Last night, I accompanied a friend to Ajahn Brahm’s talk at Kong Meng San. This is my second time hearing him speak. My brother, who never fails to attend any of his talk, had kindly obtained tickets for us.
Last night topic was about using ancient wisdom to survive in this modern world.
He started by talking about anxiety and depression, common illnesses suffered in a modern world. He told us about a student who suffered from anxiety attack that was so severe that she was bed-ridden. Someone recommended her to ‘dial-a-monk’ because ‘it’s cheaper than seeing a psychiatrist’ and she called Ajahn Brahm. Ajahn taught her to describe the anxiety feeling and feel it with her body over the next few weeks. Every time she gets the feeling in her body, not just in her mind, she got her boyfriend to massage the part with compassion. It could be a tightening in her chest, or a stomach-ache. Massage it. Finally, she was cured. His message is, if you feel fear, or anxiety, feel it through your body and massage the part with compassion.
A study in England found that there are three ways in treating depression – medication, cognitive (counselling) and meditation. Meditation was found to be the most effective treatment. If we get depression, as with all sufferings, to accept it without fighting it. Acceptance will gradually lessens the pain. He told this story. A terrible, smelly giant monster invades a palace when an emperor is out. Every time the palace guard tries to chase the monster out with threats and weapons, it grows bigger, and smellier. When the emperor returns, he accepts the monster and treats it with kindness and compassion. Every kind word or gesture reduces the size of the monster until it finally disappears.
Next, he told us about the three rings of marriage – engagement ring, wedding ring and suffering. There was once two sisters who came to him. One was troubled by her marriage and was contemplating divorce. The other was bothered by her singlehood. Thus there is ‘marriage suffering’ and ‘single suffering’. If one is to get a divorce, she will exchange her ‘marriage suffering’ for ‘single suffering’ and the other sister vice versa. To our amusement, he told us that as a young monk, he had ‘young monk suffering’ when he sees the abbots enjoying better rooms and food. Now that he is an abbot, he has ‘abbot sufferings’. Why? Because no one is ever content with their situation, especially with rising expectation.
One woman, a university maths lecturer had come to him because her husband had lied to her once and she could not trust him again. Ajahn told her, using statistic, by estimating the number of years she married multiplying by the number of statements he told her, which is about 20,000 through the years, there is a 1 in 20,000 chance of the husband lying to her the next time he speaks. Would that make it easier for her to trust him?
He touched on making mistakes. Nobody is perfect. Mistakes are often the source of new inventions and we should embrace mistakes as a learning experience. Imperfection makes the world unique (probably not the word he used.) A husband who has cheated deserves the wife’s forgiveness if he promises to change. Leave him if he insists on his way.
He also mentioned on living the moment. ‘If you enjoy doing something, enjoy the moment, and then let it go when it ends. ‘
Ajahn Brahm’s talk is not complete without him relating the tales of ‘Two Bad Bricks’ and the ‘Two Chicken Farmers’. This two tales can be found in his book ‘Open the door of your Heart.’ Read the book. It’s funny and eye-opening.
A Catholic man who attended the talk last night asked him how he should prepare for marriage life with his Buddhist fiancée. ‘By coming with her to the temple and by bringing her to your church. Learn and grow from each other’s religion. Religion should never be divisive.’
Ajahn Brahm peppered his talk with humour and jokes, especially during the questions and answer session.
“Can’t sleep? Come to one of my boring talks.”
“Why do people come to me, a monk, for marriage counselling?”
“You take photos on happy occasions, like weddings, anniversaries and graduation, not divorce or other bad occasions. Do that also with the camera in your head. Fill it up with happy memories, not bad ones.”
His wit and wisdom make his talk very enjoyable such that tickets are often all ‘given out’ fast.