Clearing the Residues

Ajahn Sucitto

Clearing the Residues

Do you ever find yourself dominated by a chain of thought that tells you that you’re not good enough, and don’t deserve much?  Are you convinced that other people look down on you? Does your mind recite memories of things you did wrong in dramatic detail? Do you find that when you admire someone, you simultaneously feel unworthy of them? Or that, although you really ought to be a success and help the world, you’re never really going to achieve anything? That voice, that attitude, is the Tyrant. If there is such a thing as freedom, peace and ease – it must entail dethroning this Tyrant from our minds.

Freedom is an aspiration that many people can resonate with; as a practice it means meeting and overcoming our inner tyrannies – whatever their urgings. There are many, often contradictory: along with preoccupations with duties and obligations, and the sense that ‘I should calm down’, come the feelings of inadequacy and guilt that lock the door of the heart. ‘I’m never going to get clear,’ they say, ‘or be happy. There’s something wrong with me. I’m like this because I messed up.’

This is why we should take Angulimala, the serial killer who became an arahant, as our patron saint. …he can certainly be said to have messed up; and yet his murdering didn’t amount to an insurmountable obstacle to awakening. This is because, according to the Conch Blower sutta (Connected Discourses, 42.8) what sticks bad actions to us aren’t the actions themselves, but their stickiness. Action based on clinging – to sense-data, impulses, views and the notion of self – is sticky and because of this leaves residues. So we have to deal with these residues, which are left as a vague, stuck mess called ‘I am this’. The practice of clearing these residues is one of clearing the identification with actions and their results.

A major obstacle to this clearing is denial (which shields a notional self), the bluster that tries to shrug off, justify or blame one’s actions on other people. Another obstacle is guilt (which creates a sinful self). What both of these reactions have in common is that they obstruct an investigation of the emotions and psychologies that constitute that apparent self.

To investigate the lack of control and the unskilful action as it is amounts to skilful remorse and conscience; these neither justify nor burden a self, because they relate to the actions, not the identity. They are healthy and have to be responded to; firstly by an acknowledgement that is free from justification and judgement; secondly by the avowal to understand any error and refrain from such actions in the future; and thirdly by widening and softening the mind with kindness, compassion, appreciative gladness and equanimity to all concerned – including this heart and mind.

We have to acknowledge that our minds get overwhelmed and aren’t entirely our own. This is not an easy process, but one that one can train in.

This reflection by Ajahn Sucitto is from the Ajahn Sucitto Blog: Reflections page, “Sin, Sex, and the Inner Tyrant.”