|Forest Sangha Newsletter||October 1997|
As I sit in my room on a glorious autumn morning, I am aware of cool fresh air, sunshine, blue sky and trees, the sound of birdsong and of the stream running through the garden... and that transistor radio of those workmen in a nearby cottage! There is instant contention - dukkha - based on the assumption that it shouldn't be like this; that I should not have to hear or experience anything that doesn't accord with what I like, with what I find pleasant and agreeable.
I imagine that many people would consider the initial averse reaction to be completely sane, reasonable and justifiable. In one sense it is, but we need to ask ourselves: "If we act on such a response, is this something that will further a sense of ease and well-being - or not?" A moment's reflection on the Buddha's guidance on Suffering and the Way to End It, is enough for us to realise that allowing any kind of negative response to linger in the heart is harmful, both to ourselves and to others, and in no way accords with the basic teaching that he continually presented throughout his life: `Even, O monks, should robbers and murderers saw through your limbs and joints, whosoever should give way to anger there at would not be following my advice'! (MN21)... A tall order perhaps, but one that we should reflect on if we really intend to free the heart from suffering.
These Teachings and Rules provide a way of life and practice for human beings that leads away from passion, attachment, discontent and laziness...
Our basic ignorance might convince us that it is possible to have our world
as we would wish it be all the time, and that it is worth expending enormous
amounts of time, energy and money in order to achieve that end. However, a
brief reflective glance at Nature indicates, in no uncertain terms, that this
is not the case. But the voice of ignorance, of Mara, is persistent,
wheedling and we all quite regularly fall prey to its arguments and
expositions... no blame, that's just how it is. Out of compassion and a clear
understanding of this human predicament, the Buddha in the course of his
lifetime formulated and presented the Dhamma Vinaya. These Teachings and
Rules provide a way of life and practice for human beings that leads away
from passion, attachment, discontent and laziness that tend to cloud or
agitate the mind, towards dispassion and mental calm and clarity, thereby
enabling the arising of complete understanding of how things are.
So within the monastery there are precepts, routines and procedures that constantly check our impulse towards stubbornness, greed and selfishness - wearing away the image of ourselves that we've nurtured so unquestioningly over the years. And, to check the tendency to settle into an institutionalised existence - a dumb, submissive dependence on an external structure - the Buddha also encouraged his disciples to go forth from the known, the secure, and to 'wander for the welfare and happiness of the many, out of compassion for the world, for the benefit, welfare and happiness of gods and humans'.
Of course for householders (who comprise the greater proportion of disciples) similar considerations apply. What is different is the contexts but still there are precepts; constraints in regard to relationship and to the material world (livelihood etc); the need for some kind of structure or routines for meditation and devotional practice, and relationship with others on the Path. Also needed is the skill and sensitivity to respond to a world that, for the most part, knows nothing of Buddhism or spiritual values, in a way that enhances our own practice and that perhaps brings just a little clarity and steadiness into the lives of those we contact - a healthy challenge! In two months time, I will be in Calcutta - far from the serenity of West Sussex (and the workmen's transistor) - at the start of four months of pilgrimage to the places where Siddhattha Gotama was born, became a Buddha (Awakened One), presented his first Teaching and passed away. I feel very blessed to have this opportunity, although I don't expect it to be easy or particularly pleasant for much of the time, but it will be a chance to honour our Teacher and to deepen a sense of Refuge, a freedom from suffering that is not dependent on having things the way I want - which I'm sure they won't be for much of the time! All being well, the Newsletter will continue to appear in my absence with Ajahn Sucitto's experienced hand, assisted by others, guiding it into manifestation. It may come late, a pattern that unfortunately can be the cause of irritation, when important information is conveyed only days or weeks after it is relevant, but it certainly will not be for lack of effort or willingness on the part of those involved. They will try to provide relevant information well in advance, but if there are questions about events in the monastery, please contact the relevant monastery, to find out about them.
May we all live free from suffering.