Sunday, April 11, 2010

You Really Disappoint Me!‏

This reminds me of an interesting story. The monk who took me to see Luang Por Chah was the same age as I was; he had been in the Thai Navy, and I had been in the American Navy during the Korean War. He could speak Pidgin English, and had been on tudong - wandering from Ubon province, where Ajahn Chah lived, to
Nong Khai where I was.

It was my first year as a novice monk and he was the first Thai monk I had met who could speak English, so I was delighted to have somebody to talk to.

He was also a very strict monk, adhering to every rule in the Vinaya. He would eat from his alms bowl and wore dark brown forest robes, whereas in the monastery where I lived, the monks wore orange-coloured robes; he really impressed me as an exemplary monk. He told me that I should go and stay with Ajahn Chah. So after I received bhikkhu ordination, my preceptor agreed that I could go with this monk to stay with Luang Por Chah.

But on the way I began to get fed up with this monk - who turned out to be a pain in the neck. He was forever fussing about things and condemning the other monks, saying that we were the very best. I could not take this incredible arrogance and conceit, and I hoped that Ajahn Chah would not be like him. I wondered what I was getting myself into.

When we arrived at Wat Pah Pong, I was relieved to find that Ajahn Chah was not like that.

The following year the monk, whose name was Sommai, disrobed and he became an alcoholic. The only thing that had kept him off alcohol had been the monastic life, so then he fell into alcoholism and became a really degenerate man with a terrible reputation in the province of Ubon. He became a tramp, a really pathetic case, and I felt a sense of disgust and aversion towards him.

Talking to Ajahn Chah one evening about it, he told me: 'You must always have kataññu (gratitude) towards Sommai, because he brought you here. No matter how badly he behaves or degenerate he becomes, you must always treat him like a wise teacher and express your gratitude. You are probably one of the really good things that has happened to him in his life, something he can be proud of; if you keep reminding him of this - in a good way, not in an intimidating way - then eventually he might want to change his ways.'

So Luang Por Chah encouraged me to seek out Sommai, talk to him in a friendly way and express my gratitude to him for taking me to Ajahn Chah.

It really was a beautiful thing to do. It would have been easy to look down on him and say, 'You really disappoint me. You used to be so critical of others and think you were such a good monk, and look at you now.'

We can feel indignant and disappointed at somebody for not living up to our expectations. But what Luang Por Chah was saying was: 'Don't be like that, it's a waste of time and harmful, but do what's really beautiful out of compassion.'

I saw Sommai in the early part of this year, degenerate as ever; I could not see any change in him. Yet whenever he sees me, it seems to have a good effect on him. He remembers that he was the one responsible for me coming to stay with Luang Por Chah - and that's a source of a few happy moments in his life. One feels quite glad to offer a few happy moments to a very unhappy person.

Extracted from: Gratitude to Parents, by Ajahn Sumedho

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Why Did They Make Me Suffer?

In understanding and compassion, I bow down to reconcile myself with all those who have made me suffer.

I open my heart and send forth my energy of love and understanding to everyone who has made me sufer, to those who have destroyed much of my life and the lives of those I love.

I know now that these people have themselves undergone a lot of suffering and that their hearts are overloaded with pain, anger and hatred. I know that anyone who suffers that much will make those around him or her suffer. I know they have been unlucky, never having the chance to be cared for and loved. Life and society have dealt them so many hardships. They have been wronged and abused.

They have not been guided in the path of mindful living. They have accumulated wrong perceptions about life, about me, and about us. They have wronged us and the people we love.

I pray to my ancestors in my blood and spiritual families to channel to these persons who have made us suffer, the energy of love and protection, so that their hearts will be able to receive the nectar of love, and blossom like a flower.

I pray that they can be transformed to experience the joy of living, so that they will not continue to make themselves suffer, and make others suffer.

I see their suffering and do not want to hold any feelings of hatred or anger in myself toward them. I do not want them to suffer.

I channel my energy of love and understanding to them, and ask all my ancestors to help them.

Extracted from: Teachings of Love, by Venerable Thich Nhat Nanh

Sunday, January 17, 2010

What Shall I Do with a Bundle of Jewels?

Anuruddha suggested they get rid of their jewels and ornaments before they crossed the border. They all removed their necklaces, rings, and bangles and wrapped them in a cloak.

They agreed to find some poor person to give them to. They noticed a tiny barber ship by the side of the road wich was run by a yound man about their own age. He was an attractive fellow but shabbily dressed.

Anuruddha entered his shop and asked his name.

The young barber replied, "Upali."

Anuruddha asked Upali if he could direct them across the border. Upali gladly led them there himself.

Before they left him, they handed him the cloak containing the precious jewels and ornaments.

Anuruddha said, "Upali, we intend to follow the Buddha and live as bhikkus. We have no more use of these jewels. We would like to give them to you. With these, you will have enough to live in leisure the rest of your days."

The princes bid Upali farewell and crossed the border.

When the young barber opened up the cloak, the glint of gems and gold dazzled his eyes.

He belonged to the lowest caste in society. No one in his family had ever owned so much as an ounce of gold or even a single ring. Now he had an entire cloakful of precious gems.

But instead of being happy, he was suddenly seized with panic. He clapsed the bundle tightly in his arms. All his former feelings of wellbeing disappeared. He knew there were many people who would kill to get at the contents of the cloak.

Upali reflected. The young noblemen who had enjoyed great wealth and power were giving it all up in order to become monks. No doubt they had come to see the dangers and burdens that wealth and fame can bring.

Suddenly, he too wanted to cast the bundle aside and follow the princes in pursuit of true peace, joy, and liberation.

Without a moment's hesitation, he hung the bundle on a nearby branch for the first passerby to cliam, and hen he too crossed the border.

Extracted from: Old Path White Clouds, by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Why Did the Jackal Run and Run?

The Buddha once saw a jackal, a wild dog, run out of the forest where he was staying. It stood still for a while, then it ran into the underbrush, and them out again. Then it ran into a tree hollow, then out again. Then it went into a cave, only to run out again.

One minute it stood, the next it ran, then it lay down, then it jumped up...That jackal had mange. When it stood the mange would eat into its skin, so it would run. Running it was still uncomfortable, so it would lie down. Then it would jump up again, running into the underbrush, the tree hollow, never staying still.

The Buddha said, "Monks, did you see that jackal this afternoon? Standing it suffered, running it suffered, sitting it suffered, lying down it suffered. In the underbrush, a tree hollow or a cave, it suffered.

It blamed standing for its discomfort, it blamed sitting, it blamed running and lying down; it blamed the tree, the underbrush and the cave. In fact the problem was with none of those things. That jackal had mange. The problem was with the mange."

We monks are just the same as that jackal. Our discontent is due to wrong view. Because we don't exercise sense restraint we blame our suffering on externals.

Whether we live at Wat Pah Pong, in America or in London we aren't satisfied. Going to live at Bung Wai or any of the other branch monasteries we're still not satisfied. Why not? Because we still have wrong view within us, just that! Wherever we go we aren't content.

But just as that dog, if the mange is cured, is content wherever it goes, so it is for us. I reflect on this often, and I teach you this often, because it's very important.

If we know the truth of our various moods we arrive at contentment. Whether it's hot or cold we are satisfied, with many people or with few people we are satisfied. Contentment doesn't depend on how many people we are with, it comes only from right view. If we have right view then wherever we stay we are content.

But most of us have wrong view. It's just like a maggot! A maggot's living place is filthy, its food is filthy...but they suit the maggot. If you take a stick and brush it away from its lump of dung, it'll struggle to crawl back into it.

It's the same when the Ajahn teaches us to see rightly. We resist, it makes us feel uneasy. We run back to our "lump of dung" because that's where we feel at home. We're all like this. If we don't see the harmful consequences of all our wrong views then we can't leave them, the practice is difficult. So we should listen. There's nothing else to the practice.

If we have right view wherever we go we are content. I have practiced and seen this already. These days there are many monks, novices and laypeople coming to see me. If I still didn't know, if I still had wrong view, I'd be dead by now!

The right abiding place for monks, the place of coolness, is just right view itself. We shouldn't look for anything else.

Extracted from: Right View - The Place of Coolness, by Venerable Ajahn Chah

Are You Afraid of Death?

Now, about 10 p.m., I was sitting with my back to the fire. I don't know what it was, but there came a sound of shuffling from the fire behind me.

Had the coffin just collapsed? Or maybe a dog was getting the corpse? But no, it sounded more like a buffalo walking steadily around.

"Oh, never mind..."

But then it started walking towards me, just like a person!

It walked up behind me, the footsteps heavy, like a buffalo's, and yet not...The leaves crunched under the footsteps as it made its way round to the front. Well, I could only prepare for the worst, where else was there to go?

But it didn't really come up to me, it just circled around in front and then went off in the direction of the pa-kow. Then all was quiet. I don't know what it was, but my fear made me think of many possibilities.

It must have been about half-an-hour later, I think, when the footsteps started coming back from the direction of the pa-kow. Just like a person! It came right up to me, this time, heading for me as if to run me over! I closed my eyes and refused to open them.

"I'll die with my eyes closed."

It got closer and closer until it stopped dead in front of me and just stood stock still. I felt as if it were waving burnt hands back and forth in front of my closed eyes. Oh! This was really it! I threw out everything, forgot all about Buddho, Dhammo and Sangho. I forgot everything else, there was only the fear in me, stacked in full to the brim.

My thoughts couldn't go anywhere else, there was only fear. From the day I was born I had never experienced such fear. Buddho and Dhammo had disappeared, I don't know where. There was only fear welling up inside my chest until it felt like a tightly-stretched drumskin.

"Well, I'll just leave it as it is, there's nothing else to do."

I sat as if I wasn't even touching the ground and simply noted what was going on. The fear was so great that it filled me, like a jar completely filled with water. If you pour water until the jar is completely full, and then pour some more, the jar will overflow. Likewise, the fear built up so much within me that it reached its peak and began to overflow.

"What am I so afraid of anyway?" a voice inside me asked.

"I'm afraid of death," another voice answered.

"Well, then, where is this thing 'death'? Why all the panic? Look where death abides. Where is death?"

"Why, death is within me!"

"If death is within you, then where are you going to run to escape it? If you run away you die, if you stay here you die. Wherever you go it goes with you because death lies within you, there's nowhere you can run to. Whether you are afraid or not you die just the same, there's nowhere to escape death."

As soon as I had thought this, my perception seemed to change right around. All the fear completely disappeared as easily as turning over one's own hand.

It was truly amazing. So much fear and yet it could disappear just like that! Non-fear arose in its place. Now my mind rose higher and higher until I felt as if I was in the clouds.

Extracted from: In the Death of Night, by Venerable Ajahn Chah

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Is Life Really Empty?

He smiled, and looked up at a pippala leaf imprinted against the blue sky, its tail blowing back and forth as if calling him.

Looking deeply at the leaf, he saw clearly the presence of the sun and stars - without the sun, without light and warmth, the leaf could not exist. This was like this, because that was like that.

He also saw in the leaf the presence of clouds - without clouds there could be no rain, and without rain the leaf could not be.

He saw the earth, time, space, and mind - all were present in the leaf. In fact, at that very moment, the entire universe existed in that leaf. The reality of the leaf was a wondrous miracle.

Though we ordinarily think that a leaf is born in the springtime, Gautama could see that it had been there for a long, long time in the sunlight, the clouds, the tree, and in himself.

Seeing that the leaf had never been born, he could see that he too had never been born.

Both the leaf and he himself had simply manifested - they had never been born and were incapable of ever dying.

With this insight, ideas of birth and death, appearance and disapperance dissolved, and the true face of the leaf and his own true face revealed themselves.

He could see that the presence of any one phenomenon made possible the existence of all other phenomena. One included all, and all were contained in one.

Seeing the independent nature of all phenomena, Siddhartha saw the empty nature of all phenomena - that all things are empty of a separate, isolated self.

Siddhartha now understood that impermanence and emptiness of self are the very conditions necessary for life. With impermenance and emptiness of self, nothing could grow or develop.

If a grain of rice did not have the nature of impermanence and emptiness of self, it could not grow into a rice plant.

If clouds were not empty of self and impermanent, they could not transform into rain.

Without an impermanent, non-self nature, a child could never grow into an adult.

"Thus," he thought, "to accept life means to accept impermanence and emptiness of self. The source of suffering is a false belief in permanence and the existence of separate selves.

Seeing this, one understands that there is neither birth nor death, production nor destruction, one nor many, inner nor outer, large nor small, impure nor pure. All such concepts are false distinctions created by the intellect.

If one penetrates into the empty nature of all things, one will transcend all mental barriers, and be liberated from the cycle of suffering."

Extracted from: Old Path White Clouds, by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Monday, September 15, 2008

Are You Prepared to Love?

Do you have someone to love? We all want to love and be loved.

We may want to love children who are hungry, disabled, or abused, to relieve them of their suffering. We carry that love in our heart and hope that someday we will be able to realise it.

But when we actually contact these children, they may be difficult to love. They may be rude, they may lie, they may steal, and our love for them will fade.

We had the idea that loving children who need our help would be wonderful, but when confronted with the reality, we cannot sustain our love. When we discover that the object of our love is not lovable, we feel deep disappointment, shame and regret.

We feel as though we have failed. If we cannot love a poor or disabled child, who can we love?

A number of Plum Village residents of Vietnamese origin want to go back to Vietnam to help the children and the adults there.

The war created much division, hatred and suspicion in the hearts of the people. These monks, nuns, and laypeople want to walk on their native land, embrace the people, and help relieve them of their suffering.

But before they go back, they must prepare themselves. The people they want to help may not be easy to love.

Real love must include those who are difficult, those who have been unkind.

If they go back to Vietnam without first learning to love and understand deeply, when they find the people there being unpleasant, they will suffer and may even come to hate them.

You think you can change the world, but do not be too naive. Don't think that the moment you arrive in Vietnam, you will sit down with all the conflicting factions and establish communication immediately.

You may be able to give beautiful talks about harmony, but if you are not prepared, you will not be able to put your words into practice.

We must practise harmony of views and harmony of speech. We bring our views together to have a deeper understanding, and we use loving speech to inspire others and not hurt anyone.

We practise walking together, eating together, discussing together, so we can realise love and understanding.

If you are able to breathe and smile when your sister says something unkind, that is the beginning of love.

You do not have to go some place else to serve. You can serve right where you are by practising walking mediation, smiling, and shining your eyes of love on others.

Extracted from: Beginning Anew, Teachings on Love, by Venerable Thich Nhat Nanh

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Is Your Cup Big?

If your cup is small, a little bit of salt will make the water salty.

If your heart is small, then a little bit of pain can make you suffer.

Your heart must be large.

Quoted from: Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Plum Village