We must let go of both good and evil

In one of Ajahn Chan Talks he said: “THE TEACHING OF BUDDHISM is about giving up evil and practicing
good. Then, when evil is given up and goodness is established, we must let
go of both good and evil.” What he means by letting go of good and evil? Can someone give a practical application of this kind of approach?

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Let go of evil is precepts are well established.

Establishing oneself in good means cultivate the 37 factors of enlightenment, do good deeds etc.

Let go of good is don’t be a superhero. This level is more for very advanced level, for before this level, you can very well be a social justice warrior as you wish.

Let’s just use monastic level as an example, our job is to practice to purify one’s mind.

So monastics are not supposed to campaign to overthrow this or that tyrant, or to campaign super duper actively in social justice movements until no time for practice. (I am still pro-vegan movement! Go vegan for our very near future!)

While all evils should be abandoned, not all good has to be done. The best good is to attain liberation.

So, you rarely see monastics involving in charity work like disaster relief, unless the flood hits our own monastery, or the surroundings whereby we can house those who lost their home.

Of course, it’s good to do good, but doing good alone will not lead to liberation. Being good is for merits as a supporting factor for meditation for liberation.

When one attains to arahanthood, that’s the true letting go of good and evil. Arahants has eradicated ignorance, thus no more volitional formations which can form kamma. The actions of an arahant are just functional, they do not generate further kammic causes.

An arahant cannot do evil due to their nature of eradicated greed, hated and delusion. So their nature is totally good, they still can have the emotions of the 4 immeasurable, but I suspect how much compassion they have depends on how much they wish to cultivate that. So even if their nature is totally good, not all arahants teaches.

For me teaching is the manifestation of compassion of an arahant. Because they no longer have any notion of self to enjoy the ego building from being a teacher. Even if an arahant had developed super high levels, maybe Bodhicitta level of compassion prior to attainment and teaches a lot. They do not generate good kamma from the wholesome act of teaching the dhamma. They are beyond both good and evil.

Nietzsche totally misunderstand this, and the Nazi got worse misunderstanding, creating an emotionless amoral superman/uberman which is actually immoral. Rick in Rick and Morty is one of these immoral superman. See how much death he directly causes in his adventures, and there’s no remorse in him.

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Thank you, now it is clear. I just thought that going beyond good and evil it’s looking more into the context of the situation. Like in the cases of those “famous” moral dilemmas can Arhant kill one person to save 1000? Can he?

Arahants cannot kill.

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I have been following Ajahn Chah’s teachings and pointers for a few years now, and from what I have experienced, letting go of good and evil, or pleasant and unpleasant, is to stop vibrating between those two extremes. Because between there lies the middle way.
that doesn’t mean I never get closer to any extremes, but as soon they become known, I drop them like burning coal and place myself back to the mindful here and now where I sense the natural force of the four Brahma Viharas (goodwill, sympathetic joy, compassion and equanimity)

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I suspect that “good” and “evil” are being use to translate the words bun and baap, which are the Thai pronunciation of the Pali puñña and pāpa, “merit” and “demerit”.

I don’t know what in particular Ajahn Chah had in mind, but usually when Theravada teachers talk this way they’re alluding either (1) to the fact of an arahant’s having transcended merit and demerit, as in Dhammapada 39, or (2) to the teaching in MN57 on “kamma that is neither dark nor bright, with neither-dark-nor-bright result, and which leads to the destruction of kamma.”

anavassutacittassa, ananvāhatacetaso;
puññapāpapahīnassa, natthi jāgarato bhayaṁ.

He who is vigilant,
Whose mind is not overcome by lust or hatred,
Who has discarded both good and evil,
For him there is no fear.
(Dh 39, Sathienpong Wannapok tr.)

Being free of defilements the arahant performs no action that is pāpa and any good action he performs will not be puñña, for it will not generate any kamma.

“And what, Puṇṇa, is kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither-dark-nor-bright result, kamma that leads to the destruction of kamma? Therein, the volition for abandoning the kind of kamma that is dark with dark result, and the volition for abandoning the kind of kamma that is bright with bright result, and the volition for abandoning the kind of kamma that is dark and bright with dark-and-bright result: this is called kamma that is neither dark nor bright with neither-dark-nor-bright result, kamma that leads to the destruction of kamma.”

There’s a nice practical teaching on neither-dark-nor-bright kamma in the Niddesa to the eighth verse of the Attadaṇḍasutta.

The verse itself says:

niddaṃ tandiṃ sahe thīnaṃ,
pamādena na saṃvase;
atimāne na tiṭṭheyya,
nibbānamanaso naro.

The nibbāna-minded man
Should overcome lethargy, sloth, and torpor;
And not consort with negligence.
Nor persist in arrogance.

Then the Niddesa explains what it means to be a “nibbāna-minded man”:

Idhekacco dānaṃ dento sīlaṃ samādiyanto uposathakammaṃ karonto pānīyaṃ paribhojanīyaṃ upaṭṭhapento pariveṇaṃ sammajjanto cetiyaṃ vandanto cetiye gandhamālaṃ āropento cetiyaṃ padakkhiṇaṃ karonto,

Here, when someone is giving gifts, undertaking precepts, observing the uposatha duties, setting up water for drinking and washing, sweeping the cells, venerating a cetiya, offering incense and garlands to a cetiya, circumambulating a cetiya,

yaṃ kiñci tedhātukaṃ kusalābhisaṅkhāraṃ abhisaṅkharonto

or performing any kind of wholesome volitional activity pertaining to the three realms of existence,

na gatihetu na upapattihetu na paṭisandhihetu na bhavahetu na saṃsārahetu na vaṭṭahetu

he does not do it for the sake of a good destination, nor for the sake of a rebirth, nor for the sake of conception, nor for a particular state of existence, nor for the sake of saṃsāra, nor for the sake of the round.

sabbaṃ taṃ visaṃyogādhippāyo nibbānaninno nibbānapoṇo nibbānapabbhāro abhisaṅkharotīti.

He does all this for the purpose of detachment, leaning toward nibbāna, inclining toward nibbāna, bent upon nibbāna.

Atha vā sabbasaṅkhāradhātuyā cittaṃ paṭivāpetvā amatāya dhātuyā cittaṃ upasaṃharati – ‘etaṃ santaṃ etaṃ paṇītaṃ yadidaṃ sabbasaṅkhārasamatho sabbūpadhipaṭinissaggo taṇhakkhayo virāgo nirodho nibbānan’ ti.

Or, having turned his mind away from all conditioned elements, he directs his mind to the deathless element:

“This is the peaceful, this is the sublime: the stilling of all volitional activities, the relinquishment of all acquisitions, the destruction of craving, dispassion, cessation, nibbāna.”

Na paṇḍitā upadhisukhassa hetu, dadanti dānāni punabbhavāya;
Kāmañca te upadhiparikkhayāya, dadanti dānaṃ apunabbhavāya.

The wise do not give gifts for the bliss of acquisitions,
Nor for the sake of renewed existence.
They give gifts for an end to renewed existence,
For the destruction of sensuality and acquisitions.

Na paṇḍitā upadhisukhassa hetu, bhāventi jhānāni punabbhavāya;
Kāmañca te upadhiparikkhayāya, bhāventi jhānaṃ apunabbhavāya.

The wise do not develop jhānas for the bliss of acquisitions,
Nor for the sake of renewed existence.
They develop jhānas for an end to renewed existence,
For the destruction of sensuality and acquisitions.

Te nibbuttiṃ āsiṃsamānā dadanti, tanninnacittā tadadhimuttā;
Najjo yathā sāgaramajjhupetā, bhavanti nibbānaparāyanā te ti.

Desiring quenching, they give gifts,
With minds so inclined, resolved upon that.
As rivers approach the ocean,
They take nibbāna as their destination.


A very good question, as practitioners regularly go astray and lose the reality of the dhamma by trying to go to the end of the path before having developed the skills of the path itself.

“And what sort of practice is the practice leading to the cessation of skillful habits? There is the case where a monk generates desire…for the sake of the non-arising of evil, unskillful qualities that have not yet arisen…for the sake of the abandoning of evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen…for the sake of the arising of skillful qualities that have not yet arisen…(and) for the…development & culmination of skillful qualities that have arisen. This sort of practice is the practice leading to the cessation of skillful habits.”— Majhima Nikaya 78

The practical application is found here:

" One who has chosen the conquest of the five hindrances for a “working-ground” should examine which of the five are strongest in one’s personal case. Then one should carefully observe how, and on which occasions, they usually appear. One should further know the positive forces within one’s own mind by which each of these hindrances can best be countered and, finally, conquered; and one should also examine one’s life for any opportunity of developing these qualities which, in the following pages, have been indicated under the headings of the spiritual faculties (indriya), the factors of absorption (jhananga), and the factors of enlightenment (bojjhanga). In some cases, subjects of meditation have been added which will be helpful in overcoming the respective hindrances."


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Going beyond good and evil is an insight into the dangers of sensuality.

Practical implications:

1- The ability to differentiate pleasant feelings from sensual feelings.
2- The ability to differentiate equanimity from neutral feelings.
3- The ability to distinguish dhamma from papañca.
4- The ability to differentiate intentionality from craving.
5- The ability to differentiate sila from metaphysical speculations (ethics/morality).
6- Knowing the elements for what they are, rather than perceiving them as properties.

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Thank you for such detailed explanation <3

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