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:


The Dalai Lama at the Barbican
Members of the Forest Sangha were fortunate enough to be able attend a series of talks given by His Holiness the Dalai Lama at the Barbican. Ajahn Sobhano offers some reflections.

The Dalai Lama's much publicised recent visit to the UK was something of a landmark in the history of the British Buddhist scene. In 1993, a wide range of Buddhist organisations from the various traditions and lineages that are now established in the UK made an invitation to His Holiness to give an extended teaching on the Four Noble Truths. The months of preparation for this event provided a framework for these diverse groups to consolidate themselves into what is now known as the Network of Buddhist Organisations. So not only was this the first time that the Dalai Lama had given such an in-depth teaching to a specifically Buddhist audience in the UK, but it was also a coming of age for Buddhism in Britain.
In fact Theravada was the foundation of all the Buddhist schools, without which the others would be rendered useless.

The teachings were introduced by Luang Por Sumedho who expressed his own heartfelt affection for His Holiness, and how much his uniting influence was valued by the increasingly diverse Buddhist world. The Dalai Lama was in sparkling form and, with his infectious and self-effacing humour bubbling over from the beginning, was able to establish an easeful atmosphere for the rigours of the instruction that was to follow.

Drawing largely on his own (Gelugpa) school's commentaries of the Abhidhamma, which includes the Madhyamaka philosophical interpretations of the Paticcasamuppada, His Holiness made no attempt to dilute the teachings for a Western audience. He followed the Tibetan teaching style that uses argument and rhetoric to establish theoretical principles, as a way of preparing the ground for the experiential penetration of the Dhamma. Of course this style was unfamiliar to many of us, but there were enough gems of wisdom to keep (most of us) alert throughout the two morning and afternoon sessions. Fortunately, for those with fading attention spans, each period either began or ended with half an hour or more of questions and answers which enabled His Holiness to give a practical context for many of the more metaphysical aspects of his teachings.
The two days of teachings were concluded with a Chenrezig(*) Initiation. A handful of us from Amaravati and Chithurst who were curious to witness the event were lucky enough to acquire seats in the first three rows in front of the Dalai Lama's ceremonial seat. The ritual itself was a surprisingly brief and briskly organised affair; it included an invocation and visualisations of the deity, as well as asseverations to undertake the practices of kindness and compassion in one's everyday life. Afterwards the Dalai Lama made a point of expressing his appreciation for the presence of the Theravadan Sangha. It was often mistakenly understood, he said, that the Mahayana and Vajrayana schools of Buddhism were completely separate and self-sufficient forms of Buddhism. In fact Theravada was the foundation of all the Buddhist schools, without which the others would be rendered useless.
(*) In Tibetan Buddhism Chenrezig is the name for the Boddhisattva of Compassion, also known as Avalokiteshvara or Kwan Yin in the Chinese tradition.
All the members of our Sangha who attended the teachings were grateful for the strenuous efforts made by His Holiness to impart the sublime meaning of the Dhamma to a Western audience. We were also touched by the extraordinary generosity of the NBO who had donated 50 tickets to our community for the event. The Dalai Lama has subsequently indicated his interest in giving another series of teachings in a couple of years' time, on the theme of meditation - a reflection perhaps of how significantly he values such occasions.