestial palace to pay respect
to Phra-maha-Mokalana. The radiant Angel Jantalee then elegantly stepped out from her
heavenly palace, went to pay humble respect to the honorable monk, and said
‘ Honorable sir, I pay respect to you.’
The monk looked at the beautiful shining angel and asked:
‘Angel, who are you? What kind of boon (righteousness) have you done to deserve such
immense power.’
Angel Jantalee answered:
‘I was the old miserable Jantalee whom you told to pay respect to the exalted Buddha.
Once I had paid respect to the Buddha, I died from my lowly untouchable status and was

1
He was the Buddha’s left hand disciple who was renowned for performing miracle.

15
reborn as an angel in the Daowadeung heaven with one thousand angels as my
attendants. I come here today to express my deepest thanks to you.’
Then, the angel Jantalee returned to heaven.

The next morning, Phra maha Mokalana went to see the Buddha and told him about the
visit from the angel Jantalee. The Buddha then talked to the crowd and told the story of
Jantalee as an example. He said ‘Paying respect to those who deserve it like the Buddha,
the dhamma, the sangha, parents, grandparents, benefactors and teachers will bring
miraculous results. Paying respect to the deserving ones is self-gift and will make that
person progress very far.’

Sitting cross-legged in meditation

The posture of sitting cross-legged with back straight is considered part of an
enlightening culture. This is the way Thai boys were brought up in the past. They had to
learn how to sit properly on the floor crossing their legs while having their meal on the
floor. The Thai people even called this posture sitting cross-legged meditation or nang-
kad-samadhai. It is quite obvious that this is a posture imitated from the Buddha’s
images.

Sitting meditation is one of the crucial factors for understanding the dhamma and to
witnessing the dhamma. To gain a good result while meditating, one must be able to sit
comfortably without feeling much pain so that the mind can be focused easily and
wisdom will follow subsequently. However, if people have not sat in this position until it
becomes a habit, it can be quite impossible to do at first. Maybe this is the reason why the
Thai ancestors trained their children to sit in this posture from childhood so that when
they reached the age of ordination, they could sit in meditation without any problem.
Western people who have long legs are more used to chairs and three piece suites and
find it extremely difficult to sit in this posture. It will become a problem when they want
to do meditation because when the pain sets it, they will lose their concentration.
However, this problem has been solved by using cushions and shaped seats which can
help those who have long legs to sit comfortably.

Tai chi and yoga

Tai chi and yoga can be directly classed as part of an enlightening culture if only teachers
understand about the four foundations of awareness. These two exercises can be easily
used as a means of practising self-awareness and they can benefit big groups of people
right away. Yoga is indeed about mindfulness with breathing or Ana-pa-na-sati which
connects with the physical exercise.

As for Tai chi chuan, the meaning itself contains a spiritual intent. The word Tai ( )
means great, grand, majestic. The word chi ( ) means the state of the ultimate or an
absolute state which nothing can go beyond. The Chinese generally refer by this word to
heaven. Chuan means to box, to strike with the fist or to move. When we combine the

16
three words together, we can clearly see the spiritual meaning as a set of movements,
which enables people to reach the state of the grand ultimate or great heaven. I am not
surprised at all that Tai chi chuan has everything to do with the supreme concept of
Taoism and Buddhism. Someone has got to understand about the ultimate state in nature,
which is Tao or Nirvana, to be able to come out with something like Tai chi chuan. The
three words contain the path to the fruit or the means to the end that covers the whole
structure of Buddhism. The only way that we can reach the grand ultimate is by moving
with great awareness and concentration. I have no doubt that Tai chi has had a direct
influence from Buddhism and links closely with the four foundations of awareness.

Of course, the missing link occurred when the Buddha’s followers did not pursue the
practice and could not witness the state of the ultimate in nature. The essence of Tai chi
slowly faded away as time went by. People turned to capture the meaning of chuan which
means to box and to strike with the fist instead. Since Tai chi movements themselves
were borrowed from the martial art movements which existed in China long before
Buddhism arrived, this makes it easy to lose track of the spiritual side of Tai chi and
grasp the martial art instead. Focusing on the energy or Qi to maintain physical well-
being is still considered a minor issue as far as the essence of Tai chi is concerned.

To fulfill the spiritual essence of Tai chi, it is important that teachers understand Buddhist
meditation, especially the four foundations of awareness, so that the serene movements of
Tai chi can be executed purposefully. This is the concept that I have tried to convey to
my students during the past ten years, although the perfection of this notion happened
only two years ago when I could understand the fourth foundation of awareness. That
unique experience convinced me further about the essence of Tai chi. The slow and
serene movements are a clever strategy to calm people’s minds down. Although the
ultimate concept can not be understood, merely doing the slow movements can bring
forward mental relaxation, which is the focus point of Tai chi in the West at the moment.
My job is to go a bit further beyond the point of mere mental relaxation, which can be
compared to a starter of a three course meal. There are other things greater than mental
relaxation; they are wisdom and ultimate mental freedom. This is the only way that we
can really reach the true essence of Tai chi. People who can be happy to stand there and
move slowly have in fact come a long way towards their mental freedom. It is a shame
that the world is so lacking in teachers and guidance which can lead people all the way to
ultimate mental and spiritual freedom.

Nevertheless, I would like to point out that Tai chi and yoga can be a new strategy to help
people en mass to develop along this road to ultimate enlightenment. What makes it most
extraordinary is that they can be used as a non-religious means. As we know, people are
totally indifferent towards religion nowadays because of the invasion of materialism,
consumerism and the leap of science and technology. I don’t think that we can ever bring
religion back to the way it used to be when it played a big part in people’s lives. But that
doesn’t mean that the essence of what religions are supposed to give to people has
disappeared too. The ultimate truth or the absolute simplicity in nature, which is known
as Nirvana or God, can never be wiped out. It was here before everything else came
along, it will still be here when everything is wiped out, and it will still be here when

17
something forms again. It will always be here endlessly and ultimately. That’s why the
enlightened ones or the knowers call it the grand ultimate. That’s why it is of the utmost
importance that we know it. That’s why all enlightened people cannot sit back and not do
anything, they will do their best to let people know about this ultimate truth.

That’s why I would like to point out that if only we can make Tai chi and yoga become a
non-religious method for people to witness ultimate reality or the innocent world, the
seed of enlightenment can be spread better this way. This can be an answer to a universal
method for ultimate enlightenment, which can serve people of all sexes, ages, religious
beliefs, nationality, race, social, economic and political status. This obviously sounds like
an outrageous and impossible dream. Nevertheless, I am extremely serious about this
idea. But at the moment I am still very much alone as far as my work is concerned. It
hasn’t been easy carrying all these thoughts by myself and trying to share my belief
especially in a woman’s status in this foreign land, and especially when I see people
disappear from my Tai chi class. As I always mention, I can be either completely mad
and stupid or I know exactly what I am talking about. It has to be the latter since I seem
to be able to draw strength from somewhere to carry on with my work. Whether it is
stupidity or wisdom, I let the readers be the judge of that. It might be quite difficult to do
so since there is a very thin line to separate these two types of people! I wish you luck.

The tradition of staring at the Buddha’s images

Among the collection of tape-cassettes containing my teachers’ talks, there is one talk in
which Ajahn Khemanandha says that people in southern Thailand have a tradition of
staring at Buddha images. I assumed that it was a particular Buddha image in the
southern province of Nakorn-sri-thamarat to which the pilgrimage takes place at a certain
time of the year. The teacher said that people were looking forward to the trip and they
would prepare their packed lunches so that they could find a spot to settle down and
enjoy the holy experience of watching the peaceful face of the Buddha’s image. After the
pilgrimage, people’s hearts were elated with faith, happiness and joy, and fully charged
with energy; they then had the strength to go home and get on with their lives once again.
I really wish that I could be there to witness such an enlightening tradition so that I could
share a few more details with readers. I am sure the Buddha’s image is still there but I am
not sure whether this tradition is still being practised or not nowadays.

As a matter of fact, this is something that Thai people as well as all other Buddhists I
believe, do individually from time to time. Whenever the Thai Buddhists especially the
devout ones feel a bit depressed, they like to go to temples, do their offerings to the
Sangha and often sit quietly in the shrine room and look at their favorite Buddha’s image.
A while later, they leave the temple with the lighter heart. I vividly remember the day I
walked into the Emerald Buddha temple situating by my university some 26 years ago. I
was the first year student and had just gone through the most frightening experience of
political upheaval when a big number of students were killed. My heart was heavily
loaded with questions which I could not answer. No one could help me, not even my
favorite books on western philosophy which I was most crazy about at that time. I used to
think that Socrates was the best up to that point because he could not answer my

18
questions about life in general. I wanted to know so badly what life was all about. What
was the reason to be born? Why were innocent young people killed? I could not see how
I could lead my life peacefully after that terrible event of October 16 1973. Whilst most
of my friends as well as the whole nation were happy because tyrants were driven out of
the country. They all thought that we could finally have real democracy. Somehow, I felt
totally different from them. My questions were far too profound for a girl of my age and
that caused me to isolate myself from my friends. I was inevitably plunged into deep
turmoil and my heart was full of pain on the day I walked into the temple. For some
reasons, I knew that the Buddha was the only person who could pull me out from the
misery I was facing. I sat on the cool marble floor of the most stunning and elaborate
shrine room and stared into the face of the small Buddha’s image. I asked him to help me
to restore peace into my mind but I didn’t know how he could do that. However, that was
the beginning of my interest in Buddhism until I found my spiritual teachers. My
development on this spiritual path is indeed the result of being in the Buddhist culture.

Tea ceremony, flowers arranging, and Japanese garden

Although Japan is a leading industrial country in the world, with the influence of Zen
Buddhism, I believe that she still has a great deal of an enlightening culture left for the
world to see and cherish. The tea ceremony, flower-arranging and the creation of the
Japanese garden are among many other things in Japan which are closely linked to
meditation. To prevent novices from falling asleep, the Zen monks, initially coming from
China, prepared a cup of tea, making it from young pale green tea leaves which were
ground into powder, and served it to the novices. It was believed that the caffeine in the
tea would keep the practitioners awake. However, the tea ceremony is executed in a fully
structured manner and with great awareness or with sati-sam-pa-chanya. This is the
Japanese way of moot-ta-ra movement. It is quite obvious that this is a direct meditation
tradition, which requires enormous skill for a host to perform a perfect tea ceremony.
This is something that traditional Japanese ladies have to learn over many years. This is
the same with flower arranging.

Japanese gardens have been renowned for the transcending calm, peace and tranquility
they bring to people’s minds. This is because the constitution of the garden is based on
raising the sense of self awareness to the people who are in it. I cannot say much because
I have never been in one but I think I can easily understand how marvelous my feeling
will be to actually be present in a Japanese garden. My first experience of a Japanese
garden was from six pages of a calendar that my eldest brother brought home one day
during my childhood. There was something there which could capture the heart of a
seven-year-old girl who knew nothing about meditation. Somehow the beautiful shade of
different green foliage, the stepping stones, the bridge and the whole construction of the
garden or I should say the whole picture made my heart tremble with joy, peace and
happiness every time I looked at them. I treasured those pictures so much that I used one
of them to cover my very own photo album. I don’t know where the other five pages are
now but the one over my album is still being kept in my family home in Thailand.

19
Chapter fifteen

Wisdom related culture
Ideally, Buddhists should be brought up with the concept that their ultimate purpose in
life is to enter Nirvana and become Phra Arahants (the fully enlightened one or the
worthy one). The reason for our coming into this world is for us to quickly work hard and
create the appropriate factors so that we can reach our spiritual destination. This idea
used to be quite strong among Thai people in the old days. Unfortunately, it has been
fading away from modern Thai people due to the lack of understanding the essence of
Buddhism. Social change has caused Thai men to enter the monkhood without the
intention to learn, practice and spread the seed of enlightenment to laity as it used to be.
Instead, to a great number of Thai men, monkhood has become an escape route from
poverty. There are many corrupted monks who are attached to wealth and fame, and often
cause controversy. Monks can only teach laity what they know. Due to the lack of
practice and being unable to hit the core of Buddhism, the supreme concept of Nirvana
has been twisted into something that is too far beyond reach and has nothing to do with
ordinary people like us. I used to think so until I met my late teacher Ven. Buddhadasa of
Suan Mokkh.

The concept of Buddhism in Thailand is divided into two main topics; they are the
worldly matter (Lokiya-dhamma) and the supramundane matter (Lokuttara-dhamma).
The latter one is usually known as the state beyond the world, as it is about the practice or
the path leading to the fruit and to Nirvana. People are led to believe that worldly matter
is our sole interest, which basically is about observing the moral principles whilst ‘the
state beyond the world’ is far too difficult for our reach. I don’t know whether this
concept is still being taught in the first year of university or not. That course on
Buddhism convinced me that Nirvana had nothing to do with me. I now realise how
damaging it is to teach people like that. The enlightenment of the Buddha is aimed at
helping all lives in samsara or the circle of rebirth to reach Nirvana or to end their
suffering. This can only mean the supramundane matter or Lokuttara-dhamma. However,
terms like supramundane or beyond the world imply a strong sense of impossibility. As a
matter of fact, Nirvana is so close to us that we overlook it completely, and it is indeed
about everything in the same old world in which we are living. That’s why I prefer to call
it ‘innocent world’ instead of ‘beyond the world’.

Nevertheless, the survival of the Buddhist wisdom in Thailand is the credit of a small
group of monks who truly follow the Buddha’s signposts of the four foundations of
awareness until they can see the state of Nirvana. Although these honorable and
enlightened monks are only a handful, they have worked very hard to propagate the heart
of Buddhism and have left behind a great legacy. I am certainly a result of those good
monks. Without them, I would still be smothered with darkness and rolling around in the
mud of suffering and insisting on thinking that Nirvana had nothing to do with me as my
lecturer had told me. However, Thailand has less and less enlightened monks nowadays.
Those who are still alive are quite old now. The survival of Buddhism in Thailand has to
be in the hands of the younger generation, who can truly understand the core of

12
Buddhism. The Buddhist institution in Thailand is in an alarming state right now due to
scandal and controversy caused by bad monks.

Despite the feeble Buddhist institution nowadays, I still think that Eastern people have
better chance to understand the ultimate purpose of life than Western people. Western
society right now is very much like what happened in India before the enlightenment of
the Buddha - being lost in a spiritual labyrinth. Just like any religious institution which
has been weakened by different factors, the Christian institution has been losing its grip
on people. There are more and more people who doubt and deny the existence of God,
but this doesn’t mean that people do not believe in anything. The horrifying fact is that
the religious vacuum allows people to believe in everything and anything at all. Career
people believe in wealth, power and status. Younger people believe in pop music, idols,
cartoon characters, sex, drink, drugs and so on. Those who are in between are left in
confusion, boredom and often misery. No matter what people believe, money is always
one among those items, which has a strong grip on people’s hearts. Democracy means
people can do anything that they want to do. This allows people’s defilement to flourish
and problems spring up like mushrooms from all corners. Unemployment and crime
cause people to feel insecure and even frightened. Violence and the use of weapons have
become the solution of many people as we often see in the daily papers. People who
commit minor offenses or serious crimes like murder are younger these days. The nature
of the crimes committed also becomes more and more bizarre and repulsive. The rate of
suicide is on the increase. All these indicate the seriousness of the turmoil and the
sickness in society.

Consequently, there are more and more unhappy individuals who don’t know what the
answer to life is and are left confused. Ironically, this has paved the way for people to
search for a new type of spiritual sanctuary and has allowed the cult movements to play a
bigger role in people’s lives, especially the middle class. Many cult leaders have been
taking advantage of people whose souls are lost in their own mental maze and often end
up in tragic incidents like mass suicide and murder. This is also a time when Westerners
open their arms to Eastern philosophy. Buddhism, healing, Tai chi, Feng shui and so on
have sprung up like mushrooms in western society. I am quite taken aback by the vast
number of books on Feng shui, clairvoyance and different kinds of healing methods in
bookshops. It can only mean one thing: that people are in great need of a spiritual refuge.
What exactly this refuge is, is the most difficult question to answer. I don’t think people
can easily find out even though they sieve through those books containing eastern
concepts.

That’s why I said that comparing the two cultures of the East (Buddhist culture) and the
West, eastern people have a better chance of finding their spiritual refuge if only they
have a good search. Teachers who know the real truth can still be reached if people try a
bit harder. The practice of the four foundations of awareness is still very much in the
religious culture. Right and truthful teachers are the very persons that Western people
cannot easily have access to. Sadly, it has become a vicious circle. There are people who
want good teachers but they don’t know where to find them. They may believe that they
have found someone. That person might turn out to be a cult leader. To break away from

13
the vicious circle, it is very important for an individual to be able to judge whether a
teacher is trustworthy or not as far as finding true wisdom is concerned.1 This is the
reason why Buddhists must do their best to preserve the supreme concept of Buddhism
which allows people to know “what is what.”

The coconut pond.

Thai ancestors must have understood the concept of Nirvana correctly until they could
talk about it in daily life and convey it to children in nursery rhymes and story telling.
The nursery rhyme which is called ‘coconut pond’, containing the concept of Nirvana,
was explained to the Thai people by the late Ven. Buddhadasa of Suan Mokkh. The
verses are as follows:

Oh my dear little one.
There is a coconut tree
Alone amidst the wax sea.
It’s protected from the rain
It’s undisturbed by thunder.
Alone amidst the wax sea
Where only those beyond merit can be.

The coconut tree is a metaphor for Nirvana, which is right in the centre of samsara (the
cycle of rebirth) represented by the wax sea. The wax sea depicts a picture of being
changeable. Life has its ups and down, happiness and suffering which are the nature of
the samsara of which we are a part. However, most people do not realise that Nirvana is
right in the midst of this cycle of rebirth, or right here in front of us, as I keep on
insisting. It can be reached only by those who go beyond action, both good and bad. The
key words are indeed ‘beyond merit’ or ‘beyond boon’. After we have talked about how
good tam-boon is, once we have done the Buddhist merit or boon, we must let go of the
boon too to get to Nirvana. This is a much harder action to do. Nevertheless, if we stick
with the four foundations of awareness, we can let go of the merit or boon.

The late teacher had created a coconut pond in Suan Mokkh monastery to remind the
younger generation of the supreme concept of life.

Ajahn Khemanandha also explained to us the nursery rhyme called ‘mother snake’. All
Thai children know this nursery rhyme and we made into a game to play too. The last
sentence of this nursery rhyme says “eat head or eat tail, eat centre and eat all.” This is
the crucial sentence, which reveals the precise practice concerning the third and fourth
foundation of awareness, where there is no observer or observed. People at that time must
have practised the heart of Buddhism until they could describe the actual state in very
plain metaphors and put in the nursery rhyme.

1
I have written a chapter called “How can you judge your meditation master ?” which
offers some indication for people to read their masters. This chapter is in the book titled
“Can a caterpillar be perfect ?” published in Thailand by Mental Health publications.

14
‘Mother snake’ has exactly the same theme as ‘the last lizard of the world’ of which I
also heard from Ajahn Khemanandha. It was said that when the great flood swallowed
the world, all living things were drowned except a lizard who escaped the flood by
climbing up the highest mountain. While he was stranded there, he finished all the food
he could possibly get until there was no food left for him to eat. Finally, he decided to eat
his own self by turning around and taking a little bite off his tail first. Everyday, he
turned around and took a bite further up and up his body. The last day came and the
lizard had only his head left. He turned round and swallowed up his whole head and the
world was silent. This theme obviously showed the practice of the third and fourth
foundation of awareness when every thought has to be abolished which results in the
ultimate silence where there is only ‘one single being.’

This cannot be a one-woman show.

I am sure that there is still a great deal of the enlightening culture left in all Buddhist
countries in south East Asia, but it is being overlooked due to the lack of understanding
of the essence of Buddhism. Burma, Tibet and Bhutan especially can offer a great deal of
enlightening culture to the world. It is very sad that Tibet has been savagely destroyed by
the ignorant Chinese leaders, otherwise Tibet and her culture could be a role model for
the world. Having the Dalai Lama as the religious and government leader is an ideal form
of enlightening culture. This is the only way that appropriate culture can be created to
guarantee the minimum suffering for people. The Chinese government should be
ashamed of itself for destroying Tibet which can be compared to the last pot of wisdom.
It is almost too late to salvage the precious Tibetan culture. However, there is still hope if
the Dalai Lama can return to his homeland immediately with full sovereignty to rule
Tibet. Helping the Dalai Lama to return to Tibet while he is still alive is a way to retrieve
the enlightening culture.

I am sure that there are people who think the same as me but I am not resourceful enough
to be in touch with them. Even my knowledge about Thai ancestral culture is still
extremely limited. All that I have talked about in this chapter make up a few examples of
what I have learnt from both my spiritual teachers. Having left Thailand for so long and
losing touch with the wise Thai people, I do not have enough material to talk extensively
although I want to so much. We really need a think-tank to work this out together. Ajahn
Khemanandha is the key person with whom I would like to spend more time and learn
more from him as far as saving the enlightening culture is concerned.

Trying to save the enlightening culture we have left in the world is not a small task at all.
It is far too enormous for a woman like me to think and do alone. To have good research
for a more enlightening culture and to reveal its true value so that people can help to
retain the seed of ultimate enlightenment, is my only ambition left in my life. It is still
very much a dream on my behalf since I am totally alone and have no support morally
and financially from outside apart from my small group of students, some of whom still
very much doubt me which is quite normal and understandable. Being a woman and
trying to do the monks’ job means that I have to work many times harder just to make

15
people listen to me. It isn’t my personal success that I worry about. Let alone thinking
about my own success, the four foundations of awareness leave me no room to even feel
proud of myself no matter how hard I have to work both openly and secretly. I used to
think that I would feel extremely proud, special and privileged once I could reach the
higher dhamma. That was how I imagined my teachers must have felt. The truth is far
from that, the more profound the dhamma I understand, the more ordinary and simple I
feel and the less expectation I have. It is indeed the voidness, which keeps me simple and
constantly gives me the strength to carry on and certainly not a dream which can fool me
that I might make a success some day.

Nevertheless, what I am worried about most is the social change, which is threatening to
wipe out the existing enlightening culture. This means that the world will not have
anything left for our children to cherish as far as their spiritual need is concerned. If we
take away our material success right now, we hardly have anything else left to serve our
spiritual purpose. Through ignorance, we rapidly destroy all the important things that will
keep us sane and make our lives become possible, especially our natural environment.
Even if this idea was noticed and we could do something about it right away, which I
think is quite impossible, it could only help to delay disaster and help those who are
deserving to know the best thing in life. This is the reason why I keep on having the idea
of putting together in writing the enlightening culture and do my best to reveal the
significant values just as I am doing in this chapter.

I still do not know how it can happen though, since my husband and children still don’t
know about this crazy ambition of mine. I just know that I have enough mental strength
right now to keep on going spreading the seed of ultimate enlightenment, but I cannot do
it alone without support both morally and financially from outside my very small circle of
students. I can only hope that my message will be heard before my physical strength will
give up on me.

16
Chapter sixteen

Summary
Human civilisation is now in the nature of a vicious circle. The trouble is most people
cannot see it. The only way to break free from this hideous roundabout, is by listening to
the knower. ‘Knower’ is a funny term, which is not acceptable in English usage, but this
word is widely used among Buddhists, especially in Thailand. It refers to the enlightened
one, the one who knows God, Nirvana, the ultimate truth, the ultimate simplicity or
simply knows ‘what is what’. As a matter of fact, the birth of the Buddha, Christ, Lao
Tzu and other well known sages is meant to help us, human beings, to break free from
this vicious circle. Our cul-de sac civilisation is actually a little tiny section of the
enormous cycle of rebirth or re-incarnation. This is exactly what the Buddha tries to tell
us by offering us the way to get out of it.

Theoretically, religious institutions of all well-established traditions are supposed to lead
society by giving advice to government leaders so that they can plan strategy of how to
govern a country whose population is made up of individuals. This means that
governments can use all the means and resources in the country to create the right culture
for people in order to guarantee the minimum suffering and peace of mind for every
single individual. The economy, education, the judicial system, social functions,
communication and even entertainment have to consider or follow certain guidelines,
which do not disrupt people’s mental stability so that they can be at peace. Consequently,
society, nation and the whole world can live in peace. That’s why I said that helping the
Dalai Lama to return to Tibet with full political autonomy is of the utmost importance.

This idealism, of course, is based on the assumption that religious leaders know exactly
what the purpose of life is. Alternatively, they must know the state of God, Nirvana, the
tree of life, ultimate reality or simply know what is what. This is because this is the only
knowledge which can guarantee the minimum suffering, yet offer individual peace of
mind to members of society. It is indeed the individual’s mental stability which can
contribute towards social and national stability, and finally world peace.

This idealism has happened before in Buddhist countries like Tibet, Bhutan, Thailand,
Burma, Laos, Cambodia and so on. That’s why Thailand still has a great deal of
enlightening culture left for us to witness. But this precious gem is being savagely
destroyed by consumerism and ignorance. The only way that we can preserve this
priceless culture is by revealing the true meaning of Nirvana and bringing back the four
foundations of awareness into people’s way of life. This is the reason behind all my
work, in which I have done my best to keep the whole idea coherent.

My work and my effort are not new phenomena at all. This is the task of all knowers
since the first teacher of the world arrived, the Buddha. As for the Christian tradition, we
can consider the author of the Book of Genesis as the first teacher of the Christian world.
Ever since, the followers of the great teachers have worked very hard and some of them
were even killed in trying to spread the word of truth by carrying on with the religious

12
tradition until we are all part of it nowadays. The seed of Light (truth) is obviously still
here but it has become very dim. My job right now is trying to make this ultimate light
glow a bit brighter so that it can at least benefit those who desire to know the truth no
matter how small that number is. This is the task of all enlightened ones. Should they
have any strength left at all, they should come out and fight their way through and make
themselves be known to that small group of people.

The concept in this chapter in particular is an extremely mad and laughable one as I can
even see myself. How on earth can we bring back the enlightening culture? This goes
against everything that people believe nowadays. In today’s papers, the British
government is trying to bring back morality lessons in the new school curriculum but the
guidelines are ambiguous since they do not mention marriage or explicitly praise the
traditional family of two parents. This is exactly the point I want to argue about.
Governments nowadays have no signposts to follow and they are too scared to offend
people if that is not the mainstream belief. This is the great difference between the
knower and the one who doesn’t know. The knower will talk and put forward the truth
although no one wants to hear it. Morality is undoubtedly a good thing that all leaders
must praise explicitly without fearing to offend anyone. Even some religious leaders are
reluctant to do so. I admired the Dali Lama who had no reluctance in expressing his
notion on gay relationships, which upset the whole gay population. Children must know
and be encouraged to stick with the five basic moral principles. Otherwise, how on earth
can they learn what is good from what is bad? The vicious circle begins when influential
adults cannot do it themselves. Where can they find the courage to teach others? We now
have two giant government leaders whose personal lives are smothered by moral
misconduct; one has committed adultery and one is a drunkard. Not to mention mad
leaders who are heavily intoxicated by power and insist on inflicting endless misery and
unbearable suffering on humanity. What chance do we have for world peace? Only real
people can say the real thing without fearing to upset anyone. This is the quality that our
governments’ leaders in the world do not have.
No matter how impossible this idealism is, a little voice (intuitive wisdom) in my
head keeps on telling me that I must make a stand on this issue. I know that it is
impossible to change the world. Even the Buddha could not prevent his family from
killing one another. The most we can do right now is try to delay disaster from happening
too quickly and to keep the suffering among humanity down to the very minimum. The
only way to guarantee the minimum suffering among humanity is to bring back the
enlightening culture into our way of life. This is the most important concept that all
governments must understand no matter how laughable it is. However, this is what all the
enlightened ones have to do. If they don’t do it, humanity will be plunged deeper into the
darkness of ignorance.

13
Postscript

Now that you have finished reading this book, you have probably taken the first step of a
long journey towards finding your very “own self” - the same thing as finding a long
lasting peace of mind. You have probably realised that it hasn’t been easy at all. This is
the reason why you need all the encouragement you can get. I advise you to read “Dear
Colin, What is the Meaning of Life?” in which I talked about my own experience of
struggling along this path. You can also compare the improvement of my knowledge
between now and then. You can order this book from any bookshop in the UK. My
second book is “Can a Caterpillar be perfect?” This book can help you to understand
many issues and topics that I do not have time to explain in class nor in this book, for
instance the innocent world and so on. I talked about fighting in the right battlefield when
I tried to explain that the brain is not totally responsible for all our mental mayhem, as we
are led to believe. As a result, prescribed drugs are not always the answer. I have tried to
deal with these issues in a most scientific way. You may want to join other meditation
classes once you leave my Tai chi class. There is one chapter in this book which gives
you guidelines on ‘How to judge your meditation master’.

“Can a Caterpillar be Perfect?” has been published in Thailand by the Mental Health
Publication.1 It is displayed and on sale at Waterstone bookshop in the University of
Birmingham, Edgebaston, Bristol Rd, Birmingham, B15 UK.

Please remember that “mental wound” is not a clear cut and straightforward notion like a
physical wound where you can apply some antiseptic cream and watch it heal. Judging
from your own experience, if you think that the practice I taught you in my Tai chi class
can help you to relieve your mental wound, please look after it as if you would look after
medicine so that it can help you whenever you need it. Remember that I am offering you
a very plain glass of water: you might not feel thirsty right now and don’t feel the need to
drink it. However, this glass of pure water may save your life when one day you are lost
in a desert. Our life situation changes from time to time and we don’t know what is ahead
of us. On the day that you feel that life is rather unbearable and you see no way out,
please come back to the four foundations of awareness and start all over again. Don’t
look too far away, always come back to your inner-self. Take away your mind’s clutter
and the answer is there. All the words in this book might not make much sense when you
are happy and luck is on your side, but when luck decides to abandon you, these words
will make a lot of sense.

If you happen to keep up with the practice although you have left my Tai chi class, there
is no doubt that your practice will improve as time goes by. It is very difficult to find a
spiritual teacher who suits your need and to guide you along the path to ultimate

1
Mental Health Publishing House 14/349-350 Rama 2 road (38), Bangmod, Chomtong,
Bangkok, Thailand

91
enlightenment. Please keep this book in a safe place and refer to the four foundations of
awareness from time to time. You might not understand much about the third and the
fourth foundations of awareness now. But when your practice has ripened in the future
and reached the state that you need more guidance, this book can guide you through and
enable you to understand your level of practice. It could mean another 20, 30 or even 50
years time! Please remember that ultimate truth is self-knowledge. If you can see the real
truth, you will know yourself that it is the one. If you still have doubt in that truth and
feel shaken when someone contradicts you, it means that you have not yet seen ultimate
truth. Once we have seen the innocent world or ultimate truth, to be able to confirm to
ourselves that this is it, is yet another difficult task all practitioners have to do. No one
can confirm for us but ourselves. Be spontaneous and get rid of that immediate doubt
every time it arises. That is how you can confirm yourself.

Follow the guideline carefully, keep your mind totally still and quiet, ultimate truth is
there. Spontaneity is indeed the secret of this practice! Be spontaneous and always get rid
of your immediate thought, you will see ultimate truth.

I wish you all the best of luck in your spiritual journey and sincerely hope that you can
finally find your true self and your long lasting peace.

Yours in the dhamma,

Supawan P.Panawong Green2

Munrow Sport Centre (Tai chi)
The University of Birmingham
Bristol Road south
Edgebaston
Birmingham
B15 2TT
United Kingdom

2
By the time this book is published, I have already finished the first part of my latest book title “The
User Guide to Life”. This book will also be published by The Mental Health Publication soon.

92
Feedback

Glasshampton Monastery
Shrawley
Worcester
WR6 6TQ

21 July 1999

Dear Supawan,

Many thanks for sending me a copy of your book “A Handful of Leaves”. I enjoyed
reading it very much and found it most helpful for my own understanding and practice of
meditation. You have inspired me to continue with a greater diligence! Like you, I
believe that the religion of the world have much to share with each other, and the
tradition of meditation preserved and still practised within Buddhism is a great treasure
which more people should know about. The four foundations of awareness are a
beautifully simple yet profound teaching which Christian would find great benefit in
knowing more about and practising on a daily basis. I wish you all God’s blessings in
your efforts to pass this tradition on to all people.

In your book, you talk critically at times about the institutions of both Buddhism and
Christianity. Many of your criticism are fair and I would not disagree with you. I would,
however, like to reassure you that there is a strong tradition of teaching and practice of
meditation within Christianity, even if it has not been widely known up to now. Such
practices have been confined to monks and nuns and have not been openly taught in the
churches. This is a shame and leaves only a one-sided presentation of Christianity.
Thankfully in recent years books on spirituality, prayer and meditation from within the
Christian tradition have become much more widespread and many Christians now spend
time on retreat exploring the further reaches of prayer or practise in groups or on their
own. I would like to share with you in this letter just a few of the teachings on meditation
that have come from Christians since the earliest days of the church. It may help you or
Christians you work with to see how many points of contact there are between our two
traditions of Buddhism and Christianity.

The practice of Christian meditation is of course based on the Bible. We only have to
look at the words of Jesus to find the root of all our searching for God. For Example, in
Matthew’s Gospel Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God”
(Matthew 5 v.8). Here we have the charter for all our explorations into the thoughts of the
mind and heart. In the context of a debate about ritual purity – about the religious rules
governing what should or should not be eaten – Jesus says: “Listen and understand: it is
not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth
that defiles…For out of the heart come evil intentions, murder, adultery, fornication,

93
theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15 v.10,11,19). The early Christians knew well
that the purification of the heart was a work requiring great energy and determination, for
“all who have this hope in (God) purify themselves, just as he is pure” (1 John 3 v.3). In
this process Christians seek to become one with Christ, following the command of St.
Paul to “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 2 v.5), and so “take
every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor.10 v.5). The early Christians knew that the
troubles of the world are born in the hearts of men and women: “These conflicts and
disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings
that are at war within you? You want something and you do not have it; so you commit
murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and
conflicts” (James 4 v. 1,2). For them the answer was to be united with the love of Christ,
knowing that in this way “the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4 v.7).

The way to find this peace of God, in term of the detailed description of the actual
practice of prayer, was not written down until the writings of the monks and nuns living
in the deserts of Egypt and Palestine in the 3 rd and 4th centuries. One of the most
influential of these people was St. Anthony of Egypt (c.251 – 356). He described the
struggle with the passions of the heart as ‘wrestling with demons’. Nevertheless, after
twenty years of solitude in the desert he could say: “I feel confident that if the soul is pure
through and through and is in its natural state, it becomes clear-sighted and sees more and
farther than the demons.”3 His struggle with the passions brought him to an experience of
the ‘bright transparency’ of the soul, a state of clear calm in the peace of God.

Evagrius (c.345 – 399) was another monk who spent many years in the Egyptian deserts.
He said that “there are eight principal thoughts from which all other thoughts stem.”4 He
categorised them as gluttony, fornication or lust, love of money, discontent or depression,
anger, despondency or listlessness, vainglory and pride. He taught that the way to God
was through passionlessness, leading to love and finally to knowledge of God.

For Evagrius the highest form of prayer was “the putting away of thoughts.” One of the
practical ways to achieve this was through constant recollection of the name of Jesus:
“Join to every breath a sober invocation of the name of Jesus.”5 Thus awareness of the
breath formed part of Christian meditation from the earliest times.

St. John Climacus who lived at the monastery on Mount Sinai in the 7th century, also
wrote about the use of the breath in Christian prayer: “Stillness is the putting away of
thoughts. Stillness is unceasingly to worship God and wait on him. Let the remembrance
of Jesus be united with your breathing. Then you will appreciate the value of stillness.” 6

3
Early Farthers from the Philokalia, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer (Faber; 1954)
Page 110.
4
The Study of Spirituality, edited by Cheslyn Jones et al. (SPCK; 1986) p.59f.
5
Early Fathers p.113
6
The study of Spirituality, p.182.

94
St. John Climacus also taught the by now traditional monastic values of obedience,
humility, discernment, passionlessness and love. A faithful practice of these virtues,
together with the practice of contemplative prayer, would bring a person to scale the
ladder to union with God.

This tradition of prayer was further developed and expounded by Hesychius in the 8th
and 9th centuries. He wrote: “Attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any
thought. In this stillness the heart breathes and invokes, endlessly and without ceasing,
only Jesus Christ the son of God.” 7 This kind of prayer, known as ‘the Jesus prayer’,
sometimes consisted simply of the name “Jesus” repeated with each breath. At other
times the holy name was used as part of short phrase, such as “Lord Jesus Christ, have
mercy,” or “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” These phrases
are at first spoken with the lips, then silently in the heart, then when the practice has
progressed and a quiet stillness of the mind has been reached, then the words are let go
entirely and the person simply rests in the silence of God.

The longer forms of the Jesus prayer are based on two passages of scripture. One is a
method of prayer taught by Jesus himself. In the parable of the pharisee and the tax-
collector Jesus praises the tax-collector who prays by simply repeating the phrase “God
be merciful to me a sinner” (Lk. 18 v.13). This phrase is then combined with the cry of
the blind beggar on the Jericho road as he hears Jesus pass by: “Jesus, Son of David, have
mercy on me a sinner” (Mk. 10 v. 47). The Jesus prayer thus became one of the main
methods of prayer in the Eastern Orthodox church, and is now practised by many
Christians of all churches across the world.

One of the most important teachers of the spiritual life in the Eastern church was St. Isaac
of Syria. He lived in the 7th century, mostly as a hermit, but was briefly the Bishop of
Ninevah. He wrote extensively about the practice of prayer and how to find stillness of
mind. He knew the importance of observing the mind:

“Every rational being suffers changes without number, and every man is different
from hour to hour. A man of discrimination can verify this by putting himself to the test.
If he practices sobriety and observes himself with his mind, he will easily see how his
thought changes, what this change is, how his peaceful disposition is suddenly disrupted
and what is the cause.”8

For St. Isaac, simplicity and humility were of central importance in discovering God:

“When you face God in prayer, become in your thought like a speechless babe. Do
not utter before God anything which comes from knowledge, but approach Him with
childlike thoughts, and so walk before Him as to be granted that fatherly care, which

7
The study of Spirituality, p.182
8
Early Father, p.210.

95
fathers give their children in their infancy. It is said: ‘The Lord preserves the simple’
(Psalm 113 v.6).9

He described the highest form of prayer as a contemplation which goes beyond all words
and is even a kind of “non-prayer”.

“For the movements of the tongue and of the heart during prayer act as the keys;
what comes after these is the actual entry into the treasury: from this point onward mouth
and tongue become still, as do the heart – the treasurer of the thoughts -, the mind – the
governor of the senses -, and the bold spirit – that swift bird -, along with all the means
and uses they possess. Requests too cease here, for the master of the house has come…
all there is is a single straightforward awareness which goes beyond all names, signs,
depictions, colours, forms and invented terms.”10

Simple resting in God after all the struggles with the passions brings a person to a deep
compassion, a compassion “for the whole of creation, for humanity, for the birds, for the
animals, for demons and for all that exists,”11

Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh, one of the leaders of today’s Russian Orthodox
Church, has said of this great teacher of contemplation: “St. Isaac of Syria is
acknowledged as one of the greatest spiritual writers in the Eastern Orthodox tradition.”
His works are still widely studied in Orthodox monasteries and convents and beyond.

This tradition of contemplative prayer is not limited only to the Christian East. For
example, in England in the 14th century an unknown author wrote a book called “The
Cloud of Unknowing” which has become a classic of Christian spiritual teaching. The
author teaches that all thoughts of this world should be covered with a “cloud of
forgetting”, and that a simple loving attention should be directed to the “cloud of
unknowing” where God is to be found. He writes:

“Therefore I will leave on one side everything I can think, and choose for my
love that thing which I cannot think! Why? Because he may well be loved, but not
thought. By love he can be caught and held, but by thinking never.”12

The method he teaches is to use a single word, the shorter the better, with which to
concentrate the mind:

“Such a word is the word ‘God’ or the word ‘Love’. Choose whichever you
wish, or another if you prefer, but let it be of one syllable. Fasten this word to your heart

9
Early Father, p.215.
10
Heart of compassion: Daily readings with St. Isaac of Syria, edited by A.M. Allchin, Translated by
Sebastian Brock, (DLT, 1989) p.20,21.
11
Heart of compassion, p.9
12
The Cloud of Unknowing (Penguin, 1961) P.60.

96
so that it never leaves you, come what may. This word is to be your shield and your
spear, whether in peace or in war. With this word you are to beat upon the cloud and the
darkness above you. With it you are to smite down every manner of thought under the
cloud of forgetting. So much so, that if any thought should press upon you to ask you
what you would have, answer it with no other words but this one word. And if you should
be tempted to analyse this word, answer that you will have it whole and undeveloped. If
you will but hold fast, be sure that the temptation will not last long.” 13

It is a practice that continues beyond the times of formal meditation into every activity of
the day, so that such people become “so attuned in grace and spirit, and so at home with
God in this grace of contemplation, that they may have it when they please in the
ordinary occupations of life as in sitting, walking, standing or kneeling. And yet, during
this time they have full control of their faculties and may exercise them if they wish.” 14

Eventually the person who practices this meditation will be led to a kind of “nothing and
nowhere”. “And, though your natural mind can now find ‘nothing’ to feed on, for it
thinks you are doing no thing, go on doing this no thing, and do it for the love of God.” 15
In the “nothing” will be found an “overwhelming spiritual light” which is in fact “All”.

When this practice bears fruits it brings “an inner happiness revealing itself in a peaceful
countenance and quiet and modest bodily composure.” 16 In this way, the effect of the
meditation spreads out from the person to influence the lives of the people they meet:

“Every man or woman who practices this work will find that it so suffuses body
and soul, as to make them gracious and attractive to everyone who sees them… Indeed,
if the least attractive man or woman were drawn by grace to work in this way, their
appearance would be quickly changed to one of such graciousness, that all good people
who saw them would be glad and happy to have them in their company, and would know
that in God’s grace they were cheered and strengthened by their presence.” 17

The practice of contemplative prayer reveals the grace of God’s love experienced in the
everyday reality of human life.

When this happens, all things become charged with the presence of God. God is found in
all the events of life and in all the particularities of the present moment. The French
Roman Catholic Jean-Pierre de Caussade (1675-1751) talks of this in terms of the

13
The Dart of Longing Love: Daily readings from The Cloud of Unknowing, edited by Robert Llewelyn
(DLT, 1983) p. 18.
14
The Dart of Longing Love, p.55.
15
The Cloud of Unknowing, p. 134.
16
The Dart of Longing Love, p.45.
17
The Dart of Longing Love, p.47.

97
abandonment of the self to the providence of God in “the sacrament of the present
moment.” He writes:

“This discovery of the divine action in all that passes within us and around us is
the true science of things. It is a continual revelation of things; it is a ceaselessly renewed
commerce with God; …In its depths it is peace, joy, love and contentment in God, seen,
known (or rather believed) to be living and always working in the most perfect way in
everything that happens. It is the eternal paradise… When God gives himself in this way,
the ordinary becomes extraordinary, and this is why nothing seems extraordinary. For this
path in itself is extraordinary and it is quite unnecessary to adorn it with irrelevant
marvels. It is itself a miracle, a revelation, a continuous joy, apart from our trifling venial
faults, but it is a miracle which, while it renders marvellous all our everyday life of the
senses, has nothing in itself that is marvellous to the senses.”18 The life of contemplation

18
Self-abandonment to Divine Providence, Pere J.P. de Caussade S.J. (translated by Algar Thorold)
(Burns, Oates and Washbourne Ltd; 1933) p. 145-146.

98
is simply the most natural, ordinary life; but to reach this natural state may be the work of
a life-time.

In this letter I have talked about just a few of the teachings on meditation in the Christian
tradition. I have not even mentioned people like the Rhineland mystics Eckhart, Tauler
and Ruysbroeck, nor the 16th century Carmelites St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of
Avila, nor even the teachers of prayer in our own century such as Thomas Merton of
John Main. In sharing what I have written above I am not trying to say that Buddhist and
Christian meditation are the same or that Christians have no need to learn from other
religious traditions. All I am saying is that there is a great wealth of experience and
teaching from which we can all learn, Buddhist and Christian alike. The teachings of the
Buddha are a precious gift to the world and have greatly helped me in my own practice as
a Christian. I hope that in the future there will be much more sharing between
practitioners of the different faiths, and that together we will, as the Buddhists say, ‘enter
Nirvana’, or as the Christians say, ‘know that we and God are one.’

Yours sincerely,

Brother Nicholas Alan
The Society of Saint Francis

As a Christian I went to Tai chi with and for my husband in order to help him with his
blood pressure. It was with some trepidation that I found myself entering the class.
However as a teacher Supawan did not try to change personal belief, but allowed me an
opportunity to explore my own faith by sharing and gaining insight into her own.

Rather than compromising my faith, I feel that it has expanded my belief in God, and
given me a fresh understanding into the teaching of Jesus. It has given me another
dimension to my faith, exploring a mental habit, which I feel is akin to prayer.

The four foundations of awareness, which are practised through the movements of Tai
chi, have allowed me to experience a holistic state of mind, body and spirit working

99
together. This has provided a natural quiet place void of feelings, which I believe is the
stillness of God.

Within this stillness, I have been able to experience and appreciate the natural world and
feel part of it. This has enhanced my spiritual love of God, and encouraged me in my
Christian faith to really appreciate, and cultivate thoroughness about the Kingdom of
God.

Whilst my husband has discontinued his classes I have continued to attend because I have
been impressed by the genuine kindness shown by Supawan, not only to myself, but to
other member of the class. Reading her work and going to her class has provided me with
answers to questions, which I could not find in conventional Christian teachings.

Sue Normandale
2 September 1999

100
Self-assessment
These are the five barriers (bandits) which would try their best to stop you from
progressing in your meditation practice and therefore slow you down from reaching your
mental destination.
1) Craving bandit - being hit by thoughts that drawn towards sensual desire. You
will feel like to do everything else which can offer you more pleasure and joy.
Your thoughts will tell you to abandon this boring difficult practice and do
something else which has more fun and excitement. You might be hit very
severely by sexual craving especially male, homesickness in the case that you
have to be away from home and join a retreat and other symptoms. Be
spontaneous and really work on the first foundation of awareness. With a bit of
effort, the bandit will back down and probably disappear.
2) Angry bandit - being hit by thoughts and feelings that cause ill will, agitation,
resentment and anger either towards someone, something or a situation. You will
feel miserable in being here at the retreat and feel annoyed with everyone and
everything people do.
You can counteract the angry bandit by bringing in the thought of loving,
kindness and compassion. Try to think that other people also have to bear such
miserable feelings just like you do. Then spread your loving kindness to others
and wish all beings to be at peace. Work hard on the first foundation of
awareness, the angry bandit will back down.
3) Sleepy bandit - being hit by sleepiness, laziness, sluggishness, inactivity and
idleness. You can hardly keep yourself awake and your brain cannot absorb
anything at all. This bandit seems harmless but is extremely difficult to fend off.
You can counteract this by changing the method of practice. Involve more
movements, walking meditation backwards, do practical work or even take a
shower to wake yourself up. If there is no way you can get rid of your sleepiness,
go and lie down for 15-20 minutes, no more, get up, wash your face and start the
practice again. Do not sit meditate because you will fall to sleep in no time at all.
Do it when you are fully awake.
4) Bombshell bandit - being bombarded by an explosion of thoughts, worry,
anxiety, distraction and so on. This is a state of mind that makes it quite
impossible to meditate.
This bandit has to be killed by extreme patience. Try to involve in practical work
instead and work hard on the first foundation of awareness. Just do your best. If
all your effort fell to alter this frustrating state of mind, you must turn the
situation around. Pretend that you are sitting very patiently on a bench in a very
busy train station and watch all these speedy trains passing by. Then, bring in
wisdom. Tell yourself that an untrained mind can play up just like what you are
feeling right now. This should encourage you not to be complacent and work
harder on your practice when your mind allow you to do so.
5) Doubtful bandit - being hit by doubt and uncertainty about the whole practice
and the achievement.

91
When this happens, you must work on spontaneity. Immediately burst that bubble
of doubt in the same way that you burst other bubbles of thoughts. You should
gain profound wisdom every time you burst the doubtful bubble. If you can
successfully defeat this bandit and come out safely, you will become wiser very
quickly. This barrier is a very good test and difficult to break through because
you are dealing with the most subtle illusion. The further you walk down this
path, the more often you will be tested by this bandit. Only spontaneity and the
real knowledge can help you to break through this barrier.

Fighting with these five bandits is the biggest task on earth. There are not many people
who want to fight with them because it is very difficult. If you don’t fight, they will take
over your life and all your actions will stem out from these bandits. Doubtful bandit is the
cause of ignorance, the most damaging one. To make the practice easier, you must
initially have the will or desire to fight these bandits and subsequently you must have the
right weapon and the skill to fight with. I tell you now that the four foundations of
awareness is the very weapon and the skill is what I have shared with you in my Tai chi
class. Here is the quick summary.

The four foundations of awareness

Ideally, your awareness or consciousness (the real you) should be with the following of
the foundations of awareness. When you are not with either of the foundation, it means
that your mind is either drifting along with your thoughts and feelings or in a dreamlike
state when nothing is clear although there don’t seem to have any thoughts or feeling. If
your mind has no thought nor feeling, you should see the innocent world or see things as
they are and know that this is the destination you have wanted to achieve. The knowledge
and the experience have to be clear.

1) The first foundation of awareness - know your physical movements.
Know your breathing or other physical movements, Tai chi, walking, every
detailed movement involving your practical work. This is the foundation that you will
have to work on most all through the day depending how spontaneous you are.
Remember that the Buddha still recommend the fully enlightened ones (Pra Arahants)
to work on this foundation. This is the direct route which can help you to feel good
both body and mind rather quickly. Please check with me if you still don’t know how
exactly you can practise this foundation.
2) The second foundation of awareness - know your physical sensations
Know your physical sensations, pain, itching, tinkling, throbbing, buzzing and so
on. Spend at least 10 seconds or more in that sensation without drifting or before you
change to work on the other foundations of awareness. However, you can skip away
from this foundation only when you have to burst the bubble of your thoughts. When
you can do it, it means that you have worked well on your spontaneity. When the
work regarding the second foundation ends, go back to the first foundation right
away. If not, your mind will float and allow one of the five bandits to take you over.
3) The third foundation of awareness – know your thoughts and mental
feelings.

92
This is the most difficult foundation both to teach and to work on. At this stage,
just know that do not drift along with your thought too long. If you drift, you
must be spontaneous and get out of it right away. This mental action is what I
call “bursting the bubble of thought”. The range of time that you will sit in
any bubble of thoughts can range from split seconds to a few minutes. You
actually drift from one thought to another and yet another endlessly. If I am
around, I will remind you to be spontaneous and you can instantaneously burst
that bubble of thought. If I am not around, you must find a way to stop yourself
from drifting. Drifting in a matter of a full minute while you are in this retreat
considers far too long. This is one aspect of dealing with the third foundation.

The other aspect is to observe the ups and downs of your mind. When you cannot
seem to burst any thoughts at all, it is very likely that you are hit severely by the
bombshell bandit. You must pretend that you are sitting tight on a bench at a very busy
train station platform and watch the train passing by. It is very painful to watch if you are
hit by unpleasant thoughts and feelings. Be patient.
As soon as you have burst your immediate thought and feeling, dive into the first
foundation of awareness without any hesitation. This will improve your skill very
quickly.

4) The fourth foundation of awareness – engulf or melt yourself in the
innocent world. If you have done the first three foundations correctly and
successfully, you will naturally see the innocent world without having to do
anything like the above three foundations. Your mind has to be crystal clear
before you can welcome the innocent world – that is there are no echo of
thoughts and no traces of feeling left in your mind whatsoever. Therefore, you
will see everything as it is – that is there are no names, concepts, price and value
in everything you perceive. Your sense of self will disappear too at that
immediate moment when the innocent perception is happening. You should have
the strong sense of mental and spiritual freedom – a state that there is no word
can penetrate. The innocent world is self-knowledge and therefore, it is an
absolute knowledge in itself. If you hit the real knowledge (innocent world), you
can guarantee yourself that this is it. This is the indication for you to judge for
yourself. My words just help you to confirm what you already know.

The fourth foundation can be easily cheated but can be detected by your experienced
teacher without much difficulties. Your reaction and appearance in describing this
ultimate state is a matter of black and white to a teacher who knows the innocent
world well enough to teach others. You are highly advised to be humble and very
honest about the result. Whether you know or don’t know, it doesn’t matter, just
simply be honest about it. This is not a competition. You don’t need to make yourself
look good to others and especially not to your teacher. It is much more important that
you hit the real knowledge. If you don’t understand and cannot gain the experience
like others, I am here to help you. If you cannot reach me, please refer to my latest
book “A Handful of Leaves” or write to me.

93
Please use another sheet of paper and just write down the answers of each question. Skip
the question that is not applicable. The order of the questions is the gradual process of
your practice. You should have to deal with all of them. The scale of achievement is from
0-3. 0 is very poor 3 is very good

1) Name of the activity i.e. sitting meditation, walking meditation, cooking, cleaning,
eating, sleeping, Tai chi and so on.
2) How long did the activity last?
3) Which of the five barriers have you been hit most while doing this activity?
4) How well did you manage the first foundation? 0-3
5) How well did you do the second foundation? 0-3
6) Did you burst any bubbles of thoughts and feeling? yes, no
7) How spontaneous could you burst those bubbles? 0-3
8) Did your mind reach your mental destination (calm and still mind) after the activity?
Yes, no
9) How certain are you about the experience of your mental destination (the calm
nature)? 0-3
10) Can you see the innocent world? Yes, no
11) How certain are you about the innocent world experience? 0-3
12) How well (long) could you maintain the innocent world experience? 0-3
13) As regard this activity, how satisfy are you with the overall outcome? 0-3

Please remember that the poor result doesn’t mean that you are no good. No matter
your result is poor or good, you have learnt the skill of how to walk the path may be
in the nature that you don’t realise. Knowing how to walk the path is much more
important. There will always be another day that you can do better than today. Please
keep on and don’t give up. Even after this retreat, try to assess yourself at least once a
day. This will help you to constantly walk the path.

May peace be always with you.

94
Buddhist proverbs1
These are the words of the Buddha.2

1. You are your own refuge.

2. A well-trained mind is the beacon of happiness.

2. Nobody is more beloved than one’s own self.

3. You are stained by your own evil deeds.

4. A wise man learns how to train himself.

5. An earnest person who perseveres in his concentration will attain the highest bliss.

6. It is better to leave all evils undone.

7. It’s better to do good.

8. Those who do good receive good; those who do evil receive evil.

9. Sensual desire comes from the thoughts which are allowed to wander uncontrolled.

10. Sensual appetites could never be gratified, even if gold was to rain.

11. Never is there more suffering than arising from sensual pleasure.

12. Never is there any river like the river of Craving.

13. Desires are the most difficult thing to get rid of.

1
These proverbs will help to enhance the better understanding of this book. Please notice that the
Buddha did not try to convince us to believe in anything beyond our comprehension. His words are
incredibly ordinary, yet full of wisdom. We can easily follow and agree with him. However, those who can
get the most out of these proverbs are the ones who engage in the practice of the four foundations of
awareness.
2
Extracts from The Buddhist Proverbs-Buddhasasanasubhasita-collected by His Royal Highness Prince
Vajirananavarorasa, the late supreme patriarch of Thailand. Translated into English by Pra-maha
Prayong Kittitharo, published by The Mahamakut Educational Council 1967/2510

91
14. Desires are unlimited.

15. Never is there any fire like the fire of lust.

16. Never is there a trap like the trap of ignorance.

17. Pleasure seekers usually run after more and more pleasure.

18. A fool, through his own greed for wealth, kills himself as well as others.

19. Sentient beings are wrapped up in a cocoon of ignorance.

20. Anger never pays.

21. Anger is like the eating of rust from a weapon.

22. Anger leads to destruction.

23. Anger makes the mind restless.

24. Anger develops from impatience.

25. Anger causes the greatest mistakes

26. Happy is he who has killed anger.

27. A man is deprived of his virtue when he is angry.

28. He who is given to anger brings about his own suffering

29. He who is overpowered by anger destroys the goodness and benefit that he already possesses.

30. An angry person easily destroys what is difficult to do when he is sober.

31. Cut away your anger with the knife of self restraint.

32. Cut away your anger with the knife of wisdom.

33. Forbearance is the highest practice of morality.

34. Forbearance is always crowned with happiness.

92
35. Forbearance is the power for those who meditate.

36. Gods and men always love a person endowed with forbearance

37. Beings are lead by their own thoughts.

38. A stained mind is destined to a miserable existence

39. An unstained mind is destined to a blissful existence.

40. He who acts upon his impulse always has to regret.

41. A wise man always tames his mind.

42. Watch and guard your mind as carefully as one who carries a bowl full of oil.

43. A wise man always curbs his restless mind.

44. An evil kamma always has a burning effect.

45. It is difficult to do a kamma (action), which is both good and beneficial.

46. Safeguard your virtue against decline, just as salt never loses its saltiness.

47. Anger characterises a fool.

48. There is no shelter or protection for him who has been overcome by anger.

49. Patience is the highest practice of morality.

50. Patience is always crowned with happiness.

51. Patience is the power of those who meditate.

52. A person endowed with patience is always loved by gods and men.
.
53. A well-guarded mind brings about happiness.

54. The flavour of truth surpasses all other flavours.

55. To take delight in truth transcends all other delights.

56. One should overcome an evil person by virtue.

93
57. One should overcome an angry person by not being angry.

58. One should overcome a misery person by charity.

59. One should overcome a liar by truthfulness.

60. A discriminating charity is recommended by the Buddha.

61. A giver of happiness usually gains happiness for himself.

62. He who gives out increases his merit.

63. Dhamma is like a lucid lake.

64. The nature of the wise is very difficult to understand.

65. The nature of the wise never suffers any deterioration.

66. The virtuous live for the welfare of the others.

67. Blessed is he who takes delight in the dhamma.

68. Those who follow the dhamma live a happy life.

69. The virtuous are protected by their own virtues.

70. All kinds of phenomena must not be grasped at or clung to.

71. Let a man do good for the sake of good.

72. Of all the paths, the Noble Eightfold path is the excellent and the only Path to Immortality.

73. Whatever is born is to die.

74. Health is wealth.

75. It is difficult to be able to see a Buddha.

76. The decline of life goes on gradually and incessantly.

77. An opportunity is auspicious in itself. There is no connection with the stars.

94
78. Moderation is always advisable.

79. Shame of sin and fear of its results help prevent the world from destruction.

80. Loving-kindness cements the people of the world.

81. Jealousy leads to destruction of the world.

82. An ungrateful person cannot be satisfied even with the gift of the whole world.

83. To be moved by compassion is a character of a great person.

84. It is difficult to be born a human being.

85. It is difficult to listen to the words of the virtuous.

86. It is difficult for a Buddha to be born.

87. Beauty or grace is spoiled through laziness.

88. A person’s stain or purity is individual.

89. None can purify another.

90. One’s own faults are difficult to see, while others’ are easy to find.

91. Never is there a secret place for those who commit a sin.

92. Never in the world is there attachment without suffering.

93. Female condition is very difficult to understand.

94. In a critical moment, a brave man is needed.

95. In face of a problem, a wise man is always welcome.

96. Do not be infatuated by honour.

97. Always develop the idea of renunciation.

98. Those who search for the peace of mind are advised to sacrifice all worldly pleasures.

99. Let a man have an evenness of behaviour, both in an open and secret place.

95
100. Never boast of what has not been attained.

101. Find out a refuge for your mind. Never live without a mental refuge.3

102. Hope for health, which is the greatest wealth.

103. Don’t brood over the past.

104. Don’t worry about the future.

105. Wisdom is the brightest light.

106. Wisdom is the outcome of patience.

107. Wisdom declines because of negligence.

108. Wisdom is higher than wealth.

109. A fool can never practise any meditation.

110. To listen attentively is the cause of wisdom.

111. A life guided by wisdom is an excellent one.

112. A layman equipped with wisdom lives for the welfare of the many.

113. They who are absorbed in pleasure are like dead man.

114. Suffering is the outcome of the accumulated evil.

115. Happiness is the outcome of the retreat from evil.

116. People commit evil because of his own ignorance.

117. While I am discussing the dhamma, there is no staining evil.

118. A wise man equipped with morality shines like a blazing fire.

3
The ultimate mental refuge is innocent perception.

96
119. A wise man carefully guards his senses.

120. A wise man is not a fault-finder.

121. The words of the virtuous do not concern sensual pleasure.

122. Whoever does not speak according to the dhamma is not a virtuous one.

123. He who has calmed his restless mind lives a happy life.

124. A fool is always a fault-finder.

125. Experience comes from careful judgement.

126. Never is there a person who is not blamed.

127. An honest person does not make a false statement.

128. Parents are the children’s incarnated gods.

129. Parents are the children’s first teachers.

130. Parents are the children’s highest source of worship.

131. The span of life, according to the wise, is very short.

132. Old age cannot be wiped away by wealth.

133. Never does a man live long because of his wealth.

134. All beings, the rich and the poor, are all doomed to death.

135. A mother is a real friend at home.

136. A real friend is helpful in time of need.

137. If you cannot find a good friend, then wander alone and do not do any evil.

138. If a king is righteous, then the people is happy.

139. The words of the virtuous are the same as their thoughts.

140. Those who utter harsh words usually have to regret.

97
141. Cleanliness of the mind may be known through words.

142. Never say what you will regret.

143. Patience is the cause of freedom from suffering.

144. A hard working person is rewarded with peace of mind.

145. He who does his duty reluctantly will never be able to achieve any success.

146. He who does his duty willingly is sure to achieve success.

147. Hatred ceases by love.

148. Never can hatred cease by hatred.

149. The taste of truth excels all other tastes.

150. Mindfulness keeps a person awake.

151. Mindfulness is always and everywhere needed.

152. A mindful person is happy.

153. A mindful person is better everyday.

154. Contentment is a greatest wealth.

155. To be satisfied with what one has is the cause of happiness.

156. Blessed is he who is in solitude, is content, and has realised all things as they are.

157. Morality brings happiness until old age.

158. Non-violence brings happiness.

159. Peace is the highest bliss.

160. Nibbana is the highest bliss.

161. The Buddha’s births are for welfare of the many.

98
162. Danger comes from over-confidence.

163. Too much association lessens the love between each other.

164. Suffering comes from association with the vicious.

165. To associate with the wise is a cause of happiness.

99
Some useful and practical mental exercises.
Unlike physical exercise, mental exercise does not require any specific time, place or the
use of equipment. You can do it anywhere you like provided that you can remember. It
maybe a good idea to write a word “mindful” and stick it at the noticeable place at home
so that it can remind you of your mental exercise every time you see it.

Please always remember that mental exercise leads us to achieve our mental health,
stability, tranquillity and harmony. It means that the more mental exercise we do, the
better we would feel mentally. The whole point of mental exercise is to reunite the body
and the mind so that our life (form) can live in harmony.

These are a few mental exercise techniques, which you can do according to the various
situations.

1) Knowing the breathing is the popular technique, which can be done anywhere
since we all have to breathe.
A) Sitting in front of a boring television program with your family, why not just
sit back in your favourite chair, close your eyes and know your breathing.
You can do the same when you are sitting in a boring meeting or conference
when you do more listening than talking.
B) When your bedroom’s light is switched off, you’ll be face to face with your
bombarding thoughts, get into a habit of observing your breathing both before
and after your sleep just like you have been trained to do in my Tai chi class.
Don’t compromise and linger on with your thought. Be spontaneous and
decisive. If you can do this one, your problems will be cut by half. Try it and
you will know that it is very true.
C) Waiting in a queue i.e. surgery, salon, bus stop, supermarket, interview, etc.
there is no need to close your eyes but focus strongly on your breathing. If it
is difficult to watch your breath, you may use an object to help you to focus.
Using beads maybe too obvious though it is a meditation object for centuries.
A more practical choice is a pen or a coin. Simply focus on the sensation
while you repeatedly feel the object.

2) Knowing our own footsteps is another fun way to do. Find a focus point that you
can work on every time your foot touches the ground. This technique is very useful when
you have to walk for a fair distance regularly, i.e. walking to work, walking a dog or
simply walking in a park. Every time you walk up and down stairs whether it is at home
or work place, make a point to know your footsteps.

3) Turning your boring housework into some mental ritual.
A) washing up: do not rush, simply know the movement or feel the different
sensations in your hands, hot, cold, slippery, etc.
B) Putting washing up away: slow your movement right down, pick one item up
at a time, gently place it back into cupboards and do your best to reduce as

91
much sound as possible especially with knifes, forks and spoons. Do not throw
them in as most people do !
C) Mopping the floor, hovering, polishing, and cleaning windows: slow down and
know your movement just like you do your Tai chi.
D) Peeling and chopping vegetables can be a relaxing task too if you can focus on
the exact moment of your work.

4) If you cannot sleep in the middle of the night, instead of tossing and turning and led your thoughts swing your
around here and there, why don’t you come down stairs and find something useful to do, i.e. ironing, knitting,
reading, baking a cake, making sandwiches, writing diary or a book, etc. (I have been writing this since 3.30 am and
now it’s nearly 5 am.)

Your family and friends may begin to think that you might be a bit weird. Explain if
you can. If it is too complicate, tell them a joke! Be brave, be patient and don’t be
easily put off. Persevere even if you are facing with repeated failure. Please
remember that in the East this is a life time practice in trying to get our lives sorted
out in this manner. It is after all your mental health you are working on. Your
experience will tell you that it is worthwhile. When you put in the effort, you will
feel good about yourself there and then. Gradually this will become the most
priceless habit man can ever have and achieve. Consequently, it means that you will
have more control over your life and your destiny.

If you really have some spare time and want to use those time to learn more about yourself and do some more
meditation, it is a good idea to practice structured meditation which will allow you to experience deep calm and gain
wisdom. Follow the guideline I instruct you in class – know the air passing through the end of your nostril, do not follow
your thought, nor image, nor color and so on. It should be quite safe to do on your own if you follow such guidelines.

Please don’t hesitate to ask question should you have any doubt with your practice.

Supawan P.Panawong Green

Back cover of the book

Human civilisation is now in the nature of a vicious circle. The trouble is most people
cannot see it. The only way to break free from this hideous roundabout, is by listening to
the knower, the one who knows God, Nirvana, the ultimate truth, or simply knows ‘what
is what’. The birth of the Buddha, Christ, Lao Tzu and other well known sages is meant

92
to help us, human beings, to break free from this vicious circle. Our cul-de sac
civilisation is actually a little tiny section of the enormous cycle of rebirth or re-
incarnation.

Theoretically, religious institutions of all well-established traditions are supposed to lead
society by giving advice to government leaders so that they can plan strategy of how to
govern a country whose population is made up of individuals. This means that
governments can use all the means and resources in the country to create the right culture
for people in order to guarantee the minimum suffering and peace of mind for every
single individual. The economy, education, the judicial system, social functions,
communication and even entertainment have to consider or follow certain guidelines,
which do not disrupt people’s mental stability so that they can be at peace. Consequently,
society, nation and the whole world can live in peace.

93