The pure nature of the heart and mind is like the sun, which
shines every day throughout the year but is concealed by clouds
during the rainy season. Those who don't know its nature then
say that the sun isn't shining. This is wrong. Their vision
can't penetrate the clouds and so they find fault with the sun.
They suppose that the darkness of the clouds belongs to the sun,
get stuck on their own supposings, and so don't reach the truth.
The true nature of the sun is always bright, no matter what the
season. If you don't believe me, ask an airplane pilot. If you
go up past the clouds in an airplane on a dark rainy day, you'll
know whether the sun is in fact dark or shining.
So it is with the mind: No matter how it may be behaving, its
nature is one — radiant and clear. If we lack discernment and
skill, we let various preoccupations come flowing into the mind,
which lead it to act — sometimes wisely and sometimes not — and
then we designate the mind according to its behavior.
Because there is one mind, it can have only one
preoccupation. And if it has only one preoccupation, then there
shouldn't be too much difficulty in practicing so as to know its
truth. Even though the mind may seem to have many
preoccupations, they don't come all at once in a single instant.
They have to pass by one at a time. A good mood enters as a bad
one leaves; pleasure enters, pain leaves; ingenuity enters,
stupidity, leaves; darkness enters, brightness leaves. They keep
trading places without let-up. Mental moments, though, are
extremely fast. If we aren't discerning, we won't be able to
know our own preoccupations. Only after they've flared up and
spread to affect our words and deeds are we usually aware of
Normally this one mind is very fast. Just as when we turn on
a light: If we don't look carefully, the light seems to appear,
and the darkness to disperse, the very instant we turn on the
switch. This one mind, when it changes preoccupations, is that
fast. This one mind is what leads to various states of being
because our preoccupations get into the act so that we're
entangled and snared.
It's not the case that one person will have many minds. Say
that a person goes to heaven: He goes just to heaven. Even if he
is to go on to other levels of being, he has to pass away from
heaven first. It's not the case that he'll go to heaven, hell,
and the Brahma worlds all at the same time. This goes to show
that the mind is one. Only its thoughts and preoccupations
The preoccupations of the mind come down simply to physical
and mental phenomena that change, causing the mind to experience
birth in various states of being. Since the mind lacks
discernment and doesn't know the true nature of its
preoccupations, it gropes about, experiencing death and rebirth
in the four modes of generation (yoni). If the mind has the
discernment to know its preoccupations and let go of them all
without remainder, leaving only the primal nature of the heart
that doesn't fall for any preoccupation on the levels of
sensuality, form, or formlessness, it will be able to gain
release from suffering and stress. "Once the mind is fully
matured by means of virtue, concentration and discernment, it
gains complete release from the effluents of defilement."
Khandha-kamo — desire for the five aggregates is over and
done with. Bhava-kamo — desire for the three levels of being
(the sensual plane, the plane of form, and the plane of
formlessness) disbands and disperses. The three levels of being
are essentially only two: the aggregate of physical phenomena,
which includes the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind;
and the aggregates of mental phenomena, which include feelings,
labels, fashionings, and consciousness — in short, the phenomena
that appear in the body and heart or, if you will, the body and
mind. Physical phenomena are those that can be seen with the
eye. Mental phenomena are those that can't be seen with the eye
but can be sensed only through the heart and mind. Once we can
distinguish these factors and see how they're related, we'll
come to see the truth of the aggregates: They are stress, they
are the cause of stress, they are the path. Once we understand
them correctly, we can deal with them properly. Whether they
arise, fade, or vanish, we won't — if we have any discernment —
latch onto them with any false assumptions. The mind will let
go. It will simply know, neutral and undisturbed. It won't feel
any need to worry about the conditions or behavior of the
aggregates, because it sees that the aggregates can't be
straightened out. Even the Buddha didn't straighten out the
aggregates. He simply let them go, in line with their own true
The heart is what creates the substance of the aggregates. If
you try to straighten out the creations, you'll never be done
with them. If you straighten out the creator, you'll have the
job finished in no time. When the heart is clouded with dullness
and darkness, it creates aggregates or physical and mental
phenomena as its products, to the point where the birth, aging,
illness, and death of the aggregates become absolutely incurable
— unless we have the wisdom to leave them alone in line with
their own nature. In other words, we shouldn't latch onto them.
This is illustrated in the Canon, where the Buddha says in
some passages that he is free from birth, aging, illness, and
death. If we read further, though, we'll notice that his body
grew old, ill and then died; his mental activity ended. This
shows that the aggregates should be left alone. Whatever their
nature may be, don't try to resist it or go against it. Keep
your mind neutral and aware. Don't go latching onto the various
preoccupations that arise, age, grow ill, and vanish, as
pertaining to the self. If you can do this, you're practicing
correctly. Aim only at the purity of the one heart that doesn't
The heart clouded with dullness and darkness lacks a firm
base and so drifts along, taking after the aggregates. When they
take birth, it thinks that it's born; when they age, it thinks
that it's aged; when they grow ill and disband, it gets mixed up
along with them and so experiences stress and pain, its
punishment for drifting along in the wake of its supposings.
If the mind doesn't drift in this way, there is simply the
disbanding of stress. The cause of stress and the path disband
as well, leaving only the nature that doesn't die: buddha, a
mind that has bloomed and awakened. For the mind to bloom, it
needs the fertilizer of virtue and concentration. For it to
awaken and come to its senses, it needs discernment. The
fertilizer of concentration is composed of the exercises of
tranquillity and insight meditation. The mind then gains
all-around discernment with regard to the aggregates — seeing
the pain and harm they bring — and so shakes itself free and
keeps its distance, which is why the term "arahant" is also
translated as "one who is distant." In other words, the mind has
had enough. It has had its fill. It's no longer flammable, i.e.,
it offers no fuel to the fires of passion, aversion, and
delusion, which are now dispersed once and for all through the
power of discernment.
This is the supreme nibbana. Birth has been absolutely
destroyed, but nibbana isn't annihilation. Nibbana is the name
for what still remains: the primal heart. So why isn't it called
the heart? Because it's now a heart with no preoccupations. Just
as with the names we suppose for "tree" and "steel": If the tree
is cut, they call it "lumber." If it's made into a house, they
call it "home." If it's made into a place to sit, they call it a
"chair." You never see anyone who would still call it a "tree."
The same with steel: Once it's been made into a car or a knife,
we call it a "car" or a "knife." You never see anyone who would
still call it a "steel." But even though they don't call it a
steel, the steel is still there. It hasn't run off anywhere.
It's still steel just as it always was.
So it is with the heart when the expert craftsman,
discernment, has finished training it: We call it nibbana. We
don't call it by its old name. When we no longer call it the
"heart," some people think that the heart vanishes, but actually
it's simply the heart in its primal state that we call nibbana.
Or, again it's simply the heart untouched by supposing. No
matter what anyone may call it, it simply stays as it is. It
doesn't take on anyone's suppositions at all. Just as when we
correctly suppose a diamond to be a diamond: No matter what
anyone may call it, its real nature stays as it is. It doesn't
advertise itself as a diamond. It simply is what it is. The same
with the heart: Once it gains release, it doesn't suppose itself
to be this or that. It's still there. It hasn't been
annihilated. Just as when we call a diamond a diamond, it's
there; and when we don't call it anything, it's still there — it
hasn't vanished or disappeared — so it is with the hear that is
nibbana: It's there. If we call it a sun, a moon, heaven, Brahma
world, earth, water, wind, fire, woman, man, or anything at all,
it's still there, just as before. It hasn't changed in any way.
It stays as it is: one heart, one Dhamma, free from the germs of
This is why the truest name to suppose for it is release.
What we call heart, mind, intellect, form, feeling, labels,
mental fashionings, consciousness: All these are true as far as
supposing goes. Wherever supposing is, there release can be
found. Take a blatant example: the five aggregates. If you look
at their true nature, you'll see that they've never said, "Look.
We're aggregates," or "Look. We're the heart." So it is with the
heart that's nibbana, that has reached nibbana: It won't
proclaim itself as this or that, which is why we suppose it to
be release. Once someone has truly reached release, that's the
end of speaking.
From the Autobiography
I make it a practice to wander about during the dry season
every year. I do this because I feel that a monk who stays put
in one monastery is like a train sitting still at HuaLampong
station — and everyone knows the worth of a train sitting still.
So there's no way I could stay in one place. I'll have to keep
on the move all of my life, as long as I'm still ordained.
Some of my companions have criticized me for being this way,
and others have praised me, but I myself feel that it brings
nothing but good. I've learned about the land, events, customs
and religious practices in different areas. In some places it
may be that I'm more ignorant than the people there; in other
places and with other groups, it might be that I know more than
they, so there's no way I can lose by traveling about. Even if I
just sit still in the forest, I gain by it. Wherever I find the
people know less than I do, I can be their teacher. In whatever
groups I find that I know less than they do, I'm willing to be
their student. Either way I profit.
At the same time, living in the forest as I like to do has
given me a lot to think about. 1) It was a custom of the Buddha.
He was born in the forest, attained Awakening in the forest, and
totally entered nibbana in the forest — and yet how was he at
the same time able to bring his virtues right into the middle of
great cities, as when he spread his religious work to include
King Bimbisara of Rajagaha.
2) As I see it, it's better to evade than to fight. As
long as I'm not superhuman, as long as my skin can't ward off
knives, bullets and spears, I'd better not live in the centers
of human society. This is why I feel it's better to evade than
People who know how to evade have a saying: 'To evade is
wings; to avoid is a tail.' This means: A tiny chick, fresh out
of the egg, if it knows how to evade, won't die. It will have a
chance to grow feathers and wings and be able to survive on its
own in the future. 'To avoid is a tail': This refers to the tail
(rudder) of a boat. If the person holding the rudder knows how
to steer, he'll be able to avoid stumps and sand bars. For the
boat to avoid running aground depends on the rudder. Since this
is the way I see things, I prefer living in the forest.
3) I've come to consider the principles of nature: It's a
quiet place, where you can observe the influences of the
environment. Wild animals, for example, sleep differently from
domesticated animals. This can be a good lesson. Or take the
wild rooster: Its eyes are quick, its tail feathers sparse, its
wings strong and its call short. It can run fast and fly far.
What do these characteristics come from? I've made this a lesson
for myself. Domesticated roosters and wild roosters come from
the same species, but the domesticated rooster's wings are weak,
its call long, its tail feathers lush and ungainly, its behavior
different from that of the wild rooster. The wild rooster is the
way it is because it can't afford to let down its guard. It
always has to be on the alert, because danger is ever-present in
the forest. If the wild rooster went around acting like a
domestic rooster, the cobras and mongooses would make a meal of
it in no time. So when it eats, sleeps, opens and closes its
eyes, the wild rooster has to be strong and resilient in order
to stay alive.
So it is with us. If we spend all our time wallowing around
in companionship, we're like a knife or a hoe stuck down into
the dirt: It'll rust easily. But if it's constantly sharpened on
a stone or a file, rust won't have a chance to take hold. Thus
we should learn to be always on the alert. This is why I like to
stay in the forest. I benefit from it, and learn many lessons.
4) I've learned to reflect on the teachings that the Buddha
taught first to each newly-ordained monk. They're very
thought-provoking. He taught the Dhamma first, and then the
Vinaya. He'd begin with the virtues of the Buddha, Dhamma and
Sangha, followed by the five basic objects of meditation: hair
of the head, hair of the body, nails, teeth and skin. Then he'd
give a sermon with four major points:
a) Make a practice of going out for alms. Be an asker,
but not a beggar. Be content with whatever you are given.
b) Live in a quiet place, such as an abandoned house,
under a projecting cliff face, in a cave. People have asked
if the Buddha had any reasons for this teaching, but I've
always been convinced that if there were no benefits to be
gained from these places, he wouldn't have recommended them.
Still, I wondered what the benefits were, which is why I've
taken an interest in this matter.
c) The Buddha taught monks to make robes from cloth that
had been thrown away — even to the point of wearing robes
made from the cloth used to wrap a corpse. This teaching
made me reflect on death. What benefits could come from
wearing the cloth used to wrap a corpse? For a simple
answer, think for a moment about a corpse's things: They
don't appeal to anyone. No one wants them — and so they hold
no dangers. In this point it's easy enough to see that the
Buddha taught us not to take pride in our possessions.
d) The Buddha taught that we should use medicines near at
hand, such as medicinal plants pickled in urine.