Is there any object we can really trust forever and take refuge in? Is there another person we can feel completely happy with all the time? Is there a place, a book, a picture, a flower, beautiful scenery that we can enjoy all the while? Flowers are beautiful creations of nature, but how long can we sit and look at one without feeling bored? Most of us have to go from one flower to the next because one beautiful flower is not enough. People who do gardening, their minds are always creating something new, some new kind of arrangement, something that will be even nicer. No matter how beautiful anything is, it is never truly satisfying. There is always a snake in the grass, a worm in the apple, a fly in the ointment.
Now, this shrine room — we did it up in grand style, but the screws that pin the wallboards to the walls — rusty! I was expecting permanent satisfaction out of this shrine room. It was going to satisfy me forever. But when I come in here and look at these little spots in the walls — suffering!
Is there any sound that we can enjoy forever? They have wonderful electronic equipment these days. You can have the most superb sounds in your living room or bedroom. You can have piped music in the bathroom. And when you become bored with the old kind, you can have something new. There is always something new, something in fashion, some new kind of amplifier, stereo, super stereo, or supersonic sound.
All sensory objects satisfy us temporarily, but then we have to find something else to be absorbed into — to read, think, go to sleep, get drunk, take dope, have sex. It goes on and on, without reflection, without the understanding that one is caught in it, in that going from one thing to the next.
We hold onto things, attach to them. We can sit in meditation and get very concentrated, acquire a lovely feeling of the concentrated mind and then attach to it. Many people really like meditation retreats, but when they go home, go to work, they do not reflect on what they are doing; they only seem to be able to meditate under organized and idyllic conditions where there are no responsibilities. They are like sitting Buddhas — all they can do is sit. They cannot walk or stand, and if they lie down, they just fall asleep — completely heedless, crashed out Buddhas! We like the blissful states; we like to develop mindfulness of breathing and not have to do anything or see anything that confuses, frightens or disrupts the mind. But when we can reflect, then we can adapt to either tranquil serenity, or to warlike confusion and chaos.
First published in the August 1990 Buddhism Now.
Other posts by Ajahn Sumedho