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THE WAY TO GOODNESS
by Venerable Phra Ajahn Yantra Amaro Bhikkhu
A Talk given at Wat Lao Buddharam Otahuhu, Auckland,
New Zealand on 13 January 1990
There are many kinds of goodness, but if we never practise them we shall never attain them. When we decide to practise good, we must set ourselves with confidence and single-mindedness, remain calm, cool-headed, and forward-looking, and be persistent. There will be times, when someone criticizes or does not support us, that we will become angry. Then, our previous goodness will disappear, and the goodness we are about to do will fail to come about. So we must be interested in what we aim to do, must never give up, but must be strong- willed and confident in what we do. When someone criticizes us, or is jealous, or shows off, ignore them ("let go"), and we shall maintain our confidence in doing good. Sometimes we think we are doing the right thing, but when someone is against us we start to lose confidence. We become uncertain whether it is right to continue, and we start to give up because we are not strong enough. After thinking deeply we must be patient. But patience alone is not enough, we must be supremely confident. Even supreme confidence is not enough, we must also carefully examine whether there is anything better that we could do. Is there something that will lead to better understanding of cause and effect, and to better understanding of the Dhamma? Can we do better? Keep trying with patience, good intentions, and a strong will. Think things through several times before starting, and you will make good progress. When we understand and know what to do, do it immediately, don't put it off. Sometimes we have good ideas but never act on them, never start to do anything. Persistence and patience are essential and initiative. As the saying goes: "There is a tide in the affairs of men which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune". While we still have strength and energy we should act, not wait, because tomorrow is uncertain. Do what you can now, with all your power and strength.
Goodness exists only where it is, as words or thoughts in our minds. The Buddha said that our life stems from our feelings. Thoughts are the root of everything. Our lives proceed mainly according to how we feel and how we think. When a good mind has good thoughts it will feel wiser and know what to do. You will feel encouraged, enthusiastic, and do things with joy. You will grow in self-confidence in doing good until you don't need confirmation or praise from others.
The Buddha said that doing goodness is good, and doing evil is evil. It is better not to do even a small evil, because it can bring trouble later. When there is a chance, even a small chance to do good, try and do it, and ensure some future happiness. Doing good is difficult. It is like making water flow uphill, and we must exert energy, either our own or use a pump, to achieve that. Doing good is the same, we must set ourselves against the flow of the world, and against the defilements, such as enjoying the taste of food, or a good sleep. We must force ourselfes no to do what we normally like to do. At the beginning we have to force ourselves, but later it becomes easier and eventually a habit. When this happens you will feel more comfortable, and lighter in mind and body. You will not need to eat so much, and you will be satisfied to live a simple life.
Patience and forbearance encourage strength and self-control. The Buddha said "Khanti paramam tapo titikha". Khanti is tolerance, which the Dhamma used to overcome defilements (kilesa). Khanti hitasukhavaha means "Patience brings about happiness". While we are patiently doing good, we have to endure pain, or bodily or mental discomfort. So we must be strong, and force ourselves to continue until defilements can no longer bother us. Then they will cease of their own accord. No matter what happens, be it pain or discomfort, do not be apprehensive, for if we are patient and strong enough we shall find peace. We shall be able to "let go" and reach equanimity.
Buddhism guides us through patience to do our duty, and enables us to endure hard work and sickness. But these are not enough, we must withstand defilements and anything that bothers our minds. To endure with the mind is more difficult than to endure with the body. For example, we must withstand the temptation of the defilement that causes blind love or hatred. Also, we must withstand superficial pleasure, or else we will fall into the trap of enjoying appearances, sounds, smells, and tastes. We often talk of putting up with hard work, but we forget that we also have to tolerate worldly pleasures also, so as not to follow illusion. Illusory happiness causes the most suffering. Think about yourselves. When we are excited we lose our sense of proportion, our mind loses its ability to concentrate, and we become agitated like a trapped bird flapping its wings. If someone who usually says hello to you suddenly one day passes by without saying hello, it is like a pang in the heart, and you look like a sad old bird on a perch.
Buddha pointed out that we should not be deluded by hapiness or sadness. Give your mind equanimity by being aware of them, but don't give yourself over to somanassa or domanassa when they come. (Somanassa is mental pleasure, domanassa is mental pain.) Pleasure or pain depends on what your mind makes of them, so put your mind at the middle. If your mind is not clinging tightly to something, you'll feel happy and lightened. If the mind is in equanimity it will be clean, devoid, and therefore comfortable. When this so, the Noble Dhamma has acted in your mind.
Examine yourself once in a while. When you succeed in controlling your mind, you will feel invigorated and be able to persist better in doing your duty in body, mind, and speedh. Try to avoid doing ill deeds, and promote your virtue. There are three ways, or body actions, to avoid wrong-doing:
Panatipata verami - do not kill or hurt other beings;
Adinnadana veramani - do not cheat, steal, or damage others' property;
Kamesumicchacara veramani - abstain from sexual misconduct, and do not have affairs with others' wifes or husbands. Husbands and wives should be faithful to each other. Each husband should have only one wife, and each wife only one husband; unless one spouse dies, and then the other can marry again. Be of good behaviour.
Adinnadana also means, not only to avoid stealing, but also to have a job that does not entail killing, and to give to others when you can, with compassion and loving kindness.
As well as these three body actions, there are other ways to avoid wrong-doing in speaking. These are vacikamma, the four verbal actions:
Musavada veramani - do not tell lies nor speak falsely;
Pisunaya vacaya veramani - do not use unkind or unplesant words:
Pharusaya cacaya veramani - do not use harsh words;
Samphappalapa veramani - avoid idle chatter and frivolous talk with nothing to say, or talking to no purpose.
Thus, even my Dhamma talk must have an audience who can understand. If the listeners do not understand clearly, or become sleepy, I should stop and not waste my time.
Speech should not only be truthful, but also pleasant to the ear and create harmony in the listeners Buddha taught that speech must not be harsh or coarse. Harsh speech is often the work of a hard, inflexible person, thought some people look and sound hard but inside are tender. We think we understand the Dhama and want the world to know about it, but are then unhappy when we are criticized. We are sensitive to criticism, it makes us feel foolish and unhappy. Sometimes we have good intentions, but they can become sullied if we let our ears take charge, i.e., are swayed by criticism. The mind must be strong all the time, must never give up, and must always be mindful of the present moment.
I believe that the good deeds we do bring us increasing happiness, like a tree that starts as a young plant with a single stem and grows branches leaves, flowers, and fruits. A kind and tranquil mind progressively brings happiness and gains love from every person or deity wherever one goes. It is a fact that power gained from practicing Dhamma is real, strong, and more valuable than anything else. A person who has confidence in their own Dhamma does not have to do anything special, for whatever he or she does will bring a marvelous result. You don't have to do anything complicated, sometimes just thinking will achieve a good and strong result. Try it. When you have a good clear mind, the path to success seems smooth, and things work out well. But if your mind is not calm, peaceful, and clear, things do not turn out the way you hope, even though you aspire strongly and often. Such a mind is confused, weak, and powerless. So try and do only good things, and do your duty as best as you can, always with loving kindness and mindfulness of the present moment. Whatever appears or happens, regard it as natural, as "suchness".
Let us keep ourselves as simple and humble as we can; let us be happy with simple things, and try to cultivate our goodness. Let those who want to show off, do so. Teachers have sharp eyes and easily see through any sham to the real person. Thus, when someone does something which is obviously to gain admiration, the teacher gives only a brief, polite compliment. By the same token, a teacher does not criticize a wrong-doer, but instead guides that person toward the right way. But when people do something which really is praise worthy, the wise person praises them in public; likewise, if they do wrong, he criticizes them in private.
Practice talking nicely to your own children and family, and indeed to everybody, even those you don't like very much. And do it all the time, not just now and again. Your conversation should make people feel calm and relaxed, and feel stimulated to do good things.
The teachings of philosophers usually make people cheerful and happy. Sometimes what they say is hard to understand, and some people don't want to listen, but a teacher still feels compelled to speak so as to make people realize the truth about themselves. It is also morally necessary to say unpalatable things, for example, sometimes a student becomes very angry on hearing what the teacher has to say, but nevertheless the teacher must tell him so that he may learn and in future do the right thing. The teacher who constantly criticizes us is the one who really loves us. If he does not advise or admonish us, it means he is not interested in us anymore. Most students who achieve much have teachers who are serious, nagging, and scolding.
Some people's sons and daughters never grow up; from the outside they appear adult, but inside are still like small children. In this case we cannot do much, even though we love the very much. All we can do is to keep on telling them what to do, and not allow them always to do what they want to do. To always allow them to do what they wish sometimes amounts to punishing them, or even, in some cases, to indirectly killing them. At the least, it makes them weak. The Chinese encourage their children to fend for themselves. In former times, China had little food, and during autumn parents gave their children small spears with which to gather falling leaves to sell. So Chinese people then grew up stable, strong, and tolerant. But I am not so sure now. Chinese, Thai, Lao, Indians, and especially Westerners are looked after too well by their governments, until the people don't know how to earn their own living. So they become backward instead of developing. Their brains regress, because the are looked after - why should they work? They are bereft of ideas, and become helpless.
People who don't develop themselves don't go very far, and people who stagnate at one place may sink even further. But those who keep going forward, go far. So we should develop ourselves all the time.
The last topic is manokamma, the three mind actions. There are three ways which result in the mind becoming unwholesome. First, there is covetousness (abhijjha) - greed and envy; second is ill-will (byapada)- anger, hatred, revenge, dislike; and the third is wrong views (micchaditthi) - for example, the belief that there is neither heaven nor hell, or that there is no way to Nirvana (the extinction of all defilement and suffering).
Evil or wrong action (papa) and righteousness or good works (punna) are very real, and the person who understands this has changed from being of wrong views to being of right views (sammaditthi). This person believes in the existence of good and evil, good deeds and actions (good kamma), and eveli deeds and actions (bad kamma). He understands the relation of cause and effect, the Four Noble Truths (ariyasacca), suffering (dukkha), and the causes or origins of sufering (samudaya), which causes are ignorance or delusion (avijja), craving or desire (tanha), and attachment, clinging, or grasping (upadana). If we believe in kamma, we believe we can avoid the cause of suffering (samudaya), and avoid the self (atta), craving (tanha), and clinging, or grasping (upadana). If we believe in kamma, we believe we can avoid the cause of suffering (samudaya), and avoid the self (atta), craving (tanha), and clinging or attachment (upadana). After we let go of all these we will feel right, clean, pure, and peaceful.
If we cultivate the three kammas - the three body actions, four verbal actions, and three mind actions, we will develop properly. These kammas are the way we should behave in our life. A person with right views (sammaditthi) knows how to think, and one with wrong views (micchditthi) does not know how to think. Some people have right thoughts, and some wrong thoughts, which cause defilement and unhappiness.
The world is a mixture of good and bad, so we should not hold on to anything tightly, but the confident to our own good deeds. It doesn't matter what other people say about us, whether they criticize or blame us, we are not wounded or dismembered by such words. People who condemn others are not normal. Angry people suffer more than any others, and the angrier they are the worse the result, for example, they lose their appetite while you can enjoy a very delicious meal, for when they are angry al deliciousness disappears. A few other defilements (or impurities or impairments ) let some taste remains, but anger destroys taste completely. So, instead, we should develop loving kindness, and forgive and forget. Be aware of the present moment, remember the kindliness of the Buddha, and these will bring out your true human nature.
Goodness and worth in our life depend on us, and on what we do. We are the ones who control our lives, whether we want to be happy or to suffer, to develop or to regress. When we have decided to do only good we can follow the four-fold road to success (iddhipada 4).
Being happy with what you are doing, and doing it willingly;
Careful thought leading to self-improvement.
Iddhipada is the Dhamma path to accomplishment, which by energy and effort leads to success, if we understand and are willing to use it.
Now it is time to stop talking today.
Sunnataram California Meditation Monastery
A THERAVADAN BUDDHIST HERMITAGE
Dhamma is the greatest treasure.
A person who has Dhamma is never lonely, but full of strength, knowledge, awareness, and happiness!