The Way It Is

'The Way it Is'

A skilful reflection is: 'This is the way it is'. Venerable Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, the renowned Thai sage, said, "If there was to be a useful inscription to put on a medallion around your neck it would be 'This is the way it is'." This reflection helps us to contemplate: wherever we happen to be, whatever time and place, good or bad, 'This is the way it is.' It is a way of bringing an acceptance into our minds, a noting rather than a reaction.

The practice of meditation is reflecting on 'the way it is' in order to see the fears and desires which we create. This is quite a simple practice, but the practice of Dhamma should be very very simple rather than complicated. Many methods of meditation are very very complicated with many stages and techniques - so one becomes addicted to complicated things. Sometimes because of our attachment to views, we don't really know how things are. However, the more simple we get, the more clear, profound and meaningful everything is to us.

For example, consider the people here, the monks and nuns we live with. Maybe some we feel attracted to, some we feel averse to, some we sympathise with, some we understand, some we don't understand; but whatever view we have, we can see it as just a 'view' of a person, rather than a real person. We can hear ourselves saying, "I don't want him to be like that.... I want him to be otherwise. He should be this other way.... shouldn't be like this.".

"I want it to be otherwise" is the wail of the age, isn't it? Why can't life be otherwise? Why do people have to die? Why do we have to get old? Why this sickness? Why do we have to be separated from our loved ones? Why do innocent children who wouldn't hurt anyone in their lives, old people who wouldn't hurt anyone - why do they have to suffer from starvation or brutality?

There is always some new horrible thing happening. The other day someone wrote to me about the Bangladesh Muslims trying to get rid of Buddhist Hill Tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts through genocide. Then we hear about Iranians trying to eradicate the Bahais... it goes on endlessly. The Sinhalese and the Tamils... There's always this clash between groups.... one trying to take over another's land or power.

This has been going on since who knows when. There's always been someone trying to exterminate someone else since Cain murdered Abel - and that was a long time ago! But each time we hear of these atrocities we say 'How shouldn't be...'

We hear about American drug companies selling poisonous and horrible drugs to the Third World countries. "That shouldn't be! Dreadful." The pollution of the planet, the despoiling of the environment, the killing of dolphins and whales...where does it end? What can you do about it? It seems to be an endless problem of human ignorance. At a time when people should know better, they are doing the most horrendous things to each other. It is a time of gloomy predictions...earthquakes, volcanic eruptions and shouldn't be like this.

Now saying, 'This is the way it is' is not an approval, or a refusal to do anything, but it is a way of establishing oneself in the knowledge that Nature is 'like this'. In the animal kingdom it's very much a question of survival of the fittest, a natural, self-selecting law where the weaker strains are destroyed. So in that way even Nature is quite brutal, isn't it? We think of Nature as being everything it 'should' be...sweet, with flowers, and sunshine - but Nature is also very brutal.

What is our position in Nature? We can live on the level of the animal kingdom with its emphasis on the survival of the fittest, the strong over the weak and living by fear and power. We can live like that because we share that animal mentality. We have an animal body and it has to survive like any other animal body on this planet. So, the Law of the jungle is something human beings can subscribe to - which many of them do.

But this is only a lower level, isn't it? If we just live on that level then we must expect the world to be as it is - in a state of fear, and anxiety. But as human beings we can get beyond this animal level; we can decide to have some kind of moral standard to abide by so that we don't have to live our lives in a state of anxiety.

But even higher than that is our ability to realise the Truth - to contemplate existence, to cultivate the reflective mind through which we can transcend personality. At the level of moral behaviour we still have very strong personality view. And in our civilisation we've developed a sense of 'me' and 'mine' to absurdity. So strong is this sense of 'me' and 'mine' that it seems to dominate everything and taint everything that we're doing, and there always a sense of anguish and suffering connected with it.

Just contemplate this: whenever there is a sense of 'me' and 'mine' in anything, it always seems to give rise to discontentment or uncertainty or doubt, guilt, fear, or anxiety. There is this view of 'me' as an individual being, that 'this' is mine, that 'I' should or should not, based on a belief in oneself as the body or mental conditions. However, this view is based on an illusion; it comes from conditioning, not from insight. So as long as we identify with the limitations of the body and the mind then of course we are going to experience doubt, despair, anguish, sorrow, grief, and lamentation - these mental forms of suffering. How could it be otherwise? We're certainly not going to get enlightenment from distorted misunderstanding and wrong view.

We have this opportunity now, to establish Right View and Right Understanding which frees us from the personality illusion: the identification with what are called the five aggregates - body, feeling, perception, mental formations and consciousness. So we contemplate the consciousness through the senses - see the eye, ear, nose, tongue and body. We can contemplate mental formations, the yesterdays of our own creation and the thoughts and views that we create. We can see them as impermanent.

We have the ability to contemplate the nature of things, this ability to say, 'This is the way it is'. We can notice 'the way it is' without adapting a personality viewpoint. So with the breath of the body, the weight of it, the posture of it, we are just witnessing and nothing, observing how it is, now, in this moment. The mood of the mind, whether we feel bright or dull, happy or unhappy, is something we can know - we can witness. And the empty mind, empty of the proliferations about oneself and others, is clarity. It's intelligent, and compassionate. The more we really look into the habits we have developed, the more clear things become for us. So we must be willing to suffer, to be bored, and to be miserable and anguished: it's an opportunity to bear with these unpleasant mental states, rather than suppress them. Having been born, this is the way it is, at this time, at this place.