Forest Sangha Newsletter July 1994

Is Buddhism A Religion?; Ajahn Sumedho
Images of Sri Lanka; Sister Siripanya
The Dhamma School: The Wheel Comes Full Circle
Tudong Letter From Macedonia; Venerable Sobhano
Obituary: Greg Klein (Ajahn Anando)
More an agreement than an Order; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:


More an agreement than an Order

Recent discussions concerning the formalisation of training principles for lay Buddhists have been interesting to sit in on. Reviewing the situation of practice in the household life, we hear common concerns about the lack of support, and the vulnerability to the worldly melee that erodes the conviction and commitment to practice. Spiritual friends can be few and far between, and monasteries, for all their benefits, are used more for formal meditation, talks on Dhamma, and training in the Dhamma-Vinaya for those who have Gone Forth. So the question arises: is there some form, some more clearly defined convention, that will support and train people living the household life?

In the last Newsletter, Ajahn Amaro presented some options that had been tried elsewhere, and invited discussions to occur in the monasteries in Britain. A certain congruity materialised after the reports of the meetings were circulated: there was a great interest in communication and fellowship, yet widespread reservations about undertaking formal membership of an Order. Expressed simply, people liked the idea of belonging, but didn't want to belong to Some Thing.

When the Dhamma- Vinaya is held as the focus, rather than a particular place or a position in an Order, there is a guard against the human tendency towards institutionalisation.
It was revealing because those sentiments would probably be echoed by many of the samanas who are my colleagues in what appears to be a highly formalised and tight-knit Thing, the Sangha. Fortunately for us, the Sangha is not quite what it might appear to be, having been established in a way that cultivates both communality and homelessness. On one hand we praise the value of solitude and lonely places, and the need to be self-reliant and self-motivated; on the other we train in living together in harmony and sustaining way-places for the welfare of those who practise the Dhamma. The value of commitment is extolled, yet the Going Forth asks for no life-time vows. Commitment has to be sustained by the individual out of faith and insight, not out of group pressure. In fact the Sangha is more of an agreement than an Order, shaped by a continual commitment to an individually validated teaching and way of training.

Monasticism, as Westerners understand it, is more of a Christian than a Buddhist reference. The Buddha certainly allowed monasteries to be built, in a few instances there were great arama like Jetavana and Veluvana; in other cases temporary settlements, called avasa, for the Rains Retreat. Both of these would have had a shifting incumbency. Since then, because of the advantage to the society of having a long-term stable community of spiritual seekers nearby, and the advantages to the samanas in having centres to meet in for exhortation and discussion, monasteries have developed into the normal residence for the Sangha. However, it must also be admitted that along with their benefits, monasteries have been fertile grounds for a host of worldly attitudes, such as the accumulation of power and wealth, inter-monastic rivalry, and even political manipulations. Getting it right seems to depend on whether one seeks security and position, or whether one take dependence on, and therefore seeks to abide in the presence of, a virtuous and competent teacher. If that focus is kept in mind, communality and homelessness fit together. When the Dhamma- Vinaya is held as the focus, rather than a particular place or a position in an Order, there is a guard against the human tendency towards institutionalisation.

This tendency can lead to people regarding our Sangha as some organisational complex that monitors and determines all manner of things. There can be speculation or concern about Sangha policy as regards opening viharas, teaching, publishing, etc. Actually the rationale behind Sangha activities operates more in terms of the way things are than through policy; first, because it would be too much trouble to run such an organisation, and second, because it goes against our own wishes for individual responsibility and flexibility. Generally we don't even plan our talks, let alone have attitudes about teaching or social activity. Everybody naturally feels that teaching is a beneficial thing: sometimes there are people around who can give talks, sometimes there aren't. Sometimes we have to do some building work, sometimes the money or the skill isn't there. Similarly, we don't have a recruitment plan: people get interested and ask for the training, some subsequently lose interest and leave. We're not trying to create an Order and a system that will be perfect and suit everybody's character - any more than the Buddha was.

So, as regards the possibilities of a lay Order; it may be instructive to investigate to what extent is there a 'monastic Order'? An alertness to the possibility of liberation, an agreement to practice, a realistic adjustment of lifestyle to back that up, and dependence on a teacher: maybe those are the themes that people should be thinking about. Are we prepared to move out of the 'homes' that we have made of our habits, and take refuge in a practice that encourages just that?

Living the Dhamma is a living process. Use the teaching to give up belonging to anything else, then the form of the Order takes care of itself.

Ajahn Sucitto


In the Mist

Sometimes a friend comes at night
drifting across the courtyard
We recognise each other
and settle down together
I am awake, are you dreaming?
now for a while
there is only one of us

Nyanavutto Bhikkhu



Sangha Movements
Tan Ajahn Anek will be joining the Amaravati community. He is the Abbot of Wat Sai Ngam in Ubon, a bhikkhu of 27 vassa, and long-time disciple of Luang Por Chah. He intends to stay at least one year and possibly up to five years. Venerable Kusalo has left New Zealand and taken up residence at Amaravati as well. He will be a member of the community for at least a year.

Tan Chao Khun Rajaviriyabharana, the abbot of Wat Buddhapadipa since its establishment in Wimbledonm, passed away at Wat Mahadhatu on May 21st. Luang Por Sumedho and Ajahn Sucitto were among the bhikkhus invitred for the seventh day of the memorial chanting.
     Tan Chao Khun, a much-loved and central figure, will be greatly missed.
Reumah (Roma) Dwarkasingh Bernard died on the 18th June 1994. She came to Buddhism in the early 70's and was devoted supporter of the Sangha. Her greatest joy was to give dana to the monks and nuns. We will remember her deviotion to the Buddha, her compassion to all, but most of all her distince lack of piousness and her sense of fun.

Temple at Amaravati
Discussion have resumed between the architect and the Sangha to finalise the design of the building. Preparatory work, including the construction of a new workshop, are likely to begin in 1995, with the temple itself hopefully beginning construction in 1996.