Aware in time

When Luang Pu was undergoing treatment at Chulalongkorn Hospital in Bangkok, large numbers of people came to pay their respects and listen to his Dhamma. Mr. Bamrungsak Kongsuk was among those who were interested in the practice of meditation. He was a student of Ajaan Sanawng of Wat Sanghadana in Nonthaburi province, one of the strict meditation centers of our day and time.

He broached the topic of the practice of the Dhamma by asking, “Luang Pu, how does one cut off anger?”

Luang Pu answered,

“There’s nobody who cuts it off. There’s only being aware of it in time. When you’re aware of it in time, it disappears on its own.”

Jesus Christ

Happy Christmas everyone. I hope you and those you love are having a happy day. 

Since it is Christmas it seemed appropirate to post this small speech by Ajahn Candasiri about Jesus through Buddhist eyes.

“Having tried with sincerity to approach my Christian journey in a way that was meaningful within the context of everyday life, I had reached a point of deep weariness and despair. I was weary with the apparent complexity of it all; despair had arisen because I was not able to find any way of working with the less helpful states that would creep, unbidden, into the mind: the worry, jealousy, grumpiness, and so on. And even positive states could turn around and transform themselves into pride or conceit, which were of course equally unwanted.

Eventually, I met Ajahn Sumedho, an American-born Buddhist monk, who had just arrived in England after training for ten years in Thailand. His teacher was Ajahn Chah, a Thai monk of the Forest Tradition who, in spite of little formal education, won the hearts of many thousands of people, including a significant number of Westerners. I attended a ten-day retreat at Oakenholt Buddhist Centre, near Oxford, and sat in agony on a mat on the floor of the draughty meditation hall, along with about 40 other retreatants of different shapes and sizes. In front of us was Ajahn Sumedho, who presented the teachings and guided us in meditation, with three other monks.

This was a turning point for me. Although the whole experience was extremely tough – both physically and emotionally – I felt hugely encouraged. The teachings were presented in a wonderfully accessible style, and just seemed like ordinary common sense. It didn’t occur to me that it was ‘Buddhism’. Also, they were immensely practical and as if to prove it, we had, directly in front of us, the professionals – people who had made a commitment to living them out, twenty-four hours a day. I was totally fascinated by those monks: by their robes and shaven heads, and by what I heard of their renunciant lifestyle, with its 227 rules of training. I also saw that they were relaxed and happy – perhaps that was the most remarkable, and indeed slightly puzzling, thing about them.

I felt deeply drawn by the teachings, and by the Truth they were pointing to: the acknowledgement that, yes, this life is inherently unsatisfactory, we experience suffering or dis-ease – but there is a Way that can lead us to the ending of this suffering. Also, although the idea was quite shocking to me, I saw within the awakening of interest in being part of a monastic community.

So now, after more than twenty years as a Buddhist nun, what do I find as I encounter Jesus in the gospel stories?

Well, I have to say that he comes across as being much more human than I remember. Although there is much said about him being the son of God, somehow that doesn’t seem nearly as significant to me as the fact that he is a person – a man of great presence, enormous energy and compassion, and significant psychic abilities.

He also has a great gift for conveying spiritual truth in the form of images, using the most everyday things to illustrate points he wishes to make: bread, fields, corn, salt, children, trees. People don’t always understand at once, but are left with an image to ponder. Also he has a mission – to re-open the Way to eternal life; and he’s quite uncompromising in his commitment to, as he puts it, “carrying out his Father’s will”.

His ministry is short but eventful. Reading through Mark’s account, I feel tired as I imagine the relentless demands on his time and energy. It’s a relief to find the occasional reference to him having time alone or with his immediate disciples, and to read how, like us, he at times needs to rest.

A story I like very much is of how, after a strenuous day of giving teachings to a vast crowd, he is sound asleep in the boat that is taking them across the sea. His calm in response to the violent storm that arises as he is sleeping I find most helpful when things are turbulent in my own life.

I feel very caught up in the drama of it all; there is one thing after another. People listen to him, love what he has to say (or in some cases are disturbed or angered by it) and are healed. They can’t have enough of what he has to share with them. I’m touched by his response to the 4000 people who, having spent three days with him in the desert listening to his teaching, are tired and hungry. Realising this, he uses his gifts to manifest bread and fish for them all to eat.

Jesus dies as a young man. His ministry begins when he is thirty (I would be interested to know more of the spiritual training he undoubtedly received before then), and ends abruptly when he is only thirty-three. Fortunately, before the crucifixion he is able to instruct his immediate disciples in a simple ritual whereby they can re-affirm their link with him and each other (I refer, of course, to the last supper) – thereby providing a central focus of devotion and renewal for his followers, right up to the present time.

I have the impression that he is not particularly interested in converting people to his way of thinking. Rather it’s a case of teaching those who are ready; interestingly, often the people who seek him out come from quite depraved or lowly backgrounds. It is quite clear to Jesus that purity is a quality of the heart, not something that comes from unquestioning adherence to a set of rules.

His response to the Pharisees when they criticise his disciples for failing to observe the rules of purity around eating expresses this perfectly: “There is nothing from outside that can defile a man” – and to his disciples he is quite explicit in what happens to food once it has been consumed. “Rather, it is from within the heart that defilements arise.” Unfortunately, he doesn’t at this point go on to explain what to do about these.

What we hear of his last hours: the trial, the taunting, the agony and humiliation of being stripped naked and nailed to a cross to die – is an extraordinary account of patient endurance, of willingness to bear the unbearable without any sense of blame or ill will. It reminds me of a simile used by the Buddha to demonstrate the quality of metta, or kindliness, he expected of his disciples: “Even if robbers were to attack you and saw off your limbs one by one, should you give way to anger, you would not be following my advice.” A tall order, but one that clearly Jesus fulfills to perfection: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

– Ajahn Candasiri, Thai Forest Tradition. 

No matter how much you think, you won’t know.

No matter how much you think, you won’t know. Only when you stop thinking will you know. But still, you have to depend on thinking so as to know.
– Ajaan Dune Atulo, Thai Forest Tradition. 

The heart

There are times when the heart is in bad shape. Bad mental qualities get mixed up with it, making it even worse, making us suffer both in body and mind. These bad mental qualities are said to be “unskillful” (akusala). The Buddha teaches us to study these qualities so that we can abandon them.

There are other times when the heart is in good shape: at ease with a sense of well being. We feel at ease whether we’re sitting or lying down, whether we’re alone or associating with our friends and relatives. When the heart gains a sense of ease in this way, it’s said to be staying with the Dhamma. In other words, skillful (kusala) mental qualities have appeared in the heart. The skillful heart is what gives us happiness. This is why the Buddha taught us to develop these skillful qualities, to give rise to them within ourselves.

– Ajaan Suwat, Thai Forest Tradition. 

Mind seeing mind

The mind sent outside is the origination of suffering.

The result of the mind sent outside is suffering.

The mind seeing the mind is the path.

The result of the mind seeing the mind is the cessation of suffering.

– Ajaan Dune Atulo, Thai Forest Tradition. 

If You Don’t Find It Pleasant To Sit, Don’t Sit


Interviewer: What would you say to someone who finds sitting meditation painful and difficult and they struggle to do it?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Don’t do it anymore.

Interviewer: Really?

Thich Nhat Hanh: Yes, yes. If you don’t find it pleasant to sit, don’t sit. You have to learn the correct spirit of sitting. If you make a lot of effort when you sit, you become tense and that creates pain all over your body. Sitting should be pleasant. When you turn on the television in your living room, you can sit for hours without suffering. Yet when you sit for meditation, you suffer. Why? Because you struggle. You want to succeed in your meditation, and so you fight. When you are watching television you don’t fight. You have to learn how to sit without fighting. If you know how to sit like that, sitting is very pleasant.

When Nelson Mandela visited France once, a journalist asked him what he liked to do the most. He said that because he was so busy, what he liked to do the most was just to sit and do nothing. Because to sit and to do nothing is a pleasure—you restore yourself. That’s why the Buddha described it as like sitting on a lotus flower. When you’re sitting, you feel light, you feel fresh, you feel free. And if you don’t feel that when you sit, then sitting has become a kind of hard labor.

Sometimes if you don’t have enough sleep or you have a cold or something, maybe sitting is not as pleasant as you’d wish. But if you are feeling normal, experiencing the pleasure of sitting is always possible. The problem isn’t to sit or not to sit, but how to sit. How to sit so that you can make the most of it — otherwise you’re wasting your time.

See your choices

People who do not see their choices do not believe they have choices. They tend to respond automatically, blindly influenced by their circumstances and conditioning. Mindfulness, by helping us notice our impulses before we act, gives us the opportunity to decide whether to act and how to act.

– Gil Fronsdal, Vipassana Teacher.

Serving a purpose

My own motto is, “Make yourself as good as possible, and everything else will have to follow along in being good.” If you don’t neglect yourself for the sake of external things, you’ll have to be good. So you shouldn’t neglect yourself. Develop your inner worth to your own satisfaction.

The world says, “Don’t worry about whether you’re good or bad, as long as you have money.” This is just the opposite of the Dhamma, which says, “Don’t worry about whether you’re rich or poor, as long as you’re a good person.”

– Ajahn Lee, Thai Forest Tradition. 

Books and Movies

There are good books and movies that you can enjoy. That’s okay—it’s good to enjoy them. But sometimes the quality of the film or book is not good at all, yet you don’t turn it off because if you do, you will have to go back and experience the suffering inside you. That is the practice of many people in our society. Many people cannot be with themselves. They have pain, sorrow, or worries inside, and they read or watch or listen to cover this up, to run away from themselves.

Consuming media like that is just running away and it doesn’t have a lasting effect. You can forget your suffering for some time, but eventually you have to go back to yourself. The Buddha recommended that we should not try to run away from ourselves, but learn to take good care of ourselves and transform our suffering.

– Thich Nhat Hanh.

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