Mind Conditions the Mind

by Ajahn Sumedho


As you try to understand how to live your life, consider that how you actually live in a place has its effect on your mind. Like a monk's cell or room, if seen as just a place to crash out, then it becomes merely that. As you develop it into a place for mindfulness, you set up that which supports and encourages your practice.

So you begin to see that how you think and what you do, affects the space around you, either for the good or for the bad. One's isolated view is that somehow you are an independent creature that is living life for yourself, without it being influenced or affected by anything or affecting or influencing any- This is the total alienation view. We can see why in a society where samanas or holy people live, that society has a quality to it that is lacking in a country where there isn't any encouragement or interest in the holy life. Many of you have been to India, and you can see that in spite of the poverty and the many kinds of depressing sights in India, one thing that's always impressive, is the fact that spiritual life is highly regarded there. Because of that, India has a quality to it. In spite of the poverty and corruption, I personally would rather live in India than in a country that didn't allow religion of any sort, even if it was well organised and clean and efficient. I think that one really appreciates that which is uplifting the spirit, the inclination towards the divine. Then as you lift yourselves up from just the instinctual survival mechanisms of the body you find that strong aspiration towards the higher. We reach up to the light or to the sun, symbols of enlightenment, out from the amorphous dark, the nameless terror; away from hell toward heaven; aspiring from the bad to the good. So we determine to develop a life of virtue. This is uplifting the spirit.

In the Ovada Patimokkha, the Buddha says "Do good, refrain from doing evil, purify the mind." Do good is the first - thats the rising up, isn't it? In our lives, there's the active side - right speech, right action, right livelihood. To really perfect those three, the moral part of our path, is always a matter of rising up. You don't sink down to do good, you rise up to it. There is a lot of inertia, and just not wanting to be bothered and scepticism and cynicism and laziness and doubt and despair, all this pulls us downward. And so the way out is not to reject or just fight them out of fear or aversion - that pulls us down - but to understand the whole process of rising up.

Now if you contemplate the Buddha-rupa on the shrine, then you can see that that is actually a symbol of rising up. Its a figure of a human being who has an erect posture; the eyes are open, but they are not gazing at anything they are not seeking anything, they are not trying to find something to look at - but the eyes are open. So using the energy that one can generate within the body to bring it up, to a balanced posture. In Thailand, the word for going crazy is "thinking too much". And when you look at symbols of modern man such as Rodin's The Thinker, sitting with his head on his hand, looking utterly depressed - he's thinking too much.

When we think too much we can go crazy, we get depressed, we just get pulled into a kind of whirlpool vortex of thoughts, that always pull us downwards. Even though we might feel elated for a while, it always ends up in pulling us downwards, because thought itself is just like that: if you think too much you can't really do anything anymore, you have to stop thinking about it to do it. "Should I do the dishes? or shouldn't I do the dishes? Do I feel like doing them? Is doing the dishes really me? Should men do the dishes and not women or women do the dishes and not men or should both do them together?" And all the while we're just sitting there ... Whereas if you take the task and look at it in a different way, look at it positively: "What an honour to be able to do the dishes! they are honouring me by asking me to do the dishes!" Putting your hands in soapy water with bone china - all those are pleasant physical sensations, actually, aren't they. So if you start looking at the positive side, then you're not going into depression about washing the dishes or spending a lifetime of the same old boring reaction, because maybe your mother made you wash the dishes. These things hang on, just little things like this. You can see it with men sometimes, the way they react to women, "No woman is ever going to tell me what to do. No woman can boss me around." And these are the kind of male reactions that you develop when you are rebelling against your mother. And then women about men, it's the same thing isn't it? Rebelling against the father, "male chauvinism, trying to dominate and pull Us down and tyrannize women. grrr." Because sometimes women never outgrow their rebellion against their fathers. Sometimes We carry that on through a whole lifetime, without really knowing that we are doing it. In our reflections on Dhamma, we begin to free the mind from these very inadequate and immature reactions to life. We find in this "rising up" to life a sense of maturity and willingness to participate in it, and to respect people who are in positions Of authority, rather than rebelling or resisting out of immature habits. When we are mature, when we understand Dhamma, we can work in the world in ways that are of benefit, harmonising, of Use to the society that we live in.

I remember in my first year at Wat Pah Pong, in Ubon Ratchathani, Thailand, with Ajahn Chah, I liked the monastery at first, but then I became very critical too. I wasn't going to give in too easily. I was going to keep my eyes open to see if it really was a good place or not. So when people tried to convince me about what a wonderful monastery it was, I'd be very sceptical. Many people would ask: "Don't you love Luong Por?" I thought: "No, I don't feel anything really." The idea of loving Luong Por at that time had never even occurred to me. Then they carried on about how it was such a good monastery - and my reaction when people tried to tell me how good something was tended to be to resist and look for what was wrong with it. That's an immature reaction, isn't it? I could see then that when somebody tried to convince me or convert me there was this kind of stubborn attitude: "I'm not going to do it, I don't care if it is the best, I'm not going to believe it because I don't want you to be right!"

I didn't know really very much about Buddhist monasticism, but I still had strong views about what monks should be. And so I would very much be aware of that which I didn't approve of but then living there, I began to see what an opinionated, conceited attitude that was. So I began to let go of these things, I found that I fell in love with Luong Por Chah! This falling in love was coming from feeling a tremendous respect and trust. So you see the human heart itself is a heart of warmth and love, and it can bring joy and beauty into a situation. And when the heart is full of love and joy then that affects, not only our own happy states of mind but affects the people around us, and, the society we're in. When I first went to Ubon, I thought I wouldn't stay very long, but I spent nearly 10 years there, and to this day, I still look at Ubon as to a place I'd really love to go to. Not because it's beautiful because it's not particularly beautiful, but because I really began to appreciate it and what I received there: the support, the teaching, and the ability to live the holy life. So I very much connect with, that in the mind - my mind relates to Ubon Ratchathani as a holy place.

We can see it in England now, as people are developing the holy life, here. It's no longer the England of the Colonial Era; we see a very different side, we've experienced something within this country, and in our mind - it connects with living in Britain. Being able to live the holy life through the openness and tolerance generated towards us in this country, one is pleasantly surprised and this is the rising up of the spirit too. Before I came to Britain I'd detetmined in my mind that I would only go and live in this country if I found I was offering something worthwhile to it. There was no point in just going to see it, or with a missionary attitude.. I didn't feel any enthusiasm in going to convert people to Buddhism. I thought that the idea of conversion was repulsive. But the idea of going to Britain to try to offer something beautiful, and something that would help people, was something I felt I could do. And so that remained in my mind as an attitude of coming to England to add more sweetness, rather than to come here to divide and cause trouble and create more problems for the country or to take advantage of it in any way.
These are a way of looking at your life here, at what you are doing as monks and nuns living within this country. A way of looking at it no longer as being a kind of oddball or anachronism. When you are bringing something into the country that is delicious and beautiful, it may not seem at first that way, because it is different from what people are used to. Many people have that fear that we come here to make everything worse and poison the country. But to our own living of this life, in the right way with the right attitude, then the whole image changes from being freaky weirdoes who come here to cause trouble to being that which is worthy of respect, worthy of alms.

In the society we live in we begin to see that just the presence of good monks and nuns is making an offering to it by being examples. Then that gives great hope and inspiration to others if not necessarily to become monks or nuns but to live more skilfully and aspire towards higher than just getting along in the system. To me just floating along in the system is a hell realm. It is such a depressing idea, to use one's human life to just float along the easiest way. You don't do anything, you don't offer anything, you don't aspire to anything you just get by. So we can see in the holy life, the opportunity is here: at Amaravati and Chithurst, the occasion is here for that rising up.

With our contemplation of Dependent Origination we are actually being with the world rather than believing it to be the real world. We're aware of it and understanding of it as it is, without being deluded by it through the conditioning process of perception and culture. So the empty mind is the receptive, because in that way of mindfulness, there is no need to name or call anything anything, unless there is a conventional reason for it. Then as we begin to realise the cessation of the world, we can begin to refrain from frantically creating more worlds to cease. We're not trying to create anything because we are content and at peace with the way it is. Now really contemplate this, and know the attentiveness, mindfulness, before the opinions, views, desires and fears start arising. Now if you're doing it for the wrong reason - out of desire and fear and ignorance - then of course you only receive despair. You feel that you're always going to fail and meditation is going to be a lot of suffering for you. Even when you can get refined states of consciousness, you can't hold on to them. The more you try to convert and impose refinement on the world around you the more frustrated you feel by the inefficiency, corruption, brutality and mediocrity. You can see with very refined types of human beings how difficult life is for them. If you have very high standards and very refined tastes, then you're going to be upset even by the style of curtains on the wall.

Now the empty mind has room for everything: the curtains on the wall, the refined subtleties the beauties, the coarse and the gross. The empty mind is all-embracing. So there isn't that need to run about trying to pick and choose, control and manipulate. To pick and choose, control and manipulate is always such a frantic way to live, but when you appreciate the empty mind, the cessation of the world, then the mind is receptive to the totality of the whole of it. One begins to just look. Now this is like a child's mind. I remember as a very young child where I grew up, I'd been able to walk in the countryside in empty fields which had beautiful tiger lilies growing wild in them, and I remember being much impressed with these spring flowers. Such things are discoveries when you are a young child and you don't have perceptions and views about things. So you're with the way it is. Then you begin to forget about these things. Now how many people here think: "Oh, another grey cold English winter fog. I wish I were in Tahiti. I wish we could go to some place where there is lots of colour and sunshine." These are conditioned reactions. You see a muddy field and the fog and the grey sky and the mind goes: "I don't like it. I want to see something else, I want to see sunshine and million spring flowers and bananas and coconuts, mangoes, beautiful azure skies." And so while the eyes are focused on the muddy field, you're not seeing the mud anymore and there's just a total rejection of that. So when we talk about meditation, and people accuse us of avoiding the real world, you can challenge them and say: "Where is the real world? What is the world, what is real?" Because what is real to many people's world really has no reality to it. It is just a perception based on delusion - on prejudice, preference and memories.

That kind of mind is a mind that is conditioned to react in terms of despair and depression. The world that one is attached to and believes in is never satisfactory and one is never content with it. There is always something wrong with it and there is always going to be something wrong with it. So in the holy life we just realise that whatever happens, its just the way things move and change. We will learn from it, grow with it and open to it. And if difficult and unpleasant situations arise, than thats part of it; that's just the way things are. Sometimes its very bright and peaceful, sometimes its murky and confused. But if you begin to contemplate murky confusion and radiant bliss as just the way things are, there's nothing to get depressed or elated about, is there? Radiant bliss is that way, but its not me and mine, and it's impermanent. The muddy field or the azure blue sky, the heat of the sun or the cold wind of the north; whatever - it all belongs in the mind. There is room for everything, and so there is no reason to feel frightened.


Forest Sangha Newsletter: July 1988, Number 5

Source : http://www.forestsangha.org


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