Crossing the Ocean of Life / Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo translated from the Thai by Thanissaro Bhikkhu © 1998 I'd now like to explain the Dhamma as a gift for those of us who have gathered here. All of us, both lay and ordained, have come here with skillful intentions from many different provinces. Our coming here is of two sorts. The first sort is connected with our having received an invitation or notice of this gathering, so that we've come to join in with the merit-making for the past eleven days. The second sort didn't receive any notice or invitation, but as soon as word of this gathering passed by our ears, we gave rise to a good intention — good in one of two ways. The first is that we see that people here are doing something good, and so we should join in. That's why some of you are here. This includes many of the monks and novices who came: you simply heard the news of this gathering and so you came to join your hearts with ours. This is called a skillful intention that has borne fruit in the hearts of all of us. And then there are those who considered that this is a gathering of our friends, of our teacher: even though we haven't been called to join, we should go. Some of you have thought in this way and so have joined in our gathering, participating in the various activities up to today. For all of these things, I'd like to express my thanks and appreciation to each and every one of you — because this celebration has involved many duties, many activities of many sorts. If I were to try to do it all by myself, I'm sure I wouldn't succeed. The fact that we have managed to succeed so well is due to the goodness of all of you together. Now, the fact that you've succeeded in completing these activities will give you results in two ways: the first is through merit — there's no need to doubt that. The second is through benefaction. Results through merit means that we've never been here before, we're not intimate with the people here, but we've learned that what they're doing here is meritorious, and so we've come in hopes of merit. The other way is, as I've said earlier: we've come on the basis of being students or friends, or of being students of the same teacher. When we willingly come to help in these activities, this too is meritorious. The results we'll receive will come in two ways: through merit and through benefaction. Merit is an individual affair, something for which each person has to be responsible in terms of him or her own self. As for benefaction, the person who has benefited from your help and support won't forget your kindness. The memory will stay buried there in the heart: that when we held the celebration in that year or that time, our friends came to help us. If they have any need for our help, then — to the extent that we're able — we should take the opportunity to return their kindness in line with our ability. Whether they call for our help or not, and whether or not we can actually go to help, we can't escape having the intention to benefit them in one way or another. Even though my body may not be able to go, or my words can't reach you, still my mind — when I hear the news one way or another of any meritorious activities, and there's some way I can help — will remember your kindness, and the merit that I've accumulated myself, and so I'll spread thoughts of good will, dedicating the fruits of that merit to pour down on you all. It's as if all of you were farming in a certain place, planting rice or vegetables, or starting an orchard, and then ran into difficulties, such as a drought. When this happens, there are things that have to be done: finding water, for instance, or repairing the dikes in the rice field. When a person who has received your help in the past learns of your difficulties, but can't carry the water to you or help with the repair work, he'll spread thoughts of good will. Spreading thoughts of good will is something subtle and hard to perceive, like the energy that flows out of our eyes. The eyes of every person shoot beams of energy out into the air, the same way that the beams of car headlights light up a road. The energy from our eyes, though, is refined. No matter where we look, we don't see the energy flowing past because the current is subtle. It's because the current is subtle, though, that it can flow far. If the current were blatant, it would go only a short distance. This is why, when people develop solid concentration, they're able to see many subtle worlds. In other words, the nature of eye-energy has no limit, but we simply get no use out of it. Why? Because our minds aren't still. If our minds aren't still, we're like a person preoccupied, all wrapped up in his work. When the mind is wrapped up in confusion this way, then even though the eyes have potential energy, we can't get any use out of it because it's very subtle. The energy can go very far, but the problem is that the mind isn't quiet. If the mind were really quiet, we could immediately see very far. That's clairvoyance. This is something ordinary and natural that exists in every human being. If the mind is weak, then outside currents cut off the energy coming from our eyes. If the mind is strong and resilient, the currents of the world can't cut that energy off. Such people can see far regardless of whether their eyes are open or closed. This is a quality that exists in the human body — something of very high quality by its nature, but we can't get any use out of it because our minds are distracted and restless. When our minds are distracted and restless, we're like people who are dead drunk: even though drunk people may have tools in their possession, they can't put them to any use other than as weapons to kill one another. Only if they're good and sober will they be able to use those tools to amass wealth and provide for their physical well-being. But if they're mentally unbalanced, you give them a knife and they'll use it to slice somebody's head open. As a result, they end up in prison. Even if they don't end up in prison, they'll have to get caged or locked up at home. The same is true with the human beings born in this world: even though they're endowed with good things by nature, their minds aren't at normalcy. And so the good things within them end up causing various kinds of harm. Here we've been talking about physical nature. When we talk about subtle matters, like merit or the mind, they're much more refined than the body. For this reason, helping people by way of the mind is something much more profound. When a person trains his own mind, and trains it well, to the point where he experiences happiness and peace, and then hears that other people are suffering and that there's a way he can be of help, he uses the strength of the mind. He cultivates the mind until it's firmly established and then can send that clean current to be of immediate help. The hearts of ordinary people, though, are like salt water in the ocean. If you use it to bathe, you're not really comfortable — although it can help you get by in a pinch. If you try to drink it, it doesn't nourish the body. You use it only if you really don't have anything else at all. In the same way, the hearts of human beings in this world are adrift in the ocean: the flood of sensuality, the flood of becoming, the flood of views, the flood of ignorance. These four oceans are deep: deeper than the water in the sea. We depend on our minds that are swimming in these oceans, sinking in salt water. That's why, when some people are in really salty water, the waves are strong. If they lie down to sleep, they toss and turn just like waves in the sea. They lie down on their left side and can't sleep. They turn over and lie on their right side and still can't sleep. It comes from the waves. And where do these waves come from? The ocean. In other words, they come from — the flood of sensuality: sensual desires, attachment to sensual objects; — the flood of becoming: wanting to be this, wanting to be that, struggling to escape from the state we're in; — the flood of views: holding fast to our own views to the point of getting into arguments — a sign that we're adrift in salt water; — and the flood of ignorance: darkness behind us — not knowing the past; darkness in front of us — not knowing the future; darkness in the present — not knowing what's good and evil within ourselves, letting the mind fall for the ways of the world of rebirth. That's what's meant by ignorance. The normal nature of the human mind is to be floating adrift in this way, which is why the Buddha had the great kindness to want us to develop our merit and skillfulness. That's why he advised us to build a boat for ourselves: the boat, here, is the activity of our physical body. As for the provisions that we'll need for crossing the ocean, those are the requisites that we as Buddhists sacrifice in order to benefit monastics in our development of generosity. If you can give a lot, it means that you'll have enough to help you cross over the ocean, for you'll have enough to eat. If you give only a little, you might run out of provisions and start drifting aimlessly with the currents and waves in the middle of the ocean. If you're lucky, the waves may wash you ashore, so that you manage to survive. But if the waves are large, and your boat small, you won't be able to reach land. You'll end up sinking in the middle of the sea.