Review of book “The Art Of Disappearing” by Ajahn Brahm

Once one a forum thread there was a person asking a monastic whether he shouldn’t have read a book called The Art of Disappearing: Buddha’s Path to Lasting Joy written by Ajahn Brahm. The reader was looking for inspiration but now felt even more depressed and hopeless. The kind monk replied that Ajahn Brahm and also other masters have two kinds of talks and books – the ones that make you feel good and confident and the other ones – which are straight to the point and harder to digest. This book was of the second kind.

Interesting enough that it was a perfect sales pitch for me – a book that someone maybe should not have read. Surprising enough but it turned out it is an exciting book because it is so true, and it contradicts almost every aspect of average western consumerist life. I read the book as a tragicomedy, saving myself from immediate panic that happened to the guy in the forum. Applying aspects of comedy could be seen also as a kind and caring way, how to approach my own life, which for the most part has been driven 180 degree the opposite direction from what Ajahn Brahm describes as a way leading to happiness.

Why do we invite suffering?

Something taken out of its place and shown in a new and dissonant context, is a technique to provoke laughter. Ajahn Brahm recontextualises western approach to life within Buddhist philosophy and as a result I can laugh about my own attempts to live at peace and happy.

“We expect and ask impossible things from the world. We ask for the perfect home and job and that all the things we work hard to build and arrange run perfectly at the right time and place. Of course, that is asking for something that can never be given. We ask for profound meditation and enlightenment, right here and now. But that’s not the way this universe works. If you ask for something that the world can’t supply, you should understand that you’re asking for suffering.”

The tragic part is that, if he is right, then my life leads just to more and more suffering ad infinitum unless I do change something. Luckily, the reader is not left clueless what to do and where to begin. Moreover, the author is kind enough to hide his ultimate suggestion – become a monk now – under layers and layers of explanations of how our mind works. He feeds the reader with tiny chunks of wisdom throughout the book. And every time sandwiches it between simple steps that can be done by everybody.

Ajhan Brahm knows how to inspire even when giving more serious talks. Just be still, nothing more. The rest will come. These assuring words like a mantra are repeated in every chapter. But I must admit that it is a tough book, especially for the intellectual people, for those who love to think, analyse and write, also for the ones that are very active in daily life. 

Calm, still, empty mind and disappearance

“A calm mind is a beautiful, wonderful thing. When the mind is full of thoughts and wanders around, sooner or later you get into negativity. It’s very hard to have a thinking mind that is always positive, because thinking tends to degenerate into negativity and fault – finding.”

– Ajahn Brahm

It is hard task to be a problem solver and remain positive, leave the identified causes and move on to action without turning causes into somebodies’ faults. And thinking happens all the time because that is a way to say and show that we want to be here and live this life. And no one told we shouldn’t.

“The art of disappearing” literally invites you to become invisible and it is counterintuitive to everything one might have experienced. If it has never crossed your mind, that no matter how happy you can become for a moment, that it will not last; and the craving to satisfy the desire for contentment will always urge and it is tough to say, “I have enough”, then you might not want to read this book. Disappearing makes sense if you have tried to understand suffering or started a meditation practice.

Re-centering as taking control

You might enjoy this book if “sometimes you can see how the world of your home, the world of your friends, or even of Buddhism, can pull you out of your centre. You can feel the pull. You’ve been pulled out like that your entire life, and what has it ever done for you?”

Disengaging from the world at least from time to time, then can be seen as returning in your centre, being in stillness. So, this is a book about stillness. What is stillness and how to get there? What will be the obstacles, because they will be there, and how to overcome them? Through media and stories, we are encouraged to follow our dreams, fulfill our desires, set goals and never settle with what we have.

“Desire means wanting something other than what you already have; ill will means not wanting what you do have. So, they’re both just forms of wanting. And when you want something different—whether it’s the next level of meditation, food, the end of a retreat, or whatever else— it always takes you away from where you are.” This book suggests the opposite – be here and now, just sit still with the breath, the rest – peace and harmony – will come.

Some people like me enjoy reading a lot, but Ajahn Brahm warns against information overload. And as he writes his book with an invitation for the reader – make this be you last life, I invite you to read this book and make it your last one. Leave it simple. 

Because “these days many people devour information (..) many people’s brains are overweight and obese because they ingest too much information. Unless we know how to deal with all that information, it may only confuse us. We need to remember that the essence of the teachings of the Buddha is clear and simple: don’t do anything bad, do what is good, and purify the mind (Dhammapada 183)”

"The art of disappearing" by Ajahn Brahm. Buddha statue. Angor Wat.

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