listening beyond words

Listening Beyond Words

Ajahn Chah

Really, the teachings of the Buddha all make sense.
Things you wouldn’t imagine really are so. It’s strange. At first
I didn’t have any faith in sitting in meditation. I thought, what
value could that possibly have? Then there was walking meditation
– I walked from one tree to another, back and forth, back and forth,
and I got tired of it and thought, ”What am I walking for? Just
walking back and forth doesn’t have any purpose.” That’s how I thought.
But in fact walking meditation has a lot of value. Sitting to practice
samādhi has a lot of value. But the temperaments of
some people make them confused about walking or sitting meditation.

We can’t meditate in only one posture. There are four postures for
humans: standing, walking, sitting and lying down. The teachings speak
about making the postures consistent and equal. You might get the
idea from this that it means you should stand, walk, sit and lie down
for the same number of hours in each posture. When you hear such a
teaching, you can’t figure out what it really means, because it’s
talking in the way of Dhamma, not in the ordinary sense. ”OK,
I’ll sit for two hours, stand for two hours and then lie down for
two hours” You probably think like this. That’s what I did. I tried
to practice in this way, but it didn’t work out.

It’s because of not listening in the right way, merely listening to
the words. ‘Making the postures even’ refers to the mind, nothing
else. It means making the mind bright and clear so that wisdom arises,
so that there is knowledge of whatever is happening in all postures
and situations. Whatever the posture, you know phenomena and states
of mind for what they are, meaning that they are impermanent, unsatisfactory
and not your self. The mind remains established in this awareness
at all times and in all postures. When the mind feels attraction,
when it feels aversion, you don’t lose the path, but you know these
conditions for what they are. Your awareness is steady and continuous,
and you are letting go steadily and continuously. You are not fooled
by good conditions. You aren’t fooled by bad conditions. You remain
on the straight path. This can be called ‘making the postures even.’
It refers to the internal, not the external; it is talking about mind.

If we do make the postures even with the mind, then when we are praised,
it is just so much. If we are slandered, it is just so much. We don’t
go up or down with them but remain steady. Why is this? Because we
see the danger in these things. We see equal danger in praise and
in criticism; this is called making the postures even. We have this
inner awareness, whether we are looking at internal or external phenomena.

In the ordinary way of experiencing things, when something good appears,
we have a positive reaction, and when something bad appears, we have
a negative reaction.

Like this, the postures are not even. If they are even, we always
have awareness. We will know when we are grasping at good and grasping
at bad – this is better. Even though we can’t yet let go, we are
aware of these states continuously. Being continuously aware of ourselves
and our attachments, we will come to see that such grasping is not
the path. We know but can’t let go: that’s 50 percent. Though we can’t
let go, we do understand that letting go of these things will bring
peace. We see the danger in the things we like and dislike. We see
the danger in praise and blame. This awareness is continuous.

So whether we are being praised or criticized, we are continuously
aware. For worldly people, when they are criticized and slandered,
they can’t bear it; it hurts their hearts. When they are praised,
they are pleased and excited. This is what is natural in the world.
But for those who are practicing, when there is praise, they know
there is danger. When there is blame, they know the danger. They know
that being attached to either of these brings ill results. They are
all harmful if we grasp at them and give them meaning.

When we have this kind of awareness, we know phenomena as they occur.
We know that if we form attachments to phenomena, there really will
be suffering. If we are not aware, then grasping at what we conceive
of as good or bad, suffering is born. When we pay attention, we see
this grasping; we see how we catch hold of the good and the bad and
how this causes suffering. So at first we are grasping hold of things
and with awareness seeing the fault in that. How is that? It’s because
we grasp tightly and experience suffering. Then we will start to seek
a way to let go and be free. ”What should I do to be free?”
we ponder.

Buddhist teaching says not to have grasping attachment, not to hold
tightly to things. We don’t understand this fully. The point is to
hold, but not tightly. For example, I see this object in front of
me. I am curious to know what it is, so I pick it up and look: it’s
a flashlight. Now I can put it down. That’s holding but not tightly.
If we are told not to hold to anything at all, then what can we do?
We will think we shouldn’t practice sitting or walking meditation.
So at first we have to hold without tight attachment. You can say
this is tanhā, but it will become pāramī.
For instance, you came here to Wat Pah Pong; before you did that,
you had to have the desire to come. With no desire, you wouldn’t have
come. We can say you came with desire; it’s like holding. Then you
will return; that’s like not grasping. Just like having some uncertainty
about what this object is, then picking it up, seeing it’s a flashlight
and putting it down. This is holding but not grasping, or to speak
more simply, knowing and letting go. Picking up to look, knowing and
letting go – knowing and putting down. Things may be said to be good
or bad, but you merely know them and let them go. You are aware of
all good and bad phenomena and you are letting go of them. You don’t
grasp them with ignorance. You grasp them with wisdom and put them

In this way the postures can be even and consistent. It means the
mind is able. The mind has awareness and wisdom is born. When the
mind has wisdom, then what could there be beyond that? It picks things
up but there is no harm. It is not grasping tightly, but knowing and
letting go. Hearing a sound, we will know, ”The world says this
is good,” and we let go of it. The world may say, ”This is bad,”
but we let go. We know good and evil. Someone who doesn’t know good
and evil attaches to good and evil and suffers as a result. Someone
with knowledge doesn’t have this attachment.

Let’s consider: For what purpose are we living? What do we want from
our work? We are living in this world; for what purpose are we living?
We do our work; what do we want to get from our work? In the worldly
way, people do their work because they want certain things and this
is what they consider logical. But the Buddha’s teaching goes a step
beyond this. It says, do your work without desiring anything. In the
world, you do this to get that; you do that to get this; you are always
doing something in order to get something as a result. That’s the
way of worldly folk. The Buddha says, work for the sake of work without
wanting anything.

Whenever we work with the desire for something, we suffer. Check this


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August 2007
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