Ajahn Tiradhammo, senior monk at Bodhinyanarama monastery in New Zealand, is back in Thailand this week, and last night gave an inspiring talk on transforming life's challenges into wisdom. There's been a lot of good new art put up at the Baan Aree Library since my last visit, but the amplification system was as temperamental as it was two years ago, and as the speakers whistled, Phra Pandit joked that the first challenge had arrived.
Once the technical hitches had been cleared out the way, Ajahn Tiradhammo started right at the start, with the First Noble Truth, for what are challenges if not the positive spin on suffering? But Dukkha, Ajahn Tiradhammo said, doesn't actually mean suffering at all, but incompleteness. Thus even happiness is Dukkha, because it is incomplete. The only thing that isn't, he said, is Enlightenment itself. And here he paused to tell a short story.
The Buddha, preaching some finer point of philosophy, once turned to Sariputra and said "do you believe me?" The Buddha's disciple replied, very honestly, "no, I don't". The Buddha praised him for that, and Ajahn Tiradhammo suggested we treat the Buddhist 'truths' in the same way, that we invest in them a certain amount of trust, but don't believe them entirely until we've seen the truth, or otherwise, of them for ourselves.
For Ajahn Tiradhammo this first occured when considering the principle of cause and effect in Buddhism, and his trust developed the more he practiced. Practice, being, of course, the key - and the core of the Buddha's teachings. And here Ajahn Tiradhammo discussed the balance between concentration meditation, which quietens the mind and is a very necessary prelude, and awareness meditation, which does the actual work of transforming suffering into wisdom.
"How calm do you need to be before you can begin awareness practices?" Ajahn Tiradhammo once asked Ajahn Cha. The reply was "calm enough". Calm enough, Ajahn Tiradhammo added, for insight, calm enough to see clearly, and this level of necessary calm will differ between different people and different times. Calm enough, he said, to slow down the reactivness of the mind, to get some space between seeing something, and responding to it.
The example Ajahn Tiradhammo used in his talk was anger, and how, given enough concentration and awareness, it is possible to see anger as simply energy, the energy of life-force, and that we can use that energy. We can transform it. The point, he said, is to see the real nature of the self, its energy and expressions, and then see beyond it to the greater, wider, picture of reality. Then he concluded, we can move into liberation and true peace of mind.
Littlebang: Ajahn Tiradhammo