Forest SanghaNewsletterJULY 2003

From Darkness to Light; Luang Por Liem
The Great Escape; Ajahn Jayasaro
Radical Acceptance; Ajahn Amaro
Cultivating the Heart; Ajahn Thaniya
Cultivating the Heart

"Even if bandits were to sever you savagely limb by limb with a two-handled saw, one who gave rise to a mind of hate towards them would not be carrying out my teaching. You should train in this way: 'Our minds will remain unaffected, and we shall utter no harsh words; we shall abide compassionate for their welfare, with a mind of loving-kindness, without inner hate. We shall abide pervading them with a mind imbued with loving-kindness; and starting with them we shall abide pervading the all-encompassing world with a mind imbued with loving-kindness, abundant, exalted, immeasurable, without hostility and without ill-will."
The Simile of the Saw: Majjhima Nikaya, Sutta 21.

The constant refrain of the Buddha was that he taught only one thing, the Four Noble Truths: dukkha (suffering), its cause, its cessation and the Path. The teachings he gave, with their various skilful means, are simply different ways of awakening to this fundamental paradigm. The primary movement of the Noble Truths is to know the way things are, of a direct awareness of dhammas (things) in the present moment. The heart quality of metta (loving-kindness) facilitates this. It is one of the qualities that needs to be cultivated in order for this process to be a real possibility for us; we can't know things if we're not willing or able to allow them to touch our awareness. So wisdom and love must be conjoined: sati-sampaja––a (mindfulness and clear comprehension) and the brahmavihara (the sublime abidings of the heart) are not separate cultivations. When these are developed, the freedom that the Buddha embodied is realised in the here and now; abiding in this undefended immediacy is the way of awakening hearts.

If we have fully understood the Teaching, and cultivated its skills in the ways that the Buddha indicates, then our minds are free, even in the face of painful feeling.
These two seemingly different cultivations converge as we train to allay our usual reactions to dukkha - in not wanting unpleasant things to be present, we attempt to destroy them or grab hold of something to hide behind; we duck and we weave, or we simply close our eyes and go to sleep. All this can be seen under the broad umbrella of ill-will or aversion, for which the Buddha repeatedly gave metta as the antidote: 'No other thing do I know on account of which unarisen ill-will does not arise and arisen ill-will is abandoned so much as on account of this: the liberation of the mind through loving-kindness.' Essentially our dilemma is, how do we be present with things, how do we know suffering, if all the unwholesome currents in the mind are sweeping us away? This cultivation is what it enables us to have the necessary strength of heart; it enables us to rest in what is presently arising and feel peace with all of it. And it is the wisdom faculty that protects the heart's sensitivity; through understanding causality we can know how to hold things skilfully in awareness. Imagine what it would be like if the heart was strong and well enough so that whatever came could be welcomed, where the natural response to affliction was of an empathetic understanding. When the currents of the world are of wanting and not wanting, of loving and hating, this is radical.

In his challenging Simile of the Saw, the Buddha points to this radical possibility. And, if we stop and contemplate it, to the freedom it gives. If we have fully understood the Teaching, and cultivated its skills in the ways that the Buddha indicates, then our minds are free, even in the face of painful feeling. Even if others are 'sawing us limb by limb,' we are free to keep our hearts unconstricted. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is one living embodiment of this. Most of us - I would wish - have not and will not face such extreme pain and aggression, but, if it is also taken as a metaphor for what happens in our hearts, we do experience fierce attacks by Mara's hosts, by mind states that hurt and oppress. What is our response to our own anger and not wanting, or to our own mortality? In its extremity the simile is not judging negative states so much as saying, 'You've missed the truth of kamma. There are results of actions and situations, but in each moment you are free to respond with wholesomeness.' The Noble Truth of dukkha is about the suffering of the heart; in this simile the Buddha is pointing to the fact that we do not have to compound painful feeling - whether it arises from something someone says or does or within our own mind - with unwholesomeness. Suffering is an activity that we do, so it is something - if we have sufficient clarity and fullness of heart - we can refrain from.

When the mind is attending in terms of Dhamma to the presence or absence of things, then we bring forth qualities of welcome and kindness to whatever is arising - whether it is 'here' or 'there', or wherever it seems to be. As Luang Por Liem, Ajahns Amaro and Jayasaro point out, having metta for things does not mean liking them - or agreeing with them. It implies a quality of being with them as they are; then the grasping, or the manipulating and controlling of conditions, these activities can fall away. We can come back to the sense of, 'It is like this: there is dukkha.' This direct knowing will bring a path with it, a path of profound peace, freedom and harmlessness.

Ajahn Thaniya