Forest SanghaNewsletterOctober 1995

The Human Family; Ajahn Sumedho
The Sima Ceremony; Ajahn Attapemo
Traceless Traces; Venerable Master Hsuan Hua
In Memory of Luang Por Jun: Pt. 2; Sr. Sanghamitta
Sutta Class; Ajahn Thiradhammo
Less Trust requires More Faith; Ajahn Sucitto
Signs of Change:


Less Trust requires More Faith

The past few issues of the Newsletter have pointed to an obvious yet difficult feature of Dhamma; the mortality of its great exemplars. Much loved and valued teachers such as Ajahn Buddhadasa, Ajahn Tate, Ven. Nyanaponika, Ajahn Jun and Master Hua have all passed away within the last couple of years. The Dhamma continues, as they say, although few would deny that the teachings are greatly empowered when there is the living example of someone who can not only explain well, but also live the life with accomplishment. We may much admire cloth, but when it is cut and made into a garment that fits, then its beauty, its value and how it complements the human form can be seen in a very direct way.

What makes such inevitable change less tragic is when Buddha's exhortation to practise as a Sangha (with the detailed instructions that make up much of the Sutta and Vinaya Pitakas) is fully responded to. The teachings are not dependent on charisma; we have the Suttas and a vast range of commentaries. Similarly the Sangha is not dependent on a single patriarch; we have the Vinaya. And in meditation we have the means to cultivate the personal inquiry, purity and dispassion that enable us to use these means independent of bias, views and dogma. Still, when a great Master passes away, the cultivation of the disciples gets a good test. Do we start to panic, or do we try to create a new leader or find a sense of clarity, where for a while there can't be one? Rather than resort to views about the way it should be, or speculate as to how the Master would have responded in such a case, the test entails a coming to terms with the huge gap that such a decease leaves. In times of great change, it may be wisest to move slowly and patiently, guarding the jewels of the Dhamma-Vinaya.

We imagine that there are 'special' people who do these things and that we are not one of them ...
Occasionally, the Newsletter has pointed out the role that lay people play in guarding this treasure. They are in a position to offer support to, and participate in, a proper presentation of the Buddha's Way, this can be as effective as anything else in clarifiying and strengthening the definition of their own practice. Also there is the question of personal authority: helping the Dhamma to manifest either as an administrator or as a teacher helps to allay and dispel the comfortable neurosis that it is always up to someone else (more gifted, more accomplished) to do it. We imagine that there are 'special' people who do these things and that we are not one of them; that we are only capable of, or perhaps even only allowed to be, an onlooker. In brief, it is an act of faith in the practice, without which right effort and right livelihood flounder.

Now another change is pending, less a death than a transfiguration. Our "father", the English Sangha Trust, is seeking to reorganise itself as it approaches its fortieth year. From its infancy in the mid-fifties it aspired to the ideal of establishing a Buddhist monasticism in Britain, and from 1977 was a key vehicle for realising that aim. There is much that all of us can be grateful for in this achievement.

The Trust was created in the years before there was a stable, resident Sangha, and over the years it has become apparent that the structure of the relationship between Trust and Sangha does not adequately reflect the principles of the Vinaya. Here, the Buddha decreed that although the Sangha can and should hold the property and possessions donated to it (not individually, but collectively and on behalf of the Sangha of the Four Quarters, present and yet to come), it may not hold money. This latter is the function of a trusted lay manager. The Trust's structure, however, encouraged it to take responsibility for all the 'worldly' affairs of the Sangha; it functioned as their paternal guardian (with the Sangha very much as a dependent). In practice it has been possible to redress some of this disparity, and for many years the view of the Sangha has been well represented and respected, but the Trust's constitution does not reflect this. Added to this, to achieve that Sangha representation, a significant burden of duty has fallen onto the shoulders of a few individuals, who are responsible for leading the community in a number of other roles as well. The monastics have had to become more fixed in roles and positions than properly suits their aspiration to be 'Gone Forth' mendicants - and in the long run this is to nobody's advantage. For the samana the urgent task is to devote their time principally to their spiritual training. The proposal, which has been gestating for several years (and is still not quite hatched), is to restructure the Trust in terms of more clearly interdependent lay and Sangha bodies. While a proposed company to represent the Sangha in this country could be comprised of every monk and nun in this group of monasteries - who could elect representatives to a committee that could give general guidelines - the participation of lay supporters at different levels of administration and responsibility would continue to be essential. As now, this will require informed and capable lay people, but, if the Triple Gem is going to flourish such people are needed to keep places like these monasteries well serviced.

However there's no need for alarm. Having been an abbot and administrator for a while, I realise that I must be one of those 'special' people that I mentioned earlier. Such responsibilities used to make me feel inadequate for a while, but noting the example of my colleagues, and the way things actually worked, it became clear that Dhamma is managed by those who love it enough to give themselves up to its practices. What is vital is the faith that it will work through them (even despite them). So perhaps the only thing that makes someone 'special' is the willingness to work on themselves while working for others. They take responsibility, yet get out of the way.

Meanwhile, back to the editorial. And here also something of a change; Father Editor is packing up his keyboard and heading for the hills for a while. The drawback with having been editor for so long is that I start to imagine I'm indispensable, and even believe my own views. It's worth mentioning that help is always welcome to support the sense of Sangha, and the wish to communicate. Then things will come together in some form or another.

Keep the faith!

Ajahn Sucitto