Waking up to Wisdom
In Stillness and Community

It All Goes Wrong Anyway

--by Ajahn Brahm (Mar 16, 2015)

Wherever you live -- in a monastery, in a city, or on a quiet tree-lined street -- you will always experience problems and difficulties from time to time. This is just the nature of life. So when you have problems with your health you shouldn’t say, “Doctor, there is something wrong with me -- I’m sick”; rather you should say, “There is something right with me -- I’m sick today.” It’s the nature of the human body to be sick now and again. It’s also the nature of the septic system to need pumping out when you don’t expect it, and it’s the nature of the water heater to sometimes break down. It’s the nature of life to be this way. Even though we struggle as human beings to try to make life go smoothly for ourselves and others, nevertheless it’s impossible to ensure that happens.

Whenever you experience any pain or difficulty, always remember one of the deep meanings of the word suffering: asking the world for something it can never give you. We expect and ask impossible things from the world. We ask for the perfect home and job and that all the things we work hard to build and arrange run perfectly at the right time and place. Of course, that is asking for something that can never be given. We ask for profound meditation and enlightenment, right here and now. But that’s not the way this universe works. If you ask for something that the world can’t supply, you should understand that you’re asking for suffering.

So whether you work or meditate, please accept that things will go wrong from time to time. Your job is not to ask for things the world can’t give you. Your job is to observe. Your job is not to try to prod and push this world to make it just the way you would like it to be. Your job is to understand, accept, and let it go. The more you fight your body, your mind, your family, and the world, the more collateral damage you’ll cause and the more pain you’ll experience.

Sometimes, when we understand and stand back from our daily lives, we see the big picture. We see there’s nothing wrong with the monastery, nothing wrong with us, nothing wrong with life. We understand that it’s just the nature of the world to go "wrong" -- that’s what the Buddha meant by the first noble truth of suffering. You work, struggle, and strive so hard to make your life just right -- to make your home, your body, and your mind just right -- and it all goes wrong anyway.

Ajahn Brahm is an UK-born Theravada Buddhist monk, who currently the Abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia. Brahm was ordained in Bangkok at the age of twenty-three by the Abbot of Wat Saket, and subsequently spent nine years studying and training in the forest meditation tradition under Ajahn Chah.  Exceprt above is the opening chapter of his book, Art of Disappearing.

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On Mar 13, 2015 xiaoshan wrote:

A surprising perspective. Although I think it goes a bit too extreme to the other side of the swing, there is a lot of truth in it. Right and wrong is our own construct, which is why 'the world is divided by the people who believe they are right." In one way, the world is perfectly fine as it runs its own course, until someone comes trying to fix it. In the other way however, life has its own course as well, and doing all these rights and wrongs is certainly part of the natural course of the universe, suffering included. I suffer, and I accept that I suffer. 

On Mar 13, 2015 Abhishek wrote:

To me, the creation of an idea of 'right' also includes naturally the birth of 'wrong' - so essentially my ability to accept life on its own terms (and not mine) has been a part of my practice. Rather than classify it is right or wrong, it just IS (and the right - wrong divide is a mental construct almost mirroring pleasure-pain / my wishes-against my wishes)

In meditation practice (and life in fact) I find it much easire to observe when things go 'wrong' - when there is pain, it naturally draws attention. It is in fact when things are smooth and flowing that one has to attend to being as mindful. So to that extent when things go wrong, it is an opportune moment for observation too....

And the beauty of this passage (and of Murphy's Law and so on) is that the nature of the world is so and yet we struggle against it life long - almost as if someone whispered in our ears when we were very young "Someday it will all be right"....

To grow up is to know that if it is right it will eventually feel wrong and vice versa....and that it is nothing but a dance of labels in the head rather than reality itself....

On Mar 15, 2015 david doane wrote:

Things often don't go how we want.  Things that don't go how we want we tend to call "wrong."  We'd be better off calling them life.  Things go how they go.  That's life.  I can't control outcome.  I can behave impeccably, or at least strive to, and hope for the best, knowing there are no guarantees and things often don't go as wanted.  My mantra for a long time has been process, not outcome, a reminder to focus on good process of communicating and behaving and not focus on trying to make a certain outcome happen.   By becoming more mindful, that is, by observing nonjudgmentally, we become more accepting and less controlling, more aligned with life rather than fighting with life.  I've grown a little bit in that way.  I think you develop the strength to become an observer when things go wrong by practicing being an observer always, so that the practice is in place when things don't go as you would like.  What has helped me is deepening the  awareness that my responsibility is to behave impeccably, not to try to control outcome.  The ancient Greeks said our labor is our own, the product belongs to the gods. 

On Mar 16, 2015 Bradley wrote:

 I can understand, accept and move on when my own life happens. But I have difficulty with this when I see and hear about injustices that exist in the world still today. Watching the lives of other people happen, watching them suffer...that is quite the challenge. I can work on myself to understand their lives, but do I then accept it and move on? What good comes of that? There must be more than just accepting it. My adaptation of the Serenity Prayer:

Life, grant me the mindfulness to understand and accept the things that are to be;
the courage to affect and help heal those that are unnatural;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

On Mar 17, 2015 paashi wrote:

Personally, I'm trying to accept the challenging situations as integral part of existence.  We all have our share of experiences that bring about varying degrees of suffering.  This acceptance does lessen the anxiety to avoid pain and gives energy to build resilience around the situations both personal and impersonal.

On Mar 17, 2015 Kristin Pedemonti wrote:

 I understand the point, however my view is there is no "wrong or right" there just IS. And that has made all the difference. Acceptance is valuable either way and not judging, just being.

On Mar 17, 2015 Alfm wrote:

 I am but a seed trying to find the the Light. In my world, beneath the soil, it is dark and sometimes too wet/too dry (which in either circumstance, could cause death)!  As my roots spread out to seek nourishment, I run into every physical obstacle imaginable (as if I have been set up to fail).  There are even living organisms living in that dark place that prey on "Light seekers" like me.  However the Light above the the soil literally pulls me and insists that I "press on"!  (And so I will).
To know . . . To Love . . . And to serve The Light.