“When you let go, you can truly live.”
– Seon Master Daehaeng Sunim
Therevadan Buddhism isn’t my path, but I’ve lived in Bangkok for most of the past ten years and there are certain teachers here and in this tradition I never miss seeing if I can help it. Foremost among them is Ajahn Brahm. Born in London in 1951, ordained in Wat Saket in 1974, disciple of Ajahn Chah for nine years at Wat Nong Pah Pong, and now Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia, he is rightly famous for the depth of his experience and knowledge and the wonderful way in which he is able to present the Dhamma.
His teaching is seemingly simple, full of stories, warm anecdotes, and his famous, unashamedly oft-repeated, jokes, but his humour serves to present teachings of great depth. I’ve not always agreed with everything I’ve heard from him, but I have benefitted greatly from his wisdom and especially from his skillful instructions regarding practice. I mention all this because he was here again this week and during the workshops I attended he gave a short teaching so profound and eye-opening I just had to share it here.
I don’t know which sutta it comes from, and it doesn’t matter even if it doesn’t, but Ajahn Brahm told a story of how Buddha was wandering along with Ananda when they came across a monk sitting under a tree in meditation. The monk was sat on the ground with a straight back, his hands were folded, and his head and neck at just the right angle. He was deep in meditation and had been for some time. The Buddha turned to Ananda and said “I’m worried about that monk.”
A few minutes later they came across another monk sitting under a tree in meditation. He was on a comfy cushion, his back was bent forward and he’d fallen asleep. Every now and then he’d wake up only to nod off again. He was even snoring. The Buddha turned to Ananda and said “this monk I’m not worried about at all, he’s doing just fine.”
The point, of course, is about letting go. With his perfect posture and iron will, the first monk had turned meditation into a competitive sport, even if the only person he was competing against was himself. He wasn’t abandoning the ego, he was building it. Ajahn Brahm talked about a friend of his in Wat Nong Pah Pong years ago who was admired for his diligence and discipline, sitting upright while others would be half asleep with heads almost on the floor. Eventually the friend disrobed, the whole experience of monkhood had been, he discovered, an exercise in ego, nothing but a constant struggle.
The second monk, the one the Buddha wasn’t worried about, had the sense to relax. If he nodded off, then he nodded off, no big deal. He was able to let go, let go of his need for perfection, and let go of the struggle. Even more, he was able to trust that things would be just fine without his striving and without his perfection. It reminded me of Daehaeng Kun Sunim’s comments on practice. Specific regimens, she says, will come to a dead end, but “if you keep letting go and entrusting, and experiencing the results of this, then the path that seemed narrow in the beginning will gradually widen, and in the end will become a great avenue and gateway to the truth.”
Ajahn Brahm talks about trying to control your mind and thoughts, trying to control anything in fact, as being like a farmer holding onto a rope trying to control a buffalo as it runs away. The rope can get twisted round your fingers and what will happen next? The farmer will lose his fingers. Crazy farmer, all he gets is pain and suffering, and in any case buffalos never go far. If the farmer had just waited a few minutes he could have just walked up to the buffalo and led it wherever he wanted to go.
“If you know how to let go and be at peace, you know everything you need to know about living in the world.”
– Ajahn Brahm, ‘Practising In The World’.