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Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings

Being Dharma: The Essence of the Buddha's Teachings

by Ajahn Chah, Jack Kornfield

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Chah offers a thorough exploration of Theravadan Buddhism in a gentle, sometimes humorous, style that makes the reader feel as though he or she is being entertained by a story. He emphasizes the path to freedom from emotional and psychological suffering and provides insight into the fact that taking ourselves seriously causes unnecessary hardship.

Ajahn Chah


Chah offers a thorough exploration of Theravadan Buddhism in a gentle, sometimes humorous, style that makes the reader feel as though he or she is being entertained by a story. He emphasizes the path to freedom from emotional and psychological suffering and provides insight into the fact that taking ourselves seriously causes unnecessary hardship.

Ajahn Chah influenced a generation of Western teachers: Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Sylvia Boorstein, Joseph Goldstein, and many other Western Buddhist teachers were at one time his students. Anyone who has attended a retreat led by one of these teachers, or read one of their books, will be familiar with this master's name and reputation as one of the great Buddhist teachers of this century.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Employing simple, precise language, his words convey his belief that liberation is possible for each of us through diligent effort and sincere intention."—Tricycle

"Chah's style of teaching Buddhism was informal and non-systematic; he was renowned for giving instructions in a way that an 'uneducated rice farmer' could understand. The talks in Being Dharma reflect Ajahn Chah's fundamental orientation toward Buddhism as a way of life, rather than a set of rules or rituals."— Shambhala Sun

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the Introduction

Buddha said, "That one who sees emptiness, the Lord of Death cannot
follow." When an awakened being passes away, what happens next? There are
only the elements breaking up. There is no person, or self, so how could there
be death or rebirth? There are only earth, water, fire, and air dispersing. The
Lord of Death can then only follow after earth, water, fire, and air. There is
no person to follow. Likewise, if you are looking for a solution to problems,
there will always be problems because there is "you." When there is
no person, there are no problems. There is no need for solutions, because there
are no problems to solve anymore and no one to solve them. But if you believe
that you die, you are going to be reborn.

I am speaking a little about the Dharma for grown-ups. When those of childish
intelligence hear that there is no self, when they hear that nothing is truly
theirs, not even the body, they may wonder, Should I stick a knife in my flesh?
Should I smash all the cups and plates and be done with it because nothing is
mine? It's not that way. It is thick obscuration that can lead people to have
such absurd ideas.

can we make the mind incline to and enter the Dharma? The
"stream enterer," is one whose mind has entered the stream to nirvana
and does not return. Even if such people have anger, they do not return to the
cycle of suffering and attachment. Even though there are desires in their
minds, they will not return, because of the power of knowing these things as
they are.

sotapanna enters the Dharma and sees the Dharma, but his being is not yet
Dharma. Sometimes there will be anger or desire and he will know them yet still
follow after them, because although he knows and sees Dharma, his being is not
yet Dharma. The mind has not become Dharma. So he may study Dharma, understand
Dharma, practice Dharma, and see Dharma, but to actually
is something quite difficult. It is a place for each individual to reach, a
point where there is no falsehood.

are all like birds in a cage. No matter how fine the conditions in the cage,
the bird cannot be content. It will always be restlessly hopping about, wanting
to be free. The wealthy and the privileged are no better off—we could say they
are doves in gilded cages.

hearing the Dharma all the way to seeing it, you will still have suffering, and
you won't be free of unsatisfactory experience until you
Until you are Dharma, your happiness still depends on external factors. You
lean on them: you lean on pleasure, on reputation, on wealth and material
things. You may have all sorts of knowledge, but this knowledge is tainted by
worldliness and cannot release you from suffering; you are still like a bird in
a cage.

correct practice of Dharma is derived from a teacher, who received it from
another teacher, and it has come down in a long lineage this way. Actually it
is just the truth. It doesn't reside with any particular person. If we respect
the person of the teacher and only act out of deference to him or her, this is
not Dharma.

will practice as if doing a chore or fulfilling our duties because we see the
teacher around, and when he or she is gone we slacken.

like working in a factory. We work for the company that owns it. We don't
really like the job, but we do it to get money. We take it easy at every
opportunity we get. That is the way people tend to be. Relying on a teacher out
of respect is one level of practice. But then we ask, "When will we see
the real Dharma?"

teaching of the Buddha is something that clarifies. It enables humans to enter
the stream and see themselves. When we see ourselves, we see Dharma. Seeing
Dharma, we see the Buddha. Then we have entered the stream.

said this before: if you reach the Dharma you cannot lie, you cannot steal. We
think that lying is deceiving others. We think we can act wrongly without
others knowing. But wherever you are, doing wrong and not letting anyone know
is impossible if you have entered the stream. To think you can is only the
thinking of the ignorant. Whether living in a group of people or alone, even if
you live in the middle of the water or up in the air, to do wrong and not have
anyone know is impossible. When you truly realize this fact, you enter the

you have not entered the stream, you think you can do wrong actions and no one
sees. You are just belittling yourself, not seeing Dharma. Whoever sees Dharma
will not deceive others or do anything harmful, no matter what the situation.
If we stop and recollect the authentic teaching of the Buddha, he said that
wherever there is Dharma, there is someone who sees: it is we ourselves. To
think otherwise is a real loss. It is contradicting the intention of the Buddha
when he talked about being a witness to yourself. If you bear witness to
yourself, you will be unable to lie or do wrong, and your practice will always
be direct and upright, just like a compass that always points out north and

a compass, when you enter a deep forest you will always be able to know in
which direction you are headed. You might start to think you are heading east,
but the compass will show you are going south. Then you realize, "Oh, I
was wrong. It was merely my mistaken thinking that I was going east." The
compass will always show you the right direction, so you will stop relying on
your own guesses. Like this, wherever you are, you have this sense that shows
you the truth. Our thinking may lead us elsewhere, but we have the compass. We
can let go of our ideas and feelings because we learn that they will lead us
the wrong way.

is the nature of people to enjoy doing wrong. We don't like the result that
comes from it, but we are addicted to such actions. We don't want things to
come out twisted and wrong, but we like to act in wrong ways. This isn't right
view. Things don't just float up into existence by themselves; they are born of
causes. We can't get the results without causes. We want to work a little and
get rich. We want to realize Path, Fruit, and Nirvana, but we don't want to do
strenuous practice. We want to gain knowledge, but we don't want to study. We
want to pass tests without applying ourselves, so we go to get sprinkled by
holy water from Luang Por. What's the purpose? What will the water do? It's
necessary to work hard and hit the books. But people are like this.

they may get a little inspiration from the old monk spraying them with water,
but in the language of common folk it's called not reaching the Dharma. That is
one level.

practicing Dharma there must be causes and results. Those who really apply
themselves can put an end to doubt and can resolve and finish with problems.
Like the compass needle that always points true: we may enter the forest and
think east is north because of our own confusion, but the compass is always
pointing out the right direction. This is the nature of Dharma. We call it

practicing according to the way of the Buddha, there is no wrong. There is no
wrong in the cause, no wrong in the result.

can be right view, or there can be wrong view. Whichever there is will be the
root of your practice, firmly clung to. There are just these two kinds of path.
But when you have wrong view, you do not realize that it is wrong, rather you
will think it is right and good. You cannot see, and things will not go well.

there is not a lot to learn about in the real Dharma. There are just the
principles of practice that need to be applied. They concern things that
already exist, and we only need to practice and gain direct experience. Those
things we need to study are merely for knowing what to practice and how to go
about the practice: we should understand such and such, we should practice such
and such, we should go straight ahead in such and such direction. . . . That's

explanations and instructions are one matter. As to the teachings, we can
compare it to mangoes. All the stages and characteristics of mangoes, such as
sourness and sweetness, being small and growing large, can be found in a single
mango. Studying one, it is possible to know about all mangoes.

meditation is different for various individuals. Some people need more study;
if they don't study, they won't be able to understand anything. When we say
that some people don't need study, actually they are studying, too: they study
directly through practice. There are these two approaches. We can study from
ABC on, or we can learn by following the model of the methods for practice.

things are not clear, we can look at the appearance and actual existence of
things, such as hair, nails, teeth, and skin. Their nature is that they are not
stable or reliable, not clean or beautiful. This is one way. If we study, we
will really take a serious look at them and consider this. Without this kind of
study we are not likely to know. Even though we may read the words that hair
and nails and the rest are not lovely, they still appear as beautiful and
attractive to us. We don't know what is hidden there. The facts are already
there, the aggregates and elements arising and passing away continuously. That
is all. As for their being impure and uncertain, impermanent, suffering and not
self, that is already present. They are filled to bursting with these

recite, "Form is impermanent, feelings are impermanent, perceptions are
impermanent, thoughts are impermanent, consciousness is impermanent. . .
." Thus we can say that we know, in a way; that is indeed one kind of
knowledge. But when we are put to the test, we don't really know. When the time
comes that form really displays its impermanence, then we cannot claim to know.
When we get sick and the body is suffering intense discomfort, we get very
upset and ask why this is happening to us. That's our impermanence right there.
But we recite, "Form is impermanent, feelings are impermanent. . . ."
We know it because of this study, but as to the actual phenomenon of
impermanence, our knowledge is not clear. We recite the words according to the
scriptures, but we only know the formula. In spite of our melodious chanting,
which we do so perfectly, we have missed the point.

might even contemplate the parts of the body, doing the meditation on impurity
and experience desire. When they say "liver, intestines, stomach,"
their minds run far afield and they are thinking of chicken livers and kidneys,
pigs' intestines, and whatever they may have eaten before, and they start
getting hungry. It can really take a long time before people understand.

the truth is inherent in these things in its entirety. It's not necessary to
make an elaborate business out of it. The Buddha emphasized meditation. When we
sit to meditate, we can see the truth. The word for meditation,
be interpreted as causing things to come about. Whatever has not yet come
about, make it come about. Whatever is not yet in existence, bring it into

Meet the Author

Ajahn Chah (1919–1992) was a beloved Thai Buddhist master whose teachings were refreshingly uncompromising in their clarity and certainty—the certainty of a meditator who has achieved deep understanding of the Buddha's teachings. He was an important influence and spiritual mentor for a generation of American Buddhist teachers.

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