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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

An Image of the Buddha

August 31, 1958

Our goodness: what can we do to make it really good? For today's goodness I want each of us to set our minds on casting a Buddha within the mind to protect ourselves, because Buddhas are things that are more sacred and numinous that any other object in the world. They can protect us and help us survive all sorts of danger and suffering. As we're told in the Pali chant, "Sabba-dukkha sabba-bhaya sabba-roga vinassantu," which means, "All sufferings, all dangers, all diseases can be destroyed through the power of the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha."

Whoever has an inner Buddha is protected from all three major fears. The first kind is the fear of suffering, i.e., birth, aging, illness, and death. The Buddha isn't afraid of these things at all, for he has warded them off in all their forms .... (2) The various kinds of danger, such as danger from criminals: Whoever might try to come and steal his valuables, the Buddha isn't the least bit afraid, for his valuables aren't the kind that anyone can steal. The danger of fire: Don't mention house fires or being bombed by nuclear weapons. Even if the fires of the end of the aeon were to burn up the entire world, he wouldn't be startled or fearful. The danger of floods: even if water were to flood from the earth up to the sky, he wouldn't be concerned. The danger of famine, drought, and pestilence wouldn't make him suffer or put him to any hardship. (3) The various diseases that arise in the body don't cause him any fear. Just look at the Buddha image in front of you: What dangers is he afraid of? From where? No matter what anyone does to him, he just sits there perfectly still, not afraid of anything at all. This is why we should cast a Buddha within ourselves so that we can wear it around our neck and protect ourselves from fear wherever we go.

Now, when they cast a Buddha image, what do they do? The first thing is to make a mold that's beautiful and well-proportioned. Then they heat it until it's hot through and through. Then they pour molten metal into the mold. Then they let it cool. When it's thoroughly cooled, they pull off the pieces of the mold, leaving only the Buddha image, but even then the image is still rough and unattractive. They have to polish it until it gives off clear reflections, or else paint it with lacquer and cover it with gold leaf. Only then will they have a finished Buddha image in line with their aims.

So now that we're casting a Buddha within ourselves, we have to heat our mold before we can pour the metal into it. Pretend that the body here is your mold; your mind is the expert craftsman. I want us all to set our minds on casting a Buddha within ourselves. Who's going to have the most beautiful Buddha will depend on how skillful and capable each craftsman is at smelting.

How do we heat our mold? We heat the mold by sitting in concentration: your right leg on top of the left, your hands placed palm-up in your lap, your right hand on top of your left. Sit up straight. Don't lean forward or back, or tilt to either side. If the mold is off-center, your Buddha will have to be off-center, too. The next step is to fix your mindfulness on the breath, thinking bud- with the in-breath and dho with the out. Stay focused exclusively on the breath. You don't have to think of anything else -- just as if you were pumping air into your furnace to heat up the mold. If your mindfulness doesn't stay with the breath -- if you forget or absent-mindedly think of other things -- it's as if your air pump breaks down. The fire won't grow strong, and the mold won't get heated through. If the mold isn't heated through, then when you pour your molten metal into it, the mold will crack and the metal will leak out all over the place. So you have to be careful that your mold doesn't crack, and make sure that your air pump doesn't wear out, either. In other words, keep watch over your mindfulness so that it isn't absent-minded or forgetful.

Now let's talk about how you melt your metal -- the bronze, gold, silver, or whatever kind of metal you're going to use to cast your Buddha image. When they cast an image, they have to melt the metal and remove all the specks and impurities, leaving nothing but the metal in its pure form. Only then do they use it to cast the image. In the same way, we have to cut away from the heart all the concepts and preoccupations that act as Hindrances. The five Hindrances are like impurities mixed in with gold. If we don't melt them away or remove them from the heart, our Buddha image won't turn out as perfect and powerful as we'd like it. It'll be blemished and full of holes. If you were to put it on an altar, it wouldn't look inspiring. If you were to give it away, no one would want to receive it. Therefore it's necessary -- crucial -- that your expert craftsman be meticulous, circumspect, and not careless; that he make a concerted effort to purify the metal he's using. In other words, you have to brush away all concepts of past and future, leaving only the present: the breath. Be aware only of the breath. When your mold is thoroughly heated (i.e., you're alert to the whole body), your air pump is working well (i.e., mindfulness is steady and strong), and your metal is pure and free from specks (i.e., there are no Hindrances in the heart), then the Buddha image you're casting will be beautiful to your satisfaction.

Casting a Buddha image within you means sitting in concentration, giving rise to peace and calm in the mind. When the mind is at peace, the body is at peace. Rapture -- a sense of fullness in body and mind -- will arise within you (i.e., when mindfulness fills the body, your awareness fills the body, too). When rapture arises in full force, it gives way to pleasure. When there's a lot of pleasure, the mind grows clear and bright. The brightness of the mind is the knowledge of liberating insight. You come to see the truth of the body, that it's simply the four properties of earth, water, fire, and wind -- not yours or anyone else's. It's inconstant. Stressful. This gives rise to a sense of weariness and disenchantment, so that you let go of the process of mental and physical fabrication, seeing that there's no real substance to it. You can separate the body from the mind.

The mind will then be free of its burden in having to haul the physical body around. It turns into a mind that's free, light, and at ease. Whichever way you look is wide open -- as if you were to remove the floors, walls, and roof of your home: if you look down, you see the ground. If you look up, you'll see the stars. Look around in all four directions and you'll see that there's nothing to obstruct your line of sight. You can see everything clearly. If you look to the west you'll see the noble truth of stress. Look south and you'll see the cause of stress. Look east and you'll see the cessation of stress. Look north and you'll see the path. If you can see in this way you're said to be a full dollar, i.e., worth four full quarters. And if you get four full quarters many times over, you'll grow more and more valuable all the time. You'll turn into a rich person with lots of wealth -- i.e., noble treasures. You'll be released from poverty.

Whoever has noble treasures is said to be a noble person. Noble people are those who have seen the four noble truths. Whoever sees the four noble truths is said to see the Buddha within. The Buddha likes to stay with people of that sort -- and when the Buddha is staying with us, we'll be blessed and won't fall into hardship. We'll simply keep heading higher and higher. This is why we should all cast a Buddha within ourselves by practicing concentration whenever we have the opportunity.

Another way of casting a Buddha within ourselves is to meditate constantly on the foulness of the body, as when we chant: Ayam kho me kayo: this body of mine. Uddham padatala: from the tip of our big toe up to the head -- what is it like? Addho kesamatthaka: from the crown of the head down to the big toe, what is it like? Tacapariyanto: inside this burlap bag, what valuables do we have? The skin covering the body is like a burlap bag full of all kinds of things, so let's see what fantastic valuables we have here in this bag. Starting with the ribs, heart, liver, lungs, intestines, food in the stomach and intestines, blood, gall, lymph, urine. What kind of lovely valuables are these things?

If you look carefully at your body, you'll see that what you have here is the four states of deprivation, nothing wonderful at all.

The first state of deprivation is the animal kingdom: all the worms and germs that live in our stomach and intestines, in our blood vessels, and in our pores. As long as there's food for these things to eat in there, they're always going to be with us, multiplying like crazy, making us ill. On the outside of the body there are fleas and lice. They like staying with those who don't keep themselves clean, making their skin red and sore. As for the animals living in the blood vessels and pores, they give us rashes and infections.

The second state of deprivation is the kingdom of hungry ghosts, i.e., the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind in the body. First they feel too cold, then too warm, then they feel ill, then they want to eat this or that. We have to keep pandering to them, running around to find things for them to eat with never any chance to stop and rest. And they never have enough -- like the hungry ghosts who starve after they die, with no one to feed them. These properties keep pestering us, and no matter what you do, you can never please them. First the food is too hot, so you have to put ice in it. Then it's too cold, so you have to put it back on the stove. All of this comes down to an imbalance in the properties, sometimes good, sometimes bad, never coming to a stable state of normalcy at all, making us suffer in various ways.

The third state of deprivation is the land of angry demons. Sometimes, when we get ill or lose our senses, we run around naked without a stitch of clothing, as if we were possessed by angry demons. Some people have to undergo operations, getting this removed or cutting out that or sucking out this, waving their arms and moaning in a way that's really pitiful. Some people get so poor that they have nothing to eat; they get so thin that they have nothing left but ribs and eyeballs, suffering like the angry demons who can't see the brightness of the world.

The fourth state of deprivation is purgatory. Purgatory is the home of all the spirits with a lot of bad karma who have to suffer being roasted, speared with red-hot iron spikes, and pierced with thorns. All the animals whose flesh we've eaten, after they've been killed and cooked, gather together in our stomach and then disappear into our body in huge numbers. If you were to count them, you'd have whole coops of chickens, herds of cattle, and half a sea's worth of fish. Our stomach is such a tiny thing, and yet no matter how much you eat you can never keep it full. And you have to feed it hot things, too, like the denizens of purgatory who have to live with fire and flame. If there's no fire, they can't live. So there's a big copper frying pan for them. All the various spirits we've eaten gather in the big copper frying pan of our stomach, where they're consumed by the fires of digestion, and then they haunt us: Their powers penetrate throughout our flesh and blood, giving rise to passion, aversion, and delusion, making us squirm as if we were burned by the fires of purgatory, too.

So look at the body. Is it really yours? Where did it come from? Whose is it? No matter how much you care for it, it's not going to stay with you. It'll have to go back to where it came from: the properties of earth, water, fire, and wind. The fact that it's able to stay for a while depends entirely on the breath. When there's no more breath to it, it starts to decay, and no one wants it then. You won't be able to take it with you when you go. There's no one who can take his arms, legs, feet, or hands along with him. This is why we say that the body is not-self. It belongs to the world. As for the mind, it's the one that does good and evil, and will be reborn in line with its karma. The mind is what doesn't die. It's the one that experiences all pleasure and pain.

So when you realize this, you should do as much good as you can for your own sake. The Buddha felt compassion for us and taught us in this way, but we don't feel much compassion for ourselves. We prefer to fill ourselves with suffering. When other people teach us, it's no match for our teaching ourselves, for other people will teach us only once in a while. The possibility of being a common animal, a human being, a heavenly being, or of entering nibbana all lie within us, so we have to choose which one we want.

The good you do is what will go with you in the future. This is why the Buddha taught us to meditate, to contemplate the body to give rise to dispassion. It's inconstant, stressful, and nothing of ours. You borrow it for a while and then have to return it. The body doesn't belong to the mind, and the mind doesn't belong to the body. They're separate things that depend on each other. When you can see this, you have no more worries or attachments. You can let go of the body, and three hunks of rust -- self-identity views, attachments to precepts and practices, and uncertainty in the Path -- will fall away from your heart. You'll see that all good and evil come from the heart. If the heart is pure, that's the highest good in the world.



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