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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
summer 2006| 46 |buddhadharma When she died, Ajahn Chah made a great ceremony of her funeral; it was a huge affair, and he ordained eighty or ninety people during the event to make merit for her. Later, the main temple at Wat Pah Pong was built on the exact spot where his mother was cremated. Sri Ramana Maharshi was also said to be a supremely detached being; he was famed for being so equanimous that rats sometimes nibbled on his legs when he sat in samadhi, and he allowed doctors to treat him because it made them feel better. Like Ajahn Chah, Sri Ramana’s mother became his disciple and went to live at the bottom of Arunachala Mountain, while he was in a cave at the top. After she died, he too built his ashram on the place where she was cremated. So here are these two highly accom- plished, extraordinarily detached beings who both built their temples on their mothers’ ashes. Of course this may have no significance whatsoever, but to me it indicates that they’re not saying, “All sankharas (all conditioned things) are impermanent, my mother is just a forma- tion in nature like any other, and it’s no big deal.” There’s a mysterious twinning here of both the realization of ultimate truth and the recognition of the unique quality of that personal connection on the material plane. It’s almost as if the mother is the primordial symbol of the source of reality, just as she is the source of life on the physical plane. After all, in the West we freely use the term “Mother Nature,” and “nature” is another word for “dhamma.” So perhaps it is natural and perfectly appropriate to accord this being with whom we have a unique rela- tionship a special position among all the dimensions of life that we experience. These days I have found myself prac- ticing, first of all, to establish a clear insight of the nondual, or you might say, to establish the heart in pure knowing. And then I’ve been bringing up a ques- tion, or an investigational statement, such as, Where is my mother? or, What is my mother? The purpose of this process is to let go of any habitual identification, to break down that notion of me here and the other over there, and to open the heart to the present moment. Then, within that basic space of awareness, I consciously bring forth the intentions and emotions of metta, karuna, mudita, and upekkha – loving- kindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. There needs to be a balancing within that, however, because as soon as those intentions or qualities are aroused, one can slip back into the idea of me over here sending it to you over there, which is a dualism. But there’s a way that dhamma practice can guide us toward both see- ing things as completely empty (the ulti- mate truth of things) and also respecting the convention that there’s a being here and a being there (the relative truth of things). On one level, that convention is pertinent. But it’s only a partial truth, a half-truth, and it exists within the context of dhamma. One of the ways that the Buddha spoke about stream-entry – the irrevers- ible breakthrough to realization of the dhamma – was as a “change of lineage.” The phrase relates to the idea that “I am a personality; this is me, this is mine, this is what I am.” This belief is called sakkaya- ditthi, or “personality view.” And as long as “I am the body,” then, of course, Pat Horner and Tom Horner are my parents. But if the body is not-self, and perceptions are not-self, and feelings are not-self, and the personality is not-self, what does that say about Mr. and Mrs. Horner? What does that mean? If this body is not-self, then the lineage of the body can’t be the whole story. This is a subtle point of dhamma and it’s easy to grasp it in the wrong way, as I most painfully did when I was a young novice in Thailand. I can’t believe I actu- ally did this, but I recall a letter I sent never made a fuss, never said anything. And the next thing we knew, she was in hospital. It hit me like a ton of bricks that she would actually starve herself while feeding all of us and not complain. And when we went to visit her in the hospital, she apologized as if she were wasting our time! After all, we could have been doing our homework or out somewhere enjoy- ing ourselves. NOW My MOTHER is eighty-two years old and her body seems to be reaching its limit. How does one hold that? How does one use the practice to relate to the situa- tion, to bring balance to the heart, and to be of benefit to her and to others? The wonderful Thai forest master Luang Por Duhn teaches us that the citta, the heart, is the Buddha. “Don’t look for the Buddha anywhere else,” he says, “the aware quality of the heart is the Buddha.” This is an extraordinarily forthright, clear, and completely nondualistic teaching. The problem that arises when we love or hate someone is that there is a polarity, a duality that the heart easily can be drawn into: there’s me here and there’s the other out there. And the more intense the emo- tion, the greater the feeling of duality. Although we can be very focused on generating loving-kindness toward another being, there’s also the matter of sustaining the liberating insight that rec- ognizes selflessness, anatta, which sees that all dhammas are not-self and that the impression of a self-existent, separate entity is merely based upon ignorance and the activity of the senses. This conundrum can be a focus of practice. In this light, it’s interesting to reflect on the great masters and the relationships between their spiritual practices and their families. Ajahn Chah was a highly accom- plished being, and when he started at Wat Pah Pong, one of his first disciples was his mother. She moved out of her village, was ordained as a nun, and went to live in the forest with him and his cluster of monks. jAnehill