Thursday, October 15, 2009

Ajahn Sumedho & The Way It Is

The American forest monk Ajahn Sumedho (pictured above) has often emphasized seeing the true nature of things and being able to say, “This is the way it is.” Without adopting a personality viewpoint, we can observe ‘the way it is’ by witnessing the body’s breathing, its posture, and just noticing how it is now, in this moment. This is the path of mindfulness, of being awake to the reality of the human form. Being alert to this body is a basic mindfulness practice taught by the Buddha back in India around 2, 500 years ago, remaining conscious of its every move whether walking, standing, sitting, or lying down. Ajahn Sumedho promotes an understanding of ‘the way it is’ through mindfulness as a means to liberate ourselves from the negative thoughts and habits that condition our lives. A practical upshot of such alertness is that we’re less likely to make mistakes as we won’t be so distracted or absent minded. How many times have you stubbed your toe on a doorway, chair or table leg due to thinking about something else and not being conscious of where you were placing your feet? I’ve done it innumerable times – a painful reminder of the dangers of heedlessness!

Avoiding throbbing toes is but one advantage of a more aware mind: a much more profound benefit is the insight that can develop from being cognizant of our bodily movements and feelings. This insight involves the realization that the body is truly not ours; it is of nature, and is the result of natural processes, most of which are out of our control. Whilst we can direct the body to do this or that action, within natural limits of course, we cannot prevent it from ever being ill, from aging, and ultimately from dying. Watching our physical condition can open a door onto the true nature of the body, that it is impermanent, unsatisfactory, and not self (the three characteristics of existence).

The mind’s moods, whether dull or bright, happy or sad, are conditions that Ajahn Sumedho believes we can know; the empty mind, also, free from association with the myriad emotions about the self and others can be known. It can be seen to be both intelligent and compassionate. If we are willing to go through boredom, miserable feelings, and other forms of suffering, the mind will become clearer, bearing with negative mind states rather than suppressing them. Ajahn Sumedho sees this as an opportunity to recognize that this is the way that it is at this time, at this place, and by doing so, wisdom will grow.

As well as the body and mind, Ajahn Sumedho advises us to be heedful of the contents of our minds, and this too was a frequent subject for reflection in the sermons of the Buddha. Knowing each thought as it is now means that we’re less likely to drift off into unhelpful reveries that take us away from the natural ability of the mind to find solutions to the every day problems that arise in all our lives. As Ajahn Sumedho also reminds us, this doesn’t mean that we’re taking the easy option by becoming more mindful, for in doing so we will undoubtedly discover the negative states of our minds as well as the positive. But becoming more aware of such mental conditions will enable us to deal with them better, allowing an understanding to arise that can encourage us to let go of them and cultivate more beneficial psychological attitudes. And we might stub our toes less often too!

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


Anonymous said...

I often read about emptiness, mindfulness and non attachment but I never understood the deeper sense of the teachings. That changed by reading the words of Ajahn Sumedho. His teachings are clear and most intelligent - and I suddenly felt relief and piece of mind. It seems unbelievable but it really changed my life! Thank you for this post, Gary!

G said...

Yes, Ajahn Sumedho is someone that many people around the world have been inspired by, Renee.

As to emptiness, it's always here full of the world, just waiting to be experienced...

They call him James Ure said...

I like the part where he said the body is of nature and thus mostly out of our control. I think that the suffering comes when we think the natural process isn't supposed to happen to us. Or happen the way it is happening to us. Great reminders, thanks!! _/I\_

G said...

Yes, James, these bodies & minds belong to nature, not to us. Nature will do what it will with them, for it is them, working from the inside as well as the outside. Nice comment.