Making the mind skilful

sabbapāpassa akaraṇaṃ,

kusalassa upasampadā;

sacittapariyodapanaṃ,

etaṃ buddhāna sāsanaṃ.

Doing no evil,
Engaging in what’s skilful,
And purifying one’s mind:
This is the teaching of the buddhas.

Dhammapada 183, translated by Gil Fronsdal

More from Ahahn Chah’s talk “Making the Heart Good”:

If our mind is good and virtuous it is happy. There’a smile in our heart. But most of us can hardly find time to smile, can we? We can only manage to smile when things go our way. Most people’s happiness depends on having things go to their liking. They have to have everybody in the world say only pleasant things. Is that how you find happiness? If that’s how it is when will you ever find happiness?

We must use Dhamma to find happiness. Whatever it may be, whether right or wrong, don’t blindly cling to it. Just notice it then lay it down. When the mind is at ease then you can smile. The minute you become averse to something the mind goes bad. Then nothing is good at all.

Hm. Turns out that doing what’s skilful involves some actual work! The work of non-clinging, of letting go of our grasping habits.

This teaching is so obvious, it’s easy to miss. When something is pleasant, we lean into it and try to extend it. We revel in the idea that at last things are going the way they should. We settle into the comfort that comes from hearing pleasant words and feeling pleasant feelings. Then – BAM – something not so pleasant happens and we are thrown into the opposite reaction. “Why does this have to happen? Things were going along so well and now this!”

Well, looking at our own lives and the lives of others, with even a little bit of wisdom, we can see that every day things go well and go badly, people are nice and nasty, the weather is wonderful and yucky, and there’s no discernible logic to the timing or intensity of any of these events. Can we remember this truth when things are going badly? And, even harder, when things are going well?

Humans are animals, and animals withdraw from unpleasant sensations and seek out pleasant ones. We fear danger and seek comfort. Even amoeba do this; but let’s hope we have more wisdom than an amoeba. We can know that these states are almost always not life-threatening, and will pass before long and be replaced with other states? Can we learn to remember this truth, many times a day?

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