A Profound Simile of Letting Go

From Boddhinaya by Ajahn Chah

boulders close up daylight environment

The teaching that people least understand and which conflicts the most with their own opinions, is this teaching of ‘letting go’. This is called ‘Dhamma (Truth) language’. When we conceive this in worldly terms, we become confused and think that we can do anything we want. It can be interpreted this way, but its real meaning is closer to this: it’s as if we are carrying a heavy rock. After a while we begin to feel its weight but we don’t know how to let it go. So we endure this heavy burden all the time. If someone tells us to throw it away, we say, ‘If I throw it away, I won’t have anything left!’

If told of all the benefits to be gained from throwing it away, we wouldn’t believe them but would keep thinking, ‘If I throw it away, I will have nothing!’ So we keep on carrying this heavy rock until we become so weak and exhausted that we can no longer endure, then we drop it.

Having dropped it, we suddenly experience the benefits of letting go. We immediately feel better and lighter and we know for ourselves how much of a burden carrying a rock can be. Before we let go of the rock, we couldn’t possibly know the benefits of letting go. So if someone tells us to let go, an unenlightened man wouldn’t see the purpose of it. He would just blindly clutch at the rock and refuse to let go until it became so unbearably heavy that he just had to let go. Then he can feel for himself the lightness and relief and thus know for himself the benefits of letting go. Later on we may start carrying burdens again, but now we know what the results will be, so we can now let go more easily.

This understanding that it’s useless to carry burdens around and that letting go brings ease and lightness is an example of knowing ourselves.

Our pride, our sense of self that we depend on, is the same as that heavy rock. Like that rock, if we think about letting go of self-conceit, we are afraid that without it, there would be nothing left. But when we can finally let it go, we realize for ourselves the ease and comfort of not clinging.

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