Looking at life with wisdom, with Right View, according to the Four Noble Truths, we can see that thoughts and actions of ill will and hatred are actually born from our attachments to worldly pleasure and happiness. Likewise, covetous and lustful thoughts and actions also arise from acting upon desire for the things that we like. Within his teachings for laypeople the Buddha placed much emphasis on the practices of generosity and morality. Within sexual relationships he taught that laypeople should have just one partner. He taught that they should practice within the Five Precepts, and that one day per week they should practice within the Eight Precepts. The additional three precepts include refraining from eating after midday; from seeking distraction and entertainment; and from adorning, pampering or decorating the body. On that day, he also recommended avoiding social and all sexual activity. He instructed laypeople to try to spend more time alone in order to give rise to a sense of viveka, seclusion in the mind.
Having a good foundation in generosity, and then practicing within the Eight Precepts for one day per week, laypeople will find that the energy within the mind increases. Living within the Eight Precepts for an even longer period increases the energy in the mind further, and subsequently much more energy is available for meditation practices. More time is also available for developing mindfulness and concentration. These practices will support a deeper and faster growth in development.
As we practice being restrained with our senses, the mind has greater opportunity to become peaceful. A well-restrained, circumspect mind will gain results in meditation practice. It’s just like removing a wet piece of wood from a pool of water. Once we allow the wood to dry out, it will catch fire when we put a flame to it. But when we’re caught up in the world, the mind is scattered and mindfulness is weak. We don’t really notice what our mind is involved with or how we’re being affected by experience.
The body needs clean air, fresh water and healthy food to function well. If any of these are lacking, the body will become sick. Similarly, the mind needs proper nourishment. When we are restrained in our senses and give more time to our practice, skillful qualities in the mind will naturally become stronger. We will be able to recognize more quickly the unskillful states that arise in the mind. We will then respond more skillfully to keep these toxins away from the mind.
The mind that is not restrained is like an unguarded house where we pay no attention to who drops in to visit. But with a mind that is practicing sense restraint, we will know who is at the door. The house is guarded, and we are more in control of who gets in.
Venerable Ajahn Anan was interviewed by his Western students Achalo Bhikkhu and Ronna Kabatznick at Wat Gang Wai this past fall.