Self-Concern: A Desert Experience

Ajahn Amaro

Self-Concern: A Desert Experience

Theravada Buddhism, for instance, is often taken to represent the Hinayana position, the self-concern of ‘Quick, let me out of here, I’ve had enough of this mess; I want this to be over as quickly as possible.’

One can see that that represents a very definite stage in one’s own spiritual development.

For example, we start out with just a worldly attitude; basically we’re not interested in spiritual development at all. We just want happiness, however and wherever we can find it. We have a worldly outlook and no real spiritual direction at all.

So then our first kind of awakening to spiritual life is when we start to acknowledge suffering. We recognize the need to rescue ourselves, to help ourselves.

So, the Hinayana refers to this initial stepping onto the spiritual path and seeing that there’s something that needs to be done to sort out our own life.

It’s a natural self-concern; you don’t set about helping other people or being too concerned about the welfare of others if you yourself are drowning. You have to get yourself to some firm shore to begin with.

But then basing your spiritual practice around self-concern and just trying to make your own life peaceful and happy is obviously of limited worth. We can see that if we do get stuck at that level, there is a certain aridity and barrenness that will set in.

…Self-concern takes us into a desert experience – even when we notice that the more coarse defilements of mind have abated or have worn themselves out; when we’re not possessed by too much anxiety or lust, greed, aversion, jealousy, or whatever; and the mind is quite peaceful.

As you may be aware, now that you’ve been a week into the meditation retreat, you can be sitting there with your mind quite concentrated, quite still and, rather than feeling rapture or a sense of wholeness and totality, the feeling is one of, ‘So what? Is this really what the Buddha built his teaching around, this blank mental state, with nothing much happening?’

With nothing much in the way of thoughts and feelings, no great passions to wrestle with; it’s like being in some little grey room.

It’s not disturbing in any way, but it seems a pretty tame experience to build a world religion around.

This reflection by Ajahn Amaro is excerpted from the talk, The Lesser, The Greater, The Diamond & The Way.