( Further comments on topics Sayadaw U Jotika raised in his talk here: Wise People )
Last night, July 2008, Sayadaw U Jotika graced us in Bangkok with a Dhamma Talk. He spoke in almost perfect English, stopping every few minutes for the Thai translation. However it seemed almost as if no translation were necessary, partly because, judging from people’s reactions, almost everyone could understand him well in English. But more than that the message seemed contained not so much in the words as in the clear, cooling voice and manner. Sayadaw’s presence, not to mention his youthful face and clear faculties, was uncannily similar to that of Vietnamese teacher Thich Naht Hanh.
In his early life he had not been convinced by any religious teaching, even Buddhism. When signing forms he would always put ‘No religion’ to describe himself, but on the advice of a friend he later changed this to ‘no religion yet’. Picking up the Buddha’s teachings he would examine them very carefully to see if they really made sense, a habit that he has continued to this day. For instance, one line of a famous Sutta, reads:
Asevana ca balanam – Panditananca sevana
Puja ca pujaniyanam – Etamangalamuttamam
Not to associate with fools, but to associate with the wise,
and honour that which is honourable, this is the highest blessing
The sutta lists 11 such verses, all describing something that is ‘the highest blessing‘.
What does it mean to ‘associate with fools’ ? First you must ask what it is that makes a person a fool; and closer examination of the Buddha’s teaching reveals that foolishness is not so much the nature of a person, as the nature of Greed (lobha) Dosa (hate) and Moha (Delusion). If you are acting with a mind filled with greed, then you are acting foolishly. If you are acting with a mind filled with hate, then you are being a fool. In this sense, we are all at times fools. But if you are being a fool yourself, who then can you associate with?
Sayadaw points out you can follow the meaning of the sutta in the behaviour of your own mind – when you have a an unwholesome mind, you should not associate with it. When you have wholesome states of mind, you should associate with that. In this way you are not associating with fools.
How though can you disassociate from your own state of mind? The art is stepping back from the mind state by being mindful of it. When you are mindful, when you are the observer of mind states, you have disassociated yourself by one step. If you have lust in the mind, when you are mindful of it you are no longer the lustful person, but someone who can see and feel that state of mind. It is a pattern of Buddhism that you should make the attention very immediate, which means you are no longer paying interest to desires, but becoming interested in the nature of desiring itself. You are no longer interested in the targets of your hatred, but paying attention to the nature of Hate itself. In many suttas, and the example Sayadaw gave was of the Satipatthana sutta (Foundations of Mindfulness), the Buddha says your duty is to look and see. Just to be mindful of states of mind is enough to generate insight and understanding, which leads to wisdom. Practising in this way then, you are bringing the teachings to life inside yourself. By stepping back from the foolish states of mind, you are not assocaiting with the foolish.
Actors have the saying if you don’t make it seem effortless, you are not trying hard enough. Something like that is true with Dhamma talks – great teachers make it so straightforward. Dhamma is really something simple that many people make complex. Honouring the honourable we gave our attention to the clear and calmly delivered talk. Listening to a real master Dhamma never appears complex, but something clear and simple that we should follow.
There are couple of excellent collections of Sayadaw’s teachings available free online in PDF format (click to view, right click and ‘save as’ to download your own copy):