Sunday, October 18, 2009

Signs: The Wisdom of Ajahn Chah

“Any speech that ignores uncertainty is not the speech of the sage.”

The above words are to be found on a sign hanging from a tree in the grounds of Wat Pah Nanachat (the International Forest Monastery), here in Ubon Ratchathani Province of Northeast Thailand. It is one of many such signs, some in English, some in Thai, spread through the main complex of the monastery, giving food for thought for residents and visitors alike. It points to the link between wisdom and the experience that all of life is subject to change (anicca). If anything is thought or felt to be permanent, including the idea of an eternal soul, then one hasn’t grasped this central characteristic of existence, and therefore cannot be truly wise. Here’s the words of Ajahn Chah to be found on another sign:

“If you have something bad smelling in your pocket,

wherever you go it will smell bad. Don’t blame it on the place.”

Ajahn Chah often allowed his monk disciples the chance to visit other monasteries if they felt that it would help their practice of Dharma. He did emphasize, however, that our reactions to where we are living are conditioned by the same underlying psychological habits of like and dislike. If one finds a certain place disagreeable, moving somewhere more agreeable doesn’t remove one’s attachments but gives temporary respite from their negative side. Finding a place (and lifestyle) that gives the opportunity for living the contemplative life is the really important thing. With such a foundation, both likes and dislikes can be observed and calmly understood, developing a liberating insight that frees the mind from the petty preferences of the ego.

“Strengthening the mind is not done by making it move around

as is done to strengthen the body but by bringing it to stillness.”

Philosophizing about one’s preferences, as an example, is not what’s meant by contemplation in Forest Buddhism. To contemplate the objects of the mind, it must first be stilled through meditation, so that in the deep peace thus achieved, awareness can simply watch what’s going on. This is seeing things as they are, as opposed to analyzing them and manipulating them with the intellect. It is the forest wisdom of Ajahn Chah, also expressed in the following:

“Use your heart to listen to the teaching, not your ears.”

Listening with the heart, rather than with the ears, enables us to ‘hear’ things that would otherwise go unnoticed. But, if we’re not to use our lugholes, what do we listen with? The Buddha pointed to awareness itself as the gateway to awakening: being fully present in this moment, to this moment, is true listening. And this can involve the ears, of course, Ajahn Chah was speaking so’s to make a point, rather than telling us that we should plug our ears or ‘do a Van Gogh.’

“Some people are afraid of generosity. They feel that they will be exploited or oppressed. In cultivating generosity, we are only oppressing our greed and attachment.”

Dana, or generosity, is the first and most basic form of meritorious action, as taught by the Buddha. If we are unable to give freely to others, without thought of self-gain, then we’re pretty closed off from the Dharma of the Buddha. It’s a sign of selfishness and not selflessness that one is too cynical to be generous, wary of other peoples’ motives and reactions. Taking a chance and breaking down the barriers of self by extending the hand of generosity to those in need, whether monk, nun, layperson, or animal, is the beginning of living the life of a true Buddhist.

“Looking for peace in the world is like looking for a turtle with a mustache. You won’t be able to find it. But when your heart is ready, peace will come looking for you.”

It’s not just in places like Iraq and Afghanistan that we find conflict: the whole world is ablaze with the restless and violent fires of greed, hatred, and delusion. Even in those around us, whom we may feel are our most trusted companions, there’s always the possibility of some kind of conflict. And even in our own minds, differing points of view or feelings can arise that do battle for one’s allegiance, causing much internal strife. So, where to find peace? Well, by establishing a consistent meditative practice, one lays the foundations for peaceful states of mind to occur. Over time, peace will indeed pay you a visit, and if you’re a patient and accommodating host, it will stay around for a long time, maybe forever. Peace is our true nature, hidden by those flames caused by like, dislike, and the delusion of selfhood.

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


Anonymous said...

I didn't know those words of Ajahn Chah, Gary. Very interesting - and very interesting explanations,too! As far as I can see(my study of the teachings aren't nearly finished!)Ajahn Sumedho's teachings are clearly different from those of his great master but the hearts are the same... I think that above all Ajahn Sumedho is very important for the West, isn't he! Renée

G said...

Hi Renee.

Yes, Ajahn Sumedho & his primary (Dharma) teacher have used words very differently to describe the same process of letting go into the void of our true nature.

As to finishing one's studies of the teachings, it's good that you don't think that you've finished, as to do so would probably indicate a state of spiritual stagnation. We can always learn to unlearn from teachers like Ajahns Chah & Sumedho, as we can from each other and life itself...

CheaHSan said...

Greetings!Great info will keep that in mind "to hear with the heart". With your kind permission love the nice pix.. may I see, click and keep the pix as a very good reminder to meditate daily? Saddhu Saddhu Saddhu.

G said...

CheaHS@n, thanks for the comment.

As far as I'm aware, the picture is common property on the Net (I Googled it), so feel free to use it as a reminder to be mindful.

Be well in mindfulness,