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...... ... .  . .  .  .
Mindfulness: The Path to the Deathless
The Meditation Teaching of
Venerable Ajahn Sumedho


Walking Mindfully (Jongrom)

Walking 'Jongrom'[4] is a practice of concentrated walking whereby you're with the movement of your feet. You bring your attention to the walking of the body from the beginning of the path to the end, turning around, and the body standing. Then there arises the intention to walk, and then the walking. Note the middle of the path and the end, stopping, turning, standing: the points for composing the mind when the mind starts wandering everywhichway. You can plan a revolution or something while walking jongrom if you're not careful! How many revolutions have been plotted during jongrom walking ...? So, rather than doing things like that, we use this time to concentrate on what's actually going on. These aren't fantastic sensations, they're so ordinary that we don't really notice them. Now notice that it takes an effort to really be aware of things like that.

    Now when the mind wanders and you find yourself off in India while you're in the middle of the jongrom path, then recognise -- 'Oh!' You're awakened at that moment. You're awake, so then re-establish your mind on what's actually happening, with the body walking from this place to that. It's a training in patience because the mind wanders all over the place. If in the past you've had blissful moments of walking meditation and you think, 'On the last retreat I did walking jongrom and I really felt just the body walking. I felt that there was no self and it was blissful, oh, if I can't do that again ...' Note that desire to attain something according to a memory of some previous happy time. Note that as a condition; that's an obstacle. Give it all up, it doesn't matter whether a moment of bliss comes out of it. Just one step and the next step -- that's all there is to it, a letting go, a being content with very little, rather than trying to attain some blissful state that you might have had at some time while doing this meditation. The more you try, the more miserable your mind becomes, because you're following the desire to have some lovely experience according to a memory. Be content with the way it is now, whatever it is. Be peaceful with the way it is at this moment, rather than rushing around trying to do something now to get some state that you want.

    One step at a time -- notice how peaceful walking meditation is when all you have to do is be with one step. But if you think you've got to develop samadhi from this walking practice, and your mind goes all over the place, what happens? 'I can't stand this walking meditation, get no peace out of it, I've been practising trying to get this feeling of walking without anybody walking and my mind just wanders everywhere' -- because you don't understand how to do it yet, your mind is idealising, trying to get something, rather than just being. When you're walking, all you have to do is walk. One step, next step -- simple ... But it is not easy, is it? The mind is carried away, trying to figure out what you should be doing, what's wrong with you and why you can't do it.

    But in the monastery what we do is to get up in the morning, do the chanting, meditate, sit, clean the monastery, do the cooking, sit, stand, walk, work; whatever, just take it as it comes, one thing at a time. So, being with the way things are is non-attachment, that brings peacefulness and ease. Life changes and we can watch it change, we can adapt to the changingness of the sensory world, whatever it is. Whether it's pleasant or unpleasant, we can always endure and cope with life, no matter what happens to us. If we realise the truth, we realise inner peacefulness.



Kindness (Metta)

In English the word 'love' often refers to 'something that I like'. For example, 'l love sticky rice', 'I love sweet mango'. We really mean we like it. Liking is being attached to something such as food which we really like or enjoy eating. We don't love it. Metta means you love your enemy; it doesn't mean you like your enemy. If somebody wants to kill you and you say, 'I like them', that is silly! But we can love them, meaning that we can refrain from unpleasant thoughts and vindictiveness, from any desire to hurt them or annihilate them. Even though you might not like them -- they are miserable, wretched people -- you can still be kind, generous and charitable towards them. If some drunk came into this room who was foul and disgusting, ugly and diseased, and there was nothing one could be attracted to in him -- to say, 'I like this man' would be ridiculous. But one could love him, not dwell in aversion, not be caught up in reactions to his unpleasantness. That's what we mean by metta.

    Sometimes there are things one doesn't like about oneself, but metta means not being caught up in the thoughts we have, the attitudes, the problems, the thoughts and feelings of the mind. So it becomes an immediate practice of being very mindful. To be mindful means to have metta towards the fear in your mind, or the anger, or the jealousy. Metta means not creating problems around existing conditions, allowing them to fade away, to cease. For example, when fear comes up in your mind, you can have metta for the fear -- meaning that you don't build up aversion to it, you can just accept its presence and allow it to cease. You can also minimise the fear by recognising that it is the same kind of fear that everyone has, that animals have. It's not my fear, it's not a person's, it's an impersonal fear. We begin to have compassion for other beings when we understand the suffering involved in reacting to fear in our own lives -- the pain, the physical pain of being kicked, when somebody kicks you. That kind of pain is exactly the same kind of pain that a dog feels when he's being kicked, so you can have metta for the pain, meaning a kindness and a patience of not dwelling in aversion. We can work with metta internally, with all our emotional problems: you think, 'I want to get rid of it, it's terrible.' That's a lack of metta for yourself, isn't it? Recognise the desire-to-get-rid-of! Don't dwell in aversion on existing emotional conditions. You don't have to pretend to feel approval towards your faults. You don't think, 'I like my faults.' Some people are foolish enough to say, 'My faults make me interesting. I'm a fascinating personality because of my weaknesses.' Metta is not conditioning yourself to believe that you like something that you don't like at all, it is just not dwelling in aversion. It's easy to feel metta towards something you like -- pretty little children, good looking people, pleasant mannered people, little puppies, beautiful flowers -- we can feel metta for ourselves when we're feeling good: 'I am feeling happy with myself now.' When things are going well it's easy to feel kind towards that which is good and pretty and beautiful. At this point we can get lost. Metta isn't just good wishes, lovely sentiments, high-minded thoughts, it's always very practical.

    If you're being very idealistic, and you hate someone, then you feel, 'I shouldn't hate anyone. Buddhists should have metta for all living beings. I should love everybody. If I'm a good Buddhist then I should like everybody.' All that comes from impractical idealism. Have metta for the aversion you feel, for the pettiness of the mind, the jealousy, envy -- meaning peacefully co-existing, not creating problems, not making it difficult nor creating problems out of the difficulties that arise in life, within our minds and bodies.

    In London, I used to get very upset when travelling on the underground. I used to hate it, those horrible underground stations with ghastly advertising posters and great crowds of people on those dingy, grotty trains which roar along the tunnels. I used to feel a total lack of metta (patient-kindness). I used to dwell in aversion on it, then I decided to make my practice a patient-kindness meditation while travelling on the London Underground. Then I began to really enjoy it, rather than dwelling in resentment. I began to feel kindly towards the people there. The aversion and the complaining all disappeared -- totally.

    When you feel aversion towards somebody, you can notice the tendency to start adding to it, 'He did this and he did that, and he's this way and he shouldn't be that way.' Then when you really like somebody, 'He can do this and he can do that. He's good and kind.' But if someone says, 'That person's really bad!' you feel angry. If you hate somebody and someone else praises him, you also feel angry. You don't want to hear how good your enemy is. When you are full of anger, you can't imagine that someone you hate may have some virtuous qualities; even if they do have some good qualities, you can never remember any of them. You can only remember all the bad things. When you like somebody, even his faults can be endearing -- 'harmless little faults'.

    So recognise this in your own experience; observe the force of like and dislike. Patient-kindness, metta, is a very useful and effective instrument for dealing with all the petty trivia which the mind builds up around unpleasant experience. Metta is also a very useful method for those who have discriminative, very critical minds. They can see only the faults in everything, but they never look at themselves, they only see what's 'out there'.

    It is now very common to always be complaining about the weather or the government. Personal arrogance gives rise to these really nasty comments about everything; or you start talking about someone who isn't there, ripping them apart, quite intelligently, and quite objectively. You are so analytical, you know exactly what that person needs, what they should do and what they should not do, and why they're this way and that. Very impressive to have such a sharp, critical mind and know what they ought to do. You are, of course, saying, 'Really, I'm much better than they are.'

    You are not blinding yourself to the faults and flaws in everything. You are just peacefully co-existing with them. You are not demanding that it be otherwise. So metta sometimes needs to overlook what's wrong with yourself and everyone else -- it doesn't mean that you don't notice those things, it means that you don't develop problems around them. You stop that kind of indulgence by being kind and patient -- peacefully co-existing.



Mindfulness of the Ordinary

Now for the next hour we'll do the walking practice, using the motion of walking as the object of concentration, bringing your attention to the movement of your feet, and the pressure of the feet touching the ground. You can use the mantra 'Buddho' for that also -- 'Bud' for the right, '-dho' for the left, using the span of the jongrom path. See if you can be fully with, fully alert to the sensation of walking from the beginning of the jongrom path to the end. Use an ordinary pace, then you can slow it down or speed it up accordingly. Develop a normal pace, because our meditation moves around the ordinary things rather than the special. We use the ordinary breath, not a special 'breathing practice'; the sitting posture rather than standing on our heads; normal walking rather than running, jogging or walking methodically slowly -- just a relaxed pace. We're practising around what's most ordinary, because we take it for granted. But now we're bringing our attention to all the things we've taken for granted and never noticed, such as our own minds and bodies. Even doctors trained in physiology and anatomy are not really with their bodies. They sleep with their bodies, they're born with their bodies, they grow old, have to live with them, feed them, exercise them and yet they'll tell you about a liver as if it was on a chart. It's easier to look at a liver on a chart than to be aware of your own liver, isn't it? So we look at the world as if somehow we aren't a part of it and what's most ordinary, what's most common we miss, because we're looking at what's extraordinary.

    Television is extraordinary. They can put all kinds of fantastic adventurous romantic things on the television. It's a miraculous thing, so it's easy to concentrate on. You can get mesmerised by the 'telly'. Also, when the body becomes extraordinary, say it becomes very ill, or very painful, or it feels ecstatic or wonderful feelings go through it, we notice that! But just the pressure of the right foot on the ground, just the movement of the breath, just the feeling of your body sitting on the seat when there's not any kind of extreme sensation -- those are the things we're awakened to now. We're bringing our attention to the way things are for an ordinary life.

    When life becomes extreme, or extraordinary, then we find we can cope with it quite well. Pacifists and conscientious objectors are often asked this famous question, 'You don't believe in violence, so what would you do if a maniac was attacking your mother?' That's something that I think most of us have never had to worry about very much! It's not the kind of ordinary daily occurrence in one's life. But if such an extreme situation did arise, I'm sure we would do something that would be appropriate. Even the nuttiest person can be mindful in extreme situations. But in ordinary life when there isn't anything extreme going on, when we're just sitting here, we can be completely nutty, can't we? It says in the Patimokkha[5] discipline that we monks shouldn't hit anyone. So then I sit here worrying about what I would do if a maniac attacks my mother. I've created a great moral problem in an ordinary situation, when I'm sitting here and my mother isn't even here. In all these years there hasn't been the slightest threat to my mother's life from maniacs (from California drivers, yes!). Great moral questions we can answer easily in accordance with time and place if, now, we're mindful of this time and this place.

    So we're bringing attention to the ordinariness of our human condition; the breathing of the body; the walking from one end of the jongrom path to the other; and to the feelings of pleasure and pain. As we go on in the retreat, we examine absolutely everything, watch and know everything as it is. This is our practice of vipassana -- to know things as they are, not according to some theory or some assumption we make about them.



Listening to Thought

In opening the mind, or 'letting go', we bring attention to one point on just watching, or being the silent witness who is aware of what comes and goes. With this vipassana (insight) meditation, we're using the three characteristics of anicca (change), dukkha (unsatisfactoriness), anatta (not-self) to observe mental and physical phenomena. We're freeing the mind from blindly repressing, so if we become obsessed with any trivial thoughts or fears, or doubts, worries or anger, we don't need to analyse it. We don't have to figure out why we have it, but just make it fully conscious.

    If you're really frightened of something, consciously be frightened. Don't just back away from it, but notice that tendency to try to get rid of it. Bring up fully what you're frightened of, think it out quite deliberately, and listen to your thinking. This is not to analyse, but just to take fear to its absurd end, where it becomes so ridiculous you can start laughing at it. Listen to desire, the mad 'I want this, I want that, I've got to have, I don't know what I'll do if I don't have this, and I want that ...' Sometimes the mind can just scream away, 'I want this!' -- and you can listen to that.

    I was reading about confrontations, where you scream at each other and that kind of thing, say all the repressed things in your mind; this is a kind of catharsis, but it lacks wise reflection. It lacks the skill of listening to that screaming as a condition, rather than just as a kind of 'letting oneself go', and saying what one really thinks. It lacks that steadiness of mind, which is willing to endure the most horrible thoughts. In this way, we're not believing that those are personal problems, but instead taking fear and anger, mentally, to an absurd position, to where they're just seen as a natural progression of thoughts. We're deliberately thinking all the things we're afraid of thinking, not just out of blindness, but actually watching and listening to them as conditions of the mind, rather than personal failures or problems.

    So, in this practice now, we begin to let things go. You don't have to go round looking for particular things, but when things which you feel obsessed with keep arising, bothering you, and you're trying to get rid of them, then bring them up even more. Deliberately think them out and listen, like you're listening to someone talking on the other side of the fence, some gossipy old fish-wife: 'We did this, and we did that, and then we did this and then we did that ...' and this old lady just goes rambling on! Now, practise just listening to it here as a voice, rather than judging it, saying, 'No, no, I hope that's not me, that's not my true nature', or trying to shut her up and saying, 'Oh, you old bag, I wish you'd go away!' We all have that, even I have that tendency. It's just a condition of nature, isn't it? It's not a person. So, this nagging tendency in us -- 'I work so hard, nobody is ever grateful' -- is a condition, not a person. Sometimes when you're grumpy, nobody can do anything right -- even when they're doing it right, they're doing it wrong. That's another condition of the mind, it's not a person. The grumpiness, the grumpy state of mind is known as a condition: anicca -- it changes; dukkha -- it is not satisfactory; anatta -- it is not a person. There's the fear of what others will think of you if you come in late: you've overslept, you come in, and then you start worrying about what everyone's thinking of you for coming in late -- 'They think I'm lazy.' Worrying about what others think is a condition of the mind. Or we're always here on time, and somebody else comes in late, and we think, 'They always come in late, can't they ever be on time!' That also is another condition of the mind.

    I'm bringing this up into full consciousness, these trivial things, which you can just push aside because they are trivial, and one doesn't want to be bothered with the trivialities of life; but when we don't bother, then all that gets repressed, so it becomes a problem. We start feeling anxiety, feeling aversion to ourselves or to other people, or depressed; all this comes from refusing to allow conditions, trivialities, or horrible things to become conscious.

    Then there is the doubting state of mind, never quite sure what to do: there's fear and doubt, uncertainty and hesitation. Deliberately bring up that state of never being sure, just to be relaxed with that state of where the mind is when you're not grasping hold of any particular thing. 'What should I do, should I stay or should I go, should I do this or should I do that, should I do anapanasati or should I do vipassana?' Look at that. Ask yourself questions that can't be answered, like 'Who am l?' Notice that empty space before you start thinking it -- 'who?' -- just be alert, just close your eyes, and just before you think 'who', just look, the mind's quite empty, isn't it? Then, 'Who-am-l?', and then the space after the question mark. That thought comes and goes out of emptiness, doesn't it? When you're just caught in habitual thinking, you can't see the arising of thought, can you? You can't see, you can only catch thought after you realise you've been thinking; so start deliberately thinking, and catch the beginning of a thought, before you actually think it. You take deliberate thoughts like, 'Who is the Buddha?' Deliberately think that, so that you see the beginning, the forming of a thought, and the end of it, and the space around it. You're looking at thought and concept in a perspective, rather than just reacting to them.

    Say you're angry with somebody. You think, 'That's what he said, he said that and he said this and then he did this and he didn't do that right, and he did that all wrong, he's so selfish ... and then I remember what he did to so-and-so, and then ...' One thing goes on to the next, doesn't it? You're just caught in this one thing going on to the next, motivated by aversion. So rather than just being caught in that whole stream of associated thoughts, concepts, deliberately think: 'He is the most selfish person I have ever met.' And then the ending, emptiness. 'He is a rotten egg, a dirty rat, he did this and then he did that', and you can see, it's really funny, isn't it? When I first went to Wat Pah Pong, I used to have tremendous anger and aversion arise. I'd just feel so frustrated, sometimes because I never knew what was really happening, and I didn 't want to have to conform so much as I had to there. I was just fuming. Ajahn Chah would be going on -- he could give two hour talks in Lao -- and I'd have a terrible pain in the knees. So I'd have those thoughts: 'Why don't you ever stop talking? I thought Dhamma was simple, why does he have to take two hours to say something?' I'd become very critical of everybody, and then I started reflecting on this and listening to myself, getting angry, being critical, being nasty, resenting, 'I don't want this I don't want that, I don't like this, I don't see why I have to sit here, I don't want to be bothered with this silly thing, I don't know ...', on and on. And I kept thinking, 'Is that a very nice person that's saying that? Is that what you want to be like, that thing that's always complaining and criticising, finding fault, is that the kind of person you want to be?' 'No! I don't want to be like that.'

    But I had to make it fully conscious to really see it, rather than believe in it. I felt very righteous within myself, and when you feel righteous, and indignant, and you're feeling that they're wrong, then you can easily believe those kinds of thoughts: 'I see no need for this kind of thing, after all, the Buddha said ... the Buddha would never have allowed this, the Buddha; I know Buddhism!' Bring it up into conscious form, where you can see it, make it absurd, and then you have a perspective on it and it gets quite amusing. You can see what comedy is about! We take ourselves so seriously, 'I'm such an important person, my life is so terribly important, that I must be extremely serious about it at all moments. My problems are so important, so terribly important; I have to spend a lot of time with my problems because they're so important.' One thinks of oneself somehow as very important, so then think it, deliberately think, 'I'm a Very Important Person, my problems are very important and serious.' When you're thinking that, it sounds funny, it sounds silly, because really, you realise you're not terribly important -- none of us are. And the problems we make out of life are trivial things. Some people can ruin their whole lives by creating endless problems, and taking it all so seriously.

    If you think of yourself as an important and serious person, then trivial things or foolish things are things that you don't want. If you want to be a good person, and a saintly one, then evil conditions are things that you have to repress out of consciousness. If you want to be a loving and generous type of being, then any type of meanness or jealousy or stinginess is something that you have to repress or annihilate in your mind. So whatever you are most afraid of in your life that you might really be, think it out, watch it. Make confessions: 'I want to be a tyrant!'; 'I want to be a heroin smuggler!'; 'I want to be a member of the Mafia!'; 'I want to ...' Whatever it is. We're not concerned with the quality of it any more, but the mere characteristic that it's an impermanent condition; it's unsatisfactory, because there's no point in it that can ever really satisfy you. It comes and it goes, and it's not-self.



4. Jongrom (a Thai word): pacing to and fro on a straight path. See A note before you begin. [Back to text]

5. Patimokkha: the code of 227 rules and observances that govern the conduct of Buddhist monks of the Theravadin tradition. [Back to text]

Introduction | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 |


Updated: 3-5-2000

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