Before you can let things go, you have to admit them into full consciousness. In meditation, our aim is to skilfully allow the subconscious to arise into consciousness. All the despair, fears, anguish, suppression and anger is allowed to become conscious. There is a tendency in people to hold to very high-minded ideals. We can become very disappointed in ourselves because sometimes we feel we are not as good as we should be or we should not feel angry – all the shoulds and shouldn’ts. Then we create desire to get rid of the bad things – and this desire has a righteous quality. It seems right to get rid of bad thoughts, anger and jealousy because a good person ‘should not be like that’. Thus, we create guilt.
In reflecting on this, we bring into consciousness the desire to become this ideal and the desire to get rid of these bad things. And by doing that, we can let go – so that rather than becoming the perfect person, you let go of that desire. What is left is the pure mind. There is no need to become the perfect person because the pure mind is where perfect people arise and cease.
Cessation is easy to understand on an intellectual level, but to realise it may be quite difficult because this entails abiding with what we think we cannot bear. For example, when I first started meditating, I had the idea that meditation would make me kinder and happier and I was expecting to experience blissful mind states. But during the first two months, I never felt so much hatred and anger in my life. I thought, ‘This is terrible; meditation has made me worse.’ But then I contemplated why there was so much hatred and aversion coming up, and I realised that much of my life had been an attempt to run away from all that. I used to be a compulsive reader. I would have to take books with me wherever I went. Anytime fear or aversion started creeping in, I would whip out my book and read; or I would smoke or munch on snacks. I had an image of myself as being a kind person that did not hate people, so any hint of aversion or hatred was repressed.
This is why during the first few months as a monk, I was so desperate for things to do. I was trying to seek something to distract myself with because I had started to remember in meditation all the things I deliberately tried to forget. Memories from childhood and adolescence kept coming up in my mind; then this anger and hatred became so conscious it just seemed to overwhelm me. But something in me began to recognise that I had to bear with this, so I did stick it out. All the hatred and anger that had been suppressed in thirty years of living rose to its peak at this time, and it burned itself out and ceased through meditation. It was a process of purification.
To allow this process of cessation to work, we must be willing to suffer. This is why I stress the importance of patience. We have to open our minds to suffering because it is in embracing suffering that suffering ceases. When we find that we are suffering, physically or mentally, then we go to the actual suffering that is present. We open completely to it, welcome it, concentrate on it, allowing it to be what it is. That means we must be patient and bear with the unpleasantness of a particular condition. We have to endure boredom, despair, doubt and fear in order to understand that they cease rather than running away from them.
As long as we do not allow things to cease, we just create new kamma that just reinforces our habits. When something arises, we grasp it and proliferate around it; and this complicates everything. Then these things will be repeated and repeated throughout our lives – we cannot go around following our desires and fears and expect to realise peace. We contemplate fear and desire so that these do not delude us any more; we have to know what is deluding us before we can let it go. Desire and fear are to be known as impermanent, unsatisfactory and not-self. They are seen and penetrated so that suffering can burn itself away.
It is very important here to differentiate between cessation and annihilation – the desire that comes into the mind to get rid of something. Cessation is the natural ending of any condition that has arisen. So it is not desire! It is not something that we create in the mind but it is the end of that which began, the death of that which is born. Therefore, cessation is not a self – it does not come about from a sense of ‘I have to get rid of things,’ but when we allow that which has arisen to cease. To do that, one has to abandon craving – let it go. It does not mean rejecting or throwing away but abandoning means letting go of it.
Then, when it has ceased, you experience nirodha – cessation, emptiness, non-attachment. Nirodha is another word for Nibbana. When you have let something go and allowed it to cease, then what is left is peace.
You can experience that peace through your own meditation. When you’ve let desire end in your own mind, that which is left over is very peaceful. That is true peacefulness, the Deathless. When you really know that as it is, you realise nirodha sacca, the Truth of Cessation, in which there’s no self but there’s still alertness and clarity. The real meaning of bliss is that peaceful, transcendent consciousness.
If we do not allow cessation, then we tend to operate from assumptions we make about ourselves without even knowing what we are doing. Sometimes, it is not until we start meditating that we begin to realise how in our lives so much fear and lack of confidence come from childhood experiences. I remember when I was a little boy, I had a very good friend who turned on me and rejected me. I was distraught for months after that. It left an indelible impression on my mind. Then I realised through meditation just how much a little incident like that had affected my future relationships with others – I always had a tremendous fear of rejection. I never even thought of it until that particular memory kept rising up into my consciousness during meditation. The rational mind knows that it is ridiculous to go around thinking about the tragedies of childhood. But if they keep coming up into consciousness when you are middle-aged, maybe they are trying to tell you something about assumptions that were formed when you were a child.
When you begin to feel memories or obsessive fears coming up in meditation, rather than becoming frustrated or upset by them, see them as something to be accepted into consciousness so that you can let them go. You can arrange your daily life so that you never have to look at these things; then the conditions for them to actually arise are minimal. You can dedicate yourself to a lot of important causes and keep busy; then these anxieties and nameless fears never become conscious – but what happens when you let go? The desire or obsession moves – and it moves to cessation. It ends. And then you have the insight that there is the cessation of desire. So the third aspect of the Third Noble Truth is: cessation has been realised.