I also used to think: ‘My mind is too alert and bright; I’ve got so much restless movement in my mind.’ Because I had always wanted to have an interesting personality, I trained myself in that direction and acquired all sorts of useless information and silly ideas, so I could be a charming, entertaining person. But that doesn’t really count; it’s useless in a monastery in North East Thailand. When you’re alone with nobody to charm, that mental habit just goes around in your mind and nothing’s fascinating any more…
Learn to be more patient with things as they are, with yourself – your hang-ups, your obsessive thoughts, your restless mind – and with the way things are externally…
We still have the hope that eventually enlightenment will make us a more interesting, with-it person than an unenlightened being: if you could just become enlightened you could surely increase the feeling of self-importance. But the Buddha-wisdom is a very humbling wisdom, and it takes a great deal of patience to be wise like Buddha. Buddha-wisdom isn’t a particularly fascinating kind of wisdom – it’s not like being a nuclear physicist, a psychiatrist or a philosopher. Buddha-wisdom is very humbling because it knows that whatever arises passes away and is not-self. It knows that whatever condition of the body and mind arises, it is conditioned. And it knows the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned.
But is knowing the Unconditioned very interesting or fascinating? Try to think of knowing the Unconditioned – would that be interesting? You might think, ‘I’d like to know God or the Dhamma: that would be a really fascinating thing to know, something blissful and ecstatic.’ So you look in your meditation for that kind of experience. You think that getting high is getting close.
But the Unconditioned is as interesting as the space in this room. Is the space in this room very interesting to look at? It isn’t to me: the space in this room is like the space in the other rooms. The things in this room might be interesting or uninteresting or whatever – good, bad, beautiful, ugly – but the space … what is it? There is nothing you can really say or think about it; it has no quality except being spatial.
And to be able really to be aware of space, one has to be patient. As there is nothing one can grasp, one recognizes space in the room only by not clinging to the objects in it. When you let go, when you stop your absorptions in the beings and the things in the room (along with the judgements, criticisms and evaluations of them) you begin to experience its space. But that takes a lot of patience and humility.
…when we just sit here in the space, the body starts becoming painful and we become restless or sleepy. Then we endure, we watch and we listen. We listen to the mind, its complaining, the fears, the doubts and the worries, not in order to come up with some interesting, fascinating conclusions about ourselves as being anything, but just as a mere recognition, a bare recognition that all that arises passes away.
Buddha-wisdom is just that much: knowing the conditioned as the conditioned, and the Unconditioned as the Unconditioned. Buddhas rest in the Unconditioned, and unless it’s necessary no longer seek absorption into anything. They are no longer deluded by any conditions, and they incline to the Unconditioned, the space, the emptiness, rather than towards the changing conditions within the space.
In your meditation now, as you incline towards the emptiness of the mind, towards the space in the mind, your habitual grasping, fascination, revulsion, fears, doubts and worries about these conditions lessen. They’re not-self, nothing to be excited about or depressed about; they are as they are. You begin to recognize that conditions are just things that come and go and that’s why we can allow them to be just as they are. Their nature is to go away, so we don’t have to make them do so. We’re free and patient and enduring enough to allow things to take their natural course. In this way we liberate ourselves from the struggle, strife and confusion of the ignorant mind which has to spend all its time evaluating and discriminating, trying to hold onto or get rid of something.
So reflect on what I’ve said, and take all the time in the world to endure the unendurable. What seems to be unendurable is endurable if you are patient. Be patient with others and with the world as it is, rather than always dwelling on what’s wrong with it and how you’d like it to be if you had your way. Remember that the world happens to be as it is, and right now that’s the only way it can be. The only thing we can do is be patient with it. That doesn’t mean that we approve or like it any better, but it does mean we can exist in it peacefully, rather than complaining, rebelling and causing more friction and confusion, adding to the confusion through believing in our own confusion.
This reflection by Ajahn Sumedho is from the book, Peace Is a Simple Step, (pdf) p. 57-60.