Right Here In The Heart
by Ajahn Maha Boowa
When you listen to a Dhamma talk, pay close attention to your heart, for that’s where the Dhamma lies – in the heart. At first, before I had practiced meditation, I didn’t believe that the Dhamma lay with the heart. “How could that be?” I thought. “The Dhamma comes with making an effort in the heart. That sounds better than saying the Dhamma lies with the heart.”
“The Dhamma lies with the heart. The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha lie in the heart. All dhammas lie in the heart.” I didn’t believe this. All 84,000 sections of the Dhamma lie in the texts – that’s how I felt at first. But as I kept listening to my teachers explain things, none of them ever deviated from this point: “The Dhamma lies in the heart. The Dhamma lies with the heart.” As I kept listening to this, my mind gradually settled down and grew still.
At first, when I listened to a Dhamma talk, I’d focus my attention on the speaker, instead of keeping it focused on myself. “Don’t focus your attention outside,” they’d say. “Keep conscious of what’s going on inside yourself. The Dhamma being explained will come in and make contact with you on its own.” I wouldn’t listen to this. I kept focusing my attention on the speaker. In fact, I’d even want to watch his face as he talked. It got to the point where if I didn’t watch his face, didn’t watch his mouth as he talked, I didn’t feel right. That’s how I was at the beginning.
But as time passed, I came to find that stillness would appear in my heart while I was listening to the Dhamma. That’s when I began to believe: “The Dhamma of concentration does lie right here in the heart.” I began to have a witness – myself. So from that point on, I wouldn’t send my attention anywhere outside while listening to a Dhamma talk. I wouldn’t even send it to the speak- er, because I was absorbed in the stillness in my heart. My heart would grow still as I listened – cool, calm and absorbed. This made me believe: “They’re right. The Dhamma does lie with the heart!”
That’s when I began to believe this – when the Dhamma of concentration, mental stillness and calm appeared in my heart as I listened to the Dhamma. This made me want to keep on listening as a means of stilling and calming the heart.
As time passed and I continued my meditation, the results of my practice always appeared in the heart. They didn’t appear anywhere else. When the mind wasn’t still, then whatever was disturbing it could be found in the heart. I’d know: “Today my heart doesn’t feel right.” It would be distracted and restless according to its moods. “Eh? Why doesn’t my heart feel right today?” This made me interested from another angle. I’d try my best to calm the heart down. As soon as it got back into place with its meditation, it settled down and became still. This made the point very clear – Dhamma does lie in the heart.
The world lies in the heart. The Dhamma lies in the heart. For this reason, when you listen to a Dhamma talk you should keep your attention focused right inside yourself. There’s no need to send it outside – to have anything to do with the person speaking, for instance. When you keep your awareness focused inside yourself this way, the Dhamma being explained will come in and make contact with your awareness.
The heart is what is aware. When the current of sound dealing with the Dhamma comes in and makes continual contact with the heart, the heart won’t have a chance to slip outside, because the Dhamma is something calming and absorbing. This moment, that moment, it keeps you absorbed from moment to moment with the current of sound coming from the speaker. Step after step, it keeps making contact. The heart gradually becomes more and more quiet, more and more still. This way you already start seeing the rewards that come from listening.
This is why, if you want to listen to the Dhamma in the right way for get- ting clear results, you have to keep your attention focused firmly inside yourself. There’s no need to send it outside, and no need to engage in a lot of thinking while you’re listening. Simply let the mind follow along with the current of
Dhamma being explained, and the Dhamma will seep into your heart. When the mind doesn’t get itself worked up with thoughts about various things, it becomes still; that’s all there is to it. But to grow still, it needs something to counteract its thoughts. It won’t settle down on its own simply because you want it to. You have to use one Dhamma theme or another, or the sound of Dhamma while a Dhamma talk is going on. Only then can it grow still.
Where is the greatest turmoil in the world? There’s no greater turmoil than the one in the heart. If we talk about things murky and turbid, there’s nothing more murky and turbid than the heart. Nothing at all can compare with the heart in being troubled and pained. Even the heat of fire isn’t nearly as hot as a heart aflame with mental defilements.
Defilements do nothing but make us suffer, step after step. This is why we’re taught to see their harm. We must be intent on keeping mindfulness es- tablished and investigate things from various angles. When mindfulness and awareness keep in touch with each other, then our practice of concentration and our investigation of things from the various angles of wisdom keep getting results step by step.
For example, the Buddha teaches us: “Birth is suffering. Death is suffering. These are Noble Truths.” Birth is suffering, but we’re pleased by birth. When a child is born, we’re happy. When a grandchild is born, when our friends and relatives have children, we’re happy. We don’t think of the pain and suffering the child goes through, surviving almost certain death in that narrow passage before being born.
If we don’t look at both the beginning point – birth – and the endpoint
– death – so as to see them clearly, both these points will cause us unending joy and sorrow. Actually, the child has to survive almost certain death before it can become a human being. If it doesn’t survive, it dies right then – either in the womb or at the moment of birth – because it’s pained to the point of death. That’s how we human beings die. Once we’re born, then no matter what our age, we have to be pained to the point of death before we can die.
Pain is something we’ve experienced from the moment of birth, but we don’t see it as a Noble Truth. Actually, it’s something we should see as harmful, dangerous and threatening, so that we can find a way to transcend it through our own efforts – and especially through the efforts of our mindfulness and wis- dom. When we enjoy the beginning but dislike the end – when we like birth but dislike death – we’re contradicting the truth all the time. And where can we get any happiness with these contradictions in the heart? They have to make us suffer. There are no two ways about it.
In order to put the beginning and end in line with each other, we must contemplate the entire course of events – to see that birth is suffering, ageing is suffering, death is suffering – for these three are all bound up with pain and suffering. They’re the path leading to suffering and discontent, not the path leading to Nibbana, so we cannot progress along the right path until we have thoroughly understood them through skillful investigation. The Buddha teach- es: “There is no suffering for those without birth.” When there’s no birth, where will there be any suffering? When there are no seeds for birth, there are simply no seeds for suffering, so suffering does not exist in the heart. This is why En- lightened Ones have no feelings of discontent or pain in their hearts. They have no moods in their hearts at all. No happy, sad or indifferent moods exist in the heart of an Arahant.
Arahants have all three kinds of feelings in their bodies: they feel physical pain just like we do, but their hearts have no moods. Physical feelings have no effect on their hearts. Their hearts aren’t swayed by such influences the way ordinary hearts are. They know pleasure, pain and neutral feeling in their bod- ies, but there are no corresponding moods in their hearts – because they have gone beyond all moods. Their hearts are pure, unadulterated Dhamma, which no defilement can infiltrate. Feelings of pleasure and pain are all impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self, so they can’t possibly get involved with the nature of a pure heart.
If you want your heart to prosper and grow toward purity, strive to develop inner goodness. Don’t let the qualities of generosity and moral virtue lapse.
They are good qualities for nourishing your heart and connecting it up with good states of rebirth. If you have a good foundation of inner worth as your sustenance, then no matter where you’re reborn, that goodness will stick close to you so that you can look forward to a good destination.
As long as we have yet to gain release from suf- fering, we are taught to exert ourselves fully without being lazy or complacent. Polish the heart every day. When the heart is polished every day, it’s bound to shine. And when the heart is shining, you’re bound to see your reflection, just as when water is clear you can see clearly whatever plants or animals there are in the water.
Once the heart is still, you’ll be able to see what- ever poisons or dangers it contains much more eas- ily than when it’s murky and turbulent with defiling preoccupations. This is why we’re taught to purify the heart. In the teachings gathered in the Patimokkha ex- hortation, we’re taught:
Never do any evil,
Develop skillfulness fully,
Cleanse the heart until it is pure:
These are the Buddhas’ teachings.
This is what all the Buddhas teach, without excep- tion. Whatever is evil or debasing they teach us not to do, telling us instead to do only things that are skilful, through the power of our own wisdom. Developing skillfulness fully means developing wisdom fully.
Cleansing the heart until it is pure is hard to do, but it lies within our capacity as human beings to do it. The Buddha went through hardships, his disciples went through hardships, all those who have reached purity have had to go through hardships, but these were hardships for the sake of gaining purity and release, which is what makes them worth going through.
When the heart is overcome with dirt and defilement, it does not seem to have any value at all. Even we can see the fault in ourselves. We may decide that we’d rather put an end to it all. We’re so disgusted and fed up with life that we’re ashamed to show our face to the world. And all of this happens when the heart is very murky and dark, to the point where it becomes a smoldering fire.
Life doesn’t seem worth living when the heart is overwhelmed by things that are so hopelessly dark. The heart seems worthless, which is why we think it would be better to die. But where will we get anything ‘better’ after we die? Even in the present, nothing is good. The world has had people dying a long time now; if things got better with death, why isn’t the world any better than it is? There’s no good in us – that’s why we want to die. Once the heart is good, however, it has no problem with life or death, because it’s filled with good- ness.
A heart overcome by worthless things seems thoroughly worthless. But when we wash these things away, step by step, the heart gradually starts show- ing some of its inner radiance. It starts growing peaceful and calm. The entire heart becomes radiant. Happy. Relaxed. Whatever we do – sitting, standing, walking, lying down or whatever work we do – we’re happy with the pleasure that has appeared in the heart.
When the heart is peaceful and calm, then wherever we are, we’re con- tent. The important point lies with the heart. If the heart lacks goodness, then nothing is good, no matter where we are. We keep fooling ourselves: “Over here might be good. Over there might be good. This lifetime is no good. The next lifetime will be better. Living is no good. Dying would be better.” We keep fooling ourselves. The troubled part of the mind – that’s what fools us. The part
that’s stirred up by various issues – that’s what fools us. “This will be good… That will be good,” but it’s not good at all. No matter where we go, we end up the same as where we started – because the essential part is no good. We must straighten that out and make it good through our own efforts.
Begin by practicing concentration so that the heart can be still. You must constrain the heart when you are practicing for concentration. The time when you’re constraining the heart and training it to meditate is not the time to let it go wandering as it likes. We call this making an effort, being persistent – mak- ing a persistent effort to straighten out the heart and uproot its enemies, until the heart can grow still. The heart grows still because our efforts force it to, not because we let it go wandering as it likes. This is when we see the rewards of our efforts, because the heart has been brought to stillness and remains there through those efforts. When the goodness of the heart increases as the result of our effort, the value of effort becomes more and more apparent.
When the time comes to investigate in terms of wisdom, focus on seeing things clearly. Contemplate everything in the world so as to see it in line with the truth. The world may be infinitely wide, but when the heart is obscured by defilements, you’re caught in a very narrow and confining state of mind. When the heart feels confined it weighs heavily on itself, so you experience no com- fort at all. You must open it up right where it’s confining and give it space to blossom and be bright. It’ll then feel free, calm and at ease.
This is the point in meditation where you can investigate pain, because the mind now has the strength to probe into it. It’s ready and willing to inves- tigate because pain is a whetstone for sharpening wisdom. Concentration and wisdom are what we use to eliminate mental defilements. Wisdom is what uproots them, but concentration is what first catches them and ties them down. Concentration stills the heart and gathers it into one place so that it doesn’t get scattered around to the point where you can’t catch hold of it. Once the heart is gathered into one, wisdom opens it up and unravels it to see clearly where its concerns and attachments lie – with sights, sounds, smells, tastes and tactile sensations, or with form, feeling, memory, thought and consciousness. Wisdom takes these things apart to see them in thorough detail, in line with the truth as it actually is.
Wisdom contemplates these things and investigates them, over and over again. These are the points where it travels. These are its whetstones. The more it investigates them, the more it branches out, step by step, understanding things for what they are and letting them go. Letting them go means putting down the burdens that weigh on the heart under the sway of attachment.
What is the mind thinking about? What good does it get from its thoughts? The moment a thought forms, it ceases. A good thought? It forms and ceases. A bad thought? It forms and ceases. Whatever the thought, it forms and ceases. These are called thought-formations. They form. They arise. They cease. Their forming and ceasing happen together. They arise and cease in the same instant. So how can we attach a sense of self to these things – to this arising-ceasing, arising-ceasing?
Investigate pain, which is something we all fear. Everyone fears the word “pain”, so how can we hold onto it as ours? Are you going to persist in holding to this mass of pain as you? To hold to pain as your ‘self’ is to hold onto fire to burn the heart. Know pain simply as pain. What knows the pain isn’t the pain. It’s the heart. The heart is what knows all about the pain. When pain arises, the heart knows. When pain remains, the heart knows. When the pain ceases, the heart knows. It knows through its wisdom. Wisdom sees clearly and distinctly that pain is pain, and what knows is what knows. The two are separate reali- ties.
The function of memory recognizes and gives meaning to things we ex- perience through the senses. When sense objects arise, the mind establishes a meaning for them that then ceases in the same instant. Can this be our ‘self’? We recognize the meaning, and then it ceases, arises and ceases, arises and ceases like everything else. Can this sort of thing be our ‘self’? Can this sort of thing be ours? If it’s us, if it’s ours, then we’re wriggling all the time because of memory and pain. Memory arises and ceases. Pain arises and ceases, arises and ceases, giving us trouble and turmoil without letup, without stop. This is why we have to investigate so as to see those conditions – the factors of body and mind – that arise and cease all around us, all around the heart.
Consciousness: How long have we been conscious of sights and sounds? Since birth. And what lasting worth have we ever gained from these things?
As soon as we’re conscious of anything by way of the eye, ear, nose, tongue or body – Blip! – it ceases in the same instant, the very same instant. So what lasting worth can you get from it? Nothing at all. Can sights be our ‘self’? Can sounds? Can smells, tastes, tactile sensations be our ‘self’? Consciousness – ac- knowledging whatever makes contact – can this be our ‘self’? It acknowledges
– Blip! Blip! Blip! – and immediately ceases. Can this be our ‘self’? There’s no way it can be.
How can we hold to this arising and immediate ceasing as our ‘self’? How can we put our trust in these things? They merely arise and cease, continuously. Are we going to persist in holding to this arising and ceasing as our ‘self’? If so, we’re in turmoil all day long because these things are arising and ceasing all the time! No matter whether they are form, feeling, memory, thought or conscious- ness, they’re constantly arising and ceasing, each and every one of them. So how can we grab onto them as ours even though we know full well that they arise and cease? This is why we have to use wisdom to investigate them so as to see clearly what they really are and then let them go accordingly.
What knows does not cease. The true heart – what knows – never ceases. It knows whatever ceases, but “that which knows” doesn’t cease. Form, feeling, memory, thought and consciousness arise and cease in their own natural way. They’re all natural phenomena that are subject to the three characteristics. The three characteristics are impermanence, dissatisfaction and not-self. How can we believe things of this sort really belong to us? If we investigate into their causes and effects using mindfulness and wisdom, there is no way we can hold onto them. We are deluded into becoming attached to them only because our defilements are so thick that the heart doesn’t see things clearly. Once we’ve investigated so as to see these things for what they really are, the heart lets go of its own.
When the time to go into battle arrives – at the time of death – take these things as your battlefield. In particular, feelings of pain will stand out more than anything else when things start to break apart. Take pain and the heart as your battlefield. Investigate them so as to see their truth. No matter how great the pain may be, it doesn’t go past death. Pain goes only as far as death. The body goes only as far as death, but the heart doesn’t cease at death. It goes past death, because the heart has never died. It transcends all these things. Pain is pain only as far as death. It doesn’t go past it. No matter what feelings arise, they go only as far as their ceasing, and that’s all. Whether they’re very painful or only a little painful, the heart knows them as they are at all times.
When mindfulness is present, the heart knows each stage of painful feeling that appears. That which knows the pain doesn’t cease, so why should we be worried and concerned about pains, which are just conditions that arise. They depend on the heart for their arising, but they aren’t the heart. They depend on the body for their arising, but they aren’t the body. They’re merely feelings. Pain, for instance, is something different, something separate from the body and heart. That’s the actual truth.
When we don’t try to contradict the truth, the heart reaches peace through its investigation of pain, especially in the last stage of life when the body is breaking up. You can see what ceases first and what ceases after because what knows will keep on knowing. Even when everything else has ceased, what knows still won’t cease. All it takes is for you to see causes and effects in this way just once, and your courage in the face of death will spring right into ac- tion. When death comes, you’ll immediately take the fighting stance of a war- rior going into battle. You’ll take mindfulness and wisdom as your weapons as you slash your way through to the truth. And when you’ve destroyed everything in your path, where will you end up? Right there with the truth.
Use your mindfulness and wisdom to slash down to the truth of everything of every sort. When you reach the truth, everything will be leveled. Everything will be still. Nothing will be left to disturb the heart. If anything is still disturb- ing the heart, that means you haven’t investigated fully down to its truth. Once you’ve reached the full truth in every way, nothing can disturb or provoke the heart at all. There’s nothing but a state of truth permeating throughout. This is called being leveled and made still by the truth, which comes through the power of mindfulness and wisdom investigating to see things clearly.
The Buddha and his Arahant disciples transcended pain and suffering right here – right where pain and suffering exist. They exist in the body, in the mind and in the heart. When we take things apart, we take them apart right here. When we know, we know right here – right where we are deluded. Wherever we don’t yet know, mindfulness and wisdom – our tools for slashing our way into the truth – will make us know. There’s nothing to equal mindfulness and wisdom in breaking through to the endpoint of all phenomena, in washing away all defilements and absolutely eliminating them from the heart. They are thus the most up-to-date tools for dealing with mental defilements of every sort.
So put mindfulness and wisdom to use when you need them, and espe- cially when you’re about to die. There’s no one else who can help you then. Even if your entire family is thronged all around you, none of them can really help. Everything depends on you. As the Buddha says: “The self is its own main- stay.” Realize this in full measure! What can you do to be your own mainstay and not your own adversary? If you bring up only weakness, confusion and lack of wisdom, you’ll be your own worst enemy. If you use mindfulness, wisdom, conviction, persistence and courage in line with the principles taught by the Buddha, investigating down to the causes and effects and the facts of all the conditions of nature, that’s when you’re truly your own mainstay.
So find yourself a mainstay. Where can you find it? “I go to the Buddha for refuge.” This reverberates throughout the heart and nowhere else. “I go to the Dhamma for refuge” reverberates through the heart. “I go to the Sangha for refuge” reverberates through one and the same heart. The heart is their vessel. The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are all gathered into this one heart because the heart is the most appropriate vessel for all dhammas. Get so that you see this – and especially so that you see that the whole heart is Dhamma in full.
So cleanse your heart. If you can make it gain release at that point, so much the better. You won’t have to ask the whereabouts of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha – for you’ll have no more doubts. You’ll simply look at the knowingness showing its absolute fullness inside you and know that they are all the same.
The Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha are all one Dhamma – one single, solid Dhamma.
At the beginning of our practice the heart had no worth, since it was filled with nothing but the excrement of greed, hatred and delusion. By totally washing away that excrement using the principles of the Dhamma, the heart itself becomes pure Dhamma. Once that happens, it’s infinitely at ease. Wherever you go, you’re at ease. “Nibbana is the ultimate void.” What-
ever is annihilated in that void, this you’ll know. Whatever remains there, this also you’ll know. Who can know this better than one without defilements? The Buddha, in saying that Nibbana is the ultimate void, was speaking from his absolute freedom from defilement. He said this from having seen Nibbana. But we haven’t seen it yet. No matter how much we repeat his words, we just stay where we are. Investigate so that you truly see it. The saying “Nibbana is the ultimate void” will no longer be a problem, because what is annihilated and what’s not will be fully clear to the heart.
“Nibbana is the ultimate happiness.” Listen! The ultimate happiness here isn’t a feeling of pleasure or happiness. Instead, it’s the happiness that comes with the absolute purity of the heart, with no arising or ceasing like our feel- ings of pleasure and pain. This has nothing to do with the three characteristics of existence. The ultimate happiness as a constant feature of the pure heart has absolutely nothing to do with the three characteristics, nothing at all to do with impermanence, dissatisfaction and not-self – it doesn’t change, it always stays just as it is.
The Buddha says Nibbana is constant. What’s constant? The pure heart and nothing else; that’s what’s constant. Get so that you see it, get so that you know.