We can always start anew, by Ajahn Sumedho

The bodhisattva Jizō. Metropolitan Museum of ArtWhen something unpleasant happens, or something bad, if we say, ‘Well, you know, that’s the way it is . . . !’ that’s not Suchness. That’s just a cynical statement. ‘Life is pretty horrible and that’s the way it is. Just got to put up with it.’ That’s like resignation to misery. It isn’t Suchness; unless, of course, you see the Suchness of that particular attitude.

Or, when we regard the past as something that is very real, we may think, ‘Ten years I’ve been a monk,’ ‘Twenty-eight, twenty-nine, years I’ve been a monk.” That is conventional reality, but it is also thinking of ourselves as having been something for twenty-eight years. That is just a memory; it is perception in the present. When you really look at it, there is not a person any more, there is just a memory in the present.

We are establishing this awareness in the present, with the dhamma, with the way things are, rather than letting all our mem­ories of the past corrupt, disturb and influence the present moment. People who carry things in their minds are always distorting the reality of the present with attach­ments and views. The problems of the world come from that, from resentment, disappointment, suf­fering, from the experiences of the past. When we do not see the present, we merely project or proliferate into the present all kinds of things from the past. Once we begin to see that, then we can practise this turning to the silence, finding a resting place in emptiness and awareness, in the Suchness of the moment. The emotions tend not to want to do that. Emotions have a power that is very convincing; they can convince us that they are real and important. Years ago, back in the 50s, there was a movie about a woman who was to be executed. It was supposed to be a true story of this American woman who was to be sent to the electric chair. Susan Hayward was the actress. She was very popular at the time, and well known for giving these melodramatic performances; and she would play these roles right up to the hilt. So she played the part of this woman who was to be executed. ‘I want to live’ — that was the name of the movie. Of course, Susan Hayward could say this line, ‘I want to live!’, in a most emotional way. I remember it now, right back from in the 50s, Susan Hayward screaming, ‘I WANT TO LIVE!!’ It made an indelible impression on my mind.

 Ladle on a post by Lisa Daix. MustangIn my monastic life in Thailand, before I came to England, I was in a particular branch monastery. And when I was there, I felt I was dying. The inspiration of the life was no longer present; I found it incredibly boring, and hot — there were all these rock formations, and in the hot season the heat would absorb into the rocks making it very hot. Also, the food was dreary. And there was nothing to look forward to. Day after day brought the same old dreary routine.

The 60s must have been fantastic in America, the 60s and 70s, and here I was in this hot place. And I felt like I was dying, a sense of dying. And this inner voice said, just like Susan Hayward, ‘I want to live!’ Susan Hayward kept saying to me, ‘I want to live! I’m wasting my life,’ and all these kinds of highly emotional statements.

Emotions can be very convincing, very powerful, like a melodrama. They can sound real and true when they’re going on. But, at that time, there was that which was aware of them; an awareness of those emotions as mental objects was established already. And I trusted in that. It was hard going, but I did establish my refuge in that awareness of that screaming, crying, pathetic, thing in me. That was the thing I trusted, rather than the messages I was getting through my emotions, which were really empty in themselves. They were empty and soulless things, even though they sounded very much like Susan Hayward who was a very powerful actress. But, still, she was an actress.

Getting that perspective is very important and very wonderful in itself. It will change your direction — you won’t be helplessly caught up in your own emotions and the emotions of other people; you won’t be helplessly caught up in worldly problems and urgent messages, and hysteria, intimidation, or any of it. The world is like that. It is chock-a-block full of intimidations, urgent messages, very important, shattering, destroying, destructive things, terrible prophesies, all kinds of things from the past and all kinds of dreadful things that might happen in the future. When we think about those things, then, of course, we get caught in becoming anxious, frightened, and insecure; threatened by the things that we can produce in our own minds. So we can get a perspective on that; not by suppressing anything, not by pushing anything down and rejecting it, but by seeing things as they are. We can always start anew.

First published in the November 1995 Buddhism Now.

Click here to read more teachings by Ajahn Sumedho.

Categories: Ajahn Sumedho, Beginners, Biography, Buddhism, Buddhist meditation, Theravada

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6 replies

  1. It’s so easy to get caught up in your own emotions. I’ve been having these episodes about this particular person. Whenever I see him, think of him, hear about him, thoughts of all of his bad behaviors toward me well up and start hitting me again and again. And I truly despise this person but this isn’t supposed to be. This is NOT about his bad behavior towards me and how he had treated me from time immemorial. Right now it’s about how my emotions are running wild ; making me emotionally uncontrollable. I can’t control how he decides to treat me but I can control how I react to his treatment. Why am I torturing me self? Indeed, ajahn we can start anew.

  2. Very interested in starting anew but it is so difficult to maintain it and not slip back into your own insular ways….

  3. How nicely you put it with your own experience. Thanks Bhante, after all we have to accept as they are without getting agitated or clinging.

  4. A great post to remind us how we get caught up in the illusion of our mind which does not allow us to live in the present and to see the truth.

    There are many times I have started “anew” and for this I am grateful. Thankyou for sharing your wisdom.


  5. When terrible and destructive things are happening in the world, and when we hear terrible prophesies of dreadful things that might happen in the future, it’s easy to get caught up with emotions of fear and insecurity. But there is a way to see things as they are without getting caught and remember that every moment is a new moment…

  6. Ajahn Sumedho, American Buddhist monk trained in Thailand and founder of two English monasteries, offers us his powerful insights into our personal experience, and indeed our very lives themselves. Much of our energies are expended wistfully yearning for the past and the attachments we formed then or regretting what we did or was done to us, and fearfully anticipating the unknown future and what disaster may await us or fantasizing of wonderful future events, and all of this mental and emotional energy pulls us away from the now and our actual lives as we live them. Mindful living in the now liberates us from this suffering.

    After reading this classic article from “Buddhism Now”, I followed the link to his book “Don’t Take Your Life Personally, and ordered it. Perhaps his words will resonate with you, too.


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