Questions and Answers

Daily Life

There were, and there still are, lay people that are Aryas [having attained one of the four stages of Nibbana]. I say quite often that the Buddha did not only teach a kind of sitting meditation practice. He taught a way of life and when he was in northern India at that time, it was a very specific context; bodhisattvas need a very specific environment to come down, to do their thing and to take their final birth. At that time, there were very conducive conditions, very conducive environment and for spiritual growth, for the spiritual practice. This is a way of life that he was teaching to a lot of monks. At that time it was fairly normal to become a monk, or to dedicate their lives to this kind of practice. There were also countless virtuous lay people, and still are today, that are practicing. What it comes down to is, that it is an all-the-time practice, this is a life practice, this is how to be happy. It is how to be happy and wise all the time. To understand the Buddha’s teaching, is to understand all these tools that he gave. He explained how the mind works, and how to develop the mind, and how to develop discernment and wisdom. To understand what states are wholesome, and what states are unwholesome. Greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, all these things cause us so much suffering in the first place. They cause so much difficulty, so much tension. Just to let them go, we can then experience Nibbana and Release, here and now. Nibbana simply means the letting go of, the blowing out, the cooling down.

See, there were lazy monks too and they didn’t make a lot of progress. And there were diligent laypeople who made a lot of progress. If you choose to dedicate your life to it, well, that’s that much more that you get. If you practice generosity, the mind is not clinging, the mind is always giving, the mind is liberated in the first place.  When a generous mind is a liberated mind, then the virtues are strong, they’re established, you’re protected by your own virtue, and this is very uplifting for the mind.

This might not be in one or two days, but the people that have been practicing this for a long time, they know the power of virtue.

Looking back five years ago, ten years ago; I have not hurt consciously any living beings; I have not told any lies; I have not hurt anybody sexually; I have not spoken behind anyone’s back or anything. This is just very wonderful, and this is really uplifting. As we practice that, as we are devoted to that, then we align with the Dhamma. We straighten our view, we align with the Dhamma.

However committed we are to this, is how much progress we will make, and that depends on you. If someone chooses to go to the movie theater and watch a big movie, very noisy, and eat popcorn, that’s great, sure. But if that person chooses instead to practice for two hours, and to develop their mind, to sharpen their mind and make their mind bright and beautiful, that will follow them everywhere. Whatever they’re going to do then, they’re going to be happy. This is our choice, this is everyone’s choice.

   In so many ways the Buddha told the disadvantages of sensual pleasures. We do as much as we can, and especially in the lay life, there’s so many things. But this is out of compassion to people. The Buddha was saying: Be careful, this is not where the true happiness lies, this is where you will be tricked. When we put our happiness into this, then we invest our happiness into something that can be taken away at any time. It is not reliable; we don’t know whether causes and conditions will support that for a long time.

 The Buddha always praised the advantage, the benefit of letting go the sensual pleasures, and enjoying the bliss of mental development – bhavana – and the higher mind. However anybody wants to partake in this, that’s everybody’s choice. We align with as much of the Dhamma as we can.

Watch it here

Category: Daily Life

Meditation

 Well, I would say this is simply lacking direct experience. The Buddha explains these arupa jhanas so many times, it would be basically putting a lot of what he said in the garbage. He also explains his teaching in many different ways, and sometimes he’s not even talking about these jhanas. The problem nowadays, is, that there are many different interpretations of this teaching, and different practices. I’ve heard and seen and tried so many of them. I’m not sure which one this is from.

I would simply just stay with the suttas and what is being said by the Buddha himself. And the direct experience of you and other meditators. Technically, the arupa jhanas are part of the fourth jhana, so maybe that’s related?

 It’s tricky because these things are quite obviously experience-able. That someone would say something like that, would just mean that whatever they’re doing, whatever their practice is, they’re not experiencing these states. Which would make me lean towards interpreting this as; there’s something not working with the way they’re practicing. Or there’s a little piece missing somewhere, or a few.

This simply is Dhamma in a very tangible way. Mainly, these [jhana]states have been interpreted in an absorption-concentration context for so long, that it’s hard for the people to understand what these states truly are. The jhanas are simply a road map. You practice for example the virtue. This is the ground for the wholesome states, this is the root of wholesome states. So, you purify the virtue first and the mind has a healthy stand.

There are three things, it’s very simple;

 there’s the Wise Practice; you abandon, you let go, you Release, you Relax the tension state, and you cultivate, you bring up the wholesome states. Joy, metta, all these things.

Then, by practicing Wise Practice/Right Effort, Wise Awareness arises. Then, you’re aware of the Satipaṭṭhānas. Just being aware of things as they are, without changing them, without forcing, without controlling, and that’s very important, through Releasing, letting go.

And then, in that fold of the Path, Wise Samadhi, these are the jhanas.

Basically, when you do the Wise Practice, when you practice properly, the right kind of awareness will arise. And that is not forcing the mind to be aware of something. It is this liberated awareness, this fully open, blooming Sampajañña

Unfortunately, the Youtube video stops here.

Watch it here

Category: Meditation

This is a sequence that is used in many ways, but usually the Buddha would – when he explained his whole explanation of the Path – get just before the first jhana and explain that. When one realized that the five hindrances have been left behind, the Buddha says: pāmojja jāyati.

Pāmojja is the word for gladness, the root is mud – like joy [Mudita]. It can be interpreted as gladness. It could also be translated as joy. I am sometimes translating it as relief. Because, when the five hindrances are left behind, they’re let go of, then there is that relief, there is that pāmojja. The Buddha, in Pali, says pāmuditassa pīti jāyati. That means with that gladness, or with that uplifted mind, or with that relieved mind, there is joy.

But we need to know the suttas very well to understand that this joy that the Buddha is speaking of here, is spiritual joy, it is mental-development-joy. This is no everyday kind of eating-a-chocolate-bar kind of joy [laughs].

This the joy of bhavana, the joy of mental development, because these five hindrances are like the clouds over the mind, and when these are left behind, there’s this wonderful joy of mental clarity. I would say this is the main difference between them.

 If we look at them in this way in other suttas [see for instance Anguttara Nikaya 6.25 Recollection], the Buddha will use that sequence when he talks about the six Recollections of an awakened person; a person who has entered stream-entry; a sakadagami or Once-Returner; an anagami or Non-Returner or an arahant. These four kinds of persons will naturally recollect:

  1. the Buddha, the good qualities of the Buddha, and naturally their mind will be uplifted. That’s how he says that pāmojja will arise, and that pīti jāyati, that joy.
  2. recollecting the Dhamma
  3. recollecting the Sangha
  4. recollecting generosity, their own generosity, or whatever act of help that they’ve done
  5. the virtue, recollecting virtue
  6. or recollecting the devas.

It’s also used in other terms. But that’s a few places where we can find that sequence.

[person who asked the question]

Thank you bhante. Can you also help to clarify the difference between pīti and sukha?

[Bhante Ananda]

 This is also Pali, and therefore it has a very specific context which we don’t always have here, in this day and age, and with the English language, for example. It’s a bit tricky to translate Pali word for word to English. In fact, that’s one of the things we realize pretty soon, that is very difficult.

But I would say that generally, pīti is more this stronger kind of joy, it is a bit more excited. Sukha is more like happiness, but a synonym of it would also be ease, this really nice ease. This is also reflected in the second and the third jhana; one feels ease with the body, sukha with the body.

Whenever I speak to different people, I will play with these words, depending on where people are. But I use happiness most generally, because it is quite well understood. Further along in the meditation, it becomes quite clear then, that it is simply this really good ease, of body and mind. So, that would be more sukha.

[Comment from the audience]

 Bhante, generally, pīti is translated as mental pleaser and sukha as bodily pleaser, in translations I have seen.

[Bhante Ananda]

For example, in the Ānāpānasati Sutta, the Buddha will explain the first four steps, which include tranquilizing the bodily formations. And then, knowing the whole body, and then he says; breathing in and out with joy, pīti, and then breathing in and out with sukha, with ease or happiness. So, if sukha is really this bodily, then pīti is more mental; then it would be the other way around.

One thing that is happening quite often, I would say, is that some terms have become very rigid in Buddhism. When we read the original texts, the Buddha himself played a lot with these terms.

 It’s not that it’s not true what is being said, but we should always keep an open mind as to how these words come. and how the Buddha uses these terms.

 In fact, sometimes he uses these terms as something that is unwholesome, and sometimes he uses them as something that is really wholesome and that is to be developed.

We have to understand what context it is being said in, and why is the Buddha saying that. We have to know the essence, the core, of his teaching, to understand what he means. I would say that he had quite a wide spectrum of ways of interpreting words, and he even mentioned that himself.

Watch it here

There were, and there still are, lay people that are Aryas [having attained one of the four stages of Nibbana]. I say quite often that the Buddha did not only teach a kind of sitting meditation practice. He taught a way of life and when he was in northern India at that time, it was a very specific context; bodhisattvas need a very specific environment to come down, to do their thing and to take their final birth. At that time, there were very conducive conditions, very conducive environment and for spiritual growth, for the spiritual practice. This is a way of life that he was teaching to a lot of monks. At that time it was fairly normal to become a monk, or to dedicate their lives to this kind of practice. There were also countless virtuous lay people, and still are today, that are practicing. What it comes down to is, that it is an all-the-time practice, this is a life practice, this is how to be happy. It is how to be happy and wise all the time. To understand the Buddha’s teaching, is to understand all these tools that he gave. He explained how the mind works, and how to develop the mind, and how to develop discernment and wisdom. To understand what states are wholesome, and what states are unwholesome. Greed, anger, hatred, jealousy, envy, all these things cause us so much suffering in the first place. They cause so much difficulty, so much tension. Just to let them go, we can then experience Nibbana and Release, here and now. Nibbana simply means the letting go of, the blowing out, the cooling down.

See, there were lazy monks too and they didn’t make a lot of progress. And there were diligent laypeople who made a lot of progress. If you choose to dedicate your life to it, well, that’s that much more that you get. If you practice generosity, the mind is not clinging, the mind is always giving, the mind is liberated in the first place.  When a generous mind is a liberated mind, then the virtues are strong, they’re established, you’re protected by your own virtue, and this is very uplifting for the mind.

This might not be in one or two days, but the people that have been practicing this for a long time, they know the power of virtue.

Looking back five years ago, ten years ago; I have not hurt consciously any living beings; I have not told any lies; I have not hurt anybody sexually; I have not spoken behind anyone’s back or anything. This is just very wonderful, and this is really uplifting. As we practice that, as we are devoted to that, then we align with the Dhamma. We straighten our view, we align with the Dhamma.

However committed we are to this, is how much progress we will make, and that depends on you. If someone chooses to go to the movie theater and watch a big movie, very noisy, and eat popcorn, that’s great, sure. But if that person chooses instead to practice for two hours, and to develop their mind, to sharpen their mind and make their mind bright and beautiful, that will follow them everywhere. Whatever they’re going to do then, they’re going to be happy. This is our choice, this is everyone’s choice.

   In so many ways the Buddha told the disadvantages of sensual pleasures. We do as much as we can, and especially in the lay life, there’s so many things. But this is out of compassion to people. The Buddha was saying: Be careful, this is not where the true happiness lies, this is where you will be tricked. When we put our happiness into this, then we invest our happiness into something that can be taken away at any time. It is not reliable; we don’t know whether causes and conditions will support that for a long time.

 The Buddha always praised the advantage, the benefit of letting go the sensual pleasures, and enjoying the bliss of mental development – bhavana – and the higher mind. However anybody wants to partake in this, that’s everybody’s choice. We align with as much of the Dhamma as we can.

Watch it here

Category: Daily Life

Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 0 was part of a daily 30-minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

(Slightly edited to improve readability)

It really depends on the translations. Bhante Ananda’s translation likes to call it the Four Resting places of Awareness. That’s another way of looking at it.

This is, first and foremost the Body. Understanding how your body is feeling in any given moment.

The Sensations that are arising from the body is the second, the third is your mind, or consciousness they call it. I call it Mindset, because a mindset can continually change and is a collection of thoughts that creates a certain mindset.  When you get into the jhanas, each jhana is a particular kind of mindset, because it has different kinds of factors within each jhana.

And Dhamma is really phenomena. Any kind of phenomena related to the mind, whether it’s thoughts, emotions, memories, Formations, things like that.

These are the Four Foundations of Mindfulness.

When you are practicing the jhanas, practicing Metta and you get into jhana, the way you know you are in jhana is that your mind is collected. Effective or Right Collectedness is being in one of these four jhanas, first and foremost.

Going back to Dhamma, you have other aspects of it; you have phenomena related to the five hindrances; you are aware if any of these hindrances are in the mind. Any time a hindrance is present, you are no longer in jhana. This is how you are utilizing Mindfulness. By seeing whether a hindrance is present or not in the mind, because when you are distracted, you know there is a hindrance there. So, you use the 6R’s to come back.

And as you are doing this, you are also starting to activate and balance the Seven Factors of Awakening. This is also part of the Dhamma aspect of the Four Foundations of Mindfulness. When it comes to the Seven Factors of Awakening, they start to be utilized more and more as you get higher into the process, into higher dimensions of perception, beyond the four jhanas.

But for the time being, all you should know if you are starting on the Path, or you’re still working with the first four jhanas, is if your mind continues to stay with the object, and you are not pushing. Because if you push, you are not utilizing Mindfulness anymore, you’re using too much effort, too much one-pointed focus. You just observe.

In the observation of that, you are collectively being observant of the body, of the mind, of the sensations and of the mental contents within the mind. It’s an open awareness. In the awareness of that, you are being attentive to the feeling, but you are also aware if there are any thoughts in the background, or if the mind is being distracted.

Watch it here (start from 10.20 minutes)

Category: Online Retreat

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 3 was part of a daily 30 -minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability  

Up to the level of anagami [or Non-returner, the third stage of the four stages of Nibbana], there is an attachment to the Dhamma. This will be a little deeper, once you get into day seven and eight, but essentially, it’s about understanding the purposes of the Dhamma.

Understanding the Dhamma is meant to be a raft, it’s the simile of the raft; you use the Dhamma to get across to the other shore, to get to Nibbana, to get to arahantship. But if you take the raft with you, when you get to the other shore, and start carrying it on your back while you’re walking; that doesn’t make any sense.

In the same way, once you have used the Dhamma, utilized the principles of the Dhamma to get to the goal, – which is arahantship – you no longer even have any attachment to the Dhamma itself. The Dhamma also is an impersonal phenomenon.

But for the anagami , it’s said they will be an anagami because they keep relishing in the Dhamma. In a lot of different suttas, you’ll see it says; by not grasping even to the Dhamma, their minds will be liberated from the Taints, the Defilements. There were some who relished, or took delight in it, and so became anagamis. So, that’s really dhammaraga, the passion for the Dhamma.

When you get to the stage of an anagami, that’s what you need to work on; relieve the mind from its attachment to the Dhamma.

Watch it here

Sutta Explanations

This question came up in the Online 10-day Retreat Nov 3, 2020, guided by Delson Armstrong. Day 3 was part of a daily 30 -minute discussion on the suttas, the Dhamma talk and reflections.

Slightly edited to improve readability  

Up to the level of anagami [or Non-returner, the third stage of the four stages of Nibbana], there is an attachment to the Dhamma. This will be a little deeper, once you get into day seven and eight, but essentially, it’s about understanding the purposes of the Dhamma.

Understanding the Dhamma is meant to be a raft, it’s the simile of the raft; you use the Dhamma to get across to the other shore, to get to Nibbana, to get to arahantship. But if you take the raft with you, when you get to the other shore, and start carrying it on your back while you’re walking; that doesn’t make any sense.

In the same way, once you have used the Dhamma, utilized the principles of the Dhamma to get to the goal, – which is arahantship – you no longer even have any attachment to the Dhamma itself. The Dhamma also is an impersonal phenomenon.

But for the anagami , it’s said they will be an anagami because they keep relishing in the Dhamma. In a lot of different suttas, you’ll see it says; by not grasping even to the Dhamma, their minds will be liberated from the Taints, the Defilements. There were some who relished, or took delight in it, and so became anagamis. So, that’s really dhammaraga, the passion for the Dhamma.

When you get to the stage of an anagami, that’s what you need to work on; relieve the mind from its attachment to the Dhamma.

Watch it here

This is a sequence that is used in many ways, but usually the Buddha would – when he explained his whole explanation of the Path – get just before the first jhana and explain that. When one realized that the five hindrances have been left behind, the Buddha says: pāmojja jāyati.

Pāmojja is the word for gladness, the root is mud – like joy [Mudita]. It can be interpreted as gladness. It could also be translated as joy. I am sometimes translating it as relief. Because, when the five hindrances are left behind, they’re let go of, then there is that relief, there is that pāmojja. The Buddha, in Pali, says pāmuditassa pīti jāyati. That means with that gladness, or with that uplifted mind, or with that relieved mind, there is joy.

But we need to know the suttas very well to understand that this joy that the Buddha is speaking of here, is spiritual joy, it is mental-development-joy. This is no everyday kind of eating-a-chocolate-bar kind of joy [laughs].

This the joy of bhavana, the joy of mental development, because these five hindrances are like the clouds over the mind, and when these are left behind, there’s this wonderful joy of mental clarity. I would say this is the main difference between them.

 If we look at them in this way in other suttas [see for instance Anguttara Nikaya 6.25 Recollection], the Buddha will use that sequence when he talks about the six Recollections of an awakened person; a person who has entered stream-entry; a sakadagami or Once-Returner; an anagami or Non-Returner or an arahant. These four kinds of persons will naturally recollect:

  1. the Buddha, the good qualities of the Buddha, and naturally their mind will be uplifted. That’s how he says that pāmojja will arise, and that pīti jāyati, that joy.
  2. recollecting the Dhamma
  3. recollecting the Sangha
  4. recollecting generosity, their own generosity, or whatever act of help that they’ve done
  5. the virtue, recollecting virtue
  6. or recollecting the devas.

It’s also used in other terms. But that’s a few places where we can find that sequence.

[person who asked the question]

Thank you bhante. Can you also help to clarify the difference between pīti and sukha?

[Bhante Ananda]

 This is also Pali, and therefore it has a very specific context which we don’t always have here, in this day and age, and with the English language, for example. It’s a bit tricky to translate Pali word for word to English. In fact, that’s one of the things we realize pretty soon, that is very difficult.

But I would say that generally, pīti is more this stronger kind of joy, it is a bit more excited. Sukha is more like happiness, but a synonym of it would also be ease, this really nice ease. This is also reflected in the second and the third jhana; one feels ease with the body, sukha with the body.

Whenever I speak to different people, I will play with these words, depending on where people are. But I use happiness most generally, because it is quite well understood. Further along in the meditation, it becomes quite clear then, that it is simply this really good ease, of body and mind. So, that would be more sukha.

[Comment from the audience]

 Bhante, generally, pīti is translated as mental pleaser and sukha as bodily pleaser, in translations I have seen.

[Bhante Ananda]

For example, in the Ānāpānasati Sutta, the Buddha will explain the first four steps, which include tranquilizing the bodily formations. And then, knowing the whole body, and then he says; breathing in and out with joy, pīti, and then breathing in and out with sukha, with ease or happiness. So, if sukha is really this bodily, then pīti is more mental; then it would be the other way around.

One thing that is happening quite often, I would say, is that some terms have become very rigid in Buddhism. When we read the original texts, the Buddha himself played a lot with these terms.

 It’s not that it’s not true what is being said, but we should always keep an open mind as to how these words come. and how the Buddha uses these terms.

 In fact, sometimes he uses these terms as something that is unwholesome, and sometimes he uses them as something that is really wholesome and that is to be developed.

We have to understand what context it is being said in, and why is the Buddha saying that. We have to know the essence, the core, of his teaching, to understand what he means. I would say that he had quite a wide spectrum of ways of interpreting words, and he even mentioned that himself.

Watch it here

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