Life COMPASS [working title for English translation of Khemthit Chiiwit] by Dhidinad Na Phatalung
PART I: STOP A MOMENT…and REFLECT
Stop a moment…and reflect
Draw in a deep breath…release it slowly;
take sense of your heart-and-mind;
ask yourself, is this heart-and-mind becoming weary?
We sense our hearts-and-minds reach out and cling to the letters on this page--but not so easily do we sense bare thoughts and feelings in our hearts-and-minds. Our hearts-and-minds, our jai, roam unaware entangling themselves non-stop with the myriad matters and objects that surround us. And, just as our jai start to become weary and irresolute, even so will our jai wind themselves back up in order to continue the moving, looking, listening, and thinking we have been doing all along. We are each stuck in our own living pattern.
Our hearts-and-minds miss in their attempts to address problems. They head unblinkingly in the wrong direction. We are under strain not just today but our whole lives as we compel ourselves daily to be on the go morning till night. Like rollercoasters our hearts-and-minds rise, fall, and sway sharply from side-to-side. We’re smiling one moment, irritated the next, content one moment, suffering the next, and so on; our hearts-and-minds oscillate endlessly.
Many of us drain ourselves this way from the day we are born to the day we die. Unless we actually understand certain life-truths--unless we understand the process of building within ourselves a firm, long-lasting happiness--any life goals we set will be in error. We will lead ourselves astray, like someone traveling to a new land without map, compass, or guide. And we all do this, one after the other, until our last days, even while witnessing our fellow humans in front of us stumble, fall down, and lose their way… How many of us will actually fulfill those goals we so lovingly formed for ourselves?
This book’s purpose is to help us discover those truths and use them to empower ourselves to lead full, invigorating lives.
The wise grandma
There once lived an old lady whose two grandsons had recently moved in with her. Every night after work the two young men went out to enjoy themselves, at the mall, the bar, the movie theatre, a ballgame, leaving their grandmother alone at home. When the grandmother told them they should stop going out so much, her grandsons both retorted that they work hard every day and deserve to go out and enjoy themselves.
Late one night the two returned from a pleasurable evening to find their grandmother walking around in front of the house, stopping now and then to bend over and look closely at the ground. She had lost her sewing needle, she told them.
“Where exactly do you think you dropped it, Grandma? We’ll help you find it right away!”
“I dropped it somewhere around my bed,” Grandma quickly answered.
“Huh? And then you came here in front of the house to find your needle, Grandma?” they asked, incredulous.
“Well, this area is well-lit by the street light. It’s the easiest place to search for my needle,” Grandma explained.
At that, both grandsons fell to the ground and rolled in laughter. “Grandma, dear, how did you become so confused? The needle fell in your bedroom, yet you come look for it out here under this street light!”
Grandma straightaway replied, “My dear boys, and why won’t I find it? It’s just like you two. You lose your sense of happiness, and then you go looking for it by going out every night, to the bar, the theatre, a ballgame, the mall, a restaurant…”
The source of the fire
Have you ever observed the driving force within our jai, the force that drives us to make a phone call, turn on the television, go out, open the refrigerator, think a certain thought? The force which can cause feelings of discouragement, of weariness with someone or something, of painful anxiety? This ever-present--but not necessarily overwhelming--restlessness in our mind-hearts is the driving force behind all we say, think, and do.
When we were infants this driving force within our jai pushed each of us to get our milk bottle somehow, to be picked up and carried, to get hold of a certain toy--to get whatever we needed to feel secure and comfortable.
As we grow older these impulses change accordingly. Substitute a Harley-Davidson or latest model cell phone for a toy doll, for example. Also, we rush to make money, build a home, buy a car, accrue power and standing among our peers. We seek desperately for love and companionship. Why do we do these things? We do them because we believe we’ll be happier. But happiness, whatever kind, never stays long. Moodiness, stress, anxiety, confusion come right back. No matter what we look for, or how much of it we look for, we will never fill the gaps in our jai.
We run around looking for people or objects or activities to say or do something that fits in with our needs and wants. If that doesn’t happen, tension grips us--it’s almost as if our entire lives were dependent on that one person, object, or activity meeting our needs. Our mind-hearts race up and down with each event in our lives. We are totally led by what is outside of us.
What should we do? Must we continue to “wing it”, pretending it’s simply a matter of adjusting our emotions? We’ll never be full, not until we observe ourselves closely and come to understand that the source of this fire that flares up and consumes our jai is a much smaller fire within our jai.
Can we learn to tend this smaller fire?
Why are we born?
Buddhists have believed for over 2500 years that humans are born in order to better themselves through the practice of internal self-development. Recent currents of Western psychological thought such as emotional intelligence are therefore hardly new. Their central message--for us to develop awareness of all that our eyes, ears, noses, tongues, bodies, and jai encounter and to learn how to manage our reactions to each sensation—has long been sermonized in Buddhist scriptures and practiced by Buddhist monks and laity. Nonetheless it looks like many of us in the East do nothing but wait for the West to re-introduce knowledge that had been in the East for millennia!
The pity with these learned texts is that they will never help us change our lives. The knowledge they present reaches our brains—but goes no further. Their words cannot change our behavior because they do not penetrate to our entire jai, our entire hearts-minds-and-spirits. Then and only then will we actually attempt to stop the flow of our lives…reflect…and begin the serious work of understanding our jai.
We humans are born to better ourselves through the practice of internal self-development. We are capable of sensing ourselves--of developing self-awareness. We are capable of deciding how to act whether in thought, speech, and/or action--of developing self-control. And we are capable of doing this all through a wisdom completely whole and completely free from external influences. We are quite different from animals that only act from raw instinct. What is pitiable, then, is that during our infancy we receive training only in matters like how to eat, speak, and walk on our own. And, while of school age, our training focuses on reading, writing, and other skill/knowledge sets connected to our getting a job or career and being able to make money on our own.
We do not, however, receive direct training on how to develop our inner human potential. Our life curriculum does not include drills on how to keep our jai free from the control of instinct and of mindless habit. We do not learn how to self-cultivate happiness in ourselves. We generally grow up just doing what everyone else is doing without really considering: what am I doing, why am I doing it this way, why am I doing it? We hurry along never stopping long enough to reflect, competing with each other at school and then later at work where we ponder: who makes more money? And we feel the pressure to marry and have children by a certain age. But we do not hurry, intentionally, to grow old, get sick, or die. Too late it suddenly hits us in our lives that we must grow old, become sick--and soon no longer exist.
And so in the life of one person inexorably racing through life towards her death never stopping long enough to consider: Is there more than making money to this life? Is there more to life than raising a family, performing some good deeds, committing a few bad ones, laughing and crying, happiness and suffering—and then dying? This rat race we live in only because it’s what everyone else is doing, is this right, is this good enough? Can this path truly bring us toward a firm happiness of body, mind, and spirit, the kind of happiness all humans have dreamt of?
The English Buddhist monk Chayasahro, student of LuangBu Chaa Suphattho and former head of the International Forest Monastery in northeastern Thailand, once described a picture he had seen posted somewhere. There was this cute, chubby, little boy, sitting at a table about to spoon up with gusto his bowl’s contents; the bowl, however, is filled with vomit and swarmed by flies. The caption below this image read “Several millions of flies on this earth, how can all of them make the same mistake?”
The truth illustrated here is that we, like the flies in the swarm, instinctively follow each other’s behavior as we hurtle through our span of time on earth, no matter how harmful or unbeneficial it may be. Just because everybody is doing the same thing the same way does not mean it is always right or good.
This very second, stop and reflect on how we have been carrying on our lives. Are we certain that this way of living by keeping in step with each other will lead us toward that deep, permanent joy we’ve long dreamed of? Should we push self-development to the wayside in order to focus on making money and being a part of society, on being acceptable, even though we know that no matter how much we put our hearts into something, everything in life--family, work, possessions, romance, social standing--is capable of shifting or changing within the blink of an eye--always. Nothing external is ever firmly with us.
Our lives are our lives. Each one of us must make the opportunity to choose the path of our own life with complete awareness and in full confidence that this is what I want to do and this is the way I shall do it. And when we live the way we set ourselves out to live we do so knowing and feeling with calm certainty that this path I have set for myself is leading me toward my most essential life-goals.
In Thailand, the heart and the mind are generally conceived as one entity, not two clearly separate ones as in general Western thought; in Thai, jai, jit,and jit-jai are used interchangeably to mean “heart, mind, and spirit”.
Thai Buddhist monk known for his strict practice of the dhamma; northeastern Thailand is generally known for its forest monasteries and strict dhamma practice.
Exercise your inner compass:
Try observing in your mind-heart the arising of a thought, what it leads you to do, and why…
Half our life is spent trying to find something to do with the time we have rushed through life trying to save.
About the time one learns to make the most of life, most of it is gone.
Exercise your inner compass:
Before continuing this journey, let each one of us stop…and reflect: all my life what have I been doing—and why? Try writing down your observations; they may look something like this…
Endlessly fixating on increasing the amount of money in my bank account in order to attain a feeling of security—though the stress never lessens
Elbowing my way through my career hoping that when I reach number one I’ll attain personal contentment—but success seems to move further away each time I move closer
Working from dawn till dusk in order for my family to live comfortably and securely—but hardly finding the time and energy to enjoy myself with my family
Enjoying myself in every possible way to keep my spirits elevated—but then feeling even more empty, downhearted, and apprehensive
Stop…and reflect one random second in your day: what am I doing—and why?
Conversing with friends on the cell phone or watching TV because I cannot decide on what to do, because I’m feeling lonely, or because I just cannot keep still
Moving from one spot to another because I’m listless, snacking because I’m bored or lonely, talking with someone because I don’t know anything else better to do
Criticizing others in order to make myself feel better than them
Looking for something to do all the time in order to make myself feel useful and valuable—while becoming more weary, more irritable, and more depleted
Watch over and observe closely each moment over a period of time: What am I about to do—and why? Follow your emotions…look into your ever-changing heart-and-mind and, patiently, sense the driving force at work within.