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Buddhadharma : Spring 2015
28 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 1 5 achieving something in the future. These are bound up with ego, or what we call self-view. Awakening is always something immediate: we awaken. But to what? To things we haven’t seen before. So the Bud- dha’s teaching is pointing out things that are always there but that perhaps we have not yet noticed. This is how Buddhist concepts can help us. They can awaken us to aspects of our experience that we need to understand in order to be free. They are not just ideas that we put away until our next exam in Buddhism; they are principles and con- cepts, lenses through which we look at life. We can choose to take up a conceptual structure like the three characteristics of existence—impermanence (anicca), unsatisfactoriness (dukkha), and not-self (anatta)—and explore how we might apply that to our experience. For example, anatta is the teaching that this mind and body are not self. But if I’m not this body and I’m not this mind, then who am I? The mind begins to question. The question directs the mind and starts to awaken us. The beauty of the Buddha’s teaching is that it allows for doubt and uses it in a way to liberate the mind. Or take a teaching like anicca: “That which has a nature to arise has a nature to cease.” Begin to look at life through that lens. Life’s experiences are varied; if you’re always caught up in experiences, it’s very confusing. But through the lens of this teaching, you see that that which has the nature to arise also has the nature to cease. It’s not personal. In this way, you begin to discover the nature of your conscious experience, because you’re no longer attached to it. You start to recognize things about experience that you’ve never noticed before—for example, that an angry thought is not yours. It’s a condition of nature; it arises and ceases. Perhaps you can then begin to let go of guilt and anger, see- ing them as not personal, not-self. You have discov- ered something. Often we talk about dukkha, or unsatisfactori- ness, in terms of conflict. We all have conflict in our lives, but before I came across this teaching, I was always trying to get rid of conflict. I was try- ing to be a nice guy if I was angry, get rid of greed if I was obsessed with greed, and distract my mind if I got bored. So there was this random attempt to somehow get around conflict. But when I heard the This fundamental commitment to a structure gives us the freedom to watch our mind. Can you translate that into your own life? Your family, your job, your relationships—these can all be vehicles for spiritual understanding if you accept that within them there will be frustrations. It’s important not to always try to rearrange things to fulfill personal desires and needs. Obviously, if the situation is harmful in some way, then you have to make a change. But the usual humdrum, annoying stuff of life is actually the stuff of enlightenment, if we are willing to observe how it is. So commitment is important. This is what the robe is—a symbol of commitment. Responsibility can also be used as commitment, or it can be seen as a burden. I can take on the responsibility of being the senior monk and have a martyr syndrome about it: “Oh, poor me, I have to be the senior monk.” Or I can feel great about it: “Wow! Look at me, I’m the senior monk.” Or I can just see it as a convention: “I’m the senior monk. I’d prefer to be a fly on the wall, but here I am—senior monk.” Then I can watch what it does to me—whether there’s like or dislike, or a feeling that I’m doing it well or that I’m hopeless. I can observe how the mind functions within that situation rather than change or rearrange the situation according to my personal opinion. You can apply this to your own situation. Ask yourself, “What happens to me at work?” Work is not always going to be fulfilling. It can be boring, frustrating, or annoying. Still, we can make use of that commitment. If we’re always shifting according to personal desire, we can never really understand how it operates in the mind. So commitment is fundamental to understanding our human mind. And within commitment, there are three important aspects to examine: discov- ery, training, and purification. Discovery (sometimes called vipas- sana) is fundamental; after all, the Buddhist way is the way of awaken- ing. It’s not the way of getting rid of or AJAhn VirAdhAmmo is abbot of tisarana Buddhist monastery located near Perth, ontario. he took bhikkhu ordination in 1974 with Ajahn chah.