One of Luang Por Chah’s most well-known teachings is that of letting go. And one of the key phrases that he used to explain what letting go means, and how it is to be developed, is that we should let go ‘within action’. This immediately reminds us that letting go is not a refraining from action, not passivity, but that the letting go takes place within the action itself.
As monks and nuns in this Thai Forest Tradition, we may sometimes find ourselves accused of attachment to the Vinaya, attachment to a discipline. This is a difficult accusation to refute. If someone says you are attached to the Vinaya, does that mean you have to stop keeping the precepts in order to prove that you’re not really attached to them? I think a distinction needs to be made between attachment, and devotion or loyalty.
Indeed, in Pali there is an interesting distinction between two important words: upādāna and samādāna. Upādāna is a word with which many of you will be familiar, the word that we usually translate as ‘attachment’ or ‘clinging’. Samādāna is a word that appears in the precepts. It’s the word for taking on a precept.
The difference is that with upādāna we attach through ignorance. With samādāna, we hold on to something with wisdom, we hold on to it for as long as it needs to be held. Ajahn Chah would explain this by saying that it’s not that you don’t take hold of the object. For instance, you take hold of a water bottle, tip the bottle until you have as much water as you need and then put it down. If you don’t hold on to the bottle at all, you are not going to get any water into the glass. So samādāna is the taking up of something, taking on, undertaking a precept or practice with wisdom. Or having undertaken it, one relates to it with devotion and loyalty.
Letting go doesn’t mean that we don’t take on responsibilities, that we don’t take on practices, but that we let go within those practices. What exactly is it that we let go of? We let go of the five khandhas. They are body, feelings, perceptions, thoughts – wholesome and unwholesome dhammas in the mind – and sense-consciousness. When we say we let go of them, this is a shorthand phrase meaning letting go of the craving and clinging to those things through ignorance.
But wherever we are, whoever we are, whatever practice we are undertaking, we are always dealing with these five khandhas or aggregates.