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Starting Out Small - A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
Thanissaro Bhikkhu

At the Gate of a Cattle-pen

August 23, 1959

I'd like to recommend the basic principles of sitting in meditation for newcomers who've never done it before.

1. Make up your mind that you're not going gather up anything else to think about, that you're going to think about only one thing: the qualities of the Buddha, or the word buddho.

2. Be firmly mindful of the breath, thinking bud- with the in-breath, and dho with the out. Or if you want, you can simply think buddho, buddho in the mind.

3. Make the mind still and then drop the word buddho so that you can simply observe nothing but the in-and-out breath. It's like standing at the gate of a cattle-pen and keeping watch over the cattle to see their characteristics as they come in and out of the pen. What color are they -- black? red? white? spotted? Are they old or young? Are they calves or fully grown? Make sure you don't go walking in with the cattle yet, for they might kick you and break your shins, or gore you to death with their horns. Stay right at the gate. What this means is that you keep your mind still in one point. You don't have to make it go in and out with the breath. Observing the characteristics of the cattle means learning how to observe the breath: Does breathing in short and out short feel good, or does in long and out long feel good? How about in long and out short, or in short and out long? Learn to recognize which type of breathing is most comfortable, and then stick with it.

So there are three steps you have to follow: the first step is to stay mindful of the word buddho. The second is to be mindful of the breath, thinking bud- with the in breath and dho with the out. Don't forget. Don't get distracted. The third step, when the mind is still, is to drop the word buddho and to be observant of nothing but the in-and-out breath.

When you can do this, the mind will grow still. The breath will be still, too, like a dipper floating in a barrel of water: the water is still, the dipper is still, because no one is pressing on it, tipping it, or hitting against it. The dipper will keep floating in perfect stillness on the surface of the water. Or you can say that it's like climbing up to the top of a very tall mountain, or like floating up above the clouds. The mind will feel nothing but a cool sense of pleasure and ease. This is the root, the heartwood, the apex of all that is skillful.

It's called the root because it's a good quality that runs deep and tenacious right down the middle of the heart. It's called the heartwood because it's solid and resilient, like the heartwood of a tree that insects can't burrow into and destroy. Even though insects may be able to nibble away at the tree, they can go only as far as the bark or the sapwood. In other words, even though distractions may come and bother us, they can reach only as far as the sense doors: our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. For example, when sights strike against the eye, they go only as far as the eye. They don't get into the heart. When sounds strike the ear, they go only as far as the ear, and not into the heart. When smells strike the nose, they go only as far as the nose. They don't enter the heart. This is why we say that the goodness of meditation is the heartwood of what's skillful, because the various forms of evil can't easily destroy the goodness of the heart when it's solid and stable, in the same way that insects can't bore into heartwood.

The skillfulness of a mind in concentration is called the apex of all that's skillful because it's high in quality. It can pull all other forms of goodness into the mind as well. When the mind is still, its goodness spreads out to cover the entire body, so that we stop doing unskillful things with the body. It will cover our speech, so that we stop saying unskillful things with our mouth. The unskillful things we've done with our eyes, ears, hands, will all get washed away. In this way, the goodness that comes from meditating will wash out our eyes and ears, will wash our hands and all the various parts of our body so that they all become clean.

When we have cleanliness in charge of our body, it's a goodness that's high in quality -- just as rain falling from high up in the sky spreads to cover everything. The higher it comes from, the more territory it covers. When the mind is high in quality, its goodness spreads to cover our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body. It spreads to cover sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations. It spreads to cover our thoughts of past and future. In this way, this goodness spreads out until eventually it covers the entire cosmos. These, in short, are a few of the rewards that come from meditation.

The high-quality goodness coming from meditation is like rain falling from high in the sky. Not only does it wash away the dirty things on the ground, but it also nourishes the plants so that human beings can depend on them. In addition, it refreshes people with its coolness. The Buddha showered his goodness on the world beginning from the very day of his Awakening, and his goodness is still raining on us 2,500 years later. The Buddha was a Great Being because of the high-quality goodness he developed through his meditation -- the same meditation we're doing right now.

To put it simply: every aspect of meditation is good. No matter how much you do, even if you don't seem to be getting any results, it's all good regardless. Even when you simply repeat the word buddho, it's good for the mind. When you're mindful of the breath, it's good for the mind. When you can make the mind still with the breath, it's good for the mind. For this reason, meditation is something you should do at all times. Don't let the time and opportunity to meditate pass you by.



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