Q: When we talk of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world, this seems to me at a height inaccessible to human beings—of course, without any real evidence—and it gives me an impression of being an inaccessible star of separation from sadness and discouragement. What are the best ways to think about this?
A: The attitude of putting aside greed and distress with reference to the world actually can happen in mundane activities as well. You can be reading a book; you can be absorbed in thinking about something abstract and be cut off entirely from your concerns with regard to the rest of the world. They just don’t occur to you. So this attitude is not unattainable.
But in the course of the practice, we want to be able to attain that state at will. When you attain that state, it doesn’t mean that you’re unfeeling. It’s simply that, at that moment, you’re not feeding on the world.
For instance, when you’re with the breath and the sense of comfort is very satisfying, you can easily put aside your concerns for the world at that point because you’re feeding on the comfort of the breath and you feel no need to feed on the world.
This analogy of feeding is very important to keep in mind. It’s very central to the Buddha’s teachings, for as he says, it’s because we feed on things that we suffer and that we cause one another to suffer. If we can live with the world without feeding off of it, then we can live in the world without suffering, and at the same time we’re actually freer to help other people instead of seeing other people as food. Really. It’s true.
We can then see them clearly as individual beings with their own suffering. And when you’re not concerned with your own suffering—because you have this sense of inner sufficiency—then you’re in a better position to help people with the things they actually need.
This reflection by Ajaan Geoff is from the Retreats book, The Karma of Mindfulness : The Buddha’s Teachings on Sati and Kamma, “Mindfulness Practice, Stage One.”