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:


Question Time

Ajahn Jagaro is the abbot of Bodhinyana Monastery, Serpentine, Western Australia.

Question: In terms of my lifetime, it's relative permanence that will count, not absolute. For example, a brick is unlikely to break down in my lifetime, so one can assume it's permanent.

Ajahn Jagaro: You are assuming that the brick will last for the rest of your life. This is where the problem arises, because things are not reliable, there is no 'permanent'. In our quest for happiess, we are continually frustrated, because it is not for the rest of our lives. It's not for one life; it's quite often not for one moment.

Look at anything relationships, your body, your health. I could say, 'Well, OK, my body's impermanent, but if it lasts for this lifetime it'll be good enough!' sure, it's good enough, but it doesn't just do that; it's breaking down, it gets sick, it gets old. And with relationships: we can think, 'It's all right. Everything is impermanent, but we'll be in love for the rest of our life. We'll die at exactly the same moment and blissfully for the rest of our time.' But you know it doesn't work out like that. One party gets bored, the other doesn't - relationships often don't last.

If there was something truly permanent, you could at least hold onto that!

Material things, certainly, they don't last. There is no guarantee that they will last for even one moment. You may think this building's going to last - it's impermanent, but it's going to last for another twenty years - but you don't know. We're building a monastery in Serpentine, and we're building it as well as we can with the idea of making it last. But at the back of my mind I always have what they call the perception of impermanence. During summer, it would only take on really hot day, one careless match somewhere in that vicinity, and whooom - there goes the monastery! And we'd all start again from the scratch. It's not necessarily going to last my lifetime, that monastery. Things are flux, change - there is no guarantee for any length of time. Life is but one moment.

If there was something truly permanent, you could at least hold onto that!. But you too are permanent. Your body's impermanence, your perceptions are impermanent, your thoughts are impermanent. Everything is inter-related. However, our desire is to seek for security, and that is where the crux of the matter lies, that's where the frustration arises. Psychologically, emotionally, we are unable to accept the truth of impermanence. We are operating from this firm convicxtion that there must be permanence. That is our frustration, that is our suffering. Knowing it intellectually doesn't help. It does not bring about a radical change in being.

Q:If everything is 'not self', what is reborn? Just the conditions?

A: It is a flow, a process of causes and results. It is operating now. You ask what is there to be reborn; I ask you what here now? Who is here now? If you can tell me what is here now, that is what is going to happen at rebirth. The way we describe rebirth is very similar to what is happening now: a condition of causal arising, in other words, a present condition. At this moment, this physical/mental state is the result of the past. The past has still got potential to express. Our volition in the present acts with the potential from the past to create the next moment, the future. So there is a dynamic process operating. At the moment of the death of the body it cannot be a vehicle any more, it is breaking down. The mind and mental faculties also break down, but in the mind there is this basic drive, a desire to experience gratification. There is the conviction that there can be gratification. So in the last conscious moment, this desire driven by ignorance is still there. The body can't operate, but this desire conditions the next conscious moment in a new body.

Q: If there was no desire there would be no rebirth?

A: If there was no desire there would be no rebirth.

Q: What happens if someone commits suicide?

A: That person wants to escape from the preset conditions, which are so awful that they feel that they can't cope. They want to end it all but, unfortunately, it doesn't end, it just starts again. Nothing is lost because the new conscious moment is conditioned by the past, and within it are the imprints of all the previous tendencies, kammic tendencies. The moment of the present is conditioned by the past.

Q: Before you started the session, you bowed down. What are the reasons for doing this?

A: The teaching of the Buddha is not really to do with superstition, ceremonial ritual sacrifices of any sort. It is based on reason, logic and understanding. However, form, like anything we do, is a convention. Take the example of shaking hands. You could say: 'Look at that superstitious practice these Western people have. They have to shake hands all the time.' It is a custom. Now, in the time of the Buddha they did not have Buddha statues. These came into existence about three or four hundred years after the Buddha, I think. The purpose of a statue is to act as a reminder. It is not a Buddha. No statue, no body, no matter, could ever become Buddha. No conditioned thing can be Buddha.

So this statue is just brass, not sacred. It is a symbol, though - just like a picture of your wife when you see it brings up certain feelings, depending upon what sort of relationship you have! And so what I see this statue, I reflect on the Buddha: the person who lived 2500 years ago, what he did, how he lived, the impeccable person, the peaceful person, the compassionate person. I have a sense of gratitude, respect, for that being.

Also, I can consider the Buddha as the quality Buddha - wisdom, that quality which is within myself to be realised, to be cultivated. And again I have inspiration to work towards. Then I bow three times as a way of paying respect. It is not worshipping anything. It is paying respect to the historical Buddha and to the Buddha within.

The second value of it, which is even more important in many ways, is an act of humility. Being able to humble yourself: to get this thing that we hold up so much, that is so much associated with me, that is what we relate ourselves to - and put it on the ground. There is humility in being able to bow to another - be it the memory of the Buddha, or to another monk - and humility is very good.

The third and very important reason for the exercise is one of mindfulness, or collecting oneself. I've just been talking to people, doing things. When I come into this room, I stop - physically stop, verbally stop, mentally stop. I bring my mind into my body, collect myself, and then I bow mindfully - mind and body together, a silent bow. Just three bows has a wonderful effect for calming the mind, stilling the mind. So that it is an exercise in mindfulness ad centring oneself. So I centre myself before I begin to talk again, or before I meditate, before I undertake other activities.

So bowing serves three purposes: as a way of paying respect, for humility, and for centring oneself in the practice of mindfulness.