Venerable Thanavaro (Giuseppe Proscia) was born in the
north-east of Italy in 1955. Having shown a keen interest in the arts
from an early age, he studied music, dance and drama. Conscripted into
the Italian army, he met a disciple of a Tibetan lama, who introduced
him to Buddhism. After serving his year’s national service, he spent
a while in London studying music, and worked in a fast-food restaurant.
Some time later, back in Italy, he read (in a Christmas Humphreys book)
about Buddhist centres in England, and in a casual conversation in a
cafe heard about Ajahn Sumedho. Returning to England, he went to meet
Ajahn Sumedho at the Oakenholt Buddhist Centre near Oxford, where the
monks were temporarily residing.
The following teaching by Venerable Thanavaro has been taken from a
response to a question asked at a public talk in Palmerston North, New
Zealand, 1988. The classic Buddhist text being commented upon is known
as the Mahamangala Sutta – ‘The Discourse on Great Blessings’ – from
the Sutta Nipata.
MEDITATION IS THAT WHICH ENABLES US TO BE AWARE of the process of change. And this process of change is the process of life. If we’re not able to acknowledge this process then we resist it. We act in habitual ways and lose our spontaneity. We pile up all kinds of problems in our minds.
It would be nice if in the morning when we wash our face we could give a good scrub to our mind also – you know, somehow everything that was worrying us was left behind – we could come out feeling really fresh and new! But it doesn’t work like that, does it?
However, there is a way that does cleanse the mind. It is the way of bringing blessings into our life. Now do you know how to bring blessings into your life? I’m sure most of us have tried to do this. Some people try to bring blessings into their lives by bringing more money into their pockets, but money is not necessarily always a blessing. The blessings that I am talking about are blessings that come through understanding; they are brought about by right motivation. Whenever we have right motivation we bring blessings into our life – we bring happiness into our life.
So first of all – ‘to associate with good friends and not be caught up with foolish people’ – that is a way of bringing blessings into our life. The company of the wise is a source of blessings. Also, the way we relate to those good and wise friends brings blessings. Whenever our heart is humble, and we are able to give homage, that very attitude is a source of blessing.
‘To live in a good place’ – that means a place which is conducive to peacefulness and calm – is a source of blessings. For example, living in the centre of New York City doesn’t exactly facilitate a cascade of blessings into your life.
‘Taking care of our parents, our children, our partner, and friends’ is a source of blessings. ‘To have a skill’ and ‘to work with others without conflict’ is a source of blessings.
‘To listen continuously’ and therefore be attentive is a source of blessings. Through listening and being attentive we recognise the truth of what is being said – the truth is awakened ‘within’ us. Because the truth is ‘inside’ and not just ‘outside’, it is a source of blessings. And ‘discussion on the truth’ – sharing of one’s experiences – is a source of blessings. This is not the sharing of gossip about each other, that’s not a source of blessings – but this is a sharing in the light of giving.
[To the audience] Do you know of any other source of blessings – anything else that brings happiness into your life?
Meditation ... contentment ... gratitude ... giving ... giving of oneself....
So, yes! Meditation and the ability to clear the mind: are you all familiar with this skill? If the mind is not clear then it is obstructed, isn’t it? And whenever the mind is obstructed we experience problems. One after another they pile up. Since the mind in its true nature is like empty space, we can stack all the problems in until there’s a nervous breakdown. That means you’ve had enough! A nervous breakdown is a way of releasing the accumulated dirt of the mind – all the daily irritations and frustrations.
My teacher, Ajahn Sumedho, describes meditation as a kind of ‘controlled nervous breakdown’. That means that you are in control, you are the master, observing this process of gradual release. And all sorts of stuff will come up, you know. I won’t tell you some of the things that have come up in my mind.
In Buddhism we say that before the mind is restored to its pristine awareness it is obstructed by three poisons. The three poisons that continually contaminate the stream of consciousness are greed or lust, aversion – which culminates in hatred – and stupidity. And they say you can have eighty-four thousand variations on this theme of greed, hatred and stupidity. So you can really be creative!
Now you know some people are striving to transcend these tendencies. Transcending these tendencies is the process of meditation – the process that liberates us. Any questions about this?