In truth, we cannot really grasp anything properly, because as soon as we catch hold of it, it’s gone. We want to somehow make things belong to us and become part of us. But our attempt to grasp these things is based on a false premise. Say we buy an object and call it ours. What in that object has changed by the mere act of purchasing it? Nothing. It is the same after we bought it as it was before. Only our idea of it has changed. It now “belongs” to us. Because this grasping is based on a false premise, we can never find satisfaction in what we grasp. And because of their unsatisfactory nature, we cannot take refuge in external things.
People are always searching for a satisfactory refuge, but they never find one. To begin with, they look inside themselves. But, although the primary refuge exists inside them, they can’t reach it because it’s concealed by the defiling presence of greed, hatred and delusion. Due to defilements, when people focus inside themselves, all they see is a mess. They find nothing there that they want, nothing to serve as a refuge. What do people do then? They search in the world outside themselves. Consequently, people become interested in all sorts of mundane things that lead them on and on in a fruitless search for the contentment of a secure personal refuge. They end up with only more discontent, more suffering, because they grasp at things that have no real substance, like grasping a handful of air. Yet they keep on grasping, hoping to find contentment but inevitably experiencing the opposite.
The Buddha taught methods that can be used to cure our discontent from within, not out in the world. In other words, we try to counter those kilesas that cause us to suffer all the time. As we begin eliminating the kilesas, we catch a glimpse of the mind’s true essence, what we call the citta. And we begin to see how valuable it is. When we begin to understand the true value of the citta, an attachment to that essence of mind begins to manifest. When the attachment to the citta grows strong, attachment to the external world dies away.
The more we eliminate the kilesas, the more we see the value of the citta. Until, finally, when we realize the nature of the citta completely, the attachment to the world entirely disappears. There is no need to make an effort to give up things because at that stage giving up is automatic. This is the true aim of the Buddha’s teaching.
This reflection by Ajaan Pannavaddho is from the book, Uncommon Wisdom, pp. 140-41.