January  1999   2544   Number 7 
Question Time; Tuhn Ajahn Sumedho
Arrive at Where You Are; Kittisaro Bhikkhu
Desire to end Desire; Tuhn Ajahn Maha Boowa
Filling in the Dots; Sister Abahassara
Zeal and New Land; Subbato Bhikkhu
Kwan Yin & the Noble Elephant; Sucitto Bhikkhu
Thoughts From a Forest; Vipassi Bhikkhu
A First View of Buddhism; Arnold Handley

Returning Homeless:
Working With Nature:

Question Time
Questions presented to Tuhn Ajahn Sumedho during the January monastic retreat of 1988

How do you practise contemplation of the citta*?

Well it's just like a mood; vedana (feeling) is attractive, repulsive or neutral, but citta can be quite fuzzy - you can feel emotionally confused or hesitant, or muddled or just dull and very nebulous feelings of moods. If you're practising citta vipassana you're really aware of what your citta is like. But sometimes people in meditation develop a technique, and they do it no matter what. They aren't aware of their actual mood or what's affecting them. They become conditioned to a meditation technique: "It's 8.35 - time to do my anapanasati," and then they're not aware. They've just been on the telephone, and their Mother told them that their Father ran away with the secretary and that the electricity bill wasn't paid so the lights go out and there are all these things that make you upset -and then they wonder why: "I couldn't meditate last night, I was too upset; I just couldn't concentrate on my breath!" But if you're meditating properly, then if some horrible thing happens, you can watch your citta. Don't think you've got to do anapanasati at that time -I mean its not going to be much use. No wonder. There's a lot going on here that you have to accept and notice. You can do anapanasati when nothing much is disturbing you.

*citta - approximates to "mind",except that it is not cerebral, nor is it located in a place in the body. The word refers to the sense of mind consciousness.
I found through obsessing my mind with those two words (let go) eventually the thinking began to still.
People ask me, they say: "I've been trying to do anapanasati for years, I haven't gotten anywhere" They have this idea that to do anapanasati is a good practice, but they, don't reflect on other factors in life: what kind of work they do, what kind of family situation they're in and all the things that are going to influence and affect their mind and heart. Maybe for a moment you might be able to suppress everything out, but it all comes exploding back into your mind again. So the more quiet you get, the easier it is just to concentrate on the breath.

When I first started meditating I couldn't do anapanasati at all. So I did mantras. Something like mantras I found very helpful to calm - like fighting fire with fire. My mind was such an obsessed thinker that I needed a thought. I couldn't contemplate on anything as subtle as my breathing, So I made up this mantra - "Let go" - and it worked. After a while, I just kept saying this mantra: "Let go" The first month of my meditation when I was a novice was an utter hell realm for me really. Suddenly I found myself living a very lonely life in the monastery, all alone. Nobody to talk to, nowhere to go. I'd just sit there and wait for them to bring me the meal. I became obsessed about the food - really ridiculous. And then try to do this anapanasati. In the end I thought, "Let go, just say: 'Let go'" So I did that, and I found through obsessing my mind with those two words eventually the thinking began to still - I'd get moments when I wasn't actually thinking; there was a moment of calm. And I'd notice it. And then the mind went back into obsession, and I'd say: "Let go, let go, let go" Eventually it was really like a machine gun! And after a while my mind became much more calm, so I could just more or less casually go about it. That's working with the mind. Then after a while mantras seemed ridiculous - I had no need for them - and then anapanasati became something I really enjoyed, I really liked to do.

If consciousness and the khandhas** cease in a Tathagata, in a Buddha, in someone who becomes enlightened, who exists, what kind of existence is there left? Is there anything, is there nothing, or what?

There's no delusion, about it any more. There's consciousness -the buddha was conscious, he wasn't unconscious - and he had a body and he had perception. He had vedana and he had sanna sankhara, vinnara. He had sense organs, and could see, hear, smell, taste, touch, think, and he had vedana,- there was vedana but there was no desire from that, coming from, ignorance. There was the ability to respond, to teach out of compassion for other beings, but there was no self to do it: there was just the remaining of what was left of that lifetime. He lived over forty years after his enlightenment, for the welfare of others beings. Language gets very confusing, because cessation sounds like annihilation to us-but it isn't. It's the ceasing of ignorance, the cessation of ignorance.

**Khandhas - body or form (rupa) and mind, which is made up of feeling (vedana), perception or recognition (sanna), mind creations (sankhara), and consciousness dependent on the six senses (vinnana)

If there is no desire, if there's parinibbana, doesn't that mean everything ceases?

That's it. There's the nibbana of non-grasping while the bodies still living, and then there's the parinibbana the final relinquishment; there's nothing to get reborn. You see, when people die still unenlightened they desire to be reborn again. If you identify with the body, then you try to hold onto it as long as possible or there's the desire to be reborn into something else. You can see it just in a day here when you want something to stimulate you - that's rebirth actually. There's all this desire that will always take us to doing something, absorbing into something else. Well, apply that to when the body is dying. If you're frightened of death, and you've not really contemplated life and you're still attached to all these views about yourself, then there's a lot of desire going to come for rebirth. What you're attached to you tend to absorb into - the things you're used to, what you like, what you find attractive. You tend to go for that all the time; seeking people that you like, or seeking the place or the things, the thoughts and memories which are familiar. People will even hang on to misery and pain, because they're used to it.

As I said last night, when you're miserable at least you feel alive. To feel persecuted makes you feel really alive. Hating people makes you feel alive, doesn't it? If you really hate somebody, then you know you're really alive and you feel energised. Some people get very dull when they don't hate people, when they don't have any lust or greed for something, or any ambition to get somewhere. Why do people want to climb Mount Everest, or be the first one to sit the longest in a tub of baked beans? (There is actually someone - it's in the Guiness Book of Records. Imagine the danger of being reborn from that one!) Taking revenge, seeking vengeance, is sometimes what keeps people alive. I've never been in an English pub because all my life in England I've lived as a monk -but in American ones, I remember you'd go and you'd argue. You can get very heated about political things that you really don't care about very much-, it makes you feel alive to win an argument, or to support and defend a particular viewpoint.

Now contrast that to what we're doing here where the attention is on such ordinary things. There's nothing much: the passions are let go of - greed, hatred, delusion. You're conscious of breathing now, conscious of feeling - neutral feeling - Conscious of causes. You're bringing into consciousness the way things are. Now one doesn't feel this desire: the desire to go after extremes falls away. Most of us would really not want to argue about political views, or go to pubs, or climb Mount Everest, or sit in a tub of baked beans. So this is where most of our life is: it's the same for everyone really. The extremes are brief moments, but most of our life is like this: it's eating, walking, sitting, lying down, feeling, waiting for the bus, waiting for somebody to telephone, waiting for the bell to ring, waiting for the next event. And all that time we're breathing and there's feeling, and there's consciousness. In the practice of awareness, we're bringing consciousness to the ordinariness because we're not Usually conscious of that: Usually the ignorant person is conscious only in the extreme moments.