Paying Attention to Details

Luang Por Pasanno • May 2012

When bringing Dhamma practice into our daily lives, it’s important that we pay attention to the ordinary little details around us. If we hold to a broad, nebulous “just be mindful” attitude, we’re unlikely to be clear about what we’re doing. So it’s important to keep ourselves from overlooking things, especially while living in community as we do here at the monastery.

Through our attention to ordinary details, we cultivate an attitude of mindfulness that’s sharp and connected with what’s happening around us—an attitude that is central to our training. Over time, this attitude permeates the way we relate to our minds and our experiences. That’s critical because our defilements don’t advertise themselves by holding up big signs that say, “Greed! Hatred! Delusion!” We need to look closely if we’re to discern and understand the nuances of the attachment and delusion we experience. If we haven’t cultivated the habit of paying attention to details—both external and internal—if we don’t put forth the extra effort required for that, then we’ll miss many significant aspects of our practice.

The Buddha pointed to yoniso manasikāra as a vital part of the path. It refers to skillful and wise reflection and close attention to the root of things. This quality doesn’t pop up by itself like a mushroom in the fall; it has to be cultivated. In our ordinary day-to-day activities, we can support this cultivation by again paying attention to details. We do this, for instance, by making a continuous effort to notice when any little thing needs doing, such as returning a tool to its proper place, and then doing what’s called for, even if it’s not “our job.” When everyone pays attention and takes responsibility like that, the monastery functions beautifully.

The Buddha based this entire path of liberation upon the experience of dissatisfaction, discomfort, stress, suffering—dukkha. Paying attention to details is a doorway though which we can learn what leads to dukkha and what doesn’t. While it may seem like a small thing, this attention is essential if we’re to live our lives skillfully and in a way that opens us to the possibility of true peace and freedom.