Friday, June 18
The following is a brief talk by Ajahn Lee on sankharas, collected in the book "Inner Strength."
February 6, 1956
(Delivered at a funeral service for Somdet Phra Mahaviravamsa (Tissa Uan), Wat Boromnivas.)
anicca vata sankhara uppada-vaya-dhammino
The Dhamma, in one sense, is a means of nourishing the heart to make it pure. In another sense, the Dhamma is ourself. Every part of our body is a piece of the world, and the world is an affair of the Dhamma. But it's not the essence of the Dhamma. The essence of the Dhamma lies with the heart.
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The development of all that is good and worthwhile comes from our own thoughts, words, and deeds. The good that comes from our words and deeds, such as the development of charity and virtue, is goodness on the crude and intermediate levels. The refined level, goodness developed by means of the heart, is meditation. For this reason, the issues of the heart are the most important things we must learn to understand.
There are two issues to the heart: the aspect of the heart that takes birth and dies, and the aspect of the heart that doesn't take birth and doesn't die. If the heart falls for fashionings (sankhara), it's bound to take birth and die repeatedly. But the heart that truly sees and clearly knows all fashionings can then let go of them, and thus won't take birth and won't die. If we want to go beyond suffering and stress -- not to take birth and not to die -- then we first have to learn the true nature of fashionings so that we can understand them.
Fashionings, as they appear in actuality, are of two sorts: fashionings on the level of the world and fashionings on the level of the Dhamma. Both sorts have their reality, but they're things that arise and then decay. This is why the Buddha said, 'anicca vata sankhara...' -- which means, 'All fashionings are inconstant...' -- because both sorts of these fashionings begin by arising, then change, and finally disband. Whoever can focus in to know clearly and truly see this condition, curb the mind, and become wise to all fashionings, is sure to gain release from all suffering and stress.
Fashionings on the level of the world are things that people create and conjure into being, such as wealth, status, pleasure, and praise. As for fashionings on the level of the Dhamma, whether or not we dress them up, we all have them in equal measure -- in other words, properties (dhatu), khandhas, and sense media.
Fashionings on the level of the world and of the Dhamma are like the changing colors on a movie screen. They flicker and flash: Green. Red. Yellow. White. Changing back and forth. When we watch, our eyes have to change along with them to follow them -- and this is what gives rise to misunderstandings. When the mind fastens on tight to these fashionings, it gives rise to feelings of satisfaction and dissatisfaction. When they change for good or bad, our mind changes along with them -- and so it falls into the characteristics of inconstancy, stress, and not-self.
From another point of view, fashionings can be divided into two sorts: those with a mind in possession, such as people or animals; and those without a mind in possession, such as trees. But though this may be the standard interpretation of fashionings without a mind in possession, I don't agree with it. Take the stairway to this hall: If you say that it doesn't have a mind in possession of it, try smashing it and see whether or not there'll be an uproar. The same holds true with fields -- try planting rice in someone else's field -- or with banana and other fruit trees planted in an orchard: Try hacking them with a knife to see whether or not their owner will have you thrown in jail. Everything in the world to which attachment extends has to have a mind in possession. Only the planet Mars, to which the sphere of attachment doesn't yet extend, doesn't have a mind in possession. Every sort of fashioning has a mind in possession -- except for arahants, who don't have a mind in possession because they aren't attached to any fashionings at all.
Attachment to fashionings is the source of stress, because fashionings are inconstant, as we've already explained. So only if we can let go and not be attached to fashionings will we meet with happiness and ease -- ease in the sense of the Dhamma, ease that is cool, quiet, solid, and unchanging. Ease in the worldly sense isn't any different from sitting in a chair: Only if the chair doesn't wobble will we have any ease. The wobbling of the mind is of two sorts: wobbling naturally and wobbling under the influence of intention and its fruit. How many times does the mind wobble in a day? Sometimes it wobbles from intentions in the present, sometimes from intentions in the past, but how it's wobbling, we don't know. This is avijja, the unawareness that causes fashionings -- thoughts -- to arise.
The other side to all this is non-fashioning (visankhara). What is non-fashioning? No wobbling, no changing, no disbanding: That's non-fashioning. Fashionings change, but our mind doesn't change. Fashionings are stress, but our mind isn't stressed. Fashionings are not-self, but our mind isn't not-self. Fashionings without a mind in possession: That's non-fashioning.
Most of us, by and large, are aware only of the knowledge offered by the Six Teachers -- the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation -- which are sources of change, uncertainty, stress, unawareness, and fashionings. So we should close off these senses, because fashionings can't see other fashionings. Only if we get on the other side will we be able to see.