Meeting the Dharma Alone

A late Thai master's final advice on walking the path to enlightenment

Ajahn Chah

Spring Nude People may look at you and feel that your way of life, your interest in dharma, makes no sense. Others may say that if you want to practice dharma, you ought to ordain. Ordaining or not ordaining isn’t the crucial point. It’s how you practice.

Laypeople live in the realm of sensuality. They have families, money, and possessions, and are deeply involved in all sorts of activities. Yet sometimes they will gain insight and see dharma before monks and nuns do. Why is this? It’s because of their suffering from all these things. They see the fault and can let go. They can put it down after seeing clearly in their experience. Seeing the harm and letting go, they are able to make good sense of their position in the world and benefit others.

We ordained people, on the other hand, might sit here daydreaming about lay life, thinking how great it could be. “Oh yeah, I’d work my fields and make money, then I could have a nice family and a comfortable home.” We don’t know what it’s really like. The laypeople are out there doing it, breaking their backs in the fields, struggling to earn some money and survive. But for us, it’s only fantasy.

The laypeople live in a certain kind of thoroughness and clarity. Whatever they do, they really do it. Even getting drunk, they do it thoroughly and have the experience of what it actually is, while we can only imagine what it’s like. So, because of their experience, they may become tired of things and realize the dharma quicker than monks can.

You should be your own witness. Don’t take others as your witness. This means learning to trust yourself. People may think you’re crazy, but never mind. It only means they don’t know anything about dharma. But if you lack confidence and instead rely on the opinions of unenlightened people, you can easily be deterred. In Thailand these days, it’s hard for young people to sustain an interest in dharma. Maybe they come to the monastery a few times, and then their friends start teasing them, complaining: “Since you started going to the monastery, you don’t want to hang out or go drinking anymore. What’s wrong with you?” So they often give up the path.

Others’ words can’t measure your practice, and you don’t realize the dharma because of what others say. I mean the real dharma. The teachings others can give you are to show you the path, but that isn’t real knowledge. When people genuinely meet the dharma, they realize it directly within themselves. So the Buddha said that he is merely the one who shows the way. In teaching us, he is not accomplishing the way for us. It is not so easy as that. It’s like someone who sells us a plow to till the fields. He isn’t going to do the plowing for us. We have to do that ourselves. Don’t wait for the salesman to do it. Once he’s made the sale, he takes the money and splits. That’s his part.That’s how it is in practice. The Buddha shows the way. He’s not the one who does it for us. Don’t expect the salesman to till your field. If we understand the path in this way, it’s a little more comfortable for us, and we will do it ourselves. Then there will be fruition.

Teachings can be most profound, but those who listen may not understand. Never mind. Don’t be perplexed over profundity or lack of it. Just do the practice wholeheartedly, and you can arrive at real understanding—it will bring you to the place the teachings talk about.

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