Good health and equanimity to you, Daniel!
I would like to share the "Therapeutic qualities of Dhamma" which helped me very much recently:
The Therapeutic Qualities of Dhamma
Ban Nong Pheu monastery was situated in a dense forest, rife with malaria. As the rainy season approached, Acariya Mun advised monks, who came simply to visit him, to hurry and leave before wet weather arrived. In the dry season they could stay without risk. Monks who fell victim to malaria just had to put up with the debilitating symptoms. They had no access to anti-malarial medicines, such medicines being scarce everywhere back then. So, they had to rely on the ‘therapeutic qualities of Dhamma’ instead. This meant investigating painful feelings as they arose with an intense, incisive degree of mindfulness and wisdom. Otherwise, they had no effective means of alleviating the pain. If successful, they reduced the fever, thus effecting a cure much quicker than could normally be expected.
A courageous monk who succeeds through the power of mindfulness and wisdom to overcome the painful feelings caused by illness, creates thereby a solid base of support that will serve him well in times of good health as well as in times of sickness. Ultimately, at the time when death is imminent, he will not feel weak and disheartened, and thus not be overwhelmed. Having succeeded in establishing total mastery of the truth about dukkha, he boldly faces the natural process we call ‘death’. Mindfulness and wisdom have taught him to recognize dukkha’s intrinsic nature, so he never again worries about pain. He always maintains the firm basis of truth he achieved through his investigations. Later, when a critical situation does arise, the mindfulness and wisdom that he has trained to proficiency will come to his rescue. He can utilize their investigative skills to override the pain, allowing him to immediately reach safety. Thus trained, mindfulness and wisdom will not abandon their duty, leaving him simply to wallow in misery as he did before he came to realize the true nature of dukkha. On the contrary, they will immediately engage the enemy. His external manifestations of illness will resemble those of any other sick person: that is, he will appear just as weak and exhausted as anyone else. But internally, mindfulness and wisdom will manifest within his heart like soldiers preparing to do battle. Then no amount of pain will affect his state of mind. His only consideration will be the inner search for the true causal basis of the physical body, the painful feelings, the citta, and the mental phenomena arising in conjunction with it;6 for, this is precisely where the full intensity of dukkha will converge at that moment. Since his ability to confront the pain and endure its effects is no longer a concern, his confidence is unshakable. His primary concern is whether mindfulness and wisdom will successfully realize the entire truth of these phenomena in time. Once a monk has investigated a Truth of Dhamma, like the Truth of Dukkha, until its true nature is fully understood, the next time he wishes to repeat that accomplishment, he does not allow the difficulties of the investigation to block his way and needlessly weaken his resolve. He simply considers what he previously did to enable him to see the truth so clearly, then reproduces that same effort in the present moment. In that way, a clear realization of the truth always lies within the powers of his mindfulness, his wisdom, his conviction, and his persistent effort. The truth is: pain, body, and citta all exist separately, each one being true within its own sphere. They in no way conflict or interfere with one another. By the power of this realization, samudaya – the cause of dukkha – is conquered, and all apprehension about the pain, the condition of the illness, or the prospect of dying is vanquished with it. Such fears are really emotional concerns that demoralize the spirit and lead to a debilitating sense of frustration. Once this decisive breakthrough is achieved, the illness is likely to subside as a result. But even if the symptoms don’t entirely abate, they will not intensify to the point where the citta is overwhelmed by an onslaught of painful feelings, thus producing a twofold illness: one of an ailing body, the other of an ailing mind.
In times of severe illness, dhutanga monks are sure to examine the resultant pain. It’s considered an essential means of sharpening up mindfulness and wisdom, thus honing their skills until they are quick enough to keep pace with all mental activity – thoughts that are inevitably bound up with physical and mental pain. Any monk showing signs of anxiety or uneasiness when ill is considered a failure within the circle of practicing monks. Mentally, his samadhi and wisdom are insufficient to sustain him in a time of crisis. Lacking mindfulness, his practice is unbecoming and unreliable. This doesn’t fit with a monk’s obligation to stockpile mindfulness and wisdom as the weapons of choice for protecting himself in his battles with pain of all kinds. Those who have developed the qualities needed to remain mindfully self-controlled, never showing signs of agitation, are considered truly praiseworthy examples of the warrior spirit typical of practicing monks. In critical situations, they stand their ground – and fight. The benefits of this to their meditation are self-evident. Those good results are also noticed by their fellow monks, all of whom greatly admire a fighting mentality. The others have faith that, no matter how overwhelming the pain is, a dhutanga monk will never be defeated – even in death. That is, his mindfulness and wisdom will never accept defeat, for they are the investigative tools he uses to search for a safe, trouble-free way to go beyond when it finally becomes impossible to keep body and soul together.
Anyone practicing Dhamma, who arrives at the Truth proclaimed by the Lord Buddha, is absolutely certain of its universal validity. Confronted with the enemy, he will never accept defeat and withdraw his forces. He is obligated to fight to the death. If it so happens that his body cannot withstand the pressure – he will let it die. But he will never relinquish his citta, or the mindfulness and wisdom which maintain and protect it. He is committed to fighting on to victory. Failure is never an option. He displays the attributes of a warrior who expects to be victorious, and thus reach a sanctuary that is truly safe and secure. Practicing with unwavering faith in the principles of Truth, he is certain to personify the maxim: dhammo have rakkhati dammacarim – Dhamma protects those who practice it faithfully. If, however, he practices in a hesitant, halfhearted fashion, the outcome will only contradict the Truth, never validate it. It cannot be otherwise, because Dhamma, the svakkhatadhamma, requires that results be directly correlated with their causes.
Despite all the rewards the world seems to offer, a dhutanga monk prefers to concentrate on the immediate, inner rewards offered by the sasana. For example, the peaceful calm of samadhi and the intuitive wisdom needed to extract the kilesas piercing his heart; both reward him with a steadily increasing sense of contentment that is clearly evident, moment by moment. These immediate, tangible results are the ones a dhutanga monk strives to realize. In doing so, he cuts through burdensome problems and unresolved doubts. If he truly has the capability to transcend the world in this lifetime – be it today, tomorrow, next month, or next year – this feat will be accomplished by means of his unflagging diligence at each and every moment.
Acariya Mun employed inspirational teaching methods to reinforce this fighting spirit, regardless of whether his students were sick or not. He insisted his monks always be warriors fighting to rescue themselves from danger. But it was in times of illness that he placed special emphasis on being uncompromising. He worried they might become dispirited in the face of this challenge. A sick monk showing signs of weakness or anxiety, lacking the mindful self-control expected of him, was bound to be severely rebuked. Acariya Mun might actually forbid the monks in his monastery to care for a sick monk, believing that weakness, anxiety, and a whining mentality were not the right way to deal with illness. Sick people react in that way all the time and never see it as a problem. But a monk, whose status demands that he put up with difficult situations and investigate them carefully, should never react like that. It creates a bad example. For if a monk brings this kind of defeatist attitude into the circle of practice, it may spread like a contagious disease, easily infecting others.
Think of the mess that might cause: Monks moaning and groaning, tossing and turning like dying animals. You are practicing monks, so don’t adopt animal-like behavior. If you begin thinking and acting like animals, the religion will soon develop animal characteristics, spreading confusion everywhere – definitely not the way of the Buddha. We have all been sick at one time or another, so we are well aware of what someone else feels like when sick. It isn’t necessary for you to make a public display of your discomfort. If mental anguish and vociferous complaints were effective cures, then conventional medicines would not be needed. Whoever fell ill could just whine about his plight in a loud voice to make the illness go way – easy as that. There would be no need to spend a lot of time and trouble treating the patient. Can whining really cure your present illness? If it can’t, why disgust everyone else with your useless whining? This is a sample of the lecture Acariya Mun might give a monk whose inability to face hardship was an annoyance to the whole monastic community.
On the other hand, when he visited a sick monk, who maintained a strong, mindful calmness, showing no signs of agitation about his condition, Acariya Mun invariably demonstrated his approval. He commended the monk for his fortitude and gave him some very inspiring words of encouragement. Even after his recovery, Acariya Mun continued to praise that monk’s mental toughness, holding him up as an excellent example for the others.
“That’s how a true warrior in the battle with pain gets the job done. Don’t complain about the enemy’s overwhelming numbers. Just dig in and fight them all to the limit of your strength and ability without flinching. Never withdraw your forces, never accept defeat. Never let the enemy stomp on you while you’re down. We within the circle of practice must be warriors. It is no use complaining how extremely painful an illness is – just focus on the pain as it arises and try to understand its true nature. Regardless of how much, or how little pain we experience, all pain is a manifestation of the Truth of Dukkha.”
Any monk who was weak and submissive when faced with a painful affliction heard a different tune from Acariya Mun.
“If you want the Truth, but refuse to investigate it because you are afraid of pain, how will you ever discover where the Truth lies? The Lord Buddha succeeded in realizing the Truth by thoroughly investigating everything, not by whining about everything like this useless monk now disgracing himself. Where did the Buddha ever state that reaching a true understanding requires moaning and groaning? I didn’t study many books, so perhaps I missed it. Where in the suttas does it refer to moaning and groaning? If any of you who are wellversed in the scriptures comes across a passage where it states that the Buddha extolled the merits of moaning and groaning, please point it out to me. Then I won’t have to teach monks to trouble themselves about investigating pain and putting up with difficulties. You can all just moan and groan until the Truth arises to fill the whole universe. We can then witness the appearance of wise, sagacious individuals who have succeeded in reaching magga and phala by the power of their loud moans and groans. They will be in a position to question the legitimacy, and the current relevance, of the Dhamma that Lord Buddha proclaimed over 2,500 years ago."
“The Dhamma of these latter-day sages will be a new, modern Dhamma whose attainment requires no troublesome investigations. All that’s required to attain magga and phala is a chorus of moaning and groaning, a method suited to an age when people prefer to seek righteous results from unrighteous causes – a pernicious attitude consuming the whole world today. Before long there won’t be enough room on the planet to hold all these modern-day sages. I myself have an old-fashioned mentality. I trust what the Lord Buddha taught and dare not take any shortcuts. I am afraid that, as soon as I put a foot forward, I would fall flat on my face – and die there in disgrace. That would be immensely heartbreaking for me.”
Any monk who showed weakness when in pain could expect such uncompromising treatment. The same kind of punishing rebuke was meted out to a monk who succumbed to weakness or discouragement while undertaking any harsh training practice, since they were obstacles preventing him from making use of the various investigative techniques at his disposal. Acariya Mun constantly urged his monks to display the fighting spirit necessary to overcome these impediments, so they very often heard this dynamic teaching. For them, seekers of the true Dhamma, his words were a kind of therapy which roused their courage, invigorated their practice, and kept their spirits high. Thus buoyed, they were ready to advance triumphantly, step by step, up the path to that sphere of blissful contentment the Dhamma promises to reveal. Inspiring commitment, his stimulating instruction dispelled tendencies toward weakness and laziness that prepare the way for the misery of samsara.
WHILE ACARIYA MUN lived there, two monks died in the monastery at Ban Nong Pheu, and another one died close by, at Ban Na Nai. The first to die was a middle-aged monk who ordained specifically to practice meditation. Living in Chiang Mai as Acariya Mun’s disciple, he eventually followed his teacher to Udon Thani, and then Sakon Nakhon – sometimes staying with him, sometimes practicing alone, until he finally passed away at Ban Nong Pheu. He was very skilled in samadhi meditation, and, prompted by Acariya Mun’s constant tutoring, his wisdom practice had already developed a sense of urgency. He was a very devout, resolute character who gave wonderfully lyrical talks on Dhamma, in spite of being wholly illiterate. His talks, quick-witted and clever, were invariably illustrated with skillful similes, allowing his listeners to easily grasp his meaning. Unfortunately, he had tuberculosis. Long a chronic illness, it eventually reached a critical stage while he was living in the monastery. There, early one morning at about seven o’clock, he passed away in a calm, peaceful manner, befitting one who had been a genuine practicing monk for so long. Witnessing his final moments, and then the moment when his breathing stopped, I developed a deep respect for this monk and his proficiency in meditation.
At death, it is we who control our destiny. So we must take sole responsibility for our future. For no one else, no matter how close or dear, can intervene to affect the outcome. Before that moment arrives, we must develop a means of focusing all our strength and skill on facing this critical juncture wisely, so as to extricate ourselves from danger and safely move on. Our final moments will present us with a significant challenge. All of us, whether we are well-prepared or not, will eventually be confronted with this situation. Those of us who have devised clever means for helping ourselves will fare well. But those of us, who remain ignorant and confused, will founder helplessly, unable to salvage our fate.
The Lord Buddha declared: “Kho nu hasa kim anando…." 7 It can be translated essentially as: When the world is engulfed in lust, anger, and delusion – a blazing bonfire that rages day and night – how can you keep smiling and laughing all the time? Why don’t you immediately search for a refuge you can depend on? Stop this negligence now! Don’t carry on with it until the day you die, or else you will experience the painful consequences into the future – indefinitely. The Buddha was cautioning people not to be unreasonably heedless in their lives. But when people hear the Buddha’s words today, they feel so embarrassed, so ashamed of their wanton infatuation with sensual pleasures that they want to hide their faces. Despite their shame, they are still lured by their desires – loving this, hating that – for this kind of intransigence has always been an integral part of worldly attitudes. And they don’t know how to stop themselves. So, sadly, their only response to the Buddha’s warnings is shame.
The death of the monk at Ban Nong Pheu should prove a valuable lesson to all of you who are headed toward the same fate. Please consider the manner of his death carefully. Just as he was about to pass away, Acariya Mun and the other monks, who were on their way for alms, stopped by to witness that sad event. Afterwards, Acariya Mun stood in silent contemplation for a moment; then he spoke to everyone in a solemn tone of voice:
“There’s no need to worry about him. He has already been reborn in Abhassara, the sixth brahma realm. He’s all right for now. But it’s a shame in one way, for had he lived longer and developed his insight with a little more intensity, he could well have been reborn in one of the five suddhavasa brahma realms.8 There he would have progressed directly to the ultimate goal, destined never again to enter the cycle of rebirth. And what about the rest of you – what kind of rebirth are you preparing for yourselves? Will it be one in the animal world, the ghost world, or in the realms of hell? Or will it be as a human, a deva, or a brahma? Or will it be Nibbana? Which will it be? If you want to know for sure, look closely at the compass bearing of your heart to see the direction in which you are headed. Examine yourselves now to find out whether your present course is a good one, or a bad one. Once you are dead, it will be too late to make adjustments. Everyone knows that death is final – nothing more can be done after that.”
The second death was that of a monk from Ubon Ratchathani who came down with malaria and died a month later. Shortly before it happened, his death was foreseen in the meditation of another monk who was living there at the time. The monk went to speak with Acariya Mun the next evening. After discussing various aspects of meditation practice for awhile, their conversation turned to the sick monk, and the monk informed Acariya Mun about the vision that appeared in his meditation.
“Something odd occurred in my meditation last night. I was investigating in my normal way when I reached a state of calm and suddenly saw an image of you standing before a pile of firewood, saying, ‘Cremate that monk right here. This is the best place to do it.’ I don’t fully understand the meaning of it. Will that sick monk die of malaria? His condition certainly doesn’t appear to be that serious.”
Acariya Mun responded immediately.
“I have been investigating this matter for a long time now. He is bound to die, it cannot be avoided. Still, he won’t have died in vain. I have seen his mental state: it’s exceptional. So, he’s sure to fare very well. But I strictly forbid you to mention anything about this to him. If he finds out that he’s certain to die, he will feel very disappointed. Then his health will deteriorate even further, and his mental state could waver to the extent that he misses the excellent rebirth he can expect now. Disappointment is a very harmful emotion in this respect.”
Several days later, that monk’s condition suddenly took a turn for the worse. He died calmly at about three a.m. This prompted me to consider how Acariya Mun must have investigated the circumstances that lay behind every incident that appeared to him during meditation, pursuing them all until he clearly understood their significance. Then he simply let go, allowing them to follow their natural course.
One morning, a disciple of Acariya Mun, who was running a very high fever due to malarial infection, decided to forgo almsround and fast for the day. He used his investigative skills to battle the intense pain from early morning until three in the afternoon, when the fever began to abate. Feeling completely exhausted in the middle of the day, he drew his attention to and concentrated solely on those points where the pain was most intense, but without making an effort to probe and analyze the pain with wisdom. At midday, Acariya Mun momentarily sent out the flow of his citta to check how the monk was coping with the pain. Later in the afternoon, while visiting Acariya Mun, he was surprised to hear Acariya Mun immediately question his mode of practice.
“Why were you investigating like that? How can you expect to understand the truth about the body, the pain, and the citta, if you merely concentrate your mind on a single point? Instead, use your intuitive wisdom to analyze all three of them. In that way, you discover the true nature of each. Yours is the kind of concentration one expects from a yogi; it has all the single-minded intensity of a dogfight! It is not the right practice for a monk wanting to discover the truth about pain. Don’t do it again. It’s the wrong way to go about realizing the many truths to be found within the body, the pain, and the citta. During the middle of the day I examined your practice to see how you were coping with the pain caused by your fever. I noticed you were just focusing your attention exclusively on the pain. You were not using mindfulness and wisdom to ease the problem by looking at all three aspects of it: body, pain, and citta. This is the only effective way to quell pain, and neutralize the symptoms, so that the fever subsides as well.”http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books2/Acari ... al%20Years