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Buddhadharma : Summer 2006
buddhadharma| 19 |summer 2006 an awkward Question at sunday tea It’s easier to talk about dharma with people in prison, finds Ajahn Khemadhammo, than to broach the topic with those who are comfortably middle-class. In 1977, I returned from Thailand to England with Luang Por Chah (Ajahn Chah). One weekend I took him to visit my parents. The weather was miserable; it rained almost incessantly. It happened to be the Queen’s Jubilee, but the celebrations were somewhat washed-out. Not able to do very much, one day we went for a drive and called on some distant relatives of mine. It was Sunday afternoon, and these being mid- dle-class English people, there was Sunday after- noon tea. That went on at one end of the room while Luang Por and I sat at the other. After a while, Luang Por nudged me in the ribs and asked me to ask these people whether they suffered. My heart sank at the thought of having to broach this topic during Sunday afternoon tea. I was about to try to get out of it when the room went silent. For some reason his question had caught their atten- tion. They were agog, wanting to hear what the great man had said. So I had no alternative but to ask, “He wants to know if you suffer.” Well, you can imagine the reaction. There were some polite giggles and one or two people said, “Well, sort of.” After a while I turned to Luang Por and said, “They just don’t understand,” and managed to close the subject. For people who are comfortably off, that is often how it is. Even though they obviously suffer, they don’t acknowledge the fact. When talking to people in England about Buddhism, I have come across this many times. When I talk about suffering, they deny that they suffer. But when I’m talking to people in prison, I don’t have this problem. As soon as I broach the topic of suffering they understand. They are all too willing to admit to it. So it is easier to talk dhamma in prison than it is outside, because the purpose of practicing dhamma is to overcome suffer- ing, and if people can’t acknowledge that they suffer, trying to talk to them about it is a nonstarter. From thE talk “Dhamma in prisons” puBlishED in thE ForEst sangha nEwslEttEr (oCtoBEr 2005). fools rush in Jetsun Kushok Chimey Luding, a female lama in the Sakya tradition, explains why you shouldn’t push your meditation too hard. Many people in Tibet or in the West who have decided to be meditators have gone about it the wrong way. They have foolishly rushed into medi- tations and have gotten themselves into mental binds. Instead of being friendly to their own mind, instead of learning slowly and sensibly, they rush into the meditations. They have great conceit about themselves as yogis, and they press their minds again and again to prove that they are yogis. This causes mental problems. Instead of developing mental stability and tranquility, they create mental confusion, mental anguish, and mental distractions that are worse than before. This is because of their foolishness in practice. One needs to know one’s own measure. One needs to be friendly with one’s mind. It is the mind that you are going to guide in these stages of medi- tation. So at all stages, just as if you were teaching a young child or a baby to walk, you don’t want to do it roughly and slam your mind into these severe types of meditation. You approach it gradually, and in a friendly, relaxed way. If you are too loose in meditation, you will not develop the right state of mind for practice. You won’t succeed. If you are too strict, you won’t develop the right state of mind. It’s just like the metaphor the Bud- dha used when he was teaching his students: when you are tuning a lute, you need to string the instru- ment neither too loosely nor too tightly. Knowing the right measure, one can succeed in one’s meditation. This is what we mean by being sensible. It’s very common for beginners in meditation to approach their meditation experience in terms of hope and fear, expectation and anxiety. Usu- ally, they have this idea that “Oh, I must attain this. I must see the deity. I must achieve this total clarity or luminosity of mind,” or whatever they have heard from the sutras or learned from their readings. They have great expectations like, “the gods will speak to me” or, “something is going to happen.” They have this greed, really. But this hope leads to anxiety or fear: “What if I don’t get it? What if I can’t do it? What if some- thing goes wrong? I know I’m doing it wrong. It’s not working for me. I just don’t have the karma to be a meditator,” and so forth, and so they give it up. As you can see, these are two extremes that are the same piece of this problem. BuDDhaDharma invitEs your suBmissions to First thoughts. plEasE sEnD piECEs oF 100 to 250 worDs in lEngth, on a topiC oF your ChoiCE, to: EDitor@thEBuDDhaDharma.Com. thE DEaDlinE For thE upComing Fall 2006 issuE is JunE 15. MIkEHOlMES