Recollection of the Buddha

October 30, 2014

Recollection of the Buddha is one of the guardian meditations. What does it guard you from? It guards you from your own defilements. It’s good to stop and think about the Buddha, because he sets the pattern for what we’re doing here in our practice.

If you look around the world to see who you might want to take as an example, you can’t find a better one. As you reflect on the Buddha, it gives rise to conviction, which is one of the inner strengths that keeps you on the path, keeps you going.

And it also gives you a sense of direction. We’re not just trusting the Buddha, we’re trusting in his awakening: that he really was awakened, he knew what he was talking about, he really was able to find a deathless element inside that led to true peace, true happiness, an end of suffering. And as a teacher he was very wise. He knew which issues to take up, which issues to put aside, how to frame issues so that they would actually be helpful in leading to the end of suffering.

There are so many issues you can get involved in, so many debates, so many lines of thinking, lines of exploration you can follow that would pull you away from the main issue, which is the end of suffering. And even with issues that are related to the end of suffering, you can frame them in ways that pull you away.

So the Buddha was wise not only in what he taught but also what he didn’t teach, how he framed what he taught.

Ajaan Suwat used to say that if you don’t believe anybody else, if you don’t trust anybody else, at least trust the Buddha. Place yourself in his hands. You put yourself in good hands. You follow what he taught and you can’t go wrong.

So it’s good to contemplate this on a regular basis. There are a lot of people who say, “Well, the Buddha was okay for his time and place, but now we live in a modern world and there are certain assumptions we have to hold to as part of being modern people.” I never knew that I had checked in to the human world on the condition that I had to accept a modern worldview. One of the facts of the modern world is that we’re exposed to lots of different teachings. And so we have the right to choose our assumptions, what we’re going to assume is a well-lived life, what we’re going to assume is a good example for how we live.

We have the choice. And there’s nothing that commits us to an otherwise modern worldview. So there’s no need to say, “We have to strip away the Buddha’s teachings,” in the same way you might pluck a chicken, leaving only the parts that fit into a modern worldview.

After all, the modern worldview is one that’s creating a lot of suffering for us. If you believe that all you are is a body and that your consciousness is just an epiphenomenon, as they call it—a side effect of there being a body—then you can’t really believe that by training the mind you’re going to have any impact on anything at all—because in the materialist view, the only reality is physical reality. Yet if you believe that the physical reality is the only one, it makes you miserable. What can you do? You’re stuck.

Now some people like to be stuck. It lets them off the hook; they don’t have to be responsible for their choices. But that’s a miserable place to be stuck.

Just look at your mind. What does your mind deal in? It deals with meanings. Someone can say a word and it will have a huge impact on what goes on in your mind. Now, physically, the word itself is what? Sound waves hitting the ear, that’s it. We can take the same word, so that the sound waves are the same, but if you put it in one language, it means one thing; if you put it in another one it means something else. And if everything were just physical, how could that be? How could there be meanings? The mind deals with meanings. So take on the meaning of what the Buddha said, that it is possible to find a true happiness and it’s possible to do it from within: in other words, by changing your mind with your mind.

Now that doesn’t fit in with a lot of modern materialist assumptions, but again, why are we committed to, say, a materialist assumption just because we’re born in this time and place? We have the right to choose any assumptions that help alleviate suffering now and on into the future.

So the Buddha’s assumptions are really wise. And as for parts of the teaching that people would have us put aside, the Buddha had good reasons for teaching them.

Take, for instance, the whole issue of the different levels of being. I have a student who started meditating on his own when he was a teenager. He started sensing beings around him. Having been raised in the Catholic Church, all he knew was that spiritual beings came in only two sorts, really good or really bad, and there was nothing in-between. And these certainly didn’t look like the good ones, so he flipped out. As a result, he stopped meditating.

Later, after he realized that there are other ways of looking at these beings—that there are all kinds of beings out there, good, bad, and all the shades in between—he was able to start meditating again without fear of what he was seeing. The Buddha gives you instructions on how to deal with beings like this: how not to be overcome by them; how not to be afraid of them; how to be wary around them even as you wish them well; how to protect yourself from them. These are all there in the teaching.

And the worldview the Buddha gives in this regard is very useful. There are not just angels or demons. There are lots of different levels, with beings at many stages in terms of their goodness and knowledge. It’s like having lots of different kinds of neighbors, the same as you’d have in the human realm. So that worldview can be extremely useful for people who are sensitive in this way.

So when we recollect the Buddha, we realize that our conviction in his awakening is our protection. There are a lot of things we don’t know in life, but we have to make assumptions in order to function. We have our choice of assumptions, and the assumptions the Buddha recommends make sense. He’s not asking you to believe anything impossible. He’s asking you to believe in the power of your own action. He also gives specific guidance in how best to act, so you don’t have to reinvent the Dhamma wheel every time you start practicing.

So this recollection of the Buddha is a good protection. It protects us from that attitude that says, “Well, if I don’t know something, I’m not going to believe it.” The fact is, there are a lot of things that you don’t know. If you start examining your beliefs, you realize that you make lots of assumptions as you go through the day. So you might as well adopt some assumptions that have been tried and passed the test. The people who say that the Buddha’s really worthless: They themselves, as people, aren’t very impressive.

For instance, it was Ajaan Suwat who said, “If you don’t believe anybody, at least believe the Buddha.” He himself had believed the Buddha all the way down the line and he benefitted greatly from it. And he was a very inspiring example—much more inspiring than the people who would say, “Well, pick and choose; take what you like and throw away what you don’t like.”

This is how we protect ourselves from ourselves. We protect the good part inside us, the part that wants to find a true happiness, and we protect it from all the greed and aversion and delusion and laziness and other unskillful qualities that would pull us away.

So recollection of the Buddha is one of the most important weapons in our arsenal. Bring it out to use on a regular basis, and you’ll find that it gives energy and safety to your practice.