Dhamma Video Conference Talk and Q & A with Ajahn Anan – June 19th, 2020
Note: One can listen to this talk here.
L uang Por Anan:
Homage to the Blessed One, Noble One, the Rightly Self-Awakened One
Welcome to all the monks and novices and all the laity.
When we talk about dukkha, or suffering, there are many causes for it. Hunger, pain, and sickness. This is one type of cause. The arising of dangers or accidents. Receiving harm or being subject to theft or loss. All these are causes for physical suffering. But it has an effect on the mind. If we talk of the suffering of the mind, then there is just one cause. That is, suffering because of attachment. Clinging. Not willing to let go, not willing to put down. This is the cause for us to have suffering in the mind—due to not letting go, to not putting down—this is the fundamental cause for us to suffer in the mind.
For instance, attaching to things in the past, especially the disappearance of things that we love, the disappearance of people that we love. As well as the pain and grief that has been received from some particular person. In reality, it has passed already. But we hold on to it in the mind. We aren’t willing to let go. So we suffer, grieve, despair, and lament. If we do not suffer from attachment to the past, then we worry about the future. The bad thing hasn’t yet arisen, but we worry and proliferate about it. We have assessed the whole situation already. Sometimes we think of the obstacles that are coming up for us. Some people just get sick only a little, but they think and proliferate far off into the future that they will die from this. This worry of the future is another type of attachment that can make us have suffering.
And so whatever way it is, if we don’t think of the future, then worry won’t arise. Fear won’t arise, as well. Usually we fear what hasn’t arisen. Right now we are at ease, but we think about the bad things that may arise in the future. This is called thinking beyond the present moment. This makes us suffer on and on.
An example of this is of monks that are going to stay and meditate in the cremation ground. In the morning, when they go for alms-round, the mind has no suffering at all. During the day, the mind isn’t suffering. But when it has come to the evening, then the mind starts to suffer. Because they need to go into the cremation ground soon.
They need to go into a place that they are very afraid of. They are scared that there will be some spirits that come to give them trouble and make them lose their mindfulness. They have thought all about it already. But when they really go into the cremation ground, there is no spirit there to trouble them. But they see their thoughts and proliferation within their own mind, that there is a ghost troubling them each night. Why is this? It’s just because they are still attached to ‘me’ and ‘mine’.
Our proliferation may not be about something in the future, but it’s proliferation after we see something with our eyes. We may see a shadow in passing at night, and we may see it as a person or a ghost. Or a branch on the ground, we may think it is a snake. There is anxiety in the mind.
And to give one more example about a young novice monk. This young novice had the duty to sweep all the leaves in the monastery grounds each morning. He would sweep the leaves in the morning out in the frosty, cold winds. Every time after he woke up, he would be in a lot of suffering. Especially in the winter season, many leaves would be scattered all around the monastery grounds. Each morning, he had to spend a lot of time sweeping and picking up all the leaves. This made the young novice furious every day. He tried to think of a way to make it easier for himself. He thought that if this tree here didn’t exist, then he wouldn’t need to sweep its leaves every day, and it would be much easier for him. But he couldn’t do it, as he didn’t have the authority to cut a tree in the monastery which was the abbot’s responsibility.
There was one monk who said to the young novice, “Tomorrow before you start to sweep, use your strength and shake that tree. Shake it until all the leaves fall. Then the day after, you won’t need to sweep any leaves that have fallen.”
The young novice agreed and nodded his head in approval. So, the next morning, he woke up and shook the tree with all his strength. He did this so that he could sweep up all the leaves for today and for tomorrow, all in one go! On that day, the novice was in such a good mood all day. He was smiling and was so happy. He had never had this much happiness in his life since he ordained as a novice.
Then the next day, the young novice looked around the monastery grounds. He had to rub his eyes in disbelief. The monastery was full of leaves just like it was everyday. The young novice fell to the ground, with no strength and sapped of energy to do anything. The Venerable abbot came and saw him, the adorable state of this young novice, and he knew that the novice had shook the tree so that the leaves would all fall.
The abbot said, “You are a foolish child. Even if today you shake the tree with all your strength, the leaves will still fall just as usual.”
In the end, the young novice understood that there are some things in the world that one cannot do ahead of time. If we are fully into the things we are doing at that time, only then will there be the fullness of a human-being. So the young novice then had mindfulness in the present moment. He didn’t think to the next day where he would have to sweep the leaves again.
And the Venerable abbot said further, “The leaves fall, just like the things that contact with the mind. If we can see it according to truth, then we can see all things that arise, are there, and they are just the way they are. Whether there is a ‘me’ or not, when various things come to contact the mind and affect it – just like the leaves that come to contact with the mind of the young novice – then may you just have the duty to watch, be aware, and to stay in the present moment. Everything, all things, they arise, persist, and pass away. The importance is in our own minds – whether we are able to be aware of it in time, or we aren’t aware of it in time. Just this much.
For people, when we have suffering arise, we aren’t aware of it as suffering and we forget ourselves. But when we have mindfulness, we can see suffering and we know that we are carrying the suffering. Then we can put it down by itself, without needing to be ordered to put it down. When we see suffering as being simply of the nature to arise, then we don’t attach to it. Like when pain and tiredness arise—and we don’t go and attach and cling to it as ‘me’ or ‘mine’. The sense of importance and meaning that, “I am suffering. I am in pain. I am tired.”, does not arise. If we think of the past or of the future, and then anger arises, worry arises, then this is when we have forgotten ourselves temporarily. This worry is the object of attachment that makes suffering arise in our minds.
In regards to work, there are rules we follow, and we are assessed on the results we provide. Though we may suffer over other people’s judgments and assessments, may we see their words as just minor assessments that we can keep and use to contemplate ourselves further. Those people are just exterior causes, but it is the inner causes that decide whether we suffer or not. It’s up to us.
An example of this is of someone carving wood. The wood carver puts their whole heart into carving the wood. Then there is no person who is carving the wood. If we have thoughts and worry that enter in between the act of wood carving, then there is a person carving and there is a self arising instantly. All of what the Buddha taught is about suffering and about the ending of suffering.
Like when carving wood, we just know the carving of the wood, then there will be no suffering. We keep doing it continuously. If we are tired then we rest. But if we do it and then think whether we can sell it or not, then we will suffer. Even if one stops carving and is still thinking like that, then this is suffering. This means that whether one suffers or doesn’t suffer, it is not up to the work one is doing. Even whether one stops and rests, it is also not related to our suffering. It’s about the practice. That is, knowing what we are really doing. If we do not think and worry, then we don’t suffer. When we don’t keep our awareness with just what we are doing, when there is craving and wanting that is covering the doing, then that can be the cause for suffering to arise. Ven. Ajahn Chah taught: “Be immersed in the present moment, don’t be buried in the past.”
The Buddha taught us to contemplate all the things that arise in the mind. The Dhamma is not far away somewhere, it is right here. Just in this body and mind. So all Dhamma practitioners must be strong in the practice. Do it sincerely. Make the mind strong. Make the mind brighter and more radiant. It is then set free.
Whatever good we do, we let it go. Don’t attach to it. Or refraining from doing unwholesome actions—when we practice this way, we let go of that, too. The Buddha taught us to be with the present moment. Right here and right now. Not in the past or in the future.
There are a lot of wrong views and arguments over the teaching about letting go. Like saying “To work with an empty mind”. When we talk in this way, this is called talking in the language of Dhamma. But, when we talk about it through using the language of the world, then there is much confusion. They assume what it means and get it wrong: “Just follow whatever we feel like doing!”
In reality, it is just a simile. Like if we are carrying a heavy stone. We carry it and it feels heavy, but we don’t know what to do. So we just carry it like that. But, when someone tells us to throw the stone away, we think that if we throw it away, then we will have nothing left. So we keep carrying it, and we aren’t willing to throw it away. But, in reality, if we throw it away, there is something left. What is left is just Emptiness. But we see wrongly and we don’t like it. We like to carry it and so keep suffering on and on.
The Buddha gave a deep teaching that, “One shouldn’t have expectations of the future. What has passed is left behind. The future has not yet arrived. Whoever sees clearly in every presently arisen state, not taken in by it and unagitated, knowing like this, they develop it continuously. Eagerly doing what should be done today. For who knows, tomorrow death may come. Facing the mighty hordes of death, indeed, no-one can strike a deal. The Peaceful Sage called this one who is dwelling with energy aroused, tireless both day and night. This is truly a night of shining prosperity.” Worthy of true praise. May you grow in blessings.