Forest SanghaNewsletterJanuary 1991

The Real World; Ajahn Sumedho
Beginners' Minds: From newly-robed bhikkhus
Guidelines for Cultivation; Master Hsuan Hua
The Golden State; Amaro Bhikkhu
Sanghapala: an introduction; Marc Lieberman



Separation is a Blessing

Recently, Venerable Ajahn Chah, who has been seriously ill for years now, displayed signs of passing away. His heart stopped and he was taken to hospital; but as has been the case before, his strength re-established itself and he returned to a stable, though debilitated, condition. In preparing ourselves for his death - even though here one might see the cessation of physical existence as a merciful deliverance - the prospect of his passing brought a sadness into the mind. Yet separation is a feature of this life; and death is not the only separation.

In the next few months, Ajahn Anando will be in New Zealand and Australia, and I will be in India: neither of us expect to be back until spring. Sister Thanissara will also be in India for a couple of months, and next year sees Ajahn Thiradhammo away in Canada, while Venerables Chandapalo and Subbato will be spending extended periods in Thailand. In early November Ajahn Pabhakaro left for the USA for a month or so he'll be teaching some groups of Vietnam veterans, and spending time with his family. The day after I am due to return, we will be saying goodbye to Ajahn Amaro for four months, as he picks up the invitation to practise and share the Dhamma in California.

Shorter absences are too numerous to mention. 'Goodbye', or the more wistful 'See you later', is the catch-phrase of the homeless life. In them one detects a hint of the sadness of all partings. And if the person is going a long way, or for a long time, some anxiety: 'Hope they're all right.'

As long as we abide in self-view, we are parted from everyone at this time - even those sitting a few feet away.
We come out with such phrases as 'goodbye' with scant reflection, and forget that a casual parting - a nonchalant 'See you later' - may in fact be the last time that we connect to one another in this world. Circumstances separate us, time drifts past, and all we may be left with is a memory, or a regret. Parting is the most common sign that we can observe; it is the world's most depend- able teacher.

The half-sad or sober mood that it evokes is an incentive to contemplation. How can we live in a fulfilling way in such a transient and unreliable world? We may glimpse a wise response if we recollect what is meant in those glib phrases: 'Goodbye' ('God be with you') and 'Farewell' ('May you fare well').

When we are mindful enough to bring attention to separation, we accept and appreciate each other, and wish each other well. We naturally make the effort to bid farewell to those who are dying; and after death,how deeply we can regret unskilful actions towards another, and how much we can be encouraged by fond memories! Such things remind us that we are connected in mind; what we do and say - even the way we appear - means something to another person and stays with them. It's quite a teaching about personal responsibility. When we contemplate life very directly we can understand parting in a more far-reaching way: as long as we abide in self-view, we are parted from everyone at this time - even those sitting a few feet away. With self-view we create perceptions of others, based on our biases and personal wishes. Whenever we retain those impressions, unsatisfactory moments can turn into people that we have grudges against. Even with people we like - it is easy to take their presence for granted or find fault, so that they become targets for our own pettiness.Conversely, if we drop all those person-forming views that come from a sense of self, we share the goodness of our hearts with the living and the dead, the near and the far, those we like, those we don't like - with all beings who have affected us or even form part of the perceptual backdrop of our lives. Through the connection in mind we can share gratitude, respect, compassion and forgiveness. When we'share merit', we clean out stale, insensitive or grudging attitudes; we can redeem regrets from the distant past. With that great-heartedness we can be liberated from lingering regrets or grudges that stain our minds and lead to fresh kamma and rebirth.Sharing the blessings of our practice is a worthy response to separation and impermanence, one that continually offers us the opportunity to enrich our lives and the lives of others. Personal departures teach us to stop creating people out of our perceptions. If we can let go of that instinctive pull towards the personal conditioned world, we meet the Refuge, the True Friend in all the comings and goings of beings. Rightly responded to, separation is a blessing.

Ajahn Sucitto