Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?

Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung? 18
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Ajahn Brahm W ho Ordered This Truckload of Dung? W ho Ordered This Truckload of Dung? Who Ordered Cover:Layout 1 12/9/10 11:51 AM Page 1 Inspiration/Eastern Religion “A BEST SPIRITUAL BOOK OF THE YEAR Entertaining and spiritually edifying. The author has a fine sense of humor and these tales are sure to speak to your W ho Ordered W ho Ordered condition. A volume brimming with humanity and good will.” Spirituality and Health “Ajahn Brahm’s working-class humor and cockney turns of phrase can be charming. Between the classical Buddhist stories and the homespun advice, you’ll get a good sense of who this teacher is, T his Truckload T his Truckload and why so many people are drawn to hear him speak.” Shambhala Sun “Ajahn Brahm is “Our brains and beings are wired to learn deeply and easily via stories, and this the Seinfeld of Dharma.” splendid collection of 108 Buddhist-based tales proves the point with lasting, —Sumi Loundon, of Dung? gentle, pervasive teachings. … This is a wonderful collection of Dung? editor of Blue Jean Buddha that can be enjoyed by a broad audience.” Publishers Weekly “This is a book that is destined to become dog-eared and cherished and read aloud to one’s friends and family. It will fall apart from your attention” Mandala INSPIRING STORIES FOR AJAHN BRAHM grew up on the wrong side of the tracks in London. Scholarships got him to WELCOMING LIFE’S Cambridge University, where he earned a degree in theoretical physics. Eventually disillu- sioned with the world of academe, he went to DIFFICULTIES the jungles of Thailand and studied under the highly esteemed meditation master Ajahn Chah. A monk for over thirty years, Ajahn Brahm is now a revered spiritual guide and abbot of one the largest Buddhist monasteries in the southern hemi- sphere. In his public speeches he regularly draws multinational audi- ences of thousands. He is also the author of Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond. Ajahn Brahm lives in Serpentine, Australia. ISBN 0-86171-278-1 US15.95 Produced with ISBN-13 978-0-8617-1278-6 Environmental wisdom Mindfulnes s AJAHN BRAHM Wisdom Publications ¥ BostonTruckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 3 two bad bricks after we purchased the land for our monastery in  we were broke. We were in debt. There were no buildings on the land, not even a shed. Those first few weeks we slept not on beds but on old doors we had bought cheaply from the salvage yard; we raised them on bricks at each corner to lift them off the ground. (There were no mattresses, of course—we were forest monks.) The abbot had the best door, the flat one. My door was ribbed with a sizeable hole in the center where the doorknob would have been. I joked that now I wouldn’t need to get out of bed to go to the toilet The cold truth was, however, that the wind would come up through that hole. I didn’t sleep much those nights. We were poor monks who needed buildings. We couldn’t afford to employ a builder—the materials were expensive enough. So I had to learn how to build: how to prepare the foundations, lay concrete and bricks, erect the roof, put in the plumbing—the whole lot. I had been a theoretical physicist and high-school teacher in lay life, not used to working with my hands. After a few years, I became quite skilled at building, even calling my crew the BBC (“Buddhist Building Company”). But when I started it was very difficult. It may look easy to lay a brick: a dollop of mortar underneath, a little tap here, a little tap there. But when I began laying bricks, 3 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 4 4 WHO ORDERED THIS TRUCKLOAD OF DUNG? I’d tap one corner down to make it level and another corner would go up. So I’d tap that corner down then the brick would move out of line. After I’d nudged it back into line, the first corner would be too high again. Hey, you try it Being a monk, I had patience and as much time as I needed. I made sure every single brick was perfect, no matter how long it took. Eventually, I completed my first brick wall and stood back to admire it. It was only then that I noticed—oh no—I’d missed two bricks. All the other bricks were nicely in line, but these two were inclined at an angle. They looked terrible. They spoiled the whole wall. They ruined it. By then, the cement mortar was too hard for the bricks to be taken out, so I asked the abbot if I could knock the wall down and start over again—or, even better, perhaps blow it up. I’d made a mess of it and I was very embarrassed. The abbot said no, the wall had to stay. When I showed our first visitors around our fledgling monas- tery, I always tried to avoid taking them past my brick wall. I hated anyone seeing it. Then one day, some three or four months after I finished it, I was walking with a visitor and he saw the wall. “That’s a nice wall,” he casually remarked. “Sir,” I replied in surprise, “have you left your glasses in your car? Are you visually impaired? Can’t you see those two bad bricks which spoil the whole wall?” What he said next changed my whole view of that wall, of myself, and of many other aspects of life. He sa id, “Yes. I can see those two bad bricks. But I can see the  good bricks as well.” I was stunned. For the first time in over three months, I could see other bricks in that wall apart from the two mistakes. Above, below, to the left and to the right of the bad bricks were good bricks, perfect bricks. Moreover, the perfect bricks were many, Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 5 PERFECTION AND GUILT 5 many more than the two bad bricks. Before, my eyes would focus exclusively on my two mistakes; I was blind to everything else. That was why I couldn’t bear looking at that wall, or having others see it. That was why I wanted to destroy it. Now that I could see the good bricks, the wall didn’t look so bad after all. It was, as the vis- itor had said, “a nice brick wall.” It’s still there now, twenty years later, but I’ve forgotten exactly where those bad bricks are. I liter- ally cannot see those mistakes any more. How many people end a relationship or get divorced because all they can see in their partner are “two bad bricks”? How many of us become depressed or even contemplate suicide, because all we can see in ourselves are “two bad bricks.” In truth, there are many, many more good bricks, perfect bricks—above, below, to the left and to the right of the faults—but at times we just can’t see them. Instead, every time we look, our eyes focus exclusively on the mis- takes. The mistakes are all we see, they’re all we think are there— and so we want to destroy them. And sometimes, sadly, we do destroy a “very nice wall.” We’ve all got our two bad bricks, but the perfect bricks in each one of us are much, much more than the mistakes. Once we see this, things aren’t so bad. Not only can we live at peace with our- selves, inclusive of our faults, but we can also enjoy living with a partner. This is bad news for divorce lawyers, but good news for you. I have told this anecdote many times. After one occasion, a builder came up to me and told me a professional secret. “We builders always make mistakes,” he said, “But we tell our clients that it is ‘an original feature’ with no other house in the neigh- borhood like it. And then we charge them a couple of thousand dollars extra” Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 6 6 WHO ORDERED THIS TRUCKLOAD OF DUNG? So the “unique features” in your house probably started out as mistakes. In the same way, what you might take to be mistakes in yourself, in your partner, or in life in general, can become “unique features,” enriching your time here—once you stop focusing on them exclusively. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 7 the temple garden buddhist temples in japan are renowned for their gardens. Many years ago, there was one temple that was said to have the most beautiful garden of all. Travelers would come from all over the country just to admire its exquisite arrangement, so rich in simplicity. An old monk once came to visit. He arrived very early, just after dawn. He wanted to discover why this garden was considered the most inspiring, so he concealed himself behind a large bush with a good view of the rest of the garden. He saw a young gardening monk emerge from the temple car- rying two wicker baskets. For the next three hours, he watched the young monk carefully pick up every leaf and twig that had fallen from the spreading plum tree in the center of the garden. As he picked up each leaf and twig, the young monk would turn it over in his soft hand, examine it, ponder over it; and if it was to his lik- ing he would delicately place it in one of the baskets. If it wasn’t to be of use to him, he would drop it in the second basket, the rubbish basket. Having collected and thought over every leaf and twig, having emptied the rubbish basket on the pile at the rear of the temple, he paused to take tea and compose his mind for the next crucial stage. The young monk spent another three hours, mindfully, care- fully, skillfully, placing each leaf and twig just in the right place in 7 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 8 8 WHO ORDERED THIS TRUCKLOAD OF DUNG? the garden. If he wasn’t satisfied with the position of a twig, he would turn it slightly or move it forwards a little until, with a light smile of satisfaction, he would move on to the next leaf, choosing just the right shape and color for its place in the garden. His atten- tion to detail was unparalleled. His mastery over the arrange- ment of color and shape was superb. His understanding of natural beauty was sublime. When he was finished, the garden looked immaculate. Then the old monk stepped out from behind his bush. Wearing a broken-toothed smile, he congratulated the young gardening monk, “Well done Well done indeed, Venerable I’ve been observ- ing you all morning. Your diligence is worthy of the highest of praise. And your garden… Well Your garden is almost perfect.” The young monk’s face went white. His body stiffened as if he had been stung by a scorpion. His smile of self-satisfaction slipped from his face and tumbled into the great chasm of the void. In Japan, you can never be sure of old grinning monks “What d…do…you mean?” he stuttered through his fear. “What do y…you mean, almost perfect?” and he prostrated himself at the old monk’s feet. “Oh master Oh teacher Please release your compassion on me. You have surely been sent by the Buddha to show me how to make my garden really perfect. Teach me, Oh Wise One Show me the way” “Do you really want me to show you?” asked the old monk, his ancient face creasing with mischief. Oh “ yes. Please do. Oh please master” So the old monk strode into the center of the garden. He put his old but still strong arms around the leafy plum tree. Then with the laugh of a saint, he shook the hell out of that poor tree Leaves, twigs, and bark fell everywhere, and still the old monk shook that tree. When no more leaves would fall, he stopped. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 9 PERFECTION AND GUILT 9 The young monk was horrified. The garden was ruined. The whole morning’s work was wasted. He wanted to kill the old monk. But the old monk merely looked around him admiring his work. Then with a smile that melts anger, he said gently to the young monk, “Now your garden is really perfect.” Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 10 what’s done is finished the monsoon in thailand is from July to October. During this period, the monks stop traveling, put aside all work projects, and devote themselves to study and meditation. The period is called Vassa, the Rains Retreat. In the south of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall in his forest monastery. When the Rains Retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery. A few days later a visitor came, saw the half-constructed build- ing and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished. Without hesitation, the old monk said, “The hall is finished.” “What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished’?” the visitor replied, taken aback. “It hasn’t got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like that? Are you mad? What do you mean, ‘The hall is finished’?” The old abbot smiled and gently replied, “What’s done is fin- ished,” and then he went away to meditate. That is the only way to have a retreat or to take a break. Otherwise our work is never finished. 10 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 11 the idiot’s guide to peace of mind i told the previous story to a large audience one Friday evening in Perth. On the following Sunday, an angry parent came to tell me off. He had attended that talk together with his teenage son. On Saturday evening, his son wanted to go out with his friends. The father asked him, “Have you finished your home- work yet, son?” His son replied, “As Ajahn Brahm taught us at the temple last night, Dad, what’s done is finished See ya.” The following week I tol d another story. Most people in Australia have a garden with their house, but only a few know how to find peace in their garden. For the rest, the garden is just another place for work. So I encourage those with a garden to nurture its beauty by working a while and nurture their hearts by just sitting peacefully in the garden, enjoying nature’s gifts. The first gardener thinks this a jolly good idea. So they decide to get all the little jobs out of the way first, and then they will allow the mselves a few moments of peace in their garden. After all, the lawn does need mowing, the flowers could do with a good water- ing, the leaves need raking, the bushes need pruning, the path needs sweeping… Of course, it takes up all of their free time just to get a fraction of those “little jobs” out of the way. Their work is never finished, so they never get to have a few minutes of peace. 11 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 12 12 WHO ORDERED THIS TRUCKLOAD OF DUNG? (Have you ever noticed that in our culture, the only people who “rest in peace” are found in the cemetery?) The second gardener thinks they are much smarter than the first. They put away the rakes and the watering cans and sit out in the garden reading a magazine—probably with big, glossy pictures of nature. But that’s enjoying your magazine, not finding peace in your garden. The third gardener puts away all the gardening tools, all the mag- azines, newspapers, and radios, and just sits in the peace of their garden—for about two seconds Then they start thinking: “That lawn really needs mowing. And those bushes should be pruned soon. If I don’t water those flowers within a few days they may die. And maybe a nice gardenia would go well in that corner. Yes With one of those ornamental birdbaths in front. I could pick one up at the nursery…” That is enjoying thinking and planning. Again, there is no peace of mind there. Now the fourth gardener, the wise one, considers, “I’ve worked long enough, now is the time to enjoy the fruit of my work, to lis- ten for the peace. So even though the lawn needs mowing and the leaves need raking and blah blah blah—not now.” This way, we find the wisdom to enjoy the garden even though it’s not perfect. Perhaps there’s an old Japanese monk hiding behind one of the bushes ready to jump out and tell us that our messy old garden really is perfect. Indeed, if we look at the work we have already done instead of focusing on the work that remains, we might understand that what’s done has been finished. But if we focus exclusively on the faults, on the things that need to be fixed, as in the case of my brick wall in my monastery, we will never know peace. The wise gardener enjoys their fifteen minutes of peace in the Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 13 PERFECTION AND GUILT 13 perfect imperfection of nature, not thinking, not planning, and not feeling guilty. We all deserve to get away and have some peace; and others deserve the peace of us getting out of their way Then, after getting our crucial, life-saving fifteen minutes of peace “out of its way,” we carry on with our gardening duties. When we understand how to find such peace in our garden, we will know how to find peace anytime, anywhere. Especially, we will know how to find peace in the garden of our h eart, even though at times we might think that it’s such a mess, with so much to be done. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 14 guilt and absolution a few years ago, a young Australian woman came to see me at my temple in Perth. Monks are often sought out for advice on personal problems, perhaps because we’re cheap—we never charge a fee. She was tormented with guilt. Some six months pre- viously, she had been working in a remote mining community in the north of Western Australia. The work was hard and the money good, but there was not much to do in the hours off work. So one Sunday afternoon she suggested to he r best friend, and her best friend’s boyfriend, that they all go out for a drive in the bush. Her friend didn’t want to go, and neither did her friend’s boyfriend, but it was no fun going alone. So she cajoled, argued, and badgered until they gave in and agreed to go on the drive in the bush. There was an accident: the car rolled on the loose gravel road. The young woman’s girlfriend was killed; the boy was paralyzed. The drive was her idea, yet she wasn’t hurt. She told me with sorrow in her eyes: “If only I hadn’t forced them to go. She would still be here. He would still have his legs. I shouldn’t have made them go. I feel so terrible. I feel so guilty.” The first thought that came into my mind was to reassure her that it wasn’t her fault. She didn’t plan to have the accident. She had no intention of hurting her friends. These things happen. Let it go. Don’t feel guilty. But the second thought that came up was, “I bet she’s heard that line before, hundreds of times, and it obviously 14 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 15 PERFECTION AND GUILT 15 hasn’t worked.” So I paused, looked deeper into her situation, then told her it was good that she felt so guilty. Her face changed from sorrow to surprise, and from surprise to relief. She hadn’t heard this before: that she should feel guilty. I’d guessed right. She was feeling guilty about feeling guilty. She felt guilty and everyone was telling her not to. She felt “double guilt,” guilt over the accident and guilt over feeling guilty. Our compli- cated minds work like that. Only when we had dealt with the first layer of guilt and estab- lished that it was all right for her to feel guilty could we proceed to the next stage of the solution: What’s to be done about it? There’s a helpful Buddhist proverb: “Better to light a candle than complain about the darkness.” There’s always something we can do instead of feeling upset, even if that something is just sitting peacefully for a while, not complaining. Guilt is substantially different from remorse. In our culture “guilty” is a verdict hammered out on hard wood by a judge in a court. And if no one else punishes us, we will look to punish our- selves, some way or another. Guilt means punishment deep in our psyche. So the young woman needed a penance to absolve her from guilt. Telling her to forget it and get on with life wouldn’t have worked. I suggested that she volunteer for work at her local hos- pital’s rehab unit, treating the casualties of road accidents. In that context, I thought, s he would wear away her guilt with all the hard work, and also, as usually happens in volunteer work, be helped so much by the very people she was there to help. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 16 criminal guilt before i had the honorable but burdensome office of abbot dumped upon me, I used to visit the prisons around Perth. I kept a careful record of the hours of service I had spent in jail to be used as credit in case I ever got sentenced On my first visit to a big prison in Perth, I was surprised and impressed at the number of prisoners who came to hear me speak about meditation. The room was packed. Around ninety-five per- cent of the prisoner population had come to learn medita tion. Yet the longer I spoke, the more restless my captive audience grew. After only ten minutes, one of the prisoners, one of the leading crims in the jail, put up his hand to interrupt my talk and ask a question. I invited him to go ahead and ask. “Is it really true,” he said, “that through meditation you can learn how to levitate?” Now I knew why so many prisoners had come for my talk. They were all planning to learn meditation so they could levitate over the prison walls I told them that it is possible, but only for exceptional editators, and then only after many years of training. The next m time I went to teach at that prison, only four prisoners turned up for the session. Over the many years that I taught inside prisons, I got to know some of the crims very well indeed. One thing I discovered was 16 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 17 PERFECTION AND GUILT 17 that every crim feels guilty for what they have done. They feel it day and night, deep in their hearts. They only tell this to their close friends. They wear the standard defiant prisoner face for viewing in public. But when you earn their trust, when they take you as their spiritual guide for a while, then they open themselves and reveal their painful guilt. I would often help them with the next story: the story of the Class B kids. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 18 the class b kids many years ago, an experiment in education was carried out in secrecy at a school in England. The school had two classes for the same age of children. At the end of the school year an examination was held, in order to select the children for the classes of next year. However, the results of the exam were never revealed. In secrecy, with only the principal and the psychologists knowing the truth, the child who came first in the exam was placed in the same class with the ch ildren who came fourth and fifth, eighth and ninth, twelfth and thirteenth, and so on. While the chil- dren who came second and third in the exam were placed in the other class, with the children who came sixth and seventh, tenth and eleventh, and so on. In other words, based on their perform- ance in the exam, the higher-performing and lower-performing children were split evenly between the two classes. Teachers for the next year were carefully selected for equal ability and experi- ence. Even the classrooms were chosen with similar facilities. Everything was made as equal as possible, except for one thing: one was called “Class A,” the other, “Class B.” Whereas in fact the classes had children of equal ability, in every- one’s minds the children in Class A were the clever ones, and the kids of Class B were not so clever. Some of the parents of the Class A children were pleasantly surprised that their child had done so well and rewarded them with presents and praise, whereas the 18 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 19 PERFECTION AND GUILT 19 parents of some of the Class B kids berated their children for not working hard enough and took away some of their privileges. Even the teachers taught the Class B kids in a different manner, not expecting so much from them. For a whole year the illusion was maintained. Then there was another end-of-year exam. The results were chilling, but not surprising. The children of Class A performed so much better than those of Class B. In fact, the results were just as if they had been the to p half chosen from last year’s exam. They had become “Class A” children. And those in the other group, though equal the year before, had now become “Class B” kids. That was what they were told for a whole year, that was how they were treated, and that was what they believed—so that was what they became. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 20 the child in the supermarket i tell my “jailbird buddies” never to think of them- selves as criminals, but rather as someone who has done a crimi- nal act. Because if they are told they are criminals, if they are treated as criminals and if they believe they are criminals, they become criminals. That’s how it works. A young boy dropped a carton of milk at the supermarket checkout and it split open, spilling milk all over the floor. “You stupid child” said the mother. In the very next aisle, another boy dropped a carton of honey. It broke open too, spreading honey over the floor. “That was a stupid thing you did,” said his mother. The first child has been classified stupid for life; the other has had only one fault pointed out. The first will probably become stu- pid; the other will learn to stop doing stupid things. I ask my friends in prison what else they did the day of their crime. What else did they do the other days of that year? What else did they do the other years of their life? Then I repeat the story of my brick wall. There are other bricks in the wall that rep- resent our life apart from our crimes. In fact, the good bricks are always many, many more than the bad. Now, are you a bad wall deserving destruction? Or are you a good wall with a couple of bad bricks, just like the rest of us? A few months after I became abbot and stopped visiting jails, I 20 Acquired at wisdompubs.org  Truckload_interior_final:Truckload_interior 1 12/9/10 11:52 AM Page 21 PERFECTION AND GUILT 21 received a personal phone call from one of the prison officers. He asked me to come back. He gave me a compliment I will always treasure. He told me that my students at the prison, once they had finished their sentences, never returned to jail. Acquired at wisdompubs.org  

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