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It is the Buddhist tradition to show high respect and gratitude to all our teachers. There are no adequate words to express my thanks and gratitude to the very first teacher of all sentient beings, the sublime Buddha and all his faithful followers who passed on the Buddha’s teaching until it reached me. My thanks and gratitude also go to the late Ven. Buddhadasa Bhikkhu of Suan Mokkh, Chaiya, Surajthanee province who made me truly understand the essence of Buddhism and the late Laung Por Tien who taught me the meditation technique. I owe my life to these two great teachers. The teacher who is most responsible for my spiritual growth is my dearest teacher, Ajarn Kowit which is the name I call him personally. Ajarn means teacher. To the world, he is known as Khemananda. As far as Buddhism is concerned, Ajarn Khemananda is the most knowledgeable person I have come across. Being an intellectual with a degree in Art, his teaching is full of depth, analytical and always hits the core practice of Buddhism. He continually comes up with new metaphors which enable me to understand more about the Buddhist practice. He is the teacher who is compatible to my spiritual needs and interest. And this has allowed me to grow spiritually into what I am today; to be able to share my knowledge and experience with my students. This book could not be possible without the stepping stone of his thoughts. I would like to thank my late parents who gave me this very precious life. My mom especially brought me up in her temple environment and inspired me to search for the better things in life. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the golden opportunity to know the dhamma. My thanks and gratitude also go to all the elders who taught me Tai chi at Lumbhini park. I don’t know their names. Without them, I wouldn’t have had the ability to create a combination of Tai chi and meditation as I am doing today. My thanks also go to Owen Davies, my Tai chi student, who assisted me with my English and with the intellectual point of view. Though he had little time to spare due to his own work for his Ph.D, he always had time to edit my work. I would like to thank all my former students who try their best to understand me and support me with their encouraging letters and visits.
This book is purely the result of my teaching Tai chi at the University of Birmingham during the autumn term of 1997 and the spring term of 1998. This is the time when my heart is most inspired and my brain is most active, trying to find just the right words and logical explanations for my students to understand their inner-self. This results in the use of new words, new approaches, and new metaphors, which I did not use before in my first book, Dear Colin: What is the meaning of life? Terms like innocent perception, mental holodeck, Tom and Jerry and so on all happened during the teaching in these terms. I am sure many people who came to my class have been wondering what exactly I am teaching, Tai chi or Buddhism or meditation or what. It is quite obvious that this book cannot possibly be about Tai chi. It can be rather confusing and even frustrating for some people who come to my class expecting to learn “the Tai chi they knew ” and found me doing something totally different. I suppose the answer is that I am teaching all the above. Ever since my student years when I knew the real Buddhism and engaged in the Buddhist meditation of samadha-vipassana bhavana, I realised that this is the kind of knowledge that people must know. Since then, I have been compelled to tell people about it by simply passing on dhamma books to family and friends until a lot of my friends didn’t want to come near me. Nevertheless, I started more activities such as: setting up a dhamma book stall in my department, having dhamma talks and arranging retreats for students, and so on. Among those activities, my friends and I also set up an agony aunt service when I received hundreds of letters from people who had problems. I ended up answering all those letters by myself and sent them dhamma books. I have talked briefly about all these activities in my previous book. When I moved to the UK, I thought that I could never have a chance to do that kind of work again. Even when I started teaching Tai chi at the University in April 1988, I never thought that I could link Tai chi directly to Buddhism and the Buddhist practice of samadha-vipassana bhavana. I simply thought that I would do my best to teach the Yang style Tai chi I learnt from my Tai chi teacher at the Lumbhini Park in the central of Bangkok. However, I did not stick to my original intentions very long. My passion for sharing the good news to others has always been overwhelming. It wasn’t long before I found myself talking to my students about how to lead a meaningful life and meditation practice slowly crept into my Tai chi class. At that time, I felt like I was stealing my working time teaching something else to my students, so I spent a bit more time after the class talking to anyone who was interested in what I had to say. There was a day when I turned up five minutes late for class and I found three students quietly and serenely doing their walking meditation in the Dojo while waiting for me. That coincidence gave me confidence and the idea to make walking meditation a part of my Tai chi teaching. My first trick in steering my students into meditation practice was about to take place. It might have been in the following Tai chi session when I lined my students up across the Dojo and let them do ten minutes walking meditation before doing Tai chi.
When the beginner class began in the following term, I had prepared an introductory speech which told my students that before we could execute the unique movement of Tai chi which is slow and serene, we must slow our minds down first by doing walking meditation. Basically, I made that up. There is no book or no teacher telling me to do so. I don’t know whether there was any Tai chi class in the world doing that. Since then, I made a lot more up while I went along. I took no notice of the western way of Tai chi teaching. Then, I created all the practices that I thought my students should know and must know to help them to understand life and more importantly the purpose of life, (that’s why the title of my first book was originally named “What is the purpose of life ?” but the publisher toned it down to What is the meaning of life? instead.). From then on, walking meditation became part of my Tai chi class for many more years. Through teaching others, I am constantly teaching myself and the dhamma I see has become clearer as time moves on. My introductory speech as well as the way of teaching has gradually changed. The more I understand the dhamma, the more I can link everything together and the simpler I can put it across to my class. A life map is just like a map of any big city. Once one can see the whole map, one will know how to get to a place as quickly as possible, maybe through a short cut or using a ring road or whatever. The Buddha’s teaching is about offering us a life map, which gives us a direct route so that we can get to our final destination or Nibbana as quickly as possible. In trying to find the simplest and shortest way for my students to understand life, it can mean only one thing and that is to go straight into the practice especially the vipassana-bhavana. Even though I can understand the core practice of Buddhism and want so much to share it with people, I cannot deny the fact that I am not a Buddhist monk, besides I am a lay person, a woman and standing in front of all these extreme intellectuals who pay their money to learn Tai chi. Why would they want to learn Buddhism from this Chinese woman who can’t even articulate her English ? The university has a whole department where students can learn any religion in the world. They don’t need to come to me to learn Buddhism. This is the beginning of my strategy in trying to lure students to engage in the core practice of Buddhism. Initially it also means that I cannot tell my students about my true intention and that my introductory speech cannot be too religious, more precisely too Buddhist. When I looked at the literal meaning of Tai chi along with its history, with my Chinese and Buddhist background, I could see a way to combine the two together-Tai chi and the samadha-vipassana bhavana. Consequently, I found a way of teaching combining the physical, mental and spiritual health together. I simply tell the class that I would focus more on the mental health aspect, which allows me to lead the students into the samadha-vipassana bhavana right away without having to talk much about the theory. Consequently, it has been ten years of trying to perfect this new Tai chi concept as well as trying to materialise the abstract thoughts into the practice that my students can easily understand and identify with. I am still perpetually finding different new techniques for my students to see their inner self. My literary work is the back up for the student’s better understanding. They are the words that I want to put across to my students but don’t have enough time to in the class. It isn’t until the students begin to read my books, that they understand my real intention as well as knowing fully that they have actually taken part in Buddhist practice. So, this is how my Tai chi class has been developing over the years.
By the end of my first Spring term at the University of Birmingham, March 1989, I arranged the first weekend retreat for my Tai chi students. We spent two nights at the Forest Hermitage in Warwickshire. There have been more retreats or day trips to various Buddhist temples every year since then which is a way to introduce the Buddhist culture and practice to my students. The last retreat happened in May 1998. Pra-maha Low allowed me to use the Buddha Vihara, in Aston, Birmingham as the venue to host 27 students for the three days and two nights retreat. The latest activity outside my Tai chi class which has been running for a year now, is holding a meditation evening in my own home every three weeks for the students who want to know more about Buddhism and have more practice. Those early years while I was trying to establish myself, teaching wasn’t at all easy. Being here all alone, away from my spiritual teachers and friends and trying to create something totally new in a strange country with a culture so alien from where I come from, I wanted to give up many times due to lack of confidence. Dealing with extreme intellectuals is not an easy experience for anyone let alone a foreign woman like me who cannot always pronounce the r and l correctly. As far as meditation practice was concerned, I had no one to turn to, to ask for advice and to confirm to me that I was doing the right thing. I asked myself several times what happened if I was wrong. Would I go to hell ? There have been countless occasions when I had no courage to go on anymore and was on the edge of giving up teaching. Then, I listened to my teacher’s tape and began to see the glimpse of truth in my heart. My courage came back and I carried on with my work. Indeed, that very truth has been my teacher, my friend, my adviser, my comforter and my spiritual carer all these years. What has allowed me to survive is obviously the Vipassana-bhavana which gives me the strength to carry on whenever I thought there was no way out for me. My understanding about the practice ten years ago wasn’t as clear as it is now. It was as clear as it could be. In retrospect, though my teaching managed to chase a great number of people away during the early years, there were always a few people who showed a genuine interest in what I taught and that gave me a lot of strength to go on. I often overheard my students talking among themselves about telling their friends to come to my Tai chi class in a way that it could be a means to release their stress and probably resolve other problems. All the letters I received from my former students also expressed the same thing. It does seem like this Tai chi class has gradually become a means, which creates mental and spiritual stability for a group of young people without having to belong to any particular religious belief. On the one hand, I suppose this ( a non-religious means to tranquility) is exactly what I want it to happen, on the other hand, I don’t want people to misunderstand that I betray all my spiritual teachers especially the Buddha. This book can confirm that I am one of the Buddha’s faithful followers and will try my best to pass on his teaching. My English writing has improved since the publication of my first book in 1995 but is still very far from perfect. I find it a bit easier to express myself but still face many limitations. There were times when I could have toned down my words to make them sound a bit more polite and spare people’s feelings but I wasn’t well enough equipped with words. Therefore, it made my expressions rather blunt, harsh and to the point. I chose to write this book in short essays which allowed me to delve deeper into each topic and keep the work as coherent as possible. However, I did not plan each
chapter before I started writing. Each chapter is the result of trying to convey my thoughts to students every week. Some thoughts and some ideas happened on the spur of the moment in class. I have seven classes to run each week. I normally have a general idea of what I would like to focus on each week but not many details in my head. Quite often, it is listening to Ajarn Khemananda’s tapes that sparks my thoughts off. By the end of the week, my thoughts and ideas become more mature and much clearer and that enables me to easily put them down in writing. It is very different from writing essays during my students years when I had to rely on reading as many books as possible and just simply grabbed what others had said and put them down on paper. I do read some books and listen to my teacher’s tape but the serious reading which make this book become possible is reading my big-book (body-mind) which we all have. I sincerely hope that this book can help you to know and find yourself. Supawan 15 September 1998
Less than 500 days from the millennium, we are in the midst of problems which spring out from all directions from domestic to religious, political, economical, environmental and so on. People’s minds are in great turmoil. The evidence of humanities suffering is everywhere in the world. It is ironic as well as difficult to comprehend that with all the experts in different fields of knowledge we have in the world, we cannot seem to find a solution for anything especially a long lasting peace among mankind. We are plunging deeper into all kinds of problems. What makes the situation worse nowadays is that we don’t have anyone to turn to for sound advice. Our parents, teachers and politicians are not always the people we can turn to anymore. The crumbling of various religious institutions makes people feel reluctant to turn to their monks and priests who are supposed to be the tower of strength while society is in turmoil. I really feel envious of those lucky people during the Buddha’s and Christ’s time, who had the privilege of turning to their saints and asking for sound advice whenever they had problems. What man needs right now is definitely not clever people who are ready to pitch out their intellectual advice, which turns out to be useless. Indeed, we simply need trustworthy people who are virtuous; honest and most importantly know “what is what.” This is indeed the unique quality that our saints had in the past. But how can we find such people who know the crucial answer about life nowadays? It isn’t easy but it isn’t at all impossible. I am one of the lucky people who had the privilege to meet and learn from a few quality teachers who led me to know one of the greatest saints of the world, the Buddha. As a Buddhist, it is our moral duty to stand up, confirm what our saint taught us, and possibly pass this on to others. This subsequently resulted in this book as well as my previous one. I have no doubt in the slightest that the knowledge of the Buddha is the answer for all the troubles we are facing right now. The middle way or the Noble eightfold path is not merely about moderation but is about “knowing what and knowing how”. Alternatively, the middle path can be regrouped into the three main pillars-sila (morality), panna (wisdom) and bhavana (meditation). The enlightenment of the Buddha meant that he had found an ultimate state in nature or Nibbana. This is also the final exit for all sentient beings. Therefore, Nibbana is the ultimate purpose of our lives. I toned this term down to a mere mental tranquillity (harmony) for my students so that they don’t feel that it is too remote from them and therefore easier to identify with. Having found the ultimate state in nature, it enabled the Buddha to establish a distinctive means to reach that particular goal. This is the triangle which I introduce to my students so that they can see a clear picture of what they do in my Tai chi class.
Nibbana, ultimate truth, knowing oneself, peace of mind.
The top part of the triangle is the ultimate purpose of life, Nibbana. I toned it down by using the modern terms ie: knowing oneself, mental tranquility which students can easily identify with. The means is the foundation of the triangle. Wisdom leads to knowing what the purpose of life is whilst morality and meditation lead to knowing how to reach that ultimate goal of life. Tai chi is the meditation culture. These three pillars of morality, wisdom and bhavana have resulted in the Eastern way of life, especially the culture of developing a high level of inner-self awareness or vipassana-bhavana. I have to focus on the inner-self awareness because there are so many misconceptions about meditation in the West. This is the reason why I chose to go back to use the Pali termbhavana. Meditation in Western society is merely for the purpose of physical and mental relaxation. Meditation in general terms is a technique for training our mental state so that we can have better concentration. In fact, lots of people in different professions have been using meditation techniques (maybe in a way that they don't know) to enable them to have good focus or concentration such as the guards at Buckingham Palace, sportsmen who train for their most important competitions, doctors, artists, writers and so on. They all had to find their way to make their mind fully focus so that they could achieve what they wish to. However, this kind of meditation has nothing to do with the Buddhist practice as vipassana-bhavana at all. That is because this level of meditation does nothing to eradicate the roots of our mental turmoil. That is why we hear of people in prominent professions engaged in scandals, having breakdowns and feeling suicidal at times. That kind of meditation does not prepare people to know themselves better. The core of Buddhist practice is in fact vipassana-bhavana, which is something that did not exist before the enlightenment of the Buddha and this is the precise knowledge which can help us to know ourselves and uproot our mental turmoil. From my teaching experience, I realise that the greatest barrier among intellectuals nowadays is doubt. According to the Buddha, doubt is one of the five hindrances which weakens the further development of the mind. It can be very damgaing. It is not surprising that students even doubt the existence of the historical Buddha let alone his enlightenment. The survival of Buddhism is undoubtedly due to its being logical, scientific and able to be proven. The only way we can find out whether the Buddha along with his teaching was real or not is by proving it for ourselves. We can prove whether the Buddha’s teaching is real or not is by putting it into practice and this is the most difficult part of all. That is because we have to use our body–mind as the test tube to reach the findings. There is no other way to do it as far as the Buddhist practice is
concerned. It means that we have to put all the books behind and earnestly and patiently look into our hearts without hoping for any glory but mere mental and spiritual freedom as the Buddha guided us to do. The Buddha’s way is most significant especially nowadays because he did not tell us to go on our knees and pray to a particular supernatural being so that he could grant us what we wish for. Maybe we have interpreted the meaning of God wrongly altogether. Could it be that God is simply the law of nature and praying to God is simply a way to reach harmony between man and nature? According to Mahatma Ghandi, to find God is to find ourselves. If it is so, this is exactly the knowledge the Buddha taught us. The middle path is about finding our true selves. The Buddha told us not to wait for miracles but to have belief in our own actions and work hard on our own salvation. So did God. “ God helps those who help themselves.” This is the reason why I waste no time in my class in steering the students into the actual practice. I have no doubt either that engaging in the vipassana-bhavana is one of the right way to create real quality people-the one who know what and know how. The world urgently needs real quality people, not merely clever people. We must know that a great number of people are not the real problem as long as we have real quality people as leaders. The Buddha, Christ and many more saints in the past were high quality people whom we are still closely linked to nowadays. Some one hundred thousand British ruled over four hundred million Indian people. Then, came along Mahatma Ghandi, one real quality person who could lead the whole of the Indian nation to freedom. Hitler, Mao, Stalin, Pol Pot and many more tyrants were also quality people who were able to cause a massive scale of human suffering beyond comprehension. This is all about quality people who had the ability to either create or destroy. Therefore, I must focus on real quality people, the ones who know the real purpose of life and know how to achieve it. Having scientifically proved the teachings of the Buddha by putting them into practice, just like any other of the Buddha’s real followers, I come forward and confirm the truth he proclaimed 2586 years ago. I can only say that the Four Noble Truthssuffering, the cause of suffering, the end of suffering and the noble eightfold path which lead to the cessation of all suffering-contains all the answers we need in the world today. The noble eightfold path (Middle Way) which results in the vipassana-bhavana is the essential answer, which could lead us to find our real self (inner-self) and subsequently find the beginning of all problems from domestic to environmental. Human’s minds are the root of all problems and it is a crucial variable factor, which can be changed to either extremely positive or negative. It is this mind, which makes a person become either a saint or a Satan. The Buddha changed a serial killer like Angulimala to a Pra-Arahant-the perfect human-being, not by giving him a new make over of his body but indeed, the new make over of the mind. The human mind is the first and only domino we have to deal with and everything else will resolve on its own. The purpose of this book is to help my students and the reader to understand vipassana-bhavana so that they can be real quality people and become real assets to the world. Having understood the situation I am in, I know that I cannot make my teaching too Buddhist and too religious. Therefore, I have tried my best to share this important knowledge to others by using Tai chi as a non-religious means for these young people to understand the eastern concept and engage in the crucial practice (samadha-vipssana
bhavana) in a way that they don’t feel too awkward and too reluctant to be part of. This is the reason why I have to use modern terms, language and metaphors to explain all these ancient concepts for their better understanding. I sincerely hope that this book can be a stepping stone for you to know and to find yourself. May all sentient beings be at peace .
Supawan 11 September 1998
Chapter One The two kinds of happiness
The Chinese believe that growing old doesn't necessarily mean growing ill too. People can age as well as staying healthy. However, there is a code of practice to having a long life and remaining healthy. The practice is a combination of two main ingredients; physical health and mental health. Physical health is about knowing how to harness the genuine chi energy into our body. The Chinese believe that the energy is all around us, a gift from Heaven and is everywhere in good natural environments. We have a duty to harness that energy into our body by doing regular exercises such as Yoga, Tai chi, and correct breathing. The shallow and mechanical breathing without self-awareness, as we normally do, is not enough to sustain good health. The correct way of breathing should be slow, even and deep; this way of breathing can come about only with self-awareness and intention. This slow and deep breathing will create a state of turbulence in the energy system. The Chinese believe that the chi energy runs along a few meridian lines which transport the energy to different parts of our inner organs. As a result, any congested energy or ill chi, which is one of the reasons causing physical illness, will be cleared away and good health can be restored. That's why regular exercise in different forms of Tai chi and Qi Gong is very important to the Chinese as a way to maintain good health when they descend into their old age. Sustaining good health has always been a big issue in our modern life. We have used up a great deal of our natural resources in order to keep us healthy and to live longer. People are more aware of their diet, their living environment and try to do their best to keep in good health. All our medical research and treatments are devoted very seriously to our physical health. It is ironic though because the more careful we are about the health issue, the more health hazards we have. Nevertheless, the problem which appears to be more serious is our mental health. A large number of people in our society nowadays have to rely on some form of drugs either being prescribed by doctors or illegally and this has become the source of endless social problems. Mental health is indeed the second ingredient in keeping long life and good health. Body-mind is one entity, not two separate ones. Theoretically, when the mind is healthy, the body is healthy too and vice versa. We are bound to feel miserable when we don’t feel well physically. This is quite understandable. In reality, there are also many people who have perfect physical health but for some either known or unknown reasons, they still feel miserable and discontent. When their ill mental health drags on for a long period of time, it will eventually affect their physical health. This is a well known fact. Consequently, having a healthy mind is indeed a more important issue. When the mind is healthy and strong, people will find it easier to cope with any problem in front of them even their own physical illnesses. According to the Chinese concept, having a healthy mind means knowing how
to live in Tao or how to live in harmony with Tao. The idea is made up of a few words which sounds rather simple but it might take people in the West a whole life time to tackle their profound meaning. So, what do the Chinese mean by that saying ? I think it is very important to spend a bit more time talking about our mental health. To the Chinese, living in harmony with Tao indicates two significant matters about life in general. They are the state of inner peace and the profound insight which allows people to know how to balance their lives in nature. This concept is not much different from the Buddhist idea at all. In fact, they are based on the same kind of goal and practice. Maybe that's why the Chinese opened their arms widely to Buddhism just eight hundred years after Lao Tzu, the founder of Taoism had passed away. The Chinese found that the two ideas agreed with and supported each other. It was Buddhism which helped to give a very clear guideline in putting this abstract concept of living in harmony with Tao into more perspective. It was Buddhism which assisted in creating a code of practice which was much easier to identify with. Shao Lin was the first Buddhist temple in ancient China. Nevertheless, to the western mind, it isn't at all easy to tune into the concept of Tao and Nirvana in Buddhism, is it ? After all, who wants another religion ? The world is complicated enough with different religions, beliefs, sects, etc. I have no intention to add more confusion to what we already have. As a result, I intend to use Tai chi as a means for people to understand the ancient concepts which already exist but are rapidly fading away even in eastern society. Tai chi is indeed part of the Taoist's and Buddhist's culture. Through Tai chi, I intend to approach Taoism and Buddhism in a non-religious way. The words Tao and Nirvana, which are the supreme goal of the two eastern beliefs, sound rather remote and irrelevant to us. We can't help thinking that they have nothing to do with us unless we talk about Nirvana as a pop group. It is quite to the contrary, this has everything to do with us. If we give value to and treasure our inner peace, we have everything to do with Tao and Nirvana because this is what they are all about. Therefore, instead of using the term Tao or Nirvana as the objective of life, we shift to use a simple term such as "peace of mind" instead. To the Buddhists, the reason they pursue their religious practices such as meditation is because they want mental tranquility and stability or peace of mind. This is all to it. It is a simple idea that even people in the West can easily identify with, isn't it ? In trying to understand how to create our individual inner peace through the practice of Taoism and Buddhism, we have to, first of all, know how to distinguish between two kinds of happiness in general. If not, we can easily get mixed up. The first kind of happiness or way of putting our minds at peace comes from the ability to fulfil our wishes, in other words, when we can get what we want, it can make us feel good and happy about ourselves. In our everyday conversation, we hear people express themselves about what they do to make themselves feel good. The majority of people can be happy when they can exaggerate and put a bit more spice into their basic needs. Instead of eating to live, we tend to live to eat. That's why some people have to make a lot of fuss out of food and can be happy only when they have expensive and exotic food and drink. Some women can feel good and happy when they wear designer clothes, expensive make-up, accessories, silky lingerie, etc. They
believe that those objects can really help them feel good and boost their self-esteem. So they claim. Some housewives can be happy and content when they can catch up with their neighbours on the new kitchen, new three piece suites, new carpet, new curtains, etc. Career-oriented people can only be happy and content when they have good well-paid jobs, promotion, etc. It is quite obvious that this kind of happiness and contentment revolves around money, status and power. We all have to struggle to earn money so that we can pay our bills and keep up our comfortable life-style. The more money and status we have, the more opportunity we have to fulfil our wishes and the more happiness we will get. We tend to think so anyway, don't we ? We never question this norm. This is what everyone does and we are all part of it. Therefore, this kind of happiness has created a culture which is based on creating more wealth, prosperity and opportunity. The whole of our civilisation, whether it is our politics, economy, education, technology, etc. is all geared up for people to have more wealth and have more opportunity to get what they want and to be happy. Higher education means greater opportunity, a better job, better pay and finally a better house, a better life-style and so on. Our economy is more concerned with making the cash flow by urging people to spend more, invest more and putting more money into people's pockets. Our politics aim at creating a prosperous country with the hope that we can all live happily ever after because we have enough money to get what we want. As a result of this concept about gaining happiness, we have turned the world into a highly consuming world and used up most of our natural resources which took millions of years to mature. Look at how much oil we have used in just less than two hundred years since we found it ! Look at the trees that we have chopped down and the pollution we have caused to this lovely planet as the result of consumerism ! All these facts are quite shocking to the younger generations to come. The nations which have more wealth and power have a better opportunity to suck the natural resources from the poor countries. America alone has used up a quarter of the whole natural resources of the world. The people in rich countries can lead comfortable life-styles because their governments have more wealth, more power and of course, more opportunity to exploit the poor countries. We are savaging our natural resources, which are meant to be for every single human-being in the world no matter whether rich or poor. During the process of creating more prosperity, we have also come across a massive scale of social problems which has never happened before in the history of mankind. People experience more emotional turmoil than peace. Drinking, taking some form of drugs, promiscuity, family breakdown, crime etc. have become part of our modern culture and civilisation and cause endless problems. Something has gone very wrong in this process of creating worldly happiness. The obvious reason is that when happiness and contentment can be bought by money and power, it inevitably creates more greed, more craving, more jealousy, more anger, more hatred, more violence, more arrogance, more discrimination, and so on. How can we not expect turmoil in society when we keep on putting in just the right ingredients for this troublesome potion. Our objective is one thing-hoping to create more happiness for people-but the means to that goal do not agree with the
objective at all. It is very much like wanting to put out a fire in a chip pan, but instead of putting a damp cloth over it like we are told, we throw petrol into it. God and morality have been shockingly undermined because they cannot agree with our consuming culture. Prosperity cannot come easily to anyone without dismissing a few moral precepts. How can we not lie, cheat, back bite, exploite or even kill just to give us a bit more opportunity to climb to the top ? We have people who walk the streets with severe stress and dissatisfaction. The government do not realise how much disappointment and unhappiness they have caused to people in the nation, especially the poor, on the nights when the national lottery reveals its winning numbers. Through ignorance, the government offered dreams and false hope to millions of people. For the poor and less fortunate, winning the lottery might be the only way to take them out of their miserable boring lives to join in with the wealthy and the famous. That dream may not come at all in their life time. Through education, we merely prepare our young people to be employed, we do not prepare them to be happy people. The government thinks that as long as we can keep the rate of unemployment down, we should be happy. Then again, how many people nowadays have job-satisfaction and are truly happy ? Finally, the problems in our society and the world have been tangled up like a gigantic ball of cotton. We don't know where to begin to undo those knots. What we have been trying to do is to undo the immediate knots just to get stuck with the next one and the next one and so on. Trying to solve the world's problems is indeed an exhausting job ! However, there is another kind of happiness which we overlook all along. We have all had the experience of being somewhere in a natural environment, such as: a park, by the river, the mountains, some forest, a quiet beach, etc., where we feel really relaxed, unwound and peaceful. We can all identify that inner tranquillity which relates to those peaceful environments. We all have been through that kind of peaceful feeling at one time or another. This kind of happiness is not the result of fulfilling our wishes or having what we want. It happens to be more profound and somehow special to each individual. This may be one of the main reasons that we get away on holiday to some peaceful environment so that we can experience that nice, relaxing feeling. We all say that it is nice not having to think about our stressful job for a few days. It is indeed this kind of inner peace which I talk about in my Tai chi class. This state of inner peace is the direct result of the slowing down of our demanding thoughts and the fading away of our minds' clutter. There is, as a matter of fact, a nature of our mental state (mind) which is rather calm, still, tranquil and peaceful and is the resource of our profound wisdom and insight. Wisdom allows us to know and understand the true essence of our inner-self and how to keep our balance with nature. This calm and peaceful state of mind can reveal itself when we are amidst a natural environment. The question of how to reveal this mind a bit more often is what Taoism and Buddhism and probably Christianity are all about. The problem is that our knowledge about our inner peace as well as our innerself is not coherent enough to put this whole thing into more perspective. Our knowledge concerning our inner peace is still very scattered and inadequate. Scientists try to link the state of mind with the chemicals in our brain and hope that by
keeping those chemicals in good balance, we should feel on top of the world. As a result, we have Prozac, sedatives and various kinds of drugs to keep control of those chemicals in our brain. It took us more than a decade to find out that the magic drugs are only another disaster. Of course, we can try a bit harder to produce more drugs and experiment more on our people. We can only keep our fingers crossed that everything will be all right. Then again, ten or twenty years after, more bombshells explode. I do not claim that I know everything because I don't. My knowledge is only a very small handful which is the result of following in the footsteps of the Buddha. Through the Buddhist practice, I found out that it is this state of inner peace that we all struggle to have but don't know how to attain. My confidence about this concept of inner peace grows stronger as time goes by and it results in my Tai chi teaching here. In trying to put everything in perspective about how to attain our inner-peace, I have gradually taken a further step by creating a new approach for my students to follow. The approach for this modern time, when most young people no longer have faith in God, has to be rational, logical and easy to identify with. This is how Tai chi comes in so very useful at this point. Essentially, Tai chi is the non-religious practice which in itself is a means leading to the end result (individual inner peace), unfortunately this essence has gone missing, not only in the West but in the East too. Literally, Tai chi chuan means a set of movements which enable one to reach the state of the grand ultimate or great heaven. The holistic and glorifying term can only point to the same objective as in Taoism and Buddhism. If there is any ultimate truth at all, there can only be One Truth not two or three. Therefore, the movement of Tai chi chuan is only the means to a definite end result. This method is, in fact, meditation which is the crucial practice in Buddhism. It is understandable why the essence of Tai chi has gone missing. If the teachers do not have any knowledge about Buddhism, about meditation, it is very unlikely that they can pass on the essential knowledge. As a result, different forms, styles and physical health in generating the chi energy, have overshadowed the spiritual side of Tai chi. After all, those concepts are the easy part to grasp because they are tangible. Some people can be quite happy in just learning the Tai chi form and physical health aspect and think that there is no need to dig further into the spiritual side. The point is that doing Tai chi in that respect hasn't really taken us to the proper destination yet. The destination that the wise people in the past recommended to us and hid the path in Tai chi chuan with the hope that we can find out for ourselves. The following story might be able to clarify what I am trying to explain. If we walked along a long stretch of road and wanted to find the city of London, of course we would look out for a sign which points the way to London. Then, we find a sign marked London with the arrow pointing East. Now, ignorant people would jump up and down and cling to that sign and think that they had reached London. For them, the sign is indeed London ! Wise people would look at the arrow sign and keep on walking east until they could truly find the city of London. Unfortunately, the spiritual journey is not as straight forward as a journey to London. This is the reason why a lot of people are quite happy in just talking about the
forms, styles and physical health aspect. My apologies if I happen to offend anyone. I have no intention in the slightest to insult anyone but I am merely trying to state a fact. It is only because of my knowledge of Buddhist meditation that I can see the essence of Tai chi more clearly as time goes by. My meditation teacher did not teach me Tai chi and my Tai chi teacher did not teach me meditation. Over the past ten years of my Tai chi teaching at the university of Birmingham, I have slowly put these two things together, Tai chi and meditation. This has become the perfect answer in creating a rational approach for people to gain inner peace. Not everyone is taken by the thought of doing meditation with a religious approach. I have come across some Christians who are against meditation of all sorts because they believe that in emptying the mind, it would allow evil things to come into their minds. Well, I don't blame them if they think meditation is like that. Obviously, there are still a great deal of myths and misunderstandings about this Eastern culture of meditation. This is the main reason of my writing and resulting in this book. There are a lot of new concpets which are needed to be clarified. I cannot explain everything here, just a few fundamental facts. While the word meditation gives a sense of being spiritual and religious, concentration doesn't. In fact, these two words have the same meaning in practice. When we talk about someone having good or bad concentration, we refer to their mental ability; whether or not they can focus on one thing for a long period of time. A lot of people have good concentration and can work long hours on their particular subjects. People have good concentration when they can work on the things they most enjoy. Those who have bad concentration will jump from one thing to another and mostly they have to work on the things they don't enjoy or even hate. Because people have different levels of concentration, that's why those who have less concentration should practise mediation. Meditation basically is about training our mental skill so that we can focus on one thing for a longer period of time. People who practise meditation will have better concentration, and better focus. The actual skill of how to train this mental skill is all we do in my Tai chi class. Apart from gaining good concentration from practising meditation, one other bonus which results simultaneously is the harmony of the mind, in other words, our inner peace. This state of tranquillity is the direct consequence of the slowing down of our demanding thoughts and the fading away of our minds' clutter. It is the same kind of inner peace that we all experience when we are in some natural environment. It is different from the kind of peace and happiness when we can fulfil our wishes. There is also another bonus we can gain from practising meditation apart from inner peace and that is profound wisdom and insight. It is the intuitive knowledge which allows us to understand our inner-self. This experience is very individual and cannot be shared with others by excessive words. It is this intuitive wisdom which confirms the practitioners' claim that worldly happiness, which is based on greed, over-indulgence, on massaging our ego, is definitely not true happiness after all. They are only delusions and that's why people cannot be satisfied with what they are and have. Trying to satisfy our ego is the most difficult task on earth !
The state of tranquillity is the spring or the source of more intuitive wisdom and insight about our lives, our inner-self, our reason to be in this world and our duty as human-beings. This is the spiritual fountain from which the Buddhists obtain their knowledge about how to live in harmony with Tao (nature). This is also what the Enlightenment of the Buddha is all about. This is what The Bible is all about too, as far as I am concerned. I always allow my students to pick and choose. I have offered the Tai chi & Qi Gong form, the breathing exercises for physical health, the concept of Tai chi in relation to Taoism and Buddhism and above all the mental skill of concentration or meditation. This mental skill is the means which gives simultaneous fruits of inner peace and intuitive profound knowledge. Whichever level the students want to get out of this class is totally their choice.
In every society, we find a set of moral behaviour which helps to keep society in good order. Morality in the fundamental sense is self-restraint for the purpose of social order. When the standard of morality has become low in society, law and order has to be imposed. Whilst morality is a self-restraint, laws are an enforcement. Therefore, the society which has more laws, in fact, has failed to keep up its moral standard. The members of that society do not succeed in controlling themselves and this is just the beginning of social problems. We are now living in a consuming world which adores and worships wealth, status and power. Being rich and famous has become the supreme ideal for most people. This is also the time when the younger generation chooses to join in with the alcohol and drugs culture as well as having pop stars as their role models. This kind of society has created more greed, dissatisfaction, envy, anger, hatred and violence. As a result, moral standards have been diminishing drastically and shockingly. In the past, this was the time when the prophets or the knowers, such as Abraham, Moses, Christ, The Buddha and Mohammed came forward and destroyed all the wrong values and amoral conduct in society and put things right again. Nowadays, we leave this job in the hands of politicians, bankers, merchants, rich and famous people to predict, plan and dictate our future. Famous people who don't know much about moral values, come out to voice their opinion about social issues, such as legalising drugs, sexuality and so on. All these reasons make it extremely difficult for individuals to be at peace, let alone talk about world peace. The world is facing a very serious and critical moral dilemma which has never happened before in the history of mankind. The moral crisis is a consequence of the decline in religious belief. There are more people becoming atheist and not believing in God anymore. God is the only reason for people to stick to their moral principals. Without Him, there is no need to aim for heaven or fear hell. People do not feel obliged to observe the Ten commandments and it is much easier to answer to their feelings and emotions: I will do whatever I feel like doing. It is this attitude which rapidly changes the world into a less pleasant place to live in. It is this turning point that we have to put right. In reality, it looks almost impossible to bring God back into people's hearts as He used to be in the past. I come from a Buddhist background where I can also look at God from another angle which is rather different from the Christians. It is at this point that I will try my best to explain why we always need to observe moral behaviour. As for the devout Christian, it is very important to read this concept with an open mind. In my Tai chi class at the University of Birmingham, I make it very clear that Tai chi is part of the Buddhist and the Taoist culture. My Tai chi teaching is based on
making people understand this oriental concept through a set of movements. Tai chi movement is only one of the means which assist people to reach their religious goal which is Nibbana in Buddhism or Tao in Taoism. According to Lao Tzu and The Buddha, Nibbana or Tao is the ultimate reason for us to be in this world. Therefore, entering Nibbana or living in harmony with Tao is the supreme goal of our lives. The Buddhists still have this very distinctive idealism and understand that everyone must try to achieve that ultimate goal of life but whether they can do it or not is another matter. Those who come from a Christian background will find it rather alien to adopt the Buddhist concepts. To make it easier for my students to approach, I explain that Nibbana and Tao has everything to do with individual peace of mind. As a matter of fact, this is also the approach which has to be used among young Buddhists too because Nibbana sounds too remote and irrelevant to them. So do the Christians, the younger generation cannot relate to God because HE sounds too remote. But in fact, knowing God has everything to do with our inner peace too. I have a very strong belief that the state of individual inner peace can be the centre point where all organised religious believers can meet. Inner peace is a universal feeling just like sadness and joy. These feelings have no boundary among mankind. If we put black, white and yellow babies in the same room, shut the door and listen to their crying and giggling, there is no way we would know which cries and giggles belong to which baby. They all sound the same. This should make God, Nibbana and Tao share the same ground. All these different names could be just symbols for the same thing. We shall put all those different names aside for the moment and focus on this universal feeling of inner peace first. If the state of inner peace is to be the goal of life, most people can identify with it and can begin to see that this is an immediate goal, not something so far away after life at all. This objective indeed has everything to do with our modern lives here and now. When we agree with this objective, only then can we begin to talk about morality. It is moral principals which are the means to help people achieve their own inner peace. That's why in every organised religion, observing moral behaviour is always a significant part of their religious practice. What people don't always realise is that moral conduct can truly help people to feel happier and at peace. We can all remember our innocent childhood feeling when we did something good, kind and charitable, we felt good and proud of ourselves. Adults' feelings are not that different from children's. Somehow, we feel worthwhile and have hope in living. When people don't believe in God, heaven or hell, a lot of people see no reason to do good and be good. If we change the word around and say instead that: heaven is peace of mind and hell is mental turmoil, we can see it a bit clearer and closer right away, can't we ? The Thai people have a saying: Heaven is in our chests, hell is in our minds. In this way people can see the reason to stand on their moral ground and stand by it because it means their very own peace of mind. From this understanding, it will become much easier to live a moral life because the majority of people in the world naturally have moral sense. Natural morality is, in fact, our conscience and we all have it in different degrees. Some have
more than others. Our guilty conscience is the one which will help us to distinguish right from wrong. This is why most of us cannot go out to slit the throat of a chicken or stab a cow or a pig to make a meal for our dinner tables. Unless one is trained to kill all these animals for food, it is unnatural for most people to do so because we cannot get through the barrier of our guilty conscience. If people had to slaughter animals for food by themselves, I have no doubt that the majority of people in the world would turn vegetarian overnight. The advantage of living in society is that, for a small price, we can ask Sainsbury, Tesco, Safeway and so on to kill those animals for us instead. We have all had the experience of feeling awful when we do something terribly bad and wrong. If we just look at all the basic moral precepts such as not killing, not lying, not stealing, not committing adultery, not intoxicating ourselves, we can easily link this with the mental turmoil we have to go through when we cross the line. How many of us could truly be happy and at peace if we had to kill, lie, cheat, have affairs, and get ourselves drunk or hooked on drugs. Normal people would suffer terribly with their guilty conscience and wish that they could turn the clock back and undo the harm. Those who have a good moral conscience even know that anger, hatred and jealousy are harmful to their inner peace too. When we are envious or angry at someone, we are the first person who gets hurt, not the one we hate or are jealous of. When anger and jealousy cannot be stopped, destructive action will be carried out. People hurt one another because of resentment and anger. War is the end result of all individual anger, hatred and ignorance put together. People who are ready to be good parents all have natural morality in them. No selfish people can be good parents. Bringing up a family takes a lot of courage, sacrifice and indeed a great deal of natural loving and kindness. All mothers are privileged to know the overwhelming love flooding their hearts the minute their babies are born. That special feeling is truly the gift of God, a reward for the hard work all mothers give to bring their babies up. I would like to think that this is God's way to make sure that humans as well as animals will carry on living. Without mother love, humanity won't survive. That's why it is also important that children appreciate what the parents have given. In the East, the term filial duty is often used and mentioned in everyday life conversation. If someone does not know how to love and care for their own parents, who else can he love ? That person will be no good to anyone. Those who ill treat their parents will definitely go to hell. This is what Thai people believe. Only when I moved to the West, did I find out that this term (filial duty) is not used at all and therefore westerners do not quite grasp the full meaning. There were a few occasions when I raised this issue and tried to explain the meaning. I was quite surprised to hear people come to the conclusion that parents want something in return for bringing up their children. That makes the parents seem rather selfish because they should not expect anything in return. It isn't like that at all. In fact, there is a much deeper sense which is closely link to the spiritual journey too. Apart from the natural instinct that children should care for their own
parents, the term filial duty is also the direct influence of Buddhism. The Buddha said that if we put our mother on one shoulder and our father on the other and let them do their business on our shoulders for the rest of their lives, that is still not enough for us to give back what our parents have given us. This parable just shows how important parents are to us, children. In Buddhist terms, being born as a human being is the most fortunate event because it means another further step forward to the ultimate enlightenment. The ones who make this birth possible are our parents. Without them, we stand no chance of fulfilling our spiritual duty. This is the paramount role which most people do not realise if they do not understand Buddhism right to the core. The Buddha also talked about the dreadful consequence of the worst kamma anyone could commit and one of them was killing one's own parents. In the religious sense, those who can fulfil their filial duty are moving a step nearer to ultimate enlightenment. This is why children in the Eastern culture are brought up to have high respect for their elders and have unconditional love, loyalty and responsibility for their parents.
As a result, our extended family has become our social security, everyone looks after one another and there is a deep bond in our family relationship. Children grow up in the warm and secure atmosphere of a big family. Eastern children feel deeply responsible for their parents' well-being. We naturally know that we have a duty to look after our parents especially when they reach their vulnerable age. This is the feeling which makes them feel the need to fulfil their filial duty. Whatever income they have, they will make sure that some, if not all, will go to their parents. The poorer they are, the more responsible they feel. Poverty has forced many Eastern girls to work in the sex industry so that they can support their parents and younger siblings. Oriental girls who marry Western husbands, at times, are labelled as money grabbers because they only want economic stability, not love. Behind that notorious label, those girls have rather high moral conscience. They do their best to look after their husband and family here but they can never forget and neglect their parents and family back home. The nice thing that comes out of this is that people in Eastern culture do not feel lonely and depressed. Children in Western society do not have the financial and social responsibility to their parents because social security takes care of them. As a result, there is not much bonding between parents and children. Once children grow up, they have their own lives and the relationship between parents and children drifts apart. That's why old people in the West are often left to fend for themselves. Their children can be in another city or another country. However, this is just a generalisation. Of course, there are people in the East who don't care for their parents at all and there are people in the West who take very good care of their parents. In retrospect, the world has been through periods of time when members of some society have badly crossed the moral line. Hitler could mobilise a great number of Nazis to kill six million Jews without feeling anything wrong. This is a horrifying act and we thought that this page of history could never repeat itself ever again. We were wrong; those kind of atrocities keep on repeating themselves even nowadays from Russia, to Cambodia, Timor, Bosnia and Africa. How many governments in the world are there which have nothing to do with torturing human-beings for political reasons ? In Africa, young children are trained to be professional killers and they
find nothing wrong in doing so. When mothers lose their instinct of loving and protecting their own children and kill or abandon them, it also proves that the society has become very sick. Apart from killing which some people can do without any guilt, lying, cheating, committing adultery, drinking alcohol and taking drugs have also become acceptable norms and even become part of our culture. It means that this is our modern way of life. This is the time when all individuals who cherish their inner peace have to try even harder to understand this concept of natural morality because collective disaster is imminent. I truly believe that it is down to the individual to try their best to restore their inner peace. We cannot wait for a government to bestow this gift on us because it will never happen. We would like to think that once we have a government of our favourite party, we shall be happier because things will go our way. The government can turn out to be a reason to take away people's inner peace even more. Most poor people in Britain had high hopes for their children to go to higher education without much struggling when the Labour government came into power and look what happened. Indeed, the government is a key issue to help or to take away people's happiness. This is another big topic I will talk about in another chapter. We need to understand a bit more that doing good is good in itself and doing bad is bad in itself. This means that when we do good deeds, we feel good right away and when we do bad deeds, we feel awful right away. The result of either the good or bad deed is simultaneous. People misunderstand this moral concept because we like to think in a materialistic way. We can't help thinking that when we do something really good, we should have something good in return. We seem to think that good results have to link with objects, in other words, wealth, status and power. We would like to think that we deserve to win the national lottery because we are not bad people and God should help us. That's why most people, especially older people who have done good things all their lives, feel that they haven't yet received anything back at all. They haven't yet become rich or well recognised. On the contrary, they feel that they are still poor and have to get by with their small pension fund and probably have to suffer from ill health too. They can't help thinking that life is unfair and feel totally let down by God who said: God will help those who help themselves. People are literally waiting for God to give them something back after they have done something really good. Deep down, we are yearning for ten minutes standing ovation from the rest of the world or even to win a ticket to the Garden of Eden so that people can single us out as someone who is truly special because we have done something so good. It is a shame that all these misunderstandings have let us down so badly. In fact, God has done his bit. He never betrays anyone who does good. As he has promised, he will help anyone who helps themselves. We do good, then we feel good. If we replace the word feel good into feel God, this equation about God will help those who help themselves can be solved right away. Do good, feel God. If people can truly value their peace of mind and sincerely want to maintain it, their moral behaviour will become natural and innocent. It isn't the kind of conduct that we feel obliged to do. In other words, we don't have to bend over backwards to be good and to be noticed. We don't give with one hand and take away with the other.
We all know that very young children cannot lie. That is exactly what I mean by natural morality. The person might not even know that it is a very good thing to do. They only know that this is the kind of conduct which does not upset the balance of their minds. When they happen to know that they are good, it isn't good anymore. They have lost their innocence. Children are loveable because they can maintain their innocence. They do good things without knowing that they are good. Once they grow up a bit more and learn worldly values, they gradually lose their innocence and their behaviour changes. They begin to expect something back after they do something good. In this respect, it is adults who pass on this concept to our children. We like to tell our children that if they behave themselves or do some work for mum and dad, they will be praised and rewarded. However, it is the innocent acts that we must bring back to people's hearts. Most people would agree that it isn't at all easy to do good work without being acknowledged. This kind of moral concept does need a great deal of bravery and selfencouragement especially in society where there is moral resistance everywhere. Teenagers find it easier to accept a bottle of alcopop, a cigarette or an Ecstasy pill than to resist it. Well, it is quite true but it isn't at all impossible. It means that people have to value their inner peace a bit more. The Buddhist practice which is called vipassana-bhavana can actually bring this innocent moral conduct back to mankind.
The host mind and its visitors.
As far as this chapter is concerned, first of all, we must agree about the definition of the word mind before we can move on to talk about something else. To the western way of thinking, the word mind means purely the brain which produces the thoughts. Feelings and emotions are not included. This concept is very different from the Buddhist way of thinking and is also a great barrier especially for intellectuals who want to explore deeper into Buddhism. Therefore, before I can delve in to talk about the function of the mind, a clear definition has to be established. When I talk about the mind, initially, I simply mean the abstract nature in our life form which knows the thoughts and the feelings. (Please also refer to the chapter called Fighting in the right battle field.) In Buddhist terms, we have to leave the brain as grey matter behind and focus only on the abstract parts. Therefore, we can all imagine that the vicinity of the mind is between the head and the heart. That is because the thoughts appear in the head and the feelings and emotions appear mostly in the heart or somewhere behind the chest. In some situations, the feelings and emotions can land in the stomach area or elsewhere. The faculty of thoughts begins with the thinking manner itself to the actual thoughts, images, mind visions, memory, concepts, ideas, etc. The faculty of feelings covers physical and mental feelings, emotions such as worry, anxiety, fear, embarrassment, anger, jealousy, hatred, joy, happiness, etc. All these mental faculties of thoughts and feelings can be sensed through the mind only. In other words, thoughts and feelings along with their faculties fall on the surface of the abstract nature in our life form. That abstract nature is called mind or Citta in Pali. In Buddhist terms, the mind is in fact the sixth sense in addition to eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body. Again, by the western definition, sixth sense means the ability to sense paranormal phenomena or being telepathic. In Buddhist terms, the sixth sense is simply another normal sense organ which appears to be abstract so that it can sense the abstract nature of our life form which consists of thoughts and feelings. As we all know we have five sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body which correspond to their sense objects of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Each sense organ can only perceive its particular field of object, for example: eyes can only know sights, the body can only know touch, etc. Even if we had ten noses, it wouldn't mean that they could help us to perceive more sounds or more tastes; a hundred pairs of ears will not help us to have better sight or know more smells. Likewise, we cannot use our five sense organs: eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body to perceive thoughts and feelings. Therefore, the Buddha classed the mind as the last faculty for sensing or in other words, the sixth sense and it corresponds to its sense objects of thoughts and feelings. The difference is that both the mind as the sixth sense and its sense objects are part of the abstract nature in our life form. Indeed, we can also say that the mind is the mental sense organ while the other five are the physical sense organs. Once we have agreed about the mind as the sixth sense, we have to agree as well that the mind filters the experience of the five perceptions. Without the mind, the experiences we perceive through our five sense organs will remain unprocessed, therefore, they have no meaning and value whatsoever. In other words, the validation of the experiences we perceive through our
2 five sense organs has to be processed or verified by the sixth sense or the mind. When the mind is awake, our five senses can function normally but when the mind is asleep, the five senses cease to perform their functions. When people go into a deep sleep, the mind as the sixth sense shuts down completely and therefore there is no filter for the rest of the perceptions. Though the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body are still there along with their corresponding sense objects, we cannot sense any of them because the mind as a processor does not work. We can shout into the ears of a deep sleeper but he cannot hear anything. We can cook bacon and eggs or shake a bottle of perfume by a deep sleeper but he cannot smell anything. We can stroke or tickle the body of a deep sleeper but he cannot feel anything. Without the sixth sense or the mind, the experiences of the five perceptions have no meaning. As a matter of fact, the world ceases to exist when we go into a deep sleep. Once we awake or the mind is awake, the world is alive again. It is very important that readers do not get confused between the mind as the mental sense organ and the ability to sense paranormal phenomena. At this level, I do not talk about any paranormal experience or telepathy at all. I will talk about this in another chapter. I must stress as well that when I talk about the mind, I do not mean the soul or spirit, the unseen nature which some people believe will survive after our physical death. This idea is purely based on individual belief which I do not want to get involved in just yet. I have clarified the definition as well as the function of the mind. The reader can see that the mind as the sixth sense is a totally new concept to the western way of thinking and learning. Maybe this new approach can lead us to know more about our lives in relation to the rest of the universe. It is impossible for me to talk about the origin of the mind without clarifying its definition and its function. Therefore, I would like to urge the readers to read very carefully up to this point before we begin to explore the depths of this powerful abstract nature of our life form, our minds, thoughts and feelings. Once we have a clear definition of the mind as the mental sense organ and its corresponding sense objects as thoughts and feelings, some readers may begin to understand why we have to ask about the origin of the mind. This question has to be asked due to the fact that we all have tears and laughter. While the laughter is the source of all constructive, creative and charitable works attributed to mankind, tears can become the driving force of all destructive, ugly and atrocious activities inflicted upon mankind. Unfortunately, the negative side of human nature has outweighed the positive side and the world is in turmoil. Nevertheless, all experts in different fields have been trying their best to solve the various problems we are facing right now from social problems to the economy, politics, the environment, etc. We all realise that human beings are the variable factor in all problems we are facing right now. That's why we talk a lot about investing in people by means of education. It is a very simple equation, good people create a good society and a good world, bad people create a bad community and a bad world. The trouble is that our education does not really focus on creating good people, we merely prepare people to be employed in the work force. This is very different. Some people might want to ask what I mean by good people anyway. Obviously, we can easily start an endless debate by just trying to define the term good people. However, for the moment, my idea of creating good people has to go hand in hand with creating happy people. I am sure it is easier to define happy people than good people. Let's understand just for now that happy people means people who are not miserable, discontented and unhappy. Then, I can move on to the next
3 question of how to create happy people. The question of how to create happy people has nothing to do with the physical body but with the state of their minds. Some people's tears can easily spark off anger, jealousy, hatred, vengeance and retribution. When people are taken by those destructive emotions, reason goes out of the window. One person's anger and hatred can mean crime against another person. Lots of people's anger put together means social problems in the community. The whole nation's anger put together due to some false ideas and misconceptions, means wars and endless suffering for mankind. All these tangled up problems can all be traced back to this invariable factor which is individual human-beings or more precisely, his or her state of mind. How can we turn their tears into laughs ? Happy people do not take drugs and commit crimes; they don't go out with machine guns and machetes and kill people randomly. So, how can we create good and happy people ? This is the question we should seriously ask and really make a big issue out of if we genuinely want peace among mankind. Now, we are reaching the point when we want to delve into the core of the problem. If the problem lies in the different states of people's minds, we have to go right to that very point. We have to fight enemies in the right battle field. If we really care for the generations to come, we cannot beat around the bush as we have been doing all along since time is running out. That's why we need to talk about the mind as the mental sense organ which corresponds to its sense objects of thoughts, feelings and emotions. This is the exact area where the root of all problems lies. This is the very place where tears and laughter come from. This is also the point where we cannot rely on our precious intellect anymore but must listen very humbly to the wisdom of the past. The Buddha was the one who first proclaimed that originally the mind is bright and shiny; thoughts and feelings are only visitors. This revelation about the true nature of the mind, had obviously been seen by someone else too. The person who wrote The Book of Genesis calls the bright and shiny mind The Tree of Life and its guests The Tree of Knowledge; Christ described the state of the host mind and the visitors as God is behind the closed door. He said that one must knock on the door for God and he would open the door for us. This teaching also corresponds to the famous saying that God will help those who help themselves. Christ also told people to think of God with their whole heart all the time. In the first two sentences in Tao Te Ching, Lao Tzu said Tao cannot be named and that has name is not Tao. As far as I am concerned, it is very obvious that those people, who came from different parts of the world in different cultures and different periods of time, all shared a very similar experience about the state of their true minds. This mental experience must have contained such a significant meaning to our lives that they all had to come forward and proclaim it to others. The only barrier is that we don't have the right key to uncover the hidden meaning. It is also very apparent that what they tried to tell us wasn't at all easy. There were not adequate words to represent that unique experience and communicate it. What is it exactly that they all desperately wanted to tell us ? Among those people, The Buddha has laid out the most distinctive path for his followers. Then again, people who do not have a Buddhist background, cannot possibly find it easy to understand Buddhist concepts. For a number of years I have been practising and teaching Tai chi at the University of Birmingham where I have been trying to find different rational ways to explain the almost unexplainable to students. This is how I explain to my students about the host mind and its visitors, about the Tree of Life and The Tree of Knowledge, about the door which hindered God and about Tao which cannot be penetrated by words.
4 First of all, I grabbed the sheet of paper nearest to me and asked the students to answer some very simple questions. I urged them not to think too deeply and to tell me what they could see on the sheet of paper. Obviously, the students found the question far too simple for them and were reluctant to answer. I normally had to point to someone to answer this question. Of course, they would answer that they could see words, letters, print, pictures, creases and whatever appeared on the sheet of paper. Then I would try not to confuse them by saying a leading sentence before asking the next question. I would say: "I want to test how acute your hearing is. So, please tell me what you can hear right now." This time the students were not too reluctant, they tried to find every possible noise and sound they could detect. I was quite satisfied with their answers. Then I would tell them to look around the room and tell me what they could see. Again, they would tell me all the different objects in the room from the walls to themselves. After the students had answered all these questions, I would make myself look a bit more serious and say: " Now, look at this piece of paper very carefully; there is something else that you miss seeing. What is it ?" This question was more compatible to their intelligence. They would try very hard to stare into that piece of paper and desperately try to find the thing they had missed seeing. It wasn't every class that had students who could answer this question and normally, there was just one student in each class who reluctantly answered that it was the white space that they missed seeing. Then, I would say again: "Please listen very carefully, what is it that you miss hearing." Though it was the same clue, I sometimes struggled to find someone who could give me the answer. Once in a while, I would have a student who could answer straight away that it was the sound of silence that they missed hearing. Then, I asked them to look around again and tell me what they missed seeing in the room. Again, I didn't always have someone who could answer me straight away that it was the empty space that they missed seeing. From the two sets of questions I posed to the students, I wanted them to see the difference of the things they normally notice and the thing that they can easily overlook. Despise its significance, people cannot see it because of its total simplicity and ordinariness. Without the white space, we cannot possibly put down any mark. Without silence, we cannot possibly hear any other sounds and without the empty space in the room, we cannot possibly be here or put anything in. The next thing I wanted the students to see is to know which is the host and which is the guest. I would say that the white space of the paper is the host and the print is the guest. The silence is the host and the other noises are the guests. The empty space in the room is the host and the objects in the room are the guests. I made the point that the host will always stay behind but the guests will leave. The visitors come and go but the host is always there. The significant part is the host. Without the host, there will never be any guests. The reason that we overlook the host is because of its simplicity and ordinariness. Furthermore, we all have the habit of noticing something that is colourful, exciting, compelling and noticeable such as different objects and different sounds. I have no intention to devise those questions just to lead into some endless and pointless philosophical debate. Those questions are meant to be parables for what I want to explain about the nature of the mind. We can easily see how difficult it is just simply trying to spot the significant part of the paper, the sound and the room. It is difficult enough with tangible matters, so what chance do we have with the state of our mind which is abstract, intangible, trapped in our physical body ? We are actually talking about something that we cannot possibly
5 perceive by our five sense organs. What makes it even more difficult is that we cannot solve this problem by thinking or using our intellect either. This mental finding is indeed beyond the ability of man simply because we cannot use our five sense organs nor our thoughts which are our fundamental tools used to explore the world. What can we do then ? The answer is, first of all, we must be less stubborn and listen to the guided wisdom. The common approach used by the wise people in the past in learning about the sixth sense organ and its sense objects is by using parables, metaphors and similes. We can begin to understand why parables had been used widely in the Bible, Why The Tree of Life, The Tree of Knowledge, Why God is behind the closed door. Only the Buddha and Lao Tzu tried their best to approach the truth about the mind in the most direct way and to not rely on the concept of God. It was the Buddha who proclaimed that originally, the mind is bright and shiny and the mind's clutter is only a guest who passes through once in a while. This is the explanation which is nearest to being true as far as the true nature of the mind is concerned. The host mind is just like the white space of the sheet of paper, the silence and the empty space of the room. Thoughts and feelings are the visitors who pay visits once in a while. We can also compare the mind in its original state to the full moon, bright and shiny; thoughts and feelings are like a dark cloud passing by and hiding the shiny moon away. Once we are aware that there is indeed a state of host mind, we have to know further that the host mind is the state of real sanity. The passing visitors are the mind's chatter, the voice in our heads which keeps on telling us to do this and that, feel this and that. At times, the mind's chatter can drive people up the wall or over the edge. While the host mind keeps us sound, sane, calm and peaceful, the visitors are responsible for us going up and down the scale of emotions. When we have guests who are supposed to drop in for a visit but in the end decide to stay a bit longer and refuse to leave, we all know that we have problems. Guests are guests; the nature of guests is that they come and they go, they don't stay for good. But if they do, the host will have a big problem and will find a way to get rid of the unwanted guests. Our host mind and its visitors work in exactly the same manner. As far as our mental state is concerned, we have lots and lots of guests who literally queue up to come into our empty house or host mind. As a matter of fact, our host mind can host only one guest at a time but because each thought comes in and out at such a staggering speed we cannot possible detect its arrival and departure. Therefore, we stand no chance of knowing the real nature of the host mind which, in fact, is separated from its guest. As a result, we (our host minds) have been bullied and abused by our own visitors (thoughts and feelings). This is the actual cause of our mental turmoil. We must realise as well that the majority of those passing thoughts and feeling are likely to be trivial and have very little significance to our lives. We can easily live without them. In fact, we can live far better without them. There is a great deal of difference between people who know the good news about the host mind and its guests and those who don't know. Let's look at the comparison of the room once again. People who never notice the empty space in the room will always be attached to the different pieces of furniture and think that the more furniture they have, the better. As a result, they spend all their lives piling up more and more furniture in the room. What happens next is that they gradually lose their freedom of moving about in their own room and eventually can be crushed by their own ignorance. As for those who are fully aware that the empty space of the room can give them freedom to move about, they will be very careful to not create too much clutter in the room. They may bring in some necessary furniture, use it and throw it away when it
6 is not needed. They will always enjoy the freedom of moving about in their own room. It can be much easier if we can treat our host mind and its guests like the way we do a room. Our mental nature is much more complicated than a square room. However, through the above parable, we can begin to see a clearer picture of how our mental states are being crushed and destroyed by our own unwanted thoughts and feelings. This is exactly what happens when people have a nervous breakdown and are driven over the edge. There is no way we can dump those painful thoughts and feelings like the way we throw away our unwanted furniture or dispose our rubbish. That's why a lot of people choose to depend on drugs or even kill themselves just to put an end to all the misery. As a matter of fact, the mind in its original state or the host mind is not alien to us at all. This host mind momentarily manifests itself when we walk in a park or spend time in a natural environment like a forest, by the sea, etc. This is the time when we feel totally relaxed and unwound. Mother nature has also given us different ways to dump our mental rubbish. After a long day of work, we all feel tired and need to sleep. Being able to go into a deep sleep for three to four hours is the way nature helps us to completely switch off our thoughts and feelings. During those few hours of deep sleep, the host mind is restored and energy is being charged into our lives. That's why when we have a good night’s sleep, we always get up feeling bright and full of energy to carry on for another day. When people are very upset about something, a lot of people normally express their feeling by crying. For some reason, having a good cry can help take away some pain from our heart. Sometime after a good cry, it helps us to have a good sleep. These are different ways which mother nature helps us to restore our inner peace. This is why people who live very close to natural environments are much happier than those who live in big cities. In the warm countries where people can jump into a river, canal or waterfall for a good soak everyday or have the chance to watch big drifts of clouds move along on the horizon and so on, they will not suffer from any mental illness, for example: worrying, chronic anxiety, depression or breakdown. Mother nature has bestowed us our sanity when we can live in harmony with her. The state of sanity is simply the manifestation of the host mind. But because of the lack of this piece of crucial knowledge, we cannot possibly make a big issue out of it so that we can permanently benefit from it. Those moments (the manifestation of the host mind) become just a passing experience, yet, peaceful, pleasant and memorable. Indeed, it is this host mind which is the source of profound wisdom, strength, goodness, innocence, truth and above all the true happiness. Unfortunately, this precious gift from mother nature was brutally taken away from us when cities were built and people became crazy about development, new technologies and civilisation. While we are climbing up this ladder of madness, we have lost track altogether with what life is all about. What is the real meaning of life, of being a person ? Is it just to go to work, struggle, put up with ill health, age and die ? Or is there something else more meaningful to our lives ? In western society, we are actually healthier, richer and more cosseted than ever but look very closely, is it true that we are still worrying ourselves to death over something all the time ? Some old people have to find something to worry about, otherwise, they are lost. We use to think that if we worked hard, saved up and had a sum of money in the bank, then we could sit back and enjoy life. The truth is far from that humble expectation. We can all identify with the awful feeling of boredom, dissatisfaction and unfulfilment. These undetected and unwanted guests have become the driving force which make people react to the first thing that comes into their minds such as: move home, give up work, have a baby, leave the wife or husband and move in with someone else and ultimately try drink and drugs.
7 Not knowing the truth about the host mind and how to get rid of our mental rubbish can be very sad and indeed a tragedy in a lot of cases. The sad truth is that we have people walking the streets in every corner of the world, who are utterly blind to this crucial fact about their own lives. People have no control over their own thoughts and feelings, let alone their destructive actions. How can we not expect disaster to happen ? What makes it sadder still is that we have all the experts who keep lamenting the illness of our society but it is very rare that we find someone who really knows the answer to this whole mess. I wouldn't be surprised if someone came forward and said he or she knew the answer and the group of people who should be responsible for better change in society, paid no attention anyway. That is because through our modern education which trains people to think too excessively, the intellectuals have built themselves a mental holodeck which makes them become very stubborn and egocentric. Among those undetected guests are the thoughts which revolve around: I am better than you; I am cleverer than you; I have a higher degree than you; who are you and what do you know ?; Don't you know who I am ?; and so on. Through ignorance towards the true nature of their own minds, it is very sad that these extremely clever people have built themselves a very solid egg-shell or a very comfortable mental holodeck to live in. And they will fight to their last breath to protect that shell or their mental holodeck. How can those who lead their lives in an egg-shell or a mental holodeck, possibly know what real freedom is ? The way that we pursue our intellectual knowledge is the way we try to perfect our way of thinking, our thoughts, ideas and concepts. The experience of our five perceptions is perceived as passing through our brain and thoughts. In comparison, we are simply messing about with the precious furniture in our rooms. We pick the furniture up, polish it, rearrange it, admire it and so on. The real knowledge about the host mind and its guests hasn't been seen yet. What we don't realise is that we cannot possibly perfect our lives in an egg-shell or in a mental holodeck. The perfection of our lives means coming out from the strong egg-shell or ending the hologram of a holodeck. The most difficult part is that some egg-shells or mental holodecks can be very cunning, tricky and compelling. And it is extremely difficult to break them up. Due to the above reasons, our precious intellectual knowledge cannot be wholesome and fulfilling. As a matter of fact, it is scattered and fragmented; it is too remote from our hearts, our feelings and emotions. We are so proud that the laws of physics can explain all phenomena we encounter. But indeed we have overlooked the empty space in our own minds and their guests. When people are on the edge of killing themselves, do they want to know which part of their brains are responsible for their irrational behaviour ? No, they don't want to know that nor can it stop them killing themselves either. I am sure all the psychologists, psychiatrists and mind experts would not want to know either if they came home one day to find their partner of twenty years had left them for someone younger and cleared out their bank accounts and left them with nothing. No matter how much we think we can understand ourselves and our natural environment, life still has its mysteries. That mystery is not hidden in those as yet unexplained phenomena but hidden in the simplicity of life, such as birth, struggling to exist, aging, illness, death, tears and laughter, etc.. Pounding for more intellectual knowledge without noticing the significance of the host mind can be quite meaningless and dangerous at times. We have to be very careful and selective in searching for more intellectual knowledge. The destruction of this lovely green planet will not come from the hands of animals or less clever people but will come from a handful of highly intelligent people who perpetually play with the furniture in their heads and never really notice the simmering feelings in their hearts. As far as safety and peace among mankind are concerned, intellectual knowledge must go hand in hand with spiritual knowledge. The nature of the host mind and its guests must be revealed and taught in main stream education. Unfortunately, the people who genuinely know about this truth will always be a small
8 number in every society. Yet, they are the most lucky people in the world because they know the real freedom of life. They have managed to spot that they lived in an egg-shell and they try their best to peck the shell and come out to experience the real freedom. These people will always choose to play a low key and enjoy every moment of true spiritual freedom in their lives. Among this small number of people, there are only a few who can truly stand out to tell people about this piece of good news. To do the job successfully, these people have to be well equipped with the right characteristics such as: knowing what is what, having the right means of communication and compassion. This handful of people is extremely difficult to find nowadays. Some might start on the right track but once wealth, power and status roll in, they cannot resist the temptations. (Please also read the chapter title "How to judge your meditation master.") Finally, the people who genuinely know the truth about the true nature of the mind will always ask their teachers the question of how to dispose of their unwanted thoughts and feelings. Shifting some unwanted furniture is rather easy to understand but trying to throw away our mental rubbish is very tricky and not at all simple. This is why the different skills of meditation practice have to be brought in and properly used and instructed by a trained teacher. This is the time when we need to delve into the finest nature of our life-form and talk about Tom and Jerry. (Please refer to the chapter titled: Fighting in the right battle field.) Basically, meditation or more precisely, vipassana-bhavana is the key practice of how to ask the unwelcome guests in our mind to go away so that we can be left at peace. And this is what this Tai chi class is all about. Among the holy saints in the past, the Buddha was the only one who came up with a distinctive route for people to follow. The Noble Eightfold Path, which consists of morality, wisdom and meditation, contains the crucial practice of how to balance our minds on a sound level and of how to stay clear from unwanted visitors. Only when the host mind is acknowledged, can people begin to experience the world from their hearts and not from their heads. Only then can we truly see the real beauty of life and appreciate the existence of God and of Mother Nature.
Fighting in the right battle field.
If we had to go to a war, we would have to know first of all where the battle field was and who the enemies were. We would have to find out as much as possible about the enemies, such as what they looked like, what uniform they wore, what language they spoke, what tactics they used and everything about them. If the battle field was in Vietnam, we couldn't just go as near as Thailand, Laos or Cambodia. We would have to go to Vietnam to fight the enemies. Likewise, if we are going to declare war with our mental turmoil so that we could restore our inner peace, initially we must try to locate our battle field as well as the face of our enemies. Unfortunately, this is very difficult to do as far as our mental enemy is concerned. For centuries, we have been trying to understand our minds but it almost looks like we are losing in this battle field. Nowadays, we end up with more and more people who are affected by various degrees of mental illness from stress, long term anxiety, depression, breakdowns to suicide. Through medical research, the best offer we have for mankind is some form of sedatives or drugs, if not, mental hospital and more drugs. A great number of people in our society have learnt to rely on drugs and are trapped in their vicious circle. Again, medical science still perpetually tries to find more drugs to combat the side effects of the previous drugs they offered and this cycle goes on and on. During the process of the cure, some people's lives have been totally ruined and destroyed. They expected to find some light at the end of this dark tunnel but to some of them this dark tunnel has turned into an abyss. There is no need to talk about the harm caused by the illegal drugs used among youngsters and a lot of people nowadays. Once people are hooked on drugs, it is only a matter of time before disaster strikes. Only a blind society would allow drug taking to become a culture ! What has gone wrong ? Could it be possible that we might be fighting in the wrong battle field and with the wrong enemies? I must, first of all, say that I know nothing about how the brain works. I am sure that the brain has to have something to do with the whole of our nervous system. I am not arguing about this fact. I want to pinpoint the abstract side of our life-form, the part that we call the mind which revolves around our thoughts, feelings and emotions. We have to admit as well that this life-form(body-mind) is indeed a mystery. The mysterious part is ,of course, not the body but the mind. If the mind was that easy and simple to understand, the world wouldn't be as it is right now. We wouldn't have had people queuing up to kill themselves because of the fall of Wall Street. Ultimately, we wouldn't have had wars in all corners of the world and endless suffering amongst mankind. People might want to ask me whether I am qualified to talk about the mind if I know nothing about the brain. Maybe this lack of knowledge has turned out to be a blessing instead of a curse. That is because I can think independently. I am not led to think that my brain is responsible for all my thoughts and that the chemicals in my
brain are in charge of my feelings and emotions and they are the cause of my mental turmoil. This is the whole point as far as I am concerned. By not thinking like I was led to believe, it probably gives me a better chance to observe my inner abstract nature differently and allow me to spot the real face of the enemy and fight in the right battle field. The complication and the difficulty in knowing the mind obviously lies in its abstraction, its formlessness as well as its rapid motion. We all talk about our mind as if we know it very well. I decided to ask the students in my Tai chi class to put their hands on the place where they think their minds are without giving them any clear definition. I wanted to see their general response to this abstract form which we think we know. The outcome was very interesting because I had students put their hands on about ten different places. It was quite obvious that the majority of students about 70% roughly, had put their hands on different part of their heads, about 20% put their hands on their chest, the rest put their hands on either the front or the back of their necks, on their stomach, on their backs, on the knees, on the point that the middle finger and the thumb meet and a couple of students couldn't find the mind. I also created a situation by throwing two wooden blocks on the floor while the students were closing their eyes. This caused a sudden fright and later I asked them where the frightening feeling landed. The outcome changed again. These rough findings have shown the contrasting concepts about the location of the mind between eastern people and western people. It is quite obvious that western people think that the mind is in their heads while eastern people would place their hands on their chest except some intellectual people who might put their hands on their heads. Obviously, I haven't done any research among eastern people (I mean those who have Buddhism as their religion) but why am I so sure ? That is because the mind behind the chest is the Buddhist way of thinking. Only eastern intellectuals would question seriously whether the thoughts come out from the brain or the mind as behind the chest. I know it because I asked this question myself to my meditation teacher, Ven. Buddhadasa, Suan Moke, in a forest monastery in the south of Thailand, when I was a student and began to be interested in Buddhism. This was his answer: "Go and look for yourself where the thoughts come from." I wasn't satisfied with the answer then. Obviously, it was because I wanted something rather instant which could fulfil my curiosity there and then like most young people would feel. Nevertheless, I took his advice. What he didn't tell me was how difficult it was to simply look at it yourself. It took me many years indeed before I could understand. My teacher didn't tell me to think about it but to look at it instead which is very different. Some people may feel offended if I say that intellectual people are the products of their education. We have had it drummed in since childhood that the brain is the headquarters and is responsible for everything we think and do in our life. For western people feelings and emotions rest in the heart as the abstract nature behind the chest. As for eastern people, when we talk about the mind, we automatically mean the abstract nature behind our chest where we can feel joy and happiness as well as the unpleasant and painful feelings. Old people in Thailand, who have experience in meditation, would totally disregard the brain as something which is responsible for the arising of their thoughts and feelings. They would view all this
abstract nature as the product of their minds (as behind the chest) and use meditation as a tool to keep their minds in good balance. However, these rough findings have confirmed the confusion, the uncertainty and the ambiguity of our knowledge about our abstract nature- the mind, the thoughts, feelings and emotions. As far as I am concerned, this confusion is in fact a very good sign and definitely not a bad one. It is as if we drove along a road and suddenly we began to suspect that we were taking the wrong route. This doubt is a good indication because that is the beginning of trying to put things right. If we had never questioned, we would have been totally ignorant about the right turn and would have driven deeper and farther on the wrong route which might lead us to danger. So, please don't be offended about what I said earlier. After a good many years of taking my teacher's advice about looking into my thoughts and finding where they come from, I gradually find out for myself that this looking is not as easy as it sounds at all. I didn't realise at the time of asking the question that this is looking into my own life's drama, looking at my own tears and laughters, looking at every twist and turn of my emotions which affect every living cell of my existence and above all looking at the thoughts which bombard me as if a whole army of soldiers is firing bullets at me all at the same time. There were times when I found myself staring into an abyss where there was no way out whatsoever and within split seconds I was whisked away into heaven. Time after time, I found myself sighing with tremendous relief to be able to come out from the staggering pain so quickly. Before I knew how to look at my thoughts, in some near disastrous situation, I should have had turned into a nervous wreck and totally broken down which didn't exactly happen. I couldn't believe myself how I could handle those awful situations so calmly. It really puzzled me how life can change so drastically into something so positive by simply learning how to look into our inner-self. I began to understand why the Buddha led people to look at the suffering and the end of suffering and not the positive side of happiness. I hear intellectual people casually judging the sublime Buddha by saying that he only talks about the negative side of life, the suffering, the sorrow and that makes him a pessimist. Well, I can only warn those people to hold their horses and investigate before criticising the Buddha again. They can be very wrong. The kind of happiness which most people adore when they can have what they want is merely the suffering-to-be when they lose whatever they want. I never realised how life can be so emotionally fragile and complicated, not until I began looking into it. I also found out that apart from the major or serious mental turmoils that we all have from time to time, there are also lots of minor ones which we don't think are the problems, i.e. feeling a bit annoyed when our cup of tea or coffee does not meet our taste or our curry is not salty or hot enough, feeling agitated when our room-mates have some annoying personal habits, feeling resentful when someone doesn't agree with what we say or do not praise us when we think they should have or some very simple feelings of embarrassment in awkward situations, and so on. As a matter of fact, those minor feelings which have never been corrected, lead to the major feelings which give us serious turmoil. If we compare our serious problems in life like broken hearts, having illnesses, losing someone we love and so on as crashing a car or having a serious accident whilst minor problems in life are like driving a car on a road which is full of pot-holes. Of course, there is no major harm done to the car or the driver but it does make people in the car feel a bit uncomfortable especially when the
car falls into one every few minutes. The journey is not smooth at all. It can also be compared to having hiccups. There is no harm done to our body but it makes us feel very uncomfortable, doesn't it ? We take all these minor problems for granted and really think they are part of our lives, no major harm done. As far as the Buddha is concerned, those minor problems must be sorted out and this can prevent major turmoil from happening. They seem trivial but they are like individual weak cells which spread into cancer. It gradually itself revealed to me as well that we are indeed our own enemy and that the battle field is not out there at all, it is right in the middle of our heart, our life form. We like to blame others for the pain we have and the last person to blame is ourselves. Well, that thought has slowly disappeared ever since I began to seriously look into my inner-self. Despise the hard work, I would never wish to trade this knowledge for anything else because this is the only survival gear, the Buddha had offered to me and to mankind, which is like a torch charged with full batteries and can take us out from some dark and frightening labyrinth full of fierce animals and booby traps. Only stupid people want to throw their only survival tool away. The knowledge about looking into my thoughts and feelings has gradually become clearer as time goes by. Despise the difficulty, I will try my best to share this with my students. Therefore, it will be easier to understand if I use the cartoon characters Tom and Jerry to explain about our mental phenomena. We can't help thinking that thoughts actually come from our brain. Therefore, I would represent Jerry's little house in the wall as our brain (the grey matter in our skull) and Jerry as the thought. We can see right away that there are two things which are totally different here. The little house in the wall or the brain is static (please understand that I am not talking about the functioning of the brain-cells.) and Jerry or the thought is dynamic. One is matter and one is abstract and formless. The further difficulty is that Jerry who has the ability to move also moves extremely fast. We cannot compare the speed of our thoughts with anything because there is nothing to compare with. The next thing we have to look at is that it is Jerry who runs wild around the owner's house; he helps himself to food from the fridge and messes the house up. Our thoughts work exactly like Jerry. We can dismiss all the positive, constructive and creative thoughts because they are not the problem which cause our mental turbulence. It is the painful, agonising and unwanted thoughts which we want to go to war with. These are the thoughts which keep on bothering us in the middle of the night and do not allow us to have a good night sleep. They are like water rushing out from a faulty tap and we have no control over them no matter how much we want to switch them off. This rapid motion of thoughts is exactly the way Jerry runs wild in his owner's house and the owner of the house ( the human) has no control over him because of his staggering speed. Apart from thoughts, we also have feelings or emotion. After a good many years of looking at my thoughts and my feelings, I can say for a fact that mental feelings and emotions are the result of thoughts. Some thoughts result in positive feeling, some thoughts result in negative feeling and some thoughts result in neutral
feeling or no feeling. The link between thoughts and feelings happens so quickly that we cannot spot the actual joint. When we worry about something, it feels like our heads perpetually carry a block of thoughts and our hearts constantly carry a block of weight. Behind the scene is in fact thoughts and feelings conditioning each other at a staggering speed. It works exactly like a roll of film running at speed to create motion pictures. The motion picture we see on the screen is made up of certain number of individual frames of each picture which run constantly at a certain speed. If our mental turmoil is the motion picture we see on the screen, our thoughts and feelings are the individual frames of picture which run in and out in a staggering speed. At this moment, I am sitting in front of my mother's picture on the shrine. When I look at her picture, suddenly my thoughts run like a roll of film about all the time we spent and cherished together, now I have just felt a lump in my throat, my eyes have already welled up with water. At this very moment, my warm tears are rolling down my cheeks while my hands are busy putting more words on the computer's screen. I can also see the sadness and sorrow in my heart and the desperate feeling of wanting to see my mother, who passed away 7 months ago, to touch her, to talk to her and to tell her about my children and what I am doing in England. Then, I break down and sob. Well, I had a good cry and had to walk away from my computer to make myself a cup of tea. The emotion is very real. Despise their formlessness and abstraction, they are real enough to cause people to have a breakdown. We think about something so dreadful which had happened to us or someone we love, simultaneously, our feelings and emotions correspond to what we thought. Feelings and emotions are very private and are extremely difficult to express. We can never find adequate and proper words to express our inner feelings right to the core. What we manage to express is only a fraction of what we truly feel. That's why we all keep on saying that no one knows how we feel unless they are in the same shoes. Experiencing feelings and emotions is a mental phenomenon that we are all familiar with, isn't it ? To make this clear, I have to turn Jerry into a female mouse who could get pregnant and have a baby. Mother Jerry is the thought, baby mouse is the mental feelings and emotions. I have to make Jerry into a mother because if we want to abort the baby, we only have to abort the mother. This sounds a very harsh imagery but it portrays exactly what happens. If we want to get rid of our painful feelings and emotions, we have to get rid of our thoughts first. Once the mother is not there, she cannot get pregnant and have a baby. Again, some people might think that there is nothing wrong with having feelings and emotions and why do we have to get rid of them ? This is quite true. When we see the news about the suffering of refugees, the casualties from wars, the famine in Africa, Diana's tragic death, Louise Woodward's conviction, etc., we are moved with emotion. A lot of us were in tears. If we don't have feelings and emotions, it won't be worth living. Loving, kindness and compassion are emotions which are the source of all Samaritan and creative works. We definitely do not want to combat these positive feelings and emotions. Without these good feelings, the world would end tomorrow ! So, please try to understand for the moment that we are talking about the painful thoughts and feelings which drive people towards breakdown and suicide. The part that we desperately don't want to
think and don't want to feel but we just cannot get rid of and in the end have to turn to alcohol or drugs for refuge. I am sure people can identify with this part of our lives. The older we are, the more we have to go through those unpleasant experiences. And now, we are reaching the point of how to get rid of these two things-unwanted thoughts and unwanted feelings. As a result, we have to first of all identify who or what is the real problem. Is it that little house in the wall or is it Jerry ? If we have a good look, the house is staying still all the time, isn't it ? It is Jerry who is doing the running all along and driving the owner of the house (us) up the wall. It is Jerry who steals food from the fridge and stocks it in his room. Is it true that it is Jerry who is the real enemy all the time, and not his tiny house in the wall ? It is very important at this stage that we ask the right question. I really would like to think that it is our thoughts and emotions which condition the chemicals in our brain and not the other way round like scientists have led us to think. If it is the chemicals in our brain which condition the way we think and feel, we have no choice but to use drugs and tamper with nature. If it is really the thoughts and emotions which condition the chemicals in our brain, we had to use something else and certainly not drugs. It is very important to ask this question at this stage because the solution will be totally different. If the latter (thoughts and emotions condition the chemicals in our brain) is correct, it could lead us to fight in the right battle field with the right enemies. I am quite sure that we have bombed the wrong target all along and that's why we can never kill the enemies off. Instead of getting rid of Jerry, we keep on tampering with and messing up his little house in the wall as well as creating more and more Jerry. It could be that the real enemy hasn't yet been acknowledged and therefore the solution doesn't work. Scientists have even preserved parts of the brain of important people in the past just to find out how they were different from others. The truth is that we can learn very little or nothing at all from the dead organism of the grey matter. Body-mind is one entity, not two separate things. We cannot possibly learn about our physical body without linking it to the functioning of the mind. When the identification of the problem is not clear, the answer can easily be faulty. The way I look at the problem of the use of drugs to combat our mental turmoil is that not only we cannot identify the true face of the enemy, we also literally create more enemy ourselves. Metaphorically speaking, we throw in another mouse to catch Jerry. As a result, we cannot solve the problem because two mice won't kill each other. They will play together instead. Alternatively, we try to put out a fire by throwing more gasoline into it. And how can we epect to extinguish the fire ? Likewise, we use one thought to sort the other thought out. In other words, we use our thoughts to find an answer to cure our mental turmoil. This is what I mean by throwing another mouse to catch Jerry. Jerry is our mental turmoil and the cure by using drugs is basically using another mouse to catch Jerry. And this settlement just doesn't work out. That is why we cannot seem to combat our mental turmoil. As time goes by and society become more complex, the number of mental patients of various degrees seems to increase drastically. The reason why we cannot find the right answer for the cure or keep on throwing in another mouse is basically because we cannot think away from our thoughts.
The reason we cannot think away from our thought is that no matter what we do, we will always be the product of our own thoughts. What make it even worse is that our whole education is based on creating more and more Jerry as well as messing up his little house in the wall. What chance do we have in thinking away from our thoughts ? It is getting a bit difficult to understand, isn't it ? I am sure a lot of people do not even know what I mean by this. Please be patient and carry on reading this with an open mind and great reservation. The way the world goes is that no matter what we do in terms of solving problems, we keep on throwing in another mouse and another mouse just to kill the first mouse off. Our heads are now inundated with mice. The whole of our universe is drowning in mice. We are actually submerged in mice crawling all over us. We try to think of an answer; that answer becomes another thought and another thought and so on and on endlessly. It is like we are standing in a room with mirrors all round. No matter what we do, we cannot get away from seeing the reflection of ourselves. likewise, we cannot get away from our own thoughts. If the thought or Jerry is the real problem or the real enemy, the next question is how can we deal with it ? If we want to kill Jerry or our own thoughts, what or how shall we begin ? When people begin to ask this question seriously, we have reached the crucial stage of our life. Our spiritual journey is about to begin. However, the question of how to get away from our own thoughts is indeed the most difficult task man has to face. This is the point when we have to rely on some guided wisdom. We cannot do it on our own. Without the guided wisdom, there is no way we would know that Tom is in fact the key to killing Jerry off. Indeed, we have to wake Tom up so that he can sort Jerry out. Who is Tom ? Tom is definitely not another mouse ! Tom is another abstract nature we all have but don't know how to use and that is the self-awareness or self-consciousness. The conscious nature is not in the faculty of thoughts. They are two totally different functions. If self-awareness is the tool to kill off our thoughts, it doesn't look like a tool at all, does it ? Nevertheless, this is the gateway opening up to a new kind of knowledge which has the most significant impact to our lives as far as our inner peace is concerned. The sad truth is that our main stream education knows nothing about this knowledge. When we don't even know that self-consciousness is the key to sort our thoughts out, we don't know how to use it either. People may want to argue that we all have our self-awareness and consciousness but why do I say that we don't know how to use it. It is quite true that we all have a natural level of self-awareness or consciousness. The fact is that the natural level of consciousness that we all have is too weak and it isn't strong or quick enough to know and catch the thoughts. In comparison, we all have Tom in our house to begin with but he spends most of his time sleeping in the corner and is not quite aware that Jerry has been wrecking his owner's house and the fridge. Tom is in the twilight state. Sometimes he knows and sometimes he doesn't know. He is too lazy; he just wants to sleep. This is exactly how our natural consciousness works. It looks like we know we have problems and we even try to do something about it. But for some reason, we cannot say that we are truly happy and content. This is what I mean by driving on a road full of pot-holes or having hiccups. Deep down, we have a feeling that something is missing in our life and we don't know what it is. In trying to fill the gap in life, people search for material
wealth, higher status, fame and thrive on some cheap thrill and excitement. In the Buddhist sense, this kind of feeling is classed as not knowing, not aware and not conscious. In trying to catch Jerry, the answer is that Tom cannot be too lazy anymore, he has to be much more alert and conscious. So, we are reaching a further step of waking Tom up and training him to be alert and quick to respond. Once Tom is woken up, being trained to be quick and alert, he will spot for himself that Jerry has been running riot and wrecking his owner's house and the fridge. Without waking the nature of our consciousness up, there is no way we can see the thoughts independently. Prior to waking Tom up, our thoughts and consciousness mingle into one and we cannot distinguish what is what. Nothing is clear, everything is blurred. That's why we cannot acknowledge the true face of our enemy. Once Tom has spotted Jerry, it doesn't mean that the problem is solved. That is just the beginning of a life long journey. That is because Jerry can run a million times faster than Tom. Even though Tom has been woken up and can acknowledge the problem concerning Jerry, his skill in catching this mouse is not good enough yet. He cannot run quick enough to catch Jerry. He has to keep on training himself to run very fast. To solve the problem of stopping Jerry wrecking the owner's house, Tom has to run faster than Jerry or at least run along side with Jerry so that he can scare Jerry off. Now, the process of waking Tom up and training him to run very fast is purely a skill. This knowledge exists only in Buddhism. In Buddhist practice, this skill is called samadha-vipassana-bhavana, the skill of developing a high level of selfawareness or consciousness. This process has absolutely nothing to do with Jerry or the faculty of exercising our thoughts. The process of waking Tom up and training him to run fast is everything we do in my Tai chi class which revolves around breathing deeply, slowing our movements right down and being with the immediate moment. Initially, the slow movement is the key which opens the gateway to the higher level of self-awareness or better concentration. All these are the actual technique of meditation or training Tom to run fast. This is also what Tai chi all about. Once Tom can run as quickly as Jerry, the problem can be solved, Jerry will be caught and the owner's house (us) will be at peace once again. Vice versa, once the level of our self-consciousness is raised, the speed of our thoughts slows down on its own. In some cases, the thoughts might totally disappear during meditation. Once Jerry the mother is aborted, she cannot have a baby. Once there are no thoughts, there is no cause for further feelings and emotions. The mental turmoil has gone as well. Please understand that we are delving into the detail of our existence which is thoughts and feelings. And this is the actual technique of meditation. When the practice is proceeding, the faculty of thoughts is slowing down. This crucial practice can lead us to see the true nature of our mental state which will give us the right wisdom or insight. Once we have the full understanding about our abstract nature as thoughts and emotions, we can later use them wisely. So, we are not talking about suppressing our thoughts altogether or forever and make ourselves useless. The faculty of thoughts is our mental organ. It is there for us to use but we must know how
to use it for constructive reasons and not destructive ones to guarantee minimum suffering and more peace in society. To understand the functioning of thoughts, we must slow them down first and this is what this technique of developing selfawareness is all about. Without waking the nature of our consciousness up, there is no way we can view our thoughts and emotions independently. If we cannot view thoughts independently, we are trapped in a vicious circle. The more we want to solve our problems, the more we create the problems. For centuries, we have kept on finding more facts and figures and hoping that we can discover more knowledge about ourselves and the universe. In the end, the world is flooded with facts, figures and information which are no use to us in solving our mental problems at all. The majority of those facts are totally irrelevant to our lives as human-beings let alone have anything to do with our inner peace, yet a big number of people cannot start their day without injecting more facts and figures into their head by reading newspapers. As a result, we give high values to trivial matters which again revolve around wealth, power and status. We adore people who are rich and famous. We highly respect intellectual people, whose ego might fill the whole of the universe, but it is all right as long as he has a big memory box and can talk about anything underneath the sun and can produce more facts and figures and can explain abstract equations and concepts. We also spend more than three quarters of our time talking about trivial matters. We laugh at sick jokes. We do a lot of things just for the sake of it. There is no need to talk about our television programs. Basically, we are all part of this gigantic net of collecting more and more rubbish in our brains. Unfortunately, our whole education is responsible for this human tragedy. Humankind is in deep water; we have set ourselves a time bomb by not understand our life fully, yet we have no idea at all and that is very sad indeed. I am responsible for every word I say. Please do not ask me for any facts, figures and information to back up my words because I cannot offer any of those. My approach to this knowledge is very different from what our education is based on. Our modern education is based on creating more and more Jerry whilst mine is based on waking Tom up. We cannot possibly talk about the same thing. Therefore, my Tai chi students, who have gone through some sessions of waking Tom up, would find it very difficult to convey this knowledge to their friends and loved ones. Everyone has a similar experience that they wish to tell someone but don't quite know how to put it. I don't talk about this outside my Tai chi class at all. If I cannot make people wake Tom up, there is no way I would get engage in this kind of talk. People wouldn't understand, not even any intellectual genius. It isn't easy for me to stand here in front of all the extreme intellectuals and denounce what they strongly believe in if I don't see the need to do so. I am either mad, insane or desperately want people to know something so very important to their lives. As far as our mental turmoil and its answer are concerned, yes, I want to say that we have been fighting in the wrong battle field all along. I want to say that the chemicals in our brains do not take the full responsibility for messing our lives up. I am a woman, I have three children, I have been through all the ups and downs of my hormones and chemicals in my brain and I also know about the Buddha's knowledge. Judging from the outcome of my practice, I want to say that it is the ignorance towards
our mental function which is fully responsible for messing our life up. It is our destructive thoughts and feelings such as anger, hatred, greed, jealousy, etc. which is responsible for the imbalance of the chemicals in our brains which subsequently affect our physical functioning, i.e. breathing, heart beating, blood pressure, the release of different enzymes and so on. When we can put our thoughts and feelings in good balance through meditation practice, we can also experience our physical wellbeing. People who practice Tai chi, yoga or awareness of breathing can clearly see the link and the interaction between the mental and physical states. Please try to understand that I don't have any intention, not in the slightest, to confuse anyone especially young people like students. It will be very wrong and immoral for me to do so. That's why I always give people the chance to judge for themselves. If this whole thing is unsound for anyone, please forget about everything I say and don't get confused. I don't mind to be looked at as "a mad Chinese woman in the neighbourhood." It doesn't matter to me at all. Please don't worry about my feelings. I am more worried about your feelings. So, if you get confused, please breath deeply, slow down and be with your immediate moment, you'll feel better again. Ultimately, we all need to have some guided wisdom to begin with but the rest of the effort comes down to the individual. The more we carry on with the practice of developing awareness, the more we will be free from our tormenting thoughts and painful feelings and the more we can maintain our sanity and inner peace. Through my twenty three years of experience of trying to wake Tom up and train him to run as quickly as Jerry, I know as well that Tom is always ready to curl up and sleep the moment I am complacent. No matter how much we think we have done our practice, our thoughts are always ready to play up when they have the chance to do so. That's why the Buddha's very last warning was to tell his disciples not to be complacent and that the practice was for today, not tomorrow. Among all the established religions, the Buddha has laid down the most direct and distinctive knowledge about the skill of waking Tom up and training him to run fast. In Buddhism, this practice is called vipassana-bhavana which is the term I repeated very often in my book-"Dear Colin, What is the meaning of life ?". I have to tell the truth that it is hard work and not at all easy but do we have any better choice than this ? We can either carry on being ignorant and pretend that we have never heard about all this or at least being sceptical about the issue or try to adopt this skill of waking Tom up and prove it for ourselves. No matter how much I want to eat this apple for everyone, I can't. Everyone has to eat and taste his own apple and appreciate it for themselves. Once again, I am very sorry to put all this in your heads. I am sure a lot of you took up Tai chi just for a bit of relaxation and did not expect to hear all these things. I hope I do not confuse you too much and wish you all the best of luck in your life.
Exiting our Mental Holodeck
In Buddhism, the biggest issue which everyone has to tackle is the sense of selfcentredness. In fact, this is also the last step which all practitioners have to take before attaining the ultimate goal of life or Arahantship. A Pra-Arahant is known as the one who has no mind and therefore no sense of self. All their deeds and actions are simply called innocent movement, movement that is not conditioned by any desire or defilement. Their innocent perception has become permanent, not momentary like the rest of us. In this chapter I would like to spend a bit more time talking about the sense of "I am" and trying to prove to readers how this powerful sense of our mental self can just be an illusion. How can this be possible ? This is the most distinctive feeling which all humans can identify with and share. How can we get it so wrong ? Some can't help thinking that maybe it was the Buddha who was wrong. Well, wise people will not judge too quickly without any investigation. I would like to remind readers to understand the scale of depth I am talking about. We are still in the process of delving into our life form, body-mind and trying to find out what causes our mental suffering. As we delve into the core of the problem, we find that they are thoughts and feelings which are the two abstract entities that cause our mental turbulence. These two abstract entities are also responsible for creating the sense of I am as Rene Descartes said "I think, therefore I am". Descartes was quite right up to that point but what he didn't know was that there was one main factor which conditions people to have a sense of self and that is the state of spiritual ignorance. So, I will focus on the point of how our spiritual ignorance can cause us to hold very strongly onto that illusive self. We are living in a time and age where the use of words as well as technology is quite sophisticated. I realise I have limited ability to express myself in English, nevertheless, I can truly make use of the sophistication of this time. Ever since I began my teaching and producing literary works for my students, I found enormous joy in trying to work out some modern explanations and approaches for my students to understand themselves better. What follows is one of these ideas. The readers can easily guess that I am one of the many millions of Star Trek fans. The idea of the holodeck in Star Trek, the next generation can portray a very clear picture of what we can see during Vipassana-bhavana. People who have never watched Star Trek, the next generation with Jean Luke Picard will have a problem because they won't know what a holodeck looks like.
Trying to see the illusive nature of our mental objects (thoughts and feelings) is very much like looking at a rainbow, a mirage or being in a holodeck. We all know that these three things are just illusions; they are not real and don't exist. The tricky bit is that they do exist for a period of time and that's why we can see them. As long as the factors which cause their existence are still there, we can see them. When the factors come to an end, the existence ceases too. Let's look at mirages first. We have all had the experience of driving on a long stretch of road in the hot sunshine. We cannot deny that the wet patch on the road some fifty yards in front of us is real. It is real at that very moment. The factors which make it real are 1) our position on the road. 2) the bright sunshine. Without one of these factors, the mirage won't be there. This works the same as rainbows. The holodeck is real as long as it is being programmed by the computer. Once the computer exits the program, all the holograms which make up a holodeck vanish too. The point I would like the readers to follow is that when we talk about illusion, it doesn't mean that we are talking about nothing. In fact, we are talking about something which is actually there for that particular moment. They are real for a certain period of time but not real because they are not there all the time. While its existence still lasts, it does have influence over those who experience it. Now, rainbows and mirages might not have that much impact on us while they last but at least, we can truly see the beauty of rainbows and that might inspire a lot of artists to create something beautiful for the world. With rainbows and mirages, we can view them detachedly from a distance and we can see the illusive side of them. However, being in a holodeck can be a different story altogether. I know I am just talking about science fiction but I would like the readers to imagine themselves as one of the Star Fleet officers on board the Enterprise. Being in a holodeck is very much like reality, isn't it ? Everything in there is real, one can actually see, hear, smell, taste and touch and all those perceptions have a real impact on people. Now, apart from the Star Fleet officers who knew what the holodeck was all about, there were people in the series who didn't know. Those who did not know the true facts about the holodeck and were put in there; they would have no idea that they were not in reality, would they ? For them, being in a holodeck was real enough and that world was their reality; they knew nothing else unless someone came along to tell them the truth about the illusion they were in and bring them out into actual reality. We can say that those people were ignorant about the facts of the holodeck being a hologram, can't we ? And of course, the enlightened ones were the Star Fleet officers. I would like to stress once again that illusion doesn't mean that nothing exists. To be more precise, something does exist while the factors are still combined together. This comparison to the holodeck is essential for us to understand our mental-self. We are, in fact, dealing with a kind of illusion which is very much like being in a holodeck. Of course, this is a much more complex matter which we cannot afford to ignore because this means the true survival of humanity. What makes it worse is that we are born into a holodeck right from day one and there is no way we can know the truth about reality unless we listen to someone who does know, such as the Buddha. People who have a high level of spiritual ability can understand this right away, seriously investigate into the matter and quickly get themselves out of it. There are
also people who have a lower level of spiritual ability and would view all this as nonsense and take no notice. If we observe carefully our mental constitution, the part which makes us feel like we have a self is in fact our consciousness. In Pali is called Vinnana which is one of the five fundamental elements (the five khandha) which constitute our life form according to the Buddha's analysis. The breakdown analysis of the functions of consciousness is as follows: 1) eye-consciousness enables us to see objects. 2) ear-consciousness enables us to hear sounds. 3) nose-consciousness enables us to know smells. 4) tongue-consciousness enables us to know tastes 5) body-consciousness enable us to know touch. 6) mind-consciousness enable us to know mental objects such as thoughts and feelings. As I said before, the completion of our five perceptions has to be filtered through the mind channel, therefore the first five consciousnesses can become possible only if the mind-consciousness is working. (Please refer to the chapter calls The host mind and its vivitors) When we go into a deep sleep, our mindconsciousness doesn't work and puts a stop to all other consciousnesses too. The awakening of our life-form actually means the coming back of our mindconsciousness. Once the mind-consciousness works, everything else works too. We can see that the mind plays the biggest role in everything concerning our entity of life. That's why we always have to delve into that very abstract area especially if we want to know ourselves better. According to the Buddha, the sense of self begins at lacking of the right knowledge about nonself. Let's find the starting point of the sense of I. The sense of self become apparent when there is a full engagement between these three factors: 1) consciousness 2) perception 3) spiritual ignorance towards the state of reality. If we write this in an equation, we will have consciousness + perception + ignorance = I
We can clearly see that consciousness and perception are natural functions. We cannot change them. The variable factor is indeed ignorance. So, if we replace the ignorance with the right knowledge, we will have consciousness + perception + knowledge = nonself
With the right knowledge, our natural functions of consciousness and perception will become innocent. Therefore, the equation can simply be as follow: innocent perception = nonself
We can see that this equation can be solved by putting in the right knowledge.
Let's put the first five consciousnesses aside for the moment because we know that they won't work without the mind-consciousness. So, we can see clearly that with the help of ignorance, the sense of I arises in the mind-consciousness first. It means that when thoughts and feelings arise and the mind-consciousness does not view them innocently, the sense of self or the I is born. We can also say that spiritual ignorance gives birth to a self. From this sense of self, we begin to extend and build our life on it. With the help of a metaphor like a holodeck, I will try to explain why we have such a powerful sense of self. When thoughts and feelings arise and the mind-consciousness does not view them innocently, a full-blown sense of I is created. When thoughts arise and we let ourselves follow that thought or go into that thought, metaphorically it is like walking into a holodeck, to be more precise a mental holodeck. At that moment, the sense of I or self-centredness has reached maturity. This is the point that Descartes meant by I think, therefore I am. That is the very beginning of the sense of "I am". When we go deep into our thoughts or our mental holodeck, a mental world is built inside us according to what the thoughts and the feelings are. Let's imagine that we are actually in one of those holodecks on board the Enterprise. If they are good thoughts and good feelings, a happy world is built and if they are bad thoughts and bad feelings, an ugly and unhappy world is built instead. We can identify with the day-dream state, can't we ? We build our mental world exactly how we wish. Quite often, it has to begin with a thought which says: "If I ...” From then on, we build our mental holodeck according to what we expect. In one of those five basic elements which constitutes our life form, there is one called Sankhara which acts like a builder, an engineer and an architect all in one. With the help of ignorance towards actual reality, the Sankhara or the builder will enjoy building a mental world for us to live in. We often hear people talk about winning the national lottery and what they would do with the money. The most ridiculous thing is that people even start arguing because they cannot agree on how to spend this dream money. When we are in our mental holodeck, we can't help creating expectation. Once we have expectation, we are bound to have disappointment when that future dream doesn't come true. A very simple example is a holiday. From the moment we book our holiday, we begin our mental journey by entering into our mental holodeck. We imagine the dream holiday of a life time: a good journey, good accommodation, good food, good wine, fine weather, spectacular scenery, no accidents, everything going well, and so on. At times, from looking at the glossy brochures which are meant to attract people, we even delve into the minute details of our dream holiday, such as how we are going to sit by a swimming pool with a glass of cold beer in our hands, sip along and soak up the sunshine, etc. I am sure we are all familiar with this mental act. And along comes the real holiday. When reality matches with our dreams and expectations, everyone is happy. But when nothing is like what we have created in our dream, this is when all hell breaks loose. We have seen enough examples of this kind of incident on television. People cannot stop moaning and complaining and make their lives a misery. The worst case is when the dream holiday of a life time turns into a tragedy like what happened in Luxor when a number of innocent tourists were shot at indiscriminately or when a cable car plunged 300 feet and killed twenty ski tourists when a plane flew into the cable. I know a couple who have just one precious son who is extremely intelligent. They live a comfortable life and often holiday
abroad especially in France where they have a villa. While they were on holiday in France, the son who was then 17 jumped off a diving board and something went terribly wrong. He broke his neck and is now in a wheel chair. However, day dreaming or entering into such a mental holodeck as I mentioned above is still quite innocent. The troubles of our society mainly come from people who build weird and bizarre mental holodecks and cannot come out of them. There is no way we can judge people by their appearance and there is no way we can know what people are thinking unless we have some psychic ability. The Law merely controls people's actions but not their thoughts. The decline of our moral standards in society has caused some people to have less conscience or none at all and therefore they have no control over what they think. There is nothing which can stop people thinking in the way they want. Judging from the repulsive magazines on sale in the market from sex to murder, what chance do we have to ask for a more peaceful society ? Those sick magazine simply indicate the state of people's sick minds. Mentally sick people can enter into the most strange, bizarre and weird thoughts, such as having unusual sex and so on. I can't even give many examples because I don't know what kind of mental world these revolting people have gone into. I just know the problems of stalking, dirty phone calls, paedophiles, serial killers and so on. The most bizarre case, in my opinion, is the necrophiliac, those who enjoy having sexual intercourse with corpses. These are things which are too far beyond my comprehension. I cannot even imagine what exactly goes through these people's minds. From some weird mental holodeck which some people build up, it can gradually materialise and turn into real action where people get hurt or even get killed. This is a terrifying issue which authorities do not know how to deal with. This is also the root of problems which really threaten the peace of our society. If the government gives green light for those sick magazines and viedo to be on sale, who exactly should be blamed ? Of course, it is the government who is responsible for the well-being of their people, the future of our children and yet, they let this happens. What can we say ? We might think that psychologists, psychiatrists or mind experts should be the ones who have the power to put these strange people in the right frame of mind. Let's investigate this matter. People who have no knowledge about the Buddha's wisdom, about the host mind and its visitors are all in the same boat. That is not knowing the state of real sanity and therefore they have only the full ability to enter into mental holodeck or go deep into our thoughts. Knowing about the host mind means knowing the state of real sanity. However, insanity in this sense doesn't necessary mean bad and negative thoughts. It can be any positive thoughts but the point is people have lost the state of their host mind or sanity when thoughts drop in for a visit. When a shrink doesn't know about the host mind or real sanity, they will not have a good rule to base their opinions on. Their best rules are only about using rational and positive thoughts, using a bit of conscience, being objective and trying to go by the book as much as possible. This is all mind experts can lean on which obviously is not good enough and that's why we cannot seem to solve our social problems. If the world's problem tangles up like a ball of cotton, simply undo the immediate knots cannot solve the problem; we must find the begiining of the cotton first and undo knots from there.
Now, we come to look at people who suffer from different levels of mental turbulence and need psychiatric help. We can easily single out those who reach complete madness. Their behaviour is what we expect to see from the totally mad. We say that they lose their consciousness. The alarming ones are those who appear to be very normal both in their appearance and speech. They don't walk around and scream like those who have lost their marbles. These people can be psychopaths and we don't know because they can be quite charming and know how to get around people. How could Fred and Rosemary West get away for so long despite the horrific crimes they had committed ? When the truth was revealed, their neighbours all said what a kind, friendly and charming man Fred was. Who could possibly think that he and his wife could commit such chilling and atrocious acts. The film Silence of the Lambs with Anthony Hopkins as a serial killer is not at all far from the truth we are now facing. These people can appear to be very normal and they can also have very strong mental powers. We hear about people, especially women, writing letters to serial killers in jail like Peter Sutcliffe and others whose names I don't know. These women really get emotionally involved. This shows how some psychopaths can manipulate others with their words. When people believe in something, they also build enormous strength around their thoughts and this is what some psychopaths have. This is the point when even a shrink has to be very careful. We have a Thai saying that: Take no notice of mad people and don't ever argue with drunkards. The meaning behind this is that these two types of people have a very strong mind and will power. If we ever spend an evening with a drunken person, we know what it means. People who have strong minds and will power can be compared to having a powerful magnet in them. They can suck others into their way of thinking. I went for a meditation retreat on New Years Eve. Half an hour before midnight, the three monks at the temple began their chanting into the New Year for blessing. There was a monk whose voice was very powerful. Everytime he came up with a new tone of voice, a little while after, the other two monks had to go along. This works the same as people's characters. Housewives who find themselves becoming doormats will normally have manipulative husbands or vice versa. The stronger one can create a mental holodeck for the weak one to enter into. A strong minded man can easily take away his wife's confidence if he wants to just simply by stressing all her weak points and playing on her inferiority complex. The woman soon becomes mentally powerless. We often hear of school children and adults were driven into suicide because being bullied. Many old people who live near some young trouble makers are driven to breakdown. One simple sentence like "you are fat and ugly" can cause some innocent young girls their lives. According to the Buddhist concept, we like to think that when we are good persons, daities or guarding angels will look over our shoulders and look after us and we'll be safe. The reality is far from that ideal nowadays. There are many good, innocent people who are being bullied into corner and tragic consequences often happen to them while bad people got away very lightly. Being good and innocent people does not necessarily mean that they have to have strong mind power too. Their state of mind can be much weaker than bad people. That’s why they are subjected to be bullied. Good and bad people all have their own mental holodeck to live in. Unfortunately, the mental holodeck of some bad people are much stronger than good people's. Consequently good people cannot defend themselves mentally and are driven to breakdown or suicide. This is not the
issue of being good or bad people but it is about how to get to know the state of true sanity which is much more important. This is something which can also happen to those who offer counselling to people. I do realise that all analysts have to go for analysis regularly. They have a base mental holodeck to come back to so that they know that they don’t go out of line. The point is that no one is safe without knowing the state of true sanity or the host mind. Simply coming back to a base mental holodeck doesn’t always gurantee mental safety. Counsellors who have no knowledge of the host mind and its visitors will not know how to return home to sanity. If the counsellor's mental state is not really strong, they still have high chance to be sucked into their patient's mental holodeck in a way they don't realise or simply make very wrong judgement. And this is extremely dangerous. Then, we end up not knowing who is actually mad. We are dealing with state of mind which has no form whatsoever. If an object is misshape, we can easily tell but not the mind. So, this is a very difficult issue to deal with. I am sure reader can remember a bizarre event which were headlines for a period of time in the mid eighties when many parents were accused of practicing satanic act and abused their children. Consequently, many children from those families were taken away from their parents and put into care for quite a period of time. That wasn't the worst news yet, not until the investigation was carried out and the truth was revealed. That was, there was no element of truth in the accusation at all. In the end the children were returned to their parents and a lot of social workers were in dire trouble. An article in Daily Mail Wednesday April 1st 98, page 26 confirmed the very point I want to make about the dilemma which mind experts are facing. It was reported that a method of recalling long forgotten childhood sex abuse is bogus. False or recovered memory syndrome has no scientific or medical evidence to support it, claimed professor Brandon from the Royal Colledge of Psychiatrist. It was suggested that "dangerous techniques" such as hypnosis and mind-altering drugs, then "planting suggestive ideas" into patients' head have been used by some psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers and counsellors. This controvertial treatment was originated in the U.S. in the 1980s and has wrecked marriages, split families, made some patients suicidal and left others needing long-term mental care. Some patients who originally sought treatment for minor problems such as shyness or nervousness were trapped into believing they were suffering from the syndrome, said Professor Sydney Brandon. Adult patients with symptoms ranging from depression to sexual promiscuity are told they stem from blanking out memories about childhood sex abuse. "Many of the symptoms checklists are so all embracing that few people would be excluded." say the report. professor Brendon also said; "It's one thing to ask someone whether they were treated cruelly or sexually abused. But it is dangerous to instill in them a false idea that it actually happened if they have no such memory in the first place." There was also a story of a father who suffered two years of agony after his daughter named him as a paedophile. Allegations, later withdrawn, included him raping her as a child, beating up a six-year-old girl to terrify her into submission and carrying out sex attacks with the collusion of her brothers and mother. The daughter also accused 17 other men of abuse, including two MPs. Eventually police found no evidence to back the allegations. The father said that health and social
workers gave his daughter the discredited treatment and wrongly concluded his daughter's deteriorating mental health was a symptom of years of abuse. This is hardly a surprise. How can mind experts help their patients if they don't know the true state of sanity themselves ? This is a situation when we are dealing with thoughts which are abstract and dynamic. It isn't a tangible thing which we can see and follow and find fault with. They are intangible and changeable and yet very powerful and have a real impact on people. If we can clearly see how real a holodeck is on the fictional film, we can also realise how real our whole life can seem when we enter into thoughts and all their accessories like ideas, concepts, imagination and so on. From nothing, it can easily well up into something and that thing will have a real impact on us especially when it materialises. When mind experts don't know the true state of sanity, they can easily make the situation worse by putting false thought into people's head like what happened in the news I mentioned above. It is extremely dangerous. One of the unique and powerful abilities which makes humans different from animals is that we can transform our thoughts into action. We look at the moon and simply whisper into our minds that it would be nice to go to the moon and then we make it happen. All the objects which are the products of our high technology are simply thoughts which turned into matter. The British can remember the havoc caused by the Poll tax under Mrs. Thatcher's government some years ago. When we look back now, we can see the whole process of how an illusion was formed from nothing, lasted for a period of time which had a real impact on people as well as the staggering amount of money spent on the program and how the whole thing disappeared into shredding machines. Yes, the whole issue of Poll tax seemed to disappear into thin air, just like that, whilst in-between there were people killing themselves because they could not cope with the financial pressure. Now, the Poll tax is merely a bad dream for those who were most affected once. The Poll tax is only one little example. In fact, our whole life is exactly like that. Basically, from nothing, a life is created and everything involved has a real impact on that life. We float along up and down the scale of our emotions, drifting from one problem to another. Everything is so real. And suddenly death emerges from nowhere and this life disappears into thin air. All the sucess, material gains and future plans which meant everything to our lives, are suddenly without an iota of importance when sudden death arrives. Princess Diana's life could clearly represent this view. When mental holodecks are based on some religious and political issue, people will be affected globally. We have seen enough examples of cult movements which have already claimed the lives of many thousands of people in the past three decades. According to the Sunday Times 22 March 1998, World news, page 25, it said : As we are approaching the millennium, there is an alarming growth on neo-Nazi and radical riligious groups. Many of those groups belong to the Christian identity movement, which believes white people are God's chosen and that Jews and blacks are decended from Satan. Some groups foresee an impending radical Armageddon for which military preparations are essential. Many of the movements's loosely affiliated followers support violent opposition to abortion. According to Mark Potok, he said " These people expect Christ to return after the battle of Armageddon, and they believe they are charged with fighting the battle themselves." These are the most dangerous mental holodecks people can built for themselves.
When those misconceptions have never been put right, they will materialise and turn into action in the end. This is how wars, big ones and little ones came about and affect the peace of humanity. I am sure some people have had the experience of wanting to ask questions like: "What on earth is all this for ?" "What exactly is going on ?" Sometimes, we really cannot understand and don't know what is what anymore. I remember hearing myself screaming in my heart with frustration and agony while I was working in the Cambodian refugee camps from 1979-1980. From witnessing the scale of suffering in those millions of people, I just could not comprehend how one person like Pol Pot could have caused such staggering pain to his fellow people. What was more absurd and most ridiculous was that the political issues involved were also amazingly dirty. To find out that ordinary people are simply pawns on a chess board and are being moved around by a few powerful people was far too much for me to handle at the time. That was the time when I felt so strongly that I must know what is what. Thanks to the sublime Buddha who gave me the privilege of knowing what is what. This is what Buddhism all about. The whole issue of the world's madness all comes down to not knowing the state of sanity or the host mind and not knowing how to exit our mental holodeck or get rid of our mental visitors. From ignorance, once we let ourselves go into our mental holodeck, it is a very compelling moment. What makes it so compelling and magnetic is either the feeling of greed fulfilment or the satisfaction of ridding ourselves of anger in different ways. If not the greed nor the anger, it is the sheer ingnorance towards the ultimate purpose of life, in not knowing the host mind and its visitors. However when mind-consciousness is fully engaged with thoughts and feelings, we become mentally powerless. We are being dragged along by whatever thoughts and feelings we have. If our mental holodeck is led by greed, we all know how long is a piece of string. If it is led by anger, we know as well how destructive anger can make people. As time moves on and I feel calmer in my inner self, I often feel amazed by how easily people can flare up for some very trivial reason such as being trapped in a traffic jam, stuck in a long queue at the supermarket checkout or simply feeling miserable because of bad weather and so on. City people are so fragile and vulnerable as far as our mental states are concerned. We don't know that we are actually our own enemies. Every time we get annoyed, angry, jealous, greedy, selfish and so on, the first person we hurt is ourselves, not others. Ajarn Khemananda compares this to dust trapped in a wheel of a moving cart which is totally powerless; they are thrown in whatever direction the cart goes. When we begin climbing up and down the scale of our emotions, we have become dust trapped in the wheel of a moving cart. The trouble is that people who have a low level of spiritual ability do not want to admit how useless they can be. Nevertheless, people who have a high level of spiritual ability will find this very frightening and naturally want to know how they can come out of it. The next step is trying to make the readers see how we can get out from our illusive thoughts and back to the actual reality. The Star Fleet officers can get out of the holodeck by saying: "Computer, exit the program.". Suddenly, whoever was in the holodeck would find himself or herself standing in a square room with a black and white square pattern and he or she could just walk out of that room into the reality. I wish we could do exactly that to our minds.
Mental matters are very complex. The greatest difficulty lies upon their abstraction. The other difficult part is our inability to observe our own thoughts detachedly. Without vipassana-bhavana, one can only manage to use one thought to observe another thought or feeling. In other words, we use our intellect or rational thought to judge another thought. And this is the wrong practice right from the very beginning. The readers who can understand this part of the explanation cannot just be anyone but have to have gone through some level of vipassana-bhavana training or have practised innocent perception which is exactly what I teach in my Tai chi class. In Star Trek term, knowing how to get out of the holodeck is a power of the Star Fleet officers, not the ignorant ones who were picked up during the journey. Trying to understand this through its literal meaning would result in very little benefit or none at all. Instead, doubt and uncertainty might take over and result in more conflict. That's why I always put stress on the students to practise. So, to have a full comprehension about how to exit our mental holodeck is based on the assumption that readers have at least adopted the vipassana-bhavana or innocent perception. Practising vipassana-bhavana or innocent perception allows us to be detached from all things and understand what it means by exiting our mental holodeck. If I am standing on top of a mountain, I have the privilege of looking at the view below me and I can clearly see the connection of different places. A map-drawer can only draw a map of a town when he is high up in a helicopter. He can look at the view and he is also detached from the view itself. If I am standing in the middle of a town with everything flat and on the same level with me, I cannot see the view detachedly; in fact, I become the view myself. If thoughts and feelings are the view we want to see and observe, we have to stand at least above them, not below them and not even on the same level. This is the meaning of being detached from thoughts. If we don't know how to do it, we usually end up using one thought to look at and observe another thought which is totally wrong. Being able to see thoughts and feelings detachedly as though they are the view in the valley, we have to at least go through some samathavipassana bhavana. May I bring you back to where we were. We were talking about how we could walk out of our illusive thoughts or our mental holodeck and back into reality. While a holodeck on the Star Ship Enterprise is programmed by a computer, our mental holodeck is also programmed by the natural law of impermanence; that is everything except Nirvana or the absolute element in nature is in the process of changing all the time. I will assume that the readers know about the natural law of impermanence just like the Star Fleet officers who were enlightened about the true fact of the holodeck. Simply knowing the facts about the nature of the guests (thoughts and feelings) can help us to get out of our mental holodeck much quicker. Let's say when we are in some level of mental trouble, we are actually in our mental holodeck. The method to get out from that illusion is by knowing the law of impermanence or knowing that the guests will leave the host mind soon. The actual practice sounds very blunt. That is just letting go. By bearing that crucial knowledge in mind and looking directly into the thoughts or feelings, they will soon disappear. This is a matter of knowing how to balance the mind well on the ground of having the right kind of wisdom, not just any kind of mind balancing. People who can understand this part of practice have to have a very high level of self-awareness; alternatively, Tom has been trained to run very fast and can catch up with Jerry every time Jerry is
running. Once the troubled thoughts and feelings vanish, that is how we come out from our mental holodeck and back to reality, then we'll be all right.
Only through vipassana-bhavana, can we manage to walk out of the mental holodeck at a much quicker speed than normal. The length of time, while waiting for the mental illusion to disappear, can be reduced drastically from months, to days, to hours, minutes, seconds and even instantaneously depending on how diligently one works. Having a compatible teacher who can guide the students through shortcuts is also an important factor. When the teacher and students are not compatible, it is like dealing with a nut and bolt of different sizes, they can not fit properly and need more time to work. However, through vipassana-bhavana, practitioners can have the power of walking out of any awful mental holodeck instantly. After long practice of just looking and observing into one's own thoughts and feelings, the practitioners can gradually see the arising as well as the departing of each individual thought and feeling vividly. They will find out for themselves that by just looking at those mental objects, they disappear on their own without them having to do anything. At first, they can be quite good at catching up with the feelings and seeing the feeling disappear quicker and quicker as long as their consciousness (Tom) is sharp and acute. While the practice carries on developing, the learner can see more clearly that if the consciousness is quick enough to catch up with the individual thought, the feeling will be aborted before it has the chance to be born. They can even see that sometimes, the mother (thought) is just about to give birth to the baby (feeling), the high level of self-awareness can detect this right in that instant and abort the baby there and then. The thought does not have enough time to turn into a feeling because the awareness is good. Therefore any feeling is aborted before it can be born. A vipassana-bhavana veteran will improve the quality of their selfawareness even more until the mother (thought) does not have much chance to be pregnant. Therefore, diligent practitioners will deal more often with just the mother or the thought itself. Life from then on will become much calmer and more stable as far as our mental state is concerned. Once we can walk out into reality, all problems are solved. To be more precise, our mental problems are solved but it doesn't necessarily mean the external problems are solved too. Mental imbalance is individual, everyone has their own mental turmoil. vipassana-bhavana delves right into the root of all our human problems. If our mental turmoil is removed, the external world is not a big problem at all. Only a peaceful person can contribute in building a peaceful world. It is difficult enough to view that diamonds and pebles are essentially have zero value all the same. This cannot be done by way of thinking or using reason. If our mental holodeck tell us that diamond is special and very expensive and pebles are worthless and have no value whatsoever. There is no way we can view diamond and pebles as just hard stone. Through the constant development of science and high technology, we have created for ourselves more complication as far as coming out of our mental holodeck is concerned. Nowadays, we have created something called virtual reality which basically is illusion on top of illusion which is like standing in a room with mirrors all round. We can easily lose tract of knowing which one is the real person. Our fundamental problem is that we do not even know what actual reality is. People who never practise innocent perception and don't have a clue what I mean by
this, have no knowledge of what actual reality ( the absolute element in nature) is. To complicate the problem even further, we create more illusions on top of illusions. It has reached the point where now, children are thrilled when they can mess about with their computer games and play with these virtual realities. If this culture is not changed and put right it will plunge humanity deeper into an abyss because these children will run the world one day. The concept of virtual reality is merely trying to cover up the natural track towards the ultimate reality. And it is dangerous to humankind as far as its spiritual journey is concerned. Before the birth of the Buddha, humankind was living in the darkness of spiritual ignorance. People had to rely on supernatural beings hidden in trees, fire and mountains or rely on different gods and goddesses and so on to give them courage and drive away their fear of the unknown and their suffering. Nowadays, our problems and our fear are nothing like what we had in the past. Science has revealed a number of the unknowns to us and we have no fear anymore. Our fear has turned to a different nature such as being scared of losing our wealth and status. One of the most significant problems people face nowadays is loneliness. It is amazing that we have thousands of millions of people all round the world but a lot of us still feel terribly lonely. Walking along a busy street full of people, we feel that no one can understand us and we cannot understand anyone else either. Parents cannot understand their children and vice versa. Married couples cannot understand each other. Everyone is trapped in their own designed mental holodeck. The higher up our status go, the more we lose touch with others. What a strange paradox ! What exactly is happening to us ? In the end, what we urgently need most is the true wisdom. The wisdom which gives us the privilege to know what is what. This profound knowledge of the Buddha acts like a torch whose batteries has been fully charged and gives us a powerful light. It doesn't matter how long we have been living in the dark. An eternal darkness can be taken away by just lighting one match. The ultimate enlightenment of the Buddha took away the darkness from mankind just like opening up a box we were trapped in to allow us to see the sunlight. The knowledge of the Buddha allows us to be equipped with a good torch. The Buddha said that humanity would find it very difficult to survive without his profound wisdom. (Quoted from Ajarn Khemananda's tape.) Indeed the survival of humanity is not about how far we can go into space, not about whether we have enough smart cards which allow us to be more stupid and lazy, not about finding out that we can now clone human-beings or know that pigs are actually cleverer than dogs and monkeys, not about how we can salvage our crippled economy, not about whether the US and the allies could get rid of Saddam Hussien or not and so on. The survival of humanity is about how to build quality human-beings who have less greed and less anger. It is about how to create peaceful human-beings. It is about how to take away our spiritual darkness. In the end, our mental holodeck is the only darkness we need to tackle. This is the only domino we need to knock over and everything else will resolve on its own. We should all ask ourselves whether we have a good torch yet. If not, how long should we wait until we have one ? And how can our governments all over the world assist their people to have one ? How can we possibly know or learn anything at all while we are living in the darkness of a box! We mustn't take this too lightly.
Chapter Six Uncle, why does everything have a name ?
The title of this chapter was a question posed by a six year old boy to my spiritual teacher, Ajarn Khemananda, when they were living in a remote island in the south of Thailand many years ago. Adults might think that it is a silly childish question which does not mean anything. Of course, everything has a name. What kind of question is that ? This is how we would like to answer the boy. But are we sure that our answer is right ? It will be interesting to investigate further and find out exactly what the little boy meant by asking that intriguing question. For a better and quicker understanding, I would like to urge readers to read the chapter called The host mind and its visitors. As far as I am concerned, that simple and innocent question has all the answers to life in it but in trying to understand the meaning, we need to use many more words. Reader must realise as well that we are about to delve into the most fundamental faculty of our life; they are thoughts and feelings. In the afore-mentioned chapter, I have talked in detail about the host mind and its visitors - thoughts and feelings. I also encouraged people to learn to view everything from their hearts and not from their heads but I haven't yet talked in great detail. I will take this opportunity to do so. Trying to view things from the heart in a deeper sense is not as simple as it sounds. It is definitely not thinking that all right, from now on, I will try to see everything from my heart. First of all, people must have the knowledge about the host mind and its visitors. This initial enlightenment will lead the learner to develop a very important skill which is about how to balance the mind on the sane and sound level. This skill is a different technique of meditation and is called vipassana-bhavana. Without learning and developing this skill, there is no way people can truly practice viewing everything from the heart. Maybe it is easier if I try to explain what it means to view things from the head first so that we can eliminate what is not the case. The head is the area where our precious brain is situated. With the influence of modern education, we all think that our thoughts come from our brain. The faculty of thought stretches from the thinking manner itself to individual thought or flashing thoughts; group of thoughts as concepts, ideas; vision of thoughts as imagination, images. The faculty of thought can be classed as our mental organ, part of our life form just like arms and legs, which basically is a tool and this tool has its purpose. That purpose is for us (the owner) to communicate, plan, explore our natural world and so on. This tool has become essential and indispensable as far as acquiring intellectual knowledge is concerned. Intellectuals have found ways to arrange and discipline their random thoughts into a system. The systematic and methodical way of thinking has resulted in a very important tool to all intellectuals, allowing reasoning, logic and mathematics. These tools have been used very effectively for many centuries in finding out more facts about ourselves, our natural environment, our world and the universe. The faculty of thoughts made humans leap
2 far beyond animals. Trying to bring us a bit closer to the boy's question, I am going to talk about names. In trying to communicate with someone, initially we must think of something in our heads; the fact is that we are not all telepathic, therefore we need to use some form of language to represent that thought. The use of language is indeed the result of having thoughts and want to utter those thoughts. To make communication possible, it is also necessary to name things so that we know exactly what we are talking about and that we are talking about the same thing. The process of naming things happened very naturally and even instinctively since day one of human's lives. It doesn't matter which theory of human origin you believe, there is always a point when humans found the need to communicate and began the process of naming things. As a result, learning the names of different objects, sounds, tastes, smells and textures is very much part of our lives. From the moment we can utter the first sensible sound, our parents begin to introduce us to different names from mummy, daddy, teddy, dummy, birdy and so on. By our first birthday, we all have a sizeable vocabulary which allows us to communicate with our family. The process of learning new names never stops. Experts, in different fields of knowledge, constantly name everything which they can lay their hands on. We even have terms for space and emptiness. The experts in the plant kingdom give not just common names but fancy ones to every single organism they find. Consequencely, we feel the need to constantly bombard ourselves with new names and not until we are either brain dead or buried do we stop. We perpetually expand the capacity of our memory box by adding new names and new concepts. The higher in education we go, the more complex the names and concepts become. The faster the technology goes, the more new names and concepts spring out and the more we have to take in. Of course, only if we want to. Different language is the way which we utter different sounds but represent the same thing. When we decide to learn a new language, we have to go through the whole process of memorising all the names once again but in different sounds. The next thing we should observe is the link between thoughts and language. Some language is simple because it represents simple thoughts. Some language is complex because it represents complicated thoughts. Children's minds are simple and less complicated than adults', so their language is simple and direct while adults can communicate with depth and complexity. Highly intellectual people in different fields of knowledge communicate in language that ordinary people find difficult or even impossible to understand. Generally speaking, modern English language is extremely complicated because it represents the whole of western civilisation, part of which is the advancing technology. This is in extreme contrast to any tribal language spoken by people who are aloof from any civilisation. As a result, we can learn a lot about the state of people's mind, whether it is complex or simple, troubled or tranquil by simply observing their use of language. Now, we are coming back to the point of viewing things from the head. Because we have been trained since day one of our life to know the names of different things, sounds and so on, we automatically and instinctively view everything from our heads. That is because language is the representation of our thought which spring out from our heads. We get so used to uttering a word which represents the object we perceive. It looks like there is nothing
3 wrong with it because the process happens very naturally and instinctively. This is the point which makes it very difficult to talk about because we have just missed the skill of how to view things from the heart. The complexity develops when we grow up and enter higher education when we are taught not only to learn new names and new concepts, we also learn to analyse everything in the scientific way. When intellectual people encounter any phenomenon, their minds probably remain silent for a few seconds. This brief silence is soon followed by flashes of thoughts entering their minds naming the word which represents the phenomenon and then followed by chains of thoughts which analyse the phenomenon. The more they learn, the more ability they have to analyse things. The point is that every time we experience something, our heads go through the process of thinking about that phenomenon and no matter how correct the analysis is, the experience is always secondary and not primary. For example, when a weather forecaster looks at the sky, his experience will be very different from others who don't know much about how weather works. The weather expert will look at the sky through a lot of thoughts in his head. Those thoughts revolve around the preconception, the analysis and the prediction about what the weather will be like. This is exactly what it means to view things from the head. Although the conception, the analysis, the conclusion and even the prediction are absolutely correct, those experiences are still secondary. As for ordinary people, we might not go into great detail and depth about what every patch of cloud will turn into as the experts do but we are still more or less influenced by the weather forecast. When we look at the sky, it isn't just a vast empty space with patches of clouds we look at but we already have a preconception or idea of the weather which has been forecasted and what it will be like in the near future. If that was not the case, we would look at the sky and make some general remarks about whether it is a nice, wet, cold, horrible or miserable day. When we look at a flower, our brain cannot keep still more than seconds before the name of the flower is called out. The point is that it is very rare that anyone looks at the sky or a flower and his or her brain does not utter a sound and remains totally silent. I have created this situation by showing a few items to the students in my Tai chi class. The students instinctively call out the names of the objects. This natural instinct confirms how difficult it is to walk back to the point before the thought begins. It is very unlikely that we can simply look at the sky or the flower as it is. As a matter of fact, we are rather afraid if our brain does not quickly produce some thoughts when we experience something because we consider that kind of mental manner to be slow, stupid, retarded or even brain dead ! We like the idea of being able to talk about the experiences we come across. We also admire people who are knowledgeable and able to delve into the depths of particular subjects, because that is the sign of being intelligent. These people are normally popular among their peers and can always draw attention from others. This high value given to being intellectual contributes to creating a more complicated mind and takes away our innocent perception which is our basic natural instinct. What do I mean by looking at things as they are or an innocent perception or a primary experience ? In Buddhism, we have many sayings which imply such meanings, eg : look at things as they are, look at things in their reality, everything is as it is. Tao has no name and the concept of voidness in Taoism also refers to this meaning. The essence of the Buddhist practice is the ability to view things as they are or innocent perception and so are other religious practice too.
As a matter of fact, innocent perception has already been bestowed on us but we have lost it almost completely through the process of learning. Very young children have the most ability to view things as they are or from the heart. That is because they don’t have many thoughts. Their minds are not complex and they don't have a big memory box yet. The quieter their minds are, the better they can view things as they are. Children's language is very simple because they don’t have many thoughts. I have mentioned in my previous book about how my three year old son viewed the five toothbrushes. While the grown up or even older children would say five toothbrushes, Andrew then said toothbrush, toothbrush, toothbrush, toothbrush, toothbrush while he pointed with his little index finger. To use the word five or number 5 is more complex and abstract because it represents the quantity. To repeat toothbrush five times is the innocent perception or viewing things from heart; this was how he viewed the experience. When children see the moon, a rainbow, the twinkle stars, worms, flowers and so on, their experiences are direct and simple. They can also spend hours on end playing with water, bubbles or sand castles. Those moments are being experienced from their innocent hearts and not from their heads. As a result, the moments are wholesome and fulfilled, enjoyable and exciting. This is the reason why children are much happier than adults. This is also the reason why we must try to understand the innocent perception and bring back our long lost instinct so that we can lead a happier life. Of course, I don't mean that we are going to jump up and down with joy every time we see a rainbow. As a matter of fact, when adults can really understand innocent perception, the reaction will be quite an opposite from children's. Adults who can view their experiences from their hearts will remain very calm, peaceful and patient. They will also have unlimited wisdom when they have to deal with situations and problems. Our innocent perception instinct has gradually lost through the process of learning while we grow up. In the end it becomes alien to us. Ajarn Khemananda told us a very interesting parable about our lost instinct. This is the story. Once there was a heavily pregnant lion who gave birth to a lion cub while she was trying to catch a sheep. She died after the cub was born. The lion cub grew up among the flock of sheep. He soon learnt how to walk, eat, sleep and talk like a sheep. Some time later, there was another lion coming past this flock of sheep; he spotted an animal which looked exactly like him. He was very surprised to see a young lion, who was supposed to be a king of the jungle, leading a sheep way of life. He couldn't get over how on earth the young lion could say "ba...ba...ba..." like a sheep. He intended to find out the reason. One day, he caught the young lion by his paws and dragged him away for a little talk. "You are a lion like me but why do you say 'ba..ba..ba...' " said the lion. "Well, everyone does the same thing in my group. Why shouldn't I ? Why did you say I was a lion like you ? I am not a lion, am I ?" asked the young lion reluctantly. The lion king took the young lion to a nearby stream. They both looked at their reflections in the still water. The lion confirmed to the young one that he was definitely a lion and taught him how to roar like a lion. The young lion was very impressed by the thundering voice of the elder and took lessons from him. He then learnt how to use his powerful voice, jaws and paws. After a few practices, his long lost natural skill was brought back.
5 We have lost our natural skill of innocent perception through the process of learning. The core of Buddhist and Christian practice is about how to bring back this instinctive nature, in other words, how to experience the world from the heart. This kind of viewing is very simple and direct. Indeed, it is so simple that we overlook its significance. We cannot possibly think that such a simple and ordinary instinct can relate to any important issues about our lives. That's why initially we need to have this pointed out by someone who knows about this piece of good news. The births of those holy people in the past, such as the one who wrote the book of Genesis, the Buddha, Lao Tzu and Christ, were purely for this reason. They came to confirm this simple truth to us all. Our reluctance about this innocent nature and the need for someone to confirm for us can be explained by the following parable. Two women went shopping together. One had a strong character and one was always unsure about everything she did. The indecisive woman saw a dress which made her stop and take a second look. She liked the dress but was unsure whether it suited her. The first woman made a suggestion. She said: "Why don't you try it on ?" The reluctant friend tried the dress on. She looked at herself in the mirror and she liked the dress on her. Again, she was still unsure whether she should have it. The friend had to confirm to her once and for all that the dress looked absolutely perfect on her and that she should buy it. The wise guide is the one who comes to take away our reluctance about something which we already know and have but are not very sure about. That is the reluctance towards our host mind which causes our innocent perception and inner peace. These moments have happened to every one of us when we walk in a park, on a mountain, in a forest, by the seaside and so on. We all know that we feel good, unwound and relaxed but we are not sure whether this is the kind of peace that we should pursue any further. We cannot make a big issue out of it for our lives. Through our own ignorance, we have gradually lost our innocent nature which we already had. After so many years of losing this natural skill, it becomes extremely difficult to bring back except for those who lead very simple lives and in a supportive culture. Those ,who are affected most are the ones who are heavy in their heads (too much thoughts). A simple law of physics will tell us that an oblong object that is too heavy on the top will topple. It doesn’t have a good balance. Our lives is the same. If we have too much in our heads, we will fall as in having turmoil. Our heartache and mental problems initially come with the thoughts. From thoughts, then arise feelings and the chain of mental suffering. Those who are heavy on their heads will find it extremely difficult to bring back their childhood skill of innocent perception because initially it involves the process of slowing down the movement of thoughts. The process of slowing down our thoughts is called meditation or samadha-bhavana in Buddhist term. Those who have patience and perseverance, will manage to get over the initial tough practice. Consequently, their minds will certainly be calmer because the movement of thoughts slows right down. At this stage, practitioners can begin to distinguish between the host mind or the quiet mind and its visitors or thoughts and feelings. It is very important that the practitioner can clearly see the state of their host mind as well as its guests. When the host mind (quiet mind) is present, practitioner
6 can have the primary experience or the innocent perception or have the ability to view things from the heart. This can only happen when there is no echo of words or names in the head anymore. The abstract nature in our heads (thoughts) has to be totally silent. The habit of mental chatter has to stop for a certain period of time. It has to be long enough for the person to confirm for themselves that there is indeed a state of quiet mind (host mind) and this mind can result in the innocent perception. Now, we can begin to understand the question of the six year old boy in Thailand. "Uncle, uncle, why does everything have a name ?" What happened was that the boy's head was void from any trace of thoughts which are the representation of names. His experience was innocent and primary. He could see everything as it was. That means there is no name attached to the objects he saw. That’s why he could not understand why people kept on uttering names to everything. That innocent experience resulted in his question to his uncle. I am sure a lot of readers are still quite puzzled and cannot truly understand the real meaning. The trouble is that there are not many ways at all which can be used successfully to explain this crucial experience. This is the time when the followers have to have a certain level of faith in their meditation teachers and let them guide their way through. (Please also read How to judge your meditation master) At this point, whether the students can experience the crucial moment of having innocent perception or not does not depend on the teaching skill of the Buddha or Christ or Lao Tzu any more but strictly depends on the relationship and the passing down of knowledge between the immediate teachers and their students. Only the immediate teachers would know what technique is most suitable to their students and what is the shortcut which enables the students to experience the breakthrough (innocent perception). Maybe this is the reason that the traditional way of religious teaching doesn't work with younger generations anymore. Young people keep on hearing the same old thing without knowing the real meaning. Having faith in God and in Christ can no longer be a suitable approach for new generations to come. If we really want young people to go back to church, the teaching approach has to change drastically as far as Christianity is concerned. The essence is already there, we need only the right key to open the hidden meaning behind all the metaphors and parables in the Bible. The real question is how many Christian priests from the Vatican city to some remote island in the South Pacific really have access to that key. How many Christian priests are there in the world who can reveal the hidden meaning about The Tree of Life , The Tree of Knowledge and about God is behind a closed door ? I am quite certain that if the real meaning was revealed, church officers from the Pope to humble priests would not have time to argue about trivial issues as is happening now. The split among different churches and the wrong judgement in social, economic and political issues are the direct result of lacking the knowledge of how to eat the apple from the Tree of Life or innocent perception. We are all too busy eating the apples from The Tree of Knowledge, in other words, viewing the world from the head and that results in us trying to be good Christians, good Buddhists and so on, instead of concentrating on being a peaceful, happy, simple and ordinary human being. What we cannot grasp is that when people are happy and at peace, they don't feel the need to hurt others and cause social problems. People who can hurt others all have different levels of mental sickness. They all badly need help but our society cannot offer them help. The whole structure of the problem has reached its vicious circle. The only way to break through this vicious circle is to listen carefully to the guiding wisdom. As far as the essential practice is concerned, a good teacher can only prepare his or
7 her students to have all the right factors and supportive skills. They can only put the students on the right junction and tell them to carry on walking the right path. The real experience is individual and cannot be shared as if we are looking at the same picture together. It is as if the teacher is a guide and the students are tourists. A good guide knows how spectacular the view of the sunrise is on top of a hill. He also knows that it is impossible to explain how beautiful and special the view is. There are not adequate words to do so and whatever he says can never represent the real thing. Therefore, a good guide will not try to explain about the view but will tell the tourists to have faith in him and follow him. They have to trek along some very winding and extremely difficult paths. Only the guide knows that it will be worth all the hardship and effort when they reach the destination. Some tourists find the path too difficult and choose to stop and wait there until they come back for them. Only those who have faith in the guide will keep on following him to wherever he goes. When they reach the top and can actually experience the view of the sunrise, they too realise that there are indeed no words in the world that can possibly describe the breathtaking beauty of nature. Those who have made it to the top can only feel pity for those who chose to wait along the path. The point is that everyone has to invest in his or her own journey, no one can walk for anyone else. The one who walks is the one who sees, the one who does not walk is the one who does not see. It is as simple as that. A real life journey is exactly like the above parable but it is much harder to get to the top. The spectacular view of the sunrise is the true understanding about everything relating to the existence of our lives. Spiritual age in the deeper sense begins from the point when we can truly see the host mind and its visitors or can distinguish between the perception from the head and from the heart. Once the spiritual age begins to grow, the understanding about life will unfold itself as time moves on. The older we are, the wiser we become. It is as if we climb up a ten storey building, the higher we go, the more we can understand and relate things. It is quite impossible to tell others about every patch of cloud and the different colours of the sunrise. Likewise, it is even harder to tell people about the existence of life when it is viewed from the heart. The ones who know and the ones who don't know, are literally looking at the same thing, the same people, the same world and so on, but some look from their naked eyes and can see the natural colour of everything while the others look from a pair of sunglasses and can see dark colour everywhere. The trouble is that the dark colour experience is indeed their reality. This is where the great difficulty lies. The sad truth is that how can those, who refuse to even take the first step, understand anything about life! It is almost like a vicious circle when it comes down to trying to explain the state of empty mind to people. The use of language is the conventional way of communication. When there are no thoughts left in the mind, there is no language to use and there is no way to communicate. This is the most frustrating stage for all teachers who have reached this point. The only effective way is by using parables and metaphors as I have always done. This difficulty in communication has obviously contributed to a lot of misconceptions about the state of an empty mind. People like to think that an empty mind means a vegetable state which is quite useless. Many Christians, who do not believe in doing meditation think that once the mind is empty, the devil will take over. These are the misconceptions which are the direct result of being ignorant of the enlightened state (the host mind). An empty mind is not a vegetable state nor a state of mind which gives way to Satan and devils. It is quite to the contrary. Those who truly understand about the host mind and its visitors will know that they
8 are dealing with a situation in which one has to be totally alert, mindful, sensitive and very quick to respond to all movements of the mind and heart. Actually, they are learning a skill of how to literally combat devils and Satan who come in the guise of greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, fear, doubt, self delusion and so on. Those are the different faces of true evil which we all have inside us. Those who have the right skill in meditation are the ones who try to eradicate them and certainly not to invite them in. Religions which are based on blind belief and cling tightly to some ancient sacred holy books, out of date rules and dogmas and science on the other hand which is based on excessive explanation, creating a scattered brain, losing touch with emotional feelings and knowing nothing about the direction of life, are the two extremes on each end of the scale. While the blind belief has clung tightly to the sacred holy book and has not yet started the spiritual journey, science has gone too far away and does not know how to return to the root. Any holy book is only an arrow sign which points the way to find God. They are like the finger which is used to point to the moon. The finger is not the moon, likewise the holy book is not God. We cannot treat the holy book like God. The revelation about the host mind and its visitors allows the practitioners to make the most of both worlds, the religious and the scientific. From the host mind, practitioners learn to view things from the heart and that will allow them to experience the beauty of life, the truth, the reality, the goodness and indeed the existence of God, of Tao, of Nibbana. Knowing the nature of the visitors or thoughts, feelings and emotions will allow them to use their intellect with full control. The use of the intellect or thoughts will always be conditioned by wisdom, insight and above all morality. While intellect is a little sister, wisdom is a big sister who always look after her little sister. When the little sister begins to wander away from home, the big sister will follow, hold on to her little sister's hand and bring her back home. Without the wisdom about the host mind and its visitors, the use of intellect can easily be scattering and get out of hand. Wisdom can bring us home meaning bring us back to know our host mind or back to our root. When wisdom and intellect can walk hand in hand, we can create endless constructive, creative and charitable works. This will allow people to use their intellectual knowledge for the right reasons and not for the purpose of massaging their ego or searching for more wealth, higher status and power. Above all, these people will not forget about the suffering among mankind, they will try every possible way to restore peace for people close to them and even for the public when they are strong enough to do so. The innocent perception is the only way which can bring us back to our root and the only true seed for a real civilisation.
Can a caterpillar be perfect ?
In the previous chapters, I have talked about the host mind and its visitors, alternatively, the state of sanity and insanity. I also talked about viewing the world from the head or the secondary experience and viewing the world from the heart or the primary experience, alternatively innocent perception. First of all, I would like to go into a bit more detail about viewing the world from the head or secondary experience. What do I mean by secondary experience ? In my previous chapter, I only talked about uttering the names of objects we perceive as far as viewing the world from the head is concerned. In this chapter, we go into a bit more depth about secondary knowledge. To understand the secondary knowledge, we must listen to what the Buddha explains to us about the three ways of acquiring knowledge. According to the Buddha, there are three ways of gaining knowledge. They are: 1) Sutamaya-panna; knowledge that is learnt from others. 2) Cintamaya-panna; knowledge that is thought out. 3) Bhavanamaya-panna; knowledge that is gained by mental development. As far as the intellectual world is concerned, we use the first two ways to gain more knowledge. Reading is a way we acquire knowledge from others, therefore it isn't first hand knowledge and quite often not second hand either. It could pass through hundreds or even thousands of hands before it reaches us. The knowledge of the people in the past becomes the stepping stones for later generations. Our knowledge nowadays will become the stepping stones for future knowledge. Those who read extensively may appear to be knowledgeable simply because they have a lot in their memory box. They can hardly claim that the knowledge belongs to them. Teachers and lecturers are simply the people who read more in their own field of knowledge and transfer this to their pupils. People read and absorb different levels of the knowledge which the authors wished to pass on. Some can comprehend less knowledge than the authors, some can comprehend exactly the same level of knowledge as the authors but some can comprehend more knowledge than the authors had offered. The different levels in absorbing knowledge lie in the Cintamaya-panna. Some people can read a book and do not think any further than what the book says whilst others can think and relate this knowledge to other information already stored in their memory box and can create new knowledge of their own. To be able to think out one's own knowledge or Cintamaya-panna, initially one has to read extensively (Suttamaya-panna) and be able to retain the information in the memory. Mind mapping is a way to assist people to maintain better memory as well as to retrieve the memory when it is needed. Those who read more and have a big memory or a good mind map will have a higher ability to think out their own knowledge. Vice versa, those who read less will have a very limited ability to think out their own knowledge. This is simply a process of mental concoction. However, when these two abilities, Suttamaya-panna and Cintamaya-panna blend in together, it will create a unique
2 intellectual in one's own field of knowledge. The more often people use their thoughts, the better they will become. These people's brains (I would rather call it thinking function) will become very sharp and very quick to respond to whatever they want to work out. Mathematicians can work out complicated sums or equations at a speed that others can't. Artists can always see the outcome of the creation in their minds even before any work begins. We like to say that if we don't use our brain, it will become rusty and will become slower than those who constantly use theirs. This fact encourages a lot of people to do something so that they can get their brain working and not let it become rusty. Some unique individuals can be extremely intelligent, a genius and fascinating. They are able to think about things which others can't even follow, let alone understand. However, people can only have talents in their own field of knowledge, from academic to entertaining. A humble housewife may not be able to follow what is going on in the intellectual world but she can be very talented in her house work and cooking. She would be able to offer different useful tips and shortcuts in doing different things around the house. Most men find that what seems to be easily done by their wives is a total disaster for them. Recently, I went to visit a Thai friend of mine who came to the UK a few months earlier and she showed me her new invention in her bathroom. Since there was no shower, she got herself a tap mixer with a shower on the end. I am sure we all know that they are useless. The water never mixes very well and the water never comes out in the way we want. My friend tried to think of a way to mix the hot and cold water, ignoring the shower. Finally, she came up with the ingenious idea of using a long plastic bottle, two holes upwards to fit in with the two taps, one big hole in the middle downward for the mixed water to come down in her bucket. With a plastic scoop, she can have her Thai bath which is the way we scoop up water and pour it onto our body. It uses much less water than filling the whole bath tub up. Thai people do not like the idea of soaking in a bath tub. However, I was very impressed with her invention ! There is no need to mention all the names of talented people. Apart from those famous ones, we also often bump into one from time to time. Nowadays, we even try to create a genius from a very young age or even while the baby is still in the womb. At this stage, I would like to make a blunt statement that the knowledge resulting from Suttamaya-panna and Cintamaya-panna is secondary knowledge. Even though that knowledge is based on facts, has been scientifically proven to be correct as in physics, biology, chemistry, astonomy, etc. and we all benefit from it, we still call it secondary knowledge. What makes it secondary is because they go through the process of the mind's function. It merely indicates the mental manner of delving into our tubes of thoughts, in other words, using the faculty of thoughts. That is the process of reading, gathering information, creating a mind map, retrieving memory and trying to think out new knowledge by relating it to different information. This is the natural process of learning and acquiring new knowledge which leads to all kinds of creations, inventions and ends up with high technology such as we have now. Thought is a gift from God and is there for us to use. I have to use the term secondary knowledge so that I can compare this to what I want to talk later about Bhavanamaya-panna, the knowledge resulting from mental development. The term secondary knowledge may have negative implications but that is not the case at all as I have explained. It is the way which people use their knowledge which can be for positive or negative reasons. Some knowledge turns out to be quite positive and even indispensable as far as our well-being is concerned such as: medicine, hygiene, weather forecasts and so on. On the contrary, some knowledge can be used in the most destructive
3 way and harms all humanity and even the planet we live on. That is the knowledge which leads to the building of weapons, intoxicants, drugs and so on. This is the reason why intellectual knowledge has to go hand in hand with spiritual knowledge. That is because the intellectual knowledge resulting from Suttamaya-panna and Cintamaya-panna does not involve the issues of the ultimate purpose of life along with the means to that objective whilst Bhavanamaya-panna is linked directly to this important issue of life. Bhavanmaya-panna is the knowledge resulting from mental development. This can be a bit difficult to understand because it is a totally new concept to the western mind. One may ask questions like: what exactly is mental development; how it can be practised and what exactly is the knowledge one can gain from it ? Well, first of all, we must know that this way of gaining knowledge does not come from reading, nor thinking like the other two ways. Alternatively this is the way of gaining knowledge without the help of the brain function or using the faculty of thought. This can be a rather shocking idea for western people who adore the use of their brain. And the ultimate answer to the last question has to be gaining the knowledge of how to end human suffering as in birth, ageing, illness and death and therefore, not just any knowledge. That's why the Buddha didn't talk about the weather, the stars, planets, medicine, etc. His knowledge pinpoints one definite area which is about how to end mental suffering. According to the Budddha, this handful of knowledge is the priority and has the utmost significance to our lives. Once the Buddha and his disciples were walking past a forest. The Buddha bent down and grabbed a handful of leaves in his hand. He then asked his disciples which had more leaves; those in his hand or those on the forest ground. One of his disciples answered that those on the forest ground were definitely more than those in his hand. The Buddha then said that likewise, the knowledge he knew was as much as those leaves on the forest ground but what he taught was only a handful. It is this definite objective which conditions the means to the end result. And to guarantee the correct objective, we are not allowed to use our brain function. Once we go into that area of knowledge by means of mental development, we find that the knowledge we have achieved is not limited to only curbing mental suffering as claimed but affects absolutely everything else from our inner universe as thoughts and feelings to the end of the outer universe as well as the unknown knowledge of the law of karma and reincarnation, etc. There is always no easy way to explain this part of the Buddha's knowledge because we are dealing with the ultimate function of our life form which is thought. That's why it needs to be explained over and over from different angles and by using different metaphors and parables for better understanding. I would like to ask readers to be patient with me. Basically, Bhavanamaya-panna is about the knowledge resulting from seeing the host mind, the frame of mind which has no trace of thoughts or visitors. The trouble is in trying to see the host mind; one cannot achieve this by way of thinking at all. That is because the host mind and the thought overlap each other. Let's suppose an unclaimed seat or the empty space of a chair is the host mind and a person who sits on it is a thought. So, when a person sits on the chair, the chair will lose its emptiness right away. Likewise, once the thought comes into the mind, the host mind will disappear too. This is the reason we cannot use our thoughts to know the host mind; in other
4 words, we cannot achieve the state of host mind by way of thinking. As far as the technique of reaching the host mind is concerned, initially, every trace of thought has to be eradicated. If the readers can follow, they will know that we are talking about the ultimate entity of our existence. The issue here isn't about the use of our thoughts but we are questioning the thought itself. If we are going to give a scale to the whole process of learning from beginning to the end, let's suppose that thought is no.1 and the end result as high technology is no.10. Intellectual people use no.1 right away without any questioning but the Buddha's knowledge questions no. 1 itself first. Metaphorically speaking, some people see a pair of glasses, pick them up, put them over their eyes and see through them right away whilst some people will inspect them to see whether they have any damage or not before using them. This is what this issue is about. The Buddha inspected the thought itself first and he found out that no.1 is faulty. Consequently he went beyond no.1 to zero. The Buddha's enlightenment was the direct result of seeing the zero. He then realised that zero was what everyone must know. All his teaching therefore, was about revealing zero to people. In trying to reveal zero to people, he had to use no.1 as a tool of communication. I don't know whether this example makes any sense to the readers or not. I simply want the readers to know the scale of detail we delve into. However, once the host mind has been acknowledged and fully comprehended and the knower wants to tell people about it (the host mind), that person has to come back to use his or her thoughts or intellect as a means of communication. Otherwise, how can people learn about the host mind and its visitors at all ? I would like the readers to understand which stage we are talking about and not get mixed up. If we talk about the technique of meditation itself, all thoughts have to go out of the window. If we talk about the theory, the concept of Nibbana, the host mind and its visitors and even the technique of meditation, we have to use our thought or no.1. Thought is our mental organ, it is there for us to use for the purpose of communication, making plans for our life as well as think out new knowledge. This is the part where most people often get confused. When I talk about getting rid of all the thoughts, people cannot understand why and how they are going to live without using their thoughts. The confusion lies with the actual technique of meditation and the explanation about the technique of meditation.The host mind is quiet and empty and cannot explain itself. The whole of the Buddha's teaching is the result of him using his thoughts and indeed his intellect. Being a prince to the throne, he was educated with all the necessary knowledge which was suitable for a future king. This intellectual knowledge became a great help to the Buddha in terms of planning his strategy for teaching after his ultimate enlightenment. The Buddha was the only person who could explain the path and the fruit in the most systematic way despise its difficulties. Every topic was categorised and carefully clarified. The bravest thing that the Buddha did was to abandon the concept of God entirely and create a totally new approach to the ultimate truth. This was what other holy people couldn't afford to do. Ever since ancient times, India has been a country which has always been inundated with the belief of Gods and Goddesses. It couldn't have been easy for the Buddha to propagate his teaching without having to rely on God. This could be the main reason for Buddhism to disappearing almost totally from India. The Buddha's followers, who had the ability to teach others, also had to be well equipped with different levels of Suttamaya-panna and Chintamaya-panna. Those, who read more and are clever in using their thoughts and language, can find better and quicker ways to explain about the host mind and its visitors to others. During the Buddha's time, on one hand, it was Pra-Salibutta, the Buddha's right hand disciple, who was reputable
5 for having the highest wisdom. He could endlessly generate the Buddha's teaching. On the other hand, there were some followers, who knew the Buddha's teaching right to the core, who could not teach at all, simply because they didn't have the ability to use their intellect like others. All individual Buddhas (the ones who can reach the ultimate enlightenment without any help from others) cannot teach others. Some Pra-Arahants during the Buddha's time could utter only one sentence about the practice which lead to Nibbana. Some Taoists kept their mouths shut totally tight when people wanted them to describe Tao. If there is any utterance of words, it cannot be Tao. Finally, it is always beneficial for others if the teachers have a good means of communication as far as this practice is concerned. Now, we know that we all have to use our thoughts or intellect anyway. The next question is the difference between those who know the host mind and its visitors and those who don't know. Those who don't know anything about the host mind and its visitors will tend to use their intellect or knowledge for the sake of fulfilling their curiosity which leads to building up to more or higher technology, hopefully for the sake of humanity's well-being but as I said earlier some knowledge can turn out to be very destructive. When the host mind is not seen, people will not know what the purpose of life is. This lack of the supreme knowledge can make life become messy and painful whilst searching for more intellectual knowledge. As for those who know about the host mind and its visitors, they will only use their intellect for the sake of making people know the best thing in the world and that is how to end their mental suffering. Metaphorically speaking, the way that we try to develop our thoughts and perfect our intellect is very much like trying to create a fatter caterpillar or a nice, cosy and safe holosuit to live in. And the way that we try to achieve the ultimate purpose of life, seeing and maintaining the host mind, is like trying to make this caterpillar become a butterfly or trying to exit the program which creates the hologram so that we can come out into reality. This is a fact about our lives that we cannot afford to ignore because we will be living in the dark for as long as it takes. We are not talking about just one life time; this is when the concept of re-incarnation begins to make some sense. As long as our soul cannot be totally free, we still have to come back and swim along this realm of samsara or reincarnation until we are lucky enough to meet someone who can tell us about the host mind and its visitors, about the path and the fruit. All this knowledge has been recorded in Buddhism only and only lucky people can truly understand it. One must not take this too lightly. Once this is understood, I will go into a bit more detail about gaining knowledge from Bhavanamaya-panna. I would like to remind the readers that we are now talking about the actual techniques of meditation. The word Bhavana means practice. The practice involves two different stages with two different techniques. The first technique is called samadha-bhavana meaning the process of calming down the activity of thoughts (or brain if we believe thoughts are the result of the lumps of grey matter.) The second technique is called vipassana-bhavana meaning insight development which involves the observation of the arising and the passing away of thoughts. I would like to urge my students not to be afraid of the Pali terms. They do look intimidating but it isn't beyond our ability to understand. Besides, if we can fully understand the meaning, it will make things much clearer. That is because each word does represent a
6 very precise function or different actual mental state once the bhavana or the practice is proceeding. We cannot find the equivalent English term to represent what the Buddha wanted to express, therefore we must try to go back to the Pali language which successfully preserves the essence of Buddhism. samadha-bhavana has everything which goes against or reverses the way we gain knowledge from Suttamaya-panna and Cintamaya-panna. In other words, it goes against the nature of our thinking manner. Naturally, we go along with the flow of our thoughts. It is easier to swim with the current. In trying to calm down the activity of our thoughts, we cannot float along with the chains of thoughts any more. We must try to swim against the current or resist our thinking manner and this makes the whole practice extremely difficult at times especially for beginners. Please try not to quickly make any judgement that this is about suppressing our thoughts. This is nothing like that at all. We use the term suppressing the thought wrongly anyway simply because we cannot see the true nature of thought. We can only suppress something if it is there all the time but thought is not there all the time for us to suppress. We can begin to see that these explainations do not make much sense in terms of reasoning or logic. This can only make sense and be fully understood when the practice is carried out. As far as samadha-bhavana is concerned, a good teacher would advise his or her students not to read and think too much to begin with if they want to have a good result from the practice (bhavana). Some meditation schools in Thailand would ban students from reading altogether while the practice is in progress and that includes books about Buddhism and meditation. Silent vows are also imposed as part of the rules during a meditation retreat. Reading books and excessive talking can become a great barrier as far as the initial practice is concerned because they can generate more unnecessary thoughts whilst the practice tries to calm them down. Students will be taught to perpetually pin their minds with something such as breathing or movement as in walking or doing Tai chi. When the thought begins to wander off, the students will be constantly warned by their teacher to bring their mind back to the pole (breathing or movement) once again even though they have to do this millions of time over. I am sure my students have grown used to my nagging about bringing their mind back to know their Tai chi movements. I also teach my students how to focus their mind while they are walking at their normal pace and even at faster speeds like running, as well as how to handle a conversation while still observing the state of their minds. All these different details of techniques are the ability of each individual teacher. These techniques might not even be mentioned in the Buddhist canon. It relies purely on the fresh knowledge of the teachers who know the way to the destination and try to find a shortcut which enables the students to reach the goal as quickly as possible. Once the samadha-bhavana is well established, meaning that the movement of thoughts has slowed down drastically and the mind has reached a high level of calmness, then the second stage or vipassana-bhavana has to be introduced. If our target is the cessation of all suffering, vipassana-bhavana has to be seriously practised. vipassana-bhavana is known as the source of the highest wisdom and insight in Buddhism. Actually the term “in-sight” can explain a great deal about the involvement of the practice. When I put the hyphen in between the word and break it up, we can clearly see the word “in” and “sight”. It literally means that seeing the view, sight or scenery inwardly. The most obvious view or sight
7 inwardly can only means the arising and the passing away of our own thoughts and feelings. And this is what vipassana-bhavana is all about. Indeed, the actual practice of vipassana-bhavana involves the observation of the arising and the departing of thoughts. We can begin to understand why samadha-bhavana has to be introduced first. That is because the natural speed of human thoughts runs staggeringly fast. It is so fast that we, as the owner of our thoughts, cannot catch the beginning and the end of it. As a result, whether we like to believe it or not, we have become the victims of our own thoughts. Our mental suffering is the consequence and the clear indication which confirms that we are the victims of our own thoughts and emotions. It is impossible for anyone to even suggest observing our own thoughts. This cannot happen because there is no way humans can begin to look at their own thoughts independently or detachedly. When we use terms such as: think carefully, think about it, trying to be objective, etc., it does seem like we try to correct our thoughts and know exactly what we are thinking and doing. But that is not the meaning at all; that is not the sign of knowing the thought independently or detachedly. I am sure some readers may begin to find it difficult to understand. Please do not be put off. It isn't easy for me to explain either, especially not with my handicapped English. The idea of making observations of our own thoughts belongs to the Buddha only. This ability does not come naturally to man, no matter how clever we think we are. As a matter of fact, the cleverer we are, the greater the barrier is in trying to observe our own thoughts. This knowledge, therefore, has to be told and passed on by the ones who know. After samadha-bhavana, the function of thoughts has been slowed down quite drastically. It is only in this frame of mind that the independent observation of thoughts or vipassana-bhavana can be practised. Students will be trained to catch the arising and the passing away of each individual thought (the visitors). Those who have reached this level of practice would be able to distinguish clearly between the host mind and its visitors. Of course, not by thinking about it (Cintamaya-panna) but by literally seeing it (Bhavanamaya-panna). Through the practice (bhavana), the students will realise for themselves that the host mind is actually there all along but most people cannot see it clearly and long enough to make a big issue out of it and gain benefit from it. If the host mind is the bright full moon, the visitors as thoughts and feelings are like the passing banks of cloud which run very fast. But they are actually two separate entities. It is important that we know this fact about our mental nature and it is often known as good news in Christianity. Once the host mind and its visitors are revealed, we will have enormous hope in living and life will never be the same again. We will know what the states of sanity and insanity are. Basically the state of insanity is the moment when we (Tom) cannot catch the passing thoughts and feelings and go along with them. In this sense, it could mean the simple and unharmed feelings like boredom, agitation, embarrassment, proud, excitement, overjoy, etc. Once vipassana-bhavana is in progress, people can comprehend life along with its ups and downs. They would stop asking questions especially those that begin with why this and why that. This is just the beginning of the enlightened state or the beginning of the journey towards the ultimate freedom of life. Only Pra Arahants can maintain the state of permanent sanity, their spiritual journey has been completed. Consequently, Pra-Aranhants do not have to do any practice (bhavana) at all. Their whole lives are normality. If the practice is a boat which helps us to get to an island, once we have reached the island, we can abandon the boat. In Buddhism, we also have a saying that as long as there are people who carry on with the practice of samadha-vipassana-bhavana, the world
8 will not be void from Pra-Arahants. I find this saying very encouraging. A Pra-Arahant is indeed a role model of the best human being, yet maintains his absolute normality and ordinariness. It is very comforting to know that we too can follow in their footsteps. As long as we keep on rolling this boat, there will be one day when we will reached the island and lead an eternal life. The crucial tool which makes the vipassana-bhavana possible is the high level of self awareness or consciousness. I use Tom, the cat, as a character to represent the awareness or consciousness and Jerry, the mouse, as the visitors or thoughts whom Tom has to catch up with. As far as vipassana-bhavana is concerned, we have to train Tom to run as quickly as Jerry. I have already talked about it in the chapter called Fighting in the right battle field. Vipassana-bhavana results in the knowledge which enables the practitioner to understand the root of all human problems or suffering and how to end the suffering. Human suffering begins from the point of having unwanted thoughts which generate unwanted feelings which at times generate unwanted action. Quite often, if anyone has produced any bad thoughts, the consequent actions can be immoral or even atrociously violent. We have seen enough examples in our daily papers. The Buddha's knowledge aims at eradicating the root of the problem which is the thought itself. This results in the ultimate practice which is vipassana-bhavana or observing the nature of thought. We may ask once again why do we need to observe our own thoughts ? What's wrong with them anyway? The reason I have mentioned many times previously in my Tai chi class and in my literary work. That is, if we want to know about an object or a phenomenon or anything at all, we must first of all study that object or that phenomenon. We can study it by means of observation, by using our five sense organs perpetually looking, smelling, listening, touching or tasting according to what is applicable. This is the scientific way of learning something. If we want to know how different kinds of weather and climate come about, we have to keep on observing the nature of those phenomena such as rain, lighting, thunder, snow, wind, and so on. The observations enable us to relate different factors and find out about the causes and the effects of the phenomena. Only then can we be allowed to say we truly understand the nature of those phenomena and know how to handle them, should any related situations occur. This is how scientists can predict and forecast the weather as well as warning people should any disaster be about to happen. Before we could witness the enormous power of nuclear energy, scientists had to build tools which could enable them to delve in to study the nature of an atom. Consequently, they learnt about the nuclear reaction, nuclear fusion, nuclear fission, etc. and finally nuclear bombs as well as other nuclear energy related are built. All these inventions could not be possible if scientists did not observe the nature of an atom. Studying the nature of thought is much more complex than studying the weather, an atom or any object. Apart from studying our physical body almost inside out, we are very clever at studying the things which are away from ourselves even into the unlimited universe but when it comes down to studying our inner universe, our minds, we don't even know when and how to start. That is because, to begin with, we cannot put our thoughts in a test tube and observe them just like we do with all other objects and phenomena. What makes it more difficult still is that we always use our thoughts as the ultimate tool to study absolutely everything. We always have to use a tool or a means to study something. The question is what tool can we use to study the thought which in itself, is our ultimate tool ? This is the
9 point when we have to surrender to the wisdom of the Buddha because the ability of man has come to an end. Only the wisdom of the Buddha could tell us that, the tool which can be used to observe the thoughts is the self awareness or consciousness (Tom). For us, this is the tool which doesn't look like a tool at all. I have a lot of reservations when people tell me that by using different approaches from the Buddha, scientists have reached the ultimate state as the Buddha did. I don't know whether I understood them correctly. It sounds very much like scientists have created yet another delusion. How can it be possible if thoughts are used ? I hope I don't judge them wrongly. However anyone who sees what the Buddha saw will automatically have great respect for the Buddha anyway. They will not claim they have found their own way. This is just simply not the nature of people who know the ultimate truth. Having respect and unlimited loyalty to one’s spiritual teacher is most significant in the eastern culture. The observation of the arising and the passing away of thoughts or vipassana-bhavana is a practice which has to be guided and explained clearly by a qualified teacher to guarantee the right result. It is very easy for students to take a wrong turn as we have seen so many times when people took the practice wrongly. Cult movements are the example of practising meditation wrongly. Even in Thailand, there are many meditation schools which focus only on samadha-bhavana and do not move any higher to vipassana-bhavana or the observation of the arising and the passing away of thoughts. I would like to believe that samadha-bhavana is also the main stream of meditation practice in western society. We seem to focus on emptying the mind and move no further. As a result, the cessation of suffering has not yet happened and anything can go wrong. Metaphorically speaking, samadha-bhavana is merely putting a big stone over the growing grass. It does make the practitioners feel like they have achieved their inner peace and tranquillity but without talking about the host mind and its visitors, their spiritual age hasn't really begun yet even though they are so close to the right track. If getting rid of the grass is our aim, by putting stones over the growing grass, we haven't solved the problem just yet. We must pull the grass out by the root and eradicate every single root to guarantee a good result. In this case, vipassana-bhavana is the way to annihilate all suffering. Vipassana-bhavana cannot be explained and understood without the practical side. It is impossible for a person to fully comprehend what a durian tastes like if he has never tasted one. Without a good teacher guiding the way, a novice can easily get lost in another spiritual jungle which is much more difficult to get out than a material one. To find a qualified teacher who can teach vipassana-bhavana right to the core is not an easy matter either. Before I go any further, I would like to make a brief conclusion here that Bhavanamaya-panna is the knowledge resulting from mental development or mental cultivation. Mental development initially involves samadha-bhavana, the technique to calm the speedy thoughts down and vipassana-bhavana, the observation of the arising and the passing away of thoughts. Through vipassana-bhavana, practitioners can clearly distinguish between the host mind and its visitors. It is from this host mind that practitioners can have the primary experience or innocent perception. The readers can see that I don't mention feelings and emotions much. That is because feelings and emotions are merely the direct result of thoughts. Please also read the chapter called Fighting in the right battle field. I would like to spend a little bit more time explaining why we cannot be humble with the practice and be satisfied only with the samadha-bhavana which to a lot of people seems quite enough. If we know the story of the Buddha while he was an ascetic Gotama searching
10 for the end of all suffering, we can understand why. Before the enlightenment of the Buddha, samadha-bhavana already existed and was practised widely among the yogis of different schools in ancient India. However, there was no one who could actually claim that they had reached the ultimate enlightenment, found the ultimate truth and put an end to all suffering. When Prince Sidhartha left the palace after he saw the sorrow and pain among people due to the fact that all human have to age, get ill and die, he determined to find the way to end suffering for mankind. Ascetic Gotama joined in with the samadha-bhavana culture. His teachers taught him everything they knew, about the highest level of samadha-bhavana which uses the air or emptiness as a focus point, but that knowledge wasn't enough to bring an end to human suffering. In the end, the prince left all his spiritual teachers and tried to find his own way to end the suffering for mankind. After six long years of self-torturing and hoping to find a way to end all birth, ageing, illness and death, on the brink of losing his own life, ascetic Gotama realised that self mortification was not the way to find the ultimate truth and the end of suffering either. Then, he resumed eating his meals and concentrated on building his strength up again. When his body and mind were in good working order once again, he began to see that he might have been pursuing the wrong way altogether which was following the stream of his own thoughts. On the eve of his ultimate enlightenment, ascetic Gotama was offered milk rice on a silver tray by a noble lady, Suchada. After he finished the meal, the prince took the silver tray to the bank of the Neranchara river and made a wish that he could find the way to end the suffering. Then, he floated the silver tray in the river. An extraordinary event happened; instead of running down stream, the tray went up stream. Ascetic Gotama knew then that it was a sign telling him that ultimate enlightenment was coming near. He, later on, crossed the river and found himself a Bodhi tree which he could sit under. He then made a very strong vow that he would not get up from this seat if he couldn't find the way to end birth, ageing, illness and death. Ascetic Gotama went into a deep concentration, pursuing his mental development and at an early hour of the next morning, he attained ultimate enlightenment. There were three different stages concerning the Buddha's enlightenment. The first stage is called Pubbe-niva-sanus-sati-nana. This involved the knowledge of seeing and remembering the Buddha's own previous life. The second stage is called Cutu-papata-nana. This is the knowledge dealing with the death and rebirth of all beings. Alternatively, it is the ability to see the previous and the future lives of all individuals. These two stages of the Buddha's enlightenment are basically paranormal knowledge and therefore cannot be proved scientifically. The knowledge and the experience belonged to the Buddha only. They cannot be taught and passed on. We can only take his word for it. Only the born Buddhist can wholeheartedly believe in this paranormal part of Buddhism. Nevertheless, the young intellectual Buddhists still can't help doubting and question whether the previous lives of the Buddha were factual and had any element of truth at all. The Buddha talked about his previous ten lives before being born as Prince Sidhartha in the Jataka which is a section in the Buddhist canon. I don't, therefore, expect people, who do not have any Buddhist background to believe at all since the concept of re-incarnation is totally alien to western society. If anyone has faith in the Buddha and wants to believe in what he said, that's fine. I must admit though it is wiser to have belief in rebirth than not to believe. That is
11 because we will live a life in which we will always be aware of its consequences. If reincarnation really existed, we could at least put our mind at rest knowing that we had done reasonably good deeds. Wherever we go after this life cannot be that bad. I am sure a lot of people don't want to think that those really bad people who have done evil deeds and are never punished in this life can really get away from the consequences of their actions. However, if anyone finds it a bit too difficult to take in, that is quite understandable as well. I think the point is that there is no way we can know whether there is any rebirth or not. Nevertheless, the essence of Buddhism does not rely on these first two stages of the Buddha's enlightenment. It is the third stage of his enlightenment which gives all these explanations and the reason to write this book. The third stage of the Buddha's enlightenment is called Asavak-khaya-nana. This is the knowledge about the cessation of mental suffering. This is the stage in which the Buddha claimed that he had found the ultimate truth. And it is related to the way of how to end all birth, ageing, illness and death. Only then could he proclaim himself as a Buddha, meaning the knower, the awakened and the joyous. It was the last stage of the Buddha's enlightenment which produced the practice called vipassana-bhavana. This unique practice had not yet happened before the enlightenment of the Buddha. Due to the above reason, we can see that Vipassaana-bhavana exists only in Buddhism and not in other religions. There were no holy people in the past who could clearly explain about the practice of reversing the flow of thoughts. This shows the Buddha's unique ability in being an intellectual as well as being a spiritualist. Whether the floating of the silver tray in the Neranchara river was an actual event or not, no one can possibly know the truth. It could be an additional metaphor created by later followers. However, the meaning behind this metaphor enables us to understand what exactly happened in the last stage of the Buddha's enlightenment. The Buddha literally found out that the cause of all human suffering was due to following the stream of our own thoughts. In other words, we tend to go deeper into our tube of thoughts (delusion) and cannot get away from it. The ultimate consequence of going into our thoughts is mental suffering or mental turmoil. The way to end the suffering or end our mental turmoil is to go back to the point before the thought began. This is the hidden meaning of the tray floating up stream and results in the vipassana-bhavana practice. Finally, the title of this chapter is only trying to encourage the readers to think a bit more seriously about the real freedom of life. After the enlightenment of the Buddha, there was a brief moment when he thought that this supreme knowledge was far too difficult for anyone to understand and he decided not to teach. Then, on second thought, he realised that people had four different levels of spiritual mentality. He compared them to four different stages of lotuses. The first type is just about to bloom after a bit of sunlight. The second type needs a bit more sunlight and the third type needs even more sunlight still before it can bloom. The fourth type is those who are stuck in the mud and cannot bloom at all. Basically, it ranges from those who have very little dust in their eyes to those who are totally blind. The Buddha said that the essence of Buddhism as in vipassana-bhavana can only be understood by those who have very little dust in their eyes. This group of people has been reduced to a very small handful nowadays. I sincerely hope that this chapter can help that small handful of people to understand life a bit better. As for the journey itself, I cannot do it for anyone. This is the most I can do.
Nonself versus "I think, therefore I am."
Buddhists grow up with the concept of nonself despise its ambiguity. If we were to ask people how much they understand about the meaning of nonself, I am quite sure that the majority of Buddhists could not answer the question. It is very intriguing that someone could even suggest such a word which goes against the powerful instinct of self-centredness in man. What exactly does nonself mean ? If there is really no self, what on earth are we ? What can we call all these human creatures around the world ! To most of us, the Buddha's concept of nonself just doesn't make any sense at all, does it ? To the western mind, this is simply a crazy idea. On the contrary, we can easily agree and identify with what the French philosopher, Rene Descartes, suggested, the idea I think therefore I am. It is because we have thoughts that we exist as people. This is a much more straightforward concept about ourselves and we can all feel so. If the concept of nonself came from a philosopher and we didn't agree with it, we could easily dismiss it totally. But when it comes from the Buddha, we cannot afford to do so. We have to spend a bit more time to investigate and find out the reason why the fully enlightened one said this. First of all, let's investigate the meaning of "self" and see what we can find. If there isn't a self anywhere as the Buddha claimed, we are bound to face a fundamental problem. One of our basic human instincts is having a sense of self-centredness or mental-self. If we observe very carefully, we find that we simply assume that "self" means the combination of a physical body, thoughts and feelings blended in together. All these ingredients are made up into a self. This fundamental understanding is also a very strong one despise its ambiguity. We can see that whatever activities we do in our lives, they all gear up either to feed, defend, protect, enhance and above all to confirm the very essence of "self". Humankind has a very long history of struggling for survival both on the physical and the mental level. We get up every morning and go out to work so that we can feed this physical self. Our whole system of medical research and technology is based on maintaining this precious self. Furthermore we struggle for a better status in society in all sorts of ways and that is undoubtedly to enhance and glorify our mental-self (ego). What are all these for if they are not for the maintenance of this self ? The enlightenment of the Buddha meant that he had obviously seen the state of nonself. This must be one of the most difficult issues he had to deal with when it came down to teaching people. In the end, the Buddha had to do it very bluntly by announcing the contradictory state of non-self , in trying to annihilate the misconception of the self and to get rid of this deeply rooted delusion in man. Obviously, this is the kind of knowledge which does not come naturally to man; this knowledge we cannot possibly work out by reasoning or using mathematics. Where exactly is the self ? In trying to prove that there is not one, the Buddha began,
2 first of all, to analyse the physical body. He pointed out that this body is made up of different parts and organs. In detailed analysis, the Buddha described 32 different parts that make up a physical body. In Thailand, this has become one of the daily chanting topics in all temples. They are used as objects for contemplation for samatha-vipassana bhavana. It is as follows: This body consists of: hair, bodily hair, nails, teeth, skin, flesh, tendons, bones, bone marrow, kidneys, heart, liver, membranes, spleen, lungs, intestines, anus, food in the stomach, stool, bile, flame, pus, blood, sweat, grease, tears, slime, saliva, nasal mucus, brain membrane. The outer boundaries are made up of hair, bodily hair, nails, teeth and skin. In monkhood ordination, the teacher (upashaya) will lead the monk-to-be in repeating these few words back and forth in their correct order. This is a gesture showing that the teacher has passed down the Buddha's teaching by giving the novice the objects of contemplation. Basically, those 32 parts can be grouped into four fundamental elements which are earth, water, wind and fire. These four elements are the basic combinations which construct the existence of a physical body. The physical body will last only when there are appropriate factors, such as: right temperature, right combination of air, right vegetation, right environment, etc. While the factors that make this aggregation continue, the physical body exists. If the factors are off balance, the whole structure of our physical self is affected and illnesses occur. And when the four elements decide to go their own ways, the body ceases to exist. All the earth elements group together and eventually turn into dust and so do the water, wind and fire elements. In the end, what makes up our physical body is in fact the same combinations which make up the rest of the universe. If there really is an end to the universe, there will only be these four elements left. We can begin to realise how profound the Buddha's insight is. As far as the Buddha is concerned, the reason for pointing out the detailed dissection of the body and the grouping of the four fundamental elements is to prove that there are not any parts of this body which can be called a self. The Buddha went even further by telling people to look at this body as impurity by suggesting that everything which comes out from the body, ears, eyes, nostrils, mouth, skin and lower passages, is dirty and that nothing is sweet, beautiful or pleasant. This is certainly true and is the reason why we have to use so much perfume, deodorant and so on, to conceal all our unpleasant outputs. If any of the Buddha's disciples had the habit of clinging to beauty, he would let them contemplate corpses with the ten different stages of decay as the focus point of samathavipassana bhavana. This is called Asubha, meaning ten kinds of foulness. It begins from looking at 1) a swollen-up corpse 2) a discoloured corpse 3) a festering corpse 4) a split or disjointed corpse 5) a gnawed corpse ; being eaten by animals 6) a scattered corpse 7) a mutilated and mangled corpse 8) a bleeding corpse 9) a worm-infested corpse 10) a skeleton. In conjunction with the Asubha contemplation, the Buddha once tried to help his cousin to be enlightened. Her name was Princess Rohini, the daughter of the Buddha's paternal uncle. He knew that princess Rohini was obsessed with beauty especially her own. Indeed, she was beautiful like a full moon reflected on a still lake at midnight. Her cheeks were as smooth as rose petals and her eyes sparkled like gems. Being a princess, she was surrounded by elaborate wealth, beautiful clothing and jewels. At one stage, she refused to be
3 near her holy cousin and had no wish to see him as she had heard that the Buddha did not speak well of physical beauty. She knew that she would definitely be converted and that she would have to give up all her magnificent clothes, shave her silky and scented hair off and follow her exalted cousin like some of her close relatives did. She wasn't prepared to give up all these precious values yet, so she had been avoiding her noble cousin by not going to listen to his teachings when he was visiting the kingdom. It had reached a time when she couldn't escape her cousin any longer. In the end, she was accompanied by a group of her servants to pay respect to the Buddha and listen to his teachings. The princess did her best to hide behind the crowd and far away from her sublime cousin. The Buddha knew all along what had been going on in the princess's mind. He also knew that the princess's karma had riped and that now she would be able to understand the essence of dhamma (the teaching of the Buddha) and be enlightened as Sotapanna-one who has attained the first stage of holiness. Knowing how much the princess clung to her own beauty, the Buddha used his psychic power merely to create understanding and to make wisdom arise. He magically created an image of a much more stunning and gorgeous young lady in her teenage years, fanning him by his side. It was only the Buddha and the princess who saw this hologram of the pretty maid. This most attractive and radiant lady was seen clearly by the princess as though they were facing each other. The princess gasped in wonder at her beauty and rolled her eyes in admiration for her. The Buddha didn't pay any special attention to the princess hiding in the back of the congregation. Instead, he went on with his talk as usual. It was his created hologram which aimed to teach the beauty- obsessed princess. It worked splendidly. Princess Rohini could not take her eyes off the much prettier and younger lady tending to her holy cousin. She stared at and admired the young lady's finely shaped nose, mouth, arms and fingers, her perfect complexion, long dark silky hair and most of all her well-polished and elegant character. Princess Rohini thought that the young lady was far more beautiful than anyone she had ever seen and above all far more beautiful than she was. The princess couldn't help feeling envious. She couldn't hear a single word her noble cousin was saying. The Buddha waited until he was certain the princess had been totally taken over by the young lady's exceptional beauty, then, the crucial teaching began. Suddenly, appearing only to the beautiful princess, the appearance of the tending maid began to change slowly. She changed from a young lady to a woman of the same age as the princess, still very attractive and to a matured elegant woman of thirty, forty, fifty and so on. Her dark silky hair was gradually mixed with stripes of white rugged ones. The creases around the eyes and neck began to fold in and become more and more apparent. The once smooth, delicate, fine and firm skin was slowly turning into rough, uneven and unattractive old skin. The limbs that were slender and strong became thin and feeble. Soon there wasn't a trace of beauty left in that mass of wrinkles, bumps and creases anymore. Instead, it had become a crooked, bent and deformed body which could not even sit up. The fan had long since slipped from her hand and fallen on the floor. From a beautiful young lady, this image had changed into a hundred year old woman who was rolling on the floor in pain and her life slipped away. The fresh corpse too began its gradual changing process. It went through being a bloated, discoloured, festering, split, gnawed, scattered, mutilated, blood-stained, worm-infested corpse, a skeleton and into a pile of dust in the end. Princess Rohini was shocked, distorted and changed by what she had seen. Without listening to a word the Buddha had said, her delusion was removed by having witnessed what
4 had happened to the beautiful lady she was admiring a little while ago. She realised that she too would grow old and die just like the image she had just seen. The attachment to her own beauty was taken away. Before the end of the Buddha's sermon, princess Rohini was enlightened and became a Sotapanna. She also attained the Arahantship (the state of fully enlightenment) later on in life. In some temples in Thailand, pictures of a bloated, dissected body would be framed and put up in the shrine room, sometimes, a whole corpse was placed in a coffin to remind people of the impermanence of this physical body and that we should not be attached to it. The non-Buddhist who doesn't understand the purpose behind this teaching will find it rather offensive and revolting. Especially in western society where there are different values and beliefs, such practices can be considered an indignity and even taboo. This part of Buddhism has to be carefully explained to avoid any misunderstanding. However, the Buddha didn't recommend the Asubha contemplation to everyone. In fact, we can see that the anatomic analysis is totally scientific based. It is not overexaggerated. The Buddha was literally talking about the fundamental facts of metaphysics. The only reason behind this teaching is to try to destroy the deeply rooted delusion of a self, the fundamental ignorance which bars people from seeing the real truth. A full comprehension can lead to self-detachment and letting go of all things which is the key practice of Buddhism. Despite the graphic detail of how to view the constant change of our physical body, there are further difficulties to be tackled and that is the mental-self or self-centredness. How can we even begin to feel contradictory to what we actually feel ? Where exactly can we find the feeling of non-self ? I think it will be easier to find an answer if we ask the opposite question first. That is: where exactly is our mental-self ? Because if we cannot find our mental-self, what is left over has to be the non-self. Now that we have abolished the theory that the self might be hidden in a physical body, we can begin to search for a mental-self instead. Is it in our brain, our heart, behind our chest, in the feelings, etc. ? Scientists consider the brain to be responsible for the production of thoughts. Neurologists or brain experts have subsequently been spending the past century trying to find out where exactly the self actually is. Scientists have also dissected the brain of some leading figures in the past like Stalin and tried to study how and why such and such behaviour was created. Were there any differences in their brains ? Is it true that scientists have been cornered by the fact that there isn't a specific location of a self anywhere in the brain but a mass of grey matter hidden in the skull ? Once a chest is opened up, they can only find a mass of flesh, blood and different organs. Or is it just the feelings which come and go that make up the self ? Again, there is no concrete answer. Along the way of this study, scientists tend to get lost in their own knowledge. In the end, we are cornered even further to admit that we don't know anything about the self at all. Not until we begin to investigate and explore deeper into this matter, can we realise how obscure and remote we are in knowing about our own self. Is it true that there is no substantial element that we can claim as a self anywhere whatsoever ? There is definitely no concrete substance or matter which can be pinned down as a self, is there ? I personally think that we can learn very little or nothing at all about ourselves from the lumps of grey matter in our skulls. No matter whether it is the brain of an intellectual genius, a leading state man, a holy person or a mass murderer, fundamentally all their brains are made up of tissue membrane all the same. Are they not ?
5 The different behavior of those people has to stem from their mental states, the dynamic nature which scientists cannot tackle yet. As a matter of fact, the Buddha has been trying to tell us all along that there isn't a self anywhere. Unfortunately the ability to create a mentalself happens to be our fundamental instinct. Therefore, one of the great difficulties in striking the core practice of Buddhism is that we have to go against that very basic instinct. What causes the sense of self is , in fact, exactly what Rene Descartes described. It is the thought and the feeling which causes the sense of I and subsequently the sense of belonging or my. I am having the thought and I am bearing the feeling of joy or misery. This is my body, my feeling, my children, my money, my status and so on. Therefore, the sense of I am comes after the thought and feeling, certainly not before. Now, what Descartes did not know is that our abstract nature of thoughts and feelings are not there all the time. Thoughts and feelings are dynamic, not static. They are only guests who pay a visit into our host mind. They come and go. When we go into a deep sleep, the host mind is totally free from its guests. So, we can say that when there is no thought, there is no I or my either. We can even work this out by reasoning, can't we ? When the host mind is free from traces of thought or feeling, it is that very moment that life is free from the sense of I am and my this and my that. In trying to simplify the Buddha's teaching of viewing the non-self, we have to make use of modern language and examples. What we experience as a self is simply a reflection like a mirage, rainbow or hologram. A reflection is not a real thing but it can be real enough while it lasts. We cannot say that rainbows and mirages do not exist. They are real enough at that moment while the factors which create them still last. When thoughts and feelings come into our host mind for a visit, they create a mental hologram or a reflection of I am. This is how life is made up; this is what life is about. Thoughts and feelings flash in and out of our minds (from head to heart) and create a reflection of a self. This is the way our mental- nature is operated. In that working process, a mental-self is being created on and off, according to the causes and factors but that self is merely a reflection, a mentalhologram. While the mental-hologram lasts, we do feel like having a self but when the computer exits the program (law of change, impermanence), our mental-holodeck along with our mental-self vanishes too. The point is that because the sense of I am is merely a reflection, therefore, there is no substantial element and no real essence in it whatsoever, just like a mirage, a rainbow and a hologram. That's why scientists cannot find the entity of a self anywhere. It is very much like a "living dream". We cannot say that a dream is real but it can be real enough to make us cry, laugh and sweat with fear when we are in the dream. People who know nothing about the host mind and its visitors will certainly become the victims of their own guests. These people are more or less in a living dream. Every time the host mind is taken over by either thought or feeling, a mental self is created. But because thoughts and feelings run in and out at such a staggering speed, we are bound to feel that the sense of self or I am is there all the time. And this is what Rene Descartes felt too. They have no idea that the sense of self happens momentarily and therefore there is no real entity of self or I am anywhere. There isn't one right from the start. And this is what the Buddha wanted to convey to all of us, humankind. We can see that it isn't easy to talk about at all. It cannot be understood through literal meaning but through the actual practice only. The sense of self changes from one thing to another according to the situations and circumstances we are in. When a woman is with her husband, she will feel like a wife. When she deals with her children, she will feel like a mother. When she deals with her boss, she feels like a secretary or whatever job she is in. When she sits in front of a doctor, she feels
6 like a patient and so on. The sense of self gets stronger and more complicated when society gives more value to the assumed status. Those who live in the jungle and have a primitive life would have less sense of self because their roles are less and simpler. A simple social order does not create many mental reflections. For example, when society was less complex, men had to play only the roles of a father and husband or son and women played roles of mothers and wives or daughters. Each person had his or her distinctive tasks to do according to the role he or she played. Men had to hunt and protect the weak of the family. Women had to cook, tend to the young and look after the household. Only one or two men might have to play more than the simple roles and that is to be the chief of the group or to be a medicine man. When society became more complex, the individual got more roles to play. A man is not only a father, husband and a son anymore, he is also a doctor, an engineer, a lawyer, a priest, a factory worker, a cleaner, etc. according to what job or career he has. He also has to be a boss, an employee, a neighbour, a tax- payer, a church-goer, a lover (if that's the case), a patient, a citizen of a country, etc. Women's roles are equally complex. One person has to play so many different roles at the same time and some roles are extremely complex such as being a president or a prime minister of a country, a congress man or an MP or a minister. Apart from those straight forward roles, we also have indirect roles like belonging to some ethnic community which has a different race, colour of skin from the majority of society and we also have people who are gays, lesbians, HIV positive and are either open or conceal themselves which makes the matter even more complex. Every role requires different tasks, deals with different problems and of course burdens with different feelings and emotions. The more value society gives to any assumed status, the more mental pressure people have to carry. We expect educated people in different professions such as: teachers, politicians, priests, doctors, judges, etc. to be good, caring people with high moral standards. We can't help thinking all convicts are bad people and so on. We can see that the complexity of our society puts pressure on people to boost this basic instinct for reflecting their mental-self even further. Instead of dealing with just one or two simple reflections of our mental-self, we reflect more. Each mental hologram we build has its own problems and turmoil. When politicians or priests cannot keep up to their moral standards, we criticise them. Basically, no matter what role we are playing in society right now, no one is safe from being criticised one way or the other. In the end we are trapped in a very tight mental net from which we cannot get out. When a prime minister, a judge, a teacher, a doctor, an actor, or a waiter, a dustbin collector, etc. comes home to his wife and children, his professional status or job title is switched off and the man simply has a reflection of being a husband and a father in his home. The complications occur when people or the owners of the life cannot switch off some mental reflections and begin to grab onto the reflection and think that it is real. This is the beginning of many problems. When we look at ourselves in a mirror and see the reflection of ourselves, as long as we can understand that the person in the mirror is not real, just a reflection, an image, we should be all right. But it will certainly be a problem when we do not understand the truth of the likeness in the mirror and begin to cling onto that image as a real person. Likewise, when we hold tightly onto our assumed social status which is merely a reflection and are not willing to let go, we will have even more serious problems. This will
7 explain why some famous people cannot cope with their lives. Most famous people especially those in the entertaining business enjoy the glory of their fame. There will always be a time when the fame reaches its peak and the famous ones have to descend from cloud nine. The higher one has gone up the scale of emotion, the lower one has to fall down. Falling down from an emotional ladder is not as fun as climbing up. That's why famous people get hurt very easily. The extreme ones chose to kill themselves just to get away from the misery and mental pain. People who become famous at a very young age are most vulnerable and dangerous. Their mental state is not mature enough to cope with the extreme of different emotions. They don't know how to switch off their mental reflections. Of course, a real life reflection of our mental-self is certainly not as simple as talking about the reflection in the mirror. It is far more complex and difficult and besides it is something that we have to go against our natural instinct to understand. No ordinary people can easily penetrate this knowledge. This is why we need to rely on the profound insight of the Buddha to guide us through. According to the Buddha, this is what spiritual ignorance is all about. It is indeed the lack of understanding about the truth of non-self. The truth is, we all born into this world with the possession of our spiritual ignorance. We all grab the image in the mirror as a selfour self. Then, we build everything around that self. If this imaginary self is a pole to begin with, this single pole has been extended and assembled into a house where we can live. But because this pole is only an imaginary one since day one, everything which attaches to it cannot be real either. From the reflection of our mental-self, we have indeed built our whole civilisation upon this shakeable sand bank where there is no substantial foundation whatsoever. How can we not expect disasters to happen ? Of course, disaster is imminent and we can all see it. Everyday, we hear of people being stressed, depressed, having breakdowns or even killing themselves because they have lost something they love or cannot have what they wish. What they have actually lost are the reflections and everything that associates with that reflection. They cannot understand that it is impossible to keep or hold on to a reflection and not expect it to be disappear at one stage or another. Indeed, the misunderstanding about the non-self is the only fundamental problem we need to tackle. If this seed is left unchanged, it will certainly grow into various problems, heartaches and turmoil and cause endless suffering to mankind. Vipassana-bhavana is the only way that we can come near to knowing this essential truth about our lives, about the reflection of mental-self, our mental-hologram and how to get out of it. Vipassana-bahvana will enable us to experience the innocent perception where the concept of non-self can be clearly seen. We will subsequently learn how to let go of all things. We can only let go when we can truly understand about the reflections of self and all mental hologram. It is impossible to work this out by using our brain or intellect. Vipassanabhavana is the only way that allows us to piece all the scattered parts of the puzzles together and begin to make some sense out of this life. Maybe life is far more simple than we try to make out. Maybe we expect too much out of life. We try to answer all the demands echoing in our heads. The demands which tell us to do this and do that, have this and have that. To begin with, we all expect to have a comfortable life with very little struggle, then, we expect to be a bit more successful in our job or career, then we expect to be a bit richer and probably be famous. Women nowadays want to be successful both in their careers and family lives. They leave their babies in the hands of total strangers. When things go terribly wrong, who
8 should have the blame, the parents or the carers? Our whole way of life become more and more complicated in trying to answer to our mental demands. I personally think that life is too short to pursue everything. Therefore, we must pursue only the priority. The scale of the problems we are facing in the world right now is far too huge to solve them one by one. The problems have tangled up into a gigantic ball of cotton. Vipassana-bhavana is like finding the beginning of the ball of cotton. We need to just push the first domino, the rest will collapse accordingly. Likewise, vipassana-bhavana may not give us the answer of how to run a country successfully or how to solve our contaminated environment or how to cure terminal illness and so on, but it is a key to create real quality human-beings. Man is the most important variable which makes anything possible. If only we had real quality human resources (people who know life's map), all the problems we are facing right now from petty theft, to violent crime to war will collapse accordingly. We can easily build a society and a civilisation where people can feel more secure and live in peace. As far as the Buddha is concerned, vipassana-bhavana is the priority we must pursue. During the Buddha's time, a man came to the Buddha and asked him about life after death. He was rather desperate to know the answer. The Buddha calmly asked the man to sit down and that he would sit right opposite him. The Buddha then said "Now, what we really should talk about is suffering and how to end suffering and certainly not life after death." The most important factor to begin this crucial learning is that we mustn't be too arrogant and shut ourselves in our own mental-hologram. The Buddha said that the initial factor is having Kalyanamittata, good friends who can guide us onto the trail of practice. We must let the one who knows the truth, take this wrong seedling out of our hearts so that we can begin our spiritual journey.
Innocent perception and the actual present.
Time is always an interesting subject to talk about. Apart from being just interesting, it is also intriguing and hides a great deal of mystery. The mysterious side of time has become a source of inspiration for many a science fiction writer. We are familiar with a number of science fiction films which focus on travelling through time. We can't help wondering whether it could be at all possible. Time that we can easily identify with has to be chronological time. We need to make a point of time such as three o 'clock and a period of time such as five hours just to make life a bit easier. Even though time measuring is based on the apparent motion of the sun across the sky, it is still a man-made one. Standard time, which is based on solar time, was introduced in 1883 by international agreement to avoid the complications that followed in railroad time schedules when each community used its own local solar time. The earth was divided into 24 time zones. The base position is the zero meridian of longitude that passes through the Royal Greenwich Observatory, Greenwich, England and time zones are described by their distance east or west of Greenwich. Greenwich mean time (GMT) or universal time is used as a basis in calculating time in most parts of the world. If the time at Greenwich is twelve noon, 15 degrees longitude to the east is an hour later and 15 degrees longitude to the west is an hour earlier and this carries on respectively. It would be chaotic if we didn't have a twenty four hour time schedule to refer to so that we know when to get up, send children to school, meet a friend, go to work, catch a bus and so on. Animals and plants do not have chronological time, so their lives relate to the sunrise, sunset, moonrise, moonset and the change of temperature in different seasons, etc. Apart from chronological time, we also have psychological time. Time measurment may have some complications but certainly it is not intriguing and mysterious like psychological time. What does psychological time mean ? Let's put chronological time aside from now on and investigate deeper into psychological time. When I use the term "time" it should be understood that I refer to psychological time and not objective time. Initially it is difficult to say what time really is because it isn't a tangible thing we can put our fingers on. We cannot sense it with our five sense organs. When we do something we love and enjoy, time seems to have wings and flies away very quickly. In the contrary, when we do something we most hate and dislike, time seems to stretch on indefinitely. When we cannot sleep in the middle of the night, every minute seems like a life time. This is the psychological time which we can all identify with.
Time definitely holds a great deal of mystery. We don't really know what time is but we do know that there is something which is the main factor that conditions the changes in absolutely everything. These changes happen without us having to do anything, for example: a pear is hard and green; we don't have to do anything to it; we simply leave it in a fruit bowl and a day or two after, we begin to see the change in the colour of the skin and we all know that it also tastes sweeter and juicier than three days ago. As for us, human beings, we begin our lives as a new born baby, gradually change to an infant, a toddler, a little boy, a young boy, a teenager, a young man, a grown man, a middle aged man, an old man, a very old man, a dying man and eventually a dead man. The appearance of different stages in life changes accordingly from smooth, tight and firm skin to creased, tough and bumpy skin, from dark and shiny hair to white and unattractive hair. When we look at the environment around us, we also see the changes in absolutely everything; some things change much quicker than others. A poppy blooms in the morning and its petals can drop off by evening while an oak tree seems to last forever. These changing appearances are definitely not the time itself but we know that they are the direct result of time. It is this changing appearance in absolutely everything which gives us a sense of psychological time. Somehow, we know that we did not look like we do now ten years ago and we also know that we won't look like this ten years on from now. We can say that psychological time is a sense of having a past and a future and therefore they exist in our minds only. Some people might not agree because past and future seem to be obvious things. As I said the changes in appearance of all things are the direct result of time but they are not the time itself, are they ? No matter how objective we all consider the existence of the past and the future to be, we cannot deny that they exist only in our heads. When we talk about yesterday, last week, last month, last year, last century or tomorrow, next week, next month, next year, next century, etc., is it true that we talk about it in the way that we project from our thoughts ? All these different stages and periods of time we talk about are not the apparent states, they can only come up in our talk and speech; basically language. And language is the direct result of our thoughts. In this respect, past and future are similar in the way that they both do not exist now. They are concepts in our heads. The past has gone, the future has not yet arrived. They both have zero value all the same. The difference is that the past has left more changing appearances for us to witness while the future leaves us nothing whatsoever. The future is merely in our imagination, speculation, expectation. In fact, we can learn a great deal from the past but not the future. We can only say that we can build a better future. Then again, no one can possibly know for sure what the future will be like. Let's look a bit closer into the future tense. Tomorrow, next year, next century and even the next life can be all equal because they will never arrive. In fact, from our next breath to next few seconds all the way to the next life will never happen. The tomorrow that we talk about will always become today and we will always have another tomorrow. As long as we have today, we will always have tomorrow. And that tomorrow will never arrive. The reason that tomorrow never arrives is because it only exists in our
minds. Past and future can be projected through our thoughts. Alternatively, we can only think about the past and the future. They can never be here or be real. Please try not to be confused that this is a matter of wording. I am not simply playing with words to confuse readers. It is important to understand future in the psychological sense because this will link to what I have to say later. I am not arguing about the future as if the 25th December will ever arrive when I am writing this text in February. Of course, Christmas day and our next birthday will always arrive even after we die. The only thing that probably has reality is the present. From the present, we look into the past with the help of our memories and into the future with the help of our imaginations. When we look at the pyramids, ruins, the remains of anything which we reckon dates back thousands of years, we merely look at them from the present and project our minds into the past. From looking at the evidence, we subsequently try to work out in our heads when those past events were likely to have happened. There is no way we can know exactly what really happened, for example: how the great pyramids at Giza were built, how the cave men lived, how enormous creatures like dinosaurs could become extinct, and so on. We can only do our best by judging from the found evidence and try to imagine what was most likely to happen. As far as past and future are concerned, they do exist in our minds. They are concepts and therefore they are called psychological time or mental time. Let's move on to the state of the present. I said earlier that the only reality is probably the present. I used the word probably because we take it for granted that we all know the present. How complicated can it be ? The present is the present. I am here, you are here, we are all here. This is presence enough, isn't it ? What else can it be ? I would like to ask how much we can understand the following sentence: But mummy today is tomorrow. At first glance, we might think that it is just the way young children talk and they do get words all mixed up at times. As for now, I would like to say that if we think that young children get their words all mixed up, we don't really understand the present yet whilst young children do. All mothers who have young children often come across the above sentence. Mummies have to promise their children something. But because children have no sense of time, adults have to refer to something else which children can identify with. The following conversation is a simple example which all mums and young children have. Mum: Mummy will take you to the park tomorrow and we are going to have a picnic. Child: But when is tomorrow, mummy ? Mum: Well, tomorrow is when you go to bed tonight and get up in the morning and you will have your breakfast and that is tomorrow. Children can be happy with the answer because they can relate with going to bed, getting up and having breakfast. There are times when mummy does not keep her promise. Her young child will come and remind mummy about what she has promised.
When mummy resists by saying: OK, we will definitely do it tomorrow or You can have it tomorrow. This is the time when a child would say: But mummy today is tomorrow. We'll be surprised if it turns out that in fact, young children know the present far better than us, adults. And that's why children can say "Today is tomorrow." I am sure a lot of people are beginning to find this issue rather intriguing and complicated. There is something about the present which has a significant value which people like to stress. In Buddhism, practitioners engaging in meditation get used to being told to be with the present and not to wander off either into the past or the future. In my Tai chi class, I often tell my students to be with their immediate movements. Psychologists, psychiatrists and mind experts like to tell people, who are in mental turmoil, not to think about the past and that they should live in the present and try to build a better future. The past has gone, don't think about it. Try to let go and focus on your present. Those are familiar words when we go to see our GP with a bit of stress or depression. When I was a girl between ten and twelve years old, my eldest brother who, is eleven years older than me, was very much taken by an American author named Del Carneky. He had a whole collection of this author's books. One of them was about how to overcome suffering and be happy. He talked about how to live our life in the world of today. I 'd be surprised if he claimed that his idea did not come from Buddhism. However, is it that easy to live in the world of today ? As far as I am concerned, living in the world of today is probably much easier than living in the world of the present. These two states are totally different which is something that most people do not realise. We will find that there is a great deal of ambiguity in the way we use our present tense. When we use the term today, we all know that we must use the present tense. But when exactly is the present ? If we are at midday right now, we refer to the first half of the morning in the past tense. Whatever activities we did before midday are classed as past events. We use the present perfect tense to refer to any activity that has finished shortly before midday but the meaning still implies the past mode. When we talk about any activity which will happen after midday from afternoon, late afternoon, evening, tonight, we use the future mode. We use the present continuous tense to refer to any activity we are about to do in the very near future. Again, it still implies the future mode. Let's look even closer at the moments when we breath in and breath out. When we are breathing in, breathing out will be the future mode because it hasn't yet happened. Vice versa, when we are breathing out, breathing in is already the past because it has gone. Where exactly is the present ? Readers can see that I am trying to pinpoint the state of the immediate or the actual present. If we look carefully, the actual present exists in between the immediate past and the immediate future, doesn't it ? Let's look at the face of a clock which has a second hand ticking away every second. Our past, present and future work exactly the same as what we see on the face of a clock. The second hand represents the actual present which is the buffer state between the immediate past seconds and the immediate future seconds.
The difference is that the actual present does not remain still even for a fraction of a moment as the second hand on the clock does. Nothing in the universe can be more dynamic than time. And there is absolutely nothing which can stop the ever constant movement of time. We can easily see that the actual present state is changing all the time. There is always a new immediate past and a new immediate future and of course, a new immediate present. The actual present rolls on continuously and indefinitely. So, what we always assume to be the present like this century, this year, this month, this week, this morning, this hour, this minute, this very moment or even this breath we are taking, is in fact very far from the true ideal of the actual present. Consequently, the present we think we are living in might not be the present at all. The present we refer to might just be either the immediate past or the immediate future which still exists only in our thoughts as I have explained earlier. We might be living in the world of today but not in the world of the actual present. Maybe this is the reason why we cannot really overcome suffering and be happy like mind experts have suggested because there is a great deal of difference between living in the world of today and the world of the immediate present. Maybe this can explain the feeling of boredom which bites people away like rust eating steel. Boredom is the direct consequence of time eating itself up. The fact is that we all adore and give value to something new because there is a feeling of excitement and novelty attached to it. They are nice feelings. There is a Zen Koan which says: "No one can dip their feet in the same river twice." This Koan also refers to time eating itself up. This is the fact which makes people feel fed up of what they are and have. When we know the truth about the rolling on of the immediate present, we also know that nothing can stay new forever and nor can the feeling of excitement and novelty. We know far too well that novelty wears off very quickly. This is the reason why children's toys have to change so quickly just to find them excitement and novelty to occupy their minds. We like to blame children for getting bored very easily. Adults are not any different at all. In fact, we are much worse than children. That is because adults' toys come in different guises to children's. Grown up toys are everything that constitutes our whole way of life from the material objects like food, cars, houses, jobs to mental objects like status and power which help to boost our ego. It is much worse when adults get fed up with their toys and this has become part of the main reason causing upheaval in our modern society. We often hear of people moving houses simply because they are bored of what they have. Many house wifes cannot be content in her own living room if she cannot change her curtains, three piece suites, carpets and so on every now and again, let alone the pressure from competition with their neighbours. We hear of women who go into hundreds of thousands of pounds of debt because they cannot stop spending money shopping. The social problems in society intensify and become very complex when adults get fed up with their mental toys. No matter what kind of wealth, status and power we have, after a while we all get used to the idea and can't help getting bored and fed up. People who never have the chance to get to the top will thrive on the excitment that maybe one day they will strike it lucky and be someone in their dreams. Those who already have recognised status are not different. They also want more and more because
this is about trying to find out how long a piece of string is. Only those who have reached the very top in whatever area they pursue will know that once they have it, that is all there is to it. After a while, the excitement and novelty vanishes. I can always remember a film about a woman who came from a normal and rather poor background. She found a man in her dream who had everything she always wanted and could transform her life. She became wealthy, being recognised and really enjoyed being someone. Once all the excitment and novelty had subsided, bordom set in and began biting her life away, she then screamed with frustration: Is this really all there's to it ? I think this film can sum up our private feelings which we may not want others to know. The worst problem must be when married couples are fed up with each other. When all the magic of having each other disappears, the partners begin to become estranged. Family breakdown has become the problem which shakes the core of our society. If we have a good look, our so called civilisation is based on trying to conceal our boredom. The entertainment, the advanced technology, etc. are all geared up for us to experience something new and exciting so that we can get away from our boredom. The way to keep the world exciting all the time is about indulging, consuming and using up our natural resources. During the process of pursuing the excitment and brushing away our boredom, our world is inundated with problems, turmoil, exploitation, war and suffering. All these problems link directly to our ignorance of the state of the immediate present. People may wonder why we have to live in the world of the immediate present ? Why do we have to put so much stress on it ? What is its significance ? The significant value in the state of the immediate present has to be the representation of the true entity of life. If we look very carefully, the essence of life is the moment of here and now, isn't it ? To be more precise, they are the immediate here and the immediate now. Every moment of our life moving on is like the second hand on the face of a clock. The actual present is ticking away all the time and does not stay still for even a split second. It is a continuous state between the immediate past and the immediate future. And this moves on indefinitely. The dynamic immediate present is the only moment which can be claimed as real, tangible, actual and therefore is the only real entity or the true essence of life. This is merely a fundamental fact. The subsequent result is that if living in the world of today can truly bring us happiness like mind experts claim, living in the world of the immediate present has to be millions of times better. Indeed, this is really the case. Among all mind experts, in my opinion, the Buddha happens to be the best. It was the Buddha who gave humanity the profound wisdom about the idea of living in the world of the immediate present instead of in the world of today. That is because in that magic moment, we can truly find real peace of mind and fulfilment in life. These two simple feelings are universal and we all need them as parts of our mental survival. The question that we should ask is how easily can we live our lives in the state of the immediate present ? Is it as easy as we all think ? According to the Buddha, we can live in the world of the actual present only when we can grasp it. This is the most dynamic thing that we have to deal with and therefore trying to grasp it is not as easy as we think at all. Let's investigate further.
Past and future exist in our thoughts and therefore there is no real entity to them and that's why we have to learn to let go of the past and probably the future too. Letting go of the past and the future basically means letting go of our thoughts. We can begin to see the connection between the past, the future and our thoughts. If that is the case, the immediate present which has the real entity cannot be projected through thoughts or belong to the faculty of thoughts. It means that if we want to live in the actual or immediate present, we (our heads) must be void from thoughts. Readers who are not used to this Buddhist concept will begin to get worried because they don't like the idea of their head being void from thought. People don't realise that in fact such a moment is the best part of our life because we can all simply just be ourselves. When our head is void from thought, life is simply the state of BEING or JUST BE. When we go into a deep sleep, all thoughts are wiped off from our heads and that's why we can have a good night sleep. The problem begins rather when we cannot wipe our thoughts away, doesn't it ? We all know how long every second can drag on and how awful we feel when we cannot sleep. As a matter of fact, our mental settlement is the direct result of all our mind's chatter coming to an end. We can begin to link the state of our inner peace and the state of being void from thoughts. So, let's understood that past and future belong to the faculty of thoughts whilst the present belongs to the state of BEING or JUST BE. I will assume that the reader also understands the state of the host mind and its visitors as I have talked about in my previous chapter. I will try to connect all these concepts together. As if the host mind and its guests cannot share the same seat, past and future cannot share the same seat with the present either. As a matter of fact, the state of the immediate present is the state of the host mind itself. When the host mind is shining away, that is the moment when life is simply "just be" or "being". And that is indeed the very moment when we can actually live in the immediate present as well as living in peace and in harmony. We can make a blunt conclusion here that if we want to live in the immediate present, we must learn how to be by switching off all thoughts. I never read Hamlet so, I don't have a clue what Shakespeare meant by saying To be or not to be, that is the question. I don't know whether that famous sentence contains any spiritual meaning or not. But I certainly know that as far as this chapter is concerned, we are reaching the point of to be or not to be, that is the question as well. To learn how to be is in fact the core practice of Buddhism. It actually came from the teaching of the Buddha to a young man named Pahiya. This is the story. During the Buddha's time, Indian society was taken over by the culture of searching for ultimate enlightenment. There were different schools teaching different paths which claimed to be the one that could help people to reach a higher level of spiritual knowledge. As a matter of fact, the young prince Sidhartha Gotama was one of those curious young intellectual people who was eager to find out the ultimate truth as well. Pahiya was also one of the many young men who joined in the meditation culture hoping to find a way to reach the ultimate purpose of life like others. Well, whether they were all successful or not is totally another matter. Among those spiritual explorers, ascetic Gotama was the only one who stood out and bravely claimed that I am the fully enlightened one, I am the awakened, I am the knower, I am the joyous and I am a
Buddha. It means that Ascetic Gotama had reached ultimate enlightenment or the ultimate purpose of life, found the ultimate truth or the absolute element in nature. There was no one else during that time who could claim this. There were also some ascetics who falsely claimed that they were the enlightened ones for the purpose of gaining material wealth and higher status. Pahiya was in fact one of them. He later on heard about the growing reputation of the Buddha Gotama who claimed his ultimate enlightenment. Pahiya, feeling very guilty about his bogus claim, became restless and eager to find out the truth. He set out in search for the Buddha. He eventually found the Buddha when he was in the middle of collecting his alms along with his Bhikkus (Buddhist monks). Pahiya was so unsettled that he could not wait a moment longer. He approached the Buddha right away and asked him the serious question right away. Please my lord, please tell me the essence of your teaching. Pahiya urgently asked the Buddha. The Buddha looked at Pahiya and answered very calmly that: Pahiya, please wait until I finish collecting my alms first and then I will talk to you. This is not the time. Pahiya felt even more desperate and felt that he might even die between now and then and would miss the chance of hearing the sublime teaching of the Buddha. He could not wait as the Buddha had just told him. Please, my lord. I don't think I could wait a moment longer. Please do tell me very briefly about the essence of your teaching. The Buddha paused and looked at the young man in front of him. He could clearly see that Pahiya was in such a desperate state due to his ripened karma to know and understand the truth he was about to give. The Buddha then said: All right Pahiya, please sit down and listen very carefully. I am going to tell you very briefly about the essence of my teaching as you have asked. When your eyes see an object, just see. When your ears hear a sound, just hear. When your nose smells a smell, just smell. When your tongue tastes a taste, just taste. When your body feels a touch, just feel. When your mind knows a thought, just know. Pahiya, if you can do these, the end of suffering will not be too far from you. Indeed, Pahiya attained the state of Arahantship as soon as the Buddha finished his teaching. The brief teaching of the Buddha to Pahiya has been known as the core practice of Buddhism. This is also the focus point in Zen Buddhism. And this is also what I have stressed all along in my Tai chi class. It was only in the autumn term of 1997 when I suddenly found that the term "innocent perception" can clearly represent what the Buddha meant by telling Pahiya to just see, just hear, just smell, just taste, just feel and just know. The Buddha might have put it very simply and made it sound rather easy to
practice which caused Pahiya to simultaneously attain ultimate enlightenment and become a Pra Arahant. In fact, there were quite a number of people who attained the state of Arahanship simultaneously as soon as the Buddha finished his teaching. This event does make it look like it is extremely easy to attain ultimate enlightenment, reach the end of all suffering and become a Pra Arahant. That is not the case at all, those people who easily became Pra Arahants during the Buddha's time had spent so many life times making vows of meeting a Buddha in one of their future lives, to listen to a Buddha's teaching and hoping to be enlightened. They have built up all the necessary karma for them to eventually achieve ultimate enlightenment. Having a chance to be born in the same period of time as a Buddha and listen to his teaching is certainly not a coincidence as far as the law of karma is concerned. As for those people, listening to the teaching of the Buddha was the very last push they needed to enable them to reach the top or the ultimate purpose of life. These were groups of people who had the high level of spiritual ability as I explained to my students. The truth is that innocent perception is not an easy practice at all especially if we don't have the right tools for the job. I have mentioned in my previous chapters of how I tested my students by asking them to call out the conventional names of different objects I showed them in class. The students spontaneously and instinctively called out the names of every objects I showed them. The quicker the response is, the more difficult we can understand the innocent perception. Even though innocent perception is human's fundamental instinct, we have nearly lost that special gift and we no longer know how to use it. Ironically this basic instinct or innocent perception is the crucial factor which enables us to reach the ultimate goal of life, in other words, knowing the real entity of life. (Please refer to the chapter called Uncle, why does everything have a name ?) However, it is indeed the innocent perception which allows us to slip into the state of the immediate present. This very moment is the state of to be or just being, alternatively the state of is-ness therefore, it is a matter of knowing how to balance our minds on the point of the equilibrium where all thoughts vanish unless we can truly understand and practise what the Buddha said: when your mind knows a thought, just know which is not an easy practice at all. This is certainly not a matter of trying to thrash out a solution, an equation or some hypothesis. As far as searching for any knowledge is concerned, the way of knowing the is-ness is another ball game altogether. We cannot use all the different conventional techniques or tools as we do to our intellectual knowledge. In trying to balance our minds on the point of the equilibrium where there is no trace of thoughts, we have to use something else which is different altogether. And that very tool is the high level of selfconsciousness. I am now linking up to what I have said in my previous chapter and that is the technique of waking Tom up (Please refer to the chapter called Fighting in the right battle field). Tom is the high level of self awareness or consciousness which is a tool that doesn't look like any tool we know as far as tool using is concerned. No matter what we want to do and achieve, we need to have the right tools for the job. A human is the most clever creature who can always find the right tool for the right job. The next to the ultimate tool is in fact our body as eyes, ears, nose, tongue, limbs and the ultimate
tool is of course our mind or thoughts. When these fundamental tools are not sufficient, we know how to extend them to widen the capacity of our perceptions. We use magnifying glasses which developed into telescopes to look at things which are far away, as far as another galaxy. We use microscopes to look at things which are very small and minute. Physicists can even build tools which can penetrate into the minute entity like an atom. We also expand the capacity of our limbs by creating cars, trains, submarines, aircraft and space craft just to take us to wherever we want. But no matter how complicated these tools are, they are still the conventional tools which are based on extending the ability of our perceptions and limbs. All these conventional tools have to be used hand in hand with the ultimate tool which is our precious thoughts, mind power or intellect. The high level of self awareness or Tom do not belong to any of those conventional tools and this is the reason why I keep on saying that we need to rely on the wisdom of the Buddha to tell us what the tool is and how to use it so that we can reach the state of just being or the is-ness. I am not going into any great length to talk about Tom any more. So, we have reached the point of the title of this chapter. The innocent perception is the essential factor which enables us to be with our immediate present which is also the only real entity of life. That is also the magic moment when life can simply BE where there is no bearing of any feeling or emotion. It may sound rather boring to people who still have a lot of dust in their eyes. As for those whose karma has been ripened and is ready to know about this piece of good news, they will find this whole issue rather fascinating, inspiring and truly want to be part of it. As for those who have already taken on the practice especially innocent perception or vipassana-bhavana will certainly find that the moment of just being is glorious, holy, yet simple, and ordinary. Above all, this is also the moment where all doubts about life and everything else come to an end. This is the moment where the true wisdom surfaces and allows the practitioner to know exactly where his standing point is in this gigantic universe as well as understanding the realm of samsara or re-incarnation. What kind of happiness can be greater than the end of all suffering ? The next connection which I need to make since this chapter is talking about time. The teaching of the Buddha or dhamma has been known as something which can never be out of date. We have to pinpoint which part of Buddhism exactly is not out of date and is above time. The word dhamma which is widely used among all Buddhist has a few different meanings. Most Buddhist understand it as the teaching of the Buddha. The dhamma which can exist beyond the existence of time has to point to the state of the ultimate or the absolute. I called it in my previous book the absolute element in nature. When we engage in talking about this ultimate issue, we have already thinned down all the irrelevant or indirect issues and are involved in only the essential or the most direct subject. In fact, those few direct issues are only two main ones which are the fruit or the end purpose and the path. The fruit is about the ultimate state itself which can be called by different names such as: Nirvana, ultimate enlightenment, the absolute truth, nonself, voidness, the end of all suffering, Pra Arahanship and the path reaching the state of the ultimate is about vipassana-bhavana, innocent perception, immediate present, natural morality and so on. It is as if we build a pyramid, near the top, there are less and less
bricks we have to handle. There is only one sole brick on the top but it connects with every single one down below. However, one of the qualities or characteristics of the ultimate state is also known as being beyond the existence of time. I do not want to go into much detail since it can sound like a matter of wording which is true in a way. Since the state of the absolute is the point where absolutely everything begins and ends, therefore whatever we talk about can always lead to that ultimate end. Without thoughts, the sense of time ends too. The state of the actual present which still implies the sense of time has to be used so that it can be compared to past and future which is the conventional way of talking and explaining time. We can only sense time as past, present and future. As a matter of fact, there is no sense of time as present in the state of the immediate present either. The state of just being or is-ness is beyond the limitations of time and space. That's why it can be claimed as the ultimate liberation of life. Learners who adopt the practice of innocent perception can clearly understand the meaning of this timeless moment. This can also explain why young children can say: But mummy, today is tomorrow. Young children have no sense of time. Their lives are engulfed with their immediate present because their natural instinct of innocent perception is still intact or in good working order. Their minds are not complex because there are not many thoughts. That's why they can truly enjoy life much more than adults whose minds are inundated with mind's chatter. Consequently, as for young children, their tomorrow does arrive whilst for us, adults, our tomorrow will never arrive. This psychological time will follow us like our own shadow. As long as we cannot understand the state of the immediate present, we will always chase after tomorrow which may contain some excitement in it. They real problem is not time which causes everything to become old too quickly and causes us unbearable boredom. The real boredom is in fact our repeated thoughts which do not want to back down. It is indeed the repetition of thoughts which keeps on remind us about our problems, worries, pain, and so on, is the true bordom. Our real problem is that we do not know how to balance our mind in the state of the actual present where there is no thought and learn how to be. Only when we can do so, can we begin to find the real magic of life and of living. We'll soon learn how to come out from our living dream which is made up of past, future and boredom. The magic of life is not the excitement nor the thrill of chasing after some cheap exciting action but it is the contrasting feeling of contentment rather. If we look carefully, when we want or desperately desire something, we shut ourselves away from everything else we have. It makes us lose everything we already have. The feeling of pulling a piece of string hoping to find something special on the other end is such a desperate feeling, isn't it ? It isn't a nice feeling at all. And this is exactly how we are when our lives thrive on finding new excitement. The sad truth is that this piece of string can go on forever until we die and yet, we cannot find anything special at all. In this respect, people who chase after tomorrow are mentally and spiritually poor because they can never have everything, even though they already have them. The rich people are the ones who are content in what they are and have. The real magic of our life is hidden in contentment because we can have everything even though we don't own them. When people are content with themselves,
they indeed have the whole universe in them. This can, nevertheless, be a shocking thought to a lot of people. What will life be like if we stop chasing after excitment and be content with what we are ? We do not realise that the way we highly value our newness and excitement is merely a living dream which is created by our own thoughts. Thoughts are merely illusions or reflections which are like bubbles or hologram and they will pop or disappear sooner or later. If we look carefully, people who mentally survive are those who have contentment in everything. People who live close to natural environments do not suffer from mental turmoil because they are content. At times, we like to use our urban concepts and our standard of living to judge those who live simply in the wild like tribal people or nomads that they do not have civilisation. This all depends on how we are going to define the word civilisation. If we judge from the rate of people who suferring from stress and different levels of mental turmoil, it might turn out that we have much less civilisation than those who live in the wild. Because those people do not have stress or mental turmoil. Some tribes don't even have such a word like suicide. The Buddha said that humanity would find it very difficult to survive without his ultimate wisdom. As a matter of fact, part of the ultimate wisdom is the feeling of contentment which has been acknowledged by those who live close to the natural environment without having to know the teaching of the Buddha. And this has been the main reason for their mental survival. This is what the Buddha tries to tell us. The path which leads to the real kind of happiness is already within us but we don't know how it comes about. We subsequently search for something else which we think is more meaningful and of course exciting as well. The state of ultimate enlightenment, the state of is-ness, the end of suffering or eternal life is not at all exciting as we would like to think and imagine. It is indeed the state of the utmost simplicity and ordinariness. And it is this very normal way of life which allows some people to truly survive. It is we, who live in the concrete jungle, who face the real dilemma as far as mental survival is concerned. The true meaning of life is not the matter of whether tomorrow will ever arrive but is about learning how to be which is also about how to live beyond the sense of time altogether. In the end, vipassana-bhavana is the only key practice which enable us to Be. All these words might not make any sense at all to some people. The true understanding can only happen when people begin to practise their mental skill, comprehend the innocent perception and maintain the state of is-ness. Again, this is all I focus on in my Tai chi class.
How to judge your meditation master.
A few days ago, I read an article in the paper which made me see the need in talking about this issue to my students. The headline was Meditation cult "drove my son to his death". It was about a 34 year old freelance photographer who committed suicide. His mother believed that her son was pushed over the edge by his involvement with the mystic cult, Transcendental Meditation. The son had spent the last five years seeking to reach a "higher level of consciousness" through the movement led by Maharashi Mahesh Yogi, the guru consulted by the Beatles in the sixties. The following was the speech I made in my Tai chi class yesterday: We all know that nowadays there are so many organisations set up that claim to help people to reach enlightenment. The Tai chi class that I am running now, is no different. I am claiming exactly the same thing. But when there is news about different cult leaders doing awful things to their followers, we need to investigate what we are doing. The ultimate malpractice among those cult movement has to be persuading their followers to commit mass suicide which has happened from time to time in the past; the recent ones were those led by David Koresh which ended in the most tragic incidents in Waco Texas and caused much death. The last one was the group called the Solar Temple which called their followers to commit suicide in Switzerland and Canada one day after another. And the article cutting I am holding in my hand right now is another tragic incident resulting from another meditation cult movement. However, the investigation over both David Koresh and The Solar Temple revealed the more frightening fact; the followers might not have agreed with the suicide pact; they were murdered after all. It is quite noticeable as well that most members in those religious sects were middle class and upper middle class people who have money and are very intelligent but why and how could they be so easily led and end up in such tragedy ? This kind of incident doesn't only happen in the west where people incline to find refuge in spiritual activity nowadays. It happened in the east too. In Thailand we hear of Buddhist monks, who had millions of followers, behaving very badly such as becoming involved in sexual conduct, raking money from their faithful followers and so on. This has been all too familiar in Thailand during the past decade. Buddhism as an institution has almost fallen to its lowest ebb. Many Thai people have refused to have anything to do with the monks anymore. All these incidents made me learn. I am learning from other people's mistakes as well as my own. I won't be surprised if you all wonder whether I might lead you to another disaster like those I mentioned. In fact, I want to urge you to question the competence of your meditation teacher and always have some reservation about what they say. Be careful of your first step into anything.
You all need to have some kind of indication which can be used as a ruler to judge your leaders so that you have some idea whether you should stay and learn more from him or her or you should walk away as quickly as you can. What has gone wrong ? From what I can gather, I want to believe that those cult leaders may have even started on the right track. They could genuinely have wanted to help people to begin with. It was probably just like what I am doing now and from a few people, it began to grow bigger and bigger. If the leaders do not observe any moral codes and most importantly do not have the right kind of wisdom which leads towards the right objective, anything can go wrong. A devil named Greed is waiting to join in; a Satan named Self-delusion is also desperate to take over. One can only teach according to what one knows. The knowledge about the path to the ultimate enlightenment is something one cannot pretend or even teach from a book. That is because a real teacher will teach from his or her own experience only. The real teacher can only use the first level of language and not the second level. Though he or she quotes the words of their masters, those words would be made new once again by the real teacher, those words would be repeated with great conviction. Those who do not follow the true path to ultimate enlightenment may easily experience mental delusion. When we have physically lost our way in a forest, we can easily tell and find our way out. But being lost in mental labyrinth is another matter altogether. One life time is not long enough to get us out of our mental jungle. As far as spiritual development is concerned, we all need to have some guided wisdom from someone, the question is how can we find an honest and genuine person who truly has compassion as well as the right knowledge ? The easy way to judge whether your master is real or not is by looking at the ego or the self-centredness of the person. If you know how, it will be quite easy to judge. A lot of people don't know what kind of quality they should look for in their masters. Therefore, people would incline to follow someone who is famous and has lots of followers. Normally the famous one would have charisma along with its distinctive ingredients such as: good looks, charm, high confidence, a persuasive way of talking, talent, convincing, etc. Most people can be easily charmed by this kind of leader. Otherwise, they could not lead hundreds and thousands of people to follow them. Many followers might have the experience that this was the best thing that had happened to their lives and it sounded such a right thing to do at the time. However confidence must be balanced with the right kind of wisdom. If any leader had been misled by errors, they could easily become demons in the appearance of saints and disaster is imminent ! Firstly, it is always safer if the spiritual knowledge taught has a connection with the well established religions like Buddhism and Christianity despise all the troubles and splits among them. That is because the real spiritual teachers, who know what they are talking about, will always have respect and refer to their original masters who gave them the guided wisdom. They will never ever claim that it is their
own spiritual knowledge to begin with. If they do so, they don't know what they are talking about whatsoever. Those masters could only be a few persons whom we can truly put our trust on. They were, Lao Tzu, the person who wrote the Book of Genesis, The Buddha and Lord Jesus Christ. Someone might argue that their meditation practice has nothing to do with Buddhism or Buddhist Truth because what they do is about Christianity, about God, about Christian's Truth; therefore, it is different kind of enlightenment. When we talk about enlightenment, it can only mean one thing and that is our spiritual development or spiritual journey. It means we talk about the abstract side of human beings and that can only point to the same thing unless we are talking about different human species here. If one had achieved the higher level of enlightenment , that person would also have the higher ability to relate to things. It is like climbing up a ten-storey building. The higher you are, the better you can see the view and the more you can link the places you see from the top. If people cannot link, it means they haven't gone that far yet. Our life journey is much more complex than climbing up a ten storey building. The higher level of enlightenment means the ability to see the whole life map and can offer the most direct route to lead people out from this gigantic mental labyrinth. And this was what our great saints in the past have done and thus paved the way for us. As I wrote in one of the chapters in my previous book, if there is an ultimate Truth at all, there has to be only ONE TRUTH, not two or three. Then, I tried to find the link between the ultimate achievement all the holy persons had claimed and those were: The Tree of Life, The state of Godhood, Nibbana and Tao. I tried to prove that no matter whether it was Lao Tzu, the Buddha, the person who wrote the Book of Genesis or Christ, they all talked about the same thing and that is the ultimate or the absolute element in nature. There is no such thing that can be claimed as the Christian's Ultimate Truth which is separate from the Buddhist Absolute Truth. Those who truly comprehend their saints' teachings and have reached the profound insight of their own mental development, deep down, they would not claim to be a Christian, a Buddhist or a Taoist. I can only say that these are only cheap labels ! Lao Tzu, the Buddha and Christ were born for humanity, not only for the Taoist, the Buddhists or the Christians. As a matter of fact, all enlightened people are simply normal and ordinary human-being. We have begun our lives as an innocent human-being, we have to end our lives by achieving the state of an innocent human-being too. The breakthrough criteria is that the ultimate enlightenment has everything to do with the extinction of the self or ego. Anyone, who is on the right path, has to at least show some signs that they have a small ego and less self-centredness. In Buddhism, we have a role model whom we call Pra Arahant, meaning the one who has reached the end of all suffering or the ultimate enlightenment. It is a well known fact among the Buddhists that a Pra Arahant has no self or ego. His self, his desire and all defilement have totally been irradicated. Therefore, a Pra Arahant can walk along the road totally unnoticed by others because physically he looks just like the rest of us, the difference is his state of mind. They don't walk about with a halo over their heads ! Apart from the Buddha who proclaimed himself as the fully enlightened one for the
reason of helping people, it isn't the nature of a Pra Arahant to boast about his spiritual achievement. This is one of the many disciplines the Buddha has laid down for his followers. During the Buddha's time, the Buddha himself would be the one who proclaimed which of his followers had reached the Arahantship due to appropriate reasons only. There were a number of times when the Buddha and his followers were walking or gathering in a congregation and people mistook one of his followers who appeared to have very refined manners as the Buddha. Anyhow, the point is that the more enlightened one is, the simpler and the more ordinary one will become. Ego and simplicity will always walk away from each other. You can only be simple and ordinary because you have a small ego. A selfabsorbed, pompous and arrogant person cannot be any way near the path to ultimate enlightenment at all because if they are any way near the right path, they won't be pompous and arrogant. A real teacher can never boast about his spiritual achievement no matter what level of enlightenment he has reached. He would feel simple in himself and he even looks as simple as anyone else walking along the street. Therefore, any meditation teacher who boasts about himself or herself, cannot be a genuine one. I am quite certain of that. Again the role model like Pra Arahant do not need many material items to live on. The four basic necessities as food, clothing, medicine and shelter, are enough for them. According to the Buddhist disciplines, Buddhist monks are allowed to posses eight items: 3 pieces of saffron, a bowl, a knife, a kettle, a piece of cloth to sieve water and a box of needle and cotton. Buddhist monks are supposed to live on food which is offered by laypeople and they are not allowed to keep any food after midday. If the Buddha could come back to see how the monks in Thailand live today, he would certainly have a shock ! The real teachers always help their followers to be independent from them and not the other way round. It is true that initially all beginners have to find guidance to guide their way through but a good spiritual teacher will always reveal the practice which can be applied into people's way of life. During the Buddha's time, there was a man who was infatuated with the look of the Buddha. He was ordained into monkhood so that he could follow the Buddha everywhere. In the end, the Buddha had to shout at him and told him to go away and never be near him again. The Buddha had to proclaim that: Whoever sees me will see dhamma. Whoever sees dhamma will see me. Those who cannot see dhamma, even though they are touching my robe, they cannot see me. That monk reached Arahantship after that. (The word dhamma in general terms means the teaching of the Buddha. In the above sense, it means the enlightened state of the mind.) The above indication are very clear and distinctive. You can easily use them to judge any spiritual teacher you want to follow. If the leader has become too rich and leads a luxurious way of life, that person cannot be spiritual let alone being enlightened.
The next indication is sexual conduct; a highly enlightened person no longer needs sexual pleasure because they have found something else which is much more refined and enjoyable. Those who practised meditation before would know about this fact and this has become the drive for the practitioners to pursue further. Sexual misconduct commonly happens to some cult leaders. Female members were sexually exploited by their well respected masters. The following two things do not mix. They are: the enlightened person who claims to be a spiritual teacher and an obsession with sex. Normally, sexual exploitation of the female members would have to go hand in hand with intimidation. For example, if a cult leader says that you'll be cursed into damnation if you don't give him money and sex and so on. Such intimidation cannot possibly come from a real teacher. You have to be strong enough to judge him or her and get away. We should not have any fear at all on the path to the ultimate enlightenment. We should feel good from the very beginning when we hear about the good news, feel good while we are in the process of walking along the path and feel good still when we experience the end result. I don't want to think that those people started their spiritual work with every intention to exploit people or kill their members in the end. I want to believe that they were on the right track to begin with; they genuinely wanted to help people to be enlightened. Otherwise their organisations wouldn't have grown that much. Nevertheless, no one is safe as long as he or she hasn't reached the state of Arahantship. Only a fully enlightened one is safe on this path. As far as the cult movement is concerned, the downfall occurs when the organisation grows too big with too many members. "Power corrupts" is always true. A person who can successfully do a big job is the one who has the smallest ego as well as always taking refuge in the state of sanity. A sensible person who does not trust his or her own ego, that it might flourish when power comes, would not enter into any work that may bring too much power and high status. They would know that it is dangerous ! When money begins rolling in from the faithful and loyal members, power and status begin to bloom; a spiritual leader, who hasn't gone very far on this path, will be weakened by temptation. Once power totally takes over a spiritual teacher, he is just another person like the rest of us who finds it difficult to control greed, anger and delusion. Ajarn Khemananda said that: "When there is only one person bowing to us, we can feel quite normal. When there are ten people bowing to us, we feel rather good about it; when a hundred people bow to us, we begin to convince ourselves that we must be really good in whatever we do. The more people bow to us, the more abnormal we begin to feel. If there are millions and millions of people bowing to us, we can easily be trapped in our self-delusion unless we have "The Real Truth" or the state of sanity with us." We can easily see that power corrupts nearly everywhere in our society. How many decent people who enter into the realm of power, who have wealth, fame and status, can cope well ? Most of them are destroyed terribly either mentally by having a nervous breakdown or even physically by committing suicide. Only a real spiritual teacher will run away from all these false values that people in general mostly
adore. Money is nothing but a pot of worms. People can make good money but money cannot make good people. I have known a Thai monk who followed exactly this pattern. From being a simple and hard working monk with some good looks and charm, he attracted a great number of female followers. Money, status and fame rolled in endlessly for a good twenty years. When he emerged from the departure lounge at the airport, foreigners thought that the King of Thailand was there because waves of people bowed their heads down simultaneously. When the truth was revealed three years ago, Yantra was a father of a ten-years old girl; he had been having affairs with a number of women; he was violent to one of his faithful female senior followers who didn't agree with what he had done; he copied the poem of other writer and claimed it was his own and many more ugly things. He had brought shame to the Buddhist institution and to Thailand. In the end, doctors revealed that his behaviour proved that he was more or less insane. I have met Yantra in Birmingham about three or four years ago just before his scandal erupted. I was another person who was conned by his fame. Though I had some doubt about his behaviour which was very much against the monkhood discipline, I wasn't strong enough to let that doubt take over me. That was because to question a Buddhist monk, let alone a very famous one like Yantra, isn't the nature of Thai people. Living far away from Thailand for such a long time, I wasn't aware of the gossip that had been going on during that time. So, I had no reservation about Yantra when I met him. That lesson about Yantra has taught me a great deal. I can understand why my spiritual teacher, Ajarn Khemananda wanted to disrobe. Being a famous Buddhist monk in Thailand always brings high respect from people and that can proved to be quite a burden for a real teacher. I am not sorry that he decided to resign from monkhood; he is still my dearest teacher. I am sorry that I spent more time telling you all these things today. I must admit that I am very concerned about what has happened to lots of unfortunate people, especially young innocent children along with their parents, who had to die in what they claimed as mass suicide. This kind of tragedy could have been avoided if people had some guidelines of how to judge their cult leaders. This includes judging myself as well. You might not know that I have been trying to avoid using phrases like "please trust me", "You must trust me because I am leading you on the right path." I truly think that it will be safer if you don't trust me. Who am I ? When you think about it, I am a total stranger to you unless you are in my advanced class and get to know me a bit better. All the tragedy that has happened is because people put too much blind trust in their cult leaders. We got to have some reservations about what these people say. This is how I got the idea of planning my strategy in teaching Tai chi here. To make it work, it has to be a scientific method. The only difference is that both the laboratory and the test-tube are right here; our own life-form, body and mind. I have to make you understand and see that if you put in A as a cause, you will have B as a result. Luckily, you can see this abstract mechanism works rather quickly when you put in the right cause. When I guide you to develop your high level of sensitivity which is the
cause, towards the end of our Tai chi session, we can all experience a tranquil mind and all our mental problems resolve. When you can actually see the link between the cause and the effect happening within you, there is no need for you to blindly trust me or anyone. On the contrary, I urge you to trust yourself, trust what you can see like all scientists do. So, if you detect anything at all in me that indicate my incompetence whether it is now or in the future, I beg you to walk away from me, please. As a matter of fact, the Buddha had already prepared for us to judge it for ourselves whenever we have any doubts. It was a sermon called Kalamasutta which is the name of a clan of people who were having political dispute with others and various rumours were spreading. I don't know whether the Buddha's sermon could help the Kalama people to settle their political dispute or not but it certainly settle all the doubtful matter in our minds. He said: 1) Be not led by report. 2) Be not led by tradition. 3) Be not led by hearsay. 4) Be not led by the authority of text. 5) Be not led by mere logic. 6) Be not led by inference. 7) Be not led by considering appearance. 8) Be not led by the agreement with a considered and approved theory. 9) Be not led by seeming possibilities. 10) Be not led by the idea "this is our teacher.". Not until when one can understand by oneself that the deeds one carried out is meritorious or sinful, useful or harmful, wise people praise or condemn, then one should know whether to pursue or abandon those deeds. The point is that we can follow the above advice only when we know the vipassana-bhavana, learning how to read the "big book" and find the truth hidden within ourselves. Only then can we know for ourselves what right from wrong and can truly not be led by all the things that the Buddha mentioned. Vipassana-bhavana can truly make the practitioners become independent from all doubts.
You all are still quite young. In only a couple more years at the most, you'll be leaving this university and you have a whole life in front of you. Some of you after attending this Tai chi class, might want to pursue a bit more meditation practice. You may bump into another meditation teacher. If there is any element of doubt about your spiritual teacher, please think of what I have told you today. If you are not sure about what and why you will be doing, it will be safer if you can walk away. Thank you very much for listening to this long speech. I wish you all the best of luck in the future. If you wish to write to me, this is my address: Supawan Green 236 Ryde Park Rd. Rednal, Birmingham, B45 8RJ. UK
A letter to Melvin
Birmingham, UK. 11 March 1988 Dear Melvin, Thank you so much for your letter. I often think of you and wonder how you are getting on in Singapore. I am always very happy to hear from my students and learn how life is going with them. I can truly understand your pain and frustration you are facing right now. It isn't easy, is it ? It isn't just trying to adjust back to your normal life after a few years abroad which is a problem. I think your major turmoil is the fact that you are parting from your girl friend, your loved one and see no future in the relationship which makes life much more unbearable for you. It would be easy if living had some sort of formula to follow in order to make us successful and happy. The truth is that there isn't any magical formula. Everyone's problem is individual and has to be treated individually. My advice is certainly not an answer to your problem. In the end, you have to be the one who sorts your own problems out. What I have been doing all along in my Tai chi class is merely sharing my experiences to my students. I have had this privilege to share because a lot of those experiences were all about how to combat my mental turmoil, the knowledge I have been learning directly from Buddhism. You might not be able to link and see clearly what you learnt from my Tai chi class in relation to your problems right now. In fact, they do connect. The feeling of losing your direction in life is very common among people in the world nowadays especially your age group. Please don't worry, you are not alone. Through our modern culture, people automatically assume that making a lot of money and gaining power or status are the goals of life and that is the direction one should pursue. This is the easy option or a clear option rather because everyone can identify with it. But it is also responsible for turning the world into what it is right now, a chaos with more and more unhappiness among people. I would like to think that your frustration about the direction in life has a lot to do with what you learnt in my Tai chi class. I would not be surprised at all if I am the one who is responsible for your frustration right now. In fact, I have thought about it a lot and do feel responsible for it. With all the new concepts about life I drum into my students, I urge them to think and find mental stability from a new angle which of course is based on the Buddha's teaching; some students are bound to take it in. The problem is that the nature of my class does not allow much time for questions and debate. I solved the problem by arranging trips to a Buddhist temple, a walk, a weekend retreat and also allowing students to come to my house for my home cooked
meals so that they can feel closer and maybe learn more from me. Nevertheless, I don't think I can do enough for them and that includes you. The time I spend with my students is not enough for them to grasp the fundamental concept of life as well as the core practice. Even though I don't waste a minute in class in trying to steer the practice into the right direction, I still do not have enough time with them to nurture the seedling into a stronger and independent plant. I have lost a great number of seedlings in between the process but there are few who manage to nurture themselves and get stronger everyday. But please believe me that the last thing I want is to confuse you all. I can vividly remember the frustrating time when I first found Buddhism. I knew that it was good and nothing was better than the medicine the Buddha gave us. The enormous frustration arise when the theory and the practice do not match and not compatible. At one point, I am sure a lot of people feel that they wish they never know about the Buddha's teaching so that they can just follow their heart and carry on doing what the rest of the world is doing, finish education, get a job, get married, bring up a family, struggle along and so on. Why bother to think too deeply and cannot really put into practice. The point is that when people manage to have some glimpse of the Buddha's profound wisdom(I don't mean understanding Buddhism on the cultural or the intellectual level where there is no practice involve), they have actually bought themselves a one-way ticket. Our life indeed has only one ultimate goal. It is indeed this one-way ticket that frightens us at times when the practice haven't developed into a firm ground. In one hand, a thought tell us to let go and denounce the worldly values, on the other hand, another thought tell us how on earth we can carry on with our lives without all those values. Basically, we want to be reasonably rich and being recognised, (not necessary have to be very famous) as well as having opportunity to do meditation and live at peace. While we are young and haven't achieved all the worldly values, we can't just let that dream and ambition slip away that easily. We even feel strongly that it isn't right after all the hard efforts we put in during our university years. We subsequently think that we can manage to have both worlds which are the world full of ambition and competition and the world of spiritual freedom. I can genuinely have sympathy for those who are in this interim stage. I've been there and that's why I can sit here and tell you all these tale about frustration concerning this situation. Having gone through a lot of mental pain, I am lucky to get out of it alive with my sanity still intact. You know well that I never force anyone to believe me but I want to share this experience with you. From where I am standing right now, I can see quite clearly that those two world cannot share the same seat. It is as if playing musical chair; one chair can only be for one person. Ajarn Khemananda gave us a very good metaphor. He said it is like asking whether we could put a hungry tiger and a little lamb in a same cage or not. I know that this is not what people want to hear. I didn't want to hear it then either; I wanted to bury my head in the sand and pretend to be utterly ignorant about the whole thing. My frustration was that bad until I didn't even want to finish my degree and want to live a monastic life. Then, I had my dearest mother who could not understand my radical way of thinking and got all upset and deeply hurt . I ended up hurting the feeling of the person I love most in the world. I just could not believe the situation I was in at that time. How could I find any peace of mind at all if my mother could not give me a blessing. Against all the odds, I had to leave home and
lead a monastic life for a brief period of time as I talked about in my first book. Maybe I would have had more choice if I was a man. Thai society did not have much room for a young woman like me to fly freely on her own. I think Ajarn Khemananda, at that time, was partially responsible for this due to Thailand's political upheaval though his thought changed some years later.
The pain I went through during my student years made me become more aware of what I say to my students and results my strategy of teaching here. Though I denounce our whole philosophy of modern education, I never tell my students to turn their back on them but use the intellectual knowledge wisely to help people instead of one's own benefit. I just know that if these students can truly understand the practice, the world will have some real quality people who know exactly what is what. These are the group of people who can steer the world into a more peaceful direction. Obviously, you are more aware of your own thoughts and feelings. You begin to question philosophically the meaning of your further study, of work and possibly of life in general. The trouble is as I said earlier, your theory and your practice are not compatible and that cannot stop your mind from wandering or thinking rubbish as you put it. Please do not worry, you are not alone. We are all in the same boat. Well, Melvin.....there is different ways which we can use to deal with the repeated failure while walking along this difficult road. The one I use most is using the pain I am experiencing as lessons to learn more about this spiritual knowledge. While your vipassana-bhavana is not spontaneous enough to come out from your mental holodeck and result pain and turmoil, I suggest you learn from it by telling yourselves this is what you get if you don't have enough practice. The practice at that stage is very much like a wounded dog who is forced into a corner. The poor animal cannot do anything but sit there and keep on licking his own wound until he gets better. This is exactly what you have to do. Persevere even though you have to meditate with tears and more tears. Don't blame others for our pain. We are our own enemy. The more you can see your own pain, the more you can appreciate the enlightenment of the Buddha. This is about reading your own big book. Where can you learn suffering from if it isn't from your own ? According to The Four Noble Truth, the noble truth of suffering is to be identified. In the deeper sense, you can only identify the true face of suffering when you actually see it in your heart. So, don’t be afraid of the mental pain because it is your teacher. Another way of doing it is by thinking about the Buddha and find the inspiration from him. Our spiritual teachers all told us to look how much suffering the Buddha went through to give us this precious knowledge and we can't even pay him back just a little by putting into practice. Another one is telling us that we just have this one life to gamble with, a life which we are lucky enough to be born as a human to understand the sublime teaching of the Buddha. How can we even want to waste another moment which can help us to get a bit closer to our final destination. Sometime we have to comfort and cajole ourselves but sometime we need to shout and condemn ourselves to put us back on the right tract again. This all depends on what kind of thoughts and feelings you are facing.
There is one more important thing. Through our Buddhist culture in Thailand, we are all familiar with the saying listening to the dhamma. When people are unhappy, they will relate to listening to the dhamma as a solution to make them feel better. They can listen to the dhamma by going to their favourite temple and listen to their favourite monks to tell them the dhamma. Television also have dhamma program on Sunday morning. The devout followers will have collection of tape-cassettes containing dhamma talks of different famous spiritual teachers who do not necessary have to be monks. Then, we also have dhamma books. Dhamma in general meaning is the teaching of the Buddha, it can also refer to everything in the universe. Some are pisitive dhamma and some are negative dhamma. The ultimate meaning has to be the ultimate state or Nirvana. However, practitioners who can clearly see the host mind, have the path and the fruit or having dhamma in them even though they haven't reached the ultimate state as Nirvana. Now, the point is that the spiritual ability in people is all different as the Buddha described by using the metaphors of four different types of lotuses. To nurture this young seedling to grow into a strong plant, some people need to listen more dhamma to make them grow stronger, some might need to listen a bit and can easily carry on with the practice and a number of the Buddha's disciples who listened just one sentence before they reached their Aranhantship. As for the group of people who need to listen more to be able to grow stronger; if they don't listen to the dhamma, it will be quite damaging. The Buddha compare this group of people as baby who need to suck milk from his mother's breast to enable him to grow. We are like baby in this respect, we need to be nurtured by hearing more dhamma to enable our growth. I can understand this very well. Ever since I knew Ven. Buddhadasa, Suan Moke monastery and Ajarn Khemananda, I had such strong desire to listen and read dhamma book. I used to travel for 12 hours on a train to Suan Moke by myself and 34 hours on a train to find Ajarn Khemananda on a small island in the Songkhla province. When he was in Bangkok, I used to pay regular visit and listen to his talk for hours on end. I never get bored. I must have roughly a hundred hours of dhamma talk in my tape cassettes collection, half of those are belong to Ajarn Khemananda’s. My desire to listen to dhamma tapes was exactly like the Buddha said about a baby who can only find happiness in sucking his mother's breast milk. I needed to listen, to understand more and I was genuinely hungry for those knowledge. This went on so many years indeed. I used to choose between studying for my exam and reading dhamma book. However, the reading and listening was weaned off a bit when my practice progress. I can understand now that it was because I was reading the big book instead. Now, I don't have much time to read dhamma book any more but I still listen to Ajarn Khemananda’s tapes, let's say 300 days in a year and more than twice a day. When I cook and clean in the kitchen, I listen. When I drive to work, I listen. I might just leave three tapes on my kitchen table and I will listen over and over for weeks before I change to other topics. People who listen to dhamma talk or read dhamma book will know that the more we do, the more we get out of it as well as knowing how enjoyable it is to be enlightened by those dhamma words. The joy from listening to dhamma is nothing like the worldly joy people adore when they can indulge more material. I just cannot
imagine how I could live my life without our dhamma culture. My hunger for dhamma during the first stage of my practice was purely meant for chasing away my ignorance. There are a lot of new concepts I needed to understand. The second stage was more like checking up on my practice whether the way I read my own big book was correct or not. The reading was much less at that stage because there were more joy in the practice. The intensive listening to Ajarn Khemananda’s tape right now is both for the joy of knowing dhamma which seems to have no end to it. It is as if a seedling has finally turned into a strong tree but still need to produce young leaves, new buds and flowers. The other reason is for the benefit of my literary work for my students. Ajarn Khemananda is a one off, he has depth and extremely analytical. When this unique quality meet the teaching of the Buddha, it is like a nuclear reaction; the explosion of wisdom. I adore Ajarn Khemananda because my need is compatible to what he gives. His talks have sparked off lots and lots of new ideas for me to share with my students but there is no specific topics in his talks. There might be just one sentence or one metaphor which Ajarn Khemananda mentioned in the tape, I subsequently use my own analytical approach to generate that sentence into a ten page chapter. There is one chapter I called Uncle: why does everything have a name ? This very sentence was casually brought up in his talk. I use that sentence to generate a whole chapter on its own and this resulted me to find a new term for the right context. I've been using that term ever since and that is the innocent perception. There is a fact about this practice which can be compare to two parallel tunnels; one leads to an abyss and one leads to a vast opening. Complacent people like to think that when they are less busy, they will do the practice. Dhamma doesn't work out like that. If we keep on with the practice, we will know more and more. Vice versa, if we are complacent, we will know less and less. We cannot suddenly jump over the tunnel because they are running in parallel. We can't think that maybe when we get older, we will automatically become wiser and know by ourselves. We might be in deep water or staring into an abyss before we realise it and that is too late. That's why the Buddha's last sermon was simply telling his disciples not be to complacent. The term might sound very simple and without depth. As time goes by, I just know that the last sermon is, in fact, the heart of this spiritual success and we cannot afford to take it too lightly. I can only say that please make a point to involve dhamma into your daily life in whatever way you can. Even though your meditation session turns out rather disappointing because you just cannot focus, you must never be put off by it. Please persevere because it will be different next time or the time after. I never use soppy words with my students by telling them that I love them and so on. I am still quite a chinese in this respect. Deep down, my heart reach out to everyone of you. I can only wish that I can make everyone understand the practice and that they can be at peace. Of course, it is impossible. I can only do my best by trying to work out the easiest and most short cut way for you all. Well, your letter has urged me to do more for my students by creating meditation evening in my own living room for those who have high potential and need to do more and listen more and my literary works are for them to take with after they graduate. If they still keep in touch, I will do my best to talk to them through letter writing just like I am talking to you now. My problem is I can't seem to keep my text short and writing has taken up a lot of my time. It doesn't matter as long as there are people benefit from them.
Well, Melvin....I hope this letter can help you to feel a bit better. Please be strong and bring back all the things you have been taught in my Tai chi class. I enclosed herewith some of my new chapters, I hope you will find time to read and put into practice. Only you can help yourself. I am sure when you can find a proper job, hopefully the one you are happy with, you will be more settled and then you will certainly view everything differently. I will always be here for everyone of you whenever you need me. Please do not be hesitate to write and tell me your problem if you have it. Please be patient and keep on reading your big book. Love, Supawan
1) The Tripitaka for the People, a summary from the 45 volumes of the Pali Cannon by Sucheep PunyaNupap. Printed by Maha-Makut-Raj-Vitiyalai; 14th edition 1992, Bangkok, Thailand. Buddhadhamma by Pra-Raj-cha-wara-muni (Prayut Pyutto) printed by Kana-Radom-Dhamma, Bangkok, Thailand in 1982. Know Not a Thing : Insights into Dynamic Meditation by K. Khemananda. Printed by White Lotus Press, 1997. White Lotus Co. Ltd. G.P.O. Box 1141, Bangkok 10501, Thailand. The Dictionary of Buddhism by Pra Thep-Ve-Thee (Prayut Pyutto). Printed by Maha-Chulalongkorn-RajVitiyalai, Bangkok, Thailand in 1992. The Life of The Buddha parts one & two by Ven. K. Sri Dhammananda Thera. Printed in 1983 by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational Foundation, 11th floor, 55, Hang Chow S. Rd. Sec 1, Taipei, Taiwan.
Jarikboon-Jajeukdhamma by Pra-Dhamma-Piddok (Prayut Pyutto) Printed by Saha-Dhammik, Bangkok, Thailand in 1998. Dhamma Talks, speeches by K. Khemananda recorded on tape-cassettes from 1995-1998. Monthly talks at Dhamma-Sathan, founded by Dr. Rawee Pavilai in 1975, Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand. Microsoft® Encarta® 98 Encyclopedia. © 19931997 Microsoft Corporation.
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