Forest Sangha Newsletter January 1996

Don't Get Off The Train; Ajahn Thanavaro
Vision and Focus; Sister Thanasanti
Saving Forests; Nick Scott interviews Ajahn Pasanno
The Retreat of Light; Reflections from California
Sutta Class: Morals & Ethics; Ajahn Thiradhammo
The Open Road; Sister Candasiri
Signs of Change:


On the Road

Sister Candasiri trades in her editorial "L" plates and takes to the open road.

For over a decade I have been privileged to watch the Forest Sangha Newsletter come into being. With Ajahn Sucitto always there in the driving seat, my role has varied over the years. At the beginning, I was there as the chief mechanic - typing, cutting, pasting it all together, as well as keeping an eye out for obvious grammatical errors, and writing the occasional article. Then the Sangha became familiar with computer technology, and D.T.P. (desk top publishing) came to the fore; scissors and paste became things of the past, and what was needed more was help with editing and proof reading. In 1991, during Ajahn Sucitto's pilgrimage in India, I was even responsible for assembling an entire issue or two; this was accomplished through carefully following instructions he had left, and with considerable help on the technical side... But now something more dramatic has occurred: Ajahn Sucitto - after 16 years of editorship - is taking a lengthy and well-earned sabbatical. And I find myself, with the encouragement and support of the Sangha elders, settling gently into the driving seat. It feels very different. The understanding is that it will be for at least a year, although it could be for much longer. What is clear is that right now the ball is in my court, the buck stops here. There is responsibility, there is authority and, inevitably, there will be praise and blame. After years of supporting and doing what has felt comfortable (most of the time), there is an awesome new feeling... and it's not at all the way one imagined it would be - sitting in the driver's seat feels different. The mood seems to sway between feelings of confidence and uplift at the opportunity to perform the grand gesture of serving in this way, and a sense of inadequacy, timidity and fear of failure. Rather than struggle with these, I recall the words of Luang Por Chah:

"We cannot run away from feeling, we must know it. Feeling is just feeling, happiness is just happiness, unhappiness is just unhappiness. They are simply that. So why cling to them?"

It's necessary to be clear about the purpose, then to map out the course to be followed in order to achieve it. Cruising along, there is a need to keep eyes and ears open and the heart light, alert and watchful.
Up until now, I have been able to focus on the detail: the comma, the apostrophe, the awkward phrasing - now, there is a need to consider the vision. It's necessary to assess the whole purpose of the undertaking - just to get a sense of how effort should be directed. Of course, I could just potter along following exactly the same style and format as that established already, without even thinking why it might be that way - but that doesn't feel quite right. So it's necessary to be clear about the purpose, and then to map out the course to be followed in order to achieve it. And the journey begins. Cruising along, there is a need to keep eyes and ears open and the heart light, alert and watchful: How's it going? Is it still fulfilling a need? Should we adjust things a little, or change direction altogether? This is often where friends are able to point out to us if we are driving erratically, or have missed a turning; so we need to be able to respond sensitively to these signs. The samana Sangha and training was established by the Buddha with two main aims in mind: firstly, to support the practice of those living within it and, secondly, to be a source of encouragement, inspiration and example for those who practise in the household life. The Patimokkha, or Vinaya discipline, also provided a structure, a vessel, within which the Dhamma could be clearly seen - that would support the realisation of Nibbana. It is interesting to note how the Buddha himself expressed these aims in his response to situations where bhikkhus were behaving inappropriately:

"Foolish man, it [...such behaviour] is not for the benefit of non- believers, nor for the increase in the number of believers, it is to the detriment of non-believers as well as believers, and it causes wavering in some."

So, as a forest Sangha, we can ask ourselves: What can we do that will be of benefit - that supports both our own practice and the practice of others?

Well, since we are spread out all over the world, a newsletter such as this can be useful. Through it, we can reflect on the traditional teachings of the Buddha; we can tell one another how we practise, sharing our understanding of certain principles; we can communicate about what we are doing in our different communities, how we structure our lives - there is always something to be gained from hearing of other people's ways of doing things; we can look at how the fruits of our practice can extend out into the society in which we live - encouraging one another to keep the heart open to the cries of the world; and we can learn how particular experiences, for example, solitary practice or going on pilgrimage or tudong can bring new dimensions into our understanding of what it means to be a disciple of the Buddha.

These are some ideas that have come to mind as this issue has taken form. There is a place for silence in our lives, there is a place for skilful communication. With many samanas practising in monasteries in different parts of the world, there is surely much we can share, much we can offer to one another - perhaps this is why this newsletter has come into existence. May it help to nurture the faith and practice both of those who live in or close to a monastery and of those who live far away.

And please let me know if I'm driving too fast, too slow, or too close to the kerb!

Sister Candasiri




The peace which arises from wisdom is not happiness, but is that which sees the truth of both happiness and unhappiness.

Ajahn Chah