Forest Sangha Newsletter October 1996

Who We Really Are; Ajahn Sumedo
Sutta Class: Punna & Papa; Venerable Asabho
Right Effort: Making It Work; Ajahn Siripanna
Going Forth - From Three Insiders
Sharing the Blessings; Venerable Thanuttaro
The Dalai Lama at the Barbican; Ajahn Sobhano
High on Black Turtle; Yatiko Bhikkhu
Sign of Change:


Rite Relationship

Human society involves relationship, there is a need for people to communicate and to get along together. The Buddha, while frequently extolling the virtues of a solitary abiding, also made provision for this human need, emphasising it as a basis for wholesome behaviour. It can also be seen as a vehicle for insight into the nature of the very 'self' that seems to exist when we relate to one another.

For the monks and nuns, the vassa is usually a time for examining our training discipline and looking at the many structures and ceremonies that the Buddha established to support skilful relationship. These conventions encompass all aspects of relationship, ranging from that which can be seen as intensely personal (as in the ceremonies of Going Forth or confession of transgressions) to that which is beyond personality; examples of this are the almsgiving ceremonies, such as Kathina. There are also pujas, where we recollect our aspiration and make offerings to the Triple Gem. All in all, it makes quite a package. Although some people might feel that such rituals represent a regression into an age of blind superstition and magic, there is another way of looking it.

The longing felt by individual human beings to rediscover their connection to the whole has long been recognised. This can be expressed in many different ways, but not as something that can be experienced through the personality - 'me' in relation to everything else; it can only be known when the whole idea of 'me' is abandoned, which allows us to settle naturally into being what we truly are. Those of us who have begun to be alert to the tyranny of ego will of course realise that this is much more easily said than done, and there are many for whom the lure of "drugs, sex and rock 'n roll" as expedient means for 'losing oneself' can be quite overwhelming. This is where religious rituals can have a part to play; if carried out with a skilful attitude, they can be a potent means for taking us beyond the bonds of selfhood.
One has become calm, one has gone beyond getting old; one has gone beyond being born.
Most of us have grown up in a very materialistic, highly competitive society; we have lost touch with our roots. It is almost as though we need to rediscover and learn about ritual as a means for gladdening and freeing the heart. We also need to learn how to avoid the pitfalls that hinder this process. Firstly, there is the tendency to make too much of ritual, becoming intensely self conscious and anxious about getting everything just right, almost as though that in itself can somehow assist or delay our progress to Nibbana. The other extreme is to dismiss them as having no useful purpose - something simply to be endured or avoided altogether. However, when there is mindfulness sati and clear comprehension sampajanna we realise that there is no need either to follow them unquestioningly or to dismiss them; we can simply participate - or not - with awareness.

Some people might feel an immediate sense of ease, intense joy or devotion; others might experience powerful resistance or aversion, or feelings of shyness and fear of making a mistake. These different responses can easily be understood in terms of the conditioning we have received over the years, but by remaining attentive to them and to what is happening around us we can find a sense of relaxation and ease. We begin to notice how the heart responds to such simple things as preparing and caring for a shrine, making offerings with reverence, chanting, bowing - either alone or with a group. We no longer need to judge ourselves or to maintain any fixed idea about what is happening.

When questioned by the Brahmin students, Punnaka and Nanda about the place of rituals and offerings in helping one to go beyond birth and aging, his response was that, in themselves, making offerings, listening to religious teachings and performing rituals were not enough - it is only through a total understanding of attachments that one can go beyond.

It is only: When a person has assessed the world from top to bottom, when there is nothing in the world that raises a flicker of agitation, then one has become a person free from the smoke fumes, the tremblings and the hunger of desire. One has become calm, one has gone beyond getting old; one has gone beyond being born.*
(* Sutta Nipata, translated by Ven Dr Saddhatissa, published by The Curson Press)

So the rituals we have can be seen as a means for freeing the heart from self concerns - as opportunities to say a wholehearted, "yes!" to what we value most, putting all our energy into realising Nibbana. We no longer need to tumble into a dull abyss, or to believe too much in those voices of self that tend to whimper, "But why wasn't I asked to do that?", "She shouldn't have done it like that", "Why bother?' We can rejoice in these opportunities for bringing a little more beauty and gentleness into our lives, and that remind us of our common humanity.

Ajahn Candasiri


Even though we have convention,
don't place your trust in it as being the Truth.
If you cling to it suffering will arise.

Ajahn Chah