Last night’s dhamma talk at Planet Yoga was entitled ‘The Relay’ (loosely based on Sutta 24 of the Majjhima Nikhaya)
While the sutta itself is a little involved, it is our job as meditators to try and bring it to life, and find out how it can be applied to real experience.
The principle is quite straightforward. To get from A to B you might employ a number of different modes of transport. From Sukhumvit for instance to a temple in Thonburi, one might take a motorcycle to the BTS, switch trains at Siam, take the boat from Sathorn, walk a way and then take a taxi.
So it is with different qualities that meditators try to develop. None of them are the whole of the path. None are the goal, or the be-all-and-end-all.
You are not practising to have perfect morals. Nor to have endless compassion like the Dalai Lama. Nor to be always patient. Etc. for the other qualities.
And it is a good thing. Because if you had to be perfectly moral, then you would likely fail. If you had to maintain metta (loving kindness) at all times, you would fail. None of us are Saints.
Realising this means you are less likely to judge other people, and also less harsh on yourself. If you aspire to compassion, then you notice the uncompassionate moments, not as a failure, but as an opportunity to learn about your uncompassionate mind. It is a way of stimulating mindfulness.
How much of your journey from A to B is covered by the train, and how much by the boat ? That is not a given. From where you are you might travel/develop more by one quality or by another. Some people have lots of metta, while others are very generous. Some are great meditators, where others are better scholars or teachers. Again, if you know this you should be less judgemental about others. Don’t expect others to follow your own path, or criticise them for not measuring up to the qualities that you are practising.
The sutta also mentions that the ultimate goal is Enlightenment. People get into meditation for various reasons, but sooner or later those reasons fall away, and you set your sights on the ultimate goal. Keeping this in mind is a reminder not to limit yourself to what any teacher will teach. These are the Buddha’s teachings, and it is his discovery that we are all aiming for.
The premise of Buddhism is that you start from a confused and deluded place. With other religions – that we call ‘revealed’ religions – you know the Truth from t he start because you have been told. It’s there in the book. There in the words of the prophet or God. Your job is to believe it. For some reason God makes things plain only to a chosen few, and it is up to them to tell the rest of the world, and the world’s job to believe.
With Buddhism, there is something that is to be attained that is ‘subtle, hard to see for a generation caught up in desire’. This is the ‘Amata’ or ‘Deathless’ element that the Buddha said he had discovered. It is not the world’s job to believe. It is the job of the meditator to experience directly for themselves this ‘Amata’. The premise is that everyone can discover this same ‘Amata’ that the Buddha found. If you repeat the experiment in the right way.
Willing to Grow
To do this, you have to be willing to grow. The problem is, with people, they are not usually willing to really grow or change. Everyone can learn new things, and new tricks. But the basic foundation of maturity levels out at some point. People in their 40’s 50’s 60’s and upward keep going through the same old heart breaks, fears and neurosis endlessly. They keep developing the same old defense mechanisms. People get set in their ways, and like to remain attached to their comfort zone.
Growing is not a plan you can lay out. When you were a child you did not lay out a schedule for maturing. Now you run around but when you get to 16 you will stop. Now you play with one toy, but when you are older you will choose a different toy. You didn’t have to plan all this – it just happened. You just grow, and the old things fall away behind you without any deliberate renunciation. This is the kind of growth that Dhamma provides. The things that thrill you now fall away. You don’t miss them.
If you are not laying out plans, how does this occur? Mostly through tiny moments, rather than thunder and lightening in meditation states. Being a monk is like this – lots of opportunity to practise endurance, letting go … with small things. The lack of control of your diet, the long ceremonies, the frustrations .. Tiny moments is where the big change occurs, rather than through you carefully laid plans.
After all, what is made by the ego is another ego. What is made by the self is another self. The Dhamma of tiny moments is what can change you in ways you could not engineer by your ‘self’.
It Ain’t What You Do..
Buddhism is not telling you what to do. In fact there are lots of recommendations of what kind of behaviour to control, but that is not the essence of the practise. We are not being told what to do so much as being told what to watch.
Rather than being caught up in desires – take a look at ‘desiring’.
Rather tahn being caught up in thoughts – take a look at ‘thinking’.
Rather than being caught up in dislikes (hating) – be willing to bring awareness to the hating mind.
Forget what you are afraid of, and get interested in what fearing is like.
Sati (mindfulness) has the quality that it cannot abide delusion. Yes, we are all attached to our delusions. Sati cuts through them. The analogy is of a sword – such as with the Tibetan image of Manjushri wielding the ‘sword of vipassana’. The metaphor works well – the edge of the sword is very slight and thin, yet it can cut big things in half. So sati is just a humble quality, a little tiny change of focus. Yet it can bring down the whole house of cards that is the self.
While observing, certain qualities are kept in mind – those of impermanence, dukkha (suffering) and non-self.
Why these qualities are important will have to wait for another talk.