Questions of monks to their teacher Ajahn Chah

Ganharan Meditating Buddha © V&A

Question:I’m trying very hard in my practice but don’t seem to be getting anywhere.

Answer: This is very important. Don’t try to get anywhere in the practice. The very desire to be free or to be enlightened will be the desire that prevents your freedom. You can try as hard as you wish, practise ardently night and day, but if it is still with the desire to achieve in mind, you will never find peace. The energy from this desire will be a cause for doubt and restlessness. No matter how long or how hard you practise, wisdom will not arise from desire. So, simply let go. Watch the mind and body mindfully but don’t try to achieve anything. Don’t cling even to the practice of enlightenment.

Question: What about sleep? How much should I sleep?

Answer: Don’t ask me, I can’t tell you. A good average for some is four hours a night. What is important, though, is that you watch and know yourself. If you try to go with too little sleep, the body will feel uncomfortable and mindfulness will be difficult to sustain. Too much sleep leads to a dull or a restless mind. Find the natural balance for yourself. Carefully watch the mind and body and keep track of sleep needs until you find the optimum. If you wake up and then roll over for a snooze, this is defilement. Establish mindfulness as soon as your eyes open.

Q: How about eating? How much should I eat?

Answer: Look at your food as medicine. Are you eating so much that you only feel sleepy after the meal and are you getting fatter every day? Stop! Examine your own body and mind. There is no need to fast. Instead, experiment with the amount of food you take. Find the natural balance for your body. Put all your food together in your bowl following the ascetic practice. Then you can easily judge the amount you take. Watch yourself carefully as you eat. Know yourself. The essence of our practice is just this. There is nothing special you must do. Only watch. Examine yourself. Watch the mind. Then you will know what is the natural balance for your own practice.

Q: Are minds of Asians and Westerners different? 

Answer: Basically there is no difference. Outer customs and language may appear different, but the human mind has natural characteristics which are the same for all people. Greed and hatred are the same in an Eastern or a Western mind. Suffering and the cessation of suffering are the same for all people.

Q: Is it advisable to read a lot or study the scriptures as a part of practice?

Answer: The Dhamma of the Buddha is not found in books. If you want to really see for yourself what the Buddha was talking about, you don’t need to bother with books. Watch your own mind. Examine to see how feelings come and go, how thoughts come and go. don’t be attached to anything. Just be mindful of whatever there is to see. This is the way to the truths of the Buddha. Be natural. Everything you do in your life here is a chance to practise. It is all Dhamma. When you do your chores, try to be mindful. If you are emptying a spittoon or cleaning a toilet, don’t feel you are doing it as a favour for anyone else. There is Dhamma in emptying spittoons. Don’t feel you are practising only when sitting still, cross-legged. Some of you have complained that there is not enough time to meditate. Is there enough time to breathe? This is your meditation: mindfulness, naturalness in whatever you do.

Q: Why don’t we have daily interviews with the teacher? 

Answer: If you have any questions, you are welcome to come and ask them anytime. But we don’t need daily interviews here. If I answer your every little question, you will never understand the process of doubt in your own mind. It is essential that you learn to examine yourself, to interview yourself. Listen carefully to the lecture every few days, then use this teaching to compare with your own practice. Is it still the same? Is it different? Why do you have doubts? Who is it that doubts? Only through self-examination can you understand.

Q: Sometimes I worry about the monks’ discipline. If I kill insects accidentally, is this bad? 

Answer: Sila or discipline and morality are essential to our practice,but you must not cling to the rules blindly. In killing animals or in breaking other rules, the important thing is intention. Know your own mind. You should not be excessively concerned about the monks’ discipline. If it is used properly, it supports the practice, but some monks are so worried about the petty rules that they can’t sleep well. Discipline is not to be carried as a burden. In our practice here the foundation is discipline, good discipline plus the ascetic rules and practices. Being mindful and careful of even the many supporting rules as well as the basic 227 precepts has great benefit. It makes life very simple. There need be no wondering about how to act, so you can avoid thinking and instead just be simply mindful. The discipline enables us to live together harmoniously; the community runs smoothly. Outwardly everyone looks and acts the same. Discipline and morality are the stepping stones for further concentration and wisdom. By proper use of the monks’ discipline and the ascetic precepts, we are forced to live simply, to limit our possessions. So here we have the complete practice of the Buddha: refrain from evil and do good, live simply keeping to basic needs, purify the mind. That is, be watchful of our mind and body in all postures: sitting, standing, walking or lying, know yourself.

Published in the 1975 BGA Journal, Leicester.

Wat Pah Pong, Ubon Rajathana Province, N.E. Thailand © 1982 by The Sangha, Bung Wai Forest Monastery.

Click here to read more teachings from Ajahn Chah.

Categories: Ajahn Chah, Buddhism, Theravada

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3 replies

  1. Such a wise man.

  2. A very good advice and profound teaching from Venerable Ajahn Chah. Thank you. Anumodana.

  3. Many thanks for posting yet more wisdom from Ajahn Chah and his no-nonsense, practical approach of living the Dhamma on a day to day basis.


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