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



Question time with Ajahn Sumedho

Ajahn Sumedho answers a series of questions on meditation and practice in lay life.

If one looks inward, too much, does one miss out on the lessons the outside can teach?

Well, because of the sensitivity of this human form, you're impinged on by other people. But the emotional states and the sensitivity involved in being in this state are to be reflected on rather than taken personally. So you begin to see what selfishness is in your relationships.

In monastic life, for example, you have to share everything everythings communal - so a good part of our experience of life are the reactions we have to each other. There are different types of characters and different ways of doing things; some people you find more attractive and others less attractive. All of this is observed, so that you're not just following these habits, but you're beginning to really see a lot of these selfish attitudes and biases -and feelings of being threatened by others.

I remember experiencing this years ago with one of the monks. Intellectually, I liked him very much, but whenever he started coming near me I had this tremendous fear arise. He was a very kind person - never hurt me - but whenever this particular monk came into my field of vision I started feeling fear. And then, because I was puzzled about it, I started realizing that the particular way he moved and carried himself conveyed aggression to me. It was not his intention, but the actual movement of the way he walked and carried himself converged to this mind some aggressive force.

I hadn't been aware of that because I tend to be very abstract about people: you know "this one is this way and he's good natured, he's kind"; but then you get confused by these irrational reactions that don't fit into your intellectual perception. The way people move sometimes has a very strong effect on us that we're not always aware of.

I began to see that even when everything is going right, once you are caught in this habit of worry, you still worry.

The convention of the Buddhist monk puts the male into a non-aggressive, harmless form; one of the important parts of the training is in harmlessness. The whole appearance - the shaven' head, bare feet, the robes - is to remind the individual man himself he is a monk, and also to convey harmlessness to the society around. This is why I think, once you get used to Buddhist monks as a perception, you feel devotion and respect: if the life is lived properly then it represents compassion, harmlessness, restraint - good virtues. Now if you take skinheads - they don't convey harmlessness, do they? Their whole expression is to convey aggression and brutality. They develop a way of walking, and looking, and moving, and they put on things that make them look aggressive and mean. This tends to bring fear into the mind.

The training of the Buddhist nun is to put the female form into a state where, it's not trying to attract men or arouse jealousy in other women. So the proper training of a Buddhist nun is one of not trying to draw attention to herself.

By training in these ways, we become, aware of conditioned tendencies in ourselves. If I had no such convention I would probably never have thought of it much. In Thailand, as a monk, I became very aware of the reaction people had to me, and I began to wonder why they would jump back when I had onlly good intentions. I wanted to be friendly, and yet when, I came directly to them they backed off. Why? Then I began to see that, for one thing my size could appear overwhelming, and that it was also because of the habitual movement of the body.

Living in Thailand for a number of years, I developed a genuine appreciation for that particular respectful way of living, where you're trying to bring out the best in people -rather than arousing things like greed, or anger, or aversion, or envy, or lust. You're no longer moving out into the society with the intention of arousing these kind of states of mind in people, but you're living in the soceity trying to - be that which is nonaggressive, harmless - that which conveys to the mind the possibilities for the human being to be peaceful and awake, mindful, wise, and restrained.

You said that worry is what we produce when we don't have any faith in travelling beyond pleasure and pain, Can you say a bit more about that?

I am a great worrier! When we first came to England everything was very uncertain: how would we survive as Buddhist monks in a non-Buddhist country? Would we be beaten up and attacked by people, would anyone give us alms-food, or what would happen? But in actuality my life here in this country has been a good one. I began to see that even when everything is going right, once you are caught in this habit of worry, you still worry. It became obvious that people were interested in the Dhamma and they were going to feed us and we were going to survive and monasteries were going to be supported; but then when there wasn't anything to worry about, one could find something else! And being in a responsible position - like the abbot of a monastery, you get into positions where you can't just hide behind someone else. In Thailand I could hide behind Ajahn Chah's robes, and because I wasn't a native Thai I could get out of a lot of things, so that there were certain advantages. But being here I always felt that I was the focal point, and so there were tendencies towards doubt and anxiety.

In reflective meditation you go out to the feeling of worry. I would begin to open to that very feeling of worry or doubt, uncertainty, rather than try to suppress it through affirmation. but I found that the way out of worry was not by suppressing it but by totally accepting the feeling of it. The insight that came from that was that in the sensory realm there is an awful lot to worry about. It wasn't just a neurotic hang-up! In this realm of pleasure and pain and personality and success and failure, there is a lot to worry about. You could trip and break your leg, you could have a heart attack, you could be beaten up or there could be a nuclear holocaust, there could be an IRA explosion and all kinds of things. Then because you have a memory you can hold on to things of the past: "This happened to me five years ago and what if it happens again?"

Being Still

Breathing was
a raft ferrying inward
I became Aware of thoughts
Visiting spaciousness
Of mind then, leaving,
Still, like a tree,
All weathers touched me,
Cool and heat,
Waiting as I was for new
Verdance and deeper light.

George Coombs

A country like Britain has developed to try to give us a sense of security - you have a stable government, you have welfare, medical services, education, all these things laid in for us -and still we worry! So I've realized, that that sense of insecurity and uncertainty is just the way life is.

But if you go to the actual feeling of insecurity, you find it peaceful. It's a kind of paradox: when you are reacting to that feeling, you get worried and frightened by it; but as you open to that uncertain, insecure feeling that you have and the violent reaction to it, and bear with it - you will find its peacefulness. You will find a sense of peace with yourself. Worry, if skilfully used, takes us to serenity of mind; because when you're with that very feeling of insecurity, your thinking, mind - with its "what if this happens, what if that happens? - will stop operating. Then you will begin to recognize emptiness of mind, which is a state of mind which is very receptive to the way things are. Then you have perspective. You begin to have real faith that you will be able to cope with the problems of life that you experience.

For example, I realize the potential at any moment for having a heart attack, or being beaten up, or the ozone hole growing bigger, or all the whales disappearing in the ocean, or being taken over by the Communists, or whatever.... But what I know now is that I trust that whatever happens I will respond to it appropriately, because these things are not the important issue any more. One is in tune with something transcendent, rather than thinking, "Well if I don't have this I'll just die, and if this happens I won't be able to stand it". I realize that whatever happens I'll stand it!