The Direct Route to the End of All Suffering
A Compilation of Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa's Dhamma Talks
About the Development of His Meditation Practice.
present, all that is left of Buddhism are the words of the Buddha. Only his
teachings—the scriptures—remain. Please be aware of this. Due to the
corruption caused by the defiling nature of the kilesas, true spiritual
principles are no longer practiced in present-day Buddhism. As Buddhists, we
constantly allow our minds to be agitated and confused, engulfed in mental
defilements that assail us from every direction. They so overpower our minds
that we never rise above these contaminating influences, no matter how hard
we try. The vast majority of people are not even interested enough to try:
They simply close their eyes and allow the onslaught to overwhelm them. They
don’t even attempt to put up the least amount of resistance. Since they lack
the mindfulness needed to pay attention to the consequences of their
thoughts, all their thinking and all they do and say are instances of the
kilesas giving them a beating. They surrendered to the power of these
ruinous forces such a long time ago that they now lack any motivation to
restrain their wayward thoughts. When mindfulness is absent, the kilesas
work with impunity, day and night, in every sphere of activity. In the
process, they increasingly burden and oppress the hearts and minds of people
everywhere with dukkha.
In the time of the Buddha, his direct disciples were true practitioners
of the way of Buddhism. They renounced the world for the express purpose of
transcending dukkha. Regardless of their social status, age or gender, when
they ordained under the Buddha’s guidance, they changed their habitual ways
of thinking, acting, and speaking to the way of Dhamma. Casting the kilesas
aside, the disciples ceased to follow their lead from that moment on. With
earnest effort, they directed all their energy toward purifying their hearts
and cleansing them of the contamination created by the kilesas.
In essence, earnest effort is synonymous with a meditator’s endeavor to
maintain steady and continuous mindful awareness, always striving to keep a
constant watch on the mind. When mindfulness oversees all our mental and
emotional activities, at all times in all postures, this is called “right
effort”. Whether we’re engaged in formal meditation practice or not, if we
earnestly endeavor to keep our minds firmly focused in the present moment,
we constantly offset the threat posed by the kilesas. The kilesas work
tirelessly to churn out thoughts of the past and the future. This distracts
the mind, drawing it away from the present moment, and from the mindful
awareness that maintains our effort.
For this reason, meditators should not allow their minds to wander into
worldly thoughts about the past or the future. Such thinking is invariably
bound up with the kilesas, and thus, hinders practice. Instead of following
the tendency of the kilesas to focus externally on the affairs of the world
outside, meditators must focus internally and become aware of the mind’s
inner world. This is essential.
Largely because they are not sufficiently resolute in applying basic
principles of meditation, many meditators fail to gain satisfactory results.
I always teach my pupils to be very precise in their pursuit and to have a
clear and specific focus in their meditation. That way they are sure to get
good results. It is important to find a suitable object of attention to
properly prepare the mind for this kind of work. I usually recommend a
preparatory meditation-word whose continuous mental repetition acts as an
anchor that quickly grounds the meditator’s mind in a state of meditative
calm and concentration. If a meditator simply focuses attention on the
presence of awareness in the mind without a meditation-word to anchor him,
the results are bound to be hit and miss. The mind’s knowing presence is too
subtle to give mindfulness a firm basis, so the mind soon strays into
thinking and distraction—lured by the siren call of the kilesas. Meditation
practice then becomes patchy. At certain times it seems to progress
smoothly, almost effortlessly, only to become suddenly and unexpectedly
difficult. It falters, and all apparent progress disappears. With its
confidence shaken, the mind is left floundering. However, if we use a
meditation-word as an anchor to solidly ground our mindfulness, then the
mind is sure to attain a state of meditative calm and concentration in the
shortest possible time. It will also have the means to maintain that calm
state with ease.
I am speaking here from personal experience. When I first began to
meditate, my practice lacked a solid foundation. Since I had yet to discover
the right method to look after my mind, my practice was in a state of
constant flux. It would make steady progress for awhile only to decline
rapidly and fall back to its original untutored condition. Due to the
intense effort I exerted in the beginning, my mind succeeded in attaining a
calm and concentrated state of samadhi. It felt as substantial and stable as
a mountain. Still lacking a suitable method for maintaining this state, I
took it easy and rested on my laurels. That was when my practice suffered a
decline. My practice began to deteriorate, but I didn’t know how to reverse
the decline. So I thought long and hard, trying to find a firm basis on
which I could expect to stabilize my mind. Eventually, I came to the
conclusion that mindfulness had deserted me because my fundamentals were
wrong: I lacked a meditation-word to act as a precise focus for my
I was forced to begin my practice anew. This time I first drove a stake
firmly into the ground and held tightly to it no matter what happened. That
stake was buddho, the recollection of the Buddha. I made the meditation-word
buddho the sole object of my attention. I focused on the mental repetition
of buddho to the exclusion of everything else. Buddho became my sole
objective even as I made sure that mindfulness was always in control to
direct the effort. All thoughts of progress or decline were put aside. I
would let happen whatever was going to happen. I was determined not to
indulge in my old thought patterns: thinking about the past—when my practice
was progressing nicely—and of how it collapsed; then thinking of the future,
hoping that, somehow, through a strong desire to succeed, my previous sense
of contentment would return on its own. All the while, I had failed to
create the condition that would bring the desired results. I merely wished
to see improvement, only to be disappointed when it failed to materialize.
For, in truth, desire for success does not bring success; only mindful
This time I resolved that, no matter what occurred, I should just let
it happen. Fretting about progress and decline was a source of agitation,
distracting me from the present moment and the work at hand. Only the
mindful repetition of buddho could prevent fluctuations in my meditation. It
was paramount that I center the mind on awareness of the immediate present.
Discursive thinking could not be allowed to disrupt concentration.
To practice meditation earnestly to attain an end to all suffering, you
must be totally committed to the work at each successive stage of the path.
Nothing less than total commitment will succeed. To experience the deepest
levels of samadhi and achieve the most profound levels of wisdom, you cannot
afford to be halfhearted and listless, forever wavering because you lack
firm principles to guide your practice. Meditators without a firm commitment
to the principles of practice can meditate their entire lives without
gaining the proper results. In the initial stages of practice, you must find
a stable object of meditation with which to anchor your mind. Don’t just
focus casually on an ambiguous object, like awareness that is always present
as the mind’s intrinsic nature. Without a specific object of attention to
hold your mind, it will be almost impossible to keep your attention from
wandering. This is a recipe for failure. In the end, you’ll become
disappointed and give up trying.
When mindfulness loses its focus, the kilesas rush in to drag your
thoughts to a past long gone, or a future yet to come. The mind becomes
unstable and strays aimlessly over the mental landscape, never remaining
still or contented for a moment. This is how meditators lose ground while
watching their meditation practice collapse. The only antidote is a single,
uncomplicated focal point of attention; such as a meditation-word or the
breath. Choose one that seems most appropriate to you, and focus steadfastly
on that one object to the exclusion of everything else. Total commitment is
essential to the task.
If you choose the breath as your focal point, make yourself fully aware
of each in-breath and each out-breath. Notice the sensation created by the
breath’s movement and fix your attention on the point where that feeling is
most prominent; where the sensation of the breath is felt most acutely: for
example, the tip of the nose. Make sure you know when the breath comes in
and when it goes out, but don’t follow its course—simply focus on the spot
where it passes through. If you find it helpful, combine your breathing with
a silent repetition of buddho, thinking bud on the point of inhalation and
dho on the point of exhalation. Don’t allow errant thoughts to interfere
with the work you are doing. This is an exercise in awareness of the
present-moment; so remain alert and fully attentive.
As mindfulness gradually establishes itself, the mind will stop paying
attention to harmful thoughts and emotions. It will lose interest in its
usual preoccupations. Undistracted, it will settle further and further into
calm and stillness. At the same time, the breath—which is coarse when you
first begin focusing on it—gradually becomes more and more refined. It may
even reach the stage where it completely disappears from your conscious
awareness. It becomes so subtle and refined that it fades and disappears.
There is no breath at that time—only the mind’s essential knowing nature
MY CHOICE WAS BUDDHO MEDITATION. From the moment I made my resolve, I kept
my mind from straying from the repetition of buddho. From the moment I awoke
in the morning until I slept at night, I forced myself to think only of
buddho. At the same time, I ceased to be preoccupied with thoughts of
progress and decline: If my meditation made progress, it would do so with
buddho; if it declined, it would go down with buddho. In either case, buddho
was my sole preoccupation. All other concerns were irrelevant.
Maintaining such single-minded concentration is not an easy task. I had
to literally force my mind to remain entwined with buddho each and every
moment without interruption. Regardless of whether I was seated in
meditation, walking meditation or simply doing my daily chores, the word
buddho resonated deeply within my mind at all times. By nature and
temperament, I was always extremely resolute and uncompromising. This
tendency worked to my advantage. In the end, I became so earnestly committed
to the task that nothing could shake my resolve; no errant thought could
separate the mind from buddho.
Working at this practice day after day, I always made certain that
buddho resonated in close harmony with my present-moment awareness. Soon, I
began to see the results of calm and concentration arise clearly within the
citta, the mind’s essential knowing nature. At that stage, I began to see
the very subtle and refined nature of the citta. The longer I internalized
buddho, the more subtle the citta became, until eventually the subtlety of
buddho and the subtlety of the citta melded into one another and became one
and the same essence of knowing. I could not separate buddho from the
citta’s subtle nature. Try as I might, I could not make the word buddho
appear in my mind. Through diligence and perseverance, buddho had become so
closely unified with the citta that buddho itself no longer appeared within
my awareness. The mind had become so calm and still, so profoundly subtle,
that nothing, not even buddho, resonated there. This meditative state is
analogous to the disappearance of the breath, as mentioned above.
When this took place, I felt bewildered. I had predicated my whole
practice on holding steadfastly to buddho. Now that buddho was no longer
apparent, where would I focus my attention? Up to this point, buddho had
been my mainstay. Now it had disappeared. No matter how hard I tried to
recover this focus, it was lost. I was in a quandary. All that remained then
was the citta’s profoundly subtle knowing nature, a pure and simple
awareness, bright and clear. There was nothing concrete within that
awareness to latch on to.
I realized then that nothing invades the mind’s sphere of awareness
when consciousness—its knowing presence—reaches such a profound and subtle
condition. I was left with only one choice: With the loss of buddho, I had
to focus my attention on the essential sense of awareness and knowing that
was all-present and prominent at that moment. That consciousness had not
disappeared; on the contrary, it was all-pervasive. All of the mindful
awareness that had concentrated on the repetition of buddho was then firmly
refocused on the very subtle knowing presence of the calm and converged
citta. My attention remained firmly fixed on that subtle knowing essence
until eventually its prominence began to fade, allowing my normal awareness
to become reestablished.
As normal awareness returned, buddho manifested itself once more. So I
immediately refocused my attention on the repetition of my meditation-word.
Before long, my daily practice assumed a new rhythm: I concentrated intently
on buddho until consciousness resolved into the clear, brilliant state of
the mind’s essential knowing nature, remaining absorbed in that subtle
knowing presence until normal awareness returned; and I then refocused with
increased vigor on the repetition of buddho.
It was during this stage that I first gained a solid spiritual
foundation in my meditation practice. From then on, my practice progressed
steadily—never again did it fall into decline. With each passing day, my
mind became increasingly calm, peaceful, and concentrated. The fluctuations,
that had long plagued me, ceased to be an issue. Concerns about the state of
my practice were replaced by mindfulness rooted in the present moment. The
intensity of this mindful presence was incompatible with thoughts of the
past or future. My center of activity was the present moment—each silent
repetition of buddho as it arose and passed away. I had no interest in
anything else. In the end, I was convinced that the reason for my mind’s
previous state of flux was the lack of mindfulness arising from not
anchoring my attention with a meditation-word. Instead, I had just focused
on a general feeling of inner awareness without a specific object, allowing
my mind to stray easily as thoughts intruded.
Once I understood the correct method for this initial stage of
meditation, I applied myself to the task with such earnest commitment that I
refused to allow mindfulness to lapse for even a single moment. Beginning in
the morning, when I awoke, and continuing until night, when I fell asleep, I
was consciously aware of my meditation at each and every moment of my waking
hours. It was a difficult ordeal, requiring the utmost concentration and
perseverance. I couldn’t afford to let down my guard and relax even for a
moment. Being so intently concentrated on the internalization of buddho, I
hardly noticed what went on around me. My normal daily interactions passed
by in a blur, but buddho was always sharply in focus. My commitment to the
meditation-word was total. With this firm foundation to bolster my practice,
mental calm and concentration became so unshakable that they felt as solid
and unyielding as a mountain.
Eventually this rock-solid condition of the mind became the primary
point of focus for mindfulness. As the citta steadily gained greater inner
stability, resulting in a higher degree of integration, the meditation-word
buddho gradually faded from awareness, leaving the calm and concentrated
state of the mind’s essential knowing nature to be perceived prominently on
its own. By that stage, the mind had advanced to samadhi—an intense state of
focused awareness, assuming a life of its own, independent of any meditation
technique. Fully calm and unified, the knowing presence itself became the
sole focus of attention, a condition of mind so prominent and powerful that
nothing else can arise to dislodge it. This is known as the mind being in a
state of continuous samadhi. In other words, the citta is samadhi—both are
one and the same.
Speaking in terms of the deeper levels of meditation practice, a
fundamental difference exists between a state of meditative calm and the
samadhi state. When the mind converges and drops into a calm, concentrated
state to remain for a period of time before withdrawing to normal
consciousness, this is known as meditative calm. The calm and concentration
are temporary conditions that last while the mind remains fixed in that
peaceful state. As normal consciousness returns, these extraordinary
conditions gradually dissipate. However, as the meditator becomes more adept
at this practice—entering into and withdrawing from a calm, unified state
over and over again—the mind begins to build a solid inner foundation. When
this foundation becomes unshakable in all circumstances, the mind is known
to be in a state of continuous samadhi. Then, even when the mind withdraws
from meditative calm it still feels solid and compact, as though nothing can
disturb its inward focus.
The citta that is continuously unified in samadhi is always even and
unperturbed. It feels completely satiated. Because of the very compact and
concentrated sense of inner unity, everyday thoughts and emotions no longer
make an impact. In such a state, the mind has no desire to think about
anything. Completely peaceful and contented within itself, nothing is felt
to be lacking.
In such a state of continuous calm and concentration, the citta
becomes very powerful. While the mind was previously hungry to experience
thoughts and emotions, it now shuns them as a nuisance. Before it was so
agitated that it couldn’t stop thinking and imagining even if it wanted to.
Now, with samadhi as its habitual condition, the mind feels no desire to
think about anything. It views thought as an unwanted disturbance. When the
mind’s essential knowing presence stands out prominently all the time, the
citta is so inwardly concentrated that it tolerates no disturbance. Because
of this sublime tranquility—and the tendency of samadhi to lull the mind
into this state of serene satisfaction—those whose minds have attained
continuous samadhi tend to become strongly attached to it. It remains so
until one reaches the level of practice where wisdom prevails, and the
results become even more satisfying.
FROM THEN ON I ACCELERATED MY EFFORTS. It was at that time that I began
sitting in meditation all night long, from dusk until dawn. While sitting
one night I started focusing inward as usual. Because it had already
developed a good, strong foundation, the citta easily entered into samadhi.
So long as the citta rested there calmly, it remained unaware of external
bodily feelings. But when I withdrew from samadhi many hours later I began
to experience them in full. Eventually, my body was so racked by severe pain
that I could hardly cope. The citta was suddenly unnerved, and its good,
strong foundation completely collapsed. The entire body was filled with such
excruciating pain that it quivered all over.
Thus began the bout of hand-to-hand combat that gave me insight into
an important meditation technique. Until the unexpected appearance that
night of such severe pain, I had not thought of trying to sit all night. I
had never made a resolution of that kind. I was simply practicing seated
meditation as I normally did, but when the pain began to overwhelm me, I
thought: “Hey, what’s going on here? I must make every effort to figure out
this pain tonight.” So I made the solemn resolve that no matter what
happened I would not get up from my seat until dawn of the next day. I was
determined to investigate the nature of pain until I understood it clearly
and distinctly. I would have to dig deep. But, if need be, I was willing to
die in order to find out the truth about pain.
Wisdom began to tackle this problem in earnest. Before I found myself
cornered like that with no way out, I never imagined that wisdom could be so
sharp and incisive. It went to work, relentlessly whirling around as it
probed into the source of the pain with the determination of a warrior who
never retreats or accepts defeat. This experience convinced me that in
moments of real crisis wisdom arises to meet the challenge. We are not fated
to be ignorant forever—when truly backed into a corner we are bound to be
able to find a way to help ourselves. It happened to me that night. When I
was cornered and overwhelmed by severe pain, mindfulness and wisdom just dug
into the painful feelings.
The pain began as hot flashes along the backs of my hands and feet,
but that was really quite mild. When it arose in full force, the entire body
was ablaze with pain. All the bones, and the joints connecting them, were
like fuel feeding the fire that engulfed the body. It felt as though every
bone in my body was breaking apart; as though my neck would snap and my head
drop to the floor. When all parts of the body hurt at once, the pain is so
intense that one doesn’t know how to begin stemming the tide long enough
just to breathe.
This crisis left mindfulness and wisdom with no alternative but to dig
down into the pain, searching for the exact spot where it felt most severe.
Mindfulness and wisdom probed and investigated right where the pain was
greatest, trying to isolate it so as to see it clearly. “Where does this
pain originate? Who suffers the pain?” They asked these questions of each
bodily part and found that each one of them remained in keeping with its own
intrinsic nature. The skin was skin, the flesh was flesh, the tendons were
tendons, and so forth. They had been so from the day of birth. Pain, on the
other hand, is something that comes and goes periodically; it’s not always
there in the same way that flesh and skin are. Ordinarily, the pain and the
body appear to be all bound up together. But are they really?
Focusing inward I could see that each part of the body was a physical
reality. What is real stays that way. As I searched the mass of bodily pain,
I saw that one point was more severe than all the others. If pain and body
are one, and all parts of the body are equally real, then why was the pain
stronger in one part than in another? So I tried to separate out and isolate
each aspect. At that point in the investigation, mindfulness and wisdom were
indispensable. They had to sweep through the areas that hurt and then whirl
around the most intense ones, always working to separate the feeling from
the body. Having observed the body, they quickly shifted their attention to
the pain, then to the citta. These three: body, pain and citta, are the
major principles in this investigation.
Although the bodily pain was obviously very strong, I could see that
the citta was calm and unafflicted. No matter how much discomfort the body
suffered, the citta was not distressed or agitated. This intrigued me.
Normally the kilesas join forces with pain, and this alliance causes the
citta to be disturbed by the body’s suffering. This prompted wisdom to probe
into the nature of the body, the nature of pain and the nature of the citta
until all three were perceived clearly as separate realities, each true in
its own natural sphere.
I saw clearly that it was the citta that defined feeling as being
painful and unpleasant. Otherwise, pain was merely a natural phenomenon that
occurred. It was not an integral part of the body, nor was it intrinsic to
the citta. As soon as this principle became absolutely clear, the pain
vanished in an instant. At that moment, the body was simply the body—a
separate reality on its own. Pain was simply feeling, and in a flash that
feeling vanished straight into the citta. As soon as the pain vanished into
the citta, the citta knew that the pain had disappeared. It just vanished
without a trace.
In addition, the entire physical body vanished from awareness. At that
moment I was not consciously aware of the body at all. Only a simple and
harmonious awareness remained, alone on its own. That’s all. The citta was
so exceedingly refined as to be indescribable. It simply knew—a profoundly
subtle inner state of awareness pervaded. The body had completely
disappeared. Although my physical form still sat in meditation, I was
completely unconscious of it. The pain too had disappeared. No physical
feelings were left at all. Only the citta’s essential knowing nature
remained. All thinking had stopped; the mind was not forming a single
thought. When thinking ceases, not the slightest movement disturbs the inner
stillness. Unwavering, the citta remains firmly fixed in its own solitude.
Due to the power of mindfulness and wisdom, the hot, searing pain that
afflicted my body had vanished completely. Even my body had disappeared from
consciousness. The knowing presence existed alone, as though suspended in
midair. It was totally empty, but at the same time vibrantly aware. Because
the physical elements did not interact with it, the citta had no sense that
the body existed. This knowing presence was a pure and solitary awareness
that was not connected to anything whatsoever. It was awesome, majestic and
It was an incredibly amazing experience. The pain was completely gone.
The body had disappeared. An awareness so fine and subtle that I cannot
describe it was the only thing not to disappear. It simply appeared, that’s
all I can say. It was a truly amazing inner state of being. There was no
movement—not even the slightest rippling—inside the citta. It remained fully
absorbed in stillness until enough time had elapsed, then it stirred as it
began to withdraw from samadhi. It rippled briefly and then went quiet
This rippling happens naturally of its own accord. It cannot be
intended. Any intention brings the citta right back to normal consciousness.
When the citta absorbed in stillness has had enough, it begins to stir. It
is aware that a ripple stirs briefly and then ceases. Some moments later it
ripples briefly again, disappearing in the same instant. Gradually, the
rippling becomes more and more frequent. When the citta has converged to the
very base of samadhi, it does not withdraw all at once. This was very
evident to me. The citta rippled only slightly, meaning that a sankhara
formed briefly only to disappear before it could become intelligible. Having
rippled, it just vanished. Again and again it rippled and vanished,
gradually increasing in frequency until my citta eventually returned to
ordinary consciousness. I then became aware of my physical presence, but the
pain was still gone. Initially I felt no pain at all, and only slowly did it
begin to reappear.
This experience reinforced the solid spiritual foundation in my heart
with an unshakable certainty. I had realized a basic principle in contending
with pain: pain, body and citta are all distinctly separate phenomena. But
because of a single mental defilement—delusion—they all converge into one.
Delusion pervades the citta like an insidious poison, contaminating our
perceptions and distorting the truth. Pain is simply a natural phenomenon
that occurs on its own. But when we grab hold of it as a burning discomfort,
it immediately becomes hot—because our defining it in that way makes it hot.
After awhile the pain returned, so I had to tackle it again—without
retreating. I probed deep into the painful feelings, investigating them as I
had done before. But this time I could not use the same investigative
techniques that I had previously used to such good effect. Techniques
employed in the past were no longer relevant to the present moment. In order
to keep pace with internal events as they unfolded I needed fresh tactics,
newly devised by mindfulness and wisdom and tailor-made for present
circumstances. The nature of the pain was still the same, but the tactics
had to be suitable to the immediate conditions. Even though I had used them
successfully once before, I could not remedy the new situation by holding on
to old investigative techniques. Fresh, innovative techniques were required,
ones devised in the heat of battle to deal with present-moment conditions.
Mindfulness and wisdom went to work anew, and before long the citta once
again converged to the very base of samadhi.
During the course of that night the citta converged like this three
times, but I had to engage in bouts of hand-to-hand combat each time. After
the third time, dawn came, bringing to a close that decisive showdown. The
citta emerged bold, exultant and utterly fearless. Fear of death ceased that
PAINFUL FEELINGS ARE JUST naturally occurring phenomena that constantly
fluctuate between mild and severe. As long as we do not make them into a
personal burden, they don’t have any special meaning for the citta. In and
of itself, pain means nothing, so the citta remains unaffected. The physical
body is also meaningless in and of itself, and it adds no meaning either to
feelings or to oneself—unless, of course, the citta invests it with a
specific meaning, gathering in the resultant suffering to burn itself.
External conditions are not really responsible for our suffering, only the
citta can create that.
Getting up that morning, I felt indescribably bold and daring. I
marveled at the amazing nature of my experience. Nothing comparable had ever
happened in my meditation before. The citta had completely severed its
connection with all objects of attention, converging inward with true
courage. It had converged into that majestic stillness because of my
thorough, painstaking investigations. When it withdrew, it was still full of
an audacious courage that knew no fear of death. I now knew the right
investigative techniques, so I was certain that I’d have no fear the next
time that pain appeared. It would, after all, be pain with just the same
characteristics. The physical body would be the same old body. And wisdom
would be the same faculty I’d used before. For this reason, I felt openly
defiant, without fear of pain or death.
Once wisdom had come to realize the true nature of what dies and what
does not, death became something quite ordinary. Hair, nails, teeth, skin,
flesh, bones: reduced to their original elemental form, they are simply the
earth element. Since when did the earth element ever die? When they
decompose and disintegrate, what do they become? All parts of the body
revert to their original properties. The earth and water elements revert to
their original properties, as do the wind and fire elements. Nothing is
annihilated. Those elements have simply come together to form a lump in
which the citta then takes up residence. The citta—the great master of
delusion—comes in and animates it, and then carries the entire burden by
making a self-identity out of it. “This is me, this belongs to me.”
Reserving the whole mass for itself, the citta accumulates endless amounts
of pain and suffering, burning itself with its own false assumptions.
The citta itself is the real culprit, not the lump of physical
elements. The body is not some hostile entity whose constant fluctuations
threaten our well-being. It is a separate reality that changes naturally
according to its own inherent conditions. Only when we make false
assumptions about it does it become a burden we must carry. That is
precisely why we suffer from bodily pain and discomfort. The physical body
does not produce suffering for us; we ourselves produce it. Thus I saw
clearly that no external conditions can cause us to suffer. We are the ones
who misconceive things, and that misconception creates the blaze of pain
that troubles our hearts.
I understood clearly that nothing dies. The citta certainly doesn’t
die; in fact, it becomes more pronounced. The more fully we investigate the
four elements, breaking them down into their original properties, the more
distinctly pronounced the citta appears. So where is death to be found? And
what is it that dies? The four elements—earth, water, wind and fire—they
don’t die. As for the citta, how can it die? It becomes more conspicuous,
more aware and more insightful. This essential knowing nature never dies, so
why is it so afraid of death? Because it deceives itself. For eons and eons
it has fooled itself into believing in death when actually nothing ever
So when pain arises in the body we must realize that it is merely
feeling, and nothing else. Don’t define it in personal terms and assume that
it is something happening to you. Pains have afflicted your body since the
day you were born. The pain that you experienced at the moment you emerged
from your mother’s womb was excruciating. Only by surviving such torment are
human beings born. Pain has been there from the very beginning and it’s not
about to reverse course or alter its character. Bodily pain always exhibits
the same basic characteristics: having arisen, it remains briefly and then
ceases. Arising, remaining briefly, ceasing—that’s all there is to it.
Investigate painful feelings arising in the body so as to see them
clearly for what they are. The body itself is merely a physical form, the
physical reality you have known since birth. But when you believe that you
are your body, and your body hurts, then you are in pain. Being equated,
body, pain and the awareness that perceives them then converge into one:
your painful body. Physical pain arises due to some bodily malfunction. It
arises dependent on some aspect of the body, but it is not itself a physical
phenomenon. Awareness of both body and feelings is dependent on the
citta—the one who knows them. But when the one who’s aware of them knows
them falsely, then concern about the physical cause of the pain and its
apparent intensity cause emotional pain to arise. Pain not only hurts but it
indicates that there is something wrong with you—your body. Unless you can
separate out these three distinct realities, physical pain will always cause
The body is merely a physical phenomenon. We can believe whatever we
like about it, but that will not alter fundamental principles of truth.
Physical existence is one such fundamental truth. Four elemental
properties—earth, water, wind and fire—gather together in a certain
configuration to form what is called a “person”. This physical presence may
be identified as a man or a woman and be given a specific name and social
status, but essentially it is just the rupa khandha—a physical heap. Lumped
together, all the constituent parts form a human body, a distinct physical
reality. And each separate part is an integral part of that one fundamental
reality. The four elements join together in many different ways. In the
human body we speak of the skin, the flesh, the tendons, the bones, and so
forth. But don’t be fooled into thinking of them as separate realities
simply because they have different names. See them all as one essential
reality—the physical heap.
As for the heap of feelings, they exist in their own sphere. They are
not part of the physical body. The body isn’t feeling either. It has no
direct part in physical pain. These two khandhas—body and feeling—are more
prominent than the khandhas of memory, thought and consciousness, which,
because they vanish as soon as they arise, are far more difficult to see.
Feelings, on the other hand, remain briefly before they vanish. This causes
them to standout, making them easier to isolate during meditation.
Focus directly on painful feelings when they arise and strive to
understand their true nature. Confront the challenge head on. Don’t try to
avoid the pain by focusing your attention elsewhere. And resist any
temptation to wish for the pain to go away. The purpose of the investigation
must be a search for true understanding. The neutralization of pain is
merely a by-product of the clear understanding of the principles of truth.
It cannot be taken as the primary objective. That will only create the
conditions for greater emotional stress when the relief one wishes for fails
to materialize. Stoic endurance in the face of intense pain will not succeed
either. Nor will concentrating single-mindedly on pain to the exclusion of
the body and the citta. In order to achieve the proper results, all three
factors must be included in the investigation. The investigation must always
be direct and purposeful.
THE LORD BUDDHA TAUGHT US to investigate with the aim of seeing all pain as
simply a phenomenon that arises, remains briefly and then vanishes. Don’t
become entangled in it. Don’t view the pain in personal terms, as an
inseparable part of who you are, for that runs counter to pain’s true
nature. It also undermines the techniques used to investigate pain,
preventing wisdom from knowing the reality of feelings. Don’t create a
problem for yourself where none exists. See the truth as it arises in each
moment of pain, observing as it remains briefly and vanishes. That’s all
there is to pain.
When you have used mindfulness and wisdom to isolate the painful
feeling, turn your attention to the citta and compare the feeling with the
awareness that knows it to see if they really are inseparable. Turn and
compare the citta and the physical body in the same manner: are they in any
way identical? Focus clearly on each one and don’t allow your concentration
to wander from the specific point you are investigating. Keep it firmly
fixed on the one aspect. For instance, focus your full attention on the pain
and analyze it until you understand its distinguishing characteristics; then
turn to look at the citta and strive to see its knowing nature distinctly.
Are the two identical? Compare them. Are the feeling and the awareness that
knows it one and the same thing? Is there any way to make them so? And the
body, does it share similar characteristics with the citta? Is it like the
feeling? Are any of these three similar enough to be lumped together?
The body is physical matter—how can it be likened to the citta? The
citta is a mental phenomenon, an awareness that knows. The physical elements
that make up the body have no intrinsic awareness, they have no capacity to
know. The earth, water, wind and fire elements know nothing; only the mental
element—the manodhatu—knows. This being the case, how can the citta’s
essential knowing nature and the body’s physical elements possibly be
equated. They are obviously separate realities.
The same principle applies to pain. It has no intrinsic awareness, no
capacity to know. Pain is a natural phenomenon that arises in conjunction
with the body, but it is unaware of the existence of the body or of itself.
Painful feelings depend on the body as their physical basis. Without the
body they could not occur. But they have no physical reality of their own.
Sensations that arise in conjunction with the body are interpreted in such a
way that they become indistinguishable from the area of the body that is
affected. Instinctively, body and pain are equated, so the body itself seems
to hurt. We must remedy this instinctive reaction by investigating both the
characteristics of pain as a sense phenomenon and the purely physical
characteristics of that part of the body where that pain is felt acutely.
The objective is to determine clearly whether or not the physical
location—say a knee joint—exhibits the distinctive characteristics
associated with pain. What kind of shape and posture do they have? Feelings
have no shape or posture. They occur simply as an amorphous sensation. The
body does have a definite shape, color and complexion, and these are not
changed by the occurrence of physical feelings. It remains just the same as
it was before pain arose. The physical substance is in no way altered by
pain because pain, being a separate reality, has no direct effect on it.
For instance, when a knee hurts or a muscle hurts: knee and muscle are
merely bone, ligament and flesh. They themselves are not pain. Although the
two dwell together, they retain their own separate characteristics. The
citta knows both of these things but, because its awareness is clouded by
delusion, it automatically assumes that the pain is mixed in with the bones,
ligaments and muscles that compose a knee joint. By reason of that same
fundamental ignorance, the citta assumes that the body in all of its aspects
is an integral part of one’s very being. So the pain too becomes bound up
with one’s sense of being. “My knee hurts. I am in pain. But I don’t want to
suffer pain. I want the pain to go away.” This desire to get rid of pain is
a kilesa that increases the level of discomfort by turning physical feeling
into emotional suffering. The stronger the pain is, the stronger the desire
to rid oneself of it becomes, which leads to greater emotional distress.
These factors keep feeding each other. Thus, due to our own ignorance, we
load ourselves down with dukkha.
In order to see pain, body and citta as separate realities we must
view each from the proper perspective, a perspective that allows them to
float freely instead of coalescing into one. While they are bound together
as part of our self-image there is no independent viewpoint, and therefore
no effective means to separate them apart. As long as we insist on regarding
pain in personal terms, it will be impossible to breach this impasse. When
the khandhas and the citta are merged into one, we have no room to maneuver.
But when we investigate them with mindfulness and wisdom, moving back and
forth between them, analyzing each and comparing their specific features, we
notice definite distinctions among them and so see their true natures
clearly. Each exists on its own as a separate reality. This is a universal
As the profound nature of this realization sinks deep into the heart,
the pain begins to abate and gradually fades away. At the same time we
realize the fundamental connection between the experience of pain and the
“self” that grasps it. That connection is established from inside the citta
and extends outwardly to include the pain and the body. The actual
experience of pain emanates from the citta and its deep-seated attachment to
self, which causes emotional pain to arise in response to physical pain.
Fully aware the whole time, we follow the feeling of pain inward to its
source. As we focus on it, the pain we are investigating begins to retract,
gradually drawing back into the heart. Once we realize unequivocally that it
is actually the attachment created by the heart that causes us to experience
pain as a personal problem, the pain disappears. It may disappear
completely, leaving only the essential knowing nature of the citta alone on
its own. Or, the external phenomenon of pain may remain present but, because
the emotional attachment has been neutralized, it is no longer experienced
as painful. It is a different order of reality from the citta, and the two
do not interact. Since at that moment the citta has ceased to grasp at pain,
all connection has been severed. What’s left is the essence of the citta—its
knowing nature—serene and unperturbed amidst the pain of the khandhas.
No matter how severe the pain may be at that time, it will be unable
to affect the citta in any way. Once wisdom realizes clearly that the citta
and the pain are each real, but real in their own separate ways, the two
will not impact one another at all. The body is merely a lump of physical
matter. The same body that was there when the pain appeared is still there
when the pain ceases. Pain does not alter the nature of the body; the body
does not affect the nature of pain. The citta is the nature that knows that
the pain appears, remains briefly, and ceases. But the citta, the true
knowing essence, does not arise and pass away like the body and the feelings
do. The citta’s knowing presence is the one stable constant.
This being the case, pain—no matter how great—has no impact on the citta.
You can even smile while severe pain is arising—you can smile!—because the
citta is separate. It constantly knows but it does not become involved with
feelings so it does not suffer.
This level is attained through an intensive application of mindfulness
and wisdom. It’s a stage where wisdom develops samadhi. And because the
citta has fully investigated all aspects until they are understood
thoroughly, the citta reaches the full extent of samadhi at that time. It
converges with a boldness and subtlety so profound as to defy description.
This amazing awareness comes from analyzing things completely and
exhaustively and then withdrawing from them. Ordinarily, when the citta
relies on the power of samadhi meditation to converge into a calm,
concentrated state, it becomes still and quiet. But that samadhi state is
not nearly so subtle and profound as the one attained through the power of
wisdom. Once mindfulness and wisdom have engaged the kilesas in hand-to-hand
combat and triumphed, the nature of the calm that’s attained will be
spectacular each time.
This is the path for those who are practicing meditation so as to
penetrate to the truth of the five khandhas, using painful feeling as the
primary focus. This practice formed the initial basis for my fearlessness in
meditation. I saw with unequivocal clarity that the essential knowing nature
of the citta could never possibly be annihilated. Even if everything else
were completely destroyed, the citta would remain wholly unaffected. I
realized this truth with absolute clarity the moment when the citta’s
knowing essence stood alone on its own, completely uninvolved with anything
whatsoever. There was only that knowing presence standing out prominently,
awesome in its splendor. The citta lets go of the body, feeling, memory,
thought and consciousness and enters a pure stillness of its very own, with
absolutely no connection to the khandhas. In that moment, the five khandhas
do not function in any way at all in relation to the citta. In other words,
the citta and the khandhas exist independently because they have been
completely cut off from one another due to the persistent efforts of
That attainment brings a sense of wonder and amazement that no
experience we’ve ever had could possibly equal. The citta stays suspended in
a serene stillness for a long time before withdrawing to normal
consciousness. Having withdrawn, it reconnects with the khandhas as before,
but it remains absolutely convinced that the citta has just attained a state
of extraordinary calm totally cut off from the five khandhas. It knows that
it has experienced an extremely amazing spiritual state of being. That
certainty will never be erased.
Due to that unshakable conviction, which became fixed in my heart as a
result of that experience and therefore could not be brought into doubt by
unfounded or unreasonable assertions, I resumed my earlier samadhi
meditation in earnest—this time with an added determination and a sense of
absorption stemming from the magnetic pull that this certainty has in the
heart. The citta was quick to converge into the calm and concentration of
samadhi as before. Although I could not yet release the citta completely
from the infiltration of the five khandhas, I was greatly inspired to make a
persistent effort to reach the higher levels of Dhamma.
NO MATTER HOW DEEP OR CONTINUOUS, samadhi is not an end in itself. Samadhi
does not bring about an end to all suffering. But samadhi does constitute an
ideal platform from which to launch an all out assault on the kilesas that
cause all suffering. The profound calm and concentration generated by
samadhi form an excellent basis for the development of wisdom.
The problem is that samadhi is so peaceful and satisfying that the
meditator inadvertently becomes addicted to it. This happened to me: for
five years I was addicted to the tranquility of samadhi; so much so that I
came to believe that this very tranquility was the essence of Nibbana. Only
when my teacher, Acariya Mun, forced me to confront this misconception, was
I able to move on to the practice of wisdom.
Unless it supports the development of wisdom, samadhi can sidetrack a
meditator from the path to the end of all suffering. All meditators who
intensify their efforts to develop samadhi should be aware of this pitfall.
Samadhi’s main function on the path of practice is to support and sustain
the development of wisdom. It is well suited to this task because a mind
that is calm and concentrated is fully satisfied, and does not seek external
distractions. Thoughts about sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile
sensations no longer impinge upon an awareness that is firmly fixed in
samadhi. Calm and concentration are the mind’s natural sustenance. Once it
becomes satiated with its favorite nourishment, it does not wander off where
it strays into idle thinking. It is now fully prepared to undertake the kind
of purposeful thinking, investigation and reflection that constitute the
practice of wisdom. If the mind has yet to settle down—if it still hankers
after sense impressions, if it still wants to chase after thoughts and
emotions—its investigations will never lead to true wisdom. They will lead
only to discursive thought, guesswork and speculation—unfounded
interpretations of reality based simply on what has been learned and
remembered. Instead of leading to wisdom, and the cessation of suffering,
such directionless thinking becomes samudaya—the primary cause of suffering.
Since its sharp, inward focus complements the investigative and
contemplative work of wisdom so well, the Lord Buddha taught us to first
develop samadhi. A mind that remains undistracted by peripheral thoughts and
emotions is able to focus exclusively on whatever arises in its field of
awareness and to investigate such phenomena in light of the truth without
the interference of guesswork or speculation. This is an important
principle. The investigation proceeds smoothly, with fluency and skill. This
is the nature of genuine wisdom: investigating, contemplating and
understanding, but never being distracted or misled by conjecture.
The practice of wisdom begins with the human body, the grossest and
most visible component of our personal identity. The object is to penetrate
the reality of its true nature. Is our body what we’ve always assumed it to
be—an integral and desirable part of who we really are? To test this
assumption we must thoroughly investigate the body by mentally
deconstructing it into its constituent parts, section by section, piece by
piece. We must research the truth about the body with which we are so
familiar by viewing it from different angles. Begin with the hair on the
head, the hair on the body, the nails, the teeth and the skin, and move on
to the flesh, blood, sinews and bones. Then dissect the inner organs, one by
one, until the whole body is completely dismembered. Analyze this
conglomeration of disparate parts to clearly understand its true nature.
If you find it difficult to investigate your own body in this way,
begin by mentally dissecting someone else’s body. Choose a body external to
yourself; for instance, a body of the opposite sex. Visualize each part,
each organ of that body as best you can, and ask yourself: Which piece is
truly attractive? Which part is actually seductive? Place the hair in one
pile, the nails and teeth in another; do the same with the skin, the flesh,
the sinews and the bones. Which pile deserves to be an object of your
desire? Examine them closely and answer with total honesty. Strip off the
skin and pile it in front of you. Where is the beauty in this mass of
tissue, this thin veneer that covers up the meat and entrails? Do those
various parts add up to a person? Once the skin is removed, what can we find
to admire in the human body? Men and women—they are all the same. Not a
shred of beauty can be found in the body of a human being. It is just a bag
of flesh and blood and bones that manages to deceive everyone in the world
into lusting after it.
It is wisdom’s duty to expose that deception. Examine the skin
carefully. Skin is the great deceiver. Because it wraps up the entire human
body, it’s the part we always see. But what does it wrap up? It wraps up the
animal flesh, the muscles, the fluids and the fat. It wraps up the skeleton
with the tendons and the sinews. It wraps up the liver, the kidneys, the
stomach, the intestines, and all the internal organs. No one has ever
suggested that the body’s innards are desirable things of beauty, worthy of
being admired with passion and yearning. Probing deeply, without fear or
hesitation, wisdom exposes the plain truth about the body. Don’t be fooled
by a thin veil of scaly tissue. Peel it off and see what lies underneath.
This is the practice of wisdom.
In order to really see the truth of this matter for yourself, in a
clear and precise way that leaves no room for doubt, you must be very
persistent and very diligent. Merely doing this meditation practice once or
twice, or from time to time, will not be enough to bring conclusive results.
You must approach the practice as if it’s your life’s work—as though nothing
else in the world matters except the analysis you are working on at that
moment. Time is not a factor; place is not a factor; ease and comfort are
not factors. Regardless of how long it takes or how difficult the work
proves to be, you must relentlessly stick with body contemplation until all
doubt and uncertainty are eliminated.
Body contemplation should occupy every breath, every thought, every
movement until the mind becomes thoroughly saturated with it. Nothing short
of total commitment will bring genuine and direct insight into the truth.
When body contemplation is practiced with single-minded intensity, each
successive body part becomes a kind of fuel feeding the fires of mindfulness
and wisdom. Mindfulness and wisdom then become a conflagration consuming the
human body section by section, part by part, as they examine and investigate
the truth with a burning intensity. This is what is meant by tapadhamma.
Focus intently on those body parts that really capture your attention,
the ones whose truth feels most obvious to you. Use them as whetstones to
sharpen your wisdom. Expose them and tear them apart until their inherently
disgusting and repulsive nature becomes apparent. Asubha meditation is
insight into the repulsiveness of the human body. This is the body’s natural
condition; by nature, it is filthy and disgusting. Essentially, the whole
body is a living, stinking corpse—a breathing cesspool full of fetid waste.
Only a paper thin covering of skin makes the whole mess look presentable. We
are all being deceived by the outer wrapping, which conceals the fundamental
repulsiveness from view. Merely removing the skin reveals the body’s true
By comparison to the flesh and internal organs, the skin appears
attractive. But examine it more closely. Skin is scaly, creased, and
wrinkled; it exudes sweat and grease and offensive odors. We must scrub it
daily just to keep it clean. How attractive is that? And the skin is firmly
wedded to the underlying flesh, and thus inextricably linked to the
loathsome interior. The more deeply wisdom probes, the more repulsive the
body appears. From the skin on through to the bones, nothing is the least
PROPERLY DONE, BODY CONTEMPLATION is intense and the mental effort is
unrelenting; so, eventually, the mind begins to tire. It is then appropriate
to stop and take a rest. When meditators who are engaged in full-scale body
contemplation take a break, they return to the samadhi practice they have
developed and maintained so assiduously. Reentering the still peace and
concentration of samadhi, they abide in total calm where no thoughts or
visualizations arise to disturb the citta. The burden of thinking and
probing with wisdom is temporarily set aside so that the mind can completely
relax, suspended in tranquility. Once the mind is satiated with samadhi, it
withdraws on its own, feeling reinvigorated and refreshed and ready to
tackle the rigors of body contemplation again. In this way, samadhi supports
the work of wisdom, making it more adept and incisive.
Upon withdrawal from samadhi, the investigation of the body
immediately begins anew. Each time you investigate with mindfulness and
wisdom, the investigation should be carried out in the present moment. To be
fully effective, each new investigation must be fresh and spontaneous. Don’t
allow them to become carbon copies of previous ones. An immediacy, of being
exclusively in the present moment, must be maintained at all times. Forget
whatever you may have learned; forget what happened the last time you delved
into the body’s domain—just focus your attention squarely in the present
moment and investigate only from that vantage point. Ultimately, this is
what it means to be mindful. Mindfulness fixes the mind in the present,
allowing wisdom to focus sharply. Learned experience is stored as memory,
and as such should be put aside; otherwise memory will masquerade as wisdom.
This is the present imitating the past. If memory is permitted to replace
the immediacy of the present moment, then genuine wisdom will not arise. So
guard against this tendency in your practice.
Keep probing and analyzing the nature of the body over and over again,
using as many perspectives as your wisdom can devise, until you become
thoroughly skilled in every conceivable aspect of body contemplation. True
expertise in this practice produces sharp, clear insights. It penetrates
directly to the essence of the body’s natural existence in a way that
transforms the meditator’s view of the human body. A level of mastery can be
reached, such that peoples’ bodies instantly appear to break apart whenever
you look at them. When wisdom attains total mastery of the practice, we see
only flesh, sinews and bones where a person once stood. The whole body is
revealed as a viscous, red mass of raw tissue. The skin will vanish in a
flash, and wisdom will quickly penetrate the body’s inner recesses. Whether
it’s a man or a woman, the skin—which is commonly considered so appealing—is
simply ignored. Wisdom penetrates immediately inside where a disgusting,
repulsive mess of organs and bodily fluids fills every cavity.
Wisdom is able to penetrate to the truth of the body with utmost
clarity. The attractiveness of the body completely disappears. What then is
there to be attached to? What is there to lust after? What in the body is
worth clinging to? Where in this lump of raw flesh is the person? The
kilesas have woven a web of deception concerning the body, fooling us with
perceptions of human beauty and exciting us with lustful thoughts. The truth
is that the object of that desire is a fake—a complete fraud. For in
reality, when seen clearly with wisdom, the body by its very nature repels
desire. When this delusion is exposed in the light of wisdom, the human body
appears in all its gory detail as an appalling sight. Seen with absolute
clarity, the mind shrinks from it instantly.
The keys to success are persistence and perseverance. Always be
diligent and alert when applying mindfulness and wisdom to the task. Don’t
be satisfied with partial success. Each time you contemplate the body, carry
that investigation through to its logical conclusion; then quickly
reestablish an image of the body in your mind and begin the process all over
again. As you delve deeper and deeper into the body’s interior, the various
parts will gradually begin to break up, fall apart, and disintegrate right
before your eyes. Follow the process of disintegration and decay intently.
Mindful of every detail, focus your wisdom on the unstable and impermanent
nature of this form that the world views with such infatuation. Let your
intuitive wisdom initiate the process of decay and see what happens. This is
the next stage in body contemplation.
Follow the natural conditions of decay as the body decomposes and
returns to its original elemental state. Decay and destruction is the
natural course of all organic life. Eventually, all things are reduced to
their constituent elements, and those elements disperse. Let wisdom be the
destroyer, imagining for the mind’s eye the process of decay and
decomposition. Concentrate on the disintegration of the flesh and other soft
tissue, watching as it slowly decomposes until nothing remains but
disjointed bones. Then reconstruct the body again and begin the
investigation once more. Each time that intuitive wisdom lays waste to the
body, mentally restore it to its former condition and start anew.
This practice is an intense form of mental training, requiring a high
degree of skill and mental fortitude. The rewards reflect the power and
intensity of the effort made. The more proficient wisdom is, the brighter,
clearer and more powerful the mind becomes. The mind’s clarity and strength
appear to have no bounds—its speed and agility are amazing. At this stage,
meditators are motivated by a profound sense of urgency as they begin to
realize the harm caused by attachment to the human form. The lurking danger
is clearly seen. Where previously they grasped the body as something of
supreme value—something to be admired and adored—they now see only a pile of
rotting bone; and they are thoroughly repulsed. Through the power of wisdom,
a dead, decaying body and the living, breathing body have become one and the
same corpse. Not a shred of difference exists between them.
You must investigate repeatedly, training the mind until you become
highly proficient at using wisdom. Avoid any form of speculation or
conjecture. Don’t allow thoughts of what you should be doing or what the
results might mean to encroach upon the investigation. Just concentrate on
the truth of what wisdom reveals and let the truth speak for itself. Wisdom
will know the correct path to follow and will understand clearly the truths
that it uncovers. And when wisdom is fully convinced of the truth of any
aspect of the body, it will naturally release its attachment to that aspect.
No matter how intently it has pursued that investigation, the mind feels
fully satisfied once the truth manifests itself with absolute certainty.
When the truth of one facet of body contemplation is realized, there is
nothing further to seek in that direction. So, the mind moves on to examine
another facet, and then another facet, until finally all doubts are
Striving in this way, probing deeper and deeper into the body’s
inherent nature with an intense focus on the present moment, a heightened
state of awareness must be maintained; and the intensity of the effort
eventually takes its toll. When fatigue sets in, experienced meditators know
instinctively that the time is right to rest the mind in samadhi. So they
drop all aspects of the investigation and concentrate solely on one object.
Totally unburdening themselves, they enter into the cool, composed,
rejuvenating peace of samadhi. In this way, samadhi is a separate practice
altogether. No thoughts of any kind infringe upon the citta’s essential
knowing nature while it rests peacefully with single-minded concentration.
With the citta absorbed in total stillness, the body and the external world
temporarily disappear from awareness. Once the citta is satiated, it
withdraws to normal consciousness on its own. Like a person who eats a full
meal and takes a good rest, mindfulness and wisdom are refreshed and ready
to return to work with renewed energy. Then, with purposeful resolve, the
practice of samadhi is put aside and the practice of wisdom is
reestablished. In this way, samadhi is an outstanding complement to wisdom.
THE BODY IS VERY IMPORTANT TO CONSIDER. Most of our desires are bound up
with it. Looking around us, we can see a world that is in the grips of
sexual craving and frantic in its adoration of the human form. As
meditators, we must face up to the challenges posed by our own sexuality,
which stems from a deep-seated craving for sensual gratification. During
meditation, this defilement is the most significant obstacle to our
progress. The deeper we dig into body contemplation, the more evident this
becomes. No other form of kilesa drags more on the mind, nor exerts greater
power over the mind than the defilement of sexual craving. Since this
craving is rooted in the human body, exposing its true nature will gradually
loosen the mind’s tenacious grasp on the body.
Body contemplation is the best antidote for sexual attraction.
Successful body practice is measured by a reduction in the mind’s sexual
desires. Step by step, wisdom unmasks the reality of the body, cutting off
and destroying deep-rooted attachments in the process. This results in an
increasingly free and open mental state. To fully understand their
significance, meditators must experience these results for themselves. It
would be counter-productive for me to try to describe them—that would only
lead to fruitless speculation. These results arise exclusively within a
meditator’s mind, and are unique to that person’s character and temperament.
Simply focus all your attention on the practical causes and let the results
of that effort arise as they will. When they do, you will know them with
undeniable clarity. This is a natural principle.
When body contemplation reaches the stage where reason and result
become fully integrated with wisdom, one becomes completely absorbed in
these investigations both day and night. It’s truly extraordinary. Wisdom
moves through the body with such speed and agility, and displays such
ingenuity in its contemplative techniques, that it seems to spin
relentlessly in and out and around every part, every aspect of the body,
delving into each nook and cranny to discover the truth. At this stage of
the practice, wisdom begins to surface automatically, becoming truly
habitual in manifesting itself. Because it’s so quick and incisive, it can
catch up with even the most subtle kilesas, and disable even the most
indomitable ones. Wisdom at this level is extremely daring and adventurous.
It is like a mountain torrent crashing through a narrow canyon: nothing can
deter its course. Wisdom bursts forth to meet every challenge to crave and
to cling that is presented by the kilesas. Because its adversary is so
tenacious, wisdom’s battle with sexual craving resembles a full-scale war.
For this reason, only a bold and uncompromising strategy will succeed. There
is only one appropriate course of action—an all out struggle; and the
meditator will know this instinctively.
When wisdom begins to master the body, it will constantly modify its
investigative techniques so that it will not fall prey to the tricks of the
kilesas. Wisdom will try to keep one step ahead of the kilesas, constantly
looking for new openings and constantly adjusting its tactics: sometimes
shifting emphasis, sometimes pursuing subtle variations in technique.
As greater and greater proficiency is achieved, there comes a time
when all attachment to one’s own body and to that of others appears to have
vanished. In truth, a lingering attachment still remains; it has only gone
into hiding. It has not been totally eliminated. Take careful note of this.
It may feel as though it is eliminated, but actually it is concealed from
view by the power of the asubha practice. So don’t be complacent. Keep
upgrading your arsenal—mindfulness, wisdom and diligence—to meet the
challenge. Mentally place the whole mass of body parts in front of you and
focus on it intently. This is your body. What will happen to it? By now
wisdom is so swift and decisive that in no time at all it will break up and
disintegrate before your eyes. Each time you spread the body out before
you—whether it is your body or someone else’s—wisdom will immediately begin
to break it apart and destroy it. By now this action has become habitual.
In the end, when wisdom has achieved maximum proficiency at
penetrating to the core of the body’s repulsive nature, you must place the
entire disgusting mess of flesh and blood and bones in front of you and ask
yourself: From where does this feeling of revulsion emanate? What is the
real source of this repulsiveness? Concentrate on the disgusting sight
before you and see what happens. You are now closing in on the truth of the
matter. At this crucial stage in asubha contemplation, you must not allow
wisdom to break the body apart and destroy it.
Fix the repulsive image clearly in your mind and watch closely to
detect any movement in the repulsive feeling. You have evoked a feeling of
revulsion for it: Where does that feeling originate? From where does it
come? Who or what assumes that flesh, blood and bones are disgusting? They
are as they are, existing in their own natural state. Who is it that
conjures up feelings of revulsion at their sight? Fix your attention on it.
Where will the repulsiveness go? Wherever it moves, be prepared to follow
The decisive phase of body contemplation has been reached. This is the
point where the root-cause of sexual craving is uprooted once and for all.
As you focus exclusively on the repulsiveness evoked by the asubha
contemplation, your revulsion of the image before you will slowly, gradually
contract inward until it is fully absorbed by the mind. On its own, without
any prompting, it will recede into the mind, returning to its source of
origin. This is the decisive moment in the practice of body contemplation,
the moment when a final verdict is reached about the relationship between
the kilesa of sexual craving and its primary object, the physical body. When
the mind’s knowing presence fully absorbs the repulsiveness, internalizing
the feeling of revulsion, a profound realization suddenly occurs: The mind
itself produces feelings of revulsion, the mind itself produces feelings of
attraction; the mind alone creates ugliness and the mind alone creates
These qualities do not really exist in the external physical world. The mind
merely projects these attributes onto the objects it perceives and then
deceives itself into believing that they are beautiful or ugly, attractive
or repulsive. In truth, the mind paints elaborate pictures all the
time—pictures of oneself and pictures of the external world. It then falls
for its own mental imagery, believing it to be real.
At this point the meditator understands the truth with absolute
certainty: The mind itself generates repulsion and attraction. The previous
focus of the investigation—the pile of flesh and blood and bones—has no
inherent repulsiveness whatsoever. Intrinsically, the human body is neither
disgusting nor pleasing. Instead, it is the mind that conjures up these
feelings and then projects them on the images that are in front of us. Once
wisdom penetrates this deception with absolute clarity, the mind immediately
relinquishes all external perceptions of beauty and ugliness, and turns
inward to concentrate on the source of such notions. The mind itself is the
perpetrator and the victim of these deceptions; the deceiver and the
Only the mind, and nothing else, paints pictures of beauty and ugliness. So
the asubha images that the meditator has been focusing on as separate and
external objects, are absorbed into the mind where they merge with the
revulsion created by the mind. Both are, in fact, one and the same thing.
When this realization occurs, the mind lets go of external images, lets go
of external forms, and in doing so lets go of sexual attraction.
Sexual attraction is rooted in perceptions of the human body. When the
real basis of these perceptions is exposed, it completely undermines their
validity; and the external, as we know it, collapses and our attachment to
it ceases of its own accord. The defiling influence of sexual
attraction—which has ridden roughshod over the mind since time immemorial,
luring the mind to grasp at birth and so experience death continuously for
eons—this insidious craving is now powerless. The mind has now passed beyond
its influence: It is now free.
PLEASE TAKE THIS EXPLANATION AS A GUIDE, signaling the way forward, and not
as a lesson to be memorized verbatim. I am always reluctant to be very
specific for fear that my students will take my words literally and thus
prejudge the nature of the truth that they are seeking. My words, taken as
they are, will not enlighten you. Only mindful awareness, firmly anchored in
the present moment, leads directly to the truth. Never presuppose the truth.
Don’t speculate or theorize about meditation practice. And don’t mistakenly
appropriate the knowledge you gain from reading this exposition, assuming
that in doing so you understand the true nature of body and mind. Only clear
and direct insight guided by mindfulness, investigated with wisdom, and
pursued with diligence will penetrate that truth.
At this level of practice, the body is completely internalized and the
power of sexual attraction is broken. To move forward to the next step, you
must use the meditation technique, that brought you to this point, as a
training exercise. The aim here is to train mindfulness and wisdom to be
even quicker, sharper and more precise in dealing with the very elusive and
subtle nature of mental phenomena.
Place the repulsive image of the body in front of you as usual and
watch as it retracts into the mind. Then place the image back in front of
you and start again, observing carefully how the image merges into the mind.
Do this exercise repeatedly until the mind becomes very skilled at it. Once
proficiency is achieved, the image will ebb away as soon as the mind focuses
on it and merge with the knowing presence inside. Upon reaching the stage
where one clearly understands the basic principles underlying sexual
attraction, the next step is to train the mind with this purely mental
exercise. Sexual attraction is no longer a problem—it has been cut off for
good. There is no way that it can reappear as before. But, although most of
it has been eliminated, it has yet to be completely destroyed. A small
portion still remains: like bits of dross or patches of rust adhering to the
At the stage where external perceptions merge totally with the citta’s
own inner image, we can say that at least fifty percent of the investigation
of kamaraga has been successfully completed. The final, most advanced stage
of the path of practice has been reached. The subtle portion of sensual
desire that remains must be gradually eliminated, using the training
exercise mentioned above. Relentlessly refining the contemplation and the
mental absorption of asubha images will increase wisdom’s skill level. As
wisdom’s proficiency strengthens, a higher and higher percentage of sexual
attraction is totally destroyed. As wisdom’s mastery gathers pace, so too
does the speed at which the images recede into the mind. Eventually, as soon
as one focuses on it, an image will rush into the mind, merge with it and
simply vanish. With constant practice, the speed at which this occurs will
rapidly increase. At the highest level of skillfulness, the image will
vanish the moment it’s absorbed into the mind. This investigative technique
is fundamental to progress in the final stage of the path, the stage where a
vanquished kamaraga is in full retreat. Soon every vestige of it will be
Once the meditator attains the final stage, once the real source of
ugliness and beauty is seen with crystal clarity, kamaraga will never rear
its head again. Its hold over the mind has been broken—and this condition is
Notwithstanding that, further work is still needed to destroy all traces of
sensual desire. The task is time consuming. This part of the investigation
is complex and somewhat chaotic with images of the body arising and
vanishing at a furious pace. The most intense effort is required to root out
every last vestige of kamaraga. But the meditator knows instinctively what
to do at this stage. So, the investigation quickly develops its own natural
momentum without prompting from anyone.
Mindfulness and wisdom are habitual—they work in unison with
extraordinary speed and agility. By the time that these investigations reach
their dénouement, no sooner does an image of the body appear than it
vanishes instantly. It doesn’t matter whether these images merge into the
citta or not, their appearance and disappearance is all that is known.
Arising and passing images happen so quickly that perceptions of external
and internal are no longer relevant. In the end, images flutter on and off,
appearing and disappearing from awareness so rapidly that their forms are no
longer sustainable. After each disappearance, the citta experiences a
profound emptiness—emptiness of imagery, emptiness of form. An extremely
refined awareness stands out within the citta. As each new image flashes on
and disappears, the mind feels the resulting emptiness more profoundly. Due
to its subtle and manifest strength at this stage, the citta’s knowing
nature completely dominates. Finally, images created in the mind cease to
appear altogether—only emptiness remains. In this void the citta’s essential
knowing nature prevails, exclusively and incomparably. With the cessation of
all body-images created by the mind comes the total annihilation of kamaraga.
Contemplation of the body has reached closure.
Finally realizing that all form is intrinsically empty—empty of
personality, empty of distinctive qualities such as beauty and ugliness—the
meditator sees the immense harm caused by kamaraga. This ruinous defilement
spreads its noxious poison everywhere. It corrodes human relationships and
agitates the whole world, distorting people’s thoughts and emotions, causing
anxiety, restlessness and constant discontent. Nothing else has such a
disquieting effect on people’s lives. It is the most destructive force on
earth. When kamaraga is totally eliminated, the entire world appears empty.
The force that ignites fires which consume people’s hearts, and fans flames
that ravage human society is vanquished and buried. The fire of sexual
attraction is extinguished for good—nothing remains to torment the heart.
With kamaraga quenched, Nibbana appears imminent and close at hand.
Kamaraga conceals everything, blinding us to all aspects of the truth.
Thus, when kamaraga is finally destroyed, we have an unobstructed view of
magga, phala, and Nibbana—they are now well within reach.
TO SUMMARIZE, THE STAGE of Anagami is attained when kamaraga’s stranglehold
on the mind is broken. The Anagami must then practice the same investigative
techniques that led to that result, deepening, broadening and perfecting
them until bodily forms no longer appear within the citta. The mind creates
images and then falls for its own creations. The fully accomplished Anagami
knows this beyond a shadow of doubt. The human body, and everything that
it’s believed to represent, are matters of the mind deceiving itself. The
body is a lump of matter, a conglomeration of basic natural elements. It is
not a person; it is neither pleasing nor repugnant. It simply is as it is,
existing in its own natural state. The mind perpetrates the fraud that we
perceive, and is then taken in by its own false perceptions.
All human organs are merely devices that the citta’s knowing nature
uses for its own purposes. The knowing presence of the citta is diffused
throughout the whole body. This diffusion and permeation of conscious
awareness throughout the body is entirely a manifestation of the citta’s own
essence. The physical elements composing the body have no consciousness:
they have no intrinsic knowing qualities, no conscious presence. The knowing
and the sense consciousness associated with the body are strictly matters of
the citta and its manifestations. The eyes, ears, and nose are able to
perceive through the awareness of the citta. These organs are merely the
means by which sense consciousness occurs. They themselves have no conscious
Normally we believe that our eyes are capable of seeing. But once we
fully understand the body’s true nature we know that the eyeball is simply a
lump of tissue. The consciousness that flows through the eyes is what
actually sees and knows visual objects. Consciousness uses the eyes as a
means to access the visual sphere. Our organs of sight are no different from
the eyeballs of a dead animal lying at the side of the road. The fleshy eye
has no intrinsic value: on its own, it is basically inert. This is known and
understood with unequivocal clarity. How then can the body be oneself? How
can it belong to oneself? It’s completely unnatural.
This principle is seen clearly when the flow of consciousness that
diffuses and permeates the human body is drawn back into itself and
converges into a deep state of samadhi. Then the entire body exists as no
more than a lump of matter—a log or a tree stump. When the citta withdraws
from samadhi, conscious awareness returns to the body, spreading out to
permeate every limb, every part. Awareness and the ability to know are
fundamental functions of the citta—not of the physical body. In the normal
waking consciousness of the meditator at this level of practice, the knowing
presence is fully aware of itself, aware that the citta and the knowing are
one and the same timeless essence; and that the physical elements know
nothing. In samadhi, the body may disappear from awareness but the awareness
itself never disappears.
In truth, this is an immutable principle of nature. When the kilesas
infiltrate the citta, however, they grasp everything as oneself—as me or
mine—thus confusing one’s true nature with the sense faculties that it
animates. Such is the nature of the kilesas. Wisdom is just the opposite: It
knows the body clearly for what it is and corrects this misconception. The
kilesas always grasp at the body, leading one to believe that the body is a
special part of oneself. Wisdom sees the human body as just a conglomeration
of common material substances, and consequently relinquishes all personal
attachment to it.
The brain, for instance, is a lump of matter. The brain is merely an
instrument that human consciousness uses. When the citta enters into a deep
state of calm and concentration, the conscious awareness that is normally
diffused throughout the body simultaneously converges from all areas of the
body into one central point of focus at the middle of the chest. The knowing
quality manifests itself prominently at that point. It does not emanate from
the brain. Although the faculties of memorization and learning arise in
association with the brain, direct knowledge of the truth does not. Step by
step, beginning with the initial stages of samadhi practice, progress in
meditation is experienced and understood in the heart—and only in the heart.
This is where the truth lies, and the meditator who practices correctly
knows this each step of the way. When it comes to understanding the true
nature of all phenomena, the brain is not a factor—it is not useful at all.
The citta’s serene and radiant qualities are experienced at the heart. They
emanate conspicuously from that point. All of the citta’s myriad aspects,
from the grossest to the most subtle, are experienced clearly from this
central spot. And when all defiling influences are finally eliminated from
the citta, it is there that they all cease.
Within the citta, sańńa and sankhara are the main agents of delusion.
Beginning with the latter stages of body contemplation at the level of
Anagami, these mental components of personality take center stage. When the
physical component of personality—the body—ceases to be a factor, the
Anagami’s full focus automatically shifts to the mental components: feeling,
memory, thought and consciousness. Among these, the faculties of memory and
thought are especially important. They arise and interact continuously to
form mental images that they color with various shades of meaning. In
examining them, the same basic investigative principles still apply; but
instead of images of the body, the thinking process itself becomes the
subject of scrutiny.
Using intense introspection, wisdom observes how thoughts and memories
arise and then vanish, arise and then vanish, appearing and disappearing in
an endless chain of mental activity. No sooner does a thought arise than it
vanishes from awareness. Whatever its nature, the result is always the same:
a thought lasts for only a brief moment and then it vanishes. The
investigation zeros in exclusively on the thinking process, penetrating
right to the heart of the mind’s essential knowing nature. It follows every
thought, every inkling of an idea, as it arises and passes, and then focuses
on the next one that surfaces. It is a time-consuming and arduous task that
demands undivided attention every moment of the day and night. But by this
stage, time and place have become irrelevant. This internal investigation
may well continue unremittingly for weeks or months while mindfulness and
wisdom wrestle with a constant flux of mental phenomena.
The work is mentally very exhausting. Wisdom goes relentlessly through
every aspect of mental activity. It works non-stop day and night. At the
same time that it investigates the thinking process, it also makes use of
thoughts and ideas to question and probe the workings of the mind in order
to gain insights into its true nature. This is thinking for the sake of
magga—the path of practice. It is a tool that wisdom uses for the purpose of
uncovering the truth. It is not indulging in thought merely for its own
sake, which is samudaya—the cause of suffering. All the same, due to the
intense nature of the investigation, the mind becomes fatigued; and it
invariably turns dull and sluggish after long hours of intense effort. When
this happens, it must take a break. More than at any other time, the mind
needs to rest in samadhi at regular intervals during this stage. But since
the results of peace and tranquility, experienced in samadhi, pale in
comparison to the truly amazing results gained from the practice of wisdom,
the meditator is often very reluctant to opt for samadhi. The mind is in a
vibrant, heightened state of awareness; and from that perspective samadhi
seems to be a wasteful, stagnant mental state. In truth, however, samadhi
constitutes an essential and indispensable complement to the practice of
So, the mind must be coerced into samadhi, if necessary. It must be
forced to set aside current investigations and to focus exclusively on
attaining a calm, peaceful, fully-converged mental state. There, it can rest
until it is completely refreshed and restored before resuming the liberating
work of wisdom. As soon as the mind withdraws from the inactive state of
samadhi, it will leap immediately into action. Like a horse chafing at the
bit, the mind is impatient to return to its principal task—the removal and
destruction of all mental defilements. But take care to see that the mind
does not rush frantically along the path of wisdom without any letup.
Investigating to excess is one form of samudaya that can infiltrate the
citta, causing it to fall under the spell of sankharas. The very faculties
of thinking and analyzing that wisdom uses to investigate the mind have a
momentum of their own that knows no moderation. They must occasionally be
reined in so that a proper balance is maintained between inner work and
inner rest. At this stage of the practice, wisdom will automatically work at
full capacity. When it is appropriate to rest, focus on samadhi with that
same degree of intensity. This is the middle way of magga, phala, and
The citta and its relationship to the nama khandhas are the central
focus of the investigation at this level. The citta is the essential knowing
nature at the core of our being. It consists of pure and simple awareness:
the citta simply knows.
Awareness of good and bad, and the critical judgments that result, are
merely conditions of the citta. At times, their activities may manifest as
mindfulness; at other times, as wisdom. But the true citta does not exhibit
any activities or manifest any conditions at all. It is simply a state of
knowing. The activities that arise in the citta, such as awareness of good
and bad, or happiness and suffering, or praise and blame, are all conditions
of the consciousness that flow out from the citta. Since they represent
activities and conditions of the citta that are, by their very nature,
constantly arising and fading, this sort of conscious awareness is always
unstable and always unreliable. Understood in this way, sańńa, sankhara and
vińńana are all conditions of the citta.
These conditions create the flux of mental phenomena that we call the
nama khandhas. Through the interaction of feeling, memory, thought and
consciousness, forms and images arise within the citta. The awareness that
knows them is the citta. Defiling influences like kamaraga manipulate and
color the quality of that knowing. So long as the citta, under the authority
of kamaraga, believes this internal imagery to be real and substantial,
desire and aversion will occur. Internalized forms are then cherished or
despised according to their perceived nature—either good or bad, attractive
or repulsive. The citta’s perspective is then divided between these two
extremes. It is tricked into identifying with a world of duality and
instability. The citta’s knowing does not arise or pass away, but it mimics
the traits of those things—like the kilesas and the khandhas—that do. When
wisdom finally sees through the deception, the citta no longer harbours
these phenomena although they continue to arise and vanish in the sphere of
the khandhas. The citta is thus empty of such phenomena.
One moment after another from the day of our birth to the present, the
khandhas have risen and fallen away continuously. On their own, they have no
real substance and it is impossible to find any. The citta’s interpretation
of these phenomena lends them a semblance of personal reality. The citta
clings to them as the essence of oneself, or as one’s own personal property.
This misconception creates a self-identity that becomes a burden heavier
than an entire mountain, a burden that the citta carries within itself
without gaining any benefit. Dukkha is its only reward for a misconceived
attachment fostered by self-delusion.
When the citta has investigated these things and can see them with the
clarity born of sharp, incisive wisdom, the body is understood to be a
natural phenomenon that is real within the limits of its own inherent
physical qualities. It is not intrinsic to oneself and so it is no longer an
object of attachment. Bodily feelings—painful, pleasant and neutral feelings
that occur within the body—are clearly real, but they are only a reality
within their specific domain. They too are relinquished. But wisdom is as
yet incapable of seeing through the subtle feelings that arise exclusively
within the citta. So psychological and emotional feelings—painful, pleasant
and neutral feelings that occur only within the citta—are conditions that
continue to interest the citta. Although the citta is unable to understand
the truth about them now, these subtle feelings will serve as constant
reminders, always prompting the citta to investigate them further.
AS A WHOLE, THE WELLSPRING of thought and imagination is called sankhara
khandha. Each thought, each inkling of an idea ripples briefly through the
mind and then ceases. In and of themselves, these mental ripples have no
specific meaning. They merely flash briefly into awareness and then cease
without a trace. Only when sańńa khandha takes them up do they become
thoughts and ideas with a specific meaning and content. Sańńa khandha is the
mental aggregate of memory, recognition and interpretation. Sańńa takes
fragments of thought and interprets and expands them, making assumptions
about their significance, and thus turning them into issues. Sankhara then
perpetuates these issues in the form of incessant, discursive thinking.
Sańńa, however, is the principal instigator. As soon as sankhara flashes up
briefly, sańńa immediately grasps it and defines its existence as this or
that—agitating everything. These two are the mental faculties that cause all
the trouble. Together they spin tales—of fortune and of woe—and then
interpret them to be the reality of oneself. Relying on memory to identify
everything that arises in awareness, sańńa defines them and gives them
Sankharas arise and cease with distinct beginnings and endings, like
flashes of lightning or fireflies blinking on and off. When observed
closely, sańńa khandha is far more subtle than sankhara khandha. Bursting
into awareness, sankharas are the basic building blocks of thought. Sańńa,
on the other hand, is not experienced as flashes of thought. When the mind
is perfectly still and the khandhas are very quiet, we can clearly feel the
manner in which each khandha arises. Sańńa will slowly spread out,
permeating the citta like ink moving through blotting paper, expanding
slowly until it forms a mental picture. Following sańńa’s lead, the
sankharas, that are constantly arising, begin to form a picture and create a
story around it that will then take on a life of its own. Thoughts about
this or that begin with sańńa recognizing and interpreting the ripplings of
sankhara, molding them into a recognizable image which sankhara then
continuously elaborates. Both of these mental factors are natural phenomena.
They arise spontaneously, and are distinct from the awareness that knows
Now, when the citta has investigated the khandhas repeatedly,
ceaselessly and relentlessly, it will develop an expertise. Contemplating by
means of wisdom, we are able to first relinquish the physical khandha. At
the beginning stage of the investigation, wisdom will see through the
physical body before it sees through—and can let go of—the other khandhas.
Henceforth, the citta can gradually relinquish its attachment to feeling,
memory, thought and consciousness in the same manner.
Put simply, the citta lets go when wisdom sees through the mental
components of personality; before then, it holds on. Once wisdom has
penetrated them completely, the citta can relinquish them all, recognizing
that they are merely ripplings inside the citta and have no real substance.
Whether good or bad, thoughts arise and cease all the same. No matter how
they appear in the mind, they are just configurations created by sańńa and
sankhara and will simply vanish. There are no exceptions. No thought lasts
more than an instant. Lacking duration, thoughts lack true substance and
meaning; and therefore, they cannot be trusted.
So, what keeps providing us with these thoughts? What keeps producing
them? One moment it’s churning out one thought; the next moment, another,
forever deceiving oneself. They come from sights, sounds, tastes, smells and
tactile sensations; they come from feeling, memory, thought and
consciousness. We take our assumptions about our perceptions for granted,
perpetuating the fraud until it becomes a fire burning our hearts. The citta
is contaminated by just these factors, these conventions of the mind.
The purpose of the investigation is the removal of these factors.
Their absence reveals the true nature of the citta. We will see that when
the citta does not venture out to become involved with an object, it remains
naturally calm and radiant; as in the saying: “Monks, the original citta is
intrinsically bright and clear, but it becomes defiled by the commingling of
kilesas that pass through.” The original citta is the radiant citta. This
statement refers to the original nature of the citta that wanders from birth
to birth in the cycle of rebirth. It may be compared to the citta of a
newborn infant whose mental faculties are not sufficiently developed to
fully comprehend sense objects. It does not refer to the original nature of
the citta that has transcended the cycle of rebirth and is absolutely pure.
As we investigate the citta thoroughly, stage by stage, the defiling
elements that previously roamed about will converge into a single radiant
point, merging with the natural radiance inside the citta. This radiance is
so majestic and mesmerizing that even exceptional mental faculties like
supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom will invariably fall under its spell
at first. It’s a completely novel experience, never before encountered. It
amazes and appears so extraordinary, so majestic and awe-inspiring, that it
seems nothing could possibly compare with it at that moment. And why
shouldn’t it be? It has been an absolute monarch, ruling over the three
worlds of existence for countless eons. This point of radiance has held the
citta under its power and command since time immemorial. And it will
continue to mesmerize as long as the citta lacks the superior mindfulness
and wisdom necessary to free itself from the power it exerts, forcing the
citta to experience birth on countless levels of existence resulting from
actions dictated by this subtle kilesa. Ultimately, it is this refined,
natural radiance of mind that causes living beings to wander ceaselessly
through samsara, experiencing birth and death.
Once the citta clearly understands rupa, vedana, sańńa, san-khara and
vińńana with absolute certainty, all that remains are subtle variations of
the ripplings that occur exclusively within the citta. These are a subtle
form of sankhara causing movement within the citta: a subtle form of sukha,
a subtle form of dukkha, a subtle radiant splendor within the citta. That’s
all they are. Supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom will take these
internal stirrings as the focus of the investigation, constantly observing
and analyzing them.
The radiance, produced by the convergence of the various kilesas, will
be a clearly-perceived point of brightness, a very refined radiance that is
centered at a specific point within the citta. A refined and corresponding
dullness will occasionally arise to tarnish that radiant center, which
causes an equally subtle form of dukkha to emerge as well. In truth,
brightness and dullness are two sides of the same coin: both are
conventional realities. At this level, radiance, dullness, and dukkha are
companions, appearing together.
For this reason, when the citta experiences this wonderful radiance,
it is always slightly wary that the experience may be marred by variations
at any moment. Mindfulness and wisdom work to protect and maintain the
radiance against tarnish. Regardless of its subtlety, the blemish is still a
symptom of the kilesas; so meditators must not be complacent. These subtle
changes in the citta’s radiance must be examined by wisdom with utmost
In order to eliminate this burden of anxiety and reach a definitive
resolution to this matter, ask yourself: What exactly is this radiance?
Focus your attention on it until you know. Why is it so changeable? One
moment it’s luminous; the next it’s slightly tarnished. One moment there’s
sukha; the next there’s dukkha. One moment there’s total satisfaction, the
next moment dissatisfaction creeps in. Notice the subtle sukha that behaves
with just the slightest irregularity. Then, with the slightest appearance of
dukkha, in line with the refined nature of the citta at this level, it is
sufficient to make us suspicious. Why does this subtle and refined state of
the citta display such a variety of conditions? It is not always constant
Relentlessly pursue this line of inquiry. Be fearless. Don’t be afraid that
the destruction of that luminosity will be the destruction of your own true
essence. Just focus on that central point to see clearly that the radiance
has the same characteristics—of anicca, dukkha and anatta—as all the other
phenomena that you have already examined. The only difference is that the
radiance is far more subtle and refined.
At this stage of the investigation, nothing should be taken for
granted; nothing in the realm of conventional reality should be trusted.
Bring your focus deep into the citta and let wisdom take up the challenge.
All things that are counterfeit originate in the citta. This radiance is the
most conspicuous among them. It is the ultimate counterfeit. Since you
cherish and safeguard it more than anything else, you will hardly want to
interfere with it. Within the entire physical body, nothing stands out so
prominently as this brilliance. It provokes such a mesmerizing sense of
inner amazement—and, consequently, such a protective feeling of
attachment—that you want nothing to disturb it. There it is. Look at it: it
is none other than the supreme ruler of the universe—avijja. But you don’t
recognize it. Never having seen it before, you will naturally be deceived by
the radiance you encounter at this stage. Later, when mindfulness and wisdom
are fully prepared, you will know the truth without any need of prompting.
This is avijja. The true avijja is right here. It is nothing but a
mesmerizing point of brilliance. Don’t imagine avijja to be a demon or a
beast; for in truth, it is really the most alluring and endearing paragon of
beauty in the whole world.
True avijja is very different from what you expect it to be.
Therefore, when you encounter avijja you fail to recognize it; and your
practice gets caught there. If you have no teacher to advise you and point
out a way to investigate, then you will be at an impasse for a long time
before you realize its true nature and can go beyond it. When you do have a
teacher to advise you on how to proceed, then you can quickly understand the
basic principle and strike decisively at that center of radiance without
putting any trust in it. You must conduct your investigation here as you
have done with other natural phenomena.
Having relinquished all attachment to the five khandhas, the citta is
exceedingly refined at this stage. Although it has let go of everything
else, it has yet to let go of itself. Its own intrinsic knowing nature
remains permeated by avijja’s fundamental ignorance about its own true
essence, and therefore, remains attached to itself. It is here that avijja
converges into a single point of focus. All of its external outlets having
been cut off, it converges into the citta without a way to flow out.
Avijja’s outlets are the eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body, leading to
sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations. Once mindfulness and
wisdom are skilled enough to cut off these outflows for good, avijja is left
without an outlet for its expression. Its external agents have been
neutralized; all that remains is a subtle incessant vibration resonating
within the citta. Being deprived of an outlet for its activities, it depends
solely on the citta as its base of activity. As long as wisdom is unable to
thoroughly transcend it, avijja will appear as subtle feelings of sukha,
subtle feelings of dukkha, and a radiance that truly overwhelms and amazes.
So the citta keeps focusing the investigation on those factors.
Every conventional reality—no matter how refined it is or how bright
and majestic it seems—invariably manifests some irregular symptoms. These
are sufficient to catch the citta’s attention and make it search for a
solution. Both the very refined sukha and dukkha that arise exclusively
within the citta, and the amazing radiance that emanates from it, have their
origin in avijja. But since we have never before encountered them, we are
deluded into grasping at them when we first investigate this point. We are
lulled into a sound sleep by avijja, believing that the subtle feelings of
satisfaction and shining radiance are our true essence beyond name and form.
Oblivious to our mistake, we accept this majestic citta, complete with
avijja, as our one true self.
But not for long. At this level, the powerful faculties of
supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom are not complacent. They routinely
scrutinize, investigate and analyze—back and forth, continually. Eventually
they will realize the truth. They will notice that the subtle feelings of
sukha and dukkha display slight variations that seem out of keeping with
that majestic radiance. Even though the dukkha that manifests itself is ever
so slight, it is enough to make us suspicious. Why does the citta have these
varying conditions? It’s never constant. These tiny irregularities that are
observed within the radiant center of the citta manifest just enough
fluctuation to attract the attention of mindfulness and wisdom.
Once they are detected, mistrust arises, alerting wisdom that they
should be investigated. So the quality of the citta’s knowing then becomes
the focus of the investigation. Mindfulness and wisdom concentrate on this
point, trying to discover what this knowing really consists of. They have
already investigated everything else, stage by stage, to the extent that all
other factors have been successfully eliminated. But this knowing presence,
which is so bright and so amazing: what exactly is it? As mindfulness and
wisdom pin their concentration on it, the citta becomes the focal point of a
full-scale investigation. It is turned into a battlefield for
supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom. Before long, they are able to
destroy the avijja-citta that, from avijja’s perspective, appears so
magnificent and majestic. They now totally obliterate it; so that not even
the smallest trace remains within the citta.
When investigated with sharp, incisive wisdom until its nature is
clearly understood, this phenomenon will disintegrate and dissolve away in
an entirely unexpected manner. That moment of awakening could be called
“Enlightenment under the Bodhi Tree” or “The total destruction of samsara’s
cemeteries”. An unimpeachable certainty arises, then. The moment when that
radiant center disintegrates, something even more remarkable—something that
has been concealed by avijja—will be revealed in all its fullness. Within
the citta, it feels as though a powerful tremor shakes the entire universe.
This crucial moment, when the citta breaks away from all forms of
conventional reality, is one of indescribable wonder and magnificence. It is
precisely here—at the moment when avijja is finally extinguished—that
Arahattamagga is transformed into Arahattaphala. When the path is fully
developed, the fruition of Arahantship is attained. Dhamma and citta have
attained complete perfection. From that moment on, all problems cease. This
is the nature of Nibbana.
When that nature which we imagine to be so awesome and amazing finally
disintegrates, something that is impossible to describe arises in full
measure. That nature is Absolute Purity. When compared to that state of
purity, the avijja that we once held in such awesome regard resembles cow
dung; and the nature that was concealed by avijja appears to be pure gold.
Even a baby knows which is the more precious between cow dung and gold; so
we needn’t waste time and proclaim our stupidity by making comparisons.
The disintegration of avijja marks the moment when Arahatta-magga and
Arahattaphala arrive together at their final destination. If we make a
comparison with climbing the stairs to a house, one foot is on the last
step, the other foot is on the floor of the house. We have not yet reached
the house with both feet. Only when both feet are firmly on the floor of the
house can we say that we have “reached the house”. The citta “reaches
Dhamma” when it has both feet firmly planted in the supreme Dhamma. It has
attained the singularity of Nibbana. From that moment of attainment, the
citta is completely free. It manifests no further activities for the removal
of kilesas. This is Arahattaphala: the fruition of Arahantship. It is
experienced exclusively by those who are free of kilesas—those living
Arahants who attain sa-upadisesa-nibbana.
As for rupa, vedana, sańńa, sankhara and vińńana, they are merely
conditions, natural phenomena that spontaneously arise and cease without the
ability to impact or contaminate the citta in anyway. The same applies to
sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations: each has its own
separate reality. Their existence no longer poses a problem as the citta is
now free of the ignorance that caused it to make false assumptions about
them. Now that the citta is fully aware of the truth, it knows the reality
of its knowing presence as well as the reality of all natural phenomena
within and without. With each having its own separate reality, the conflicts
that used to arise between them no longer exist. All are free to go their
separate ways. At this stage, the long-standing conflict between the kilesas
and the citta is finally over.
When the truth is known in this way, the citta feels no anxiety or
apprehension concerning the life and death of the khandhas. The citta simply
perceives the activities of the khandhas—how they arise, interact and cease;
and how they eventually disintegrate at death. But since the essential
knowing nature of the citta never dies, fear of death is not a factor. One
accepts death—when it comes—as well as life—when it continues. Both are
aspects of the same truth.
THIS CONCLUDES THE INVESTIGATION of the citta. Upon reaching this level, the
citta is cut off forever from birth and existence, severed completely from
all manifestations of avijja and craving. The state of “avijja paccaya
sankhara”—the state in which “fundamental ignorance conditions the arising
of conditioned phenomena”—dissolves completely. It is replaced by avijjaya
tveva asesaviraga nirodha sankhara nirodho: the fading away and cessation of
conditioned phenomena that ends the entire mass of suffering.
When avijja is extinguished, conditioned phenomena—which give rise to
dukkha—are also extinguished. They have disappeared from the knowing nature
of the citta. Conditioned phenomena, such as thoughts, which are an integral
part of the khandhas, continue to function in their own sphere but they no
longer cause dukkha. Uncorrupted by kilesas, they simply give form and
direction to mental activity. Consciousness arises in the mind, purely and
simply without producing suffering. Vińńana paccaya namarupam, namarupa
paccaya salayatanam, salayatana paccaya phasso: All sense media and the
sense contact that they condition are just naturally occurring phenomena
that exist according to their own intrinsic characteristics. They have no
negative effect whatsoever on the citta that has successfully completed its
task to the point of evamme tassa kevalassa dukkhakkhandhassa nirodho hoti.
This is the total cessation of the entire mass of dukkha.
When avijja and all the kilesas are extinguished, they are
extinguished inside the citta. The extinction of avijja means the
destruction of the cycle of repeated birth and death. Both must be
extinguished within the citta, for the avijja-citta is the essence of the
world of rebirth, the essence of birth, ageing, sickness and death. Sensual
craving, with avijja acting as the prime mover, is the root cause of birth,
ageing, sickness and death—and it exists only within the citta. When avijja
finally disintegrates, being severed from the citta forever, total cessation
is achieved. The citta is then free, vast and supremely empty, without
limits, without bounds—totally expansive. Nothing encloses or obstructs it.
All contradictions have been eliminated. When the citta knows, it knows only
the truth; when it sees, it sees only the truth. This is true emptiness.
Degrees of emptiness are experienced at many levels. Samadhi
meditation is one level. In deep samadhi, the body and the thinking mind
temporarily vanish from awareness. The citta appears empty, but the duration
of this emptiness is limited to the time spent practicing samadhi. At the
initial level of the practice of wisdom, the citta can permanently separate
itself from the physical body, but it cannot yet disengage from the mental
components of personality: vedana, sańńa, sankhara, and vińńana. It is
completely empty of physical forms, so images of the body no longer appear
within the citta; but it is not empty of mental concepts. When reaching this
level, wisdom is able to distinguish oneself from the physical mass that is
the body, and so detach itself forever from the belief that the body is
oneself. But it is still unable to separate the mental factors of feeling,
memory, thought, and consciousness. By investigating further, the citta
becomes detached from these mental factors as well. Then nothing remains
except an extraordinary radiance that infuses the cosmos, a luminous essence
of being that seems boundless, and an amazing and profound mental void. This
is the awesome power of genuine avijja. By continuing to employ the full
might of mindfulness and wisdom, avijja is finally extinguished within the
citta. When everything permeating the citta is removed, one attains genuine
emptiness. The emptiness experienced at this level is a total and permanent
disengagement that requires no further effort to maintain. This means true
and absolute freedom for the citta.
The difference between the emptiness of the avijja-citta and the
emptiness of the pure citta, free of avijja, can be illustrated by imagining
a person in an empty room. Standing in the middle of the room, admiring its
emptiness, that person forgets about himself. Seeing that there is nothing
around him in the room, he reflects only on the emptiness he perceives and
not on the fact that he is occupying a central position in that space. As
long as someone is in the room, it is not truly empty. When he finally
realizes that the room can never be truly empty until he departs, that is
the moment when avijja disintegrates and the pure citta arises. Once the
citta has let go of phenomena of every sort, the citta appears supremely
empty; but the one who admires the emptiness, who is awestruck by the
emptiness, that one still survives. The self as reference point, which is
the essence of avijja, remains integrated into the citta’s knowing nature.
This is the genuine avijja. One’s “self” is the real impediment at that
moment. As soon as it disintegrates and disappears, no more impediments
remain. Everything is empty: the external world is empty, and the interior
of the citta is empty. As in the case of a person in an empty room, we can
only truly say that the room is empty when the person leaves the room. The
citta that has gained a comprehensive understanding of all external matters,
and all matters pertaining to itself, this citta is said to be totally
empty. True emptiness occurs when every single trace of conventional reality
has disappeared from the citta.
Avijja’s extinction is unlike that of all other things that we have
investigated up to this point. Their ending was accompanied by a clear and
definite understanding of their true nature. Uniquely, the radiance of
avijja is extinguished in an instant, like a flash of lightening. It is a
moment of being that happens spontaneously: it just flips over and vanishes
completely. Only then, when the radiance disappears, do we know that it was
really the genuine avijja. What remains is entirely unique. Its nature is
absolutely pure. Although it has never before been experienced, there’s
nothing to doubt when it appears at that moment. Anything that might cause
doubt has ceased along with it. This is the end of all burdens.
All allusions to oneself, to the true essence of one’s being refer
specifically to this genuine avijja. They indicate that it is still intact.
All investigations are done for its sake. This self is what knows; this self
is what understands. This self is radiant, light and happy. “I” and
“mine”—the genuine avijja lies here. Everything is done for its sake. Once
it finally disintegrates, so too does the personal perspective. Things are
still done, but not for anyone’s sake.
It resembles a pot whose bottom has dropped away: regardless of how
much water is poured in, not a drop is retained. Thoughts and ideas continue
to arise and cease as a natural function of the khandhas, but nothing
adheres to the citta because the vessel that used to hold them—avijja—has
been destroyed. A thought arises at one instant and ceases the next. Since
there is nothing to contain them and no one to lay claim to them, thoughts
simply move on and vanish. The nature that knows this complete emptiness of
self is fully contented within. This nature is true absolute purity, totally
free of all burdens.
The real nature of the citta is so well concealed by avijja that the
incredible natural wonder of the genuine citta is never seen. The pitfall of
avijja is so well disguised that meditators who reach this stage are bound
to be fooled. They are completely mesmerized by what they believe to be the
citta’s true wonder. They cherish it so much that they feel they must
preserve and protect it at all costs. For, in essence, this is who they
really are, this wonderful radiance belongs to them.
Genuine avijja is a focal point containing many strange and wonderful
things hidden within it—things that we could never have imagined to exist.
These contaminate the citta, much in the same way that a tiny piece of bait
is contaminated with enough hidden poison to kill an animal. Since it is
virtually impossible to find conceptual realities to which I can compare the
contaminating factors, hiding within avijja, I can give only a brief
explanation. These factors include: a radiance of being so extraordinary
that it seems to be the finished product; a most exceptional sense of
happiness, originating from the power of the radiance permeating the citta,
that seems to transcend the entire realm of conventional reality; a feeling
of invulnerability so strong that it seems nothing can possibly affect it; a
cherishing, protective attachment to this radiant nature as though it were
The avijja-citta seems to have every virtue: it is bright, it is bold,
it is supremely contented and its quality of knowing seems limitless. But,
despite knowing every conceivable sort of thing, this knowing nature does
not know itself. This is the fundamental ignorance of genuine avijja. As
soon as this knowing nature turns back and looks into itself, avijja
disintegrates. This disintegration, in turn, reveals the truth about the
citta, the truth about Dhamma. Only avijja keeps this truth hidden from
Meditators who are not truly adept in the area of wisdom will have
difficulty finding their way out of avijja, because avijja in general and
genuine avijja are two very different things. The nature of avijja in
general combines all the different aspects of delusion, both external and
internal, into a single mental defilement. It’s comparable to a tree, which
is a combination of leaves, twigs, branches and a trunk. Genuine avijja, on
the other hand, is like a tree that is felled and stripped of all its
branches. That is to say, through persistent effort, wisdom cuts away at
avijja’s “outgrowing” activities one at a time so that it gradually loses
its exuberant tendencies and converges into a single spot—the citta. At this
point, avijja no longer has the group of henchmen that it commanded when it
was fully in charge. At this spot we find the genuine avijja.
The offshoots of avijja are many and varied. All other mental
defilements are merely its twigs and branches. By concentrating on the
offshoots, we tend to overlook the root cause. Because of this, when we
actually reach the real avijja, we are confused and don’t recognize it. It’s
like a vine that sprouts up in one place and then creeps along the ground to
who knows where. It just goes creeping on and climbing up, with more and
more offshoots that grow longer and more entangled. We must grab hold of the
vine and keep following it back to its source until we reach the main stem.
That’s where we will find the roots. When we pull out the roots, the whole
Shedding Tears in Amazement With
Venerable Acariya Maha Boowa's Dhamma
Talk given at the age of 89 on the 2nd of May, 2002.
The basis of
death exists precisely in the citta, as death and birth are both present
within it. The citta itself is never born and never dies. Rather, the
defiling influences that infiltrate and permeate the citta keep us in a
repetitious cycle of birth, death and rebirth. Do you understand? Look at
the citta. If you do not see the poisonous nature of the citta, you will
fail to see the poisonous nature of these defilements. At the most advanced
stage of practice, the mesmerizing and radiant citta is itself the real
danger. So don’t think only of how precious and amazing the citta is, for
danger lurks there. If you can view the citta from this angle, you will see
the harm that lays buried within it. Do you understand what I mean? So long
as you continue to hold the radiant citta in high esteem, you will be caught
and remain at an impasse. It’s as simple as that. Don’t say I didn’t warn
you. When the time comes, you must sweep aside everything until nothing
remains. Preserve nothing. Whatever you leave untouched—that is the Ultimate
Speaking of this reminds me of the time when I practiced at Wat Doi
Dhammachedi. It was early in the morning, just before the meal. At that time
my citta possessed a quality so amazing that it was incredible to behold. I
was completely overawed with myself. I thought, “Oh my! Why is this citta so
amazingly radiant?” I stood on my meditation track and contemplated its
brightness, incredulous about how wondrous it appeared. But, in fact, this
very radiance that I found so amazing represented the Ultimate Danger. Do
you see my point?
We tend to fall for the radiant citta. In truth, I was enthralled and
already deceived by it. You see, when nothing else remains, one concentrates
on this final point of focus, which, as the center of the perpetual cycle of
birth and death, actually manifests a condition of fundamental ignorance we
call avijja. This point of focus is the highest state of avijja, the very
pinnacle of the citta in samsara.
Since nothing else remained at that stage, I simply admired avijja’s
expansive radiance. Still, that radiance did have a focal point. It can be
compared to the filament of a pressure lantern. The filament glows brightly,
and the light streams out to illuminate the surrounding area. That was the
crucial consideration, the one that so amazed and struck me with awe then,
causing me to wonder, “Why is my citta so incredibly bright?” It seems as
though it has completely transcended the world of samsara. Look at that!”
Such is the magnificent power that avijja displays when we reach the final
stage of practice. I didn’t yet realize that I had fallen for avijja’s
Then suddenly, spontaneously, a maxim of Dhamma arose, as if someone
had spoken in my heart. How could I ever forget: If there is a point or a
center of the knower anywhere, that is the nucleus of existence. Just like
the bright center in the filament of a pressure lantern. Look at that! It
told me exactly what I needed to know: this very point is the essence of
existence. But even then, I could not grasp the meaning. I was bewildered. A
point, a center … it meant the focal point of that radiance.
I began investigating that “point” after the Venerable Acariya Mun
passed away: If there is a point or a center of the knower anywhere, that is
the nucleus of existence. Had he still lived then, my confusion would
immediately have elicited this answer from him: It’s that focal point of the
radiance! And then, that point would have instantly disintegrated. For as
soon as I understood its significance, I would also have known its
harmfulness, thus causing it to vanish. Instead, I was still carefully
protecting and preserving it.
The Ultimate Danger, then, lies right there. The point of Ultimate
Danger is the core of brilliant radiance that produces the entire world of
conventional reality. I will remember always. It was the month of February.
Venerable Acariya Mun’s body had just been cremated, and I had gone into the
mountains. There I got stuck on this very problem. It completely bewildered
me. In the end, I gained no benefit at all from the maxim of Dhamma that
arose in my heart. Instead of being an enormous boon to me, it became part
of the same enormous delusion that plagued me. I was confused: “Where is it,
this point?” It was, of course, just that point of radiance, but it never
occurred to me that the center of that radiant citta could be the Ultimate
Danger. I still believed it to be the Ultimate Virtue. This is how the
kilesas deceive us. Although I had been warned that it was the Ultimate
Danger, it still cast a spell on me, making me see it as the Ultimate
Virtue. I’ll never forget how that dilemma weighed on me.
Eventually I left Wat Doi Dhammachedi and went to Sri Chiang Mai in
Ban Pheu district. I stayed there for three months, living deep in the
forest at Pha Dak Cave, before returning to Wat Doi Dhammachedi with that
mystery still weighing heavily on my mind. Then, while staying on the
mountain ridge there, the problem was finally solved.
When that decisive moment arrives, affairs of time and place cease to
be relevant; they simply don’t intervene. All that appears is the splendid,
natural radiance of the citta. I had reached a stage where nothing else was
left for me to investigate. I had already let go of everything—only that
radiance remained. Except for the central point of the citta’s radiance, the
whole universe had been conclusively let go. So, can you understand what I
mean: that this point is the Ultimate Danger?
At that stage, supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom converged on the
focal point of the citta to call it to account, concentrating the force of
the whole investigation on that point. I reached the stage where I wondered
why one citta had so many different aspects. I can state unequivocally that
every aspect of the citta was known, and each known aspect was subject to
change. No sooner was it grasped, than it changed. One aspect was seen as
being good, another as being bad. The investigation centered on that point,
analyzing everything, trying to understand: “Why does this one single citta
have so many different aspects? It’s as though it is not unified.” No matter
which aspect of the citta came under investigation, all of its possible
permutations were clearly understood according to the profound subtlety of
that level of practice where supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom worked
together. Combined, the two forces were able to keep up with all the citta’s
variations, no matter how subtle. One moment it’s bright, the next moment
it’s tarnished. “Why does this citta have so many different aspects? The
changes come from within. See! I’m beginning to catch up with them now. One
moment there’s sukha, the next moment there’s dukkha.”
In the realm of conventional reality, such conditions are invariably
an integral part of the citta. With nothing else to investigate,
supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom concentrated directly at the point
where the changes occurred. One moment there was sukha, the next moment
dukkha; one moment, brightness, the next moment, a slight dullness.
But you must understand that the shifts from sukha to dukkha, or from
brightness to dullness, were so slight that they were just barely
discernible. Nonetheless, supreme-mindfulness was right on top of them the
“Why does the citta have so many variations?” At that juncture,
mindfulness dropped everything else and turned its full attention to the
prime suspect. Every aspect of the investigation came together in the citta,
and all of them were interrelated. For at the highest level,
supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom are so extremely subtle that they
permeate and penetrate everything without exception. Supreme-mindfulness and
supreme-wisdom at this paramount level differ from the automatic mindfulness
and wisdom that are used to reach that final stage. Automatic mindfulness
and wisdom work in unison without prompting. They investigate things in
successive stages, chopping them to pieces, section by section. At the
paramount level, supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom also work in unison
without prompting, but they permeate everything simultaneously.
At that time, they were examining the citta’s central point of focus.
All other matters had been examined and discarded; there remained only that
one small point of “knowingness”. It became obvious that both sukha and
dukkha issued from that source. Brightness and dullness—the differences
arose from the same origin. Why was it that one citta had so many different
Then, in one spontaneous instant, Dhamma answered the question.
Instantaneously—just like that! This is called “Dhamma arising in the
heart.” Kilesas arising in the heart are forces that bind us; Dhamma arising
in the heart frees us from bondage. Dhamma arose suddenly, unexpectedly, as
though it were a voice in the heart: Whether it is dullness or brightness,
sukha or dukkha, all such dualities are anatta. There! Ultimately, it was
anatta that excised those things once and for all. This final, conclusive
insight could arise as any one of the ti-lakkhana, depending on a person’s
character and temperament. But for me personally it was anatta. The meaning
was clear: Let everything go. All of them are anatta.
Suddenly, in comprehending that these differing aspects—dullness,
brightness, sukha, and dukkha—are all anatta, the citta became absolutely
still. Having concluded unequivocally that everything is anatta, it had no
room to maneuver.
The citta came to rest—impassive, still, in that level of Dhamma. It had no
interest in atta or anatta, no interest in sukha or dukkha, brightness or
dullness. The citta resided at the center, neutral and placid. But it was
impassive with supreme-mindfulness and supreme-wisdom; not vacantly
impassive, gaping foolishly like the rest of you. Speaking in mundane terms,
it seemed inattentive; but, in truth, it was fully aware. The citta was
simply suspended in a still, quiescent condition.
Then, from that neutral, impassive state of the citta, the nucleus of
existence—the core of the knower—suddenly separated and fell away. Having
finally been reduced to anatta, brightness and dullness and everything else
were suddenly torn asunder and destroyed once and for all.
In that moment when avijja flipped over and fell from the citta, the
sky appeared to be crashing down as the entire universe trembled and quaked.
For, in truth, it is solely avijja that causes us to wander constantly
through the universe of samsara. Thus, when avijja separated from the citta
and vanished, it seemed as if the entire universe had fallen away and
vanished along with it. Earth, sky—all collapsed in an instant. Do you
No one sat in judgment at that decisive moment. That natural principle
arose on its own and passed its own judgement. The universe then collapsed
on its own. Originating from a neutral state of the citta, the happening
took place all so suddenly: in an instant the entire cosmos seemed to flip
over and disappear. It was so brilliant! Oh my! Really and truly
magnificent! Too extraordinary to be captured in words. Such is the amazing
nature of the Dhamma that I now teach. Tears flowed when I experienced it.
Look at me even now! Even now my tears are flowing at the recollection of
that event. These tears are the work of the khandhas. Please understand that
they do not exist in the natural state of purity that appeared at that
moment. That natural state appeared suddenly, in all of its incredible
magnificence. I want all of you who are so complacent to realize what the
Dhamma of the Lord Buddha is really like. Oh! So truly, truly amazing! My
goodness, the tears came streaming down my face. Utterly astounded, I
exclaimed: “Is this how the Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment? Is this how
he attained Enlightenment? Is this what true Dhamma is like?” It was
something that I had never conceived or imagined. It simply arose,
unexpected, in an instant. Oh! Indescribably amazing! Look at me. I am
crying even now as I remember how amazing it was. The memory is still fresh
in my mind. It has remained with me ever since.
My whole body trembled at that moment. It’s difficult to explain.
Everything happened at once: the sky came crashing down and the world
completely vanished. Whereupon, I kept repeating: “What? Is this how the
Lord Buddha attained Enlightenment?” But actually it was unnecessary to ask
because I had encountered the Truth myself. “Is this what the true Dhamma is
like? Is this what the true Sangha is like?” All three had come together,
merging into one supreme, remarkable Dhamma—what I call the Dhamma-element.
“What? How can the Lord Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha be one and the
same thing?” I had never imagined it to be possible.
“The Buddha is the Buddha. The Dhamma is the Dhamma. The Sangha is the
Sangha.” This had been impressed in my heart ever since I was old enough to
understand such matters. But at the moment when the Supreme Dhamma arose in
all its brilliance, all three were of one and the same nature—the true
nature of amazing Dhamma. Once it arose in all its brilliance, things that
had lain in obscurity, things I never knew, were suddenly illuminated and
revealed. I’m not fabricating a fantasy to deceive people. Even now that
extraordinary Dhamma moves and amazes me. It is all-embracing, an
encompassing luminosity that lights up the entire cosmos, revealing
everything. Nothing remains hidden or concealed.
Then the consequences of good and evil and the existence of heaven and
hell strike one with the irrefutable force of the obvious. I wish they could
strike all you skeptics with such force; all of you who have allowed the
kilesas to deceive you into believing that there is no such thing as the
consequences of evil, no such thing as the consequences of goodness, no such
thing as heaven and hell. They have existed since time immemorial and they
have been all-pervasive. You just have not perceived them yet. Do you
understand? These things have existed always. They continue to harm those
who are foolishly ignorant of their existence and so blinded by the kilesas’
deceptions that they never glimpse the truth.
WHAT COULD POSSIBLY BE HOTTER than the fires of hell? Conventionally, there
are five crimes which are the most heinous of all and five blazing
hell-fires that correspond with them. The five most heinous crimes are:
patricide, matricide, killing an Arahant, physically harming a Buddha, and
actively instigating a schism in the Sangha. All five of these evil kammas
are known in the heart. And they all become clearly obvious at that
enlightening moment. Then there is no need to ask where heaven and hell are
located. The Buddha did not tell lies. These things were clearly known by
him as well, and he described them just as he saw them.
Ahh! This supreme Dhamma is strange and miraculous beyond belief. It
encompasses absolutely everything within the heart. When the evidence is so
clear, what need is there to inquire further? This absolute clarity is in
complete harmony with the heart, so it is unnecessary to ask questions.
Later, as I turned my attention to investigating my past lives, it was
terrifying to think how many times I had been born and how many times I had
died; how many times I was reborn in hell; and how many times in the heavens
and the Brahma realms, only to fall back into hell again. It appeared as
though the citta was climbing up and down a flight of stairs.
But the citta itself never dies. Do you understand this? The citta
never dies. Kamma is buried there in the citta. Good kamma leads the citta
upward to the heavens and the Brahma realms. Then, when the good kamma is
exhausted, the bad kamma that has lain buried pulls the citta down into the
realms of hell. It is as if the citta were climbing up and down a flight of
stairs. Do you understand? This is the way it is, so wake up and take
Today I have revealed everything fully—to the extent that tears
streamed down my face for all of you to see. Is this madness, or is it
virtue? Think about it. Listen carefully to the Dhamma that I teach to the
world. I can say unequivocally: My citta has no courage and it has no fear.
It is completely above such emotions. So I turned my attention to
investigating my own past births. My goodness! If the corpses of this one
individual were scattered across the length and breadth of Thailand, there
would not be an empty space left. Just this one individual! Imagine the
amount of time it took to be born and to die that many times! It would be
impossible to count all the births and deaths. There were far, far too many
to even try. My thoughts also spread to all the innumerable corpses of each
person in the world. Each and every citta of each and every living being has
exactly the same history of repeated births and deaths. Everyone is equal in
this respect. Stretching back indefinitely, everyone’s past is crowded with
countless corpses. It was an unbearable sight.
Consequently, I felt disgust as I reviewed my past lives. My goodness!
Having been reborn so many times, I still struggled, continuously, to be
born again and again. If Dhamma had not finally passed judgment, then I
would have carried on indefinitely in this manner. I investigated in this
way, examining the nature of the world; and the more I did, the more
unbearable it became. I saw the same situation everywhere. Every living
being in the whole universe is caught in the same vicious cycle. In this
respect, all are equal.
Then, a feeling of discouragement arose without warning in my heart. I
thought: “How will I ever be able to teach people this Dhamma? What is the
point of teaching? Since true Dhamma is like this, how can it possibly be
presented so that others will be able to know and understand it? Wouldn’t it
be better to live out the rest of my life and then simply pass on?” There!
Do you see? I was disheartened. I felt little incentive to teach. As if,
having found an escape route, I was satisfied to escape alone. I could see
no benefits arising from teaching others. That is how I considered the
matter at first. But that wasn’t the end of it. Occurring spontaneously in
my heart, my reflection on this matter continued to develop in stages.
Looking at the state of the world, I felt discouraged. I saw people
who lived in total darkness as being hopeless. Being so blind that they’re
worthless, the Buddha called such people padaparama. Gazing further up the
scale, I saw the types of people known as neyya and vipacitańńu. Persons in
the neyya category are capable of being trained in the way of Dhamma.
Sometimes they make progress, sometimes they lose ground. Neyya individuals
are fully capable of understanding the Teaching and putting it into
practice. Should they be careless, however, they’ll lose ground. But if they
are earnest in their practice, they can progress rapidly. Depending on the
degree of commitment, neyya can go either way.
Vipacitańńu individuals always progress toward the goal; they never
lose ground. Still, their progress is slower than that of ugghatitańńu,
individuals whose intuitive wisdom is so sharp that they’re always fully
prepared to make a decisive breakthrough. Were they cattle, they would be
waiting at the corral gate. As soon as the gate opened, they’d come rushing
out. Ugghatitańńu are capable of the kind of quick understanding that allows
them to pass beyond in one moment of insight.
All living beings must fall into one of these four categories. As I
investigated the nature of the world, it separated naturally, of its own
accord, into these four types of individuals. I could see that superior
individuals existed in that multitude of humanity which I had felt so
discouraged about teaching. Ugghatitańńu: they were fully prepared to cross
beyond in an instant. In descending order: there were vipacitańńu, those
progressing quickly toward the goal; then, the neyya, whose desire to lie
down and take it easy competes with their desire to be diligent. Do you see
what I mean? Those two opposing forces are vying for supremacy within their
hearts. And finally padaparama: those who are human in physical appearance
only. They have gained nothing at all to enhance their future prospects.
Death for such people is death without distinction. There is only one
possible direction they can go—down. And they fall further and further with
each successive death. The way up is blocked, for they have gained
absolutely nothing beneficial to take along with them. They can only go
down. Remember this well! This teaching comes straight from my heart. Do you
think I am bluffing and telling you deliberate falsehoods?
When compared with a heart that’s absolutely pure, the world is one
big refuse bin, containing different grades of garbage. From the highest,
ugghatitańńu, to the lowest and most common grade, padaparama, all possible
types are gathered together in the same great receptacle. The entire world
of conventional reality is one big contaminated mix of good things and bad
things. Do you understand? In my investigation, I sifted through this huge
pile of garbage and uncovered four distinct grades of living beings.
Out of that investigation, a realization then arose that countered the
discouragement which made me reluctant to teach others the way. An
inspirational thought emerged suddenly in the citta: “If this Dhamma is so
supreme, so superb that no one can possibly comprehend it, am I then some
kind of divine being? What about me? How was it that I came to realize this
Dhamma? What was the reason? What brought about this realization?”
As I considered the cause, my thoughts seized on the path of practice
that had led me to that realization. It was the same path that the Lord
Buddha had taught: dana, sila, bhavana. This was the path that led me to
that point. There is no other way to reach it. Reviewing my past practice, I
conceded that the same path could lead others there as well. Maybe there
were only a few, but there definitely were some who could make it. I could
not deny that. The awareness that it would benefit at least some people
encouraged me to begin teaching those who were worthy to be taught.
After that, monks began to gather around me in the forests and
mountains where I lived, and I taught them to be resolute in their practice.
Gradually, little by little, my teaching began to spread, until it extends
far and wide today. Now people from across Thailand and around the world
come to listen to Acariya Maha Boowa expound the Dhamma. Some travel here to
hear me talk in person; some listen to taped recordings of my talks that are
broadcast throughout Thailand on the radio and the Internet.
I can assure you that the Dhamma I teach does not deviate from those
principles of truth that I myself have realized. Do you understand me? The
Lord Buddha taught the same message that I am conveying to you. Having said
this, I want to exclaim Sadhu! Although I am a mere mouse compared to the
Buddha, the confirmation of that realization is right here in my heart. All
that I have fully realized within myself concurs with everything that the
Lord Buddha taught. Nothing that I have realized contradicts the Lord Buddha
in any way. The teaching that I present is based on principles of truth
which I have long since wholeheartedly accepted. That’s why I teach people
with such vigor as I spread my message throughout Thailand.
Speaking conventionally, I talk boldly as if I were a conquering hero.
But the Supreme Dhamma in my heart is neither bold nor fearful. It has
neither loss nor gain, neither victory nor defeat. Consequently, my teaching
emanates from pure, unadulterated compassion. For example, if I see a
dog-fight and proceed to pull them apart to stop them from biting each
other, I don’t have any interest in who’s winning and who’s losing. It’s the
dogs who care. They are the ones who are biting, so, they are the ones in
pain. I simply grab and separate them so they will stop biting each other.
Such is the nature of Dhamma. Dhamma tries to separate people who are always
quarreling, always arguing over who is right and who is wrong.
This is akin to what I’ve said about present-day Thailand. The
comparison is appropriate. Let the Dhamma speak for itself. At this time I
am very involved with the world. No one is more involved than Acariya Maha
Boowa. By that I mean that I am constantly engaged in separating the dogs of
this world so they won’t keep biting each other. These days, both lay people
and monks act like dogs, shoving themselves forward and howling noisily as
they fight for the honors. So I teach them Dhamma, which is equivalent to
separating and restoring calm among fighting dogs. Dhamma represents the
Truth. If we relinquish all that is false and hold only to that which is
true, then both the people in our society and the monks who uphold the
sasana will live in peace. But since all the dogs—both the good and the evil
ones—are fighting right now, the country is in turmoil. The Buddhasasana
regards people’s hearts as the main staging ground. This great arena is now
being broken up and scattered because those dogs are staging a dogfight in
the one area which is most sacred to the hearts of all Thais—the
So I ask them all to cease and desist, for no benefit can be gained
from fighting like dogs. For, in truth, there are no winners, only losers.
Both those who win and those who lose are hurt in equal measure. So
disengage, stand back, and accept reason as your guiding principle. In that
way, Thailand, its citizens and the sasana will all have peace and
happiness. Nothing disastrous will then befall the country.
Those who bare their teeth and boast that they are championing a just
cause are, without exception, already badly defeated. No one is right,
because arguing is always wrong. Just like two boxers slugging it out in the
ring, both the winner and the loser come away battered and bruised. Who can
take pride in that? It’s not something to boast about. Arguing fosters
bitterness and resentment in both parties. It becomes a battle of views and
opinions, an attempt to glorify oneself that degenerates into a shouting
match where no one listens to reason. Such dogs have taken the whole of
Thailand as their battleground and, if they continue, they are bound to
leave the country in ruin.
I want people on all sides to think about what I’ve said. With total
sincerity, I have just shed my own tears in an attempt to present this
Dhamma for the Thai people to hear. If you stop your bickering now, no
misfortune will occur. Were we to speak in worldly terms about winning, then
those who are right will win for the sake of a righteous cause, while those
who admit wrong and accept defeat for the same righteous cause are also
winners. Then both sides will unite and live in perfect harmony. But for
those who snap at each other without giving in, there can never be winners
or losers among them—only blood-covered parties on both sides. Is that
acceptable? I don’t want to see that happen. Thailand is a Buddhist country.
I don’t want to hear that the Buddhist faithful are fighting with each other
like dogs and spattering their blood throughout the sacred monasteries of
our land. So please abandon this madness.
Ultimately, the regions of hell, and the heavens, the brahma worlds
and Nibbana will vouch for who is right and who is wrong, who is virtuous
and who is evil. So never make the mistake of believing yourself above a
fall into the deepest hell. Don’t display those self-righteous opinions that
deviate so much from the Dhamma of the Lord Buddha. The Land of Dhamma is
the heavens and Nibbana, which are the domains of all virtuous individuals.
Such aberrant views will merely drag you down to the level of biting and
gnarling dogs, and bring incalculable ruin in their wake. Such talk will
lead only to a bloody dogfight. Remember this well!
Today I have explained everything to my utmost. It is now 53 years
since I attained that Supreme Dhamma. Today I have described that experience
for your benefit. Never thwarted, never frustrated, this Dhamma is always
sound and correct. It expresses itself perfectly to suit the circumstances
that arise. For instance, today it expressed itself with such force that the
tears of Acariya Maha Boowa poured forth for everyone to see. This is an
expression of Dhamma’s amazing propensity, and it is this very same Dhamma
that I teach people. I never teach Dhamma in a casual manner—I always teach
it in earnest.
As I explained many times, I was always inclined to sacrifice my life
for the sake of Dhamma. No one would believe how much effort I put into the
practice. Since others have not done what I have, they cannot imagine the
extraordinary effort I put into attaining this Supreme Dhamma. But I did
exert such effort, and these are the results. It demonstrates the power of
uncompromising diligence when it is used for Dhamma. The more determination,
the better. Then one can die victorious, not badly defeated. Remember this