We do not examine ourselves; we just follow desire, caught in endless rounds of grasping and fearing, wanting to do just as we please. Whatever we do, we want it to be at our ease. If we are not able to have comfort and pleasure any longer, we are unhappy, anger and aversion arise, and we suffer, trapped by our mind.
For the most part, our thinking follows sense objects, and, wherever thought leads us, we follow. However, thinking and wisdom are different; in wisdom, the mind becomes still, unmoving, and we are simply aware, simply acknowledging. Normally, when sense objects come, we think about, dwell on, discourse over, and worry about them. Yet none of those objects is substantial; all are impermanent, unsatisfactory, and empty. Just cut them short and dissect them into these three common characteristics. When you sit again, they will arise again, but just keep observing them, keep checking them out.
This practice is like caring for a buffalo and a rice field. The mind is like the buffalo that wants to eat the rice plants, sense objects; the one who knows is the owner. Consider the comparison. When you tend a buffalo, you let it go free but you keep watch over it. You cannot be heedless. If it goes close to the rice plants, you shout at it and it retreats. If it is stubborn and will not obey your voice, you take a stick and hit it. Do not fall asleep in the daytime and let everything go. If you do, you will have no rice plants left, for sure.
When you are observing your mind, the one who knows constantly notices all. As the sutras say, “He who watches over his mind shall escape the snares of Mara the Evil One.” Mind is mind, but who is it that observes it? Mind is one thing, the one who knows is another. At the same time the mind is both the thinking process and the knowing. Know the mind-know how it is when it meets sense objects and how it is when it is apart from them. When the one who knows observes the mind in this way, wisdom arises. If it meets an object, it gets involved, just like the buffalo. Wherever it goes, you must watch it. When it goes near the rice plants, shout at it. If it will not obey, just give it the stick.
When the mind experiences sense contact, it grabs hold. When it grabs hold, the one who knows must, teach it-explaining what is good and what is bad, pointing out the workings of cause and effect, showing that anything it holds on to will bring undesirable results until mind becomes reasonable, until it lets go. In this way, the training will take effect, and the mind will become tranquil.
The Buddha taught us to lay everything down, not like a cow or a buffalo but knowingly, with awareness. In order for us to know, he taught us to practice much, develop much, rest firmly on the principles of the Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, and apply them directly to our own life.
From the beginning I have practiced like this. In teaching my disciples, I teach like this. We want to see the truth not in a book or as an ideal but in our own minds. If the mind is not yet free, contemplate the cause and effect of each situation until the mind sees clearly and can free itself from its own conditioning. As the mind becomes attached again, examine each new situation-do not stop looking, keep at it, drive the point home. Then attachment will find no where to rest. This is the way I myself have practiced.
If you practice like this, true tranquility is found in activity, in the midst of sense objects. At first, when you are working on your mind and sense objects come, you cling to them or avoid them. You are therefore disturbed, not peaceful. When you sit and wish not to have sense contact, not to have thinking the very wish not to have is desire. The more you struggle with your thinking, the stronger it becomes. Just forget about it and continue to practice. When you make contact with sense objects, contemplate: impermanent, unsatisfactory, not self. Throw everything into these three pigeonholes, file everything under these three categories, and keep contemplating.
(Still Forest Pool By Venerable Ajahn Chah Thero)