12 July 2020
Adapted from Ajahn Amaro’s talk
Written by Dd Lee Kok Cheng
Letting Go in a Balanced Way
Letting go in essence is the very heart of the Buddha’s teaching. The Buddha taught the Four Noble Truths and the four truths are a kind of medical diagnosis. The disease is the symptom, experienced in the form of dukkha or dissatisfaction or suffering. The symptom has a cause and it is due to clinging or self-centred craving, tanhā. So, when there is clinging that is the cause of that feeling of dissatisfaction, discontent or disease. Following the pattern of a medical diagnosis then the question comes, is it curable? Then the third noble truth is YES. This particular malaise, illness or disease can be cured.
Then the fourth truth defines the treatment and that is the Noble Eightfold Path, the path described by the Buddha as the medicine. The path is the treatment that helps us to get from the cause to the cure, from the origin of the disease to the resolution of it. So, we will notice that our dissatisfaction or suffering is caused by our clinging, grasping or self-centred nature.
The Noble Eightfold Path basically is a more refined way of telling us to let go in eight different areas of our life where attachment or clinging can happen. It shows us how to let go and how to develop ourselves in a skilful way. So, letting go really is the engine of liberation and the core of the Buddha’s teachings. Letting go is the key piece of all our practice. So, we need to ask ourselves how to let go. What does it mean to let go? We need to keep working on this puzzle, thinking about it, practising with it and trying to understand it. Sometimes we couldn’t quite get a feeling of what this letting go is. We can write the word “let go” on a piece of paper but still there is attachment. Or at times, we think to let go is to wipe everything out, to get rid of our thoughts, get rid of our feelings and to get rid of any kind of experience or perception. Well, those don’t work either.
We can get frustrated, thinking too much or trying too hard to figure it out. You can try this; now hold an object in your hand and cling or grasp the object by tightening your grip. What is the experience of clinging? Well, as there is tension, your arm may vibrate, your knuckles may turn white, and there may be a sense of stress and agitation. So, to let go, do you mean to throw the object away? No, you don’t have to; you don’t have to get rid of the object. You merely let go by relaxing the grip and you are still holding on to the object so long as you need to. The moment you do that, there is no tension; there is no agitation in your arm. Your arm stopped shaking and that is how you could develop the insight into letting go.
Through picking up an object and grasping it, we realised that the problem is not the object; it is the way we hold it. Letting go is essentially learning to relax our grip. It doesn’t mean never doing anything; it doesn’t mean never feeling anything; it doesn’t mean not taking action or not making decisions. Sometimes people will say “I’m practising non-attachment” when asked “Are you going to help your mother in the garden this afternoon”. Or “Who’s going to edit this film. Well, somebody else can do it. I’m practising non-attachment. I have let go of all that”. But that is called laziness or wrong grasping, wrong understanding of the teaching.
So, to let go means to act and to make choices but without attachment, without confusion, without clinging. If we need to do something, we step up and do it and then we carry it out.When it is finished, we make nothing more of it.
So, letting go can sometimes mean that we take more action; to let go of our hesitation; to let go of our fear or our self-centred thinking and to say we can do it. Why not? What am I afraid of? We can help. So, letting go can actually result in doing more but we do more with a light heart and in a good way.