Forest Tradition: A Teaching (REPOST)
Oct 27, 1993 09:03 AM
by Arvind Kumar
I read this article on a bulletin board called 'soc.religion.eastern'
and thought that it may be of interest to theosophists; this is also a
first attempt on my part to send a message be 'lifting' it from an
internet bulltin board. If successful and if positive feedback is
received, I'll occasionally plan on sending messages of significance
from similar sources in future as well.
In article firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.EDU (Hun Lye) writes:
The following is part of a teaching given by a western monk ordained
in the Theravadin tradition. He is a "forest-monk" practicing
according to the flavor of the late Ajahn Chah of Thailand.
Insecurity is a very unpleasant feeling. When we are children and feel
that way, we seek reassurance from mum and dad. Then as we grow up, we
see this feeling of insecurity as a fact of life, and learn to abide in
the knowledge of the insecurity of *all* existence; that is, if we
really grow up! If we don't really grow up, we find substitutes for our
parents: a partner, belief systems, philosophies and so on.
Our training is to actually *feel* this insecurity, and see it as "just
like this" (yathabutam). But without being balanced we cannot do it.
In those early days at Chithurst (the first forest monastery in
England), it was "just like that," but there was a real temptation to
get caught in an extreme position of either indulging in doubt or
In the Buddhist Way, it is clearly stated that the two extremes of
"blindly believing" on the other hand, and "repression and denial" on
the other, are false. The way that is Real is the Middle Way - the way
of gently bearing things, exactly as they are, in their raw condition.
To do this, we have to rain the mind until we are no longer pushing and
pulling at the states we experience.
Pushing and pulling is the way of contending. And it's very easy to
contend with life when it's not going the way "I" think it should.
There was a very difficult period in my training in Thailand after I
had already been a monk for about four years. As a result of a motor
bike accident I had had before I was ordained, and a number of years
sitting in bad posture, my knees seized up. The doctors in Bangkok
said it was severe arthritis, but nothing that a small operation
couldn't fix. They said it would take two or three weeks. But after
two months and three operations I was still hardly walking. There had
been all kinds of complications: scar tissue, three lots of general
anaesthetic and the hot season was getting at me; my mind was really in
a state. I was thinking: "My whole life as a monk is ruined. Whoever
heard of a Buddhist monk who can't sit cross-legged." Every time I saw
someone sitting cross-legged I'd feel angry. I was feeling terrible,
and my mind was saying, "It shouldn't be this way...." It was really
painful, physically and mentally. I was in a very unsatisfactory
Then I heard that Ajahn Chah was coming down to Bangkok. I thought if
I went to see him he might be able to help in some way. His presence
was always very uplifting. When I visited him I couldn't bow properly;
he looked over at me and asked, "What are you up to?" I began to
complain: "Oh Luang Por," I said, "It's not supposed to be this way.
The doctors said two weeks and it has been two months...." I was really
wallowing. With a surprised expression on his face he said to me, very
powerfully: "What do you mean, it *shouldn't* be this way? If it
*shouldn't* be this way, it *wouldn't* be this way!"
That really did something to me. I can't describe how meaningful that
moment was. He pointed to exactly what I was *doing* that was creating
the problem. There was no question about the fact of the pain; the
problem was my denying that fact, and that was something I was *doing*.
This is not just a theory. When someone offers us the reflection of
exactly what we are doing, we are incredibly grateful, even if at the
time we feel a bit of a twit.
The pushing away is the distortion of awareness that makes problems out
of life. Life can be very painful, but with right awareness there can
be a discerning of the facts. When awareness, or mindfulness, matures
into truth-discerning awareness (satipanna), we can bear the state we
are experiencing and discern the facts. With intelligence free to
consider what can be done and our human sensitivity unhindered, we
don't have to deny what we feel - we can learn from life.
(this teacher talked about a particular pleasant and good experience he
had when he was in New Zealand - trekking, walking, and meditating but
how he also turned that experience into a "problem.")
So even around pleasure we create problems by not relating directly,
truly, by not relating to that which is true, but relating to that
which is false, or to our fantasies. With pleasure, we can feel afraid
of losing it, and fantasize in an attempt to hold on to it. With pain,
we tend to dwell in memories of when it wasn't there, in an attempt to
avoid it. This is how it often is in broken relationships. (And death
is a kind of broken relationship.) Rather than seeing the fact of the
pain, there is a tendency to go into memories of "how it used to be" or
fantasize about "how it could be." That is dwelling in what's not real.
There is a verse in the Dhammapada:
"Mistaking the false for the real, and the real for the false, we
remain stuck in the false. Seeing the real as real, and the false as
false, we attain to the Truly Real."
To be able to do the work of seeing the false as false and the real as
real, we need to cultivate this truth-discerning awareness. We need to
operate in a mode whereby we can accept the offerings of life and death
completely, whole-heartedly, and discern the facts - the Truth.
The quality of trust we have in the beginning is wonderful. It says:
"Yes, there is something to be realized. Life isn't merely an ordeal
that we tolerate until we die. There is a true quality that can be
seen and known." And then, having given ourselves to the training, we
find that we begin to go beyond the habitual tendencies of pushing and
pulling at the experiences of pleasure and pain. And we continue until
we come upon a new way of seeing. We see in a way that we've never
seen before. We have a new perspective of things. "trust" is now
verified. We need no longer be concerned with doubt about the
possibility of the Way; we simply get on with it.
All the training we do, including the traditions that we use, are for
this purpose. They make our life situations workable. Anger becomes
workable; greed , jealousy, pleasure, pain, all become something to
help us grow in the direction of True Understanding. "I go for refuge
to Dhamma - the way things *actually* are" takes on a new meaning for
Then finally, and thankfully, there are beings in the world who teach
from the perspective of complete trust. The Buddha's Teachings come
from the perspective of complete trust. That is where life itself is
something that we give ourselves into with an attitude of complete
trust. There is no longer any doubt, any confusion, any despair. All
that remains is complete trust in Dhamma.
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