The Venerable Master’s Teaching
on Not Seeking
A talk given by Brooks Hansard on October 5, 2011
Good evening all Good and Wise Advisors. Amitofo!
When I first came across the Venerable Master’s teachings, there were a few of his teachings that influenced me the most and that I became very attracted to. Two of them are part of his 6 Guiding Principles. The first is the principle of not seeking. The second is the principle of not pursuing personal advantage. The third is his teaching that we shouldn’t “climb on conditions.” Up until that point, I had never even heard of the term “climbing on conditions.” Because it was not a part of my vernacular, I wasn’t aware that such a concept even existed. Once I was given a term for it, I was then able to consider it as a concept. I can still remember reading about these three principles back in 2003 and how strongly influenced I was by them at the time.
What was interesting for me while I was reading about these principles was that they revealed to me the ways in which I was most obstructed on the Path, and something of which I was totally unaware of before that point. You see, I had never looked at myself through those lens before. Rather, I had always looked at myself through the lens of our society. In society, we are taught that it is good to seek. Moreover, in this competitive world of ours, we are taught that the only way to succeed in life is by pursuing personal advantage. We are also taught that we should be opportunistic so that we can get ahead in life, and that the way to do that is by climbing on conditions. Never had I ever considered that there could actually be a different way of thinking and behaving, a different way of viewing and interacting with the world.
At that time, while learning about these principles, I reflected on the life I had lived up until that point, and I realized that there had never been a single instant in time when I had not engaged in seeking, in pursuing personal advantage, and in climbing on conditions. That was all I had ever known. I thought to myself, “Is it even possible to NOT be like that? My entire personality has been built around seeking, pursuing personal advantage, and climbing on conditions. Who would I be if I stopped doing those things? Moreover, what would there be to actually do if I stopped doing those things? Isn’t that all that there is in life? Is it really possible to live a life where you don’t do those things???”
I never deeply understood why I was so attracted to these three teachings until I heard a Dharma talk by Reverend Heng Sure one day, in which he explained the reason why. Through his talk, I came to realize that I was attracted to those three teachings because they are psychological. You see, I was a psychology major in college. I’ve always been interested in the mind and how it works. Most psychologists, ultimately, are interested in finding out how we can find happiness in our lives. For that reason, many psychologists today are very interested in Buddha Dharma. My interest in the mind not only led me to majoring in psychology, but it also led me to having a keen interest in Buddhism. I wanted to understand, “Why is there unhappiness?” When I learned about the the first two noble truths of the Buddha’s 4 Noble Truths, I realized that he provided the ultimate answer to that question. The reason why we are unhappy is because our minds are full of desires and attachments in a world that’s impermanent. Because it’s impermanent, we can never be satisfied. Tanha, craving, leads to dukkha, discontentment. From a psychological perspective, one could even see the Buddha as the ultimate psychotherapist, truly knowing how to guide one to achieve happiness.
In the same way that the first two Noble Truths are psychological, the three principles taught by the Venerable Master—not seeking, not pursuing personal advantage, and not climbing on conditions—are also psychological. When I came across these teachings, I was able to see very clearly how these activities of the mind are aspects of greed and how if I actually want to find true, lasting inner peace and happiness, I should work on changing these vices within myself.
I’d have to say that my most favorite teaching of the three is ‘no seeking,’ partially because pursuing personal advantage and climbing on conditions contain seeking within them. The main reason I have a particular liking for the guiding principle of ‘not seeking’ is because it exposes one of our greatest weaknesses as human beings—that is, seeking after distractions. This weakness is especially prevalent in today’s society. How so? Well, technology makes it so we are constantly being bombarded with sensory stimuli and distractions. People are constantly preoccupied with one thing or another using today’s technology—whether it be surfing the internet, listening to music on their ipod, watching tv, text messaging their friends, updating their facebook status, tweeting, playing video games, etc. Why do we constantly keep ourselves engaged with these different activities? It’s because we are seeking distractions. Why do we seek distractions? It’s because, at a deep level, our minds are profoundly discontent. We don’t want to deal with our discontentment directly, so in order to escape from it, we keep ourselves constantly distracted through the use of technology. Ultimately, we are seeking ways to escape from our minds. There is no moment in the day when we aren’t seeking after something to preoccupy our time. In this way, we are constantly engaged with seeking–seeking after distractions in order to forget about ourselves. These mindless distractions are a real obstacle to the Path, and the practice of not seeking can really help us to overcome this obstacle. Once we are no longer being distracted, we can then return our attention to our own minds and begin the work of transforming them.
Seeking involves trying to get something that you are presently lacking. First, we experience a craving or a hankering for something, and then after that we seek after it. If we are involved in seeking, then that automatically implies that our minds are discontent. A mind that is completely content would have no reason to seek. Therefore, to practice not seeking is to cultivate inner contentment. In that way, practicing not seeking is a powerful way to counteract the first Noble Truth—dukkha or discontentment.
The act of seeking occurs at a very unconscious, imperceptible level in our minds. It is directly related to one of the 12 links in the Buddha’s teaching on dependent origination. The tenth link is called bhava in Sanskrit. In English, it is translated as becoming or continuation. The way in which seeking is related to this link is through its involvement in moving the mind’s attention away from the present and into the future. When we seek, we are always seeking after something in the future, because of the fact that in the present we feel discontent.
Seeking reinforces continuation and becoming, because continuation and becoming are the movement of the mind into the future. Regarding the 10th link, bhava, what I find interesting about its English translation into the words continuation and becoming is that these two words mean two very different things. Continuation means staying the same as time progresses. Becoming means changing into something different as time progresses. Yet, whether a person experiences a change or continuation, seeking reinforces both. In the case of continuation, the mind seeks to have its present pleasant state continue on into the future. This involves clinging to the present experience, which is the first of the 3 Poisons–greed. In the case of becoming, the mind seeks to have its present unpleasant state become a state that is no longer unpleasant in the future. This involves having aversion to the present experience, which is the second of the 3 Poisons–anger. When a mind has clinging, it seeks to continue that experience into the future. When a mind has aversion, it seeks to have that experience become something different in the future. Yet, the key word in both of these statements is the word ‘seeks’. For that reason, a mind that’s constantly involved in seeking reinforces this particular link within dependent origination.
What I find also equally interesting is the opposite of bhava, that is, to not become or continue. How could the mind stop becoming or continuing? In order to do that, it would have to be completely content in the present moment, without any tanha, or craving. If a mind didn’t have craving, it would not cling to pleasant experiences or have aversion to unpleasant experiences. If a mind doesn’t have clinging, it will not have the desire to continue the experience into the future. If a mind doesn’t have aversion, it will not have the desire to make the experience become something different in the future. Once there is no desire to continue an experience or to make it become something different, there will be no seeking after a future state. If there is no seeking, that means one’s mind is completely content in the present moment and does not feel a need to move its attention away from the present and into the future.
This brings up another point, which is the way in which not seeking causes our attention to return to the present. There is real value in this. For this reason, as a practice, not seeking really benefits meditation, in that it requires the mind to be focused on the present moment. If the mind is seeking, that automatically implies that it’s focused on the future, and not focused on the present. The only way to have a mind that is not seeking is by remaining focused on the present. Moreover, as we know, if the mind is not focused on the present, then there is no way we can ever hope to attain samadhi. Therefore, not seeking indirectly promotes samadhi. In my opinion, to the same extent that seeking reinforces the 10 th link of dependent origination—bhava, not seeking reinforces being mindful in the present moment, and ultimately, therefore, reinforces samadhi. Not only that, but as mentioned before, it also reinforces inner contentment, which, when brought to the ultimate point, becomes nirvana–the ending of outflows.
The Venerable Master’s teachings on not seeking, not pursuing personal advantage, and not climbing on conditions offered me a much larger teaching than just these specific principles. They showed that it is possible to live in a way that is completely different from how we have been raised and taught in modern society and from how our society is run. Before encountering his teachings, I didn’t know that there was any other way of living without seeking, pursuing personal advantage, and climbing on conditions. Before that, I always thought that those ways of being were just facts of life, the only way that humans could ever be. Now I know that it is possible to be more than that, to actually have inner virtue at a very deep level of our minds. Now I know what is required and absolutely indispensable in order to truly find lasting inner peace and happiness.