Safety First; Let Pleasures Come Later

revised on 2024-07-09

Dhamma Talks by Mogok Sayadaw; 22nd to 23rd May 1962

Listening to a Dhamma talk is to understand the differences between paññāti and paramatā dhammas (the concepts and ultimate reality). The concepts are oppressing you. You are ending up at others’ mouths. If you don’t know the differences between them, you are always beating your chest and crying. (Sayadaw told the story in the Khemaka Sutta, SN 22.89). He (i.e., anāgāmī Khemaka) does not cling to the khandha as "me" and "mine," but still has the residual conceit and desire of "I am." He did not regard the five khandhas as "me" or "I," and still has the residual conceit. This will not lead to apāyas because the clinging to the wrong view of "me" and "mine" has been abandoned. The two forms of taṇhā and māna (i.e., the coarse ones), which can lead to apāyas, are already abandoned after becoming a stream-enterer (sotāpanna). You have to note this point very carefully. It is very important to abandon or destroy the views of "me" and "mine." This is the seed of Hells latent in the heart (citta—mind). You have to practice to the point where it is secure from the apāyas (hells, animals, and hungry shades), and then you can be happy with the pleasures.

(Indulgence in worldly pleasures is like licking the honey on the blade of a razor, as mentioned by the Buddha. Sayadaw is warning his disciples about this point.) If you indulge in worldly pleasures and later fall into apāyas, it is like this analogy. (Sayadaw described the hell existences and the ghost world (petas) and gave instruction on cittānupassanā and anicca.) If you discern anicca, the hell seed falls off.

You have reason to ask me when the contemplation of insight will end. For example, if you contemplate minds and see them as not minds but only as aniccas, then you are closer to the path of knowledge. If you're only seeing the minds, it's not yet complete. You have to see the vanishing of the phenomena which is anicca and keep this point in mind. Don't contemplate it as minds, feelings, etc., instead contemplate it as anicca, noting as anicca. (When the yogis discern anicca.) In this way, you attain Nibbāna in a short period. You need to ask me why that is? When the mind is sharp (at the time of discerning anicca) – could it be possible for two minds to arise together? You see the non-existence of the arising minds even though you’re contemplating minds. Therefore, change the contemplative knowledge to anicca. Even though contemplating minds, only when you discern the non-existence of the minds does it become correct.

If you’re still seeing the minds, it’s still wrong because minds can’t arise together and become parallel. Knowledge of rises and falls means arising here and vanishing here (we have to reflect on this point carefully). The reality of seeing is the non-existence of the arising mind. Therefore, here contemplate as anicca, perceiving as anicca, knowing as anicca. During the time of contemplation do not let other mind states intervene. Between anicca and magga, don’t let other dhammas intervene. If you can contemplate in this way, it is certain to attain Nibbāna. The Buddha himself provides a guarantee in the sutta of the Aṅguttara Nikāya. The reason it takes a long time for you is that between anicca and the contemplating mind (i.e., magga), other minds intervene, so that the contemplative mind has to enter later. The vanishing of the arising dhamma is anicca, and knowing the vanishing is magga. If you can continue this process, you can even attain Dhamma within an hour.

[Note: In his life of teaching Dhamma, Mogok Sayadawgyi always emphasised the importance of the first stage of enlightenment, which abandons diṭṭhi-vicikicchā (wrong view and doubt). His emphasis on this point was greater than other teachers, as far as I am aware. In most of his talks, this point is evident. Even the Buddha himself takes this point very seriously with the analogy of extinguishing the burning of head hairs more seriously than other matters. Because the pains and sufferings created by wrong views and doubts are frightening and terrible. Let's not even discuss the woeful existences of hells and ghosts (animals which most humans know about but are ignorant of and exploit the animal kingdom brutally.) Even today, human problems and sufferings are also quite extreme by human standards.

With the material developments, most westerners consider some of the Buddha’s teachings as mythology, but most of them believe in God and Genesis and worship Him. Worldly knowledge is very limited and incomparable to the Buddha’s Knowledge. Anyone who only understands the nature of the mind – the Creator, and the law of kamma – the Genesis or Law of Evolution and Devolution will recognize Buddha dhamma is not mythology or Blind Faith. If anyone doesn’t understand and penetrate the real creator and the true genesis, they are still a worldling, inferior, or ignoble or defiled person. The permanent homes of worldlings are the four apāyas.

There are many dhamma points in the suttas that make it clear why the Buddha and his noble disciples have great compassion and concerns for the worldly human beings. I want to highlight a few of them for contemplation.]

Don’t be forgetful or heedless of our true situations: - there are negative and positive aspects. I’ll mention one example for each situation. From the negative side – all humans are sure to encounter old age, sickness, death, and after death the uncertainty of our new rebirths or destinations. All of these are difficult and painful experiences. The most difficult and painful time is at death. Most people fear death and don’t know how to deal with it when nearing the end. The best way to deal with it is through practice and learning how to react to the mind in such situations. For this matter, please read the sutta in the Abhayasuttam (Fearless, Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Book of the Fours, AN 4.184) where the brahmin Jāṇussoṇi asked the Buddha about death. Without habitual practice and knowledge of Dhamma, it is quite difficult to experience a good death. Falling into apāyas makes it quite difficult to rise again to sugatis.

The positive side we should never forget is that as humans we now encounter the Dhamma and have the chance to end dukkha in this life or, at least with habitual practice, can better deal with the problems of death and rebirth. There are eight situations where beings can’t have this chance. For this matter, please read the sutta in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Book of the Eights – sutta no. 29, Inopportune Moments. (AN 8.29 Akkhaṇasuttam)

Another sutta very important for humans is in the Aṅguttara Nikāya, the Book of Fives, sutta no. 57 Frequent Reflection or the Five Themes. This discusses ageing, sickness, death, separation, and kamma – actions. It’s quite well known to nearly all Theravadin Buddhists. They typically recite the five themes of the first part of the sutta. There are three parts in it, so everyone should read the entire sutta with frequent contemplation. The most important point in this sutta is that frequent contemplation and practice lead to ending Dukkha. There are also other important benefits: not fearing ageing, sickness, death, and separation from people and things. And then we’re very careful about our actions, not harming others or oneself. I’ll only describe the five themes briefly so people will recognize sutta no. 57.

  1. to 3. I am subject to old age and cannot escape from it; the same applies to sickness and death.
  1. I must be parted and separated from everything dear and agreeable to me.
  2. I am the owner of my actions... Whatever I do, for good or evil, to that will I fall heir.

Eight subjects for developing saṁvega — sense of wise urgency

  1. Birth 2. Ageing 3. Sickness / Diseases 4. Death
  1. After death the dangers of falling into three painful destinations; hells, animals, hungry shades
  2. In present life, the sufferings come from the struggles for survival. There are many different forms – such as feeding the body; looking after the body in many ways, bathing, urination, defecating, etc. All these are worse than being a slave in U.S. history.
  3. and 8. In past lives, similar occurrences have happened, and in the future they will continue in the whole of saṁsāra if we can’t end Dukkha.

The four important points in reflection on death

In reflection on death to avoid the following four points.

  1. Having worry for oneself during the practice
  2. Feeling sorrow for one’s loved ones
  3. Developing gladness for one’s enemy one doesn’t like or hate
  4. Feeling indifferent towards a stranger

The reflection should be developed saṁvega and knowledge.

Some of the benefits of reflecting on death are: good sati, avoidance of unwholesomeness, no fear of death, less clinging to the body and external things, realizing Dhamma near death, using one’s time wisely, having strong saṁvega, etc.

For detailed practice on Death, please consult the Visuddhimagga Textbook.

Some years ago in Thailand, some forest monks had the chance to witness an autopsy at the well-known Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok and the body museum near it. It had a strong impact on my mind that persists to this day. There were many corpses for autopsies and there were no proper places to keep these corpses; some of them were lying naked on the floor. During the autopsy, we are not much different from animals such as pigs, cows, goats, etc., which humans like so much for their flesh. We can see very clearly about its essence-less, owner-less nature, suffering, and change. It’s gloomy, but a strong dispassion arises.

The body museum is also quite interesting. There are some recorded crimes and the materials involved with it. There is a mummified body of a Chinese man who kidnapped children and ate their flesh. It recorded a well-known crime committed by a doctor who murdered his wife because he had an affair with another woman. This story was also made into a movie.

A historical relic in the museum is the tools used at the autopsy of the Thai King who passed away by accident with a gunshot wound at a very young age. He reigned quite briefly and the brother who succeeded him reigned for a long time until his old age.

Some years ago in a Himalayan country, a crown prince gunned down his royal family with a machine gun and then took his life. The reason behind this was his love for a woman whom his parents rejected. The dynasty ended there. The important point here I want to emphasize is the law of kamma, as mentioned in the sutta no. 57, Frequent Reflection. Some people, because of their past merits, are born as humans in the higher classes, but they misuse their chances. Heedfulness regarding the law of kamma is the most important teaching for Humans.

There is an interesting short sutta in verse in the Vuṭṭhisuttaṃ (SN 1.74, Devatasaṁyutta, the Rain). Some devatas came to see the Buddha and asked him four questions, of which I will mention two. A devata asked: "What is the best of things that rise up?

What excels among things that fall down?"

The Buddha replied: "Knowledge (or wisdom) is the best of things that rise up.

Ignorance excels among things that fall down."

What are human beings looking or searching for? Are they searching for things that rise up or fall down? (Humans often ponder whether they are searching for things that rise up or fall down.)

The first is considered a noble search, and the second an ignoble search. For the Noble Search, humans need Dhamma Education, and without it, humans' permanent homes are the four apāyas bhūmis, because the increase of ignorance leads to the increase of defilements.

revised on 2024-07-09

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