Growing in Goodness and Virtue
by Ajahn Dtun Thiracitto
Tan Ajahn Dtun (Thiracitto) 2 January 2549 (2006)
Within the teachings of the Lord Buddha, the Buddha instructed the community of his disciples (monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen) to become acquainted with the truths of nature; that is, with regards to one’s own body, the bodies of others and all material objects – all come into being and exist for a period of time before finally ceasing to be. The Buddha was teaching that we should know the nature of things as they truly are: once born, the natural course for all beings is that they must break apart – disintegrate. We must have the sati-paññā (mindfulness and wisdom) to know things as they really are by studying one’s own body and mind, and by contemplating the Dhamma1 so as to totally cleanse one’s heart of the kilesas (defilements) of greed, anger and delusion. These impurities fill the hearts of all beings, bringing with them the endless suffering that comes from the wandering on through saṁsāra (the beginningless cycle of birth, death and rebirth).
Taking a human birth and meeting with the teachings of the Lord Buddha is something extremely hard to come by in this world. People, however are still heedless, deludedly taking pleasure in forms, sounds, odours, tastes and bodily sensations, along with material objects, with there being a never-ending search for wealth, honour and praise. Actually we have previously come across and known all of these things through countless lifetimes. However, the kilesas within the heart of all beings are never satiated, never knowing enough. When we meet with old things, we think they are new, deludedly enjoying materiality which results in an endless succession of dying and being reborn in saṁsāra. Therefore, it is something very rare indeed that we should be born as humans and meet with the teachings of the Lord Buddha.
The human realm is truly an excellent realm for it is the realm in which all the Buddhas have attained enlightenment, hence making their hearts pure. Most of the arahant (fully enlightened being) disciples also purified their hearts here in this human realm. So why is it that, having taken this human birth, we still do not make the effort to work for the heart’s purification here in this very lifetime? Why let time slip by unproductively when time is relentlessly passing by? One’s life is continually diminishing, getting shorter and shorter. One who is heedful will, for this reason, put forth great effort to perform only good, virtuous deeds by observing sīla (moral precepts), practicing samādhi (concentration) and cultivating paññā (wisdom) within their heart, for this is the path of practice for the realization of Nibbāna – the complete ending of suffering.
All the Buddhas pointed to the path of sīla, samādhi, and paññā- virtue, concentration and wisdom – as being the path that will direct one’s heart towards purity; that is, the complete absence of greed, anger and delusion, or in other words, the realization of Nibbāna within one’s own heart.
When the time and opportunity is appropriate, we perform acts of goodness so as to develop pāramī 2 (spiritual perfections) within one’s heart. Having correct or right view, we will wish to make offerings in order to increase our virtue and pāramī. When developing virtue and goodness, however, don’t go delaying or slowing down one’s heart by doing acts that make us ‘lose points’; that is, behaviour that obstructs the development of all that is virtuous. For example, when we do things which are immoral, or improper, this is called ‘losing points’; for such actions interrupt one’s continuing growth in goodness. Whenever we behave improperly or immorally, it will prevent us from performing virtuous acts such as observing moral precepts, developing concentration and cultivating wisdom within one’s heart – for moral and immoral behaviour are mutually obstructive to each other.
When taking birth in each and every lifetime, all the Buddhas would re-establish or continue anew with their aspiration for Buddhahood. They gave up all that is unskillful, bad or immoral. In each lifetime, they cleansed their hearts by performing only good deeds until finally making the heart pure.
The arahant disciples also set their hearts upon building up the spiritual perfections in order to transcend dukkha (suffering, discontentment); namely, for the realization of Nibbāna. They had patience and endurance by not acting upon their kilesas, for doing anything immoral or unwholesome would be a cause for suffering both here in the present and also in the future. They accumulated only goodness by performing the meritorious acts of observing moral precepts, developing concentration and cultivating wisdom. As a result, their store of virtue and pāramī gradually grew until their hearts became strong and unshakeable. They had mindfulness and wisdom investigating, penetrating through to the truth regarding their body or personal condition, realizing that the bodies of all sentient beings are merely aggregates of earth, water, air and fire that come together only temporarily: once born, no-one can go beyond ageing; no-one can go beyond sickness, and so no-one can go beyond death. When there is birth, change then follows, until ultimately the body breaks apart.
If we understand clearly that once having come into being, all natural conditions and phenomena will go through change until eventually disintegrating, and that the mind is unable to dictate that they be otherwise – stable or constant. As a consequence, we will make the effort to have sati-paññā, mindfulness and wisdom, seeing through things to what they truly are, not being heedless in one’s life but rather attempting to progressively build up and increase one’s spiritual perfections and virtue. Sati-paññā investigates any dukkha, or defilements, that are within one’s heart – these being born of delusion, with greed, anger, satisfaction and dissatisfaction as their outcome. One must recognize that all emotions of discontentment or unsatisfactoriness are unfavorable and so must seek out the path that avoids or subdues this dukkha, hence bringing an end to the greed, anger and delusion that are within one’s heart
We should all try, therefore, not to be negligent in our lives. Always have mindfulness and wisdom watching over and tending to the mind in each and every moment by striving to remove any kilesas and harmful thoughts from one’s mind. One’s thoughts do not arise from trees, houses, cars or one’s personal wealth. Rather, all thoughts, or dukkha, originate from within one’s mind. If we hold to incorrect or wrong views, our thinking will, as a result, be mistaken. If we do not have the sati-paññā to restrain our thoughts, we will speak or act in ways that are improper or harmful.
We must have mindfulness guarding over the mind, for the mind is the kilesas’ place of birth. Patiently persevere with any unwholesome thoughts that arise by looking for skilful ways to reflect upon and discard – at that very moment – any greed, anger, satisfaction and dissatisfaction from one’s heart, not keeping or holding to such adverse mental states. One has to know how to let go of one’s attachment towards emotions and thoughts by not acting or speaking unskillfully. If we have mindfulness watching over the mind, staying in the present moment, we will be wise to any defiled emotions, recognizing that they are states of mind, naturally subject to arising and ceasing.
However, if one’s mindfulness and wisdom are lacking in strength, not having the energy or the wisdom to reflect upon one’s emotions or kilesas in order to remove them from the heart, we must then bring mindfulness to focus upon one’s meditation object so as to establish concentration, thus cutting any adverse emotions out from the heart. Constantly recollect the Lord Buddha, or his teachings, by reciting the meditation word ‘buddho, buddho, buddho…’ silently within your mind so as to give rise to samadhi, the peacefulness and coolness of mind. The mind will be still and concentrated – all thoughts, both good and bad, will be absent from the mind.
Once the mind has firm, strong mindfulness, one will have the wisdom to continually reflect upon and abandon any kilesas from one’s heart. Even if the gross kilesas of greed and anger arise, mindfulness and wisdom will be abreast of them. When more moderate or subtle defilements arise, sati-paññā will gradually become wise to them by having the skilful means to see the emotions for what they truly are: impermanent and without any self entity, thus releasing one’s hold of them.
We make an effort, therefore, to remain focused upon growing in goodness and virtue, along with building up the spiritual perfections. What is important is that we don’t go making any bad kamma by performing unwholesome or immoral deeds. We need to have patience and a commitment to following the teachings of the Lord Buddha by refraining from doing anything that is bad or immoral and by practicing only that which is good, for this is what cultivates one’s heart to go beyond all suffering, bringing true, genuine happiness.
To experience true happiness, we must develop the mind by practicing according to the teachings of the Lord Buddha. Once we are familiar with practicing generosity, we can then cultivate the mind even further by keeping the five precepts. If one’s mind grows in strength, we may, on occasion, keep the eight precepts, or even choose to observe them as one’s normal manner of being.
When you have free time, try developing samādhi by practicing meditation. Most people, however, think they don’t have the time to practice, being too busy with their external work and duties along with their family obligations. That people do not have the time to practice is because they don’t see the use or benefit of meditation; consequently, they misguidedly take pleasure with the things of the world.
We practice meditation in order to develop strong mindfulness, wisdom so that it can discard all dukkha from the mind, hence curing one’s heart of its suffering and discontent. Everyday, therefore, we should train and develop ourselves by giving ten or fifteen minutes to quieting the mind, or longer than this if one wishes; work at it, really develop it. We are our own refuge, so we must make an effort to train and develop ourselves, for if they can train elephants and dogs to be tame, or break horses of their wildness, then why can’t we train our own heart to be good? We think that this mind is our own, yet as soon as the mind becomes troubled or distressed, why is it then that the mind only thinks of bad things – things bound up with kilesas? Why is there always dukkha burning within the heart?
For this reason, we must have mindfulness and wisdom rising up to overthrow the kilesas within one’s heart. Look for ways to let go of the defilements, thus lessening and weakening them. We really have to train this mind: train it according to the teachings of Lord Buddha, for his path is the most excellent of ways which makes it possible for the hearts of all beings to be cleansed until purified.
And so, time is passing by. Last year has passed by according to conventional, mundane view or belief, now being considered as the ‘old year’. Today is the second day of the New Year. The old year, along with all of our experiences – one’s joys and one’s sorrows – has passed by. Don’t do again anything that proved not to be good; always regard these things as lessons that educate one’s heart. Anything that was good and wholesome should be gathered together to be further enhanced. The past has gone by; the future has yet to come. One should have mindfulness and wisdom tending to one’s heart, so as to keep it established in virtue and goodness. Everyday, therefore practice only goodness, and one’s heart will, as a consequence, be cool and calm – true happiness will arise.
All conventions and designations are merely mundane concepts or assumptions – that’s all they are. The days are passing by: from days into months, from months into years, this is completely natural. However, months, years, ‘New Years Day’… are all assumed names and concepts; nevertheless, the days and nights remain just the same as ever, but it’s the mind that feels it has to change or improve on things by giving meaning and names to them.
In this that we have assumed to be the New Year, we will have to establish certain wholesome states, making goodness and virtue arise in our hearts. If we are accustomed to practicing generosity, and we desire to enhance this goodness even more, we must then observe the moral precepts. Once observing the moral precepts has become one’s normal manner, and should we wish for an even greater kind of goodness, we then should train and develop the mind in meditation so as to give rise to the mindfulness and wisdom that will be able to see through to the truths regarding one’s own body, the bodies of others, and all material objects: everything in this world comes into being, exists, and ultimately breaks apart.
When the body has broken apart, will one’s mind go to a realm that is high and refined or to one that is low and coarse? Does the heart have a true refuge or not? Or do we only have our homes, our wealth and our possessions, believing these to be one’s refuge? We can, however, only depend on these things temporarily. When the body breaks apart, the mind is completely incapable of taking one’s wealth or one’s physical body along with it. There is only the goodness and virtue that one has accumulated through the practice of sīla, samādhi and paññā that can go along with the mind. So, try establishing correct or right view within one’s heart in order to build up the spiritual perfections, thus effecting a lessening in the number of one’s future lives until finally realizing Nibbāna here in one’s own heart.
At present, you all have faith in this supreme dispensation of the Lord Buddha, routinely coming to make offerings (to the community of monks), even though it may not always be here at Wat Boonyawad. Normally, at the appropriate time and opportunity, you will go and give offerings at various monasteries, some being close and others being far from your homes, due to having practiced such generosity since past lives through into this present life. You have thus developed a strong tendency to further practice generosity and to build up the spiritual perfections. This can be considered to be one’s deep-rooted conditioning, having faithfully practiced like this since the past, hence causing one to live life with right view in one’s heart; and as such, one’s virtue and goodness will continue to grow further.
And so, I would like to call upon the spiritual perfections of all the Buddhas and the greatness of their teaching, along with the spiritual perfections of all the arahant disciples; may their goodness and virtue be your highest object of recollection, together with the virtue of the Sangha, since the past until the present, as well as the goodness they will continue to cultivate in the future, and the goodness of all of you – ever since one’s former lives until the present – so that you will aspire to further practice goodness in order to realize Nibbāna.
May all this goodness create the conditions for you all to experience growth and prosperity in your lives, realizing whatever you may wish for – provided it is within the bounds of correct morality.
May the vision of Dhamma arise in your practice and may you all realize Nibbāna.
May it be so.