Practicing What Works

Luang Por Pasanno • August 2013

When we reflect on the best way to practice, it’s good to focus on what works for us. We may read about various techniques and methods and wonder which is the right one for us. We can ask ourselves, What have I done that works? What has helped the mind relinquish its attachments and defilements? What has helped the mind become more peaceful, settled, and clear?

As we practice, we come to realize what works for us will change, depending on conditions. Simply because something worked today doesn’t mean it’s going to work tomorrow, and what didn’t work in the past may work for us now. This makes it necessary to adapt and experiment. Ajahn Chah used to repeat a quote from one of his teachers, Ajahn Tong Rat, who taught that the practice is very straightforward and easy: “If the defilements come high, then duck; if they come low, then jump.” Within the bounds of sīla, morality, we practice with whatever the situation demands—whatever works—as long as it has a wholesome outcome. This entails asking ourselves, How might I work with this particular situation? Once we have a sense of what might be a proper approach, we put it into practice and evaluate the results.

This points to an ongoing, evolving relationship between how we practice and how the mind works within this practice. It takes time to discover skillful ways of engaging with that relationship. It’s a learning process. But by sticking with this process, by taking a genuine interest in it, we can develop a good sense of what practices are truly beneficial—what truly works for us.