Thanissaro Bhikkhu quotes

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Thanissaro Bhikkhu (Geoffrey DeGraff) (1949 - ) is an American Buddhist monk of the Thai forest kammatthana tradition. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1971 with a degree in European Intellectual History, he traveled to Thailand, where he studied meditation under Ajahn Fuang Jotiko, himself a student of the late Ajahn Lee.


  • Ajaan Fuang once said that meditators tend to be like little puppies. They go out and defecate and then come running to their mothers to have their mothers lick them off. They haven't learned how to lick themselves off yet. So as a meditator you need to learn how to lick yourself off. If things don't go well, learn how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and then figure out what went wrong. Take responsibility for your meditation. Take responsibility for your insights. This is what the Buddha did. This is what every meditator has to do.
  • If you go to a teacher, saying you've had a certain experience, and the teacher identifies it as a level of jhana or a level of insight, can you be sure? Do you really want to hand those judgments over to somebody else? Or do you want to learn how to judge things on your own, so that you can trust yourself? If you let the other people do the judging, there's always going to be an element of doubt: Do they know what they're saying? At the same time, you're absolving yourself of any responsibility. Discernment becomes their duty and not yours. That's not a good attitude for a meditator to take. You've got to learn to look, to try a few things.
  • Another example of an analogy drawn from modern science is the term "holographic," which I have used to describe some formulations of the Buddhist path. When a hologram is made of an object, an image of the entire object — albeit fairly fuzzy — can be made from even small fragments of the hologram. In the same way, some formulations of the path contain a rough version of the entire path complete in each individual step. In my search for an adjective to describe such formulations, "holographic" seemed the best choice.
  • Buddhism is not a theistic religion; the Buddha is not a god; and so a person taking refuge in the Buddhist sense is not asking for the Buddha personally to intervene to provide protection. Still, one of the Buddha's central teachings is that human life is fraught with dangers — from greed, anger, and delusion; and so the concept of refuge is central to the path of practice, in that the practice is aimed at gaining release from those dangers. Because the mind is the source both of the dangers and of release, there is a need for two levels of refuge: external refuges, which provide models and guidelines so that we can identify which qualities in the mind lead to danger and which to release; and internal refuges, i.e., the qualities leading to release that we develop in our own mind in imitation of our external models. The internal level is where true refuge is found.
  • Sometimes you read about teachers who turn out to be major disappointments. They do really horrible things to their students, and the students complain that they've been victimized. But in nearly every case, when you read the whole story, you realize that the students should have seen this coming. There were blatant warning signals that they chose to ignore. You have to be responsible in choosing your teachers, choosing your path. Once you've chosen the path that looks likely, you have to be responsible in following it, in learning how to develop your own sensitivity in following it. Because after all, what is the path that the Buddha points out? There's virtue, there's concentration, and there's discernment. These are all qualities in your own mind. We all have them to some extent. Learning how to develop what's in your own mind is what's going to make all the difference. The Buddha's discernment isn't going to give you awakening; his virtue and concentration aren't going to give you awakening. You have to develop your own. Nobody else can develop these things for you. Other people can give you hints; they can help point you in the right direction. But the actual work and the actual seeing is something you have to do for yourself.
  • This discourse (Susima Sutta, SN 12.70) is sometimes cited as proof that a meditator can attain Awakening (final gnosis) without having practiced the jhanas, but a close reading shows that it does not support this assertion at all. The new arahants mentioned here do not deny that they have attained any of the four "form" jhanas that make up the definition of right concentration. Instead, they simply deny that they have acquired any psychic powers or that they remain in physical contact with the higher levels of concentration, "the formless states beyond forms." In this, their definition of "discernment-release" is no different from that given in AN 9.44 (compare this with the definitions for "bodily witness" and "released in both ways" given in AN 9.43 and AN 9.45). Taken in the context of the Buddha's many other teachings on right concentration, there's every reason to believe that the new arahants mentioned in this discourse had reached at least the first jhana before attaining Awakening.
  • The view "I have no self" is just as much a doctrine of self as the view "I have a self." Because the act of clinging involves what the Buddha calls "I-making" — the creation of a sense of self — if one were to cling to the view that there is no self, one would be creating a very subtle sense of self around that view (see AN 4.24). But, as he says, the Dhamma is taught for "the elimination of all view-positions, determinations, biases, inclinations, & obsessions; for the stilling of all fabrications; for the relinquishing of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.
  • Thus it is important to focus on how the Dhamma is taught: Even in his most thoroughgoing teachings about not-self, the Buddha never recommends replacing the assumption that there is a self with the assumption that there is no self. Instead, he only goes so far as to point out the drawbacks of various ways of conceiving the self and then to recommend dropping them. For example, in his standard series of questions building on the logic of the inconstancy and stress of the aggregates, he does not say that because the aggregates are inconstant and stressful there is no self. He simply asks, When they are inconstant and stressful, is it proper to assume that they are "me, my self, what I am"? Now, because the sense of self is a product of "I-making," this question seeks to do nothing more than to induce disenchantment and dispassion for that process of I-making, so as to put a stop to it. Once that is accomplished, the teaching has fulfilled its purpose in putting an end to suffering and stress. That's the safety of the further shore. As the Buddha says in this discourse, "Both formerly and now, monks, I declare only stress and the cessation of stress." As he also says here, when views of self are finally dropped, one is free from agitation; and as MN 140 points out, when one is truly unagitated one is unbound. The raft has reached the shore, and one can leave it there; free to go where one likes, in a way that cannot be traced.
  • Because the Buddha saw how these enlightened qualities of wisdom, compassion, and purity could be developed through the pursuit of happiness, he never told his followers to practice his teachings without expecting any gain in return. He understood that such a demand would create an unhealthy dynamic in the mind. In terms of Western psychology, expecting no gain in return would give license for the super‐ego to run amok. Instead, the Buddha taught that even the principle of renunciation is a trade. You exchange candy for gold, trading lesser pleasures for greater happiness. So he encouraged people to be generous with their time and belongings because of the inner rewards they would receive in return.
  • When the Buddha told his disciples to go meditate, he never said, “Go do samatha,” or, “Go do vipassanā.” He always said, “Go do jhāna;” get the mind in Right Concentration. In doing jhāna you develop samatha and vipassanā as qualities of mind. They’re not meditation techniques. They’re aspects of the practice of jhāna: qualities you need bring to the practice and qualities that get developed as you do more jhāna. It’s important to keep this point in mind, particularly as you’re focusing on the breath. The way the Buddha taught breath mediation was designed specifically to develop both samatha and vipassanā, a sense of calm and insight at the same time....
  • The Buddha's Awakening challenged many of the presuppositions of Indian culture in his day; and even in so-called Buddhist countries, the true practice of the Buddha's teachings is always counter-cultural. It's a question of evaluating our normal concerns; conditioned by time, space, and the limitations of aging, illness, and death; against the possibility of a timeless, spaceless, limitless happiness.
  • All cultures are tied up in the limited, conditioned side of things, while the Buddha's Awakening points beyond all cultures. It offers the challenge of the Deathless that his contemporaries found liberating and that we, if we are willing to accept the challenge, may find liberating ourselves.
  • All across the board, the ones who excel at their skills; whether as musicians, sportsmen, or craftsmen; are the ones who find that the skill captures their imagination. That's why the effort put into the skill is no big deal for them. They get so absorbed that the effort becomes enjoyable. They like thinking about it, they like figuring out the problems they face, and sometimes detecting problems that other people might not even notice. Then they try working out solutions. These are the kind of people who do well. The same principle applies in the customs of the noble ones. You delight in letting go, you delight in developing. Working on the qualities of your mind really captures your imagination. That way, the difficulties of living in a community with other people who are also practicing aren't big issues. You've got the rules; you've got the structure; you've got the support to do the practice.


  • Translations of Ajaan Lee's meditation manuals from the Thai
  • Handful of Leaves, a five-volume anthology of Sutta Pitaka translations
  • The Buddhist Monastic Code, a two-volume reference handbook on the topic of monastic discipline
  • Wings to Awakening, a study of the factors taught by Buddha as being essential for awakening
  • The Mind Like Fire Unbound, an examination of Upadana (clinging) and Nibbana (Nirvana) in terms of contemporary philosophies of fire
  • The Paradox of Becoming, an extensive analysis on the topic of becoming as a causal factor of Dukkha
  • The Shape of Suffering, a study of dependent co-arising and its relationship to the factors of the noble eightfold path
  • Skill in Questions, a study of how the Buddha's fourfold strategy in answering questions provides a framework for understanding the strategic purpose of his teachings
  • Noble Strategy, The Karma of Questions, Purity of Heart, and Head & Heart Together, collections of essays on Buddhist practice
  • Meditations (1-5), collections of transcribed Dhamma talks
  • Dhammapada: A Translation, a collection of verses by the Buddha
  • And as co-author, a college-level textbook, Buddhist Religions: A Historical Introduction