PEMASIRI THERA: Hello. Cup of tea?
What shall we talk about?
For developing my practice of meditation, how useful are books?
Of course, the Buddha's teachings are in many books, and you will make some progress by reading and using them. But if you want your practice to go beyond its initial stages of development, a teacher is essential. The knowledge you gain from reading only supports your practice. When you work with a good teacher, you will progress on a constant daily basis.
Since you rarely take students, why are you teaching me?
You have the need and want for a teaching. There are many people who come and ask for a teaching, but have no genuine interest. These people often know the teachings of the Buddha very well, but forget to apply their knowledge when they contact an object with their senses. I feel you are genuinely interested in learning and applying the teachings of the Buddha. In your case, there might be hope and this encourages me.
You have been teaching me for half a year now. Would you explain a little about your methods of teaching?
When we first met, you knew very little about the teachings of the Buddha. We talked about everyday things and got to know each other. I asked how you were, what you were doing, and why you came to visit. We talked about things that related to your life. When you first arrived, I did not give you any weighty lectures on the dhamma. No. Nor did I sit you down and preach my core principles and methods of meditation. If I had, you would have just got fed up and left. Instead, I tried to be patient. Mostly listening, I tried to assess your attitudes, to a certain extent your mentality, and whether or not you had any real intention to learn the dhamma. I also tried to settle on the most suitable method for getting the dhamma across to you. Then, little by little, our discussions broadened to encompass more complicated and difficult topics. This is how the dhamma must be approached.
In the suttas, you find the phrase saraniya-katha, which means remembering general talk. When a newcomer visited the Buddha, the Buddha began their conversation with general questions: "Are you hungry?" "Where are you from?" and "What do you want?" That was his way. After a general conversation with the visitor, the Buddha turned the conversation towards dhamma-kathă, which means talk of the dhamma. The Buddha only gradually introduced the dhamma. He did not immediately deliver sermons.
For example, if a rancher visited, the Buddha might ask: "How are you?" "How are your cattle?" and "What are your methods for tending to cattle?" Listening carefully to the rancher's answers, the Buddha obtained useful information about the rancher's life. The Buddha may well have said to the rancher: "Yes, that is a good method for tending to the cattle. I have a similar method for tending to the sangha."
As teachers, we try to use the same approach as the Buddha. We stop. We listen carefully to what the person is saying. Then, after having some general conversation, we gradually introduce the dhamma. It is difficult to discuss profound aspects of dhamma when we first meet people. It is inappropriate to approach a person just with dhamma. The Mahasihasenapati Sutta of the Anguttara Nikaya is a good sutta to read.
When teachers talk with students, questions are answered in the same way they are asked. If a person asked the Buddha "how," the Buddha answered how this and that happens. If a person asked "why," the Buddha answered why this and that happens. If you had asked the Buddha a question about your eyeglasses, the Buddha would have used your eyeglasses to answer your question. He always started conversations with a very close relationship.
To the person?
Yes. In the suttas, you will find many accounts of how he instructed people in the dhamma. For instance, the Buddha went many times to one man's home because the Buddha saw that this man could benefit from his teachings. It was out of great compassion that the Buddha went to see this man. At first, however, the man was not at all happy to be visited by the Buddha.
"Hey," the man grumbled. "Why do you visit my home every day? I will tell you. You come here again and again because my food is so good and you like it. You are greedy. You come here day after day to get my good food. Again and again you come."
"You are right," said the Buddha. Then, using the same theme as the man, the Buddha added: "Again and again I come to visit you."
With the passing of days and weeks, the man relaxed: "I'm now glad that you visit me, again and again."
Because the man kept using the phrase again and again, the Buddha also used the phrase again and again. "Do you know what else happens again and again?" said the Buddha.
"Please tell me," said the man.
"Again and again," said the Buddha, "the rain falls. Again and again, farmers cultivate; again and again, farmers sow seeds; again and again, farmers harvest; again and again, beggars beg; again and again, people are generous; again and again, the calf goes to its mother for milk; again and again, we are born; again and again, we grow old; again and again, we die. In this world, all these things happen again and again."
"I know about these things," said the man. "There is nothing unusual about their occurrence."
"But do you know," asked the Buddha, "how to stop the cycle of again and again?"
"No," said the man. "I don't."
The man was now receptive to learning the dhamma. "When you understand," said the Buddha, "that all these phenomena are subject to suffering, are impermanent, and insubstantial, then you understand the true nature of existence, and there is no again and again for you. There is no again and again birth, there is no again and again old age, and there is no again and again death."
"Excellent," said the man. Insight arose and he attained path knowledge. This was the way the Buddha taught the dhamma.
In another story, the Buddha visits a farmer who also had the potential to benefit from his teachings, and, although the farmer was very intelligent and capable, he was very proud. Out of great compassion, the Buddha went to see him.
On the first morning, the farmer was organising his workers to prepare his paddy field for cultivation. When the farmer saw the Buddha, he cursed: "Oh! Shaven-head. Get lost. Go away from here." The Buddha remained serene.
"You've ruined my whole day," said the farmer. "Why did you come here?"
"I came just to see what you are doing," said the Buddha.
The farmer was irritated. "I am trying to prepare my field for cultivation."
"I see," said the Buddha. "That is good." And the Buddha returned to the vihära.
On the next day, the Buddha visited again.
"What are you doing?" asked the Buddha again.
"Today," said the farmer, "I am ploughing."
On the third day, the Buddha went yet again to the field.
"What are you doing?" asked the Buddha.
"Today," said the farmer, "I am levelling my field with water."
"Good," said the Buddha. "Very nice."
On the following day, the farmer was sowing the rice, and the conversation continued as it had on previous days. Every morning for three months, the I Buddha went to the paddy field and their meetings became routine. When the I farmer went to the paddy field, the Buddha also went to the paddy field. As time passed, the farmer stopped hating the Buddha and in fact started to like him. Intelligent and wise, the Buddha was a person the farmer could talk to. The Buddha's company was a welcome break from supervising the work and workers. The Buddha and the farmer developed a close friendship.
Eventually the crop matured and it was beautiful. Plants golden with their heads fully laden, both men were happy to see how the crop had grown and matured. It was now the end of the growing season and the crop was ready for harvest.
"For nearly three months," said the farmer, "you have visited me. You are a fine companion and, even though you haven't given me anything, I want to share the coming harvest with you. I want to offer half of it to you."
"Very good," said the Buddha. The Buddha accepted the farmer's generous offer and returned to the vihăra.
That very night, a heavy rainstorm flooded and destroyed the farmer's whole crop of rice. On the following day, the Buddha went as usual to visit the farmer, but for the first time in three months the farmer was not in the field. The Buddha walked up to the farmer's home, where he found the farmer in bed, very sad.
"Why are you so sad?" asked the Buddha.
"I am sad, not because I lost the harvest, but because yesterday I promised to give you half and now I cannot give it to you."
"Tanhăya jayati sökö," the Buddha told the farmer. "Tanhăya jayati bhayal7l, tahăya vippamuttassa, n 'atthi soko, kuto bhayam." This gatha translates as: "From craving, grief and fear are born; for the person who is free from craving, there is no grief or fear." Reciting this gatha is good for you too.
Though the farmer was an intelligent man, when he first met the Buddha, he simply was not listening to what the Buddha said about the nature of craving or anything to do with dhamma. At first, the farmer told the Buddha: "Get lost shaven-head. Don't bother me. I am very busy. I have many things to do. I have to feed and care for my family, inspect my fields, and supervise my workers. I have no time to listen to you or to your dhamma."
That is a common answer.
Yes. The Buddha had to keep going back to the paddy field until the farmer was receptive to hearing the dhamma. The Buddha spent three months visiting this one person because he knew it would take that much time and effort. The Buddha had the wisdom to know how to approach the farmer. The Buddha had the wisdom to give dhamma in the appropriate way.
As each and every person has his or her own individual way of learning, a good teacher always employs a number of different approaches to the dhamma. The teaching must be on an individual basis. One specific approach, one standard blueprint, in teaching the dhamma is inadequate. Sometimes the Buddha approached people quite softly and gently. In the case of the farmer who was sad because his crop was destroyed, the Buddha was merely a good friend.
Did the farmer attain some liberation?
Yes. After the Buddha explained the gatha, the farmer attained path knowledge. This is why the Buddha visited the farmer for three months. When the Buddha looked through the world, he saw that the man had the potential to benefit from his teachings.
What is dhamma?
Strictly speaking, what the Buddha taught is neither philosophy nor religion, and definitely neither abstract nor ritualistic. His teachings are a practical way of living that leads to our release from suffering. Existing only briefly, to be a human being in a period of a Buddha's teaching is a rare occurrence. We have to grasp this opportunity to see objects in their entirety, as well as to see both the wholesome and the unwholesome. The Buddha's teachings are a way of being skilful,
Once upon a time, there was a poor elderly woman who ran a roadhouse, As part of her operation, she owned many horses, one of which was very skilful. And though doing what she could to give her horses the best possible care, she could only give them low quality feed because she lacked the money to buy the higher quality.
One day, a rich merchant with many ordinary horses came by to spend the night. When the merchant tried to put his ordinary horses in the stable alongside the skilful horse, his ordinary horses became afraid of the skilful horse and drew back. They balked. "I am curious about one of your horses," said the merchant, "Is there something special about one of them?"
"Yes," said the poor woman. "There is one particularly skilful horse."
"Can I buy it?"
Agreeing upon a price, the woman sold the merchant the horse. But, when the merchant tried to take the skilful horse from the woman's stable, the horse refused to leave. "The merchant needs to pay more money for me," thought the horse. "I will stay put until he pays more."
Somehow, the woman and the merchant figured out why the skilful horse was refusing to leave. The merchant then gave the woman more money, and the horse left with the merchant. In the merchant's stable, the merchant tried to give the horse the same low quality feed that the poor woman had given it, but the horse refused to eat it. "Why," thought the horse, "should I eat rubbish when this rich merchant can easily afford to give me high quality feed?" The merchant was a smart man. Realizing what the horse required, the merchant gave it the higher quality feed.
The poor woman, the merchant, the ordinary horses, and the skilful horse-each character of the story acted according to the wholesomeness of their mental states. The skilful horse did not hold out for a higher price just to please the lady. It simply acted skillfully, saw its world clearly and acted without expectations. Because the elderly woman lacked the money to provide high quality feed, the horse did not expect her to provide high quality feed. It was satisfied with what she could afford. It is always important to see both the wholesome as well as the unwholesome. Like the skilful horse, when we see the unwholesome, we reject it. And when people engage in unwholesome activities, we don't join them. Keeping the company of good friends is very important.
It is difficult to find a good friend.
No. It is not difficult. Clear comprehension is a good friend.
But there are so many unkind people.
There is no need to be too concerned about what other people say and do. We have got used to turning our minds outwards, watching what's going on externally. It's a bad habit. There is really no need to be looking at others.
"Abide," said the Buddha, "constantly looking at oneself." The more we look at ourselves, the better off we'll be. It is through the practice of meditative development, bhăvană in the Pali language, that we come to know our strengths and weaknesses. Knowing the fundamentals of meditative development is very important, but it is a topic that generally needs to be discussed at great length. It can take six months to learn the fundamentals.