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The fewer things you think about at any given time, the more you’ll see right here, right now.By Thanissaro Bhikkhu
We spread thoughts of goodwill for all the world, that we don’t wish anyone any harm. We wish that all beings could find happiness. So why are we sitting here with our eyes closed? Why aren’t we going out there, making people happy?
Because happiness is something that has to come from within. It’s based on being skillful in the way you act, which includes not only your physical actions, but also your speech and the actions of your mind—and in particular, the act of intention. This is because it’s through our intentions that we shape the world we experience, along with the amount of pleasure or pain we take out of that experience. To formulate intentions that really do lead to happiness is a skill. And because it’s a skill, nobody else can master the skill for you; you can’t master the skill for anyone else. You can give other people advice, you can show them to some extent how to do things, but for them to find happiness requires that they take the issue of happiness seriously, that they learn how to be skillful in their approach to happiness. If you’re going to give them reliable advice or set a reliable example, you yourself need to learn how to be skillful, too.
So, both for the sake of our own true happiness and for the true happiness of others, this is why we’re sitting here meditating. We’re training the mind to be very attentive, continually attentive to what it’s doing, so that it can learn how to do it skillfully. This means that even though there is the quest for peace, the quest for stillness in the mind, it’s not just peace and stillness for its own sake. It’s for the sake of understanding what we’re doing to cause suffering, and what we can do to stop it. That’s the purpose of our understanding.
Last week I was teaching up in Canada, and the question came up: Isn’t the purpose of all this practice to find the ultimate truth about things? And the answer is No. We’re trying to find a particular truth that’s useful for a higher purpose, the purpose of true happiness. It’s truth with a purpose. After all, there are many truths of the world. We can talk about how lasting things are, and in some ways it’s true. We can talk about how ephemeral they are, and in some ways that’s true as well. We can talk about the happiness in relationships, and there really is happiness in relationships. But we can also talk about the suffering in relationships, and there’s a lot of that, too. The question is, what use comes from focusing on which truths? Where do they lead you?
Once, when I was first staying with Ajaan Fuang, there was another young monk who had ordained at his fiancée’s request. She wanted to make sure her husband had had some training as a monk before they got married. So he spent two weeks out there at the monastery and found that he liked the life of a monk a lot more than he had expected. When the night came for his parents and fiancée to pick him up and take him back to disrobe in Bangkok, Ajaan Fuang could sense that he was getting a little reluctant to go. So that night he gave a talk on how we’re not born alone. We’re born from our parents. We owe a debt to our parents, and we need to repay that debt.
A few days later, I was beginning to get concerned about my own debt to my father, and Ajaan Fuang said, “When we come to this world, we come alone. Nobody comes with us. Nobody hired us to come.”
Two different truths: both true, and the question is learning how to use those truths properly in the right context.
Which means that the uses of these truths are what’s important. The ultimate use is finding out how we create a lot of unnecessary stress and suffering for ourselves in spite of ourselves, and how we can put an end to it. That’s why we train the mind…