Greetings from Wat Buddha Dhamma, 10 Mile Hollow, Wisemans Ferry, NSW 2775, Australia; www.wbd.org.au
I am once again back at Wat Buddha Dhamma after about six weeks travels and teaching in S.E. Asia. Although I was only away for six weeks, somehow it felt like a much longer journey, probably because it involved quite a number of activities in a range of different places.
My fist stop was Kuala Lumpur where a group of supporters of the Forest Tradition had organized a commemoration of Ajahn Chah's 100 years birth. Close to 1,000 people gathered over two days to make offerings to the Sangha and listen to Dhamma talks from 15 of the senior disciples of Ajahn Chah. It was very interesting to listen to a wide range of personal experiences and perspectives on Ajahn Chah himself and his particular teaching style. Some of the speakers had lived with Ajahn Chah for a number of years, some had met him in the last years of his teaching, some had experienced Ajahn Chah when he was bed-ridden, while others benefited from the standard of training and teaching which were his long-enduring legacy.
The Dhamma talks can be accessed:
I then travelled on to Thailand where I gave one talk at Ban Aree in Bangkok before travelling to Wat Nanachat, and then on to Wat Poo Jom Gom where I have been previously spending the northern winters. This year, however, I was escaping from the Australian summer, although the temperatures were not all that different. Once again I had some three weeks of quiet retreat in the Nibbana Cave near the top of Jom Gom 'mountain'. Fortunately, this year there were no fires for me to attempt to extinguish, except on the second last day of my stay. The air was therefore exceptionally clean, and the night sky brilliantly clear for some early-morning star-gazing meditations.
The muddy Mae Khong River with Laos in the background.
Unfortunately, the time passed rather quickly and I soon resumed my travels. My first stop was back to Wat Nanachat for the LP Chah commemoration ceremony on January 16th. Many thousands of people camped out at Wat Pah Pong for the five days of Dhamma practice listening to teaching, chanting and meditating. A number of the senior western monks were called upon to give Dhamma talks, including Ajahn Viradhammo at nearly mid-night.
My next stop was Bangkok for a number of Dhamma talks and a medical check-up, then on to Singapore for a short, but busy teaching schedule. There is no Ajahn Chah branch monastery in Singapore, however, the Buddha Dhamma Foundation is very active in inviting various teachers to give teachings at a number of venues. I gave one talk at The Buddhist Library and one at Nibbana Dhamma Rakkha centre, as well as a two-day non-residential retreat at Wat Thai Palelai, where I was also welcomed to reside for my stay in Singapore. Members of The Buddha Dhamma Foundation were exceptionally hospitable and generous, and are always appreciative of the Dhamma teachings they receive.
While listening to the Dhamma talks by various senior monks in Malaysia, I was considering what aspect of Ajahn Chah's teaching impressed me the most. My conclusion was that it was the teaching on 'letting go'. Most of Theravada teaching emphasises the getting, increasing or development of spiritual qualities, for example, the cultivation of the Eightfold Path, gaining skill in practising Calm and Insight meditation, etc. All this, of course, has its place in spiritual practice, however, unless it is supporting the letting go of grasping of self, this practice is really missing the whole point of the spiritual path.
Ajahn Chah was, of course, mostly teaching monastics, many of whom had already spend time developing spiritual qualities, sometimes to greatly advanced levels. However, what is often missing in most teachings is the complete letting go of all development and attainments, which is the ultimate purpose of spiritual practice.
While reflecting on Ajahn Chah's teaching I then realized that, in essence, letting go is the simplest of all spiritual practices. However, it is by no means the easiest practice, primarily because of self's all-encompassing influence. It then occurred to me that the teaching of letting go needed to be presented within the wider context of the Buddha's teaching. I presented this context in a talk I gave at BIA, Suan Moke, Bangkok as 'The Direct Way to Awakening'. This 'Direct Way to Awakening' is relinquishing, renouncing, letting go of self-centredness in order to realize Dhamma-centredness.
This principle can be presented in a variety of forms such as surrender, renunciation, letting go, giving up, releasing, etc. On the surface this is not so fundamentally different from most of the major religions, for example, the theistic religions direct a follower from self-centredness to God-centredness. However, where the Buddha differs is in pointing to the ultimate renouncing of even the renouncer. This, of course, can be paradoxical – how can the renouncer renounce him/herself?
The way out of this is to engage in spiritual practices which facilitate renunciation. For example, the practices of Generosity, Morality and Meditation, if done correctly, undermine the nature of self-centredness. While self-centredness is supported by accumulation of 'my' possessions, the practice of Generosity is the giving up of accumulations; self-centredness is supported by following my own habits and actions, while morality is surrendering my preferences to a non-personal standard of morality. Meditation is observing clearly the insubstantial nature of this sense of self we centre our energies around to awaken to the ultimate reality of Dhamma-centredness.
The progressive development of increasing Dhamma-centredness has practical applications in all aspects of life. While, of course, we need to be sensitive to self's demands to some degree, when does self's needs become self-serving greeds? Spending all of our energy feeding self's demands is merely feeding an ultimately false reality, which ends only in disappointment, since all aspects of self's domain eventually dissolve and fade away. Whereas energizing Dhamma-centredness is tuning in to reality, the way things really are, which ends in undying, since ultimately there is no self to die, only the reality of impermanence unfolding.
One of the practical ways to enact this process is that rather than follow what 'I' want, try to follow what life requires. Today this can be quite challenging since 'I' have so many choices. However, if we open up this inquiry: 'What does life require?', we may begin to see more rewarding and satisfying possibilities coming into focus. Gradually we come more and more to appreciate the universal and ultimately satisfying nature of Dhamma-centred reality.
May the Dhamma increasingly infuse your life.