Breaking the link – Sayadaw U Jotika


perface


         Breaking the link is one of a series of talks given by Sayadaw U Jotika as an introduction to a meditation retreat. The talks were given at the Buddhist Society of Victoria in Melbourne Australia in 1998.


         Sayadaw replies to a question that leads to him discussing aspects of Paṭiccasamuppāda (Dependent Origination), as to where in the chain-link of existence, the link can be most easily severed.


         He also talks about Paṭiccasamuppāda from a practical point of view, its relevance to normal life as well as to meditation practice. He expands on how mental states are the primary influence of our lives.


         He says; “when we measure other people by our standards and when we measure ourselves by other people’s standards; as long as we do this, we will always feel unhappy,” and expands on this.


         In further questions he talks of the best way to sleep and overcome sleeping problems. How mindfulness in daily life is the best way to over-come many other problems.


May reading this Dhamma book inspire you to further strive


towards the attainment of your spiritual goals!


 


May this New Year 2006 be A Meritorious Year!


 


Anna Muresu & Lesilie Shaw


January 2006, Penang


 


 


 


BREAKING THE LINK


         Most of you have heard of Paṭiccasamuppāda (Dependent Origination). In Paṭiccasamuppāda there are two ways of beginning: one is to begin from avijjā, avijjā-paccayā saṅkhārā. Paccaya means cause. From ignorance (avijjā) saṅkhāra are caused. Activities, actions, deeds, wholesome and unwholesome deeds, all are saṅkhāra. Also meditation and jhāna are included in saṅkhāra.


         Vipassanā is a different matter because the chain-links of dependent origination can be broken by seeing the true reality of mind and matter. This will be explained in detail later. However when a person practices jhāna, because in jhāna you do not see the reality of mind and matter, you identify with it. You see and feel this as mine and it can cause another rebirth. It will be a very good rebirth because the mental state of jhāna is very concentrated, calm, peaceful and very clear, but there is still ignorance. The rebirth will be the reflection of that mental state.


         Everything that happens in our life is a reflection of our mental state. This is a very important basic law to understand. It is the mental state and the power of that mental state that produces the situations of life. People sometimes ask me: “How can this sort of life happen? What is the cause of this sort of life? How many different kinds of lives are there?” Well I cannot tell you how many different kinds, because it depends on how many different kinds of mental states there are! Depending on the mental state many different kinds of life can happen.


Even in this human world if you studied each human being very closely you would be very surprised. Although physically we share the same physical world, mentally, emotionally and intellectually, the quality of each individual mind is very different. Some people live in very painful situations, mentally they are in pain. They do not have mettā (loving-kindness) or karuṇā (compassion), they don’t have clarity.


When we think of life,


we should think more about


the quality of the mind.


         One person may be a millionaire and another may be very poor, but the poor man may be living a very satisfying and happy life and the millionaire may have a very miserable one.


         We cannot judge a person’s life on how much money or status or whatever he or she has. If I have to judge someone’s life I prefer to do it by his or her mental states. If they are a loving, kind and contented person and if their mind is peaceful and clear, then they are living a wonderful life. So life is a reflection of our mental states, whether your life is a success or a failure it depends on your mental state, not on what you own.


         A man asked me about success in life. He is working very hard to get promoted. He judges his life by how highly he has achieved in his career and he is still trying to get a higher position. He is thinking of getting another degree so that he can be promoted. I asked him why he wanted to be promoted and he said that if he got promoted he would get a higher salary. “Why do you want to get a higher salary?” I asked. “So that I can have more money and buy a bigger house and a better car.” I asked him why he wanted a bigger house and a better car. “Then I will be satisfied and I’ll consider myself a successful person and that will make me happy.”


         I said “when the day comes that you have to stop doing what you are doing, will you think of your life as a failure? How long does success last? For a few years you may feel you are a success and after failure again! As long as you measure your life by what you have, you’ll always have the fear that one day you’ll be a failure again.” Then he said: “Oh well, I’ll think about my past and about what I have achieved and that will make feel happy”.


This  is just an illusion;


real happiness comes from


what you are now,


not from what you have been.


         Most of us go through life thinking “I was this”……. “I was that”……. I often ask people “who are you?” by that I mean their name. But one man, instead of telling me his name said “I was a minister.” All I wanted to know was his name, not what he did. He was so concerned with who he was that he didn’t even understand my question. By looking at him I could see that he was really afraid of people not respecting him for who he is.


As long as you cling to what you were or are,


you will be insecure.


Real security comes from being satisfied with


who you are and not what you are.


         If you are a peaceful, calm, loving, compassionate, mindful and wise person you can be very satisfied with who you are and it does not matter whether people think highly of you or not. Your satisfaction is expressed in the way you live your life, you will not be afraid of people not respecting you because you don’t have a high status. As long as we cling to our status or position, we live life with fear and insecurity. Life is a reflection of our mental states, therefore who we are depends on our mental state.


         Let’s come back to meditation. In Vipassanā practice we are paying attention to what is happening right now, not the past; we are paying attention to what is happening in the present, but the immediate past can also be included in the present. For example, if I strike this bell; no, I have not struck this bell yet; now I am going to, so its in the future, we cannot really observe the sound of the bell now, because it does not exist; so you can think “he is going to strike the bell and it will make a sound” this is just a thought, this is not observation, this is not Vipassanā.


         Now I strike the bell, you hear the sound, you pay attention to the sound, ‘hearing’,  this is a sound; also you can pay attention to the quality of the sound, slowly it becomes softer and softer, then you cannot hear it anymore. So at the moment you hear the sound you can pay attention to the sound and you can pay attention to the consciousness of the sound too; ‘hearing’. Hearing means consciousness. This hearing consciousness arises because of the sound, without the sound there cannot be consciousness of it.


         There must be this ‘it’ (the sound) present for consciousness to arise. When you are watching this consciousness you are watching viññāṇa-kkhandha (consciousness aggregate). We know that this consciousness of ‘it’ cannot arise without the ‘it’. This sound is the cause of this consciousness, we are seeing cause and effect and this cause is samudaya as well.


         Samudaya has two meanings: arising and cause. That is why the Second Noble Truth is dukkha samudaya sacca; the Truth of the cause of the dukkha. So this sound is the cause of this hearing consciousness. They are so much together, one being the cause of the other, we do not think, “this happens first and that happens later”. In fact they happen at the same time; when the sound is there, so is the consciousness; when there is no sound, there is no consciousness.


         Sometimes in the same noticing, when the mind is working very fast, we can see both. In the same noticing there is a series of awareness’s, in fact in just one second they can be innumerable; seeing clearly becomes so powerful that in one second they can be innumerable; seeing clearly becomes so powerful that in one seeing you can understand so much. When you experience it, you will know how amazing it is. Without thinking of anything, in one seeing, you can understand a lot.


         When you notice the consciousness of the sound at the same time you are also aware of the sound, you cannot separate the two. Sometimes when you are paying attention to the sound you can reflect and contemplate on the fact that because of this sound there is hearing, without it there cannot be any hearing.


         Although if you think about this it is obvious and you can understand it, when you actually see the consciousness arising just NOW, you really know that because of this sound, this consciousness arises; that this is something new that you are experiencing.


Meditation is not about seeing something


that has not been seen before;


meditation is seeing


that same phenomenon in a different way.


It is a new way of seeing.


         Everybody knows that because of the sound there is hearing, but this is a though. We feel that there is already a person there to hear the sound, but in meditation practice, when it happens, we know that this consciousness just happens. NOW, and it appears because of the sound. You know this consciousness as something totally new.


         When we can see phenomena as something to totally new, arising just now, only then we are seeing reality. This happens in Vipassanā meditation practice, you can see consciousness arising. NOW because of this object and we know that because of this object this consciousness arises. This is the samudaya factor. We can also see the sound as arising and passing away; arising is samudaya and passing away is vaya.


         We can understand the same Dhamma in many ways. The Buddha says:


         “He dwells contemplating the Samudaya-Dhamma


(originating factors) and he dwells contemplating the


Vaya-Dhamma (dissolution factors)”


 ~MahĀ-satipaṬṬhĀna sutta,


digha nikĀya sutta 22


         Vaya also means nirodha. There are many synonyms here: Samudaya also means nibbati-lakkhaṇa. Vaya means vipariṇāma-lakkhaṇa and it also means nirodha, dissolution. In Paṭiccasamuppaāda the word nirodha is used: Avijjā-paccayā sanṅkhāra can be put another way, avijjā tveva asesavirāga-narodha: saṅkhāra-nirodho. Here the word nirodha comes in. So when there is avijjā (delusion) there is saṅkhāra.


         We do so many things because we don’t really understand absolute reality. We think that it will make us happy doing this and that and we will be unhappy if we don’t. There is always this ‘I’. But when we really see there is no real ‘I’ and there are only mental and physical phenomena, then our understanding changes. When ignorance (avijjā) totally ceases, even doing wholesome actions does not create kamma anymore, and because kamma is not created anymore there can be no result and there are no saṅkhāra created. The link is broken: saṅkhāra nirodha, viññāṇa nirodho.


         At birth, the first consciousness in life happens because of saṅkhāra,  which in this case is synonymous with kamma. Because of kamma there is rebirth consciousness and this is called viññāṇa. If there were no saṅkhāra there would be o kamma to give rebirth; therefore there would no rebirth. So saṅkhāra nirodha, viññāṇa nirodho, viññāṇa nirodhā, nāma-rupa nirodho; if there were no rebirth consciousness there would be no mental and physical process following it. If this dissolves, this also dissolves, it continues on and on that way.


         Nāma-rupa nirodhā, phassa nirodho; if there are no mental and physical phenomena going on, there cannot be contact with sense objects anymore.


         The opposite is; as there is mental and physical process going on, so there is contact with sense objects, Phassa-samudayā, vedanā-samuayo, phassa-nirodhā, vedanā-nirodho; because of contact there are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings. If there were no contact then there would not be pleasant, unpleasant or neutral feelings anymore.


         At one stage in your Vipassanā meditation practice you see this very clearly, sometimes brief moments of thinking arise and sometimes even without thinking you can know it; you can see the reality of it very clearly.


         Vedanā-nirodhā, taṇhā-nirodho; if there are no feelings of any kind; there cannot be desire for anything anymore. When we feel happy or unhappy about something, we see that because of feelings, because of enjoyment, there is this desire to have more. When we feel good about something we want more of it and when we don’t feel good about something we don’t want it, instead we want to replace it with something that feels good.


         Feeling direct the mind towards more desire. When there are neutral feeling and we don’t like them we want something pleasant, something that can give us strong feelings, which is further desire. Whenever desire arises we can see that it arises because of feelings, if there were no feelings there would be no desire anymore.


Feelings control our lives.


Vedanā is the factor that motivates us


to do this and that, in order to feel good.


When we can see this very clearly it helps


the mind to become more detached.


This detachment is freedom.


Detachment makes the mind clearer and


it gives us more freedom.


         The more we see how vedanā influences our mind the more we can free ourselves. This is where the chain-link in Paṭiccasamuppāda can be broken and we find the way out: between vedanā and taṇhā. We experience vedanā but if we don’t let it become taṇhā (craving) we can get out of it. But if we go on to taṇhā, which means desire, then desire can build more and more energy, more and more momentum.


         Taṇhā can then become upādāna, clinging or very strong desire. Taṇhā is normal desire; upādāna is very strong desire. When taṇhā is present you feel ‘I want it,’ if it becomes upādāna then  you feel you cannot live without it. What do you do when you feel you can’t live without it? You do whatever can to get it. Upādāna leads to bhava. Here bhava has two meanings, one is ‘kamma’ and the other is ‘another life’. Here it means kamma because you have such a strong desire, you think about it, you talk about it and you something about it; this creates kamma. Kamma leads to jāti (birth), because of kamma there is another rebirth.


         The chain goes on and on. In practice, sometimes we see one part of it and sometimes another, but mostly we begin to see the vedanā and taṇhā link more clearly. Later in our practice when concentration and mindfulness become very strong, we can experience phassa (contact), the mind coming in contact with the object, the contact is very clear and powerful. Usually we don’t experience this contact because immediately there is vedanā, the feeling of enjoyment of it.


         So when mindfulness becomes very strong, instead of going into the process of taṇhā we stop there and watch the object. In the process of normal mental states we receive the object, we define it, and we enjoy the object.


In meditation practice we receive the object,


we see what it is very clearly but


we don’t go into enjoying it.


Instead of getting happy or unhappy about it,


we stop right there and just watch it.


         We see that it is arising and passing away and there is nothing to be happy or unhappy about. When this takes place the process stops at the point of phassa: contact and observation, without reacting to it.


         We don’t see this as either good or bad, there is no discrimination anymore. There is no desire for it to be different anymore. Observation is very clear, therefore without thinking of it being different in any way, the mind just observes it; it makes no difference, whatever it might be.


         Phassa-samudayā vedanā-samudayo; phassa-nirodhā vedanā-nirodho; is a very important link. From vedanā-samudayā, taṇhā-samudayo; to vedanā-nirodhā, taṇhā-nirodho; when we see the links like that, we are seeing the originating factor and the dissolution factor, both of them; seeing it arising, seeing it passing away. Seeing the cause of it and seeing the dissolution of it. This all means seeing samudaya-dhamma and vaya-dhamma.


 


Questions & Answers


Q. When in meditation you see things very clearly and you don't get greedy there is no desire, but in your daily life it is difficult not to react.


A. Yes, in your daily life it is difficult not to react, not to have desire for things. The important point in our meditation practice is to see them very clearly as natural phenomena. To see that desire is not a person, desire arises because of the sensation, because of the feeling, because of contact with sense impressions. In your meditation practice you can see the whole process very clearly. You see that coming in contact is a natural phenomenon, feeling the sense impression is also a natural phenomenon, desiring too is a natural phenomenon. There is not a being, no person there.


         When you see this very clearly, this insight has great power. Even in your life when you are not so mindful and you get carried away, you get involved and there is desire for things, there is a reaction but at the moment when you become aware of it the influence of that desire and the reaction diminish very quickly, to a certain extent you are free again.


In our practice the first important point is not to try


to overcome desire totally, ‘first thing first’.


In our practice the first point is to see all


this as natural phenomena.


There is no being, no person there.


         Even the first stage of enlightenment does not eradicate desire or anger. The first stage of enlightenment eradicates only wrong view of a soul, of a permanent entity.


         As long as we can see that there is not permanent entity, that there is no soul, that all of this is just natural process, just coming and going, arising and passing away. If you see this very clearly and powerfully, even though because you become less mindful, sometimes you get involved and sucked in. You get carried away and you react and even in that process, if you pay attention again, you can free yourself. This is the benefit of seeing clearly.


         In our daily life we cannot see things clearly all the time, when we function as a regular person and not as a meditator, we relate to people, express ourselves, and express our kindness and our love. When we think of kindness and love we are thinking of a person, we are thinking of another person’s feelings.


         In daily life, even if we feel all these emotions, we don’t take them as something personal. We can function in two different modes, and we have to function in two different modes, because if for example we look at our children and say; “there is no child there, this is not my child, this is just nāma-rupa (mind and matter)”. Then if the child is playing with fire and burns himself and cries and we keep saying; “there is no child, there is nobody there; there is just sensation!” That is non-sense and cruelty. We cannot function like that.


We have to understand there are two ways of understanding and


seeing reality and function in both ways.


One way of seeing is to see this reality as it is and


this gives us some freedom.


         The important point here is that even when we become greedy for something, when we can see greed as natural phenomena, we may still try to obtain that thing if it is necessary, but we will do so in a proper manner, a proper way, a skillful way. We will never do anything unskillful in order to get it. Because we know that it is not worth doing something unwholesome in order to get what we want.


         A person who has reached the first stage of enlightenment is still greedy and likes nice things but they will not steal, kill or do anything unwholesome to get what he or she wants and that is a big difference.


 


Q. We do not have to be consciously changing the other mode, do we? It happens naturally doesn’t it?


A. It happens naturally, once your mindfulness becomes strong, glimpses of mindfulness come in frequently, especially when you become very emotional, mindfulness comes in. Normally people lose their mindfulness when they become too emotional, but for a good meditator in an emergency situation mindfulness comes in. Even though you feel very strong emotions you are still aware of them. They may go on for a long time but you are still aware. That’s why a good meditator does not get trapped in any mood or emotion.


         A good meditator can be also very emotional because he or she will not suppress any emotion. This is a big difference. To be a good meditator you must keep your mind totally open, not suppressing or denying anything, not rejecting or resisting anything. Suppressing denying, rejecting does not contribute or lead to understanding and freedom and certainly not to wisdom.


A really good meditator who understands


the meaning of being mindful


keeps the mind always open,


resisting nothing, rejecting nothing,


denying nothing, suppressing nothing.


         That is why good meditators can feel even more, they are more susceptible and very vulnerable because they are not protecting themselves. A person who is mindful is very vulnerable, but because there is clarity and mindfulness he or she can go through the whole thing without getting stuck. This leads to deeper understanding, freedom and also in a way to health. Any kind of suppression is unhealthy, but any kind of reacting or acting out in an unwholesome way is also unhealthy. Without acting out in an unwholesome way the person experiences, feels and goes through the whole process and comes out healthier. You may get angry or greedy but you can see, understand and go through it, then come out of it. Some people get stuck there and cannot come out of it, they are trapped in some kind of mood or emotion and they become very unhealthy.


         When you have a problem and you are mindful you do not hide from it, or resist it, or justify yourself; you pay more and more attention and learn from it. When you have to do something you do it with mindfulness and wisdom, trying to do the best thing for everybody. You don’t solve a problem just for yourself. When there is a problem and you want to solve it, you do it in such a way that other people’s problems are solved as well.


         For example, once I went to see a dam because I like to see water, whether lakes or dams. When I go there I saw people bathing in it, and actually the water from this dam is used as drinking water. I went to speak to the person in charge of the dam and told him that it was not good that people bathed there, other people will be drinking this water. So he said that he would go there quietly and catch them. That was his way of solving the problem. So I said “how many times can you do that? You’ll catch and punish some of them and then you will go away. How often can you do that? Why not get pipes and deliver water to their homes so that they won’t come to the dam!”


If you want to solve your problem,


solve someone else's problem too,


then you really solve the problem.


         This is something that I remind myself to do, whenever I want to solve my problems. I like to think of other people involved and see if I can help to solve their problems as well. Only then will a problem many people be really solved. Usually when there is a problem many people are involved. I see people trying to solve problems by suppression and punishment, but that never solves problems.


 


Q. If you become very mindful and you start to feel some desire to act, how do you come to be a fully developed person and how do you know if it is the mindfulness that is stopping you or whether it is the fear of failure or perhaps death?


A. Fear of failure or fear of not succeeding comes from a strong sense of ego and pride. But pride is not the real problem, ego is the real problem. When you develop more mindfulness and wisdom you see success in a very different way, success does not mean the same anymore. You don’t measure your life by how much you have; you measure it by your mental state.


         If you are really happy with your mental state, you are very content and you don’t measure yourself by someone else standards.


In most cases we measure other people by our standards and


we measure ourselves by other people’s standards, and


as long as we do this we’ll always feel unhappy.


         When in your meditation you see things very clearly and overcome sakkāya-diṭṭhi, that is a strong sense of self or ego, your values change totally, and you will not go backward. You see what is really valuable in life, you see the real meaning of life; you live your own values and are very happy about it.


         When someone else is materially successful you don’t compare yourself with that person. Sometimes you may even feel compassion for them. You reflect on the fact that this person is spending their whole life just getting material things and is not developing their spiritual qualities; this is why this person is missing something really important in life and you don’t see them as a success. Although they may be doing something very good, they are neglecting doing what is really important: spiritual development. When you see and live according to the real values of life you feel very content about it.


Although you feel less desire for


the material things of life,


you still feel desire: desire to develop


more spiritual qualities and


the desire to help other too.


So you see a lot of other things are


not worth desiring and you let go.


 


Q. But sometimes a lot of things are worth doing, I am thinking for example a creative project. Why add to the millions of words in the world? When you lose ego you think l’ve nothing to add so when is that selflessness and when is it some sort of self deception, or fear of failure?


A. People feel that they need to be doing something. Sometimes we ask ourselves whether it is worth doing and sometime we think it is not worth doing. When do we feel that we are a failure? When we measure ourselves by what we produce.


         Communication is very important, this is what I am doing here and I think it really is worth doing. I know that there are many Teachers coming here and I know that there are thousands of books in the library and yet I am talking about the same thing again and again, why am I doing it? Because some-how this is necessary, personal communication is necessary. Some people understand some things from reading this or that book, from talking with this or that person. Communication should be happening all the time and it makes a difference. When we see that it makes a difference we are  more motivated to do it and we see that it is necessary and we feel that it is worth doing.


 


Q. Is there any ego in doing it?


A. There is some satisfaction in doing it, but ego means that when for example you try to communicate something to somebody and he or she cannot understand it, does not appreciate or rejects it, you feel hurt. In this case there is ego. However if you try to communicate and that person doesn’t understand and you say to yourself; “ok I’ll wait, somebody will understand.” You don’t expect that everybody will understand and appreciate it. You don’t even expect to always be successful in communicating. Then ego is reduced.


         Many times I thought that I hadn’t made myself very clear, but I kept trying and trying…. Some people understood, some didn’t, some appreciated it and others did not and that is ok and quite natural. But when you get angry with someone because they could not understand or didn’t value your communication, then there is ego. You try your best and are not attached to the result. Everybody has their own way of communication with the people around them.


There is another way to communicate


and that is to just live your practice;


just by being a mindful person,


you are communicating something


and expressing something.


There is no way that


we can stop communicating,


even if we don’t say anything


we are still communicating.


 


Q. When I want to do sitting and walking meditation, I try to find a very private and secluded place and the meditation is solitary, does it matter if you do it somewhere where people see you?


A. We can meditate in every different situation and place. We learn to adapt our meditation practice so that we are able to meditate anywhere. You can meditate while you are riding in a bus with your eyes open You are sitting just like everybody else in the bus; you might even be looking out the window and still be meditating. You can cultivate and maintain some kind of mindfulness and awareness in whatever you are doing, even shopping. You can always be mindful of your mental states.


Meditation does not mean sitting


in a very quiet place in a certain posture


with crossed legs and closed eyes,


this is only part of our meditation.


         However in samatha practice you have to be in a very quiet place with no disturbances and you have to sit in a certain posture without changing and shifting all the time, you have to be very still. You have to keep the mind very still on one object and you cannot change the object, this is samatha.


         Mindfulness practice means that you are aware of everything that happens one after another, you can shift and change the objects again and again but the important point is not to get lost in daydreaming. If you can maintain your mindfulness even when you’re riding a bus or a bicycle and when you are in a classroom, you’ll be able to understand, remember and learn more. You will be more receptive because you are paying more attention.


         Try to adapt your meditation practice so that you can practice anywhere, because if we cannot meditate when we are not in a special place our mindfulness practice will be very limited. The Buddha said that we have to be mindful even when we are talking eating, walking. Try to be mindful, to pay attention while talking; if you learn to do that, you will find that everything else easy.


The word meditation means something very serious,


mindfulness and awareness are very serious as well,


and paying attention is serious too.


Instead of using the word meditation,


I prefer to say ‘pay attention’.


         Can you pay attention in different situations, to what you are seeing, to what you are hearing, to what you are thinking and to how you are feeling? If you try, can you pay attention? Yes, to a certain extent, anybody can. Do not expect to be mindful completely hundred per cent of the time, because it is not possible but try your best.


 


Q. What is the difference between mindfulness and awareness?


A. There is only a degree of it; there is a continuum between being more mindful or less mindful. Being mindful means your mind is present; your mind is here. So the more mindful of something you are, the more you are aware of it. Mindfulness is the opposite of absent mindedness.


         There are degrees of mindfulness, degrees of awareness. So while I am talking with you now I am mindful. But this is a different kind of mindfulness because I am thinking of what I want to say and while I am saying it I am thinking of how I can make the meaning clearer, by choosing different words and sentences. Sometimes I am watching you and listening to you, but my mind is present, it is here. While I am mindful of talking I am trying to understand the situation, paying attention to a lot of concepts and ideas and partly I am also aware of my mental state, what is happening in my mind. This is a different state of mindfulness.


         However when I am sitting quietly, without interacting with anybody, totally absorbed in my own body and mind there is another kind of mindfulness. But the basic nature of mindfulness is the same, the object becomes different.


Mindfulness in interacting with people is very important,


it helps our mind to be more mindful,


because in relating to people,


if we don’t know our mental state, our attitude,


we may have wrong attitude and with that wrong attitude,


the communication will not be very good.


We may say things that may hurt others or things


which are not true and useful.


         When we are mindful in talking, in interacting with people, we will have less distortion of facts. We will not say something that is untrue, we will not tell lies or exaggerations. It is very difficult to draw a line between lying and exaggerating. We will say what is useful; we will say what is true. We will say things that people like to hear or sometimes perhaps things they don’t like to hear. The important point is truth and usefulness. When we are mindful we cannot go on and on about something meaningless or gossipy. With mindfulness you stop when you perceive this talk to be useless.


         People who try to be mindful whilst talking have often told me that when they become very mindful they cannot take in so much gossip or frivolous talk about movies, videos, movie stars, fashion etc. They are not interested in talking and hearing about these things anymore. This is a major improvement, because people waste so much time in talking about these things.


         So, no matter what, try your best to be mindful. There will be different degrees and qualities of mindfulness and when there is mindfulness, there is awareness.


 


Q. The problem is when I am watching my mind while trying to fall asleep, I can’t fall asleep!


A. Very good, why worry about not going to sleep! Wanting to sleep is a kind of greed, which is why sometimes people take drugs to make them go to sleep. People enjoy that sleepy state of mind, and they really enjoy getting into a deep state of sleep. It is a strange kind of enjoyment because when you are in a very deep sleep you don’t know that you are sleeping but you still like it. When you wake up you say “Ah, wonderful sleep”, yes it does make you feel fresher, which is good.


         But don’t worry about not falling asleep. If you can keep yourself awake by watching the sleepy state of mind, this is a very good sign, because most people are not able to do that. The majority of people just fall asleep and they cannot watch the mind falling asleep, they can’t watch the mind becoming drowsy, they can’t watch the mind losing the object, losing the clarity of objects. So if you are able to watch the mind becoming sleepy and drowsy and because you are mindful of it you wake up and if you can keep such awareness, it is a very good sign for a meditator.


         Make a determination such as “it is time for me to sleep now”, then you can switch off your mind. That’s what I do. When I don’t want to sleep I can stay awake, when I want to sleep I make this decision “I’m going to sleep now” and I try to relax the whole body and mind, feeling that the body and mind are becoming more and more relaxed…….. More and more relaxed.


         Buddha taught the monks how to fall asleep and how to wake up. It is very important how a meditator falls asleep and how he or she wakes up. The instructions are very simple, Buddha said “don’t try to sleep”, because if you try to sleep sometimes you can’t, and if you try too hard it is a kind of greed. It is a way of wanting to be unmindful, which is not very good.


         So make a decision, “I am now going to sleep mindfully”. Yes, you can fall asleep mindfully. The majority of people before they fall asleep they drift into thinking about many things, daydreaming and a kind of dreaming state and later they fall asleep. A good meditator before falling asleep does not think about anything. You pay attention to your body becoming more and more relaxed, calm, more peaceful; you just pay attention to this peacefulness and calmness and relaxation, you are still aware of this without thinking. The mind is very peaceful and calm without powerful thoughts or daydreaming and then you fall asleep. But before you fall asleep you tell yourself. “I’ll get up at four o’clock in the morning and when I wake up I’ll be mindful, alert, clear and refreshed”, this is the way to sleep, and this is the way to wake up. Try to do it, it happens.


 


Q. (More about sleep problems)


A. You mean you can sleep better when you are sitting and meditating? When you are really tired you need to sleep. My question now is for how long do you fall asleep? I think this happens to all meditators, at one stage you meditate longer and longer and you sleep less and less. Sometimes when you are meditating you fall asleep, maybe for a few minutes without falling over and then you awake up. Can you just guess the duration you fall asleep, is it five or ten minutes? What is your mental state when you wake up? Do you feel fresh, clear and rested?


         Falling asleep is not a big problem; if when you wake up, you feel clear and can continue with meditation, then it is not a problem, it is useful. But if for example you fall asleep five minutes after you have started meditating and you continue to sleep for an hour, this is not very good. However when you become more mindful you’ll be able to stay awake more and more.


         Mindfulness given more energy to the mind. But if you have been working all day and before going to sleep you sit and meditate, naturally you fall asleep. Have you been told before that when you experience a sleepy state of mind, note it as ‘sleepy, sleepy, sleepy’? That will awake you up. Because when you see the sleepy state of mind, that seeing given energy. I don’t know how to explain it, maybe part of the brain has less activity there, and is shutting down, and if you pay attention maybe you alert or switch on the brain again and so you wake up.


 


Q.      The statement: “Birth is suffering”, some monks and others interpret this, not as physical birth, but as the arising of the concept of mind or self; they say this is the proper interpretation. However according to the definition of birth in the SATIPATTHANA SUTTA it only means physical birth.


A.      Yes, we have to understand suffering in different contexts, in different ways and depths. In this sutta, I think “birth is suffering” means that you don’t experience birth as suffering in the sense of being painful; you see that birth is unsatisfactory. Because we cannot see our birth now, it happened so long ago.

         This is the ordinary meaning of  jāti (birth) jarā  (aging) and maraṇa (death), but in the immediate observation of mental and physical phenomena, we can see the arising and passing away. So some people want to interpret it, that arising is jāti and passing away is maraṇa but I think this is stretching the words too much. It has its on meaning and context and depth of meaning.

Anyway, when we see any phenomenon as unsatisfactory, we see that birth is also unsatisfactory. Because of birth there are so many problems. But to think of birth as a personal birth and be unhappy about it is not the solution. The understanding of the Dhamma is not to make us unhappy. Because if we are too often unhappy, there is a lot of ego involved. We have to see thing as unsatisfactory and be detached.


 

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May the merits accrued from this Dhamma-dāna

be dedicated to the departed and loved ones.

May they be relieved from all suffering.

May they take existence in a happier and

more blissful state in their next birth.

Here   he rejoices

         he rejoices   hereafter.

In both worlds

     the merit-maker rejoices.

He rejoices, is jubilant,

     seeing the purity

         of his deeds.

Here   he rejoices

         he rejoices   hereafter.

In both worlds

     the merit-maker delights.

He delights at the thought,

         "I've made merit."

Having gone to a good destination,

he delights

         all the more.

                           -DHAMMAPADA, VERSES 16&18

                           (translations by Ṭhanissaro Bhikkhu)

 

 

 

 

 

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