I’m delighted that the Buddhist Publication Society in Kandy has republished Ayya Khema’s To Be Seen Here and Now as The Meditative Mind. It contains ten insightful dhamma talks that the late Sister Ayya Khema gave in Sri Lanka in 1987.
The text has been revised but isn’t substantially different from the online version that we’ve had over on the Vipassana Fellowship site for a number of years. Very handy to have it in paperback form, though. ISBN 978-955-24-0385-9
(An excerpt from the web version:)
“People are often surprised to find it is difficult to meditate. Outwardly it seems to be such a simple matter, to just sit down on a little pillow and watch one’s breath. What could be hard about that? The difficulty lies in the fact that one’s whole being is totally unprepared. Our mind, senses, and feelings are used to trade in the market place, namely the world we live in. But meditation cannot be done in a market place. That’s impossible. There’s nothing to buy or trade or arrange in meditation, but most people’s attitude remains the same as usual and that just doesn’t work.
We need patience with ourselves. It takes time to change to the point where meditation is actually a state of mind, available at any time because the market place is no longer important. The market place doesn’t just mean going shopping. It means everything that is done in the world: all the connections, ideas, hopes and memories, all the rejections and resistances, all our reactions.
In meditation there are may be momentary glimpses of seeing that concentration is feasible, but it can’t be sustained. It constantly slips again and the mind goes right back to where it came from. In order to counteract that, one has to have determination to make one’s life a meditative one; it doesn’t mean one has to meditate from morning to night. I don’t know anyone who does. And it doesn’t mean we cannot fulfill our duties and obligations, because they are necessary and primary as long as we have them. But it means that we watch ourselves carefully in all our actions and reactions to make sure that everything happens in the light of the Dhamma — the truth. This applies to the smallest detail such as our food, what we listen to or talk about. Only then can the mind be ready with a meditative quality when we sit down on the pillow. It means that no matter where we find ourselves, we remain introspective. That doesn’t mean we can’t talk to others, but we watch the content of the discussion.
That is not easy to do and the mind often slips off. But we can become aware of the slip. If we aren’t even aware that we have digressed from mindfulness and inner watchfulness, we aren’t on the meditative path yet. If our mind has the Dhamma quality established within, then meditation has a good chance.
The more we know of the Dhamma, the more we can watch whether we comply with its guidelines. There is no blame attached to our inability to do so. But the least we can do is to know the guidelines and know where we’re making mistakes. Then we practice to get nearer and nearer to absolute reality, until one day we will actually be the Dhamma.
There is this difference between one who know and one who practices. The one who knows may understand the words and concepts but the one who practices knows only one thing, namely, to become that truth. Words are an utilitarian means not only for communication, but also to solidify ideas. That’s why words can never reveal the truth, only personal experience can. We attain our experiences through realizing what’s happening within and why it is as it is. This means that we combine watchfulness with inquiry as to why we’re thinking, saying and reacting the way we do. Unless we use our mind in this way, meditation will be an on-again, off-again affair and will remain difficult. When meditation doesn’t bring joy, most people are quite happy to forget about it.
Without the meditative mind and experience, the Dhamma cannot arise in the heart, because the Dhamma is not in words. The Buddha was able to verbalize his inner experience for our benefit, to give us a guideline. That means we can find a direction, but we have to do the traveling ourselves.”