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Path to Enlightenment

by Pra Pramote Pamotecho (Santinan)


translate by Hataitip Devakul

“A Brief Guideline for Practicing Dhamma”


by Santinan, Friday January 7, 2000/ 15:41:32

Lots of my comrades in arms come to study Dhamma with me, and I have seen many
problems that arise.
 
Some are afraid that they will not be able to practice Dhamma correctly if they are not
near me.  Bangkokians are a bit relieved as they know they can find me easily, but
friends from abroad or upcountry are more worried, and request a brief guideline on
how to practice Dhamma with ease and with some structure so that when I am not
around they will still feel somewhat secured.
 
Some listen to my talks and still get confused.  Some take my answer to other people’s
problems and ignorantly apply it to themselves.  This method does not work because
it’s like taking other patient’s prescribed medicine without realizing that the illness is
not the same.  I have therefore been requested to put together all my talks on
practicing Dhamma to clarify any misunderstandings.
 
Yet another problem I have heard is some people arguing against each other, both
quoting my speeches for different people at different times, resulting in disagreements.
 
Therefore I feel a need to summarize by writing a brief guideline for practicing
Dhamma, just as I have told my colleagues and friends, so that the whole process is
clear and in order from the beginning onwards to avoid all the problems I have stated
above.
 
**********************************************************
 
1. Understanding The Framework Of Buddhism
 
Friends who have had little background in Buddhism need to know that Buddhism is not
a medicine that cures all ills of the universe.  Neither is it the only tool in aiding
someone through life.  Therefore if you are a college student you do not just quit
college to come and study Buddhism because general knowledge is essential for one to
lead a normal life in this world.  A student of Buddhism needs to be well-rounded in
other fields of study as well.  Do not misunderstand that Buddhism is the study of
anything else other than of suffering and how to be rid of suffering.  Buddhism does not
give answers to questions relating to the supernatural, fate, past lives, future lives,
ghosts, angels, etc.
 
2. Tools For Practicing Dhamma
 
For those who already know the Buddhist principle of suffering and the cessation of
suffering, my advice is for you to get to know the tools for practicing Dhamma, which
are mindfulness and clear comprehension.
 
My most common advice is for us to be fully aware of things that are happening to our
mind.  Some examples are feelings such as doubt, greed, worry, happiness, and
sadness.  This is the lesson on being mindful, which is the tool to understanding
emotions that arise.
 
It is this tool that reminds us to be aware, and not lose ourselves to the six sensual
doors, namely the eye, ear, nose, tongue, body and mind.  The most common doors are
the eye and the mind, which means losing ourselves in our thoughts, or concentrating
on the emotions that are happening.  To encourage mindfulness (not lost or be
transfixed in thoughts) is the way for us to achieve clear comprehension, or clear
consciousness.
 
3. Foundations of Mindfulness
 
Once we have the necessary tools for practicing Dhamma, the next step I would like to
encourage is for us to develop the four Foundations of Mindfulness.  This means to be
mindful and have clear comprehension of the body, feelings, mental conditions, and/or
mind-objects, depending on each individual’s ability.  Some examples are mindfulness
of bodily movements, when doing the circular walk meditation, and when breathing in
and out.  In the beginning, if the mind is still weak, just do the concentration
development, which is to concentrate at the body.  As the mind gets stronger it
becomes clear that movements of the body or movement of the air when breathing in
and out is just something that the mind detects and sees.  It is not cognizance, and
is impermanent, causes bodily pain, and is void of self, right in front of our eyes.
 
Once conditioned, the mind gains strength in being mindful and comprehending, and
whatever mental factor appears the mind will automatically detect it.  Some examples
are happiness, sadness, virtue, and unwholesomeness.  All these mental objects are
detected by the mind, just like any visible object.
 
Note that if you are conditioned to be mindful of mental factors, then you can go right
ahead with this exercise.  But for some people who are not accustomed to this, the
suggestion is to be mindful of visible factors.
 
Once the mind observes mental and visible factors continually it gains a deeper
understanding, and either reacts with satisfaction, dissatisfaction or neutrality.  I often
suggest to this group of friends to directly observe these feelings and see that they too
are impermanent just like everything else.  At this point the mind will achieve a state
of equanimity.  This occurs momentarily at first, and feelings will quickly set in again. 
Once proficient this evenness of mind happens more often and for longer periods.  Try
to be observant without bias, and the mind, once strengthened, will be able to
distinguish with refinement the different Aggregates.
 
At this stage of mental development, many intellects are faced with 2 complications:
1. They become bored and stop the exercise.
2. They become hesitant, don’t know how to proceed, and again stop the
exercise.  Instead of being observant and gain a deeper understanding, they
try to answer their own doubts by going through with the thinking process.
 
Actually once the mind reaches the state of impartiality, all one has to do is maintain
at this state.  The mind will then improve by itself when the strength of the three
components (mind, mental discipline and wisdom) is fully matured.
 
Thus this concludes a brief guideline for practicing Dhamma, which I would like to
present to my friends and colleagues for future discussions.
 
**********************************************************
 
Opinion no. 16 by Khun Santinan, Monday 10 January 2543 09:24:14 (cont’d)
 
From the above guideline, once people start to actually practice Dhamma, they are
faced with many different obstacles, mainly from incorrect methods.
 
For many of us, the more we practice the more we divert from the goal.  The main
mistake is, instead of being mindful of things as they happen, we tend to create a new
object of consciousness and are bound by it as a consequence.
 
This mistake occurs because some think their minds are too distracted, and they need
to do concentration meditation first.  Then they practice meditation the wrong way by
focusing on just one sense-object to the point that the mind takes hold of this object,
being bound and carried away by it, instead of just being mindful and alert, and not
lost in or being too focused on such object.  The mind is just peacefully and
detachedly being mindful of only one object.
 
With wrong concentration meditation the mind attaches to a particular sense-object. 
Then after coming out of meditation these people try to be mindful, but without
success because the mind is still bound and biased, and this impartiality obscures the
actual truth.
 
The mistake often cited is, instead of developing the mind with ease and relaxation,
many people are afraid to be lost in the thought process, especially when they are
about to see me or are around me.  The mind becomes too alert and nervous, no
different than a runner at the starting line.
 
Yet another hindrance is to want to practice Dhamma too strongly. Examples of this are
to want to be enlightened quickly, to want to be smart and outstanding, to want praise
and acceptance from friends.  The more one wants to excel the “faster” one has to go
through the mental exercise.  This accelerated conditioning, instead of the normal
mindful development process, makes one stressful.  This may seem good from the
outside, but the inner self is neither happy nor peaceful.  To conclude, the three
mistakes above are what many of us fall into.  We cling on to a certain sense-object
and think that we can clearly be mindful of our feelings.  Now some of us are able to
learn from these mistakes and begin to realize that by wanting to practice Dhamma we
are actually building another state of existence instead of being truly mindful of what is
happening.
 
There is a funny story of a young man whose mind is locked inside his thoughts.  I
advised him to just to know this with impartiality so his mind can then be receptive to
the outside surrounding.  This boy was very troubled as he thought I was teaching him
to not be mindful.  Fortunately he came back to discuss the misunderstanding with me,
otherwise if he had mentioned this to the elder monks, I would have been condemned
and kicked out of the temple.
 
Actually when one unknowingly builds a sense-object and is trapped in it, he is in fact
not being mindful.  I tried to correct this point for the young man, never intending for
him to not be mindful.
 
One problem that arises in a few of us is to be lost in our own consciousness.  Examples
are getting lost in “nimitr” (sign of absorption) of light, color, sound, even bodily
jerks.  When this happens some people are overjoyed, and some are angered.  I have to
guide them through knowing these emotions until the mind becomes unbiased, and not
concentrate into these emotions and have greed, anger and ignorance take control of
the mind.
 
To avoid mistakes in practicing Dhamma, we must adhere strictly to the goal, which is
“to practice Dhamma to better understand defilements which always impairs our mind,
to wise up, away from craving and selfish desires”.  We do not practice Dhamma to
satisfy our thirst of knowledge, our desire to be famous, or even our desire to reach
nirvana.  This is because by desiring these things we risk making mistakes as our mind
makes a new set of conditions, instead of just understanding everything the way it is.
 
We need to be observant of ourselves.  If we start to feel that our mind is weightier
than everything else around, then this means it has already grabbed hold of something. 
The natural state of the mind should not have any weight at all, and should be neutral
to its surrounding.  Try to see at this moment, be at peace and observe all around us. 
Buildings, tables, chairs, trees, all these elements have no weight because we do not
carry them with us.  But our mind is sometimes heavy and sometimes light because we
think it’s ours.  The more possessive we are the heavier we feel.  We differentiate it
from nature.  This differentiation is what we create for ourselves ignorantly because we
are fooled by our own illusions and desires.
 
Once we understand this point, let us observe further.  Does the mind judge everything
that it comes into contact with?  Observe until the mind is impartial to all feelings,
until inner thoughts and things of the outside world are one and the same, until there is
no more weight to carry around.
 
Our Lord Buddha taught that the Five Aggregates (Khandha 5) are heavy.  Anyone
carrying these with them will never find happiness.  His Teaching is so absolutely true,
word for word.  The Five Aggregates are so very heavy for those who have the
faculty to see.