Forest Sangha Newsletter October 2003

As Prepared as We Can Be; Ajahn Munindo
Monastery of Confusion; Ajahn Chah
Parable of Birth, Decay & Death; Venerable Jinalankara

Monastery of Confusion
An extract of a talk given by Ajahn Chah at Wat Pah Nanachat in 1977, recently translated by Paul Breiter.

For the sake of us monks, laypeople provide robe material, almsfood, dwelling places, and medicine in appropriate measure. They have the faith to support us with material offerings, giving us requisites for living. It's quite a big deal. It's no small thing. Donating food, dwellings and medicines to treat our illnesses, is not a small thing. If we practiced for the attainment of Nibbana, but didn't have food, it would be pretty difficult. How could we sit in meditation? How could we build this monastery?

It's true that they are simple country folk, but they support us out of faith as best they can. So don't get carried away with your ideas of how you think they should be. Don't think, 'Oh, I try to teach these laypeople, but they do upset me. Today is the observance day, so they'll come and take the precepts. Tomorrow they'll be out there casting fishing nets and drinking whisky.'

It's like the fruit on a tree. You can't force it to be sweet. It's still unripe.

We should recognize that they are people whose spiritual faculties are not yet mature. What should we do about them? We are like someone selling medicine. You've probably seen those sellers driving around with loudspeakers, peddling different medicines. People with bad headaches or poor digestion might stop them and buy.

We are like those peddlers. We accept money from those who buy our medicine, but we don't take money from those who don't. We might feel glad about the people who come out and buy, but if others stay in their houses, we shouldn't get angry with them for it. We shouldn't criticize them. If we teach people but they don't practise properly, we shouldn't get angry with them. Don't criticize them. Just keep on instructing them and leading them along. When their faculties have ripened sufficiently, then they will want to practice. Just like selling medicine, we just keep on doing our business. When people have ailments that trouble them, they buy. Those who don't buy medicine maybe aren't suffering anything. So never mind.

If you keep at it with this attitude, the problem will be done with. If we want to get it right, but can't do it yet, it means that our own faculties are not sufficiently mature. Our spiritual perfections (parami) are not complete. It's like the fruit on a tree. You can't force it to be sweet. It's still unripe. The reason that it's small and sour is because it hasn't finished growing yet. You can't force it to be bigger, to be sweeter, to be riper; you have to let it ripen according to its nature. As time passes, the fruit will grow and ripen and become sweet by itself. In the same way, as time passes, people reach spiritual maturity. With such an attitude, you can be at ease. But if you are impatient and dissatisfied, if you keep asking, 'Why isn't this mango sweet yet? Why is it still sour?', then what can be done? It's sour because it's not ripe; that's the nature of fruit. Likewise, as people's spiritual faculties mature, they develop faith. It's not something we can force them to do. If we look at it in this way, we will be OK.

Your life here at Wat Pah Nanachat is certainly meaningful. It's not something without benefit. So try to practise harmoniously and amicably. When you experience obstacles and suffering, recollect the virtues of the Buddha. What knowledge did the Buddha realize? What did he teach? What does the Dhamma show us? How does the Sangha practise? Constantly recollecting the qualities of the Triple Gem in this way brings a lot of benefit.

Whether you are Thais or foreigners is not important. It's only important to maintain harmony and to work together. So all of you, please work together, cooperate, and live in harmony. Don't let Wat Pah Nanachat Bung Wai (The International Forest Monastery of Bung Wai District) become Wat Pah Nanachat Woon Wai (The International Forest Monastery of Confusion and Trouble - one of Ajahn Chah's favorite plays on words). It's a legacy that you are creating. Whoever comes to stay here should be helping create this legacy. So make your best efforts to practise well and to establish yourselves firmly, and then good results will come.

For one who practises, we shouldn't be the kind of people who merely follow others, because if our friends aren't doing the practice, then we won't do it either. We will feel too embarrassed. If they stop, we stop. If they do it, we do it. If the teacher tells us to do something, we do it. If he stops, we stop. This is not a very quick way to realization.

The realization of truth doesn't happen by relying on others. You should understand that all doubt will be resolved through your own efforts, through continuous and energetic practice. You won't get free of doubt by always asking others! You'll only end doubt through your own unrelenting efforts. Remember this. It's an important principle in practice. The actual doing is what will instruct you. You will come to know all right and all wrong. 'The Brahmin shall reach the exhaustion of doubt through unceasing practice.' Everything can be resolved through ceaseless effort.

In meditation we meet with all sorts of mental afflictions. The correct attitude is to be ready to let go of everything, both the pleasant and the painful. Even though happiness is what we desire and suffering is what we don't desire, we should recognize that they are of equal value. Maybe you can't bear the difficulties you meet. Maybe you find it hard to face your suffering, to not run away from it; but if you do face it and bear with it, then you'll gain knowledge, and then the practice starts instructing you automatically, teaching you about right and wrong, and about the way things really are. It really happens like this, but it's hard to find people who can see it through to the end. Everyone wants instant awakening, rushing about here and there following their impulses. They'll end up worse off for it. So be careful about this.

I've often taught that tranquillity is still, and wisdom is flowing. It means that we practise meditation to calm the mind, to make it still, and then it can flow. Although we understand that still water doesn't flow, and we understand that flowing water isn't still, when we practise we take hold of both stillness and flow. The mind of a true practitioner is like still water that flows, or flowing water that's still. Whatever takes place in the mind of a Dhamma practitioner is like flowing water that is still.

This is something we've never seen. When we see flowing water, it flows. When we see still water, it is still. But within our minds, it will really be like flowing water that is still. In our Dhamma practice we have tranquillity and wisdom mixed together. Then the mind is both flowing and still. Still, flowing water.

What is the purpose of tranquillity? Why should we have wisdom? It is only for the purpose of freeing ourselves from suffering, nothing else. At present we are suffering, living with suffering, not understanding suffering and therefore holding onto it. But if the mind has tranquillity and wisdom, then there will be many kinds of knowledge. We will know suffering, we will know the cause of suffering, we will know the cessation of suffering, and we will know the way of practice leading to the end of suffering. These are the Four Noble Truths. They appear themselves, when there is still, flowing water.

When it is like this, then no matter what we are doing, we will have no heedlessness; the habit of heedlessness will weaken and disappear. Whatever we experience, we won't fall into heedlessness, because the mind will naturally hold fast to the practice. As we keep practising and learning from experience, we will drink of the Dhamma more and more, and our faith will keep increasing.

What's the point of our training here? It's so that when we are alone, we can continue practising. So now, while living together here, when there are morning and evening gatherings, we should join in; we should practise with the others. We should build up this habit so that practice is buried in our hearts. Then we will be able to live anywhere and still practise in the same way. Now it's the time to learn the practice, to understand it and to internalize it. It's like children coming of age.