“Pushing the cart is easier than thinking about it”: Ajahn Brahm’s simple way to avoid stress

Thursday, 4 May 2023 00:13 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

The news of Ajahn Brahm visiting Sri Lanka in May is out. Many are excited by the prospect of being able to listen to him again live after a few years. He probably is the most known Living Buddhist Monk in the world perhaps second only to His Holiness Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama represents Vajrayana tradition. Ajahn Brahmawamso represents Theravada tradition. Hence it is safe to say he is probably the most famous Theravada Buddhist Monk currently living. 

Ajahn Brahm, born Peter Betts in London, is a renowned Buddhist monk, teacher, and author. He is the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Western Australia and has been instrumental in promoting Buddhism and mindfulness around the world.

Ajahn Brahm was ordained as a monk in the Thai Forest Tradition in 1979 and spent several years practicing and studying Buddhism in Thailand, where he trained under the guidance of Ajahn Chah, one of the most revered Buddhist masters of the 20th century. He later became the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery in Perth, Australia, where he has been teaching and leading retreats since 1983.

Ajahn Brahm is known for his clear, practical, and often humorous teachings on mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhism. His teachings are accessible to people of all backgrounds and have helped to make Buddhism more approachable and relevant to modern life.

One of Ajahn Brahm’s key teachings is the importance of mindfulness and meditation as tools for cultivating inner peace, happiness, and wisdom. He emphasises the need for people to develop a daily meditation practice and to integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives, in order to reduce stress and anxiety and to cultivate greater self-awareness and compassion.

Ajahn Brahm is also a prolific author, having written several books on mindfulness, meditation, and Buddhism. His books, including “The Art of Disappearing”, “Mindfulness, Bliss, and Beyond”, and “Opening the Door of Your Heart”, have been translated into many languages and have been widely read by people around the world.

Ajahn is the Thai phrase for teacher. Ajahn Brahm’s teacher is world famous Ajahn Chah of Thailand who is considered to be an enlightened person though he has never claimed to be so. There are lot of similarities between the way Ajahn Chah had explained Dhamma and Ajahn Brahm does that is by using simple, sometimes humorous stories.

A powerful way to communicate

Stories are a powerful way to communicate. They grab the attention of the listener and involve and engage the listener. He uses this technique generously, as he himself says it is like sugar coating and giving a bitter medicine. 

His stories fall into a number of categories. Some are straight from the Sutta’s and traditional commentaries to them (Atta katha), some are common stories that have moved from society to society. Some had been his own life stories. Whatever the source he is one of the best storytellers you can find. He brings those stories to life using very vivid mental pictures and occasionally with appropriate sound effects as well. He is also known for his wit and deep sense of humour. There is hardly any talk by him without some sort of humour in it. This strategy has worked so well to captivate the busy and easily distracted people across the planet who get thoroughly engrossed whether it is a live audience or an online session. 

On every Friday when he gives his weekly Dhamma talk from Western Australia tens of thousands join online and some of his talks have been liked by several hundred thousands across the globe. His stories may sound simple on the surface but almost all of them are capable of explaining and bringing home a deep teaching of Buddha.

And please remember you do not have to be perfect, without fault, to give yourself such love. If you wait for perfection, it never arrives. We must open the door of our heart to ourselves, whatever we have done. Once inside, then we are perfect – Ajahn Brahm


While his regular talks sound simple and easy to grasp, his discourses on deep aspects of Dhamma and higher levels of stillness on meditative absorptions are equally profound. For instance, when reading his books “Mindfulness Bliss and Beyond” “Simply This Moment” or “The Art of Disappearing” one would begin to accept that such clarity is not possible without deep personal realisations. However as a monk who is deeply rooted in Vinaya the monastic order he is extremely careful and never claims any of his personal achievements in the path of spiritual practice. He terms this wanting to declare and show up spiritual achievements as “Spiritual Materialism”.

His life is his message. He is so sincere and hides nothing. Those who associate him over the last several decades vouch for this. He lives a simple life. He travels across the world and has visited Sri Lanka on several occasions. He has hardly any carry-on luggage. He needs nothing and he knows that. 

In one of his famous stories he relates how when he was a novice monk, when a lay supporter with the permission of the abbot had asked Ajahn Brahm what he would need. He had first said that he did not need anything. Then this dayaka had insisted he tell him that he gave his requirements. He went to the kuti and wanted a piece of paper to write the list. Then he realised he had no paper, so he started to write on a piece of waste paper that he needed a notebook, and then the pencil was too short, so he added that, then he realised he can have a torch, etc. etc. Then he realised how a person who started saying needs nothing getting into the mode of wanting once starting to feed in. He threw away the paper and on the next day when the Dayaka arrived told him in no uncertain terms “Never to do such offerings”. He lives by that principle to date.

Dhamma, the ultimate solace to the unhappiness in the world

He is fully aware of the challenges and stresses of the modern day man and woman so he helps them discover solutions to their day-to-day challenges through Dhamma. Which is the ultimate solace to the unhappiness in the world. “Unhappiness is asking the world what it cannot give,” says Ajahn Brahm very often. Just reflect on this statement and all our problems and unhappiness can be grouped under this theme. So profound and insightful.

Another statement he repeats often is “The door of my heart is open to you whatever you do.” He repeats this with different iterations because it is so important to be happy. It brings out the limited selfish view of the unenlightened person who always sees the world in a divisive way, I and others. Through the expression Open the door of your heart he brings home a very important message especially to the modern world.

“Why is it that we are more demanding, critical and punishing ourselves than of anyone else? I is for one and the same reason: we have not yet learned how to love ourselves. If you find it difficult to say to another ‘the door of my heart is open to you, whatever you do’ then that difficulty is trifling compared with the difficulty you will face in saying to yourself, ‘Me the one I‘ve been so close to for so long as I can remember, My self. The door of my heart is open to me as well. All of me no matter what I have done. Come in’ 

“That is what I mean by loving ourselves: it’s called forgiveness. It is stepping free from the prison of guilt; it is being at peace with oneself. And if you find the courage to say those words to yourself, honestly, in the privacy of your inner world, then you will rise up, not down, to meet sublime love… When we do, it is as if a part of ourselves that had been rejected, living outside in the cold for so long, has now come home. We feel unified whole and free to be happy. Only when we love ourselves in such a way can we know what it means to really love another no more and no less.” (Opening the door of your heart, pp28)

What a powerful, thought-provoking explanation to the word of the Buddha “Attanam upaman kathwa”! He invites us to discover and accept ourselves as we are with all our shortcomings and idiosyncrasies. Then we accept ourselves first and come to peace. Once settled well within we are ready to accept others. This is the ultimate guide of Metta Meditation or Loving Kindness. 

How harsh are we sometimes with those whom we called we are in love, our partners, family members and so forth. Looks as if our love is very conditional subject to them behaving according to our expectations and pre gone frame works! Reflecting on the message by Ajahn Brahm “Open the door of your heart” to our physical conditions, emotional conditions, situations we are in, guide us along the straight path to ultimate happiness. He brings these teachings to thought moments experienced during meditations and invites the mediator to open the door to his or her heart even when the peace of meditation is disturbed by thoughts and other sensations. The result is peace.

You do not have to be perfect

He continues to say “And please remember you do not have to be perfect, without fault, to give yourself such love. If you wait for perfection, it never arrives. We must open the door of our heart to ourselves, whatever we have done. Once inside, then we are perfect.” 

Opening the door of one’s heart is accepting things as they are, a mind that knows no boundaries. Hence this teaching is a message that will guide one until full realisation. That is the power of Ajahn Brahm’s seemingly simple teachings.

He apparently gets to help many who have difficulties in their relationships, especially in marriages. His famous story “It’s a chicken” where a couple argues on whether the sound they heard was from a duck or a chicken. Once realised what is more important is protecting the happiness and the relationship between the two rather than winning the argument, the husband agrees and says, “Yes darling, it is a chicken.” Through this story he invites couples to focus on what is more important, which is the relationship and the happiness between the two. How many couples end up in separation without this simple insight? How many relationships go bitter simply because winning an argument becomes more important! 

In modern society a common problem is stress whether one is a student, a worker, manager, a spouse, a businessman or even a politician. Stress is a combination of challenge and rumination. Challenge is a situation where the requirement is more than what one has whether it is time, money, health, people, or even power. Thus one feels smaller hence the animal instinct decodes the situation as a threat to survival. When this happens, the body prepares itself to fight, flight or freeze response. This is meant for emergencies and not for sustained times. Thus, there are physical consequences. Rumination is the mental process of thinking of the same negative thought over and over again. They can be worries related to the past or fears concerning the future. 

Ajahn provides a very powerful message to approach such situations by relating to his own life. Once as a novice monk he had to push a wheelbarrow transporting earth one place to another in the humid jungle hermitage in Thailand. By the third day he had got really agitated about this situation and had been swearing in English. One fellow Thai Monk though did not understand the words could get the message and had told him, “Brahmawamso, pushing the wheelbarrow is easy, thinking about it difficult.” He says that was enough for him to realise where the unhappiness was coming. He uses this insight and invites us to approach life like that. Again deeply anchored on the principle that dislike or aversion is a core defilement. 

Taking himself as an example and laughing at himself retrospectively make him so authentic and lovable. 

His life is his message. He is so sincere and hides nothing. Those who associate him over the last several decades vouch for this. He lives a simple life. He travels across the world and has visited Sri Lanka on several occasions. He has hardly any carry-on luggage. He needs nothing and he knows that


Mindfulness as a way of life

He emphasises the importance of developing mindfulness as a way of life and the need to strengthen the stillness of mind to gain deeper insights. He compares developed mindfulness powered by deep stillness to looking at something with the help of a very powerful search light compared to a pen torch. He motivates audiences by describing the benefits of such profound stillness and does not use the word concentration to describe Samadhi. To illustrate he holds a glass of water and demonstrates that holding the glass tightly does not make it still, but leaving it on the table does. This is the attitude he advises meditators to develop. This example is being used by many lecturers and speakers across the world as it is so simple and so convincing.

“We need to go into a deeper place inside the mind, a place of great peace and bliss, a very profound place which gives you great insights in to the nature of the mind. You can then see what the mind is capable of and how it feels to be in those states. You see what those states are and how they come about.” (Simply this moment)

Being lay people, we always complain that we have no time to meditate. He invites those who want to meditate to FIRST FIND TIME TO MEDITATE and then adjust other activities around it. There are many who have changed their lives after heeding this advice. 

During his weekly guided meditation sessions he gives priority to relaxing the body before focusing on breath. “Relax to the max” is his constant reminder. Because the stillness of the body is paramount to the stillness of mind which is the basis for discovering finer realities of life.

He takes an extra effort to highlight the play of five hindrances in the spiritual development. In that he shows how the hindrances distort the reality from mundane to sublime. To illustrate this he asks jokingly, “Why are romantic meetings always done in dark? … Because in light you see the faults of the other person.” That is exactly what hindrances do,” he says.

Remember; hindrances, hindrances, hindrances – they are the essence of the Buddha’s teachings. We have to suppress those hindrances and to eventually eradicate them fully. Hindrances weaken not just wisdom, they also weaken mindfulness. You can understand how they do that; any desire, craving controlling or ill will takes the energy away from the mind and reduces the natural brilliance of the citta. The radiance of the citta is what you might call the sign of strong mindfulness. When you experience that strong mindfulness you understand the sort of mindfulness which is necessary for Enlightenment. This is why the Buddha said to empower mindfulness, mainly through Samadhi, and you will see things as they truly are. (Simply This Moment pp329)

Discussing deeper aspects of mindfulness, he says, “When you put your mindfulness in the middle, then it is not what you are doing that matters but how you are relating to it. So please, put your mindfulness into the relationship that you have with the objects of mind in every moment. When you know where mindfulness should be put, the path of medication, the path of liberation becomes very clear to you. You are looking directly at the defilements. (Simply This Moment pp326)

Whether you are a student wanting to succeed in studies, a youth wanting to improve career, improve relationships, a spouse eager to strengthen partnership, a business or a professional leader to be successful, or a senior citizen who explores life, there is a message and a moment of delight with Ajahn Brahm.

Ajahn Brahm to engage in 3 principal events

Ajahn Brahm will be in Sri Lanka from 20 to 30 May. He will be engaged in three principal events during his stay here. A nine-day meditation retreat will be conducted in Bandarawela from 20 May for bhikkhus, bhikkhunis and lay persons, totalling 150 participants. A singularly unique forum will be held exclusively for professionals and business persons at the Galle Face Hotel on 29 May. The much looked forward to Dhamma talk and meditation instructions for the public will be at the BMICH from 7 to 11 a.m. on 30 May. Anticipating the large crowds that will flock to the BMICH on that day, the Ajahn Brahm Society has organised sessions with the venerable monk moving from the Main Hall to Halls A and B so all can see and hear him. He will speak in English, followed by summarisations in Sinhala. The passes for the event at BMICH can be collected from: 

  • Sri Sambuddhathva Jayanthi Mandiraya, Thummulla, Colombo 5
  • Buddhist Cultural Centre, 25 Anderson Rd, Nedimala, Dehiwala
  • Samayawardhana Bookshop, Buddhist Congress 380, Bauddhaloka Mw. Colombo 7
  • Sarasavi Bookshop, One Galle Face


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