Forest SanghaNewsletterApril 1996

End of Rebirth; Ajahn Viradhammo
The Wisdom of Samadhi; Ajahn Pannavaddho
Elements: Funeral of Luang Por Jun; Venerable Asabho
Sutta Class 36: Buddha's Advice to Meghiya; Sister Candasiri
The Magic and the Muck; Harnham Monastery
Foundation of Sangha; Sister Candasiri


Foundation of Sangha

Through the months of winter, the monastic community has followed the rhythm of nature, withdrawing to a place of stillness and silence. This helps to confirm and renew our commitment to a life which is guided by Dhamma, rather than by the increasing demands and complexity of modern society. It seems obvious that any activity or speech that arises from a quiet heart, free from 'self' concerns, is a great blessing to humanity: whereas, when they arise simply as reflex reactions to what is perceived to be happening at any one time, the forces of ignorance and confusion are perpetuated - Mara has won the day, yet again!

If we look at the example of our teacher, the Buddha, we see that there were two aspects to his life. Firstly, through contemplation he came to realise the Truth (Dhamma) that frees the heart from suffering; then he devoted himself to service - to helping others to realise that same Truth. Thus he was a vehicle for the manifestation of both wisdom and compassion. As disciples, one of the main challenges for us all is to bring these two qualities into balance.

One response to the pressing needs of our time is to feel a sense of total ineptitude and to close off, or run away; another is to allow our own sense of guilt, pain or confusion to propel us into action. However, neither of these approaches feel 'right'. Among the listed qualities of Dhamma we find, opanayiko, which can be translated as, 'leading inwards'. Instinctively, 'in' seems to be the way to go in order to find that point of discernment. There needs to be a close examination of the inner mechanisms that govern our lives; with increased awareness of them, there is the beginning of a choice: to be directed by them, or by Dhamma.

We are fortunate that the Buddha, while pointing always to Ultimate Truth, also gave us clear guidelines for dealing with the mundane. While there is every encouragement to practise for the realisation of this Ultimate Truth, it is also understood that this may take a bit of time, but that there are ways of living that can facilitate that process.
Approached simply on a social level, there is no workable way forward; we must look to the level of Dhamma to find solutions.
Magha Puja, the February (or March) full moon, is the time that we celebrate Sangha. Over the centuries generations of disciples have found freedom of heart through living according to established principles. They practised well, directly, insightfully and with integrity. Also emphasised is concord - getting along together and supporting one another, both materially and spiritually, and also emotionally. On one occasion, the Buddha listed six things which, taken together, enable us to have a sense of that balance of insight and responsiveness. He asked that his disciples practise friendliness through body, speech and thought towards one another - both openly and in private; that they share what they receive, not hoarding things up for themselves; that they train diligently according to the established discipline, which supports concentration and helps to free the heart; and finally that they live together maintaining the insight that ends all suffering. These, he said, were ways of conduct to be remembered, cherished and held in great esteem, conducing to sympathy, unbroken and harmonious concord.

Our community, settling itself into western soil, having been transplanted there from an eastern culture, faces many contradictions. What is understood and accepted in one culture is quite alien and not readily accepted in another. Approached simply on a social level, there is no workable way forward; we must look to the level of Dhamma to find solutions, living in a way that will allow this remarkable inheritance to take root and to flourish. Only then can it become a refuge in this society, with its very different cultural norms and individual conditioning and expectations - both from where it first began 2500 years ago with the Lord Buddha, and more recently with Luang Por Chah and the forest masters of Thailand.

Saddha, or confidence, says, "Yes, this is definitely possible, and definitely worth doing." The voice of discernment recognises, "Yes, but it's not straightforward." Many factors need to be considered. It may take time, but if we try to by-pass these issues the whole ideal structure, having no firm foundation, may come toppling down. So we need to listen carefully to one another and to the voices of our own hearts. If we are willing to listen - even to that which is uncomfortable or inconvenient, painful or embarrassing - then the light of Dhamma can show us the way: "Yes, this feels right; this is the way we should go."

Sister Candasiri