Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Joy of Still, Flowing Water

Ajahn Chah's wisdom has been seeping through my mind, helping me see with greater clarity what true meditation is really about - from Living Dhamma, chapter on Still, Flowing Water:
You must allow your mind to fully experience things, allow them to flow and consider their nature. How should you consider them? See them as Transient, Imperfect and Ownerless. It's all uncertain. "This is so beautiful, I really must have it." That's not a sure thing. "I don't like this at all"... tell yourself right there, "Not sure!" Is this true? Absolutely, no mistake. But just try taking things for real..."I'm going to get this thing for sure"... You've gone off the track already. Don't do this. No matter how much you like something, you should reflect that it's uncertain.
Some kinds of food seem so delicious, but still you should reflect that it's not a sure thing. It may seem so sure, it's so delicious, but still you must tell yourself, "not sure!" If you want to test out whether it's sure or not, try eating your favorite food every day. Every single day, mind you. Eventually you'll complain, "This doesn't taste so good anymore." Eventually you'll think, "Actually I prefer that kind of food." That's not a sure thing either! You must allow things to flow, just like the in and out breaths. There has to be both the in breath and the out breath, the breathing depends on change. Everything depends on change like this.
. . . Start the practice for your own mind and body, seeing them as impermanent. Everything else is the same. Keep this in mind when you think the food is so delicious... you must tell yourself..."Not a sure thing!" You have to slug it first. But usually it just slugs you every time, doesn't it? If you don't like anything you just suffer over it. This is how things slug us. "If she likes me, I like her," they slug us again. You never get a punch in! You must see it like this. Whenever you like anything just say to yourself, "This is not a sure thing!" You have to go against the grain somewhat in order to really see the Dhamma.
. . . While sitting in meditation, some incident might arise. Before that one is settled another one comes racing in. Whenever these things come up, just tell yourself, "not sure, not sure." Just slug it before it gets a chance to slug you.
Now this is the important point. If you know that all things are impermanent, all your thinking will gradually unwind. When you reflect on the uncertainty of everything that passes, you'll see that all things go the same way. Whenever anything arises, all you need to say is, "Oh, another one!"
Have you ever seen flowing water?... have you ever seen still water?... If your mind is peaceful it will be just like still, flowing water. Have you ever seen still, flowing water? There! You've only ever seen flowing water and still water, haven't you? But you've never seen still, flowing water. Right there, right where your thinking cannot take you, even though it's peaceful you can develop wisdom. Your mind will be like flowing water, and yet it's still. It's almost as if it were still, and yet it's flowing. So I call it "still, flowing water." Wisdom can arise here.
This morning I experienced firsthand the joy of still, flowing water. From quiet mind, all into witnessing the succession of phenomena unfolding inside, and my reactions to them. With detached impartiality and wise knowing.

Vignette from morning sitting:
peaceful moment with just breath, pleasure, subtle clinging, awareness of buried suffering from transient nature, detachment, easier transition into subsequent pain in belly, pain, aversion, awareness of temporary nature like anything else, letting go, another quiet break, pleasure again, clinging even less, full knowing of pleasure nature, not as great as it seems, jarring noise, welcomed, including slight aversion (slighter than usual), noise is not mine, another transient phenomena, not worth getting hung up on, pleasure from peace again, . . .
Each moment, a teaching opportunity, a validation of the Four Noble Truths . . .


  1. Not sure....a very good mantra indeed. I might start using this going forward. Right now I have simply used 'thinking.' For example, when I'm meditating and I notice that I move away from my breath and get swept away with my thoughts I bring myself back by saying 'thinking.' This is also good when I find myself judging, whether it's a thought about another person, place or thing. I simply tell myself 'thinking.' 'Not sure' is a wonderful phrase to use as well for nothing is for certain.

  2. Thanks Nate. I am a big fan of Ajahn Chah! The old man's got so much wisdom, lying right there in all his roughness. I find his 'not sure' mantra most helpful for evening out happy and unhappy experiences, aligning them both into the stream of impermanence.

  3. Yep, I just label the thoughts, "thinking," and keep on going. If the thought provokes unpleasant emotions, as they all seem to do right now, I remind myself of total transience. It's keeping me sane!

  4. Just wondering. Do you grant pleasant emotions same treatment? :)