Mindfulness alone can’t do all the work

Liberating insight comes from testing, experimenting. This is how we learn about the world to begin with. If we weren’t active creatures, we’d have no understanding of the world at all. Things would pass by, pass by, and we wouldn’t know how they were connected because we’d have no way of influencing them to see which effects came from changing which causes. It’s because we act in the world that we understand the world.

The same holds true with the mind. You can’t just sit around hoping that a single mental quality—mindfulness, acceptance, contentment, oneness—is going to do all the work. If you want to learn about the potentials of the mind, you have to be willing to play—with sensations in the body, with qualities in the mind. That’s when you come to understand cause and effect.

And that requires all your powers of intelligence—and this doesn’t mean just book intelligence. It means your ability to notice what you’re doing, to read the results of what you’ve done, and to figure out ingenious ways of doing things that cause less and less suffering and stress: street smarts for the noble path. Mindfulness allows you to see these connections because it keeps reminding you always to stay with these issues, to stay with the causes until you see their effects. But mindfulness alone can’t do all the work. You can’t fix the soup simply by dumping more pepper into it. You add other ingredients, as they’re needed.

– Thanissaro Bhikkhu, Thai Forest Tradition. 

Author: Bite-Size Dhamma

I'm a Buddhist layperson, trying to live well and skilfully with compassion, generosity, and discernment. I work in the field of housing law and homelessness casework. I have a beautiful kind wife, a very cute dog, and two loveable but surly cats.

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