The Way It Is

Accepting the way things are

How many of you have been practising today trying to become something 'I have got to do this ... or become that ... or get rid of something ... or got to do something...' That compulsiveness takes over, even in our practice of Dhamma. 'This is the way it is' isn't a fatalistic attitude of not caring or being indifferent, but is a real openness to the way things have to be at this moment. For example, right now at this moment this is the way it is and it can't be any other way at this moment. It's so obvious, isn't it?

Right now, no matter whether you are feeling high or low or indifferent, happy or depressed, enlightened or totally deluded, half-enlightened, half-deluded, three-quarters deluded, one-quarter enlightened, hopeful or despairing - this is the way it is. And it can't be any other way at this moment.

How does your body feel? Just notice that the body is this way. It's heavy, it's earthbound, it's coarse, it gets hungry, it feels heat and cold, it gets sick, sometimes it feels very nice, sometimes it feels very horrible. This is the way it is. Human bodies are like this; so that this tendency to want it to be otherwise falls away. It doesn't mean we can't try to make things better, but we do so from understanding and wisdom rather than from an ignorant desire.

The world is this way and things happen, and it snows and the sun comes out, and people come and go, people have misunderstandings, people's feelings get hurt. People get lazy, and inspired and people get depressed and disillusioned, people gossip and disappoint each other and there is adultery and there's theft, drunkenness and drug addiction and there are wars, and there always have been.

Here in a community like Amaravati we can see the way things are. Now it's the weekend and more people come to offer alms-food and it's more crowded and noisy and sometimes there are children running up and down screaming and people pounding vegetables and chopping things and everything going all over the place. You can observe 'this is the way it is' rather than 'these people are impinging on my silence.' 'I don't want it to be like that, I want it to be otherwise,' might be the reaction if you like the quiet orderliness of the meal where there's none of that going on and there are no loud noises or harsh sounds. But life is like this, this is the way life is, this is human existence. So in our minds we embrace the whole of it, and 'this is the way it is' allows us to accept the changes and movements from the silent to the noisy, from the controlled and ordered to the confused and muddled.

One can be a very selfish Buddhist and want life to be very quiet and want to be able to 'practise' and have plenty of time for sitting, plenty of time for studying the Dhamma and 'I don't want to have to receive guests and talk to people about silly things' and 'I don't want to ... blah blah blah.' You can really be a very, very selfish person as a Buddhist monk. You can want the world to align itself with your dreams and ideals and, when it doesn't, you don't want it anymore. But rather than make things the way you want them, the Buddha way is to notice the way things are. And it's a great relief when you accept the way it is, even if it's not very nice; because the only real misery is not wanting it to be like that.

Whether things are going not so well or well, if we're not accepting the way things are then the mind tends to be creating some form of misery. So, if you are attached to things going nicely, then you'll start worrying about them if they don't go so well, even when things are actually going well. I have just noticed that with little things, such as when it's a sunny day and one jumps for joy - then the next thought will be, 'but in England you know, the sun can disappear in the next moment.'

As soon as I've grasped one perception and I'm jumping for joy at the sunshine then the unpleasant thought arises that it may not last. Whatever you're attached to will bring on its opposite. And then when things aren't going very well, the mind tends to think, 'I want them to get better than this.' So suffering arises wherever there is this grasping of desire.

The sensory world is pleasurable and painful, it's beautiful and ugly, it's neutral, there are all gradations, all possibilities in it. This is just what sensory experience is about. But when there's ignorance and the self-view operating, I only want pleasure and I don't want pain. I want only beauty and I don't want ugliness. 'Please God, please make me healthy, give me a good complexion, physically attractiveness, and let me stay young for a long time, get lots of money, wealth and power, no sickness, no cancer, lots of beautiful things around me, surround me with beauty and the pleasures of the senses at their best, please.' Then the fear will come that maybe I'll get the worst. I could get leprosy, AIDS, Parkinson's disease or cancer. And I might be rejected and despised and humiliated and left alone out in the cold hungry, sick and in danger, with the wolves howling and the wind blowing.

From the view-point of the self, there's a tremendous fear of rejection, ostracism or being despised in our society. There's a fear of being left alone and unwanted, there's a fear of being old, and left to die alone, there's natural fear of physical danger, of being in situations where our bodies are in danger; and there's the fear of the unknown, the mysterious, the ghosts and the unseen spirits.

So we gravitate to security don't we? Cosy little places with electricity, central heating, insurance and guarantees on everything - rates paid and legal contracts. All of these give us a sense of safety or we seek emotional security. 'Say you'll always love me dear. Say you'll love me even if you don't mean it. Make everything safe and secure.' And in that demand there's always going to be anxiety because of the grasping at desire.

So we're developing a light around the uplifting of the human spirit rather than the material guarantees. As alms mendicant, you're taking the risk that you might not get anything to eat. You might not have a shelter, you might not have any really good medicine, you might not have anything nice to wear. People are very generous, but as mendicants we don't take it for granted, assuming that we deserve it. We are grateful for whatever is offered, and cultivate the attitude of fewness of wants, fewness of needs. We need to make ourselves ready to be able to leave and relinquish everything at any moment, to have the kind of mind that doesn't think 'this is my home, I want it to be guaranteed to me for the rest of my life.'

No matter which way it goes, we adapt, our needs are few. And so we make adaptations to life, to time and place, rather than make demands. Whatever way it goes is the way it is.

Whatever diseases I may get, or tragedies or catastrophes or successes or the best to the worst, one can say this is the way it is. And in that there is acceptance and non-anger, non-greed and the ability to cope with life as it's happening.

We are not here to become anything, or to get rid of anything, or to change anything, or to make anything for ourselves, or to demand anything, but to awaken more and more, to reflect, observe and know the Dhamma. Don't worry that it might change for the worse. Whatever way it changes we have the wisdom to adapt to it. And that I can see is the real fearlessness of the alms mendicant life. We can adapt, we can wisely learn from all conditions, because this life-span is not our real home.

This life-span is a transition we're involved in, this is a journey through the sensory realm and there are no nests, no homes, no abiding in this sensory realm. It's all very impermanent, subject to disruption and change at any moment. That is its nature. That's the way it is. There is nothing depressing about that if you no longer make the demand for security in it.

The reality of existence is that there isn't any home here. So the homeless life, the going forth into mendicancy is what they call a heavenly messenger, because the religious spirit is no longer sharing the delusions of the worldly mind, which is very determined to have a material home and security. You have the trust in Buddha, Dhamma, Sangha and the teaching and the opportunities as mendicants and meditators for the insight and understanding to free the mind from the anxieties that come from the attachment to the sensory realm as a home.

The idea of owning, and hanging on to things is the illusion of the worldly life. The view of the self sends forth all these delusions in which we have to protect ourselves all the time. We're always endangered, there's always something to be worried about, something to be frightened of. But when that illusion is punctured with wisdom then there is fearlessness; we see this is a journey, a transition to the sensory realm and we are willing to learn the lessons they teach us no matter what those lessons might be.