|October 1990||2533||Number 14|
The Dhamma: Naturally Delightful, Additive-free
Practising meditation is very much a way of learning, of understanding the ways of nature. One of the meanings of the word Dhamma is 'nature' - just the way things are - the nature of things. We can consider why it is, particularly on a day like today when the sun is warm and bright, why it is that the trees, the singing of the birds, the beautiful clouds, why do they delight us? Why is that something that pleases us? The waving of the trees in the wind, the movement of the clouds across the sky - why is this something that is lovely to us?
The natural beauty of the world is something which pleases us because it gives an echo of Dhamma, of the true nature of things, of the sense of balance and form, of fruitfulness, of the harmony which lies at the very heart of our lives. These qualities in the physical world help to remind us, or lead us inwards to touch that within us which appreciates the beautiful, which loves the harmonious.
And the opening of the mind to Dhamma, to truth, is learning to recognise the place of all our experience in the whole pattern of nature, so that we appreciate more and more from the depths of being that this is the way things are - this is life working itself out.
One of the qualities of the Dhamma, of the truth, is that it's attractive. It draws our attention to it, it draws all things to it. And it is this quality of turning towards Dhamma, turning towards truth, that we are using this work of meditation to cultivate. Now the enlightenment of the mind is in itself a natural process, it is not something that has to be introduced from outside. It's the discovery of the mind's own nature, and this discovery works according to natural laws. The process of this awakening, of this enlightenment, is something that first of all is founded on our conduct, on action and speech, so that once we begin to live in a restrained and modest way, careful of what we say and do, and respectful of the effect we have on other people, this then leaves the mind free from any kind of self-criticism, free from remorse, free from negativity. We don't have to keep remembering all of the foolish things that we've said and done.
The natural result when there is enjoyment of the present moment is that we tend to stop looking elsewhere for our enjoyment, so that the mind is more rested.
The result of this restraint is a sense of contentment, a sense of ease in life - what is called joy, a pleasantness, a warmth of heart. And this develops as time goes by; as we further our efforts this becomes more of a sense of real enjoyment - a sense of delight, of enthusiasm for life. A lot of our negativity and depression comes from living in very self-centred, self-concerned, self-important ways, and as that is laid aside depression tends to lift. Self-respect arises. Even the very comfort of the body, the health of the body, is affected by our ease of mind, our positivity.
The natural result when there is enjoyment of the present moment is that we tend to stop looking elsewhere for our enjoyment, so that the mind is more rested. It will not rush off into the past and the future. It doesn't seek. So this means that the development of samadhi (or concentration) comes much more easily. The mind will naturally rest, and settle upon an object that it's directed to. Now the quality of samadhi doesn't have to be upon a single fixed point. It also means the concentration upon the moment, upon the whole field of experience. When the mind is resting easily with the whole experience of the moment, then intelligence naturally come into play - the wisdom, the intuition of the mind has a bit of room to operate. It begins to discover the patterns that are at work, how things are shifting and changing, what is arising from what, what is affecting what.
The understanding of the patterns of life that are at work naturally leads to a sense of 'dis-enchantment'. There's no longer the tendency to grasp on to life, or to push things away. When you see the nature of things, when there's an openness to the way things are, then there's a direct insight into change. You notice that every quality which you experience has the nature of beginning and ending, it comes and it goes. Whether it's part of your mind, or whether it's inside you, or outside you, whether it's mental or physical - you see that everything is changing and that there's no sense of ownership, no sense of possession of any kind of quality, any memory, or feeling or idea in the mind. This is a direct perception, a knowing that: 'Well, that's not me, that's not mine, that's not what I am.'
And the assumptions that you've made about yourself as being a particular kind of person - 'I am an English person, I am so many years old, I am like this. I am an introvert, I am a happy person, I'm a hungry person. I'm hot, I'm cold' - there's a very conscious knowledge that these are only half-truths only relatively true. This is not ultimately who and what we are. There's a sense of purity and a sense of stillness - a distance from the patterns of experience arising in the mind.
This is the relinquishment, the disentanglement from the world of senses, of eyes and ears, nose and tongue, body and mind. It is important to understand, however, that this is not an act of rejection. It's not pushing away, it's not a denial of feelings of beauty in the world, but it's the recognition of them as being part of the conditioned world, imperfect, and not an absolute abiding place. There's no solidity, no real permanence or security that can be found there. As this practice is developed, the heart finds its freedom.
It's very helpful to understand that this pattern is something which is within our ability to put into action in our lives in order to be enlightened. It's simply a matter of learning to develop this natural process. It is also important to recognise that to be enlightened doesn't mean to say that the mind is completely empty of any kind of activity - empty of emotion, empty of feeling or perception - that there's no longer a fraction of aversion, no longer love or hate, that the mind becomes a bland empty space where nothing happens. On the contrary, the practice of the Buddha's Way is simply understanding and knowing things as they are. All the feelings, thoughts, doubts, worries that arise in our minds - there's a direct knowing and appreciation of their nature.
Who scattered these leaves
'This is not me. This is not mine. This is not what I am. This is not something which can truly trouble or invade the mind, nor is this something to try and hold on to.' Because no matter how beautiful or dear it might be to us, if we try to hold onto an emotion or a memory, a feeling, we can only grasp it for so long ...and then it changes.
Now if you are mindful, if you are awake to the mind in a state of say, confusion, if there's just that acknowledgement, the knowing that, 'Here is confusion, here is the feeling of agitation in the mind,' then that is an enlightened moment. This is important to appreciate: that even though there might be a lot of feeling or activity in the mind, as long as there is awareness present, then there is direct knowing and appreciation of that mental state, no matter how black and confused, or bright and delightful it might be. It's like having the Buddha present. If the Buddha is there - the One Who is Awake - if the knowing is there, then you're safe, no matter how much confusion and difficulty there is.
Our practice is the development of this understanding; that to be enlightened is not to try to exclude every thought and feeling from the mind, or to only think positively, never have any kind of violent or chaotic or vulgar thoughts. But it's simply to be awake to the way things actually are, to the pattern of things as we experience them.
Reflecting upon the changes through the day, you can see how sometimes there are feelings of ease and happiness. Sometimes there are feelings of discomfort. And that it's by adding to it all that the trouble begins. So what I have been encouraging today is the learning of how not to make additions, not to add on to the ordinary nature of life.
To encourage this attitude, the quality that is most helpful for us to develop is that of kindness, benevolence - and this is a very powerful force. It is something which has a tremendous healing capacity for the mind. But it's also something that it's very easy to lose track of. Our minds easily slip into criticism and judgement, and the subtle negatives of what we like, what we don't like, and our tendency to pick and choose amongst our experiences. So what helps, in many ways, with meditation practice is to ground our minds in the attitude of benevolence, of well-wishing towards all our experience.
I remember, not that long ago, I had been developing a meditation practice upon the heart; just focussing the mind in the area of the heart and trying to develop the attitude of kindness, well-being, well-wishing in a very specific way; to make a point of generating that sort of attitude. I was finding this very helpful and it was working very well. But then I noticed that there were still some things in my character, the way my mind worked, that I was tending to push aside, saying: 'Look, don't bother me now, I'm trying to be benevolent. Just get out of my way. Can't you see I'm meditating?' And these were subtle attitudes - feelings of insecurity and childish, complaining, moaning, selfish irritations going on in the mind. Just little nagging complaints about this and that; wanting to be patted on the head, wanting people to say they loved me and to give me those little affirmations that jolly up your day and make you feel good.
I could see these little moans going on in the mind - wanting to be pampered, supported and have every thing affirming me. And then complaints about other people - just on-going criticism of various people in the community that you would habitually have as a scapegoat in your mind. I would see these petty and childish negativities swirling around, and I could see that there was a tendency to brush them aside.
I remember talking to Ajahn Sumedho one day and saying: 'I can manage a whole-hearted kindness towards people - but as far as the petty, childish, mental activities go, I can manage a tolerance but I can't really get the love quality going.' To which he replied: 'Well that's exactly what you have to put your heart into! That's what matters most of all. The very things you tend to dislike about yourself, you have to consciously learn to welcome them - to generate the heart of kindness for them.'
So I thought: 'Well , O.K. I'll have to do something about this.' For the next few days I made a very definite point, as firmly as I could in my mind, that as soon as I noticed any one of these annoying qualities of mind that I tended to criticize, instead of pushing it away, I would consciously welcome it and appreciate it. So I had this funny little tune going for a while where, as soon as I noticed, say, a feeling of conceit I'd say: 'Oh, welcome. Hello. Conceit, yes please, come in. Sit down. Make yourself at home - yes, yes. Now don't go away. Don't leave. No, no, no, no. Please stick around. You're most welcome to stay as long as you want. Have a cup of tea.' There were these absurd dialogues going on, but I found it very helpful because it made it possible to be clearly conscious of, and to pinpoint, that which we habitually reject, push away - the ugly qualities of our character that we don't like, that we don't want to be. If you're a Buddhist you don't want to be arrogant and conceited, you don't want to be selfish or irritable, or greedy or lustful - you don't want to have these qualities around in the mind. And I found this strange alchemy occurring whereby, as soon as there was this attitude of direct welcoming and fondness, a real readiness to accept those feelings, then there was a conscious appreciation that there never had been any real danger from them. Those weren't actually me at all, anyway.
As long as there was a rejection, a pushing away, I realized that the negativity, the pushing away was implying, 'Here is something that is really able to affect my mind. This is something that can poison my mind. This is something which is me, which is my character, a frame of mind which is corrupting me and which I don't want to have around.'
But as soon as there was that open-heartedness, that welcoming, then there was a recognition that these were qualities which did not touch the mind, which couldn't affect the true nature of the mind. They cannot reach it, they cannot touch it. They're not of the same dimension. They're not of the same order. So there was a direct knowledge that no amount of ugliness or coarseness, of any quality, could ultimately poison or disturb the mind.
This is something that you see portrayed in Buddhist scriptures, in the depictions of the night of the Buddha's enlightenment. Here you see the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree surrounded by the hordes of Mara: the daughters of Mara, all decked out, trying to allure the Buddha; the frightening forms of ugly demons with battle-axes mounted on terrible war-elephants; and then the last of the things which Mara sent to test the Buddha, an image of his old father - King Suddhodana - with tears running down his cheeks, begging the Buddha to come back and take over the kingdom. 'You would have made such a good king, son. Such a fine lad, so bright, so strong, intelligent. You would have done such a good job, I don't know what I'm going to do. I haven't got any other children. The kingdom will just fall apart.'
The Buddha is not fooled by any of these forces. His response is simply: 'I know you, Mara.' And the hordes of Mara are always at a distance. They can't reach the Buddha. They can't touch him. They cannot enter his zone. And he's just sitting there calm, unintimidated, bright. This symbolises the mind's own true nature - when there is that awakenedness, that full appreciation and openness to the way things are, then nothing, nothing whatsoever, nothing from the mortal world can reach in and touch the mind which knows - that which knows, the Buddha mind, the Buddha quality of your own mind.