|Forest Sangha Newsletter||July 1994|
By all accounts, Greg died well. He went into a coma on the morning of 11th May and died in the evening. Although he had been weakened and disabled by the brain tumour for many months, he had remained good humoured and peaceful throughout. Even in the last days pain-killers were not necessary; and being Greg, he had made all the arrangements, his ashes would be interred near a tree at the front of Cittaviveka.
The record of a samana's life can be a revealing thing: there may be very little to show in material terms - no great discoveries, no masterpieces, no acts of legislation to be remembered for; however, a samana, particularly an Ajahn, makes a strong impression through the quality of their being, including both their wisdom and their flaws. Greg's particular history and his striking character heightened the personal impression that he made. Whatever way you choose to sum him up (and all summaries are inaccurate), Greg/Anando will stay in people's minds for a long time to come.
The bullet that took a lump out of his head and got him out of the Vietnam war probably set up the conditions both for his decision to go forth in 1972 and the brain tumour that killed him exactly twenty-seven years later. After the return from Vietnam and a few years free-wheeling, going forth as a samanera, and later as a bhikkhu, was a pretty dramatic turn-around. Ajahn Sumedho, and later Ajahn Chah, made a deep impression on him, and it was in accordance with their wishes that, after only three years of training as a bhikkhu, he was asked to make up the foursome that would be the nucleus of the English Sangha in the Hampstead Vihara. Despite the difficulties he had in being cooped up in a small town house in London, his loyalty to Ajahn Sumedho, a characteristic throughout his bhikkhu-life, kept him going until the move to Chithurst in 1979. There he was Ajahn Sumedho's chief assistant, acting as abbot when Ajahn Sumedho was away teaching, and, together with Venerable Viradhammo, directing the reconstruction of Chithurst House. His tremendous energy and interest in learning new things found a worthy outlet. He spent a year or so at Harnham as the Ajahn in 1983 occupied in a similar task before returning to Chithurst to take over as abbot when Ajahn Sumedho left to start Amaravati.
Is the relationship between the abbot and the rest of the community a healthy one where personal matters can be shared, or do our functions as teachers and administrators seal off authentic dialogue?
|The shift to being the senior incumbent of what then became primarily a monastery for training newly-ordained bhikkhus moved him steadily further into a teaching role, where his direct influence on the spiritual development of samanas as well as lay people was expected. Being a spiritual teacher is not an easy job: the projections and relationships with disciples become a major factor in what you deal with, where you make your mistakes, where you do your learning and where you assume an identity. Some of the monks found Ajahn Anando's style too demanding. He could be very exacting in terms of how he expected people to conduct themselves, and a battle of wills would almost certainly result in the junior bhikkhu having to back down. Approached in another way, confided in and asked for help, Anando would take someone under his wing and be tremendously solicitous. Like anything that he put his mind to, he lavishly gave of his time and energy. That came across. When what a person really needed was just that kind of attention, he gave it and it was deeply appreciated. |
And the personal approach, relating to individuals rather than giving talks to groups, interested him too. It was where he felt most at ease. It may come as a surprise to the numerous Buddhist societies and meditation groups that he taught to know how awkward and nervous he felt about giving talks: he must have given hundreds of discourses, and, to his own disbelief, many people loved them.
To some of us, he would mention the fear that couldn't be detected under that ever-bright countenance. He attributed it to the Vietnam War. Maybe that was why metta-bhavana and acceptance became the hall-mark of his teaching in the later years. That, and psychotherapy, and, with Anando's energy and love of getting into new things, healing, astrology and paranormal means of straightening out the warps in the mind. The Sangha in general was uneasy about some of these interests, particularly because of their effects on the monastic community; this dis-ease seemed to be borne out by a wave of psychic and psychological upheavals at Chithurst in 1991. Anando felt very bad about that for months. He told me that even in Vietnam he had not experienced more emotional pain.
|Luang Por Sumedho felt that the best thing for Ajahn Anando would be for him to come to Amaravati where he could get involved in the planning and construction of the proposed temple, get away from Chithurst for a while and not have to be in a position where his personal stuff was so exposed. I was to go to Chithurst and take over for an undetermined period. It didn't work out so smoothly. Instead, there was another dramatic turn-around. |
A few months before the transfer was to take place, Anando walked across France, accompanied by two other monks and an anagarika. When they arrived in the Swiss vihara, they had a convivial evening with the resident bhikkhus and retired to their rooms. In the middle of the night, Anando walked out of the vihara to a pre-arranged meeting with a friend in a car and was driven off. The letter conveying his disrobing arrived at Amaravati by special delivery the next morning.
The abrupt way in which he left raised many questions that the Sangha has been working with since. Is the relationship between the abbot and the rest of the community a healthy one where personal matters can be shared, or do our functions as teachers and administrators seal off authentic dialogue? Do we live in a situation of trust or not? Greg/Anando left us some good questions: a fair amount of the cut-back in Sangha activities, and the increase in dialogue, is a response to the need to find living answers.
He wrote briefly, said that for him it had become time to move on; there were things he wanted to do that didn't fit into the bhikkhu-life. He married someone whose spiritual path matched his new interests, and people who saw him said how happy and relaxed he seemed. Then a year later, the tumour was diagnosed. He returned to Amaravati and Chithurst to a warm welcome, weakened but cheerful again, to put his affairs with the Sangha in order before he died.
|In spiritual terms, an individual's personality leads to no conclusions. All we have are our memories and perceptions. I remember Greg as Anando, with his generosity and loyalty, his energy that could be playful or forceful, his love of excellence that could seem discerning or demanding, his need to be on top of things, yet his willingness to serve. And I try to look through and past these personality factors and learn about myself. |
Something he wrote about his time helping to nurse Luang Por Chah in his terminal illness not only reflects his own interests but sums up the life mystery well: