All we need to let go of is attachment, aversion and delusion,
so as to realise generosity, loving-kindness and wisdom.
You know the story of Ananda, the Buddha’s attendant. His faith was as strong as anyone’s. There was to be the Sanhayana (Sangha Council) after the passing of the Buddha, and only arahants would be allowed to attend. Ananda was determined to attain the stage of arahant and began strenuous practice so he could join them. But his mind would not do what he wanted it to. He was in this coarse state, and over and over again he was only meeting with frustration. ‘Tomorrow is the Sanghayana. All my Dharma friends, the arahants, will be attending, but I am still an ordinary person. What should I do?’ He decided to meditate from dusk to daybreak. He went at it, but he was only getting fatigued. Coming to the end of his tether, he decided to take a brief rest. At dawn, he set down a pillow and made ready to rest.
Having made the determination to rest, his mind had already started letting go, putting down his business. Then, lying down, even before his head hit the pillow, his mind let go completely and he saw the Dharma; he was enlightened to the arahant stage. Seeking to let go, we can never do it. We could try for years and it wouldn’t happen. But in that moment, when Ananda had decided to stop, to take a rest and put down his burden of wanting attainment, just resting with mindfulness established, the mind let go and he was able to see and awaken. He didn’t have to do anything special. Before, he wanted something to happen, and it didn’t work. There was no occasion to take a rest, no occasion to awaken to the Dharma.
Understand that becoming enlightened to the Dharma is a matter of letting go, letting go with wisdom, with knowing. It doesn’t come about through wanting and struggling, but from letting go in full mindfulness. When there is taking a rest, nothing is botghering the mind. There is no desire to disturb it. Then instantly the mind can awaken, as in Ananda’s case. Ananda was practically unaware of himself. He knew only tha the wasn’t getting what he wanted; desire [or rather, craving] for enlightenment was thwarting all his efforts. So he decided to take a break. [Notes: When the mind lets go of distractions such as craving, and watches itself mindfully, one will realise how the mind works, and thus attain enlightenment.]