Follow the Buddha’s path | Sunday Observer
Vesak Full Moon Poya Day falls on May 5

Follow the Buddha’s path

30 April, 2023

Excerpts from an interview with reputed Theravada bhikkhu and renowned Meditation Guru Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera of Thailand.

Q: In the time of the Buddha there were so many arhants. Why are arhants rare today? Does today’s complex world stand as a hindrance in achieving the highest mental status ( Arhanthood)  

A: I think during the time of the Buddha, there was more spirituality. But in the modern world, the defilements are stronger than the Dhamma. Back then, the defilements were not that strong, so it was easier for the Dhamma to be practised and to be achieved than today. 

Today we are being sucked in by the defilements/achievements. There are more sensual pleasure-providing objects for us to become attached to. So it is harder for us to leave the objects of sensual pleasures behind and seek a life of spirituality. 

At present, you are surrounded by the traps of the defilements. Everything that you have created by your defilements traps you further in the world of sensual pleasures. 

We have to go back to the basics if we want to achieve advancement in our Dhamma practice. We have to go back to live with nature, we have to live a simple life. Then you will have more time to do the practice.  

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

Q: A person can achieve Sovan status (become a Sotapanna) if he can get rid of the first three fetters namely sakkāya-ditthi, vicikicchā, and sīlabbata-parāmāsa. What steps should a Buddhist follow to get rid of these three fetters? Could you enlighten the readers on the procedure to be followed to get rid of the three fetters?

A: First you have to develop equanimity through Jhana. In order for you to develop equanimity through Jhana you need to have Seela (Morality). You need to keep the Eight Precepts first. And you have to practise this consistently and continuously, all the time doing nothing else. You have to be a professional practitioner. You cannot go to work and then come back and practise on your day off because this will not give you enough time to keep the practice going forward. In order for you to practise - to go forward- you have to give up everything else and concentrate all of your efforts on the practice of Seela (morality), meditation, and wisdom. 

So you have to go and look for a quiet place –somewhere in a forest - or live in a quiet monastery which would allow you to do the practice all day long. Once you can do this - when you get to a quiet surrounding like the monastery - then you have to keep at least the Eight Precepts. Then you have to practise mindfulness all day long from the time you get up to the time you go to sleep and meditate whenever you have the time to get your mind to the fourth Jhana, so that you can achieve equanimity. 

Once you become well-versed or proficient in your Samadhi practice, when you come out of Samadhi, you have to teach your mind that the body is not you. The body is temporary, it is anicca; it is subjected to ageing, sickness, and death. So you have to teach your mind to accept ageing, sickness, and death.

When the body becomes sick and gets painful you have to accept it. Do not try to reject it, deny it, or don’t try to get rid of the painful feelings that arise from your sickness. You have to learn to live with it, to take it as it comes, and live with that. It is the same with death. When the body dies you should accept it because it is anatta. The body is not you or it is not something you can stop or prevent from happening. You just have to let it happen. 

Once you can let go of your attachment to the body and your painful feelings, then you have overcome the first Fetter (Sakkaya dhitti.) When you let go of the Sakkaya dhitti and when you experience the peace of mind of letting go, then you will see the Four Noble Truths clearly in your mind. This means you see the Dhamma. Once you see the Dhamma, you have no doubt in the Buddha- whether he existed or not, because the Dhamma came from the Buddha. And the one who can see the Dhamma is the Sangha which is you. So you have no more doubt in the Buddha, Dhamma, and the Sangha. Thus you have overcome the second fetter (vicikicchā).

Then you will have no attachment to rites or rituals, (sīlabbata-parāmāsa.) which is the third fetter. You won’t have any attachment to rites or rituals because you see that your suffering, stress, and bad feelings all arise from your craving, your bad action, or bad Kamma. So you will not do any more bad Kamma. You will never break the Five Precepts for the rest of your life. 

And you do not have to do any rites and rituals when you have stress in life (in your mind). When you are not feeling good about something, you understand that it is the nature of things. to be like that. Then you can let go and accept things as they come. 

So this is basically what you will have to teach the mind with wisdom. See that everything is anicca, dukkha, and anatta. This includes your body and your feelings. You cannot control them, you have to face them calmly with equanimity. Then you will have no stress or Dukkha. 

Q: A layperson can become a Sotapanna. Can he lead his day-to-day life the normal way after becoming a Sotapanna?

A: Some of his practices will change. He will not spend much time engaging in sensual pleasure’ activities. He will not commit any bad Kamma and will not break the Five Precepts for the rest of his life. And he will seek more solitude. He will look for more time to practise the Dhamma because he wants to advance it further. He may decide to become a monk eventually because he knows the best way to reach the highest goal is to become a monk. 

Q: People across the globe are getting ready to celebrate Vesak Poya. What is your Vesak Poya day message? 

A: You should study the life of the Buddha and follow his example. This is the way to salvation, to the liberation from Dukkha. Study how the Buddha made his way to Enlightenment and follow his example. This is what the Buddha wanted us to do if we want to be liberated from Dukkha, the suffering. 

Q:  How should an ideal Buddhist celebrate Vesak?    

A: By following the teachings of the Buddha. By practising Dana, Seela and Bawana. 

Q: People keep on violating the Five Precepts. Could you enlighten the readers on the importance of keeping the Five Precepts and the worldly and spiritual benefits of following the Five Precepts?  

A: If you break the Five Precepts you are causing Dukkha or stress in your mind. When you do something bad, you feel bad, and the bad feelings will accumulate in your mind and when you die this mind will then be consumed by this bad feeling again. The mind being consumed by bad feelings is considered to be living in hell. But if you don’t do it and if you keep your Five Precepts then you are not creating any bad feelings, in your mind. You are not accumulating bad feelings in your mind, So when you die your mind will not be consumed by bad feelings and then your mind will not be considered to be in hell. 

Q: How would you describe the mind of an Arhant?

A: The mind of an arhant is free from suffering because he has no cravings left in the mind. No craving for sensual pleasures, no craving for beings, or no cravings for non-beings, so it doesn’t take up any more rebirth. 

(Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha 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 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 )