The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Many thanks to a anonymous volunteer (who shall remain unnamed) for this transcript.
Sometimes you visualize a glass of water… see
First this morning’s talk – Samatha and Vipassana. Don’t get too serious.
My story about Samatha and Vipassana of this couple, Sam Atha and Vi passana. Sam and Vi bought a beautiful house in PJ and they had a dog called Metta, and the other dog, Anapana (anapanasati). One day after lunch they decided to go for a walk up meditation mountain. The higher you get on Meditation Mountain, the more peaceful you get. Vi went up there with her camera because she wanted to talk insight views. Sam went up for peace. Metta was so simple, just go up there for fun, Ananapa went because they all went up there.
Half way up they paused, wahhh it was so calm and still even half way up Meditation Mountain. Vi could take amazing shots, insight and understanding but she also appreciated the silence, paused to enjoy the incredible peace. Metta was very happy and also enjoyed the silence and view. Ananapana (the breath) she was fading away, disappearing. When they went up to the top of Meditation Mountain, that dog vanished completely. Metta the dog, you’ve never seen a dog so happy, so blissed out, was happy almost splitting its face into half, the tail was wagging so fast like a propeller. Vi had prize winning amazing insights and amazing sounds. Sam – nothing moved down there. It was so still but he could also experience the view and the happiness same as Vi. She was so incredibly still, so happy, because when you have lots of piti, joy and happiness, tears come down.
Oh I’m crying what’s that for, it’s either two reasons either you’re very hungry because you can smell the food back there but more likely it’s because you have so much joy, so much happiness back there. It does bring tears to your eyes and she could also experience peace as well, because on the top of Meditation Mountain, it does not matter why you go up there whether for insight or stillness or joy or love, because all those things exist together on top of Meditation Mountain, insight stillness and metta. I have given the secret already but if you get to deep meditation, you may come out after, so peaceful, so still until all these insights I have now really understood, the nature of reality.
So this philosophical stuff but what really happens on Meditation Mountain, you do have peace, insight and the smile, the happiness that is there as well.
“Ajahn Brahm I’m just here to you I’m now a non-returner.”
I’ll say “Very good you’re a non-returner, get out and don’t come back again.”
You’re expelled from the retreat. No it’s the joy there the happiness but that is understanding the relationship between samatha and vipassana, they are all the same.
If you look in Anapanasati Sutta number 118, it’s got 8 at the end must be good. It says anyone who practices anapanasati at the same time also practise the 4 satipatthana, you do one you do the other, they are same, sama sama. So if you can focus on satipatthana, that’s fine, do satipatthana retreat but whether you are like it or not, you’re doing anapana doing sort of samatha also, doing samatha practise you got to be doing satipatthana as well and also you’re doing metta, that’s also the same.
That’s one of the reasons when people come and say “Please teach me some meditation”. Usually I teach anapanasati but if they can’t do anapanasati, then I tell them to do mindfulness of breath. If they can do that I will tell them to do satipatthana. If they can’t do satipatthana then I teach them to do vipassana. They can’t do vipassana I teach them to do loving-kindness. They can’t do loving kindness, then do metta meditation. They can’t do metta meditation, I teach them letting go meditation. If they can’t let go I teach them anapanasati. By which time they didn’t realise that’s where they started from. Different words for the same practice. So what is that practise in brief – This is your body and mind (raising a cup), you let it go, give up grasping, stop attaching, stop being a control freak, leave it alone, just make peace with things, be kind, be gentle. Then really peaceful and still.
Sometimes when I go to retreats there are TVs in the room. They tell me to look at the TV. Looking at TV is very profound, very deep. I go very close to the TV, but don’t turn it on, I can see a reflection, I can see my face, but only when the TV is not turned on. But all those different types of meditation basically is let go and see things as they really are.
The old simile, when I was in Korea recently, being a Buddhist monk teaching retreats, going for conferences sometimes you get so many invitations, sometimes every now and again, irritation stands out. It was in 2015, World Computer Congress, that stood out. That’s really good I get to give the keynote address to set the theme for the conference. I didn’t know anything about computers. But I thought it was really cool to give the keynote address for the World Computer Congress. And you know what happened, when I got there, they said “What are you doing here? Who are you? What do you know about computers?” I said “Nothing.” And I was giving the keynote address to all these important people coming in, from Europe, security experts for the EU and all these other hotshots, all these other nerds, and when I got up I had to explain what I was doing there.
I gave simile of the St Louis World Fare 1971, there was the ice cream and right next to it was a stall selling waffles. The two guys selling these things, they became friends after many, many days, chatting when there were not so many people buying their food. And then they decided to collaborate. Two different kinds of food coming together, synergy. Two kinds of food never come together before – ice cream and waffles, that made the ice cream cone. Where did the ice cream cone come from? Ice cream in the conical waffle. So when you have meditation and IT, where’s that going to go? Who knows, when we put them together, let’s see what happens? That’s called innovation.
The other one I went to was more Buddhist, was working with the big Buddhist groups in Korea to move forward from the fact Donald Trump was falling in love with Kim Jong Un. That’s what they said. They wanted to do a peace event, meditation peace. You had 6000 meditators at the Peace Park. Ajahn Gunha was there. Part of that was having a peace walk within the Demilitarized Zone. You can’t just walk in the DMZ, there are still mines, snipers and all sorts of nasty things in the DMZ. We got permission, 6000 Koreans and the only meditation monk. Ajahn Brahm you are really fit. You should have seen me, 3 hours walk really fast, 6 ½ km and that was within the DMZ, to the gate and then back. Maybe I was scared, going so fast in DMZ. When we were inside, they were shooting. I was shot, shot many times. Cameras, yes, click click another shot, another shot. But it was the sort of thing that builds up extra, confidence building, energy that’s one the reasons why you’re doing these kind of things. I like to do things that are a little different.
How do we have peace as well? Not when we are fighting our friends, when we are fighting our minds. Come on, sit up straight. Watch your breath. You really think that’s going to work in meditation? In some countries people are scared to say or do something. They’re being watched. This mindfulness CCTV cameras all over the place but still they are so tensed, no sense of freedom there at all. So it’s the same in your life, you may be mindful, you’re just like being constantly surveyed, under surveillance, does that give rise to peace and wisdom? So after a while, we just learn how not just to be mindful but be kind as well. I call that kindfulness. And the kindness was such a long time, I knew all these monks were really kind. Ajahn Chah and all these monks were incredibly kind. Even some of the fiercest of monks, the toughest of monks which I came across was Ajahn Maha Boowa. When I stayed with him I was sweeping the paths, the usual job of forest monks. When you clear the paths especially at night time or early in the morning you can spot a snake on the path, so you don’t step on it. If there are twigs there, you won’t know what’s a snake and what is a twig. So it’s dangerous. We always do that, our main jobs.
As I was sweeping the path, came Ajahn MahaBoowa, “You’re sweeping the path the wrong way. Instead of sweeping it away on the side, that means you get little furrows, little depressions in the middle of the path and that means the water will keep coming up there. Take it to the edge and sweep it at the centre and take it in the center and put in the forest, that way the path will not have depressions in there, that way it’s like a road that has camber, with a highest point in the center.” He said with such kindness and softness. After that you just wanted to do everything he said.
If he shouted at me I will say ‘Yes, sir, yes, sir’ and when he’s gone round the corner, I will just sweep it the usual way. That’s what happens with fear.
One of my favourite monks, Ajahn Tate, he was Wat Heng Marp Peng on the borders of Mekong. He had a great reputation, had terminal cancer when I first went to Thailand, had best care sponsored by the King of Thailand. After a while there was nothing they could do, so prepare himself to die. He said “If I’m going to die, I might as well die in my temple in Bangkok.” So he got onto the train to Bangkok. That was after 24-25 years he died. Because he was a great monk, you always ask questions. Even I had to make an appointment. When I went to his room I saw this tiny old monk just sitting on the chair looking at the Mekong River. When he looked at me, all my questions vanished, questions had evaporated. Such kindness, such peace, there were no questions to ask. Trying to ask questions, trying to change things, instead of being peaceful. One of the times I did have to improve, I had silly questions, etc and thought I had to be better trained. He said “No, you are good enough.” So much love, so much acceptance, opening the door of the heart to me, no imperfections. All the things I thought were imperfections. It’s alright. You are really 100 per cent, you never needed to improve. All the wanting trying to improve, all the ill will trying to be embarrassed by my stupid jokes, all the striving just vanished there. I felt so wonderful, just peace love and then of course there was the greatest teacher. At that point I didn’t want to ask any questions. I just wanted to stay there, just hang out forever. But my time was up, get up somebody wants to come in. There’s the sort of experiences where I just realized how powerful kindness is. And I thought why is that some teachers can be so unkind and so critical and fault finding. If you are fault finding you won’t get the benefit of the doubt. You won’t give the others the benefit of the doubt, you are always so critical about yourself.
You are good enough. When you are meditating “You are good enough” only 4 days to go, get into it. Get real, if you haven’t got enlightened yet, you’re not going to get enlightened at all, so just give up and relax. How many retreats have you done? No Jhanas yet? No hope for you. What happens then? You just let go, stop striving, stop wanting. Sit there, take your time. Nimittas, Jhanas, enlightenment just comes to you. Kindness, kindness, compassion, compassion.
When you practise people sort of kind in daily life maybe not in business. Somehow Buddhists are not kind when they meditate. ‘Be quiet, don’t move, I’m meditating. Don’t slam the door I got to sleep I got to meditate at 3 o’clock tomorrow.’ Where’s the kindness? So if somebody’s in the room and they snore ‘Oh poor thing’, just get up and just tuck them in. ‘You must be cold.’ So sacrifice your own sleep, it’s the kindness for others. If you go up for the food, the last piece of your favourite, and the person in front of you gets it first and nothing left for you. Makes me so happy that you get it and I give it to you. So compassion comes and ‘please have it’. That’s real compassion, so when it’s real compassion and kindness, that was something that always inspired me in Buddhism. Sometimes in meditation you don’t see it. People shout at you and tell you “Sit up straight” even though it’s really torturing your body. You can’t go until the bell rings. Sometimes at meditation retreats they have grounds to complain to the human rights commission for being tortured. You’re only allowed 2 meals a day, you can’t eat in the evening, that’s torture to begin with. You have to sit still for many hours, that’s prolonged stress positions, that’s what they do at Guantanamo Bay.
When you add kindness into the meditation, it just takes off. Be kind to your body, understanding it, how does it work. Once you used to your body, you are kind to it, you notice how it works, when to rest, how to eat, how much to eat, how much to sit meditation, when to do walking meditation, when to go outside, just have a walk, on the observation platform just to get yourself alive again and feeling good is so important. If you are kind to body, the next thing be kind to your mind.
Ajahn Brahm, stupid monk, same old stories over and over again. Never mind, I forgive you. ‘I’m getting old, there’s only so many stories which I know.’ So you are actually at ease and at peace with your mind. When you are at ease and peace with your mind, your mind’s at ease and peace with you. You don’t have any conflict in your meditation practice. You’re not trying to get anywhere. You’re trying to reconcile the practice with this moment, being here, making peace.
At this point I want to introduce the emperor’s 3 questions way to enlightenment. Meditation and the emperor’s 3 questions. It’s not anapana, it’s not satipatthana, it’s another that you can do. So I think you may have all known the emperor’s 3 questions stories, the one that impressed me so much when I was student when I read the short stories by Tolstroy and it was Thich Nhat Hanh also wrote about it later on. An old Russian folk story where an emperor was upset when the different religions and all the different types of religions saying they are the best. Vipassana is the best, no you have to Jhanas, no just Omitofo, just do chanting, no you have to this, no you have to do that, arguing with one another. “I’m an emperor, I can make my own religion.” So he want to make up his own religion. He wanted something which was spiritual, something that answered questions in life and also practical. Many of us, how can we use these teachings in our daily life? Please don’t say in the real world. When you are in the air conditioned offices, wearing makeup, dye on your hair, may be things inside here to look bigger, deodorants, scents, is that the real world? I do not use hair dye. Monks we don’t use deodorants. So people often said to me, why don’t you use a girdle or something so you can look thinner. Of course you don’t do stuff like that as a monk. This is real.
What do I do when I go back to work? Emperor wanted something to use in daily life. The only philosophy you need is the answer is the questions. ‘When… is the most important time? Who… is the most important person? What is the most important thing to do?” When, who and the what. It was a very wonderful story because the emperor found those answers but not where he expected to find it. It was an encounter with a young boy.
“When is the most important time?” Now thanks to Eckhart Tolle, everybody knows that NOW is the most important time, the only time you have right now. So when do you get enlightened? Now. So if you get enlightened tomorrow or this evening, or last day, forget it. Cos there’s only one time you get enlightened, right now.
“Who is the most important person?” The one right in front of you. When you outside and see one of the fellow meditators just wondering where is the water, they become the most important person because they are right in front of you. Give them importance.
When you go home, you have little kid who comes running to you who’s missed you so much because you’ve been on a retreat. “Mommy how are you?”
“I’m busy darling, I just got into the house.”
Don’t do that. They’re right in front of you, they’re important. Make them feel important. If you make them feel important that’s all they need.
I mentioned this story at BGF talk about this little kid, what do they want to be a kid when they grow up. He said, “When I grow up I want to be an iPhone.”
“When I am with my mommy, she’ll ignore me to answer her iPhone. Daddy tells me not to talk when I am eating my dinner. But when his iphone rings, he will stop and talk to the iphone. In fact my mommy and daddy spend so much time with their iPhone, much more than they spend with me. I think they must love their iphones much more than their kids. So when I grow up I want to be an iPhone so I get more love and time from my parents.”
Brilliant, isn’t it? You understand it.
People keep asking “This happens in my meditation, what should I pay attention to, the nimitta or the breath or the body? I wander all over the place, should I stop there and bring the attention back to somewhere else?”
What is the most important meditation object in the world? The one right in front of you now, whatever that is. That is the most important meditation object. Don’t think this is not the nimitta, this is not the breath, you can’t think it can’t be worth anything. It’s just like a little kid, I said many times. Some important gentleman that’s come to visit you, the Dalai Lama is visiting you, get out of the way kid. No, the kid is more important. If he’s right in front of you, doesn’t matter who they are, they’re the most important person in the whole world. The meditation object you’re right with right now, tiredness, dullness, some stupid thought. It’s not a stupid thought. Somehow that thought is to teach you something. If you think it’s not important, it’ll keep coming back again to you to listen to it, to learn what you’ve to learn. So that’s why… you’re tired, you’re fed up, fed up is right in front of you. Don’t chase it away, just listen to it. You’re depressed, you’re in pain. It’s really nasty having pain, it’s in front of you, the most important object. Be with it. Learn from it. What do you do with it?
What’s the most important thing to do? Now’s the most important time. The one right in front of you is the most important meditation object in the world. The most important thing to do, is to care. Someone asked me what do you mean by caring? Just change one letter it becomes curing.
The young doctor, Sri Lankan who’s come to the temple when he was really tiny. This temple’s 36 years. Many people who came in the first years were just little school kids in Grade school. Now he’s grown up, has his own kids, very good at school, worked hard, finished medical school, became a doctor, highly qualified but then first year when he was in hospital. I remembered he came here during lunch time, very distressed, came to me for advice.
He said “I need to resign, I cannot carry on being a doctor.” It came as a shock to me because he was a very good doctor, and the amount of work, exams, all that stuff you have to learn, he’s going to throw that away. What happened? I could see the pain and distress on his face. That very morning, an hour or two before one of his patients had died, it’s unexpected. Later on, with autopsies, they found out what the reason was but no doctor would be able to find out the cause of the death but he was supposed to be looking after her and she died. That wasn’t the worse part. The worse part was he had to tell the young woman’s husband, they were young and was in the love joy of one another and he had to tell his young wife died. The two young children had no mommy anymore. That was so tough for him to handle. He felt so guilty so responsible especially you are the one to break the news. He couldn’t do that again, which was too painful to see that shock, agony, people’s lives are falling apart and so he had to resign.
That’s when I told him he misunderstood his purpose as a doctor. If his purpose was to cure people whom you’re attending or looking after, you’re going to fail many times in your life. We all know this, some diseases some sicknesses you can’t cure. And even if you do cure them, it’s only temporary we’re all going to die one day. You can never cure people. If that’s your main goal you’re going to fail many, many times and you may feel the same pain maybe more many many times. I can understand that’s why he had to change the job. That’s not the purpose of being a therapist, nurse, psychologist, any of that sort of professions or being an Ajahn, a monk teacher, your job is not to cure people. Many times I’ve been trying to you and you are so stubborn. I can’t cure you of your bad habits. But I don’t want to cure your bad habits, they’re cute. Your job is not to cure but to care. If you care for your patients, you never need to be a failure, as long as you make caring more important than curing. He got it straightaway, very smart fellow and he is still a doctor today.
One of our monks was passing blood in his stool. The doctor freaked out and said it could be bowel cancer. He went to a specialist and he was the one who came to see me years before. As soon as he knew that this was one of my monks, no fee, fast tracked, apparently it was just irritation. I did mention to the doctor many times, if you make caring more important than curing. If you try to cure them, sometimes you kill them. If somebody does pass away and they know their loved ones care for them so much, it changes the whole process. So caring is most important not curing.
So what’s that got to do with meditation? Sloth and torpor – have you been trying to cure that? Your restlessness or stupid thoughts, have you been trying to cure that? If you’ve been trying to cure all your mental bad habits, all of your defilements, all of your hindrances, all of the blockages in your meditation, if you’ve been trying to cure them, best of luck. I will see you here next two years with the same problems.
Don’t try and cure them. Care for them, that’s radical. Give it some kindness, monster in the emperor’s palace, ‘Welcome monster’. All those stupid fantasies I had when I was going crazy. ‘Ok you can come in for one hour every afternoon. Come, I’m going to care for you, all my romantic dreams.’ As soon I cared for them I didn’t need them anymore, my mind was peaceful.
Put out your legs if you are so tired, point them at me and be welcome. It’s not being done out of disrespect. It’s respecting the dhamma and being kind to your body.
When you need to cough during your meditation “ah, I’ve got to cure that.” If you try to cure that, you have what you call ‘volcano effect’. Out of misplaced kindness, you block it out until eventually (cough, cough), very loud. So being kind is the important part of meditation as with life, kindness is important.
Now back to the emperor’s three questions. What is the object in your mind is really important, the most important, not Jhanas. If right in front, is really fed up, angry, ‘I want to go toilet, can Ajahn Brahm stop now please?’ whatever’s in front of your mind is the most important thing in the whole world. Whatever you do with it, you care for it. Don’t try and cure it, care for it. And you get so peaceful, so still and so you can get into wonderful states of mind. When strive so hard, just only get stressed. When you let go, be kind and here you are, in deep meditation. So wherever you may be in the world, what you’re experiencing, maybe really sick, lying in bed, can’t sleep, really hurting, aching, what do you do? Present moment, that sickness, that fever, whatever it is, is really important. Please be with it, be kind to that. Accept it. If you doing it to get better, that’s not be kind. That’s like a trick. I’m being kind as long as you get away, as long as you go away.
I was doing letting go when I was having this pain, toothache… let it go. People try to let it go but say it doesn’t work. Let it be, haven’t you gone yet, come on, let it be. Come on, get out of here, let it be. That’s not letting it be. That’s another strategy of getting rid of stuff. So if you understand the emperor’s three questions meditation and you do it properly, that’s very powerful. Any time, any place you can do it.
Now’s the most important time, whatever’s right in front of you… in your mind, most important in the whole world… learn how to care for it. Then whatever you are you can always meditate, and it gets really peaceful.