Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1992

Committed to Freedom; Ajahn Thanavaro
Crossing the Green Divide; Sister Candasiri
One Day of Practice; Venerable Varado
The Life of a Forest Monk: Pt II; Luang Por Jun
Greetings from Switzerland; Venerable Jayamano
Responding to the Sick and Dying; Barry Durrant
A Light in Confinement; prison letters

Editorial; Aj. Sucitto
Down Lay-life Way; B. Jackson
Caring for the Earth; Aj. Sucitto
View from the Hill; Ven. Vipassi


Down Lay-life Way

Finding a firm foundation among the sinking sands. Barbara Jackson shares her thoughts.

Standing in a rush and push long queue supermarket cash-out? One packet, one tin, one jar at a time; moving to standing with worn out feet waiting, children tired, mind fraught - patient endurance practice. WALKING the crowded pavement to work? Walking where? Nowhere. Just one foot placed in front of the other in a 'one-step-at-a-time' practice. SITTING cramped, squashed by humanity against a beat-music ear-plugged stranger who reduces the mind to nothing more than 'Who is sitting?' practice. LYING DOWN exhausted at the end of the day with intense desire to sleep, but children still shouting, dog barking, phone ringing, wife starts talking brings about a 'go away, the lot of you' practice! A recognisable tread-mill of lay-life - or can it all be opportunities for practice following the Buddha's basic instruction 'standing, walking, sitting or lying down, know yourself.'

Practising the Buddha Way in a speeded up Western society elevates places like the green-house, car, garden-shed, compost heap, the toilet, chair beside the sleeping child, from what they seem to be, into sacred corners for mind contemplation. These sorts of places offer momentary silent stillness, or base for on-going practice of 'being in the world but not of it'. Snatched moments of looking as though 'asleep' on the train, even for five minutes, are really being used to cultivate inner peace and stillness among the rattling, jerking, ceaseless thoughts.

In using restraint offered by the Precepts to reverse the desire outflow, inner contemplation of how things are within us RIGHT NOW

In lay life, a formal sitting time each morning and night can require the stamina of a samurai, physique of Superman and organisation of an airline schedule. But it can all start AND continue with that precious, guard-with-your-life accumulative five minutes' practice throughout the day. A practice of not always knowing where it's all going, sometimes 'why bother?', yet it seems just right to be doing it. Doing what? Merely breathing in and out- anapanasati - mindfulness of breathing - the foundation of mindfulness. Simply taking 'one breath at a time' brings emptiness of mind within which reflection can arise - reflection, a bringer of wisdom.

Conventional aspirations impel us to seek perfection in the perfect place, perfect practice, perfect lay friends and perfect sangha support. Some of the Buddha's perfections, however, are found in subtleties of sila practice, a few precepts pushing us towards a morality largely unacceptable, 'out-dated' and shunned by shimmering images of current popular success. Only five pointers for life, which say: no killing, no taking what is not given, no misuse of sexuality, no speaking wrongly, no use of mind-clouding drink and drugs - often a boring reflection, all thought about before, and met with a 'I don't do these things anyway' attitude.

However, the survival of practice, when going forth daily into worldly seas of samsara, can depend upon application and reflection of the precepts. It is almost a 'mini-asava' practice, restraining energy outflows going into the garden-shed to the 'killer-shelf for bugs and beetles', or killing another's reputation; restraining compulsive collection of leaflets or the mental pull of advertising; guarding against indulgent gossip or easy 'white lies'; drawing back from relationships with a potential to harm another; containing desire for 'drugs' of sense pleasure or thought-diversion techniques. 'Refrain from evil and do good. Purify the mind,' said the Buddha. In using restraint offered by the Precepts to reverse the desire outflow, inner contemplation of how things are within us RIGHT NOW can be effected - and maybe also a little peace of heart and quietude of mind.

Precepts, people, personal relationships offer a mirror for inner qualities needing investigation. Day in and day out, year in and year out, circumstances beyond our control bring inescapable contact with those we would NOT choose to be with - and those we DO choose to be with change. Rather than a lifetime of practice in solitude, the Buddha advocated contact with others as an essential part of the Way. Whilst meeting with others for physical alms-food is not required by lay practisers, it is possible to go forth for alms for the mind. This alms-food is found in every home, street, shop, city-square, market-place, same faces, different faces, teeming with complaining minds, doubting minds, desire minds. Thus, when my mind complains, doubts and desires, it is the same as everyone else's - no different - it has joined one whole mass of complaining, doubting desiring mind, offering food for reflective thought.

Sometimes the office bore is me, sometimes somebody else. 'They', the angry customer is also me; similarly with 'they' who dart through the changing traffic lights - plus the myriad other things I would rather not let myself think about. When this inextricable relationship between us all is realised in the innermost recesses of the mind, no blame can be placed upon another; the quality of forgiveness, requiring me to yield so much of myself, now comes from understanding. When the mirror in someone else irritates me, there is something for me to learn, to burn away a few more of MY imperfections and make space for giving, offering, and reflecting upon the whole scenario of life. Solitary or partnered, with family or with friends, the lay practiser of the Buddha Way can go forth daily for alms for the mind. (To help me with this: the English translation of the Metta Sutta makes a good 24-hour mantra practice; the Gihiti-Patipatti* on relationships is good to contemplate; and the Christian Anglican marriage service, seen from a Buddhist perspective, is worthy of reflection.)
*'Practice of family life': For example, in the Sigalaka Sutta (Digha Nikaya [III] 31) mentions five ways in which a husband should relate to his wife: 'by honouring her, by not disparaging her, by not being unfaithful to her, by giving authority to her, by providing her with adornments'; and the wife in return, responds 'by properly organising her work, by being kind to the servants, by not being unfaithful, by protecting stores, and by being skilful and diligent in all she has to do'. (Translation from Thus Have I Heard, by M. O'C. Walshe, Wisdom Publications).

Our homes are our viharas, the Triple Gem is our Refuge, right livelihood sustains our practice. From this we can choose to offer a little of what we have to sustain and maintain a living vehicle for the Buddha's Teachings in a vihara/monastery of ordained sangha. This offering can apply to any of the major Buddhist traditions. Mutual dependence between ordained and lay sangha was encouraged by the Buddha, and the example each offers the other is worthy of examination. The presence of lay people who meditate and practise Dhamma, as well as support a Buddhist monastic community, is an innovative aspect of Theravada Buddhism in the West. Is our lay-life practice of the Buddha's Way as we struggle to maintain our diligence, impeccability and endeavour, a sufficiently polished mirror to offer the ordained sangha and society as a whole? Can each one of us find a firm foundation within ourselves, irrespective and independent of personal circumstance, to support a commitment to practise the tangible and intangible teaching expounded by the Buddha? The Buddha said, 'In this fathom-long length of body, with its perceptions and consciousness, is found the world.' May we discover the world within us which is at peace with itself, and be truly grateful for the Buddha's teachings.

Having mused on all this, and having divulged some of the weaknesses in my practice - I also like chocolate croissants at the moment - I really must remember to make a greater effort NOT to talk to my husband just as he is going to sleep!