The work of awareness
by Venerable Munindo
The following teaching is taken from talk given by
Venerable Munindo at Dhammaloka Buddhist Centre in
Perth, during a visit to Bodhinyana Monastery of Western
The Middle Way means gently bearing things exactly as
they are in their raw condition.
It's wonderful to see how the quality of effort that we
are able to make in practice naturally grows. My first
contact and inspiration with Buddhism had come from
reading a book at university. I had a feeling at the
time of 'Great! there is something real - something of
true quality which doesn't require compromising what I
feel most deeply to be right'. And that was wonderful.
It often is this way in the beginning when we make
contact with something we can really trust in; we have a
wonderful feeling about our discovery.
Then we find the Teaching says that realizing this 'true
quality' or to make this quality real in one's life
requires the cultivation of awareness. We are already
kind of aware but our awareness doesn't do what it needs
to do which is to see the facts clearly. The Buddha said
that when we see the facts of life - when we see what is
as it is - then there are no more problems. The Buddha
had no problems because he could always see the facts.
If it's not like that for us, then it's not because of
life but because of the way we see it; and that's very
helpful reflection. When I'm having problems, I can
consider: the Buddha's Way meant he had no problems
whereas 'my way' means I have. Therefore one way has to
go: either 'my way' or the Buddha's Way. So we take up
this training, or the Way of Dhamma, to be free from 'my
And this way of Dhamma begins with this first sense of
trust we feel that Truth is accessible and verifiable to
us as human beings. We don't' have to wait until we die
until we know what's what.
We often find in life that we are faced with a difficult
situation which we want to work with but we're not up to
it. The point of such meetings as this is to actually do
something about our ability to work; we have awareness
and we are choosing to work with it. We are not just
using awareness as we do in daily life, but we have set
this time aside to directly cultivate it; to sit, to be
still, to train the mind.
When our community in England first moved to Chithurst
House, it was not an easy situation. One hundred and
twenty acres of forest had been given to us, with a lake
and an old derelict mansion. But the local council said
we had to apply for 'change of use'. So that was done -
but the answer was 'No!' So there we were with a
wonderful forest in beautiful West Sussex and a
potentially ideal house to live in, and yet....
Fortunately, because of a technical point, we were able
to apply again; but it meant we had to wait for many
months to know the result. There was tremendous doubt;
would we be able to stay or not? You could get caught up
in the doubt and not do any work thinking, 'Well, they
might throw us out. What's the point?' Or, you could
deny doubt, work like a Trojan and get angry at anybody
who dared to display any doubt.
The training, however, is about seeing just the facts -
and thankfully, Ajahn Sumedho was very clear about that.
The fact, then was that that particular situation was
very doubtful - uncertain, So with right awareness, with
balanced awareness, we could simply bear that
uncomfortable feeling. We could bear the feeling of
insecurity or doubt.
Insecurity is a very unpleasant feeling. When we are
children and feel that way, we seek reassurance from mum
and dad. Then as we grow up we see this feeling of
insecurity as a fact of life, and learn to abide in the
knowledge of the insecurity of all existence that is if
we really grow up! If we don't really grow up we find
substitutes for our parents: a partner possessions,
belief systems philosophies and so on.
Our training is to actually feel this insecurity and see
it as 'just like this'. But without being balanced we
cannot do it. In those early days at Chithurst it was
'just like that' but there was a real temptation to get
caught in an extreme position of either indulging in
doubt or repressing it.
In the Buddhist Way, it is clearly stated that the two
extremes of 'blindly believing' on the one hand and
'repression and denial' on the other are false. The way
that is Real is the Middle Way - the way of gently
bearing things, exactly as they are, in their raw
condition. To do this we have to train the mind until we
are no longer pushing and pulling at the states that we
Pushing and pulling is the way of contending. And it's
very easy to contend with life when it's not going the
way that "I think it should. There was a very difficult
period in my training in Thailand after I had Already
been a monk for about four years. As a result of a motor
bike accident I had had before I was ordained and a
number of years of sitting in bad posture, my knees
seized up. The doctors in Bangkok said it was severe
arthritis but nothing that a small operation couldn't
fix. They said it would take two or three weeks. But
after two months and three operations I was still hardly
walking. There had been all kinds of complications: scar
tissue, three lots of general anaesthetic and the hot
season was getting at me my mind was really in a state.
I was thinking: 'My whole life as a monk is ruined.
Whoever heard of a Buddhist monk who can't sit
cross-legged.' Every time I saw someone sitting
cross-legged I'd feel angry. I was feeling terrible, and
my mind was saying 'It shouldn't be like this the doctor
shouldn't have done it like that the monks' rules
shouldn't be this way...... 'It was really painful,
physically and mentally. I was in a very unsatisfactory
situation. Then I heard that Ajahn Chah was coming down
to Bangkok. I thought if I went to see him he might be
able to help in some way. His presence was always very
uplifting. When I visited him I couldn't bow properly;
he looked over at me and asked, 'What are you up to?' I
began to complain: Oh Luang Por ' I said, 'It's not
supposed to be this way. The doctors said two weeks and
it has been two months.... "I was really wallowing. With
a surprised expression on his face he said to me very
powerfully: 'What do you mean it shouldn't be this way?
If it shouldn't be this way it wouldn't be this way!'
That really did something to me. I can't describe how
meaningful that moment was. He pointed to exactly what I
was doing that was creating the problem. There was no
question about the fact of the pain; the problem was my
denying that fact, and that was something I was doing.
This is not just a theory. When someone offers us the
reflection of exactly what we are doing we are
incredibly grateful, even if at the time we feel a bit
of a twit.
The pushing away is the distortion of awareness that
makes problems out of life. Life can be very painful,
but with right awareness there can be a discerning of
the facts. When awareness or mindfulness, matures into
truth-discerning awareness (satipanna), we can bear the
state we are experiencing and discern the facts. With
intelligence free to consider what can be done and our
human sensitivity unhindered we don't have to deny what
we feel - we can learn from life.
But if our ability to feel is numbed, if our hearts are
closed intelligence simply can't operate. We can go
through so many difficult situations in life thinking:
'Wow! I survived that one. I'll never have to go through
that again ' yet before long we do, So whether we learn
or not has very much to do with just how accurate our
awareness is. It depends on whether we are working with
'right awareness' or the common-or-garden-variety
awareness. This practice then is to train awareness-to
balance it, to gentle it to tame it, until the pushing
and pulling tendencies are gone.
Just as we make problems out of difficult experiences we
can also make problems out of pleasant ones. There was
an occasion when I was in New Zealand and visiting a
good friend who used to be a monk with us in England.
Now he is a doctor in Christchurch. He spends a lot of
time in the very beautiful mountains of the South
Island. At his invitation I joined him for a few days
walking in the Alps. I hadn't been in the mountains for
a long time. The air was good the weather was good and
it was particularly nice to be walking with a good
friend. We spent time trekking walking, talking over
practise, sitting meditation... it was wonderful. There
was one morning I remember vividly. We had left very
early the forest hut where we'd spent the night. It was
dawn as we walked down a big stony mountain river bed.
The magic light of sunrise was tipping the snowcapped
mountains gold. It was so beautiful... drinking the
stream water breathing crisp mountain air, and being in
good company. Then something in my mind started up.... a
feeling started arising..... and it was beginning to
spoil the situation. So gently paying attention to
that.... carefully turning towards it and being with
that feeling... the constriction of energy that was
taking place.... I could see there was a feeling of....
trying to hold on to the experience - the experience of
simple human enjoyment. I was saying to myself 'This is
how it should be.' In that moment I could see how I was
creating a problem. I was already beginning to imagine
how it would be back in the English drizzle saying, ' It
shouldn't be this way.'
So even around pleasure we create problems by not
relating directly truly by not relating to that which is
true but relating to that which is false or to our
fantasies. With pleasure we can feel afraid of losing it
and fantasize in an attempt to hold on to it. With pain
we tend to dwell in memories of when it wasn't there in
an attempt to avoid it. This is how it often is in
broken relationships. (And death is a kind of broken
relationship.) Rather than seeing the fact of the pain,
there is a tendency to go into memories of 'how it used
to be' or fantasize about 'how it could be'. That is
dwelling in what's not real.
There is a verse in the Dhammapada:
Mistaking the false for the real and the real for the
we remain stuck in the false.
Seeing the real as real, and the false as false,
we attain to the Truly Real.
To be able to do the work of seeing the false as false
and the real as real, we need to cultivate this
truth-discerning awareness. We need to operate in a mode
whereby we can accept the offerings of life and death
completely, whole-heartedly, and discern the facts - the
Truth. So being whole-hearted means being wholly and
completely sensitive; not being sensitive merely to what
we like, which is 'my way', and denying what we don't
The Buddha's Way means being single-minded about our
consideration of life. And it results in an agility of
mind which is intelligence; the mind is not merely
conditioned; it is free to perform its proper function.
This is the training, and we can be very grateful that
we've been offered this training. The Buddha described
this Way as being 'Well-Expounded', Svakkhata Dhamma. In
other words, he said 'You've got what you need to do
what needs to be done. 'We don't have to make shots in
the dark hoping that we'll come across something
Here we have a complete training the training of body,
speech and mind. We cultivate moral responsibility and
work to develop the mind.
We make the effort to concentrate the mind and really be
in the present. All the difficulties and pitfalls that
we experience along the way, we share with each other.
We have Good Companions - Kalyanamitta, members of the
Sangha, and Dhamma friends, who can come together for
discussion and reflection - listening to talks and going
retreats. We can actually do what the Buddha wanted us
The quality of trust we have in the beginning is
wonderful. It says: 'Yes, there is something to be
realized. Life isn't merely an ordeal that we tolerate
until we die.
There is a true quality that can be seen and known.' And
then, having given ourselves to the training, we find
that we begin to go beyond the habitual tendencies of
pushing and pulling at the experiences of pleasure and
pain. And we continue until we come upon a new way of
We seen in a way that we've never seen before. We have a
new perspective of things. 'Trust' is now verified. We
need no longer be concerned with doubt about the
possibility of the Way; we simply get on with it.
All the training we do, including the traditions that we
use, are for this purpose. They make our life situations
workable. Anger becomes workable; greed, jealousy,
pleasure, pain, all become something to help us grow in
the direction of True Understanding. 'I go for refuge to
Dhamma - the way things actually are' takes on a new
Then finally, and thankfully, there are beings in the
world who teach from the perspective of complete trust.
The Buddha's Teachings come from the perspective of
complete trust. That is where life itself is something
that we give ourselves into with an attitude of complete
There is no longer any doubt, any confusion, any
despair. All that remains is complete trust in Dhamma.
Courtesy Seeing the Way ...
Buddhist Reflections on the Spiritual Life.