Life Itself Is Prison
Using metaphors makes it easier for us to understand the matter we're discussing. So we will make use of them here today. The first prison which you must look for and see is life itself. If you look on life as a prison, and see the prison that it is, then we must say that you know the truth of nature quite well. Most people, however, look on life as something enjoyable, as an opportunity to have fun. They are willing to live for the enjoyment of life. They then become infatuated with and engrossed in life, which is what turns it into prison.
If we see life as a prison, then we must have seen the upadana in this life. If we haven't seen the upadana in life, we won't see that life is a prison and we'll be content to think that this life is heaven instead. This is because there are so many things in life that satisfy us, that trick us and engross us; however, in anything that we find satisfying, agreeable, attractive, and infatuating there will be upadana as well. That thing becomes a prison. However much we love something, it becomes at least that much a prison because of upadana. This is a positive kind of upadana. As soon as we hate something, or dislike something, that becomes a negative kind of upadana, which is a prison just the same. To be beguiled and misled, either by the positive or by the negative, is a prison both ways. And that prison turns life into dukkha.
In addition, one will be able to see that when there is upadana in life, then life becomes a prison. And so, when there is no upadana, then life is not a prison at all. You can see this right now, here, whether or not there is upadana in your life? "Is my life a prison or not? Am I living in a prison of upadana, or not?" Each of you must look very carefully into your own hearts and see absolutely clearly whether life is a prison for you or not. Have you got a prison or not? Are you living in a prison or not? Otherwise, why are we coming here to meditate, to cultivate the mind? In essence, the true goal and purpose of mental development is the destruction of our prisons. Whether your studies and practice are successful, whether you can destroy the prison or not, is another question. Nonetheless, our real aim and purpose is to destroy the prison of life.
Consider this carefully. If we don't recognize upadana, we are caught in prison without even recognizing the prison. We are trapped in prison without knowing the prison at all. What's more, we are satisfied and infatuated with that prison, just as we are infatuated and satisfied with life. Because we are infatuated and satisfied in life, we get caught in the prison of life. What are we going to do that it won't be a prison? This is the question that we must answer most carefully and correctly.
要如何生活才不会使生命成为囚牢？这意味著生命原本就不是囚牢，是人们起了执著，才使生命变成囚牢，是我们自己的无明、愚痴和缺乏正见，才使生命有了执著，而让生命演变成一座囚牢。在泰国有句粗鄙且含责难意味的俚语“ Som nam na man ”，意思是“活该”！。生命本来不是囚牢，是我们无明的执著才产生囚牢，这只能说“活该”了！
How are we to live so that life is not a prison? This means that ordinarily, or naturally, life is not a prison, that we only make it into a prison through upadana. Because of our own ignorance, our own stupidity, our own lack of correct understanding, we have upadana in life. Life then becomes a prison for us. In Thai we have a phrase which is both crude and critical, "som nam naa man," which means something like, "it serves you right." Life isn't a prison or any such thing, but through our own stupidity we make upadana with ignorance (avijja) and then there's the prison. What can we say but "som nam naa man, it serves you right."
If you are successful in practicing anapanasati-bhavana (mindfulness with breathing mind cultivation), you will understand life well. You will know upadana well and you won't have any upadana in this thing called "life." Then any prison that is happening dissolves and disappears, and new prisons don't occur. This kind of life has the most value, but who gets it or does not get it is another matter. Please try to understand these facts as you ought to. This will motivate you to apply yourselves with energy and patience to be able to destroy the prison.
One way to look at these facts is to observe that life must carry on according to the law of nature; or that we ourselves must carry on in line with natural law. We must search for food, must exercise, must rest and relax, must work to maintain and support our lives: we must do these and all the other things that you know so well. Not to do them is impossible. We're forced to do them. This is a prison, too. The fact that we must always follow the law of nature is a kind of prison. How are we going to break out of this particular prison?
Why have we gotten caught in the prison of having to live subject to the law of nature? This prison comes from our upadana regarding ourselves, or regarding our lives. When there is upadana toward ourselves, then "I," the self is born. This "I" is anxious about, it worries over, it is frightened and afraid of, these natural duties, and so is made miserable by them. These difficulties come from upadana. If we had no upadana regarding "I," then these necessary duties would not be like a prison. We would be able to hunt for our needs, earn a living, and exercise and care for the body, without being miserable, if we didn't have any upadana toward life. This is very subtle; it's a mystery for most people. This is the subtlety of natural truth. How are we going to live so that there's no dukkha connected with the fact that everything in this life must be performed in line with the law of nature?