Half Moon Day: How to Open and Close Doors

June 26, 2008

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How to Open and Close Doors

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Several years ago I sat listening to two senior monks having a conversation. After a while the visiting monk turned to me and he asked what was the most important thing I had learned so far in my time as a monk. Being put on the spot I was little embarrassed. I thought for a few moments before I stuck with the safe answer of ‘patience’. He then turned to the other two junior monks sitting next to me. One eventually said something like ‘that everything passes’. I don’t remember what the last monk said.

He then went on to relate a story where a very senior and respected monk was asked the same question: “What is the most important thing you have learned in your many years as a monk?”. The old monk thought a little while. And he thought some more, before the answer came:

“How to open and close doors.”

I think he was talking about mindfulness.

When we are mindful then it doesn’t matter what we are doing (as long as it’s skilful!), it is all an opportunity to cultivate the path. We don’t have to be over there doing this, or over there doing that, we just need to be right here and now, focussing on what we are actually doing and what we are experiencing.

So if you are in a rush to get something done so that you can get on with some ‘real practice’, then be mindful of that thought and that desire. We can waste so much time by always wanting to be doing something else. Say we are opening the back door and we are in a rush to go and sit and meditate. “I need to go and meditate”, we think. Now let’s just look at things here. Slow down and be mindful as you open the door and be mindful of the desire that is coursing through your mind. This is the practice. As Ajahn Chah said: practice is separate from any posture.

We should emphasize mindfulness of the body at first but as we progress we will find that we naturally become more aware of our feelings and mental states. So if you are doing the vacuuming or folding the tea towels you have a chance to practice. Enlightenment can come at any point, we just need to be ready for it. How do we make ourselves ready? By following the Eightfold Path and by being as mindful as possible at all times. So you’re holding the vacuum – pushing, pulling, pushing, pulling etc. That’s all.

Being mindful of the body in this way stabilizes us, it composes us, it grounds us, “the body is calmed, the mind is calmed (and) discursive thoughts are quietened”(1). It is a real refuge.

Now as you focus on your body during this activity you become very aware of how you are feeling.

Focus on your body now: what shape is it in? Where are your legs? Is your head tilting backwards or forwards? etc. By being mindful of your body you should be more aware of how you are feeling. So you have established mindfulness of your body and you are therefore more able to be mindful of how you are feeling.

And not only do you become more aware of your feelings, but also of your state of mind and what is taking place in it. What state is your mind in now? Is it dull, bright, excited, restless, agitated, peaceful?

When we look at the four Foundations of Mindfulness we can see a kind of progression from the more tangible aspects of mindfulness to the more subtle. So we begin with the body, and then we move through mindfulness of feelings, to mindfulness of mind, and finally to mindfulness of Dhamma. I have been told many times that it is best to keep working on your mindfulness of the body as everything else will follow, as described above.

So we develop this all encompassing mindfulness.

This development of mindfulness is something that we must constantly be reminding ourselves to practise. We habitually look for something more, but we don’t need to! It’s all right under our noses! It is this simple practice of being aware of what is happening now. The truth is constantly on display, we just overlook it.

When we are mindful of feelings we don’t run away from them, and we don’t run away with them. As you’re sitting here now there may be a tinge of worry, or anxiety, or depression; or a little bit of desire to do something after you’ve finished reading this; or maybe you’re happy or indifferent – you’re bound to experiencing one of these things! When we are mindful of how we are feeling then we acknowledge that feeling first. It’s there; I’m aware of it. Good. This is a very important step – acknowledging it. If we are feeling negative and we’re not mindful then that mood is there but the mind doesn’t really want to know it; it kind of looks out the corner of its eye at the bad mood, the depressed state – “Yep, it’s still there”. When we are mindful of that feeling, though, then we fully acknowledge it. We look it straight in the eye. We observe it as closely as possible; we make it clear. When it is clear it displays its nature to us: it has arisen, it is now in the process of changing, and it will fall. We then let it go and it no longer bothers us.

If we develop mindfulness in this way then we are always practising, and we do not wish to be any where else other than where we are now; or to be doing anything other that what we are doing now. All we need to practise is this present moment.

So it always comes back to just what you are doing now. How are you sitting now? What feeling are you experiencing now? What state is your mind in now? Are you being mindful of the Buddha’s teachings? These are the four Foundations of Mindfulness. These are our refuge.

“Be your own island, Ananda, be your own refuge! Do not take any other refuge! Let the Teaching be your island, let the Teaching be your refuge; do not take any other refuge!

And how, Ananda, does someone take themselves as an island, themselves as a refuge, without any other refuge? How is the Teaching their island and refuge, and nothing else?

Herein a person dwells practising mindfulness of the body, mindfulness of feelings, mindfulness of mind, and mindfulness of Dhamma, ardent, clearly comprehending and mindful, having overcome longing and dejection in regard to the world.

In that way, Ananda, will a person be their own island, their own refuge, without any other; in that way will they have the Teaching as their island and refuge, and nothing else.”(2)

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(1) Anguttara Nikaya 1, XXI

(2) Digha Nikaya 16 (Spoken by the Buddha shortly before his passing.) From ‘The Heart of Buddhist Meditation’, Nyanaponika Thera (slightly altered).

 

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The next teaching in Dhamma Diary will be on:

The New Moon Day, Wednesday, 2nd July.

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3 Responses to “Half Moon Day: How to Open and Close Doors”

  1. Maureen said

    I very much like the new picture on your website! Where is the Rupa you show?

  2. Tahn Manapo said

    Hi Maureen

    A good friend of Luangpor’s – Ajahn Tongjun – used to have an amazing monastery in NE Thailand that was set on a mountain. The statue was in the cave where the monks ate. I think it was about twenty feet long. It’s beautiful, isn’t it?!

  3. Maureen said

    It certainly is. Thank you!

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