- The Ever-present Truth
- Teachings of Phra Ajaan Mun Bhuridatta Mahathera
- Translated from the Thai by
Copyright © 1995 Metta Forest Monastery
PO Box 1409, Valley Center, CA 92082
The following selections are drawn from a collection of sermon fragments appended to
the book A Heart Released as part of a commemorative volume distributed at Phra
Ajaan Mun's cremation in 1950. The collection was drawn from notes of Ajaan Mun's sermons
taken by two of his students during the last two years of his life, covering a wide range
of topics, including some standard accounts of the Buddha's life. The selections included
here comprise all of the passages dealing directly with the practice of virtue and
Some of Ajaan Mun's direct students have commented that the fragments would have been
more subtle and insightful if the students who recorded them had been more advanced in
their own meditation practice. As a result, we can only guess as to what the original
sermons were like. Still, what has been recorded is worth reading and putting into
practice, and so it has been translated and offered here as a gift of Dhamma for all who
§ 1. The root meditation themes
Has anyone ever been ordained in the Buddha's religion without having studied
meditation? We can say categorically no -- there hasn't. There isn't a single preceptor
who doesn't teach meditation to the ordinand before presenting him with his robes. If a
preceptor doesn't teach meditation beforehand, he can no longer continue being a
preceptor. So every person who has been ordained can be said to have studied meditation.
There is no reason to doubt this.
The preceptor teaches the five meditation themes: kesa, hair of the head; loma,
hair of the body; nakha, nails; danta, teeth; and taco, skin. These
five meditation themes end with the skin. Why are we taught only as far as the skin?
Because the skin is an especially important part of the body. Each and every one of us has
to have skin as our wrapping. If we didn't have skin, our head-hairs, body-hairs, nails,
and teeth wouldn't hold together. They'd have to scatter. Our flesh, bones, tendons, and
all the other parts of the body wouldn't be able to stay together at all. They'd have to
separate, to fall apart.
When we get infatuated with the human body, the skin is what we are infatuated with.
When we conceive of the body as being beautiful and attractive, and develop love, desire,
and longing for it, it's because of what we conceive of the skin. When we see a body, we
suppose it to have a complexion -- fair, ruddy, dark, etc. -- because of what we conceive
the color of the skin to be. If the body didn't have skin, who would conceive it to be
beautiful or attractive? Who would love it, like it, or desire it? We'd regard it with
nothing but hatred, loathing, and disgust. If it weren't wrapped in skin, the flesh,
tendons, and other parts of the body wouldn't hold together and couldn't be used to
accomplish anything at all -- which is why we say the skin is especially important. The
fact that we can keep on living is because of the skin. The fact that we get deluded into
seeing the body as beautiful and attractive is because it has skin. This is why preceptors
teach only as far as the skin.
If we set our minds on considering the skin until we see it as disgusting and gain a
vision of its unloveliness appearing unmistakably to the heart, we are bound to see the
inherent truths of inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness. This will cure our delusions of
beauty and attractiveness that are fixated on the skin. We will no longer focus any
conceivings on it or find it appealing or desirable, for we have seen it for what it is.
Only when we heed our preceptors' instructions and not take them lightly will we see these
inherent truths. If we don't heed our preceptors' instructions, we won't be able to cure
our delusions, and instead will fall into the snares of enticing preoccupations -- into
the wheels of the cycle of rebirth.
So we've already been well-taught by our preceptors since the day of our ordination.
There is no reason to look for anything further. If we're still unsure, if we're still
looking for something more, that shows that we are still confused and lost. If we weren't
confused, what would we be looking for? An unconfused person doesn't have to look for
anything. Only a confused person has to go looking. The more he goes looking, the further
he gets lost. If a person doesn't go looking, but simply considers what is already
present, he will see clearly the reality that is inherently primal and unmoving, free from
the yokes and fermentations of defilement.
This subject is not something thought up by the preceptors to be taught to the ordinand
in line with anyone's opinion. It comes from the word of the Lord Buddha, who decreed that
the preceptor should teach the ordinand these essential meditation themes for his constant
consideration. Otherwise, our ordination wouldn't be in keeping with the fact that we have
relinquished the life of home and family and have come out to practice renunciation for
the sake of freedom. Our ordination would be nothing more than a sham. But since the
Buddha has decreed this matter, every preceptor has continued this tradition down to the
present. What our preceptors have taught us isn't wrong. It's absolutely true. But we
simply haven't taken their teachings to heart. We've stayed complacent and deluded of our
own accord -- for people of discretion have affirmed that these teachings are the genuine
path to purity.
silam sila viya:
Virtue is like rock.
Virtue -- normalcy -- is like rock, which is solid and forms the basis of the ground.
No matter how much the wind may buffet and blow, rock doesn't waver or flinch.
If we simply hold to the word "virtue," though, we can still go astray. We
need to know where virtue lies, what it is, and who maintains it. If we know the factor
maintaining it, we will see how that factor forms the essence of virtue. If we don't
understand virtue, we'll end up going astray and holding just to the externals of virtue,
believing that we have to look for virtue here or ask for the precepts there before we can
have virtue. If we have to look for it and ask for it, doesn't that show that we're
confused about it? Isn't that a sign of attachment to the externals of precepts and
People who aren't confused about virtue don't have to go looking or asking for it,
because they know that virtue exists within themselves. They themselves are the ones who
maintain their virtue by avoiding faults of various kinds.
Intention is what forms the essence of virtue. What is intention (cetana)? We
have to play with this word cetana in order to understand it. Change the
"e" to an "i," and add another "t." That gives us citta,
the mind. A person without a mind can't be called a person. If we had only a body, what
could we accomplish? The body and mind have to rely on each other. If the mind isn't
virtuous, the body will misbehave in all sorts of ways. This is why we say that there is
only one virtue: that of the mind. The precepts deal simply with the flaws we should
avoid. Whether you avoid the five flaws, the eight, the ten, or the 227, you succeed in
maintaining the one and the same virtue. If you can maintain this one virtue, your words
and deeds will be flawless. The mind will be at normalcy -- simple, solid, and unwavering.
This sort of virtue isn't something you go looking or asking for. When people go
looking and asking, it's a sign they're poor and destitute. They don't have anything, so
they have to go begging. They keep requesting the precepts, over and over again. The more
they request them, the more they lack them. The poorer they become.
We are already endowed with body and mind. Our body we have received from our parents;
our mind is already with us, so we have everything we need in full measure. If we want to
make the body and mind virtuous, we should go right ahead and do it. We don't have to
think that virtue lies here or there, at this or that time. Virtue already lies right here
with us. Akaliko: If we maintain it at all times, we will reap its rewards at all
This point can be confirmed with reference to the time of the Buddha. When the five
brethren; Ven. Yasa, his parents, and his former wife; the Kassapa brothers and their
disciples; King Bimbisara and his following, etc., listened to the Buddha's teachings,
they didn't ask for the precepts beforehand. The Buddha started right in teaching them. So
why were they able to attain the noble paths and fruitions? Where did their virtue,
concentration, and discernment come from? The Buddha never told them to ask him for
virtue, concentration, and discernment. Once they had savored the taste of his teachings,
then virtue, concentration, and discernment developed within them of their own accord,
without any asking or giving taking place. No one had to take the various factors of the
path and put them together into a whole, for in each case, virtue, concentration, and
discernment were qualities of one and the same heart.
So only if we aren't deluded into searching outside for virtue can we be ranked as
The traits that people have carried over from the past differ in being good, bad, and
neutral. Their potential follows along with their traits -- i.e., higher than what they
currently are, lower, or on a par. Some people have developed a high potential to be good,
but if they associate with fools, their potential will develop into that of a fool. Some
people are weak in terms of their potential, but if they associate with sages, their
potential improves and they become sages, too. Some people associate with friends who are
neither good nor bad, who lead them neither up nor down, and so their potential stays on a
For this reason, we should try to associate with sages and wise people so as to raise
the level of our potential progressively higher and higher, step by step.
We have all come here to study of our own accord. Not one of us was invited to come.
So, as we have come to study and practice, we should really give ourselves to the
practice, in line with the example set by the Buddha and his Arahant disciples.
At the very beginning, you should contemplate all four truths -- birth, aging, illness,
and death -- that all the Noble Ones have contemplated before us. Birth: We have already
been born. What is your body if not a heap of birth? Illness, aging, and death are all an
affair of this heap. When we contemplate these things in all four positions -- by
practicing sitting meditation, walking meditation, meditation while standing or lying down
-- the mind will gather into concentration. If it gathers briefly, that's called momentary
concentration. In other words, the mind gathers and reverts to its underlying level for a
short while and then withdraws. If you contemplate without retreating, until an uggaha
nimitta (arising image) of a part of the body appears within or without, contemplate
that image until the mind lets go of it and reverts to its underlying level and stays
there for a fair while before withdrawing again. Concentration on this level is called
Keep on contemplating that image until the mind reverts to a firm stance on its
underlying level, reaching the singleness of the first level of jhana. When the mind
withdraws, keep contemplating that image over and over again until you can take it apart
as a patibhaga nimitta (counterpart image). In other words, contemplate what the
body will be like after it dies. It'll have to disintegrate until only the bones are left.
Focus on this truth within you -- as it applies to your own body -- as well as without --
as it applies to the bodies of others. See what the various parts of the body are:
"This is hair"... "These are nails"... "These are teeth"...
"This is skin." How many tendons are there? How many bones? Get so that you can
see these things clearly. Visualize the body coming together again -- sitting, standing,
walking, and lying down -- and then dying and reverting to its original state: its
original properties of earth, water, fire, and wind.
When you contemplate this way repeatedly both within and without, visualizing the body
newly dead and long dead, with dogs and vultures fighting over it, your mind will
eventually come to gain intuitive insight in line with your potential.
To purify one's own mind
is to follow the Buddhas' teachings.
The Buddha, our foremost teacher, taught about body, speech, and mind. He didn't teach
anything else. He taught us to practice, to train our minds, to use our minds to
investigate the body: This is called the contemplation of the body as a frame of
reference. We are taught to train our mindfulness thoroughly in the practice of
investigating -- this is called the analysis of phenomena (dhamma-vicaya, one of
the factors of Awakening) -- until it reaches a point of sufficiency. When we have
investigated enough to make mindfulness itself a factor of Awakening, the mind settles
down into concentration of its own accord.
There are three levels of concentration. In momentary concentration, the mind gathers
and settles down to a firm stance and rests there for a moment before withdrawing. In
threshold concentration, the mind gathers and settles down to its underlying level and
stays there a fair while before withdrawing to be aware of a nimitta of one sort or
another. In fixed penetration, the mind settles down to a firm stance on its underlying
level and stops there in singleness, perfectly still -- aware that it is staying there --
endowed with the five factors of jhana, which then become gradually more and more refined.
When we train the mind in this way, we are said to be heightening the mind, as in the
adhicitte ca ayogo
To heighten the mind
is to follow the Buddhas' teachings.
The contemplation of the body is a practice that sages -- including the Lord Buddha --
have described in many ways. For example, in the Mahasatipatthana Sutta (Great Frames of
Reference Discourse), he calls it the contemplation of the body as a frame of reference.
In the root themes of meditation, which a preceptor must teach at the beginning of the
ordination ceremony, he describes the contemplation of hairs of the head, hairs of the
body, nails, teeth, and skin. In the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta (Discourse on the Turning
of the Wheel of Dhamma), he teaches that birth, aging, and death are stressful.
We have all taken birth now, haven't we? When we practice so as to opanayiko --
take these teachings inward and contemplate them by applying them to ourselves -- we are
not going wrong in the practice, because the Dhamma is akaliko, ever-present; and aloko,
blatantly clear both by day and by night, with nothing to obscure it.
§ 6. The method of practice for those who have studied a great
People who have studied a lot of the Dhamma and Vinaya -- who have learned a large
number of approaches together with their many ramifications -- when they then come to
train their minds, find that their minds don't settle down easily into concentration. They
need to realize that they must first take their learning and put it back on the shelf for
the time being. They need to train "what knows" -- this very mind -- developing
their mindfulness until it is super-mindfulness, their discernment until it is
super-discernment, so that they can see through the super-deceits of conventional truth
and common assumptions that set things up, naming them, "This is this," and
"That is that" -- days, nights, months, years, earth, sky, sun, moon,
constellations, everything -- all the things that thought-formations, the conditions or
effects of the mind, set up as being this or that.
Once the mind can see through these effects of the mind, this is called knowing stress
and its cause. Once you practice this theme and develop it repeatedly until you are quick
at seeing through these things, the mind will be able to gather and settle down. To focus
in this way is called developing the path. And when the path reaches a point of
sufficiency, there is no need to speak of the cessation of stress: It will appear of its
own accord to the person who practices -- because virtue, concentration, and discernment
all exist in our very own body, speech, and mind. These things are said to be akaliko:
ever-present. Opanayiko: When meditators contemplate what already exists within
them, then -- paccattam -- they will know for themselves. In other words, we
contemplate the body so as to see it as unattractive and visualize it as disintegrating
back into its primary properties in terms of the primal Dhamma that is blatantly clear
both by day and by night.
When contemplating, you should keep this analogy in mind: When people grow rice, they
have to grow it in the earth. They have to go wading through the mud, exposed to the sun
and rain, before they can get the rice grains, the husked rice, the cooked rice, and can
finally eat their fill. When they do this, they are getting their rice entirely from
things that already exist. In the same way, meditators must develop virtue, concentration,
and discernment, which already exist in the body, speech, and mind of every person.
§ 7. The principles of the practice are ever-present
Concerning the principles of our practice, there is no real problem. Opanayiko:
Bring the mind inward to investigate body, speech, and mind -- things that are akaliko,
ever-present; aloko, blatantly clear both by day and by night; paccattam
veditabbo viññuhi, to be known by the wise for themselves -- just as the sages of
the past, such as the Buddha and the Noble Disciples, knew clearly for themselves after
bringing their minds inward to contemplate what was already there.
It's not the case that these things exist at some times and not at others. They exist
at all times, in every era. This is something we as meditators can know for ourselves. In
others words, when we make a mistake, we know it. When we do things correctly, we know it
within ourselves. How good or bad we are, we are bound to know better than anyone else --
as long as we are persistent in our contemplation and don't let ourselves grow complacent
An example from the past is that of the sixteen young students of the Brahmin teacher,
Bavari. They had practiced jhana to the point where they were stuck on rupa jhana and
arupa jhana. The Buddha thus taught them to contemplate what was already inside them so as
to see it clearly with discernment -- to see the level of sensuality as lying below, the
level of formlessness as lying above, and the level of form as in the middle; to see the
past as below, the future as above, and the present as in the middle. Then he taught them
to look inside themselves -- from the feet below, to the tips of the hair above, and all
around in between.
Once they had contemplated in this way, they came to know clearly for themselves. This
ended their doubts about how to practice, and they no longer had to go to the trouble of
looking anywhere else.
§ 8. Listening to the Dhamma at all times
As a meditator, you should use the strategy of listening to the Dhamma at all times,
even when you are living alone. In other words, contemplate the Dhamma both by day and by
night. The eye, ear, nose, tongue, and body are physical phenomena (rupa-dhamma)
that are always present. Sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and tactile sensations are also
present for you to see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. The mind? It too is present. Your
thoughts and feelings about various topics -- good and bad -- are present as well.
Development and decay, both within you and without, are also present. These things that
occur naturally display the truth -- inconstancy, stress, and not-selfness -- for you to
see at all times. When a leaf grows yellow and falls from the tree, for instance, it is
showing you the truth of inconstancy.
So when you continually use this approach to contemplate things with your mindfulness
and discernment, you are said to be listening to the Dhamma at all times, both by day and