The seventeenth of June marked the 103rd anniversary of the birth of Ajahn Chah. That night, sitting in the moonlight surrounded by a group of monks, I asked each of them to share one teaching of Ajahn Chah that had particular meaning for them. Some monks mentioned his emphasis on ‘mynae’, the essentially unpredictable, unfixed, contingent nature of life. Others spoke of his advice on letting go, and the importance of practising Dhamma with patience and consistency. I especially appreciated a short quote that I had not though about for some years. In it, Ajahn Chah asserted that purity is to be found within impurity, nowhere else.
Many years ago in my monastery in Ubon province, a young European monk with a gift for languages was making good progress in his study of Thai. One day, after giving my weekly Dhamma discourse to the local villagers, I asked him how much of the talk he had understood. He said almost all of it. I expressed my appreciation and asked him to summarise the main points. His confident summary bore almost no connection to the key themes of the talk. I realised that he had unintentionally stitched together a narrative from the words he knew and bypassed those he did not.
One key characteristic of Dhamma is ‘sanditthiko’. Translations of the term include, ‘directly visible’, ‘knowable’, ‘verifiable’ and ‘apparent here and now’. The Buddha illustrated its meaning with a statement: under the influence of defilement we think, speak and act in ways that lead to our own affliction and the affliction of others. With the abandonment of defilement we do not think, speak and act in such ways.
The path of Dhamma is rarely a smooth one, even for the great masters. Ajahn Chah once told his students that the difference between him and them was not in the number of severity of the obstacles he had to overcome, but in the strength of his determination to overcome them.
Buddhist meditation practices are not intended to be relaxation techniques. Relaxation is one of the first welcome results of meditation, but is by no means its final goal. This may seem an obvious point, but its also one frequently forgotten. Inexperienced meditators find it hard to resist indulging in the pleasant feeling of relaxation as a reward for their efforts in overcoming distraction. By doing so their mindfulness weakens, their mind become dull, and their meditation session is derailed.
The Buddha gave great emphasis to the practice of ‘indriya samvara’, which is translated into English as ‘sense restraint’. Personally, I am not so fond of this rendering. To me, ‘restraint’ sounds too forceful; it sounds too much like the action of a charioteer straining at the reins of impetuous horses. I prefer to translate the Pāli word ‘samvara’ as ‘governance’, and in my work with children I use ‘taking care’.
People often feel that they must make a choice between telling the truth and thereby hurting someone’s feelings or else telling a ‘white’ lie to spare their feelings. But it is a false dilemma. There are other choices available if we are willing to look. We can care for the truth in many different ways.
Vedanā, usually translated as ‘feeling’ refers to the tone of experience – pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. In the absence of mindfulness and wisdom, feeling provides the condition for the arising of craving (taṇhā). This craving is the cause of mental suffering. Awareness of vedanā as merely vedanā, not me or mine, prevents the arising of craving and of dukkha.
It has been observed that over the past two hundred years, as the number of pirates in the world has steadily declined, average global temperatures have steadily increased. Could the answer to the growing climate crisis be as simple as sponsoring more pirates? Probably not.
The nature of water is such that it can be dyed or dirtied, be heated or cooled, and it can flow swiftly or stagnate. But whatever is added to water or whatever transformations it is subjected to, water always remains simply water.