The Lived Experience

Ajahn Pasanno

The Lived Experience

I think it’s easy to hold out hope that if I just get these teachings, the intellectual structure, or the techniques down pat, then I’ll be able to free myself from suffering. Maybe it’s not articulated as baldly as that, but it’s easy to internalize this and forget that there’s another really crucial element.

Sometimes the teachings can be a bit formulaic, so it’s important to investigate their nuances. It’s easy to say, in a pat phrase, that these are just unwholesome mental states arising out of unwholesome actions and speech. But we’re real people, and the feelings are very real. The habits we entrench ourselves in are very real. It’s also too easy, too pat, just to use some of the teachings to put labels on things. So, you say: “It’s all dukkha. Get used to it. What did you expect? Life sucks, anyway.” Or, “It’s all anicca, dukkha, anattā.” Even though that’s true, it’s not performing its function. The Buddha’s insights into those universal characteristics are insights that lead to a penetration, a realization that allows one to be at complete peace with the way things are.

In contemplating the teachings and way of practice, we start realizing how important it is that there also needs to be a recognition of vulnerability to dukkha, discomfort, dis-ease. The response that is needed is really one of rising up to this with a sense of mindfulness, patience, and equanimity. When they’re just words, you can put an intellectual framework around them, but the willingness to be present with experience that patience implies is very different. In terms of equanimity, it’s the willingness to be steady, unmoving, and unshaken by experience. One has to be there for it; one can’t just push something down or cover it over with a concept or idea. It’s not just the idea of equanimity or even the idea of wisdom, even if you have all the right answers.

“It’s all anicca, dukkha, anattā. It’s this cause, that cause.” What is the feeling? What is the experience? Again, it’s the need to recognize the vulnerability we have in the human condition.

Because of that willingness to be present and give, one’s own discomfort is transformed. Ease, clarity, and peace don’t come just because we can put a label on our experience, cover it over with the phrases of a wise discourse from the suttas, or go back and meditate. These are obviously all things that we need to be developing and cultivating, but there has to be the element of courage to look at and live our experience, the courage to be in a position of being vulnerable. It’s hard to get that in a textbook or a book of Buddhist philosophy. It’s the lived experience that is crucial.

This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Beneath the Bodhi Tree, Chapter “Beneath the Bodhi Tree.”