July  2003   2546   Number 65 

From Darkness to Light; Luang Por Liem
The Great Escape; Ajahn Jayasaro
Radical Acceptance; Ajahn Amaro
Cultivating the Heart; Ajahn Thaniya

From the Darkness to the Light
The first part of a Dhamma talk given by Luang Por Liem Thitadhammo to the monks, novices and nuns after the ceremony of asking forgiveness at Wat Nong Pah Pong, Thailand, September 1996. Translated by Venerable Kevali.

Since you have come to ask forgiveness, I don't want to speak about issues from the past as these are things that lie behind us. Actually there isn't much to settle between us in this ceremony of asking forgiveness anyway. Still, a ceremony like this is useful on the level of your personal practice. It affects the attitudes you maintain and carry along throughout the training of your mind as the years go by. A ritual like this helps to strengthen the virtues of a contemplative. If you steadily cultivate respect for these as the basis for practising the Buddha's teachings, you will establish a conduct that is not heedless or sloppy. Though the circumstances of practice may change, a feeling of constant coolness and ease will build up in you. If you develop interest and sincere willingness, then peacefulness will automatically arise. The putting forth of effort to improve one's conduct goes hand in hand with the maturing of a person. One of the key teachings the Buddha used to encourage us, as we practise Dhamma, is: 'Viriyena dukkhamaccenti' (dukkha - unsatisfactoriness and suffering can be overcome by effort.) This applies to each and every one of us, not only to a small elite.

In our practice we constantly have to remind ourselves that all of us have to begin like children. We can't be like adults right from the start. At first we are not yet purified and fall into states of dirtiness. We live in the mud and mire like a lotus that hasn't yet bloomed and still depends on the dirt for nourishment. We are the same: - when we are born in the world we are not yet fully mature, ready and complete, but come with a burden of having to fight obstacles of all kinds. There is happiness and suffering, good and bad, right and wrong. To experience this is normal for an unenlightened person who still has dust in their eyes. That someone who has dust in their eyes could experience the brightness and clarity of being unburdened with suffering and drawbacks cannot be. In the beginning there are always hardships; there always has to be suffering - this is just normal.

We train to sit and really be there, to stand and really be there, to walk and really be there, until always, in whatever changing posture, we can be called fully awake.
It is like we live in the dark. Living in the dark is not as pleasant as one might wish. There is always a certain feeling of discomfort and uneasiness. In this state we are still not free from dependence. We are not yet wholly accomplished. We still experience bits of happiness and bits of suffering, some satisfaction and some dissatisfaction from time to time. We haven't yet transcended the world of conditions and are not yet in a safe place. We are going back and forth in samsara, the round of birth and death. Sometimes the situations that arise are good, sometimes bad. Until we reach the aim of our practice this is just the natural way things are.

Everybody has goodness, everybody has perfection and purity right inside themselves. Surely every one of us possesses some personality traits which could be brought to consciousness in a way that is useful for us. Make these complete, and perfect them. It is like the flames of a fire; in the places where the flame kindles there wasn't any fire before, but once they are ignited the flames appear out of the darkness. The fire is burning right there. With us it is the same as with the flames; everyone of us has to come from dark places, come from being a child, being someone who has no strength, is not yet ready. Naturally, this brings disorientation. That a state at this level could give rise to full confidence and clarity just can't be.

People get drunk on the illusion that the body doesn't have illnesses, afflictions, pains and fevers threatening it. They think they won't die, won't degenerate and wear out. They don't consider the possibility, but it happens. In reality our material body is a conditioned phenomenon, it will always follow the nature of its material constituents. Nevertheless we like to see the body as permanently powerful, tough and strong and not afflicted by disease and pain. We want to see it from this perspective, the way we are used to, just as if the body was fit for all circumstances. But the Buddha said if there is light, there will be darkness. If there is hot, there will be cold. It has to be like this. So in this way any state of strength, agility or ease may degenerate in just a day or just a single moment into a state of decline and ruin, following its nature. But if we cultivate an attitude of seeing the disintegration as natural we won't be upset by the decline. We won't take the body as something important, or keep holding on to it, or attach feelings of self to it.

The Buddha called the illusion we create around the body sakkayaditthi - the view that the body is self, that we and other people are our bodies, that the body is our possession. The Buddha reminds us to keep recollecting that whatever there may be it is not ours, not our self. Nothing really belongs to us. Through thinking like this we won't start holding on to things. Attachment (upadana) is the root of all self-importance.

The more we take ourselves as important, the more we are prone to drifting away towards unwholesome feelings, towards suffering, until we eventually follow a path into the realms of darkness. In this way we flow through the rounds of birth and becoming. The Buddha saw this as the source of all suffering. States of anger, greed or delusion come to be; desire, aversion, ignorance arise; all of these states of being entail suffering and unhappiness.

Analysing and observing our personality we see that it consists of mental phenomena. Mental phenomena too, are not ours, not self. Personality is not 'we' or 'they', but simply consists of certain states out of all the possible mental states (dhammarammana). Don't see it as 'this is me' or 'this is mine'. See it in the light of dhammarammana which arise naturally on their own and cease on their own. Just as the darkness comes to be naturally, it goes naturally as well. As brightness is born in its own natural way, it likewise ceases. These states arise and vanish.

Mental states arise and cease whether they are states of happiness or suffering, agreeable or disagreeable states. We call these lokadhamma (worldly dhammas), attributes that dominate the hearts and minds of beings living in the world. Seeing the lokadhamma simply as elements of Dhamma, we won't make the assumption that 'we' are happy whenever 'we' feel happiness or that 'we' are suffering whenever 'we' feel suffering. There is nothing like 'our' goodness or 'our' badness either. We see these attributes, but they are just aspects of Dhamma. Each one is just one of all the possible states of Dhamma. There is nothing special about it.

Feelings are just feelings, happiness is just happiness, suffering is just suffering. Only that. Having arisen, it all ceases. We don't have happiness and suffering, we don't take interest in them. They are just attributes of the mental objects that come up - just that much. The lokadhamma appear and vanish according to their own logic. Finally, if we don't show interest in them, don't support and give importance to them, they lose their existence.

The fantasies our mind spins, the sankharas, can be seen in a similar way. Sankharas are states of proliferation. They come and disturb us all of the time because by giving importance to them we keep feeding them. So of course they continue to provoke and challenge us. Naturally then, we are constantly subject to feelings going up and down, and states of confusion. We don't have freedom. We are not even a refuge to ourselves for a second, only because we give importance to these states of mind.

The Buddha teaches us to be aware that Sankharas are states that aren't permanent or enduring. We shouldn't build up the perception that they will last forever. It is their characteristic that having arisen, they cease. Also concerning material form, see conditioned phenomena just as changing states of the elements, nothing but nature in the end.

In our practice we aspire to be accomplished in our understanding of Dhamma. But right now we need to train to be fully up to feeling what we feel. This means to develop sati (mindfulness and clear awareness). Usually in our behaviour we start off with our emotions, letting them lead us, just like the people out in the world who think their moods are what count. But emotions and moods are illusions that swindle. They are tricky. Sometimes they take us on a good path, sometimes on an evil one. Following our moods easily turns to our disadvantage. We should take superior states of mind rather than moods and emotions as our guide. Why not let being the one who is called 'Awakened' and 'Blessed' lead us? Let 'Buddha' walk in front of us. Let 'Buddha' be the essence that takes us along. Let the 'Buddha' be our guide. Whatever we come to do, there will always be moods, but our practice is to let 'the One Who Knows,' qualities of awakening and knowing, lead us. In this way eventually there is no danger. There are no drawbacks with these mind states. We are on the watch.

Let the various moods and emotions that come up simply be as they are. In this way we train really to be with ourselves. We train this very self to sit and really be there, to stand and really be there, to walk and really be there, until always, in whatever changing posture, we can be called fully awake. We are fully there through our peace. It's different from being on top of our experience through getting carried away with pleasure and having fun. Instead, being fully up to life comes from peace of heart. If there is peace, we are in a state where we can adjust to anything that comes up, so we are always in the appropriate mode. We see things correctly and have right understanding because the mental impulses (Sankhara) are quiet. There are no proliferations. We feel the Sankhara at peace. With all the kinds of opinions that can come, we won't start arguing.

When we relate to the world, those people who are intelligent, with understanding and a feeling of peacefulness, they will praise us. But should they praise us, we don't get happy because of it. We don't get infatuated with it. Ultimately, the praise of someone is just a product of the delusion of the one who expresses it. Just that much. We don't have feelings of like and dislike. Praise is just what it is. We don't feel that we need to foolishly run after it. We don't want to get on to a path of being enslaved. If we maintain peace, there isn't anything that can harm us. Even if others should blame, criticise or condemn us, making us subject to suspicion out of enmity, we nevertheless have peace. We have peace towards the mental states we don't wish to have, which don't go according to our likes. Even they can't cause us harm and be disadvantageous. Should someone criticise us, it's just that much. Eventually it all dissolves by itself. It flows away in its own specific way. The lokadhamma can't dominate us since we have nothing but peace in our hearts.

When standing, when walking, when sitting, when sleeping and getting up, this is it. If we deal with society and things in the world around us, we can relate in a way that is of benefit to all. We don't go astray and drift away. We behave like one who can let things be. We behave like samanas (Gone Forth Ones) and anagarikas (Homeless Ones), those who are not bound up. This is the way we train. Training ourselves like this is really peaceful. We make peace arise all the time. Whenever we are in society we will always have smoothness and tranquillity.

Seeing it like this gives us an understanding of the way to let things be Dhamma - it gives us a sense for the state where we are Dhamma. If we truly are Dhamma, external things - the realm of forms and conditions, objects around us, and our living in society - they are no problem, they won't make us struggle. There is no confusion, no happiness, no suffering, no delight, and no sorrow. There is nothing that can give rise to feelings of opposition or aversion. Everything flows naturally following the force this state of peace has. Everything dissolves through the power of peacefulness. Nothing really matters. There is nothing to gain. We don't find all those things that we were interested in when we were children attractive anymore. There is nothing about the world that can overwhelm us, there is nothing that can make us go wrong. This is indeed something we could rightly accept praise for - but there is no one to praise. It just praises itself, just like the name and the qualities of the Lord Buddha that we recite together in the chant on the qualities of the Buddha. The praise is intrinsically there through itself.

People who have no problems, who don't have dukkha can be said to be free from having kilesa (defilements of mind), but actually they live together with them, only that there is nothing to them. The attention one gives to the kilesa comes from delusion. If one isn't deluded, one couldn't care less about the kilesa. Kilesa are just what they are. This doesn't mean that one doesn't have to relate to the world or use language in order to have to speak. One still has to relate to others. But one doesn't let dangers and drawbacks arise, since one's whole attitude isn't one that would allow anger to come up.

There is no anger, the heart's just like water that doesn't have dirty particles in it. The water is free from dirty particles until we agitate it by mixing something in it to make it muddy. Even though we may be challenged or provoked, we don't feel stirred up since the water of our heart is clear. There aren't any particles of dirt inside us which could be agitated. We keep the goodness of our heart. Praise can't provoke it and criticism can't. There is always a feeling of purity in it. That this purity exists we can only know individually by ourselves.

We sometimes wonder and ask ourselves where this purity actually comes from. Well, purity comes from impurity, this is exactly where it comes from; just like peacefulness comes from agitation, and happiness comes from suffering. If there is suffering there must also be happiness. Darkness can only come to be because there is brightness. Brightness arises because of darkness. This is the way we see it.

To see one's own mind, to protect one's own mind, will bring about knowledge and vision in accordance with reality. Knowing the mind, we see the mind. We see the mind in the mind. Just as in the Satipatthana Sutta where the Buddha points out that the mind is just the mind. He directs us to always see the mind, 'with a feeling of being ardent, resolute and fully aware, having put away sense desire and grief for the world' (atapi sampajano satima vineyya loke abhijjhadomanassam.) Being mindful in this way we can't be ruled or rolled over by the (lokadhamma) worldly state. Living our lives mindfully, we feel we are always ready and prepared, possessing perfection and a place of purity, free from provocation. Unluckily for most of us, what can arise is the feeling that we are still at a stage where these qualities aren't yet established. Well, if they aren't habitual yet we can make them habitual! It's not that this is something difficult; it's not a great problem to get a foundation in order to get started.

In relating to social problems around us, for example, we build up an attitude where we are ready to be tolerant, or at least we maintain an attitude of relinquishment (caga) and generosity (dana). Maintaining generosity and tolerance supports our mindfulness. Then whatever discontent arises we think, 'well, living together has just got to be this way.' You can compare it to my tongue here; it's normal that my teeth sometimes hit it. We just recognise that when things are together they sometimes don't go hand in hand.

Of course life is a bit like this. But we know how to forgive, we know how to give up, and we know how to open up and invite constructive criticism (pavarana) from others. When we live together in a community we have to find ways of expressing ourselves to others so that our living together leads to peacefulness. That it goes in the direction of harmony. Pavarana is to give those with whom we live the chance to criticise us, granting them that freedom of speech. This helps us cultivate the ability to open ourselves up. It also involves the ability to listen in an open way, to accept the feelings and opinions of others. Whether their views are right or wrong we can always see them as something to learn from. If we can, we contribute this openness of pavarana to our living together. We don't have anything anymore that stimulates self-importance or holding tightly to ourselves. When we have these qualities it is possible to go one's own way and still create a community feeling of peace and happiness.

When we live in society, with the things of the world around us, of course there is unevenness. There is unevenness but we can still live together in harmony. This unevenness means that we have to live with the attitude of not taking anything for sure. We live in accordance with the underlying principles of reality. We live with uncertainty but we create a feeling of certainty. There is change (anicca), but there is also stability. There is suffering (dukkha), but there is also non-suffering there as well. We have a feeling of self, but right in there we have a feeling of not-self (anatta). The deathless (amata) - the Dhamma that doesn't die - lies right there as well. When we see impermanence, and live with a feeling of being prepared for it, we see permanence coming up as a reality. It is like death having deathlessness inside it.

Seeing in this way the feeling of peacefulness will arise. There will be stillness, total peace in all aspects, peace from all mind states - peace from sensual pleasures, peace from wanting, peace from praise, peace from blame, peace from happiness and suffering.

  Dear friends in Dhamma, in the western branch monasteries of Wat Nong Pah Pong,

I would like to express my anumodana, my deepest respects and appreciation of your effort to publish an English translation of my Dhamma talk, 'From the Darkness to the Light.' May this publication inspire many readers to put forth effort in the practice of Dhamma. And may it be of help to keep up a sense of harmony in the practice between our western branch monasteries, Amaravati and Wat Pah Cittaviveka for example, and Wat Nong Pah Pong and Wat Pah Nanachat in Thailand.

With the best wishes in the Dhamma,
Phra Visuddhisamvara Thera
(Luang Por Liem Thitadhammo)