The concept of letting go is heavily emphasised by Ajahn Chah but could anyone please point to where this appears in the suttas and how it was taught by the Buddha? Does a practice of letting go apply to mindfulness outside of formal meditation?
There are many different words for “letting go” in the Suttas. Already four in the description of the third noble truth, which is repeated again and again throughout the canon:
SN56.11:4.6-7: Idaṁ kho pana, bhikkhave, dukkhanirodhaṁ ariyasaccaṁ— yo tassāyeva taṇhāya asesavirāganirodho cāgo paṭinissaggo mutti anālayo.
Now this is the noble truth of the cessation of suffering.
It’s the fading away and cessation of that very same craving with nothing left over; giving it away, letting it go, releasing it, and not adhering to it.
Agree that Ajahn Chah and his following western teachers are fond of saying that, but that apex statement must be underpinned by understanding, otherwise it cannot be implemented with confidence. That understanding comes from investigating the second and third noble truths, conditioned phenomena result in suffering, and releasing the conditioned results in reduction of suffering. That is how, based on understanding, the Buddha-to-be developed the path to awakening:
""And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with sensuality arose in me. I discerned that ‘Thinking imbued with sensuality has arisen in me; and that leads to my own affliction or to the affliction of others or to the affliction of both. It obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding.’
Letting go based on understanding:
""As I noticed that it leads to my own affliction, it subsided. As I noticed that it leads to the affliction of others… to the affliction of both… it obstructs discernment, promotes vexation, & does not lead to Unbinding, it subsided. Whenever thinking imbued with sensuality had arisen, I simply abandoned it, dispelled it, wiped it out of existence.
""And as I remained thus heedful, ardent, & resolute, thinking imbued with renunciation arose in me. I discerned that 'Thinking imbued with renunciation has arisen in me; and that leads neither to my own affliction, nor to the affliction of others, nor to the affliction of both. It fosters discernment, promotes lack of vexation, & leads to Unbinding. "—MN 19
I think ones way of living is very important. Lay life is very different from how the Buddha and his monks lived. If we do not have enough money, all kinds of problems appear. The message ‘let go’ is of little use. We must manage everything ourselves. We must plan. We must take care of this and that.
It is not really realistic, i find, to think that advices for monks can be copied 1 to 1 on lay-life.
I think people who are housekeepers, have children, all kinds of possessions, loved ones etc, can better accept that mental suffering is an unvoidable aspect of their way of living.
It is not really realistic, i find, for example, to strive as householder for a mind without any worries. One cannot denie, for example, one has all kind of concerns to protect as a householder. As long as one cares about children, partner, house, garden, finance, how can one ever be without mental burden?
Like the Buddha said, realistically, the life of a householder is dusty and not really suitable for a totally pure life. We must compramise. It is like one who want to live firm in his principles. It will not take many years to find out one has to abandon society. One cannot function that way. It is almost impossible. One has to compramise all the time.
I’ll try to find some examples later to illustrate this, but I think it can be problematic to associate “letting go” (as it is used colloquially in that calm-seeking sense) with relinquishment or abandonment as found in the suttas. Too many connotations of leaving a charged/pressurized experience alone as if the mere mantra of “just let it go” is all that is required. As I see it, relinquishment also requires a change in attitude and understanding; where the danger in that direction is seen clearly and gradually develops into it being unwanted. Seems to me that trying to just let it go is akin to pushing an air-filled ball under water. While there can be some success, it will come back to the surface. That is where it is drawn. The Buddha seems to suggest leaving it on the surface and abandoning the need to remove it. Not talking about diseases or a physical danger that can be mitigated, but in terms of things like suffering, desire and passion, which arise on their own, set in motion by conditions, and increase as a result of wrong attention.
I think some compromise is required when you are a lay person, but completely letting go during meditation is healthy for someone in a stressful situation. When it comes to renunciation, I found thinking in terms of wants and needs helps. Right Speech, Action, livelihood, help with conflict reduction. A lot of times we shoot ourselves in the foot by going off without a good cause. With regard to mindfulness and concentration, I was able to bring down my stress level in meetings by interleaving my fingers which is how I hold my hands together during meditation. That said, it is not easy when you don’t make enough to live in a safe place for your kids. But I have found that the eightfold path, is the best way to live. Being able to hit the mental reset button once or twice a day is priceless.