Training in Amity and Affection

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Training in Amity and Affection

The monastic training that we receive in caring for our elders is another example of how we can train the mind in these small but ultimately transformative ways.

One of the things I used to reflect on when I was looking after my mother was the way in which Ajahn Chah was cared for after he had his stroke. Ajahn Chah was paralyzed for the last ten years of his life, but he was beautifully ministered to during that time. For instance, a monk would never touch his body without first doing añjali, a joining of the hands in a gesture of utmost respect. When serving as caregivers to Ajahn Chah, the monks would always talk to him, even though they couldn’t see any reaction from him.

In the monastery, we’re trained to look out for our elders. For example, a novice or junior monk will be assigned a senior monk to care for. The reflection that’s used in this form of training is “How can I help this person? How can I make sure they’re OK?” This is an excellent training for the newer monks. Having to look out for the needs of someone other than yourself day in and day out can have a transformative effect on the mind.

In a more general sense, that’s what our training in monastic life and lay life is all about: doing little things that profoundly change us over time. Certainly, we can experience grand insights and life-altering events in the course of our lives. However, the moment-to-moment focus in our training is on these very grounded and wholesome small steps, which build a foundation for the larger things like freedom, happiness, and peace.

In and of themselves, these small steps aren’t difficult to take; but remembering to take them can be tricky. Remembering to do our mealtime reflections and to bring forth gratitude and contentment with little can be challenging. And remembering to try to relate to the people with whom we live in a spirit of friendship and affection requires effort, especially since we don’t always feel that way.

Nevertheless, the training is in amity and affection, and it’s in this way that we cultivate empathy in our hearts. We ask ourselves, “How can I help others to be free from suffering?” That reflection takes us out of selfishness.

This reflection by Ajahn Viradhammo is from the book, The Contemplative’s Craft, pp. 73-74.