Excerpts from a Dhamma talk by Ajahn Sumedho, one of the most esteemed Western monks in the Thai Forest tradition.
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Bring your attention to this moment, here and now. Whatever you’re feeling physically or emotionally, whatever its quality, this is the way it is. And this knowing of the way it is is consciousness; it’s how we experience the now. Be aware of this. When we’re fully conscious, aware of here and now with no attachment, then we’re not trying to solve our problems, remembering the past, or planning for the future. And if we are doing these things, then we stop and recognize what we’re doing. Non attachment means that we’re not creating anything more in our minds; we’re just aware. This is reflecting on the way it is. When we’re thinking, planning, dreading, anticipating, hoping, expecting something in the future, this is all taking place in the here and now, isn’t it? These are mental states we’re creating in the present. What is the future? What is the past? There’s only now, this present …
So when you explore memory, just observe that memories come and go. And when they’re gone, consciousness is what remains. Consciousness is now. This is the path, here and now, the way it is. Use what is happening now as the path rather than going along with the idea that you are somebody from the past who needs to practice to get rid of all your defilements in order to become enlightened in the future. That is just a self you create and believe in…
Saying “like this” is just a way of reminding oneself to see this moment as it is rather than to be caught in some idea that we’ve got to do something or find something or control something or get rid of something.
Developing the path, cultivating bhavana is not only formal meditation that we can only do at a certain place, under certain conditions, with certain teachers. That’s just another view we’re creating in the present. Observe how you practice in daily life—at home, with your family, on the job. The word bhavana means being aware of the mind wherever you are in the present moment. I can give you advice about developing sitting meditation—so many minutes every morning and every evening—which is certainly to be considered. It’s useful to develop discipline, to take some time in your daily life to stop your activities, the momentum of duties, the responsibilities and habits. But what I’ve found to really help me the most has been to reflect and pay attention to the here and now…
I also hear people suffering a lot about things they’ve done or things they shouldn’t have done—mistakes, crimes, terrible things they said in the past. They can become obsessed because once they start remembering the mistakes of the past it creates a whole mood. All the guilty moments of the past can come flooding back in and destroy one’s life in the present. Many people end up stuck in a very miserable hell realm that they’ve created for themselves.
But this is all happening in the present, which is why this present moment is the door to liberation. It’s the gate to the Deathless. Awakening to this is not suppressing, denying, dismissing, defending, justifying, or blaming; it is what it is, attending to a memory. “This is a memory” is an honest statement. It’s not a dismissal of the thought, but it’s no longer regarding it with such personal attachment. Memories, when seen clearly, have no essence. They dissolve into thin air.
Try taking a guilty memory and deliberately sustaining it. Think of some terrible thing you’ve done in the past, then determine to keep it in your consciousness for five minutes. By trying to keep thinking about it, you will find how difficult it is to sustain. But when that same memory arises and you resist it or wallow in it or believe in it, then it can hang around the whole day. A whole lifetime can be filled with guilt and remorse.
So just by awakening, seeing it the way it is, is a refuge. Every time you’re aware of what you’re thinking—not critical, even if you’re thinking something really ugly and nasty—you’re getting to be an expert. This is what you can trust. As you develop this, have more confidence in it. Your awareness will become a stronger force than your emotions, your defilements, your fears and desires. At first it may seem like emotions and desires are much stronger, that it’s impossible to simply be aware. You may have only a few brief moments of awareness and then back into the raging storm. It may seem hopeless, but it’s not. The more you test it out, investigate and trust this awareness, the more stable it becomes. The seemingly invincible power of the emotional qualities, obsessions, and habits will lose that sense of being the stronger force. You will find that your real strength is in awareness, not in controlling the ocean and waves and cyclones and tsunamis and all the rest that you can’t possibly ever control anyway. It’s only in trusting in this one point—here and now—that you realize liberation.
Read the entire talk at this link