The transcript has been lightly edited for clarity. Many thanks to a anonymous volunteer (who shall remain unnamed) for this transcript.
Q: To introduce meditation to kids, what is the best age to know meditation? What is your advice to introduce meditation in schools?
AB: Meditation in schools – been there and done that. In 1973 in King’s School, Canterbury on Devon, I was asked to take the morning assembly for 5 days. So I went to the headmaster to ask if I could teach meditation. He said “Why not?” He knew I was a Buddhist. There were 650 kids, boys and girls from 11 to 17.
And so I went upon the stage to teach breath meditation and I said “Sit comfortably, back straight”, and one of things I can never forget, 650 children in the assembly, all their backs were straight. “Right hand over the left hand, thumbs touching, chin tucked in, and start watching your breath,” only for 5 minutes. And afterwards one of the teachers, they said, “It was a brave thing to do”, because one of the kids, if only one of the children in the hall, started laughing, the whole assembly would have started laughing. I would have lost my credit as a teacher. But they were all so silent. And afterwards, said “Meditation over now,” they actually all gave me a clapping ovation. Never happened before.
The next 4 days they were waiting for it, they were delighted. So I was monk, way ahead of my time, 1973 with 650 kids, over a hundred is nothing. But for younger kids, visualization are great, because younger kids, I’m talking about, 5, 6, 7 or 8, that’s a little bit too young to actually have the verbal skills to understand what you are doing. And to visualise, kids are great.
Over in Singapore, I think on Wesak Day, I think it was kindergarten, Little Gems, they asked me to go there just in the morning, to do something for Wesak. Oh my goodness what am I going to do? I can’t give a talk on the Four Noble Truths, dependent origination and the difference between Samatha, Vipassana, these are young kids. So it’s great when you’re put on the spot, you have to innovate. So what did I do?
I remembered when I was a kid, the morning exercise “Imagine you’re a tree, waving in the wind.” Did you do that when you were a kid? But I still remember that, imagining, visualizing, closing your eyes, you’re a tree waving, it was really fun.
I really got into it, and so I said “Okay” to the kids, “It’s Wesak, what happened on Wesak? The Buddha was born. So imagine that you walk 7 steps and you got your finger, the right finger, kids, this is my last life, I am the chief in the world. So okay then he got enlightened. Imagine, you’re on the Buddha as a bee, statue. Imagine the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree. So sit down, cross your legs, right hand over the left, back straight, a beautiful sweet smile on your face. Really silent.”
They were so quiet. And so I looked to the teacher “should I get them out?”
“No, don’t get them out. This is good.”
And they were all imagining being a Buddha, because they never knew what a Buddha was, you know, just sitting silent, peaceful and pretending because they really didn’t know what a Buddha was. So they were just sitting silent and peaceful and pretending, they did really get into that.
And the first sermon, it wasn’t done on Wesak Day, it was done on Asalha Puja, the first day of the Rains Retreat, but the death, Nirvana.
So “Kids, on the floor,” that was easy for them, “and on your back on your right side, your hand under your head and one leg over your left leg, and close your eyes, pretending the Buddha entering Paranibbana”, and they were really good with that too. And then I milked it as long as possible, so they were really quiet, and they got some feeling on the 3 things on Wesak. So, imagination, young kids can really enter that. But when it comes to intellectual stuff, forget it.
And the other thing to do is, if you meditate and sit down, you’ll find your dog comes in, your cat gets in your lap when you’re meditating, and your kids meditate too. They just get into your energy and they become quiet too. So one of the best ways to getting a child to meditate is you meditate.
The weirdest one, what age. True story, I keep weird stories. One of the disciples in Perth, she was in a hospital just gave birth to her kid. And you’re lying back, she just finished breast feeding her child and so the child is really, really solace, peaceful and happy, and so the child crawled on to the mom’s belly and crossed his legs in full lotus, without the mom doing anything, put his hands in his lap and closed his eyes meditating. This was really a beautiful posture. She never had an iPhone to take a photo, that would be really weird to see the photo. I never told her anything. She meditated a lot, maybe because when she was meditating, just in the hall or in the temple when she was pregnant, that’s maybe where the kid got it from.
Well the kid was happy just after having a good feed, got interested by herself, and sat there full lotus, good meditation position and just meditated. She was half freaked out and very happy. A mix of emotions. But you know, these things happen. So what age? Just right out of the wood. You can’t force them obviously. People do say if you meditate when you are pregnant, the babies would be very peaceful because it picks up on the mom’s energy, really calm and peaceful. It’s a wonderful investment to get a rested mind and your baby’s really calm and peaceful.
Q: What’s the significance of closing your eyes during meditation? Can we still experience Nimittas and Jhanas when we meditate with our eyes opened?
AB: Very difficult with your eyes opened. But one of the reasons why we close our eyes when we’re meditating, so everyone’s got your eyes closed, I can’t do this because the camera’s on me, if you want to pick your nose, or…then no one’s watching you, you can be comfortable. Would you do that when I’m watching you? Pick your nose? Of course you wouldn’t do that.
You do that in your own room, in the bathroom but not in public. So at least you can be more comfortable with your eyes closed which means one of the distractions, the sense of sight is closed down. So that’s one less thing you have to worry about. More space in your brain, to attend to things like your physical brain and sound, hopefully not too much sound.
Q: Sometimes my heartbeat is very prominent compared to other body sensations.
AB: Oh, sometimes I do that to girls. I’m an old monk so I can say jokes like that. No, no.
Q: The heart beat’s quite fast and the pulse is irregular. Is heart beat a suitable object to use in meditation?
AB: It’s actually not a good object to use during meditation, because if you calm it down, and calm, it down, you calm down your heart beat then you might calm down too far, and you’ll be dead.
So thank you for the question. A serious answer to this. Sometimes when you start to get excited during meditation, Nimittas start getting really peaceful and sometimes really boop boop it really does come out. Basically the image on a computer or TV is learning how to zoom in. This is something when every time you go on an aircraft, they say, every aircraft is different, you must watch your safety demonstration, your safety is our prior…bla bla, I’m sorry if there are any flight attendants here, I sit in many, many aircraft, I have to watch it. One thing I did notice when you first watch the safety announcement on the back seat, you can see the whole seat in front of you. But after a few seconds, your mind or your vision zooms in, it just fits inside the screen so you can’t see the plastic border or the upholstery of the seat in front of you. It zooms in and stops, so the screen, that’s same if anybody has these huge plasma screens TVs at home, it’s actually a waste of money. Doesn’t matter how big your screen is, your mind zooms in and stops and it just fits in. Even on your mobile phones it zooms in and it stops when it just fits exactly into the mobile phone screen. So the experience is pretty much the same. So the only time you know how big your TV is when it’s not turned on. Once it’s turned on and you’re watching you can’t really tell the difference.
This is the same thing which you do, say you got the breath, you got the Nimitta, you got something there and your heart beat as well. The heart beat, if you give it importance, if that’s really your favourite or think if I really have to do something about this, you’re really putting that in the centre of the screen, automatically, because it’s important. Your breath falls off, Nimitta falls off, everything falls off, just boop boop, boop boop boop and your meditation is pretty difficult to do from that point on. But if you’re just watching the breath, the delightful breath and feel the heart beat boom boom boom, just keep the heartbeat on the edge of the screen and zoom in, zoom in to the delightful breath, you can’t feel the heartbeat anymore, it’s gone. And that’s not it stops, the heart’s still beating but it’s doing it by itself and then because you are not paying any attention to it, it calms down. It doesn’t beat so fast. It’s not a problem for you. Just like I was saying, when you pay attention to the breath in the beginning, you disturb it, when you’re paying attention to the heartbeat, you disturb it. So if you’re just imagining the simile of the screen, never put the problem at the centre of the screen, otherwise everything falls off.
Even that’s how I dealt with mosquitoes. Mosquito, bzz, bzz, I’m sure they do this in Malaysia as well but in Thailand they’re really sadistic. They won’t just bite you, just get it over with, they go in your ear first bzz, bzzz, bzzz which the mosquito meant ‘I’m coming, I’m going to bite you, bzzz, bzzz, you can’t stop me’ and then they bite you. But if I got really irritated with the mosquitoes, they each will be on the centre of my screen, couldn’t see my breath. So what I’ll do, I’ll watch my breathing, keep that at the centre, I can hear the mosquito on the outside, bzz, bzz, could feel the itch whenever it bit you, but over here, the centre of course you just zoom in quite natural on your breathing, you couldn’t feel your arm and you couldn’t hear your mosquito. It zoomed in.
It’s exactly what you do when you watch a movie on TV, you zoom in and you can’t feel, your legs are gone to sleep. When you’re meditating you can. But when you’re watching a movie, and when you’re meditating you can do half an hour, a movie, 2 hours, 3 hours, when you can zoom in on something, then you don’t feel the rest of the body. So the heartbeat, not a good object to watch but it comes up, put it at the side do the simile of the screen.
Q: Ajahn, is it the last moment or the last breath determine where you’re going next life?
AB: Haven’t I told you to stay in the present moment. Why are you worrying about your next life? You haven’t finished this one yet.
Q: What if a good man who practiced the 8 precepts and does good deeds was robbed and had a big fight with a robber and scolded him, but was killed in the end by the robber in the fight. Would he end in a bad rebirth for him?
AB: Someone’s been thinking too much. This is a joke, tell the other story afterwards.
This is Christmas time so this fellow, A, dies and he goes up to the pearly gates whatever, gets judged by St Peter. “What have you done in your life?” looked in the book “You’ve done nothing good in your whole life, nothing at all.”
Said, “oh, yes, I did something good. I saw this girl being assaulted by these hell agents, I just would not let that happen, I had to go help her, save her.”
“But that’s not written in the book, when was that?”
“About 2 minutes ago?” In other words, hell’s angels, they killed him that’s why he died. I kind of thought that was funny, but anyway…
The other story in the book was about the gentleman from Sri Lanka, businessman, a Buddhist but only goes to the temple on Wesak Day, a Wesak Buddhist. And he really didn’t like it, he wasn’t really devout at all. When he was at the temple he heard the sermon by the monk “Your last thought is really important. If your last thought is really good, you’re guaranteed to have a good rebirth.” And he gave an example of what the last thought you should have was the Buddha Dhamma and Sangha.
He was a very smart businessman. He got an idea when he went back home he called the lawyer. He changed the names of his 3 sons, to Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha. Cos he knew that his 3 sons will be there in his death bed. So from that moment on he never went to the temple again, never gave any Dana, never kept precepts. When he got very sick, he was on his death bed in the hospital, his 3 sons, his plan was working. As he was getting really, really sick and maybe a few minutes or half an hour before he die, Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha, I’m going to heaven. He wasn’t a bad person but a greedy person. And he’s getting weaker and weaker, Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha and he thought for a moment, “hey, if my 3 sons are here, who’s looking after my shop” and that’s when he died.
So the point of the story is, you can’t suddenly change in your last moment. If you’ve been a good person all your life and then something happens, you get angry at the last moment, still your goodness will come in, kick in straight after. If there’s any doctors here, you know death is not a moment, it’s actually a whole series of moments. So no doctor will ever be able to precisely say the exact moment of your death. They always say… the time between 5 past 8 or 10 past 8, it’s a process, not an event of death. So because of that, your last thoughts is not a last thought, it’s a last series of thoughts, it’s what happens when you pass away.
Q: What is exactly Vipassana meditation?
BP: It is the same as Samatha meditation. So if you do meditation if you get still you get wise. When you are wise you become still, so you can’t have one without the other. So usually say Samatha is calming things down. When you calm things down you get energy, you get wisdom and joy and loving kindness. So when you calm things down, of course you get Vipassana. When you understand things, how your mind works, you let go of all these silly thoughts and fantasies which never happen, so the sign of insight is your peacefulness. Inside of peaceful you see things you get wise. So the 2 always work together.
Ajahn Chah used to hold his hand up. “That’s Samatha, the front of my hand. Vipassana, the back of my hand. When you see the back of my hand you can’t see the front of my hand. But I guarantee the front is there. You can’t see both at the same time but when the front’s there, the back is following behind, the back the front’s following behind. You cannot separate them. You call that Samatha and Vipassana, they go together. It’s not you do Samatha first and then you do Vipassana or vice versa, they are always together. One may be in front but the other one is following right behind. One might be in front, the other one might be right next to it. Altogether.
Q: Is it true that everyone will experience Nimitta upon death?
AB: Yes that’s true but if you don’t believe me. When you die you don’t see Nimitta you come back and haunt me.
Q: A well trained meditator will know how to take advantage of the Nimitta and become enlightened.
AB: Maybe not enlightened but have a very good rebirth. A Nimitta, do not be afraid of it. You relax, you let go, then you get sucked into it. Then you get a very good rebirth.
Q: One who is not well trained will let the chance to enlighten slip by him.
AB: You don’t get enlightened by seeing Nimittas, there’s more to it than that but that’s a good start.
Q: Whenever I sense the light coming up after just a while of meditating, I don’t know why I feel scared and feeling not ready and my eyes are closed shut until I can feel my eye brows a bit hurt, trying so. Is that just imagination? Well just a fake Nimitta, because it happens quite often mostly a few minutes I sat for meditation I tell myself not to be scared and don’t do anything so many times and my eyes are so automatically reject the light vision. So please don’t laugh if I say anything wrong or stupid.
AB: Certainly not because otherwise people will stop asking questions in the future. Imagination and reality when it comes to the mind are very close together.
One of my disciples, Englishman, he could never watch his breath, just couldn’t watch his breath. So this teacher told him “Don’t watch your breath. Just close your eyes and imagine, imagine the breath.”
So he closed his eyes and just imagined what it was like for all these other people who watch their breath. He was imagining watching his breath and after 3 or 4 minutes, the teacher interrupted him “What are you watching?”
That was a very skillful means, once he gets passed the psychological blockage he couldn’t watch his breath, he could.
Sometimes in psychology imagine that you can chant in a nice voice, imagine you can, after a while you can. You break down the barrier. Sometimes a soccer player, imagine you can score a goal, imagine it, visualize it, then finally you can do it.
If you see the lights, imagine you see the lights. So similar to the type of meditation for Kasina meditation. That’s where you create a light just by focusing on a real light, a simple disc, blue or yellow or whatever. We focus on it close your eyes until you imagine it with your eyes closed. Visualising, very simple to get a Nimitta that way. But don’t try that, that’s a bit too much force. But if a light comes up in the mind and if it’s pretty stable and why not, just imagine that’s a Nimitta, just carry on and see what happens.
Q: Is scanning the body, doer or knower? When watching the breath, are we doer or knower?
AB: I don’t know what to do. If you scan the body, it’s a little bit of doing but mostly knowing. So you’re scanning the body, so you get up to your knees, then I can feel my knees. So to get there I do stuff but now I’m just getting information. I’m knowing the feeling in my knee, that’s pure knower. Maybe I want to move it, just do that. Now the knower gets feedback. I didn’t work so just put it back again. So mostly knowing, a little bit of doing.
Q: Would appreciate if you could repeat this morning’s guided meditation, it was so relaxing that I dozed off. Thank you very much.
AB: You have to take karmic responsibilities for your actions. I think it was recorded, so you ask management. When you listen to the recording, you’d probably be able to pick up your snoring.
Q: First of all so happy to see Ajahn in real not from Youtube.
AB: This is not real Ajahn Brahm. Did you read the book No Ajahn Chah? Yeah there’s no Ajahn Brahm. This is body that’s all. This is not me. I take no responsibility for this body. You feed it. So I’m fat, it’s your fault. I tell silly jokes, it’s my father’s fault because he used to tell silly jokes.
Q: I’m a newbie in meditation so I think I start right after relaxing my body. My mind tends to create some movie or scenario sometimes don’t make any sense or not relevant at all. Each time I notice that and persuade my mind to be aware of the present moment, my mind escape again. And ta-da, another new movie. Can Ajahn advise on this?
AB: Now, what type of movie is it? You’ll find most of it are trashy repeats, reruns of old stories with no innovative plot, no great people in the movie, just the sort of movie that will not get very far in Hollywood. So it’s trash. In other words, after a while you get bored with movies.
So instead you can do the little imagination, visual exercise of the 2 shopping bags. Remind me to do the shopping bag meditation tomorrow. Very awaiting on tender hooks for the shopping bags simile coming tomorrow morning. That’s actually quite useful cos that gives something to visualize to get into present moment and give the present moment a bit more grounding.
Q: How to give energy for knowing? You mentioned the still mind will feed (on) energy. Does the still mind have a place like the place in my forehead or visualize the circle? Please give technique to give more energy to the knower.
AB: No. You don’t have technique. You just relax. You don’t do anything. The best image is to imagine you are the pilot in the cockpit and the dog is ready to pounce if you do anything. So in other words, stillness. You don’t move.
Imagine yourself like a statue, there, not moving, moment to moment, really motionless. Look at the Buddha statue behind me, that’s what I call stillness, doesn’t move since we came on this retreat. Look at that Buddha and imagine you are that still. That’s not doing anything.
You may fall asleep the first few days but after you fall asleep the first few days, you get the power, really energized. So the energy rises naturally. So you don’t force it, just come by itself.
Q: In psychology thoughts are automatic. This morning you mentioned we choose the thoughts. How do we know what thought to choose?
AB: You try and choose an interesting thoughts. If there’s no interesting thought, then boring thought, if no, any thought will do.
When I was a school teacher, first year as a school teacher, sometimes because I didn’t know the ropes. I was warned about this, the first year of teaching in high school so many classes so many things to learn, you get exhausted and then you get stressed. But they were saying, second year will be okay and third year will be so easy. You got all the skills, the lecture notes, know exactly what to do. It was true.
First year I’d come back on the motorbike to the house and turned on the TV. I didn’t matter what was on the TV, rubbish whatever, have a cup of tea ready and watch rubbish because my mind, that’s what it could do. And it get re-energised and then it woke up. What the hell am I watching and then it woke up. But it was the fact that when you are exhausted, anything will do.
This is ridiculous but it is true. When I was in the monastery in the north of Thailand, by myself, and after a while I started getting bored, there’s only 1 book in English was book on pharmaceuticals and I found myself reading that page by page. It was ridiculous but it was something in English to read. So that’s what happens to thoughts. Any thought will do, you start off with interesting ones, then boring thoughts, then anything to think. That’s your comfort zone, you’re used to thinking, you don’t know what to do. Anyone’s accommodation’s in the lobby area, people are always talking, making a lot of noise, why? Because they are afraid of silence, they don’t know what to do when there’s no noise.
In the airport, once, only once, I go to the airport and sit in the prayer room and I thought I could get peace and quiet in here. As soon as I was in here, I crossed my legs, closed my eyes and started watching my breath –
if you see any bags left unattended, please call security and it will be towed away.
Paging Mr Jone Smith, your flight is going to leave straightaway…
There’s a special offer this weekend at the…
So for the meditation room, it’s as noisy as anywhere. So no escape.
So the thoughts are automatic, they are a sign that you are being a bit restless. This is not to praise Buddhism, but it’s true many psychologists get some of the greatest understandings of insight by listening to meditation teachers. The idea you can be total still is just…they don’t know that psychology. You can have powers without thinking. You can sit there for a long time without drinking or eating.
There was this Vietnamese Theravada monk leading a retreat in Australia. Usual beginners retreat, it’s a Friday evening start, half an hour get settled in have an orientation by the manager and then the monk, half an hour meditation first of all at 7.30 till 8.00 and then the welcoming talk. 7.30 the monk was there meditating, 8 o’clock he didn’t open his eyes, 9 o’clock he was still sitting perfectly still.
So what did all the devoted, patient lay supporters do? They went to bed. They didn’t wait for him to come out. They went to bed and had a nice sleep. The next morning got into the hall for the morning chanting and the monk was still sitting there, haven’t moved. So they didn’t have chanting.
Breakfast, the monk still haven’t moved. So they just went for breakfast, no gongs, no bells. Had their breakfast and then maybe they washed and then came back into the hall to listen for the 8 o’clock morning talk, he hasn’t moved. The monk never moved for 8 days, never ate anything, never went to toilet, never said anything, for 8 days meditating.
When he came out of his meditation, the first thing he did was apologise. He said “I’m sorry. I got into deep meditation, so peaceful, so still, I forgot about time and never came out.” It’s perfectly healthy but then he apologized. The yogis said it was so inspiring, even they never taught anything, by the presence it’s so encouraging. Even these days people can do that, sadhu sadhu sadhu. So it’s amazing what you’d find out in Buddhism.
Q: While sitting peaceful with stillness there is some surge of thought of having alcohol and sitting by the beach, is this breaking precept?
AB: It is thinking about breaking precept but it’s not breaking precept. It’s a long way to a beach from here, so I think you are pretty safe. You can’t break precept with thoughts but if you cultivate that thought sometimes it can bring bad action.
Q: How do I know whether I am on the Noble Eight-fold Path or off the path?
AB: The path is the no traveler can be seen. So if you can see yourself on the path. So I am sorry that is not the Noble Eight-fold Path. You’re disappearing. Also be careful about the middle way and the middle path. There’s an old saying –She who walks the middle path gets hit by traffic coming in both directions. So middle right path but don’t walk down the middle of the road.
Q: The Metta Sutta, can you kindly explain the phrase Let them not do the slightest thing that the wise would later reprove…
AB: Sometimes you can do things in secret, behind closed doors, is that okay? That the wise would later reprove. You don’t want to be told off. In other words, you get the sense of shame. Even in private you don’t go around criticizing other people thinking that no one’s listening to you. Who knows people can develop that kind of meditation which can hear conversations a long way away.
There was a case of that. When I was first in Wat Pah Pong, there was a Thai monk who had deep meditations and he let slip that he could hear conversations in the market place 6 km away.
If you are making it up, that’s boasting, that’s a offence liable for disrobe. It’s the same category of offence as sexual intercourse, murder or stealing.
Buddha considered that really, really serious. So by making that claim, you had to be investigated. So the monks investigated it, they recorded the conversations, noted it down, tested if he could know the conversations accurately, that was in Wat Pah Pong, and he could. It was real. What happened next, when he knew he had psychic power, just like Devadatta, he got proud and conceited. He thought he was as good as Ajahn Chah, great meditation, proved psychic powers.
One day he sat on Ajahn Chah’s seat. Ajahn Chah was really skilled and called him into his room. The next day this monk realized because of his powers, not much understanding of the Dhamma, he got humbled and he bowed to every monk in the dining, including me. I was just a young monk, don’t know what he was up. He bowed and said sorry and then left. I don’t know where he went, probably into the forest and got enlightened.
These psychic things do exist but don’t tell anybody, otherwise you become proud and arrogant because of that. Imagine if it was me, I can prove I can read minds. Will you be scared if I told your partner what you have been thinking? Hee, hee, hee.
Q: After we go back to work, home, it is easy to lose our stillness, mindfulness. What do you suggest to keep the mindfulness going?
AB: On a weekend, just go to the BGF and join the meditation groups. Don’t go shopping or traveling or go eating. You can eat in the BGF Café, very good and you can enjoy friends and keep the meditation going.
Q: Sometimes a person is so annoying to me, even though he or she had not done anything to me. Just annoying just to look at his or her face or just listen to their voice. What is the problem with me? Thank you.
AB: There was this Vietnamese girl married to an Australian man, very good relationship. The problem was the mother-in-law who didn’t like her son marrying an Asian. Any of you have been to Bodhinyana Monastery recently? How many Asian monks (are there) in Bodhinyana Monastery? They are all Asian monks. Some Caucasian, some Australasian, some Malaysian, they are all Asians.
She(The mother) was a bit of a racist. So she had such a hard time trying to reconcile with her mom, the mom saw her, just Asian, didn’t like. She tried loving kindness, didn’t work. Being generous and kind, making a delicious Vietnamese food, that didn’t work. Everything, going into the temple and pray. In Chinese tradition they pray like this (shaking palms together). They used to go with the grandmother and saw her praying like this, it’s because she’s got Parkinson’s. And you’re just a young kind and think that’s what I should do and over the generations…They have a lot in there in Thailand, Burma, Malaysia.
So she tried to meditate and spread loving kindness. Then she had a dream, meditating in front of Guan Yin. She had a dream, it was Guan Yin, the face was her mother in law’s face and changed the perception. Her mother in law’s face was surrounded by Nimitta. You see people, some people they’re really angry and you can’t like them. Imagine them if that’s a girl is like Guan Yin. If a guy imagine he’s like Ajahn Brahm. It’s changing perceptions. Ever since that time she looked at her mother in law with kindness and her mother in law changed.
How many of you like Donald Trump? If you have trouble with Donald Trump, when you see him on TV, imagine him in a brown robe, small glasses and no hair.
Q: When can one practice eight precepts, in a retreat or office desk bound job, what if we are walking or working and supposed to be training with it, live with good jobs, etc or is it not suitable for this group of people to practice except in retreats or weekends?
AB: You only do 8 precepts when you are on retreats, staying in a monastery, having a nice peaceful life. But if you are really working hard, you are running a marathon, or playing soccer you need much more than the morning meals. So it’s usually when you are in the monastery or temple or doing retreats. Middle way, be kind to your middle.
Q: Is meditation the only way? What about chanting?
AB: Yes, based on the Sutta…this is the only path, meaning Eight-Fold Path. Not only meditation. Not just meditate, meditate, get out of my way. That is not the Eight-Fold Path. It includes your meditation, your precepts, kindness, generosity, everything.
Q: I felt a warm spot on my back, can I transfer it somewhere else?
AB: Oh, keep it there. It’s always really good, if you start to let it be, it gets warmer and warmer.
Q: I don’t have Osteoporosis, maybe I can transfer the energy elsewhere.
AB: Just let it be, don’t try and control these things, otherwise you disturb them.
Q: I have an ache on my body. The ache disappears during meditation but returns often after meditation. Why is that? Was I meditating or was it just the doer controlling, imagining the pain in my head?
AB: If you have an ache on the body, it’s a chronic ache, the ache disappears during meditation because you are paying attention on something else. You just were focusing and the pain just falls off to the side.
Sometimes people tell me they are playing football, rugby or something. They break their leg, they actually break their leg. They carry on playing because they are so focused on the game, they can’t feel the ache on the body till afterwards.
So sometimes if you are focused on something a bit more beautiful just like the breath is delightful, you can’t feel the ache. But sometimes it comes back afterwards.
But the weird one, when you really get into deep meditations, Nimittas or Jhanas, this was, I can’t understand sometimes, sometimes an hour or 2 hours when I was young, the knees will get a bit stiff. It won’t harm, just stiff, a bit of ache here, a bit of ache there. But if you meditate for 5 hours, there’s no aches at all. Just like, you know, you just sat down. Really powerful, really lots of energy, lots of bliss and you felt you could run against Usain Bolt, probably beat him. Yeah, that’s the sort of power you feel, just, no aches in the body. It’s great. But if you want to do that, you can’t. Just got to let go of all wanting and it does it itself.
Q: Since you’ve written up to the stage of Jhana Four, can I presume that you have exceeded that level i.e. above the level, an Arahat.
AB: You decide for yourself. Okay I’ve recorded this on tape, actually I have put on TV before because as a monk I am not allowed by Paccitiya 8, to tell of any attainment. But people they need to know. You’ve got to be honest.
So when I was asked on a TV by a whole group of monks “Ajahn Brahm, can you do these Jhanas?” I was looking so fed up, always being asked and not able to answer, I decided to let them know the truth. Then I told them “Ajahn Brahm cannot enter Jhana. I can’t do it. Honest, I can’t enter Jhana. Ajahn Brahm has to vanish and disappear first and then Jhanas happen.” I can’t do that. I have to stop all that and disappear. The path is but no traveler on it to see. Nibbana is, but not the person who enters it.
Without revealing anything and get into trouble, I was teaching something. All this you want to do things, this monk is an Arahant, this monk is non-returner, that is total rubbish. People aren’t Arahats. They vanish and disappear, then the Arahat is. Not a person, not a being but a state of letting go, of disappearance. And one of the reasons why people never claim these things, makes no sense. You know, is Ajahn Brahm an Arahat? What is Arahat, my body is Arahat? No, doesn’t look an Arahat. Is my Vedana, no is me an Arahat? It comes and goes. My experience Arahat? It comes and goes. My perception, my will, my consciousnesses? There’s 6 of them and they interchange, which one is it?
Only when you look at it that way, with accuracy according to the Dhamma, the question doesn’t make any sense. You’re vanishing, no delusion it’s going, and with it your sense of self. As I said this morning, you’re gone, baby, you’re gone. People like that baby thing.
So if you come across anyone who says they’re enlightened or this and that, that’s very dodgy.
Q: Please explain to me the difference of Eckhart Tolle, the power of now meditation and Lord Buddha meditation leading to enlightenment.
AB: Eckhart Tolle made a lot of money out of that, the Lord Buddha never did. That’s basically the difference. But it’s good teachings as long as you get to the present moment, there’s more to it than present moment, more things have to disappear, not just time.
Q: Can you please provide basic guidance on how to do walking meditation?
AB: I think I did that this morning.
Q: How does one distinguish between contentment vs complacent, contentment vs laziness, unambitious, kindness and being a door mat?
AB: When there’s something to do, then do it. When there’s nothing to do, then do nothing. How many of you, when there’s nothing to do don’t know how to do nothing?
You have to do something, either you make an idiot of yourself or make a nuisance of yourself, you don’t have to do it. You’re so used to doing stuff, you have to do something.
So it’s one of the reasons why meditation, you’ve nothing to do, just sitting here. What you’re doing, trying to get enlightened. Always up to some mischief, some goal, some doing something. Can’t you just do nothing? Just relax. I already said there’s nobody in here anyway so you know who’s trying to get enlightened, who’s trying to get Jhanas? “Ah, you are one of those retreatants, 9 days you were there, what did you do, what did you get?”
“You stupid how much did you pay for that? Christmas you could have gone somewhere. Christmas, you could have gone shopping, gone traveling, doing something, do a course or improve yourself.”
“No, I just sat there doing nothing for 8 days.”
And of course they don’t appreciate the beauty of disappearing, of vanishing, bliss upon bliss upon bliss, wahhh. So if it’s contentment, you get happy. Complacent, you don’t. Ambition, if you achieve an ambition, you get disappointed. It’s unfaithful to you, you just believed the marketing. If you become rich, yay, nothing to be happy about. Then you have to worry about stock market, investing your money where to get the best returns, worried people are going to steal it. If you are ambitious, being famous, being recognizable, so you can’t go into the toilet without somebody asking you meditation questions.
So, ambition, there is … a middle Eastern girl, I think is from Iraq, and the worst curse you can put on anybody, apparently, whoever made this up, really knew what they were doing. I praise her wisdom. They said “The worst curse – may you get everything you want, just as soon you wanted.” That’s a curse. Imagine that. That will break your life, whatever you want, appears immediately.
And being a doormat…that’s my whole life, being a doormat, wipe your feet on me. Now you’re not always a doormat, that’s only when people come in and go out and you take the doormat away to wash it and to store it. Not always a doormat. So you can always be, the kindness always be the sss, sss, snake, hisses when people make use of you.
Service is a wonderful thing, just giving and helping others, not really being concerned about yourself. And when you’ve really, really, really given, it’s okay you can be a doormat.
That’s what I’m here for. It’s amazing just how much the amount of peace and respect you actually start to generate. So sometimes, it’s nice just being with the person and let them unload their problems. They’re just wiping all of their rubbish all over you. They’re dumping all their problems all inside of you. But you know the trick of being not just a doormat but a rubbish bin, that’s what people do to me. They tell me all their troubles about their family. I became a monk to avoid that. All their kids, that’s why I live by myself, financial problems, I don’t have any money, all that sort of stuff which they dump on me I receive all of that.
Ajahn Chah told me “You be a rubbish bin, a dustbin, a trash can with a hole in the bottom, so as soon as they dump on you, right through you, you’re empty for the next dump of rubbish.” Really wonderful doing that. So yeah, you can tell me anything, it just disappears. I take nothing back with me. It’s only empty. So that is actually how we allow people to use us as a doormat. They wipe their feet and then the rubbish disappears. So it’s nice and clean for the next person to throw rubbish on you. It’s okay being a doormat anyway, doormats are cool.
Q: How do I get rid of the pain on my legs?
AB: Aspirin, that has a world reputation. No, I’m just joking.
Q: I can’t even sit very long, the pain on my legs were creeping within 30 minutes during my sitting…