Rarity of Human Birth

Here is another treasured Dharma snippet from Luang Pu Doon:

“The Buddha’s 84,000 dharma teachings are only skillful means so that people start looking at their own minds. The reason why the Buddha taught so many things is because people’s defilements are so varied. But there is only one way to eliminate suffering, which is nirvana. It is very rare for us to have a chance to practice the Dharma, so if we let this chance go we will lose the opportunity to become liberated in this lifetime. And then you will live with ignorance for a tremendously long time before you will have this chance again. Therefore, when we are born so that we meet Buddhism, we need to be diligent in practice to realize nirvana. Otherwise you will lost this very rare opportunity. When the Dharma is forgotten, sentient beings will live in total darkness for a very, very long time.”

Seeing Nirvana

A perennial issue in the minds of students of Buddhism is what it means for one to “see” nirvana. There are so many different teachings about this very important topic, and the student is understandably baffled by the many interpretations and teachings here. One teaching is that nirvana is similar to a place where one enters once one attains it. Another claims that nirvana cannot be compared to anything on earth, and thus language cannot describe what it is like exactly. Thus nirvana is not a place where one can enter, and it is by no means anything that one can see because presumably to see anything is only possible if the thing to be seen is of this samsaric world.

Naturally there are a lot of confusions on this. Luang Pu Doon, one of Thailand’s greatest meditation masters, told this moving story about nirvana. For one who is still practicing, nirvana is something like a far away destination full of glories and goodies. This is like when the practitioner, who is living in the Northeast of Thailand and has never been to Bangkok, is told how wonderful and beautiful the city of Bangkok really is. There are, the practitioner is told, “jeweled walls” and a “golden mountain” in Bangkok. So the practitioner sets up his mind intently on being able to see the jeweled walls, the golden moutain and other goodies that he was told exist in Bangkok. This is analogous to the practitioner who has been told about all the wonders of nirvana and sets out his mind and his practice to attain it eventually.

However, Luang Pu Doon said that, when the practitioner really gets to Bangkok, he then is told that this is in fact the “jeweled wall” and the “golden mountain” and the like. So his doubts are all banished, and he realizes, after all these years, that the “jeweled wall” and the “golden mountain” are just really ordinary things that do in fact exist in his home town! He is told that this wall is in fact a “jeweled” wall, and this stupa on top of a man made hill is the “golden mountain.” Nirvana, then, is not something far away, a fabled place where all the goodies and wonders exist, but something very mundane and has been with the practitioner all along.

The moral of the story, of course, is that nirvana is not to be compared with a place where one can enter and reside in all the glories, etc. But perhaps this is true in a way. The problem is that our language is so limited that it is impossible to describe exactly and adequately what nirvana really is. So it would in fact be misleading to say that nirvana is absolutely nothing like the wonders of Bangkok for the practitioner who has never been there. This is how language is used to tell story, to make a parable, to engage in metaphors. So the “jeweled wall” and so on are metaphors. But when the subject matter is nirvana, everything that can be said through language becomes metaphor. The usual distinction between metaphors and literal meanings break down completely.

So what does it mean to say that one “sees” nirvana. Here one can distinguish two sense of “see.” On the one hand, one sees a thing just in case one’s visual faculty is not impaired and that certain circumstances obtain, such as there is enough light, the thing seen is not completely transparent and reflect some light back, and so on. On the other hand, the word “see” is also used in another way, as when we say that one “sees” something when one completely understand it. So we say, “Ah, I see,” where in fact there might not be anything to be seen. (Just like when one says “I see” when one comes to understand something which might not have anything to do with seeing with eyes at all.

So there is another sense of “seeing” nirvana. One competely understands. One realizes one’s wisdom in toto and thus becomes utterly liberated. The Buddha “sees,” so do the arahants and highly realized Bodhisattvas. But what exactly do they understand then? Is the subject of their understanding something that exists materially, or only mentally? Is what they understand subjective, existing in their minds only, or objective, its precise spatio-temporal location to be determined later?

Now we are being bewitched by language again. Note that language will always take us to either the extreme of saying “yes” to meanings, thus reifying them, or saying “no” to them, thus affirming their negativities. In either case the Buddha said that we are still mired in the net of Mara. Language is really Mara’s net that bind us with samsara, preventing any means of escape. So when we unenlightened beings hear of nirvana, language comes to work. Nirvana has to be either this or that; it has to be here or there, and so on. But when language itself is at fault, then what are we to do?

Luang Pu Doon on Emptiness

Luang Pu Doon
Luang Pu Doon

Here is another piece of great wisdom from Luang Pu Doon, the late master of the forest tradition from Surin, Thailand:

No More Rebirth

Many senior practicing monks came to talk about the teachings with Luang Pu. They usually ended with the remark about some famous practicing monks who looked very worthy of respect and who behaved very well within the Vinaya rules, and who was recognized by their fellow monks of being steadfast in the religion, yet in the end could not make it and had to disrobe, or behaved themselves in such a way that blemished the Order. They would like to know how advanced in the practice they had to be in order to cut themselves off from samsara so that they did not have to be reborn.

Luang Pu said:

“Observing the Vinaya rules strictly and taking up the vows of a forest monk are very good practices. They are very worthy of respect. However, if the practitioner does not practice so that they attain great mind and great wisdom, it is always possible to become blemished. This is because they have not attained the state of going beyond the world. In fact the arahants themselves do not know many things at all. They only train the mind so that they fully understand the five skandhas. They fully understand the twelve links of dependent origination. They cease searching; they cease having fabricating mental activities. This is all there is to it. And it all ends here. What remains is only pure, clean, bright, empty. It is Great Emptiness.”

Another Gem from Luang Pu Doon

Here is another precious piece from Luang Pu Doon. Enjoy:

Monks Scaring Ghosts

Oftentimes Luang Pu usually gave advice to monks and novices to pay close attention to their meditative practices. One day a large number of monks who were his students came to gather around. They consisted of both junior and senior monks. Luang Pu gave them suggestions that they should search for a good spot in a forest to find a peaceful place, or to stay in caves or mountains and hurried up their practices so that they became free from mental defilements. One monk then said out loud that he did not dare to go because he was scared of ghosts.

Luang Pu retorted immediately:
“What kind of ghosts are scaring monks? It’s only monks who scare the ghosts. and they even set up a movement to scare the ghosts. Think carefully. The objects that the people donated to the monks as a form of making merit, almost of them were dedicated for the memories of ghosts or the deceased, such as the ghosts of their parents, grandparents, brothers and sisters. And we monks? Are we behaving ourselves correctly? what kind of virtue do we have so that the merit could be transferred to the ghosts? Don’t become monks who scare the ghosts.”

One more from Luang Pu Doon

You Have to Know How to Stop

A practitioner said to Luang Pu that he tried to stop thinking according to what he said, but was never successful. In addition he felt constricted and confused. However, he believed that what Luang Pu taught could not be wrong, so he was asking Luang Pu for further advice.

Luang Pu said:
“This only shows your faults. I told you to stop thinking, but you kept thinking about how to stop thinking. Eliminate the ignorance of stopping thinking. Stop the thought that you need to stop thinking. Then things will be fine.”

More from Luang Pu Doon

Past Remembrances

When Luang Pu was staying at Wat Yothaprasit, many monks and novices came to pay respect to him and to listen to his teaching. Luang Ta Ploy was one of those monks. He became a monk when he was old, but he behaved himself well. He said to Luang Pu that he had been ordained for quite some time but still he could not cut away his attachment to the past. No matter how hard he tried he still had lapses and thought of the past. He would like to request a skillful means from Luang Pu to help solve his problem.

Luang Pu said:
“Do not let your mind go out and think of these external influences. When your concentration lapses, it is all right. Just bring it back. Do not let the mind think of either good or bad thoughts, or happy or unhappy thoughts. Do not follow after thoughts and do not force them.”