Ajahn Pasanno (1949-present): Mr. Mindfulness
What the Buddha tells us in the Fire Sermon, that the eye is burning, form is burning, eye consciousness is burning, eye contact is burning, the feeling arising from eye contact is burning, is that it’s not a picnic, not something that we want to be seeking. It is not something to be delighting in, and it is not something to be averse to. It is something to wake up to, something to really take the opportunity to wake up to. Quit being a working stiff, a wage laborer. Quit seeking for more contact, trying to get the feeling you want. Pay attention to the opportunity that this is what relinquishment is about. This is what practice is about. The very act of establishing mindfulness in a moment is an opportunity to step back from the impulse of becoming. Recognizing the power of mindfulness is wisdom in and of itself. The sustaining, cherishing, willingness to maintain the quality of mindfulness takes relinquishment. It takes letting go. It takes a willingness to not accede to the power of becoming and to recognize the tremendous power in being mindful.
On one level, the teachings of the Buddha and the tools that he gives us are extraordinarily direct and straightforward. When we apply them, we see the results: Sanditthiko dhamma, “they are visible here and now; one can experience them for oneself.” The nature of the Dhamma is that “it is well-taught, well-proclaimed. It has tangible benefits. It invites one to see here and now. It is leading inwards, to be experienced by each wise person for themselves.” Each moment of mindfulness is the opportunity to verify the Dhamma of the Buddha. But in order to verify them, to really experience them, you have to be mindful; you have to be willing to pay attention, to not be swept up and swept along by the power of habit and the power of becoming.
But on a certain level, because of its directness and straight forwardness, the teaching is deceiving. The Buddha explained so many different avenues of approach, of tools, of how to experience it. This evening, I’m using the six sense bases as an example. But there are many, many ways of parsing it out. There is coming back to the five khandas and investigating them. The nature of becoming has the sense of an external object, something to become or drawn towards, or the internal sense of “me,” of being something or somebody. But if we look and see, we’ll find form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness.
You think, “Well, there’s more to me than that. I’m something more than that, more important than that. I’m not just form, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. I must be something more than that.” But the reality is the way that the Buddha has parsed it out into that structure. If you really look at everything you conceive, perceive, proliferate around, that is all there is. It is not “that’s all there is and you’re nothing; you’re a nobody.” It is the basis of experience, and we create the desirable, interesting, fascinating, compelling, or the disgusting, irritating, doubtful, uncertain nature of the experience around us. We recognize that we’ve done this before and wonder how we get caught by it. It is the compulsion of becoming, the compulsion of kama-tanha, bhava-tanha, vibhava-tanha. Usually when our minds cling to the nature of experience in a personalized way, we end up running around trying to prop up a sense of a satisfied happy self, or reinventing ourselves as miserable and hopeless. But all it is is form, feeling, perception, mental formation, consciousness. And we’ve done it to ourselves.
So you recognize that you can step back to a place of mindfulness and relinquishment. You still rely on the five khandas to do that, but you use them in a skillful way. The point is the cultivation of the tools that facilitate awareness, peace and wisdom. You also have to let go of that, but you’re not pushing it away or annihilating it because you know it is going to arise and cease on its own. It is really seeing clearly; taking what we build experience from and seeing it from a place of Dhamma, as opposed to from a place of kama-tanha, bhava-tanha, vibhava-tanha—of sensual desire, desire for becoming, desire for non-becoming—which puts us into the mode of attachment and becoming.
(The above is excerpted from the book ‘On Becoming and Stopping’ by Ajahn Pasanno, and can be downloaded for free here.)