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Detachment Within Activity

Given at Wat Pah Pong during the rains retreat, 1977.

Take a look at the example of the Buddha. Both in his own practice and in his methods for teaching the disciples he was exemplary. The Buddha taught the standards of practice as skillful means for getting rid of conceit. He couldn’t do the practice for us. Having heard that teaching, we must further teach ourselves, practice for ourselves. The results will arise here, not at the teaching.

The Buddha’s teaching can only enable us to get an initial understanding of the Dhamma, but the Dhamma is not yet within our hearts. Why not? Because we haven’t yet practiced, we haven’t yet taught ourselves. The Dhamma arises within the practice. If you know it, you know it through the practice. If you doubt it, you doubt it in the practice. Teachings from the Masters may be true, but simply listening to Dhamma is not yet enough to enable us to realize it. The teaching simply points out the way to realizing the Dhamma. To realize the Dhamma we must take that teaching and bring it into our hearts. That part which is for the body we apply to the body, that part which is for speech we apply to speech, and that part which is for the mind we apply to the mind. This means that after hearing the teaching we must further teach ourselves to know that Dhamma, to be that Dhamma.

The Buddha said that those who simply believe others are not truly wise. A wise person practices until he is one with the Dhamma, until he can have confidence in himself, independent of others.

On one occasion, while Venerable Sāriputta was sitting at the Buddha’s feet, listening respectfully as the Buddha expounded the Dhamma, the Buddha turned to him and asked, ‘Sāriputta, do you believe this teaching?’

Venerable Sāriputta replied, ‘No, I don’t yet believe it.’

Now this is a good illustration. Venerable Sāriputta listened, and he took note. When he said he didn’t yet believe he wasn’t being careless, he was speaking the truth. He simply took note of that teaching, because he had not yet developed his own understanding of it, so he told the Buddha that he didn’t yet believe – because he really didn’t believe. These words almost sound as if Venerable Sāriputta was being rude, but actually he wasn’t. He spoke the truth, and the Buddha praised him for it. ‘Good, good, Sāriputta. A wise person doesn’t readily believe. He should consider first before believing.’

Conviction in a belief can take various forms. One form reasons according to Dhamma, while another form is contrary to the Dhamma. This second way is heedless, it is a foolhardy understanding, micchā-ditthi, wrong view. One doesn’t listen to anybody else.

Take the example of Dīghanakha the Brāhman. This Brāhman only believed himself, he wouldn’t believe others. At one time when the Buddha was resting at Rājagaha, Dīghanakha went to listen to his teaching. Or you might say that Dīghanakha went to teach the Buddha because he was intent on expounding his own views.

‘I am of the view that nothing suits me.’

This was his view. The Buddha listened to Dīghanakha’s view and then answered,

‘Brāhman, this view of yours doesn’t suit you either.’ When the Buddha had answered in this way, Dīghanakha was stumped. He didn’t know what to say. The Buddha explained in many ways, till the Brāhman understood. He stopped to reflect and saw.

‘Hmm, this view of mine isn’t right.’

On hearing the Buddha’s answer the Brāhman abandoned his conceited views and immediately saw the truth. He changed right then and there, turning right around, just as one would invert one’s hand.

He praised the teaching of the Buddha thus:

‘Listening to the Blessed One’s teaching, my mind was illumined, just as one living in darkness might perceive light. My mind is like an overturned basin which has been uprighted, like a man who has been lost and finds the way.’

Now at that time a certain knowledge arose within his mind, within that mind which had been uprighted. Wrong view vanished and right view took its place. Darkness disappeared and light arose.

The Buddha declared that the Brāhman Dīghanakha was one who had opened the Dhamma Eye.

Previously Dīghanakha clung to his own views and had no intention of changing them. But when he heard the Buddha’s teaching his mind saw the truth, he saw that his clinging to those views was wrong. When the right understanding arose, he was able to perceive his previous understanding as mistaken, so he compared his experience with a person living in darkness who had found light. This is how it is. At that time the Brāhman Dīghanakha transcended his wrong view.

Now we must change in this way. Before we can give up defilements, we must change our perspective. We must begin to practise correctly and practise well. Previously we didn’t practice rightly or well, and yet we thought we were right and good just the same. When we really look into the matter we upright ourselves, just like turning over one’s hand. This means that the ‘one who knows’, or wisdom, arises in the mind, so that it is able to see things anew. A new kind of awareness arises.

Therefore, practitioners must develop this knowing, which we call Buddho, the one who knows, in their minds. Originally the one who knows is not there, our knowledge is not clear, true or complete.

This knowledge is therefore too weak to train the mind. But then the mind changes, or inverts, as a result of this awareness, called ‘wisdom’ or ‘insight’, which exceeds our previous awareness. That previous ‘one who knows’ did not yet know fully and so was unable to bring us to our objective.

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