5. Creative Living
H: I have the impression that Buddhism is very individualistic in its teachings.
Thynn: It would seem so, but we are not isolated beings. We live in society. Therefore, what affects an individual invariably affects all those around him or her. Buddhism focuses a great deal on each individual's enlightenment. Although it does not neglect the community, it has to start with the individual. When each individual is well centered and in perfect equilibrium within him or herself, he or she naturally draws others' centers into balance, and hence the community as well. In other words, a spontaneous equilibrium is created within any given situation.
H: How does this come about?
There is no magic formula for it, but two basic ingredients, patience and panna (wisdom), bring forth the harmony.
H: Isn't patience also a form of passivity?
If one is patient and tolerant but does not have panna, that patience and tolerance can take the form of passivity. In such a case, one can even allow oneself to be abused in many ways. This is not intelligent living. Intelligent living avoids both extremes -- passivity and impulsiveness.
These days people are always in a hurry and tend to be afflicted with the disease of impatience. We are plagued with the urge to "act" instantly, to get "going," to "move," and to "do" something in haste. We leave no time to reflect, to stop, to absorb, and to let things evolve or emerge by themselves. One tends to react through one's conditioned chaotic mind -- rather than acting in a cool and collected way -- thus creating more chaos.
Any action without intelligence is destructive. Intelligent living means "watching" and "seeing" the right moment, the right opportunity, the appropriate situation, in which to act. In Buddhism this is known as samma kammanta (complete and skillful action). In short, intelligent living means skillful and creative living.
H: Then, if intelligence and patience are both relevant to skillful living, how are they related? How do they come together?
Panna (wisdom) and patience are like two sides of a coin. If there is intelligence, then patience arises by itself. Patience without intelligence is just contrived benevolence; it doesn't last long. Sooner or later one runs out of patience. True tolerance arises only through panna. You see, panna brings with it the four brahma viharas or sublime states, namely, metta (unconditional love), karuna (compassion), mudita (sympathetic joy) and upekkha (equanimity). Only love, compassion and equanimity provide a person with true benevolence. Equanimity leaves the person concerned detached from clinging; love and compassion help the person to identify with others; and panna leads the person to take the right action. All these together lead to true benevolence.
H: Well then, how does one live in harmony with others?
This is an extremely important question. It is a matter of focusing on your own equilibrium. This is the most fundamental issue. Whatever situation you are facing -- whether it is personal, social, one's career, family, friends, etc. -- equilibrium must start right there ... with you. If you are shaky, how can you bring others into balance? The equilibrium must start right here, within yourself. Otherwise, you will only sink the ship with your shakiness.
Only when you are completely stable and well-centered can you reach out to others' inner states. You cannot change others by purposeful and forceful means. The change, first of all, must come from within yourself. The equilibrium must start right there within you. When you have struck the right balance within yourself, this balance will pervade the whole situation and will, by itself, affect others' equilibrium. It is a spontaneous occurrence. Your own tranquillity will allow other people and situations to respond to you very naturally. We need to retain an open heart, so that whenever we do anything, our action will be out of love and compassion and nothing less. This kind of living and loving generates tremendous energy for harmonious, creative and joyful life.
Love and Hate
She was just out of college; to know her was like a breath of fresh air. She was full of life, intelligent and pleasant, with a youthful inquiring mind. She was becoming a spiritual friend.
She told me about a person she had hated since college days. This troubled her so much that even in her dreams he was bothering her. That was why she wanted to know about love and hate.
S: Can you explain to me about love and hate?
Thynn: Well, you see, love and hate are not so different. They are two aspects of our discriminating mind, like two sides of the same coin.
S: But they feel so different.
Yes, initially they are different, but they both arise out of our habit of discrimination, and they both lead to suffering. Whether we love or hate someone is based on our own likes and dislikes. We automatically categorize people according to our own preconceptions. When they meet our ideals and appear to be to our liking, immediately our mind starts to cling to them; and if they should fall into the category of dislike, our minds start to reject them. In this way we end up loving or hating.
S: But how can we stop loving and hating? I find both situations equally frustrating.
Let's think about a situation where you love a person at one time and come to hate him at another. He is the same person, so why do your feelings about him change?
S: Probably because that person and I have changed.
True. That means our love changes with each changing situation, and that means our feelings are not permanent, but relative to time and place.
S: Our feelings are not permanent?
Exactly. This is what the Buddha called maya, the illusion of the mind. Our feelings are an illusion born of our conceptual mind; they arise from the ego- self. According to Buddhism, since ego is an illusion, anything that is born of the conceptual mind is also an illusion. It has no substance, permanence or peace. That is why mundane love is fickle. That is why it can change to hate.
About a week later she came to see me again, and this time, in great excitement, she said to me:
S: I fully understand now what you said about love and hate! I met that person the other day and, to my great surprise, I found myself going up to him and even greeting him without hesitation. I don't know why, but I don't feel any animosity toward him anymore. Before, I used to hate even the sight of him. It is really such a great relief to me. I feel free now!
Let me ask you one thing: before you met this person did you have this feeling of hate in you?
S: Why, come to think of it, I didn't.
And what about now; do you still have it?
Then, what is the difference, before and after?
[Then she burst into laughter, saying:]
S: Very true!
Well, you were free of this hate or love before you met him, weren't you?
S: Yes, that's right.
What did you have to do to be free like that?
S: Well, I didn't have to do anything. I was free by myself.
That's right. By ourselves we are free of either loving or hating. Only when we start to like or dislike do we become entangled in our own emotions. As soon as we come to realize that they are illusions of our own making, we become free. We are brought back to our original situation where there is neither love nor hate. Only when the mind starts to work on liking and disliking is the burden of love and hate built up and we lose that freedom temporarily.
This is a real-life example of how the cloud of moha (delusion), once lifted, leads to freedom and self-realization in the moment.
One day a friend found me reading Buddhism and asked, "Are you trying to find happiness?"
R: Have you found it?
Yes, I have.
By realizing that I cannot find it.
R: But how can that be?
There is no such thing as a feeling of happiness that is permanent and everlasting. Those feelings of elation and pleasure that arise whenever we come across things, people or events that satisfy and please us are but momentary.
We hanker after pleasurable feelings, thinking that if we get everything we want we will be happy. When we try to find satisfaction outside of ourselves, we end up running in circles. We can never get total satisfaction from others, just as we can never provide them with it. We simply forget that others are in the same position as we are! They expect the same kind of satisfaction from you and me.
As soon as we try to find happiness, we are already on the road to unhappiness.
R: Is there no way out?
Yes, there is a way out. We will find happiness only when we stop looking for it.
R: But that's difficult.
That is the paradox. The moment we want happiness, we start to cling to it in our mind. First, we cling to our own idea of happiness. We relate to the outside world as a source of satisfaction and look outward for the things we normally associate with happiness -- accumulating wealth, success, fame or power. As soon as we become attached to any idea -- happiness, success or whatever -- there is already some stress. Clinging is itself a stressful state, and everything that derives from it is also stressful. For example, try to clench your hand to make a fist. As soon as you start to clench your hand, you have to use energy to keep your fingers clenched tightly. When you let go of the clenching, your hand is free again.
So it is with the mind. When it is in such a state of clenching, it can never be free. It can never experience peace or happiness, even if one has all the wealth, fame and power in the world.
R: So how do we get out of this?
The only way is to let go.
R: Let go of what?
Your desire for happiness.
Love and Compassion
A: What is true compassion?
Thynn: Compassion (karuna in Pali), as taught in Buddhism, is one of four sublime states (brahma vihara) that are inherent qualities of wisdom (panna). The other three are unconditional love (metta), sympathetic joy (mudita) and equanimity (upekkha). An act of compassion is not isolated, but is also an expression of these other qualities of wisdom.
A: Suppose you have a friend who is an alcoholic, and you want to help her. What would be the right thing to do if she refuses to take your advice?
B: Even if my own son happened to be a victim, I would suggest that he go to the hospital. I would help him all I could if he wanted to go. If not, that's it, and I would not feel angry or say anything.
Yes, if what you are saying is that we can't help someone who is not ready to be helped, that is very true. But we have to be very careful here. We have to examine our own minds very carefully. There is a fine line between equanimity and indifference. If we try to perform an act of compassion in a detached way, with no wisdom governing the act, there is danger.
B: Why is that so?
Because, first of all, only wisdom can differentiate between equanimity and indifference. A person can be very proficient in dissociating herself or himself emotionally from any situation or from people. But that kind of detachment is not true equanimity; it is only a delusion, and the delusion itself can lead to indifference and negligence. You can be led to think that so long as your duty is done, that's it; the rest has nothing to do with you. You must also differentiate between fulfilling duty with indifference and acting with love and compassion. There is a very fine line between them.
B: Then what is upekkha or equanimity if it isn't detachment?
Detachment is the opposite of attachment. It means disengaging or dissociating from somebody or something.
Equanimity is that which transcends both attachment and detachment. It means seeing things as they are, without clinging or rejecting. It goes beyond attachment and detachment.
B: What is the difference between equanimity and indifference?
Indifference is the result of a lack of concern, a lack of love. But equanimity is born from wisdom and love. It is not an isolated quality in itself.
It is part and parcel of wisdom, love, compassion and joy. Likewise, compassion is not an isolated feeling. If it were isolated, then it could probably be induced by a conditioned behavior based on the idea of compassion.
A: Then what is true compassion?
True compassion and love are spontaneous manifestations of panna (wisdom). If there is panna, there is already love, compassion, joy and equanimity. They are all present in a single act of compassion. That act encompasses all these qualities.
For example, in the case of the alcoholic son, wisdom would give you the insight to look at the total situation -- what alcoholism is doing to your son and whether it is affecting others; what it is doing to the whole family; and the mental, social and economic misery and suffering resulting from alcoholism. You may be detached and not be affected by his refusal to take up your suggestion, but your equanimity should not turn into indifference.
There is a vast and very crucial difference between detaching yourself from your emotions and detaching yourself from the situation.
You can still be genuinely concerned and actively involved in any situation without expending your emotional resources. Your own insight into the total situation and your love for the whole family leads you to the right action in that particular situation.
B: So we could say that wisdom and love serve as checks and balances to equanimity.
Yes, that's right. Love keeps you involved in the situation; compassion leads you to identify yourself with others; equanimity helps you to transcend emotional involvement and see things objectively; and wisdom helps you identify the right solution to the problem or situation for the benefit of yourself as well as of others.
A: What about sympathetic joy? How would joy come into this integrated action?
An act is joyless if it is done on the basis of pure duty. Joy is also lacking if you help someone out of pity. Duty and pity fall short of true compassion. Joy is present only when an act is born of wisdom, love, compassion and equanimity. Such action is joyful because it is not restrained by attachment nor burdened with worries and anxieties.
Love and joy bring perseverance to compassion. One does not give up easily until some good comes out of an adverse situation. An act of joy with no emotional attachment makes the involvement itself fulfilling. This is an act born of a free mind.
B: What do you mean by a free mind?
A free mind is a mind free from fixation on anything, free even from a concept of compassion.
B: What do you mean by that?
A free mind is a mind that is purely in the present moment. Because it lacks any fixations, it can view the total situation and adapt to prevailing circumstances -- then you can act accordingly.
Suppose the alcoholic is your friend. How you would act would be slightly different from your actions toward a son. For the latter, you have a far greater moral responsibility than for a friend. Furthermore, your behavior would change according to your standing and relationship with that friend, his attitude, receptivity, etc. Many factors would determine how much you could be involved. On the other hand, if you have a sick child, you would not hesitate to put the child in the hospital, whether the child appreciates your decision or not. Every situation is unique and no fixed rule can be applied to all situations. The only criterion that the Buddha set was that one should act on what would benefit oneself and the other person.
B: So, there are no hard and fast rules for compassion?
The real reason we are having this discussion is that I am very concerned that any generalization I make might be taken as a guideline for action, even in the name of compassion. A fixed idea or guideline for action may not work for every situation.
Fixation leads to conditioning; every time you meet with a similar situation, you react in the same conditioned way, even though there may be differences in the situation. The mind must be free from any fixation; only then can true compassion arise. Every situation we face is unique and different from any other. Each situation has to be dealt with differently according to the needs and benefits of that particular situation. Without clear insight, if your action proves disastrous, you and others may suffer needlessly.
Equanimity and Indifference
One friend always drops in to visit me for a Dhamma discussion when he's in town. He is a devout Buddhist who has been studying and practicing the Dhamma in
G: I was quite struck by the piece "Love and Compassion" and I am very glad you wrote about it, because it is one of the problems I am actually facing right now with my teenage son. It is very true that when you have studied the Dhamma, you learn to detach yourself from others, but it is, as you said, very difficult to differentiate between equanimity and indifference. And very often we confuse the two. I find that when I detach myself, I also withdraw from people.
Thynn: Yes, when we first study the Dhamma and learn to apply it to our own lives, we start by learning to detach ourselves, to let go. This is because we are so conditioned, mentally and emotionally, to cling to everything that relates to us. We learn to distance ourselves from the situation so that, instead of being absolutely immersed and caught up in it, we can look at it more objectively.
G: Like becoming a witness?
Yes, initially we must learn to be a witness and not be emotionally involved. We need to be objective, to see the situation as it is, without bias.
But in so doing -- unless we have very astute guidance -- we may end up detaching ourselves all too thoroughly. The detachment may overtake other feelings, like concern for and interest in the welfare and benefits of others. This may lead to psychological dissociation from the person because we can falsify our satisfaction and assume that we have done our duty and that there is nothing further to be done.
G: That is so true. I find it very difficult to impress on my son what I think is in his best interest. I have become somewhat detached now, since he does not really respond. I thought I had done my duty and it was up to him to take it from there. If he didn't, then what could I do? I used to think that way. Now, I see that this is not desirable.
Yes, when we withdraw in one way we also tend to withdraw in other ways.
G: Why does it happen like that?
This also is a kind of conditioning. Previously, we were conditioned to cling to everything. When we study the Dhamma, we are taught to "uncling" or let go; however, instead of clinging to all sorts of things, we now cling to the idea itself of letting go. So we become conditioned to the opposite extreme. We let go of virtually everything. Thus, when we are faced with a situation we tend to react by letting go of both the situation and the people. Even letting go can become a habit.
G: A habit?
You see, the mind is a peculiar thing. It is used to being fixed on something -- past experiences and memories, past learning, ideas, etc. Because of this, we cannot experience each moment without attachment to anything. We even cling to the best of Dhamma ideas.
The idea of letting go is also a concept. This concept is useful when we begin to study the Dhamma, or when we practice meditation. But eventually we become so proficient at detachment that we don't realize we are clinging to yet another concept. From the concept of self we switch to the concept of non- self, the idea that "it has nothing to do with me." This leads to disinterest and lack of concern for others.
As a result, you may unconsciously close your mind as well as your heart even to those closest to you. This creates a barrier between you and those in your life.
G: Is this what you mean by indifference?
Yes, it is. From detachment, we unwittingly move on to indifference. Mind you, this is not purposeful indifference; there is no intention behind it. It's simple conditioning. So long as the mind responds to people and situations in any conditioned way, love and compassion have no space to evolve.
G: How does love evolve then?
Love evolves only in a mind that is totally free, free from fixation on any idea -- even the idea of letting go. We have to learn to free ourselves from the idea of letting go.
G: But how do we free ourselves from this concept?
By mindfulness of the moment. Let me stress this. As soon as you realize that you are clinging to the idea of letting go, you will drop the letting go. In that moment of "dropping" you are free.
There is a Zen parable about a student holding a pot in each hand. When the Master saw him, he shouted, "Drop it!", and the student dropped one pot. Again the Master commanded, "Drop it!", and the student dropped the other pot. Again the Master shouted, "Drop it!", and the student became enlightened. Everything dropped from his mind. He became absolutely free. At that moment of absolute freedom the pupil experienced Truth.
When we realize that we are conditioned to letting go, we spontaneously transcend the conditioning. We stop clinging to the idea of letting go of our concern for and interest in others.
Only in moments of complete freedom from either attachment or detachment can upekkha (equanimity) transcend both states of mind.
Only then can insight arise spontaneously as to what is the best approach to the situation. If the situation needs our concern, we give it; if it needs our interest, we give it; if our action or intervention is necessary, we do not hesitate. We let go and pick up at the same time.
G: Could you explain a little more?
It is important to let go of clinging to your fixed ideas -- to self, or to the desire to change others, for example. But at the same time, you need to pick up the threads of life. In short, make your actions into pure acts -- straight from the heart.
For example, in the case of a child who has not come of age, indifference on the part of parents is very undesirable -- even dangerous. Children do not have sufficient knowledge and maturity to decide many things on their own. They require our continued concern and interest. So long as our acts do not arise out of egoism, and we have enough insight into the needs of our children, we can reach out to them. But if the idea of "letting go" creates a barrier within ourselves, we will be paralyzed. We have, first of all, to deal with our own inner problems, our desire to control. Then we can deal effectively with those outside.
G: But what about being a witness? If you are a mere witness you will not be concerned or involved.
That is true. Initially you need to learn to be a witness -- to detach yourself emotionally from situations. But being a witness is only a phase in learning to be objective. When we have learned to be objective, we have to step back into the drama of life again.
G: But won't we be caught up again in the same old cycle of affairs?
Yes, that is a danger. If you have not gained any insight by your withdrawal, you may return to the same vicious cycle. But if you have really understood how to "let go and pick up at the same time," you won't get tangled up again.
You see, when you step back into the drama, you step back differently. Now, you act with clear understanding rather than fear or ignorance. Previously, you looked at the situation through your ego -- you saw everything through filters. It was impossible to see the entire situation when you wanted to control the situation. Before, it was more important to justify your ego-hood. Now, after stepping back and removing the filters, you can see clearly the whole panorama of what is happening around you.
The more freedom you have in the moment, the more clarity you have about the situation. This clarity brings with it a sensitivity and compassion for others which keeps you involved, even if they don't respond immediately. You can persevere in your search for a way to benefit others, because you are not emotionally burdened. The act of involvement itself becomes joyful because it is a free act, an act of pure love and spontaneity. You are part of the whole; you are no longer isolated from others. You are connected to them without losing yourself in their problems. You stand free, yet you are not apart. That is true equanimity.
SDD: I have just read something by a well known Buddhist teacher on sense pleasures and how they are the scourge of human beings. The teacher talks about how clinging to sense pleasures creates problems in society.
Thynn: It is true that there is excessive indulgence in sense pleasures. No doubt, modern civilization has become too preoccupied with them and allowed itself to be enslaved by them. Let us look objectively at the root cause of the problem. Otherwise, we fall into the trap of rejecting the sense world and escaping from it, and in the end this is the same as being enslaved by the senses. It is possible to be bound up in rejecting the sense world.
SDD: How is that?
If you think preoccupation with the sense world is the root cause of the human problem, you may feel a sense of guilt where sensual enjoyment is concerned. You may even be afraid to experience sensual pleasures. This can lead to escapism and phobias if you are not careful.
SDD: Then what is the solution to this?
Craving after sense pleasures is primarily due to insecurity and not recognizing craving in ourselves. We don't know what we are lacking, so we look outside ourselves. We try to fill our emotional vacuum with all kinds of diversions. And, of course, with the rampant commercialism, the handiest thing is to indulge in all kinds of new experiences that cater to the senses. But invariably we find that there is no end to indulgence and pleasure-seeking. There is no lasting and absolute satisfaction from these sense pleasures because we are not free in the moment.
SDD: Why is that so?
The mind, in its state of insecurity, needs to cling to something -- material possessions, sense pleasures, distractions, wealth, fame, success or just about anything on earth -- in order to fill the emotional vacuum. Actually, all these give us is a false sense of security or temporary satisfaction.
SDD: How does one deal with insecurity?
There is only one way to deal with insecurity.
SDD: What is that?
It is to arrive at the understanding that security cannot be found anywhere or in anything.
SDD: Oh? Why is that?
It is the search for security itself that makes the mind insecure; the mind is so bound up with the search that it is not free to experience what can be found in the present moment. We tend to project ourselves into the future, so we cannot live fully in the present; we experience the present only partially. Thus we do not experience the freshness of each moment. But if each moment is experienced fully with every encounter, the beauty and the joy that day-to-day surroundings bring become so obvious that there is no need to look for satisfaction elsewhere.
SDD: But how does one learn to live in the present moment?
It all goes back to being mindful in the moment.
SDD: Mindful of what? Is it on the body or on what you are doing?
Mindfulness on the body does help you to exist in the present moment, but the most crucial thing is to realize your own freedom in the moment. If you start to want this and want that, thinking about the past or thinking about how you are going to enjoy the future, you are not free. Your present moment is preoccupied with the wanting and as a result your natural freedom in the moment is lost.
SDD: You mean, we are naturally free but make ourselves "un-free?"
Yes, it is as though you were being tied by with an invisible rope, by no one but yourself.
SDD: What you mean is, when you realize that there is no such thing as a rope tying you, you are already free!
That's exactly it. You are back to your natural freedom in the moment, and you can experience relationships afresh, in ordinary living. Even very mundane things become so fulfilling that there is no need to search for freedom elsewhere or to be dependent on new experiences and sense pleasures. You see, this natural freedom in us is the only permanent thing, because it is the innate essence of our being; it is life's natural gift. Everything outside of ourselves is contrived and unsatisfactory.
So, to be free of sense pleasure is neither to cling to nor run away from it, but to learn to be free in yourself. From this premise of freedom in yourself, the sense world will neither threaten nor attract you. Then you will be able to experience sense pleasures without becoming a slave to them.
In fact, we don't study the Dhamma to shut out the external world or to be enslaved by it, but to arrive at our innate natural freedom. Then we can experience the world as it is, in its beauty and ugliness, in the mundane as well as the extraordinary, without having hang-ups or being caught by life's snares.
D: You said we should neither cling to form nor reject it. How do we know if we are clinging or not?
Thynn: It depends on whether or not you are having conflicts with yourself regarding form. Society requires certain forms. You are expected to behave in a certain way, dress in a certain manner. This conventional truth is called pannati. It means knowing which form is appropriate for that situation. But if you cling to the form, your mind will be rigid and you will enslave yourself to form. On the other hand, if you reject the form while you are in it, then you are also enslaved.
D: Why is that so?
When you reject something, you are clinging to your rejection. Your mind becomes fixed on the rejection. Clinging or rejecting, either way, your mind is fixed and can never be free of conflict. You perpetually struggle.
D: How does we get out of this fixation?
You have to transcend the dualism of form as well as of not-form.
You cling to form or reject it because you have set up likes and dislikes in your mind. Perhaps you reject a conventional truth. Although this truth is relative, it is still the established norm for the moment. When you rebel against a form, you are unable to accept things as they are.
D: But how can we accept a form if it is against our better judgment?
That is exactly the point. It is precisely because of our value judgments that we are unable to see things as they are. We see things according to our way of thinking. Our likes and dislikes become our frame of reference. We reject outright anything that does not fit into this framework. Conversely, if something fits into our framework, we embrace it as our possession. Our mind always flits between these two extremes, clinging and rejecting. As long as our minds are polarized in this manner, we continue to be attached. When we are so attached to our likes and dislikes, how can our minds be free to see form as it is?
D: Then what do we do?
There is nothing to do but learn to be silent, to not judge the form. As soon as you stop judging, your likes and dislikes will also cease, as will your clinging and rejecting. Once you stop being judgmental, you will see the form as the form, no more, no less. You will see it as it is and you will be able to relate to it freely.
Unhindered by rejecting or clinging, you can function within form or no-form.
Ordinary Awareness Being a close friend, and closer still in spirit, makes possible open and free communication without constraint either way.
E: I am aware of a stillness in me that is so peaceful and exquisite that I feel as if I were living in a cocoon.
Thynn: This is only a phase. It will pass away, and later it will become ordinary. There is nothing extraordinary about peace.
E: But this is not ordinary! I felt this peace when I was very young, but when I grew up I became filled with emotions, conflicts and frustrations, and I lost this stillness. Only now, through meditation and study of the Dhamma, am I beginning to experience this again! This is a marvelous thing and it is definitely not ordinary. What I mean by ordinary is the angers and frustrations I went through before. I don't have them now. That is what I mean by not being ordinary.
It is true that the feeling of marvel and exquisiteness makes one think one is enveloped in a cocoon. This is only in the beginning. This feeling of exquisiteness -- or whatever you want to call it -- will fade away like everything else. For the moment, you feel separate from others and may even think yourself above them. Actually, there is neither above nor below. We are all the same as human beings. We all possess this inner stillness, everyone of us.
We are neither better nor worse than others.
It is just that we are more fortunate than some others because we have been presented with a set of circumstances in which we can learn to experience this inherent inner quality.
E: You mean everyone has it in them?
Of course. Most people are not aware of this peace because they are caught up with their emotions and everything that goes on outside of themselves. In Buddhism, this is called moha, or delusion. Just because we know how to look within doesn't make us any different from others. If we think we are different, we are creating a huge gulf between ourselves and others. We are creating a mental division and will never be at one with them.
E: But why do you say this awareness of peace is ordinary?
Well, you see, it may seem extraordinary to you now because for a long time you have been functioning with a roller-coaster mind. But the newness will wear out and this awareness of peace will become second nature. Once you become accustomed to this relatively new state of mind, it becomes just an ordinary way of being, an everyday awareness. The only difference is that previously your awareness was tied to the outside world and to your emotions and confusions. Now it has learned to stay in its own peace.
E: But how did we lose our peace?
We never lost peace; it has always been there. We were just too preoccupied with our emotions and were not aware of our peaceful state. This peaceful state is nothing extraordinary. But one has to be very careful here. As long as we think this stillness is extraordinary, we cling to it. This clinging is so subtle and refined that it is difficult to recognize in oneself. One does not realize that one is still on a very refined ego trip. So long as that is the case, even when one experiences stillness through samadhi (concentration), there is no chance for panna (wisdom) to arise.
E: Why is that?
Even a very concentrated mind, if it is not completely free, impedes the unfolding of wisdom. You see, in achieving samadhi, although you can suppress defilements to some extent, they are not totally extinguished. Samadhi enables the mind to achieve a sharpness and sensitivity that is greater than ordinary. This sensitivity is what experiences peace and stillness so clearly. Sensitivity has its drawbacks in that the stillness is so unique and exquisite that one clings to its uniqueness. Thus self-importance arises. Many are stuck in this way and are unable to proceed from there.
E: Don't you need samadhi to achieve panna (wisdom)?
Sure -- but let's be clear. There are two kinds of samadhi. In addition to jhanic samadhi, there is also what is called khanika samadhi. It is only momentary in nature but it is penetrating enough to realize Truth. Khanika samadhi can occur even without strenuous meditative efforts, given the right circumstances and mental state. Even in jhanic samadhi, realization of Truth or anatta (not-self) is only momentary. After that, one is back to ordinary consciousness. The unfolding of insight wisdom with khanika samadhi occurs with few or none of the mystic experiences or sensations of bliss that are usually encountered in jhanic samadhi; thus, the person has no chance to cling to blissful sensations. Before they know it, they are back to ordinary consciousness.
E: But don't people who experience khanika samadhi also accumulate some experiences they hang on to?
Of course they do, and that is why in all cases there should be a guiding hand to help people free themselves from their own achievements. As I said just now, clinging to progress on the spiritual path is so subtle that it is never easy for us to realize this in ourselves.
E: Would a teacher know it?
It depends upon the sensitivity of the teacher and his or her own experience. But a truly wise teacher should be able to detect where the clinging or the problem is and help accordingly. I still remember clearly eighteen years ago when my teachers chastized me mercilessly for getting a swelled head. Thinking back now, I realize how fortunate I was to experience my teachers' great compassion.
E: Wasn't it painful for you at that time?
Of course it was. I was only thirty-three then and the only woman in the Dhamma circle. You can imagine how inflated I became with all the praise and attention I was getting. My teachers saw all of this and took it upon themselves to put me in my right place. They taught me the essence and virtue of humility. From them I learned that spiritual achievement without wisdom and humility is useless to oneself or humanity.
The essence of the spiritual path lies only in the beauty of the ordinariness, in the mundane, and in the freedom from separation of the spiritual and the ordinary.