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Peace of Mind and How to Achieve It

Amidst the peaceful, tranquil ambience of the 6-day meditation retreat “Peace of Mind and How to Achieve It”, a charismatic and spirited voice roams the main shrine and alleyways of Wang Fat Ching She in Tsuen Wan. Yet his style of teaching is by no means conventional; in some of his talks you hear the words ‘Shit’, ‘shut-up’ and other taboo words uttered, in addition to his confession of swearing as a Buddhist monk, which really makes one wonders who has got the audacity to say such insolent words in Buddhism lectures? Make no more guesses, for he is the legendary Caucasian monk Ajahn Brahmavamso, branded by his trademark smile.

Ajahn Brahm is the great disciple of the late Ajahn Chah of the Thai forest tradition. As a Theravada Bhikkhu and a holder of a degree from a prestigious university, Ajahn Brahm does have a great passion for propagating the Dhamma, which started more than 30 years ago, at the young age when he first started his career as a school teacher.

I had the honour to witness his creativity and wit with which he teaches the Dhamma during the 6-day retreat, just one of the many events in his 2011 Hong Kong Tour, his second visit to Asia’s world city. Ajahn Brahm puts his effort to make meditation an interesting thing for people.  That is, how to make meditation, a profound practice of every Buddhist tradition, more fun? Over the past few days I observed some of the traits for Ajahn Brahm’s success as a meditation teacher.

Good Stories, with humour

One of the methods he uses to keep the audience’s attention focused is telling stories, many of which are derived from his own life as a Buddhist monk of more than 37 years. The most humorous ones are those about his blunders he has made in the past. Telling stories that make people laugh is a skillful means to capture the audience’s attention. To briefly recount his anecdotes he shared, there was one incident in which he mistook the deceased with the deceased’s wife at a funeral. At another wedding celebration, he naïvely asked a man of a grandfather’s age whether he was the groom’s father. Of course, the old man was in fact the groom himself!

The moral of the two anecdotes, as Ajahn Brahm tells, is to laugh with the circumstances when you make a fool of yourself. That way, you are not being laughed at, so there is no need to feel embarrassed.

Uses of Similes

Shopping Bag Simile

Imagine that one is holding two bags; one containing all your past experiences, terrible experiences you had to suffer or those that are dear to you; the other one with things that belong to the future, which are unforeseeable and uncertain.  The two bags are of no use during meditation, so let go the past and the future! The place where your future is being made is now, the present moment.  Be kind and compassionate to the present moment, whatever is happening.

Tips for Success in Meditation

The following are brief recounts of the teachings of Ajahn Brahm given during the retreat.

Let things go to give yourself peace. The correct way of doing meditation is “to let go, little by little,” explains Ajahn Brahm. “People are always controlling you, telling you do this, do that, so you don’t give yourself any peace.”

One should give a bit of silence to oneself. People often think too much. Instead of listening to thought, listen to the sounds. One should not pay attention to thoughts. Alternatively, feel the sensations in body, which come and go so quick that there is no time to think. Thinking is merely giving things name, which is not looking. One should practice silence awareness in the present moment. 

Now that one has attained a state of peace, one should have kindness to that peaceful moment, making it last longer. A re-emphasis is made here: let go of past and future, so one will dwell comfortably in the present moment.

At one time, in a village where Ajahn Brahm was staying, for three days there was loud music playing every night until 2 am, disturbing Ajahn Brahm in his sleep.   Being a monk, he needed to wake up at 3am, amounting to just an hour’s sleep for him. He and the other fellow monks attempted to ask the head of the village to end the booming sound earlier. With a negative response they received from the village head, the monks seek their teacher Ajahn Chah to ask the head on their behalf.   The answer they got from the sagacious master was “Monks, it’s not the noise that disturbs you, it’s you who disturb the noise.” Have no hatred for the noise; instead have kindness and compassion towards it, teaches Ajahn Brahm. “What we need is to cultivate is present moment awareness with mindfulness and compassion”. He further elaborates that it is the “unconditional mindfulness” –awareness of all things, good or bad, equally accepting with mindfulness—that is needed in order to live in peace.

Observing the Breath

The best way to achieve the “natural breath” is to be compassionate to the breath, on top of being aware of it.   “Your breath, as a living being has been looking after you since you first started living. Thank you to your breath for looking after you! Your breathing comes in and out so smoothly and easily”, says Ajahn Brahm. Moreover, having kindness to one’s breath is important, as this makes the breath “very beautiful, making it easier to watch”. In this regard, meditation is delightful, totally safe, a time to get lots of healings in the body.   

From the above recounts, his teaching methods are by no means comparatively traditional, nevertheless the contents are faithful to the Buddha’s original teachings, as one can trace back to the ?n?p?nasati Sutta, and his direct encounters with his teacher, Ajahn Chah, to whom he makes extensive references.

At the final day, the retreat participants gratefully expressed their enjoyment and peace they got from the 6-day event. Owing to the multitude spiritual benefits they have received from Ajahn Brahm, they are now ‘in debt’, which cannot be paid off just by showing their thankfulness to Ajahn Brahm. The man of great wisdom advised that to pay off the debt, one simply needed to share the gift of the Dhamma, the experiences, and kindness to others.

Ajahn Brahm.
Ajahn Brahm.

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