QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS
Westerners tend to have many questions concerning the meditation practice. Following are some typical questions with their answers given by Ajahn Chah of Wat Nong Pah Pong and translated by Jack Kornfield.
Question: I'm trying very hard in my practice but I don't seem to be getting anywhere.
Answer: This is very important. Don't try to get anywhere in the practice. The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try as hard as you wish, practice ardently night and day, but if it is with the desire to achieve in mind, you will never find peace. The energy from this desire will be cause for doubt and restlessness. No matter how long or how hard you practice, wisdom will not arise from desire. So, simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully but don't try to achieve anything. Don't cling even to the practice or to enlightenment.
Q: What about other methods of practice? These days there seem to be so many teachers and so many different systems of meditation that it is confusing.
A: It is like going to town. One can approach from the north, from the southeast, from many roads. Often these systems just differ outwardly. Whether you walk one way or another, fast or slow, if you are mindful it is all the same. There is one essential point that all good practice must eventually come to. That is not clinging. In the end, all meditation systems must be let go of. Neither can one cling to the teacher. If a system leads to relinquishment, to not clinging, then it is correct practice.
You may wish to travel, to visit other teachers and try other systems. Some of you have already done so. This is a natural desire. You will find out that a thousand questions asked and knowledge of many systems will not bring you to the truth. Eventually you will get bored. You will see that only by stopping and examining your own mind can you find out what the Buddha talked about. No need to go searching outside yourself. Eventually you must return to face your own true nature. Here is where you can understand the Dhamma.
Q: Is it necessary to sit for very long stretches?
A: No, sitting for hours on end is not necessary. Some people think that the longer you can sit, the wiser you must be. I have seen chickens sit on their nest for days on end! Wisdom comes by being mindful in all postures. Your practice should begin as you awaken in the morning. It should continue until you fall asleep. Don't be concerned about how long you can sit. What is important is only that you keep watchful whether you are working or sitting or going to the bathroom.
Each person has his own natural pace. Some of you will die at age 50, some at age 65, and some at age 90. So too, your practices will not be all identical. Don't think or worry about this. Try to be mindful and let things take their natural course. Then your mind will become quieter and quieter in any surroundings. It will become still like a clear forest pool. Then all kinds of wonderful and rare animals will come to drink at the pool. You will see clearly the nature of all things in the world. You will see many wonderful and strange things come and go. But you will be still. Problems will arise and you will see through them immediately. This is the happiness of the Buddha.
Q: You have said that samatha and vipassana, or concentration and insight, are the same. Could you explain this further?
A: It is quite simple. Concentration (samatha) and wisdom (vipassana) work together. First the mind becomes still by holding on to a meditation object. It is quiet only while you are sitting with your eyes closed. This is samatha and eventually this concentration is the cause for wisdom or vipassana to arise. Then the mind is still whether you sit with your eyes closed or walk around in a busy city.
It's like this. Once you were a child. Now you are an adult. Are the child and the adult the same person? You can say that they are, or looking at it another way, you can say that they are different. In this way samatha and vipassana could also be looked at as separate. Or it is like food and feces. Food and feces could be called the same and they can be called different. Don't just believe what I say, do your practice and see for yourself. Nothing special is needed. If you examine how concentration and wisdom arise, you will know the truth for yourself. These days many people cling to the words. They call their practice vipassana. Samatha is looked down on. Or they call their practice samatha. They say it is essential to do samatha before vipassana. All this is silly. Don't bother to think about it in this way. Simply do the practice and you'll see for yourself.
Q: How can we overcome lust in our practice? Sometimes I feel as if I am a slave to my sexual desire.
A: Lust should be balanced by contemplation of loathsomeness. Attachment to bodily form is one extreme and one should keep in mind the opposite. Examine the body as a corpse and see the process of decay or think of the parts of the body such as lungs, spleen, fat, feces, and so forth. Remember these and visualize this loathsome aspect of the body when lust arises. This will free you from lust.
Q: How about anger? What should I do when I feel anger arising?
A: You must use loving kindness. When angry states of mind arise in meditation, balance them by developing feelings of loving kindness. If someone does something bad or gets angry, don't get angry yourself. If you do, you are being more ignorant than he. Be wise. Keep in mind compassion, for that person is suffering. Fill your mind with loving kindness as if he were a dear brother. Concentrate on the feeling of loving kindness as a meditation subject. Spread it to all beings in the world. Only through loving kindness is hatred overcome.
Sometimes you may see other monks behaving badly. You may get annoyed. This is suffering unnecessarily. It is not yet our Dhamma. You may think like this, "He is not as strict as I am. They are not serious meditators like us. Those monks are not good monks." This is a great defilement on your part. Do not make comparisons. Do not discriminate. Let go of your opinions and watch yourself. This is our Dhamma. You can't possibly make everyone act as you wish or to be like you. This wish will only make you suffer. It is a common mistake for meditators to make, but watching other people won't develop wisdom. Don't worry. Simply examine yourself, your feelings. This is how you will understand.
Q: Could you explain a little more about karma?
A: Karma is action. Karma is clinging. Body, speech, or mind all make karma when we cling. We make habits. These can make us suffer in the future. This is the fruit of our clinging, of our past defilement. All attachment leads to making karma. Suppose you were a thief before you became a monk. You stole, made others unhappy, made your parents unhappy. Now you are a monk, but when you remember how you made others unhappy, you feel bad and suffer yourself even today. Remember, not only body, but speech and mental action can make conditions for future results. If you did some act of kindness in the past and remember it today, you will be happy. This happy state of mind is the result of past karma. All things are conditioned by causes -- both long term and, when examined, moment to moment. But you need not bother to figure out past, present, or future. Merely watch the body and mind. You can then understand karma in yourself. Watch your mind, practice, and you will see clearly. Make sure, however, that you leave the karma of others to them. Don't cling to and don't watch others. If I take poison, I suffer. No need for you to share it with me! Take what is good that your teacher offers. Then you can become peaceful, your mind will become like that of your teacher. If you will examine it, you will see. Even if now you don't understand, when you practice, it will become clear. You will know by yourself. This is called practicing the Dhamma.
When we were young, our parents used to discipline us and get angry. Really they wanted to help us. You must see it over the long term. Parents and teachers criticize us and we get upset. Later on we can see why. After long practice you will know. Those who are too clever leave after a short time. They never learn. You must get rid of your cleverness. If you think yourself better than others, you will only suffer. What a pity. No need to get upset. Just watch.
Q: I have been meditating many years now. My mind is open and peaceful in almost all circumstances. Now I would like to try to backtrack and practice high states of concentration of mind absorption.
A: This is fine. It is a beneficial exercise. If you have wisdom, you will not get hung up on concentrated states of mind. It is the same as wanting to sit for long periods. This is fine for training. But really, practice is separate from any posture. It is a matter of directly looking at the mind. This is wisdom. When you have examined and understood the mind, then you have the wisdom to know the limitations of concentration, or of books. If you have practiced and understand not-clinging, you can then return to the books. They will be like a sweet dessert. They can help you to teach others. Or you can go back to practice absorption. You have the wisdom to know not to hold on to anything.