Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1989

Letting Go is the Greatest Kindness; Ajahn Anando
Walking The Way - Nuns' Tudong; Sister Thanissara
Unlocking Human Potential; Aj's Pabhakaro & Nyanaviro
Question time; Ajahn Sumedho
Extinguishing the Fires of Delusion; Ajahn Puriso



Walking The Way - Nuns' Tudong

Leaving Chithurst on the morning after the Tenth Anniversary celebrations in 1989, a group of nuns spent two weeks walking ("going tudong") along the South Downs Way. Sister Thanissara shares some of her experiences. On return, at the completion of their tudong, they were just in time to witness the Bhikkhu Ordinations (Upasampada).

After much careful thought and planning, the nuns were able to begin their tudong walk along the South Downs - setting out from Winchester Cathedral - and walking the 100 miles or so to Lancing College. To start out in such an ancient cathedral was the perfect beginning: Winchester is both the old capital of England and a place visited by many pilgrims. Before we donned our packs and set off we wandered around the majestic building. A touch of auspiciousness was added when a Deaconess read a protection prayer from the pulpit - one had the feeling that it was planned just for us.

It took a few days for us to got accustomed to the weight of our backpacks, and to avoid following doubtful thoughts that crossed the mind about whether we could complete the miles that stretched ahead. After a while though, it seemed as if there was something missing if we did not have out packs strapped to backs. Comparing notes about blisters, aching knees and logs became another feature of the walk. It was interesting to see that when the physical body was stretched beyond normal requirements and one wall exposed to the elements the mind would naturally simplify and learn to deal with one moment at a time. In such a situation, without the demands of everyday modern life, it was easy to appreciate the life-style of monks of old who wandered for many years. This simple mode of living gave rise to a natural contemplation of Dhamma and I found myself lamenting over the way our modern life dislocates us from the very immediate and powerful teaching that is provided by being exposed to nature without the cushion of modern conveniences. How much our reality is based on the security and comfort of living within four walls, structures and timetable! To be able to sit and watch the sunset, to feel the rain drenching us, and then the wind blowing dry our wet garments, was both a joy and a luxury.

A good lesson learnt - watching a desire arise and pass is much less hassle than trying to fulfill it!

Throughout the walk we camped in fields and were offered our mid-day meals by various groups of lay supporters. The meeting places and times were arranged beforehand. Amazingly enough all the rendezvous were successful and nuns and lay people found each other quite easily. It was a humbling and enriching experience for us to realize that our lay supporters had gone to so much trouble to prepare food and to journey out with it - sometimes many miles - from their homes. We would like to express our gratitude to all those who offered support for our tudong in one way or another.

One of the places where we received hospitality along the way was at the Krishnamurti Foundation, Brockwood Park. Here we were very warmly welcomed; plentiful supplies of food were offered; showers and a simple wooden building with a wood burning stove were also made available to us. After settling in we were shown around the new building that had been erected after Krishnamurti's death. We were all rather awestruck by its beauty and the tasteful interior design. The central point was the octagonal quiet room. Wooden beams separated each segment and met at the top in a small circular shape giving the impression of a Dhamma wheel. A thick white carpet covered a sitting bench which encircled the room. Sitting in there, the mind became quiet very easily; the room itself seemed to emanate a powerful stillness that helped wash away any worries or anxieties leaving a sense of calm and centredness.

During the guided tour we were taken into the publications room and were invited to take any of the books on the shelves. Not being used to just helping ourselves to things we stood a little amazed until eventually we were given a very fine selection of books to take away with us. When we left Brockwood Park we felt nourished spiritually with a renewed strength that came from glimpsing in the words of Krishnamurti something beyond the mundane.

For the first few days of the walk the weather was very changeable but, as time went on, it started to get hotter and hotter. At certain camp-sites we would stop for a few days, wandering off to a nearby wood to meditate, or walking to explore the surrounding countryside. At one particularly beautiful spot we could see the blue sea twinkling in the distance. It was a very tempting sight in such hot weather especially after living inland and not having the opportunity to go to the sea for many a year. By the second day the temptation was too much and a few of us set off on the 20-mile walk to the sea and back. Needless to say it clouded over and the reality of arriving at a rather scruffy, deserted beach and having a dip in the chilly, grey, seaweedy water was a very different reality from the imagination of what the twinkling blue sea would be like when seen from a distance. A good lesson learnt - watching a desire arise and pass is much less hassle than trying to fulfill it!

Towards the end of our walk the heat became almost unbearable, especially on one of the days when the air was muggy and thick. During our meal that day we were overwhelmed by thunder bugs; they crawled all over our faces, and dropped into our bowls and cups. As they became indistinguishable from the food we were eating we speculated whether we might have broken the first precept of not taking life or the rule about eating something which had not been offered!

True to their names, the thunder bugs heralded the most extraordinary storm. We were camping out in an open field; it was a very interesting experience to be in small tents - supported by metal poles - in the middle of a stupendous lightning storm! There were times when we wondered whether we'd live to tell the story. The storm grew in ferocity and - after the initial joking about frazzled nuns - I began to feel fear that a primitive person might feel when faced directly with the awesome forces that surround us, but which - in our modern society we are anaesthetised against. Somehow death felt very near, and in the face of that the ego shrank and showed its true colours - flimsy and inadequate - when confronted with its own mortality. The only thing that seemed relevant was to let go of everything, calm the mind and body, and open one's heart to universal compassion.

After the storm, our spirits lifted, and, the next morning it was a relief to see the sure world of daylight. Yet, as the heightened awareness, of the previous night began to diminish, there was a sense of loss. One noticed a certain, fragility in the air as if all the plants, trees, animals and birds had been holding their breath throughout the storm and, with its passing, had been allowed to breathe again.

Our last stop was at Lancing College, where we stayed in the garden of the headmaster's house. We were well received by his wife, a wonderful Christian woman, who showed us around the school and school chapel - an amazing building that was absolutely huge. The building of it was initiated over 100 years ago by a man called Nathaniel Woodward, who also founded several schools for poor children. His life's work made a very inspiring story, and showed how courage and faith could bring far-reaching results and benefits.

As the walk drew to a close, I noticed that one had to be very careful not to attach, to the happiness that this experience had brought us. Contemplating the nature of mind, one sees that unwise attachment to any feelings of happiness that arise - when conditioned by circumstances - leads to depression and a sense of loss when those circumstances change. I found that the antidote to this was to bring forth a sense of equanimitiy by reflecting on the transient nature of all states. By contemplating in this way, I noticed - strangely enough - that after a few days back at the monastery, the memory of the walk had faded to such an extent that it was hard to believe it had happened at all.

Walking together as a group of nuns we had an opportunity to get to know each other in a different context. When living so closely human nature becomes very transparent - both in ourselves and in others. Looking directly at all the likes, dislikes, ups and downs that a group goes through allows us to better understand our common humanity, practising Dhamma with such an understanding, we can transcend the limitations of our human condition. I found that I draw great strength from the nuns commitment to the Dhamma; their willingness to live within a demanding and limiting precept form, and to endure through the dying away of selfishness. It was also very good to share this commitment with our lay friends along the way, and to be reminded more intimately of our interdependent relationship.

This was an experimental tudong walk for us, to see what worked and what didn't. As the years go on, we hope that such endeavours may continue so as to bring us closer to the spirit of the mendicant life, for the benefit of ourselves and all beings.