Monday, June 6, 2011

The Art of Letting Go

It was a profound pleasure to be back in sangha yesterday. Our little sitting group in Laguna Beach feels like the refuge the sangha is supposed to be--along with the Buddha and the dharma, the Triple Gem of Buddhism. And this is a moment when refuge feels particularly welcome. From the Middle East to Washington and the bleak horizon of American politics, there is little of cheer, today, in the world we humans have created for ourselves. Of greatest concern are those newspaper articles that draw attention to our depleting resources--the waters of the Nile, I read last week, being diverted and depleted by Chinese agricultural interests in the Sudan before ever reaching Egypt; the over-fishing of the seas; the shortage of energy in vast reaches of the world..

All these, of course, are matters over which I have no control. The discussion at sangha, after our hour's silent sit, brought us back to a chapter in a collection of Ajaan Lee Dhammadharo's dharma talks, The Art of Letting Go (translation by Thanissaro Bhikkhu; the link takes you to the Access to Insight website, where the same collection is available in full, under the title "Keeping the Breath in Mind.") This particular talk starts with beautiful simplicity, thus:
When you sit and meditate, even if you don't gain any intuitive insights, make sure at least that you know this much: When the breath comes in, you know. When it goes out, you know. When it's long, you know. When it's short, you know. Whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable, you know. If you can know this much, you're doing fine. As for the various thoughts and concepts (sañña) that come into the mind, brush them away — whether they're good or bad, whether they deal with the past or the future. Don't let them interfere with what you're doing — and don't go chasing after them to straighten them out. When a thought of this sort comes passing in, simply let it go passing on. Keep your awareness, unperturbed, in the present.
My own mind gets hooked on all kinds of distracting concepts, not least the above-mentioned problems of the world and the discouraging prospects of greater social and economic justice in our own country. It's the source of suffering, of course, since the path I consider to be the right one (the fork to the left!) diverges radically from the path on which we are currently traveling. My "concepts" serve little purpose other than to intrude upon my peace of mind.

So it's comforting to be reminded that the dharma offers me a wonderful lesson in the benefits of letting go of troubling thoughts--which does not mean to abandon all responsibility, but rather to acknowledge its limits. I am deluded if I hold myself responsible for the outcome of the innumerable problems of the world; but that does not excuse me from doing whatever is in my power to relieve the suffering of others. Let go of the concepts, then, which have no reality. But do the actions--and make sure they bring about more good than harm.


mandt said...

"But do the actions--and make sure they bring about more good than harm." That lies at the heart of it and is more difficult than we can imagine. One of the realizations we all share is, that by just living we might/often do harm, unconsciously. Cause and effect is karma, often outside our immediate control.

Ran Rhino said...

Letting go of stress and troubles is on the superficial level of the dharma. Deep dharma is living from our essential core. It is this true core that the boddhisattvas arise from. Drilling down into the core is where the true nectar of practice resides in the human. There is more to this thing called life than empty peace. I am talking about life, not the abstract and 'belief' oriented concept of nothingness.