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Buddhadharma : Fall 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly fall 2 0 10 44 the people we live with. It triggers a compulsive activity— a sankhara accompanied by ignorance—that diffuses and disperses its distress outwardly onto the manifold rights and wrongs of people and things: from the Buddha (“Why did he have to make all this so difficult?”) on down. Or inwardly: we assess our character, our heart, our history, our past, our flaws, and our virtues. We fidget, become distracted, and jump to conclusions that will cement the stuckness into a situation: “I can’t practice here with these people,” or “I must have a lot of bad kamma that’s an insurmountable obstacle,” or some other piece of Buddhist jargon. The very activity of judging, comparing, and speculating about oneself creates suffering and shows that something more compulsive is going. Compulsion is not a process that sup- ports awakening. However, reviewing that experience just as an experience is helpful. We can note that the stuckness, hav- ing eluded our attempts to get rid of it or gloss over it, takes us to an “edge.” We want to hold on to some identity, or to a conviction in our practice tradition, but we can’t quite do it. We are taken to a place of uncertainty, a place where there is a feeling of not being anything solid but where there is still a hankering to be something. This is the edge. It’s not a comfortable place, but it is a piece of the journey. It is supposed to happen; the edge is a place where the self-vehicle gets overhauled. Because of that, the wheels have to come off. But there’s a vital opening for anyone who gets to their edge and manages to feel their way past it. It’s there that holding on to one’s “self” at the level of personality unravels. Generally, to get off that edge of uncertainty we grasp on to all that’s left: the uncertainty itself, and whatever feeling brings up. Often the mind moves away from the edge so quickly that we either shift into doing something, or otherwise dis- place the uncomfortable feel- ing. The mind starts scurrying around: “Why am I like this? What can I do about this?” Restlessness builds up until we have to do something to make ourselves feel capable and comfortable again. All this activity intensifies the real AjAhn Sucitto is the abbot of cittaviveka (chithurst Buddhist Monastery) in southern England, which is in the thai Forest tradition of Ajahn chah and Ajahn Sumedho. his latest book is Turning the Wheel of Truth (Shambhala Publications 2010). c.bhikkhu obstacle, which is self-orientation: I do, I can’t do, I am, I’m not, I have, I don’t have. Therefore, if it’s not handled wisely, the stuckness keeps propelling us into activities that justify it as true and finally as “my self.” So notice that: suddenly all this dhamma practice is making you more neurotic and self- obsessed than you were before! Notice what takes you to the edge of feeling you’re on solid ground. It may be part of your daily routine. Routine acts of service can be testing grounds, places where we no longer feel spontaneous, or on top, or seem to develop much. “Surely all this humdrum stuff isn’t going to take me to the bright gates of the Deathless!” So the wobble begins. Then again, taking responsibility may lead us to an edge of uncertainty about our own worth: Am I good enough? Do people approve of me? We get stuck in that self-consciousness, and keep recycling reviews and progress reports in terms of “being” (bhava): I am or I ought to be, or, Oh no, look what I’ve become, or haven’t yet become! More wobble. This sense of being something always relies upon an achieve- ment, a future, or other people’s approval. Or it causes us to imagine the worst: “I haven’t become a success; my future has no potential; I’m not getting acclaim, so I must be a failure.” This sense of being is so compulsive that if it can’t lean on a positive sense of self, it adopts a negative one. Because of this, the stuckness is more difficult than any particular flaw, because the doubt that it stimulates corrodes our faith in the path and the practice. At this place, all the teachings sound like platitudes that we’ve heard a thousand times (and “we still haven’t become enlightened”), and although we should have gotten rid of our defilements by now, we haven’t—and sometimes they even seem more authentic than our virtues. Our unconscious attachment—to the teachings, the highs of meditation, the presence of teachers—presents its down side, and the romance looks like it’s heading for divorce. It’s all highly emotive, and emotion creates credibility, because whatever is emotive has vitality to it. The stuck stuff captures and convinces by its power to stimulate the mind, and it gets very creative. So much so that we might be too dazzled to go beneath the convictions and stories, where the hard core of self-orientation is revealed in its self-importance and self-pity: “I’ve tried so hard, and