Letting Go

§ “We” are like a tree. “Attachment” is like vines. If we feel desire for sights, they’ll wind around our eyes. If we feel desire for sounds, they’ll wind around our ears, and so forth. When we’re all tangled up like this, we’ll have to die. Some people don’t let themselves die naturally. They take their attachments and tie up their own throats.

§ The world is like red ants that crawl along vines. If we cut away the vines that entangle our tree, the ants won’t be able to get to it.

§ We have to cut away whatever we can. If the mind is long, make it short. If it’s short, make it round. If it’s round, make it smooth. If it’s smooth, make it shine. That way it can roll around without getting stuck on anything, and can gain release from all suffering and stress.

§ Suffering comes from “having.” This is why people in the world are suffering so. If they have five, they want to increase it to ten. Once they have ten they think they’ll be able to relax. But when they actually get ten, they then increase it to 100. And then they have to keep looking for more all the time, for fear that they’ll lose what they have. Only when they stop breathing will they stop looking for more. This is why we’re taught that having is suffering. And this is why the Buddha arranged not to have anything at all. He said, “Physical form, feeling, perception, thought-formations, and consciousness are not mine. The senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, feeling, and ideation are not mine.” When nothing was his, how could anyone take anything away from him? Who could come and oppress him? If people give us things, we say that we “get,” that we “have.” If they take them away, we say that we “lose.” But when there’s nothing to own, there’s no having or losing. And when that’s the case, where will there be any suffering?

§ Nibbāna is the end of all having and lacking.

§ If we don’t know how to let go, we’re going to suffer. Suppose that we’re carrying something in our hand. If we don’t let it go and put it down, we won’t be able to take hold of anything better than what we’ve got. This is why the Buddha taught us to let go. For one thing, our hand won’t get sweaty from carrying things around. Secondly, we can take what we’ve put down, turn it over, and look at it from every side to see what it really is. Say that we’re holding a knife tight in our fist. We can’t look at it to see what kind of knife it is. But if we open our fist and put the knife down, we can then look at it carefully to see whether it’s made from steel, wood, horn, or ivory, whether it’s well-made or not, and what uses it’s good for.

§ To hold onto the body is to hold onto old kamma. To let go of the body is to let go of old kamma. And when we can let go in this way, there will be no more kamma in the body. It’s the same as with a piece of property. If we take possession of it, with a deed and the boundary staked out, there tend to be problems with trespassing, swindling, boundary disputes, and cases in court. But if we don’t take possession of it, and simply let it be public property, there will be no troubles or quarrels. This way the heart can be at its ease.

§ If the heart gets caught up on anything, it’s got to be bad. If you can see being born and not being born as equal, being sick and not being sick as equal, dying and not dying as equal, as having the same price, then the mind can relax and not be caught up on anything at all.

§ In the first stage we let go of evil and start doing good. In the second stage we let go of evil and some forms of good. In the third stage we let go of everything good and evil, because everything is fabricated by nature and thus undependable. We do good but we’re not attached to it. When you let go, you have to do it intelligently, and not in a ruinous way—i.e., by not doing good. You can’t hold on even to your opinions, much less to material things. When you do good, you do it for the sake of the living beings of the world, for your children and grandchildren. You do everything in the best way possible, but you’re not attached to it, because you know that all things fabricated are inconstant. This way your heart can be clear and bright like a jewel. If you get caught up on praise or blame, you’re foolish. It’s like drinking other people’s saliva. When you act rightly, there are people who will say that you’re right and those who will say that you’re wrong. When you act wrong, there are people who will say that you’re wrong and those who will say that you’re right. There’s nothing constant about good or evil, right or wrong.

§ Evil comes from good, and good from evil. For example, when we eat rice we say it’s delicious, but then as it goes down through the body it turns into something just the opposite. Thieves come from rich people. If people didn’t have possessions and treasures, where would there be any thieves to steal from them? The Buddha saw that evil isn’t something you can depend upon. Good isn’t something you can depend upon. That’s why he let go of both good and evil by not connecting their wires into his heart. He gained release from all good and evil and so transcended all the affairs of the world (loka-dhamma). That was how he entered the highest happiness.

§ The power of good and evil is like a magnet that pulls the mind to do good or evil and then be born in good or evil places in line with its pull. If we do good or evil, it’s as if we leave magnets behind in the world. Those magnets will pull our minds to their level. People who aren’t intelligent enough to know how to avoid or extract themselves from the power of good and evil are sure to be pulled along by the force field of these magnets. They’ll have to keep swimming around in the world of rebirth. This is why wise people try to find a way to cut the force field so that they can escape its power and float free. In other words, they do good and cut the force field. They do things that may not be good, and they cut the force field. They don’t let these things connect. In other words, they don’t get attached to the things they’ve done. They don’t keep fondling them. This is what it means to be discerning: knowing how to cut the force fields of the world.

§ The mind is neither good nor evil, but it’s what knows good and knows evil. It’s what does good and does evil. And it’s what lets go of good and lets go of evil.

§ It’s not the case that things will progress if we cling to them, or deteriorate if we let them go.

§ Attachment is like a bridge. If there’s no bridge, who’s going to walk across it? There’s just this side of the river and the other side. The eye exists, so it can see both sides, but there’s no connection. The mind that isn’t caught up on its preoccupations is like a lotus leaf in the water. The water can’t seep into the leaf. It simply rolls around as a bead across the surface. There’s awareness, but no attachment.

§ Awareness without attachment is like electricity without a wire. There’s just brightness. When there’s no wire, no one can get electrocuted. Or you could say that it’s like a flame that doesn’t need a lamp. No wick gets used up, no oil gets consumed, and yet there’s light.

§ If we separate the body and the mind from each other, our ordinary awareness disappears, but that doesn’t mean that awareness is annihilated. It’s still there, but it’s a special awareness that doesn’t have to depend on the body or mind. It’s the same as when we separate the wax of a candle from its wick: The flame disappears, but the fire potential isn’t annihilated. Whether or not there’s fuel, it exists in the world by its very nature. This is the awareness of nibbāna.

§ Arahants can speak and act, but they don’t speak or act the way ordinary people do. They know how to separate things. Like a person speaking over the radio: Even though we may hit the radio, it doesn’t reach the person speaking.

§ The experience of release has no sense of “before” or “after,” or even any “present.”

§ When the heart is empty, it feels light and free, with no preoccupations at all. Like a bird: Even though it has feet, it doesn’t leave any tracks in the air. In the same way, when the mind is empty, even if people criticize you there’s no writing in the air. Nothing gets stuck in the heart.

§ Tranquility meditation means to keep the mind quiet in craving. Insight meditation means knowing both the mind with craving and the mind without craving. Knowing perceptions of past and future for what they are is intuitive knowledge. This kind of knowledge isn’t stuck on any perceptions at all. This is called the skill of release. It’s not stuck on the mind with craving or the mind without craving. It’s like writing letters in the air. The air doesn’t get used up, the writing doesn’t require any effort, and you can’t read what it says at all. Whether you write good or bad things, you can’t read what they say. The air is there, but as for shapes in the air, there are none.