Inspiring lessons for welcoming life’s difficulties

Grant yourself a moment of peace,
and you will understand
how foolishly you have scurried about.
Learn to be silent,
and you will notice that
you have talked too much.
Be kind,
and you will realize that
your judgment of others was too severe.

The post has my personal notes from the book: Who ordered this truckload of dung? Inspiring stories for welcoming life’s difficulties by Ajahn Brahm. I share the lessons  I learnt when I read this book. I hope this will inspire you to go and read the book.

1. All major religions and teachings are like same cakes with different icings: on the outside, the traditions and teachings may look and taste different, but when you go deeply into them, you find the same taste – the taste of freedom.

2. The Buddha says that enlightenment is not to be got elsewhere. It is to be got when we are here, with the body and mind that we have.

3. The Buddha’s central teaching was four truths:

  • Happiness
  • The cause of happiness
  • The absence of happiness
  • The cause for such an absence

4. We are all like the wall with “two bad bricks”. This means that we are all not perfect, but the perfect bricks in each one of us are more than the mistakes. Once we see this, things are not so bad. We can live at peace with ourselves, inclusive of our faults. We can also live at peace with others, inclusive of their faults. The faults are like “unique features” and they will enrich your time here.

5.  Sometimes we are obsessed with things being perfect and worry even if things are slightly out-of-order. Accepting what is, even if it may not be perfect, makes your life perfect, because then you accept the reality that perfectness is in being imperfect.

6.  We often say that we will meditate or spend time doing things that we love after our work is finished. But our work is never finished and we never meditate or spend time doing things that we love.  The only way is to dedicate some time for meditation or doing things that we love and do it. Our work may be unfinished, but that is okay. This is important too.

7. Sometimes we say that we will enjoy our life after we finish all the jobs we are supposed to do. We never finish and we  never enjoy. Sometimes you say that you stop work and enjoy by watching television or reading a magazine. Yes, you distract yourself but you do not really enjoy. At other times, you stop work, but you engage yourself in thinking and planning as to what needs to be done. The truly wise one, stops working, even if the work is unfinished and sits down quietly in silence for some time. He finds peace in the garden of his heart, even if things may be in a mess and so many things to be done.

8. Sometimes when something goes wrong, we feel guilty. We have to say to ourselves that it is okay to feel guilty. And then we need to move on to the next stage of the solution: What is to be done about it? As the saying goes, it is better to light a candle than complain about the darkness. So rather than continue to feel upset and complain, we need to do something, sit peacefully or something that will absolve you of your guilt.

9. We all have done something wrong. We feel guilty for that. But we do not show it out to others generally, only to those who have earned your trust. You have to remember that you believe what you tell yourself, and this may be said by others or by yourself. You will be what you believe. So you need to tell yourself good and encouraging things and tell others good and encouraging things. Then you will feel good and worthwhile and do worthwhile things and others will feel good and worthwhile and do worthwhile things. Then you understand that although we all have our “two bad bricks”, we are mostly okay and that we deserve to be forgiven. But nobody else can convince us of that we deserve to be forgiven. We have to do it ourselves.

10. When someone does a stupid thing, you can say: “You are a stupid boy” or “You did a stupid thing.” If you say they are stupid they will become stupid. If you say they did a stupid thing, then they will learn to stop doing stupid things.

11. To say to somebody else: “Whatever you do in life, know this. The door of my house will always be open to you.” It takes courage and wisdom to say those words to another, to open the door of your heart to somebody else, with no “ifs”. If you say such a thing people will not take advantage of you, they will treasure that gift. If you give those words to someone close to you, if you really mean them, if they come from your heart, then that person will reach upwards, never down, to meet your love.

12.  When we say: Love thy neighbour as thyself- it means to love others as oneself. This means that one should love oneself as equal as one loves others. Loving yourself means to forgive yourself and to accept yourself fully. For this you do not have to be perfect. If you wait for perfection it never arrives. We must open the door of our heart to ourselves, whatever we have done. Then we become perfect.

13. There are three rings to a marriage: engagement ring, wedding ring and suffe-ring. Suffering is inevitable, no matter where. The meaning of marriage is the commitment that we make to the other person that we stay with them for the rest of our lives. It is similar to the difference between bacon and eggs. The chicken is only involved but not committed when it gives its eggs for us to eat, but the pig is committed when it gives the bacon for us to eat.

14. In a marriage, it is important to remember what the priority is. The priority is that the marriage is more important that anything else. It is not important being right over most things. Even when we think we are right, we may be wrong. Therefore, remember, marriage is most important, not who is right.

15. When we are newly married we think our husband or wife is the most wonderful person in the world. Sooner or later we start to notice faults in them. But remember to be grateful for the faults in our partner because if they didn’t have those faults from the start, they would have been able to marry someone better than us.

16. Romance is fantasy. We only see “the good bricks”.  But when we truly love we see both the good and the bad bricks and accept them and love them unconditionally. In romantic love, we only love the way they make us feel. True love is selfless love and is rare. We are only concerned for the other person. If we really and truly love another person, we would be happier if they left us for another person.

17. Guilt is looking at the brick wall of our past and seeing only the two bad bricks we have laid. Fear is looking at the brick wall of our future and seeing only what might go wrong. We just don’t see what might go perfectly well. Fear is overcome by seeing the whole wall. The possibilities for the future are infinite. When we focus on the unfortunate possibilities, that’s called fear. When we remember the other possibilities, which are more likely, that’s called freedom from fear.

18. Many people would like to know the future. Some are too impatient to wait for it to happen, so they seek oracles, astrologers and fortune tellers. But it is very easy. Your future will be uncertain. That is always true and worth remembering. It is dangerous to predict the future, even when we have signs, as we can never know what the signs really mean. This is what happens when people gamble. We think we can predict the future based on signs but what really happens is that all people who gamble lose money, eventually.

19.  Fear is finding fault with the future. This means that we expect a particular thing to happen in the future and not accepting that the future is uncertain and cannot be predicted. This leads us to fear if that particular thing does not happen. But if we can realise and accept the uncertainty of the future, then fear is dissolved.

20. All fear begins with the thought What if and continues with something disastrous. What if this bad thing happens? We predict the future and with negativity. One way to dissolve this fear is to consciously decide that you are going to have fun when you do something and do not try to predict the outcome. You do not focus on what others will think or say but decide you are going to have fun. Then fear cannot exist in that atmosphere.

21. The major ingredient of pain is fear. Without fear, pain is just feeling. If we can let go of fear, then pain diminishes or disappears to a great extent. This means you welcome the pain, embrace it and allow it to be. What does this really mean? First, we should not try to control the pain. You let go of yourself as the controller. Secondly, letting go means really letting go. It does not mean you accept the pain for 5 minutes and expect it to go after 5 minutes. That is not letting go, that is trying to get rid of the pain. Thirdly, real letting go means to say to pain: Come to me, stay as long as you want to, even for the rest of my life if you want to. I give you full freedom. I let go of my control. Whether you stay or go, it is all the same. That is letting go. Then the pain goes away. Or even if it stays, it does not matter, because you have let go. This can be applied to anything in life.

22. This is not to say there is no pain. Pain is there, but is usually short. The stories we tell to ourself about pain make it worse. And all these stories have fear as the major ingredient. Letting go of the controller, staying more with this moment and being open to the uncertainty of the future, releases us from the prison of fear. It allows us to respond to life’s challenges with our original wisdom, and gets us safely out from many a sticky situation.

23. Anger is not a clever response. Wise people are happy, and happy people do not get angry. Firstly, anger is irrational. In most cases, we do not have control over what we get angry with: traffic lights, what your child or husband does, etc. We expect a certain outcome and do not realise that the future is uncertain. They are just being themselves. Anger feeds on anger. Anger never goes away by getting angry. It gets worse. It also destroys relationships and separates us from our friends. So what is the point of getting angry? What we do when we get angry is that we justify  it to ourselves first. We are convinced that our anger is deserved, proper and right. You judge whatever or whoever you get angry with and prove to yourself that they are guilty and therefore you should get angry with them. One way to stop this judging is to consider plausible excuses and probable explanations for the event or the person’s behaviour. Then think of the importance and beauty of forgiveness. There is no need for you to punish somebody. God, Karma or the world will take of that. Develop restraint by doing this, forgive and solve the root-problem. Solving the root problem is also important. When you just forgive, it is like not watering the weeds, but when you practice positive forgiveness, you water the flowers and don’t water the weeds; you solve the root problem. When we do this, anger is deprived of its fuel and dies.

24. Rather than talking and thinking about the faults of others and yourself, praise yourself and others of the good qualities that we all have. Without praise, without positive reinforcement of good qualities, these qualities wither and die. But a regular dose of praise encourages you a lot. Everyone likes praise and praise can help in mundane ways as well, like getting discounts and freebies at times. It is not only about praising others, it is also about praising yourself. A simple way to start doing this is to smile a big smile at yourself in the mirror everyday and say to yourself that you are good. This releases endorphins, strengthens our immune system and makes us feel happy. It does not cost anything, but is priceless, like the Buddhist teachings.

24.  All of us get depressed at times. This guidepost can help us get over it: This too will pass. Then you do not see happiness or sadness as permanent and feel free and at peace. Simple, but not easy.

25. A lot of traumatic experiences are dumped on us in life. There are three things to know about it:

  • We did not order it. It is not our fault.
  • We are stuck with it. No one can take it away from you.
  • It is awful and causes pain and unhappiness.

So what can we do.

  1. We can sink into depression, negativity or anger. This will neither help us or the people around us.
  2. We can work with these tragedies and make meaning out of these things. It is slow and difficult but can be done. Then we develop wisdom, kindness, serenity, peace and compassion. We can give them to everyone. This is a better way, and will help us and others.

25. An effective friend or counselor is like a dustbin with no bottom or a hole at the bottom. We listen to problems, do what we can do to help, but let them go.

26. When we are made to suffer in life for no apparent reason, we say life is unfair. But a  lot of times we do not suffer, even when we should have because we did something wrong. So life is probably fair, after all.

27. Many people mistake the law of karma as fatalism, where one is doomed to suffer for some unknown crime in a forgotten past life. The way of think of karma is different. It is like baking a cake. Ingredients are one part. The other part is how we use the ingredients to bake a cake. Half of karma is the ingredients we have got to work with. The other half, the most crucial part, is what we make of them in this life.

28.  Sometimes we cannot do anything with the ingredients that has been given to us. That is okay. The world is always in a flux. Sometimes the right thing to do is to save your energy and wait for the time when you can do something. “When there’s nothing to do, then do nothing.” It may seem obvious, but it may also save your life. When the current is stronger than you are, that is the time to go with the flow. Enjoy whatever life is giving to you at that moment. When you are able to be effective, that is the time to put forth effort. When you put the effort, then whatever you are doing, give it everything you’ve got.

29. A problem is something with a solution. If there is no solution, there can’t be a problem. How much time do we waste in our lives worrying about things that, at the time, have no solution, so aren’t a problem? So just sit still with these.

30. A problem with a solution needs a decision. Sometimes we are unsure what that decision should be. Then just sit and wait. When a solution comes, see if that destination suits you. If it does, then go for it. If not, wait for another one to come. But do not blame others for the decisions you make.

31. When you care deeply about someone, you never hurt them. Do not hurt things that others care about as well. But you need to really care with an open heart. But “to care” does not always mean to be meek, mild and passive. You should be like the snake that hisses if necessary but never bites.

32. Compassion without wisdom is not useful. We assume, too often, that we know what the other person needs. We think we know best. Compassion that carries such assumptions is foolish and dangerous. It causes so much suffering in the world. Similarly, parents think that they always know what is best for their child. Often, they get it wrong.

33. Our minds are mostly occupied with the sort of stuff that fills newspapers: wars in our relationships, politics in family and at work, personal scandals that upset us so, and the sport of their carnal pleasures. If we do not know how to put down that “newspaper in our mind” from time to time, if that is what we are obsessed with, if that is all we know – then we will never experience the unsullied joy and peace of nature at its finest. We will never know wisdom.

34. Savour each moment of your life in silence, whenever you can.

35. Many people ask questions as to whether this is right or wrong, knowing that what they are doing is wrong. They hope that some “expert” will convince them it is right. Deep inside, most people know what is right and wrong – only some don’t listen carefully.

36. We often interpret things according to the lenses through which we see things. Be aware of that. How often are what is said and what we hear not the same? Even if the meaning seems so clear, you can leap to the wrong conclusion. We can jump on to conclusions that seems so certain, only to be wrong, disastrously wrong. Judging absolutely – “This is right, all else is wrong” – is not wisdom. It is often wise not to blurt out things but rather consider carefully all that is said and give a measured answer. It is also important to learn to keep quiet at the proper times, or else when it is very important you will not be able to keep your mouth shut.

37. There is something p0werful inside each one of us called self-preservation.

38. Your mind is the biggest thing in the world. It can see all that your eye can see, and it can see more than that is supplied through your imagination. It can also know sounds, which your eye can never see, and know touch, both real and made of dream-stuff. You mind can also know what lies outside your five senses. Because everything that can be known can fit into your mind, your mind must be the biggest thing in the world. The mind contains all.

39. Happiness is real. Unhappiness is true. There is no doubt that these things exist. But you cannot locate these realities in your body, anywhere outside of your body, or anywhere at all. This is because happiness and unhappiness are part of the territory exclusive to the mind. They belong to the mind, like flowers and weeds belong to the garden. The fact that flowers and weeds exist proves that a garden exists. In just the same way, the fact that happiness and unhappiness exist proves that the mind exists. The discovery that you cannot point to happiness or unhappiness shows that you cannot locate the mind in three-dimensional space. The three dimensional space is within the mind. The mind contains the whole world.

40. When you look at the world, you may feel that religion is threatened. If you look at yourself, then science is threatened.

41. He who knows, doesn’t say; he who says doesn’t know.

42. Each one of us can only know a part of the whole that constitutes truth. When we hold on to our limited knowledge as absolute truth, we are like one of the blind men feeling a part of the elephant and inferring that their own partial experience is the truth, all else being wrong. Instead of blind faith, we can have dialogue. Rather than opposing our data, we should combine our experience. Then we are likely to know more truth.

43. Let each one of us learn through the lessons of life the soft heart of our beliefs. Let us each be a maestro of the love within our religion. Then having learned our religion well, let us go further and learn how to play, like members of an orchestra, with other religions in harmony together. That would be the most beautiful thing.

44. We all need to grant ourselves the time and the peace to climb that spiritual pyramid inside each one of us, to rise above and beyond the tangled jungle that is our life, even if only for a short time. then we may see for ourselves our place among things, the overview of our life journey, and gaze unimpeded at the infinite in every direction.

45. If you want to get the big stones in, you have to put them in first. So what are the ‘big stones’ in your jar? What is most important to fit into your life? Please ensure that you schedule in your ‘precious big stones’  first, or you will never get around to them, to fit them into your day.

46. The most precious big stone in our lives is inner happiness. when we have no happiness inside us, we have no happiness to give to others. For those who believe that ” When I get this, I will be happy”, their happiness will be just a dream in the future. It will be like a rainbow one or two steps ahead, but forever just out of reach. They will never in their life, or after, realize happiness.

46. Read this story of The Mexican Fisherman. Why do we believe that we have to work so hard and get rich first, before we can find contentment?

47.  Wanting has no end to it. Even one billion dollars is not enough, nor one trillion dollars. But freedom from wanting has an end. It is when you want nothing. Contentment is the only time you have enough.

48. There are two kinds of freedom in the world: freedom of desires, and the freedom from desires. Freedom of desires is what the material world encourages. It encourages you to realise your desires, as far as this is possible.  However most do not feel free in such an environment. Freedom from desires is what spirituality teaches. It celebrates contentment, peace that is free from desires. Paradoxically, people feel free in such an environment.

49. There are many advantages ro being a fish in an aquarium. True they are not free to follow their desires and swim here and there, but they are free from so many dangers and discomforts. It is the same with people who lead a virtuous life. True, they are not free to follow their desires and indulge here and there, but they are free from so many dangers and discomforts. Which type of freedom would you like?

50. Any place you don’t want to be, no matter how comfortable, is a prison for you. This is the real meaning of the word ‘prison’. It may be a job, relationship, body or place. A prison is any situation you don’t want to be. If you change your perception into ‘wanting to be there’ and accept the situation, then it no longer feels like a prison. When you are content to be here, you are free. Freedom is content to be where you are. Prison is wanting to be somewhere else. The free world is the world experienced by one who is content. the real freedom is freedom from desire, never freedom of desire.

51. Laugh at yourself when you make a mistake.

52. One who gets angry is certainly not enlightened. Enlightened people  also do not have preferences.

53. Our ego causes us to misjudge other people.

54. We all make mistakes from time to time. Life is about learning to make our mistakes less often. We should be afraid of making mistakes. Otherwise we can never progress.

55. When you abandon your ego, then no one can diss you. Every time you remember what somebody says wrong about you, you allow them to disturb your peace. Just let it go. Do not allow other people to control your inner happiness.

56. If we quiet our thinking process a little, then our lives would flow much easier. Then rather than thinking about things we will do things. So rather than complaining just do it. The hardest part of anything in life is thinking about it.

57. To think that you will be happy by becoming something else is delusion. becoming something else just exchanges one form of suffering for another form of suffering. But when you are content with who you are now, junior or senior, married or single, rich or poor, then you are free of suffering.

58. When you get sick, either you will get better or you will die. Simple truth. Difficult to accept. when you get sick just accept the sickness. Then you will not add unpleasantness or guilt on top of the illness. When you visit sick people, just be normal with them rather than talk about their illness.

59. Death will happen. But do not fear it. Because no one can really die. We just change form. When somebody dies, we lose that person. Grief is what we add on to loss. Grief is only seeing what has been taken away from you. The celebration of a life is recognising all that we were blessed with, and feeling so very grateful.

60. There is no one to blame and no one to lay guilt on for the death of a young child. This is the nature of things. When the storm of death which inevitably blows through all lives, it takes away old, middle-aged and a few young people. Just like a storm takes away old, middle-aged and young leaves. Who can blame the storm. This helps us answer the reason of why some children die. The answer is the same very reason why a small number of young leaves must fall in a storm.

61. We all have four spouses: fame, wealth, family and karma. Fame is gone when you die, wealth can give you a lavish funeral, family can come till your graveside, but only your karma goes with you from life to life. So take care of your karma more than anything else.

62. Laughter makes your pain easier. Laughter releases endorphins and are nature’s painkillers. It enhances your immune system to fight off infections as well. So when life is painful, laugh. It will lessen the pain.

63. Some people simply don’t want to be free from trouble. If they haven’t enough problems of their own to worry about, then they tune in to the television soaps to worry about fictional characters’ problems. many take anxiety to be stimulating; they regard what is suffering to be good fun. they don’t want to be happy, because they are too attached to their burdens. So we just have to leave them in their lovely pile of dung.

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