Forest SanghaNewsletterApril 1995

Practice as Process; Ajahn Pasanno
Why go to a monastery; Sister Candasiri
Fantasia: The Nature of Perception; Venerable Sunyato
The Dhamma School
Sutta Class: Immorality, Confession & Forgiveness; Venerable Varado
A Matter of Tradition; Ajahn Sucitto

Signs of Change:



A Matter of Tradition

It has become something of a tradition in our family of monasteries to have a Sangha gathering after the two-month Winter retreat. People come from all of our monasteries in Europe and there are formal and informal meetings. What about? It varies, and the content is perhaps deceptive. In general the reason for meeting is because of what the Sangha is as a collection of independent-minded individuals inclining towards a personal and direct realisation of truth. When so much contemplative experience is gleaned internally and personally, detachment and reflection on experience is greatly assisted by reference to like-minded people. To establish and cultivate the kind of relationships that will support authentic spiritual dialogue (not just doctrinal sanctity) requires trust, a recognition of mutual purpose, a laying aside of purely personal interests and differences and the lifting up of the fellowship of Sangha. Hence the Buddha encouraged regular and harmonious meetings of the Sangha, and Luang Por Chah kept to that standard throughout his communities in Thailand and their Sangha gatherings in Wat Pah Pong.

What gets talked about are matters of behaviour, and particularly in the more speculative Western branches, various topics such as the value or drawbacks of a tradition, democracy versus hierarchy, the use and abuse of ritual, the samana's role vis-a-vis the monastery and the lay community, and even whether we need to have more or less of these meetings. Some people may leave the meeting feeling glad that it's over, but although nothing much was decided, misperceptions were straightened out, the air was cleared of any potential storms, and it was a good thing. What also is generally the case despite (or because of ) the airing of some unorthodox feelings, is that the values of the tradition are clarified and actually revitalised. After last year's innovative programmed discussions, there was feeling around the need to establish a silent focus for such gatherings, to have periods of sustained meditation and to have the opportunity to pay our respects as a community to Luang Por Sumedho. I felt the gathering of lay disciples turned into a contribution of ideas on how best to support both the monasteries and the samanas residing in them. All very traditional stuff.

That dispute which concerns either the livelihood or the refined observances is a trifle, Ananda. But, Ananda, if there should arise in the Order a dispute concerning the Path or the steps upon it, that would be for the great misfortune of the world
Samagama Sutta,
Majjhima Nikaya,104

What is barely recognised is that no-one even questioned the value of morality, mind training and wisdom. The most significant point of harmony and celebration of those who practise well is taken for granted in a world, sadly to say even in a Buddhist world, in which those values are infrequently endorsed. The Buddha's exhortation to meditate, to abandon attachment to dogma and speculation, to cut off superstitious rites and quasi-magic, and to live the Holy Life as pure and unblemished as a polished shell, has to an alarming extent been consigned to the nether world of library books. Put aside the statistics on what proportion of the Buddhist world actually cultivates the wisdom teachings that could grant liberation in this life; let's not make judgements as to what extent or how skilfully meditation is practised liberation is after all, a personal matter. But whatever happened to the basis of skilful conduct? Vast sums of money are spent on projects to ensure the fortunate re-birth of the donors, while magazines report on sexual abuse, alcoholism and misappropriation of funds by Buddhist lay and monastic teachers, East and West. And its a fair bet to say that alot does not get reported. Whatever happened to selflessness and integrity? One can point to a lot of things - human weaknesses that are left unchecked, the institutionalisation of monasticism into a social and even political prop, the blind adulation afforded to anyone with mystical jargon, charisma or an elaborate name - but basically it comes down to a malfunction or absence of function, of sangha.

Human weakness and corruptibility is as traditional as the quest for liberation; the Buddha recognised both, and developed the Sangha convention out of what had been a formless tradition of seekers and recluses in order to check the corruptions and empower the enlightenment faculties. As much as the samanas should meet regularly to confirm their aspiration and standards, the lay community (which forms an integral part of the fourfold Sangha) should do likewise. After all, it plays a pivotal role. What the lay community supports is going to be what dominates the scene. Samanas may have their failings, but it is lay people who empower them. Taking the tough bits out of the teachings, or dealing in lucky charms and spiritual dispensations happens because lay people want that and set up as spititual authorities those who will do just that. So their power to support, correct or withdraw support is wasted on worldly aims and false teachings, and those teachings get propagated to further confuse those who come later.

Sometimes the standards that we should all abide by and be familiar with get lost in a mass of debate over fine details, clouded over by reference to transcendent values that ordinary folk couldn't understand, or dismissed as archaic. Smoke screens also have a long-standing tradition. But never mind the fine print, the standard of five precepts for a lay practitioner and ten (or at least eight) for one who has gone forth should present no obstacle to liberation. And they don't require profound knowlege or spiritual attainment to fathom and assess. Such assessment , within oneself and within the body of spiritual companions, is the self-regulating foundation of the Sangha. To raise that up is a worthy reason for meeting in large gatherings, and meeting often.

Ajahn Sucitto





Venerable Ajahn Tate (Phra Rajanirodharangsee) 1902-1994
Obituary Venerable Ajahn Tate (Phra Rajanirodharangsee) 1902-1994 Venerable Ajahn Tate died on 17th December, aged 92. Although he was born in a remote and impoverished region of Thailand, his great knowledge and experience in Dhamma in both calm and insight meditation brought him prominence and deep respect throughout Thailand and, to a lesser extent, overseas.
     His devoutly Buddhist family lived in a wilderness area of NE Thailand favoured by the tudong meditation monks, disciples of Ven. Ajahn Mun. One of their leading Ajahns - Ven. Ajahn Singh Khantayagamo - came through the boy Tate's village and he joined the party in their wanderings through the jungle.
     During the time he was a novice he studied and meditated, and in 1923, became a bhikkhu with the name Phra Tate Desarangsee. (The king of Thailand later conferred several ecclesiastical titles on him, the last one being Ven. Phra Nirodharangsee.) He was one of the first generation of forest monks to train under Ven. Ajahn Mun, and with such guidance his meditation developed and he became a Teacher in his own right. His tudong wanderings took him through the forests and mountains of Thailand, from the hill-tribe areas of the far north to the south, where he was a pioneer in teaching Dhamma. His final years were spent back in NE Thailand, where he built several forest monasteries.
    Some of the first overseas Buddhists visiting Thailand became disciples of Ven. Ajahn Tate. They were drawn by his manifest wisdom and by his serene and noble presence. Wat Hin Mark Peng, his monastery on the bank of the River Mekhong in Nongkhai Province, was well known to Westerners seeking a place to practise Dhamma, either as a lay person or monk.
     When he was in his mid-seventies he travelled to other SE Asian countries and on to Australia to encourage the local Buddhists and inspired many people to visit him in Thailand.
     Even though he always lived in forest monasteries far from the city, his influence reached people from every background, from royalty and the wealthy to the ordinary villager in rural areas. He drew them all towards Dhamma.
     Venerable Ajahn Tate's heritage to us lives on in the monks and lay people he taught, the many monasteries for Dhamma practice he established (and the schools and other social projects), and his Dhamma books some of which have been translated into English.
     We can offer our respect to a life so well lived by taking up his advice and practising Dhamma.




Night, the bride of heaven,
and her eyes,
the good stars,
leave no trace of memory or fire.

Then what am I,
but a tiny wick
gaurding a bold blue flame
that will soon mix
with time,
and drop from sight
like the sun
from a cold sky.

Sister Medhanandi