My teacher, Shwe Oo Min Sayadaw, would come into the dharma hall once every morning during one of the sitting sessions. He would make some brief, very pithy comments that I would love and found very helpful in my practice.

One particular morning when he came in and began to talk, I was straining to tune into his words, as his voice was very soft and low-pitched. I was on the right side of the dharma hall, and my teacher was at the front and to my left. On my right, outside of the dharma hall, was a path that villagers used as a shortcut through the monastery. While we were all sitting quietly and listening to Sayadawgyi, a sudden noise erupted from the direction of the path outside. I felt heat rise, and anger started to burn in my chest. “Who is making all that damn noise?” I thought. I was straining to hear my teacher and tune into his words, but to no avail. The anger was beginning to erupt, and I was ready to cut loose.

Amid all this turmoil and chaos, a question emerged in my mind. “What is happening?” I had been so peaceful and meditative a moment ago, and suddenly there was chaos. This piqued my interest, and I began to watch my mind. I saw it racing to the left to listen to Sayadawgyi and then racing to the right to curse and swear at the imbeciles who were causing the ruckus outside; then it raced again to the left because I wanted to hear my teacher’s words so much, but I could not. I was so angry. Where was the calm that was there just minutes ago? What was happening inside?

This wanting to know and investigate what was happening in my mind was right thinking (samma-sankampa). Then came the realization: there was attachment to the sound to my left, as well as monumental aversion to the sounds on my right and the idiots outside. After this realization, I saw that sound is just sound. When this was understood, there was no longer clinging to my teacher’s words or aversion to the noise outside. Both were just sounds, nature. Understanding this, the mind became centered and calm.  

From this episode, I also realized a formula, which I gave a name: the pendulum formula. When the mind is attached to any experience, even to the smallest degree, and another experience thwarts or interrupts the first one, aversion will arise to match the degree of attachment. So if there is 65 degrees of attachment, there will instantly be 65 degrees of aversion, and so on.

This is how meditation happens: with interest and inquiry. If you are ready when defilements arise, the lesson will come and you will understand fully. The role of awareness is the gathering of data. In the incident above, there was a sudden desire to know. Awareness played the role of knowing everything that was happening. It knew the mind agitated and going back and forth; it knew all the feelings and activities in the body and mind.

When we have enough data for the problem at hand, the solution will always come. When mindfulness is absent, we can only be aware of gross-level objects. Right now we have awareness and stability of mind, but is this a gross or subtle level of awareness? Sharp awareness can see the inner workings of the mind, but partial awareness will never see the causes that are present. When we go from a gross level to a subtle level, we can say conditions are complete. This is when we can understand the nature of our minds.

From When Awareness Becomes Natural by Sayadaw U Tejaniya ©2016 by Sayadaw U Tejaniya. Photographs ©2016 Zack Hessler. Reprinted in arrangement with Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.shambhala.com

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