On Not Becoming a Buddha

Above all, don’t wish to become a future Buddha;

Your only concern should be,

As thought follows thought,

To avoid clinging to any of them.


Hawk looking down 0614I do not think I have ever wanted to be a Buddha. I do not remember that thought at all. I do focus on trying not to cling to my thoughts but my lifelong practice of hairsplitting has been a sanctuary as well as a war.

My fondness for making excessive distinctions in reasoning allows me to dress up old behavior as new. I may not have expressed a wish to become a Buddha, but I have desired acquiring inner peace for the rest of my life.

Quite often it feels as if I am stomping through myriad thoughts, trying to shake off first one and then the other. I am amazed at the substance I give to a thought–I walk around in it–giving it a life it does not have.

Usually, it is a thought I know well but until I have examined it thoroughly, I am not able to let it go. I like to think that hairsplitting serves me here, much like Ajahn Chah’s distinction between holding and clinging:

We pick up [a flashlight], look at it and see, `Oh, it’s a flashlight,’ then we put it down. This is called holding but not clinging, we let go. We know and then we let go. To put it simply we say just this, `Know, then let go.’

~Ajahn Chah~

For me, knowing to let go requires trust, and when I do, the named thought floats by, a mere reminder of what is. However, knowing an object, a thing, is easier than meeting a familiar emotion.  Yet, the practice is the same.Hawk looking up 0614

In fact, the practice of looking and letting go is what the mind learns to trust; Chah says that in “constancy of mind, wisdom arises.”

That constancy of mind is what I need most when emotion pulls at me, when I face patterns of a lifetime. Hairsplitting allows me to breathe between thoughts but it also makes for interesting detours.

As I began my regimen of healthy eating, meditation and yoga, I defined and redefined my practice of each as well as the union and intersection of all three. That is neither bad nor good but my initial focus was on results and now, it is to live.

In the beginning we practise with some desire in mind; we practise on and on, but we don’t attain our desire. So we practise until we reach a point where we’re practising for no return, we’re practising in order to let go.”

~Ajahn Chah~

“Practicing for no return” would not have been what I needed to know as I began my practice. I would not have trusted it. My wishing to become a Buddha was disguised as various emotional and physical health goals. In order to change my physical and emotional being, I had to let go of trying to become a future Buddha.

16 thoughts on “On Not Becoming a Buddha

  1. You said: “I am amazed at the substance I give to a thought–I walk around in it–giving it a life it does not have.” Oh my, can I ever relate to that! I so often give substance to my thoughts and my stories until they do indeed take on a life of their own. I love this image to help me be aware of when I am walking around in a thought so I can learn to stop giving them so much life. Thank you!

    • Isn’t it amazing the life we will give a thought? There are times when I immediately recognize that I am attached to a moment that has never existed nor will it for it is only a thought. Other times, however, I walk around in the non-existent for quite a while before the facade fades. Thanks, Kenetha!

  2. Just what I needed on this hectic Monday, another thought provoking post from you. I have learned, though my practice, to recognize thoughts but I still struggle with not clinging. Or, as you so eloquently stated, “giving it a life that it does not have.” I’m good with letting go of things/objects so perhaps if I can start to consider that emotions are simply “things” just presented in other forms, I’ll have an easier time just letting go. I really enjoyed this one and as always, your sharing has given me a few gems to ponder moving forward. Best to you, my friend. :)

    • Emotions as things works better for me, too. The first time I read this Ajahn Chah excerpt I thought, “aha!” Of course, putting down a thought is still a bit sticky but the concept seems a concrete way to trust what I know and let it go. Thanks, Stephanie!

  3. It is perhaps only by letting go of one path that we can find the one we were meant to be on. And yet it is often not obvious that we should let go, sometimes. But testing the point can be useful; and, sometimes – as you have – it becomes clear that there are other ways. It is, of course, one of the hardest things we can master – letting go.

    • It does seem a slippery slope but I am sensing that awareness opens me to change. Of course, opening to change and actually changing is yet another exercise but no matter, it always seems to come down to letting go. As you say, letting go is a tough one. Thanks, Matthew!

  4. I still cling to many things; routine brings order out of chaos, as some relationships do — with others and even that relationship I have with myself. Letting go of those we love can be painful. Is cherishing each day (my current mantra) a form of clinging? a form of knowing? And yet, one day, knowingly or not, I will let go fully of all that I am. That thought doesn’t frighten me. It is simply what is. Thank you again for another thoughtful post.

    • For what it’s worth, I think cherishing is more holding, more knowing that this is the day I have so I will be in it. I tend to see clinging as wanting all to stop and never change, which can never be no matter how hard we cling. As for that moment when “I let go fully of all that I am,” I am not frightened by that, either. I go back and forth regarding routine as I agree it is a way of moving through chaos but I have a tendency to lose myself in routine. For me, it can become a way to avoid. Thanks, Beth!

    • No, it is not. Perhaps, we are more concerned with putting a mark on a moment rather than experiencing what it is offering. And that may be as unintentional as intentional but as you say, it is more exertion either way. Thanks, Ann!

  5. when i am sitting in meditation i try to observe my thoughts as they come and go but wait patiently for those rare and precious moments when there in an empty space between one thought and another. but it is not really empty. it is like a window opening for a brief nano-second on a bright clear sky………. and then it’s gone.

    • It really is not an empty space–I’ve noticed that as well–in fact, for me the noticing is like the window closing because in noticing, it is gone, and there I am, thinking. Thanks so much, Craig!

  6. Traveling life, the river, never clinging to any particular rock is a lesson I have never mastered. Safety seems to come from from holding on–and yet I keep trying to trust and let go..

    • I have done my share of rock hugging and no doubt, there is more for me downstream. The default seems to be to cling but I am thinking that default can become, “oh, I know that rock” and even if I bump up against it, I’ll trust the river to float me by. Well, that’s the idea, anyway. Thanks, Adrian!

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