July 2005 2548 Number 73
The Forest Sangha is a world-wide Buddhist community
in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah
73newsletter I Give You My Life
Safety Valve of the Noble Ones
Extract from the talk, Still, Flowing Water by Ajahn Chah
I teach meditation like this: When its time to sit in meditation, then sit. Allow your mind to experience things and consider their nature, seeing them as transient, not perfect and ownerless. Its all uncertain. No matter how much you like something, you should reflect that its uncertain.
Some kinds of food seem so delicious, but still you should reflect that its not a sure thing. It may seem that its sure, that its so delicious, but still you must tell yourself, Not sure! If you want to test out whether its sure or not, try eating your favorite food every day. Every single day, mind you. Eventually youll complain, This doesnt taste so good anymore.
Practise in all postures. You can experience anger in any posture, walking, sitting, standing, lying down, right? Also, you can experience desire in any posture. So our practice must extend to all postures; it must be consistent. Dont just put on a show, really do it.
Practice isnt just sitting. Some people sit until they fall into a stupor. They might as well be dead; they cant tell north from south. Dont take it to such an extreme. If you feel sleepy then walk, change your posture. If you are really tired then have a rest. As soon as you wake up continue the practice. Dont let yourself drift around in a stupor. You must practise like this.
Some people complain, I cant meditate, Im too restless. Whenever I sit down I just think of this and that. I cant do it. Ive got too much bad kamma. I should use up my bad kamma first and then come back and try meditating. Sure, just try it. Try using up your bad kamma.
These so-called hindrances are the things we must study. They are what youre supposed to be studying! Most people refuse to learn their lessons, like naughty schoolboys refusing to do their homework. They dont want to see the mind changing. But then, how are they going to develop wisdom?
Whenever we sit, the mind immediately goes running off. We follow it and try to bring it back and observe it once more. Then it goes off again. We have to live with change like this. When we know that the mind is this way, constantly changing, when we know that this is its nature, we will have understood it. If we understand this point, then even while we are thinking we can be at peace.
Whatever sensations you experience, regard them like monkeys. For instance, suppose at home you have a pet monkey. Monkeys dont stay still for long: they like to jump around and grab things. Thats how monkeys are. If you go to the forest and see the monkeys there, youll see those monkeys dont stay still either. They jump around just like your pet monkey. But they dont bother you, do they? Why dont they bother you? Because youve raised a monkey before; you know what monkeys are like. If you know just one monkey, then no matter where you go, you wont be bothered by them, will you? Because you understand monkeys.
If you dont understand monkeys you may become a monkey yourself! Do you understand? When you see it reaching for this and that, you shout, Hey, stop! You get angry. That damned monkey! This is one who doesnt understand monkeys. One who understands monkeys sees that the monkey at home and the monkeys in the forest are just the same. Why get annoyed by them? When you understand monkeys, thats enough: you can be at peace.
We should look at sensations in the same way. Some sensations are pleasant, some are unpleasant: thats how sensations are. We should look at them as we look at monkeys. We understand that sometimes they are agreeable, sometimes not thats just their nature. If we understand them in this way, we can let them go. When eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind receive sensations, we know the sensations just like we know monkeys. Thus we can be at peace.
When sensations arise, just know them. Why do you run after them? Sensations are uncertain. One minute they are one way, the next minute another. Their existence depends on change. For all of us here too, our existence depends on change. The breath goes out, then it must come in. It must have this change. Try only breathing in: can you do it? Or try just breathing out without breathing in : can you do it? If there was no change like this how long would you live? There must be both the in- and the out-breath.
For the really earnest student, sensations are not a problem. But many meditators shrink away from sensations; they dont want to deal with them. This is like the naughty schoolboy again, who wont go to school, who wont listen to the teacher. All sensations are teaching us. When we contemplate sensations, we are practising Dhamma. The peace within sensations comes from understanding them, just like understanding monkeys. When you understand monkeys, you are no longer troubled by them
The practice of Dhamma is like this. Its not that Dhamma is far away. Its right here. Dhamma isnt about the angels on high or anything like that. Its simply about us, about what we are doing right now. Observe yourself. Sometimes there is happiness, sometimes suffering; sometimes comfort, sometimes pain; sometimes love, sometimes hate. This is Dhamma. Do you see it? To know Dhamma, you have to read your own experience.
You must know sensations before you can let them go. When you see that sensations are impermanent you will be untroubled by them. As soon as a sensation arises, just say to yourself, Hmm, this is not a sure thing. When your mood changes, Hmm, not sure. You can be at peace with these things, just like watching monkeys and not being bothered by them. If you know the truth of sensations, you know Dhamma. Then you let go of sensations, seeing that they are all invariably uncertain.
If we really see uncertainty clearly, we will see that which is certain. What is certain is that things must inevitably be how they are; they cannot be otherwise. Do you understand? Knowing just this much you know the Buddha, you rightly do reverence to him.
If you dont throw out the Buddha you wont suffer, but as soon as you do, you will. As soon as you throw out the reflections on transience, unsatisfactoriness and ownerlessness youll suffer. If you can practise just this much its enough; suffering wont arise, or if it does, youll settle it easily. This is the end of our practice, when suffering doesnt arise. Why doesnt suffering arise? Because we have sorted out the cause of it.
For instance, if you are fond of a glass, you might say: Dont break my glass! But can you prevent something thats breakable from breaking? If it doesnt break now it will break later. If you dont break it, someone else will. If someone else doesnt break it, one of the chickens will! The Buddha advises us to accept this. Penetrating the truth of these things, we should see this glass as if it was already broken; that is, see the broken glass within the unbroken one. Do you understand this? Use the glass, look after it, until the day when it slips out of your hand. Smash! No problem. Why is that? Because for you, it was broken before it broke.
Usually people say, I love this glass so much, I hope it never breaks. Later on the dog breaks it. Ill kill that dog! You hate the dog for breaking your glass. If one of your children breaks it, youll hate them too. Why is this? Because youve dammed yourself up: the water cant escape. Youve made a dam without a spillway. The only thing such a dam can do is burst, right? When you make a dam you must also make a spillway, so when the water rises up too high, it can then flow off safely. When it gets too full, you open the spillway. You have to have a safety valve like this. Impermanence is the safety valve of the Noble Ones. If you have this safety valve you will be at peace.
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