Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Ajahn Chah on Our Real Home

Ajahn Chah (อาจารย์ชา, 1918-1992)
Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home, it's only nominally ours. It's a home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace. An external material home may well be pretty, but it is not very peaceful. There's this worry and then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it's not our real home, it's external to us, sooner or later we'll have to give it up. It's not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn't truly belong to us, it's part of the world. Our body is the same; we take it to be self, to be "me" and "mine," but in fact it's not really so at all, it's another worldly home. Your body has followed its natural course from birth until now it's old and sick and you can't forbid it from doing that, that's the way it is. Wanting it to be different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a chicken. When you see that that's impossible, that a duck has to be a duck, that a chicken has to be a chicken and that bodies have to get old and die, you will find strength and energy. However much you want the body to go on and last for a long time, it won't do that.

The Buddha said:

Anicca vata sankhara
Uppada vayadhammino
Uppajjhitva nirujjhanti
Tesam vupasamo sukho.

Conditions are impermanent,
subject to rise and fall.
Having arisen they cease —
their stilling is bliss.

The word "sankhara" refers to this body and mind. Sankharas are impermanent and unstable, having come into being they disappear, having arisen they pass away, and yet everyone wants them to be permanent. This is foolishness. Look at the breath. Having come in, it goes out; that's its nature, that's how it has to be. The inhalation and exhalation have to alternate, there must be change. Sankharas exist through change, you can't prevent it. Just think: could you exhale without inhaling? Would it feel good? Or could you just inhale? We want things to be permanent, but they can't be, it's impossible. Once the breath has come in, it must go out; when it's gone out, it comes in again, and that's natural, isn't it? Having been born, we get old and sick and then we die, and that's totally natural and normal. It's because sankharas have done their job, because the in-breaths and out-breaths have alternated in this way, that the human race is still here today.

As soon as we're born, we're dead. Our birth and death are just one thing. It's like a tree: when there's a root there must be twigs. When there are twigs there must be a root. You can't have one without the other. It's a little funny to see how at a death people are so grief-stricken and distracted, tearful and sad, and at a birth how happy and delighted. It's delusion, nobody has ever looked at this clearly. I think if you really want to cry, then it would be better to do so when someone's born. For actually birth is death, death is birth, the root is the twig, the twig is the root. If you've got to cry, cry at the root, cry at the birth. Look closely: if there was no birth there would be no death. Can you understand this?

Don't think a lot. Just think: "This is the way things are." It's your work, your duty. Right now nobody can help you, there's nothing that your family and your possessions can do for you. All that can help you now is the correct awareness.

So don't waver. Let go. Throw it all away.

Even if you don't let go, everything is starting to leave anyway. Can you see that, 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. It's leaving. Your eyes used to be good and strong, and now they're weak and your sight is unclear. When the organs have had enough they leave, this isn't their home. When you were a child your teeth were healthy and firm; now they're wobbly, perhaps you've got false ones. Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue — everything is trying to leave because this isn't their home. You can't make a permanent home in a sankhara; you can stay for a short while and then you have to go. It's like a tenant watching over his tiny little house with failing eyes. His teeth aren't so good, his ears aren't so good, his body's not so healthy, everything is leaving.

So you needn't worry about anything, because this isn't your real home, it's just a temporary shelter. Having come into this world, you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is, is preparing to disappear. Look at your body. Is there anything there that's still in its original form? Is your skin as it used to be? Is your hair? It's not the same, is it? Where has everything gone? This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their way. This world is nothing to rely on — it's an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasures and pains. There's no peace.

When we have no real home we're like an aimless traveler out on the road, going this way for a while and then that way, stopping for a while and then setting off again. Until we return to our real home we feel ill-at-ease whatever we're doing, just like the one who's left his village to go on a journey. Only when he gets home again can he really relax and be at ease.

 Extracted from a transcribed talk by Ajahn Chah, published by the Buddhist Publication Society and available here: Our Real Home.


Was Once said...

I finally understand Ajahn Chah when I read Kittisaro's and Thanissara's book, "Listening to the Heart with a line from Kittisaro: Ajahn Chah kept his disciples close to suffering until they understood how to end it.

The relatively few westerners who took this on, against all societies rules of normalcy took away great wisdom born out of their own suffering at an organic rate tailored to their own personalities. Wisdom is perhaps love in a grander scale.

G said...

Good comments, Was Once. Ajahn Chah's wisdom was, on the face of it, simple & direct. But, behind it was a depth of insight 'organic' as you put it which responded to people's needs at the right moment. This is affirmed by everyone I've ever met that studied with him. That this wisdom is passed on through his disciples & in his recorded talks is of incalculable benefit to us all. Thanks for the reflection, anyhow; it's so beneficial to discuss a sage such as Ajahn Chah.