Ajahn Brahm describes how letting go of fear frees up the possibilities and potentials within our minds.
So I just came back on Wednesday afternoon
from a teaching tour of Melbourne
as part of their Vesak celebrations.
So the Vesak month, that’s my last
Vesak assignment for this year.
So when I was over in Melbourne
I gave many talks and one of the talks
I gave there I thought I’d use the same
title here because it was a very useful
and important talk, and it’s something
which is very pertinent to most people,
especially in this day and age, on fear.
And fear is something which is a great
cause of suffering, stops us being healthy,
stops us being successful, stops us getting
into deep meditation, stops us being at peace.
And it’s such an unskillful emotion in our mind.
But at the same time a very common emotion.
It’s great to be able to understand it,
where it comes from, how to overcome it
so you can live with less and less fear.
And as you live with less and less fear
you will find you will be far more peaceful,
far more happy, be able to form
relationships with others which are lasting
and also being able to even get into
deep meditation and enlightened.
Fear is such a huge problem in our
modern world. And instead of our culture
trying to discourage fear, we tend to be
in a culture which encourages fear.
You know, we go to movies where we delight in fear,
whether it’s ghost movies or, as I was looking
in the newspaper today, vampire movies.
Anything which will scare us we love going to.
And why is it that we are victims of fear
and that fear does create huge problems
for you in life? But let’s actually look
at what fear really is.
And one of the stories about fear which is
very important. It comes to my mind
straightaway when I was coming into Perth
today in the windy, wild weather.
It was an old story, from a very famous and
very profound, British philosopher who lived
maybe about 100 years ago. I’m not quite
sure how many people are interested
in philosophy, but this is one of the
philosophers I think everyone should read.
He was one of these philosophers that
didn’t use big words, but his teachings
were very profound. His name was
was Winnie-the-Pooh. [laughter]
Because if philosophy is really going to
be useful, everyone should be able to
understand it, even kids. So Winnie-the-Pooh
was with his friend, Piglet.
And Piglet was a very small being.
Very kind. Very loyal.
But being very small, was usually subject
to a lot of fear. And then one day, they
were walking back from Rabbit’s house
in a storm like we had today and yesterday.
And as they were walking through the forest,
trees were coming down around them,
branches were crashing to the floor and
even whole trees were being ripped off
and smashing around them.
That was very dangerous.
So dangerous, so scary, that little Piglet
could stand it no longer.
He froze and he looked at his best friend,
Winnie-the-Pooh, and said these words:
“I can’t go on any longer. I just can’t.
What would happen? What would happen
if a tree fell down when we were
underneath it?” And that was a possibility.
And for a second, but only a second,
the great philosopher and enlightened bear,
Winnie-the-Pooh, was afraid, but only for
a second. And then his wisdom kicked in
and he looked at his terrified friend and
replied with these reassuring words:
“What would happen if a tree did not
fall when we were underneath it?
And that was also possible.
In fact, even more possible.
And that was the key to overcoming little
Piglet’s fear so he could move on with the
thought, “What would happen if a tree did
not fall when we were underneath it?”
And that’s exactly what happened,
so he could go back safely.
And if you look at that exchange, just in
a few sentences, Winnie-the-Pooh’s author
described the nature of fear and also
its antidote. The fear is always:
“What would happen if?”, followed by
something negative, something terrible
which might happen to us, which is
a possibility, but often very unlikely.
And the antidote to fear is again, “What
would happen if?”, and something positive.
Something nice. Not only is it more likely
if we have the positive thought for the
future, “What would happen if?”, and
something nice, but it’s also – it’s a
tendency, once you understand the nature
of fear, that if we think of something negative,
we tend to bring about that negative
outcome, because we fear it’s going to
happen, we make it happen.
This story I remember when I was young.
I was young and my father, I begged him,
and he saved up, I think, for a birthday or
a Christmas. I can’t remember what.
He bought me a bicycle.
The first bicycle I ever had. And, of course,
being a kid with his first bicycle, you get
on that bicycle and try to ride it and
keep falling off. And I kept falling off
and I never realised why until I looked
at myself. I was holding on to those
handle bars with so much fear that my
knuckles went white. I was so afraid of
falling off and my body was as stiff as
a plank. And because I was so stiff,
I was holding on too tight. Whenever the bike
would move to the left, I would never be able
to compensate. My body was too stiff to bend
and to accommodate, which is why I kept
falling off. It was fear that kept pushing
me over. And it was only later on when I
just relaxed, I found that I could stay on
that bicycle with more ease.
In fact, when you’re really relaxed, you
didn’t fall off at all. This showed me
just how fear was the reason why I kept
falling off. When I was afraid,
“What would happen if?”, I fell off.
That brought the falling off.
But when I didn’t even think about it or
when I started thinking, “What would
happen if I didn’t fall off?”, then
I could relax and I was far more stable.
That happens so often in life.
What we fear, because that brings up
a negative mind state, that creates the kamma
which causes that outcome to actually come.
Those people who are afraid they may get cancer,
that fear gives you a tension and a tightness
in the body and the mind which is a
contributing cause to a cancer.
You get stressed. You can’t relax and
enjoy yourself. And we all know that many
cancers are stress-produced. Now, if you think
that you might have a car accident on your way
back home because of the wild weather,
if you keep thinking like that, you get so afraid,
you get so tense, that, again, you know,
you overreact. When someone pulls up
in front of you, you slam down the brake
or you accelerate too much.
You have accidents. You know that this happens.
It’s the fear that creates the sort of the problems
in the future. And you also may know that
some people are just happy-go-lucky people.
They’re always so positive and nothing ever
seems to happen to them. Why is that?
Because the lack of fear creates the
positive outcomes which we seek.
Fear itself creates the greater possibility
that something wrong might happen.
So check it out in your life. You know,
I’ve met many people who come to me
for marriage counselling and sometimes
I still protest, “Why are you coming to a monk
for marriage counselling? I’m a monk.
Do you know what monks are?”
We don’t get married. You know, we’re single.
We’re celibate. But still they come to monks
because we understand just how the mind
works and how emotions work and how people
can live together or not live together and
you understand what happens when you
go into a relationship with fear.
Fear that that person is going to leave you
or cheat on you, or fear that that person is
already cheating on you and having a mistress
somewhere or a toy boy.
I don’t know why they call them toy boys
and not toy girls. Maybe we should use gender
equal language and call them toy girls and
toy boys. I don’t know.
But anyhow, whenever a person is so afraid,
you can see that because there’s that fear,
there’s also this terrible lack of trust.
And when there’s a lack of trust, there
can’t be a good relationship there.
And many of you have been in relationships
like that where there’s no trust or there’s
a lack of full trust. And why is there a
lack of full trust?
Because there’s terrible fear.
We fear that the marriage is or the
relationship is going to end, and so we don’t
trust. And because we don’t trust,
we cause the relationship to end.
It’s just this negative loop which we get into.
What we fear, it may happen.
And that thing about relationships is
a very good place to sort of go on with
this fear business, because much of life is
relationships, as I’ve taught here. And that
fear which we have stops us relaxing and
enjoying life. And, of course, no one likes
to be with a person that doesn’t enjoy themselves.
No one likes to be with a sourpuss.
And sometimes people who don’t know how to
to relax and enjoy themselves, that’s just
what they are. So even like when I teach
monks at a monastery, you have to try and
encourage them to relax and not to be afraid,
because there’s so many rules which we have
to keep. There’s so many things which we
have to do. And we’re supposed to be
leaders and examples. And sometimes
that can be very fearful.
But, of course, if you’re very fearful,
you get so tense, there’s no way that you
can inspire people. So even as a monk
you have to learn how to have no fear and
just relax. And that has been part of my life.
They say the most fearful thing to do is
to give a public talk, especially when there’s
a camera on you and and it’s going on the
internet and it’s going on YouTube.
Over 50,000 people are going to listen
to this talk all over the world,
and especially if I do something stupid,
then 100,000 people will listen to it.
So are you going to be afraid you’re
going to do something stupid?
If you’re afraid you’re going to do
something stupid, you tense up and
that’s why you do something stupid
and make a mistake.
You all know that when you get
tensed up, you make mistakes.
When you relax, things tend to
flow quite smoothly.
So I know that my biggest enemy,
if you ever give a talk, is fear itself.
So that’s why you just relax.
And you all know that I never, sort of,
know very much what I’m going to talk about.
Tonight I knew the title, but that’s all I knew.
I didn’t know what was going to
happen after you start talking,
and I’ve been doing that for years.
In fact, that’s how I was taught by my teacher,
Ajahn Chah. And he taught you to overcome fear.
Imagine this, this was in February after my – I had
only been a monk for four years, and this was
the second biggest festival in the whole Buddhist
calendar in Thailand. The full moon of February.
It was called Magha Puja. Second only to Vesak
in its size. So together with all the other
disciples of my teacher Ajahn Chah, we went
to his monastery, Wat Pah Pong, where there
must have been five or six thousand people,
lay people, and all the monks were there as well.
And in the evening after the chanting,
it was time for the talk, for the sermon,
and I was looking forward to hearing Ajahn Chah
teach something inspiring. But sometimes he
didn’t give the talk. Sometimes he would ask
his second monk or his third monk to give
the talk. Sometimes he would ask for any
monk to give the talk, and that was scary.
And what he’d do, he looked down this line
of monks, this line of maybe 100, 150 monks,
and if his eyes stopped at you, you were in trouble.
Big trouble. So I remember this very clearly,
his eyes went down the line, past all these
very senior monks who could give really good talks,
and he came to me, and went past. Phew.
I was so relieved he was going to choose
someone below me, someone who could speak Thai,
because the talk had to be in Thai.
But then his eyes stopped and went up
the line again – he was a sadist – and
stopped at me.
“Brahmavamso, get up and give the talk!”
I’d only been four years as a monk and
I had to give the talk on this huge occasion
in front of about six or seven thousand Thais.
As I tell the story, it was 6000.
Now it has gone up to 7000.
This is just what happens when you give talks.
And with all these senior monks and
in front of my teacher, how would you feel?
You were trained it didn’t matter.
You just went up there and gave a talk in Thai.
It didn’t matter how it came out, because
the whole purpose of that was teaching you
how to overcome your fear. It’s hard enough
to give a talk in English, but give a talk in
Thai for one hour, only four years in Thailand,
to such a huge audience, that was a tough ask.
But even tougher than that – this was one
of the other monks. He will be coming here
in December. We’re having a big meeting
of all these senior monks from our tradition.
Ajahn Sumedho, it was him who was asked to
give a talk, not on such a big occasion, but
on the weekly talks, to all the lay community
who were staying in this monastery overnight.
So he gave a talk in Thai. It was sort of all right,
but westerners giving a talk
in a foreign language, it’s difficult.
Sometimes you say the wrong word
and people laugh and
you don’t know what you’ve said,
but you find out afterwards.
You get very embarrassed.
And after he finished the hour, he went
to stop the talk and go and sit down,
but Ajahn Chah said, “Another hour!”
And he ordered this monk
to give another hours’ talk in Thai.
You know, that’s very difficult. You end up
repeating yourselves, telling the same stories.
You know, I tell the same stories, but I usually
wait two or three weeks, you know, before –
and that’s why I really like – what I really
like talking to is old people who haven’t got
such a good memory, because then they can
always laugh at my talk jokes every week,
even though it’s the same joke.
So he had to do another hour.
And when finished the second hour, you know,
he said, “Now the talk is over”, and Ajahn Chah
shouted out, “Another hour!”. And at that point,
many people got up and left.
It’s very embarrassing when you’re giving a talk
and people leave, but he had no choice.
He had to keep on speaking.
And now, of course, you get lots of pauses.
You think, “Well, what am I going to say
and how am I going to say it?”
And eventually he finished.
He finished the third hour.
By that time, many people had left.
And those people who were still there
had their eyes closed, snoring.
They weren’t paying attention.
But he got through the third hour. And then
Ajahn Chah said, “Okay, another hour!”.
And the poor monk had to give
another hour of talking.
The worst possible talk you can ever imagine.
Just mumbling, saying anything
when everybody had left,
except Ajahn Chah probably.
And then Ajahn Chah finally, after four hours,
let him off. And he said after that experience,
he was never, ever afraid of giving a talk
ever again. He plumbed the depths.
The very worst audience response, and it
didn’t matter. So that’s actually how you
learn to give public talks. Just get the worst
possible response from your audience and
then you don’t care anymore. You’re just
going to talk and who cares if everybody leaves.
Because fear is actually what makes it
worse and what makes it not happen.
So one of the great ways over over coming fear
is, number 1, always have the positive attitude.
What would happen if it didn’t?
How many of you are afraid you might lose
your job in an economic recession?
Be careful, because if you think like that,
you will destroy your job. If you think,
“Oh, I might lose my job in this recession”,
what happens is you get so afraid, you don’t
trust other people, you just get so tense,
you don’t perform well. You can’t sort of
trust the people you work with.
And so they say, “You don’t get on with us.
You’re not a team player anymore”.
When you get so afraid, what happens is
you usually stuff up your relationships,
stuff up your work ethic, not a nice person to
be around, and you’re too afraid,
so you can’t relax and perform well.
So you lose your job.
Know the danger of fear. And know it’s
far better if you really want to be
successful, to be happy, stop all this
fear business. Do the best you possibly can
and always have that positive attitude
to the future.
Not, “What would happen if?”, followed by
But “What would happen if?”, followed by
something positive to allow you to relax.
Because it is fear which creates what we
call the control freak inside of us.
We only control a lot because of fear.
And I know that many people who have a lot
of control, a lot of willpower, have that willpower
because in their past, they had some very
painful experience. They suffered a lot.
And because they suffered a lot, they think
the only way to protect themselves and make
sure that never happens again is to control more.
And so they’re such fearful people. They’re
always planning, figuring things out,
putting plan A, plan B and plan C just in case,
because they don’t want it to happen again.
So they go into relationships with
plan A, B, C, D, E, F – many plans.
They go into business with plans A to Z and
then they start the Greek alphabet, alpha, beta.
But, ah, they’re just so control freaks.
And you know those control freaks.
Those control freaks are just a pain
in the arse. You’re with them. You know.
And they don’t need to be like that.
They create the problems in this world.
To be a control freak means that you just
cannot just go with the flow, just bend
with the wind and just adapt.
I’ve often noticed that all plans which
you have, you find if you have 10 plans,
after a while none of them actually fit.
We shouldn’t really have plans. I was
commenting about the political crises in our world.
Most of – this was while I was in Melbourne.
Somebody asked me a question about this.
You know, most political crises come
because the whole system is flawed.
And it’s flawed because of you.
Because of how you elect politicians.
You elect politicians on what they
promise to do in the future.
You know, I understand
the world well enough.
I will never criticise any politician of any
party for failing to keep their promises.
I would only blame them for making
those promises in the first place.
How can you make promises to do this
and to do that when you haven’t got a clue
what’s going to happen in the next
six months or year?
We don’t know what’s going to happen
with climate change, economies, wars.
You know, when Swine Flu or
some other flu comes in.
You know, we’ve already had
Mad Cow Disease. Now we have Swine Flu.
Now we might – I don’t know – Horse Plague
or Dog – Dog Something-or-other.
But we don’t know
what’s going to happen next.
And you’ve all lived long enough to know
that all these things are totally unexpected.
They come out of the blue.
And how can you make promises when
you don’t know what’s going to happen next?
You don’t know what the situation is going to be.
Which is why when we elect any politicians
who make promises and we throw them out
because their promises
aren’t kept, it’s stupid.
We should never elect a politician
on their promises.
We should only elect politicians,
our leaders, on their past conduct.
Not what they promise for the future,
but what they’ve done in the past.
On their competence.
On their track record.
Just like you. You, if you apply for a job,
wouldn’t you be given that job
or not given a job on what
you’ve done in the past?
Not what you promise to do
for that company in the future.
So why are politicians different?
Understanding this, you understand
that it’s because they make these plans
and they just stuff up as a result.
So just don’t make plans.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful just to have
this great fearlessness
where we’re not control freaks?
We can, like, face the future
without making all these
plan A, plan B and plan Cs?
I do that all the time. You go overseas,
you go to Melbourne, I haven’t got a clue
what I’m going to talk about.
And you’ve got all these talks all day.
Hundreds of people. And you just go up there
and just – I remember just one of those talks,
actually, where this fear talk came from.
I was just going up there with the President of
the Buddhist Society of Victoria and I just –
about 30 seconds before I gave the talk,
“What shall I talk about? Ah, I will talk about fear”.
Okay. And just go and do it. No plans.
And it’s much better that way.
It’s the same whenever you go overseas
or you go interstate. You know, you go sort of
on the aircraft, you make plans because
the aircraft might be late. Now, I sort of –
I know that there’s many Sri Lankans here.
And when you actually are late, you
call it Sri Lankan Time.
When there are Thais here and you’re
late, it’s called Thai time.
Now we have what we call Qantas time.
That is always half an hour late,
at least that’s my experience.
But anyhow, why do we make these big plans?
It’s just, “Maybe it might happen”.
Can’t we just adapt to life as it sort of
unfolds around us? So the way I have
no fear is I know that what I really need
to do, the plan which I really put in place
is, number 1, to be kind. That’s my plan.
That’s plan A, B, C, D, E, F, G, H and the whole lot.
Just be kind. And it’s amazing.
If that’s what you prepare yourself – just
to be kind – you go in for an interview for
a job, just be kind. You go, sort of, to
check in, just be kind.
You just go and give a talk, just be kind.
You go and talk to someone who’s suicidal,
they’re about to commit suicide, they come
to you as their last resort.
And if you don’t do anything correct,
they go and kill themselves.
That has happened to me many times.
So what do I do? Just be kind.
If you do that, it means you’re prepared for
what ever contingency happens in the future.
But not just be kind, I also add this beautiful thing.
Have fun as well. I’m a fun-loving monk.
So whatever I do, I try to put fun into whatever I do.
So when – again, one of the scariest things
which I did was actually to go on TV.
Live TV. Broadcast around the nation.
Because apparently, if you do anything stupid
on TV, it goes on these bloopers shows.
Shown again and again and
again to all your friends.
Imagine you say something stupid
or do something on TV!
That’s why people get afraid.
And do I get afraid? No! It’s wonderful.
Because I look at the possibilities,
what might happen?
And I could look at it,
“Now, what would happen if?”,
and it’s always something negative.
I look at it, “What would happen if?”
and always something positive.
If I make a complete idiot of myself in public,
that is wonderful! Then I could have a rest.
I don’t have to go travelling giving all these talks.
I could actually have some peace in my life.
That’s why when, you know, a couple of weeks ago
when I went to Thailand, Swine Flu!
And there was quite a few people here told me,
“Ajahn Brahm, you shouldn’t go travelling.
Swine Flu in Thailand”. A lot of pigs in Thailand.
And I said, “No, I’m travelling!”
Because if I do get Swine Flu, then apparently
when you come back into the country,
you have to go in quarantine.
So that would be a retreat.
That would be an extra retreat for me.
I would be able to have my own room
and have three meals a day, a nice bed,
not on the floor, and nobody would be able
to ask me any questions, no one ringing me up
because something has gone wrong with
the Buddhist Society or there’s something
happening over in whatever. That would
be just wonderful if I get Swine Flu for a
week or a couple of weeks. And if I don’t
get Swine Flue, great! I’m healthy!
So, therefore, you don’t have any fear.
One of the monks who has been here before,
but he died maybe about a year ago. He was
the – we used to call him the chief priest of
Malaysia, Dr K. Sri Dhammananda.
He has got a few books in our library,
like How to Live Without Fear and Worry
is one of his famous ones.
It’s easier to write a book, isn’t it?
But can you do it?
When he was diagnosed with cancer,
terminal cancer, his doctor said
he’s the only person he ever met who, when
he was diagnosed with terminal cancer,
burst out laughing.
Now, that’s a monk!
Can you do that? Can you just burst out
laughing when the doctor comes and says,
“You’ve got cancer, breast cancer.
Both have to be removed”.
“You’ve brain cancer.
Your brain has to be removed as well”.
I wish they would do that, then you
wouldn’t have to think so much.
You’re meditation would go much better.
But, no, I’m only joking there.
But would you just laugh and think, “Wow.
Great! I don’t have to go to old peoples’ homes”.
Go to a nursing home – have you been to nursing
homes? Do you want to go to a nursing home?
So you’ve got cancer. Whoopee!
No more nursing homes.
Now, there’s always a positive side in
whatever happens. That’s why if you look
at that positive side, “What would happen if?”, and
put the positive side in there, where’s the fear?
What are you afraid of anyway? We’ve all
got to die. You might as well get it over
and done with sooner rather than later.
Get it out of the way.
All you kids, are you afraid of the
examinations and the tests at school?
I used to be afraid of failing tests at school.
Were you afraid?
Until I found out every time you
pass those examinations, it means
you have to do another set next year.
But as soon as you fail them, then you’re
out of here. So why are you afraid?
If you pass, great. Your mum and dad
will be proud of you. If you fail, wow!
You don’t have to go to school again.
Freedom at last!
So when you have the idea of, like, freedom
is like thinking of the future and
putting something negative in it.
That is the reason why we’re afraid.
And don’t get sucked in to some
of these religions who say,
“If you don’t give your donation into the
donation box, you will go to the hell”.
The hell of the stingy people where you want
something and they won’t give it to you.
In the hell of the stingy people, there are
toilets, but the toilet paper always runs out.
And you knock on the door, “Can you pass
the toilet paper over?” “No!”
That has happened to me before.
I got in the toilet and, you know, you don’t look.
You should be mindful. And there’s no toilet roll
in there and you’ve got a lot of stuff on your
backside and nothing to do with it.
“Can you pass some toilet paper?”
Fortunately, someone always
passes me something.
But there’s all sorts of things like that
in the hell of the stingy. So be careful.
But that’s fear, isn’t it?
Getting fear inside of you.
If you don’t do this or you do that,
something bad is going to happen to you.
And that type of fear, why do people have that fear?
It just creates so much anxiety in their life.
And because you’ve been trained like that when
you were very young, you’re anxious people,
which means you control because you think,
“If I let go, something terrible is going to happen”.
I will tell you if you let go, nothing terrible
happens. You have a wonderful time.
But if you don’t let go, then many
terrible things happen to you.
You get stressed out and you die young.
You can’t have relationships.
You can’t do well at work.
You can’t have any happiness.
You can’t just be you when you’re afraid.
So our conditioning is totally counterproductive.
You find when we overcome fear and when
religions don’t promote fear – fortunately
Buddhism is a religion that doesn’t promote
fear. It’s not a case if you do something wrong,
something bad is going to happen to you.
If you do something wrong, then it just gets
more interesting in life. Just more – as i say,
shit to put under your mango tree
when you do things wrong.
And you can always do something with it,
no matter what happens in life. That sort
of punishment is just not there in Buddhism.
And because it’s not there in Buddhism,
then what are you afraid of anyway?
You can always do something whatever happens.
There’s no such thing as a wrong choice.
There’s another brilliant insight which I had as a
young man. There’s no such thing as a wrong choice.
So why are you afraid of making choices for?
You just make the choice and just live with it.
Because all those choices you just really
worry about, and worry about, and worry about.
All those choices of, you know, “Should I go out
with this girl or that girl?” It didn’t matter at all.
I became a monk. All that choices of whether
I should go in this course or that course.
They didn’t matter either. All that choices
of should I spend the keep the money,
totally irrelevant. So all the choices you
worry about, they don’t matter at all.
So you just choose and just leave it at that.
And whatever choice you make, your career
you partner or whatever, if you want to get
married. It doesn’t matter. That will do.
“Come on, let’s go and get married.”
You can always make it work if
you’ve got Dharma in your heart.
You want this job or that job,
which job are you going to get?
It doesn’t matter. Just take a job.
This is me when I was building that
retreat centre and I was the main
person who sort of got involved.
And so often, you know, people would
come to that retreat centre,
“Should you do it this way or that way?”
“Oh, that will do.” And I wasn’t a control freak.
Even when this person came along and they
wanted to know what colour I wanted for
something or other. And they came and
sort of showed it to me and I said,
“Oh, that will do.” They said, “What do you mean
‘That will do’?” That’s good enough as a colour.
A blind man will be glad to see it, as we say.
So why? What’s the big problem?
But sometimes people can worry so much
about what colour should you paint the walls.
And it’s just really difficult these days.
Because you get these colour charts
and there are a thousand colours to worry about.
Which one should you choose?
And in the old days, it was much easier.
Red, brown, yellow, white. Much easier.
And now you’ve got so much choice.
What do you do?
You don’t worry about the choices.
You just flip a coin – but I can’t flip a coin.
I haven’t got a coin. I’m a monk.
But you just make a decision.
Eeny, meeny, miny moe.
That’s the one I’m going to go.
And what I found whatever choice you make
you can always do something with it.
So what the heck.
What are you worried about?
The world doesn’t go wrong if
you make a bad choice.
So just do it and stop worrying about it.
It’s the worrying which was the worst thing.
Worry was much worse than so-called mistakes.
And where did the worry come from?
Fear and controlling, “What would happen if?”
sort of stuff. Ahh I just forget about that.
If you don’t like it, you can repaint it yourself.
Tell your friends who come and visit and they say
“Why did you get those curtains that colour for?”
“Don’t you like them?”
“No, they’re terrible!”
“Okay. You go and change them.”
“And you pay for them as well.”
That’s one of our rules in the monastery.
You should have this rule in your house as well.
If anyone has an idea, they have to do it.
If they think the gutters need cleaning
and they come up to you and say,
“Hey, you know, the gutters need cleaning”,
the rule, you have to do it.
It really keeps many people quiet.
But what it means is we just don’t complain.
We just take life easy and just allow
things to happen, and things get done.
Life goes on. When you don’t control
things so much, life goes on much better.
It’s a quality of life.
It’s the process of life.
It’s not where you get to,
it’s how you get there.
It’s not when you have the beautiful
house and the beautiful family.
Because a lot of the time people like to build
a beautiful house and a perfect family,
but they’re just control freaks. It’s just
surface. Inside, no one likes each other.
And why? It’s because everyone is so
afraid of being perfect.
There was one of the men I saw in Melbourne,
he used to be an Anagarika in my monastery
down in Perth a long time ago.
But he was saying when he was first there,
he was trying so hard to be perfect.
He was so afraid of breaking a rule.
And that’s why he got so tense
trying to control his body,
control his speech, control his mind. He
got so tense, he couldn’t stand it and he left.
So that’s not what a monastery is like. That’s
not what life is like. He misunderstood there.
Or maybe my mistake because
I didn’t emphasis kindness
and no control and letting things be more.
We can understand from what he was feeling,
some of you might feel like that in a
relationship. Trying to be so damn perfect
because you’re afraid. And because you’re
being so perfect and controlling yourself,
you can’t relax, and the
other person feels that.
They don’t like to be with someone like you.
You’re too stiff.
But imagine a person who has no fear.
Not trying to be perfect.
Just being yourself. Relax.
That’s who you are.
And because you’re relaxed, because you’re
letting go, you’re not controlling,
there’s no fear, people tend to like you.
Don’t you like authentic, relaxed people?
Not people who are trying to be perfect,
but just people, that’s who they are.
It’s great when, you know you’re with
someone who’s not perfect, because
then you’re not so afraid of not being
I remember years ago, this Buddhist here,
the first year I was here, you know,
he came up to us and said he was getting
divorced. I said “What’s wrong?”
He said his wife is too perfect. “It makes
me so sort of embarrassed, I can’t sort of
live up to that.” So don’t try and be too
perfect. Just be yourself.
And that way you relax, you’re not
controlling, you’re not acting out of fear.
But more than that, I’ve always wanted to
know where fear comes from.
We all know it’s counterproductive, but a
lot of the fear comes from the
controller-in-chief, you! The sense of self
and ego, which in Buddhism we try and
let go of, you know, non-self, no ego. Forget
about yourself, forget about the person you’re with.
That’s not the point. It’s always us.
It’s the relationship. Not a person.
Not a me. Not a person over there and there.
It’s always us, the relationship.
But when we have a sense of self, a sense
of me, there’s always going to be a fear,
because your sense of self is built up by
prestige, reputation, who you think you are,
how good you are at this, how wonderful you
are at that. All of your skills and your strong
points, that’s who you think you are.
When you make a mistake, what do you say?
“I wasn’t feeling myself today” or “that
wasn’t really me”, when you make a mistake.
But all the sort of the good about you,
that’s who you think you are.
And there’s one of these Sufi stories,
Nasrudin stories, when – this was like a
Mulla in Persia, before it was called Iran,
many, many years ago. A great Sufi story.
Now, in those days, any people of religion
were very highly respected.
You know, not so much these days.
But they were like pillars of society.
Now, this pillar of society, this great Mullah
who was so respected in the community,
decided to take his students to the fair
for an outing. They had been meditating
and studying and practicing so hard,
“Let’s give them a day out”.
So he took them to the fair. And at that
fair there were many stalls.
And one of the stalls was an archery stall.
Just like the old coconut shys, but with
bows and arrows. And if you managed to hit
the target, the ball, you would get a prize.
And so this Mulla Nasrudin said,
“Yes, this looks easy enough.
Give me a bow and three arrows!”
And so he paid over, you know, a few dollars.
And all his students were really surprised,
because he was like a holy man.
What does a holy man know
about weapons like a bow and arrow?
He said, “Oh, it’s just concentration.
Just mindfulness. That’s all it is.”
“You know, I can do this!”
So he put the first arrow in the bow.
And everyone was really quite surprised.
It’s like if you give me a bow and arrow.
I’ve never shot a bow and arrow in my life.
You know, could the power of Samadhi,
if Ajahn Brahm had a bow and arrow,
how accurate would he be?
And that’s what they were thinking with this Mulla.
And so he pulled the – put the bow – put the arrow
in the bow – see, even I don’t know which
one goes in which – put the arrow in the bow
and shot it, and it only went about halfway
to the target. It didn’t even, you know – not
even miss it, it just didn’t get there to
miss it. And everybody started to giggle,
because the guy was making a fool of himself.
And people love it when people in authority
make a fool of themselves.
And then he just turned around and said,
“That, that was a shot of a hasty man”.
And then he put his second arrow in the bow.
And this time, he took more time.
And he pulled that arrow further back
as the wood of the bow stretched.
And he shot the next arrow and it certainly
made the distance, but went about, you know,
a $2 train ride to the left. It missed it a
long way. And people really started to guffaw.
And he just turned around and said,
“That, that was a shot of an arrogant man”.
And then he put his last and third arrow in
the bow. Took his time, aimed and shot that.
And that one went right in the middle of
the bullseye. But as he claimed his prize,
the relieved students said, “Well, if the
first shot was the shot of a hasty man
and the second was a shot of an arrogant
man, what was the third shot?”
And he said, “That was my shot. That was me.”
Which was showing we always take credit
for the successes and we blame our
faults on, “That wasn’t me!” “I was feeling
a bit sick.” “I was just off my game today.”
“I was not just really in the right mood.”
Now, this is how we put up a sense of self,
a sense of me, which is why we get so afraid
when we’re about to lose our reputation,
when we’re about to do something which
doesn’t fit with who we think we are. And
that’s that fear of ridicule . The fear of shame.
The fear of stuffing up. Now, that’s one of
the biggest fears of all which stops us, again,
just relaxing and enjoying other people’s
company. Many people don’t speak a foreign
language because they’re afraid of saying a
wrong word and getting embarrassed.
As for me, I have no fear, so I try any
language and it doesn’t matter if I stuff up
and say something stupid. Because if people
laugh, then I’ve made them happy.
And isn’t that what a monk is supposed to do?
To make other people happy?
So if I say something stupid and make you
laugh because I’m an idiot, isn’t that an
act of compassion for other beings?
It seems that’s what happened.
That’s what I was taught, because my teacher,
Ajahn Chah, when any monk did something
stupid, that’s what he would do. He would
just laugh. He thought it was terribly funny.
You know, when these western monks did stupid
things. I remember there was this one girl,
this one girl came from England. She was like
18 or 19 years of age, came to visit our monastery.
And you know the squat toilets we have in
Asia where you squat down on them?
So some people have a hard time squatting
down on the toilets. You know, they fall over
and that’s not such a good thing when you
want to go. So instead of actually down,
we built, especially, out of compassion for
all these visitors from places like England
and Australia, we built like a frame so you can
put it over the squat toilet and actually sit on it.
You know, because most people use the squat
toilet, so we just put this frame just to the side.
And that’s the toilet which this girl used.
It just had no hole in the bottom. No water.
It was only a frame. But she sat on it and
did her business and it went all on the floor.
That’s what Ajahn Chah did.
That’s what I did.
I thought it was terribly funny.
“Oh thank you for doing that. You gave me
another story!” Well, what happens?
Some people get terribly embarrassed
about that. “Oh don’t tell other people!”
But be careful, because I use it as a story in a
Friday night talk. So be careful if you tell me!
So why are you afraid of making a mistake?
One of the things I was taught
as a school teacher – and this is
a wonderful thing for life – if you
do do something stupid and make a mistake
and other people laugh, you laugh as well.
And that means the world never laughs at you,
it only laughs with you. And that overcomes
a lot of fear. So in public talks, if I make a mistake,
say something stupid – and I’ve mentioned many
of the stupid things which I’ve done the past,
especially on important occasions.
An important occasion like that marriage
I did once. It was a Thai girl. She was very,
very sweet and very young, maybe 19 or 20.
And I had heard she was marrying an Australian
guy. So when they came in here for their wedding,
I saw this young Thai girl coming in with
this elderly Australian man.
And I said to this Australian man,
“Oh, you must be the father-in-law!”
“No, I’m the groom!”, he said.
That wedding didn’t go down very well.
But funerals are even better. When you make
mistakes at funerals, they’re really funny.
Like that time when it was a Sri Lankan
couple who come here and they told me
that their parent had died and can I come
and do the funeral. So I did the funeral for them,
because, you know, I would do anything for
you guys. And so there I was standing at the front
with all these very serious people in front
of me, and I say, “We come here today on
the sad occasion of” – I forget this couple’s mum
who passed away. “She was such a wonderful lady”.
And then this old woman stood up at the back,
“It’s not me. It’s my husband who has died!
I’m still okay!”
That was a really funny funeral that was.
That’s one of my favorites.
I really stuffed up there
Especially at a funeral, because once you’ve
made a big mistake like that, and you tell everybody.
It’s great fun. Oh, I”m not embarrassed
about it. I think it was very funny.
Everyone makes mistakes. What are
you so afraid of in making mistakes?
Let everybody know and make them laugh. It makes
a much happier life when other people laugh.
And it means you’re not afraid of making mistakes.
You let people know stupid things you do.
So when you do stupid things like that and
you laugh at them, it means you’re not
afraid of doing stupid things in the future.
Your reputation is not so important
that you can’t be human. You make a mistake,
do something stupid, and laugh at it.
You can see just how you can be at peace with
yourself when you don’t have to be perfect,
which means you’re not afraid of making mistakes.
One of the rules at Bodhinyana Monastery –
every now and again I say this – this is one
place in the world, one community where you
are permitted to make mistakes.
Isn’t that wonderful to go to a place
where you’re allowed to make a mistake,
many mistakes? Because I know psychology.
Where you allow people to make mistakes,
they hardly make any.
But when you’re afraid what might happen
if you make a mistake, you make heaps.
It’s psychology, and I think
you can understand why.
So are you afraid of making mistakes?
That is your fear!
So overcome that. Let it go. It doesn’t
matter, making mistakes.
It’s all right. So you’re allowed
to point your feet at the Buddha.
You’re allowed to fall asleep during my talk.
You’re allowed to snore while I’m talking.
You’re allowed, when I tell a joke,
to say, “Oh, no, not that one again!”
Which brings me on to today’s joke.
I’m not sure – do you remember?
Because I told this to somebody today
and they hadn’t heard it for a while,
about the man lost in the desert
who met the Eskimo?
Sounds like a good joke, doesn’t it?
There was a guy lost in the desert.
He had been in the desert for a long time.
And he couldn’t walk anymore.
He was crawling and he was parched,
about to die.
You know, when you get this very
hot desert, you get delirious?
So there he was crawling and he saw an
Eskimo coming. You know, in a sled
with huskies, the works.
You know, with a big fur hat on.
And he says, “This can’t be true. This can’t
be true. An Eskimo in a desert?”
But the Eskimo came right up to him.
And he was real. He could touch him.
It wasn’t a fantasy at all.
It was an Eskimo in the desert.
And this guy said, “I’m so glad you’re here.
I’m so glad. I’ve been lost for days in in this desert.”
And the Eskimo said, “And you think you’re lost!”
So it’s all right to say, “Oh, that’s a terrible joke.
I’m going out of here. I want my money back.”
And I’m not afraid. That’s why I tell jokes.
I don’t care if you like them or not
of if you groan. I’m telling them.
And I’m enjoying it. I don’t know about you.
So you don’t have any fear.
And when you don’t have any fear
you don’t control
And when you don’t control, you let go.
And when you let go, you have so much
peace in life. So much happiness in life.
You just flow with life.
You don’t make so many plans. You can be
more adaptive when you’re not afraid.
So you lose all your money in the stockmarket,
you lose your job, great!
Every Monday morning you can sleep in.
So, you know, your wife leaves you, wonderful!
“Now, I can go to the monastery
and become a monk!”
Look at the positive side of life
for goodness sake.
So you don’t have any fear.
Which means also when you’re meditating –
I meant to – because I’m always losing time –
how can you meditate with fear and
“What would happen if I fell asleep?”
“What happens if I fell over?”
“What happens if I have
these stupid thoughts come up?”
When you fear these things, you get tense.
And when you get tense, that’s the opposite
of what meditation is supposed to be about.
So instead of having fear in your meditation,
just no plans, nothing to gain,
nowhere to go, just be and relax
with no fear at all what might happen.
You have to do that in meditation.
If you really want to get very deep in meditation,
you come across some very powerful fears.
Fears of things disappearing.
Now, those are the great fears to overcome.
Because there’s something in Buddhism that
we call attachments.
And when any of those attachments disappear
or are about to disappear, that can be
very scary for you, especially when it’s
things which are very, very closely
attached to you, like your body.
When that starts to vanish….ahh!
“Where has my body gone?”
Don’t worry. It’s not your body.
It came from your mum and dad.
You’re going to give it up afterwards.
When people ask me the question, “In Buddhism,
you know, what do you tell people?
Where do you go when you die?” There are
three places you can go when you die.
Karrakatta, Fremantle, Pinnaroo.
So you’re all going to end up there anyway.
So your body is not yours, so don’t worry
about it disappearing in meditation.
In fact, it’s just a great relief when you’ve
got no aches, no pains, no heat, no cold.
Ahh, I’m so free in meditation.
So when you get to that stage in meditation
and the body is about to go, let it go.
Nothing to do with me.
It doesn’t belong to me.
So don’t have fear. Fear is always
coming up because you think you own something.
And it’s not yours that’s about to disappear.
When you let go of the body in meditation,
when you get to have to let go of the body
when you die, great! “Goodbye body.
I’ve had enough of you. You’re old, your sick,
you’re falling apart.” Gee, you wouldn’t
keep sort of a car like that, would you?
How many of you have got a –
you wouldn’t, would you?
Many of you every, what is it,
couple of years or three years,
you change your car and get a new model.
And what is it?
The old body is 50, 60, 70 years
of age and you keep, sort of,
trying to get spare parts.
Some of these people, they shouldn’t
be on the road, should they?
So don’t be afraid to let it go.
It’s great. Good riddance.
Get a better model next time.
And, of course, it’s like anything else, as
long as you’ve got a good insurance policy,
if you’ve got a good insurance policy and a
tree falls on your car, you get actually more.
Actually, our car, we found out we insured
it for much more than it’s worth.
So we’re just hoping, “Please, may a tree fall on it”.
“Please, may someone steal – – -” [laughter]
So if you’ve done really good kamma, then
you’re insured for more than your worth.
Which means that once this body dies, you
get a much better body next time.
So just like our car, if that, sort of, crashes
or stuff, we can get a new car, same money,
brilliant! Because we’re over insured,
just like you. So if you’ve paid up all
your insurance premiums, the donations,
five precepts, being a good person,
coming to the temple, then when you die
you get a really beautiful car next time.
A nice body. Nice, beautiful, fit and
healthy, smart, rich. Yes! (laughs)
So keep your insurance premiums paid up.
So that’s our car. We can let it go.
But then you get deeper in meditation when
your thoughts stop. When there’s silence.
A lot of times we’re attached to our
thinking and we feel very strange
when nothing is going on between our ears.
When your second mouth – do you know
where your second mouth is? This is your
first mouth. The second mouth is inside
your brain between your ears. “Yak, yak,
yak, yak, yak, yak, yak.”
Always thinking, always complaining.
That’s your second mouth.
When your second mouth shuts up – all it is
is a fear of the unknown.
But when you get to know that, it’s so
peaceful. You aren’t your thinking!
And then we get really deep where
your will stops, when that disappears.
Are you afraid to actually surrender your will?
And there’s nothing left.
Shh, perfect peace.
When that happens, please don’t be afraid.
No one is going to take over your mind.
You’re just going to be so free.
When this thing inside of you, which is
always controlling you, telling you what to do,
telling you how to be, telling you to
always go, stopping you from being at
peace for any moment, when that subsides,
ah, that’s really bliss. Those are the Jhanas.
Ah, it’s so nice. So never be afraid of
letting go. Because in deep meditation,
you find that you don’t own anything.
So if you don’t own anything, let it all go.
Let it all disappear.
And then we don’t have fear,
you understand why meditation is
all about letting things go. No control.
No fear. Just being here knowing that if
you put all your kindness and mindfulness
into this moment, you don’t have to fear
anything. It’s good kamma in this moment.
That’s all you need to do. Make peace,
be kind, be gentle in this moment and
the whole process just unfolds. No fear.
No control. Perfectly at peace.
That’s the path to enlightenment.
Enlightened beings don’t have fear.
Given it up. I don’t want it anymore.
It’s useless. Why be afraid?
Whatever happens, it’s okay. Give a good
talk, fine. I will give a talk next week.
Bad talk, you say “I don’t want him again!”
Either way, I’m sweet. (laughter)
So what are you afraid of in life?
Is it really worth being afraid of that?
Is it, “What would happen if?” and you’ve got
this terrible negative thing happening afterwards.
Instead, put something positive. And don’t
even think about it. Just be in this moment
as much as you can. Don’t plan.
Just be kind and be mindful.
That’s the best plan you can have for
You find everything will go far more
smoothly when you stop worrying about it.
Life goes on even better without you.
That’s the truth and you know it damn well,
but you just don’t admit it.
And what I mean “without you”, I mean
without your controlling and interference.
Don’t interfere with life. Life knows
what to do. You just go along for the ride
and stop shouting at the driver. So that’s
the talk this evening. Letting go of fear.
So who’s got a question?
And don’t be afraid of asking a question.
Are there any questions this evening?
Yes, from the back?
Audience member: There’s this is program
on ABC TV called Questions & Answers.
Ajahn Braham: Yes?
Audience: And sometimes they have religious
leaders on to comment
Ajahn Braham: Yes?
Audience: And I remember the comment that
they had no Buddhist teacher in – – –
Ajahn Brahm: Aha! This is my chance.
(inaudible) your name could be put forward
because there’s (inaudible).
Ajahn Brahm: Okay. You’re saying that on ABC
there’s a program called Question & Answer and
they have religion people in there.
They’ve never had a Buddhist monk yet.
That’s unfair! I’m not going to stand for this!
[laughter]. Yes, get a petition going.
ABC, you’ve got to live in Sydney basically.
So if you lived in Sydney – because that’s where
all the studios are. So we don’t exist over here
in the wild west. But anyway, you petition them.
Say, “I know this guy. Bald head, brown robe.
He qualifies”. [laughter] Yes, you’ve got a question there?[Audience member – question inaudible).
Ajahn Brahm: Yes. I mean, all expectations is –
even the word “expectations” means looking
outside of this moment. We look outside too much.
We should inspect more. In other words,
look at how you’re feeling now.
What’s going on. And if you get the job or
if you don’t get the job, it doesn’t really matter.
You’re still alive. There’s still plenty
of other jobs to get. So just say “so what”.
There’s always another bus coming, sort of,
a few minutes later. It might be a better bus.
So, so what? Just let life come on.
Because sometimes I was very disappointed.
Many times I had a broken heart because my
girlfriend dumped me. [laughter]
Now, I think, “Oh, thank you so much, girlfriends,
for dumping me”. I would never have been a monk.
“Thank you so much, so much, so much.”
[laughter]. “Thanks I didn’t get that job.”
Because in the end you don’t know how your
life goes. And when you look now and you
think, “Oh, this is a terrible disaster”, but
in the big picture, oh, it’s a wonderful
thing that has happened to you.
So now we don’t have any expectations
because you don’t know what’s going to happen.
I don’t know what’s going to happen.
I’m not sure what’s going to happen. But I
just let it happen and see what happens next.
But I do know that if I don’t stop soon, the
president might get upset at me.
So we might stop now.
[end of recording]