The Practice in Brief
An Hour's Meditation
A Basic Order in Life
Continuous Practice
Every In-and-Out Breath
Taking a Stance
The Details of Pain
Aware Right at Awarenes
The Pure Present
The Deceits of Knowing
Sabbe Dhamma Anatta
Going Out Cold
Reading the Heart



Observations on the Art of Meditation

K. Khao-suan-luang

Translated from the Thai
by Thanissaro Bhikkhu

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provided it is offered free of any charge.

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An Hour's Meditation


For those of you who've never sat in meditation, here is how it's done: Fold your legs, one on top of the other, but don't cut off the nerves or the blood flow, or else the breath energy in your legs will stagnate and cause you pain. Sit straight and place your hands one on top of the other on your lap. Hold your head up straight and keep your back straight, too -- as you had a yardstick sticking down your spine. You have to work at keeping it straight, you know. Don't spend the time slouching down and then stretching up again, or else the mind won't be able to settle down and be still....

Keep the body straight and your mindfulness firm -- firmly with the breath. However coarse or refined your breath may be, simply breathe in naturally. You don't have to force the breath or tense your body. Simply breathe in and out in a relaxed way. Only then will the mind begin to settle down. As soon as the breath grows normally refined and the mind has begun to settle down, focus your attention on the mind itself. If it slips off elsewhere, or any thoughts come in to intrude, simply know right there at the mind. Know the mind right at the mind with every in-and-out breath for the entire hour....

When you focus on the breath, using the breath as a leash to tie the mind in place so that it doesn't go wandering off, you have to use your endurance. That is, you have to endure pain. For example, when you sit for a long time there's going to be pain, because you've never sat for so long before. So first make sure that you keep the mind normal and neutral. When pain arises, don't focus on the pain. Let go of it as much as you can. Let go of it and focus on your mind....For those of you who've never done this before, it may take a while. Whenever any pain or anything arises, if the mind is affected by craving or defilement, it'll struggle because it doesn't want the pain. All it wants is pleasure.

This is where you have to be patient and endure the pain, because pain is something that has to occur. If there's pleasure, don't get enthralled with it. If there's pain don't push it away. Start out by keeping the mind neutral as your basic stance. Then whenever pleasure or pain arises, don't get pleased or upset. Keep the mind continuously neutral and figure out how to let go. If there's a lot of pain, you first have to endure it and then relax your attachments. Don't think of the pain as being your pain. Let it be the pain of the body, the pain of nature.

If the mind latches tight onto anything, it really suffers. It struggles. So here we patiently endure and let go. You have to practice so that you're really good at handling pain. If you can let go of physical pain, you'll be able to let go of all sorts of other suffering and pain as well....Keep watching the pain, knowing the pain, letting it go. Once you can let it go, you don't have to use a lot of endurance. It takes a lot of endurance only at the beginning. Once the pain arises, separate the mind from it. Let it be the pain of the body. Don't let the mind be pained, too....

This is something that requires equanimity. If you can maintain equanimity in the face of pleasure or pain, it can make the mind peaceful -- peaceful even though the pain is still pain. The mind keeps knowing, enduring the pain so as to let it go.

After you've worked at this a good while, you'll come to see how important the ways of the mind are. The mind may be hard to train, but if you keep training it -- if you have the time, you can practice at home, at night or early in the morning, keeping watch on your mind -- you'll gain the understanding that comes from mindfulness and discernment. Those who don't train the mind like this go through life -- birth, ageing, illness, and death -- not knowing a thing about the mind at all.

When you know your own mind, then when any really heavy illness comes along, the fact that you know your mind will make the pain less and less. But this is something you have to work at doing correctly. It's not easy, yet once the mind is well trained, there's no match for it. It can do away with pain and suffering, and doesn't get restless and agitated. It grows still and cool -- refreshed and blooming right there within itself. So try to experience this still, quiet mind....

This is a really important skill to develop, because it will make craving, defilement, and attachment grow weaker and weaker. All of us have defilements, you know. Greed, anger, and delusion cloud all of our hearts. If we haven't trained ourselves in meditation, our hearts are constantly burning with suffering and stress. Even the pleasure we feel over external things is pleasure only in half-measures, because there's suffering and stress in the delusion that thinks it's pleasure. As for the pleasure that comes from the practice, it's a cool pleasure that lets go of everything, really free from any sense of me or mine. I ask you reach the Dhamma that is the real meat inside this thing undisturbed by defilement, undisturbed by pain or anything else.

Even though there's pain in the body, you have to figure out how to let it go. The body's simply the four elements -- earth, water, wind, and fire. It has to keep showing its inconstancy and stressfulness, so keep your mindfulness neutral, at equanimity. Let the mind be above its feelings -- above pleasure, above pain, above everything....

All it really takes is endurance -- endurance and relinquishment, letting things go, seeing that they're not us, not ours. This is a point you have to hammer at, over and over again. When we say you have to endure, you really have to endure. Don't be willing to surrender. Craving is going to keep coming up and whispering -- telling you to change things, to try for this or that kind of pleasure -- but don't you listen to it. You have to listen to the Buddha -- the Buddha who tells you to let go of craving. Otherwise craving will plaster and paint things over; the mind will struggle and won't be able to settle down. So you have to give it your all. Look at this hour as a special hour -- special in that you're using special endurance to keep watch on your own heart and mind.

K. Khao-suan-luang
March 3, 1977

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