Forest Sangha Newsletter
October 2001



Silence and Space; Luang Por Sumedho
Clarity of Insight; Ajahn Chah
Energy; Aj Sucitto
Form; Sister Thaniya


It is the vassa, the three months in which the samana Sangha determine a fixed residence. Traditionally this is the time when we pick up, consider, and brighten the Vinaya, the precepts and community conventions that we have undertaken as a framework for our lives. It sharpens the sense that, although the goal of the Buddha's teaching is freedom, the path to release is grounded in conventions, in forms, in restraint. Recently at a gathering at Amaravati for Luang Por Sumedho's birthday, amongst the reflections he offered was something he said Luang Por Chah had challenged him with when he was a young monk, 'Sumedho, the Dhamma is about letting go: the Vinaya is about holding on.' On the surface there sounds to be a conflict between these two, yet in our direct experience is this the case? What is the result for each of us of keeping the precepts? The possibility the Buddha pointed to was a growing sense of ease and lightness in ourselves (and his teaching gives us tools to understand what may be getting in the way of that for us).

For the Awakened Ones the Eightfold Path, rather than a path to something, is the natural expression of their understanding. The precepts, which are embedded in the Path, are a way for us to both express and deepen our own understanding. They support us in letting go of unskilful things that occlude awareness, and in cultivating skilful factors which support its shining forth; not as an identity but as a way of understanding our kammic predicament and freeing ourselves from it. It does matter how we live; we see, when we refrain from harming others that we don't have the residual fear and guilt that otherwise might have hindered us, and we contact that in us which wishes well-being for others - this intrinsic quality of the human heart.


'I do not say that you can attain purity by views, tradition, insights, morality or conventions; nor will you attain purity without them. But by using them for abandonment, rather than as positions to hold on to, you will come to be at peace without the need to be anything.'
Sutta Nipata v. 848
Translation: Ven. Saddhatissa


Dhamma practice is a coming more fully into presence. The Buddha would refer to himself us the Tathagata - 'the One Thus Come.' He was an exemplar of someone who was actually here and now with whatever specific thing was going on; responding to people's particular questions, sorting out difficulties.... Recollecting his life reminds us that silence, stillness, emptiness are no more to be held onto than 'views, tradition, morality and conventions;' they are all to be used for abandonment. The Buddha's encouragement is not to adhere to anything (or not-thing), but to use it for understanding and relinquishing self view. This takes a profound degree of willingness to receive all that is here; and wisdom, because, as Luang Por points out, we tend to grasp after what we think we are, and don't open to what we are not.

Life energy is obviously flowing in you and me; Vinaya, in its guidance on conventions and behaviour, gives us a skilful way of expressing this. Our life energy can then be a celebration of Dhamma: not taking sides with formedness, self, or some absence of these - out of views, fear or desire - we allow the essential flow. We can allow things to form, and to disband back into the ground out of which they arose; and take refuge in the quality of 'Buddho' - that which knows. Then in neither the presence of things nor in their absence - forms or space - is where our hearts place their allegiance, but in the Knowing and in what supports that.

In this play of ours with forms and the unformed, it seems we have what we need to come out from under the bedcovers and dare to be manifest. With all its struggles and tragedies this human birth is a precious one. We can come out and pick up conventions that support our attunement with what we are and what we are not. And celebrate: we celebrate the Dhamma, our connectedness, the Path and the awesome possibility it gives of fully coming into presence. At the end of Luang Por's birthday reflections the community chanted him a blessing. I found it moving - the giving voice to our gratitude for his life, and the purity of aspiration which is both our offering and our true meeting place.

Sister Thaniya