Doing What’s Difficult to Do

Ajahn Ñāṇiko • July 2012

Living in a monastery can be very difficult—eating one meal a day, keeping precepts, trying to live and work together as a harmonious community. But as Master Hua said, “If we want to practice Dhamma, we have to do what’s difficult to do, what others would not choose to do.” Even though most people wouldn’t choose to live in this way, there’s an enormous benefit to what we’re doing here. Living in community, we learn how to hold things lightly and take responsibility for what’s happening in our minds.

During the work period, it’s easy for one little event to trigger anger, irritation, or some sort of desire. If this happens when we’re interacting with someone, the mind convinces us that it’s the other person’s fault, as if these defilements came from that other person. So it’s good to remember that irritation, anger, and desires come from within our own minds. They arise there and then seek external objects to latch on to. That’s why sometimes, no matter how easygoing we may be, when we come in contact with some little thing, we can become irritated—the conditions for that irritation were already there. And when we get stuck in irritation or anger with another community member, we can forget that it’s dukkha. We’re suffering and the other person is suffering too. Sometimes we can get angry at someone else because they’re angry. This is ridiculous, but it’s the way it works. The Buddha said, “If you don’t react with anger to an angry person, then you win a battle hard to win.” When interacting with others, we may need to swallow our pride from time to time, as difficult as that may be.

I remember during my third Rains Retreat in Thailand, I was doing walking meditation every day for several hours after the meal. There was a lot of doubt coming up. I was literally driving myself to tears with constant doubts in the mind. There I was on the walking meditation path, no one else was around, and I was mired in suffering because of this unstoppable mental proliferation. That’s how it is sometimes. But these experiences are good to have—by going through them, we become stronger. Even so, it’s difficult to do.

Master Hua said that we’re aiming to develop a “long-enduring mind”—a mind that can sustain itself through the months and years without sinking far down, becoming dark, falling out of the robes, or not wanting to be in a monastery anymore. To develop this long-enduring mind, we need to come back to peace, to the skillful actions that help sustain us, and to the factors of letting go. We need to come back again and again, moment by moment. It may be difficult to do, but the reward is true freedom.