The Way It Is

Beyond Belief

From the appearance of the five khandhas - rupa, vedana, saa, sankhara, viana - and the unquestioned belief that they are oneself - then it always seems that the mind is in the body, doesn't it? To most people, if you say 'Where's your mind?' they will point to their head, or their hearts.

But if you investigate the way things are, following the teachings of the Buddha, then you begin to realise that the body is in the mind. Mind is really what comes first - the body is just the receptor. It's a sensitive receptor, like a radio, or radar, or something like that. It's not a person, it's not anything other than merely an instrument.

When that view of being within the five khandhas is seen through and let go of, then there's a realisation of what we can call 'deathlessness', immortality. These words imply 'beyond the conditioned', and the ability to conceive the deathless is impossible, isn't it? You can point at a word like 'deathless', or immortal, or unconditioned, but beyond that there's no more that you can say about it, because words are themselves conditioned, and mortal. Words, concepts, perceptions, conceptions are only appropriate to the conditioned world. As long as you're attached to thoughts and to concepts, to views and opinions, no matter how intelligent and altruistic these views might be, that very attachment will bind you to the conditioned realm - you just keep being reborn into it. You keep searching for the unconditioned in the conditioned, you keep looking for God in the mortal condition, in the changingness of sensory consciousness, only to feel totally frustrated and disappointed. Then you have to support that 'soul view' by a kind of stubborn belief.

Beliefs don't change, do they? I mean, you can believe in exactly the same things you believed in when you were five when you are fifty! That belief is the grasping of a perception.

There are some beliefs that are very nice, and pretty, and sentimental. The romantic and sentimental view of life presents a pretty picture that we can still believe in even when we're 80! When my Gran died at 75, she still had a 16-year-old girl's emotional development. When she died, she had a boyfriend called 'Hercules Cavalier', who was her gigolo! She still had the same kind of romantic longings as when she was a 16-year-old girl! So even though at 75 she was a physical wreck, yet the mind was still attached to those pretty pictures of youth.

We assume and believe, and never question the prejudice and fixed views that we're grasping, that we never change. They don't change; we keep re-affirming the same old things over and over. And that's why so many political problems arise: it's because so many people hold on to political views, rather than try to be aware of the needs of a particular time and place.

How much violence and meanness and nastiness is done in the name of property alone! And boundaries: 'This is my land, get off my land.' You see it all the time, in the endless border problems of countries. Then the meanness of heart, not wanting to let people in, - or not wanting to let people out! - because of the unquestioned belief, 'This is my house/my family/my wife/my husband/my children, my, my, my....

Over the course of twenty years of meditation, I can see that a lot of attachments, obsessions and tendencies, have fallen away, because of allowing things to cease. The process has been one of letting things go, rather than believing, grasping, and becoming reborn in endless thought patterns and desires. When we view life as just a passage, then we are not going to hang on to it. We're not going to become mean and selfish, because we realise that nothing is worth holding on to - any material wealth, or property, or status, or worldly values, or anything. There is nothing worth bothering with that much, because it is not really ours anyway. Of course, we can believe that it's ours. But in actual investigation, in looking into the way the mind actually is, we see that nothing really belongs to us anyway - there's nobody to own anything!

Now with the reflection of the body being in the mind, this grasping changes. You have to start contemplating 'What is mind then - because your body's certainly not in your brain, is it? It's ridiculous! Nor is your blood-pumping heart. They're in your body.

I was standing out this evening and looking at the dusk, at the trees, the barren trees on the borders of Amaravati, just contemplating that the trees are in the mind, and that trees are conscious. There's a certain level of consciousness in all life, in the fact that there is receptivity to the environment; and trees are very receptive to the environment they are in. One begins to change the perception of mind to one of a consciousness that pervades everything. Then it's not just a human mind, there's something more to it. But in Buddhism it is never named, you never try to form a concept about it. Instead you contemplate the totality, the whole sensitivity, the sensory realm and what it is really about. And this we have to contemplate from our own ability to be conscious and to feel, but not see it in terms of 'me' and 'mine' - 'I feel these things, but nobody else does', or 'Only human beings do, and animals don't', or 'Only mammals do, and reptiles don't', or 'Only the animal and insect kingdoms do but not the plants.' Consciousness does not imply thought, but it does imply receptivity to what is impinging, to what comes to it. We begin to see that consciousness is a vital, changing universal system, it's like a plenum, it's full with all possibilities, all potentials, of form, of what can be created. Whatever we can think of, we can see that in terms of the human ability to imagine, through which we can create all kinds of fantasies that come into material form.

But the greatest and most profound and meaningful human potential is overlooked by most people, and this is the ability to understand the truth of the way it is, to see the Dhamma, to be free from all delusions.

When you are contemplating reality, begin to reflect on where there is no self. Whenever there is the cessation of self, there is just clarity, knowing, and contentedness - you feel at ease and balanced. It takes a while to be able to give up all the striving tendencies, and the restless tendencies of the body and mind. But, in moments, that will cease; and there's a real clarity, contented peacefulness. And in that also there is no self, no 'me' and 'my'. You can contemplate that.

We must recognise that we have to learn through being totally humbled, by never succeeding at anything we are doing in this meditation, by never being successful, never getting what we want; if we do get what we want we lose it right away. We have to be totally humbled, to where any form of self-view is relinquished willingly, graciously, humbly. That's why, in meditation, the more it comes from will-power based on a self-view, and on 'me achieving and attaining,' then of course you can only expect failure and despair, because this is not a worldly pursuit. In worldly situations, if you are clever and strong, gifted and have opportunities, and the conditions are there, you can barge your way through and become a great success, can't you. With the survival of the fittest you can manage to get above and destroy the competition - you can be a winner.

But even a winner, on the worldly plane, is still going to be a failure, because if you win something you are going to lose something too. Winning and losing go together. So winning is never as wonderful as it might look, is it? It is more the anticipation of winning. If you've actually won something - so what? You have a moment of elation, maybe - 'I'm a winner!' - but then, 'Now what do I do? What do I have to win next?'

Winning, worldly goals, and worldly values are really not going to satisfy us, so if we apply that same attitude toward the religious life it's just not going to work. We just feel a sense of total despair, helplessness - because we need that, we need to lose everything, to let go of everything, all hope, all expectations, all demands, to where we can just be with the way things are, and not expect or demand them to be otherwise.

The practice of the Buddha is to accept life as it is. This is the way it is. Our reflection as mendicants is that we have enough to eat, robes to wear, a roof over our heads and medicine for illness. The Dhamma and Vinaya are taught. It is good enough; therefore we begin to say 'It's all right, I'm content', and not make problems or dwell on the irritations and frustrations that we find here.

I find myself now much more at ease with letting life be as it is here in Amaravati, and with the way things are - with the weather, with the people, with the country. Not to compare it, not to judge it, but to be grateful for the opportunity, and to be accepting of whatever is. And it isn't all that easy, believe me, because I can be quite critical too, and fussy. There's also a strong sense of responsibility in wanting to make things right, and work properly - not just wanting nice things for myself, but wanting to make everything right and good for everyone else. I can really be caught up with responsibility, being an Ajahn and an abbot and all that - you try to set a good example. You get obsessed with that. I always felt I had to be a kind of cardboard monk, a plastic Sumedho Bhikkhu! If you saw anything other than the perfect smile and the stereotype presence, then you'd lose all faith in the Dhamma!

So we begin to let go of that, even the altruistic tendencies of feeling responsible. It doesn't mean that one is irresponsible, but one is letting go of those ideas, those views that we can be so blinded by. They might be very good views, but if you grasp them you can't get beyond them.

In living the Holy life you train yourself to being open and willing to learn from the ups and downs and the way things happen to be - the irritations and problems of community life, and the way things are - rather than resist, avoid and reject life. You give up controlling and manipulating, and trying to change the world and make it into what you want it to be. One has to give up, let go of that kind of inclination, and abide in the knowing, in the mindfulness.

In practice, just notice if you're trying too hard. If you've got the view that you have to stay awake, that can make you compulsive: the 'I have to stay awake' compulsion. Notice, if you attach to either extreme, like 'I have to stay awake', or 'It doesn't matter'. You can use one to counterbalance the other; if you tend to think 'It doesn't matter', you need to practise 'I must stay awake', but if you're caught in the 'I must stay awake' compulsion you can say 'It doesn't matter, let go'. Neither one is a fixed position, they're just skilful means to find the middle, the place of balance. You don't come in here and say, 'It doesn't matter, let go, that's my practice', then fall over asleep, because it doesn't matter! 'It's all Dhamma, sleeping Buddha, awake Buddha.'

Or there's the compulsive 'I don't want to fall asleep, it matters so much to stay awake!' So Ajahn Sumedho says, 'You come here to be awake, not to fall asleep', so then one can become caught in the compulsion to be awake.

The knowing is the knowing of what's driving us, what we're attached to, where that attachment is; and it does take patience to see it and to acknowledge it.

One of the factors of enlightenment is devotion, a kind of emotional sweetness and joyfulness. We tend to want everything on the level of intellectual concepts, but we also need to humble ourselves towards the joy and sweetness of loving the Buddha, the Dhamma and Sangha - especially if we find our practice is getting a bit 'dried-up'. This is to advise you not to be frightened of loving and joy, and open-hearted generosity. Human life without this is a dreary desert, isn't it, just like living in a museum. It's all nice and clean with marble corridors, but cold, ordered, catalogued. In museums everything is dusted and put in order, but it's cold!

So religion also gives us this opportunity towards this warmth, the joy, the love, the devotion, the offering, the giving. This is very much a foundation and a necessity for religious life. See our life here in the community as an opportunity to manifest generosity, love and joy, not just as an obsession with looking at our cittas to see what is moving through it at this moment, seeing that it's anicca, dukkha, anatta. We do that in order to reflect on the way things are, to be free from the illusions or the attachments to love and generosity - because if you attach to concepts of love and generosity then that will also bring you to despair.

For this retreat the lay people have come to give, to help the Sangha. This is their act of love and generosity, and so our appreciation for that act of generosity is our determination to practise, to realise the Dhamma, so that our lives will be blessing the lay community in a skilful and wholesome relationship.

We can reflect on it in this way, not to take the situation for granted in any way whatsoever; but to allow space for the joy and the gratitude one feels. These qualities help provide the foundation for our own understanding of freedom from delusion.