7 June 2020
Adapted from Ajahn Chah’s talk
Written by Dd Lee Kok Cheng
Living in the World
Most people still don’t know the essence of meditation practice. They think that walking meditation, sitting meditation, and listening to Dhamma talks are the practice. These are only the outer forms of practice. The real practice takes place when the mind encounters a sense object. That is the place to practise, where sense contact occurs. When people say things we don’t like, there is resentment. If they say things we like, we experience pleasure. Now, this is the place to practise.
How are we going to practise with these things? This is the crucial point. If we just run around chasing after happiness and running away from suffering all the time, we can practise until the day we die and never see the Dhamma. This is useless. When pleasure and pain arise how are we going to use the Dhamma to be freed of them. This is the point of practice.
Usually when people encounter something disagreeable, they don’t open up to it. For instance, when people are criticised, they will respond – ‘don’t bother me’ or ‘why blame me’. This is someone who has closed himself off. Right there is the place to practise. When people criticise us, we should listen. Are they speaking the truth? We should be open and consider what they are saying. Maybe there is something in what they say. Maybe there is something blameworthy within us. They may be right and yet we immediately take offense. If people point out our faults, we should strive to get rid of these faults and improve ourselves. That is how intelligent people practise.
The place where there is confusion is the place where peace can arise. When confusion is penetrated with understanding, what remains is peace. Some people can’t accept criticism, they are arrogant. Instead, they turn around and argue. This is especially so when adults deal with children. Actually, children may say some intelligent things sometimes; but if you happen to be their mother for instance, you can’t give in to them. If you are a teacher, your students may sometimes tell you something that you didn’t know, but because you are the teacher you can’t listen. This is not right thinking.
In the Buddha’s time there was one disciple who was very astute. At one time as the Buddha was expanding the Dhamma, He turned to this monk and asked ‘Sariputta, do you believe this’. Venerable Sariputta replied ‘No I don’t yet believe it’. The Buddha praised his answer; ‘that is very good Sariputta. You are one who is endowed with wisdom’. One who is wise doesn’t readily believe. He listens with an open mind and then evaluates the truth of the matter before believing or disbelieving.
What Venerable Sariputta said was true. He simply expressed his true feelings. Some people would think that to say that you didn’t believe that teaching would be like questioning the teacher’s authority. They do be afraid to say such a thing. They just go ahead and agree. That is how the worldly way goes. But the Buddha didn’t take offence. It is not wrong to say that you don’t believe if you don’t believe.
The Buddha’s actions here are a good example for one who is a teacher of others. Sometimes you can learn things even from small children. Don’t cling blindly to positions of authority. Whether you are standing, sitting or walking around in various places, you can always study the things around you. We study in the natural way, receptive to all things. Be there sights, smells, tastes, feelings or thoughts, the wise person considers them all. In the real practice we come to the point where there are no longer any concerns weighing on the mind. There is nothing to this feeling of like or dislike; just a feeling that arises and passes away. If we think that pleasure and pain are personal possessions, then we are in for trouble.
Some people say it is impossible to practise Dhamma as a layperson and can’t become a monk. Being a monk doesn’t mean anything, if you don’t practise. If you really understand the practice of Dhamma then no matter what positional profession you hold in life, be it a teacher, a doctor, a civil servant or whatever. You can practise Dhamma every minute of the day. To think you can’t practise as a layperson is to lose track of the path completely.
Why is it people can find the incentive to do other things? If they feel they are lacking something they make an effort to obtain it. If there is sufficient desire, people can do anything. Some say, I haven’t got the time to practise the Dhamma; then how come you have got time to breathe? Breathing is vital to people’s lives. If they saw Dhamma practice as vital to their lives, they would see it as important as their breathing. The practice of Dhamma isn’t something that you have to go running around for or exhaust yourself over. Just look at the feelings which arise in your mind. When the eye sees forms, the ear hears sounds, nose smells odors and so on. They all come to this one mind – the one who knows. Now, when the mind perceives these things, what happens? If we like that object, we experience pleasure. If we dislike it, we experience displeasure. That is all there is to it.
The Buddha lived in this world, He didn’t live anywhere else. He experienced family life but He saw its limitations and detached Himself from them. Now, how are you as a layperson going to practise? If you are under practice, you must make an effort to follow the path. If you persevere with the practice, you too will see the limitations of this world and be able to let go. People who drink alcohol sometimes say ‘I just can’t give it up’. Why can’t they give it up? This is because they don’t yet see the liability in it. If they have clearly seen the liability, they wouldn’t have to wait to be told to give it up. If you don’t see the liability of something that means you also can’t see the benefit of giving it up. Your practice becomes fruitless.