This is day three of this January 2024 7-day Rohatusu sesshin. And I'm going to read again to this morning from Teachings of a Buddhist Monk by Ajahn Sumedho.
Going to take up a chapter entitled One Inhalation
he says, the mental world is so powerful and strong. And our minds get so confused, that we get carried away by emotions or by the appearances of things. We really need to establish a point that we can use for meditation, such as our breathing. We're always breathing wherever we are, whether we're in a quiet place, or in Piccadilly Circus. Of course, he's, he's in England now. And Piccadilly Circus is in in London, thinks sort of a busy place somewhat like Times Square in New York.
So even if we cannot stay anywhere, for very long, at least, we can stop the mind wandering and being pulled into everything going on around us. We may not yet get really good concentration in a place like Piccadilly Circus, but at least we can stop ourselves from being attracted to or repelled by extreme sensory impingements. We can bring our attention to the inhalation and the exhalation of the breath.
Such a basic meditation practice.
According to the accounts, the Buddha, underneath the bow tree, when he came to his great awakening, was following the breath.
Take this up as beginners, it's usually the first practice that's given to us and often returned to it later in our practice.
But as we'll see, there are a lot of misunderstandings about breath practice. He says some people assume that the purpose of mindfulness of breathing is in order to get higher levels of concentration. We should note, however, that the assumptions we make about this practice are just assumptions. The practice itself is as it is, it is for nobody. It is for its own reward as it is. When we are with the breath, our minds are not thinking about other things. So we're just with the breath. And if we keep with the breath, that our minds will calm down. Breathing, just ordinary breathing is a calming kind of rhythm. It tranquilizes So mindfulness of breathing is in itself, its own reward. So hard point for us to get everything we do has to have a purpose. And it has to be evaluated on the basis of how well it delivers. What am I getting out of it? The heart of practice is giving ourselves with no demand for return. As long as there's a demand for some sort of return, we're not completely giving ourselves giving ourselves over. Mother Teresa said at one point, God did not call me to be successful. He called me to be faithful.
Our demands that we be successful are a burden that we carry can be a motivation we can think about what might happen, how our lives might change. And those may those may come true Once we stop making those demands
he says we may not realize that each moment with the breath is a tranquil one and so get so tend to get caught up in trying to acquire something in trying to get more from it than it can offer us. So, we missed the actual result as it is happening. This is human ignorance. We expect something so we are unaware of what really happens such a basic point our expectations cover up reality we don't see people because of our opinions about them
see it clearly in such sheen. Not so much with people although you can notice you have attitudes about people as you notice walking by them and kini why why do we Why do we burden ourselves with that
everyone is as they are, everything is as it is.
Stand we fight reality. The saying goes I fought the law and the law one.
This is human ignorance we expect something. So we are unaware of what really happens. The minute we stop expecting something, everything opens up then we can see. Like that Anthony de Mello story about the difference between a dog trainer and a scientist studying ants. The dog trainer has tricks he wants to introduce. He's got a purpose and agenda. scientist studying ants just wants to know more about them. Just going in with interest.
Says now if we just kind of played what an inhalation is like, we shall see that it is not exciting, thrilling, interesting or fascinating. But neither is it painful, repulsive or unpleasant. We will probably consider it to be boring. Because we tend to demand a high level of interest and excitement from everything in life. We tend to regard something that is neutral to be boring. But it is not really boring. If something is interesting, it means it holds our attention. If we're reading a book and it interests us, we just sit there we can hardly tell ourselves away. We don't want to answer the telephone. Don't want to talk to anybody. We just want to remain absorbed in that fascinating, interesting book. If we're reading a boring book, on the other hand, then we'll use every excuse there is to get away from it. The telephone rings we gladly get up to answer it. The milkman comes we run to the door, try to chat to a bit. I don't know how many milkman come to people's doors anymore. Because England is a different country. If it is boring, there is nothing to hold our attention. So our attention will go to anything even the things more boring than the book. To get away from one boring thing we go to another boring thing certainly is a good description of a lot of the thoughts that run through our minds when we're deflecting from practice. Tedious. It's a good word. Trivial It's chasing after excitement. We say nowadays chasing after dopamine the power of the smartphone and the iPhone offering us something new and if you don't like that there's something new and if you don't like that there's something new. An hour goes by two hours go by
says, we try to make life interesting, interesting friends, interesting things to think about interesting things to do. I'm not criticizing, I'm just pointing out that we spend much of our lives in search of interest. Of course, it's a natural thing to do. And when something is no longer interesting, then we tend to reject it. If a friend is going through a bad time, say, and he is pretty boring and uninteresting, we tend not to want to be bothered with him. When he is fascinating and scintillating, we enjoy His company, because it keeps us interested. But then when he gets boring, again, we just want to get away. Mindfulness of breathing is not interesting, and we do not need to make it such an inhalation is just that, an inhalation. If we say it is interesting or boring, these are judgments we make according to our moods, but in itself, it is just such this. It is just the way it is. Of course, that's true about our entire life. Everything is just the way it is.
We bring the interest. It's not to say, don't misunderstand. I don't believe that he is saying that you should be manfully bored with your breath practice. The fact of the matter is, as you become absorbed in anything, then something arises, an interest arises, a joy arises, which is which we have all the time which is there. But when our modus operandi is to seek out excitement, then boredom arises. It's not flashy enough.
When we reflect in this way, that an inhalation is just that way, and an exhalation is just that way. And when we are not demanding that they be otherwise are looking for something more than there is more than is there than our attitudes are developing in the right direction. So we can use just this one thing, this one practice of mindfulness of breathing, for concentration, for reflection, for understanding, for understanding the way things really are for understanding why the world is the way it is.
Why is the world the way it is? Why is there so much contention, divisiveness, quarreling, and ingratitude. Everything is divided into groups, factions, individuals, each demanding all kinds of things from themselves and from others. We get confusion and depression when people's minds operate on that level. It is winter, the snow is on the ground. And here at Amravati we have certain emergency situations when the water mains burst. Don't have that happen here. Says but that is not what happens all the time is it even though yesterday I began to think it was sitting here it is just the way it is. Most of our lives are not incredibly exciting or interesting. They're just ordinary just the way they are walking from here to the dormitories, sitting in meditation, getting up lighting, incense sticks, going to the loo. Definitely in Britain, doing some work, eating the meal and so forth. The day goes on like that. Whether we like it or not depends on whether we are inspired or expecting a lot or whether we are fed up. If we are fed up then we can make a big scene. Washing dishes for example. If we're really inspired and really want to work for the welfare of the community, then we go into dishes with all the energy that comes from love and inspiration. But when we're fed up and did not care any more than the rotation comes up and we do the dishes. We do it but with no love at all. Get there late break a dish did not clean up very well. But actually, washing the dishes is just as it is, isn't it? There's nothing overly pleasant or unpleasant about it. It's just the way why Washing dishes is beyond that we can make anything out of it. Whether we love or hate to do the dishes is something we create something we superimpose onto the actual event. The same with inhalation, or an exhalation. It is just that way. We try to get high by thinking, I'm going to wash these dishes because of my great love for the monks, nuns and community. And because this is the greatest place in the world, then inevitably will go to the other extreme. But when we can just move towards the way it happens to be washing dishes, cleaning the room, walking from here to the dormitory, sitting in meditation, watching the breath. That is all right. And then the extreme situations like a watermain bursting is also just the way it is. But if we are not expecting any interference in our lives, and we are sitting there and then someone comes up and says the water mains birth burst, I think Dammit. Dammit, the water mains burst. They're interfering with my meditation. This is a meditation retreat, and the water mains burst and it's interfering with my tranquility. I am feeling that water mains should somehow only burst when I am not on retreat. The one says sheen that I heard of that ever had to be canceled I think it was in Chicago, the story from long ago and the the drain got stopped up. That's the big pipe, the pipe going down through the building, delivering what we don't want to deal with from the toilet. That was a that was a showstopper
when they do bursts, therefore it is frustrating. It seems like a kind of plot against me to give me a bad time. Actually, of course, whether the watermain bursts when I am on retreat or not, is still just the way it is we can always have a place for whatever happens. Because it is never something that should not happen. This is this is so simple and obvious. Everything happens because of causes and conditions. But we don't see it that way. Certain things shouldn't happen. And it's hard to argue with someone who really feels that way. Because certain things are horrific. Certain things are suffering, terrible cruelty.
But that's the way they are.
We have to deal with life, as it is life on life's terms. Our practice isn't going to somehow make us bulletproof from all the things that can go wrong. All of us subject to death and decay, misfortune, illness. Everything could be fine. All of a sudden we're on a gurney heading to the hospital.
Through wise reflection, we need not suffer from any turn of events. If we adapt wisely to situations in life, then we do not create the conditions for unnecessary misery or for pain on top of pain. As the Buddha said, the second dart your shot by an arrow or a dart that's one kind of pain. And then when you're upset about it, why did this happen to me? How could anyone do that? How careless or was it deliberate? Then we're adding a new level of pain Why did my legs have to hurt? They just hurt simple pain and complicated pain to different beasts. Simple pain is bad enough.
He says there's always going to be a certain amount of natural suffering of course, from having been born as a human being, birth, growing up sickness, old age and death. These are the results of having been And born as a human being, the body, the seasons of the years, such things cannot satisfy us. When we contemplate them and meditate on them however, then we can be at peace with them. But then there's also the suffering which we create. If I'm sitting here thinking dammit, it's snowing again. It's blasted English winters. I want to go to South Africa with venerable Nano. Imagine an Arjaan in South Africa. Probably have them there. Now that is something I've created right now just sitting here. I'm not contemplating I'm just reacting. It's snowing again blast it. If I kind of played however, I can be peaceful. white snow on a bleak landscape is calming to the mind. I can look out there and contemplate it is quite tranquilizing does not excite is not a stimulating landscape. It is all quite colorless and subdued, quiet, silent. If on the other hand, we want interesting, fascinating lifestyles. We might find this all a bit boring. We think how boring it is. White Snow, few colors, no leaves on the trees, no flowers in the garden. Just kind of colorless shades, sepia tones. And then we think remember those beautiful fascinating gardens in Borneo wild colors of orange and red and yellow, beautiful parrots in the trees, flamingos and then immediately we are sitting here in the middle of an English winter and there are no flamingos. We are creating suffering, because we are thinking about something that is not here and resenting the fact. Now, as contemplate errs of life, we have to open up to the sepia toned, bleak English winter, just like the inhalation and the exhalation. I saw a film on an aeroplane Flashdance. It's an old movie. It was the story of a lady. Whenever she heard a certain kind of music, her whole body started going all over the place no matter where she was. If she heard this music, she just started leaping into the air. That kind of music can excite the mind. But mindfulness of breathing will not do that. It is a different kind of rhythm. I'm not saying excitement is bad, do not misunderstand me. I'm saying that that is what it is like. Mindfulness of breathing, however, is a tranquilizing slow rhythm. It is something we do not make up, we do not create it. Now, if we are not feeling tranquil throughout this mindfulness of breathing, it is because we are expecting more from it that it can give us, we do not understand it yet. We're not really giving ourselves to it. We're just using it to get some state that we want. But when we start reflecting that mindfulness is just about being with an inhalation, just being with an exhalation, then it is its own reward. And then we could also say that it is something we can easily do when we get out of the business of creating an effect when that's not our job. Meditation is so much easier, don't have to twist ourselves into shapes don't have to ride herd, the only thing we have to pay attention to is am I with the breathing? Am I with the koan, my with my practice, whatever it is, or I by wandering off and expectations and thoughts, and criticisms. And when we notice, there it is, back immediately. It's not like we have to build it up all of a sudden, we have to recreate it we painfully built up by thinking the right thoughts and looking the right way. It's just a breath in and out. We're back. I remember reading somewhere that JOCO back when she found her mind scattered, would just listen to the sound of car tires, on the street outside her place. Just really, really focus on that. Don't have to do anything with it. Give yourself Simple awareness
again, reflecting that mindfulness is just being with an inhalation just being with an exhalation, and then it is its own reward. While we are concentrating on that, being aware of it, our minds for that moment are calm, even though our bodies may not be. But the more we calm the mind, the more the body calms. Body demands a lot of patience. We all know this. From just little things like this tremendous wisdom arises in our lives. We could spend 30 years reading philosophy at Oxford University, we could read Bertrand Russell, and all that the head would be chock a block full of ideas, views and opinions, the brain would be bursting with information, I would say, watch your breath, you would say can't be bothered a waste of time, I'm writing an important paper for an important journal. If we look in the university archives, we shall see all the doctoral theses that have been written over the past 100 years, all the hard work that has gone into writing those things, and the headaches and the anxiety, and a lot of it is worthless. Now, we do not get PhDs for watching the breath. If I wanted to write a doctoral thesis on one inhalation, they would say don't be facetious, can't give you a PhD for that
there are whole racks, stacks of PhD theses, university libraries. So my mother's there once wrote her PhD on John Keats, the English poet. I don't know if that was ever read.
If we find ourselves being overwhelmed by things in life, we can just take the time to use mindfulness of breathing, should not use it to try to get out of things, but just as a place to compose ourselves. So some exciting difficult situation is happening around us. One is inhalation. For that moment, at least, we can compose ourselves, we need not the world away by things that happen. It's very useful thing to do, very skillful. It does take practice, however, we have to put forth the effort into going towards that mindfulness, because it is not interesting enough to attract us. Exciting rhythms will attract us, but not mindfulness of breathing. That is just the way it is. It does not attract, but it can tranquilize. Then when we realize the result, get good results from mindfulness of breathing, then we shall find it attractive, then we shall want to do it, then we would rather do that, then go to that crazy rhythm
we can absolutely fall in love with our breath. If people tell me that I love the breath. That's a wonderful thing. But we need to start with just the bare breath. We can we can have an awareness practice. Just looking into our own awareness. Working with a colon can be exhilarating. But if we come to the mat trying to get that exhilaration going, then we're going about it the wrong way. needs to come unbidden. The real thing doesn't come through our manipulation
but there's no question. If we sit faithfully the mind changes change that we didn't make happen, but it changes reliably. Everybody right now is different than we were when We began to sheen. And when we get to the end, it will be even more, even more quiet, even more clarity. Sometimes that quiet and clarity isn't obvious to us, because we have thoughts running across the mind. Or maybe we've run into discouragement or some other obstacle. But it can't help stripping away our habits or habits of mind. When people first come to practice, they're usually a little thrown by the fact that they can't control their mind, the thoughts are just teeming. They never had that problem before. They're just riding along on a wave of thoughts, tubing down the river. Now they've decided to focus on one thing to give themselves to the breath. All of a sudden, that river is a real obstacle takes a good deal of stick to itiveness. And understanding, understanding why it makes sense. And even when we understand, we still forget says the mind can get scattered and dull, but just 15 minutes say of concentrating on the breath can sharpen it up again, we can see where we tend to lose the mind is where it wonders, then we can put forth a special effort to really hold the mind to an inhalation to an exhalation. And then he says and that is a suppression of other things. We are suppressing all other sensory impingement in order to concentrate on one sensory impingement. But that is not an end in itself is merely a skillful means. When we say suppressing, we don't mean we're suppressing thoughts trying to make no thoughts come into the mind. What we're, what we're working with is our unconscious tendency to run with anything that pops into the mind, or Jr normal chasing after excitement, whether it's really exciting or not.
We can also listen to the sound of silence. And we can do that at the same time as being mindful of breathing. Now if we notice, when our minds wander, we will no longer hear the sound of silence. We forget about it and go off into thoughts and moods.
When our minds wander, there are ways of bringing our attention back to the moment. We can however, become attached to ideas about these ways. The idea of emptiness for example, or the idea of bringing ourselves back to the moment. Any idea we attach to will take us to doubt again, people say bring yourself back to the moment. But that can become a fixation and obsession rather than a skillful composing of the mind. We are very keen on attaching to techniques, words, ideas, or anything we tend to say give me the formula. Give me the technique, give me the magic word, as if there was one magic word or one technique which is going to do everything for us.
We should note that opinions that arise if any of these things become compulsive, we may tell ourselves to let go let go. And then we find ourselves using it for anything and everything. It becomes just a perfunctory habitual statement. Something goes wrong one of the buildings catches fire, we say let go. And don't bother to report it because reporting a fire might mean we're attached to the idea of fire. That is the ultimate absurdity. Well, that's a pretty ridiculous example. But but we can we can become enamored of just be in the now. Just open up anything we say is a pointer but it's not a it's not a rule. We can't use it as a technique.
Awareness can't be a technique. Just have to notice when we're not present, and come back.
Sincerity is not a technique devotion. It's not a technique. Sometimes these things can help a little bit, it can be a reminder. You have to do the work. At CIT Hurst, he says there used to it was the monastery he founded before this one is speaking from in this book at CIT harus. There used to be the watch your mind habit, we would say watch your mind. It was a way of saying Shut up. something would go wrong in the kitchen, somebody would get upset and say watch your mind. There, we're not watching, there's obviously. And yet all these things are skillful means watching the mind and letting go. Letting go of the house on fire does not mean we should not do anything about it. It does not mean we just pretend it does not exist, that would be impossible, it would be foolish to do we let go of fire by following the insight into doing what is appropriate at that moment. Some people do not know the difference between mindfulness and concentration, they concentrate on what they are doing, thinking that as being mindful, really are these two different kinds of, we could call them both concentration, I suppose there's one pointed concentration. And then there's a lantern awareness. We need both. The Buddha said those are two wings of the bird. We need concentration to delve deeply into our practice. But we need mindfulness to know when we've gone off on a tangent, otherwise, we have no idea. You see people after a session, they have so much concentration. And they can just go off on a tangent chattering away with no thought of what they're doing what they're saying. It's just fun. Certain amount of that is okay. But to recollect, to know where we are and what we're doing seems boring. But it's so foundational.
Says I knew someone once who was always complaining about other people not being mindful, you would be absorbed in what he was doing. And then perhaps someone would go and ask him a question. And he would blow up have a temper tantrum. Now he could concentrate, we can concentrate on what we are doing. But if we are not mindful at the same time, with the ability to reflect on the moment, that if somebody interferes with our concentration, we may blow up, get carried away by anger and being frustrated. If we are mindful, we are aware of the tendency to first concentrate and then feel anger when something interferes with that concentration. With mindfulness, we can concentrate when it is appropriate to do so and not concentrate when it is appropriate not to do so.
Reflecting is being mindful. A lot of people have the idea that we shouldn't waste time and reflection. But that's that's ridiculous. It's good to reflect on what we're doing, what results we're getting. That person who keeps walking into a wall and needs to turn right or left. First thing that has to happen is to reflect. I seem to keep walking into the wall. Notice, notice our patterns. My son's natural father, our friend Ernie was lived with many different women. And at some point he said I know it's something I do because they all say the same thing. Which I thought was great. He still didn't know what it was. But his that recognition. If everybody is complaining there's something there to start
my wife was very fond of him, but she just could not live with him.
and says reflecting is bringing into consciousness the way things are, we are sitting here, we're aware of our intentions, we are aware of what is going on and what is happening inside ourselves. We are aware of anything influencing us, like a feeling of anger with somebody, we observe any feelings of resistance. Sometimes, sometimes we do not want to do something we observe at all. This is mindfulness, being aware of the forces that are being experienced, externally and internally, emotionally, and physically. It's also awareness of the body, noticing the feelings of anxiety that come up feelings of resistance. When we notice them, it's easier to just go ahead and do what we need to do. When the first reaction to some sort of painful sensation is to run away from it. Sometimes we don't even know we're having it, we've pushed it out of out of our mind because it's painful. And so we don't change our behavior
that that dreadful feeling that feeling of doom is a messenger. Somebody said, it's like a compassionate alarm clock, telling us you're lost in the dream, wake up.
Hear the morning, wake up mock talk. Doesn't matter. Whether we hate it or love it. All we need to do is get up. Go to Keene haina. Everything follows one after another really isn't a problem. If we do that, if we if we give ourselves to what we've decided to do. Then a joy can arise. That is wonderful. Doing Kaneen. Walking to meals, sitting down on the mat. Running the ducks on
it all can be joyful when we're not demanding that it be a certain way. When we've stopped mucking everything up. We're human beings, it's really hard not to muck things up. It's what we were taught. We come into this into our adulthood with all these habits of protecting ourselves, getting what we need, what we feel we need. Those are deeply deeply ingrained. But slowly through this practice these some of these slough off, rub away it's wonderful to do this work.
Suffering has meaning when we're changing. We change when we stop grasping. We stop avoiding. takes practice, years and years of practice. We look back we're thankful that we did what we didn't want to do.