Sunday, April 22, 2012

Ajahn Chah: Seeing the Body in the Body

The wonderfully-wise Ajahn Chah

THE BUDDHA TAUGHT to see the body in the body. What does this mean? We are all familiar with the parts of the body such as hair, nails, teeth and skin. So how do we see the body in the body? If we recognize all these things as being impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self, that’s what is called ‘seeing the body in the body.’ Then it isn’t necessary to go into detail and meditate on the separate parts. It’s like having fruit in a basket. If we have already counted the pieces of fruit, then we know what’s there, and when we need to, we can pick up the basket and take it away, and all the pieces come with it. We know the fruit is all there, so we don’t have to count it again.

Having meditated on the thirty-two parts of the body, and recognized them as something not stable or permanent, we no longer need to weary ourselves separating them like this and meditating in such detail. Just as with the basket of fruit – we don’t have to dump all the fruit out and count it again and again. But we do carry the basket along to our destination, walking mindfully and carefully, taking care not to stumble and fall.

When we see the body in the body, which means we see the Dhamma in the body, knowing our own and others’ bodies as impermanent phenomena, then we don’t need detailed explanations. Sitting here, we have mindfulness constantly in control, knowing things as they are, and meditation then becomes quite simple. It’s the same if we meditate on Buddho – if we understand what Buddho really is, then we don’t need to repeat the word ‘Buddho.’ It means having full knowledge and firm awareness. This is meditation.

Still, meditation is generally not well understood. We practice in a group, but we often don’t know what it’s all about. Some people think meditation is really hard to do. “I come to the monastery, but I can’t sit. I don’t have much endurance. My legs hurt, my back aches, I’m in pain all over.” So they give up on it and don’t come anymore, thinking they can’t do it.

But in fact samadhi is not sitting. Samadhi isn’t walking. It isn’t lying down or standing. Sitting, walking, closing the eyes, opening the eyes, these are all mere actions. Having your eyes closed doesn’t necessarily mean you’re practicing samadhi. It could just mean that you’re drowsy and dull. If you’re sitting with your eyes closed but you’re falling asleep, your head bobbing all over and your mouth hang- ing open, that’s not sitting in samadhi. It’s sitting with your eyes closed. Samadhi and closed eyes are two separate matters. Real samadhi can be practiced with eyes open or eyes closed. You can be sitting, walking, standing or lying down.

Samadhi means the mind is firmly focused, with all-encompassing mindfulness, restraint, and caution. You are constantly aware of right and wrong, constantly watching all conditions arising in the mind. When it shoots off to think of something, having a mood of aversion or long- ing, you are aware of that. Some people get discouraged: “I just can’t do it. As soon as I sit, my mind starts thinking of home. That’s evil (Thai: bahp).” Hey! If just that much is evil, the Buddha never would have become Buddha. He spent five years struggling with his mind, thinking of his home and his family. It was only after six years that he awakened.

Some people feel that these sudden arisings of thought are wrong or evil. You may have an impulse to kill someone. But you are aware of it in the next instant, you realize that killing is wrong, so you stop and refrain. Is there harm in this? What do you think? Or if you have a thought about stealing something and that is followed by a stronger recollection that to do so is wrong, and so you refrain from acting on it – is that bad kamma? It’s not that every time you have an impulse you instantly accumulate bad kamma. Otherwise, how could there be any way to liberation? Impulses are merely impulses. Thoughts are merely thoughts. In the first instance, you haven’t created anything yet. In the second instance, if you act on it with body, speech or mind, then you are creating something. Avijja ̄ (ignorance) has taken control. If you have the impulse to steal and then you are aware of yourself and aware that this would be wrong, this is wisdom, and there is vijja (knowledge) instead. The mental impulse is not consummated.

The above quotation is from 'Everything Is Teaching Us,' (pp.549-550-)which is available as part of a free PDF book here: The Teachings of Ajahn Chah

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