“You talk to yourself too much. You are not unique in that. Everyone of us does. We maintain our world with our inner dialogue. A man or woman of knowledge is aware that the world will change completely as soon as they stop talking to themselves.” -Carlos Castaneda
In order to cultivate right attitudes we have to be mindful of our motivations – are they skillful? Unhealthy patterns lead to unhappiness. Hence we need to redirect our thoughts in positive directions such as letting go, loving-kindness and compassion.
Last week we investigated letting go – the habit of clinging to the people, ideas, beliefs and opinions and things in our lives. Another aspect of Skillful thinking is cultivating positive thoughts to counter the negative states of mind. We replace angry or hostile thoughts with thoughts of loving friendliness or metta which is a natural capacity – a sense of interconnectedness with all beings. As we wish peace, happiness and joy for ourselves, we know that all beings must wish the same.
While qualities of metta are innate, it is difficult to practice when we are tense, anxious or worried. So the first step is to learn to relax, which can be achieved by practices such as yoga and mindfulness meditation. Through this there is the possibility of letting go of our differences with others. As we learn to relax and let go of negativity, we begin to recognise the unskillful thought patterns and not let them dominate our minds.
The young monk and the old lady
In a little house in India lived an old lady and her young daughter. Nearby in a hut lived a young meditating monk. Out of respect, the old lady called the monk her son and asked her daughter to treat him as her brother. Every morning the monk went to the village to collect cooked food for his midday meal. He never forgot to stop at the little house to get the small quantity of food that old lady and her daughter offered him with great affection and devotion. Every afternoon he returned to the village too see his supporters and encourage them to practice meditation and live peaceful lives.
One afternoon on his way to the village, the monk overheard a conversation between the old lady and her daughter. The old lady told her daughter, “Darling, tomorrow your brother will come to our house on his alms round. Here is some ghee, honey, rice, spices and vegetables. Make sure that you prepare a delicious meal for him.”
The daughter asked, “Where will you go tomorrow?”
“I plan to spend the day meditating in the woods.” replied the mother.
“But what will you eat?” Asked the daughter.
“I will make a little rice soup from today’s leftover rice. That is enough for me. But make sure that you make a good meal for your brother and offer it to him when he comes to our house.” Replied the mother.
Hearing this conversation, the monk thought, “This old lady loves and respects me so much that she ordered her daughter to make a delicious meal for me when she herself is going to eat a simple rice soup made out of stale rice. I don’t deserve that delicious meal until I attain full enlightenment. I must make myself worthy of her loving gift. This is the time for me to make unremitting effort to liberate myself from all negative states of mind.”
The monk decided not to go to the village again to collect food until he attained full liberation of mind. He hung up his upper robe and sat down on his meditation seat making the following resolution: “Let my blood dry up. Let my flesh wither. Let this body be reduced to a skeleton. I shall not get up from this seat without attaining the final stage of liberation.”
With that vow, the monk meditated the entire day, night, and continued onto next day. Just before the time came for him to go on his alms round, he attained his goal.
Then the monk put on his robes and went to the village taking his alms bowl. When he visited the little house, the daughter offered him the delicious meal.
She waited anxiously for her mother to return home from her day’s meditation. As soon as she arrived, the daughter ran up to her and said, “Mother, I have never seen our monk so serene, composed, radiant, calm and so beautiful.” The mother replied, “my dear, he must have attained true freedom, liberation from negative states of mind. We are very fortunate to have such a monk so close to our home. But if we really honor him, we must follow in his footsteps. From now on, let us meditate more vigorously so that we might achieve the same state.”
So both mother and daughter meditated until they too reached higher states of attainment. Many villagers followed their example and attained states of enlightenment. Such was the far-reaching effect of the loving-friendliness of an old lady.