Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1989

Gratitude to Ajahn Chah; Jayasaro Bhikkhu
Image of the Dhamma; Sister Viveka
Living in the World with Dhamma; Ajahn Chah
Part of the Lineage: pt.I; Aj. Sucitto interviews Aj. Jagaro
What is the Devon Vihara? Supanno & Pasadaka
Out on a Limb; Venerable Kovido
Lineage is more than History; Ajahn Sucitto

Question Time; Aj Sumedho
Allowing Silence; Aj Sucitto

Question Time
Ajahn Sumedho answers questions put to him by lay folk at the end of a talk.

How would you describe the nature of the pure mind?

This is where the Buddha was very careful, because when you're trying to describe the indescribable, or define the indefinable, or limit the unlimited, you can get yourself into a lot of delusion. The only thing I can say is that as you let go of things more and more, and realize that all that arises ceases - you realize the cessation of things - then you realize the Unconditioned.

There's the conditioned, the Unconditioned; the created, the uncreated. You can't conceive uncreatedness. You have a word but there's no perception for it. There's no kind of symbol that one could grasp. You could have a doctrine about it, so religion tends to make these metaphysical doctrines that people believe in. But, since the Buddhist teaching is a non-doctrinal teaching in which you're to find things out for yourself, it leaves you without any real metaphysical doctrine in order for the realization to happen.

The conditioned realm only arises and ceases. It has no eternality or infinity to it. It's only a movement in the universal. So that whatever word you get or concept you have can be very misleading. We've had dialogue with Christians, and I notice Christian meditators now are moving more towards the Buddhist position and saying quite outrageous things like: "God is nothing or no-thing." But yet, for Buddhists, we would understand that and that .. "no-thing" is probably a fairly accurate description: whereas trinitarian Christianity is always giving God attributes as a Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

But Buddhism is clearly stated as a convention. It's not an absolute. It's a tool to use.

So you're always having these conditioned attributes that you're looking for, you're perceiving as God. And yet, you know in mystical Christianity you transcend this trinitarian view very much; and that is where you talk about mystery, or not knowing. Christian mystics don't have the psychological vocabulary that we do in Buddhism, so they tend to put it in a different way, But if you get beyond the terminologies they use, it's very much the experience of the mind that is free from a self-view - and from a binding to the conditioned world. So one sees the potential in all religions to point beyond themselves.

The danger is always in attachment to the conventions. Even with Buddhism, as beautiful and clear a teaching as it really is, not many Buddhists use it to be enlightened. They tend to attach to a certain part or a certain thing in it. But I think now there's more potential for awakening to this truth - which isn't Buddhist in fact - it is beyond conventions. But Buddhism is clearly stated as a convention. It's not an absolute. It's a tool to use. At least with Buddha-Dhamma you're not asked to support a convention in itself, you're encouraged to use it for mindfulness and wisdom. And I can see that in Christianity also.

Hinduism and Islam have this in some form or another. Then ther's the perennial philosophy. There's a lot of this really clear thinking going on now among human beings that is quite wonderful - the mental clarity and use of wisdom that is happening in different places on the planet. No matter how gloomy and pessimistic the newspapers sometimes are about the state of the world, I can't help but feel more optimistic. I can see that it is changing and that in just my own lifetime theres been a remarkable change in the development of a spiritual understanding and wisdom, compared with say twenty-five years ago.

Why do monks and nuns not claim attainments?

The rules for the monks and the nuns were made for particular instances. From my own experience of being a Buddhist monk, I can see how wise that is because it really makes you quite careful about how you say things. Sometimes you can get very enthusiastic about your practice, or you have insights and the thoughts do come up: "Oh, I'm enlightened" And if you go round telling everyone, then that can be very misleading.

In fact when monks would get that way my teacher, Ajahn Chah, would say- "OK, now you stay off in your little kuti and don't talk to anyone until you calm down"

The tendency to interpret these experiences from self - view - "I am" - is the danger; not that the experiences are wrong but you really need to be non-attached to the memories of them or to an interpretation of them from this position of "I AM ..."

There is suffering and there is the end of suffering: that's all the Buddha ever really said. The Brahmin priests were always trying to push him into making metaphysical statements, ultimate doctrinal statements about the I AM, or THE ONE and so forth. And he would always say: "I teach there is suffering, there is the end of suffering" Sometimes the Brahmin priests would say: "Well obviously he doesn't know, otherwise if he knew he could tell us" But then by telling people, as with all the metaphysical, doctrinal teachings of religion, what happens? People tend to just grasp the doctrine.

So if you believe in a metaphysical doctrine, then how you tend to interpret life will come from that belief. The Buddha approached it from existential experience - experience of existence - suffering and the end Of suffering. However, the danger from that is to become nihilistic: to say that there's no God, nothing, that there's just the arising and ceasing, empty phenomena rolling on, meaningless nothing and so forth. That's the opposite of the eternalist view where there is a God and eternal life. The Buddhist approach is to neither extreme but to this penetration in the present, through the here and now, through mindfulness. And the key, the clue, is that suffering: the experience of suffering and the experience of non-suffering.

Now how many of you realize non-suffering? You don't suffer all the time, but are you really aware when you're not suffering? Just question yourself in that way, because the unenlightened human being tends to assume that one is a person that has suffered a lot in one's life. This kind of basic assumption from the personality position, tends to colour everything that we do. We can be living in a situation where we're not suffering at all but assuming that we suffer - even when there isn't any suffering. But through mindfulness, you're noticing non-suffering; I always bring to my attention as much as I can to the non-suffering. Before, I would assume that I was a person who suffered a lot. And so even in the most pleasant situations, if something was really nice and there was no suffering, then I'd tend to grasp: "Well what'll happen when I lose it?" Whenever this habit of I AM starts, you know "What'll I do if I lose this? What if it changes, or it's taken away from me, or I get sick, or something changes in a way that I don't want?" - with that habit, even when things are going along very nicely, one is creating suffering around the possibility of suffering in the future. What the Buddha's saying is notice now, be aware, and that even in situations that one might interpret as suffering - for example, physical pain, cold, hunger, disease, loss of loved ones, one needn't suffer. The more mindful you are, and reflective an that, then you're not creating suffering onto the actual misfortune, or the unpleasantness, or the pain that you're experiencing. Through this awakened mind you're not creating, not complicating the way life happens to be with this ignorance, this projection.

How does mindfulness become a reality in one's life in the world?

Mindfulness is the ability to be awake and aware wherever you are. As lay people you don't generally have the supporting encouragement to practise mindfulness. People around you where you work may be not interested in Dhamma at all. Whereas in a monastery you have a conventional form that encourages you: thats the advantage of monastic life.

But people need to be mindful of the way things are in their lives rather than making the assumption that they can't be mindful unless they have a lot of supportive conditions for that. What you can't expect is a lot of tranquillity and simplicity if you're working where there's a lot of pressure on you to be a certain way or do something. Then you'll find these things will not be very helpful in tranquillizing your mind or in leading towards simplicity or peacefulness with the external forms. But you can be mindful of it and through that you find something within yourself that is peaceful in spite of the agitation and stressful conditions that surround you.

You can idealize monastic life: sometimes you have a very nice group around you where you get on well, and everybody's quite mature and sincere in what they're doing, and it's very, very pleasant to have people who you can trust and respect. And you get very attached to that. Then somebody comes in who is very disruptive, and you find yourself getting angry with them and you think: "I don't like this, we've got to get rid of this person so we can hold on to this nice community where everyone gets on. We don't want any disruptive, unpleasant things coming into it." That itself is a miserable thought. So we train ourselves to expand our minds to include disruptions.

You can get very attached to silence, like on a meditation retreat. But in a silent room, where everybody's still, any sound is magnified. Just the rustle of a nylon jacket ... or somebody; gulps too much, swallows too loudly or something like that, you can feel very annoyed. You think: "Oh, I wish that person would stop making those noises." What you're doing is, you're creating anger in your mind, aversion towards the way things are, because you want this total silence and you don't want it to be disrupted. But when it is disrupted, You see that you're attached to that. Yet to include all possibilities for disruption within any situation doesn't mean you go out and try to have disrupting things happen; but you've already opened yourself to - the possibilities rather than held onto an idea of what you would like.

Mindfulness allows us to open the mind to all possibilities, both for what we like and what we don't like. Then you can begin to more or less accept life's flow and movement, the way it changes, without being angry or fed up when it isn't what you want.

In fact, you begin to feel quite at ease with life when you can accept the whole of it as it is. A lot of people become very fussy and cowardly and timid out of just not wanting to get involved in anything that might agitate or create unpleasant feelings in their mind. You think: "Oh, I can't go there because it'll just upset me" But when you're mindful then you don't mind being Upset. Being Upset is part of living! You don't go round seeking to be upset but it does happen. And you learn from it. It's a part of lifes experience.