Forest SanghaNewsletterJulyy 1997

Spiritual Friendship; Ajahn Amaro
Regret and Well Being; Ajahn Munindo
The Joy Hidden in Sorrow; Sister Medhanandi
Commitment to Practice in a Non Monastic Environment; Ajahn Santacitto
New Year in Italy; Ajahn Sucitto
Lessons in Living; Ajahn Candasiri
Signs of Change:


Lessons in Living

While, broadly speaking, the focus in the April newsletter was meditation, inthis issue it is clearly relationship: the benefits, difficulties, sadnessesand the understanding of relationship in the context of spiritual practice.

Entering into community or embarking on life in relationship may, forsome, appear to be the answer to all life's problems. There is that phrasefrom fairy tales: 'They got married, and lived happily ever after'... or, amore cynical version: 'They got married and lived un happily ever after'.However, instead of either endorsing or dismissing any such formalisedrelationship, it seems that what is needed is a reappraisal of our attitudeto it. Are we entering into it to get something, or to maintain what we haveor think ourselves to be? Or is the action one of giving ourselves, and beingtransformed by the experience?

I imagine that most people would assume that the idea of giving andtransformation would be the 'right' answer and it certainly has an appealingring to it. It's the answer that I would give in regard to my commitment toSangha; but almost 18 years have shown me that often, in spite of all ournoble aspirations, what is actually going on accords more closely with asubtle clinging to a sense of 'self' identity. Although we love the idea oftransformation, the actual experience of the process is another matter; infact, there are times when we find ourselves adopting almost any strategy toavoid it!
Through meditation, we become aware of the hindrances and, in the process oftheir abandonment, we come to a clearer understanding of what 'me' actuallyis.
Significant events such as the Going Forth, formally entering into arelationship, or giving birth to a child represent the culmination of aprocess, but we also need to remember that they are actually a beginning. Itis more like the image of preparing to set out on the journey putting ourfeet onto the path than of finally arriving at our destination.

As the Sangha of Western monks and nuns settles into Western culture,there has been a need for us to reevaluate some of our accepted norms ofbehaviour, particularly in regard to the hierarchical structure. During thisprocess I have found it helpful to look at the basic principles of trainingthat the Buddha established and some of the guidelines he gave for living incommunity.*
Majjhima Nikaya Suttas 125+15, Anguttara Nikaya Bookof Tens Ch V. 44

Underpinning everything is the need for good friends (kalyanamitta);a relationship with a teacher or spiritual companions, from whom the initialinspiration may come, and who can provide guidance through their teaching andexample. So we enter the relationship.

Next comes the training: the curbing of our selfish and heedlesshabits. It can get pretty uncomfortable at this stage, but the Buddha,likening it to the training of a royal elephant, said that at this stage thetrainer speaks kindly and gently, and rewards appropriate behaviour. (Is thatsomething we remember to do for ourselves? Sometimes we can be excessivelyharsh.)...

Next, comes restraint: 'guarding the doors of the senses'; and thenmoderation in eating, wakefulness, mindfulness and full awareness. We noticethe interplay between the external (what we call 'the world') and theinternal how we interpret the messages we receive; this in turn determinesour response. Through meditation, we become aware of the hindrances and, inthe process of their abandonment, we come to a clearer understanding of what'me' actually is. We begin to see the stress, or dukkha, that is involved inmaintaining that sense of being 'somebody' in relation to other 'somebodies'.

There are also guidelines for offering and receiving admonishment orguidance. Firstly, we should make sure that we understand the training andare practising correctly ourselves. The Buddha goes on to suggest that wefind a suitable time and place; that we speak gently; and with real kindness(not while we are still angry or upset); that we speak according to what weknow to be true; and say what is helpful... Then, receiving correction, weneed humility, honesty and kindness. There is also a kind of courage thatenables us to actually feel the pain or the indignation, to allow it to beright there, so that we can learn what we need to learn, pick ourselves upand begin again. Having done that fully, we can then feel the arising of joyand gratitude.

So there are many lessons that we can learn through relationship, ifwe are willing to take an interest in 'difficulties' or 'problems' as theyarise; to be curious about their origin and, through understanding that, helpthem to cessation.

Finally, on a very different note, Venerable Kusalo, who for the pastfive years has faithfully translated a mass of Dhamma teachings and otheruseful information into the form of this newsletter, has had to 'retire'owing to the pressure of other commitments within the Sangha. Tavaro (RobertBrown) has kindly offered to have a go as his successor so, hopefully,Venerable Kusalo's disappearance will be a barely perceptible phenomenon.Also, in November this year, I will be taking about four months to go onpilgrimage to the Buddhist Holy Places in India; and fortunately, AjahnSucitto has undertaken to fulfil the role of editor during that time. It'simportant to be dispensable... and I can see further good lessons in thisvery situation about appreciating one another but without attachment!

May all beings realise Nibbana.

Ajahn Candasiri