You have to make the teaching work, though. Just to worship it, praise it, read it, and analyze it is one thing. There is nothing wrong with that. But the main point of the Buddha’s teaching is the paṭipadā; put it into practice, make it work for you. I can only encourage you; I can’t make the teaching work for you. And of course the Buddha couldn’t either. He just gave a teaching which we had to take and apply to the reality of our own lives.
It is a simple teaching based on the common factor of suffering. This is the common bond that we share with all creatures. We all have birth, old age, sickness, death. We have fears, desires, jealousy, greed, mental confusion and so forth. There is no mystery or any particular emphasis that applies more to one group or another. They are the common factors, no matter what religion, race, or nationality you belong to. This teaching of the Noble Truths is about our human condition and how to understand it. And I’ve had the good fortune to have this opportunity to put it into practice, learn from it, and be able to resolve my own personal problems, fears and emotional habits that I have had to live with and experience.
Monastic life is not a magic formula, but it is a helpful form that keeps reminding us to wake up, pay attention and not get lost in all the problems the world creates, or that you create about yourself in the world. After all these years of using this teaching, I have trust and faith in it. It is an absolutely perfect formula that can be applied to anyone, because it takes this common factor of suffering and, just by changing your attitude towards it, makes you begin to understand what it is to be a human being.
You begin to understand what it is to be a sensitive form, to be afraid of death, wanting pleasure and success, not wanting pain, and fearing failure and loss. And then there’s wanting something to be what it can’t be; trying to create an illusory world, a utopian dream that can never really happen because it is not based on Dhamma, on reality, but only on high-minded ideas. I think this particular teaching has a great and important message. It is particularly valuable at this time when there are so many problems…
This reflection by Ajahn Sumedho on his eightieth birthday is from the Forest Sangha Newsletter, Annual Issue 2015, #94, pp. 3-4.