When we approach any new subject or activity, it’s normal to look for accompanying literature or instructions. New Zen practitioners, however, are often surprised to hear teachers suggest little in the way of reading and more in the way of practice when it comes to understanding the deeper principle of Zen. Ajahn Chaa was a Buddhist monk in the Thai Forest Tradition who taught a simple practice in nature that did not depend on reading or studying. In this excerpt from A Still Forest Pool, a collection of his teachings compiled by Jack Kornfield and Paul Breiter, he talks about his own experience with going beyond words and intentions.
In my own practice, I did not know or study much. I took the straightforward teachings the Buddha gave and simply began to study my own mind according to nature. When you practice, observe yourself. Then gradually knowledge and vision will arise of themselves. If you sit in meditation and want it to be this way or that, you had better stop right there. Do not bring ideals or expectations to your practice. Take your studies, your opinions, and store them away.
You must go beyond all words, all symbols, all plans for your practice. Then you can see for yourself the truth, arising right here. If you do not turn inward, you will never know reality. I took the first few years of formal Dharma text study, and when I had the opportunity, I went to hear various scholars and masters teach, until such study became more of a hindrance than a help. I did not know how to listen to their sermons because I had not looked within.
When you practice, observe yourself. Then gradually knowledge and vision will arise of themselves.
The great meditation masters spoke about the truth within oneself. Practicing, I began to realize that it existed in my own mind as well. After a long time, I realized that these teachers have really seen the truth and that if we follow their path, we will encounter everything they have spoken about. Then we will be able to say, “Yes, they were right. What else could there be? Just this.” When I practiced diligently, realization unfolded like that.
If you are interested in Dharma, just give up, just let go. Merely thinking about practice is like pouncing on the shadow and missing the substance. You need not study much. If you follow the basics and practice accordingly, you will see the Dharma for yourself. There must be more than merely hearing the words. Speak just with yourself, observe your own mind. If you cut off this verbal, thinking mind, you will have a true standard for judging. Otherwise, your understanding will not penetrate deeply. Practice in this way and the rest will follow.