Ajahn Chah recorded the following talk at the request of one of his students, whose mother was on her deathbed. The student had expected no more than a few words for his mother, but instead Ajahn Chah offered an extended message of consolation, encouragement, and meditation instruction for the mother and the whole family.
Now, Grandma, set your heart on listening respectfully to the dhamma, which is the teaching of the Buddha. While I’m teaching you the dhamma, be as attentive as if the Buddha himself were sitting right in front of you. Close your eyes and set your heart on making your mind one. Bring the Buddha, Dhamma, and Sangha into your heart as a way of showing the Buddha respect.
Today I haven’t brought you a gift of any substance, aside from the dhamma of the Buddha. This is my last gift to you, so please accept it.
You should understand that even the Buddha—with all his virtues and perfections—couldn’t avoid the weakening that comes with aging. When he reached the age you are, he let go. He let go of the fabrications of life.
“Letting go” means that he put these things down. Don’t carry them around. Don’t weigh yourself down. Accept the truth about the fabrications of the body, whatever they may be: You’ve relied on them since you were born, but now it’s enough. Now that they’re old, they’re like the utensils in your home—the cups, the saucers, and the plates—that you’ve held onto all these years. When you first got them they were bright and clean, but now they’re wearing out. Some of them are broken, some of them are lost, while the ones remaining have all changed. They haven’t stayed the same. That’s just the way things are.
The same holds true with the parts of your body. From the time of birth and on through your childhood and youth, they kept changing. Now they’re called “old.” So accept the fact. The Buddha taught that fabrications aren’t us, they aren’t ours, whether they’re inside the body or out. They keep changing in this way. Contemplate this until it’s clear.
You’ve been alive for a long time now, haven’t you? Your eyes have had the chance to see all kinds of shapes, colors, and lights. The same with your other senses. Your ears have heard lots of sounds, all kinds of sounds—but they were no big deal. You’ve tasted really delicious foods—but they were no big deal. The beautiful things you’ve seen: they were no big deal. The ugly things you’ve seen: they were no big deal. The alluring things you’ve heard were no big deal. The ugly and offensive things you’ve heard were no big deal.
The Buddha thus taught that whether you’re rich or poor, a child or an adult—even if you’re an animal or anyone born in this world—there’s nothing in this world that’s lasting. Everything has to change in line with its condition. The truth of these conditions—if you try to fix them in a way that’s not right— won’t respond at all. But there is a way to fix things. The Buddha taught us to contemplate this body and mind to see that they aren’t us, they aren’t ours, they’re just suppositions.
For example, this house of yours: It’s only a supposition that it’s yours. You can’t take it with you. All the belongings that you suppose to be yours are just an affair of supposition. They stay right where they are. You can’t take them with you. The children and grandchildren that you suppose to be yours are just an affair of supposition. They stay right where they are.
And this isn’t just true for you. This is the way things are all over the world. Even the Buddha was this way. Even his enlightened disciples were this way. But they differed from us. In what way did they differ? They accepted this. They accepted the fact that the fabrications of the body are this way by their very nature. They can’t be any other way.
This is why the Buddha taught us to contemplate this body from the soles of the feet on up to the top of the head, and from the top of the head on down to the soles of the feet. These are the parts of your body. So look to see what all is there. Is there anything clean? Anything of any substance? These things keep wearing down with time. The Buddha taught us to see that these fabrications aren’t us. They aren’t ours. They’re just the way they are. What other way would you have them be? If you’re suffering from this, then your thinking is wrong. When things are right but you see them wrong, it throws an obstacle across your heart.
The Buddha looked at things in line with their conditions, that they simply have to be that way. So we let them go, we leave them be. Take your awareness as your refuge. Meditate on the word buddho, buddho [the Pali term for “awake”]. Even though you’re really tired, put your mind with the breath. Take a good long out-breath. Take a good long in-breath. Take another good long out-breath. Focus your mind again if you wander off. Focus on the breath:buddho, buddho.
The more tired you feel, the more refined your focus on the breath must be every time. Why? So that you can contend with pain. When you feel tired, stop all your thoughts. Don’t think of anything at all. Focus the mind in at the mind, and then keep the mind with the breath: buddho, buddho. Let go of everything outside. Don’t get fastened on your children. Don’t get fastened on your grandchildren. Don’t get fastened on anything at all. Let go. Let the mind be one. Just be aware at the breath. You don’t have to be aware of anything else. Keep making your awareness more and more refined until it feels very small but extremely awake.
The pains that have arisen will gradually grow calm. Ultimately, we watch the breath in the same way that, when relatives have come to visit us, we see them off at the boat dock or the bus station. Once the motor starts, the boat goes whizzing right off. We watch them until they’re gone, and then we return to our home.
We watch the breath in the same way. We get acquainted with coarse breathing. We get acquainted with refined breathing. As the breathing gets more and more refined, we see it off. It gets smaller and smaller, but we make our mind more and more awake. We keep watching the breath get more and more refined until there’s no more breath. There’s just awareness, wide awake.
Let go of everything, leaving just this singular awareness. But don’t get deluded, okay? Don’t lose track. If a vision or a voice arises in the mind, let it go. Leave it be. You don’t need to take hold of anything at all. Just take hold of the awareness. Don’t worry about the future; don’t worry about the past. Stay right here. Ultimately you get so that you can’t say that you’re going forward, you can’t say that you’re going back, you can’t say that you’re staying in place. There’s nothing to be attached to. Why? Because there’s no self there, no you, no yours. It’s all gone.
This is your duty right now, yours alone. Try to enter into the dhamma in this way. This is the path for gaining release from the round of wandering-on. Try to let go, to understand, to set your heart on investigating this.
Don’t be worried about this person or that. Your children, your grandchildren, your relatives, everybody: Don’t be worried about them. Right now they’re fine. In the future they’ll be just like this, like you are right now. Nobody stays on in this world. That’s the way it has to be. This is a condition, a truth, that the Buddha taught.
If any preoccupation comes in to bother the mind, just say in your heart, “Leave me alone. Don’t bother me. You’re no affair of mine.” If any critical thoughts come up—fear for your life, fear that you’ll die, thinking of this person, thinking of that person—just say in your heart, “Don’t bother me. You’re no affair of mine.”
What’s the world? The world is any preoccupation that gets you stirred up, that disturbs you right now. “How is that person going to be? How is this person going to be? When I die, will anyone look after them?” All of this is the world. Whatever we think up—fear of death, fear of aging, fear of illness, whatever the fear—it’s all world. Drop the world—it’s just world. That’s the way the world is. If it arises in the mind, make yourself understand: The world is nothing but a preoccupation. Preoccupations obscure the mind so that it can’t see itself.
If you think that you’d like to keep on living a long time, it makes you suffer. If you think that you’d like to die right now and get it all over with, that’s not the right way either, you know. It makes you suffer, too, because fabrications aren’t yours. You can fix them up a little bit, as when you fix up the body to make it look pretty or clean. That’s the way it is with fabrications. The only thing you can fix is your heart and mind.
This house you’re living in: You and your husband built it. Other people can build houses, too, making them large and lovely. Those are outer homes, which anyone can build. The Buddha called them outer homes, not your real home. They’re homes only in name.
Homes in the world have to fall in line with the way of the world. Some of us forget. We get a big home and enjoy living in it, but we forget our real home. Where is our real home? It’s in the sense of peace. Our real home is peace.
This home you live in here—and this applies to every home—is lovely, but it’s not very peaceful. First this, then that; you’re worried about this, you’re worried about that. This isn’t your real home. It’s not your inner home. It’s an outer home. Someday soon you’ll have to leave it. You won’t be able to live here anymore. It’s a worldly home, not yours.
So you have to understand that everybody, all the way down to ants and termites and all the other little animals, is trying to run away. There’s no one who can stay here. Living things stay for a while and then they all go: rich people, poor people, children, old people, even animals. They all keep changing.
When you sense that the world is like this, you see that it’s disenchanting. There’s nothing that’s really you or yours. You’re disenchanted—nibbida. Disenchantment isn’t disgust, you know. It’s just the heart sobering up. The heart has seen the truth of the way things are: There’s no way you can fix them. They’re just the way they are. You let them go. You let go without gladness. You let go without sadness. You just let things go as fabrications, seeing with your own discernment that that’s the way fabrications are.
The important point is that the Buddha has us build a home for ourselves, to build a home in the way I’ve described to you. Build a home so you can let go, so that you can leave things be. Let the mind reach peace. Peace is something that doesn’t move forward, doesn’t move back, doesn’t stay in place. It’s peace in that it’s free from going forward, free from moving back, free from staying in place.
Pleasure isn’t a place for you to stay. Pain isn’t a place for you to stay. Pain wears away. Pleasure wears away. Our foremost Teacher said that all fabrications are inconstant. So when we reach this last stage in life, he tells us to let go and leave things be. We can’t take them with us. We’ll have to let them go anyhow, so wouldn’t it be better to let them go beforehand? If we carry them around, they weigh us down. When we sense that they weigh us down, we won’t carry them around. Let your children and grandchildren look after you, while you can rest at your ease.
Today I’ve brought you some dhamma as a gift in your time of illness. I don’t have any other gift to give. There’s no need to bring you any material gift, for you have plenty of material things in your house, and over time they just cause you difficulties. So I’ve brought you some dhamma, something of substance that will never run out. Now that you’ve heard this dhamma, you can pass it on to any number of other people, and it’ll never run out. It’ll never stop. It’s the truth of the dhamma, a truth that always stays as it is.
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