This past weekend was a long ordeal of one physical pain after the other. Flu-like symptoms from typhoid shot, layered upon flare-up of chronic lower back-ache, on top of new pain from heel spur. What to do, but give into tiredness, and resulting dullness from mind? I tried to meditate, first sitting, then lying down, but did not have the energy to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time.
Now that I have regained happiness in the body, and alertness of mind, I can investigate further, so that I am better prepared the next time around. In his book, 'Living Dhamma', Ajahn Chah provides the guidance I am looking for. Here are some key excerpts:
We must be able to be at peace with the body, no matter what state it is in. The Buddha taught that we should ensure that it's only the body that is locked up in jail and not the mind be imprisoned along with it. Now as your body begins to run down and wear out with age, don't resist, but also don't let your mind deteriorate along with it. Keep the mind separate. Give energy to the mind by realizing the truth of the way things are. The Lord Buddha taught that this is the nature of the body, it can't be any other way. Having been born it gets old and sick and then it dies. This is a great truth that you are presently witnessing. Look at the body with wisdom and realize this.
. . . So the Buddha taught us to probe and examine the body, from the soles of the feet up to the crown of the head, and then back down to the feet again. Just take a look at the body. What sort of things do you see? Is there anything intrinsically clean there? Can you find any abiding essence? This whole body is steadily degenerating. The Buddha taught us to see that it doesn't belong to us. It's natural for the body to be this way, because all conditioned phenomena are subject to change. How else would you have it? In fact there is nothing wrong with the way the body is. It's not the body that causes suffering, it's wrong thinking. When you see things in the wrong way, there's bound to be confusion.
It's like the water of a river. It naturally flows downhill, it never flows uphill. That's its nature. If a person was to go and stand on the river bank and want the water to flow back uphill, he would be foolish. Wherever he went his foolish thinking would allow him no peace of mind. He would suffer because of his wrong view, his thinking against the stream. If he had right view he would see that the water must inevitably flow downhill, and until he realized and accepted that fact he would be bewildered and frustrated.
The river that must flow down the gradient is like your body. Having been young your body's become old and is meandering towards its death. Don't go wishing it were otherwise, it's not something you have the power to remedy. The Buddha told us to see the way things are and then let go of our clinging to them. Take this feeling of letting go as your refuge. Keep meditating even if you feel tired and exhausted. Let your mind be with the breath. Take a few deep breaths and then establish the attention on the breath, using the mantra word Bud-dho. Make this practice continual. The more exhausted you feel the more subtle and focused your concentration must be, so that you can cope with any painful sensations that arise. When you start to feel fatigued then bring all your thinking to a halt, let the mind gather itself together and then turn to knowing the breath. Just keep up the inner recitation, Bud-dho, Bud-dho.
. . . You can't do anything about the way the body is. You can beautify it a little, make it attractive and clean for a while, like the young girls who paint their lips and let their nails grow long, but when old age arrives, everybody's in the same boat. That's the way the body is, you can't make it any other way. What you can improve and beautify is the mind.
Anyone can build a house of wood and bricks, but the Buddha taught that that sort of home is not our real home, it's only nominally ours. It's home in the world and it follows the ways of the world. Our real home is inner peace. An external, material home may well be pretty but it is not very peaceful. There's this worry and then that, this anxiety and then that. So we say it's not our real home, it's external to us. Sooner or later we'll have to give it up. it's not a place we can live in permanently because it doesn't truly belong to us, it belongs to the world. Our body is the same. We take it to be a self, to be "me" or "mine," but in fact it's not really so at all, it's another worldly home. Your body has followed its natural course from birth, until now it's old and sick, and you can't forbid it from doing that. That's the way it is. Wanting it to be any different would be as foolish as wanting a duck to be like a chicken. When you see that that's impossible — that a duck must be a duck and a chicken must be a chicken, and that the bodies have to get old and die — you will find courage and energy. However much you want the body to go on lasting, it won't do that.
. . . Even if you don't let go, everything is starting to leave you anyway. Can you see that, how all the different parts of your body are trying to slip away? Take your hair; when you were young it was thick and black. Now it's falling out. It's leaving. Your eyes used to be good and strong but now they're weak, your sight is unclear. When your organs have had enough they leave, this isn't their home. When you were a child your teeth were healthy and firm, now they're wobbly, or you've got false ones. Your eyes, ears, nose, tongue — everything is trying to leave because this isn't their home. You can't make a permanent home in conditions, you can only stay for a short time and then you have to go. It's like a tenant watching over his tiny little house with failing eyes. His teeth aren't so good, his eyes aren't so good, his body's not so healthy, everything is leaving.
. . . So you needn't worry about anything because this isn't your real home, it's only a temporary shelter. Having come into this world you should contemplate its nature. Everything there is is preparing to disappear. Look at your body. Is there anything there that's still in its original form? Is your skin as it used to be? Is your hair? They aren't the same, are they? Where has everything gone? This is nature, the way things are. When their time is up, conditions go their way. In this world there is nothing to rely on — it's an endless round of disturbance and trouble, pleasure and pain. There's no peace.
. . . When you see that there's nothing real or substantial you can rely on you'll feel wearied and disenchanted. Being disenchanted doesn't mean you are averse, the mind is clear. It sees that there's nothing to be done to remedy this state of affairs, it's just the way the world is. Knowing in this way you can let go of attachment, letting go with a mind that is neither happy nor sad, but at peace with conditions through seeing their changing nature with wisdom. Anicca vata sankhara — all conditions are impermanent.
To put it simply, impermanence is the Buddha. If we truly see an impermanent condition we'll see that it's permanent. It's permanent in the sense that its subjection to change is unchanging. This is the permanence that living beings possess. There is continual transformation, from childhood through to old age, and that very impermanence, that propensity to change, is permanent and fixed. If you look at it like this your heart will be at ease. It's not just you who has to go through this, it's everyone
I needed that shot of wisdom. The path is more clear now. While the body may be a lost cause, the mind is not. It is up to me to make peace with the reality of impermanent body, starting now with the contemplation of Ajahn Chah's teachings.