After two months of retreat time, enjoying the luxury of not having to speak to each otheror to attend to any other than the most essential duties, there arises a sense of ease, ofinner quietude. Under normal retreat circumstances this is a cause for pleasure -- delighteven. However, confronted with the task of writing the newsletter editorial, I noticeinstead a sense of mild anxiety, tinged with curiosity: there doesn't seem to be anythingthere... I wonder if anything will arise and, if anything does, I'm interested to see whatthat will be.
Bringing things together -- raw materials (pencil, paper); a specific occasion;ideas, concepts, teachings; and whatever understanding and volition may have arisen asfruits of practice -- seems a good place to begin. The first is here. The second? Well, it'sthat sort of time (anyone who has edited things will know what that means); the fourth, suchas it is, is here -- which leaves the third.
Looking at Ajahn Munindo's piece about the Sanghamitta project, I am reminded of early daysof the monastic community at Harnham, when the extremely dilapidated structure down thelane, with its crumbling stone walls, 'roof' and sagging wooden door frame, wouldaffectionately be referred to as 'the nuns' vihara.' Then, when it became apparent thatthere was unlikely to be a nuns' community living there, it went back to being, simply,'Number 5 -- Farmer Wake's birth place.' Now, some fifteen years on, it's 'The New RetreatHouse' and a process of physical transformation has begun. Hopefully, in due course therewill be the completion of this bringing together of physical elements, and something that isclearly recognisable and usable as 'the new retreat centre' will be in place. It will nolonger be solely an effort of will and imagination that maintains the concept or vision --it will be there for all to see and make use of: a place of practice.
I find it interesting that the simile used by the Buddha for craving is of a housebuilder -- one who assembles elements to create what is commonly known as 'a house.' Hedescribed his enlightenment as seeing the house builder and dismantling his creation: 'Therafters are broken; the ridge pole is shattered!' This is a powerful image for thepenetration of that activity of consciousness, which is continuously bringing together theelements of mind (nama) and body (rupa) to give meaning or significance to something that,ultimately, simply isn't there. The Self or Person's existence, and its relationship withthe physical form and all that surrounds it, is brought into existence and sustained solelythrough craving, based on a misunderstanding!
When we clearly see what the Buddha saw in his awakening, our suffering can end --apart, that is, from the natural discomfort experienced in the body as it registers physicalhunger, the extremes of heat and cold, disease, its wearing down with age. It's actuallyvery simple, but the power of craving and ignorance or Mara -- the skill and strength of the'house builder' in holding the illusion of Self together -- is such that we need all thehelp we can get (and, even then, it can take a long time). We have different characters anddifferent needs at different times, so we are fortunate that the Buddha presented manydifferent strategies that can help us arrive at this understanding that frees the heart.Sometimes it's phrases like 'Let go of everything' or, 'plunging into the Deathless' thatcan arouse faith, enabling us to make a shift away from our ego-centred view of things.Sometimes a more analytic approach as demonstrated in Ajahn Sucitto's talk, 'TouchingMeaning,' is what is needed. This might be a questioning -- or challenging -- of ourassumptions step by step; or a systematic listing of factors that sustain a particularawareness. When these mirror our everyday experience (which can of course be somewhathumbling), this is particularly efficacious. We realise that, 'Yes, it's a Teaching that isthere for all of us; even 'Me' with my confusion, and occasionally less than completelypure, unselfish motivations. What a relief! I can begin where I am: 'No, they don't hatedahl!' and feelings coursing through the system at that moment... 'What's happening here?...What perceptions am I holding on to?... What am I adding to this event?...'
Practice. It takes time and repetition of the same basic lessons over and over andover again, until eventually we get it -- until our house eventually collapses and there isno longer the slightest interest in reassembling the elements comprising it. Throughout ourtraining, and even after the task is done, the encouragement is always to develop and useskilful dhammas -- generosity, goodness, wise reflection and collectedness -- and to shunwhat is unskilful, that which embellishes, either negatively or positively, the sense ofSelf, or which harms others. Whether living alone as a hermit, or in the midst of society,it's a progressive opening and extending beyond the limitations of 'Me' and 'Mine'-- not toobliterate anything, but in order that we may experience the bliss of realising what we seemto be as simply included in 'All that is.'
| Music Lesson |
On due occasion, there's still the allowance --
even in a set-up made dense with things --
that place may have its familiar spirit:
a way of harnessing transcendence
by tethering it to river, rock, tree or sky.
What address then for the dislocating angel?
Who flies between appearance and change
bending a blue note -- dissonant, plangent;
in the minor key of expectation,
plays riffs and ragas of the Way It Is.
This spirit's here. Listen and enter:
between two thoughts is place enough;
and a moment when a sensed solidity
is turned back, purely, on itself --
that's occasion enough to unleash your silence.
Time for Creation's closet demon
to come out, let go, and face the music.