Nothing will remain with you forever | Sunday Observer
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Nothing will remain with you forever

5 February, 2023

Following are excerpts from an interview with renowned meditation guru and Dhamma teacher Most Venerable Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera of Thailand.

Q: There is a misconception among certain people that Buddhism is a pessimistic religion which is centered around Suffering, Dukkha. The ultimate happiness according to Buddhism is attaining Nirvana, the end of suffering. So those who criticise Buddhism hold the view that it does not promote the individual to lead a happy material life. Is it true or how would you analyse this?

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

A: Well, Buddhism is like a hospital. Usually, when you go to the hospital you do not get good news, you will get bad news. But at the same time, you get treatment. You go to a hospital because you are sick. And when you go there the doctor will analyse your problem. For example, if you are diagnosed with cancer, you will get treatment to cure the same. So Buddhism is like a hospital; it cures the sickness of the mind. Our minds are all sick, sick of cancer. The Buddha and his Noble Disciples are like doctors, who prescribe us the medicine - the Dhamma medicine to take care of our sickness.- our mental cancer so that we can be clear from cancer once and for all. This is what Buddhism is about. It is a medical centre where you go for treatment of your mental illness.

Q: What importance has Buddhism given to leading a happy lay life, acquiring material wealth through reasonable means, and satisfying the senses through accepted means?

A: Well, to tell you the truth, there is no such thing as Happy life. A drug addict may find drugs to be pleasurable, the source of happiness for him. But in fact, it is dangerous, it is harmful to you. So it is the same way with the material wealth of the world. They are like drugs that can cause you harm once you become addicted to them because you will have to have them all the time. And when you don’t have these ‘pleasures’ then you can become miserable. So there is no such thing as happiness from material wealth, it is just like drugs that people get addicted to.

Once they get addicted, they have to have the same in order to keep themselves happy. But when they cannot have it then life can be miserable for them. The Buddha said that there is a better type of happiness - the happiness of the heart that one can acquire through the practices of charity, morality, and meditation. This is the ‘real happiness’ - the happiness that does not cause any harm. Just as good food is not harmful to the body, the happiness of the heart is not harmful to the mind. But material wealth is like drugs that can become harmful to the body or the mind. Just like drugs are harmful to the body, material wealth is harmful to the mind.

That is why the Buddha left the palace. He knew he was living with material wealth which would be harmful because one day he will not be able to enjoy them when he gets old, gets sick, or dies at the end. And one day if he loses all this material wealth before getting old, sick or death, he will be miserable. So he decided not to rely on material wealth to keep him happy. So he searched for a different type of happiness which he found through the practices of meditation and the practices of morality, and the practices of charity.

Q: The present moment is the most important one in our lives, but most of us either brood over the bygone past or worry about the future. Please advise the reader as to how one should lead a contented life by focusing on the Present moment.

A: For the mind to remain in the present, you need to have mindfulness. We have to stop the mind from thinking about the past and thinking about the future and then concentrate on what is going on in the present.

In order to do this, we have to have strong mindfulness or continuous mindfulness. And the best way to have this continuous mindfulness is to recite the mantra “Buddho, Buddho” constantly or focus on what the body is doing at this moment. From the time you get up, until you go to sleep stay focused either with your Mantra or with your body movements. Then your mind will become still, it will neither go to the past nor the future. Then you can experience the present and then only you will see that even the ‘person’ is changing, constantly moving, and never remains still even for one moment. Everything happens and then disappears and is replaced by something else.

Then you will realise that there is nothing in this world that can/will remain with you forever. You will then remove all attachment from these things because by being attached to things what happens is you can become sad when the things that you are attached to disappear from you. So with strong mindfulness, you can calm your mind through meditation. You can make your mind become peaceful and happy. When the mind becomes still and maintains equanimity then it stops reacting to two things - past or the future - and exists in the present moment with peace and happiness.

Q: In Buddhism, there are four Planes of deprivation (apaya) namely Plane of immense suffering (niraya), Plane of animals (tiracchana yoni), Plane of hungry ghosts (peta loka) and Plane of demons and titans (asura loka). The Plane of animals is visible to the naked eye, but the lay men do not know where the remaining three Apayas (niraya, peta loka, asura loka) are located. Where are they located?

A: They are located in the spiritual world, the same world as of the Devas, the Brahmas and the humans like us. The human mind does not live in this physical world either. It lives in the spiritual world,

But it can connect itself to the body to use the body to do things in this physical world, so all minds or all beings actually live in the spiritual world. (The only difference that exists in human and animal worlds as against other Planes of existence is their ability to connect to a physical body like the human body and the animal body. But the mind of the animal and the mind of the human also live in the spiritual world.)

In order to be able to contact these spiritual beings you have to have the Psychic power acquired through Upachara Samadhi. If you have Upachara Samadhi you have the ability to connect to/with spiritual beings. For example, the Buddha had to use Upachara Samadhi when he wanted to teach the Dhamma to the Devas, the spiritual beings.

In the same way, if you want to be able to see other spiritual beings you have to have the Psychic power gained through Upachara Samadhi. But if your ultimate goal is to attain Enlightenment or liberation of suffering you should not get involved with Upachara Samadhi because Upachara Samadhi cannot help you develop wisdom which is essential to get rid of the defilements ( to attain Enlightenment.) Only Appanā Samadhi can support wisdom in the process of eradicating defilements from the mind. So if you have not reached the stage of Enlightenment, do not go for Upachara Samadhi, just stay in Appana Samadhi.

As mentioned above when you can get rid of the defilements then you can become Enlightened. But once you have reached your goal ( become Enlightened) then you can use Upachara Samadhi, if you have to contact the spiritual beings and teach them the Dhamma you have learned from your process of Enlightenment.

But fortunately, not everybody who practises meditation can achieve Upachara Samadhi. Only about five percent can develop this ability. The rest will not have this ability. So those who have no Upachara Samadhi will have no problem to worry about, but those who have Upachara Samadhi should be careful not to use it to get involved with spiritual beings before ridding themselves of all the defilements. Once you have got completely rid of your defilements then you can use Upachara Samadhi to contact the spiritual beings to teach them the Dhamma.

Q: So the lay mind is not advanced enough to see these Planes?

A: You need to have the Psychic ability acquired through Upachara Samadhi to be able to see or contact spiritual beings. Not just these three Planes, but the other planes such as the Deva and the Brahma as well. Also, you have to have this particular Psychic ability to be able to see these beings or to contact them.

But all that is not important in the process of achieving Enlightenment. All you need to have is the ability to see the defilements that cause you suffering and the wisdom to get rid of these defilements. You have to see that what your defilements can cause you is Dukkha, sooner or later. When you see that then you will stop going after these things. When you stop going after these things then you can get rid of the defilements that way. Wisdom will tell you why you should stop going after things because everything in the three Planes of Existence are anicca, dukkha, anatta.

But Samadhi is the status that will stop your defilements. In other words you have to maintain equanimity in order to be able to stop your desire, stop your defilements.

Q: Some bhikkhus are either doing active politics or backing a certain political party. Can a Buddhist bhikkhu engage in such activities? Is it accepted?

A: Well, the goal of becoming a monk is achieving Enlightenment. So the only thing that monks should be pursuing is Enlightenment. If he pursues some other things then he is just not faithful to his purpose. The purpose of becoming a monk is to reach Enlightenment and not to get involved in any worldly affairs.

Q: What is your advice for the young who are keen to follow Buddhism to develop their mental faculties? What is the best way to start?

A: The best way for them is to go to the temple every week, like Christians going to church every week. You better go to the monastery or temple every week and then participate in the temple activities such as offering dana, keeping the Precepts, practising chanting and meditation, and listening to Dhamma talks.

Q: There are varying views on child ordination. Sometimes parents ordain their children at a very early age. Some hold the view that it is a deprivation of their rights as the child’s like or dislike is not taken into consideration or the child is too small to make a decision. How would you justify child ordination?

A: Well, child ordination is like sending your children to boarding school. The only difference is that they do not study worldly subjects, but the Dhamma subjects and engage in Dhamma practices. So it is up to the parents and also the child to decide. Sometimes the child can refuse, and run away from school if the child does not like to do it.

So there is nothing wrong. As mentioned earlier it is like sending a child to a boarding school. Some children like to stay in a boarding school and some children don’t like it and some may even run away from the school or refuse to go at all. But parents sometimes have to direct them because the children are too young to decide for themselves what is good or bad for them. But once they grow up then they can decide for themselves what they want to do. But it is the responsibility of the parents to teach the child to grow up properly, to educate him and make him a good citizen.

Similarly, child ordination is like sending a child to a Dhamma boarding school that will teach the child about the Dhamma - about how to keep the Precepts and how to behave as a good citizen. So it is up to each individual to decide for themselves what they want to do with their child.

Q: Is an impure thought which is not translated into action bad Kamma?

A: Not yet. It is considered to be a bad thought and should be eliminated as soon as possible because if you allow it to exist in your mind, it will be translated into an action of the body or speech eventually. Then it becomes bad kamma.

Q: The Buddha has said that ‘All that we are is a result of what we have thought.’ Does it mean that thoughts not translated into action are as powerful as any action?

A: Any action can only happen followed by a thought. The thought is the one that initiates all action. Without a thought, there would be no action. If you meditate and if your mind becomes still or thoughtless, then there will be no action whatsoever.

Q: There are two main kinds of meditation called Samatha and Vipassana. Could you elaborate?

A: Samatha is the practice of calming the mind - to make the mind calm, peaceful, and happy and maintain equanimity, having no reaction with emotions – no emotional reaction, no love, no hate, no fear or delusion. Once the mind has developed this ability then you can go into Vipassana meditation which teaches the mind the truth of existence, that everything that exists in this world is not good for the mind because they are impermanent, they are anicca, they are anatta - they are the things that the mind cannot possess forever, they are all temporary, and to clinging to them will cause only Dukka or suffering.

So Vipassana is to see the truths of existence. To repeat what I just said, everything that exists in the Three Planes of Existence or the three Realms of Existence are all anicca, dukkha, and anatta. For life to stop craving (which makes the mind/being to be reborn in the world or rather experience the three realms of existence) we should learn the truth of our existence through practising Vipassana.

Q: Can one practise Vipassana meditation without the guidance of a teacher?

A: Well, it is like learning how to swim without a teacher. Some people are smart enough to teach themselves, but some people who are not smart enough cannot teach themselves. It is the same with Vipassana meditation.

There was only one person in this entire universe who could practice Vipassana without the help of a teacher and that was the Buddha. The Buddha practised Vipassana without the guidance of a teacher because there were no teachers to guide him. But, for the rest of us, we need a teacher to practise Vipassana, because if you don’t you can get into the wrong path leading to more delusion rather than true Enlightenment.

Q: Jealousy is self-destructive, but the majority of people are hesitant or rather reluctant to rejoice over other people’s success. How should one overcome jealousy and would you elaborate in detail about the bad Kamma acquired through envying someone?

A: Well, we just have to accept that we, the people, have different abilities and different past Kamma. It is this ability or past Kamma that would make one more successful than another. So we just have to accept it as the fact that if someone succeeds that it is his (her) business, but not ours to be jealous of.

If you want to be successful like them then you have to work hard. If you envy them you acquire bad Kamma, because when you see someone better than you then you might try to destroy them, and it reflects badly on you. But if you can wish them or rejoice over their success then you will not acquire any bad Kamma.

(Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Thera was born on November 2, 1947. Having completed his degree in Civil Engineering at California State University, Fresno, USA, he returned to his motherland where he designed an ice cream parlour for a brief stint. Quite soon, inspired by a Dhamma Book, he decided to go in search of ‘true happiness’, to find inner peace through the practice of Buddhist meditation.

He became a Buddhist bhikkhu at the age of 27 and received ordination at Wat Bovornives in Bangkok on February 19, 1975, with Somdet Phra Ñanasarivara, the late Supreme Patriarch (Somdet Phra Sangharaja), as his preceptor.

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera resides in Wat Yansangwararam, Thailand.)