July  1991   2534   Number 17 

Sense Contact; The Fount of Wisdom; Ajahn Chah
Another Going Forth; Joseph Kappel
Why I Became a Nun, Pt. II; Sister Sundara
Harnham Monastery Anniversary; various impressions


Sense Contact - The Fount of Wisdom

The following piece is an extract from a talk given to monks and novices at Wat Ba Pong in North-east Thailand. The entire talk will eventually be published as part of a collection of Ajahn Chah's talks, entitled Seeds of Understanding.

We look for peace in peaceful places, where there won't be sights, or sounds, or odours, or flavours . . . thinking that living quietly like this is the way to find contentment, that herein lies peace.

But actually, if we live very quietly in places where nothing arises, can wisdom arise? Would we be aware of anything? Think about it. If our eye didn't see sights, what would that be like? If the nose didn't experience smells, what would that be like? If the tongue didn't experience flavours, what would that be like? If the body didn't experience feelings at all, what would that be like? To be like that would be like being a blind and deaf man, one whose nose and tongue had fallen off and who was completely numb with paralysis. Would there be anything there? And yet people tend to think that if they went somewhere where nothing happened they would find peace. Well, I've thought like that myself, I once thought like that.

When I was a young monk just starting to practise I'd sit in meditation and the sounds would disturb me. I couldn't get peaceful. I'd think to myself, 'What can I do to make my mind peaceful?' So I took some beeswax and stuffed my ears with it so that I couldn't hear anything. All that remained was a humming sound. I thought that would be peaceful, but no, all that thinking and confusion didn't arise at the ears after all. It arose at the mind - so right there is the place to search for peace.

To put it another way: no matter where you go to stay, maybe you don't want to do anything because it might interfere with your practice. You don't want to sweep the grounds, don't want to do any work - you just want to be still and find peace like that. The teacher asks you to help out with the chores or the daily duties but you don't put your heart into it because you feel it is only an external concern.

If we think that peace lies where there are no sensations, would wisdom arise?
I've often brought up the example of one of my disciples who was really eager to 'let go' and find peace. I taught about 'letting go' and he accordingly understood that to let go of everything would indeed be peaceful. Actually right from the day he had come to stay here he didn't want to do anything. Even when the wind blew half the roof off his kuti [hut] he wasn't bothered. He said that that was just an external thing. So he didn't bother fixing it up. When the sunlight and rain streamed in from one side he'd move over to the other side. That wasn't any business of his. His business was to make his mind peaceful. That other stuff was an interference, he wouldn't get involved. That was how he saw it.

One day I was walking past and saw the collapsed roof.'Eh!? Whose kuti is this?'

Someone told me whose it was and I thought, 'Hmm. Strange. . . .' So I had a talk with him, explaining many things, such as the duties in regard to our dwellings. We must have a dwelling place, and we must also look after it. 'Letting go' isn't like this, it doesn't mean shirking our responsibilities. That's the action of a fool.

If we think that peace lies where there are no sensations, would wisdom arise? Would there be causal and resultant conditions? Would we have anything to practise with? If we blame the sounds, then if we sit where there are sounds we can't be peaceful. We think that place is no good. Wherever there are sights we say that's not peaceful. If that's the case, then to find peace we'd have to be one whose senses have all died, blind and deaf. I thought about this...

'Hmm. This is strange. Suffering arises because of eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. So should we be blind? If we didn't see anything at all maybe that would be better. One would have no defilements arising if one were blind, or deaf. Is this true?'

But, thinking about it, it was all wrong. If that was the case, then blind and deaf people would be enlightened. They would all be accomplished if defilements arose at the eyes and ears.

Actually, the sense bases of eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind are all things which can facilitate the arising of wisdom, if we know them as they are. If we don't really know them we must deny them, saying we don't want to see sights, hear sounds, and so on, because they disturb us. If we cut off the causal conditions, what are we going to contemplate? Think about it. Where would there be any cause and effect? This is wrong thinking on our part.

But most of us are afraid of contact. Either that, or we like to have contact but we develop no wisdom from it: instead we repeatedly indulge through eyes. ears, nose, tongue, body and mind, delighting and getting lost in these sense objects. This is how it is. These sense bases can entice one to delight and indulgence or they can lead to knowledge and wisdom. They have both harm and benefit, depending upon the person's wisdom.

So now let us understand that, having been ordained and come to practise, we should take everything as practice Even the bad things. We should know them all. Why? So that we may know the truth. When we talk of practice we don't simply mean those things that are good and pleasing to us. That's not how it is. In this world some things are to our liking, some things aren't. These things all occur in this world, nowhere else. Usually whatever we like we want even with fellow monks and novices. Whichever monk or novice we don't like, we don't want to associate with - we only want to be with those we like. You see? This is taking only what one likes. Whatever one doesn't like, one doesn't want to see or know about.

Actually the Buddha wanted us to experience these things. Lokavidu* - look at this world and know it clearly. If we don't know the truth of the world clearly, then we can't go anywhere. Living in the world one must understand the world. The Noble Ones of the past, including the Buddha, all lived with these things, they lived in this word, among deluded people. They attained the truth right in this very world, nowhere else. They didn't run off to some other world to find the truth. But they had wisdom. They restrained their senses, but the practice is to look into all these things and know them as they are.
*Lokavidu: One of the nine epithets of the Buddha that are chanted as part of the regular service in Theravadin monasteries. It means 'the Knower 0f the World'.

Therefore the Buddha taught us to know the sense bases, our points of contact. Where awareness arises is where we should look and see things as they are. If we don't know these things as they really are, we will either fall in love with them or hate them. Where these sensations arise is where we can become enlightened, where wisdom can arise.

But sometimes we don't want it to be like that. The Buddha taught restraint, but restraint doesn't mean we don't see anything, hear anything, smell, taste, feel or think anything. That's not what it means. If those who practise don't understand this, then as soon as they see or hear anything they squirm and run away. They don't deal with those things. They run away, thinking that by doing so those things will eventually lose their power over them, that they will eventually transcend those things - but they won't. They won't transcend anything like that. If they run away not knowing the truth, later on the same stuff will pop up to be dealt with again.

So we understand with wisdom right here and now; we don't run away anywhere. We must work, must associate with things. For instance, living in a big monastery like this we must all help out to look after the place. Looking at it in one way, one could say that this brings about worldly defilements. Living with lots of monks and novices, with many lay people coming and going, many defilements arise. Yes, I admit it . . . but we must live like this for the development of wisdom and the abandonment of foolishness. Which way are we to go? Are we going to live in order to get rid of foolishness or to increase our foolishness?

Really contemplate. Whenever eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body or mind make contact, be collected and circumspect. Then investigate when suffering arises: who is suffering? Why did this suffering arise? One must know suffering when it arises. If we are afraid of suffering and don't want to face it, where are we going to do battle with it? If suffering arises and we don't know it, how are we going to deal with it? This is of utmost importance - we must know suffering.

Escaping from suffering means knowing the way out of suffering. It doesn't mean running away from wherever suffering arises. Doing that you just carry your suffering with you. When suffering arises again somewhere else you'll have to run away again. This is not one who transcends suffering, it's one who doesn't know suffering.

So the practice must be unwavering and persistent. They call it viriyarambha - putting forth effort constantly: when suffering arises in our hearts we must have the unwavering resolve to try to uproot the defilements, to give them up. This resolve is constantly there, unremitting. Eventually the defilements will fall into our hands where we can finish them off.

Before I started to practise, I thought to myself, 'The Buddhist religion is here, available for all, and yet why do only some people practise while others don't? Or if they do practise, they do so only for a short while, then give it up. Or again, those who don't give it up still don't knuckle down and do the practice? Why is this? I don't really know.' But I resolved to myself: 'Okay, this life of mine . . . . I'll give up this body and mind for this lifetime, and try to follow the teaching of the Buddha down to the last detail. I'll reach understanding in this very lifetime, because if I don't reach understanding I'll still be sunk in suffering. I'll let go of everything else and make a determined effort. No matter how much difficulty or suffering I have to endure, I'll persevere. If I don't do this then I'll just keep on doubting.'

Thinking like this, I then got down to the practice. No matter how much happiness, suffering or difficulty I had to endure I would do it. I looked on my whole life as if it was only one day and a night. I gave it up. 'I'll follow the teaching of the Buddha, I'll follow the Dharnma to understanding - Why is this world of delusion so wretched?' I wanted to know, I wanted to be adept, so I turned to the practice of Dhamma.

The Dhamma is paccattam, meaning 'one must know for oneself'. If you want to know for yourself that means that you must also practise in yourself. You can depend on a teacher only fifty percent of the way. Even the teaching I have given you today is completely useless of itself, even if it is worth hearing, if you were to believe it all just because I said so, you wouldn't be utilising it properly. If you believed me completely then you'd be foolish. To hear the reaching, see its benefit, put it into practice for yourself, see it within yourself, do it yourself and cultivate relinquishment yourself . . . this is much more useful. You will then know the taste of Dhamma for yourself.

Our sense organs must be constantly working. Know content and discontent, be aware of like and dislike. Know appearance and know transcendence. The Apparent and the Transcendent must be realised simultaneously. Good and evil must be seen as co-existent, arising together. This is the fruit of Dhamma practice.



Letter to the Editor
Dear Editor,

I thought it might be worth drawing your attention to a leader by Professor Marks in the British Medical Journal for 4th May 1991. It describes a form of treatment of phobias and anxiety by what is termed 'behavioural exposure'. In this, 'the patient is persuaded to confront the hitherto avoided situations that bring on his or her typical fear, panic. . . . Exposure may also have to be to avoided thoughts. . . .' Professor Marks says that this procedure allows 'irrational automatic thoughts' to decline spontaneously. About three-quarters of those who start a course of treatment complete it, which is much better than in many other methods, and most experience benefits.
     It all sounds very familiar to any one who has attended meditation instruction or retreats at Amaravati! Could it be that modern psychiatry is beginning to rediscover something that has been known to Buddhists for the last 2500 years

Yours sincerely,

Anthony Campbell

Swiss Vihara's New Home
Extracted from the Dhammapala Newsletter:

On May 4th we celebrated our third anniversary in Switzerland, and this year there was much to celebrate! After nearly five months of negotiations, we have now purchased a new monastery - a 22-bedroom, 85-year-old former hotel, situated in the Alps, 65 km south of Bern.

The nearby village of Kandersteg is served by direct trains from Bern, Basel and Zurich, as well as from northern Germany and Italy. The monastery is only one kilometre from the train station in a very quiet corner of the valley.

Purchase of this property was made possible by several generous donations (from HRH the Princess Mother of Thailand and from two of our long-time supporters), as well as other donations from close friends. Nonetheless, the Dhammapala Association has undertaken a substantial bank loan to cover the remaining costs.

This is indeed a 'leap of faith' for us. Our intention is to convert seven of the bedrooms into a large meditation hall which, together with the already fully-equipped three kitchens and nine toilets, will provide facilities to serve the needs of greater numbers of people.

We now have the ideal external environment for a fully-fledged 'forest' - or 'mountain' - monastery; together we can continue to establish the right inner environment for the realisation of Dhamma.

We cordially invite all to join us in this new venture and welcome everyone to visit or stay awhile in this peaceful place.