Monday, February 6, 2017

The Teachings of Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Chah (The Teachings of Ajahn Chah: A Collection) edited by Wisdom Quarterly

Fragments of a Teaching
All who have believed in Buddhism for many years now usually have done so through hearing about Buddhist teachings from many sources -- especially from various monks and teachers.

In some cases Dharma (Pali Dhamma) is taught in very broad and vague terms to the point where it is difficult to know how to put it into practice in daily life.

In other instances, Dharma is taught in high language or specialized jargon to the point where most people find it difficult to understand, especially if the teaching is taught too literally from the sacred texts.

Lastly, there is Dharma taught in a balanced way, neither too vague nor too profound, neither too broad nor too esoteric -- just right for the listener to understand and practice to personally benefit from the teachings. 
Today I would like share with you teachings of the sort I have often used to instruct my disciples in the past; teachings which I hope may possibly be of personal benefit to those of you here listening today.
One who wishes to reach the Buddha-Dharma
One who wishes to reach the Buddha-Dharma must firstly be one who has confidence or faith as a foundation. One must understand the meaning of Buddha-Dharma as follows.
  • Buddha: the "one-who-know," the one who has purity, radiance and peace in heart.
  • Dharma: the characteristics of purity, radiance, and peace which arise from virtue, concentration, and wisdom.
Therefore, one who is to reach the Buddha-Dharma is one who cultivates and develops virtue, concentration, and wisdom within oneself. 
Walking the Path of Buddha-Dharma
Naturally, people who wish to reach their home are not those who merely sit and think of traveling. They must actually undertake the process of traveling step by step, in the right direction as well, in order to finally reach home.

If they take the wrong path, they may eventually run into difficulties such as swamps or other obstacles which are hard to get around. Or they may run into dangerous situations in this wrong direction, thereby possibly never reaching home.
Those who reach home can relax and sleep comfortably -- home is a place of comfort for body and mind. Now they have really reached home. But if the traveler only passed by the front of home or only walked around it, one would not receive any benefit from having traveled all the way home. 
In the same way, walking the path to reach the Buddha-Dharma is something each one of us must do individually ourselves, for no one can do it for us.

And we must travel along the proper path of virtue, concentration, and wisdom until we find the blessings of purity, radiance, and peacefulness of mind that are the fruits of traveling the path.

However, if one only has knowledge of books and scriptures, sutras and commentaries, that is, only knowledge of the map or plans for the journey, even in hundreds of lives one will never know purity, radiance, and peacefulness of mind.

Instead one will just waste time and never get to the real benefits of practice. Teachers are those who only point out the direction of the path. After listening to the teachers, whether or not we walk the path by practicing ourselves, to thereby reap the fruits of practice, is strictly up to each one of us.
Progress without practice?

Please help me! - Take my medicine (practice).
Another way to look at it is to compare practice to a bottle of medicine a doctor leaves for a patient.

On the bottle are written detailed instructions on how to take the medicine, but no matter how many hundreds of times the patient reads the directions, one is bound to die if that is all one does.

Reading is not enough. One will gain no benefit from the medicine. And before one dies one may complain bitterly that the doctor wasn’t any good, that the medicine didn’t work! One will think that the doctor was a fake or that the medicine was worthless, yet one has only wasted time examining the bottle, reading and re-reading the instructions. One hasn’t followed the advice of the doctor and actually taken the medicine. 
However, if the patient actually follows the doctor’s advice and takes the medicine regularly as prescribed, one will recover. And if one is very ill, it will be necessary to take a lot of medicine, whereas if one is only mildly ill, only a little medicine will be needed to be cured.

The fact that we must use a lot of medicine is a result of the severity of our illness. It’s only natural and you can see it for yourself with careful consideration. Doctors prescribe medicine to eliminate disease from the body. The teachings of the Buddha are prescribed to cure the diseases of the mind [heart], to bring it back to its natural healthy state.

So the Buddha can be considered to be a doctor who prescribes cures for the ills of the mind. [Indeed, he was often called the "master physician" because he could so effectively cure others.] He is, in fact, the greatest doctor in the world.

Mental ills are found in each one of us without exception. When you see these mental ills, does it not make sense to look to the Dharma as support, as medicine to cure your ills? Traveling the path of the Buddha-Dharma is not done with the body. You must travel with the mind to reach the benefits.

We can divide these travelers into three groups:

1. The first level is comprised of those who understand that they must practice themselves and know how to do so. They take the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha [the community of enlightened practitioners] as their guides and have resolved to practice diligently according to the teachings. These persons have discarded merely following customs and traditions [in hopes of enlightenment], and instead use reason to examine for themselves the nature of the world. These are the group of “Buddhist believers.” 

2. The middle level is comprised of those who have practiced until they have an unshakable faith [which happens with no falling back upon winning the first stage of enlightenment] in the teachings of the Buddha, the Dharma, and the [noble] Sangha. They also have penetrated to the understanding of the true nature of all compounded formations.

These persons gradually reduce clinging and attachment. They do not hold onto things, and their minds reach a  deep understanding of the Dharma. Depending upon the degree of non-attachment and wisdom they are progressively known as stream-enterers, once-returners, and non-returners, or simply, noble [i.e., enlightened] ones.

3. The highest level is comprised of those whose practice has led them to the body, speech, and mind of the Buddha. They are above the world, free of the world, and free of all attachment and clinging. They are known as arhats or "free ones," [fully enlightened] the highest level of the noble ones.
How to purify one’s virtue
Virtue (sila, ethics, personal morality) is restraint and discipline of body and speech. On the formal level this is divided into classes of precepts for lay people and for monastics. However, to speak in general terms, there is one basic characteristic -- that is intention. When we are mindful or self-recollected, we have right intention. Practicing mindfulness (sati) and self-recollection (sampaja├▒├▒a) will generate good virtue. More

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