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SKILFUL MEANS:
LISTENING TO THE MIND

IN THIS FORM OF MEDITATION PRACTICE, listen inwardly and listen carefully. To listen inwardly, regard the outside of things as totally unimportant – go beyond the concepts and thoughts; they are not you. Listen to that which is around the words themselves, the silence, the space.

Now, when you listen, what do you hear? Listen to these changing things like it's somebody else talking, saying, 'I don't like this or that. I'm bored, fed up; I want to go home.' Or listen to 'the religious fanatic' or 'the cynic'; whatever the form or the quality of the voice, we can still be aware of its changing nature.

You can't have a permanent desire. In listening inwardly, until we are listening all the time, we begin to experience emptiness. Normally, we don't listen, and we think we are these voices, creating terrible problems for ourselves by identifying with the voices of desire. We think there is a permanent personality or being, with permanent greed; but in meditation, we can see that these voices arise out of the void – they arise, and they pass away.

Following the teaching of the Buddha, the practice is to know the known. To know what? What do Buddhists know? What does the 'One Who Knows' know, anyway? The One Who Knows knows that these changing conditions are not-self. There is not any eternal or soul-like quality, no substance in these things that one could call a permanent possession. The One Who Knows knows that if it arises, it passes away. You don't have to know any more to be a Buddha.

Being the Buddha means knowing by observing, not by believing the Scriptures or me. See for yourself. Just try to find a condition that arises that doesn't pass away. Is there something that's born that doesn't die? Be that Buddha who knows, by putting energy into experiencing your life here and now, not by getting lost in the delusion of the idea of being Buddha – 'I'm the Buddha; I know it all.' Sometimes desire even takes the form of a Buddha. Actually, there is no one who knows, and to conceive of being Buddha is not just being Buddha.

The Theravadin talk about anatta, and the Mahayanists talk about shunyata [See Note 1] - they really mean the same thing. To experience anatta, one investigates and sees that the clinging to the ego, to the neuroses that we all have, to the thoughts, greed, hatred and delusion, are all anatta. There is no self to be saved, just empty conditions that arise out of the void and pass back into it with no remainder. So we let things go, allow things to be as they are, and they change quite naturally on their own. You don't have to force them. If you're experiencing something unpleasant, you don't have to annihilate it; it will go quite on its own. Self conceit says, 'I don't like this condition. I've got to get rid of it, wipe it out.' This creates a more complex situation than before – you're trying to push something away, bury your head in the ground and say, 'Oh, it’s gone!' But that desire to get rid of – vibhava-tanha – just creates the conditions for it to arise again, because we haven't seen that it dies quite naturally.

Now we're sitting in a room full of kammic formations that we conceive to be permanent personalities. We carry these around like a ‘conceptions bag', because on the conceptual level of thoughts we regard each other as permanent personalities. How many things do you carry around with you – grudges against people, infatuation, fears and things of the past? We can get upset just by thinking of the name of someone who has caused us suffering – 'How dare they do that, treat me like that!' – over something that happened twenty years ago! Some people spend most of their lives carrying grudges around, so that they ruin the rest of their lives.

But as mediators, we break through the pattern of memory. Instead of remembering people and making them real, we see that, in the moment, memory and bitterness are changing conditions; we see that they are anicca, dukkha, anatta [See Note 2] . They are formed in time, just like the sand grains of the Ganges River – whether they are beautiful, ugly, black or white, sand grains is all that they are.

So listen inwardly. Listen to the mind when you're starting to experience pain in the body; bring up the voice that says, 'I don't want this pain, when is the darned bell going to ring?' Listen to the moaning, discontented voice – or listen when you get really high, 'Oh bliss, I feel so wonderful.' Listen to the devata [angelic being] indulging in bliss and happiness, and take the position of silent listener, making no preferences between devatas and devilish things. And remember that if it's a condition, it ends.

Recognise and let things come and go – these are just kammic conditions changing, so don't interfere. The tendency of the modern mind is to think that there's some ogre lurking way down deep inside, just waiting for an unguarded moment to overwhelm you and drive you permanently insane. Some people actually live their whole lives with that kind of fear, and every time the monster starts to come up: 'Oh-oh.... !’ But monsters are just another sankhara [compounded phenomenon], another grain of sand of the Ganges River. Maybe an ugly sand grain, but that's all. If you're going to get upset every time you see an ugly sand grain, you're going to find life increasingly more difficult. Sometimes we have to accept the fact that some sand grains are ugly. Let them be ugly; don't get upset. If you saw me sitting beside the Ganges River looking at ugly sand grains, saying, 'I'm going to go crazy!' you'd think, 'Ajahn Sumedho is crazy!' Even a really ugly sand grain is just a sand grain.

So what we're doing is looking at the common factor of all these different qualities – hidden monsters, latent repressed energies and powers and archetypal forces - they are all just sankharas, nothing much. You take the position of the Buddha: being the knowing.

Even the unknown – we see it as just another changing condition – sometimes there's knowing, sometimes not-knowing; one conditions the other. The black hole, sunlight, night and day are all change; there's no self, nothing to become if you're being the knowing. But if you're reacting to all the qualities of samsara [See Note 3] , you get really neurotic. That's endless, just like reacting to all the sand grains of the Ganges River. How many lifetimes does it take to react to all the sand grains of the Ganges River? Do you think you have to emotionally respond to each sand grain of the Ganges River, being ecstatic over the beautiful and depressed over the ugly ones? Yet that's what people do, they dull themselves, get worn down and exhausted with this emotional turmoil all the time, and finally want to annihilate themselves. So they start taking drugs, drinking all the time to desensitise themselves.

What we are doing, instead of building a shell and hiding ourselves away in fear and dullness, is to observe that none of this is self. So we don't have to desensitise ourselves: we can become even more sensitive, clear and bright. In that clarity and brightness there is the knowing: that if it arises, it passes away – and that's what Buddhas know!


Notes

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1. Simply translated, anatta is 'not-self', and shunyata (a Sanskrit word) is ‘emptiness'

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2. anicca (impermanent, transitory); dukkha (imperfect, unsatisfying); and anatta (impersonal, 'not-self') are the three characteristics of all worldly phenomena, according to the Buddha.

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3. samsara: the unenlightened, unsatisfactory experience of life; the world as conditioned by ignorance.


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