Opening the Door of Your Heart is a series of uplifting and interesting stories collected by Ajahn Brahm in the thirty years of his monastic life. The stories are filled with wisdom, compassion and love, and they convey the path of how the Buddhist art of mindful living and insight can lead us to the true happiness in life. Mindful living brings increased sensitivity that helps us regain control of our lives and acquire the freedom to create our own true happiness. Brahm integrates a great deal of real life experiences, not to mention his British humor, into his teachings so as to accommodate to the diversity of Buddhist practitioners all over the world. It is no wonder that his teachings are so popular worldwide.
We sentient beings are all in a constant, and yet very often futile, pursuit of true happiness in life. In our everyday life, we try every single attempt to avoid sufferings and try to seek pseudo-happiness in our surroundings and belongings. Brahm’s purpose in writing this book is to give us an answer on an effective path to find true happiness in the hope that “they (the stories) help change your life for the better, just as they have for so many others” (p. 3). Suffering is inevitable, but if we can cultivate the skillful means to effectively deal with suffering, we can transform the sufferings and initiate insight, which could eventually lead to the true happiness in life.
The book was first named Who Ordered This Truckload of Dung?: Inspiring Stories for Welcoming Life’s Difficulties when it was first published in 2005. This was based on a story in the book titled A Truck Load of Dung. In the story, the readers are asked to imagine if after having a wonderful afternoon, we went home only to find a huge truck-load of dung dumped in front of our door! How were we supposed to respond? The dung is a metaphor for the unpleasant things in life that happen to everyone and which we have little or no control over. Brahm suggests that we can react pessimistically by either “sinking into depression, negativity or anger” (p. 92) or we can “welcome the tragedies as fertilizers for life” (p. 93). If we pause to contemplate deeply into the true nature of sufferings, we could derive insight into sufferings and respond with skillful means to release ourselves from the sufferings or even transform them into positive aspects in life. As Brahm says, “The only difference between a happy person and one who gets depressed is how they respond to disasters” (p. 91). So even suffering can teach us to be happy!
The name of the book is based on Brahm’s father’s loving words to him when Brahm was a kid: “Son, whatever you do in your life, know this: The door of my heart will always be open to you” (p. 25). Our hearts are filled with unconditional love like a father’s love to his son, and Brahm suggests that we should open the door of this heart both to others and to ourselves, like what the Bible says “love thy neighbor as thy self” (p. 28). This unconditional love removes the negativity in us and reveals our true beautiful nature. It prevents and resolves many sufferings in life like guilt and anger, and improves understanding between people. It enhances our capacity to appreciate the positive aspects of life.
In this book, Brahm uses interesting stories to convey the wisdom of Buddhist teachings: “A story, with all its array of meanings and richness of detail, is recognizably much closer to real life. That is why we relate more easily to stories than to abstract theories” (p. 1). The stories cover a wide range of subjects, such as the sufferings of guilt, anger and fear, and the positive aspects of life of love and commitment. Many are Brahm’s personal stories of learning from his daily life challenges. This is the kind of book that you will read again and again as Brahm says: “Each one (story) carries many levels of meaning, so the more you read them, the more truths are revealed” (p. 2).
Brahm’s stories cover a wide range of Buddhist teachings on dealing with sufferings and they teach us some steps to handle sufferings as follows:
1. Know that sufferings are inevitable
2. Accept and acknowledge sufferings
3. Use mindfulness to contemplate into the true nature of sufferings
4. Through contemplation, initiate insight and wisdom
5. Skillful means to deal with sufferings
6. Release from sufferings or transform them, this achieving true happiness
7. Gain more wisdom to deal with future sufferings!
If sufferings are not dealt with skillfully, it could induce a whole chain of further sufferings and chronic dysfunctions! If we can follow Brahm’s instructions on being mindful of our phenomena, we can reduce many of our unnecessary sufferings in our everyday life.
In our hectic world, we can get so carried away that we choose to fall asleep and let our automatic pilot takes control of our life. We only react to events around us based on our old habits of thinking. Our sensitivity becomes so numb towards the beauty in life, and we feel like we have no choice or control over our seemingly inevitable suffering. However, as Brahm suggests, by opening the door of our heart, we reconnect with the beauty in life and become mindful of our thoughts and surroundings.
Brahm writes and concludes with a beautiful story called “The Worm and his Lovely Pile of Dung.” It is about two monks who are best friends and after they die, one becomes a heavenly being living in a beautiful world and the other one becomes a worm living in dung! The heavenly being tries 108 times to save the worm from the dung but the worm refuses to leave the dung as he enjoys the dung so much! Brahm concludes: “Thus ends the hundred and eight stories told in this book.”