|January 2000||2543||Number 51|
Dwelling on Conditions along the Way
We've read these stories in the morning, and we've heard of the story of a monk who used to be a ruler - he retired to be a monk - and he kept on saying, 'Oh, what bliss! What bliss!' People thought that he was thinking about the old days when he was a king in a palace. But he was talking about the bliss of the present moment: not having all the fears and complications of being a ruler, and having the simplicity of life in the forest, under trees. And then, Adhimutta, who met the bandits on the road. Usually when people meet bandits on roads, they shiver and quake and tremble. But when the bandits met Adhimutta, he was all bright and smiley. And they asked him why: 'Aren't you afraid that we're going to chop you up?' But Adhimutta said, 'Well, if you want to do that, it's up to you.'
Enlightenment is to live without hassle, to live peacefully; to live without fear in all situations - not accumulating material things, or having romantic episodes, or having power and status: but being totally at peace - clear and wise to the way things are. Now, that's really what my heart leaps towards.
...those who've tried to work out enlightenment on a thinking level have been pretty disappointed, because it involves more than just the rational understanding of the teachings.
So when I read about these things and bring them to mind - even in the midst of things, when I'm walking or sitting; or going through lustful times, or anxious times, or deluded times - I find this is something that gives me the strength to bear with these things: to try not to get caught up in them, and to let go of them. And I understand that this is what the Buddha and his disciples went through themselves before they realised enlightenment. I find these statements very different from the success statements of the people of the world - the people who have fame and fortune - and I wonder if, at the end of the day, they have the same peace of mind: the same bliss and happiness.
In the Buddha's teaching, faith is something we cultivate to balance against wisdom. The path unfolds in a more smooth and meaningful way when both faith and wisdom are balanced. Now, when I consider people in the West - maybe we don't tend to have such a strong faith orientation (and when I think of it, before I came to Buddhism I didn't have a lot of faith in anything) - we have a more thinking, reflective approach to the practice. This is good for contemplating Dhamma; but one has to also realise its limitations, and be careful our practice doesn't become what one might call a head-trip, where we just sit there all day, thinking and trying to figure it out. Because, in our life, that's what we're taught to do. If there's a problem - if you want to solve anything - you think it out: figure it out on a more rational, logical, thinking level. We try and work out all our problems. But those who've tried to work out enlightenment on a thinking level have been pretty disappointed, because it involves more than just the rational understanding of the teachings.
When we go through difficulties in the practice, we have a desire to know - What's the cause of all this? How has all this come about? We look for the thoughts and ideas that will get rid of this difficulty for us.
But when we're confused, and we think about it, do we get less confused? Or when we're caught in doubt, and we try to figure it out, does that allay our doubt? Does a lot of thinking and trying to work things out lead us to a sense of tranquillity or peace of mind? We can see that it has its limitations. The analogy that I find quite meaningful, that the Buddha gave, was of the man being hit by the poisoned arrow. As a doctor came to take out the arrow, the man asked, who fired the arrow; where did it come from; 'who made the flints; what type of wood was it?' When the man asked all those questions, he wasn't allowing the arrow to come out. And with that preoccupation with wanting to know - wanting to figure it out - you get sucked into what you're experiencing, and don't actually let go. Faith is something to balance our tendency to get too caught into this approach. Like: when I'm on the walking path - maybe I feel anxious about something - I'm saying, 'Why am I feeling anxious?' And I can be thinking like this, and it's easy to get caught into it: get caught into the momentum of thinking about things that will happen in the future, and all that. But, when I consider the idea of enlightenment - going beyond these anxieties - somehow it brings me out of that. I'm still very much aware of the anxiety, but it expands one's awareness, and the anxiety doesn't seem so heavy anymore. So, that's why I see faith as something that puts the brakes on trying to work it out on a rational level.
How much do we need to know? Do we have to know everything about everything? In all our experiences, in all the mind states that we experience, do we have to know all the causes: are they from our childhood, from our relationship with our parents; from this or from that - from past lives - due to our astrological predicament? When I consider the Buddha's teaching, he talked about right understanding, and he talked in terms of suffering and how to end suffering. So, we're experiencing something, and we feel suffering. What's the cause of that suffering? The cause of that suffering is that we're clinging to that experience. And if we don't cling to that experience it will go. How much do we have to know about experience to let it go? Do we have to know everything about the causes of something before we can let go of that thing? I don't find that you have to. In fact, if one just turns to the thing itself and doesn't think about it I find it goes, because I'm not getting involved in it; I'm not making any more out of it; I'm not reacting to it. I can appreciate that sometimes some sort of understanding of something does help us to find peace with it. But there are some things we can't understand. So, can we find peace with something even if we don't know why we're experiencing it? Sometimes people tell us things that are quite meaningful about something we're experiencing and it helps us to understand it and find more peace with it. Sometimes people say, 'why can't I get on with that person?'
'Oh, it's because his Venus is in Aries, and your Jupiter's in Scorpio.' And even with those sort of explanations you sometimes find peace with the way things are. But some things we don't initially understand. And what can help us find peace with that?
Another aspect of what the Buddha called Right Understanding, is to contemplate impermanence, unsatisfactoriness and not-self. These are the tools the Buddha gave to help us to find peace with our experience: it won't last (it's not permanent); it doesn't really belong to you; and it's not satisfactory (it's suffering to hold on to it). Not trying to understand all the things that have brought this about: but just seeing it and understanding it in the present moment, for what it is. These are the reflections offered by the Buddha.
And in terms of understanding the mind, when you consider the Satipatthana Sutta, what does the Buddha say concerning cittanupassana - concerning the mind? Know the mind that is lustful; know the mind that is not lustful. Know the mind that is hateful; know the mind that is not hateful. Know the mind that is confused, as confused; know the mind that is not confused, as not confused. He's not saying know all the causes of all these things. Just know them for what they are. And this, to me, is about knowing impermanence: knowing that the mind is not always like this.
Another thing that comes under right understanding is the reflection on kamma. Kamma is the law of cause and effect, and one might think the Buddha says you've got to find out what the cause is. But when you look at the teachings, the Buddha actually discourages people from trying to work out all the causes. In one Sutta, about what the Buddha called the Four Unthinkables - the things not to try to work out on a rational level - one of these things is all the intricacies of kamma. But the Buddha encourages us to cultivate good kamma: to cultivate skilful things. And, in many instances, the Buddha talked about cultivating good kamma to allay bad kamma. On this meditation retreat we're cultivating virtuous behaviour: skilful behaviour; cultivating the brahmaviharas of kindness, compassion, joy and equanimity; cultivating more mindfulness and awareness and cultivating more calm. This is something it's good to contemplate. We might feel quite despairing sometimes when we dwell on the difficulties we have to go through. But it's good to bring to mind the good things that we're developing at present, and see this cultivation as a way of allaying the bad things; rather than trying to allay the bad things by figuring it all out.
So consider the tools, the wisdom tools, of the Buddha - they're not highly complex - in terms of the Four Noble Truths; in terms of the three characteristics, of impermanence, not-self and unsatisfactoriness; and in terms of kamma: cultivating good kamma. And consider the path of meditation: it's guiding us towards awareness of what's going on in the present without a lot of thinking; to see things as they are in their bareness, not coloured by opinions and ideas. The silence of the mind is something that's productive of a greater wisdom than a lot of figuring out. When the mind becomes more calm and clear, insights - the deeper understandings - just come by nature.
But our mind is so quick - isn't it? - to go into ideas. Just for an example: as you sit here listening to me, are you thinking? When I say something, does your mind run to try and think it out? Can we just listen to the words without the mind going anywhere: without adding anything of our own opinion, or trying to work it out? People listen to talks, and sometimes listen to them again on a tape, and realise how much they've missed. Why is that? Because the mind runs off, and then you're not actually with the moment, with what's happening: not actually listening to what's going on in the present. So, silence - inner silence - really gives us the opportunity to be fully receptive to what's going on in the present. I think in therapeutic circles now, they have these group meetings where they have to practise to learn to listen to each other. Because people find it difficult to listen to each other. Somebody starts to speak, and while they're still speaking, the other person's trying to figure something out about the first thing they said and not listening to the rest.
How much do we trust our own opinions? Do we think they're always wise? Sometimes when I see some of the ideas that go through my mind I consider it's a bit like a newspaper report on an event. I don't know if you believe what you read in the newspapers, but sometimes you get the impression that they're biased in some way. I remember reading an article about when the Karmapa was instated in Tibet. I read two newspaper reports from two different newspapers. One said it was a wonderful occasion; and the other was very critical about it all: the same event but different ways of reporting, because they were seeing it through their own bias and their own responses.
I'd like to finish with a simile. This simile is one of a journey. It's a journey through the countryside, and the journey is to a place called Nibbana. And this place called Nibbana is a place of great safety. But as we go along the way, there are many interesting things: many things that, maybe, we want to know about. Have you ever walked along the Downs with a botanist? He walks four yards, and, 'Wow! Look at this!' If you ever walk along the Downs with a botanist, you make very slow progress. And you make very slow progress, because he gets so much caught up in the beautiful flowers along the way: he knows so much about them. This is what I call, dwelling on conditions.
The Buddha says, it's a nice walk, but actually there's three bandits along the way. Two of them could strike at any time: Sickness and Death. Who's to know when they will come? And if they don't get you, there's Old Age. Unless you find and realise the security of Nibbana, one of these three bandits will get you. So, don't dwell on the flowers. Then again, we might meet something not nice along the path: a corpse of some animal, something unpleasant to see, and we get afraid - 'Ugh! I'm not going to go any further!' But, don't dwell on that either. There are many things along the way. But faith is saying, keep your heart set on Nibbana. The Buddha said: a person has to give up the smaller happiness for a greater happiness. And, you know, there is a happiness of dwelling on the nice things along the way, and looking at a pretty orchid, or something of the like; but, are we going to stop there, or are we going to aspire towards a greater happiness?
Have you ever walked through nature without dwelling on anything? Without getting caught up in any particular tree or plant? Actually, it's quite wonderful. Because it's like opening up to all the experiences of that present moment, without getting limited by anything. You won't miss out on anything because you don't get distracted by anything. It makes the walks in nature a very uplifting, very open-heart experience, with less a feeling of separation, because one's not caught up in being the one who knows what everything is. And if one doesn't dwell on the way, maybe these three bandits won't get one. So, contemplate faith, and not dwelling on things and getting caught up in trying to know everything. Trust that what you need to know, you'll know.
I wish you all a safe journey, and may you all reach that place of safety, of Nibbana.