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Duration and Deliverance

August 20, 2013

Q: Today I read a blog post by someone who wants to give up pursuing enlightenment. What do you think?

The Arahant: It’s a shame he wants to quit, when just a little change in attitude could easily deliver him from his difficulty. Taking refuge in the Buddha’s teaching is the beginning of deliverance from all danger, difficulty and suffering. The Dhamma instructs us on the cause of all problems (Second Noble Truth), the method of deliverance from them (Fourth Noble Truth), and how to fully benefit from the Buddha’s teaching by maintaining the correct attitude.

“With what virtue, what behavior, nurturing what actions, would a person become rightly based and attain the ultimate goal?”

“One should be respectful of one’s superiors & not envious; should have a sense of the time for seeing teachers; should value the opportunity when a talk on Dhamma’s in progress; should listen intently to well-spoken words; should go at the proper time, humbly, casting off stubbornness, to one’s teacher’s presence; should both recollect & follow the Dhamma, its meaning, restraint, & the holy life.

“Delighting in Dhamma, savoring Dhamma, established in Dhamma, with a sense of how to investigate Dhamma, one should not speak in ways destructive of Dhamma, should guide oneself with true, well-spoken words.

“Shedding laughter, chattering, lamentation, hatred, deception, deviousness, greed, pride, confrontation, roughness, astringency, infatuation, one should go about free of intoxication, steadfast within. Understanding is the heartwood of well-spoken words; concentration, the heartwood of learning & understanding. When a person is hasty & heedless, his discernment & learning don’t grow.

“While those who delight in the doctrines taught by the noble ones are unexcelled in word, action, & mind. They, established in calm, composure, & concentration, have reached what discernment & learning have as their heartwood.” — Kimsila Sutta (SN 2.9)

Doubts in the value of enlightenment or the efficacy of the Eightfold Noble Path are certainly the result of a wrong attitude toward the Buddha and his teaching. Deliverance from any kind of difficulty is always due to a change in attitude. Why? If we refuse to learn any easier way, the Dhamma uses conflict and obstacles to teach us. These difficulties darken our doorstep only until we acknowledge the lesson they bring. As long as we ignore or resist the lesson, difficulty remains our constant companion. But as soon as we accept it as a call for self-correction, our deliverance begins. Thus to dispel his doubts and regain confidence in the Buddha’s teaching, he simply needs to adjust his attitude.

The Dhamma also teaches us that once our deliverance begins, we have several responsibilities. The first is to forgive the misdeeds of others. The Buddha accepted anyone into his Sangha, regardless of their past, as long as their understanding and attitude were correct. Nature uses powerful rainstorms to wash away whatever is unclean. Something similar happens each time we sincerely take refuge in the Triple Gem. Taking or retaking refuge, then, is a time to clean the slate and begin anew, meeting others halfway with gentleness and patience.

Next, the deliverance of taking refuge returns us to equanimity. We should deliberately and conscientiously avail ourselves of this opportunity to restore and maintain our inner balance. Finally, even though the time of deliverance or taking refuge is beneficial, do not hurry or try to force progress. If we are properly situated on the Eightfold Noble Path, progress takes place automatically. We should be detached, innocent, modest and accepting, allowing progress to unfold naturally.

When we are delivered from trouble, there is a temptation to take credit, become proud and hold ourselves above others. Indulging in this causes a humiliating fall. After all, our deliverance is not our doing, but the blessing of the Buddha, Dhamma and Sangha. Once you have adjusted your attitude and again taken refuge, remain steady and allow the world to reshape itself as it will.

The lesson on your doorstep is simply to endure—not to become impatient when your expectations are not met, but to move ahead by peacefully abiding in what is true and correct, having confidence that this alone will bring you to enlightenment. Neither indulging in despair at misfortune nor letting the ego swell with success will help you. It is simply a time to hold to the path of the Dhamma and wait calmly. After all, the Dhamma is our best friend:

“Monks, a friend endowed with seven qualities is worth associating with. Which seven? He gives what is hard to give. He does what is hard to do. He endures what is hard to endure. He reveals his secrets to you. He keeps your secrets. When misfortunes strike, he doesn’t abandon you. When you’re down & out, he doesn’t look down on you. A friend endowed with these seven qualities is worth associating with.” — Mitta Sutta (AN 7.35)

It is likely that a change in your life has just occurred, or is just about to. This change may tempt you to feel that your efforts on the Eightfold Noble Path are wasted. But the law of kamma is eternal; no effort to do good is ever wasted. It is your responsibility to hold your course and persevere without regarding this change. Remain constant in correct thought and action, guided by the Suttas. Let the world change! That’s just what it does. Rather than letting your head be turned or your determination disturbed, simply hold steady on your spiritual path while the world reforms around you.

Do not indulge in lamentation, fear, laziness, judgement, impatience, or ambitious thinking. Concern yourself only with what is essential and true and good. Focus on what is in front of you and your correct relationship to it, and let go of trying to see too far ahead on the path. By keeping the correct attitude and remaining humble and steadfast, you can continue to progress toward enlightenment.

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