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Luang Po Liem: Following the Footsteps of the Enlightened Ones

A short speech written by Pra Rachapavanavigrom, Luang Por Liem Thitadhammo, Abbot of Wat Nong Pah Pong, Ubon Rajathani, Thailand, for the conference of the Australian Sangha Association in June 2006.

Siam, or Thailand, is renowned worldwide for being a country where Buddhism is alive and thriving. This is partly because our ruler, His Majesty the King, grants Royal patronage to Buddhism, the national religion. As a result, Buddhism has flourished, particularly in respect to theoretical knowledge of Dhamma.

Still, our country has not yet been able to show the world an acceptable example of somebody who has gained the highest spiritual fruits of Buddhism. Although we have emphasised the dissemination of theoretical knowledge, we have yet to spread the actual practice of Dhamma. When we succeed in this, we will be truly following the footsteps of the Noble Enlightened Beings, concerning whom we have learned and studied about so much. We have yet to send one of these enlightened ones, who has received the full fruits of practice to prove to the world that the path of Buddhism is capable of extinguishing the suffering in the hearts of beings. In the same way that modern science is able to relieve the physical pain of the body.

Day by day our lives come closer to ending. We must therefore strive to follow in the footsteps of Enlightened Beings, and incline ourselves towards the highest fruits of Buddhist practice. Thus we will fulfill our duty as monastics: the obligation to abandon all the things that are obstacles to the ending of suffering. To cast them off completely.

In contrast to the simple lifestyle of the Noble Enlightened Beings, is the lifestyle of settling down in huge residences – the life of a householder who needs to take care of all kinds of possessions, and has many worries and responsibilities. A persons’ true status as a householder or a monastic is not defined by the type of cloth they wear, but by the way in which they lead their life – their lifestyle defines them and the spiritual qualities they posses. Someones’ spiritual qualities are independent of their external form or their special status as monastics. Anyone who lives without a house, who does not possess anything apart from the clothes they need for covering their body, who only has a single vessel for taking their meals, and who is solely intent on a life free from suffering, may rightly be called a “Homeless One” – irrespective of whether they wear lay or monastic attire.

The principles of Dhamma come from the heart, and do not lead one to aim for either status or to take anything outside of ourselves as essential. We need to maintain the Dhamma in our hearts, we need to develop an internal resource of refined thinking and to have the dedication to act accordingly. If we develop our own internal refinement and use this as a guide for our actions, we will be following the footsteps of the Enlightened Beings in our actions.

If we keep following in the footsteps of the Enlightened Beings, we will eventually discover a “science of the mind” – spiritual knowledge, that can be of great benefit for the world. We will be able to maintain our lifestyle with dignity in its original form, and we will be able to bring this lifestyle to the West and thus to something useful for the world. And, the reality is that the world has tremendous thirst for truth and happiness. So, what will we do? Will we lie around waiting for our habits to change by themselves, or will we do whatever we can with our own human strength and endurance, the way the Buddha taught us to?

If studying Buddhism in books was all we needed to do, leading the Holy Life of a Buddhist monastic would not be anything profound. However, if we study with the right intention, because we want to find a way out of suffering, this is worthwhile. But if we only study because we want to be famous, we begin our Holy Life on the wrong foot, and will most probably go astray. So, can we see the danger in this? Is it not clear that one path leads to the world, and the other path leads beyond it? If our book knowledge is not joined with practice how can we hope to pick up the fruits of the “noble science of spiritual qualities”.

Our teacher, the Lord Buddha, was born on the bare earth under a Sala-tree in Lumbini. He was enlightened sitting on the bare earth with just a thin cushion of grass under him, beneath the Bodhi-tree in Bodhgaya. Then the Buddha entered final nibbana by lying down on the bare earth, under a Sala-tree, with merely his outer robe beneath. Nothing more than that. The Buddha spent his whole life on the earth and under trees. The Buddha’s outside dwellings shows us how withdrawn his life was. The Buddha did not live in extravagant places, but he realised the truth about existence through living in seclusion.

If we ourselves have never lived in seclusion, we should not assume that we do not have the opportunity to cultivate all the wonderful qualities concerning which the Buddha taught us. Thus, we must sever the fetters in our hearts that bind us to seeking company, entertainment and a life of pleasure. We should remember that it is an honour to dwell in places of seclusion like the places that the Buddha once lived in. Places in which the Buddha was able to use for his own great benefit and places that he recommended for all of us. We should consider that being ascetics of the Sakiyan-clan is a great honour, and we should be wholeheartedly committed to act honestly towards ourselves and towards other people. Through acting in this way, we will reach attain the fruits of the noble science of the mind, an unchanging truth. Then our hearts will be liberated, freed from slavery to anything in this world. We will experience a power mightier than the power obtained from the sciences of the physical world – a power that is capable of bringing lasting peace and coolness to the world. Is it not true that the constant lack, hunger and thirst of the world are aroused by the temptations and stimulation that modern science continually invents?

The “scientists of the mind”, the Noble, Enlightened Beings, have already taught human beings to be friends with each other for over 2000 years – irrespective of their status and position in society. People should grant each other freedom and equal rights, as all human beings live dependent on the physical body, as do animals. In the old days people received education in the science of the mind from the time they were born, their fathers and mothers taught them this science from the very beginning. Training the mind leads all people to happiness and comfort: the rich and the poor, those who are still young, and those who are nearing the end of their lives. Anyone who reaches the end of their training in the science of the mind will be able to experience happiness, peace and coolness for the rest of their life. Even when these people are looking death in the face, they feel the same peace and happiness as those who still have a long time to live. The refined happiness that these people experience will only end when the phsyical body passes away.

Modern science is different. Modern science constantly causes people to suffer in all kinds of ways through stimulating desire for more and more without an end. Just as when a person is full after they have eaten, and then they see some delicious food they like even more, being tempted by the food, and eating it, they experience suffering burning them up inside. In this way modern science continually stimulates desire and leads to suffering. Both the wealthy and the poor suffer the same in this matter, until they get a taste of the “noble science”, a taste of the way of life of the Enlightened Beings.

Why is it, that people do not take this wonderful medicine that can ward off all the diseases which arise in the mind? Let us make an analogy with physical diseases – the provence of modern medicine – so the argument can be understood more easily. The suffering of the mind is really like a disease and the virus which causes the disease is desire which is never satisfied. Peace and seclusion are the medicines which cure the illness. The doctors who are able to provide others with the medicine, are those who lead their lives according to the practices of the Enlightened Beings, helping them, after they have cured themselves.

So let us learn the noble science, the science of truth, and help both ourselves and others strive for the highest benefit and for happiness the world. So, we must live our lives in a truly fresh, soothing and cooling way, both externally and internally in order to strive for this goal. We must be deeply bright and radiant and we must represent a symbol of cooling and tranquility for others. In this way we will be an example for those human beings who experience suffering weighing heavily on their hearts, for those whose eyes are dark and dull due to internal consumption by the fires of greed and anger and by the frustration of their wishes. These sorts of people, may have the external form of peaceful ascetics, but because internally they are overflowing with thoughts of lust and craving, just like lay-people, they won’t be able to provide an example for the world and they will be like the blind leading the blind.

Therefore let us bring about as many benefits as possible for others through our exemplary conduct, even though we ourselves will not necessarily gain any external rewards for it.. By the power of our kindness other people will develop friendliness towards one-another as well. We should teach the world by sacrificing our own happiness, giving an example of how one can live well by using only the bare necessities. We can collect what we have saved by refraining from luxury and use it for the benefit and happiness of those other people who are still suffering.

All through history, in any day and age, a fully enlightened being, an arahant, would never spend their life in laziness or take advantage of other people by hiding away from society in order to search for merely their own happiness. In truth, the arahant merely waits for opportunities to give others the example of a truly happy person. All the time, throughout all their life, the arahant is a model of patient endurance, resolute strength and diligent effort, even for people who aspire only to worldly success.

Take a look at the process of becoming an arahant. It starts with making the same resolution the Buddha himself made:

Bhikkhus, all of you should bring forth effort by determining in your minds: “Even if my blood and flesh all dries up and only bones and sinews remain, if I have not attained the fruits that are attainable by strength and exertion of energy by human beings, I won’t stop this effort of mine.”

This resolution shows that people should be taught to be able to bear with and endure things, firmly, relentlessly and continuously. These qualities reflected in the way of training of the arahants should already be established from childhood. From the beginning children should be taught straightforwardness, honesty, gratitude and the knowledge of how to make their minds happy, so the viruses and diseases of the mind are removed straight from the source. A child will eat what one gives him or her. Once the child has grown up, they will be their own master, and one can not correct them any more, all the way to their death. If the child isn’t taught to be content with little, he or she will end up becoming lazy.

Those who have attained to arahantship will always continue to put forth effort for the benefit of others. They will continue to be an example and teach to patiently endure what nature brings, hot or cold weather for example. They aim at perfecting what is beneficial, supporting only the essential. For old people they are an example of somebody whose life ends happily and peacefully, without any struggles. For an arahant, it is normal to be an example of somebody who is able to sustain their smile in the midst of all the flames of a fire spreading out and burning him or her relentlessly.

It is much better to teach through the example of one’s actions, to lead an exepmlary life, than to merely teach through words. Therefore let all of us follow the footsteps of the Enlightened Beings together. Consequently true benefit, happiness and peace will arise for all of us, for our society, as well as for our country, and for the world.