Forest Sangha Newsletter April 1994

The Resolution of Conflict; Ajahn Jagaro
Child's Play; Ven Sunnato
Images of Sri Lanka; Sister Siripanya
Luang Por Chah's Relics; Ajahn Attapemo
Nourishing the Roots; Aj's Sucitto & Ajahn Amaro
Turning the Wheel in the West; Ajahn Amaro
Alone Together; Ajahn Sucitto


Turning the Wheel in the West

In the last of a series of interviews, Ajahn Amaro gives his concluding impressions on the Dharamsala conference.

Question: Was there general agreement on the doctrine within all the differences of the traditions?
Answer: There were no doctrinal differences at all. But there were differences of interpretation on the ethical values. Some people have different interpretations of the third and the fifth Precepts - there were a variety of renderings - 'What the Buddha really meant of course is that you shouldn't get drunk, rather than total abstinence.' When this was brought up His Holiness mentioned that in the Tibetan tradition the limit is set as not more alcohol than will sit on the tip of a blade of kusa grass (i.e. not very much!). Everyone agreed that keeping the Five Precepts was a standard that anyone who is teaching the Buddha-Dhamma should adhere to as a minimum requirement. If you can't keep the Five Precepts what kind of a Buddhist are you really?

We don't behold Buddha as a God - the practice is around one's own psyche. It's not externalised.

Q: Did you find that there's always been an understanding between the people who are practising but that the arguments and debates are more by scholars and academics?
A: Yes. The more you meditate the less these differences can have any real substance. The delegates were all meditation teachers - meditation is the basis of their Buddhist practice. So the natural result is that they were far less likely to hold on blindly to views. It was very encouraging to see that if you don't just talk about Dhamma but actually do it then the conflicts resolve themselves.
Q: The other thing which comes to mind is the question of how Westerners practise with devotion and faith.
A: It wasn't discussed very much. I think that devotion takes different forms, one of these being commitment to what you're doing. We don't behold Buddha as a God - the practice is around one's own psyche. It's not externalised. There was some discussion of moving away from the position of regarding the teacher as a guru - and training yourself to see instead. For Westerners I think there's a long road ahead before we hit the point where we just see an image of the Buddha and tears come to our eyes. If there is a reaction to a Buddha image it usually has more to do with the aesthetics of it. I think our devotion is demonstrated in the amount of dedication and will that you exert in giving yourself to what you're doing.
Q: At the end of this Conference what discussions were there on how understanding and cooperation could be developed?
A: Many were extremely enthusiastic about the results of the conference and had high hopes that it would not be an isolated event. Many of these people had come from an anti-institutional background but inexorably, amidst some cries of despair, the group moved towards formulating itself as an organisation. The name 'The Network for Western Buddhists Teachers' was chosen. Various people undertook to help organise similar events in America. They would like to have a conference with either His Holiness - who is very keen to do it again - or someone of similar stature, every year, or at least every other year. There were also ideas about smaller local conferences amongst teachers including a wider field of people. There were thoughts of having a Newsletter once or twice a year just to update people on the various meetings and what's in the air! An immediate result of the Conference was that about ten people undertook to write articles either for their own journals or other Buddhist, New Age and local magazines, as well as some in-house journals such as our own Newsletter. They are also planning to produce a small booklet and then a full-length book about the Conference.
There were also undertakings to help His Holiness set up a training programme for Tibetan Lamas to go to the West, and to offer guidance and help in setting up a nunnery for Western women. There was talk of having a four or five-day Retreat together instead of a conference. So I volunteered Amaravati as a venue.

Q: Could you sum up what you think the historical significance of this meeting is?
A: I'm not saying that it was wrinkle-free - I had unpleasant moments, as I'm sure many others did. However, despite the extremes of viewpoints - between the FWBO, ourselves, and the Zen tradition, for example, and the range of characters and orientations, it was incredibly civilised. I wouldn't equate it with the level of a Great Council but it was certainly significant how harmonious it was. So, on that level I think it was a wonderful sign for the global Buddhist community. As Buddhism gradually reformulates itself out of the cultural trappings of its countries of origin, it bodes well that we met in this way. In centuries to come they may find it hard to believe that we were all able to speak to each other and get along. Right now the prospect is very healthy. With the general turbulence of the world, and the difficulties of holding on to monastic precepts and sustaining a commitment to the Triple Gem, it is always going to take a lot of work to hold everything together, but there was an example here of tremendous cohesiveness and energy. Who knows where it will lead to? The last words of the Dalai Lama at the conference: 'The past is the past. The future is ours. We must make every effort. But if we fail ... it doesn't matter.' There's all this potential for goodness and you can work like crazy to bring it about and make it happen, but if you all get into a tidal wave - LET GO!

Q: How did this experience affect you in terms of your monastic life?
A: It's both deepened my commitment to living as a monk and my appreciation of all the other ways that you can do it. I certainly didn't feel envious of what anybody else had got, but I didn't feel that they were getting it wrong either.