Here are a couple of extracts from talks given by Achaan Chah (1918-1992) – an influential teacher in the Thai forest monk tradition of Theravada Buddhism. He was a particularly important teacher of ‘insight meditation’ (vipassana) – that is, mindful meditation.
“In my own practice [….] I took the straightforward teachings the Buddha gave and simply began to study my own mind [….] When you practice, observe yourself. Then gradually knowledge and vision will arise of themselves. If you sit in meditation and want it to be this way or that, you had better stop right there. Do not bring ideals or expectations to your practice. Take your studies, your opinions, and store them away. / You must go beyond all words, all symbols, all plans for your practice. Then you can see for yourself the truth, arising right here.”
“The heart of the path is so simple. No need for long explanations. Give up clinging to love and hate, just rest with things as they are [….] Do not try to become anything. Do not make yourself into anything. Do not be a meditator. Do not become enlightened. When you sit, let it be. When you walk, let it be. Grasp at nothing. Resist nothing.”
In order to see clearly who we are, and how we are, in the world, Achaan Chah, emphasises non-attachment – not attaching ourselves to ideas about meditation, or abstractions of any kind, or aspirations to become enlightened (attachment to a potential future), or to the writings of scholars and teachers, or to opinions one might have about meditation practice or about the Buddhist path. All of these things tend to cloud, confuse or muddle the mind – hindering clarity of observation. Instead of just “resting with things as they are”, we are caught up in notions of how things should be (or once were). Plans, preconceptions, opinions and desires come between the sitter/meditator and the sitting/meditating.
Instead of trying to control the mind, to suppress thoughts or induce a particular state of mind, we need just to let the mind be, to observe it as it is, to experience things as they are. In this way, we begin to observe, calmly and without disturbance, impermanence – the procession of phenomena coming and going – and the interdependence of all things and events – the endless activity of cause and effect as it continually makes and remakes our universe.
NB. Chah’s descriptions of insight meditation, seem to echo very closely descriptions by other teachers of zazen (Zen sitting meditation) as ‘beginner’s mind’ (Shunryu Suzuki), or, ‘don’t-know mind’ (Seung Sahn). There may even be parallels with the notion of the ‘cloud of unknowing’ in the Christian tradition.
Jack Kornfield & Paul Breiter, eds. A Still Forest Pool: The Insight Meditation of Achaan Chah, Quest Books, 1985.