Monday, June 2, 2014

Letting Go: A Reflection by Ajahn Candasirī

Ajahn Candasirī

Walking up to Dunruchan Stone, Perthshire,
Life is uncertain. It was this reflection that led the young prince, Siddhartha Gotama, to leave the apparent security of his family and the palace where he had grown up to search for a more reliable state of security and inner peace. However, many people may feel that what he discovered during his search is even more shocking. He had surrendered his position, relationships, and material comfort and made enormous efforts to subdue the energy of desire, all in an effort to find peace of mind—only to discover that very mind was not really ‘his’ at all! When, after those six years of strenuous effort, he reached that understanding, he was left with a state of unshakeable peace. He no longer had anything to worry about or to protect. There was no longer any reason to think of himself as a separate person with a ‘personality’ that needed to be maintained at all costs. He was free.

Appreciating the possibility for each one of us to find and know this for ourselves interests me greatly and glimpsing it—albeit fleetingly—is what keeps me walking this path. External happenings can be sudden, disturbing, and dramatic; they can be tragic and confusing. They also provide a stark reminder, and can help us to realise the fragility of ‘our world’; they can be an encouragement to keep inclining towards that state of inner stability. The questions arise: ‘But how on earth do we do it?’, ‘How can we experience that state for ourselves?’.

Ajahn Chah* put it nicely: ‘If you let go a little, you will have a little peace. If you let go a lot, you will have a lot of peace. If you let go completely, you will have complete peace,’ and one might respond by saying, ‘but does this mean that I just give up altogether and let things fall apart, without caring or trying to do anything?’ Well, no—because we do care. There are many things that are important to us, and we would like to make sure they are looked after in a responsible way, so we do our best to fulfill those responsibilities. But the key question is: Can we do that with a heart of letting go? We need to begin in small ways, noticing how we respond when things don’t go according to plan. Are we angry or discouraged? Can we quietly accept the feeling of not getting our way—however noble or altruistic our aspiration might be? Taking a deep breath in, letting the out-breath happen gently, touching the earth like the Buddha, we find an inner steadiness to continue living life in a way that is helpful both to ourselves and to others—we incline away from the habitual responses to react, struggle, or to blame the universe for our unhappiness.

Shrine room at Milntuim Hermitage
Practising letting go in small ways allows us to experience life in a fresh way. No longer obsessed with trying to keep things the way that is familiar or comfortable for us, we are free to witness the flow of life: to notice how ‘bad’ times become ‘good’ times; ‘good’ times get better—or change to ‘bad’! Just as the weather, especially here in Scotland, is in a constant state of change. There are bright clear moments, sudden downpours, mists, and gale-force winds. While inconvenient at times, it’s not ‘bad’; we don’t waste our precious energy with blaming or trying to control it. Instead, our effort is to support an attitude of clarity and calm that can adapt to whatever comes along. Fearful holding on is replaced with bright curiosity. Knowing that change is inevitable we love and care for each other, cherishing the moments we share, bearing the sorrow of separation with courage and dignity. This is life. We can’t freeze it or hold on to it—there is no choice other than to struggle, or to let go.

*Ajahn Chah was a highly respected monk of the Theravada Forest Tradition in Thailand, upon whose teachings the way of practice at Milntuim Hermitage is based.

From the Milntuim Hermitage Newsletter (Scotland), Issue 3, Winter 2014, reprinted with permission.

Ajahn Candasiri

Ajahn Candasiri has been a monastic for more than three decades and is one of the four founding nuns of the Siladhara Order at Amaravati and Chithurst monasteries in England. She was born in Scotland in 1947 and brought up as a Christian. After university, she trained and worked as an occupational therapist. In 1977 an interest in meditation led her to meet Ajahn Sumedho shortly after his arrival from Thailand. Inspired by his teachings and example, she began her monastic training at Chithurst as one of the first four anagarikas. 
Within the monastic community, she has been actively involved in the evolution of the nuns’ vinaya training. Ajahn Candasiri has guided many meditation retreats for laypeople, and particularly enjoys teaching young people and participating in Christian/Buddhist dialogue. Recently, she has been active in establishing a hermitage for the nuns' community, Milntuim Hermitage in Perthshire, Scotland. The hermitage is a branch of the Western Forest Sangha group of monasteries, affiliated with the Ajahn Chah tradition of northeast Thailand. The hermitage consists of a well-equipped house with a commanding outlook over Glen Artney towards the Highlands, and about twelve and a half acres of steep woodland with a spectacular burn (stream) running the length of the land. The property was purchased in 2011 to serve as a residence for siladharas and anagarikas (novices) from the Western Forest Sangha. The intention is to provide a place for a small group of nuns to live in a quiet, contemplative atmosphere as an alternative to the larger, more complex monasteries they usually reside in.

All photos courtesy of Ajahn Candarisi

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