Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Opportunity to Practice

“Association with the disliked is dukkha.”

(Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta)

So often in life we are faced with those people and things that we don’t particularly like. Not necessarily objects of our hate - or though such extreme emotions as hatred certainly can and do arise – but those individuals that we find somewhat irritating, and those situations that are boring or awkward. Buddhism teaches that these occurrences are indicative of the unsatisfactory nature of life. (The word ‘unsatisfactory’ is one way to translate the Pali word dukkha into English, and the Buddha taught that it is dukkha that is the central problem in life – transcend it and this life becomes ‘heaven on earth’, as it were.)

One example here in Thailand of this side of life is the mosquitoes that bite me whenever they get the chance. I often felt resentment towards them, as I have a minor allergy to them which means I get large itchy bumps that last for up to five days every time one of them nabs me. I managed to let go of any feelings of hate, after reflecting on the fact that they are merely behaving according to their nature, and feed on me to live. This was replaced by a feeling of annoyance, however, as I would often find one or more in either the bathroom or the bedroom late in the evening, and have to catch them and put them outside. (I never kill them as this would be breaking the first precept of Buddhism, and I do have compassion for them even if I don’t really like them.) Recently, I contemplated my reactions to the mosquitoes further, however, and realized that actually they supply me with the opportunity to live the Buddhadharma. By not killing them, I am practicing compassion (karuna) and goodwill (metta). By taking the time to catch them, and not getting frustrated or angry when it takes me some time to entrap them, I am practicing patience (khanti). It also takes a certain amount of mindfulness (sati) to be alert enough to actually catch them in the transparent plastic tube that I use for the purpose. These are four positive qualities that mosquitoes encourage in me – there are more, but due to lack of space, I’ll leave it there. Rather than be angry or resentful towards these insects, as a Buddhist I can be grateful to them, thankful for the challenge to practice Buddhism that they give me.

This reflection on my relationship with mosquitoes got me thinking about something Ajahn Chah liked to teach his monks, which was that a monk should spend time with the monk that they felt the most aversion to, for he would be the one that could supply the best opportunity to practice being a monk, and developing the qualities described above, amongst others. Now, I’m not a monk, but as an active layman there are plenty of people that I come into contact with that I don’t see eye to eye with or that can irritate me on occasion. My attitude towards these people has changed recently, after mulling over the opportunity to practice that they give me. And really, I should be even more grateful to these teachers-in-disguise than those pesky mosquitoes, as the insects can’t annoy me half as much as ignorant, selfish or insensitive humans can!

Often in life, we miss the boat to Awakening, so to speak, caught up in our own emotional dramas and not seizing the opportunity to practice, to watch the mind, to let go of greed, hatred and delusion. We sink in our own self-created suffering (another translation of dukkha). But, even long after such missed opportunities, we can still reflect on them, using them to cultivate more skillful mind states for the future. So, to all those people, animals, machines, weather systems, illnesses and the like that I have caused so much suffering around - and just a little wisdom – I’d like to say a big THANK YOU!

The above post first appeared on the blog 'Forest Wisdom,' which was reborn as this one.


Anonymous said...

Beautiful , i read this post to my family and we all laugh and got touch by your words . Thanks for sharing again .

May you be well .

G said...

Nice to 'touch' you & your family Crosslegged!

May you all be well, too.