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Buddhadharma : Summer 2015
66 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2015 available. And becoming adept calls for repetition; hours and hours of exercise are required to learn to play an instrument, use the medium of paint, or handle a camera. But once we’ve internalized those techniques, once they’ve really become ours, we can let the spirit of the artist flow. I believe it’s similar with meditation. If you think you are not artistic, perhaps think in terms of being agile. One of Ajahn Chah’s teachers used to say: if obstructions appear high, duck under them, and if they appear low, jump over them. Agility is essen- tial. If we adhere solely to what a beloved teacher initially taught us, we may lack the creativity to deal with the complex obstructions we encounter. Respect and gratitude to those who helped us get started are important, yes, but so is the daring to go into the unknown and discover something new. So perhaps the authors of commentaries on the perils of meditation hadn’t felt allowed to experi- ment in their practice. Maybe they felt practice was all about one single technique. But just because a respected teacher or tradition tells us what we should be doing, that doesn’t mean the instruc- tion is truly right for us. We need to locate the in- between ground where we can respectfully listen to the teachings given by the tradition and at the same time listen to ourselves. This is the middle way: not grasping at our own ways of doing things, not grasping at the teacher’s way of doing things, and studying both. Early on in practice, I had some delightful expe- riences, concentrating on the breath and dropping into pleasant states. But they only helped me deal with the obstructions that I, this deluded, confused character, faced up to a point, and then they failed miserably. I suspect that many people reach the same point, where they feel they’re banging their heads against a brick wall. I would like to encour- age us all to listen more carefully to our own intuition. We attend to that which comes from out- side—books, teachers, traditions—but we must also feel and listen to what comes from inside. I am not advocating the view that “my” unique and amazing approach is absolutely the way, but let’s not assume it’s not relevant. On my first meditation retreat, the teacher taught anapanasati, mindfulness of breathing while sitting, along with walking meditation. I remember how on the third day of this retreat, a sudden perception AJAHN MuNINDO is the abbot of Aruna Ratanagiri Buddhist Monastery in Northumberland, england. He is the author of Seeing the Way and Unexpected Freedom. This article is adapted from a talk he gave at the monastery. time to realize that a technician’s approach wasn’t working for me. I eventually noticed that I was so preoccupied with the form of practice that I was losing touch with the spirit of it. The point of practice, the spirit, is to deepen in understanding and ease. Worrying about stages to pass and skills to accomplish was conditioning rigidity of heart and mind. If I took the attitude that something was wrong with me and these techniques would fix it, attention became exclusive and limiting. It fed into the gaining mind: the idea of never being good enough, always having to get somewhere. How we pick up the techniques determines how we relate to experience. Not everybody in the world views life as we do. In Asian cultures, mystery, myth, and faith still have relevance. In our culture, we tend to distrust everything; we’re taught to doubt, to question. That does, of course, have ben- efits. But it also has limitations. Myth has become synonymous with falsehood. We think rituals are for primitive people. We need to be careful that we don’t bring our willful manipulative tendencies into the most important aspect of our lives. Good health, warm relationships, money, food, and shelter are all important, but when we die, the most important thing will be the state of our consciousness. So the way we enter our inner exploration is most critical—we are not obliged to assume a technical approach to it. I have found that the contemplative life is bet- ter viewed as an artistic exercise. In any art form, such as playing a musical instrument, we first need to learn the skills involved. Inevitably, applying ourselves to these techniques can be boring. To play a violin we must learn how to move our fingers, how to hold our wrist. If we don’t hold the instru- ment correctly, many beautiful possibilities are not Clinging to technique can lead to clinging to results. The point of practice, the spirit, is to deepen in understanding and ease.