Walking into the large hall of the Subang Jaya Buddhist Association in June this year, although I was five minutes late to give the scheduled evening talk myself, I could see that many others were just arriving as well. The hall is close to a busy road so you can hear the cars whizzing by, and people were still tapping away on their phones and fidgeting with things as I bowed to the Buddha image and sat down. Coming into a somewhat busy and whirring space like this (compared to a forest monastery) it is difficult to know what to say. The usual order of things is that the guest speaker gives a talk and then those in attendance ask questions. As I was looking out into the crowd I noticed many familiar faces as well as many unfamiliar ones, and the squeaky swinging door at the back of the hall continued to open and close as more and more people arrived a little late… the traffic is heavy on weeknights. (I am often a little late myself so it is not my place to judge) Given the challenged ‘container’… my sense was that it might be best to meditate together first, and then once people had ‘truly arrived’ we would be better able to share some Dhamma reflections.
What happened on this occasion though was curious, for although I suggested we have a 15 minute meditation followed by a Dhamma talk, somehow the talk and the meditation became fused as one… and what ensued was a fifty minute guided meditation with frequent and detailed ‘pointing out’ instructions regarding the practice of training in mindfulness of breathing. I remember that Ajahn Sumedho often taught this way particularly in the early morning meditations of the monastic community retreats. After 30 minutes of breath meditation, when peoples’ minds were a little more focused and malleable, we turned to ‘generating and radiating the heart of Loving-Kindness.’ At the end of the meditation the hall felt much more serene, and when I asked how many people felt more peaceful it was gratifying to see the raised hands of most in the room.
Listening back once again it would seem that this meditation is a good one for people who feel that they could benefit from reviewing the basics once more. For various reasons sometimes our practice seems to fall away, at other times if we have been very busy the discursive thinking just does not seem to abate. Guided meditations with a lot of reminders can be helpful for either starting again or gently reigning the busy mind inwards. But for many people it would seem - the basic instructions regarding training in mindfulness are always relevant and timely.
I hope that some of the content of this guided meditation is useful.
This talk was given to a group of meditators who were doing a 9 day intensive retreat in Malaysia. As many of the yogis were doing their third intensive retreat with me for the third consecutive year, I felt confident enough to start giving attention to some of the deeper subjects. Firstly, addressing the fact that different people have different types of aspiration (especially Chinese Malaysians!) I encouraged people to consider… what was/is their particular noble aspiration? Whereas most of the yogis were aspiring to attain liberation as quickly as possible, several people had actually made a solemn vow to train towards full Buddhahood. Others wished to continue their practice in the company of highly developed Bodhisattvas in the Tushita heaven realms. It is important, or at least very helpful, if we know what we are truly aiming for, both in the short and long-term. How do we ‘hold’ our particular aspiration? And for people who are confused, undecided or unclear about such matters, it can be useful to acknowledge this as well, as it helps us to consider the matter more deeply… Sometimes it is good to know that we simply do not yet know!
The second part of the talk is actually a reading of one of Venerable Ajahn Chahs talks called “Beyond Cause and Effect,” from the collection of talks titled ‘Being Dharma.’ In this talk Ajahn Chah addresses the conundrum… How do we hold or balance the sincere determination to become enlightened, with the very real need in our practice to simply “Let Go.” Or in other words, how do we make all of these determined efforts without having a big sense of self that is obsessed with (wholesome) desire and controlling? Good questions!
To quote from his talk… “The practice of Dhamma is leading to the point of “letting go,” but we must have understanding of things according to the truth in order to let go. When real knowledge arises, there will be endurance in the practice of Dhamma. There will be enthusiastic, consistent effort, this is called practising.”
Basically, if I have understood correctly, no matter what our aspiration, we all have to practice a lot. Motivated by compassion for oneself and informed by wisdom, we simply keep practising with determination, and the spiritual qualities generated and further developed in this practice empower us to be able to “let go.”
I ask permission of the most Venerable Ajahn Chah to excerpt this talk in this teaching, and I ask his forgiveness if in surrounding his talk with my own reflections, I have in any way obscured the profound message that issued from his genuinely liberated mind. May this reading serve as an introduction to that talk, and may all of those who find it helpful do further study afterwards. As always, I sincerely hope that something in this talk is helpful to you. In general, when talks such as these cover several important subjects, it is good to listen through a few times… giving a few days in between.
On this note. I had originally intended to edit and upload quite a bit of new material within an intensive three month period (having time to do the editing during the rains retreat.) Having considered the matter more deeply, I (“we”…special thanks to the webmaster!) have now decided to send out new material once a fortnight for the next 6 months. We sincerely hope that receiving this new material in an ongoing way is a support to you in your practice.
With metta - and in gratitude to the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha
Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu
Whenever I find myself in the teachers role I always try to give those present the opportunity to ask questions. This more engaged and dynamic mode of teaching often inspires very interesting considerations, it frequently reminds me of what my own teachers have taught, and helps me to recollect stories which might be useful. Generally speaking, Buddhist practitioners are quite a frank and earnest lot, when we are tired of spinning around in circles and looking sincerely for answers we do not waste much time beating around the bush. The questions below reflect this spirit of unguarded enquiry.
I sincerely hope that something contained in the responses here is relevant or
The first three questions introducing this section are…
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The official ‘Ajahn Achalo Bhikkhu’ YouTube channel to share links with Dhamma friends
There is also another YouTube channel 'Peace Beyond Suffering'