Our Real Home

Ajahn Chah

Ajahn Chah (1918 ~ 1992) was born in a village in north eastern Thailand. He became a monk at the age of twenty and preached in that part of the world in Thai and Laos languages for many years. He founded the Pah Bong Monastery in the Bung Wai Village. Since 1975, his simple but direct style of Buddhist teaching had attracted many westerners, and the Wat Pah Nanachet (Bung Wai International Forest Monastery) was founded. His followers have spread all over the world to countries such as Britain, New Zealand, Australia and Switzerland.

In this famous speech, "Our Real Home", he was talking with such warmth and wisdom to an old disciple when she was in her sick bed and death was approaching. He reminded her of the dharma and the way to look at the samskaras. He taught her the mindfulness of the breath, and to realize the impermanence of the body and all the so-called possessions of ours -- let go, let go everything because they don't belong to us.

Where is our real home ? Let the great master, Venerable Ajahn Chah touch our heart, and show us the way to heal our suffering and to attain peace in our mind.

"... listen with respect to the dharma ..."
"... as if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting in front of you ..."

Now determine in your mind to listen with respect to the dharma. During the time that I am speaking, be as attentive to my words as if it was the Lord Buddha himself sitting in front of you. Close your eyes and make yourself comfortable, compose your mind and make it one-pointed. Humbly allow the Triple Gem of wisdom, truth and purity to abide in your heart as a way of showing respect to the Fully Enlightened One.

Today I have brought nothing material of any substance to offer you, only Dharma, the teachings of the Lord Buddha. Listen well. You should understand that even the Buddha himself, with his great store of accumulated virtue, could not avoid physical death. When he reached old age he relinquished his body and let go of its heavy burden. Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the many years you've already depended on your body. You should feel that it's enough.

"... You can compare it (your body) to household utensils that you've had for a long time-your cups, saucers, plates ..."

You can compare it to household utensils that you've had for a long time-your cups, saucers, plates, and so on. When you first had them, they were clean and shining, but now, after using them for so long, they're starting to wear out. Some are already broken, some have disappeared, and those that are left are deteriorating, they have no stable form, and it's their nature to be like that. Your body is the same way-it's been continually changing right from the day you were born, through childhood and youth, until now it's reached old age. You must accept that. The Buddha said that conditions (samskaras), whether they are internal conditions, bodily conditions or external conditions are not-self, their nature is to change. Contemplate this truth until you see it clearly.

"... The Buddha taught us to look at the body, to contemplate it and to come to terms with its nature ..."
"... Look at the body with wisdom and realize it ..."

This very lump of flesh that lies here in decline is satyadharma, the truth. The truth of this body is satyadharma, and it is the unchanging teaching of the Buddha. The Buddha taught us to look at the body, to contemplate it and to come to terms with its nature. We must be able to be at peace with the body, whatever state it is in. The Buddha taught that we should ensure that it's only the body that is locked up in jail and not let the mind be imprisoned along with it. Now as your body begins to run down and deteriorate with age don't resist that, but don't let your mind deteriorate with it, keep the mind separate. Give energy to the mind by realizing the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this is the nature of the body, it can't be any other way, having been born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is a great truth that you are presently encountering. Look at the body with wisdom and realize it.

Even if your house is flooded or burnt to the ground, whatever the danger that threatens it, let it concern only the house. If there's a flood, don't let it flood your mind. If there's a fire, don't let it burn your heart, let it be merely the house, that which is external to you, that is flooded and burned. Allow the mind to let go of its attachments. The time is ripe.

You've been alive a long time. Your eyes have seen any number of forms and colours, your ears have heard so many sounds, you've had any number of experiences. And that's all they were --- just experiences. You've eaten delicious foods and all the good tastes were just good tastes, nothing more. The unpleasant tastes were just unpleasant tastes, that's all. If the eye sees a beautiful form that's all it is, just a beautiful form. An ugly form is just an ugly form. The ear hears an entrancing, melodious sound and it's nothing more than that. A grating, disharmonious sound is simply so.

"... contemplate the body and mind so as to see their impersonality, see that neither of them is "me" or "mine" ..."

The Buddha said that rich or poor, young or old, human or animal, no being in this world can maintain itself in any one state for long, everything experiences change and estrangement. This is a fact of life that we can do nothing to remedy. But the Buddha said that what we can do is to contemplate the body and mind so as to see their impersonality, see that neither of them is "me" or "mine". They have a merely provisional reality. It's like this house, it's only nominally yours, you couldn't take it with you anywhere. It's the same with your wealth, your possessions and your family --- they're all yours only in name, they don't really belong to you, they belong to nature. Now this truth doesn't apply to you alone, everyone is in the same position, even the Lord Buddha and his enlightened disciples. They differed from us in only one respect and that was in their acceptance of the way things are, they saw that it could be no other way.

"...It's not the body that causes you suffering, it's your wrong thinking ..."

So the Buddha taught us to scan and examine this body, from the soles of the feet up to the crown of the head and then back down to the feet again. just take a look at the body. What sort of things do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you find any abiding essence? This whole body is steadily degenerating and the Buddha taught to see that it doesn't belong to us. It's natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it be? Actually there's nothing wrong with the way the body is. It's not the body that causes you suffering, it's your wrong thinking. When you see the right wrongly, there's bound to be confusion.

It's like the water of a river. It naturally flows down the gradient, it never flows against it, that's its nature. If a person was to go and stand on a river bank and seeing the water flowing swiftly down its course, foolishly want it to flow back up the gradient, he would suffer. Whatever he was doing his wrong thinking would allow him no peace of mind. He would be unhappy because of his wrong view, thinking against the stream. If he had right view he would see that the water must inevitably flow down the gradient and until he realized and accepted that fact the man would be agitated and upset.

"... Take a few deep breaths and then establish the mind on the breath using the mantra ..."
"... Let go. Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind dwell with the breath ..."

The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body's become old and now it's meandering towards its death. Don't go wishing it was otherwise, it's not something you have the power to remedy. The Buddha told us to see the way things are and then let go of our clinging to them. Take this feeling of letting go as your refuge. Keep meditating even if you feel tired and exhausted. Let your mind dwell with the breath. Take a few deep breaths and then establish the mind on the breath using the mantra BUDDHO. Make this practice habitual. The more exhausted you feel the more subtle and focused your concentration must be, so that you can cope with the painful sensations that arise. When you start to feel fatigued then bring all your thinking to a halt, let the mind gather itself together and then turn to knowing the breath. Just keep up the inner recitation BUD-DHO, BUD-DHO. Let go of all externals. Don't go grasping at thoughts of your children and relatives, don't grasp at anything whatsoever. Let go. Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind dwell with the breath. Let the mind unite in a single point and let that composed mind dwell with the breath. Let the breath be its sole object of knowledge. Concentrate until the mind becomes increasingly subtle, until feelings are insignificant and there is great inner clarity and wakefulness. Then when painful sensations arise they will gradually cease of their own accord. Finally you'll look on the breath as if it was a relative come to visit you. When a relative leaves, we follow him out and see him off. We watch until he's walked or driven out of sight, and then we go back indoors. We watch the breath in the same way. If the breath is coarse, we know that it's coarse; if it's subtle, we know that it's subtle. As it becomes increasingly fine, we keep following it, while simultaneously awakening the mind. Eventually the breath disappears altogether and all that remains is the feeling of wakefulness. This is called meeting the Buddha. We have that clear wakeful awareness that is called "Buddho", the one who knows, the one who is awake, the radiant one. It is meeting and dwelling with the Buddha, with knowledge and clarity. For it was only the historical flesh-and-blood Buddha that entered Parinirvana, the true Buddha, the Buddha that is clear radiant knowing, we can still experience and attain today, and when we do, the heart is one.

"... If you put everything down you will see the truth ..."
"... That letting go will make your mind calm ..."

So let go, put everything down, everything except the knowing. Don't be fooled if visions or sounds arise in your mind during meditation. Put them all down. Don't take hold of anything at all. Just stay with this nondual awareness. Don't worry about the past or the future, just be still and you will reach the place where there's no advancing, no retreating and no stopping, where there's nothing to grasp at or cling to. Why? Because there's no self, no "me" or "mine". It's all gone.

The Buddha taught us to be emptied of everything in this way, not to carry anything with us. To know, and having known, let go.

Realizing the Dharma, the path to freedom from the round of birth and death, is a task that we all have to do alone. So keep trying to let go and to understand the teachings. Really put effort into your contemplation. Don't worry about your family. At the moment they are as they are, in the future they will be like you. There's no one in the world who can escape this fate. The Buddha told us to put down everything that lacks a real abiding substance. If you put everything down you will see the truth, if you don't you won't. That's the way it is and it's the same for everyone in the world. So don't worry and don't grasp at anything.

Even if you find yourself thinking, well that's all right too, as long as you think wisely. Don't think foolishly. If you think of your children think of them with wisdom, not with foolishness. Whatever the mind turns to, then think and know that thing with wisdom, aware of its nature. If you know something with wisdom then you let it go and there's no suffering. The mind is bright, joyful and at peace, and turning away from distractions it is undivided. Right now what you can look to for help and support is your breath.

This is your own work, nobody else's. Leave others to do their own work. You have your own duty and responsibility and you don't have to take on those of your family. Don't take anything else on, let it all go. That letting go will make your mind calm. Your sole responsibility right now is to focus your mind and bring it to peace. Leave everything else to others. Forms, sounds, odours, tastes --- leave them to others to attend to. Put everything behind you and do your own work, fulfill your own responsibility. Whatever arises in your mind, be it fear of pain, fear of death, anxiety about others or whatever, say to it, "Don't disturb me. You're not my business anymore." Just keep saying this to yourself when you see those dharmas arise.

What does the word dharma refer to? Everything is a dharma. There is nothing that is not a dharma. And what about "world"? The world is the very mental state that is agitating you at this moment. "What will this person do? What will that person do? When I'm dead who will look after them? How will they manage?" This is all just "the world". Even the mere arising of a thought fearing death or pain is the world. Throw the world away! The world is the way it is. If you allow it to arise in the mind and dominate consciousness then the mind becomes obscured and can't see itself. So whatever appears in the mind just say, "This isn't my business. It's impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self."

Thinking you'd like to go on living for a long time will make you suffer. But thinking you'd like to die right away or die very quickly isn't right either, it's suffering, isn't it? Conditions don't belong to us; they follow their own natural laws. You can't do anything about the way the body is. You can prettify it a little, make it look attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everyone's in the same boat. That's the way the body is, you can't make it any other way. But what you can improve and beautify is the mind.

"... anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home ..."

Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home, it's only nominally ours. It's a home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace. An external material home may well be pretty but it is not very peaceful. There's this worry and then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it's not our real home, it's external to us, sooner or later we'll have to give it up. It's not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn't truly belong to us, it's part of the world. Our body is the same, we take it to be self, to be "me" and "mine", but in fact it's not really so at all, it's another worldly home. Your body has followed its natural course from birth until now, it's old and sick and you can't forbid it from doing that, that's the way it is. Wanting to be different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a chicken. When you see that that's impossible; that a duck has to be a duck, that a chicken has to be a chicken and that bodies have to get old and die, you will find strength and energy. However much you want the body to go on and last for a long time, it won't do that.

The Buddha said,

(From the Editor: these four lines can be translated as follows:

The Pali word sankhara (samskara) refers to this body and mind. Sankharas are impermanent and unstable, having come into being they disappear, having arisen they pass away and yet everyone wants them to be permanent. This is foolishness. Look at the breath.

Having come in, it goes out, that's its nature, that's how it has to be. The inhalation and exhalation have to alternate, there must be change. Sankharas exist through change, you can't prevent it. Just think: could you exhale without inhaling? Would it feel good? Or could you just inhale? We want things to be permanent but they can't be, it's impossible. Once the breath has come in, it must go out, when it's gone out it comes in again and that's natural, isn't it? Having been born we get old and sick and then we die, and that's totally natural and normal. It's because sankharas have done their job, because the in-breaths and out-breaths have alternated in this way, that the human race is still here today.

"... As soon as we're born, we're dead. Our birth and our death are just one thing ..."

As soon as we're born, we're dead. Our birth and our death are just one thing. It's like a tree: when there's a root, there must be twigs. When there are twigs, there must be a root. You can't have one without the other. It's a little funny to see how at a death people are so grief-stricken and distracted, fearful and sad, and at a birth how happy and delighted. It's delusion; nobody has ever looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry, then it would be better to do so when someone's born. For actually birth is death, death is birth, the root is the twig, the twig is the root. If you've got to cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look closely: if there was no birth, there would be no death. Can you understand this?

Don't think a lot. Just think, "This is the way things are." It's your work, your duty. Right now nobody can help you, there is nothing that your family and your possessions can do for you. All that can help you now is the correct awareness.

So don't waver. Let go. Throw it all away.

Even if you don't let go, everything is starting to leave anyway. Can you see that, how all the different parts of your body are trying to slip away? Take your hair: when you were young, it was thick and black; now it's falling out. It's leaving. Your eyes used to be good and strong and now they're weak and your sight is unclear. When the organs have had enough, they leave; this isn't their home. When you were a child, your teeth were healthy and firm; now they're wobbly; perhaps you've got false ones. Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue --- everything is trying to leave because this isn't their home. You can't make a permanent home in a samskara, you can stay for a short while and then you have to go. It's like a tenant watching over his tiny little house with fading eyes. His teeth aren't so good, his ears aren't so good, his body's not so healthy, everything is leaving.

So you needn't worry about anything because this isn't your real home, it's just a temporary shelter. Having come into this world you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is, is preparing to disappear. Look at your body. Is there anything there that's still in its original form? Is your skin as it used to be? Is your hair? It's not the same is it? Where has everything gone? This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their way. This world is nothing to rely on --- it's an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasures and pain. There's no peace.

When we have no real home, we're like an aimless traveler out on the road, going this way for a while and then that way, stopping for a while and then setting off again. Until we return to our real home, we feel ill-at-ease whatever we're doing, just like one who's left his village to go on a journey. Only when he gets home again can he really relax and be at ease.

Nowhere in the world is any real peace to be found. The poor have no peace and neither do the rich. Adults have no peace, children have no peace, the poorly educated have no peace, and neither do the highly educated. There's no peace anywhere. That's the nature of the world.

Those who have few possessions suffer and so do those who have many. Children, adults, the aged, everyone suffers. The suffering of being old, the suffering of being young, the suffering of being wealthy, and the suffering of being poor --- it's all nothing but suffering.

When you've contemplated things in this way, you'll see anitya, impermanence, and duhkha, unsatisfactoriness. Why are things impermanent and unsatisfactory? It's because they're anatman, not-self.

"... we live with dharmas, in dharmas, and we are dharmas ..."

Both your body that is lying here sick and painful and the mind that is aware of its sickness and pain, are called dharmas. That which is formless, the thoughts, feelings and perceptions, is called namadharma. That which is racked with aches and pains is called rupadharma. The material is dharma and the immaterial is dharma. So we live with dharmas, in dharmas, and we are dharma. In truth there's no self anywhere to be found, there are only dharmas continually arising and passing away, as is their nature. Every single moment we're undergoing birth and death. This is the way things are.