Full Moon Day: Dhamma Curry

November 12, 2008

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skull

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Being in the Thai Forest Tradition we naturally eat a lot of Thai Food. Sometimes Thai people bring food in the morning to offer at the meal; sometimes our resident chefs knock up a little sticky rice and chilli; and whether the above happens or not we virtually always pull out one of Yod’s curries from the freezer.

Now some of these curries I love. Sweet and Sour, MILD Green Curry, Massaman – delicious. But there are some that – when introduced to your tongue – make a volcano’s scorching rivers of lava seem like playful and refreshing streams. When you are not used to these you soon learn what it must feel like to have your tongue stretched on to a metal plate and whacked with a hammer. And if sweating is your aim, then you need go no further.

The thing is though, after you get the hang of them, they’re all right. I imagine, though, that a major drawback of eating these things all the time (I don’t) is that absolutely everything else seems totally bland and boring in comparison, and that you need to spike whatever you eat with a deathly heap of volcano powder to remind you that there’s food in your mouth.

But the point is the more you eat the more easily you can handle the heat. When you’re not used to it then these curries blow your head off. They really do. When you’re eating one of these you need a sweat band, a king-sized box of tissues to plug your nose, and a field full of lettuces to cool your tongue. It’s quite a performance.

But as you persevere in your curry eating practice you get better at it. You master the milder ones and gradually turn up the heat until nothing can faze you. After a time you get used to the heat and the body grows familiar with it. Eating one of those taste-bud traumatisers becomes par for the course. It feels as at home in the stomach as a peanut butter and jam sandwich.

There are two contemplations that the Buddha strongly advised us to develop that we can look at as we do the hot curry. These are reflecting on the fact of death, and the fact that we will inevitably be separated from everything that is close and dear to us.

Death and separation are hot curries. When we have never considered these all pervading realities – the fact that everyone and everything must one day break up and be no more – then when someone or something close to us dies we are devastated. It’s as if we are tasting the strongest curry of all for the very first time and we’ve never had any preparation. It knocks us sideways.

But as with the milder curries, if we frequently ponder and consider these most fundamental of truths then the mind becomes familiar with them. On reflection we begin to see that this is the way it must be; that to want it to be otherwise – to want our friends and family and possessions to always be with us, is not wise.

Regarding the suffering that arises from death and separation, the problem lies with our attachment. It is not the fact that people and things die. It’s our attachment, which arises because we don’t deeply understand impermanence. Ajahn Chah said if we were to get upset at every leaf that fell off the tree we’d suffer a lot! But we don’t do that, do we. Why? Because we know that that is what leaves do. They turn brown and they fall off the tree. We know this happens, we expect it. We understand that they don’t stay green forever. We are no different.

Our attachment puts us at odds with this natural order of things. Death doesn’t need to be painful. If we understand that we are all just a part of nature; that we belong to nature, and that we exhibit the same characteristics as trees and leaves, then we will live at ease.

In Buddhist countries – where death is much less of a taboo subject than here (a Thai newspaper without a nice gory picture of a corpse on the front page is not a Thai newspaper!) people cope much better with it. At funerals the atmosphere is pretty laid back. People sometimes jokingly talk to the recently departed – “You all right Jim?!”. The body is burned (in the poorer areas) out in the open. People live more in harmony with death. It’s open. There is no hiding from it. People get used to it. So it should be for us! We should get used to it. Then it won’t ‘burn’ us.

Little by little we introduce the fact of death into our mind. The Buddha said that whether you are a monk or a nun, or a layman or a laywoman, you should reflect on the fact of death frequently.

We do this for many reasons: for a start we become accustomed to this simple truth; it crucially gives us a sense of spiritual urgency; it changes our relationship to fellow beings – from one of hostility, anger and grudge-bearing to one of friendliness, compassion and understanding; and it makes us very careful of what we say, do, and think – conscious that every action has a consequence, and that if we were to die with a mind of defilement our rebirth would be adversely affected. But most importantly, and this is where the previous benefits all merge, it encourages the mind to let go of its attachments.

We may consider death and it may be uncomfortable at first but that’s just because we’re not used to the curry. So we try a little every day. Just a little. Sooner or later we find that the taste isn’t that bad; it’s just we hadn’t been used to it! The heat no longer bothers us; our mind adapts to this truth. When we can see in accordance with impermanence then attachment will naturally wane and eventually disappear. We will then be left with comfort and peace amidst the ever-shifting sands of life and death.

 

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The next teaching will be on:

The New Moon Day, Thursday, 27th November

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4 Responses to “Full Moon Day: Dhamma Curry”

  1. Tim Hurst said

    Greetings Tahn Manapo

    Its been a few weeks since Dhamma Diary has graced my screen. And what a joy the last half hour has been! It seems that Ajahn Tommy hasn’t changed much. I remember discovering a few of those presents myself. Or at least my feet do!
    The teaching on death is excellent. The perfect perspective leveller. I’ve had a few encounters with death my self on my travels. On my first day in Sydney a man jumped off a building not far from where I was sitting. Poor bloke. Makes you appreciate the here and now.

    Love the new slogan. Awe inspiring.

    Much Metta

    Tim

  2. Tahn Manapo said

    I won’t ask what the other encounters were.

    Have a wholesome time.

    Metta

    Manapo

  3. Hema Hirani said

    Thank you Tahn Manapo.

    I find with attachments, they usually cause us pain because we attach to people with a need and pocession in mind. We come to beleive that we need certain people to survive emotionally or even physically, so when they leave, it feels like our death almost. On reflection, I have been learning to see people less out there for my own needs, but there with their journeys to complete. They are not mine and I am not theirs, in this world, if we build relationships without a pocessive attitude then we can truly acheive some degree of happiness in them and even if seperation occurs it doesnt crush us…

    I often find that when seperation has occured, there is the initial pain that makes you feel like you are going to die or at least want to…but something has been shifting with my experience of seperation, its like i have more of the person when i let them go then when i was with them…

    The best analogy i can give is that of a butterfly. If you trap and catch a butterfly you think you have it, you pocess it. in reality do you have it, you may have its body its form, but is that really the butterfly. for me, the essence of the butterfly is in its flying and freedom, really you can only know and truly have that butterfly (its essence) when you don’t have it, when it isnt trapped. its the same thing with humans…don’t know if that makes sense

    and i also agree with you that more reflection is needed on seperation and death, for them to become more palatable, without enquiry and meditation how do you expect to understand…

  4. Tahn Manapo said

    You should start a blog, Hema..

    Tahn Manapo

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