The cheap synthetic curtains, a checkered floral pattern of pastel yellow and blue which seem like they could only be the child of a quaint English grandmother and Sponge Bob Square pants, is teaching me. The robin singing outside my window is teaching me. The scent of the lemon slice sitting in my cup is teaching me. The taste of a whole chili pepper, bit by accident, is teaching me. The feeling of my lumbar vertebrate burning with fiery pain hotter than a thousand of those Thai chilies is teaching me. And even these thoughts are teaching me. Well, they could, but usually I'm too busy looking elsewhere, usually the inside of fridges, to learn
Even common household appliances, like refrigerators, are the sublime expressions of the dhamma. All that it requires is the act of proper attention for it to reveal its truth.
Now, within Buddhist and in general spiritual lingo, there's a lot of talk about interdependence, but it is usually of an abstract and unitive sort. In the early meditation texts, the interdependence of things had a particular agenda and effect, namely to identify what suffering is co-dependent on for it's existence and, thereby, see what we can do to lessen or remove that factor and thus experience the relief or ending of suffering. It is not this, "Oh, we're all one great big family, let's hold hands and sing Kumbaya," kind of a thing. That might be true, but it's not ultimately helpful in terms of providing a clear and direct understanding of the problem: suffering, and, oppositely, to it's solution.
So when we look at a refrigerator, the question then is to study how this thing called a refrigerator arises. If we examine the process clearly and with mindfulness, we can see that it arises dependent on many factors. It depends on the presence of some form, maybe a hulking teal box, on light, and also on the eye. If any of these were absent, we would be unable to see the box. It also depends on other processes. Before we could see the refrigerator, maybe a feeling of hunger arose, which caused an aversive mental state which caused the visitation of a teal refrigerator during my meditations which caused an intention to move which caused the muscles in my leg to move which caused me to see a door which caused me to intend to reach for a door handle which caused my arm to move which caused the feeling of the cool metal on my fingers, etc., etc. As we observe this process take place, inevitably, standing before a fridge stuffed full of delicious Thai, scrumptious enough to tempt even the most resolute of contemplatives, we also stand as witness to the experience of craving, of greed, and of an attendant sense of lack and dissatisfaction which accompanies these feelings. The practice of observation and investigation then reveals to us that our perceptions are not actually ours. That everything which arises does so naturally and in accordance to various conditions in a causally linked and bound process. Even the thought, "That red curry is mine!" is something which arises dependent on other conditions and passes when those pass. Intentions, too, our will, arises based on conditions. The will to touch the handle arose from the image of a door which arose because of this and that and so on and so forth. Thus, there is no "I" or "me" which is actually independent or beyond this process. "I" or "me" is merely a product of this process, rather than, as we often think, the producer, creator, or controller of it.
I am not a refrigerator. That seems like a no brainer, but what isn't a no brainer is the view that all that is sensed and thought is also not mine. My eyes, forgive the contradiction, aren't my own, and nor is the red curry which I hope to wolf down for lunch. When we clearly understand and see that these things are not ours, then we naturally let go of them and stop clinging too tightly. That translates into a lessening of stress and dissatisfaction and craving, for we only crave for things that we identify with, and we only feel dissatisfied when there is an absence of something which we crave. With the attenuation of cravings borne from misidentification - thinking that we're refrigerators, red curries, and eyeballs, a sense of peace and stillness pervades where before chaos and agitation reigned. When we observe this effect, there is also a clear knowledge that the conceit or view, "I am this" and the craving or aversion which it entails is the cause of stress, and that by releasing and lessening that view, is the ending or relief of stress.
So when Ajahn Chah says that everything is teaching us, especially and including refrigerators, he does not mean that in an open-ended, vague way. Refrigerators could teach us many things. They could teach us about electronics, thermal dynamics, gravity, and countless other things, but these are not significant if one wishes to truly be happy, because for that one must understanding suffering and its causes and the ending of suffering and its causes. If you think that its ending is inside the fridge and in a bowl of Thai red curry, you'll be sorely, all-be-it tastily, disappointed. Relatively speaking, it is useful to know how a fridge works and to not be starving, but there are plenty of electricians and engineers who can put together a fridge but are miserable, and there are, likewise, monks who have died from starvation relatively unruffled (recently, an Indian yogi died after fasting for over 130 days as a protest to the illegal mining occurring along the River Ganges). The difference is one of understanding and of view, of what our knowledge and understanding, and what kind of information we are searching for.
Next time you step before a fridge, maybe just be a little mindful, for that fridge door could be either your opening to enlightenment or Thai curry, or, hopefully in my case, both!
Wishing you all enlightenment by appliance,