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Discernment

 

§1. Three types of discernment:

Discernment that comes from listening(sutamaya-panna)

Discernment that comes from thinking(cintamaya-panna)

Discernment that comes from developing/ meditation(bhavanamaya-panna) –DN 33

§2. A fool with a sense of his foolishness  is—at least to that extent-wise. But a fool who thinks himself wise really deserves to be called a fool. –Dhp 63

 

§3. “Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who doesn’t see his transgression as a transgression, and the one who doesn’t rightfully pardon another who has confessed his transgression. These two are fools.

          “These two are wise people. Which two? The one who sees his transgression as a transgression, and the one who rightfully pardons another who has confessed his transgression. These  two are wise people.” – AN 2:21

 

§4. “Monks, these two are fools. Which two? The one who takes up a burden that hasn’t fallen to him, and the one who doesn’t take up a burden that has. These two are fools.”  --AN 2:92

 

§5. “This is the way leading to discernment: when visiting a contemplative or Brahman, to ask: ‘What is skillful, venerable sir? What is unskillful?  What is blameworthy?  What is blameless?  What should be cultivated? What should not be cultivated?  What, having  been done by me, will be for my long-term harm & suffering? Or what, having been done by me, will be for my long-term welfare & happiness?” –MN 135

§6. “As for the course of action that is unpleasant to do but that, when done, leads to what is profitable, it is in light of this course of action that one may be know—in terms of manly stamina, manly persistence, manly effort—as a fool or a wise person. For a fool doesn’t  reflect, ‘Even though this course of action is unpleasant to do, still when it is done it leads to what is profitable.’  So he doesn’t do it, and thus the non-doing of that course of action leads to what is unprofitable for him. But wise person reflects, ‘Even though this course of action is unpleasant to do,  still when it is done it leads to what is profitable.’  So he does it, and thus the doing of that course of action leads to what is profitable for him.

          “As for the course of action that is pleasant to do but that, when done, leads to what is unprofitable, it is in light of this course of action that one may be know—in terms of manly stamina,  manly persistence, manly effort—as a fool or a wise person. For a fool doesn’t reflect, ‘Even though this course of action is present to do, still when it is done it leads to what is unprofitable.’ So he does it,  and thus the doing of that course of action leads to what is unprofitable for him. But a wise person reflects, ‘Even though this course of action is pleasant to do,  still when it is done it leads to what is unprofitable.’  So he doesn’t  do it, and thus the non-doing  of that course of action leads to what is profitable of him.”—AN 4:115

§7. “And what is right view? Knowledge in terms of stress, knowledge in terms of the origination of stress, knowledge in terms of the cessation of stress, knowledge in terms of the way of practice leading to the cessation of stress: This is called  right view.

          “And what is right resolve? Resolve aimed at renunciation, at freedom from ill will, at harmlessness: This is called right resolve.”—SN 45:8

§8. “ And what is the right view that has fermentations, sides with merit, & results in acquisition?  ‘There is what is given, what is offered, what is sacrificed. There  are fruits & result of good & bad actions. There is this world & the next world. There is mother & father. There are spontaneously reborn beings; there are contemplative & Brahmans who, faring rightly & practicing rightly, proclaim this world & the next after having directly known & realized it for themselves.’  This is the right view that has fermentations, sides with merit, & results in acquisitions.

          “And what is the right view that is without fermentations, transcendent, a factor of the path? The discernment, the faculty of discernment, the strength of discernment, analysis of qualities as a factor of Awakening, the path factor of right view in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose mind is free from fermentations, who is fully possessed  of the noble path. This is the right view that is without fermentations, transcendent, a factor of the path.

          “One tries to abandon wrong view & to enter into right view: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong view & to enter & remain in right view: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities—right view, right effort, & right mindfulness—run &  circle around right view.

“[2] Of those, right view is forerunner. And how is right view the forerunner? One discerns wrong resolve as wrong  resolve, and right resolve as right resolve. And what is wrong  resolve? Being  resolved on sensuality, on ill will, on harmfulness. This is wrong resolve.

          “And what is right resolve? Right resolve, I tell you, is of two sorts: There is right resolve with fermentations, siding with merit, resulting in the acquisitions [of becoming]; and there is noble right resolve, without fermentations, transcendent, a factor of the path.

          “And what is the right resolve that is without fermentations,  transcendent, a factor of the path?  The thinking, directed thinking, resolve mental absorption, mental fixity, focused awareness, & verbal fabrications in one developing the noble path whose mind is noble, whose  mind is without fermentation, who is fully possessed of the noble path. This is the right resolve that is without fermentations, transcendent, a  factor of the path.

          “One tries to abandon wrong resolve & to enter into right resolve: This is one’s right effort. One is mindful to abandon wrong resolve & to enter & remain in right resolve: This is one’s right mindfulness. Thus these three qualities—right view, right effort, & right mindfulness—run & circle around right resolve.”

                                                                    —MN 117

§9. “And what is the faculty of discernment? There is the case where a monk, a disciple of the noble ones, is discerning, endowed with discernment of arising & passing  away—noble, penetrating, leading to the right ending of stress. He discern, as it has come to be: ‘This is stress… This is the origination of  stress…. This is the cessation of stress…. This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.”—SN 48:10

§10. “There are mental qualities that are skillful & unskillful, blameworthy & blameless, gross & refined, siding with darkness & with light. To foster appropriate  attention to them: This is the food for the arising of  unarisen analysis of qualities as a factor for awakening, or for the growth & increase of analysis of qualities… once it has arisen.”—SN 46:51

§11. What does discernment come from? You might compare it with learning to become a potter, a tailor, or a basket weaver. The teacher will start out by telling you how to make a pot, sew a shirt and beauty of the object you make will have to depend on your own powers of observation. Suppose you weave a basket and then take a good look at its proportions, to see if it’s too short or too tall. If it’s too short, weave another one, a little taller,  and then take a good look at it to see if there’s anything that still needs improving,  to see if it’s too thin or too fat. Then  weave another one, better-looking than the last. Keep this up until you have one that’s  as beautiful and well-proportioned as possible, one with nothing to criticize from any angle. This last basket you can take as your standard. You can now set yourself up in business.

          What you’ve done is to learn from your own actions. As for your previous efforts, you needn’t concern yourself with them any longer. Throw  them out. This is a sense of discernment that arises of its own accord, and ingenuity and sense of judgment that come not from anything your teachers have taught you, but from observing and evaluating on your own the object that you yourself have made.

          The same holds true in practicing meditation. For discernment to arise, you have to be observant as you keep track of the breath and to gain a sense of how to adjust and improve it so that it’s well-proportioned throughout the body—to the point where it flows evenly without faltering, so that it’s comfortable in slow and out slow, in fast and out fast, long, short, heavy, or refined. Get so that both the in-breath and the out-breath are comfortable on matter what way you breathe, so that—no matter when—you immediately  feel a sense of ease the moment you focus on the breath. When you can do this, physical results will appear: a sense of ease and lightness, open and spacious. The body will be strong, the breath and blood will flow unobstructed and won’t form an opening for disease to step in. the body will be healthy and awake.

          As for the mind, when mindfulness and alertness are the causes, a still mind is the result. When negligence is the cause, a mind distracted and restless is the result. So we must try to make the cause good, in order to give rise to the good results we’ve referred to. If we use our powers of observation and evaluation in caring for the breath, and are constantly correcting and improving it, we’ll develop awareness on our own, the fruit of having developed our concentration higher step by step.

                 —Ajaan Lee (Inner Strength)

§12. Discernment comes from observing causes and effects. If we know effects without knowing causes, that doesn’t qualify as discernment. If we know causes without knowing effects, that doesn’t qualify, either. We have to know both of them together with our mindfulness and alertness. This is what qualifies as all-around knowing in the full sense of the term.

          The all-around knowing that arises within us comes from causes and effects, not from what we read in books, hear other people tell us, or conjecture on our own. Suppose we have some silver coins in our pocket. If all we know is that other people say it’s money, we don’t  know its qualifies. But if we experiment with it and put it in a smelter to see what it’s made of and to see how it can be made into other things, that’s when we’ll know its true qualifies. This is the kind of knowledge that comes from our own actions. This is knowledge, when we meditate, comes in five forms.  We find within ourselves that some things are caused by the properties of the body, some are caused by the mind, some causes come from the mind but have an effect on the body, some causes come from the body but have an effect on the mind, some causes come from the body and mind acting together.            —Ajaan Lee (The Skill of Release)

§13. The Dhamma of  attainment is something  cool, clean, and clear. It doesn’t take birth, age, grow ill, or die. Whoever works earnestly at the Dhamma of study and practice will give rise to the Dhamma of attainment without a doubt. The Dhamma of attainment is paccattam:  You have to know it for yourself.

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          We should make a point of searching for whatever will give rise to discernment.  Sutamaya-panna: Listen to things that are worth listening to. Cintamaya-panna: Once you’ve listened, evaluate what you’ve learned. Don’t accept it or reject it right off hand. Bhavanamaya-panna: Once you’ve put what you’ve learned to the test, practice in line with it. This is the highest perfection of discernment—liberating insight. You know what kinds of stress and pain should be remedied and so you remedy them. You know what kinds shouldn’t be remedied and so you don’t.

          For the most part we’re really ignorant. We try to remedy the things that shouldn’t be remedied, and it just doesn’t work—because there’s one kind of stress that should simply be observed and shouldn’t be fiddled with at all. Like a rusty watch: Don’t polish away any more rust than you should. If you go taking it apart, the whole thing will stop running for good. What this means is that once you’ve seen natural conditions for what they truly are, you have to let them be. If you see something that should be fixed, you fix it. Whatever shouldn’t be fixed, you don’t. This takes a load off the heart.

          Ignorant people are like the old woman who lit a fire to cook her rice and, when her rice was cooked, had her meal. When she had finished her meal, she sat back and had a cigar. It so happened that when she lit her cigar with one of the embers of the fire, it burned her mouth. ‘Damned fire,’ she thought. ‘It burned my mouth.’ So she put all her matches in a pile and poured water all over them so that there wouldn’t be any more fire in the house—just like a fool with no sense at all. The next day, when she wanted fire to cook her meal, there wasn’t any left. At night,  when she wanted light, she had to go pestering her neighbors, asking this person and that, and yet still she hated fire. We have to learn how to make use of things and to have a sense of how much is enough. If you light only a little fire, it’ll be three hours before your rice is cooked. The fire isn’t enough for your food. So it is with us: We see stress as something bad and so try to remedy it—keeping at it with our eyes closed, as if we were blind. No matter how much we treat it, we never get anywhere at all.

          People with discernment will see that stress is of two kinds: (1) physical stress, or the inherent stress of natural conditions; and (2) mental stress, or the stress of defilement. Once there’s birth, there has to be aging, illness, and death. Whoever tries to remedy aging can keep at it till they’re withered and gray. When we try to remedy illness, we’re usually like the old woman pouring water all over her matches. Sometimes we treat things just right, sometimes we don’t—as when the front step gets cracked, and we dismantle the house right up to the roof.

          Illness is something that everyone has, in other words, the diseases that appear in the various parts of the body. Once we’ve treated the diseases  in our eyes, it’ll go appear in our ears, nose, in front, in back, in our arm, our hand our foot, etc., and then it’ll sneak inside.  Like a person trying to catch hold of an eel: the more you try to catch it,  the more it slips off every which way. And so we keep on treating our diseases till we die. Some kinds of  diseases will go away whether we treat them or not. If it’s a diseases that goes away  with treatment, then take medicine. If it’s one that goes away whether we treat it or not, why bother? This is what it means to have discernment.

          Ignorant people don’t know which kinds of stress should be treated and which kinds shouldn’t, and so they put their time and  money to waste. As for intelligent people, they see what should be treated and they treat it using their own discernment. All diseases arise either  from an imbalance in the physical elements or from kamma. If it’s a disease that arises from the physical elements, we should treat it with food, medicine, etc. If it arises from kamma, we have to treat it with Buddha’s medicine. In other words,  stress and pain that arise from the heart, if we treat them with food and  medicine, won’t respond. We have to treat them with the Dhamma. Whoever knows how to manage this is said to have a sense of how to observe and diagnose stress.

          If we look at in another way, we’ll see that aging, illness, and death are simply the shadows of stress and not its true substance. People  lacking discernment will try to do away with the shadows, which leads only to more suffering  and stress. This is because they aren’t acquainted with what the shadows and substance of stress come from. The essence of stress lies with the mind. Aging, illness, and death are its shadows or effects that show by way of the body. When we want to kill our enemy and so take a knife to stab his shadow, how is he going to die? In the way, ignorant people try to destroy the shadows of stress and don’t get  anywhere. As for the essence of stress in the heart, they don’t think of remedying it at all. This is ignorance of theirs is one form of avijja, or unawareness.

          To look at it in still another way, both the shadows and the real thing come from tanha, craving. We’re like a person who has amassed a huge fortune and then, when thieves come to break in, goes killing the thieves. He doesn’t see his own wrong-doing and see only the wrong-doing of others. Actually, once he’s piled his house full in this way, thieves can’t help but break in. In the same way, people suffer from stress and so they hate it, and yet they don’t make the effort to straighten themselves out.

          Stress comes from the three forms of craving, so we should kill off craving for sensuality, craving for becoming, and craving for no becoming. These things are  fabricated in our own heart, and we have to know them with our own mindfulness and discernment. Once we’ve contemplated them until we see, we’ll know: ‘This sort of mental state is craving for sensuality; this sort is craving for becoming; and this sort, craving for no becoming.’

          People with discernment will see that these things exist in the heart in subtle, intermediate, and blatant stages, just as a person has three stages in a lifetime: youth, middle age, and old age. ‘Youth’ is craving for sensuality. Once this thirst arises in the heart, it wavers and moves—this is craving for becoming—and then takes shape as craving for no further becoming—a sambhavesin with its neck stretched out looking for its object, causing itself stress and pain. In other words, we take a liking to various sights, sounds, smells, flavors, etc., and so fix on them , which brings us stress. So we shouldn’t preoccupy ourselves with sights, sounds, etc., that provoke greed, anger, or delusion (craving for sensuality), causing the mind to wave and whisk out with concepts (this is craving for becoming; when the mind sticks with its wavering, won’t stop repeating its motions, that’s craving for no further becoming).

          When we gain discernment, we should destroy these forms of craving with anulomika-nana, knowledge in accordance with the four Noble Truths, knowing exactly  how much ease and pleasure the mind has when cravings for sensuality, becoming, and no becoming all disappear. This is called knowing the reality of disbanding. As for the cause of stress and the path to the disbanding of stress, we’ll know them as well.

          Ignorant people will go ride in the shadow of a car—and they’ll end up with their heads bashed in. People  who don’t realize what the shadows of virtue are, will end up riding only the shadows. Words and deeds are the shadows of virtue. Actual virtue is in the heart. The heart at normalcy is the substance of virtue. The substance of concentration is the mind firmly centered in a single preoccupation without any interference from concepts or mental labels. The bodily side to concentration—when our mouth, eyes, ears, nose, and tongue are quiet—is just the shadow, as when the body sits still, its mouth closed and not speaking with anyone, its nose not interested in any smells, its eyes closed and not interested in any objects, etc. If the mind is firmly centered to the level of fixed penetration, then whether we sit, stand, walk, or lie down, the mind doesn’t  waver.

          Once the mind is trained to the level of fixed penetration, discernment will arise without our having to search for it, just like and imperial sword: When it’s drawn for use, it’s sharp and flashing. When it’s no longer needed, it goes back in the scabbard. This is why we are taught,

          Mano-pubbangama dhamma

          mano-settha  mano-maya:

The mind is the most extraordinary thing there is. The mind is the source of the Dhamma.

          This is what it means to know stress, its cause, its disbanding, and the path to its disbanding. This is the substance of virtue, concentration, and discernment. Whoever can do this will reach release: nibbana.  Whoever can give rise to the Dhamma of study and practice within themselves will meet with the Dhamma of attainment without a doubt. This is why it’s said to be sanditthiko, visible in the present;akaliko, bearing fruit no matter what the time or season. Keep working at it always.     

                  —Ajaan Lee (Inner Strength)

§14. For the heart to go and harm to other people, we first have to open the way for it. In other words, we start out by doing harm to ourselves, and this clears the way from inside the house for us to go out and do harm to people ouside.

          The intention to do harm is a heavy form of self-harm. At the very least, it uses up our time and destroys our opportunity to do good. We have to wipe it out with the intention not to do harm or in other words, with concentration. This is like seeing that there’s plenty of  unused space in our property and that we aren’t making enough for our living. We’ll have to leap out into the open field so as to give ourselves the momentum for doing our full measure of goodness as the opportunity arises.

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          Nekkhamma-sankappo (thoughts of renunciation), i.e., being at ease in quiet, solitary places. Abyapada-sankappo (thoughts of non anger): We don’t have to think about our bad points or the bad points of others. Avihinsa-sankappo (thoughts of not doing harm), not creating trouble or doing harm to ourselves, i.e., (1) not thinking about our own shortcomings, which would depress us; (2) if  we think about our own shortcomings, it’ll spread like wild-fire to the shortcomings of others. For this reason, wise people lift their thoughts to the level of goodness so that they can feel love and good will for themselves, and so that they can then feel love and good will for others as well.

          When our mind has these three forms of energy, it’s like a table with three legs that can spin in all directions. To put it another way, once our mind has spun up to this high a level, we can take picture of everything above and below us. We’ll develop discernment like a bright light or like binoculars that can magnify every detail. This called nana—intuitive  awareness that can know everything in the world: Lokavidu.

          The discernment here isn’t ordinary knowledge or insight. It’s a special cognitive skill, the skill of the Noble Path. We’ll give rise to three eyes in the heart, so as to see the reds and greens, the highs and lows of the mundane world: a sport for those with wisdom. Our internal eyes will look at the Dhamma in front and behind, above and below and all around us, so as to know all the ins and outs of goodness and evil. This is discernment. We’ll be at our ease, feeling pleasure with no pain interfering at all. This is called vijjacarana-sampanno—being consummate in cognitive skill….

          Whoever sees that world as having highs and lows doesn’t yet have true intuitive discernment. Whoever has the eye of intuition will see that there are no highs, no lows, no rich, no poor. Everything is equal in terms of the three common characteristics: inconstant, stressful, and not-self. It’s like the equality of democracy. Their home is the same as our home, with no difference at all. People commit burglaries and robberies these days because they don’t see equality. They think that this person is good, that  person isn’t; this house is a good place to eat, that house isn’t ; this house is a good place to sleep, that house isn’t , etc. it’s because they don’t have insight, the eye of discernment, that there’s all this confusion and turmoil….

          If we can get our practice on the Noble Path, we’ll enter nibbana. Virtue will disband, concentration will disband, discernment will disband. In other words, we won’t dwell on our knowledge or  discernment. If we’re intelligent enough to know, we simply know, without taking intelligence as being an essential part of ourselves. On the lower level, we’re not stuck on virtue, concentration, or discernment. On the higher level, we’re not stuck on the stages of stream-entry, once-returning, or non-returning. Nibbana isn’t stuck on the world, the world isn’t stuck onNibbana. Only at this point can we use the term ‘arahant.’

          This is where we can relax. They can say inconstant, but it’s just what they say. They can say stress, but it’s just what they say. They can say non-self, but it’s just what they say. Whatever they say, that’s the way it is. It’s true for them, and they’re completely right—but completely wrong. As for us, only if we can get ourselves beyond right and wrong will we be doing fine. Roads are built for people to walk on, but dogs and cats can walk on them as well. Sane people and crazy people will use the roads: They didn’t build the roads for crazy people, but crazy people have every right to use them. As for the precepts, even fools and idiots can observe them. The same with concentration: Crazy or sane, they can come and sit. And discernment: We all have the right to come and talk our heads off, but it’s simply a question of being right or wrong.

          None of the valuables of the mundane world give any real pleasure. They’re nothing but stress. They’re good as far as the world is concerned, but  nibbana doesn’t have any need for them. Right views and wrong views are an affair of the world. Nibbana doesn’t have any right views or wrong views. For this reason, whatever is a wrong view, we should abandon. Whether is a right view, we should develop—until the day it can fall from our grasp. That’s when we can be at our ease.

              —Ajaan Lee (Inner Strength)

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