Non attachment, key to happiness | Sunday Observer
Peace comes from within. Do not seek it without - Buddha

Non attachment, key to happiness

2 July, 2023

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

Q: Could you define ‘I’ (or me)? Who /what is ‘I’? Does ‘I’ mean ‘mind’ or the ‘body’?

Ven. Ajahn Suchart Abhijato Maha Thera

A: Actually, there is no ‘I’, no ‘me’, or no ‘my’. It is just a mental fabrication or mental fantasy created by the delusion or ignorance of the mind. The mind is just a knowing element that contains the ability to feel, remember or perceive, think, and connect with a body to receive essential objects coming into contact with the essential organs of the body. So, in reality, there is no ‘I’ in the mind or there is no ‘I’ in the body. The mind is just a knowing element, while the body is the composition of the Four Elements - earth, water fire, and wind (Patavi, Apo, Thejo, Vayo.)

So this is what the mind and the body are. The body is composed of four elements - the earth, water, fire, and wind while the mind is the knowing element connected to the body. But the mind has/experiences delusions. It creates an ‘I’, and then think that it is ‘I’, and when it has a body you think the body is ‘I’ or mind. It is just a mental fabrication. No basis for truth because in truth there is no ‘I,’ but just 4 elements - earth, water, fire, and wind.

Q: What is the Buddhist definition of ‘death’? When does a person die? Is it when the brain is dead or when the heart is dead?

A: The Buddha taught his assistant Ananda Thera how to contemplate ‘Death.’ He said, “Ananda when you breathe in and when you do not breathe out you die and when you breathe out and when you do not breathe in, also you die.” So death is a cessation of breathing. When the body stops breathing that is when death happens according to the Buddha.

Q: People are dissatisfied with their lives and complain constantly about the outside world and attribute their unhappiness to causes from the outside world- either a family member, office colleague, or the ruling government. Should a Buddhist behave in this manner?

A: No. It is just an illusion to blame others for causing this dissatisfaction or dukkha when in reality the nature of these things is causing dissatisfaction. Everything in this world is under the law of Three Characteristics of Existence- namely Impermanence (Anicca), Suffering (Dukkha), or, having no self/ having no body (Anatta.) Everything is run by nature. So one needs to understand that the outside world that we live in, is subjected to the Law of the Three Characteristics of Existence - everything in this world is subjected to the law of change or impermanence, everything keeps changing, everything rises and ceases eventually and nobody can stop this process. Our dissatisfaction comes from the fact that we want to keep things/people from not changing; we want to control them; we want to keep the things unchanged; and when we cannot keep them the way we want we become dissatisfied.

So Buddhists are taught to reflect on the Three Characteristics of Existence, especially when dealing with the body. The Buddha teaches the Buddhists to contemplate the nature of the body always; that once the body is born, it is subjected to aging, sickness, and death and no one can stop this process. If you try, if you want to stop it, you will face dissatisfaction or disappointment. And this is the same with everything, not just the body. Everything you feel, you see, you hear, you touch are all the same. They are all impermanent. They are subjected to change and dissolution or disappearance. If you want to keep them, you will be dissatisfied when they disappear or go away from you.

So this is how Buddhists should behave or should think about things.

Blame yourself or your ignorance for expecting things around you to make you satisfied, because nothing in this world will keep you deeply satisfied for long. It is because everything in this world keeps changing; everything will disappear or come to a close sooner or later. So this is the way we should look at things.

And somehow better move away from our attachment to them, by finding a different way of making us satisfied. The solution or the correct way/path is Buddhist meditation practices - the way of morality, charity, and meditation. This will bring true satisfaction to us, nothing else will.

Q: We consider Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha as the Triple Gem. Here who does the Sangha represent - the bhikkhus who are living today or the Arhants who lived during the time of the Buddha?

A: The Sangha here means the Noble Disciples, the Arya Sangha who are living today. It is because we cannot connect with those who have passed away except through their teachings; that is also if they have any recorded teaching, still in existence. We can access the Buddha through studying the teachings of the Buddha in the Tripitaka or studying the teachings of some of the Noble disciples of teachers who had passed away, if we still have their teachings recorded.

Otherwise, you have to depend on the living Noble disciples to give you the proper instructions. So the Sangha means the Noble disciples - those who have attained /reached at least the first level of Awakening, Sotapanna, or the second level – Sakuddagami, or the third level Anagami, or the fourth level Arhant. These are considered to be Noble Disciples and the Noble Sangha. These are the real Sangha that represents the ‘Sangha’ in the Noble Triple Gem, not those bhukkhus who are ordained but still possess defilements; who are not yet enlightened. They are not considered to be the Sangha in the Triple Gem.

Q: According to what I have read, modern Psychology divides the mind into four categories; the super-conscious mind, the conscious mind, the Subconscious mind, and the unconscious mind. How does this explanation in psychology differ from the Buddhist teaching of the Mind? As I have read Buddhism does not compartmentalise the Mind, but focuses on Cetasikas. Could you explain?

A: According to my understanding, the mind is called the knowing element and this mind has the ability to know. Besides the ability to know, it also has these four other abilities called Khandhas - Nama Kandas. In Pali we call them, Vedana, Samjna Sankara and Vinnana. Vedana is feeling, Samjna is memory, Sankhara means thinking, and Vinjana is consciousness or awareness of the sensual object that comes into contact with the sensual organs of the body.

This is the mind according to Buddhism. The mind itself is the knowing element, from within the knowing element therefore four functional abilities emerge - the ability to feel, the ability to remember or to perceive, the ability to think, and the ability to connect to a body so that it can access essential objects such as images, sound, taste and smells and tactile objects. This is the Buddhist interpretation of the mind.

Q: What is the most meritorious offering ( dana) according to the Buddha?

A: The Buddha said the best offering is the gift of Dhamma. But before you offer the gift of Dhamma, you have to look at the people to whom you give. You have to see what they need first. If they need food first, but if you try to give the gift of Dhamma instead, it won’t be beneficial for them because what they need first is food for survival. So even though the gift of Dhamma is the best of all gifts, you have to consider what they need first. If they need housing, you should give them houses first, if they need clothing, you should give them clothing, not the gift of Dhamma, But if you find someone who wants to learn Dhamma then you can give him/her the gift of Dhamma/ access to Dhamma teachings. That is the best gift because the Dhamma teachings can liberate one’s mind from suffering - complete liberation from suffering. Nothing else in this world can do that. That is why the gift of Dhamma is the best gift of all. But they have to know the right person and the right time to give this best gift.

Q: What are the external features/characteristics of an Arhant or how can we know whether a person is an Arhant by his outward behaviour as one’s inward behaviour or thoughts cannot be observed by an outsider?

A: Well, there are two ways of determining whether a person is an Arhant or not. One is, you have to wait for him to die and then see after his cremation whether some fragments of his bones are turning to stone or relics. If some of the fragments of his bones turn into relics or stones, it means he was an Arhant.

The second way of knowing whether he is an Arhant or not is to study with him, live with him, learn from him, and follow his teachings until you, yourself can become an Arhant. Once you become an Arhant, then you can be sure/know for sure that your teacher is an Arhant.

These are two ways of judging whether a person is an Arhant or not. Otherwise, you cannot tell. Outward appearances may differ. One can be neat and clean and another can be dirty and rough. That does not mean that he is not an Arhant. So his behavior will not say whether he is an Arhant or not and you cannot judge whether he is an Arhant or not from his behavior.

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.