Friday, July 24, 2020

"In Simple Terms: 108 Dharma Similes"

"In Simple Terms: 108 Dhamma Similes" by Thai meditation master Ajahn Chah translated by Ven. Thanissaro ( and edited by Amber Larson, Dhr. Ananda (DBM), Wisdom Quarterly

...The Dharma (Pali Dhamma) is just like this, talking in similes, because the Dharma doesn't have anything.

It isn't round, doesn't have any corners. There's no way to get acquainted with it except through comparisons like this. If you understand this, you understand the Dharma.

The Dharma is about you. Don't think that it lies far away from you. It lies right with you. Take a look. One minute happy, the next minute sad, satisfied, then angry at this person, hating that person: It's all Dharma...

Reverence (Ajanta Monastery, Cave 26, India)
Ajahn Chah was a master at using both apt and unusual similes to explain points of Dharma. Sometimes he would make an abstract matter clear with a vivid and simple image. Sometimes he'd tease out the implications of an image in a way that suggested many layers of meaning, offering food for continued thought.

In other words some of his similes provided answers, whereas others provoked more questions.

Since his passing several collections of similes have been drawn from his Dharma talks. The present translation is based primarily on a collection compiled by his Thai student Ajahn Jandee in the early 2000s. I say "primarily" because I have introduced the following changes:

Three of the similes in the original collection have been replaced by three others, drawn from the talk, "Disenchanted with What You Like" (Byya khawng thii chawb): "Bottled Water, Spring Water," "The Fence," and "In the Shape of a Circle."

In two of these cases, the original similes were redundant with other similes in the collection. In one, the original simile was more of historical than of practical interest.

One of the original similes — "Water Drops, Water Streams" — includes a few extra sentences from the Dharma talk in which it appeared.

Some of the titles for the similes have been changed to work more effectively in English.

The order of the similes has been changed to provide a more organic sense of unified flow.

Ajahn Jandee transcribed his collection directly from recordings of Ajahn Chah's talks with minimal editing, and I have tried to follow his example by giving as full and accurate a translation as I can. The unpolished nature of some of the similes is precisely what reveals unexpected layers of meaning, making them provocative, and I hope that this translation succeeds in conveying some of the same unfinished, thought-provoking quality in English as well.

Several people have looked over the original manuscript and have provided helpful recommendations for improving it. In particular, thank you to Ajahn Pasanno, Ginger Vathanasombat, and Michael Zoll.
May all those who read this translation realize Ajahn Chah's original intention in explaining the Dharma in such simple and graphic terms.
— Ven. Thanissaro, Oct., 2007

Your Real Home
Your external home isn't your real home. It's your supposed home, your home in the world. As for your real home, that's peace. The Buddha has us build our own home by letting go until we reach peace.

To the Ocean
The streams, lakes, and rivers that flow down to the ocean, when they reach the ocean, all have the same blue color, the same salty taste.

The same with human beings: It doesn't matter where they're from: When they reach the stream of the Dharma, it's all the same Dharma.

You look stupid. - Shut up, you Co-k!
The Buddha is the Dharma; the Dharma is the Buddha. The Dharma the Buddha awakened to is something always there in the world. It hasn't disappeared. It's like groundwater.

Whoever digs a well down to the level of the groundwater will see water. It's not the case that that person created or fashioned the water into being. All one has done is to put strength into digging the well so that it's deep enough to reach the water already there.

So if we have any wisdom, we'll realize that we're not far from the Buddha at all. We're sitting right in front of him right now. Whenever we understand the Dharma, we see the Buddha. Those who are intent on practicing the Dharma continuously — wherever they sit, stand, or walk — are sure to hear the Buddha's Dharma at all times.

It's All Right Here
The Buddha is the Dharma; the Dharma is the Buddha. He didn't take away the knowledge he awakened to. He left it right here. To put it in simple terms, it's like the teachers in schools. They haven't been teachers from birth. They had to study a course of study for teachers before they could be teachers, teaching in school and getting paid for it. After a while they'll die away — away from being teachers. But we can say that, in a way, the teachers don't die. The qualities that make people teachers remain right here. It's the same with the Buddha. The noble truths that made him the Buddha still remain right here. They haven't run off anywhere at all.

Elephants, Oxen, and Water Buffaloes
Training the mind well is a useful activity. We can see this even in draft animals, like elephants, oxen, and water buffaloes. Before we can put them to work, we have to train them. Only when they're well trained can we use their strength and put it to different useful purposes. All of you know this.

A mind well trained is of many times greater value. Look at the Buddha and the noble disciples. They changed their status from being ordinary, uninstructed people to being noble ones, respected by people all over. And they've benefited us in greater and wider ranging ways than we could ever determine. All of this comes from the fact that they've trained their minds well.

A mind well trained is of use in every occupation. It enables us to do our work with circumspection. It makes us reasonable instead of impulsive and enables us to experience a happiness appropriate to our station in life.

The Roots
We're like a tree with roots, a base, and a trunk. Every leaf, every branch, depends on the roots to absorb nutrients from the soil and send them up to nourish the tree.

Our body, our words and deeds, our senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and feeling are like the branches, leaves, and trunk. The mind is like the roots absorbing nutrients and sending them up the trunk to the leaves and branches so that they flower and bear fruit.

The Lost Wallet
It's as if we leave home and lose our wallet. It fell out of our pocket onto the road away back there, but as long as we don't realize what happened we're at ease — at ease because we don't yet know what this ease is for. It's for the sake of dis-ease at a later time. When we eventually see that we've really lost our money, that's when we feel dis-ease. It's right in our face.

The same holds true with our beneficial and harmful actions (karma). The Buddha taught us to acquaint ourselves with these things. If we aren't acquainted with these things, we'll have no sense of wholesome or unwholesome, skillful or unskillful.

Wagon Wheels, Wagon Tracks
The cycle of rebirth is like a wagon wheel. An ox is pulling the wagon. If it keeps on pulling the wagon without stop, the wagon tracks will keep on erasing the ox tracks without stop. The wagon wheels aren't long, but they're round. We could say that they're long, but their length is round. We see their roundness, but we don't see their length. As long as the ox pulls without stopping, the wagon wheels turn without stopping.

On a later day the ox stops. It's tired. It drops the yoke. The ox then goes on its way, and the wagon goes its way. The wagon wheels stop of their own accord. If we leave them there a long time, they disintegrate into earth, water, wind, and fire [basic elements or characteristics of materiality], turning back into grass and dirt.

It's the same with people who are still making karma. They don't come to fulfillment. People speaking the truth don't come to fulfillment. People with wrong views don't come to fulfillment.

A Block of Ice
If we place a large block of ice out in the open sun, we can see it deteriorate — in the same way the body ages — bit by bit, bit by bit. After only a few minutes, only a few hours, it will all melt into water. This is called khaya-vaya or deterioration and ending.

The deterioration of fabricated [compounded, dependently originated] things has been going on for a long time, ever since the world [again] came into being. When we're born we take on these things as well. We don't discard them anywhere. When we're born, we take on illness, aging, and death. We gather them up at the same time.

Look at the ways it deteriorates, this body of ours. Every part deteriorates. Hair of the head deteriorates; hair of the body deteriorates; fingernails and toenails deteriorate; skin deteriorates. Everything, no matter what, deteriorates in line with its [true] nature [rather than its superficial appearance].

Children are like bullets
A gun shoots its "children" — its bullets — outward. We shoot our children -- our karma -- inward, into our heart. When they're skillful, we're shot in the heart. When they're unskillful, we're shot in the heart. They're an affair of karma, these children of ours. There are skillful ones, there are unskillful ones, but both the skillful and unskillful ones are our children just the same.

When they're born look at us. The worse off they are, the more we love them. If one of them comes down with polio and gets crippled, that's the one we love the most. When we leave the house we tell the older ones, "Look after your little sister. Look after this one" — because we love her. When we're about to die we tell them, "Look after her. Look after my child." She's not strong, so you love her even more.

The Tail of the Snake
We human beings don't want suffering. We want nothing but pleasure. But actually, "pleasure" is nothing but a subtle form of suffering. Pain is blatant suffering. To put it in simple terms, suffering and pleasure are like a snake. Its head is suffering; its tail is pleasure. Its head contains venom. Its mouth contains venom. If we get near its head, it'll bite us. If we catch hold of its tail it seems safe, but if we hold onto its tail without letting go, it can turn right around and bite us just the same. That's because both the head of the snake and the tail of the snake are on the same snake.

Both happiness and misery come from the same parents — delusion and craving. That's why there are times when we're happy but still restless and ill at ease, even when we've gotten things we like, such as material gain, status, and praise.

When we get these things we're happy, but our mind isn't really at peace because there's the sneaking suspicion that we'll lose them. We're afraid they'll disappear. This fear is the cause that keeps us from being at peace.

Sometimes we actually do lose things and then we really suffer. This means that even though these things are pleasant, suffering lies fermenting in the pleasure. We're simply not aware of it. Just as when we catch hold of a snake. Even though we catch hold of its tail, if we keep holding on without letting go, it can turn right around and bite us.

So the head of the snake and the tail of the snake, unwholesomeness and wholesomeness, form a circle that keeps cycling around. That's why pleasure and pain, skillful and unskillful are not the path.

The King of Death
Yama is the "king" of death. Mara is Death.
We live like a chicken who doesn't know what's going on. In the morning it takes its baby chicks out to scratch and peck for food. In the evening it goes back to sleep in the coop. The next morning it goes out to look for food again. Its owner scatters rice for it to eat every day, but it doesn't know why its owner is feeding it. The chicken and its owner are thinking in very different ways.

The owner is thinking, "How much does the chicken weigh?" The chicken, however, is engrossed in the food. When the owner picks it up to judge its weight, the chicken thinks the owner is showing affection.

We, too, do not know what's going on: where we came from, how many more years we'll live here, where we'll go next, who will take us there. We don't know any of this at all.

The King of Death is like the owner of the chicken. We don't know when he'll catch up with us, for we're engrossed — engrossed with sights, sounds, scents, flavors, tactile sensations, and mental impressions. We have no sense that we're growing older [deteriorating]. We have no sense of enough.

The Beginning is the End
But I don't want a human rebirth. - Sure you do.
When we're born we're already dead, you know? Aging and death are the same thing. It's like a tree. Part of it is the base, part of it the end at the tip. When there's a base there's an end. When there's an end, there's a base. When there's no base, there's no end. When there's an end, there has to be a base. An end without a base, that can't be. That's just how it is.

So it's kind of amusing. When a person dies we're sad and upset. We sit and cry, grieving — all kinds of things. That's delusion. It's delusion, you know? When a person dies we sob and cry. That's the way it's been since, who knows when? We don't stop to examine this carefully. Actually — and excuse me for saying this — it appears to me that if you're going to cry when a person dies, it would be better to cry when a person is [re]born. But we have it all backwards. When a child is [re]born, people beam and laugh with happiness. But actually birth is death. Death is birth. The beginning is the end; the end is the beginning.

When we sit in a quiet forest when there's no wind, the leaves are still. When the wind blows, the leaves flutter.

The mind is the same sort of thing as leaves. When it makes contact with an object, it vibrates and flutters in line with its nature. The less we know of the Dharma [the way things are], the more the mind vibrates. When it feels pleasure, it dies with the pleasure. When it feels pain, it dies with the pain. It keeps flowing on in this way.

Colored Water 
Our heart, when it's normal, is like rainwater. It's [distilled and therefore] clean water — clear, pure, and normal. If we put coloring in water, green or yellow, the color of the water turns green, turns yellow.

It's the same with our mind. When it meets with an object it likes, it's happy. When it meets with an object it doesn't like, it gets murky and uncomfortable — just like water that turns green when we add green coloring to it, or yellow when we add yellow coloring. It keeps on changing its color.

Our mind, when were not looking after it, is like a child without parents to look after it — an orphaned child, a child without a protector. A person without a protector suffers, and it's the same with the mind. If it's not trained, if its views aren't straightened out into right views, it's put through a lot of difficulties.

Why It's Heavy
When suffering arises we have to see that it's suffering and see from what this suffering arises. Will we see anything? If we look at things in an ordinary way, there's no suffering. For example, while we're sitting here, we're at ease. But at another moment we want this cup (or spittoon), so we lift it up. Now things are different. They're different from when we hadn't yet lifted up the cup. When we lift the cup, we sense that we're more weighed down. There's a reason for it. Why do we feel weighed down if it's not from having lifted the cup? If we don't lift it, there's nothing. If we don't lift it, we feel light. So what's the cause, and what's the result? All we have to do is observe just this much, and we know. We don't have to go off studying anywhere else. When we grasp onto something, anything, that's the cause of suffering. When we let go there's relief from suffering. More

No comments: