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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Continuous Practice


The passage for reflection on the four requisites (clothing, food, shelter, and medicine) is a fine pattern for contemplation, but we never actually get down to putting it to use. We're taught to memorize it in the beginning not simply to pass the time of day or so that we can talk about it every now and then, but so that we can use it to contemplate the requisites until we really know them with our own mindfulness and discernment. If we actually get down to contemplating in line with the established pattern, our minds will become much less influenced by unwise thoughts. But it's the rare person who genuinely makes this a continuous practice....For the most part we're not interested. We don't feel like contemplating this sort of thing. We'd much rather contemplate whether this or that food will taste good or not, and if it doesn't taste good, how to fix it so that it will. That's the sort of thing we like to contemplate.

Try to see the filthiness of food and of the physical properties in general, to see their emptiness of any real entity or self. There's nothing of any substance to the physical properties of the body, which are all rotten and decomposing. The body is like a restroom over a cesspool. We can decorate it on the outside to make it pretty and attractive, but on the inside it's full of the most horrible, filthy things. Whenever we excrete anything, we ourselves are repelled by it; yet even though we're repelled by it, it's there inside us, in our intestines -- decomposing, full of worms, awful smelling. There's just the flimsiest membrane covering it up, but we fall for it and hold tight to it. We don't see the constant decomposition of this body, in spite of the filth and smells it sends out....

The reason we're taught to memorize the passage for reflecting on the requisites, and to use it to contemplate, is so that we'll see the inconstancy of the body, to see that there's no "self" to any of it or to any of the mental phenomena we sense with every moment.

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We contemplate mental phenomena to see clearly that they're not-self, to see this with every moment. The moments of the mind -- the arising, persisting, and disbanding of mental sensations -- are very subtle and fast. To see them, the mind has to be quiet. If the mind is involved in distractions, thoughts, and imaginings, we won't be able to penetrate in to see its characteristics as it deals with its objects, to see what the arising and disbanding within it is like.

This is why we have to practice concentration: to make the mind quiet, to provide a foundation for our contemplation. For instance, you can focus on the breath, or be aware of the mind as it focuses on the breath. Actually, when you focus on the breath, you're also aware of the mind. And again, the mind is what knows the breath. So you focus exclusively on the breath together with the mind. Don't think of anything else, and the mind will settle down and grow still. Once it attains stillness on this level, you've got your chance to contemplate.

Making the mind still so that you can contemplate it is something you have to keep working at in the beginning. The same holds true with training yourself to be mindful and fully aware in all your activities. This is something you really have to work at continuously in this stage, something you have to do all the time. At the same time, you have to arrange the external conditions of your life so that you won't have any concerns to distract you....

Now, of course, the practice is something you can do in any set of circumstances -- for example, when you come home from work you can sit and meditate for a while -- but when you're trying seriously to make it continuous, to make it habitual, it's much more difficult than that. " Making it habitual" means being fully mindful and aware with each in-and-out breath, wherever you go, whatever you do, whether you're healthy, sick, or whatever, and regardless of what happens inside or out. The mind has to be in a state of all-encompassing awareness while keeping track of the arising and disbanding of mental phenomena at all times -- to the point where you can stop the mind from forming thoughts under the power of craving and defilement the way it used to before you began the practice.

K. Khao-suan-luang
January 14, 1964

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