When living in a monastery, there tends not to be such an intense focus on Samādhi (concentration) as much as one might find on a ten day or seven day meditation retreat. However, life in a monastery offers different kinds of lessons, different qualities that can be developed. Things tend to be less intensely focused, so we need to look at our attitudes: how we view things like our requisites or our work and how we relate to the people around us. We can’t afford to be in a quiet place all the time, allowing the Samādhi to develop as our main focus all hours of the day.
One thing Ajahn Chah spoke about, encouraged in his students, and tried to foster in his students is the quality of Right View. Right View can mean so many things but it tends to focus on a view that’s going to conduce for lessening and eliminating suffering rather than the developing suffering and being overwhelmed by suffering. Sometimes it’s not just a matter of calming the mind down. We need to look at our experiences and see what it is that is creating a disturbance in the mind. When we’ve been in a place like this for a long period of time, we’ve had a lot of opportunities to infuse our experience with many different wholesome qualities. So if we look at our experience and notice that the mind isn’t calm, then it is possible recollect and examine the activities we do, the intentions we have throughout the day, and see what it is that is causing a disturbance. When you look at your mind in that way, you can see that there’s a cause or a reason for the mind being either settled or unsettled. And so by looking at the mind, we can start to see the causes and the problems that we create for ourselves and how it is that we become entangled or caught up so easily.
We can look at it is in terms of individual actions or conversations. And on a deeper level, you can also start to look at your views and start to see how you relate to things like pleasure and pain. Ajahn Wanchai once said: “Pleasure is not your friend and pain is not your enemy; life is not your friend and death is not your enemy.” These things, these polarities, these worldly dhammas: liking and disliking, praise and blame, fame and disrepute, are the kinds of things we give a lot of credence to. We try move towards what’s positive, to seek what’s pleasant and we try to push away what’s unpleasant. The result is a lot of suffering, a lot of discontent, because we can’t always get what we want and sometimes we get what we don’t want. So when we look at that and look at our view, then we have to clarify and see for ourselves what it is that is really and truly fundamental. If we make pleasure and pain our fundamental value then we’re going to get caught up in pleasure and pain because there is no end to it. And even if we do the very best that we possibly can, we’ll still suffer, difficult things can still come our way. And sometimes when we do things that are unskillful, we experience immediate gratification, so this can be difficult and cause complexity in our Dhamma practice. We have to therefore look inwards, try to see more clearly and try to make right decisions the best we can. This can range from how we get up in the morning to how we relate to our requisites, to the food that we eat and to the way that we relate to the things around us as supports for our bodies and also how we relate to the body itself. Just looking at all the things that we do, how we give credence to pleasure or how we push away pain, can have a great impact in helping us understand the nature of our experience.
The Four Noble truths are about looking and trying to understand suffering. And sometimes it’s the case that we’re not able to do that. So we do have to back away and find some kind of pleasure, some kind of temporary refuge in something that is good or pleasant. So it’s not to say that you have to starve yourself of every kind of pleasurable feeling, that isn’t really the way either. But we have to find a way in which we can gradually let go of the lesser happiness and reach for a higher happiness, reaching out further and further. The path of S?la (morality), Samādhi, and Pañña (wisdom) does just that, developing our virtue as a basis for calm and using calm as a basis for Pañña. Pañña is helpful because it informs our experience, purifies our conduct and looks to S?la as we go along. And it works in a circle in just that way. There isn’t one thing that you pick up. Its not that you start from Sāla and then Pañña is the end. They all work together. As Ajahn Chah said, they are all like a mango. They go together. There’s the mango when its unripe and then there’s the mango when it’s is ripe. And there’s the mango and the seed from it. In this same way we grow and develop the qualities and factors of the Eightfold Path. So these are some reflections this morning.