July  1999   2542   Number 49 
Supporting Practice; Ajahn Sucitto
Change, Celebration and Practice; Luang Por Sumedho
Temple of the Heart; Ajahn Candasiri


Supporting Practice

Taken from a Dhamma talk given by Ajahn Sucitto to the community at Cittaviveka on Asalha Puja 1998.

Tonight is Asalha puja, the day we celebrate and bring into consciousness the first turning of the wheel of The Law: the Four Noble Truths, and the Eightfold Path. While hearing this teaching one of the five ascetics, Venerable Konda˝˝o, realised what is called the spotless realisation of Dhamma: 'All that is subject to arising is subject to cessation.' He recognised that dukkha, or dissatisfaction, originates from a particular mental activity of wanting or not wanting; a pressure to push, to get away, to make things otherwise. He realised that this particular energy, tanha, this thirstiness, is something that can be relinquished; we don't have to repress it, we don't have to act upon it, we can simply open to it let it run through us and pass away.

Konda˝˝o was the person who had predicted that the baby Siddhattha was going to become the Buddha. So there was something particular about him; he had some clarity, some insight. He and the other ascetics were probably a pretty rag -- bag bunch of characters, but they had definitely made a profound commitment to some kind of a spiritual path, and were putting everything they had into it. They didn't have much of a wisdom teaching but they certainly had a lot of chanda -- a willingness to practise with patience, persistence and determination; so they had accumulated some good kamma, good skills. This is why the Buddha felt, of all the people in the world, these were the people who could probably understand what he was talking about. Also, they knew him, which is another kind of skilful kamma -- the kamma of association. We can immediately be more open and trusting of somebody we know than of somebody we don't know.

These Four Noble Truths are deceptively simple to say, but we need to have a fair bit of skill already to get this kind of immediate realisation. We might recognise suffering and see that this is something that we want to stop doing; the problem is that most of us approach it from the position of: '"I" want to stop suffering. How can "I" get out of it?' rather than: 'There is suffering.'

There is an enormous step between, 'I am...' and, 'There is...' This difference involves the giving up and discarding of the sense of self, which is what normally snags us.

So the experience of realisation goes beyond 'I' was, or wasn't -- which is the way the conventional personality conceives things. Instead wisdom guides the mind and knows that a thought or a feeling has the nature to arise and cease.
This particular energy, tanha, this thirstiness, is something that can be relinquished; we don't have to repress it, we don't have to act upon it -- we can simply open to it, let it run through us and pass away.

When this is a realisation, it is a supramundane right view. It doesn't have any position; it doesn't reject things or partake of things. It sees: 'This is dukkha; this is the arising of it; this is the cessation of it; this is the Path.' But to the people who hadn't made such a strong commitment as those ascetics, the Buddha would normally teach the path of mundane right view which, in a sense, is about becoming a better person. This begins to incline a person towards developing the kind of faculties that will lead towards supramundane right view, towards the capacity for that particular transformation to occur.

Generally, when we get depressed, angry, upset, frightened, hurt, irritated -- when we experience suffering -- the mind doesn't just go into a kind of spacious state of letting things arise and cease. It snags, it hangs on like crazy. It blames, fights, feels guilty and tries to run away. If somebody comes along and says: 'There is suffering', it says: 'Thanks a lot, so what! What are you going to do about it?...' The mind isn't capable of letting go. So the Buddha in his compassion saw that, first of all, we need to develop the capacity to let go, and he gave a graduated discourse which begins with giving and generosity.

We can notice how we enjoy receiving generosity -- not just material goods, it could be time or a kind word; being bestowed upon is a heart warming feeling. As we reflect on that, we recognise that to do this to another person is perhaps an even lovelier feeling. When we give from a very good place in ourselves, not just so that we'll be liked but a magnanimous giving, and the person is capable of receiving that in an open and straight way, the quality of giving is most enhanced. Sometimes people can feel guilty or disempowered by being given things, or embarrassed or that they have to give something back. When it's like that, it feels sad, doesn't it..? But we can focus on what happens when there is a pure quality of bestowing that is fully and openly received. We feel a calm and a strengthening, a gladness and a trust. So whenever we can fully give to people who can fully receive, this is the highest kind of giving.

One of the basic things in Sangha life is to be worthy of gifts and to properly receive, so that people feel they can bestow; can feel good about giving. We don't say: 'Oh well you shouldn't bother really...' or, 'I don't really need it, thank you very much.' Instead, we chant an anumodana which is a ritualised way of reminding people of the blessings that come from wholesome action: 'ayu vanno sukham balam' -- vitality, composure, happiness and strength.

Next the Buddha talked about morality or virtue, sila. He'd say things like: 'You don't like pain, do you? You fear death, don't you? Other creatures fear death, don't they? -- therefore don't kill or harm creatures,' rather than simply: 'Don't do this or that.' This gives a feeling of connectedness with other beings instead of just, 'me' -- very separate from every creature in the world. For example, if we see an ant in the bathroom sink we reflect that the ant doesn't want to die (although it might not be thinking about it or even worried about it) so we don't just turn the tap on, we try to get it out of the way. In fact whether the ant cares or not, or is grateful or not, is not the point. If we are dwelling in the realm of sila we see things in that particular light, because the mind has established a certain kind of immaterial or mental realm -- the realm of goodness.
When the heart is dwelling in a sense of empathy and tenderness, this is what is called heaven. We begin to see the disadvantage in living from the purely sensual perspective; we see how it sets up greed, jealousy, passion, fear. We see the inadequacy of the sensual aspect of things. From this, there is the ability, willingness and eagerness to cultivate relinquishment.

So consider: 'Do I want the realm which is steady, happy and contented, or the realm which is fearful, grasping and needy? Which do I want..?' Once we see it like that, it becomes very obvious; it is not obvious when we don't see it like that. This is why these things have to be dwelt in and encouraged. Rather than simply negating what is wrong, we make fully conscious what is good -- because if we are not fully conscious of that, relinquishment is impossible. It is just aversion, idealism or repression.

These social realities -- virtue, morality, generosity -- are aspects of what we call meditation or bhavana, which is cultivation of the mind. The qualities of self -- worth, of dignity, honour and nobility that come from these are the basis for bhavana; they are what enable and lift us up, so that we can develop other aspects of meditation. Without them, meditation is pretty fragile. We may have our good days and bad days but the foundation is rickety.

So I really encourage people who come and make offerings to allow the mind to dwell in the feeling of generosity. Similarly, for the Sangha there is the sense of: 'Let's enter into this together'; it's as though the givingness is really pressed right into the heart. At the time of the meal offering we try to arrive early, sit down and reflect on what's really going on. Together we offer incense to the Buddha with a feeling of gratitude that he established something which enables us to live in this very beautiful way. Then we give the anumodana, and before eating we contemplate the almsfood -- really making something out of the occasion to cultivate. It's not just the time we hang around wasting until we can get our food down!
Then we all have our training precepts. Those who have gone forth recite them each fortnight; for this we have to sit within forearm's distance of each other, so we all cluster around and somebody has to recite it all by heart, it's quite an effort. But there's a tremendous bonding that occurs around that. We're always at our best after our respective recitations, because of just having sat and been through it together. Then people might start to talk about things like Right Speech, and someone might admit to having been a bit negative about somebody, actually acknowledging: 'It doesn't feel very good to complain about somebody; I don't want to do this.' And we all might consider: 'Why do we do this? How do we stop doing it?' This is an amazing thing to do. It's the sign of sila; realising that something is stained, not because of being blamed or criticised but because of feeling it in oneself. There is the renunciation of the need for a self-affirming position, and we can acknowledge: 'There is desire; it's like this...' Renunciation has made this possible. Whereas ordinarily, without such a foundation to stand on, we'd probably think: 'I didn't do that' or, 'Well, so what if I did anyway. You deserved it!'

The Buddha said that a stream-enterer is someone who, having made a transgression, would quickly seek out a fellow samana and say: 'I've made a transgression, help me to set this straight.' This helps us and also touches into the realm of sţla for others. We begin to transmit a foundation for realisation through our skills and relinquishments, just by being able to acknowledge and recognise suffering, blemishes and imperfections. It can be around very small things, embarrassingly small things.

So when the Buddha taught his close disciples -- people who'd really made a full commitment to the holy life, he would talk to them on the joys of renunciation and non-attachment. They would be roused, delighted, really fired-up by this: 'Letting go! Renunciation! Contentment with little! -- Wonderful, great stuff!' rather than: 'Oh, no! I don't want to do this...' If such talk just makes us feel cold and frightened, then we need to keep cultivating generosity and sila, because we haven't actually got to the point where renunciation feels good for us. The fruition of renunciation hasn't occurred yet.

So the Going Forth is much more than an outward thing. It's not like: 'After I've done a year or two years, then I can become a nun or a bhikkhu...' It's not the years that count, it's when the idea of renunciation makes us feel happy rather than nervous. But if it is not like that, don't worry about it -- then it's time to cultivate the mundane: generosity, goodness -- and to enjoy them. The Path is right there. We can do the good; and if we dwell in it, live in it, it will always lead us step by step towards the stream.

When we cultivate, we can stay with the experience and perception of 'mind' as a realm or object, rather than associating with its chaotic voices. Even when they are there, we can just watch, detecting their particular patterns. This is different from being in the midst of them muttering and thinking and wailing and gnashing. Instead, we stop, wait a minute and just get back to the experience of: 'This is mind.' We're not fiddling around with the objects in it, we're getting to that right view of mind. If we can stay with it, the stuff begins to ease up and relax.

But there is always the temptation to get involved with the thoughts, feelings and emotions. We try to make them like this or to pretend they are not like that -- this whole ghastly scenario of wrong view. Instead, however, I've found that I can be the receiver of it all, the listener -- simply by realising: 'This is mind...' And I can do that now; I don't always do it, but I can see that direction in practice.

We can cultivate like this in moments when there is nothing particularly going on. Maybe we're sitting in a room and somebody's talking about something we haven't the slightest interest in. We could sit there wondering: 'Oh why doesn't he shut up...' or: 'I wonder what's for dinner...' or be tugged into a position with the words or ideas, wanting to comment on it or make fun of it, or thinking that it's all a waste of time... but instead we stop that and recognise: 'This is mind. This is happening in my own mind now.' We can compose ourselves upon that, seeing that it arises and ceases.

This is the realm of Dhamma, and there's no problem here, is there?

Similarly with perceptions of people: what happens in the mind when we see somebody happy and laughing, or someone we feel slightly mistrustful of? What happens when there are lots of things happening and six people talking all at once..? We might think: 'Oh what's going on, why is it like this? This is driving me nuts!' or we can see simply: 'This is the mind.' That's relinquishment.

So tonight as we cultivate, we can reflect and consider those who have been kind to us, or who inspire us; we can reflect on the Buddha himself, or on the qualities of realised beings and the good fortune that we have. We can remember these things, rather than thinking about other things that depress us or agitate us. Through thought, we form something that we can actually use for our welfare, rather than something that just tugs us down. Then we focus on the breath, body, feelings, mind, seeing that everything which arises has the nature to cease.