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Dhamma for the Laity

 

Dhamma Talk No. 9 
January 11, 2007
By Ajaan Suchart  (Abhijato Bhikkhu)
Transcribed from dvd by Eurmporn Pechapan
Edited by June Gibbb
 

 

The following is an interview Ajaan Suchart gave to a Pattaya cable tv channel on January 11, 2007.

 

Can you please be so kind in telling us a bit about your background before you became a monk?

I was born 59 years ago in Bangkok.  When I was about ten, my parents moved to Pattaya.  They sent me to school in Bangkok, to an American missionary school, a Christian denomination called Seventh-Day Adventist.   It is now called  Ekamai International School, teaching in English based on the American educational system.

After graduating from high school, I worked for about a year and a half as a translator/interpreter, saved some money and  went to college in the States, in California and graduated in civil engineering.

After that I returned home and took time off, learning things that I wanted to know, especially religion. Eventually I started to practice some Buddhist meditation and found it to be profitable for me, in the sense that I gained peace of mind. I was very happy inwardly.

So I wanted to have more of this. The only way to do it is to become a monk because a monkís main goal is to seek peace of mind by practicing  meditation.   In order to do this, we have to relinquish all of our material comfort and seek only the spiritual peace and happiness. Thatís the reason why I became a monk in 1975.  I have been a monk for about thirty-two years now.

 

What is the daily routine of a monk in the temple here?

The daily routine starts at about four oíclock in the morning. When the bell is rung, monks will attend a morning meditation and chanting session, starting with about an hour of meditation in the main shrine then followed by chanting for about thirty minutes.  After that we prepare ourselves to go on our alms-round to collect food for our meal.  We go to several villages around the temple.   We have pickup trucks and minibuses to take us to the villages where we walk for about half an hour.  Then we come back to the temple to the dining hall where we share the food that we have collected as well as receiving more food from people who come from other areas like Pattaya or Rayong.  

A special day called observance day happens once a week which, in Thai we call ďwan phra.Ē  This is the weekly religious holiday when Buddhists will come to the temple to do their religious duties, like giving food to the monks, taking up the five precepts: abstaining from killing stealing, adultery, lying and drinking alcohol.  These are the five main precepts that the Buddha gave to lay Buddhists to observe in order to keep them safe and sound from all kinds of trouble.  Before we eat, I give a thirty-minutes talk, just like I am talking to you now,  telling the laypeople about the various aspects of the Buddhaís teaching.

When I finish talking the monks start eating.  The lay people also eat the food that is left over from the monks.  After that, we go our separate ways.  The laypeople go home while the monks stay and clean up the dining hall.  Then the monks go back to their living quarters and are free to do more meditation, study the scriptures or just rest.  In the afternoon about three oíclock the monks are allowed to have some refreshments, like coffee, tea or fruit juices.  The monks here eat only once a day, the morning meal that I mentioned following the forest tradition.

You see, there are two kinds of traditions in Thai Buddhism: city tradition and forest tradition.  City monks eat two meals a day:  a light meal in the morning and one before noon, about eleven o clock.  City monksí main duty is to study the scriptures while forest monks wander in the forest seeking the quiet of the forest practicing meditation.   They eat once a day because thatís the easiest way to do when living in the forest.   People who give food are usually farmers who after giving food have to go to work in the rice fields.  The practice of eating once a day also assists our meditation development because the less we eat, the less drowsy we become when we  meditate.  When we eat a lot, we usually fall asleep.

Letís come back to the duty of the monks.  In the afternoon about three the monks will go to a place we call the Coffee shop where we can have some refreshments: hot drinks or cold drinks. After that we help sweep the paths and the temple grounds.  Then we wash and get ready for the evening session of chanting and meditation which starts around six p.m. and lasts an hour and a half until seven-thirty. Then we go back to our quarters to do more meditation, sitting or walking meditation, go to sleep and get ready for the next day which starts around four in the morning.

This is the routine that we do everyday.  No holiday for us.  Actually being a monk is already a holiday in the sense that we donít have to work, donít have to pay bills or pay any rent.  Nothing.  Every thing is paid for.  The only thing expected from us is to observe the three duties of the monk: 1. Do good.  2. Abstain from doing evil.  3.  Purify the mind, by eliminating the three mental defilements namely: greed, hate, and delusion, which are the cause of all the troubles in the world and in ourselves.  We are not content,  not happy because of these three defilements.  If we could get rid of all of them we would be peaceful at all times. Weíll never crave for anything.

 

What is the karma of life and how do we maintain a happy life at all times?

Karma in Buddhism means action, what we do by way of thoughts, words and deeds.  They are the cause of our happiness or sorrow.  So, we have to watch what we do, what we say and what we think.  Especially, what we think.  Because it is the one that tells us what we do and what we say.  Like today, before you can come here, you first have to think that you want to come here to see me.  Then you tell your friends to get all the equipment ready and get here.  Karma are these three actions of thoughts, words and deeds which can be either good, bad or neither.  If you do good, you become happy.  You feel good.  Like you want to go help someone today,  maybe go give food to the elderly or the handicapped.  Itís your birthday and you want to do something good.  When you do this, you feel good.  On the other hand, if you steal or say something bad to other people, you will feel bad after you have done it.  If you do good all the times, youíll always be happy.  But if you do bad, youíll always feel bad. 

Thatís why the Buddha stresses the two actions that I mentioned earlier: to do good and avoid doing bad deeds.  But you also have to get rid of the three defilements, namely greed, hate and delusion because they are the root cause of our bad actions.  You might not think so.  But when you want something if you can afford to get it legally or morally, then, itís OK. But if you canít afford and you still want what you want, you might have to steal or rob a bank so you can get the money to buy the thing or do the thing you want to do.  Because you have greed.  You have desire.  You want to do this and that. 

But really you donít have to do anything to be happy. Just sit still.   We cannot sit still because of our greed that keeps pushing us to go and acquire things and get into trouble.  We have to compete with other people and may have to do things which are not proper,  not right, or not legal. It then gets us into trouble.   But if we can overcome our greed, our desire to have this and have that, to do this or do that, then we can just stay at home and be safe and sound. 

So, these are the root cause of all our problems:  greed, hate and delusion.  When we want something and someone stops us from getting it, we get mad at that person.  We get angry and want to do something bad to that person.  What causes us to become greedy is our delusion, not knowing what true happiness is.  Our delusion always tells us that thereís something better on the other side of the fence, the grass is always greener on the other side.  But in truth, thereís nothing in this world that can really bring us true happiness.

Everything is tainted with trouble, pain, anxiety and worry, because everything changes, never remains the same.  When we get what we want at first itís good.  Then, in a few days time it will turn sour or go bad.  Then weíll have to look for something else. This applies to everything: humans, animals, animate or inanimate things.  The Buddha says they are impermanent and are the cause of our mental stress, anxiety and worries. 

If we want to have a peaceful, calm life, then we have to relinquish or not rely on these things.  This is what we call wisdom.  We have to be able to tell ourselves that everything in this world isnít worth the effort.  Itís better to live without them.  But itís hard to do because our delusion and greed keep pushing us, preventing us from staying put, staying at home,  not doing anything.  We feel terrible, bored, lonely and miserable when we have nothing to do. 

But these feelings could be overcome by the practice that the Buddha prescribed for all Buddhists, namely the three actions: do good, avoid doing evil and eliminate the three defilements which I can explain briefly. Doing good means giving things to other people, helping other people; avoiding doing evil means not hurting other people, keeping the five precepts; in order to eliminate the defilements:  greed, hate and delusion, we have to meditate. 

We have to sit down and concentrate on one particular mental object, the breathing, for instance.  Just focus on that object and try to avoid thinking about anything. Just concentrate on our breathing.  When breathing in, be mindful of breathing in.  When breathing out, be mindful of that.  Watch our mind.  Donít let it go think about other things.  If we persist in keeping our mind focused on our breathing, sooner or later our mind will converge and drop into calm, like a golf ball that we hit into a hole.  When the ball falls into the hole, it cannot move around.

In the same way, when the mind converges into single-mindedness it will rest and become at peace with itself.  At that stage, we will experience the spiritual bliss, a sense of well-being, calm, contentment.  If we have experienced it even just once, we will know that this is the answer to life.   This is what we are all looking for.  Itís the Buddhist holy grail.

 

For those who have sinned, can they be redeemed?

No.  Sin or unwholesome action, once committed, will bring on the result that will hit us sooner or later.  Maybe not in this life time.  Maybe in the next life.  The immediate result that we can feel right away is in the mind. We feel bad, worried and afraid.  When we see a cop we can get very scared.  This is already the result of our sin.  We cannot absolve or wash it away.

 

Is there really hell or heaven after life?

Hell and heaven are already here in this life and also in the after life.   When we feel good after having done something good, this is heaven already.  Itís all in the mind.  When we do something bad, we feel bad, this is hell already, right in this life.  In Buddhism, heaven and hell also exist after we die, depending on our karma, what we have done. 

For instance, when we die and itís time for our bad deeds to bear fruit, then weíll have to go to hell.  If itís time for our good deeds to bear fruit, then weíll go to heaven.  But heaven or hell is not a place or a location.  Itís a state of mind. 

The nature of the mind is very difficult to grasp.  We all have the mind.  Without the mind, we will not be conscious, be able to feel or to know.  The mind is the consciousness, ďthe one who knows,Ē the seed of our emotion, suffering and happiness, resulting from what we do, say and especially what we think. 

When we think good, we feel good.  We are already in heaven at that moment.  Whatever we do,  good or bad, will accumulate and become a habit that will compel us to do it again and again. 

Heaven and hell are inside the mind that cannot be perceived with the naked eyes.  The only way to perceive the mind, to get to know the mind is through meditation whereby we focus our attention on one particular mental object, such as the in-and-out breathing until the mind converges and rests in peace and calmness.  Thatís when we will get to see the mind because during that time the mind is temporarily detached from the body and all the sensual objects like sight, sound, smell, taste, and tactile objects that come through the corresponding sense doors of eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body.  There, weíll see the mind in its pure form and will know that heaven and hell are in the mind itself. 

Because when the body breaks up, the mind doesnít break up with the body.  The mind will continue on with the state of mind we have developed.  If we have consistently done good,  good mental states like heaven and nirvana will appear.  In nirvana the mind is totally free from all forms of suffering because the three defilements of greed, hate and delusion have been completely eliminated.  If we have consistently done bad, woeful state of mind like stress, worry and anxiety will consume the mind.  This is hell.

So, to answer your question whether hell and heaven really exist.  The answer is yes.   Itís not a place or a location though, but a state of mind at the time of the dissolution of the body and can last for a long time, but will eventually disappear and a new state of mind will take over.  If it is a happy state of mind, it is heaven   If it is a state of mind consumed by the fire of suffering, anxiety, worry, hate and fear, it is hell that will remain for a while and will eventually be supplanted by another state of mind that goes on and on, driven by the karmas that we have committed previously until reaping the state of mind of a human being.  We will then take a human birth again.  If it is a state of mind of an animal, then we will be born as an animal. 

The thing that separates humans from animals is the observance of the five precepts.  If we can keep the five precepts, then we are creating the state of mind of a human being.  But if we keep breaking the five precepts, then we are creating the state of mind of animals.  Itís good and bad karmas that make us humans or animals, that send us to heaven or hell.

 

You told us about the duty of a monk in a temple, what do you think the duty of a Buddhist is?

For lay people,  the three categories of actions that I mentioned earlier on also apply but in a lower level of intensity.  Doing good for lay people means to help other people, like helping the sick, the elderly, the needy, and also the monks because monks have no occupation.  They rely on the support of the lay people to exist.  Thatís why lay people give food to the monks every morning if there are monks who happen to pass by their houses.  If not, they will wait until the weekly religious observance day to come to the temple to give food to the monks.  This is what I meant by doing good, just a brief example.  But it can cover every form of charity and everything you do that is beneficial and not harmful to other people and animals.  If you see stray dogs and give them food and shelter, this is also doing good.  But Thai Buddhists believe that giving to monks will earn them the most merits because monks study and practice the teaching of the Buddha, and then teach the lay people who have no time to study.  So they have to rely on the monks to teach them the Dhamma. 

To avoid doing evil is to maintain the five precepts, that is suitable for lay people: to abstain from killing, stealing, committing adultery,  lying and consuming alcoholic drinks.  The reason why we have to abstain from alcohol drinks is because we will lose our ability to control our thought and mind.  We will think crazy things and then do crazy things that will hurt other people.  But if you really wanted to drink, you should first tie yourself to a bed or something.  So when you get drunk, youíll just go to sleep, you will then not hurt yourself or other pople. 

To eliminate greed, hate and delusion effectively we have to meditate.  The simplest form of meditation for Thai lay Buddhists is to chant Buddhist verses.  By concentrating on chanting and not thinking about other things the mind will gradually become calmer and more content, because it has no time to think and worry.  This is the simplest form of meditation that will develop into a more advanced level whereby we will just concentrate on one particular mental object, such as the in-and-out breathing for example.

The goal of meditation is twofold:  mental calm and wisdom or insight into the true nature of all physical and mental processes.  Once the mind is calm, it becomes reasonable, logical and unemotional, readied to be taught the truth of life that we will all have to face in our life time.  Having been born, we are all subjected to aging, sickness and death that no one can escape.  The best way to face them is to be ready for them. 

The body doesnít know that it will age, get sick and die.  The mind does.  Due to delusion the mind thinks the body to be itself and clings to it.  When the body becomes sick, old and dies the mind thinks it is the one that gets sick, gets old and dies, when in fact it doesnít. The mind, as I said, goes on after the dissolution of the body. 

So we have to teach the mind to be brave, to face up to the truth of the body.  Once the mind becomes calm and composed it will accept it, free from anxiety and agitation.  This is the development of wisdom in Buddhism: to know the truth of life and face it squarely and calmly.  Because the mind doesnít get old, get sick  or die.  Itís the body that does. Due to delusion the mind thinks that it is getting old, getting sick and dying. 

Once the mind has learned the truth and embraces it,  it will no longer resist or be afraid.  It will accept it just like anything else.  Like the rain, the storm, good and bad weather.  They come and go, but the mind doesnít change with these things.  The mind just knows. 

These are the three duties that the Buddha prescribes for Buddhists.  To practice charity, to abstain from morally objectional behaviour by keeping the five precepts, and to practice meditation to calm the mind and instill it with the truth of impermanence. 

 

How do we get rid of material possessions and why do we have to do that?

Material possessions have benefits and harm.  We need some materials in order to live a comfortable life.  The body needs the four requisites of food, shelter, clothing and medicine to maintain life.  But we shouldnít have more than what we need.  The surplus will only be a burden because we have to take care of them.  If we live a simple life style, we can get rid of a lot of material possessions.  Ask yourself this question every time you wanted something:  ďDo I need it?  Can I live without it?Ē  If you can live without it and donít really need it, then you shouldnít have it.

 

What do you think of peopleís perception of Buddhism in todayís age?

Today peopleís understanding of Buddhism is quite far from the core of Buddhist teaching.  The Buddha always teaches the principle of karma.  You have to rely on yourself.  Even the Buddha cannot help you.  But sometimes people go to the temple and pray and ask from the Buddha images.  This is not the teaching of the Buddha because the Buddha has always said that you are your own refuge. 

You have to do good in order to reap good outcome.  You have to avoid doing bad if you donít want to reap bad consequence.  You have to overcome your greed, hate and delusion.  But instead you go to the Buddha with your greed.  You want your wife or husband to be faithful to you.  You want to always have good health.  These things the Buddha canít give you because good health depends on how you live your life.  If you abstain from alcohol and do a lot of exercise, youíll have better health than someone who drinks and doesnít exercise.  You have to rely on yourself, not the Buddha.  The Buddha is just a teacher. 

But most Thai Buddhists donít realize this. We think the Buddha is a god who will always answer our prayers and wishes.  If we wanted to be admitted into a university we pray to the Buddha,  spending three days in a temple.  Then we will be accepted by the university.  Sometimes it happens, not because of our prayer but because we studied hard and have the qualifications.  Thatís all.  Those who cannot separate cause from effect will believe that Buddha images and famous monks can work magic for them.  If they need anything, they will donate some money and pray for it. 

When they get it, they will tell other people how good and effective this monk or this Buddha image is.  People will then rush to this particular monk or Buddha image without thinking that itís just a coincidence.  Many Thai Buddhists have this erroneous belief  because they donít study the Buddhaís teaching.

 

Why do foreigners became monks and stay in the temple and what makes them so interested in Buddhism?

Because they study Buddhism.  They understand and appreciate the teaching and know that if they practice they will benefit from it.  Just like me when I first studied Buddhism and then applied it in my daily life by practicing meditation,  I found something that I  never had before right inside myself, inside all of us.  But we keep looking outside.  We look for money, for material possessions.  But we are never truly happy with what we have, because material possessions are not the answer to our happiness.  The real happiness is waiting for us inside ourselves.  By meditating we can corral the mind into a state of single-mindedness where we will experience the kind of happiness that we have never experienced before. 

This is one of the reasons why foreigners become monks in Thailand.  First they study the Buddhaís teaching, then practice it it in their daily life by giving to charity, abstain from bad behavior, and meditate.  Having experienced the result it makes them want to have more.  The best way to do it is to become monks.  And thereís no better place in the world to become monks than in Thailand.  Because Thailand has a long established tradition of monkhood.  I think this is the reason why most foreigners come to Thailand to become monks.  Plus the fact that they have found that material possession is not the answer.  They come from countries more advanced and developed in material products than Thailand and know that they are not the answer to the happiness they are looking for.

 

How many of them are here with you today?

Right now we have only one, an American young man who is an exchange student with the Rotary club.  He came to talk to me a few months ago when he first arrived and wanted to know more about Buddhism.  I told him and he wanted to try and became a monk.  He is staying here now and observing the daily routine that I mentioned to you.  I asked him how he was, and he said he was very happy.

 

Lastly, what words of wisdom would you give to our foreign audience?

My word of advice to you is to be thankful to have come across the teaching of the Buddha, because what the Buddha knew and what he told us is a hard-to-come-by transcendental truth, that will make us happy all the time, free us from all forms of stress and grief.  If you study his teaching and apply it in your daily life Iím sure youíll always be happy. 

First of all, the Buddha said you have to do good by giving to charity,  help those who are less fortunate than you are. Secondly, donít hurt other people.  No matter what you do.  Thirdly,  find some peace of mind by doing meditation.  You can start by mentally chanting some verses you know.  Just keep chanting and not thinking about anything, in order to rid your mind of restlessness.  When you think youíll agitate your mind.  When you stop thinking the agitation will disappear.  You will then have peace of mind and happiness.  The Buddha said that the happiness that arises from peace of mind surpasses all other happiness.

But itís not easy to do, because the mind by its nature keeps thinking all the time,  like a monkey that keeps moving from one tree branch to the next.  The mind thinks about one story, then moves on to the next story, on and on. At the same time, it creates all kinds of emotions along with it.  If you think good, youíll feel good.  If you think bad, youíll feel bad.  If you helped someone today, made him happier, made his life better, when you think about it, youíll feel good. If you did something bad to someone, hurt someone, when you think about it, youíll feel bad. 

Learn how to control your mind.  Steer your mind to think good thoughts, prevent it from thinking bad thoughts.  In order to do this, you  have to live simply.  If you donít,  your greed will push you to do things that youíll be sorry later on.  If you live simply,  you wonít do things that will cause problems or hurt other people. 

So this is my advice to you.  Be happy with what you have.  Live as simply as you can.  Just have the four requisites of life:  food, shelter, clothing and medicine.  Once you have this, thereís no need to have anything else, because what you have will give you problems and stress.  When you possess something, you want to keep it as long as possible.  But things donít last forever or remain the same.  They always change.  They come and go.  If you cling to them, when they leave you, you will feel terrible.  Take it as it comes.  Donít cling.  Then you will always be happy.  I hope what I have said to you today will help you somewhat to understand Buddhism and the monkhood.  Thank you.

 

Source : http://www.kammatthana.com

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