Sayadaw U Pandita

A heart that is ready for anything

When the Buddha was dying, he gave a final message to his beloved attendant Ananda, and to generations to come: “Be a lamp unto yourself, be a refuge to yourself. Take yourself to no external refuge.”

In his last words, the Buddha was urging us to see this truth: although you may search the world over trying to find it, your ultimate refuge is none other than your own being.

There’s a bright light of awareness that shines through each of us and guides us home, and we’re never separated from this luminous awareness, any more than waves are separated from ocean. Even when we feel most ashamed or lonely, reactive or confused, we’re never actually apart from the awakened state of our heart-mind.

This is a powerful and beautiful teaching. The Buddha was essentially saying: I’m not the only one with this light; all ordinary humans have this essential wakefulness, too. In fact, this open, loving awareness is our deepest nature. We don’t need to get somewhere or change ourselves: our true refuge is what we are. Trusting this opens us to the blessings of freedom.

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Buddhist monk, Sayadaw U. Pandita describes these blessings in a wonderful way: A heart that is ready for anything. When we trust that we are the ocean, we are not afraid of the waves. We have confidence that whatever arises is workable. We don’t have to lose our life in preparation. We don’t have to defend against what’s next. We are free to live fully with what is here, and to respond wisely.

You might ask yourself: “Can I imagine what it would be like, in this moment, to have a heart that is ready for anything?”

If our hearts are ready for anything, we can open to our inevitable losses, and to the depths of our sorrow. We can grieve our lost loves, our lost youth, our lost health, our lost capacities. This is part of our humanness, part of the expression of our love for life. As we bring a courageous presence to the truth of loss, we stay available to the immeasurable ways that love springs forth in our life.

If our hearts are ready for anything, we will spontaneously reach out when others are hurting. Living in an ethical way can attune us to the pain and needs of others, but when our hearts are open and awake, we care instinctively. This caring is unconditional—it extends outward and inward wherever there is fear and suffering.

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are free to be ourselves. There’s room for the wildness of our animal selves, for passion and play. There’s room for our human selves, for intimacy and understanding, creativity and productivity. There’s room for spirit, for the light of awareness to suffuse our moments. The Tibetans describe this confidence to be who we are as “the lion’s roar.”

If our hearts are ready for anything, we are touched by the beauty and poetry and mystery that fill our world.

When Munindraji, a vipassana meditation teacher, was asked why he practiced, his response was, “So I will see the tiny purple flowers by the side of the road as I walk to town each day.”

With an undefended heart, we can fall in love with life over and over every day. We can become children of wonder, grateful to be walking on earth, grateful to belong with each other and to all of creation. We can find our true refuge in every moment, in every breath.

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“The State of Mind Called Beautiful,” by Sayadaw U Pandita

The State of Mind Called Beautiful

Visiting IMS in the 90s, I heard U Pandita speak during a three-month retreat. His key image was a dying tree, its water supply cut off. It was actually a recommendation: remove the causes of kilesa (unwholesome reaction), and kill the kilesa tree. I found the image upsetting. Yet I was impressed with the man.

Kate Wheeler, who edits this new book, calls Sayadaw “a Buddhist version of fire and brimstone.” His style is certainly hard-hitting. Indeed, without the funny anecdotes in her preface showing his sincerity and depth of insight, one could take offence at Sayadaw’s moral injunctions, even dismiss him as simplistic: but one would be quite wrong.

What makes this book new and special is Sayadaw’s lively communication of the moral dimension of meditation training. Chapter One is an overview of Dharma training in which we are shown how lack of moral sensitivity “chars” and darkens the mind, making us reckless of the disturbing consequences of moral breaches. Sayadaw is particularly clear on the dark inner detail of our personal kilesas. For example: “if that person appears to be happily getting away with what they have done, one may well decide to take matters into one’s own hands, gaining satisfaction even from petty meannesses such as ignoring them.”

Writers on meditation rarely go into this territory, perhaps because of the popular wrong view that meditation is a one-stop practice through which we simply get high, bypassing any need for ethical consideration. Some meditation teachers feel that since people are generally good hearted, it is inappropriate to stress Buddhist ethics or precepts. This seems to be something of an avoidance. The reality is that the awareness induced by meditation often exposes our petty-mindedness in the most humiliating way.

Pointing out that nearly all of our outer problems are in fact caused by kilesa, in the following two chapters U Pandita presents two “Guardian” meditations that in particular protect from moral defilement. According to him, the essence of the first, the Buddha-anussati or recollection of the Buddha’s virtues, is the recognition that the Buddha is an enlightened being. We approach this recognition through a detailed enumeration of exactly why Buddhas are so amazing. This includes an illuminating discussion of the importance, for any Dharma teacher, of developing both wisdom and compassion. Sayadaw also comments interestingly on the relationship between a general lack of moral training and current world politics.

Metta or loving kindness, and the other brahmaviharas (compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity), are given detailed treatment. Issues such as the distinction between metta and selfish love (tanha-pema), and the near and far enemies of each stage of practice, are tackled in the context of each of the brahmavihara meditations. This chapter is very useful for practitioners of meditation and would on its own justify buying the book.

Chapters four and five are at least as useful, since here U Pandita gives an excellent presentation of insight meditation. Chapter four contains notes on helpful attitudes to practice, qualities necessary for success, suggestions for retreat schedules, and some basic instructions.

Chapter five is a “Technical Discussion of Satipatthana Vipassana” which is pure upadesha, commentary on practice arising straight from the master’s experience. I found this to be the best part of the book, offering much to reflect on. Sayadaw manages to communicate here his deep passion for mindfulness and insight, making it into an exciting prospect – it’s a rare and inspiring gift he has.

The book concludes with a Question/Answer session and a Pali-English glossary.

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