“Any speech that ignores uncertainty is not the speech of the sage.”
The above words are to be found on a sign hanging from a tree in the grounds of Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery), here in Ubon Ratchathani Province of Northeast Thailand. It is one of many such signs, some in English, some in Thai, spread through the main complex of the monastery, giving food for thought for residents and visitors alike. It points to the link between wisdom and the experience that all of life is subject to change (anicca). If anything is thought or felt to be permanent, including the idea of an eternal soul, then one hasn’t grasped this central characteristic of existence, and therefore cannot be truly wise. Here’s the words of Ajahn Chah to be found on another sign:
“If you have something bad smelling in your pocket,
wherever you go it will smell bad. Don’t blame it on the place.”
Ajahn Chah often allowed his monk disciples the chance to visit other monasteries if they felt that it would help their practice of Dharma. He did emphasize, however, that our reactions to where we are living are conditioned by the same underlying psychological habits of like and dislike. If one finds a certain place disagreeable, moving somewhere more agreeable doesn’t remove one’s attachments but gives temporary respite from their negative side. Finding a place (and lifestyle) that gives the opportunity for living the contemplative life is the really important thing. With such a foundation, both likes and dislikes can be observed and calmly understood, developing a liberating insight that frees the mind from the petty preferences of the ego.
“Strengthening the mind is not done by making it move around
as is done to strengthen the body but by bringing it to stillness.”
Philosophizing about one’s preferences, as an example, is not what’s meant by contemplation in Forest Buddhism. To contemplate the objects of the mind, it must first be stilled through meditation, so that in the deep peace thus achieved, awareness can simply watch what’s going on. This is seeing things as they are, as opposed to analyzing them and manipulating them with the intellect. It is the forest wisdom of Ajahn Chah, also expressed in the following:
“Use your heart to listen to the teaching, not your ears.”
Listening with the heart, rather than with the ears, enables us to ‘hear’ things that would otherwise go unnoticed. But, if we’re not to use our lugholes, what do we listen with? The Buddha pointed to awareness itself as the gateway to awakening: being fully present in this moment, to this moment, is true listening. And this can involve the ears, of course, Ajahn Chah was speaking so’s to make a point, rather than telling us that we should plug our ears or ‘do a Van Gogh.’
“Some people are afraid of generosity. They feel that they will be exploited or oppressed. In cultivating generosity, we are only oppressing our greed and attachment.”
Dana, or generosity, is the first and most basic form of meritorious action, as taught by the Buddha. If we are unable to give freely to others, without thought of self-gain, then we’re pretty closed off from the Dharma of the Buddha. It’s a sign of selfishness and not selflessness that one is too cynical to be generous, wary of other peoples’ motives and reactions. Taking a chance and breaking down the barriers of self by extending the hand of generosity to those in need, whether monk, nun, layperson, or animal, is the beginning of living the life of a true Buddhist.
“Looking for peace in the world is like looking for a turtle with a mustache. You won’t be able to find it. But when your heart is ready, peace will come looking for you.”
It’s not just in places like
The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.