“I now see the emotional habits that one has as vipaka-kamma (result of kamma). If I accept whatever emotions come up, let them be in consciousness and then let them out, they will be liberated from their prison. I find this a skilful way of looking at it. Even after years of moral conduct and strict practice, it’s surprising what emotions still come into consciousness. But in terms of practice, whatever comes, you don’t make any problems out of it, you just recognise the opportunity to liberate this wretched creature, or this emotion, from its prison.
The attitude is vipaka-kamma, resultant kamma. When the conditions ripen, the result becomes conscious. The things that ripen, that come up into consciousness—just let them be conscious and liberate them by letting them go; let them be what they are, and they will naturally move away. With awareness you’ve opened the doors to the deathless, you’re liberating those wretched conditions from their misery. The doors to the deathless are open—that’s mindfulness. We talk about the doors to the deathless, but it’s not something out there, something remote or hidden. The Buddha pointed to this mindfulness—this is the path to the deathless.
You can see that every moment of your life you have this. This is your heritage, your opportunity, and so even if you forget about it or don’t want to do it right now, there will be a point in your life when you will want to do it. Even if you’re not ready for the unconditioned experience, for realisation, you will be at some time. You’ll get fed up with the suffering that you create through ignorance and attachment.
This seems to be a time when this kind of teaching is becoming increasingly appreciated. It’s not just through the Buddhist convention, but in many ways. It’s as if this kind of practice is being made available to people, or maybe it’s the time of awakening because of the seemingly unsolvable problems and the mess that we’ve created through our greed, hatred and delusion. The population pressures of this age, the pollution, all the wars and weaponry and the materialism, all this has been done—through what? Through desire, and attachment to desire. So much of our intelligence has been used for creating horrible weapons, smart bombs that aren’t so smart, and the problems of human beings and all planetary creatures at this time on this earth, and yet there is this potential for enlightenment, for realisation.
If we contemplate in the terms of just being one human individual at this time, we can see that what we learn through awareness is something very ordinary and unimpressive. It’s not as if we light up with flames shooting out of our heads and we have extravagant experiences. It’s very subtle. No one would ever know. Nothing shows. There’s nothing spectacular about paying attention, this expansive intuitive listening, attentive listening, intuitive awareness. It’s nothing fantastic, nothing to write home about. That’s why it is overlooked, why people don’t notice. They’re looking for something spectacular, some kind of mystical experience where you kind of merge with the ultimate in a union of bliss. It’s what we’d like, isn’t it?
Sometimes you have moments like that where you feel as though you’re in union with the ultimate and with nature and with everything, but that kind of feeling becomes a memory and then you want to have it again; you get attached to the memory of it; you’re always looking for something through a memory rather than trusting in the very simple ability we have right now of just paying attention.
This is humbling. It isn’t like an achievement that we can exhibit for the world to see. Worldly people think it’s not worth anything. All these ways of trying to get you to meditate often come with promises that you’ll look younger, you’ll be able to make more money, your relationships will improve, you’ll be successful, you’ll be happy, your diseases will be cured. These things sell meditation. We’re promised all kinds of good things as a reward for doing it. It’s not that those things never happen, it’s not that the reverse happens and you become poorer and sicker through meditation, but that isn’t the point. It’s the goodies that often stimulate the desire to meditate. But I’m referring to the ultimate purpose of meditation—the realisation of truth. To many people, if meditation doesn’t promise a lot of the good things, then it’s not worth anything. In terms of realising the way of nonsuffering, however, and a fearlessness that comes through that, then that is what is said to be the highest happiness. To be fearless and to understand the truth is its own reward. You don’t need anything more than that.”
Ajahn Sumedho — Emotional Habits
First published in the August 1999 Buddhism Now [Taken from a talk given during a retreat at Amaravati in May 1999.]