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Starting Out Small
- A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
When meditators "get into position," exactly what are they doing? "Getting into position" means making the mind stay in place, making it stay with the body, not letting it go stay with other people or think about anything else at all. If the mind stays outside of the body, it's like a battery without any current. You can't get any use out of it. You can't use it to produce heat or give off light. So this is why we're taught to keep the mind inside.
When trees are withered and dry, it's because they don't have any water to nourish them. The same holds true with us. If the mind doesn't stay inside the body, the body won't flourish. It'll have to wither and wear out, grow ill in one way or another, and eventually die because of this disease or that. So the mind is like water that permeates the body to give it nourishment. If the mind focuses its attention outside of the body, then the body won't be able to gain any sense of freshness, fullness, or ease. This is because the mind is the most important factor influencing the body. It's our most valuable resource.
Now, when the mind is a valuable resource in this way, we should learn how to look after it. We have to hand it over to someone we can trust. In other words, we entrust it to somebody venerable. But the word venerable here doesn't mean the external venerables, like monks, because not all monks are trustworthy. Some of them are good monks, some of them aren't. If we let them cheat us out of our valuables, we end up even worse off than before. No, venerable here means internal venerables: the venerable qualities of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha within the mind.
When we meditate, we're handing our minds over to these venerable qualities. They're qualities that are kind and considerate. They won't abuse us or cause anyone any harm. This is why we can wholeheartedly entrust our valuables -- our mind -- to them. For example, when we meditate buddho, buddho, we have to be sincere to these qualities. We really have to think about them. We don't just think about them in jest. "Thinking in jest" means that we think without really being intent. We have to be really intent on keeping buddho with the mind, and the mind with buddho each and every time we breathe in and out. This is what it means to be sincere in our thinking. It's the kind of thinking that serves a purpose.
The purpose here is to develop something of real and abundant essence within ourselves -- to create results that will be lasting. Things that don't serve any real purpose are those giving results that don't last. When we talk about lasting results: for example, when you sit here and meditate, you'll find that the results will continue appearing even after you die. But if you aren't really meditating, if you let your mind think about other things, you'll find that the results will vanish at death, because the things you think about aren't certain or sure. They're not lasting. They'll have to change, deteriorate, and end up disappearing and dying in the same way that you will.
When we make ourselves quiet and still -- when we put the mind into concentration -- it's as if we're charging our battery. Once our battery is charged, we can put it to use whenever we want. When our battery is fully charged -- full of discernment -- we can use it for any sort of purpose at all. We can hook it up to a wire and use it to cook our food or light our home. If we simply charge it, without connecting it up to anything, the current will stay there, cool in the battery, without causing danger of any sort, like the current in a flashlight cell. If a battery is just sitting there, we can touch it with our hands and see that it feels cool, not the least bit hot -- and yet there's still the fire of electricity in there. If we need light or want to cook our food, all we have to do is hook up a wire and turn on the switch, and the electricity will come out of the battery to achieve whatever aims we have in mind.
Our "battery" is the mind in concentration. If we hook up the wire of ardency to roast our defilements, the power of our current, or discernment, will burn them to ashes. As when we cook food to get rid of its rawness: the food will be saved from going spoiled and will benefit the body. In the same way, people who have discernment within themselves can eliminate all the defilements that present a danger and cause suffering to the body and mind. This is why we're taught to develop concentration: so as to accumulate the discernment that will benefit us both in this present lifetime and on into the next.
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