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  • Ajahn Brahm: So this my first talk here for about three months, but, of course,

  • it's not just, as they used to say, not all beer and skittles for monks. [laughs]

  • No beer, no skittles at all. It's at a monastery down at Serpentine, I'm

  • still teaching the other monks, and the novices, the anagarikas and also the

  • sisters from Dhammasara. I have been traveling a little bit

  • at the very beginning of the rains retreat to Sydney for a conference of psychologists.

  • And at the end for another conference in mental health in Singapore, and in the

  • middle doing something good for Australia with a big conference with all the

  • leaders of Australia, trying to give some good spiritual vibes to the people

  • who run our country. But in all of these things, one of the reasons they invite

  • say a monk to these things is actually because of the positive attitude and the

  • vibes which a monk gives.

  • I was contemplating at a talk which I gave recently that in psychology, in life

  • we're always asked to have a positive attitude towards things, towards

  • whatever happens in life, whether it's an economic crash or whether it's the

  • death of a loved one, or a separation in a relationship and all the ups and

  • downs of live. We all say that having a positive attitude helps enormously, and

  • of course there's plenty of evidence, just what that does to sickness and to

  • tragedy in life.

  • But what I want to focus on this evening is how to be positive, because sometimes

  • it gets really frustrating when people tell you to be positive, and you're not.

  • It makes you feel even worse when you're having a hard time they say "Come on,

  • be positive," and you can't even do that right. So, this evening's talk is "How

  • to have a positive mind," and the results of that attitude change in life.

  • Of course, you all know what's coming. The positive attitude all comes from

  • like training your mind, especially in slowing down, release the positive

  • energy. To understand that, there's a classic story and some of you may have

  • heard the story before but I usually tell it to milk it and squeeze different

  • understandings from the same story. One of those times of life which gave an

  • experience which changed much of the way you looked at things.

  • I noticed the experience of walking up the hill to Bodhinyana Monastery in

  • Serpentine. Now, many of you have been down there, hopefully some of you will

  • come down on Sunday for our Katina Ceremony. We bought that 25 years ago, 26,

  • I think now, and for about nine years, I'd gone up, and down, the road to the

  • monastery, always in a car, in some sort of vehicle. It was like one of those

  • days we had a couple of days ago, just warm spring morning.

  • I remember just coming back from some sort of appointment, and feeling just so

  • positive, so energized, and having plenty of time, I told the driver, "Drop me

  • off at the foot of the hill, I'm going to walk up today." Not for exercise so

  • much, just for enjoying the morning, I had plenty of time. So, I started

  • walking from the southwest highway, up Kingsbury Drive, to the gate of

  • Bodhinyana Monastery.

  • As I started walking I got very surprised. Actually, it was a shock. As I

  • looked around me, I could not recognize where I was. That hillside looked

  • totally different from what I remembered seeing looking through the window of a

  • car. It was totally different. I was seeing things which I never knew were

  • there. What I saw had more detail, had more depth of colour. It was just

  • basically more beautiful.

  • Of course that surprised me, and not being in any rush, not being in a hurry, I

  • just stood still. And as I stood still, the whole hillside changed again. It was like

  • evolving. As a monk you're not on any sort of psychotropic substances, you

  • don't take alcohol, although, during our rains retreat, somebody offered the

  • monks some chocolate cake, and, fortunately, before we ate it, one of the monks

  • looked at the little writing on the cover, saying it had alcohol in it!

  • Fortunately, we stopped in time, because sometimes you're not sure when you get

  • some chocolate cake sometimes they put the alcohol in there just for the

  • taste and then they cook it and all the alcohol goes, it doesn't matter. But we didn't

  • know whether it was put in before or afterwards, and so we decided not to take it.

  • We gave it to one of our visitors who was very happy to be a guinea pig [laughter],

  • Like a food taster. And when he came back the next week he said "That was a lot of alcohol."

  • [laughter]

  • It hadn't evaporated, it was a very good job we were very careful. Otherwise,

  • we may have gone to our monastery just after lunch in a rains retreat

  • and seeing all the monks singing and dancing and goodness knows what else.

  • [laughter] Which would not have done very much for our reputation, so you've got to be

  • very careful. So we don't take such things. We are sort of sober, mindful,

  • alert. So here I was having an experience, like sometimes you have in life,

  • when things become really weird and they start changing in front of your eyes.

  • But what had happened was, what I was seeing, it had more detail, more

  • information.

  • That hillside, you started to see little flowers, started to see rocks, and

  • just the shape of the rocks and the lichen on the rocks. And, just look at the

  • tree barks, and the whole tree bark was just amazing, beautiful. What was also

  • strange was that the colours, the colours of everything you saw, started to grow

  • more intense, more rich, more deep and more beautiful. The whole thing was

  • exquisite.

  • Of course, when a monk has experiences like that, we don't just enjoy, we sort-of

  • contemplate afterwards what the heck was going on. And I decided to analyze it

  • through science, and it became quite clear to me that, when you see things,

  • sight is a chemical reaction on the back of your eye, on the retina.

  • What happens with most people is that when they see something, they move on to

  • another image almost immediately. So, the image on the back of your eye doesn't

  • have time to properly form, and the colors don't come out. They're just maybe

  • 10 percent of what's there, and the detail is all smeared, because the image

  • does not have time.

  • When I walked, I was going slower. The images on the back of my eye, the light

  • had more time, so you could see a much more full picture with more detail, and

  • the colours were deeper because they had more time to manifest.

  • It was just a simple physiology of sight which was occurring.

  • And, of course, when I stood absolutely still, only then did my eyes have all

  • the time they needed to form a full picture. And for the colours, which were out

  • there all the time, to be fully represented in the image on the back of my eye.

  • And for my mind to have time to explore it fully, to appreciate it, and to

  • taste it 100 percent.

  • Of course, I realized a very good simile of why people don't have a positive

  • attitude in life, why they don't understand life. Because, too many people

  • live life as if they're in a fast car, looking through the window, always going

  • on to the next thing, and pretty quickly, too. So, what we're experiencing now

  • doesn't have a time, we can't feel it fully. We're about to feel it, we get

  • five percent or one percent of the sensation, and we have to move on to something else.

  • Sights, tastes, feelings, everything, we don't have time for it to fully form.

  • But when we do go slower, when we do move more gently through life, when we get

  • out of the fast cars of life and just go on bicycles -- but, bicycles can be

  • too damn fast. Get off the bikes and walk. Don't even walk, but walk slowly.

  • What happens is, you find that your senses, at last, have time, and the mind

  • has got the opportunity to explore whatever comes into your senses. You see

  • things more fully. You get more information, more detail.

  • The surprising thing, at first, for me -- but, now I understand that this is

  • part of this experience -- that what you see, what you feel, what you taste,

  • what you know, becomes more and more beautiful. Ordinary grass becomes this

  • green which is like alive, vibrant and rich. It's an intense green. But, when you're

  • going through the window of a car, it's pastel, simply because you haven't

  • given it time.

  • When I had experiences like that, of course I realised that that's basically

  • what happens when we slow down in meditation, when you go on a retreat or you

  • just take time out in life, or you learn to move more slowly through your day

  • whenever you can, and you do have many opportunities. What happens is, you feel

  • more, you get more information, and what you see becomes very rich.

  • It's the positive psychology, because sometimes that hillside might be just,

  • oh, not enough trees, not enough grass. It's just all... just Aussie bush. It

  • should be like some garden, like some Japanese garden or an English garden or

  • whatever - no. When you really slow down and stop, you can see the beauty there.

  • Now, imagine you could slow down and stop and see the beauty in some other

  • things in life, which were going too fast to truly appreciate.

  • For example, in my fortunate life as a monk, I don't just hang out with prime ministers like in

  • this place in Hayman Island. Sometimes I hang out with murderers and rapists

  • when you go to prisons. It's amazing as a monk. You see just such a range of

  • human beings.

  • When you go and see rapists, murderers, thieves, some people who have done some

  • terrible, terrible, terrible crimes, it's amazing what happens. Because you

  • know how to go slow, you can look at a person and just like that hillside, you

  • see the grass becomes so beautiful. See the rocks, you see features in there

  • which you've never noticed before. You see just the bark on the trees. The

  • tessellated texture becomes exquisite.

  • So, you look at someone who's murdered a child, and you see things there which

  • most people will never notice. You see their exquisite beauty.

  • That's a great test. It's easy to see the beauty in the hillside. But to see such beauty in

  • such people locked up in jail for many years is more of a tough ask.

  • What happens when you do that? When you have such a positive attitude towards

  • life, you can see beauty in the most unexpected places. What happens is, and

  • it's happened many times, so often that I notice this is really useful.

  • That prisoner, that murderer, that rapist, they feel that someone is respecting them.

  • And that's an amazing change for someone who's done such an act. The

  • person comes in to where they've been confined, to their place of

  • imprisonment, and it is a mental torture, and they respect it.

  • And it's such a strange experience for them to have someone who looks at them

  • and sees something beautiful and good that they too start to change the way

  • they look at themselves. If I can see something in them, and they respect me

  • for being honest and truthful, then they think maybe that such beauty does

  • exist in them. And they start looking for it themselves.

  • The murderer starts to see an other part of their being. The beautiful part.

  • When that starts to grow and prosper, you find that when they do get released,

  • they are healed. The reason, the sickness, the cruelty, whatever it was, that

  • pain which allowed them to do such a thing, is now gone. And in this life and in

  • future lives, they will never do such a thing again. It's amazing what happens.

  • This whole attitude was reinforced when last weekend I was teaching at a

  • conference of the Institute for Mental Health in Singapore. Those from

  • Singapore, a few here, the old Woodbridge Hospital, which now they've moved and

  • renamed because maybe it had a bad association with mental sickness.

  • And I was so pleased that after I gave a presentation that was so well

  • received, that one of the fellows there who was quite a staunch Christian, he asked

  • me, "Can you come and bless my ward? Give a Buddhist blessing, please." Those

  • of you who know Singapore know that's quite something.

  • But when I was talking to him, and to many other staff there, the heads of

  • departments, they told me that the philosophy in that hospital was to focus on that

  • part of their patient which was sane, sociable, which was kind, which was

  • intelligent. They weren't focusing on the psychosis. They weren't ignoring the

  • schizophrenic fantasies. They were focused on something else.

  • I thought, "Wow! You guys have understood."

  • Because if you focus on somebody's faults -- you know the old two bad bricks --

  • the fact that sometimes they act in a dysfunctional way, or they speak in

  • hallucinatory ways or they behave in sort of a violent to themselves or other

  • ways. If you focus on that, then you make this person into someone.. or make this dysfunction

  • the whole of them,

  • rather than just a part of them.

  • And a positive psychology says let's put that aside. Let's focus on the other

  • half of them. Too often, we focus on the dysfunction. How about focusing on the

  • rest of the time when they're perfectly -- I won't say normal because being

  • normal is stigmatising the so-called abnormal -- when they are kind, sociable and

  • able to sort-of flow in society without any problems or reactions from other people.

  • When you focus on the other side, the healing happens. This is such an

  • important psychology to see. I was so pleased that at last, somebody is getting the message.

  • When you have a sickness... I don't know how many people when they have say, a

  • cancer, say, a breast cancer, forget that most of their body hasn't got

  • cancer. That there are still other parts of them.

  • Focusing on the other parts of them, you see incredible beauty, incredible

  • strength, incredible fitness and power. Which means you can harness that power,

  • the power of the positive side of a sickness.

  • The power of the positive side of someone's behavior.

  • And I know, and I think many other people can understand intuitively how that

  • is therapeutic. How that grows. I've mentioned before just to try and have

  • simple ways of talking about this so people can remember.

  • If you have a garden and you water the weeds, it's the weeds which grow and

  • take over your garden. If you water the flowers, the flowers grow and they take over.

  • It's what you water, what you focus on, is what grows in life.

  • And this is one of the great ways out of illness, out of tragedies, out of

  • dysfunctions, out of psychological problems in life. Just out of sorrow and grief.

  • If we focus on the grief, the cause of the grief, the problem, of course, it

  • will get worse and worse and worse. I've noticed this, I was talking to someone

  • recently that just this afternoon I remember this because I was coming to town

  • today we went past Observation City in Scarborough and it was there I gave

  • another lecture at a grief and loss conference.

  • And many of you noticed the positive attitude of Buddhism and how we learn to

  • let go and how we move through the pain of losing a loved one, how we let them

  • go, and how we let the pain go and how we move forward and how we change our perception.

  • You know the old story of the concert and looking at life as a concert and I

  • always enjoyed concerts so much so that I never cried when a concert was finished.

  • You know that story. But one of the women afterwards, after hearing my talk,

  • came up to complain bitterly. Her complaint was "Are you saying I shouldn't

  • grieve? Are you saying it's wrong to grieve? You're taking away my grief," she complained

  • For her, she had associated with grief and she became Mrs. Grief

  • whatever her name was. But that's her persona, that's who she was. And she would go to many

  • of those conferences and she'd get a lot of support from her friends. That's

  • who she was and she was not willing to give it up. A person who lives too long

  • in negativity becomes so associated, what in Buddhism we call "attached to it,"

  • they become it. They are it.

  • "I am the victim. I am the abused. I am the person who suffered such a

  • tragedy," and because they get so attached to it, even though it's painful,

  • they will not want to leave. Those of you who don't appreciate that, there's a

  • great story, which is one of the last stories, I think it is the last story, in that book,

  • "Opening the Door of Your Heart." It's a story --

  • I actually haven't told it in public for a long time now,

  • about the worm in the pile of dung.

  • Once upon a time -- actually, let's go even further back than that. Once there

  • were two monks, two Buddhist monks. And I say this because I'm a monk myself,

  • not all monks behave well. There are many scallywag monks. Unfortunately, those

  • are the ones people like to read about in the newspapers. The good monks very

  • rarely get in the newspapers. It's not newsworthy to say "Ajahn Brahm

  • meditated for the last three months."

  • But if Ajahn Brahm did something stupid like went to the casino or whatever,

  • then of course -- or got drunk