A Good Dose of Dhamma

For Meditators

When They Are Ill

Tan Acharn Kor
(Upasika Kee Nanayon)

Translated from the Thai by

Thanissaro Bhikkhu

Bodhi Leaves No: 136
Copyright © Kandy, Buddhist Publication Society, (1995)

BPS Online Edition © (2006)
Digital Transcription Source: Buddhist Publication Society

For free distribution. This work may be republished, reformatted, reprinted and redistributed in any medium. However, any such republication and redistribution is to be made available to the public on a free and unrestricted basis and translations and other derivative works are to be clearly marked as such.

A Good Dose of Dhamma

For Meditators

When They Are Ill

September 3, 1965


Normally, illness is something we all have, but the type of illness where you can still do your work isnít recognized as illness. Itís called the normal human state all over the world. Yet really, when the body is in its normal state, itís still ill in and of itselfósimply that people in general are unaware of the fact that itís the deterioration of physical and mental phenomena, continually, from moment to moment.

The way people get carried away with their thoughts and preoccupations while theyíre still strong enough to do this and do that: Thatís really complacency. Theyíre no match at all for people lying in bed ill. People lying in bed ill are lucky because they have the opportunity to do nothing but contemplate stress and pain. Their minds donít take up anything else, donít go anywhere else. They can contemplate pain at all timesóand let go of pain at all times as well.

Donít you see the difference? The "emptiness" of the mind when youíre involved in activities is "play" emptiness. Imitation emptiness. Itís not the real thing. But to contemplate inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness as it appears right inside you while youíre lying right here, is very beneficial for you. Just donít think that youíre whatís hurting. Simply see the natural phenomena of physical and mental events as they pass away, pass away. Theyíre not you. Theyíre not really yours. You donít have any real control over them.

Look at them! Exactly where do you have any control over them? This is true for everyone in the world. Youíre not the only one to whom itís happening. So whatever the disease there is in your body, it isnít important. Whatís important is the disease in the mind. Normally we donít pay too much attention to the fact that we have diseases in our minds, i.e. the diseases of defilement, craving, and attachment. We pay attention only to our physical diseases, afraid of all the horrible things that can happen to the body. But no matter how much we try to stave things off with our fears, when the time comes for things to happen, no matter what medicines you have to treat the body, they can give you only temporary respite. Even the people in the past who didnít suffer from heavy diseases are no longer with us. Theyíve all had to part from their bodies in the end.

So when you continually contemplate in this way, it makes you see the truth of inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness correctly within you. And youíll have to grow more and more disenchanted with things, step by step.

When you give it a try and let go, whoís there? Are you the one hurting, or is it simply an affair of the Dhamma? You have to examine this very carefully to see that itís not really you thatís hurting. The disease isnít your disease. Itís a disease of the body, a disease of physical form. In the end, physical form and mental events have to change, to be stressful in the change, to be not-self in the change and the stress. But you must focus on them, watch them, and contemplate them so that theyíre clear. Make this knowledge really clear, and right there is where youíll gain release from all suffering and stress. Right there is where youíll put an end to all suffering and stress. As for the aggregates, theyíll continue to arise, age, grow ill, and pass away in line with their own affairs. When their causes and conditions run out, they die and go into their coffin.

Some people, when theyíre healthy and complacent, die suddenly and unexpectedly without knowing whatís happening to them. Their minds are completely oblivious to whatís going on. This is much worse than the person lying ill in bed who has pain to contemplate as a means of developing disenchantment. So you donít have to be afraid of pain. If itís going to be there, let it be thereóbut donít let the mind be in pain with it. And then lookóright nowóis the mind empty of "me" and "mine"?

Keep looking on in. Keep looking on in so that things are really clear, and thatís enough. You donít have to go knowing anything anywhere else. When you can cure the disease, or the pain lightens, thatís something normal. When it doesnít lighten, thatís normal, too. But if the heart is simply empty of "me" and "mine," there will be no pain within it. As for the pain in the aggregates, donít give it a second thought.

So see yourself as lucky. Lying here, dealing with the disease, you have the opportunity to practise insight meditation with every moment. It doesnít matter whether youíre here in the hospital or at home. Donít let there be any real sense in the mind that youíre in the hospital or at home. Let the mind be in the emptiness, empty of all labels and meanings. You donít have to label yourself as being anywhere at all.

This is because the aggregates are not where you are. Theyíre empty of any indwelling person. Theyíre empty of any "me" or "mine." When the mind is like this, it doesnít need anything at all. It doesnít have to be here or go there or anywhere at all. This is the absolute end of suffering and stress....

The mind, when it doesnít get engrossed with the taste of pleasure or pain, is free in and of itself, in line with its own nature. But I ask that you watch it carefully, the behaviour of this mind as itís empty in line with its own nature, not concocting any desires for anything, not wanting pleasure or trying to push away pain.

When the mind is empty in line with its nature, thereís no sense of ownership in it; there are no labels for itself. No matter what thoughts occur to it, it sees them as insubstantial, as empty of self. Thereís simply a sensation that then passes away. A sensation that then passes away, and thatís all.

So you have to watch the phenomena that arise and pass away. In other words, you have to watch the phenomenon of the present continuouslyóand the mind will be empty, in that it gives no meanings or labels to the arising and passing away. As for the arising and passing away, thatís a characteristic of the aggregates that has to appear as part of their normal natureósimply that the mind isnít involved, doesnít latch on. This is the point you can make use of.

You canít go preventing pleasure and pain, you canít keep the mind from labeling things and forming thoughts, but you can put these things to a new use. If the mind labels a pain, saying, "I hurt," you have to read the label carefully, contemplate it until you see that itís wrong. If the label were right, it would have to say that the pain isnít me, itís empty. Or if thereís a thought that "Iím in pain," this type of thinking is also wrong. You have to take a new approach to your thinking, to see that thinking is inconstant, stressful, and not yours.

So whatever arises, investigate and let go of what's right in front of you. Just make sure that you don't cling, and the mind will keep on being empty in line with its nature. If no thoughts are bothering you, there may be strong pain, or the mind may be developing an abnormal mood, but whatever is happening, you have to look right in, look all the way in to the sensation of the mind. Once you have a sense of the empty mind, then if there's any disturbance, any sense of irritation, you'll know that the knowledge giving rise to it is wrong knowledge, in and of itself. Right knowledge will immediately take over, making the wrong knowledge disband.

In order to hold continuously to this foundation of knowing, you first have to start out by exercising restraint over the mind, at the same time that you focus your attention and contemplate the phenomenon of stress and pain. Keep this up until the mind can maintain its stance in the clear emptiness of the heart. If you can do this all the way to the end, the final disbanding of suffering will occur right there, right where the mind is empty.

But you have to keep practising at this continuously. Whenever pain arises, regardless of whether itís strong or not, donít label it or give it any meaning. Even if pleasure arises, donít label it as your pleasure. Just keep letting it go, and the mind will gain releaseóempty of all clinging or attachment to "selfness" with each and every moment. You have to apply all your mindfulness and energy to this at all times.

You should see yourself as fortunate, that youíre lying here ill, contemplating pain, for you have the opportunity to develop the Path in full measure, gaining insight and letting things go. Nobody has a better opportunity than what you have right now. People running around, engaged in their affairs: Even if they say their minds are disengaged, theyíre really no match for you. A person lying ill in bed has the opportunity to develop insight with every in-and-out breath. Itís a sign that you havenít wasted your birth as a human being, you know, because youíre practising the teachings of the Lord Buddha to the point where you gain clear knowledge into the true nature of things in and of themselves.

The true nature of things, on the outside level, refers to the phenomenon of the present, the changing of the five aggregates. You can decipher their code, decipher their code until you get disenchanted with them, lose your taste for them, and let them go. When the mind is in this state, the next step is to contemplate it skillfully to see how it's empty, all the way to the ultimate emptinessóthe kind of emptiness that goes clearly into the true nature lying most deeply inside where there is no concocting of thoughts, no arising, no passing away, no changing at all.

When you correctly see the nature of things on the outer level until it is all clear to you, the mind will let go, let go. Thatís when you automatically see clearly the nature of what lies on the inner levelóempty of all cycling through birth and death, with nothing concocted at all.... The emptiest extreme of emptiness, with no labels, no meanings, no clingings or attachments. All I ask is that you see this clearly within your own mind.

The ordinary emptiness of the mind is useful on one level, but thatís not all there is. True emptiness is empty until it reaches the true nature of things on the inner levelósomething really worth ferreting out, really worth coming to know....

This is something you have to know for yourself.... There are really no words to describe it ... but we can talk about it by way of guidance, because it may happen that ultimately you let go of everything, in whatís called disbanding without trace.

The mindís point of disbanding without trace, if you keep developing insight every day, every moment like this, will happen on its own. The mind will know on its own. So donít let the mind bother itself by getting preoccupied with pleasure or pain. Focus on penetrating into the mind in and of itself relentlessly.

Do you see how different this is from when youíre running around strong and healthy, thinking about this, that, and the other thing?... This is why thereís no harm in having lots of pain. The harm is in our stupidity in giving labels and meanings to things. People in general tend to reflect on the fleeting nature of life with reference to other people, when someone else grows sick or dies, but they rarely reflect on the fleeting nature of their own lives. Or else they reflect for just a moment and then forget all about it, getting completely involved in their other preoccupations. They donít bring these truths inward, to reflect on the inconstancy occurring within themselves with every moment.

The fact that they can still do this and that, think this and that, say this and that, makes them lose all perspective. When you practise insight meditation, itís not something that you take a month or two off to do on a special retreat. Thatís not the real thing. Itís no match for what youíre doing right now, for here you can do it all day every day and all night, except when you sleep. Especially when the pain is strong, itís really good for your meditation, because it gives you the chance to know once and for all what inconstancy is like, what stress and suffering are like, what your inability to control things is like.

You have to find out right here, right in front of you, so donít try to avoid the pain. Practise insight so as to see the true nature of pain, its true nature as Dhamma, and then keep letting it go. If you do this, thereís no way you can go wrong. This is the way to release from suffering.

And itís something you have to do before you die, you know, not something you wait to do when you die or are just about to die. Itís something you simply keep on doing, keep on "insighting." When the disease lessens, you "insight" it. When it grows heavy, you "insight" it. If you keep on developing insight like this, the mind will get over its stupidity and delusion. In other words, things like craving and defilement wonít dare hassle the mind the way they used to....

So you have to give it your allóall your mindfulness, all your energyónow that you have the opportunity to practise the Dhamma. Let this be your last lifetime. Donít let there be anything born again. If youíre born again, things will come back again just as they are now. The same old stuff, over and over and over again. Once thereís birth, there has to be ageing, illness, and death, in line with your defilements, experiencing the good and bad results they keep churning out. Itís a cycle of suffering. So the best thing is to gain release from birth. Donít let yourself want anything any more. Donít let yourself want anything any more, for all your wants fall in with whatís inconstant, stressful, and not-self.

Wanting is simply a form of defilement and craving. You have to disband these things right at the instigator: the wanting thatís nothing but craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, or craving for no becomingóthe germs of birth in the heart. So focus in and contemplate at the right spot, seeing that even though craving may be giving rise to birth at sensory contact, you can set your knowing right at the mind, right at consciousness itself, and let there just be the knowing that lets go of knowing. This is something to work at until you have it mastered.

Setting your knowing at the mind, letting go of knowing like this, is something very beneficial. Thereís no getting stuck, no grabbing hold of your knowledge or views. If the knowledge is right, you let it go. If the knowledge is wrong, you let it go. This is called knowing letting go of knowing without going and getting entangled. This kind of knowing keeps the mind from latching onto whatever arises. As soon as you know something, you let it go. As soon as you know something, youíve let it go. The mind just keeps on staying emptyóempty of mental formations and thoughts, empty of every sort of illusion that could affect the mind. It quickly sees through them and lets them go, knows and lets go, without holding onto anything. All it has left is the emptiness....

Youíve already seen results from your practice, step by step, from contemplating things and letting them go, letting go even of the thought that you are the one in pain, that you are the one whoís dying. The pain and the dying are an affair of the aggregates, pure and simple. When this knowledge is clear and sureóthat itís not "my" affair, thereís no "me" in thereóthereís just an empty mind: an empty mind, empty of any label for itself. This is the nature of the mind free of the germs that used to make it assume this and that. Theyíre dead now. Those germs are now dead because weíve contemplated them. Weíve let go. Weíve set our knowing right at the mind and let go of whatever knowing has arisen, all along to the point where the mind is empty. Clear. In and of itself....

Consciousness, when youíre aware of it inwardly, arises and passes away by its very own nature. Thereís no real essence to itóthis is what you see when you look at the elemental property of consciousness (<

As for the aggregate of consciousness (<

The dualities that fashion good and bad: Thereís really nothing to them. They arise, and thatís all there is to them; they disband, and thatís all there is to them. So now we come to know the affairs of the dualities that fashion the mind into spirals, that fashion the mind or consciousness into endless cycles. When you know the knowing that lets go of knowing, right at consciousness in and of itself, dualities have no more meaning. Thereís no more latching onto the labels of good and bad, pleasure and pain, true and false, or whatever. You just keep on letting go....

Even this knowing that lets go of knowing has no label for itself, saying, "I know," or "I see." But this is something that lies a little deep, that you have to make an effort to see clearly and rightly. You have to keep looking in a shrewd way. The shrewdness of your looking: Thatís something very important, for only that can lead to Awakening. Your knowledge has to be shrewd. Skillful. Make sure that itís shrewd and skillful. Otherwise your knowledge of the true nature of thingsóon the inner or outer levelsówonít really be clear. Itíll get stuck on only the elementary levels of emptiness, labeling and latching onto them in a way that just keeps piling things on. That kind of emptiness simply canít compare with this kindóthe knowing that lets go of knowing right at consciousness pure and simple. Make sure that this kind of knowing keeps going continuously. If you slip for a moment, just get right back to it. Youíll see that when you donít latch onto labels and meanings, thoughts of good and bad will just come to a stop. Theyíll disband. So when the Buddha tells us to see the world as empty, this is the way we see.

The emptiness lies in the fact that the mind doesnít give meaning to things, doesnít fashion things, doesnít cling. Itís empty right at this kind of mind. Once youíre correctly aware of this kind of empty mind, youíll no longer get carried away by anything at all. But if you donít really focus down like this, there will only be a little smattering of emptiness, and then youíll find yourself getting distracted by this and that, spoiling the emptiness. That kind of emptiness is emptiness in confusion. Youíre still caught up in confusion because you havenít contemplated down to the deeper levels. You simply play around with emptiness, thatís all. The deeper levels of emptiness require that you focus in and keep on looking until youíre thoroughly clear about the true nature of things in the phenomenon of the present arising and disbanding right in front of you. This kind of mind doesnít get involved, doesnít latch on to meanings or labels.

If you see this kind of emptiness correctly, there are no more issues, no more labels for anything in this heap of physical and mental phenomena. When the time comes for it all to fall apart, thereís nothing to get excited about, nothing to get upset about, for thatís the way it has to go by its nature. Only if we latch onto it will we suffer....

The Dhamma is right here in our body and mind, simply that we donít see itóor that we see it wrongly, latching on and making ourselves suffer. If we look at things with the eyesight of mindfulness and discernment, what is there to make us suffer? Why is there any need to fear pain and death? Even if we do fear them, what do we accomplish? Physical and mental phenomena have to go their own wayóinconstant in their own way, stressful in their own way, beyond our control in their own way. So what business do we have in reaching out and latching on and saying that their stress and pain is our stress and pain? If we understand that the latching on is what makes us suffer over and over again, with each and every breath, then all we have to do is let go and weíll see how there is release from suffering right before our very eyes....

So keep on looking in to know, in the way Iíve described, right at the mind. But donít go labeling it as a "mind" or anything at all. Just let there be things as they are, in and of themselves, pure and simple. Thatís enough. You donít need to have any meanings or labels for anything at all. That will be the end of all suffering.... When things disband in the ultimate way, they disband right at the point of the elemental property of consciousness free of the germs that will give rise to anything further. Thatís where everything comes to an end, with no more rebirth or redeath of any kind at all....

The practice is something you have to do for yourself. If you know things clearly and correctly with your own mindfulness and discernment, thatís your tool, well-sharpened, in hand. If the mind is trained to be sharp, with mindfulness and discernment as its tool for contemplating itself, then defilement, craving, and attachment will keep getting weeded out and cleared away. You can look and see, from the amount youíve already practised: Arenít they already cleared away to some extent? The mind doesnít have to worry about anything, doesnít have to get involved with anything else. Let go of everything outside and then keep letting go until the mind lets go of itself. When you do this, how can you not see the great worth of the Dhamma?...

So I ask that this mind empty of attachment, empty of any sense of self whatsoever, be clear to you until you see that itís nothing but Dhamma. Get so that itís nothing but Dhamma, perfectly plain to your awareness. May this appear to you, as it is on its own, with each and every moment.


Listening to the Dhamma when the mind has already reached a basic level of emptiness is very useful. Itís like an energizing tonic, for when weíre sick thereís bound to be pain disturbing us; but if we donít pay it any attention, it simply becomes an affair of the body, without involving the mind at all. Notice this as youíre listening: The mind has let go of the pain to listen to the words, leaving the pain to its own affairs. The mind is then empty....

Once the mind honestly sees the truth that all compounded things are inconstant, it will have to let go of its attachments. The problem here is that we havenít yet really seen this, or havenít yet reflected on it in a skillful way. Once we do, though, the mind is always ready to grow radiant. Clear knowing makes the mind immediately radiant. So keep careful watch on things. Even if you donít know very much, just be aware of the mind as it maintains a balance in its basic level of neutrality and emptiness. Then it wonít be able to fashion the pains in the body into any great issues, and you wonít have to be attached to them.

So keep your awareness of the pain right at the level where itís no more than a mere sensation in the body. It can be the bodyís pain, but donít let the mind be in pain with it. If you do let the mind be in pain with it, that will pile things on, layer after layer. So the first step is to protect the mind, to let things go, then turn inward to look for the deepest, most innermost part of your awareness and stay right there. You donít have to get involved with the pains outside. If you simply try to endure them, they may be too much for you to endure. So look for the aspect of the mind that lies deep within, and youíll be able to put everything else aside.

Now, if the pains are the sort that you can watch, then make an effort to watch them. The mind will stay at its normal neutrality, calm with its own inner emptiness, watching the pain as it changes and passes away. But if the pain is too extreme, then turn around and go back inside; for if you canít handle it, then craving is going to work its way into the picture, wanting to push the pain away and to gain pleasure. This will keep piling on, piling on, putting the mind in a horrible turmoil.

So start out by solving the problem right at hand. If the pain is sudden and sharp, immediately turn around and focus all your attention on the mind. You donít want to have anything to do with the body, anything to do with the pains in the body. You donít look at them, you donít pay them any attention. Focus on staying with the innermost part of your awareness. Get to the point where you can see the pure state of mind that isnít in pain with the body, and keep it constantly clear.

Once this is constantly clear, then no matter how much pain there is in the body, itís simply an affair of mental and physical events. The mind, though, isnít involved. It puts all these things aside. It lets go.

When youíre adept at this, itís a very useful skill to have, for the important things in life donít lie outside. They lie entirely within the mind. If we understand this properly, we wonít have to go out to grab this or that. We wonít have to latch onto anything at allóbecause if we do latch on, we simply cause ourselves needless suffering. The well-being of the mind lies at the point where it doesnít latch onto anything, where it doesnít want anything. Thatís where our well-being liesóthe point where all suffering and stress disband right at the mind....

If we donít really understand things, though, the mind wonít be willing to let things go. It will keep on holding tight, for it finds so much flavour in things outside. Whatever involves pain and stress: Thatís what it likes.

We have to focus on contemplating and looking, looking at the illusions in the mind, the wrong knowledge and opinions that cover it up and keep us from seeing the aspect of the mind thatís empty and still by its own internal nature. Focus on contemplating the opinions that give rise to the complicated attachments that bury the mind until itís in awful straits. See how mental eventsófeelings, perceptions, and thought-formationsócondition the mind, condition the property of consciousness until itís in terrible shape.

This is why itís so important to ferret out the type of knowing that lets go of knowing, i.e. that knows the property of consciousness pure and simple when mental events havenít yet come in to condition it, or when it hasnít gone out to condition mental events. Right her emplation because itís something subtle and deep.

But no matter how subtle it may be, the fact that weíve developed our mindfulness and discernment to this point means that we have to take an interest in it. If we donít, thereís no way we can put an end to stress or gain release from it.

Or, if you want, you can approach it like this: Focus exclusively on the aspect of the mind thatís constantly empty. If any preoccupations appear to it, be aware of the characteristics of bare sensation when forms make contact with the eye, or sounds with the ear, and so forth. Thereís a bare sensation, and then it disbands before it can have any such meaning as "good" or "bad." If thereís just the bare sensation that then disbands, thereís no suffering.

Be observant of the moment when forms make contact with the eye. With some things, if youíre not interested in them, no feelings of liking or disliking arise. But if you get interested or feel that thereís a meaning to the form, sound, smell, taste, or tactile sensation, youíll notice that as soon as you give a meaning to these things, attachment is already there.

If you stop to look in this way, youíll see that attachment is something subtle, because itís there even in the simple act of giving meaning. If you look in a superficial way, you wonít see that itís attachmentóeven though thatís what it is, but in a subtle way. As soon as thereís a meaning, thereís already attachment. This requires that you have to be good and observantóbecause in the contact at the eyes and ears that we take so much for granted, many sleights-of-hand happen all at once, which means that we arenít aware of the characteristics of the consciousness that knows each individual sensation. We have to be very observant if we want to be able to know these things. If we arenít aware on this level, everything will be tied up in attachment. These things will keep sending their reports into the mind, conditioning and concocting all kinds of issues to leave the mind, or consciousness, in utter turmoil.

So if we want to look purely inside, we have to be very, very observant, because things inside are subtle, elusive, and sensitive. When the mind seems empty and neutral: Thatís when you really have to keep careful watch and control over it, so as to see clearly the sensation of receiving contact. Thereís contact, pure and simple, then it disbands, and the mind is empty. Neutral and empty. Once you know this, youíll know what the mind is like when it isnít conditioned by the power of defilement, craving, and attachment. We can use this emptiness of the mind as our standard of comparison, and it will do us a world of good....

Ultimately, youíll see the emptiness of all sensory contacts, as in the Buddhaís teaching that we should see the world as empty. What he meant is that we observe bare sensations simply arising and passing away, knowing what consciousness is like when it does nothing more than receive contact. If you can see this, the next step in the practice wonít be difficult at allóbecause youíve established neutrality right from the start. The act of receiving contact is no longer complicated: The mind no longer grabs hold of things, no longer feels any likes or dislikes. Itís simply quiet and aware all around within itself at all times. Even if you can do this much, you find that you benefit from not letting things get complex, from not letting them concoct things through the power of defilement, craving, and attachment. Even just this much gets rid of lots of problems.

Then when you focus further in to see the nature of all phenomena that are known through sensory contact, youíll see that thereís simply bare sensation with nothing at all worth getting attached to. If you look with the eyes of true mindfulness and discernment, youíll have to see emptinessóeven though the world is full of things. The eye sees lots of forms, the ear hears lots of sounds, you know, but the mind no longer gives them meanings. At the same time, things have no meanings in and of themselves.

The only important thing is the mind. All issues come from the mind that goes out and gives things meanings and gives rise to attachment, creating stress and suffering for itself. So you have to look until you see all the way through. Look outward until you see all the way out, and inward until you see all the way in, all the way until you penetrate inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness. See things as they are, in and of themselves, in line with their own nature, without any meanings or attachments. Then there wonít be any issues. The mind will be emptyóclean and brightówithout your having to do anything to it.

Now, the fact that the mind has the viruses of ignorance, or of the craving that gives rise to things easily, means that we canít be careless. In the beginning, you have to supervise things carefully so that you can see the craving that arises at the moment of contactósay, when thereís a feeling of pain. If you donít label it as meaning your pain, craving wonít get too much into the act. But if you do give it that meaning, then there will be the desire to push the pain away or to have pleasure come in its place.

All this, even though weíve never gotten anything true and dependable from desiring. The pleasure we get from our desires doesnít last. It fools us and then changes into something else. Pain fools us and then changes into something else. But these changes keep piling up and getting very complicated in the mind, and this is what keeps the mind ignorant: Itís been conditioned in so many ways that it gets confused, deluded, dark, and smoldering.

All kinds of things are smoldering in here.... This is why the principle of the knowing that lets go of knowing is such an important tool. Whatever comes at you, the knowing that lets go of knowing is enough to get you through. It takes care of everything. If you let it slip, simply get back to the same sort of knowing. See for yourself how far it will take you, how much it can keep the mind neutral and empty.

You can come to see this bit by bit. In the moments when the mind isnít involved with very much, when itís at a basic level of normalcyóempty, quiet, whateverókeep careful watch over it and analyze it as well. Donít let it just be in an oblivious state of indifference, or else it will lose its balance. If youíre in an oblivious state, then as soon as thereís contact at any of the sense doors, thereís sure to be attachment or craving giving rise to things the instant in which feeling appears. You have to focus on keeping watch of the changes, the behavior of the mind at every moment. As soon as your mindfulness lapses, get back immediately to your original knowing. Weíre all bound to have lapsesóall of usóbecause the effluent of ignorance, the most important of the effluents, is still there in the mind.

This is why we have to keep working at our watchfulness, our investigation, our focused awareness, so that they keep getting clearer and clearer. Make your mind ripe in mindfulness and discernment, continuously....

Once theyíre ripe enough for you to know things in a skillful way, youíll be able to disband the defilements the very minute they appear. As soon as you begin feeling likes and dislikes, you can deal with them before they amount to anything. This makes things a lot easier. If you let them loose so that they condition the mind, making it irritated, murky, and stirred up to the point where it shows in your words and actions, then youíre in terrible straits, falling into hell in this very lifetime.

The practice of the Dhamma requires that we be ingenious and circumspect right at the mind. The defilements are always ready to flatter us, to work their way into our favour. If we arenít skillful in our awareness, if we donít know how to keep the mind under careful supervision, weíll be no match for themófor there are so many of them. But if we keep the mind well supervised, the defilements will be afraid of usóafraid of our mindfulness and discernment, afraid of our awareness. Notice when the mind is empty, aware all around, with no attachments to anything at all: The defilements will hide out quiet, as if they werenít there at all.

But as soon as mindfulness slips, even just a little, they spring right up. They spring right up. If you recognize them for what they are the moment they spring up, theyíll disband right there. This is a very useful skill to have. But if we let them get to the point where they turn into issues, theyíll be hard to disband. Thatís when you have to bear with the fight and not give up.

Whatever happens, start out by bearing with itónot simply to endure it, but so as to examine it, to see what itís like, how it changes, how it passes away. We bear with things so that we can see through their deceits: the way they arise, persist, and disband on their own. If they disband while weíre examining them and clearly seeing their deceitfulness, we can have done with them for good. This will leave the mind in a state of freedom and independence, empty entirely within itself.

If you can learn to see through things right away the moment they ariseówhat you might call your own little instantaneous awakeningsóyour awareness will keep getting brighter and brighter, stronger and more expansive all the time.

So work at themóthese little instantaneous understandingsóand eventually, when things come together in an appropriate way, there will be the moment where thereís the instantaneous cutting through of defilements and effluents once and for all. When that happens, thenónibbana. No more taking birth. But if you havenít yet reached that point, just keep sharpening your knives: your mindfulness and discernment. If theyíre dull, they wonít be able to cut anything through, but whatever shape theyíre in, keep cutting through bit by bit whatever you can....

I ask that you keep at this: examining and understanding all around within the mind until you reach the point where everything is totally clear and you can let go of everything with the realization that nothing in the five aggregates or in physical and mental phenomena is me or mine. Keep trying to let go, and that will be enough. Each moment as theyíre taking care of you here in the hospital, do what has to be done for your illness, but make sure that thereís this separate, special awareness exclusive to the mindóthis knowing that simply lets go of itself. That will end all your problems right there....


About the Author

Upasika Kee Nanayon (1901-1978), who taught under the name Acharn Kor Khao-suan-luang, was one of the foremost women teachers of Dhamma in modern Thailand. Known for her simple way of life and her direct style of teaching, she established a womenís centre for practising Dhamma near Rajburi. Her other titles published by BPS are: Directing to Self-Penetration (Wheel No. 326/328); Looking Inward (Wheel No. 373/374); and Reading the Mind (Wheel No. 388/389).

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Founded in 1958, the BPS has published a wide variety of books and booklets covering a great range of topics. Its publications include accurate annotated translations of the Buddha’s discourses, standard reference works, as well as original contemporary expositions of Buddhist thought and practice. Thesse works present Buddhism as it truly is—a dynamic force which has influenced receptive minds for the past 2500 years and is still as relevant today as it was when it first arose.

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