resolve, the eighth pāramī, part 4

Ajahn Sucitto

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.

bent into shape

POSTCARD #265: Chiang Mai: I’d decided to use this image for the header thinking the way I cope with my headache is an improvised thing, much like the way this traffic sign has been bent back into shape after something has crashed into it – then as I write this I’m distracted by wind chimes from the balcony of the next-door house, which suddenly play a perfect chord in the air. I slip into wakefulness from the dream of that which I’m held by, and become an extension of the wind-chime’s notes. Horizontal on the bed as if shipwrecked on a sandy beach. Waves rushing in to the shore crash-crash, and the whole thing receding back. Comes rushing in again, crash-crash-crash, becoming a form that shapes into the body of the sea rolling over on its side like a great animal trying to sleep in an enormous bed. Then I realize I’m awake and have to give my whole attention to the headache that lives with me… just looking at it, seeing it as it is.

Wind chimes strike groupings of notes like the random sound of birds in the trees. I’ve been reading about knowledge which is so completely at one with the thing it knows, there is complete understanding, complete absorption into that knowledge. I can understand how that could be – it is of course a description of events, rather than the thing itself. Seems amazing to me, being as far away as I am, living in the world of attachment, the automatic bonding, even with things I dislike; seeing that and learning, by necessity, the strategy of no-avoidance….

I’ve had this headache for long enough to know that how it is right now, is the kind of suffering I can accept and live with for the time being. I can open up to the presence of it, as a form of recognition, accepting it as it is. Just the ‘me,’ being like this, still slightly on-edge, alert for the spikes which appear sometimes – but no, not this time. It becomes an energy accumulating with the in-breath, disintegrating with the long out-breath like the waves at sea breaking on the shore. I can open up to and experience the fact that it’s here, then it’s collapsing again as the out-breath distances it, like a long golf course, or a road winding into a landscape.

Curious, interested, and seeing the headache I experience as the First Noble Truth… just this openness to it. The contemplation is about calm, steadiness and everything else is swept away in a storm of liking, disliking, wanting, not wanting. Remain firmly in that same place as the wave returns and there it is again but I don’t need to hold on to it by hating it, or seeing it as something somehow construed and thought to be ‘bad’. See all of that happening, see it disassembling, falling to pieces; form, feeling, perception, fabrications, consciousness… and the ‘I’ can vanish into the totality of it.

Time to get the headache into the shower and get on with things. Then I’m at my desk, and at some point in the mid-morning, see how it feels, take the meds, then I’m falling back into a world of no pain, stumbling at the wonder of it. The day gets through in a dull fogginess. Sleep, and next morning I wake up with the opportunity to be back in this place of mindfulness again…

“To know yourself as the Being underneath the thinker, the stillness underneath the mental noise, the love and joy underneath the pain, is freedom, salvation, enlightenment.” [Eckhart Tolle]

The sign says: turn left, caution, traffic coming from the right

a buddhist’s sense of suffering

IMG_2872bOLD NOTEBOOKS: CHIANG MAI: I’m lying with an IV drip in my arm and exactly why, I don’t know right now, but there’s also a laser beam directed into my vein along with the needle. So presumably, laser light is present all through the circulatory system as the chelation fluid enters my body. This special treatment may provide a cure in the long term for the PERMANENT HEADACHE I’m learning to live with… who knows, I’ll try anything, and at least they treat you well here. I’m laid-back in a comfortable soft TV lounger but instead of TV watching I’m looking out into a small garden with birds to watch and scribbling notes on a print-out from the first draft of this post… careful of the pain from the needle in my left arm.

FullSizeRender (7)I have to say, this is about my experience of headaches, discomfort and suffering so if you don’t like the thought of reading more about pain, click the button and get away from here now! But if you’re curious and interested in the buddhist sense of suffering, think of any kind of discomfort you have experienced and consider this: it’s the struggle to get away from pain that causes the suffering. The energy used in trying to get away from it just fans the flames and makes it what it is. And, because it’s habitual, maybe a lifetime of doing it like this, things just go on and on until I see the only thing that’s preventing me from letting go of suffering is that I’m still holding on to it.

This insight into suffering comes about, not by choice, but by allowing yourself to be in a no-choice situation – or maybe it’s like that; there’s no other way, absolutely no escape. And, what I’m talking about here will be familiar to sufferers of chronic pain, usually you do everything in your power to not even think about this kind of thing, so there’s a kind of unpreparedness about it. Unknowingly you’re caught like the proverbial rabbit hypnotized by the circling predator. Helpless, you give up, go stumbling towards the pain and unexpectedly, a door opens inside that place and there’s an easing. You discover it’s a mind thing; the habitual action to get away from it is the cause of the pain… it’s this vortex you get to in the end that leads to the discovery of the moment of easing held in the center of pain. I feel the moisture of an eye-blink, the absolute physicality of being here.

There’s a strange kind of time shift about it, it’s somehow not until after it’s happened you notice time skips a beat. It’s somewhere around here that the realization happens; ignorance is displaced by the knowledge of it, awareness floods in and there’s an acceptance of this new direction towards pain; you let it in enough to somehow find a release from it. It’s an immediate understanding that somehow you know you’ve gone through it, so you can’t be ‘held’ by it anymore There’s a real sense of achievement, you are bigger than it; there’s motivation, energy, freedom.

How to apply this? A conceptual understanding of the release forms; it’s more than an acceptance of the pain, it’s an embracing of the pain – an expanding awareness that pain is not a thing you carry along with you. Dispose of all the heaviness; it’s something to be travelled through. It’s this that lets it go (frees it). The knot in the string is undone. Can’t be explained, not a conscious understanding… just that something is changed inside the thinking process, a felt difference – “felt” rather than “thought to be” – and the suffering is suddenly not there anymore.

‘We learn how to let go, in the process of observing the consequence of our grasping.’  [Ajahn Munindo, Dhammasakaccha]


Note: excerpts from an earlier post: things not being right and special thanks to Pennycoho for our short exchange in the comments box long ago   –   G   R   A   T   I   T   U   D   E   –