Ajahn Brahm attended Cambridge University where he earned a degree in theoretical physics. He left the academic world and ventured into the jungles of Thailand and spent nine years studying with the meditation master Ajahn Chah. In 1983, Brahm was asked to assist in the establishment of a monastery near Perth, Western Australia. He is now the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery and the Spiritual Director of the Buddhist Society of Western Australia.
The one-hundred and eight stories in this entertaining and spiritually edifying paperback have been divided into the following thematic categories: perfection and guilt, love and commitment, fear and pain, anger and forgiveness, creating happiness, critical problems and their compassionate solutions, wisdom and inner silence, the mind and reality, values and the spiritual life, freedom and humility, suffering, and letting go.
According to Brahm, the Buddha would often teach using stories as a way of connecting with his listeners. The author has a fine sense of humor and these tales are sure to speak to your condition. Here is one example:
"In the south of Thailand some years ago, a famous abbot was building a new hall in his forest monastery. When the Rains Retreat came, he stopped all work and sent the builders home. This was the time for quiet in his monastery.
"A few days later a visitor came, saw the half-constructed building and asked the abbot when his hall would be finished. Without hesitation, the old monk said, 'The hall is finished.'
" 'What do you mean, "The hall is finished?" ' the visitor replied, taken aback. 'It hasn't got a roof. There are no doors or windows. There are pieces of wood and cement bags all over the place. Are you going to leave it like that? Are you mad? What do you mean, 'The hall is finished?'
"The old abbot smiled and gently replied, 'What's done is finished,' and then went away to meditate.
"This is the only way to have a retreat or to take a break. Otherwise our work is never finished."
It is sometimes too easy to view obstacles, tragedies, and personal failures as catastrophic events. Most of us are real drama queens at one time or another. Brahm tells some fascinating stories about the challenge of seeing setbacks, bad things, or character flaws as spiritual teachers. We worry too much, judge others too harshly, and spend too much energy on blaming.
"Someone calls you an idiot. Then you start thinking, 'How can they call me an idiot? They've got no right to call me an idiot! How rude to call me an idiot! I'll get them back for calling me an idiot.' And you suddenly realize that you have just let them call you an idiot another four times.
"Every time you remember what they said, you allow them to call you an idiot again. Therein lies the problem.
"If someone calls you an idiot and you immediately let it go, then it doesn't bother you. There is the solution.
"Why allow other people to control your inner happiness?"
The spiritual life is an adventure, and we can make the most of it by allowing for mystery in our daily lives and being open to new possibilities. We can also have vision, as the following teaching story illustrates:
"The daughter of a friend from my college days was in her first year at primary school. Her teacher asked the large class of five-year olds, 'What is the biggest thing in the world?'
" 'My daddy,' said one girl.
" 'An elephant,' answered a young boy who had recently been to the zoo.
" 'A mountain,' replied another.
"My friend's young child said, 'My eye is the biggest thing in the world.'
"The class went quiet as they all tried to understand the little girl's answer. 'What do you mean?' asked her teacher, equally perplexed. 'Well,' began the miniature philosopher, 'My eye can see her daddy, and it can see an elephant. It can also see a mountain and many other things as well. Since all this can fit into my eye, my eye must be the biggest thing in the world!' "
In another passage, Brahm states an old Buddhist principle: "Whatever you are doing, give it everything you've got." While savoring these teaching stories, we realized that the author has given it everything that he has, and the end result is a volume brimming with humor, humanity, and good will.