Achaan Naeb: Catching Fish With Your Hands

Achaan Naeb

Catching Fish With Your Hands

Born into the family of a Thai provincial
governor, Achaan Naeb did not begin studying Buddhist psychology
until she was 35. Twelve years later, she began teaching, and later
under royal patronage she established Wat Sraket, a research and
educational foundation in Bangkok. Wak Sraket is, in part, an island
of quiet cool chambers and halls in the center of the modern city. A
visitor may find himself instructed to sit comfortably. Then Achaan
Naeb asks him not to move. Shortly, of course, he automatically
begins to change positions. Wait, hold it! Why are you moving? Achaan
Naeb points directly to the most obvious source of suffering, our own
bodies. If we simply stay still and try not to move, eventually, the
pain increases until we must change posture. Almost all of our
actions throughout the day follow this same pattern. After waking we
go to the bathroom to ease bladder pain. Then we eat to ease the
hunger pain. Then we sit down to ease the pain of standing. Then we
read or watch T.V. to distract us from the pain of our turbulent
minds. Then we move again to ease another pain. Each movement or
action is not done to bring about happiness but to ease the suffering
that inevitably comes from being born with a body. Achaan Naeb asks
that people look at the simple cause and effect of suffering in our
daily lives and actions. Clear perception of this process is the
direct entry to the happiness of the Buddha and the end of

Advantages of Contemplating

When a monk sees six advantages, it should be
enough for him to establish the perception of suffering in all
formations, without exception. What six?

‘Towards all formations a perception of revulsion
will be preset in me, as towards a murderer with raised sword. My
mind will emerge from all the world. I shall come to see the peace in
Nibbana. The evil proclivities will come to be uprooted. I shall be
one who has completed his task; and I shall have served the Master
with loving-kindness.’


Here is a list of Achaan Naeb’s general
instructions for vipassana practice:

1. When beginning vipassana, develop a thorough
understanding of how all existence is composed only of mental states
and matter.

2. The matter and mental states that concern you
are those that occur in your own body. So to see their nature
clearly, you must be aware of these moment to moment in the

3. Either mind states or matter should be the
continual object of meditation, always those of the present moment.
If feelings arise, examine these. If you lose track, don’t worry.
Simply start afresh on your examination of matter and mental

4. During practice the meditator must take care
that the desire to see certain things or desire to develop certain
insight is not aroused. He should simply watch his mind states and

5. Don’t try to examine both matter and mind
states at the same time. Examine them separately, each in the present

6. Stick to the four major postures: standing,
sitting, walking, reclining. Avoid minor movements.

7. If it is necessary to change position, make
sure to know the reason or cause for the movement before making

8. Use your ordinary postures and positions and
examine the matter and mind states in each of your ordinary

9. Try to be natural. Do not exaggerate slow
walking and moving to speed up insight. This desire will block

10. When practicing, don’t do anything
unnecessary: Don’t speak more than required. Don’t change postures
until necessary. Don’t eat, etc., until necessary.

11. Before you do anything, you must understand
the necessary reason for the action. See how you are forced by
suffering to do it.

12. Let go of the feeling that meditation is
something special. It is not a time to acquire anything, but simply
to examine the causes for our actions and the nature of our mind and

13. Do not try to attain any special mind states
such as bliss or peacefulness through meditation.

14. The vipassana meditator must be like a
spectator at a play. Don’t try to direct the activity. Simply watch
mindfully the constant flow of matter and mental states as they come
into consciousness. This balanced state will lead to

The Development of Insight

There are in Buddhism two methods of mental
development. One is the development of insight (vipassana), and the
other is the development of tranquility (samatha). The latter aims
only at concentration, whereby the individual is constantly conscious
of one object, and this concentration is directed along a single
channel or one-pointedness until a serene tranquility is reached.
This kind of mental development brings only tranquility, not an
understanding of reality, nor of its cause and effect. The
development of insight, on the other hand, calls for an understanding
of form or matter, and mind or mental states. This understanding is
the aim of vipassana.

The traditional objects through which
concentration can be achieved, according to the development of
tranquility, are forty in number, and cannot be used directly for the
development of insight. These are the ten colors and elements, ten
impurities, ten recollections, four sublime abodes, four boundless
meditations, one reflection upon the loathsomeness of food, and the
analysis of the four primary qualities, namely: solidity, cohesion,
heat, and vibration. Any one of these may be taken as the meditation
subject for the deveopment of tranquility.

Insight is wisdom which enables one to see that
mental states and matter are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and
impersonal. What we regard as “self’ or “ego” or “soul” is a
miscomprehension arising from a lack of knowledge of absolute truth.
In reality a self is only a very rapid continuity of birth and decay
of mental states and matter.

Considering the present object, which occurs in a
split second, is like catching a fish in water. We think that we can
catch a particular fish because we see it swimming in one place, so
we stretch out our hand to catch it. But we fail to catch it because
it slips off in another direction. It is the same in being mindful of
the present object, since factors of attachment and aversion are
always pushing the present existence aside. The present object is the
most important factor of vipassana practice. We must know how to be
mindful of present existence at all times. Whenever we are mindful of
any object which occurs by itself, then that object is the present
object. But most of the time we are not mindful of present existence.
If this is the case, we are wasting our time during the practice. But
if we realize that our mind has slipped away from the present object,
we can then mindfully set the mind on the present object once

We should be mindful even while eating. We should
consider the reason why we take food. It is indicated in Buddhist
texts that we take food not because we want it, not because it is
good, but rather because it is necessary to sustain the body. The
Buddha also told why we want the body to live, which is to have
sufficient strength to develop the path which leads to the end of all

It is necessary to have such consideration.
Otherwise we will be unable to prevent defilements from arising. We
must understand that we do not take food because it tastes good, but
in order to cure pain and satisfy hunger. When we take food to
satisfy hunger, even though the food is not good, it will satisfy the
hunger. Suppose we take food for the sake of its flavor without
further consideration. If it is not good, then aversion will occur.
If it is good, then greed will occur. This would mean that we are
taking the food to encourage either greed or aversion, which are
defilements of mind. To eat without consideration is to create more
cycles of birth and death, which is the endless continuation of

Therefore, when we are applying mindfulness as wo
take food, we must understand the reason at each mouthful, so that we
are eating solely for the purpose of being free from suffering. If
attachment and aversion do not arise while we are taking food, then
insight can occur. As soon as the practitioner has finished the meal,
it may be possible to attain Enlightenment. This is truly possible,
for it is known to have happened in the past.

When we take a bath, we must also understand this
act as an action curing suffering. In our daily duties we should see
the reasons for our actions. We should not put on clothing for the
sake of beauty, thus we do not select this or that color. Instead,
clothes are used to protect the body against cold and to keep insects
from biting us. Whatever our actions may be, they are for the
realization of Nibbana and the deliverance from suffering. When we
have this kind of thorough understanding, the attachment to changing
mental states and matter will become weaker and weaker.

Remember, we must realize what mental state it is,
and what matter it is, and we must have this awareness at all times.
All kinds of existence are nothing more than mental phenomena and
matter. Nobody, no soul, no woman, no man really sits there. There is
no one who stands, walks, or sleeps. No one is there who smells,
sees, hears, etc. There is nobody who understands or knows these

reprinted from
The Laughing Man,
1, No. 2:

Buddhism Part
II: Theravada and Tantra

excerpted from Living Buddhist
courtesy Unity Press

now available as:

Living Dharma :
Teachings of Twelve Buddhist

Jack Kornfield (Editor)
Foreword by Ram Dass  Foreword by Chogyam

Paperback – 320 pages (November 1995)
Shambhala Pubns

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