Full Moon Day: Dhamma Magic

January 22, 2008


In this practice of the Dhamma there are times of darkness when our minds are clouded and we do not see the progress we are making. In these testing times we may wonder if we’re going the right way. We stand still and scratch our heads wondering which way to go. But these periods pass and the darkness clears. The ways in which the Dhamma works are too subtle for us to see most of the time, and we’re not always aware of how it’s affecting us. And so we must be patient as we allow the Dhamma to work its magic.

It’s like walking up a great mountain on a narrow and winding path. At times the walk is exhilarating, but at others we’re engulfed in fog. When in the fog we cannot see the path clearly. We may doubt we are going in the right direction; we may stumble and fall. But we pick ourselves up and continue patiently through the fog…. But then after a time the fog clears and we can see the path. We look back and we see how far we’ve come. The path ahead is now clear to us and our uncertainty vanishes. And so we walk on with confidence. But then again, after a time, the fog returns. The path disappears from view and we are once more uncertain of our direction. We stumble and fall; we take a wrong turn and come face to face with a precipice, but we turn and continue on. And this is how the walk up this great mountain unfolds. There are periods of clarity and there are periods of confusion. But all the time we push on, understanding that this is how the great walk is.

This path of the Dhamma is the same. There are times of darkness and uncertainty and there are times of wisdom and joy. Sometimes we wonder whether we’re going the right way. We wonder whether we’re still making progress, and even if we’ve ever made any progress at all! We are uncertain of many things but we keep going; we keep patiently working at our meditation. Of course there are times when we stumble and fall in our practice: we make mistakes; we neglect our meditation; we tell a lie in the spur of the moment. We may take a wrong turn and leave the path for a while. We may even peer into the abyss of wanting to give up – but we turn around and continue on.

We must understand that this is how the practice goes. You should be worried if it isn’t like this sometimes! But as on the walk up the mountain, the fog does clear; the uncertainty does clear. While in the fog we couldn’t tell if we were making progress, but once it has cleared we see just how far we have come. At these times of clarity we are so aware of the progress that we’ve made. We look back and we see what a different person we are from what we used to be. And yet while we were practising in the fog of uncertainty and darkness we couldn’t see this. At times of clarity practising the Dhamma is a joy. We see things that we had never seen before and we begin to know for ourselves what the Buddha was talking about. We feel inspired and we see our commitment strengthen. Our meditation consistently improves and our mindfulness may seem almost faultless. We are mindful for much of the time both of our body and of the feelings and moods that arise and fall. We hardly get run over at all on the motorway of mind. We are thrilled with the Dhamma as we see what it’s doing for us. “Wow!” we think. We may shed tears of joy as we reflect on the Dhamma.

But then what goes and happens? — Fog! “Huh?…. What’s happened?! Where’s it gone?!…. What about that joy and that faultless mindfulness?!” The clarity has gone. Once again we’re on that motorway of mind getting flattened by everything. Our concentration now seems as advanced as a ferret’s and we’re left wondering what on earth has happened. But through all this we keep going! Because we know what it’s like when the fog clears. And we know that it DOES clear, because it has before. And we don’t despair. Our practice is not lost. It has merely changed form.

Don’t cling to the periods of clarity. This is very important. We should never wish our practice to be a particular way (which is admittedly a tad difficult sometimes). If you’re flying – just keep going! If you’re crawling – just keep going! That’s all there is to it. Eventually we understand that this is how the practice goes. And we understand that this is the practice! We just keep on going through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs. We practise when its easy and we practise when its hard. But remember that all the time we are progressing.

I don’t tend to read much, but when I do it’s usually the scriptures and Ajahn Chah. I read a bit by Ajahn Chah and it seems so clear what I need to do. What he says makes so much sense. “This is it!” – I think. “I just need to practise in this way!” And so it’s like I’m flying on Concorde for a while. I seem to have found a way that really works. “The defilements don’t stand a chance! – It seems so clear!”…… “Ha ha haaaaa……..” say the defilements. “You clearly underestimate how defiled and deluded you are young monk!” And then the fog descends. “Oh here we go…” And then I’m in darkness and all that beautiful clarity leaves me and I seem to drop several rungs on the ladder to enlightenment. These minds are so tricky and unpredictable! Having some experience in all this I’m getting used to it and I’m not so upset when things change. I just carry on.

I said ‘good‘ practice a second ago as we tend to think of practising in this way as ‘good’‘. But we should try not to think in terms of good and bad practice. Really it’s all just practice. After all wisdom often arises during the difficult and ‘bad‘ times. All we need to do is keep on practising. That’s all there is to it! The Dhamma will work its magic.

And so the main thing is that we’re patient and that we keep going. I said earlier that one of the things we see when the fog in our practice clears is just how far we’ve come. Aren’t we always looking for the profound experiences? What is it that we want? – an earthquake?! This path is profound and it brings profound changes. But these changes, for the most part, take place in a very subtle way. You can’t see them instantly. One example is the fact that you are aware that you need to follow this path. This is a huge and profound step that we often don’t appreciate. Think how many people in the world do not see the need to do this! It’s because you have wisdom that you’re doing this. Ajahn Chah said that to see your defilements and to want to do something about them is 50% of the practice. That’s a lot! The Dhamma is subtle and so are the changes it brings. Think about that simile of the mountain. We practise in the fog for some of the time, especially at the beginning. But then the fog clears and we see how far we’ve come. All the time we were progressing but we didn’t see it. We didn’t see how far along the path we had come. It was only when the fog cleared that we could see this. And so all of the time, as long as we are practising correctly, we are progressing. The changes within us take place in a very subtle way.

There’s a very well known simile that describes this imperceptible change. Say a man or a woman wishes to take a walk. He opens his front door and sees that there is a very fine drizzle. He thinks that the drizzle is so fine that it won’t make him wet and so he doesn’t take an umbrella. And so off he walks through the drizzle. He walks and walks and all the time thinks that he isn’t getting wet; so imperceptible is this rain, so subtle and discreet. And then after a time he stops and examines himself. And he sees, much to his suprise, that he is drenched. He’s soaked through! But he didn’t realise! He didn’t realise he was getting wet. This is how it is with the Dhamma.


The next teaching will be on the Half Moon Day,

Wednesday, 30th January




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