POSTCARD#419: Bangkok: This is the final part of Resolve adhitthāna, the 8th Parami from “Parami, Ways to Cross Life’s Floods” by Ajahn Sucitto. In this part of the text Ajahn describes how, for a three month period, he resolved to take on an entirely meaningless task in order to free a compulsive mind.
There was a time when I was responsible for a lot of duties around the monastery and this was making me busy and intense. I’d be sitting in meditation, thinking and planning details about the work, figuring out this and that. So I decided to occupy this busy mind with something meaningless, but devotional. We have a memorial stupa in the monastery, and every morning I’d get up at about 3:30 a.m. and go to the stupa to circumambulate it and bow to each of its four shrines. I decided to do that every day during one Rains Retreat, no matter what. So as soon as I woke up, before I could even think about it, I’d get up, get dressed and go. This may sound like a good idea in July, but in Britain in late October …
Rain and cold and dark. Inner muttering and lethargy. But whatever was in the mind at the time, I would put that mind state on one of the shrines on the stupa, and bow to it. I’d think: ‘Very good, I honour you.’ Then the mind would say, ‘What’s the point in doing this?’ and I’d reply, ‘I bow to you, I honour you.’ On another day, the mind would say, ‘This is pointless,’ and I’d focus on that mind state and bow to it. I developed a sense of opening to and supporting the mind, rather than trying to pull it into shape or make it have lovely thoughts. After a while, the mind would say, ‘I understand what you’re doing. I’ve got the point now, so now you can relax.’ And I’d think, ‘I bow to that mind state. I honour, love and respect you.’ Then the mind would say, ‘But it’s raining this morning.’ So I’d bow to that. The mind would say, ‘What are you trying to prove anyway? Who do you think you are?’ And I’d respond by bowing to and honouring that thought.
Crazy? A little — but it got me to see through the compulsive and insatiable nature of needing to be doing important things. That habit was getting me stuck on goodness, on putting myself in a repair shop to try to make samsāra work. And with this I wasn’t attuning to the invaluable lightness and joy that makes it possible to both live in and see through the world at the same time. This is where, when duty stales us, wise devotion can further us.
Devotion is not a matter of superstition or blind ritual. Directly experienced, it has a light, uplifting energy. The heart-activity of praising the good has an energy that lifts the mind. This energy can move us beyond the horizon of the functioning, managing mind with its self-importance, its need to be busy and its demand for results.
With devotion we can work without making a solid thing or person out of whatever great or small deeds we undertake. In such self emptying, the mind inclines towards the Nibbāna that is the basis for the serene compassion of the Buddha.
Over time, my resolve energy has simplified and calmed to one of sustaining the attitude, ‘May this action or thought be for my welfare, the welfare of others and lead to peace.’ Compared with the more extreme practices, such a resolve doesn’t make the headlines. But it acts as a life commitment and a basis for external action, enquiry and insight.
This resolve doesn’t make a self out of intention or results; it just holds experience carefully and lets it pass through and dissolve. This is beautiful, and selfless: the self doesn’t do it, pāramī does. In this way, when resolve widens through compassion and wisdom into self-surrender, we can liberate all the beings that arise in consciousness. Whether they arise from an internal or external source, we work to free them from aversion, indulgence, indifference and identification. (Continued next week 14 May 2021 with Holistic Kindness, the Mettā Pāramī)
Image details: Reclining Buddha, Gal Viharaya, Polonnawura, Sri Lanka 12th Century.