Buddhist Understanding for Linguists

Buddhist Understanding for Linguists

Still getting over my illness, I headed to school today to find that the Venerable Ajarn Jayasaro, our school’s spiritual advisor, was visiting for the day. I’d never met him before, but was immensely glad I when I did.

The Thai teachers reviewed with students how to behave towards a monk including how to bow. It’s in situations like these that I learn so much too. The kids got to ask questions in the first part of the day. Then, while other people managed our students, the teachers got to spend a little over an hour with the Venerable Ajarn Jayasaro asking their own questions. He has such a peaceful presence.

People’s questions were often in relation to students, but then another teacher, the only other American at our school who is just beginning to learn about Buddhism, asked a question that had been troubling me on my meditation retreat. I had asked the monk there, but the answer I received there did not clarify it for me.

Her question (and my question) was, “How do you not have craving and still want to do the right thing?”  Ajarn Jayasaro described it saying that sometimes the Buddhist words, which come from Pali, don’t translate perfectly in English. There are 2 words Tahna – craving, and Chanda – intention or desire to act to do good. Being linguistically oriented, this was one of those, “Aha now I get it,” moments.

The wanting that is craving or Tahna, doesn’t really serve anyone, least of all yourself. Chanda, on the other hand is the desire to do good acts. This may sound simple, but dividing these ‘desires’ into the two different categories can help one reflect on why there is the desire in the first place. Is it for good, or is it just a craving? Sometimes it’s hard to tell, but it is useful to contemplate. It seems like using this can be a good tool for deciding what you really want and why.

Ajarn Jayasaro had many other wise words that day and I left feeling that I understood something that had long been a confusing point of Buddhism. Now that I understand, the challenge is to practice Chanda – doing good.


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