อาจารย์ มุนินโท


A friend of the monastery warned me…that currently many people equate the pursuit of contentment with being irresponsible: since the world is in such a precarious state, contentment is the last thing we should be thinking about – everyone ought to be striving to find ways to fix this terrible mess.

In that talk I spoke about awareness as a multidimensional reality, not a singular thing: just as the ocean can have waves thrashing about on the surface and at the same time there can be perfect stillness in the depths.

The point I was making was that so long as we believe that the surface-level of turmoil is all there is, we will continually struggle and risk ending up in despair.

I support the enthusiasm for finding creative solutions to the current global crisis; however, we will only be successful if we factor in all dimensions of reality, not just the immediately obvious surface-level.

A broad-minded and open-hearted approach is necessary – one that supports sustained effort and an ability to view the situations in which we find ourselves from varying perspectives.

We are all familiar with surface-level contentment – the feelings we experience when we get what we want: when the weather is agreeable, our health is good, and the friends we are with are telling us nice things. Such feelings are obviously desirable; however, we know that they don’t last.

Our Dhamma teachers tell us that there is another quality of contentment – one which does last. This is an aspect of our being with which those who have looked more deeply are familiar. They know that, like the ocean, even when conditions on the surface of the mind appear wild and unruly, at the same time, on a deeper level in their hearts, there can be peace.

To have such a perspective on reality leads to confidence, or faith, and can be a powerful source of support.

If we focus on merely the surface or material dimension of existence, then indeed the world is in a terrible mess, and this readily gives rise to feelings of hopelessness.

However, our life is much more than materiality. Even some scientists and philosophers are these days talking about ‘the hard problem of consciousness’.

The fact that they are acknowledging the possibility that there may be more than mere materiality is significant. Not only are they acknowledging that potentially there is another dimension that is profoundly relevant to our lives, they are admitting that they know next to nothing about it. I find this very hopeful indeed.

It is like when someone who has been suffering with physical pain for a long time, but refuses to go and see a doctor, eventually comes around to admitting that they need help.

Part of the help that all human beings need is the recognition that the real source of contentment is to be found within awareness itself – no amount of rearranging material conditions can truly protect us from sorrow, loss and despair.

Herein lies the value of the discipline of attention, or formal meditation.

Even an entry-level familiarity with meditation can acquaint us with hitherto unappreciated inner ability. It would be a mistake to assume that the benefits of meditation can only be found after many hours, weeks, or years of practice. After only a few months of twenty-minutes-a-day, six days a week, or even a lot less, meditators can begin to taste the benefits.

So long as we are unaware of this potential inner resource, we are likely to keep striving to rearrange conditions on the surface. As already mentioned, even when we do manage to make things agreeable for a while on that level, part of us knows that conditions could change at any moment and become disagreeable, which in itself is a sort of suffering.

In case there be any doubt, I should emphasise that I am not saying we can afford to completely ignore the conditions of the outer world and turn a blind eye to such matters as injustice and abuse of power.

What I want to emphasize is that, since surely we aim to be effective in addressing issues of injustice and abuse, we have to properly equip ourselves for the challenge.

If we were to take on the challenge of climbing Mount Everest, we would invest a lot of time and effort in preparing ourselves in advance.

Taking on the challenge of transforming the suffering of existence into wisdom and compassion, likewise requires that we are ready for the task.

This reflection by Ajahn Munindo is from the book, In Any Given Moment, “Contentment.” (pdf) pp. 409-412.