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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

Playing Host

September 27, 1956

When you sit and meditate, tell yourself that your body is like your home. When you repeat the word buddho in with the breath, it's like inviting a monk into your home. When people invite a monk into their home, what do they do in order to qualify as having good manners? 1) They have to prepare a place for him to sit down. 2) They provide him with good food or drinking water. 3) They have to converse with him.

When we meditate, "preparing a place to sit down" means thinking bud- in with the in-breath, and dho out with the out. If we're mindful to think in this way, the word buddho will always stay snug with the breath. Whenever our thinking slips away from the breath, it's as if we put a rip in the seat we're preparing for our guest. And don't forget that before you prepare a seat, you first have to sweep the place clean. In other words, when you first start out, you should breathe in long and deep and then let the breath come all the way out, two or three times. Then you gradually allow the breath to grow lighter, bit by bit, until it's just enough for you to follow comfortably. Don't let it grow any weaker or stay any stronger than just right. Then you start combining buddho with the in-and-out breath. When you do this, your visiting monk will come into your home. Now make sure that you stay with him. Don't go running off anywhere else. If your mind runs off to hang around with external concepts of past or future, it's as if you've run away from the monk you've invited into your home -- which is really bad manners.

Once the monk has sat down in the seat you've prepared for him, you have to give him some good food or water, and then find good things to converse with him. The good food here is the food of intentions, the food of sensory contact, and the food of consciousness. The food of intentions stands for the way you adjust the breath so as to make it comfortable both for the body and for the mind. For instance, you're observant to see which kind of breathing is good for the body, and which kind is bad. What kind of in-breathing feels easy? What kind of out-breathing feels easy? Does it feel good to breathe in fast and out fast? How about in slow and out slow? You have to experiment and then taste the food you've prepared. This is one kind of food for the mind. This is why being intent to stay with the breath is called the food of intention. When you adjust the breath to the point where it feels comfortable and in good order, it'll give rise to a sense of fullness and ease. That's when you can say that you've provided your visiting monk with good, nourishing food. When he's finished his meal, he's going to chant blessings for the sake of your well-being and happiness, so that you'll be free from pain and suffering. Or, as the saying goes, the power of the Buddha gets rid of suffering. In other words, when you've adjusted the breath properly, the pains in the body will disappear. Even though there may be some that don't disappear, they don't impinge on the mind. As for pain and suffering in the heart, that will all disappear. The mind will cool down. When it cools down, it'll be at its ease -- quiet, blooming, and bright.

And as for the saying, the power of the Dhamma gets rid of dangers: the various forms of Mara coming to disturb the body, such as the pains of the aggregates, will all vanish. The mind will be free from dangers and animosities.

And as for the saying, the power of the Sangha gets rid of disease: all the various diseases in the mind -- sorrow, lamentation, pain, distress, and despair -- will disappear. This way, once you've invited this monk into your home and provided him with good food, he's going to give you three kinds of blessing: you escape for pain, from danger, and from disease. This is part of the blessing that your visiting monk will give you. But if, when you've invited a monk into your home, you go running off outside -- in other words, if you forget the breath or go hanging around with external thoughts -- it's really impolite, and the monk is going to be put to difficulties. It's as if you had invited him into your home but had forgotten to prepare his meal. So if you aren't really intent on the breath and don't really welcome your monk into your home, you won't get this kind of blessing.

The last part of inviting your monk into your home is to converse with him. Once he's eaten his fill, you talk with him. This stands for the qualities of directed thought, evaluation, rapture, pleasure, and singleness of preoccupation. You connect all six types of breath energy in the body so that they all flow into one another -- as when you put up a telephone line. If the line stays in good shape, you can hear what they say all over the world. But if the line is cut, you can't get word of what they're saying even in Bangkok just down the road. So when you keep your line in good shape, you can hear anything being said anywhere at all. When the mind stays in the first jhana this way, it's as if your visiting monk is talking with you, and you're talking with him. And the things you're talking about are all Dhamma. This puts you in a good mood. As time passes, you feel so good that you don't even want to eat. This is rapture: the body feels full. At the same time, the mind is free from disturbances and so feels pleasure. Wherever you get a sense of pleasure, you keep staying interested in that point: this is singleness of preoccupation.

When you welcome your visiting monk in this way, he's going to keep coming to visit you. No matter where you go, he'll be able to reach you. Even if you're staying in the mountains or forest wilderness, he'll be able to give you whatever help you need.



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