The Simile of the Good Car

If one wishes to reach a distant destination such as the Cairngorms National Park, from London, one will need several things: A car with five good wheels, some fuel, and some money to buy more fuel on the way. One will also need to know how to drive, and study the route.

Similarly, to reach a distant destination such as nibbāna from one’s current location in saṃsāra, wherever that might be, one will need several things: A car with five good wheels, some fuel, and some money to buy more fuel n the way. One will also need to know how to drive, and study the route.

Here is the meaning of the simile:-

A car with Five Good Wheels

One needs to have a human body during the era of the Buddha’s Dispensation and be reasonably healthy. If someone is chronically sick or mentally ill, it may not be possible for them to meditate strenuously enough.

Just as a car needs four good wheels, and a fifth — the steering wheel — a meditator needs to observe the four precepts: abstaining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, and unwholesome speech, and the fifth — abstaining from intoxicants that cause heedlessness. An unmindful and heedless person is incapable of making any worthwhile progress in meditation practice. Ideally, a meditator should observe the eight precepts by abstaining from afternoon meals, indulging in entertainments, and using cosmetics, jewellery, and perfumes.

Some Fuel for the Journey

At least one will need sufficient fuel to reach the next service station, where one can buy some more fuel. A meditator needs both faith and a generous spirit. A mean-spirited, excessively critical, or aggressive person cannot even begin the journey. Kind and generous people, whether they are Buddhists or not, if they are open-minded, intelligent, and respectful, can soon make progress and increase their faith in the teachings. If they begin the journey with faith in the teachings and the meditation instructor, they will gain in confidence as they make progress in the early stages of insight. Acquiring faith through practice is like having money to buy more fuel whenever one needs to.

Knowing How to Drive

Before setting out on a long journey, one should learn how to drive safely. One should attend regular meditation classes to learn the technique from an experienced meditation teacher. Learning how to meditate, like learning how to drive, is not something that one can learn properly only by reading books. One should practise the basic exercises given by the meditation teacher, and develop both skill and self-confidence by practising meditation for many hours.

Some drivers can pass their driving test after only five or ten lessons; others may have to retake the test repeatedly, and need to have many lessons. However clever one thinks one is, it is foolish to get into a car and start driving without taking any driving lessons. Even if one is not full of self-confidence, if one practises repeatedly, one will become competent sooner or later.

Studying the Route

Just as there are many different routes from London to reach the Cairngorms, there are many different meditation routes to reach nibbāna. Just as all routes from London to the Cairngorms must go North, the route to nibbāna from saṃsāra must go away from sensual indulgence and towards renunciation of pleasure. It must go away from laziness and towards stirring up energy.

One can study the route thoroughly beforehand, or one can make inquiries on the way. Either method will work provided that one studies carefully and makes a thorough investigation by putting appropriate and intelligent questions to the meditation instructor.

Reaching the Destination

A long journey may not be completed in a single day. To reach the Cairngorms one may drive fast as far as Edinburgh or Perth, then one will have to stay overnight, and continue on the next day. At some point, one may have to leave the car and walk or climb to the final destination on foot. However long the journey may be, if one continues in the right direction, one will get closer to the goal.

Most meditators will not reach nibbāna on their first meditation retreat, nor even after many retreats. It depends on many factors. However far they are from the destination, what is certain is that if they continue to meditate diligently they will be getting closer day by day. Conversely, if they do not begin the journey, or give up whenever it gets difficult, they will never gain any worthwhile insights, let alone reach the destination of nibbāna.

False Teachings

There are some false meditation teachers who say that the goal is easy to reach if you follow their instructions (and, no doubt, pay them a good fee). Other false teachers will say that there is no need to meditate, or that the goal is unreachable nowadays, so just make merit by giving donations and doing other good deeds.

Do not listen to false teachers. The way to nibbāna is hard for some, not so hard for others, and easy for no one, but it is impossible for those who hold wrong views. One can buy a fake degree in psychology on the Internet, or one can study hard for six years or longer to gain a genuine degree. One would expect to make at least as much effort to understand one’s own psyche, which is a prerequisite before attaining nibbāna. To put an end to craving, one has to understand what craving is and how to relinquish it.

2 Replies to “The Simile of the Good Car”

  1. “Acquiring faith through practice” seems a bit counter-intuitive. Shouldn’t you start with faith in reaching or the possibility of reaching the goal before you start? Confidence will then gradually replace the faith, as you are proving to yourself that you can at least get this far?

    1. Yes, before anyone would renounce the pursuit of sensual pleasures and undertake the strenuous practice of mindfulness meditation they would have to learn at least something about the great peace to be found in nibbāna, just as anyone leaving London to drive to the Cairngorms would have to have heard something about the beauty of the Cairngorms to be interested in going there.

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