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Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Practising Buddhism around the world - Daily Mirror

Practising Buddhism around the world

By Ajahn Brahmavamso

We think that once we develop these wonderful qualities of: Stillness, silence, peace, inner contentment, and freedom, they are always going to be there. And because of that we don’t actually keep hold of them, we don’t guard them. The Four Right Efforts need to be brought to mind. The Fourth Effort is perhaps the most important, as if the Buddha left the best to the last. That Fourth Right Effort is that the meditator strives, puts forth energy, and applies the mind to keep, develop, maintain and help to grow, any wholesome, skilful, thoughts which arise in the mind. You look after them and maintain them, so that they can grow stronger. Sometimes, you do all of the work to keep out the bad stuff, you do all the work to cultivate, and bring up the good stuff, but as soon as it’s there, you get heedless and allow it to disappear.

Because of the laws of impermanence, suffering and non-self, and because of defilements in the world, goodness is very fragile. It needs to be nurtured and kept safe. Otherwise it can too easily be overcome and lost, just from the destructive forces in the world. We know that with things like peace and kindness, love and freedom, it is so easy for them to get lost in the world because we are heedless. That is why the Buddha said, to not be heedless, to be careful and guard the good states, the kind states, the lovely states, which you have developed.

Our Real Home

In the lay life it’s as if you go out there and work very hard, you do all your chores and duties, but you’ve always got a place to go home to. However, Ajahn Chah said “Our real home is inner peace”. Your home is not the house that you live in, or the kuti, which you stay in if you are a monk or anagarika. Your true home is inside yourself. You can see that in your meditation. Sometimes you sit here and go inside your mind, and you’re as happy as can be. You don’t want anything. You can really rest and relax, and feel comfortable. A home is supposed to be, a place of comfort, a place where you can relax. At home you can let go, you don’t have to struggle with the world. There is nothing asked of you or demanded of you; you can just really relax and be at peace. That’s what we build our homes for.

Unfortunately many homes are places of strife and struggle, and even worse, of turmoil. They’re not real homes. What we mean by the ideal home, the real home, is the refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha, which we take deep inside ourselves. A refuge means: A place of peace, a place of freedom from danger, a place of security, a place where there is no measuring anymore. Home is a place where you can just be yourself, be at peace, be at ease, be nothing, just empty and free.

The purpose of meditation is to get you in touch with your real home, the place of stillness inside of you. You realize that your true home is carried around with you all the time. But how do we get in there? The door of your heart is open to you no matter what you do. Freedom, love, compassion, just being still, not controlling, letting go, is the door into that home inside of you. You don’t go there by measuring and by judging. You go there by quietness and not thinking. So you come through the door of your inner home where you can reside at will, at any time.

If you know that home, that place, it means when you do come out into the world, where you work hard, strive and struggle for the sake of other beings; at least you’ve got a place to come back to, a refuge, a home. When we don’t have that refuge, that home, we don’t know how to escape from the turmoil of life.

In the suttas, the Buddha said you should know the gratification, the danger and the escape from these worldly things. You can understand the gratification; you can understand the danger of the worldly ways, but please know how to escape as well. I have aught you the escape; it is going to the inner home. So once you know that inner home and are familiar with it, you can always go back there anytime. It’s a place of rest, and the real refuge of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. One who sees the Dhamma sees the Buddha, it’s not Gotama the Buddha who passed away in Nibbâna thousands of years ago. One sees the Dhamma inside one’s heart, that state of freedom, that knowing, that awakening, that liberation, which is the real refuge. That’s what connects you and all the others to the Ariyas in the world; it is the ‘Ariya Sangha inside the heart’. That’s why it’s a refuge, because it’s deep within. You know it’s a refuge because whatever you are doing outside in the world, you can always come home and put your feet up as it were. We can come home to have a cup of tea and to really relax in the refuge of our real home.

When you go out of your home every morning – I don’t mean your house I mean your inner home – you go out to do your duties and your work. But you know you’ve always got a place to come back to, a place of rest and peace. This is what we do in the world. At any time if you feel tired or stressed, you can go back into your inner home. It’s a marvelous resource. Sometimes, as a senior monk, you do a great deal, and you get very tired physically. What you need to do then is just go into your inner home and rest there for awhile. When you come out you can be so bright, so peaceful and so clear.

That’s where the Dhamma comes from, from the inner home.

In the deep meditations, especially the stages of nimittas and Jhanas, your mind becomes powerful, strong and beautiful. But also nimittas come up earlier than expected; they burst through the breath simply because they are just too powerful to ignore. But if nimittas don’t come, or when they come, they are very weak, that may mean that your mind is not pure enough, not strong enough. The mind is not empowered enough by goodness, by virtue, by purity, by strength. When one realises this, one also realises that one doesn’t keep the precepts just to go to heaven. One cannot meditate and just forget the precepts as being a ‘cultural accretion’ to Buddhism. You don’t keep the precepts just because it says so in the scriptures, or because a monk says so. You can see first hand, that one of the reasons why you have to keep these precepts is to have success in your meditation.

When you see that connection at first hand, you also see the importance of not only keeping precepts, but also of actually doing the opposite of violating the precepts. The opposite of killing is helping people, saving peoples lives, and helping their pain by looking after them. Compassion is the opposite of killing. The opposite of stealing is generosity, not just, not taking from others, but also giving to others. The opposite of adultery is faithful commitment, and keeping your promises. The opposite of lying is being truthful, and speaking kindly to each other. Never saying a word you would not like to have said to yourself. And lastly, the opposite of taking alcohol and drugs that cloud the mind is developing mindfulness, and practicing meditation, which clears the mind.

Our practice of virtue is not just avoiding that which is bad; it’s also putting forth effort, and doing that which is good. It’s an active aspect of our lives, supporting: the community, the Buddhist Society, the monastery, our parents, the elderly, or whatever else we can do. We actually go out there and do something rather than thinking, “Look at me, I’m so good, I don’t kill, I don’t steal, I don’t commit adultery, I don’t lie, I don’t take alcohol and drugs. I don’t speak to anybody. I stay in my little home all by myself all day and all night”. But that's not good enough! Is it?

So go to those places and get joy, get inspiration. When you read the suttas, or you chant, chant with your heart, not just your mouth. Don’t worry about what it sounds like ‘outside’, be concerned with what it sounds like ‘inside’, and with where it’s coming from. It’s great to be able to chant and understand the meaning. You get so high, so beautifully high, and that’s a pure emotion. So out there in the world, develop pure emotions and inspirations. They can only be good, and they lead to Nibbâna.

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