Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1990

Sangha & the Basis of Community; Ajahn Santacitto
Accepting the Way Things Are; Sister Thanissara
Declan's Gift; Venerable Kovido
In the Footsteps of the Wise; Ajahn Liam
Question Time; Than Ajahn Sumedho
The Dhamma of Relationship; Ajahn Sucitto

Three Poems:


Question Time

Ajahn Sumedho replies to questions at the end of a dhamma talk.

What advice would you give to somebody who has suffered a sudden calamity?

To really accept he way it is; that is, to bring it to consciousness rather than to push it aside, or to just indulge in emotion, or to resist it. To just notice and accept that this is the way it s, and to bear the feeling of sorrow, or sadness that's there. Then you'll be able to let it go - which doesn't mean it will go when you want it to, but it means that you'll not be making any problems about it.

Life is like that. All of us, all human beings, experience the loss of someone they love. It's just part of our human condition, and human beings have always experienced that. We have to watch our parents die. Maybe we have to experience the death of a child, or someone who dies prematurely - a good friend who is in an accident. Sometime we have to accept horrendous things in life.

You can just involve yourself in self-pity and blame. Or you can look at it as a chance for awakening to life, and to really look and understand.

But then when we are mindful we have already accepted all possibilities one still feels the anguish, but, one can accept that feeling. That has its own peacefulness too; the experience of life has a sad quality to it. Every morning the monks and nuns chant: 'All that is mine, beloved and pleasing, will become otherwise...' You think: 'What a horrible thing to say.' But it's a reflection that what we love, what pleases us, is going to change. We suffer when we think it shouldn't and we don't want any changes. But in the mind that's open to life, it's often in the times when we suffer a lot that we grow a lot to.

People that have had life too easy sometimes never grow up; they just become kind of spoilt and complacent. It's where you've had to really look and accept thingsthat are painful that you find yourself growing in wisdom and maturing as a person.

I was invited to give talks to people with AIDS in the San Francisco area in California. Of course that is a very traumatic disease, and has all kinds of ugly things connected to it. It's like having leprosy; having your immunity system pack up is probably one of the most miserable things that can happen to a human being. So there is the tendence to take it all personally, with bitterness and resentment, or with a tremendous guilt and shame and remorse - because the homosexual communities are mainly the ones that have it. There is often self-hatred and guilt connected to it.

But yet, this very thing could be seen as an awakening. You could determine it as 'God's justice', punishing you for living an immoral life - that's one interpretation. Or you can feel just terribly mistreated, and life has given you a pretty bad lot to handle and that you hate God because he gave you this terrible thing. You've always felt like a misfit or whatever. You can shake your fist at the heavens and curse them. You can just involve yourself in self-pity and blame. Or you can look at it as a chance for awakening to life, and to really look and understand.

When you know you're going to die, sometimes that can make the quality of the remainder of your life increase considerably. If you know you are going to die in 6 months, then that's 6 months. If you have any wisdom a all you're not going to go around wasting 6 months on frivolities, where you might, if you're perfectly healthy, think: 'I've got years yet ahead of me. No point in meditating right now because I can do that when I'm older. Right now I'm going to have good time'. But if you know you're going to die in 6 months ... in one way that can be a very painful realisation, but also it can be what awakens you to life. That's the important thing, the awakening and the willingness to learn from life, no matter what you've done or what's happened. Every one of us has this ever present possibility for awakening, no matter what we may have done.

I see our life in this form as a human being more as a kind of transition. We don't really belong here. This is not our real home. We're never going to be content with being human beings. But it's not to be despised either and rejected, but it is being awakened to and understood. You can say you've not wasted your life if you awaken to it.

If you live a long life - say 100 years - following foolish ideas and selfishness, then 100 years have been wasted. But if you've awakened tom life - maybe the length of it's not so long but at least you have not wasted it.

How about non-attachment within a relationship?

First you must recognise what attachment is, then you let go; then you realise non-attachment. However, if you're coming from the view you shouldn't be attached, then that's still not it; it's not to take a position against attachment s a kind of command, but to observe: What is attachment? Does being attached to things bring happiness or suffering? Then you being to have insight, you being to see what attachment is, and then you can let go.

If you're coming from a high-minded position of thinking that you shouldn't be attached to anything, then you come up with ideas like: 'Well I can't be a Buddhist because I love my wife, because I'm attached to my wife. I love her, and I just can't kind of let her go. I can't send here away. I can't throw her into the volcano. That's coming from the view that you shouldn't be attached. But the recognition of attachment doesn't mean that you get rid of your wife, it means you free yourself from wrong views about yourself and your wife. Then you find there's love there, but it's not attached; it's not distorting, clinging and grasping.

The empty mind is quite capable of loving in the pure sense of love and caring about others, but any attachment will always distort that. If you love somebody and then start grasping them, it tends to go off; then what you love becomes painful for you. For example, you love your children - but if you become attached to your children, then you don't love them any more, because you're really with them as they are. You've got all these ideas about what they should be and what you want them to be. You want them to obey you, and you want them to pass their exams. And then you're no longer loving them. Then if they don't fulfil all your wishes, you feel angry and frustrated and averse to them.

So attachment to children no longer allows us to love them. But as you let go of attachment, you find that you natural way of relating is to love, and you are able to be aware of them as they are, rather than having a lot of ideas of what you want them to be.

Talking to parents .. they say how much suffering there is in having children, because there's a lot of wanting. You know, when we're wanting them to be a certain way, not wanting them to be another way and so forth, we create this anguish and suffering in our minds. But the more we let go of that, then we find out that we can have an amazing ability to be sensitive and aware of children as they are. Then, of course, that openness allows them to respond, rather than just react to attachment. A lot of children, you know, are just reacting to: 'I want you to be like this.' And they get to that stubborn stage: 'I'm not going to be what they want.' It's just reaction going on.

The empty mind or the pure mind is not a blank kind of 'zero land' where you're not feeling or caring about anything. It's that effulgence of the mind, brightness, truly sensitive and accepting - an ability to accept life as it is. And then, because we accept life a it is, we can respond to the way we're experiencing it in appropriate ways, rather than just reacting out of fear and aversion.