Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1990

A Leap of Faith; Ajahn Sucitta
Practice after the Retreat; Sister Sundara
Observance Day at Wat Pah Nanachat; Ajahn Sucitto
The Way; Aj. Liam & City of 10,000 Buddhas monks
Almsround in Britain; Sister Viveka
Question Time; Ajahn Jagaro
Advance is Based on Retreat; Ajahn Sucitto

Buddha Word:


Practice after the Retreat

Extracts from a talk given by Sister Sundara during a ten-day retreat at Amaravati last year.

There is line in the Dhammapada which says that the mind is the forerunner of all things: if one acts with evil thoughts the result is evil, if one acts with kind thoughts then the result is kind. Now to see this you have to investigate life, you have to investigate your mind. We call that process 'wisely reflecting'. When we talk about looking at thoughts, you may understand, and feel perhaps that you've got to stop thinking in order to be wise, instead of actually reflecting on your life, on your actions, your family, your job, your needs ... reflecting with mindfulness and attention, rather than just thinking about things, and being confused by your fear of ot being able to solve problems.

So we can reflect on our feelings right now. We can know that they're changing and unsatisfactory, and we can also see that there is no need to identify with them.

All this nonsense about being a lay person or monk or nun ...these are the kinds of excuses we make for not taking that Refuge in mindfulness.

On a retreat like this we can see clearly the source of our agitation; we begin to notice the more subtle irritations, like the way people close doors or the way they pick up a pot of honey - we can be mindful of them. But when you go home ... it's easy to think you will lose all mindfulness - that the Refuges will completely go out of the window, and no way will you be able to be wise, no way will you be able to see things in perspective. This worry is what we call Mara - on a direct line! - telling you you'll be confused, that you can't do it tomorrow. So already you start thinking about the next retreat, about how you can go back to your nice, kid zafu, and breathe ... in and out ... sorting out your life on your meditation mat.!

All this nonsense about being a lay person or monk or nun ...these are the kinds of excuses we make for not taking that Refuge in mindfulness. But if you really want to be free, then that's what you have to do, rather tha take refuge in your excuses for ot being mindful. Before the retreat I was reflecting on my position thinking, thinking, 'Well, you'll be talking to a group of lay people ... Now, what's good for lay people? What's good for monks and nuns?' But what's the difference? When I look at you, I feel that there isn't much diference. I don't think it's really a kindness to you to think, 'this is for lay people, this is for the Sangha - they do the advanced practice and you do the lay people's practice.' I don't think it's kindness, because one doesn't want to appeal to the idea that one ca make excuses - to feel that one can't do it because one is a lay person. If your aim is to be free, the keep that in mind, don't lose that intention in your heart. Then you can observe the amount of excuses one can come up with just to forget about it.

Or we make excuses because we think practice should be good; that if we practise rightly we should be OK. We should feel happy and contented, calm, peaceful, loving and compassionate. We think that this is the pactice - we mix our ideas about practice with our desires. But when we practice correctly, we reflect on desires, rather than mixing 'practice' with what we want and what we think it should be, what we think it should feel like.

So if you're a lay person and the conditions you're living in are different from the conditioons here, there is no reason to think that you can't be wise, that you can't be mindful. There's no reason to think like that, that's just the voice of Mara - which we tend to follow quite easily, because that feels more 'home' than 'Yes, I can do it.'

Sometimes we tend to be quiet disparaging about ourselves, not trusting our abilities, and it is this lack of trust that always makes us run away from that Refuge because we don't trust it. Maybe it's easier to put trust in someone else, or what somebody has written, than to reflect on things, cultivate wisdom, realsing that it is possible to see things really clearly and to know what eeds to be done. That we can live a life that we respect, that we like and feel good about.

You can develop confidence in your practice by giving up certain things. It doesn't have to be anything much - just experiment with little things ...Can I give up talking for an hour? Can I give up smoking for a day? Can I give up grasping for an hour? Can I give being grumbly for two days? Simple things like that. Just making the determination is very strengthening, using the power of the mind. We can feel really depressed if we lose confidence; the mind starts feeling all floppy, like withering flowers - a bit miserable-looking. That's how our mind feels if we don't really nurture it and give it a little bit of sunshine, a little bit of water and a little bit of loving care, and help fill it with confidence.

If we don't cultivate the heart, it just flops and withers like a plant. We're living with something alive that needs care and attention and loving and stregth. It needs to be given confidence, rather than saying, 'Oh I can't do it, I'm no good,' and looking for reinforcements from outside: 'It's so difficult when you've got so many responsibilities.' 'I quite agree with you - it's quite impossible.' That way of thinkig ca be very damaging ... 'I'll be wise tomolrrow, but today - just leave me aloner! Let me enjoy myself today, then when I get the right food or the right job - then I'll be wise!'

When I speak about nurturing or cultivating the heart, we can see it as a relationship we establish with ourselves where we begin to see ourselves as a human being - not as somebody who's always doing wrong. We establish a proper relationship with ourselves, instead of being critical, nasty, demanding and complaining, anxious, angry and upset: inspired then upset because we don't feel inspired any more ... then we get depressed and we get annoyed because we get depressed! This is not a very nice relationship, is it?

We have different needs, because we are different people, but what's good for all of us is to develop a very kid relationship towards ourselves. In meditation retreats you can observe meticulously how your mind works. You begin to see yourself as if you're someone else; you can see how your senses, your eyes, ears, ose, tongue and thoughts create constantly all sorts of interesting things - and sometimes not-so-interesting things!

So Mara is very, very clever, he knows how to trick you. The favourite trick is to create the kind of images you might have about tomorrow - he just says boldly, 'Here I am, and I'm tellig you tomorrow will be wonderful!' or 'Tomorrow will be awful!' But being reflective, you know that this is happening right here and now ... and tomorrow hasn't arrived yet. Rather than trying to find ways of sorting out your life, trying to change the conditions to make your life OK, we take the time to sit quietly and reflect. Suddenly the mind becomes open, rather than filled with all our fears and desires and anxieties; there is a spaciousness, we can allow things to be seen in a new way - we can see life in a non-distorted way, see it with a bit more truth.

But we tend to be impatient - it doesn't seem to be so important for most people to go to that Refuge of mindfulness. What seems more important is to eat and to sleep and to talk and to have fun - looking for ways to satisfy 'me', rather than applying that Refuge we've been cultivating for the past week - that very knowing and clarity of the reflective mind which allows us to see what is necessary. If you reflect on your thoughts, you can see very clearly ... the changing ... they come and they go, and you see them beginning and ending, you see through the whole of your melodrama. It's as clear as a crystal. But then as you go back into your ordinary life, it gets a little bit more fixed, a bit more solid, and ... more solid! And finally you begin to believe it all again. It's such a lovely feeling - isn't it? - when you can see your difficulties and the things we get caught into as changing, as beginning and ending. There's a wonderful feeling about it, you can experiece the joy of seeing their true nature...that they're not what we are.

But the world of igorance is pretty powerful and we are in the midst of it all the time - bombarded with wrong views, wrong intentions, wrong thoughts, wrong understanding, wrong livelihood. Everything seems to be wrong, out of ignorance. But when we start to awaken and can reflect, then there's this possibility of finding the way out.