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:


The Great Vehicle and the Elders' Way

Towards the end of 1989 several bhikshus from the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a large Mahayana monastery in the USA, came to visit Wat Pah Pong during a teaching tour of Asia. They were introduced to Ajahn Liam, the acting abbot since the onset of Tan Ajahn Chah's sickness, and the following is a brief account of the exchange between them. The monastery from which they come is noted for its strict standard of discipline and for the use of the dhutangas (bitter or austere practices), as skilful means for the cultivation of the Path.

'Austerities are valuable, they help us to strengthen our resolution to refrain from worldly ways and they encourage us to develop energy. With those practices which give rise to a lot of endurance, however - like the "sitter's practice", where one refrains from ever lying down - one has to be very careful not to allow different sorts of craving to affect them and thus cause them to deteriorate. Endurance is a very important virtue but it is a "hard" virtue, and a "hard" virtue like this has to be balanced by a "soft" virtue. The softness, gentleness and refinement of the wisdom faculty is that which has to govern austere practices at every stage. This enables us to always remember what the purpose of austerity is: the overall aim is freedom from suffering.

Sila is the basis and virtues, such as filial piety, act as a foundation for samatha and vipassana meditation.

'There is a need for us to establish the criteria for what is, and what is not Dhamma-Vinaya. One of criteria is that any dhamma which leads to craving, or even a "colouring" of the mind, is not Dhamma, is not Vinaya. It is easy, when one is doing very strict practices, for our efforts to become affected, "coloured" by vibhavatanha - to try to be rid of, or to annihilate defilements.

'It is thus important for us to notice any desire to become, or any desire to get rid of, as these can easily distort our practice; for of course there are defilements of strict practice - looking down on people who are not as strict as oneself, for example.

'The conditioning process which disables us from penetrating the nature of Dhamma can take many forms. The Venerable Ananda's practice, for example, was always influenced by the Buddha's forecast that he would defenitely attain arhantship in this present life. Therefore, when he was putting forth effort meditating that memory would be there, so of course he was never actually able to let go. It was only when he was able to completely put that down and be in the present moment, that he could be free himself.'

Ajahn Liam then asked them, 'What are the principles of your practice?' Heng Chi replied, 'Sila is the basis and virtues, such as filial piety, act as a foundation for samatha and vipassana meditation.' Heng Shun (who, incidentally, had been a novice at Wat Bovornives and had spent time with Ajahn Pasanno at Wat Pleng many years before) then went on to talk about the four Bodhisattva Vows, which are:
*'Living beings are numberless - I vow to save them all.
*'Defilements are limitless - I vow to cut them all off.
*'The Dharma doors are endless - I vow to enter them all.
*'Enlightenment is supreme - I vow to attain it.'

When this was translated for him, Ajahn Liam then said,'This is good, but someone with a lot of meeta like that tends to suffer heavily - if one is not very careful meeta can cause one a great deal of pain, again necessarily so if the wisdom faculty is lacking.'

He then went on to say, 'There are different emphases or motivations in Buddhist practice but, effectively, the Theravada and Mahayana approaches don't really differ - they are both concerned with the mind in the present moment. It's very important to remember that everything arises from Mind, and that a practice based on compassion which neglects that fact will just cause one a lot of suffering. With the fact that everything arises from Mind, whether one's motivation is saving all sentient beings or creating ultimate benefit for oneself and for others (as is more the Theravada formulation), in actuality one is doing more or less the same thing: putting forth effort to identify and remove unwholesome mental states, bringing into being and perfecting wholesome mental states, purifying the mind.'

The bhikshus were very impressed by this, and said that it corresponded with the teachings in the Surangama and Avatamsaka Suttas.

Originally translated and recounted by Venerable Jayasaro.