Anyway, a few years later the Buddha comes again and says, “Here’s the key,” and this time you’re a little more wise and you recognize the possibility of using it effectively, so you listen a little more closely, do the right thing and get out.

The key is like religious convention, like Theravada Buddhism: it’s only a key, only a form—it’s not an end in itself. We have to consider, to contemplate how to use it. What is it for? We also have to expend the energy to get up, walk over to the door, insert the key into the lock, turn it in the right direction, turn the knob, open the door and walk out. The key is not going to do that for us; it’s something we have to comprehend for ourselves. The convention itself cannot do it because it’s not capable of making the effort; it doesn’t have the vigor or anything of its own other than that which you put into it—just like the key can’t do anything for itself. Its usefulness depends on your efforts and wisdom.

Some modern day religious leaders tend to say, “Don’t have anything to do with any religious convention. They’re all like the walls of prison cells”—and they seem to think that maybe the way is to just get rid of the key. Now if you’re already outside the cell, of course you don’t need the key. But if you’re still inside, then it does help a bit!

So I think you have to know whether you’re in or out; then you’ll know what to do. If you still find you’re full of doubt, uncertainty, fear, confusion—mainly doubt is the real sign—if you’re unsure of where you are, what to do or how to do anything; if you’re unsure of how to get out of the prison cell…then the wisest thing to do, rather than throwing away keys, or just collecting them, is to take one key and figure out how to use it. That’s what we mean by meditation practice. The practice of the Dharma is learning to take a particular key and use it to open the door and walk out. Once you’re out, then you know. There’s no more doubt.

Now, we can start from the high kind of attitude that mindfulness is enough—but then what do we mean by that? What is mindfulness, really? Is it actually what we believe it to be? We see people who say, “I’m being very mindful,” and they’re doing something in a very methodical, meticulous way. They’re taking in each bite of food and they’re lifting, lifting, lifting; chewing, chewing, chewing; swallowing, swallowing, swallowing….

So you think, “He eats very mindfully, doesn’t he?” but he may not be mindful at all, actually. He’s just doing it in a very concentrated way: he’s concentrating on lifting, on touching, on chewing and on swallowing. We confuse mindfulness with concentration.

Like robbing a bank: we think, “Well, if you rob a bank mindfully, it’s all right. I’m very mindful when I rob banks, so there’s no karma.” You have to have good powers of concentration to be a good bank robber. You have to have mindfulness in the sense of fear conditions, of being aware of dangers and possibilities—a mind that’s on the alert for any kind of movement or sign of danger or threat…and then concentrating your mind on breaking the safe open and so forth.