Some people die because of their desires; others nearly do—that’s how to be stuck in the way of the world. Worldly wisdom seeks after the senses and their objects. However wise the search may be, it’s wise only in a worldly sense. No matter how appealing the object, it’s appealing only in a worldly sense. It isn’t the happiness of liberation; it won’t free you from the world.
We have come to practice as monks in order to penetrate true wisdom, to rid ourselves of attachment. Practice to be free of attachment! Investigate the body; investigate everything around you until you become weary and disenchanted with it all, and then dispassion will set in. Dispassion will not arise easily, however, so long as you still don’t see clearly.
We come and receive ordination—we study, we read, we practice, we meditate. We determine to make our minds resolute, but it’s hard. We resolve to do a certain practice; we say that we’ll practice in this way—but only a day or two goes by, maybe just a few hours, and we forget all about it. Then we remember and try to make our minds firm again. ‘This time I’ll do it right!’ Shortly afterward we are pulled away by one of our senses, and it all falls apart again. So we start ail over again! This is how it is.
Like a poorly built dam, our practice is weak. We are still unable to see and follow true practice. And it goes on like this until we arrive at true wisdom. Once we penetrate to the truth, we are freed from everything. Only peace remains.
Our minds aren’t peaceful because of all our old habits. We inherit these because of our past actions, and thus they follow us around and constantly plague us. We struggle and search for a way out, but we’re bound by them and they pull us back. These habits don’t forget their old haunts. They grab on to all the old familiar things to use, to admire, and to consume—that’s how we live.
No matter how hard you try to free yourself, until you see the value of freedom and the pain of bondage, you will not be able to let go. You usually practice blindly, enduring the hardships, keeping the discipline, just following the form—you don’t practice in order to attain freedom or liberation. You must see the value of letting go of your desires before you can really practice; only then is true practice possible.
Everything that you do must be done with clarity and awareness. When you see clearly, there will no longer be any need for endurance or for forcing yourself. You have difficulties and are burdened because you miss this point. Peace comes from doing things completely with your whole body and mind. Whatever is left undone leaves you with a feeling of discontent. These things bind you with worry wherever you go. You want to complete everything, but it’s impossible to get it all done.
Take the case of the merchants who often come here to see me. ‘When my debts are all paid and my property is in order,’ they say, ‘I’ll come to be ordained.’ They talk like that, but will they ever get everything in order? There’s no end to it. They pay off their debts with another loan, then they pay off that one and do it all again. A merchant thinks that if he frees himself from debt he will be happy, but there’s no end to paying things off. That’s the way worldliness fools us—we go around and around like this, never realising our predicament.
From the August 2003 Buddhism Now.