Forest SanghaNewsletterJanuary 2000

Dwelling on Conditions along the Way; Ajahn Karuniko
The Monastic Millennium; Monasteries report
Vow Power of the Buddha; Ajahn Kittisaro
The Hinge of Silence; Ajahn Sucitto


The Hinge of Silence

The easiest Buddhist response to the century's end would be silence: I mean it's the second month of 2543, isn't it? And, as is not unusual around Christmas and New Year in the monasteries , we will be no doubt be joined by people who want to get away from the hype and commercialisation that these commemorations bring along with them. However, that fact alone - that turning to silence - is itself worthy of note, no matter what occasion triggers it.

That turning - the 'turning of the Wheel of the Dhamma' as a direct experience - is the turning of the human urge for fulfilment away from accumulation and stimulation towards pure presence, towards Awakening. Each of us may note what is its hinge-point: a realisation of an inability to cope, or of the sudden vertigo that loss of place, person or occupation drops us into - the first Noble Truth of dissonance. Or that intuition that this dissonance is not haphazard or obligatory: it is caused and we could check it. Thus the second Noble Truth. Or perhaps the turning point is a moment when darkness drops away, or a moment of the stopping of treadmills of emotion or thought - the Third and Fourth Noble Truths of realisation and clarity. These experiences, whether one has a Buddhist expression for them or not, are the 'soul moments' that indicate we can be more fully Alive than the mere repetitive cycles - the samsara - of biological, social or egoic existence.

These moments are awesome, and it is supremely good news that this can be a common-enough ground for human experience in the twentieth century that not only do oddball mystics seek them, or highbrows write about them, but that they can be referred to and revered by the manyfolk. For me, the brightest glint that comes out of this dark century is the Awakening of the West, a stirring towards the Unconditioned even in parallel with the drive to with perfect conditions - for oneself, that is. Hence, even more profound than finding 'perfect' silence for oneself is the holding of empathetic silence: there can be a communion of silence. And that entails grand-heartedness, even forgiveness. What better antidote can there be to the competitive instincts that haunt the planet?

Without aggression or politicking, Buddha-Dhamma has penetrated schools and language. It services sportsmen and women and unstresses the business community.

Without aggression or politicking, Buddha-Dhamma has penetrated schools and language. It services sportsmen and women and unstresses the business community. There is an ongoing interfaith dialogue; the dialogue with psychotherapy is also rich and fruitful. There is a Buddhist Prison Chaplaincy, a Buddhist Hospice Trust, an Engaged Buddhist Network, a Dharma School. A Buddhist Trust for the care of the Elderly is in its initial stages. There are Buddhist monks and nuns of every hue, including a small Theravada community, members of which trudge the highways and byways of Britain as did the samanas of the Buddha's age and there is a lively renunciate community members of which trudge the highways and byways of Britain as did the samanas of the Buddha's age. All seems to be going very well in Buddha-Land. But perhaps the most difficult danger to guard against is that of success. At the Vipassana Teachers' Conference in June of this year, Joseph Goldstein reminded us of the prophesy of the Master who established the Tea Ceremony as a consummate spiritual exercise (and whose name I forget). Anyway, the Master commented that he was sure that within a matter of a decade or so, he had no doubt that the Tea Ceremony would be fully accepted and incorporated into Japanese culture. And that within that same span of time its true meaning and value would be lost.

Perhaps the most valid cause for concern about the Buddha-Dhamma is therefore that its meaning get diluted into universalist sentiments, or sidetracked into socially supportive gestures. Do all religions really have the same goal? Or isn't Awakening a personal thing that religious expressions can only highlight when the individual's mind is ready? Does Dhamma have to adapt to and support a society, or is it the other way round: that the urge for Truth will gradually achieve social expression through first affection of the heart? One Way of cultivation is to serve others; but that has to be balanced with the perception that whatever the effort, the world will continue to be a mottled and perilous place. Having personally done a bit of work in establishing monasteries, teaching retreats and producing publications, I have come to note the tingle of enthusiasm with which one starts a project, and the rush of conviction that this is really needed; then the amount of struggle entailed in getting it going; and then a result which always falls short of expectation. It doesn't mean I don't do it - the results are generally better than having done nothing - but that I understand the tingles and rushes more fully. If I grab them as guides, they lead me into the aches of dukkha. But to work in terms of 'soul sense' - out of compassion and joy and for the letting-go of doubt, cynicism or self-concern - this is possible. In this way, communities and projects can kick-start, guide and express spiritual growth. Let's be wary that they don't replace it.

Perhaps on a social level, one can only expect a 'Buddh-ish' effect, and that alone would be as good a service as Christianity performed for Western Culture during the Dark Ages. But the Buddha gave a teaching to keep us centred on those 'soul moments.' Do we seek out situations that bring them to light? Do we open into them, despite the discomfort of having our self-image laid bare? And can we then integrate that seeing into living as a person? The Four Noble Truths are the door to that perfection; and empathetic silence is the hinge on which they turn.

Ajahn Sucitto



Homeward Journey

Travelling, the location gets smaller:
a lodge, a room, a train, a car.
At the airport it had come down
to my worn immediacy and zip-up bag -
and that lighter and less important now
with the 'Return' label dangling down
like a notification of terminal disease.
And how much, then, does anything weigh?
Half my world goes down the belt and in
a right to passage, a gate, and a time are
and finally a seat in the segmented hull
crammed with similarly unsubstanced cells.
Craft within craft, all span with no depth,
we are verbs held in tense, third person
Everything is sealed under a pressure
through which remote stewards flitter
bearing consolations wrapped in plastic.
I turn down the lot, choose helplessness:
let it become us truly and fly between our
let the resonances of the displaced moment
flow clear presence into this unloved night;
under the glass of my name and number,
let the storm-swung compass needle flicker
and address outcast oceans. The wraps are
I am unpacked - to be swept in and through
another pulse, another gravity,
to the shared lost planet. Homeward journey.
Shine on, our planet, under a travelling
All directions home pull out of orbit,
clear off-track. And tuck snug into vastness.