Putting Our Moods in Their Place

Ajahn Pasanno

Putting Our Moods in Their Place

I’ve been thinking about Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo, recalling his most memorable interaction with Ajahn Chah while living at Wat Pah Pong.

One day while out on alms round, Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo had a slight argument with another monk and became stirred up and upset. When he returned to the monastery, Ajahn Chah smiled at him and uncharacteristically in English said, “Good morning.” Of course Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo was really tickled with that, and this feeling of happiness arose that was uplifting for him.

In the late afternoon, he went over to Ajahn Chah’s dwelling place. Oftentimes monks would go over there in the afternoon when laypeople came by to pay respects and ask questions; it was a good opportunity to hear Ajahn Chah give advice. As evening approached, Ajahn Chah sent everybody off to pūjā, except for Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo, who alone was asked to stay. He sat beneath Luang Por Chah, massaging his feet. In the distance he could hear the chanting of evening pūjā, with the stillness of the forest almost palpable. Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo described it as an ethereal, heavenly experience, and he felt quite blissful.

Suddenly, Ajahn Chah pulled his foot away and kicked Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo in the chest, sending him flat on his back. This was quite a shock, of course. Then Ajahn Chah said, “You’re not really paying attention to the practice or the training. You have an argument in the morning and get upset, carrying around a mood of ill will. Then all it takes is one person to say good morning to you, and you go off into a happy mood, spending the day proliferating about that. You come over here and even more happens that pleases you, so you get into an even happier mood. Next I put you flat on your back, and you’re confused. That’s not the mind of a practitioner, that’s not the mind of somebody who is training in Dhamma. You have to be able to stop yourself from following your moods. You do your best not to be caught by them, believe in them, or buy into them. That’s what defines a practitioner.” As one might imagine, this was an exceedingly powerful and influential teaching for Ajahn Ñāṇadhammo.

For all of us, moods are woven into the fabric of our lives. We go up and down, get inspired and depressed, energetic or enervated by our moods. None of that is the essence of practice. To really practice is to see through these conditions, to see them clearly, as they really are, “This is just a mood. This happens to be something I like. This happens to be something I dislike.” It doesn’t mean we don’t have feelings, but we resist picking them up and running with them all the time.

As we go about our day, we need to look at the nature of our impressions—to look at the contact, the feelings, and the way moods want us to go—and stop ourselves from giving in to them. We have to be willing to look closely at moods and challenge them. With peaceful moods, for instance, if we get what we want and things go the way we prefer, that’s not very stable, that’s no refuge at all. The refuge is in sati-paññā—mindfulness and wisdom. We use sati-paññā to cultivate truth-discerning awareness at all times. We know our moods, we know their arising and their fading away. Whether they are pleasant or unpleasant, we don’t get caught by them nor do we follow them. We learn to relinquish this tendency of mind.

This reflection by Luang Por Pasanno is from the book, Beginning Our Day, Volume 2, (pdf) pp. 183-185.