Inner State is far more crucial than Outer Circumstance

“Eh,” Ajahn Chah would peer at me when I was

having a hard time, “caught in some state again?”shutterstock_80148490_resize


In the forest monastery we were constantly being

directed both to look at consciousness itself and

to precisely name the states that rose to fill it

throughout the day: frightened, bored, relaxed,

confused, resentful, calm, frustrated, and so forth.


Ajahn Chah would sometimes ask us out loud about

our states so that we could acknowledge them more

clearly. To a recently divorced monk from Bangkok

he chided, “Is there sadness? Anger? Self-pity?

Hey, these are natural. Look at them all.” And to

a confused English monk he laughed, “Can you see

what is happening? There is distraction, confusion,

being in a muddle. They’re only mind states, you

know. Come on. Do you believe your mind states?

Are you trapped by them? You’ll suffer for sure.”


Once we became more skilled at noticing, he would

up the ante. He would deliberately make things

difficult and watch what happened. In the hottest

season, he would send us out barefoot to collect

alms food on a ten-mile round trip, and smile at

us when we came back to see if we were frustrated

or discouraged. He’d have us sit up all night

long for endless teachings, without any break,

and check in on us cheerfully at four in the

morning. When we got annoyed, he’d ask, “Are you

angry? Whose fault is that?”


In popular Western culture we are taught that the

way to achieve happiness is to change our external

environment to fit our wishes. But this strategy

doesn’t work. In every life, pleasure and pain,

gain and loss, praise and blame keep showing up,

no matter how hard we struggle to have only pleasure,

gain, and praise. Buddhist psychology offers a

different approach to happiness, teaching that

states of consciousness are far more crucial than

outer circumstances.


– Jack Kornfield

Excerpt from ‘The Wise Heart’

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