I had been staying a week and in just one week I had had a couple of contentious episodes with the head monk. Firstly for my wearing leggings (I thought that having the legs covered was sufficient respect for the dress code, but, apparently not – legs need to be covered loosely – shape and form of said legs must not be revealed.) And secondly for skipping one morning meditation.
The first time I was reprimanded for the leggings, my friend was standing right next to me, in leggings. But, it was first light in the meditation hall, lit by just one candle, there were shadows everywhere, so possibly Ajahn just did not see her (or more specifically – her legs). The second reprimand to me seemed unjust because over the week I had noticed that a few of the other residents occasionally skipped the morning session. Plus I had what I thought was a good reason – I had slept in the cave, and I wanted to do my own morning meditation in that cave, with its spectacular view and its resident animals and birds keeping me company.
On the road back to my cave I pondered what I felt were the injustices of these events. My mind started making up a few stories: maybe he just doesn’t like me, it seems he’s pretty much out to get me, maybe he secretly is attracted to me and that’s why the legging episode. These stories started percolating around in my head, and they stayed with me for a few days. Being at the monastery, where the whole deal is to meditate, observe your thoughts, observe your mind, and hopefully find some peace, or if you are lucky – deep Samadhi – I was in the ideal environment to study what was going on.
And what was going on was, of course, the process of what the Buddhists called Pratītyasamutpāda or dependent origination. Dependent origination explains the process of arising (birth), finding form (development) and falling away (death) of all things based on causes and conditions.
In the little book that I found in the monastery library, ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong’ (that is an attention-grabbing title if ever there was one!), this process is explained in detail.
Dependent on the eye and forms, eye-consciousness arises. The meeting of the three is sense-contact. With sense-contact as condition, there is feeling. What one feels, that one perceives….
This is perception, sañña, giving the perceived object a name.
What one perceives, that one thinks about. What one thinks about, that one mentally proliferates.
So the chattering mind takes the perception and launches off with it.
With such conceptual proliferations (papañca) as the source, the heart is beset by mental perceptions and notions, characterised by the prolific tendency, with respect to the past, the future and present forms cognizable by the eye.
From the book ‘I’m Right, You’re Wrong: Lovingkindness, Attachment to Views, Alienation and the Buddha’s path of Non-Contention’ by Ajahn Amaro.
This whole process begins with sense-contact. In my case that sense-contact was through the voice and the look of the head monk. His voice and his gaze meeting my ears and my eyes. That was the initial impact on my senses. From the impact there arises a feeling of aversion or attraction, or a neutral feeling. That feeling leads to perception.
My mind had created the story of ‘he doesn’t like me’ and that story, a day or so later, had morphed into ‘he probably doesn’t want me to come back here and that’s why he is being so mean’.
Having an inbuilt (or is it – this too must have had a cause, a birth and a growth process) dislike of authority and strong aversion to people telling me what to do, I tend to have strong reactions to what are seemingly small things. And so, knowing myself in this way, I further observed the process.
A day or so after I had been reprimanded for my non-appearance at the morning meditation I misbehaved once again. I logged onto the internet to check something that for me at the moment was of vital importance. This, I knew, was against the rules, and I was caught out, in flagranti by the same head monk. There I was, a rebel at the monastery, blithely breaking the rules of dress code, attendance and not peeking at the Interwebs. This time the monk was angry and said that if I kept this up I would not be welcome back.
I closed up my laptop, went back to my mud brick house and watched my thoughts.
I observed a lot of anger arising in the mind, and a desire was born (dependent origination again) to leave right then and there. To bust out and to hell with their stupid rules. I could see the headlines in the oddities section of the local press: ‘Woman walks alone with only one small water bottle for 20 kilometres through the bush with only the planets for guidance to escape the monastery, hounded by her own perceptions of mistreatment by the mean monk.’
But then I realised that if I did this I would disrupt the plans of my friend who was to arrive on the weekend to spend a night. So I sat and watched the anger. I watched it steam and boil and overflow like an abandoned porridge pot bubbling furiously on the stove. And then I saw clearly that I could just let it all go. I could let go of the hurt, I could let go of the anger, I could let go of the defending myself, and I could let go of my problems with the monk. In essence, I could turn off the gas from under the porridge and just leave it there. And when it became cold I could just tip it into the compost, for the possums to eat. And so I did.
I did a loving kindness meditation for myself and for the monk, and I watched the whole movie scene pass out of my mind space, off to perhaps alight in someone else’s thoughts – who might be wondering at that very moment ‘where did this little story of dependent origination drama at the forest monastery come from? – hell I have never even been to a Buddhist monastery’.
I was left with peace and spaciousness. And no problems. I didn’t even care if he made good on his threat to banish me forever from this special place in the forest. I was OK with the present moment, and so I was also OK with whatever would eventuate in the future. I was back in my center. I felt an aliveness and a happiness return to me. And I went out for a walk amongst the majestic eucalypts, alive with birds tweeting their unfettered by dependent origination joy for all to hear.
4 STEPS TO DETACHING FROM THOUGHTS
- Recognise the thought. Write it down. What is it?
- Investigate: Where did it come from? What was the cause that led to its arising?
- Ask yourself: does this thought help me? Is it useful and beneficial (almost always the answer will be no)
- Then see if you are able to just let it go. If it is difficult, then sit in meditation and see if you can let it go in the process of stilling the mind.
And then another story arose in my mind. Well, actually, a story that had been there for some time.
What if I just stop talking? Would that help the thoughts arise and pass away in my mind space without all the attachment and aversion?
Have you done a silent retreat? What was your experience with the silence?