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The Way Out is in

Dharma speech by Prah Chit Chittasawaroh from Wat Pah Dharmma Uttayan Temple, Khonkaen province, Thailand, 28th March 2017, at Roong Aroon School’s celebration of Werukham Building (a.k.a. Bamboo Pottery Workshop)

“Today I’m here to deliver a sermon under the subject ‘The Way Out is in’. The phrase itself is a paradox; especially when our common understanding is that the way out should be out. But this phrase I brought to you today is not my own, it is my teacher’s teaching, which I will pass on to you. That is, ‘the way out is to go back in’.”

“Why am I here to deliver a sermon? How do I owe my life to these arts and crafts? Actually I graduated and worked in a totally different field. These handicrafts didn’t play a part in my career. They didn’t bring me fame. But they’re important because they are my friends–precious friends. I’m not sure whether parents or children sitting here today has got any chance to experience any artwork, or has any experience in weaving, pottery, painting, stitching, or any other handicrafts or not. But as for me these are my precious companions indeed.”

“Why do I call them my precious friends? They are not just imaginary friends who help me kill my time, but they help me discover what’s going on in my mind. Because  for me, a good friend is a friend who willingly listens to us, a friend who truly knows us, a friend who doesn’t judge us, a friend who can put up with us when we’re not at our best, a friend who keeps us from doing bad deeds; like saying to us ‘hey, hold your horses’. They also support us when we want to do something useful, like saying ‘well, let’s give it a try’. What I was looking for back then wasn’t ‘art’ but that friend; the friend, who always lends us an ear, really knows us, doesn’t jump to conclusions about us, doesn’t flatter us, and stops us from doing bad things. When I feel bad, this friend of mine is also the one who tells me not to be angry, and that grieve will not lead us to anything. We all know this, right? We all know that no matter how much money we’ve got, we can’t find a friend like this on a shelf in some random department stores; we have to create this friend ourselves.

“For those who have some experience in pottery, we’ll know that pottery isn’t an art that will work as we please; pottery remains what it is and it’s our job to get to know it. Therefore, while we work with it, we’ll find ourselves getting bored and irritated that things don’t go our way. Back then, I was working with pottery as my second piece of work after I had finished weaving. I was thinking, ‘should I go back to weaving?’ Weaving isn’t my speciality though. When I first started weaving my piece of work, I was downhearted as well. But it was then that I discovered that there are many mixed feelings in my mind; be it the competitiveness, the satisfaction in easy success, and many others. Back then, if I did as I pleased, I would have done my work sloppily. Then I’d be careless and be done with it. Especially for those who are experts in certain fields, when they start anew in other fields, they can’t handle the feeling of their incapability. That’s what I like about it.”

“My teacher is the one who introduced me to these arts and crafts that I call friends. And these arts and crafts are the ones who taught me that no human is good in everything. If we jump to conclusions about ourselves every time we start our piece of work, we’ll be saddened. But if we accept this new part of ourselves, and focus on ourselves, it doesn’t matter how discouraged or tired we are when we knead the clay. The teachers usually have us keep on kneading the clay without telling us when we would kneading. The reason is because the teachers wanted us to face these negative feelings.  You can be downhearted, but you must keep on kneading. Therefore, ‘overthinking’ which keeps us from living happily can be found here. And each artwork requires us to stick with it and face it. As for me, what people like or dislike about our artwork matters less than our acknowledgement in our state of mind while we work with it.

“Before we can shape it into a cup or a plate, or before we can weave a piece of cloth, I’ve felt discouraged countless number of times. But then again, we’re here to learn about it. In our lives we’ve faced downheartedness and denial. There are times when we want to turn away from it and do something else when we don’t want to tolerate  it, when we don’t know how to live with it. And we often cut it loose from our lives. When we grew tired, we withdrew from it and find something new. People change jobs, spouses, or other things often. These people don’t know how to live with what they have. We don’t know either; we don’t know how to treat this feeling.”

“We have this discouragement in our minds. But we have pride, boredom, cheerfulness, expectation, fulfilment, disappointment, and everything in our artwork. My pieces of work here, cups for instance, I never thought of taking them back home;and the same goes for the plates too. Because what I have gained and stays with me is a friend who helps me know myself better, a friend who taught me how to live with myself. From womb to tomb, from today until our last day, there are countless unpleasant things we need to face. We usually push it aside by changing the outside world; like changing the class, asking the teacher if we can change it to a different colour, changing the type of clay, or changing the size of work. Similarly, if a teacher told us to make a cup, we’ll negotiate that we want to make a plate, or if the teacher told us to make a cup with a holder, we’ll ask if the holder is necessary or not. The negotiation is endless.”

“When we try not to negotiate and give it a try, put some effort into it, and don’t back down when we’re in low spirits. When we know where our discouragement lies and try to overcome it. Whether we feel discouraged, uneasy, bored, or tired or not, we keep on making our work. Once we’re able to do that, it means that our state of mind can no longer lead us astray from our determination. This is what I feel that I owe my artwork so much. Because these artworks help us overcome our old habits that we don’t want to die with it. I, for instance, don’t want to die with discouragement in my mind.”

“We often wonder why the teachers don’t let us start off with something easy, why the teacher taught us nothing, or why the teacher just handed us 5 lumps of clay and tells us to shape it into a sphere without teaching us much. The teacher would tell us to keep on shaping these clays and try to understand ourselves. The first one would be full of pride. We’ll have pride in ourselves that we are not children anymore, so shaping it into a sphere would be a piece of cake. Then, we start shaping it. But as we do, the more we wanted it to become round, it wouldn’t. It wouldn’t be as round as we want it to. We want it to be perfectly round. We feel that we need to impress our teacher. We can make this clay round. This desire, this excessive self-confidence, is what we need to learn and observe.”

“When we want to take our sweet time with the second lump, the fifth would start to dry out because we left it outside the bag. The elements like earth, water, wind, and fire don’t obey us; they have their own nature. This doesn’t apply only to the elements, but to humans as well. People don’t do as we want them to; though they might be extra cinciderrate to spare our difnity from time to time. When we are able to live with inanimate objects or nature, we’ll find that they possess no minds or feelings at all. They can’t scold us, they can’t argue with us, they never belittle us, and they never praise us. Every problem that happens comes down to us. We’re arguing with the cottons. We’re arguing with the threads. We’re driving ourselves crazy. We can feel it. We can feel how much the clay and the cottons made ourselves uneasy.”

The thing is, the more we try, the more burdensome it’ll be. The more we try to win, the more we lose. What’s going on? We’re fulfilling our duties. Why do I feel indebt to these artworks? Because spending time with inanimate objects made me realise that all the irritation, all the normal and abnormal things, all the uneasiness we feel, are created by us. We then started to blame other people less than before. We don’t blame the teachers, the threads, or the clay. We started to look back at our own desire; we want to win, we want to be better at this, we want to work faster, and we want things to be as we wish.”

“Now, what can we do to prevent negative feelings? There are two choices; feel the desire and be saddened by it, or let go of it and keep trying. I chose to let go and move on.”

“Artworks are great teachers when it comes to testing our emotions. Sometimes our piece of work doesn’t turn out as we expect. We might need to train or have some speciality at some fields before we can start the work. We might have some experience in kneading doughs, which is why we can knead the clays as well. Now we see that everything requires training. Do we experience difficulties in meditating? Do we still feel uneasy while we walk back and forth in our meditation? Or do things not go as we want them to? Similarly, we need to keep on practicing. If we overcome the discouragement, for me, pottery is only difficult with the first several lumps of clay. The same goes with weaving which seems difficult at first. But after that, when we’ve overcome the discouragement and belittling ourselves; speaking of which, have you ever belittled yourself? Telling yourself that you’re not good, you’re not good enough. If we have this in mind, we’ll start to judge other people as well.”

“Do you know what’s great about this? It’s great when someone break your handicraft. Whenever we hold on to something, although it’s not beautiful  (but it’s our first piece of work), it’s a good thing that it’s broken, because we don’t have to worry about it anymore. The teacher once presented me with a piece of pottery, telling me that he’ll make me a new one if it ever gets broken. The thing is, it’s not broken. Why? Because we’re no longer afraid that it will. We’re here, knowing that one day it’ll break. And no matter when or how it’ll break, we’ll not be worried when it does.”

“How are we living our lives today? Do we know that at some point of our lives, this cup will break? Are we doing useful things in life? Do we understand our own cup? Do we understand the problems that are going on with our cup? These cups namely ‘fear’, ‘anger’, ‘desire’, ‘muddle’, ‘hesitation’, ‘confusion’, and ‘want’. Do we know our own cups? What drives these cups? Do you know that these cups will break someday?”

“I chose to become a monk merely because I can learn the nature of the mind. I can get to know how the mind works, so that I can learn how to live with this cup of mine; and at the same time, learn to not be too possessive of it.”

“We can regard everything in life as an art of getting to know ourselves and an art of overcoming our minds. Art is always with us…therefore, open up your heart and learn. This building is a building for art. Here, we shall learn the art of living with our messy minds, the art to be free from greed, anger, and obsession.”