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Starting Out Small
- A Collection of Talks for Beginning Meditators
Phra Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo
Translated from the Thai by
The Electric Heart
October 22, 1958
The currents of the heart are fast, erratic, and don't take on any shape that can appear to the eye. The currents of sound and smell can be measured in terms of numbers -- 1, 2, 3, 4, etc. -- but the currents of the mind can't be measured at all. And it's the nature of fast things that they be subtle as well. That's why the currents of the mind are impossible for anyone who's not really interested in researching them to see. Some people even maintain that there is no mind in any individual, that all we have is a body, like trees. When we die, there's nothing left, nothing to take rebirth. There's only the properties of earth, water, wind, and fire.
It's the nature of really fast-moving things that we can't see them -- what they are, what their shape or characteristics are. For example, when we ride in a car or a boat passing another one coming in the opposite direction at top speed, we can't see the faces of the people riding in the other car or boat well enough to recognize who they are. Or suppose that two people run past each other at high speed. They won't be able to see each other's faces. Some birds fly through the air so quickly that we can't even see them. All we can hear is the whoosh going past in the air. The currents of the mind that flash out of the body are the same sort of thing.
The Buddha discovered that the human mind is something powerful -- stronger and more numinous than anything else there is. But because the mind spins so fast, we can't see it. If we want to see it, we have to get it to spin more slowly. As it spins more and more slowly, we can get it to stop. When it stops, we'll realize that the mind is something true, something that doesn't die. At the same time, it's cool. When it hasn't yet stopped, it's hot. The heat comes from the spinning. When it spins really fast, it can generate the electricity of passion, aversion, and delusion.
As we generate these three kinds of electricity within ourselves, the mind will go running out the six wires -- the nerves of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. If any of these wires get shorted, they can set our home, our town, on fire. When these currents flare up in the mind, they can wear out the nerves of our eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and body, so that they start sending us the wrong information and make us misunderstand things. If we go around with exposed wires and meet up with someone else whose wires are exposed, we're going to get shorted, and both of us will be devastated. It's bad enough that both of us are generating electricity; to make things worse, we go ahead and put our hands right on each other's exposed wires. When this happens, we'll get electrocuted. The danger of exposed wires is that their current sucks us in. When we connect, the heat builds up and explodes into fire.
The spinning of the mind builds up heat in the properties of the body, and when the properties get unbalanced like this, they can give rise to pain and illness. When the mind spins in this way, it darkens everything. Our eyes, ears, etc., get darkened so that they can't see the truth of sights, sounds, smells, tastes, tactile sensations, and ideas. This is why the Buddha teaches us to give rise to stillness by developing the ballast of skillful and meritorious actions. And what acts as ballast for the mind? We're taught to create ballast for the mind by looking for three big hunks of rock: generosity, making donations of material things; virtue, keeping our words and deeds at normalcy; and meditation, training the mind. If the mind isn't slowed down by the weights of what's skillful and meritorious, there's no way it can get relief from the heat of its fires. Sometimes evil pulls it in one direction, while goodness pulls it in another. Goodness is like the positive current; evil, like the negative current. The mind alternates between good and evil, looking for good only from time to time, but it doesn't find any real peace and quiet. Still, it's beginning to see things a little more clearly, as when a car begins to slow down but hasn't yet stopped.
So we have to find four other ways to slow the mind down. In other words, we have to make sure that our thoughts, words, and deeds don't fall under the four kinds of bias: bias based on desire, based on aversion, based on delusion, and based on fear. We have to be fair and gentle with other people, harming neither ourselves nor others. This helps our mind spin even more slowly. If it spins forward, it has four blockades in the way. If it spins back, it has three rocks weighing it down. We need principles in how we sit, stand, walk, lie down, speak, act. These are the mainstays of the mind in developing tranquility and insight. This is what's meant by meditation.
The mind is like a machine. When the machine stops, we can safely touch all its belts and gears. The belts here are its various concepts and perceptions. In other words, perceptions of past and future spin back and forth, which is why the mind can't find any coolness. As it keeps spinning, it develops heat. If it spins really fast, it'll set on fire, burning itself and spreading out to burn other people as well. This is why we're taught to stop the spinning by cutting the belts. In other words, we practice tranquility meditation, not allowing the mind to spin along after the currents of the world. Whatever activity you're involved in, keep the mind fully involved in what you're doing. This is like water in the ocean when it's full of waves: if we take a bowlful of water and set it apart until the waves grow still, or if we clarify the water with an alum crystal, we can look into the water and see our reflection clearly.
Our face is something that normally we never see. Even though we use our mouth to speak day in and day out, we've never seen what shape it is. Even though we breathe through our nose with every moment, we've never seen it. Our ears hear sounds all day long, but we've never seen what they look like. Our eyes can see all kinds of things, but they can't see themselves. This is why we have to depend on mirrors to see our reflections. Only then can we see our face. When people have discernment, it's as if they have a large mirror for looking at themselves, because discernment is the clear knowing that comes from a mind bright, clean, and pure, free from spinning, free from waves.
When the mind stops spinning, it comes to stillness. This stillness is what gives rise to the discernment that develops into cognitive skills within us -- the three skills and the eight, such as recollection of former lives, which enables us to see ourselves; knowledge of the passing away and arising of living beings -- once we've seen enough of ourselves, we can see other people; and knowledge of the ending of mental fermentations: we can see what's good, what's evil, what should be abandoned, what should be developed, what takes birth and dies, what doesn't take birth and doesn't die. When these skills arise within us, we will thoroughly comprehend our own bodies and minds, as well as fabricated things in general. The three fires of passion, aversion, and delusion will stay separated far from the heart. The heart stops spinning, and when there's no more spinning, the fire and electricity stop, leaving nothing but coolness and ease.
This is why we're taught to find ballast and blockades for the mind so that it will spin more and more slowly, more and more slowly until it stops, for the sake of the coolness, ease, and peace I've mentioned here.
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