The 4 Noble Truths
The first stage of Enlightenment is to be aware that you suffer.
The second stage of Enlightenment is to be aware that your suffering has an origin.
The third stage of Enlightenment is to be aware that your suffering can cease.
The fourth stage of Enlightenment is to transcend suffering via the eightfold path.
The Eighthfold path is Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness
and Right Concentration.
THE FOURTH NOBLE TRUTH
- from various talks given by Ajahn
What is the Noble Truth of the Way Leading to the
Cessation of Suffering? It is the Noble Eightfold Path, that is
to say: Right View, Right Intention, Right Speech, Right Action,
Right Livelihood, Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right
There is this Noble Truth of the Path leading to the Cessation
of Suffering: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and
light that arose in me about things not heard before....
This Noble Truth must be penetrated to by cultivating the
This Noble Truth has been penetrated to by cultivating the
Path: such was the vision, insight, wisdom, knowing and light
that arose in me about things not heard before. [Samyutta Nikaya
The Fourth Noble Truth, like the first three, has three
aspects. The first aspect is: 'There is the Eightfold Path,
the atthangika magga-the way out of suffering.' It is also
called the ariya magga, the Ariyan or Noble Path.
The second aspect is: 'This path should be developed.'
The final insight into arahantship is: 'This path has been
fully developed.' The Eightfold Path is presented in a
sequence: beginning with Right (or perfect) Understanding, samma
ditthi, it goes to Right (or perfect) Intention or Aspiration,
samma sankappa; these first two elements of the path are grouped
together as Wisdom (panna). Moral commitment (sila) flows from
panna; this covers Right Speech, Right Action and Right
Livelihood-also referred to as perfect speech, perfect action and
perfect livelihood, samma vaca, samma kammanta and samma
Then we have Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right
Concentration, samma vayama, samma sati and samma samadhi, which
flow naturally from sila. These last three provide emotional
balance. They are about the heart-the heart that is liberated
from self-view and from selfishness. With Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness and Right Concentration, the heart is pure, free from
taints and defilements. When the heart is pure, the mind is
Wisdom (panna), or Right Understanding and Right Aspiration,
comes from a pure heart. This takes us back to where we
These, then, are the elements of the Eightfold Path, grouped
in three sections: 1. Wisdom (panna) Right Understanding (samma
ditthi) Right Aspiration (samma sankappa) 2. Morality (sila)
Right Speech (samma vaca) Right Action (samma kammanta) Right
Livelihood (samma ajiva) 3. Concentration (samadhi) Right Effort
(samma vayama) Right Mindfulness (samma sati) Right Concentration
(samma samadhi) The fact that we list them in order does not mean
that they happen in a linear way, in sequence-they arise
together. We may talk about the Eightfold Path and say 'First
you have Right Understanding, then you have Right Aspiration,
then....' But actually, presented in this way, it simply
teaches us to reflect upon the importance of taking
responsibility for what we say and do in our lives.
element of the Eightfold Path is Right Understanding which arises
through insights into the first three Noble Truths. If you have
these insights, then there is perfect understanding of Dhamma-the
understanding that: 'All that is subject to arising is
subject to ceasing.' It's as simple as that. You do not
have to spend much time reading 'All that is subject to
arising is subject to ceasing' to understand the words, but
it takes quite a while for most of us to really know what the
words mean in a profound way rather than just through cerebral
To use modern colloquial English, insight is really gut
knowledge-it's not just from ideas. It's no longer,
'I think I know', or 'Oh yes, that seems a
reasonable, sensible thing. I agree with that. I like that
thought.' That kind of understanding is still from the brain
whereas insight knowledge is profound. It is really known and
doubt is no longer a problem.
This deep understanding comes from the previous nine insights.
So there is a sequence leading to Right Understanding of things
as they are, namely that: All that is subject to arising is
subject to ceasing and is not-self.
With Right Understanding, you have given up the illusion of a
self that is connected to mortal conditions. There is still the
body, there are still feelings and thoughts, but they simply are
what they are-there is no longer the belief that you are your
body or your feelings or your thoughts. The emphasis is on
'Things are what they are.' We are not trying to say that
things are not anything at all or that they are not what they
are. They are exactly what they are and nothing more. But when we
are ignorant, when we have not understood these truths, we tend
to think things are more than what they are. We believe all kinds
of things and we create all kinds of problems around the
conditions that we experience.
So much of human anguish and despair comes from the added
extra that is born of ignorance in the moment. It is sad to
realise how the misery and anguish and despair of humanity is
based upon delusion; the despair is empty and meaningless. When
you see this, you begin to feel infinite compassion for all
beings. How can you hate anyone or bear grudges or condemn anyone
who is caught in this bond of ignorance? Everyone is influenced
to do the things they do by their wrong views of things.
As we meditate, we experience some tranquillity, a measure of
calm in which the mind has slowed down. When we look at something
like a flower with a calm mind, we are looking at it as it is.
When there is no grasping-nothing to gain or get rid of-then if
what we see, hear or experience through the senses is beautiful,
it is truly beautiful. We are not criticising it, comparing it,
trying to possess or own it; we find delight and joy in the
beauty around us because there is no need to make anything out of
it. It is exactly what it is.
Beauty reminds us of purity, truth and ultimate beauty. We
should not see it as a lure to delude us: 'These flowers are
here just to attract me so I'll get deluded by
them'-that's the attitude of the old meditating grump!
When we look at a member of the opposite sex with a pure heart,
we appreciate the beauty without the desire for some kind of
contact or possession. We can delight in the beauty of other
people, both men and women, when there is no selfish interest or
desire. There is honesty; things are as they are. This is what we
mean by liberation or vimutti in Pali. We are liberated from
those bonds that distort and corrupt the beauty around us, such
as the bodies we have. However, our minds can get so corrupt and
negative and depressed and obsessed with things, that we no
longer see them as they are. If we don't have Right
Understanding, we see everything through increasingly thick
filters and veils.
Right Understanding is to be developed through reflection,
using the Buddha's teaching. The Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta
is a very interesting teaching to contemplate and use as a
reference for reflection. We can also use other suttas from the
tipitaka, such as those dealing with paticcasamuppada (dependent
origination). This is a fascinating teaching to reflect upon. If
you can contemplate such teachings, you can see very clearly the
difference between the way things are as Dhamma and the point
where we tend to create delusion out of the way things are. That
is why we need to establish full conscious awareness of things as
they are. If there is knowledge of the Four Noble Truths, then
there is Dhamma.
With Right Understanding, everything is seen as Dhamma; for
example: we are sitting here....This is Dhamma. We don't
think of this body and mind as a personality with all its views
and opinions and all the conditioned thoughts and reactions that
we have acquired through ignorance. We reflect upon this moment
now as: 'This is the way it is. This is Dhamma.' We bring
into the mind the understanding that this physical formation is
simply Dhamma. It is not self; it is not personal.
Also, we see the sensitivity of this physical formation as
Dhamma rather than taking it personally: 'I'm
sensitive,' or 'I'm not sensitive;'
'You're not sensitive to me. Who's the most
sensitive?'....'Why do we feel pain? Why did God create
pain; why didn't he just create pleasure? Why is there so
much misery and suffering in the world? It's unfair. People
die and we have to separate from the people we love; the anguish
is terrible.' There is no Dhamma in that, is there? It's
all self-view: 'Poor me. I don't like this, I don't
want it to be this way. I want security, happiness, pleasure and
all the best of everything. It's not fair that my parents
were not arahants when I came into the world. It's not fair
that they never elect arahants to be Prime Minister of Britain.
If everything were fair, they would elect arahants to be Prime
I am trying to take this sense of 'It's not right,
it's not fair' to an absurdity in order to point out how
we expect God to create everything for us and to make us happy
and secure. That is often what people think even if they
don't say so. But when we reflect, we see 'This is the
way it is. Pain is like this and this is what pleasure is like.
Consciousness is this way.' We feel. We breathe. We can
When we reflect, we contemplate our own humanity as it is. We
don't take it on a personal level any more or blame anyone
because things are not exactly as we like or want. It is the way
it is and we are the way we are. You might ask why we can't
all be exactly the same-with the same anger, the same greed and
the same ignorance; without all the variations and permutations.
However, even though you can trace human experience to basic
things, each one of us has our own kamma to deal with-our own
obsessions and tendencies, which are always different in quality
and quantity to those of someone else.
Why can't we all be exactly equal, have exactly the same
of everything and all look alike-one androgynous being? In a
world like that, nothing would be unfair, no differences would be
allowed, everything would be absolutely perfect and there would
be no possibility of inequality. But as we recognise Dhamma, we
see that, within the realm of conditions, no two things are
identical. They are all quite different, infinitely variable and
changing, and the more we try to make conditions conform to our
ideas, the more frustrated we get. We try to create each other
and a society to fit the ideas we have of how things should be,
but we always end up feeling frustrated. With reflection, we
realise: 'This is the way it is,' this is the way things
have to be-they can only be this way.
Now that is not a fatalistic or negative reflection. It is not
an attitude of: 'That's the way it is and there's
nothing you can do about it.' It is a very positive response
of accepting the flow of life for what it is. Even if it is not
what we want, we can accept it and learn from it.
We are conscious, intelligent beings with retentive memory. We
have language. Over the past several thousand years, we have
developed reason, logic and discriminative intelligence. What we
must do is figure out how to use these capacities as tools for
realisation of Dhamma rather than as personal acquisitions or
personal problems. People who develop their discriminative
intelligence often end up turning it upon themselves; they become
very self-critical and even begin to hate themselves. This is
because our discriminative faculties tend to focus upon what is
wrong with everything. That is what discrimination is about:
seeing how this is different from that. What you do that to
yourself, what do you end up with? Just a whole list of flaws and
faults that make you sound absolutely hopeless.
When we are developing Right Understanding, we use our
intelligence for reflection and contemplation of things. We also
use our mindfulness and wisdom together. So now we are using our
ability to discriminate with wisdom (vijja) rather than with
ignorance (avijja). This teaching of the Four Noble Truths is to
help you to use you intelligence-your ability to contemplate,
reflect and think-in a wise way rather than in a
self-destructive, greedy or hateful way.
The second element of the Eightfold path is samma sankappa.
Sometimes this is translated as 'Right Thought', thinking
in the right way. However, it actually has more of a dynamic
quality-like 'intention', 'attitude' or
'aspiration'. I like to use 'aspiration' which is
somehow very meaningful in this Eightfold Path-because we do
It is important to see that aspiration is not desire. The Pali
word 'tanha' means desire that comes out of ignorance,
whereas 'sankappa' means aspiration not coming from
ignorance. Aspiration might seem like a kind of desire to us
because in English we use the word 'desire' for
everything of that nature-either aspiring or wanting. You might
think that aspiration is a kind of tanha, wanting to become
enlightened (bhava tanha)-but samma sankappa comes from Right
Understanding, seeing clearly. It is not wanting to become
anything; it is not the desire to become an enlightened
With Right Understanding, that whole illusion and way of
thinking no longer makes sense.
Aspiration is a feeling, an intention, attitude or movement
within us. Our spirit rises, it does not sink downwards-it is not
desperation! When there is Right Understanding, we aspire to
truth, beauty and goodness. Samma ditthi and samma sankappa,
Right Understanding and Right Aspiration, are called panna or
wisdom and they make up the first of the three sections in the
We can contemplate: Why is it that we still feel discontented,
even when we have the best of everything? We are not completely
happy even if we have a beautiful house, a car, the perfect
marriage, lovely bright children and all the rest of it-and we
are certainly not contented when we do not have all these
things!....If we don't have them, we can think, 'Well, if
I had the best, then I'd be content.' But we wouldn't
be. The earth is not the place for our contentment; it's not
supposed to be. When we realise that, we no longer expect
contentment from planet earth; we do not make that demand.
Until we realise that this planet cannot satisfy all our
wants, we keep on asking, 'Why can't you make me content,
Mother Earth?' We are like little children who suckle their
mother, constantly trying to get the most out of her and wanting
her always to nurture and feed them and make them feel
If we were content, we would not wonder about things. Yet we
do recognise that there is something more than just the ground
under our feet; there is something above us that we cannot quite
understand. We have the ability to wonder and ponder about life,
to contemplate its meaning. If you want to know the meaning of
your life, you cannot be content with material wealth, comfort
and security alone.
So we aspire to know the truth. You might think that that is a
kind of presumptuous desire or aspiration, 'Who do I think I
am? Little old me trying to know the truth about everything.'
But there is that aspiration.
Why do we have it if it is not possible? Consider the concept
of ultimate reality. An absolute or ultimate truth is a very
refined concept; the idea of God, the Deathless of the immortal,
is actually a very refined thought.
We aspire to know that ultimate reality. The animal side of us
does not aspire; it does not know anything about such
aspirations. But there is in each of us an intuitive intelligence
that wants to know; it is always with us but we tend to not
notice it; we do not understand it. We tend to discard or
mistrust it-especially modern materialists. They just think it is
fantasy and not real.
As for myself, I was really happy when I realised that the
planet is not my real home. I had always suspected it. I can
remember even as a small child thinking, 'I don't really
belong here.' I have never particularly felt that planet
Earth is where I really belong-even before I was a monk, I never
felt that I fitted into the society. For some people, that could
be just a neurotic problem, but perhaps it could also be a kind
of intuition children often have. When you are innocent, your
mind is very intuitive. The mind of a child is more intuitively
in touch with the mysterious forces than most adult minds are. As
we grow up we become conditioned to think in very set ways and to
have fixed ideas about what is real and what is not. As we
develop our egos, society dictates what is real and what is not,
what is right and what is wrong, and we begin to interpret the
world through these fixed perceptions. One thing we find charming
in children is that they don't do that yet; they still see
the world with the intuitive mind that is not yet
Meditation is a way of deconditioning the mind which helps us
to let go of all the hard-line views and fixed ideas we have.
Ordinarily, what is real is dismissed while what is not real is
given all our attention. This is what ignorance (avijja) is.
The contemplation of our human aspiration connects us to
something higher than just the animal kingdom or the planet
earth. To me that connection seems more true than the idea that
this is all there is; that once we die our bodies rot and there
is nothing more than that. When we ponder and wonder about this
universe we are living in, we see that it is very vast,
mysterious and incomprehensible to us. However, when we trust
more in our intuitive mind, we can be receptive to things that we
may have forgotten or have never been open to before-we open when
we let go of fixed, conditioned reactions.
We can have the fixed idea of being a personality, of being a
man or a woman, being an English person or an American. These
things can be very real to us, and we can get very upset and
angry about them. We are even willing to kill each other over
these conditioned views that we hold and believe in and never
question. Without Right Aspiration and Right Understanding,
without panna, we never see the true nature of these views.
RIGHT SPEECH, RIGHT ACTION, RIGHT LIVELIHOOD
Sila, the moral aspect of the Eightfold Path,
consists of Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood; that
means taking responsibility for our speech and being careful
about what we do with our bodies. When I'm mindful and aware,
I speak in a way that is appropriate to time and place; likewise,
I act or work according to time and place.
We begin to realise that we have to be careful about what we
do and say; otherwise we constantly hurt ourselves. If you do or
say things that are unkind or cruel there is always an immediate
result. In the past, you might have been able to get away with
lying by distracting yourself, going on to something else so that
you didn't have to think about it. You could forget all about
things for a while until eventually they'd come back upon
you, but if we practise sila, things seem to come back right
away. Even when I exaggerate, something in me says, 'You
shouldn't exaggerate, you should be more careful.' I used
to have the habit of exaggerating things-it's part of our
culture; it seems perfectly normal. But when you are aware, the
effect of even the slightest lie or gossip is immediate because
you are completely open, vulnerable and sensitive. So then you
are careful about what you do; you realise that it's
important to be responsible for what you do and say.
The impulse to help someone is a skilful dhamma. If you see
someone fall over on the floor in a faint, a skilful dhamma goes
through your mind: 'Help this person,' and you go to help
them recover from their fainting spell. If you do it with an
empty mind not out of any personal desire for gain, but just out
of compassion and because it's the right thing to do-then
it's simply a skilful dhamma. It's not personal kamma;
it's not yours. But if you do it out of a desire to gain
merit and to impress other people or because the person is rich
and you expect some reward for your action, then-even though the
action is skilful-you're making a personal connection with
it, and this reinforces the sense of self. When we do good works
out of mindfulness and wisdom rather than out of ignorance, they
are skilful dhammas without personal kamma.
The monastic order was established by the Buddha so that men
and women could live an impeccable life which is completely
blameless. As a bhikkhu, you live within a whole system of
training precepts called the Patimokkha discipline. When you live
under this discipline, even if your actions or speech are
heedless, at least they don't leave strong impressions. You
can't have money so you're not able to just go anywhere
until you're invited. You are celibate. Since you live on
almsfood, you're not killing any animals. You don't even
pick flowers or leaves or do any kind of action that would
disturb the natural flow in any way; you're completely
In fact, in Thailand we had to carry water strainers with us
to filter out any kind of living things in the water such as
mosquito larvae. It's totally forbidden to intentionally kill
I have been living under this Rule for twenty-five years now
so I haven't really done any heavy kammic actions. Under this
discipline, one lives in a very harmless, very responsible way.
Perhaps the most difficult part is with speech; speech habits are
the most difficult to break and let go of-but they can also
improve. By reflection and contemplation, one begins to see the
unpleasantness of saying foolish things or just babbling or
chatting away for no good reason.
For lay people, Right Livelihood is something that is
developed as you come to know your intentions for what you do.
You can try to avoid deliberately harming other creatures or
earning a living in a harmful, unkind way. You can also try to
avoid livelihood which may cause other people to become addicted
to drugs or drink or which might endanger the ecological balance
of the planet.
So these three-Right Action, Right Speech and Right
Livelihood-follow from Right Understanding or perfect knowing. We
begin to feel that we want to live in a way that is a blessing to
the planet or, at least, that does not harm it.
Right Understanding and Right Aspiration have a definite
influence on what we do and say. So panna, or wisdom, leads to
sila: Right Speech, Right Action and Right Livelihood. Sila
refers to our speech and actions; with sila we contain the sexual
drive or the violent use of the body-we do not use it for killing
or stealing. In this way, panna and sila work together in a
RIGHT EFFORT, RIGHT MINDFULNESS, RIGHT CONCENTRATION
Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration refer to
your spirit, your heart. When we think of the spirit, we point to
the centre of the chest, to the heart. So we have panna (the
head), sila (the body) and samadhi (the heart). You can use your
own body as a kind of chart, a symbol of the Eightfold Path.
These three are integrated, working together for realisation and
supporting each other like a tripod. One is not dominating the
other and exploiting or rejecting anything.
They work together: the wisdom from Right Understanding and
Right Intention; then morality, which is Right Effort, Right
Mindfulness and Right Concentration-the balanced equanimous mind,
Serenity is where the emotions are balanced, supporting each
other. They're not going up and down. There's a sense of
bliss, of serenity; there is perfect harmony between the
intellect, the instincts and the emotions.
They're mutually supportive, helping each other.
They're no longer conflicting or taking us to extremes and,
because of that, we begin to feel a tremendous peacefulness in
our minds. There is a sense of ease and fearlessness coming from
the Eightfold Path-a sense of equanimity and emotional balance.
We feel at ease rather than that sense of anxiety, that tension
and emotional conflict. There is clarity; there is peacefulness,
stillness, knowing. This insight of the Eightfold Path should be
developed; this is bhavana. We use the word bhavana to signify
ASPECTS OF MEDITATION
reflectiveness of mind or emotional balance is developed as a
result of practising concentration and mindfulness meditation.
For instance, you can experiment during a retreat and spend one
hour doing samatha meditation where you are just concentrating
your mind on one object, say the sensation of breathing. Keep
bringing it into consciousness and sustain it so that it actually
has a continuity of presence in the mind.
In this way, you are moving towards what is going on in your
own body rather than being pulled out into objects of the senses.
If you do not have any refuge within, then you are constantly
going out, being absorbed into books, food and all sorts of
distractions. But this endless movement of the mind is very
exhausting. So instead, the practice becomes one of observing the
breath-which means that you have to withdraw or not follow the
tendency to find something outside of yourself. You have to bring
your attention to the breathing of your own body and concentrate
the mind on that sensation.
As you let go of gross form, you actually become that feeling,
that very sign itself. Whatever you absorb into, you become that
for a period of time. When you really concentrate, you have
become that very tranquillised condition. You have become
tranquil. This is what we call becoming. Samatha meditation is a
But that tranquillity, if you investigate it, is not
satisfactory tranquillity. There is something missing in it
because it is dependent on a technique, on being attached and
holding on, on something that still begins and ends. What you
become, you can only become temporarily because becoming is a
changing thing. It is not a permanent condition. So whatever you
become, you will unbecome. It is not ultimate reality. No matter
how high you might go in concentration, it will always be an
unsatisfactory condition. Samatha meditation takes you to some
very high and radiant experiences in your mind-but they all
Then, if you practise vipassana meditation for another hour by
just being mindful and letting go of everything and accepting the
uncertainty, the silence and the cessation of conditions, the
result is that you will feel peaceful rather than tranquil. And
that peacefulness is a perfect peacefulness. It is complete. It
is not the tranquillity from samatha, which has something
imperfect or unsatisfactory about it even at its best.
The realisation of cessation, as you develop that and
understand that more and more, brings you to true peacefulness,
Thus samatha and vipassana are the two divisions in
meditation. One is developing concentrated states of mind on
refined objects in which your consciousness becomes refined
through that concentration. But being terribly refined, having a
great intellect and a taste for great beauty, makes anything
coarse unbearable because of the attachment to what is refined.
People who have devoted their lives to refinement only find life
terribly frustrating and frightening when they can no longer
maintain such high standards.
RATIONALITY AND EMOTION
If you love rational thought and are attached to ideas and
perceptions, then you tend to despise the emotions. You can
notice this tendency if, when you start to feel emotions, you
say, 'I'm going to shut this out. I don't want to
feel those things.' You don't like to be feeling anything
because you can get into a kind of high from the purity of
intelligence and the pleasure of rational thinking. The mind
relishes the way it is logical and controllable, the way it makes
sense. It is just so clean and neat and precise like
mathematics-but the emotions are all over the place aren't
they? They are not precise, they are not neat and they can easily
get out of control.
So the emotional nature is often despised. We are frightened
of it. For example, men often feel very frightened of emotions
because we are brought up to believe that men do not cry. As a
little boy, at least in my generation, we were taught that boys
do not cry so we'd try to live up to the standards of what
boys are supposed to be. They would say, 'You are a boy',
and so we'd try to be what our parents said we should be. The
ideas of the society affect our minds, and because of that, we
find emotions embarrassing. Here in England, people generally
find emotions very embarrassing; if you get a little too
emotional, they assume that you must be Italian or some other
If you are very rational and you have figured everything out,
then you don't know what to do when people get emotional. If
somebody starts crying, you think, 'What am I supposed to
do?' Maybe you say, 'Cheer up; it's all right, dear.
It'll be all right, there's nothing to cry about.' If
you are very attached to rational thoughts, then you just tend to
dismiss it with logic, but emotions do not respond to logic.
Often they react to logic, but they do not respond. Emotion is a
very sensitive thing and it works in a way that we sometimes do
not comprehend. If we have never really studied or tried to
understand what it is to feel life, and really opened and allowed
ourselves to be sensitive, then emotional things are very
frightening and embarrassing to us. We don't know what they
are all about because we have rejected that side of
On my thirtieth birthday, I realised that I was an emotionally
undeveloped man. It was an important birthday for me. I realised
that I was a full grown, mature man-I no longer considered myself
a youth, but emotionally, I think I was about six years old some
of the time. I really had not developed on that level very much.
Even though I could maintain the kind of poise and presence of a
mature man in society, I did not always feel that way. I still
had very strong unresolved feelings and fears in my mind. It
became apparent that I had to do something about that, as the
thought that I might have to spend the rest of my life at the
emotional age of six was quite a dreary prospect.
This is where many of us in our society get stuck. For
example, American society does not allow you to develop
emotionally, to mature. It does not understand that need at all,
so it does not provide any rites of passage for men. The society
does not provide that kind of introduction into a mature world;
you are expected to be immature your whole life. You are supposed
to act mature, but you are not expected to be mature. Therefore,
very few people are. Emotions are not really understood or
resolved-their childish tendencies are merely suppressed rather
than developed into maturity.
What meditation does is to offer a chance to mature on the
Perfect emotional maturity would be samma vayama, samma sati
and samma samadhi. This is a reflection; you will not find this
in any book-it is for you to contemplate. Perfect emotional
maturity comprises Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right
Concentration. It is present when one is not caught in
fluctuations and vicissitudes, where one has balance and clarity
and is able to be receptive and sensitive.
THINGS AS THEY ARE
With Right Effort, there can be a cool kind of
acceptance of a situation rather than the panic that comes from
thinking that it's up to me to set everybody straight, make
everything right and solve everybody's problems.
We do the best we can, but we also realise that it's not
up to us to do everything and make everything right.
At one time when I was at Wat Pah Pong with Ajahn Chah, I
could see a lot of things going wrong with the monastery. So I
went up to him and I said, 'Ajahn Chah, these things are
going wrong; you've got to do something about it.' He
looked at me and said, 'Oh, you suffer a lot, Sumedho. You
suffer a lot. It'll change.' I thought, 'He
doesn't care! This is the monastery that he's devoted his
life to and he's just letting it go down the drain!' But
he was right. After a while it began to change and, through just
bearing with it, people began to see what they were doing.
Sometimes we have to let things go down the drain in order for
people to see and to experience that. Then we can learn how not
to go down the drain.
Do you see what I mean? Sometimes situations in our life are
just this way. There's nothing one can do so we allow them to
be that way; even if they get worse, we allow them to get worse.
But it's not fatalistic or negative thing we're doing;
it's a kind of patience-being willing to bear with something;
allowing it to change naturally rather than egotistically trying
to prop everything up and cleaning it all up out of our aversion
and distaste for a mess.
Then, when people push our buttons, we're not always
offended, hurt or upset by the things that happen, or shattered
and destroyed by the things that people say or do. One person I
know tends to exaggerate everything. If something goes wrong
today, she will say, 'I'm utterly and absolutely
shattered!'-when all that has happened is that some little
problem occurred. However, her mind exaggerates it to such an
extent that a very small thing can absolutely destroy her for the
day. When we see this, we should realise that there is a great
imbalance because little things should not totally shatter
I realised that I could be easily offended so I took a vow not
to be offended. I had noticed how easy it was for me to be
offended by little things, whether intentional or unintentional.
We can see how easy it is to feel hurt, wounded, offended, upset
or worried-how something in us is always trying to be nice, but
always feels a little offended by this or a little hurt by
With reflection, you can see that the world is like this;
it's a sensitive place. It is not always going to soothe you
and make you feel happy, secure and positive. Life is full of
things that can offend, hurt, wound or shatter. This is life. It
is this way. If somebody speaks in a cross tone of voice, you are
going to feel it. But then the mind can go on and be offended:
'Oh, it really hurt when she said that to me; you know, that
was not a very nice tone of voice. I felt quite wounded. I've
never done anything to hurt her.' The proliferating mind goes
on like that, doesn't it-you have been shattered, wounded or
offended! But then if you contemplate, you realise it's just
sensitivity. When you contemplate this way, it is not that you
are trying not to feel.
When somebody talks to you in an unkind tone of voice,
it's not that you don't feel it at all. We are not trying
to be insensitive. Rather, we are trying not to give it the wrong
interpretation, not to take it on a personal level. Having
balanced emotions means that people can say things that are
offensive and you can take it. You have the balance and emotional
strength not to be offended, wounded or shattered by what happens
If you are someone who is always being wounded or offended by
life, you always have to run off and hide or you have to find a
group of obsequious sycophants to live with, people who say:
'You're wonderful, Ajahn Sumedho.' 'Am I really
wonderful?' 'Yes, you are.' 'You're just
saying that, aren't you?' 'No, no, I mean it from the
bottom of my heart.' 'Well, that person over there
doesn't think I'm wonderful.' 'Well, he's
stupid!' 'That's what I thought.' It's like
the story of the emperor's new clothes, isn't it? You
have to seek special environments so that everything is affirmed
for you-safe and not threatening in any way.
When there is Right Effort, Right Mindfulness and Right
Concentration, then one is fearless. There is fearlessness
because there is nothing to be frightened of. One has the guts to
look at things and not take them in the wrong way; one has the
wisdom to contemplate and reflect upon life; one has the security
and confidence of sila, the strength of one's moral
commitment and the determination to do good and refrain from
doing evil with body and speech. In this way, the whole thing
holds together as a path for development. It is a perfect path
because everything is helping and supporting; the body, the
emotional nature (the sensitivity of feeling), and the
intelligence. They are all in perfect harmony, supporting each
Without that harmony, our instinctual nature can go all over
the place. If we have no moral commitment, then our instincts can
take control. For example, if we just follow sexual desire
without any reference to morality, then we become caught up in
all kinds of things that cause self-aversion.
There is adultery, promiscuity and disease, and all the
disruption and confusion that come from not reining in our
instinctual nature through the limitations of morality.
We can use our intelligence to cheat and lie, can't we,
but when we have a moral foundation, we are guided by wisdom and
by samadhi; these lead to emotional balance and emotional
strength. But we don't use wisdom to suppress sensitivity. We
don't dominate our emotions by thinking and by suppressing
our emotional nature. This is what we have tended to do in the
West; we've used our rational thoughts and ideals to dominate
and suppress our emotions, and thus become insensitive to things,
to life and to ourselves.
However, in the practice of mindfulness through vipassana
meditation, the mind is totally receptive and open so that it has
this fullness and an all-embracing quality. And because it is
open, the mind is also reflective.
When you concentrate on a point, your mind is no longer
reflective-it is absorbed into the quality of that object. The
reflective ability of the mind comes through mindfulness,
whole-mindedness. You are not filtering out or selecting. You are
just noting whatever arises ceases. You contemplate that if you
are attached to anything that arises, it ceases. You have the
experience that even though it might be attractive while it is
arising, it changes towards cessation. Then it's
attractiveness diminishes and we have to find something else to
The thing about being human is that we have to touch the
earth, we have to accept the limitations of this human form and
planetary life. And just by doing that, then the way out of
suffering isn't through getting out of our human experience
by living in refined conscious states, but by embracing the
totality of all the human and Brahma realms through mindfulness.
In this way, the Buddha pointed to a total realisation rather
than a temporary escape through refinement and beauty. This is
what the Buddha means when he is pointing the way to Nibbana.
THE EIGHTFOLD PATH AS A REFLECTIVE TEACHING
In this Eightfold Path, the eight elements work like eight
legs supporting you. It is not like: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 on a
linear scale; it is more of a working together. It is not that
you develop panna first and then when you have panna, you can
develop your sila; and once your sila is developed, then you will
have samadhi. That is how we think, isn't it: 'You have
to have one, then two and then three.' As an actual
realisation, developing the Eightfold Path is an experience in a
moment, it is all one. All the parts are working as one strong
development; it is not a linear process-we might think that way
because we can only have one thought at a time.
Everything I have said about the Eightfold Path and the Four
Noble Truths is only a reflection. What is really important is
for you to realise what I am actually doing as I reflect rather
than to grasp the things that I am saying. It is a process of
bringing the Eightfold Path into your mind, using it as a
reflective teaching so that you can consider what it really
means. Don't just think you know it because you can say,
'Samma ditthi means Right Understanding. Samma sankappa means
Right Thought.' This is intellectual understanding. Someone
might say, 'No, I think samma sankappa means....' And you
answer, 'No, in the book it says Right Thought. You've
got it wrong.' This is not reflection.
We can translate samma sankappa as Right Thought or Attitude
or Intention; we try things out. We can use these tools for
contemplation rather than thinking that they are absolutely
fixed, and that we have to accept them in an orthodox style; any
kind of variation from the exact interpretation is heresy.
Sometimes our minds do think in that rigid way, but we are trying
to transcend that way of thinking by developing a mind that moves
around, watches, investigates, considers, wonders and
I am trying to encourage each one of you to be brave enough to
wisely consider the way things are rather than have someone tell
you whether you are ready or not for enlightenment. But actually,
the Buddhist teaching is one of being enlightened now rather than
doing anything to become enlightened. The idea that you must do
something to become enlightened can only come from wrong
understanding. Then enlightenment is merely another condition
dependent upon something else-so it is not really
It is only a perception of enlightenment. However, I am not
talking about any kind of perception but about being alert to the
way things are. The present moment is what we can actually
observe: we can't observe tomorrow yet, and we can only
remember yesterday. But Buddhist practice is very immediate to
the here and now, looking at the way things are.
Now how do we do that? Well, first we have to look at our
doubts and fears-because we get so attached to our views and
opinions that these take us into doubt about what we are doing.
Someone might develop a false confidence believing that they are
enlightened. But believing that you are enlightened or believing
that you are not enlightened are both delusions.
What I am pointing to is being enlightened rather than
believing in it. And for this, we need to be open to the way
We start with the way things are as they happen to be right
now-such as the breathing of our bodies. What has that to do with
Truth, with enlightenment? Does watching my breath mean that I am
enlightened? But the more you try to think about it and figure
out what it is, the more uncertain and insecure you'll feel.
All we can do in this conventional form is to let go of delusion.
That is the practice of the Four Noble Truths and the development
of the Eightfold Path.
Science of Immortality Index
Immortality: The Eternal Life
The Key to Immortality
The Words of Eternal Life
Fountain of Youth
Unknown Spiritual Blessing of Being Gay
Secret Sayings of Christ
The 4 Noble Truths
The King's Diamonds
The Mountain of God
The Great Feast of the Lord
Autobiography of A Yogi
The Essence of All Religion
The Gospel of Buddha
Kashmir Shaivism's 15 Verses of Wisdom
Narada's Bhakti Sutras of Spiritual Devotion
Sutras of the Seven Wisdoms
Tao Te Ching (Tao Teh Ching)
Tibetan Book of the Dead
The Visions of Sadhu Sundar Singh of India
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Healing Power of Tia Chi and Qi Gong (Qigong)
Original Christianity: A New Key to Understanding the Gospel of Thomas and Other Lost Scriptures
The Lost Secret of Death: Our Divided Souls and the Afterlife
The Division of Consciousness: The Secret Afterlife of the Human Psyche
ANCIENT SECRET TO THE FOUNTAIN OF YOUTH by Peter Kelder.
Babaji's Kriya Hatha Yoga: 18 Postures of Relaxation & Rejuvenation
Bodhinyanarama Net: The Four Noble Truths
Buddha Net: The Four Noble Truths
Theravada Buddhism Portal: Sadhu
The Pali Tipitaka (Complete Pali texts from Tipitaka )