Decoding Dhamma

I’ve heard Ajahn Brahm give the simile of red traffic light (e.g. the lights that were made to say “Relaaax” rather than “Stop”) many times. What I took from that was mostly literal, i.e. you might as well take the opportunity to relax at a red light, rather than generate ill will due to your desire to be somewhere other than the present moment. However, I just heard Ajahn Brahmali’s explanation [55:00], in which the traffic light represents a person, whose conditioning (programming) is what produces the red light i.e. it’s outside of their control. This makes the simile much deeper for me, as it now encompases right effort and the Brahmaviharas. I’m not sure whether I would have seen this for myself.

I’ve had this “deepening” experience spontaneously, when re-reading/re-hearing/recalling Ajahn Brahm’s stories/similes, often finding a number of layers in the same story. Why is the Dhamma is encoded in this way, and is there more to be gained by decoding it for yourself, rather than having someone do it for you?


I think good teachers, such as the venerables you mentioned, tend to know how to teach at multiple levels at the same time. And the Dhamma is deep enough for this to be possible.

I think so. But don’t take my word for it!

And how is enlightenment achieved by gradual training, progress, and practice? It’s when someone in whom faith has arisen approaches a teacher. They pay homage, lend an ear, hear the teachings, remember the teachings, reflect on their meaning, and accept them after consideration. Then enthusiasm springs up; they make an effort, weigh up, and persevere. Persevering, they directly realize the ultimate truth, and see it with penetrating wisdom.


Serendipitously, Ajahn Brahmali addressed this [44:00] when answering a different question in the next session.

“[…] it is far more powerful when you see things with your own mind, and your own eyes […] than just hearing something from someone else.”

I take that as a “yes”. HIs full answer was helpful, reassuring and inspiring.


It’s my opinion, that what we have inherited is the broad brush strokes or main themes, in the dhamma. Thy might not contain all the details of each discourse or the ins and outs of each conversation - sometimes it’s said ‘the Buddha convinced me in various ways’ (paraphrasing) without saying what those methods were. So now, we need an intermediary of a teacher to explain it to us some more. They might ask for background details so as to tailor their answer, to suit the student. Sometimes this might make thinks ‘click’, and lead to understanding, or it could remain in the memory and with more thought, ‘click’ later on. Ultimately, ‘Buddha’s only show the way, you yourself must follow the teachings’ (paraphrasing). It’s different to memorising ‘facts’. Each person must reflect on how the truths are applicable to them, personally. Otherwise it’s merely theory and likely to be forgotten. We are discussing how the teachings must be thought through and applied with one’s own effort. When you start developing a skill at decision making and involving ethics in them, when you develop the skill of meditating and developing tranquility these skills rather than mere theory, will remain with you.

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