The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Many thanks to a anonymous volunteer (who shall remain unnamed) for this transcript.
Please take your seats and before we do the guided meditation I want to say a little bit more detail about how you meditate, about they’ve never meditated before and how to meditate. The easiest way is to sit and relax and let go. However many people have never done it before. We will have some skillful means to encourage people how to let go. There is anapanasati, there are also stages of meditation and people love that stuff. That causes a little bit of tension and I do it with reluctance.
Simile of the petals of the lotus flower. The teachers many of you heard or read and see that you come to a peaceful place and start with mindfulness as the priority. Priority means put in number one in the list before you do anything else. Sometimes they translate as in front of you, that’s where people say – oh, in front of me, where am I? People think – I’m in my head, or must be in my nose. Not your nose, because what happened to me in my journey in meditation, in summer time my nose is all stuffed up with hay fever. I once came very near to meditation but I sneezed, I blew it. I just could not breathe, there’s no air going in and out.
Later on, they say watch your tummy. That’s also very difficult. Watch your belly, you would know if I taught this in the evening, the tiny little bit from your belly is your stomach which is empty, which is hungry. So after a while I wasn’t watching the rise and fall of my belly, I was watching the emptiness of my stomach. I know the emptiness is a good meditation object, not when you are very young and hungry, it’s not very helpful. That never worked. But thank you, thank you, for giving me that problem. You don’t have to watch your breath in your nose nor your belly. You develop this very easy method – am I breathing in, am I breathing out. That’s very simple. That’s all you only watch – breath moving in or breath moving out. When you do walking meditation, is my right foot moving or my left foot is moving. No one has ever, ever asked me – how do I know which foot is moving? Of course you know, it’s natural, it’s the same with your breath, which one is going in, which is going in and going out.
Now the problem is if you start watching your breath from the very beginning, you’ll find you won’t last very long, the reason is because you haven’t been prepared. You haven’t calmed your mind down yet, which is why to create mindfulness, that’s number one priority you do that even before you start watching your breath. Just a couple of days, just relax and be mindful, calm down, don’t talk so much, just do things slowly, because there’s nothing to watch, you become aware of your feelings, feeling of your bed, feeling of your pillow, the feeling of the breakfast. That is why we have breakfast meditation and lunch meditation. Lunch meditation – number one is silence. As you use the chopsticks or spoon or fork, you take up something and put it in your mouth, you really taste it, chew it and swallow it and then only start taking the next one on the chopstick. However, what most people do is when you’ve got one morsel in the mouth, there’s one on the chopstick waiting patiently and there’s another one that you are messing around with. You usually have 3 or 4 morsels in front of yourself. So don’t do that. One morsel’s healthy. With that, put it in, enjoy every part of it, then the next one.
Many people have many digestive problems. One reason is they never tasted the food, they are busy talking to another or they are thinking about the meaning of life instead of just eating. I always tell people, if you’re going out with any friend to expensive restaurants, there is a little amount of fruit, so eat in silence. So for goodness sake, eat in silence, so you can get all the taste and get the value for money, everything you paid for. If your husband or wife starts talking say, “Shut up darling, we’ve paid a lot of money for this food, I’m eating it mindfully.”
If you want to have a conversation with somebody, you take them to either McDonald’s or some fast food restaurant or something but if it’s really high quality food, you actually taste it. And because you are tasting and enjoying your food, taking more time, more saliva comes out which means you have much better digestion. Eat joyfully, mindfully. Everything else in this retreat can be boring, but the food meditation, I can really get into this. And you only do it twice a day. So linger. Sometimes people do walking meditation for one hour, sometimes sitting meditation for two hours, so maybe eating meditation for…. You get in touch with your physical feeling, being here and not talking to yourself inside. Of course people ask “why can’t we talk? Why can’t we discuss dhamma when we’re having a meal?” The reason is, because if you are talking you are not tasting, if you are thinking you are not enjoying, giving a commentary to what’s happening rather than seeing things life.
And the story which you’ve heard so many times is about the master who had a walk with a disciple in the morning and evening, had to have noble silence, no one is allowed to talk only one disciple would go with the master every evening. They came to ridge of the mountains and there was a very beautiful sunset. The disciple was so overwhelmed by the view and forgot the silence and said “Wow such a beautiful sunset” and he had broken the rules which the master and turned around and went back to the temple. When he got back to the temple and told everyone that disciple could not go on a walk with him again. The master said when my disciple said ‘what a beautiful sunset‘ he was not watching the sunset anymore, he was only watching the words. I thought that was a wonderful simile. You’re either watching the thing itself, the experience or you are watching the commentary, and the commentary is a little bit different than the action and experience itself. Which is one of the reasons why you get more enjoyment to life, more reality when you stop giving a commentary when you are just aware, just being, just seeing instead saying anything about it.
Which is one of the reasons in the eating meditation, whatever meditation you are doing, just feel it, don’t give commentary which is old stuff. When you are just being you find it’s much more alive. So we lessen our thinking and stay more in the present moment, life where it actually happens. They also mentioned the past where everything happened, all that stuff which somebody did to you, why they did that, I don’t know but they done it, it doesn’t help anybody. I know some people say you learn from the past. Those who ignore the lessons of history are condemned to repeat those mistakes that is go maya. You learn from the present, this is moment right now, much more than the past, this where action is, this where wisdom and enlightenment is, this is where you find the treasure. Old monks don’t lie. So that’s why we learn to let of the past and future we come to a degree of silence before we even start watching the breath. Once people do that, anything that’d get you into the present moment, anything to stop the mind thinking too much. Sometimes your mind does think so much and so hard to stop it and one of those stories of my life. When I was in this monastery in the North of Thailand, birds were lining up to get water bath, I was so bored at one, I started reading the only English book which was about selling, which was left by a previous monk. I was trying to meditate, putting a lot of effort, staying most of the time deep in a cave, after a time I became very restless. All the thoughts started coming into my mind. And being a young monk being so stupid, I tried really really hard to keep the thoughts out. The more I tried the more it came in. I was not peaceful, not happy. First all the ordinary thoughts, then the stupid thoughts, then the very embarrassing, shameful thoughts, 5 years I’ve been thinking – What if that girl is still available? I had such a wonderful time. No, no I can’t do that, I’m a monk. One of my scariest moments when I was a student in last year of Cambridge, many friends were getting hitched up, life sentence. One of my friends, after marriage and the guys were talking with each other and the conversation came up which will be next to get married. Then they pointed at Jeff. No, no, no one would marry him. Then they pointed at me, I was Peter. No, no one would marry him. Then a girl whispered in my ear “I want to marry you”. Oh, no, no that was the scariest moment. That day I kept a long distance from her.
In that monastery, every time I tried to push out those thoughts, even the first days when I ordained as a novice monk for the first few days I had nightmares. My nightmare was I was a lay person. That told me how much I wanted to be a monk. I don’t want to be a lay person. All these thoughts coming, I pushed them out and kept watching my breath. The more I tried to watch my breath, all these thoughts kept coming in, so frustrated fighting my thoughts. There was no one to talk to. I went to the Buddha statue and bowed – Help. There was an insight, make a deal. For 23 hours I shall be meditating, watching the breath, doing loving kindness or chanting be a good monk. But if my mind want to do any of those naughty things, 3 or 4 pm will be my sexy time, just thinking only. I thought that would work. If you want to do that, give you one hour a day, okay. No more, then you behave. It didn’t work as I had expected. It was still a battle, fight it, getting it out of the day, by the time I got to 3 pm I got really tired. Okay I will not fight you anymore, all the thoughts, you could come. But if Ajahn Chah was around, he could read my mind, I would run away, it was so embarrassing. And for the next one hour, I watched every breath without missing, so easy, so peaceful. I thought what is going on. When I tried to train my mind it wouldn’t behave but when I let it be, it was so peaceful, followed every breath. Now you remember the simile of the anger eating monster. You let it be, it will be peaceful. You fight your mind and you make it more angry and upset. And your mind becomes more uncontrollable.
The story of a woman, her son was about 5 or 6 years of age who was fed up with his mom. “Right mom, I am leaving home. I don’t love you anymore, mom.”
Threw a tantrum. I know some mothers had thought of doing this but none of them had the guts to try it.
“Want to leave home?”
“Yeah mom, you are too strict.”
“What have you packed?”
So two of them went into the kid’s room. “All the important necessities of life like the Spiderman costume, teddy bear..” and having put everything in the little bag.
Mommy said “Oh it’s a long journey in life. I will make your favourite sandwich.” She put it in brown paper bag and waved the kid at the door “Bye bye darling have a wonderful life, don’t forget to keep in touch every now and again.”
So the 5, 6 year old went off to life, left home for the first time carrying a suitcase and brown paper bag, walked down the path and opened the gate and walked off into his life. Walked not more than 1 minute he felt homesick, and walked home, mom was still waiting at the door, haven’t moved.
“Welcome home darling.” Doing that meant the child didn’t want to leave home after all. That was brilliant emotional intelligence, had she fought with the son, punished him, locked him in the room, that wouldn’t have solved the problem. You want to leave, off you go, but having a bit of loving kindness – what do you want for your lunch. Doing that meant the child didn’t want to leave her after all.
Just like the thinking mind, if you are kind to your mind doesn’t want to leave you. It likes you, it wants to stay with you. That’s when you are kind to your mind then you don’t wander off.
Another time was right in front of Wat Nancha about 2 or 3 years, in the hot season the farmers will take the water buffalo out to graze. These are so peaceful animals and sometimes kids can fall asleep on the animals backs because it grazes for hours. Except if the water buffalo does get frightened they can be dangerous. They were always frightened of monks. They had eye sight probably they thought the monks were tigers, similar cut out. Because of that we were always very careful, whenever the water buffaloes head went up, that’s a sign they were about to charge. I also remember a couple of times being charged by a water buffalo. One of the times I was on alms round with Ajahn Sumedho, the water buffalo chased both of us. So Ajahn went one way and I went another way, that was a big mistake because Ajahn Sumedho had much better calming than I did so the water buffalo followed me. I had to hide behind a tree to escape. In this case, the owner took the water buffalo to graze and they took a rope, string more like to take the water buffalo out to graze. The water buffalo started lifting its head, someone scared it and the farmer tried to hold the water buffalo back and the water buffalo took off with the man’s finger. The rope around his finger pulled it off, just the top of it. He wasn’t in pain because he was in shock. He had the bone sticking up and the flesh all gone and we took him to hospital, he survived, no trouble at all.
What is stronger, a water buffalo or a Thai farmer? The water buffalo is always stronger. If it wants to go, let it go otherwise you lose a finger. It doesn’t go that far, 200 metres the most and it stops. So the farmer needs to walk a bit slowly and then get the string and pull it back to the place because the water buffalo is not afraid anymore.
That’s just like your mind, if it gets a bit of crazy just let it go. It won’t go that far and then you can pull it back again. However sometimes they say they tried and the water buffalo keeps going on and on for a long time. You’re not letting it go, you’re enjoying the mind wandering. You’re actually indulging in it – we get involved and entangled in our thoughts and fantasies and where these similes come from is all the troubles that I have been doing.
It really stunned me the first time when I was in Changi Airport, in the middle of Terminal 3 there were huge big TVs and they were playing soccer. I saw these people they were waiting for their flights and they jumped up “That’s penalty ref, a penalty.” And they shouted at the screen.
Number 1, no matter how hard you shout in Singapore, they can’t hear it in Manchester. Number 2, it was a replay, the match finished yesterday. But why do people get entangled in it because the psychology is, when you are watching it, the whole experience becomes like you are right there, just like in Old Trafford in the stands, that’s how you get involved. Just like the movies, sometimes you go and see the movies and it’s really scary, some monster is creeping out “Behind you, look out”, I have seen people do this in the movies they actually shout out. It’s only a movie it’s not real. But that’s what movies work when you are right there. People get emotionally entangled in movies, you are part of them, that’s why it goes on and on and on. But if you watch a movie and watch with a little bit of detachment, like I once did on a flight when they had the movie Armaggeddon. The screen came right down in front of me and I didn’t have any headphones, that’s that great part. Don’t take the headphones, it’s so entertaining, like a comedy, because the headphones, the sound track gets you emotionally involved. If you don’t get sucked into it, you will know exactly what will happen. But people like the fantasies and it goes on and on and on. If you do ever want to stop the fantasy, get some silence, just take a step back, just watch it from a distance. Why am I wasting my time for that for? Just wasting time, really it is. If you get stuck in those fantasies, just fast forward – then what? Then what? Then what? What happens you keep going forward, forward. Stand back and have some skepticism to your thinking processes, to your thoughts thinking inside. When you are really silent, it’s really therapeutic, you are recharging, it’s holy. No matter what religion you are or no religion at all, just silence or peace, it’s a wonderful place to stay for a moment if not longer. Once you value silence, once you respect silent night, it’s much easier to stay there. But when you are afraid of silence then there’s no end of thoughts, fantasies and dreams to fill the mind up. And most of the dreams and fantasies become negative, it’s much easier to find fault. You don’t get energized when you are angry, finding faults, finding things wrong but unfortunately it releases lots and lots of negative energy in your non-meditative life. But instead just be silent and enjoy that beautiful bliss and you get energized.
So in your meditation you start off sitting comfortably, relaxing your body and then just being in the present moment. I’m going to give the simile of shopping bags when we do some meditation in a few moments. And then you just keep as silent as possible, don’t have to be perfectly silent, just relax, mindful enough and then you can watch your breathing. Doesn’t matter where you’re watching your breath – breathing in, breathing out. It’s boring isn’t it, at first? Which is one of the reasons why people can count the breath,
breathing in 1,
breathing out 1,
and so on until 8,8, 9,9.
And then start again at 1.
Then start at 1.
Then start at 1,
Then start at 1 again,
Then start at 1,
until 5, 5.
Then start at 1,
Then start at 1,
Then in 1
until 2, 2.
Then in 1 out 1 and then you find 45 breaths you’ve watched. That’s one way of doing it. At least you know you are focused. Sometimes it’s a little forced. If you want to play with that, fine.
Each of us, we are missing some peace or happiness or whatever it is. So when we breathe in, say health if you’re very sick, peace if you are agitated – breathing in peace, breathe out agitation. Breathing in peace, energy, health, breathing out let go, agitation, sickness, etc. Do that for 3 or 4 minutes but you really have to get into it. Don’t just say peace and let go. What does peace mean for you, what does the word, what it really mean and what you really want to let go of, really put some focus onto that. It does energise you. You only do those aids in the beginning. You get tired after a while. You don’t really need them. After a while just watching your breath, just like watching your feet, left, right. What happens next? Natural, you see the whole breath from the beginning to the end. First moment when the in breath starts to arise, it starts to move the breath in your body. It fills up your body and in the end it fades away, the in breath is finished. Then there is a pause and the out breath begins. It builds and builds to its maximum exhalation and then it fades away. There’s another pause. In order for you to get interested I’m going to give you a test.
Some people like exams in Malaysia. Which is the longest? The gap between the in breath and the out breath or the gap between the out breath and the in breath. You’ve gotta check it out, not just one breath, many breaths, for you to find the long pause. To make it interesting, something to do, something focus your attention, a task for you, makes it a little bit more to pay attention. That makes you interested in the breath then it becomes delightful. Just like walking meditation, I can do it the whole day, just walking it’s interesting, simply because you’ve become calmer more peaceful, the mindfulness is strong enough, you can see the delightful breath. Any of you had my teachings before or been to my retreat would know once you get to the delightful breath or the delightful walking in walking meditation, you’re off your way, may have interesting thing come up. You can come and ask the question. Once you can get to that stage of meditation you can have a wonderful time when you meditate. Not every time. But you know what happens when the delightful breath, I call it pivot point from there is the incredibly beautiful stages of meditation, just get into that point and watch the breath and it becomes very peaceful, that’s very important.
When it comes to how it actually happens when you do in these stages of meditation. That is where I devise thousand petals lotus simile. A lotus is a symbol of Buddhism. The Lotus company was started by a Buddhist. Even the lotus car, was a Buddhist company but not anymore. Fast cars and Buddhism don’t really mix. I like slow cars, just you know, ahhh, just to get enlightened, take it easy. Lotus closes in the night time and on the outside when the lotus is closed up, you never think the inside of the lotus is amazing, beautiful, fragrant petals. But when it’s closed up in the night time, in the morning the sun rises and the light and the water, the sun hit that outer most petal and it opens up, allowing the next layer of petal, receives the light and the sun and that opens up allowing the second layer to receive the light, water and sun so it can open up. They open up one after another in turn when what is on the outside receiving the light and water and sun opens then allows the one inside to open up, and the deeper you go into the lotus the more beautiful and fragrant and delicate are the petals. That is the simile for meditation, you are the lotus, the warmth and light of the sun stands for, the light is mindfulness, the warmth is kindness.
When you shine mindfulness and kindness on your body, you relax it until aches and pains vanish and you go inside your body. That is the first layer of petal. The outer most layer of petal, the sheath is always not so delightful, it could be old, cranky and fat. But inside the inner most petal, there is the most fragrant petal. Then you go into the mind, there is the first layer of petals of the mind is like time, past and future. You just with kindness and mindfulness, be kind to your past, be kind to your future and inside the past and future is a beautiful present moment, you got inside of time. These great layer of petals called present moment awareness. That’s how far Eckhart Tolle went and that is beautiful and inside the present moment, just be mindful and kind to now and inside of that you find silence. There’s nothing to say, there’s no words to describe the peace and the joy of inside this moment of silence, and inside of that you will find your breath, the layer of petals open up, the natural breath. The reason why you’re aware of your breath because that’s the main thing’s still moving, everything else is shut down and vanish, and your breath…you are in the layer of petals called breath. You don’t do anything, you’re just mindful and kind and it opens up to the full awareness of the breath, from beginning to end, it’s not what you do, it’s what happens. And that opens up to the delightful breath, again, you are not doing anything, just being aware and being kind and that opens up delightful breath, breathing in so much joy and happiness and content, and that opens up to the nimittas, beautiful lights come up. And I will pause a little bit when I talk about nimittas, I can see their expression change and pay more attention cos you really want these nimittas. And so sometimes the delightful breath is opening up and the nimitta you can see it inside, you can see the nimitta, you can still see the breath, it’s so much like what is going to happen, have you got enough mindfulness and kindness to open up the delightful breath, totally silent, is the nimitta going to close up or going to stay with the delightful breath? Doesn’t matter, let the mind decide. But then after a while it will open up to see a beautiful light and then what happens?
These are really gorgeous petals, they just blow your way. Never seen such gorgeous petals inside of you. When you experience something like that you know that right now inside of this thing listening to me, watching me, and if you can only open it up, you can see the amazing nimittas, the nimittas are already inside of you, just need to open them up. It’s your mind, your citta and the beautiful nimitta, it opens up, it’s the first Jhana, now you’re flying. That opens up into the 2nd Jhana, that opens up into the 3rd, right inside, in, in, in all the way. You never go on to the next stage of meditation. You go deeper in to where you already are. That’s why we call this insight meditation not onsight or excite. You go in, in, in. So this happens naturally, nevertheless we can call it stages of meditation, just say you get some idea of where you are. And how do you proceed? You just keeping kind and aware, that’s all. Stay where you, get into this moment and then see what happens. That is the simile of thousand petal lotus. The simile of meditation being on the breath going deeper and deeper in.
We will do the guided meditation up to 10.30am.
I am the most humble monk, If you are humble and practice humility all your life, what’s the point of being humble if people don’t know about it. Flaunt your humility.
First of all you close your eyes, have your body nice and comfortable, lean this and that way, stretch it until it get really nice. Have your eyes closed. Look at your body with mindfulness and kindness. How is your body, how is your legs, are they in a good position? The best time to move is always at the beginning but later on it’s fine also. In the beginning, get the best posture as you can, really be careful and kind. And my butt make sure not too far forward not too back, my waist – good stretch helps, rest of my back, learn to regard them as a bunch of strings and let go of the bunch of strings, it gets loose, feels free. My hands, throat, neck, be kind to it, not cure it, can’t get rid of it, it gets worse. So you just, the sickness in the body, just be aware and kind, even my face, my brain, kind to my brain. The whole body, aware and kind. There may be some parts of your body which are irritating, aching or painful, zoom in on that with kindness, awareness, just to that small part of your body. Grow your awareness on that tiny area of your body which really does need some tender loving care and provide the kindness. May my knee be happy and free of suffering. May throat be at peace. So with the practice you can look at any part of your body and you can really relief much of the irritation on that. Not just for the moment, many, many moments, being kind, relaxing, can feel your body relax.
When the body does relax, you can go inside of it, it’s not such a big hindrance anymore. Go inside to that part of the mind called time… to be able to let go of the past and the future. So now we come to the shopping bag mental exercise. You can imagine, visualize, you can experience this many times, imagine you are holding two very heavy shopping bags, one in your left hand and the other in your right hand and you’ve been carrying the past, shopping in the past, inside that bag you have so many memories most of them unpleasant, painful, really hurtful memories of the past, and they are packed into that shopping bag in your left hand. You’ve been carrying that past for way too long, that’s why not just your imaginary arm and shoulder, the real heart, your mind is tired, aches cos you’ve been carrying the burden of the past for way too long. And then you bring your attention to your right hand shopping bag. In that bag with words on the outside of that bag are words F-U-T-U-R-E, future and in that bag you stuffed as many of your fears, worries even hopes and dreams into that right hand bag, that too is very, very heavy. That’s why worry about the future makes your heart very weak and your mind is very tired, carrying around with rest, shopping bag of the future. Establish what those 2 shopping bags contain. Feel how heavy they are. You can imagine yourself leaning to the left, so you can lower the shopping bag from your hand, closer and closer to the ground, when it touches the ground, all the weight, the burden of your past vanishes, allow you to unclench your fist and move your hand away from that bag called your past, straighten your back so your left hand and arm can hang loosely by your side, relaxing, recharging, reenergizing.
Symbolically you’ve left your bag containing your past. Now helps to let go of the real past. Then you imagine the shopping bag in your right hand called your future, fears, anxieties, dreams, plans, burdens about the future, before you know it, feel how heavy it is, how it tires you, wears you out. Imagine leaning to the right, lowering your shopping bag, lowering your fears and anxieties closer and closer to the floor. When it hits the ground, all the way it vanishes. The burden’s gone. You’re still holding on to the handle, you unloosen your grip with your hand, move your arm away to the side and straighten your back. Then you allow the left arm to relax recover regain its strength and you gaze down from this imaginary exercise, you gaze down on the floor, no one is going to take them away. They’re yours, they’re your responsibility. You’re just putting them for a few minutes, don’t be scared, you are standing in this place, this magic place between the past and future, that’s what we call now, present moment. The only place we can relax, the only place we can prepare for our future, the present moment. So what’s it like to me now, no past no future they’ll come later on, spend a few moments if not longer, on vacation from the past and the future, getting away from it it all, not in the past, not in the future, you are actually here. Be kind to whatever you are experiencing now, mindfulness and kindness towards the present moment, make the present moment interesting, keeping with the kindness and the mindfulness, the present moment can become so fascinating that you don’t need to say anything. Go into the silence. Mindfulness and kindness, they are inside the present moment and you’ll find the silent mind.
Don’t disturb the silence. Silence is holy, sacred, it’s beautiful and it also energises you. So it’s as if your mind is listening to this moment rather than taking notes or giving a commentary, just fully tasting experiencing, fully knowing without being disturbed by words and labels. And now see if you can notice your breathing, not concerned on what part of the body it notices, just you know you are breathing in, or you are breathing out to your in between. Imagine your breath like a good friend, not like a slave, you don’t grab your breath, very gently, kindly hold its hand. You through these moments together. The breath is slow is its choice, if it’s fast let the breath decide, you’re its friend. Just being kind and being mindful. Now you are aware of the breath, you can count your breath, breathing in 1 breathing out 1, you can give it a try or breathing in peace, breathe out let go.
As you focus deeper and deeper into the breath, awareness can come. You may now begin to notice the very beginning of the breath, watch all the way to its end. You even see the space in the in breath is complete and the out breath is yet to be there. And the out breath is there, the space between the out breath and the next in breath, which is longest?
Going always inside where you are right now.
Experience the breath coming now more peace and kindness.
Be kind to it.
How do you feel now? Going inside…mindfulness and kindness
Count 3 more breaths, at the end of the third breath open your eyes, don’t forget, continue to breathe.
And a little smile would be encouraging for me. Thank you. Okay, Sadhu, sadhu, sadhu