Caring for Everything We Use

อาจารย์ ปสันโน

Caring for Everything We Use

Throughout the day it is helpful for us to recollect that we are a community of alms mendicants. We rely on what is offered to us as gifts of goodwill: robes, alms food, shelter, and medicine—the four requisites. Traditionally, in Thai monasteries, the monastic community brings the requisites to mind as part of its formal morning and evening chanting. The chants encourage the monastics to ask themselves, Did I use the requisites skillfully? Was I heedful when I used them? Do I understand their true purpose? We too should reflect in this way. It’s easy to expect that everything will be there for us and that everything will be of good quality. But as alms mendicants, the emphasis is on contentment with what we have and being circumspect with what we are using.

There’s a story about a monk who was cleaning Ajahn Maha Boowa’s kuṭi and threw away two used matches that were on the altar. When the Ajahn returned to his room, he asked his attendant, “What happened to those matches? They weren’t used up yet!” It was Ajahn Maha Boowa’s habit to use partially burnt matches for transferring the flame from one candle to another candle or to other objects; he wouldn’t dispose of a match until it was completely burnt out. This example can inspire us to develop a sense of using things fully. The focus is not on our convenience, but on recollecting that these things are offerings; they have value, and we shouldn’t waste them.

Another aspect of our relationship with material things has to do with respect and compassion for others in the community. It’s really basic: make sure that people don’t have to pick up or clean up after you. Return things to their proper place. After using a tool, put it back where it belongs, rather than leaving it out for someone else to put away. In the kitchen, putting a used dish in the sink doesn’t magically make it clean and placed back in the cupboard. A real human being has to do that. We show respect and compassion for others by being considerate.

Beyond that, take responsibility for setting things right, even if they are not your assigned responsibility. If you see that something is out of place or hasn’t been done, don’t just walk by and leave it for someone else. Take the responsibility and initiative to be helpful. If everybody learns to take responsibility in this way, then it’s not a burden for anyone.

Whether we are in the monastery or elsewhere, we rely on the requisites and other material items for our daily existence. Looking after these things is just an aspect of mindfulness— attending to what we’re doing and what needs to be done in the present moment. This is not so mundane that we don’t need to think about it. We learn to incorporate the way we care for material requisites into our day-to-day practice of mindfulness and cultivation of skillful qualities. The material realm will then become a more harmonious and pleasant place in which to live.

This reflection by Ajahn Pasanno is from Beginning Our Day, Volume One, pp.110-111.