Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1990

In Doubt We Trust; Ajahn Munindo
On Messiahs and Other Matters; Ajahn Sumedho
Why Did I Become a Nun?; Sister Sundara
Pilgrimage in India; Aj. Sucitto & Sr. Thanissara
Another Part of the World; Ajahn Anando
The Golden State: A. Amaro


On Messiahs and Other Matters

The following was taped during a community tea break with Ajahn Sumedho at Amaravati. The questions were not recorded, but the answers are worth reading. In response to a question about the human spiritual longing that manifests as hope in a Messiah to come.

You can contemplate that whole wish for a Messiah. It's very attractive to think of a Messiah coming and saving us, because there's a feeling somehow that that's the only thing that can do it now. One can be quite depressed with so many things going wrong and with so many problems. You know that feeling: 'Please let the Messiah come and straighten up the mess we've made.'

But I realise that I really have to straighten up the mess I've made in myself. Wanting somebody else to come and do it for me seems to me a sign of immaturity. I remember as a child making a mess and then getting myself into trouble, hoping my parents would come along and straighten it out and make everything right; it's that kind of mind, really. It's not that I'm against the idea of it - it would be very nice to have a Messiah come - I'm all for it. But I don't demand it, or even expect it, because I realise that it's more important to learn how to do it yourself - to learn to be your own messiah - rather than to expect some external force to come and save you or the world.

There are different ways of looking at our current situation. There's the 'gloom, doom' way of: 'Everything's hopeless! We've polluted the planet and we've made a mess; there's nothing much we can do, it's too late.' And there's the New Age approach, which is full of hope: 'It's all changing; consciousness is changing - human beings are becoming aware of totality and the oneness of all sentient beings.' There's that kind of thinking - which is very positive and inspiring to the mind. It gives a direction of hope and optimism to one's life - that we aren't just stuck in a cold universal system that we've made a mess of, and it's just pollution and misery until the whole thing collapses!

Certainly being positive and optimistic about things will make life more pleasant for you, but the way out of suffering - which to me is the whole perfection of our existence as individual human beings - is through the realisation of truth. Rather than choosing one approach and rejecting the other, both sides are seen for what they are; one is transcending, no longer identifying with the conditioned realm or expecting anything from it. In the mind that isn't attached is an ineffable understanding of truth, beyond words; something that you can only realise for yourself.

Since we can't solve the mystery, the only thing to do is either reject the mystery and busy ourselves with trivial and foolish things, or open ourselves to the mystery.

So there's the view that we've passed the Golden Age when everything was perfect . . . but there is still an aspiration of the human heart - for individuals, communities and nations - to somehow get back to that perfect paradise on planet earth, where everything is fair and just and beautiful and true and perfect for us.

When we reflect on Dhamma, it allows us to see that even the earth itself is impermanent. So while we can point to the mess the humans have made, we recognise that Mother Nature is also good at making messes on this planet. There Are hurricanes, the volcanoes. . . the whole geological history of planet earth is, in human terms, pretty horrendous - just the way things change and move in nature.

There's a mystery to it all: a planetary system existing in a universe. Our curiosity is taking us towards the furthest reaches of the solar system, but all we can say - even with all our cleverness - is that it's very mysterious and wonderful. All we can do as human beings, really, is to wonder and open ourselves to this mystery, because we can't solve it with the puny little minds we have. Since we can't solve the mystery, the only thing to do is either reject the mystery and busy ourselves with trivial and foolish things, or open ourselves to the mystery.

That's what we mean by the ineffable realisation of Truth. It's the opening of an individual's mind to the mystery; there's no demand for any answer. Just opening your mind and surrendering with total openness and receptivity - that's what we can actually realise within this human form. When you're at one with the mystery there's no suffering, but as long as you are frightened by it, or seeking to solve with the puny perceptions of your mind, you'll just end up in doubt and despair, fear and anxiety - terror, even.

But we can contemplate our own existence. We can contemplate the mystery of life and the universe. What is that about, anyway? One can dismiss it as much ado about nothing, or one can actually investigate and open to it Then there is the realisation of true peacefulness that you can never have when you're trying to find peace in some thing or somebody or some place.

Looking for a peaceful place . . . maybe you've got the idea that once you find Shangri-La, you'll live happily ever after. But then you find Shangri-La, only to find out that the American Air Force has low-flying jet practice over Shangri-La these days! There's always a snake in the garden, or a worm in the apple, or the people in Shangri-La are so high-minded they never clean the toilets! There's always going to be something unpeaceful about the conditioned realm.

It's the same with the idea of finding Prince Charming or Cinderella: 'Once I meet the right person, then I will live happily ever after!' That's an illusion too. So with no place to go, nobody to save you and fulfil you, and nothing you can do about it, you could end up creating a world all of your own - living in a kind of mental state, where they lock you up in a mental hospital.

The way out of suffering isn't through any objective realm - through either thought or through perception, or through the material realm - but in transcending it. Transcendence doesn't mean escaping or rejecting it, but moving to that still centre of being, where there's perspective and receptivity to the conditioned realm. There's no longer any self identity with the objective conditioned realm.

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Developing wisdom and balance in an imperfect world.

I've had to work through great problems with indignation - I've always been indignant by nature! I get really indignant at the injustices and stupidities of the world - and it's righteous indignation. 'They shouldn't do those things! ... He shouldn't say that .........She shouldn't be doing that!'

Look at the newspapers; there's so much to feel indignant about, so many things not right, terribly wrong. They shouldn't be that way, and people shouldn't do such horrible things. One can really get caught up in indignation.

But if you contemplate that experience of righteous indignation, you find great suffering in your heart. Because even though you're right, you're not wise. You're creating suffering about the way things are. You know ... and you're right, they shouldn't be that way - but they are that way!

Or the opposite can happen, where you think, 'It doesn't matter.' And you close your eves and plug up your ears, and try not to see or hear anything wrong. That's one way of handling the problem, but it tends to be a very inadequate and miserable thing to have to do.

Now there is an expression which Ajahn Buddhadasa [a very well-known Thai monk] uses as a reflection on life, which translates as: 'This is the way it is' or, 'The world is this way'. This isn't dismissal - not caring when there's unfairness or such things - but it's a kind of acceptance. 'The world is like this. It's always been like this.'

If you look at the history of humanity, there have always been greed, hatred and delusion, jealousy, atrocities, horror. Read the Greek legends -- they're full of cannibalism and rape, gods doing dreadful things to innocent goddesses - yet this was immortalised in Greek mythology. The archetypes of humanity are recorded in legends and myths, Asian as well as European.

So we realise that this is the way it is: human beings can be like this. We can be vengeful and jealous. We can be very selfish, and we can get angry and murderous - we can do all these things, or we can be stupid and indifferent, or full of doubt and worries. Or we can transcend it all.

Then I used to contemplate, 'Well, what's the good of asking anyone else to transcend all that if I don't?'

I can see that being righteously indignant about the state of the world is a way of saying: 'I want you to not be that way. I don't want you to be the way you are. You shouldn't be angry, and you shouldn't be jealous, and ... I'd look at myself and see how, really, all these things - 'me' demanding that 'you' not be that way - are kind of childish: 'Please, be something that I want. Don't say things that upset me.

Then the insight comes: whether anyone does it or not is none of my business, but I can move in that direction in my own life. 'That's the way it is' isn't pessimistic indifference: 'What can you do? So what! That's the way of the world. Put up with it.' Rather, it's a skilful reflection: 'The world is like this, and human beings are like this.' It's not judging humanity as bad, but recognising that human beings do these things - they've always done these things; and I've done these things too.

One can stop doing such things oneself, but to expect it of everyone else is only going to make you miserable, because that's beyond what you can do in this life. But how I practise with that is to see what I do have control over, and what I'm capable of working with and doing with this creature. It's none of my business what you do. I can't follow you around and make sure that you are perfect.

It's being aware and knowing what you can do as an individual being - within the limbs of this form here, with its characteristics and qualities - rather than thinking: 'If I were stronger, or more intelligent, or healthier or better looking, or this or that . . . then I would be able to do something.' Wisdom, in the Buddhist sense, is being able to see how to work and use what you have, the way it is, even if what you have isn't very good.

If you're crippled, or have some disease, or you're old, or you've had a miserable life, or whatever - that isn't the obstacle. That doesn't mean that you can't be enlightened, you can't be awakened no the truth. With wisdom we learn how to use what we have. If you're someone who thinks: 'For me to do it, I have to have the best,' then you'll never get anywhere; while a wise person can use even rather inferior equipment and get a very good result.

So one thinks. 'This is the way it is. The conditioned realm is flawed, its nature is to be flawed.' It's imperfect - which is not a condemnation: it's not that it's bad because it's flawed. But this points to a truth: everything has something wrong with it, something you don't like. A snake in the garden ... a worm in the apple ... a fly in the ointment.

For example, in any community, There's always somebody who's disillusioned, or who isn't doing exactly What they should be doing. You think, 'It shouldn't be like that. In an ideal community, everybody should be working hard and practising hard.' But in saying, 'That's the way it is', the mind accepts and allows things to be the way they are. In that acceptance you can understand and, through understanding, you can guide things in a better way.

With a community like Amaravati, accepting it the way it is, you begin to look and investigate and maybe see ways of improving it, of making it a better place. Or if there's nothing you can do, you just patiently wait until the right rime for improvement comes.

Accepting other people in your life doesn't mean you like everything about them, but you accept the whole of them for what they are. Then you can see that a lot of your irritation is your own problem -- it's not that there's anything particularly wrong with them, but perhaps you're someone who's easily irritated by certain things. Or if they've just got very bad habits you can, through your acceptance and patience, find an opening in which improvements and directions can be given in a suitable way. There's wisdom operating in that openness.