|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1993|
The sight, even the idea, of samanas going wandering - 'on tudong' - is naturally pleasing to anyone who loves the Sangha life. Although being stationed in a monastery for prolonged periods of time is no bad thing in terms of sustaining a community and a level of practice, wandering is an element of the life that one feels must be fulfilled. Seen in abstract such long-distance rambles can seem like pleasant jaunts; in fact they rarely are. Apart from the blisters, fatigue and grubbiness, the balance between what one actually needs to stay warm, dry and comfortable, while also not being overburdened with possessions, is almost impossible to achieve. Mostly you take a gamble and accept the occasional soaking or sleepless night rather than carry too much.
In Britain another factor to be fitted in is one of obtaining alms-food. This can be done by having a few addresses of people living on the route who have offered to provide food, and taking an anagarika along who can carry or even purchase food when needed. Both of these options do, however, curtail the freedom and diminish the sense of "going forth" in faith. This year a few parties of monks - one in the South-West, one in Ireland and one in East Anglia - tried something different. They set off without anagarikas and without supportive lay people on the route. Some had lean days, some were spontaneously provided with food and lodging almost every day; but for everyone, and for the community in general, the stimulation of faith in the homeless life was extremely beneficial.
To keep mindfulness rather than obsession to the fore requires faith, or, to use another word, devotion.
The Buddha advocated such wandering as being for the welfare of the manyfolk: a statement that reminds us to see apparently minor acts in a spiritual light. What personally may seem like being tired and wet and hungry, and experiencing unpleasant mind-states accordingly; or from the other side of it, offering a hot drink, a night in a garage or a few sandwiches to a samana, is on another level, fertilising the field of faith. Tudong causes spontaneous generosity and inspiration to arise in the minds of ordinary people, whilst it takes samanas more deeply into the no-control situation that lies at the heart of the practice. In that space, faith may be the only refuge, but its timeless power to sustain mindfulness becomes evident.
Tudong is, even in long-established Buddhist countries, a comparatively infrequent event, so it is important to look beyond the external circumstance and reinforce the daily practice with its insights. Otherwise tudong creates a conflict with the daily round. How to maintain the no-control space in the mind in a community life - a life that requires organisation just to fit in with the laws and administrative procedures of this country - is one of the greatest challenges to the Sangha's practice in the West. Administration requires control, no doubt about it. Duty, the dogged resolution of the will to fulfil functions, is just not enough. One grows hard and grey; worse still, duty condemns us to taking ourselves and our activities too seriously. To keep mindfulness rather than obsession to the fore requires faith, or, to use another word, devotion.
It seems to me that devotion is not measured by the effulgence of the heart that may arise, but by whether action can be experienced as belonging to a larger reality than oneself. Walking tudong would be a painful pointless chore (or at best a pleasant hike) if one couldn't relate it to the Triple Gem. People experience this relationship as one of living in situations where one gives up choice - over food, lodgings, comfort, for example. There is a surrender of self to a transpersonal reality. A more difficult aspect of the surrender to the Triple Gem is to see oneself, and live, as part of it: to consider one's life, for example, as a condition for the arising of faith in others. Personality-view gets in the way: to imagine that I as a person am a cause for faith to arise would take a lot of conceit. But on the transpersonal plane, the samana creates 'the occasion for incomparable goodness to arise in the world'- incomparable, because unlike most goodness, it's not 'mine.'
To participate in this requires faith/devotion. Standing back and figuring out whether one has anything worth offering, or whether others are worth it or not is the occupation of an accountant, not a disciple. Some years ago, I noticed a couple coming to Amaravati every Wednesday afternoon. They didn't come to see anyone in particular; but in the afternoon they would be working in the garden, and then leave again without talking to anyone. This went on for several months. One day I struck up a conversation. They told me that they came because they wanted to create an occasion where they weren't thinking about themselves, or expecting anything from someone else. Working at Amaravati was a situation in which they could do that without any need to explain. It provide an occasion for their incomparable goodness.
Seeing one's actions in the context of the manyfolk, the Sangha which is the fourfold assembly of laymen, lay women, nuns and monks, helps to keep it all humble, and reciprocal. It is the essential reciprocity of this field of the Sangha that establishes it beyond personal control. We can only have the faith to begin, to sustain and to bring forth our self-transcending goodness because we support, allow and interact with each other. Even in an apparently tied situation, it keeps us on the road. It keeps us on the Path, the essential tudong which is 'dhutanga' - literally, the 'shaking off' of all attachments.
Faith in Awakening
80 representatives from over 30 contemplative communities of different faiths gathered together at Amaravati for a weekend conference in September. Lewis Carlino offers a brief account.
The Faith in Awakening conference exceeded all our hopes and expectations as much in what was unsaid and uncreated as through what was explored through topic and discourse. Many of the discussions and dialogues illuminated the ethical and aspirational commonality between the various contemplatives, but the true place of meeting and understanding seemed to arise from the silence that was shared. This silence was not based on agreed views but from an emptiness that makes no distinctions. This was the common ground, not of being a monastic or religious, but of being human. From this there arose a feeling of safety and encouragement among delegates, a natural inspiration to investigate such themes as renunciation, celibacy, commitment and compassion as well as to explore the sense of self and the divine in the spiritual life.
The two main themes were 'The Role of Contemplative Communities in Contemporary Society' and 'Transcendence, the Heart of Contemplative Life'. These were presented in turn by delegates and then discussed by all. From the first came reflections on tradition, simplicity of life and the cultivation of wisdom and compassion in the world. On the second theme delegates discussed the subjects of transcendence of the self-view and desire, restraint and renunciation and devotion and acceptance.
During the evening, delegates gathered around a flower and candle mandala to share offerings in the form of Pali chanting, evening Vespers, Hindu devotional songs - as well as the silence.
Keynote speeches as well as questions and answers are available on tape from Amaravati Cassettes, (see Grapevine). Please specify which talk.
Greg Klein/Ajahn Anando
Meditation Hall Update