Sumedho Ajahn- The Mind And The Way. Buddhist Reflections On Life. (1)

  • Often, Buddhism is regarded by theistic religions as atheistic, or not even a religion at all. It’s seen as a philosophy or psychology because Buddhism doesn’t come from a theistic position. It’s not based on a metaphysical or doctrinal position, but on an experience common to all humanity- the experience of suffering. The Buddhist premise is that by reflecting, by contemplating, and by understanding that common human experience, we can transcend all the mental delusions that create human suffering.
  • Suffering doesn’t necessarily mean a great tragedy or a terrible misfortune. It just means the type of discontentment, unhappiness, and disappointment that all human beings experience at various times in their lives. Suffering is common to both men and women, to both rich and poor. Whatever our race or nationality, it is the common bond.
  • So in Buddhism, suffering is called a noble truth. It is not an ultimate truth. When the Buddha taught suffering as a noble truth, it was not his intention for us to bind ourselves to suffering and believe in it blindly, as if it were an ultimate truth. We contemplate: what is suffering, what is its nature, why do I suffer, what is suffering about?
  • Humanity will always be haunted and frightened by life as long as it remains ignorant and doesn’t put forth the effort to look at and understand the nature of suffering. To understand suffering means that we must accept suffering rather than just try to get rid of it and deny it, or blame somebody else for it. We can notice that suffering is caused, that it is dependent upon certain conditions, the conditions of mind we’ve created or that have been instilled in us the rough our culture and family. Our experience of life and that conditioning process start the day we are born.
  • Buddhism points to the universal or common experience of all sentient beings, that of suffering. It also makes a statement about the way out of suffering. Suffering is the awakening experience. When we suffer, we begin to ask questions. we tend to look, investigate, wonder, try to find out.
  • These are the four messengers in Buddhist symbolism: old age, sickness, death, and the samana. They signify the awakening of the human mind to a religious goal, to that aspiration of the human heart toward realizing ultimate reality, which is freedom from all delusion and suffering.
  • When we look at objects and name them, we think we know them. We think we know this person or that person because we have a name or a memory of them. We think we know all kinds of things because we remember them. Our ability to know, sometimes, is of the conditioned sort – knowing about, rather than knowing directly. The Buddhist practice is to abide in a pure mindfulness in which there is what we call insight knowing, or direct knowledge. It is a knowledge that isn’t based on perception, an idea, a position, or a doctrine, and this knowledge can only be possible through mindfulness. What we mean by mindfulness is the ability to not attach to any object, either in the material realm or mental realm. Where there is not attachment, the mind is in its pure state of awareness, intelligence, and clarity. That is mindfulness. The mind is pure and receptive, sensitive to the existing conditions. It is no longer a conditioned mind that just reacts to pleasure and pain, praise and blame, happiness and suffering.
  • But because we tend to think other people know and we don’t we often seek the answers from others, rather than opening the mind and watching through patient alertness for truth to be revealed. Through mindfulness and true awareness, revelation is possible. This revelation of truth, or ultimate reality, is what the religious experience really amounts to.
  • Today we have an opportunity to work toward a common truth among all religions; we can all begin to help each other. It’s no longer a time when converting people or trying to compete with each other seems to be of any use or value. Rather than attempt to convert others, religion presents the opportunity to waken to our true nature, to true freedom, to love and compassion. It’s a way of living in full sensitivity, with full receptivity, so we can take delight in and open ourselves to the mystery and wonder of the universe for the rest of our lives.
  • But when you’re talking about Buddhism, you can’t use all your conceptions about other religions because they don’t apply. The Buddhist approach is from a different angle. We’re not willing to believe in doctrines or teachings or things that come from others. We want to find out the truth for ourselves.
  • We can expand our ability to perceive, moving from the viewpoint of the individual, in which we only look out for ourselves, to that of a global view. With this view, we include all human beings in our family, rather than just our immediate family or our national family. As we expand our consciousness, we can form perceptions and concepts that are must more loving and compassionate, beyond just caring for ourselves as individuals. We can get beyond just caring for our own family, group, class, or race. We can expand our consciousness to include all human beings, band then all beings. It becomes universal.
  • The First Noble Truth means that things are always incomplete or imperfect, even when you get everything you want. Suffering doesn’t necessarily mean that your mother doesn’t love you and everybody hates you and you’re poor and misunderstood and exploited. You can be loved by everybody, have wonderful parents, be blessed with beauty, wealth, and all the opportunities that any human being could possibly experience in life. And still you will be discontented. Still, you will have this feeling that something is incomplete, something is not yet finished, something is unsatisfactory.
  • The First Noble Truth is not a doctrine; it’s a pointer. It’s not saying everything is miserable, sorrowful, and disgusting; it’s not a negating kind of teachings. It does not say that everything is suffering, but it says (in the Buddha’s words) that “There is suffering.” And this suffering is here within our experience. We are not trying to blame our suffering on something outside. It’s not because of my wife or husband; it’s not because of my mother and father; it’s not because of the government or the world. We’re looking at that very suffering within the mind, the suffering that we create ourselves.
  • The Second Noble Truth reflects on beginnings by looking at the three kinds of desire: kama tanha, bhava tanha, vibhava tanha, as they are called in Pali. Kama tanha is desire for sensual pleasure, delights of the senses; bhava tanha is the desire to become something; and vibhava tanha is the desire to get rid of something.
    We can see all three kinds of desire in our everyday life. If you are bored, you seek something to eat, or you watch television, drink something, of find somebody to talk to. These are all the desire for sensory pleasure, so maybe you dedicate your life to becoming a famous writer, r a good cook, or an enlightened being. There are all the desire to become. When you’re tired of sensory pleasures and becoming someone, you want to just annihilate yourself. Sleeping a lot is a kind of indulgence in vibhava tanha, the desire to get rid of, the desire for oblivion. But as soon as you wake up, you have to start becoming something or seeking some kind of sensory experience again, so you go eat something, smoke something, drink something, watch something, read something, think about something, until you get so worn out with it all that you go and annihilate yourself again! If you have an obsession, or fear, or anger, you have the desire to get rid of it, don’t you? “I have a bad temper. I want to get rid of it.” Whenever you feel anger, jealousy, fear and so forth arising in you, you try to annihilate them. That’s also vibhava tanha; the desire to get rid of some mental condition that you don’t like. These three kinds of desire are beginning conditions for suffering.
  • The Third Noble Truth is the truth of cessation. When we have knowledge of cessation, we begin to endure through some of these different desires, rather than just reacting habitually to them or impulsively following them. We are less attached to the desires, less invested in satisfying them. We are let them cease naturally. We endure through boredom or pain, through doubt and despair, knowing they will end. It sounds pretty gloomy if you take it too literally. But looking at it another way, understanding cessation is part of maturing emotionally.
  • But if you wait and endure restlessness, greed, hatred, doubt, despair, and sleepiness, if you observe these conditions as they cease and end, you will attain a kind of calm and mental clarity, which you never achieve if you’re always going after something else. This is the virtue of meditation. If you sit and patiently endure, you find your mind going into a state of calm. That calm occurs because there’s no more trying to become something or trying to get rid of something. There’s a kind of inner peace or relaxation of the mind in which you stop following the struggle to become, or to have sensory pleasure, or to get rid of some unpleasant conditions that you’re experiencing. So you are at ease with those conditions. You begin to learn to be at ease with pain, with restlessness, with mental anguish, and so forth. And then you find that the mind will be very clear, very bright, very calm.
  • The suffering that ends is the suffering you create out of ignorance. When ignorance is gone and you see with Right View, then the body still feels pleasure and pain, but you don’t suffer from it. It’s as it is. When you don’t know this truth, then you create suffering. If the body is sick or in pain, then you’re averse to it, and you feel frightened or angry or depressed about the sickness and the inconvenience of it all. that is the suffering we create. Then, because we tend to resist it, we create the conditions for more tension.
  • So this is how to see the tradition. If you want to, you can use it like this. If you think it’s a lot of useless stuff, then don’t bother with it. It’s not something that can be forced on you; it’s something you can use, or not use. It’s up to you. But learning how to use these traditions takes some effort, and to use them well and mindfully gives a beautiful form to our lives. Then we can have grace, a style, a sense of communion as Sangha. We become like one, rather than a group of individual beings doing what each one feels he or she wants to do. We learn to conform in this way, in an act of devotion, love, gratitude, and respect.
  • I see that truth and openness to truth is what religion is all about – or should be about. It gets very confused because people forget that, and get stuck in the tradition as if it were an end in itself. Rather than using the tradition and the ceremonies for opening themselves, they use them to hold on.
  • So attachment breeds these separations; it’s divisive. Whatever you attach to becomes a sect or cult. The sectarian tendency is one of humanity’s great problems, whether it’s religious or political or whatever. When people say, “My way is right and all the rest are wrong,” or “Mine is the best and the rest are inferior,” that’s attachment. Even if what you have might be the finest, if you’re attached to the finest, you’re still an ignorant, unenlightened person. So you can have the finest and best of everything and still be unenlightened.
  • I think for most of us, devotion comes from a practice of Dhamma in which you strip away the delusions of your mind and find more trust in Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha. You don’t have to convince yourself that there are such things as Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha to trust in; you’re not creating it out of idealism. The more you strip away delusion, the more confidence you have in what we call, in conventional language, Buddha-Dhamma-Sangha. Without that trust and confidence, no matter how much we meditate or how much we reflect on things, if we don’t have a foundation in those refuges, then Dhamma becomes a kind of ideal to be attained in the future, or it becomes a method of psychological releases to various situations. Either way, it doesn’t transcend; you don’t realize the transcendent deathless reality.

1 Response to “Sumedho Ajahn- The Mind And The Way. Buddhist Reflections On Life. (1)”

  1. 1 JG
    July 16, 2006 at 16:59

    Love your space! : )
    You have managed to compile much of the information I was attempting to gather. If it is OK with you I would like to place a link to your space on my space. Thank you in advance.
    Peace be with you…
    Joseph Guedea

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