The Mango Picking Pole Is Too Long

Luang Por Pasanno • August 2013

Sometimes we feel compelled to think, figure things out, analyze what we’re doing, and marshal all the logical reasons for directing our practice in a particular way, but in the end, it’s simply busyness. And an important part of our practice is developing skills that prevent the mind from being trapped in busyness.

Ajahn Chah used the example of picking mangoes. In Thailand, mangoes are picked by using a long bamboo pole with a little basket at the end. Usually the mangoes are on branches fifteen or twenty feet from the ground. Ajahn Chah would say, “If our mango pole is twenty-five or thirty feet, it is much too long for the task. When considering what things could advance our practice, we might think having a Ph.D. or being really smart would help. But that may be like having too long of a pole: too much thinking, too much intelligence, too much of figuring things out. It may not be what is needed.”

We do need to use reflection and investigation to understand our experiences. But that reflection and investigation needs to be appropriate and balanced. In the same way that picking mangoes requires a pole that’s been cut to the proper length, we need to tailor our thought processes to the task at hand. The task at hand is understanding: How do I not suffer? How do I not create problems? How do I not increase my suffering and confusion? Those questions are more important than, Do I have all the information I need? Should I think more about my problem? What logic can I use to figure it out? This can be mental overkill—more than what the Buddha would have us do.

Instead, we can learn to maintain a balance in our use of thinking and logical analysis. We do this by paying close attention to what is useful in helping us prevent or ease suffering and confusion. We can learn to apply thought at the right time and in the right amount, and learn how to let go of thought when it’s not necessary.