Ajan Viradhammo (1947-present): Good intentions
Two points that I find very helpful in training are: 1) to see cause and effect, and 2) intention. We can always reflect upon cause and effect, asking, for example, “What is the result of my practice? How long have I been practising and what’s the result? Am I more at ease with life than I was ten years ago? Or a year ago? Or am I more uptight?” If I’m more uptight, then I need to consider my practice! If I’m more at ease, then also I should consider my practice.
So we look at cause and effect, asking quite simply, “What is the result of my life, the way I live my life?” Not as a judgement, saying, “There I go, getting angry again.” That kind of attitude is not reflective.
Instead notice: The way I speak – what’s the result of that? The way I consume the objects of the sense world, whether it’s ideas in books or ham sandwiches: What is the result of that? What is the result of my sitting meditation?
What’s the effect on my mind and body, on the society around me? These are things we can contemplate. It’s simple, but very important – to see what works and what doesn’t work.
It’s because we don’t understand that we make mistakes, so the trick is to make as few mistakes as possible, and not to make the same mistakes again and again. Yet sometimes we have this blindness, and we don’t see why we have suffering in our lives. Ignorance blinds us. So then what can we do? Wherever there is suffering or confusion, we can begin to look at that pattern in our lives. If we look at this whole pattern, we can discover the causes of suffering, and begin to make intentions to not allow those causes to come up all the time.
Let’s say I’m a person who is always making wisecracks. I watch people cringe, I begin to notice that no one likes me, and end up hating myself. So I reflect: This kind of speech brings me remorse and regret. This kind of speech brings other people suffering. And then I see: Ah, that’s the result. So then what can I do?
Now this is when it’s important to know the difference between remorse and guilt. Remorse is a healthy response to inappropriate action or speech or thought. It’s a healthy response, because it’s telling me, “This is painful.” But most of us probably turn that into guilt.
There is remorse, but also an inappropriate amount of self-flagellation. This is the unhealthy nature of guilt.
For me, it seems that guilt is a kind of cover-up of the pain. I numb the pain, covering it over with these thoughts of guilt: “Yes. You are rotten to the core, Viradhammo!” But this is self-view. What does it feel like when we just go to the pain? If I say something which is unkind to someone, and then see them get hurt, I think: “Oh, I did it again!” – and there’s the jab. There’s the pain. There’s the result of my action.
The above is extracted from the book ‘The Stillness of Being,’ freely downloadable from here. Ajahn Viradhammo has been a Buddhist monk since 1971, having studied with Ajahn Chah & Ajahn Sumedho. He is currently abbot of Tisarana Buddhist Monastery in Canada.