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forest sangha newsletter

 October 2005            2548            Number74
The Forest Sangha is a world-wide Buddhist community
in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah

74newsletter        Dhamma in Prisons      Starting the Path Where We Find It

Subjection to Change, and Peace

A talk by Luang Por Chah addressed to an ageing lay disciple approaching her death, and to her family, from the talk Our Real Home.

Resolve now to listen respectfully to Dhamma. Be as attentive to my words as if it were the Lord Buddha himself sitting before you. Today I have brought nothing of material substance to offer you, only Dhamma, the teachings of the Lord Buddha. You should understand that even the Buddha himself with his great store of accumulated virtue could not avoid physical death. When he reached old age he gave up his body and let go of the heavy burden. Now you too must learn to be satisfied with the years that you’ve depended on your body. You should feel that it’s enough. Like household utensils that you have had for a long time – cups, saucers, plates and so on – when you first got them they were clean and shiny; but now after using them for so long, some are broken, some have disappeared, and those that are left are worn out. They have had no enduring form. It was their nature to be that way. Your body is in the same condition.

This truth doesn’t apply to you alone. All of us are in the same boat – even the Lord Buddha and his enlightened disciples. They differed from us only in one respect: their acceptance of the way things are. They saw that it could be no other way. In fact there is nothing wrong with the way the body is. Having been young your body has become old and is meandering towards death. Don’t go wishing it were otherwise; it’s not something that you have the power to remedy. Thinking you’d like to live longer will make you suffer. But thinking you’d like to die straight away isn’t right either. It is suffering too, isn’t it? Conditions don’t belong to us. They follow their own natural laws. You can’t do anything about the way the body is. Wanting it to be different is as foolish as wanting a duck to be a chicken.

Having come into this world you should contemplate the body’s nature. It is preparing to disappear. Can you see how all the different parts of your body are trying to slip away? Take your hair: when you were young it was thick and black; now it’s falling out. Your eyes used to be good and strong but now they’re weak. When you were a child your teeth were healthy and firm; now they’re wobbly, or you’ve got false ones. This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their own way. In this world there is nothing to rely on. It’s an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasure and pain. There’s no peace.

You needn’t worry about your body because this isn’t your real home, it’s only a temporary shelter; it’s only nominally yours. Our real home is inner peace. When we have not found our real home we’re like aimless travellers out on the road, going here and there, stopping for a while and then setting off again. Until we find our real home we feel uneasy, just like a villager who has left his village. Only when he gets home can he relax and be at peace.

If we truly understand an impermanent condition, we’ll see that there is in fact something permanent about it: its unchanging subjection to change. This is the permanence that living beings possess: continual transformation from childhood through to old age. Ongoing impermanence, propensity to change, is permanent and fixed.

When you realise that’s the way of everything in the world, when you see that there is nothing real or substantial here, you’ll see that the world is a wearisome place; you’ll feel wearied and disenchanted. But being disenchanted doesn’t mean that you are averse to it; you simply see that there’s nothing to be done to remedy this state of affairs. It’s just the way the world is. Understanding this, you can let go of attachment, letting go with a mind that is neither happy nor sad, but at peace with conditions through seeing their changing nature with wisdom.

It is not just you who have to go through this, it’s everyone. All people, all creatures, are preparing to leave. When beings have lived an appropriate length of time they go their way. Rich, poor, young and old all experience this change. If you own many possessions, you must leave a lot behind. If you own only few possessions, you leave behind only a little. Thus wealth is just wealth, long life is just long life. They’re nothing special. The Buddha taught us to let go our attachment to them. When we reach the end of our lives we will have no choice anyway. We’ll take nothing with us. Wouldn’t it be better to put things down before then? They’re just a heavy burden to carry around. Why not throw off that load now? Why bother dragging it around? Let go. Relax. Let your family look after you.

Those nursing the sick must know how to let go too. Don’t hold onto things; let the patient have her own way. When a young child is disobedient sometimes the parents let it have its own way just to keep the peace, just to make it happy. Now your mother is just like that child. Her memories and perceptions are confused. Sometimes she muddles up your names or asks you to bring a cup when she wants a plate. It’s normal, so don’t be upset by it.

Those who nurse the sick grow in goodness and virtue. Therefore the patient gives others an opportunity, but should nonetheless try not to make things difficult for those looking after them. If there’s pain or some problem or other, let your children know, but bear in mind the kindness of those who nurse, and patiently endure your painful feelings. Exert yourself mentally. Don’t let the mind become scattered and confused. Let the mind dwell with the breath and let that composed mind unite in a single point. Let the breath be its sole object of knowledge until the mind becomes increasingly subtle, until feelings are insignificant and there is great inner clarity and wakefulness. Put effort into your contemplation. Don’t worry about your family. At the moment they are as they are, in the future they will be like you — there’s noone in the world who can escape this fate.

Those who nurse their parents should fill their minds with warmth and kindness and not get caught up in aversion. This is the one time you can repay your debt to them. From birth through childhood, as you’ve grown up you’ve been dependent on them. That you are here today is because they have helped you in many ways. You owe them an incredible debt of gratitude. Try and fill your minds with virtue and kindness. Don’t be averse to the unattractive side of the job, cleaning up mucous and phlegm, urine and excrement. Try your best. Everyone in the family should give a hand.

So today, all you children and relatives gathered here, observe how before, you were your mother’s children, but now your mother has become your child. She has become older and older until she has become a child again. Her memory is going, her eyes don’t see well and her ears aren’t so good. Sometimes she garbles her words. Don’t let it upset you. Remember, she is the only mother you have. She gave you life. She has been your teacher, your doctor and your nurse – she’s been everything to you. That she has brought you up, shared her wealth with you and made you her heir, is the great goodness of parents. That is why the Buddha taught the virtues of kataññu katavedi, knowing our debt of gratitude and trying to repay it. These two dhammas are complimentary. If our parents are in need, unwell or in difficulty, then we should do our best to help them. This is kataññu- katavedi, the virtue that sustains the world. It prevents families from breaking up and makes them stable and harmonious.

Today I have brought you and your family the gift of Dhamma in this time of illness. I have no material things to offer you; anyway, there seems to be plenty of that in this house already. So I give you Dhamma, something of lasting worth, something which you will never be able to exhaust. Having received it you can pass it on to as many others as you like. It will never be depleted. That is the nature of Truth, and I hope it will give you the strength to endure.



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