THE VENERABLE MOGOK SAYADAW
(Dhamma talk to U Pe Win, Managing Director, Shan Bama Trading Company)
Translated by Dr. Jenny Ko Gyi
(Burma - Myanmar)
‘I am a follower of a different faith, venerable sir. I have asked questions about things I am doubtful of, to personnel from religious fields, and no one could answer well enough to satisfy me. From what I have heard, Buddhism teaches about morality. When I visited the west, I discussed religion, politics, economics, with the elite from the industrial sector. According to their faith, there can never be complete achievement when man practices, nibbana cannot be attained.
They say that for them, faith is the main thing. Only with faith in their God will there be salvation, (and) (heaven) will be reached. What I want to ask you is if man can attain nibbana through practice, or if (heaven) can be reached merely by practicing as stated in the bible.
To what extent can man practice? Practicing is good. But being in the world, evil mind predominates. Please explain so that I can understand, venerable sir.’
‘I’ll explain. Listen. Practically speaking, in faith, there is faith in others, faith in oneself. By saying ‘others’ it is none other than the ‘God’ that every religion believes in, or reverends, monks that are being revered locally. Then this faith ends in others. If you say ‘the eternal God’, then it ends in ‘the eternal God’. Because you have faith in Him, be it good or be it bad, it ends in ‘Him’, your own wisdom is not there. They end in words that have been handed down (through the generations). It’s alright if they really know it and say it. Look at the khandha (aggregates, or mind-matter complex). If he does not know, and if he is saying (things) from imagination, your wisdom ends at other people’s mouth (words). Your wisdom does not go beyond others’. Your path ends with what little knowledge he has. If you do not even know what he knows, then you will end up knowing less than he does.
The Buddha does not like (relying on) believing others. It is not enough with faith (alone). Take note that faith ends in other people’s mouth (words). It is not analysed whether this is the good mouth, or the bad mouth. Not analyzing (others’ words), it means you are not wise, that you do not know.’
‘Venerable sir, from what I know, their God says, ‘Have complete faith in me. If you have complete faith in me, then I’ll save you.’ ’.
‘Is this through your own wisdom, or from hearing what others say?’
‘From hearsay, venerable sir.’
‘Then is your own analysis there? Are your own thoughts that come through your own wisdom there?’
‘No, venerable sir.’
‘Then you end at others’mouth.’
‘Then only how will it be right, venerable sir?’
‘With your own knowledge, look at your own khandha (mind-matter complex). Then decide with your own wisdom what is happening in you (in your mind-matter complex). Only when you know it yourself, and believe it, then the truth is reached. (Believing what others say), you will not reach the truth. Let me ask you, if you do something, believing what others say, and believing after you have checked it yourself, which one will you believe?’
‘I’ll have faith in what I have checked myself, venerable sir.’
‘Then there comes a problem, ‘If your master (teacher) does not guide you, what will you do?’ There are two types of teachers, the true one and the false. Analyse yourself. Analyse with your own wisdom the truth that your teacher says. Whether your teacher tells you what is right or what is wrong, study it, check it with your khandha (aggregates or mind-matter). Accept what comes in line (with khandha) as being true. The teacher has to be there. You also have to check yourself. Only when it is balanced, accept it. Do you get the idea?’
‘I do, venerable sir. They give (me) examples. For the Burmese, it is nibbana. In Christianity, it is Heaven. The shore this side of the sea, and the shore on the other side. This side is mundane (lokiya), the other the supramundane (lokuttara), venerable sir. There is one who tries to swim and cross the sea. We are those trying to swim across the sea. Those who observe morality are like those trying to swim across the sea. (They say) he who is trying to swim across the sea will not make it without help. Their God says believing Him is like being on a raft that will definitely take them to the other shore. Practicing on one’s own in Buddhism, and swimming across the sea, will by no means be successful.’
‘In our ears, yours and mine, this might ring true. You take the raft which He can give you. You can ride His raft only with faith. You ask them what (He) uses, and (they will answer that) (super powers) are (His raft). With this raft that comes from super powers, you will get to the other shore.’
‘This is because they believe in creation, venerable sir. If (He) can create man, why can he not make us get to Heaven? The God that creates man says that if (we) believe Him, then it is very easy (for us) to get to Heaven. (They say) that in Buddhism, it is not mentioned that man is (taken to the other shore) by the (Buddha). (We) have to practice on our own, then how can (we) swim across the vast sea? (They say) their faith is very much reliable.’
‘Alright. Leave aside their religion and their faith. We’ll check them. Let us say that if (we) have faith in Him, then He can save (us) from all things. He cannot save those who do not have faith in Him. He cannot do anything about those (who do not have faith in Him). Does it not mean He will ignore them? Then you argue if He has mercy for all beings. Is it true that He has compassion for all?’
‘I did ask them, venerable sir. They say, poison, whether taken by those who know it or by those who do not know it, will cause death. Those who do not know their belief are like those who have taken poison, and therefore will not be saved. In their view, no matter how sinful they may have been, it is like parents forgiving their children. How could the God that created them not forgive them? God forgives sinners if the sinners rightly repent their sins.’
‘Let us take it this way. If, near death, this person remembers, he sins will be forgiven, and he will result in a good plane.’
‘Yes, venerable sir.’
‘In our faith, as a person approaches death, whether he believes the Buddha or not, he sees the path he is about to take. He who is about to result in hell sees hell fire. He who is about to become a peta (hungry being) sees (hunger-filled) forests, mountains, cliffs. He cannot in any way change this vision.
Nobody can save him. He is exhausted. Before death, he sees these. If (you) do not believe it, look at those who are about to die. If one who has lived his life doing evil is about to die, tears will flow from his eyes. Twisting and turning, he will find it unbearable. He cannot change it. ‘Things that I have done have been wrong. I will surely have to take this path.’ Now he knows the path he has to take. But at this time there will be no one to save him. There are words he wants to leave behind. But there is no time to say these – these are what the Buddha (Gotama) taught (us).’
‘I can refer to many discourses (true stories). One who will result in a happy existence (after death) will see happy signs. One who will result in a woeful plane will see frightful signs. I shall explain how he cannot remember anyone at this time. There are javana (near-death impulses 1-2-3-4-5). After this death consciousness, there arises consciousness in a new existence. At this time not even the Buddha can come to the rescue, no asking for forgiveness.
The consciousness that sees the path that is about to be taken. If good deeds have been done (in life), there will arise consciousness that sees the good path that is about to be taken. If evil have been committed (in life) there will arise consciousness that sees the frightful path that is about to be taken. After seeing these, there will be death.
Is this the time when forgiveness can be asked for? It is not. It has just been said that after doing evil deeds (in life), if there is repentance just before death, there can still be salvation. Think about this carefully. Could it be possible?
After seeing these five (near-death) impulses, one who has done good (in life) results in a good plane. There is one kind of belief, believing what others say. There is another kind of belief, believing after one has tested it oneself. Which should be put to use?’
‘That which has been tested and believed is the right one, venerable sir.’
‘True. The Buddha is only a guide. He is not a savior. The Buddha is a physician who guides (us). If (you) take the medicine that I give (you), (you) will be cured. (You) will not get a cure by (the Buddha) merely uttering, ‘be cured’. Here is a big difference. He (God) is a faith-healer. Here (Buddha) is a physician. I’ll give you medicine. Take it and there will be a cure. For one who has indigestion, digestive medicine is to be taken. One who is suffering from diarrhea is to take anti-diarrhoeal medicine. Merely saying, ‘let there be a cure’, will bring no cure. For one who has been bitten by a snake, antisnake-venom is to be given. Merely saying, ‘be cured’, will not do.’
‘They say (they) will get to (Heaven). We shall also have to say we shall attain nibbana. They will be sent to (Heaven) on a raft made by the eternal God. For us it is not like this. We shall have to make the raft ourselves, and will have to cross (the sea) on the raft made by ourselves.
Are ageing, ailing, death avoidable or unavoidable?’
‘Unavoidable, venerable sir’.
‘Now, we are on the path (where ageing, ailing, death) are unavoidable. Then, is there no other path apart from this path? If there is a path where there are ageing, ailing, death, then there must be a path where there is no ageing, no ailing, no death. If there is a disease, there must be a cure. Our Lord Buddha shows us two paths; apart from the path with ageing, ailing, death, there is another path where there is no ageing, ailing, death.’
‘This khandha (mind-matter complex, or aggregates) is constantly being tormented by ageing, ailing, death. Yet those who desire, after this life, another life which gives well-being as rich men, rich deities, take the path where ageing, ailing, death exist.’
‘Those who are not attached to this khandha (mind-matter complex, or aggregates) do not take the path where ageing, ailing, death exist. (You) are attached to this khandha. You will like it if you will have, in the next life, khandha that will fare better. If so, khandha in the next life will also be five aggregates (or mind-matter). What you have now also is khandha (five aggregates). All khandha (five aggregates) are ageing, ailing, death. Khandha (five aggregates) is the path of ageing, ailing, death. Not having khandha (aggregates) is the path without ageing, ailing, death. There are two paths. Which one will you take?’
‘The one without (ageing, ailing, death), venerable sir.’
‘I like it. Decide that you will know the dhamma (be enlightened) this life. No matter how well-off one may be in this life, if he does not know the way, khandha (five aggregates) will not become less. Then he will have ageing, ailing, death.’
‘Now you have come to dislike ageing, ailing, death. If you still have to age, to ail, to die, you will have to fear, you will have to be frightened. The Buddha says there are two paths, one which has ageing, ailing, death. The other which does not have these. Now I know which path you want to take. Even though you may have to live in a gilded mansion, if it is the path that has ageing, ailing, death, then you do not want it.’
‘The path of ageing, ailing, death is the micchaditthi path (the path of wrong view). The other is the path without ageing, ailing, death; this is sammaditthi path (the path of right view). Wrong-view path goes on to ageing, ailing, death. Right-view path is the one free from those. The path that likes ageing, ailing, death feels attached to khandha, and is therefore afraid to age, to ail, to die. There is attachment to khandha, yet this khandha is not free from ageing, ailing, death.’
‘He who is attached to this khandha, at death will throw down this khandha, but will have to bear the burden of another khandha. Then he will meet ageing, ailing, death again. He who is not attached to present khandha will not have future khandha.’
‘Ask from me the way not to be attached to present khandha. Then you will be free from ageing, ailing, death. The path that is not free from ageing, ailing, death, is attached to present khandha. There is desire for future khandha which will fare better than that in the present. Such an individual has two kinds of tanha (craving, attachment, desire). He who has these two kinds of craving will again have ageing, ailing, death in the future (existence). Not being attached to present khandha, there will be no attachment for future khandha. One who knows that the five khandha are ageing, ailing, death, will not have ageing, ailing, death again.’
‘When asked who creates khandha that has ageing, ailing, death, there will be no eternal (God). It is tanha (craving) that creates (these). Because of tanha (desire/craving), there is khandha which has ageing, ailing, death.’
‘Now the culprit has been found. It is neither the eternal (God) nor the Buddha that creates ageing, ailing, death. Tanha (desire/craving) that is attached to khandha creates them. Does the path (knowledge) end at others’ mouth (words), or do you know it yourself?’
‘Do you believe what others say, or do you know it yourself? Knowing it yourself is paccakkha knowledge. One’s own desire (craving) creates ageing, ailing, death. Making one’s desire to cease will lead to freedom from ageing, ailing, death. Getting rid of tanha (craving) is the most important. Now do you understand this?’
‘I do, venerable sir.’
‘If you understand this, you begin to understand sacca (the noble truths). You come to understand that samudaya sacca (the noble truth of the cause of suffering) is to be got rid of. Samudaya sacca is in fact craving (tanha). When tanha (craving) is cut off, our job is done. Now do you believe that cutting off craving (tanha) will help get your task done? Do not believe yet what the eternal (God) says. Do not believe yet what the Buddha says. Decide for yourself, and then believe it. Which one lasts longer, suffering due to hatred, and suffering due to attachment? Answer.’
‘Suffering due to attachment remains longer, venerable sir.’
‘That is right. When there is hatred, you leave (something behind). When there is attachment, you cannot cut (it) off. Being unable to cut off (something) is due to the tanha that lies behind (it). Not getting rid of tanha (craving), there will be khandha. If there is no attachment (for khandha), then (you) will not tire (yourself) for (this khandha). You will feed (this khandha) just enough to keep it going. Knowing that future khandha will also be ageing, ailing, death, will there be desire for it?’
‘(I) will not desire it, venerable sir.’
‘Not desiring it, will you make the usual wishes?’
‘(I) will not make (the usual) wishes, venerable sir.’
‘Not making wishes, (you) practice, and (you) get it. Then you will have to practice. You have sores, and others saying, ‘let there be a cure’ will not give you a cure. You have to use the right remedy, then there will be a cure’.
‘Therefore rely on your own self. During the Buddha’s time, there was the monk Vakkali who was so devoted to the Buddha that he would not leave the Buddha’s side. The Buddha told Vakkali not to remain near him, and that doing so would be fruitless. The Buddha drove him away telling him he had to practice on his own.’
‘May I ask you a short question, venerable sir?’
‘I want to know if I can get it (deliverance) through practice, venerable sir.’
‘To be able to do something, there has to be practice. Without practice, it cannot be done. And to do it, you cannot practice only once. You have to practice again and again. You go on and on so long as you have not become an expert. Think how (you) drive a car. If you do not practice, and if you cannot do it properly, you cannot drive (a car). If someone has practiced well, then when he starts driving (a car), he can do it instantly. Only when you have not done it well, you have to practice it again and again. But when your job is done, you need not practice further. Do you need (to practice further)?’
‘No, venerable sir.’
‘Among those who practice, those with sharp wisdom may get it after doing it only once. But those whose wisdom is not very sharp have to practice repeatedly. It varies dependent upon the intellectual level. The same cannot be expected of all those who practice.’
‘They say practice is not possible. Nibbana cannot be attained through practice. They say they can get to (heaven) only through salvation.’
‘Think. You are relying on what others say. Is your own effort there?’
‘You have prospered. You are respected. Is your prosperity given to you by others, or did you have to work for it?’
‘I prospered because I worked for it.’
‘Do you then have to believe the salvation others tell you about? If He can always save you, He will help you out of poverty. He will cure you of your ailments. He will save you so that there will be no ageing, no ailing, no death for you. Only then it can be said that he saves you. But can he stop the ageing, ailing, death, in you, so that there will be no ageing, ailing, no death for you? Then He does not have the power to save others.’
‘But sir, can man follow the practice the Buddha has mentioned? If man cannot practice, it’s no use talking about practice.’
‘Talking about practice, there are two kinds, mundane and supramundane practice. How many years did you have to work to get your bachelor’s degree? For one with high intellectual level, you had to work for about fourteen years. Did you not have to study again and again so that you would not forget (your lessons)? Did it happen because you said ‘let this happen’, or did you get it because you worked for it? Only when you work hard for it, you will possess such qualities.’
‘As you so practice (for worldly success), you also have to practice for the dhamma.’
‘This is what I want to know, venerable sir. I have been thinking for about a year about practice. I thought I could never practice with my own ability.
Studying can get (us our) bachelor’s degree. If we practice, why cannot we achieve this also? I want to know this clearly.’
‘I’ll explain it in another way. You get your bachelor’s and master’s degrees, you work with foreigners, you understand their language. You need not exert extra effort for the Burmese language as it is the language of your ancestors. Even then your parents first had to teach you, ‘this is father, this is mother, take your meal first, then take water.’ Then it becomes a habit.’
‘In every work, there has to be practice. There is a kind of practice taught by parents. There is another kind of practice taught by the Buddha. The one taught by parents is not free from ageing, ailing, death. The one taught by the Buddha is free from it all. So you follow the practice that is free from these.’
‘What I am saying is that everybody is practicing. But it is not achievable. Finally it is beyond reach. The path is there indeed. (We) take this same journey. But journey’s end cannot be reached. This is my assumption, venerable sir.’
‘Do not take it this way. It is not like this. Between a Buddha and the next, the earth surface rises one yojana. If earth is not destroyed, its surface rises thirteen miles. Is not it very high? One who is to become a Buddha has to practice till the earth’s surface rises thirteen miles. (If) you are not thinking about becoming a Buddha, if you only want to escape ageing, ailing, death, then if you start practicing in the morning, you may even get (emancipation) at night. I am only saying this in brief. The Buddha practises because He wants to save beings, and therefore takes long in His practice. But for (us, we practice) only to be free from suffering, therefore (our practice) does not take long.’
‘Then, venerable sir, it is easier to try for one’s own liberation. It takes longer to try to become a Buddha who wants to guide others to save themselves.’
‘Yes, it depends on grades. For a bachelor’s degree holder to get a master’s degree, (a student) has to study two more years. This is for him to become someone who holds a high position. For your own well-being, it will not take you long. But for you to guide others and save them, it will take you longer.’
‘For me this is important, venerable sir. It is not important (for me to save) others.’
‘Then you start practising in the afternoon. You will get (emancipation) the next morning. You will be on the path that is free from ageing, ailing, death. Earlier, you have caught the culprit. Get rid of this culprit. If you are attached to present khandha, if you also desire future khandha, the sequence of khandha will go on. If it is known that the present khandha is undesirable, future khandha is also known to be undesirable. If so, after this life, the task will be finished. Now you have found the culprit. Attachment is the culprit.’
‘You will have to get rid of this culprit. But you cannot suddenly drive it away. There will come excuses. Before you knew it, it was not easy. You said it yesternight. You want to heat (your skin) near fire because there is a sore. When the sore is cured, you do not want to heat it anymore. You will no longer want to go near the fire of children. All I have to do now is give you medicine that will cure you of your sores. You will have to take medicine yourself. Do you still have grandparents?’
‘No, venerable sir.’
‘Then you could not have saved them. Is it because you do not love them, or did you have to let them go despite your love for them?’
‘I had to let them go despite my love for them.’
‘There is nothing in the world that can save (us) from ageing, ailing, death. It exists only outside the mundane world. (We) only have to go to where there is no ageing, ailing, death. If there is heat, there is cold. If there is darkness, there is light. If there is winter, there is summer. If there is ageing, ailing, death, then there is that without ageing, ailing, death. This is the law of nature. What makes ageing, ailing, death? Tanha (craving), that desires future khandha, does it. Then get rid of this craving that is the culprit of ageing, ailing, death, and go to the supramundane which is free from these.’
‘To get rid of (craving), let us go back to the dhamma (that we have discussed). In khandha there are two called rupa and nama (matter and mind). Go to a secluded place where you do not hear your sons and daughters. Contemplate your khandha. Observe your mind. Observe your body (matter). Observe these two and accept what they tell you as being true. Believe it only when you see it yourself. I shall give you the method. It is the method of the Buddha. But when you practice, you have to develop you own view.’
‘What will you develop? Observe khandha. In khandha, there are only nama and rupa (mind and matter). Observe these two. Observing these two, (you will notice that) there arises the desire to eat, after some time there may arise the desire to sleep, then the desire to speak, then the desire to travel, and so on. Does the mind not change very often?’
‘It does, venerable sir.’
‘When (we say) the mind keeps changing, it means that a consciousness passes away, and only then does another consciousness arise. No two consciousnesses can arise simultaneously. Then can you govern you mind or can you not?’
‘I cannot, venerable sir.’
‘Do not live together with that which is ungovernable. If you live together with it, you will always suffer. Knowing that you cannot govern your own mind, you will come to understand that it is fruitless to stay long with this mind. In Buddhism, it is called anatta. ‘You will go on tormenting me so long as you remain ungovernable. You will not only be ordering me to sit, you will also be ordering me to stand, to go about, to cry, to die. Will (you) not?’’.
‘Then you will have to conquer it. It is useless. Once you come to know that it is tormenting you, you will come to loathe this mind. You will not want it anymore. You do not want this mind anymore. I’ll tell you how matter (body) is not desired. You will have to try not to want both (mind and matter). The two, combined, give five khandha (five aggregates). You are sitting now. You cannot tell it not to move, not to change position. There will come numbness, stiffness. Does (the body) follow your orders, does it remain the way you want it to?’
‘It does not, venerable sir.’
‘If it cannot (remain the way you want it), then do you own it? Then is it auspicious, having to live with something that you do not own?’
‘It is not, venerable sir.’
‘Coming to loathe these two (mind and matter), five khandha are loathed. Loathing five khandha, will future khandha be desired?’
‘No, venerable sir.’
‘Not desiring it, (you) will not get it. These two (mind matter) come with ageing, ailing, death. Not getting them, will you not be free from ageing, ailing, death?’
‘Then practice so that you come to loathe these two (mind matter). This is the practice. Khandha is telling (you) it is loathsome. Do not stop (your knowledge) at others’ mouth (words). Practice yourself. If you know it through your own knowledge, then your job is done’.
U Pe Win became a devout Buddhist, studied canonical texts, and practiced Patipatti. He was distinguished among those who worked for the propagation of the Buddha sasana.
-The biography and practice of the Mogok Sayadaw, U Kyaw Thein, Jan 1994 edition, pp. 217 – 239.