(the day after) New Moon Day: Playing with Toys in a House that’s Burning Down.

March 7, 2008


I’ve decided not to continue with the series of five posts on meditation that I’d planned. I’ve learnt that it’s not always a good idea to say you’ll be writing / talking about something several weeks from now. It can kill spontaneity. (Plus I’m fed up of talking about the plane!)


Playing with Toys in a House that’s Burning Down

Before I became a monk I had an experience which caused an earthquake in the depths of my being and which undoubtedly turned me in the direction of devoting my life to the practice of the Dhamma.

I believe I had been practising meditation for a few months. It was a Sunday night and I was lying in my bed. I remember that on this occasion I was rather more aware than usual. I just lay there and there were hardly any thoughts, there was just a slightly more refined awareness than usual. At the time I thought nothing of it.

The week that followed passed in much the same way as all the rest until, once again, it was Sunday, and I was lying in bed. Once more this state of awareness that I had experienced the week before arose. It didn’t seem anything particularly profound, it was simply that thoughts had dissipated and I simply lay there, just being aware. It happened naturally. And then, like a bolt of lightening, it struck me. I suddenly remembered the same experience of the previous Sunday and it seemed like nothing had happened between those two moments. Those two experiences appeared to me to have had no period of time between them, and yet a whole week had passed. I became acutely aware of how my life was vanishing before me. Alarm bells rang. “What am I doing with my life?! What have I achieved that is of any worth?!”

Then my life became one of turning away from worldly pursuits and the entanglements of sensual pleasures, towards the path inside, the path of Dhamma.

This perception of change and death caused a great chasm to open in me between the worldly ways and the way of the Dhamma. I was stood on the side of the Dhamma.

We must reflect on the fact that we are going to die! The Buddha said that whether you are a monk or a nun, or a lay-man or a lay-woman, you should reflect on this fact every day. The Buddha said that contemplation of death precedes all wholesome states. (AN – I believe).

Some people say that the fact of death doesn’t mean anything to them. Well they should think about it! Imagine your body lying there, dead. This thing that you took to be yourself now lies utterly motionless. It will never move again. It now belongs to the worms and the maggots. You can’t suddenly jump up and shout at those maggots “Get off! Leave me alone! This body’s mine!” No, it’s not yours. And it never was. It is nobody’s.

And so reflecting on death helps us to see this body in a different way, in a way that is more in accordance with truth. And what happens when we see things in accordance with truth? We don’t suffer. We let go. We detach. I sometimes imagine my body just lying there. It’s quite a powerful experience that throws up your strong identification with the body and it makes you see the stupidity of attaching to it. But this attachment is deep, and we carry on being stupid, so we must keep reflecting.

Contemplating death puts everything in perspective. One of the best talks I have heard was given by a young novice called Sataro here at the Hermitage. Why was it one of the best talks I have heard? – because it is as fresh in my mind now as if it had been given yesterday, and yet it happened over four and a half years ago.

He was given the topic of the talk a week in advance in order to prepare. It was to be a talk on the Four Protections, the fourth of which is the contemplation of death. As a community we were taking it in turns to give Dhamma talks to each other. So I would do one week, then the following week it would be someone else, etc. Now I think my facts are correct, but during that time of Sataro’s preparation a very young person connected with the monastery died in tragic circumstances. Of course we all took that news inwards as anyone practising the Dhamma should.

Then came the time for the Dhamma talk. When Sataro reached the Fourth Protection, he related how he had been very nervous during his preparation. It was probably the biggest obstacle to all of us who were very new to giving talks – this very irrational fear of speaking in public. It was especially irrational at this time as we knew each other so well.

But then, he said, after the news of the girl’s death, his mind turned around and his nervousness rapidly faded. He thought: “In the light of death, what is this talk?!!!”. The awareness of death put it in perspective.

Perspective. We are so often without perspective.

When we reflect in this way we let trivial things pass. We don’t hold grudges. We forgive. We have loving-kindness. We don’t waste time.





2 Responses to “(the day after) New Moon Day: Playing with Toys in a House that’s Burning Down.”

  1. Kris said

    Hi Bhante,

    Yes I was already building a whole “thing” around your meditation series…oops! Change of direction. Way to go! As Ajahn Chah said, “it’s not a sure thing”. We must expect the unexpected. Better yet, don’t expect anything and just be with what is.

    Thank you,


  2. Tahn Manapo said

    Hello Kris

    I’ll see what I can do…

    Tahn Manapo

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