From “Training the Heart” by Ajahn Chah
Train your heart!
Listening to your own heart is really very interesting. This untrained heart races around following its own untrained habits. It jumps about excitedly, randomly, because it has never been trained. Therefore train your heart!
Buddhist meditation is about the heart; to develop the heart or mind, to develop your own heart. This is very, very important. This training of the heart is the main emphasis. Buddhism is the religion of the heart. Only this! One who practices to develop the heart is one who practices Buddhism.
This heart of ours lives in a cage, and what’s more, there’s a raging tiger in that cage. If this maverick heart of ours doesn’t get what it wants, it makes trouble. You must discipline it with meditation, with samādhi (meditative concentration.) This is called “Training the Heart.”
At the very beginning, the foundation of practice is the establishment of moral discipline (sīla). Sīla is the training of the body and speech. From this arises conflict and confusion. When you don’t let yourself do what you want to do, there is conflict.
Eat little! Sleep little! Speak little! Whatever it may be of worldly habit, lessen them, go against their power. Don’t just do as you like, don’t indulge in your thought. Stop this slavish following. You must constantly go against the stream of ignorance. This is called “discipline”. When you discipline your heart, it becomes very dissatisfied and begins to struggle. It becomes restricted and oppressed. When the heart is prevented from doing what it wants to do, it starts wandering and struggling. Suffering (dukkha) becomes apparent to us.
This dukkha, this suffering, is the first of the four noble truths. Most people want to get away from it. They don’t want to have any kind of suffering at all. Actually, this suffering is what brings us wisdom; it makes us contemplate dukkha. Happiness (sukha) tends to make us close our eyes and ears. It never allows us to develop patience. Comfort and happiness make us careless. Of these two defilements, dukkha is the easiest to see. Therefore we must bring up suffering in order to put an end to our suffering. We must first know what dukkha is before we can know how to practice meditation.
[In Buddhism, dukkha: refers to the implicit unsatisfactoriness, incompleteness, imperfection, insecurity of all conditioned phenomena, which, because they are always changing, are always liable to cause suffering. Dukkha refers to all forms of unpleasantness from gross bodily pains and the suffering implicit in old age, sickness and death, to subtle feelings such as being parted from what we like or associated with what we dislike, to refined mental states such as dullness, boredom, restlessness, agitation, etc. This is one of the most misunderstood concepts and one of the most important for spiritual development.]
In the beginning you have to train your heart like this…You will develop the virtues of patience and endurance. Whatever happens, you endure, because that is the way it is. For example, when you begin to practice samādhi, you want peace and tranquillity. But you don’t get any.
You don’t get any because you have never practiced this way. Your heart says, “I’ll sit until I attain tranquillity”. But when tranquillity doesn’t arise, you suffer. And when there is suffering, you get up and run away! To practice like this cannot be called “developing the heart.” It’s called “desertion!”
Instead of indulging in your moods, you train yourself with the Dhamma of the Buddha. [Dhamma, or dharma, is the liberating law discovered and proclaimed by the Buddha.] Lazy or diligent, you just keep on practicing. Don’t you think that this is a better way? The other way, the way of following your moods, will never reach the Dhamma. If you practice the Dhamma, then whatever the mood may be, you keep on practicing, constantly practicing. The other way of self-indulgence is not the way of the Buddha. When we follow our own views on practice, our own opinions about the Dhamma, we can never see clearly what is right and what is wrong. We don’t know our own heart. We don’t know ourselves.
Therefore, to practice following your own teachings is the slowest way. To practice following the Dhamma is the direct way. Lazy you practice; diligent you practice. You are aware of time and place. This is called “developing the heart.”