When we’re engaged in a lot of activity, we can become so focused on the details of what we’re doing that we forget there’s an element of generosity and goodness in our actions. When Ajahn Sumedho was a young monk, Luang Por Chah recommended that he recollect his good qualities. Ajahn Sumedho couldn’t understand what Luang Por was talking about because his mind was quite busy and filled up with negative thoughts and emotional habits. He thought of himself as basically a selfish, nasty, horrible person, and an embarrassment to the robes.
Luang Por Chah told him, “If you’re such a bad person and really evil, you wouldn’t want to live with Buddhist monks. We would be the last people you would want to spend time with. If you’re so off the mark and if your mind is so given to unwholesomeness, you wouldn’t want to be around people who are honest, refrain from stealing, refrain from consuming intoxicants, people who don’t behave in unruly ways. The last thing you’d want to do is be around virtuous people.” When Luang Por said this to him, he was quite startled by it. He thought to himself, You know that’s true. I can easily forget that I’m living in a Buddhist monastery with Buddhist monks. There must be some reason why I’m doing this.
We can become quite focused on our faults, wrongdoings, and the things we said that were less than generous, friendly, helpful, or patient. Even after someone has asked us for advice, what we think about later is how much better it would have been to have said this or that. Oh, I really didn’t get that right. The attention goes to all our shortcomings, failures, and weaknesses, and we obsess on those qualities.
That’s how it was for Ajahn Sumedho. So when Luang Por Chah suggested, “Why don’t you recollect all of your good qualities?” there was no pigeonhole for him to put them in. At that time any good quality he had, he saw as inflated, egotistical, proud, or conceited. But Luang Por said, “No. This is cāgānus-sati, recollecting your goodness, recollecting your own generosity. It’s a completely normal concept.” Now, since we’ve had the good fortune to hear Laung Por Chah’s advice to Ajahn Sumedho, it would behoove us to put that advice into practice for ourselves.
One way for us to do that is to recollect all the good effort we’re making in looking after the kitchen, providing food, looking after the construction projects, the kuṭis, the buildings, or the micro-hydro project we’re setting up. These are acts of generosity and kindness, of putting forth effort and putting forth our time to help other people. Many people have helped with the construction of the kuṭi down by the Bhikkhu Commons. Of those people, how many are actually going to live in it? Probably a very small proportion. The effort that we make is not simply in the single task we do, but also in the wholesomeness and goodness it supports—the kusala kamma it supports. By providing this dwelling, this food, these Dhamma talks, we bring enormous blessings into our lives.
Take Tan Ṭhitapañño, for instance. He’s wrestling with the intricacies of the Expression Engine software and the obstructive passwords that won’t let him use the program. When doing such hard work, it can be easy to forget about the fact that there are people all over the planet who delight in what this work accomplishes, Oh look, a new Dhamma talk on the Abhayagiri website. How marvelous! This is fantastic! This isn’t simply about trying to cheer ourselves up or look on the bright side. This really is the bright side. Earlier in the year a fellow came to Abhayagiri from Liverpool, England. He was so happy to be here. He didn’t even stay for a full day. He happened to be in the country on holiday and took a chance to visit us. He said, “We have this little meditation group in Liverpool, and we listen to Abhayagiri talks all the time. It’s so great to be here.” He was bubbling with happiness. We can forget that our lives are connected with little groups of people like that all over the planet. In our small efforts to keep the bodies fed, to keep the shelters workable, to provide Dhamma talks on the website, to offer publications, to pay the bills—every little piece is bringing goodness into the world. That’s kusala kamma, wholesome action.
It’s not indulgence, egotism, or pride to be reflecting on that goodness. The Buddha himself encourages cāgānussati, recollecting our generosity, because that brightens and brings joy to the mind. We can take some time to recollect all the efforts that we’re making on the practical front as well as with the formal meditation practice. The word anumodanā means rejoicing in the goodness that has been done. The cynical mind says, Yeah, well, that’s one thing. But I’ve really got some serious problems. Basically I’m just a defiled mess. I really am! We need to listen to that voice with compassion, but at the same time, we don’t want to let it run our lives. So we listen and then gently park it to one side. We can reflect, Even if I’m filled with utterly ghastly defilements, still there are things I’ve done that have helped people. That’s an undeniable fact. There’s some goodness or brightness that I’ve brought into the lives of others. My effort to be a little bit more patient has benefited other beings. How wonderful! By letting that brightness inform our lives, we can be encouraged and gladdened by it.