Sometimes we come to a monastery with a real sense of purpose but discover later that things may be very different from the purpose we envisaged at first.
After reading lots of books on Buddhism, we perhaps enter the monastery with the idea that we must become a good Buddhist, or become kind, or compassionate, or loving and so on.
And thus we enter into conflict with ourselves because the reality is quite different; in fact, it can be so different that we hardly recognize ourselves.
I remember this, and many of us have experienced it. You find that you’ve read enough books, and you have enough desires in yourself to become a better person.
So you enter the monastery but then discover that you experience yourself as somebody very different from the kind, loving, generous person you wished to develop into or at least know in yourself.
So we need to be able to understand this conflicting energy within ourselves.
On one level we want to be pure and loving and not driven by sensual desires. We want to be respectful of each other and so on. And then we discover these blind forces that are so different. It takes a while to really get to know these forces in ourselves and to get to know our habitual tendency to create the sense of self.
The self is like a punch bag; something punches it, and it punches back.
One reason why I think most of us love the Dhammacakkappavattana Sutta, the Buddha’s first teaching on the Four Noble Truths, is that it’s the story of the punchbag. Somebody says something that hits a little nerve. It doesn’t feel very good, so you punch or kick back.
All of us do it; don’t imagine you’re the only one. It’s an ongoing experience of this conditioning of ‘me’. Something hits a nerve that triggers a ‘me’, and of course we’re not aware of that, so we send back another ‘me’ that hits somebody else’s ‘me’, and this can go on forever.
It’s called the Wheel of Birth and Death. It keeps going.
This reflection by Ajahn Sundara is from the book, Walking the World, (pdf) pp. 142-143.