|Forest Sangha Newsletter||January 2005|
A Dhamma Collage - Part Two
All Alone Together
At that time my family lived in a bungalow. My bedroom was just across from the lounge. I was lying there once during an asthma attack, and even though I had all the available medicines, it was very painful and difficult to breathe. It was frightening. The simple breathing process became incredibly problematic. Every inhalation was like climbing a mountain: I'd get to the peak, but not come down the same distance that I'd climbed. I seemed to come down just a short distance and then there was another mountain to climb, the next inhalation. I was filled with a sense of panic, a sense of pain and isolation. At one point I thought I couldn't go on. I wanted to call out to my parents, because when it got bad they would come and sit on the side of my bed and hold my hand and comfort me. I was just about to call out when there was loud peal of laughter from the lounge.
My parents were watching a comedy programme on TV. Suddenly hearing them laughing together was in one sense very touching. To feel a sense of harmony between them felt beautiful, but at the same time I felt this incredible sense of loneliness, isolation and separation. Then I thought, 'What's the point of calling them? It will only worry them and destroy their happy evening together. In the end they can't do anything for me. I have all the medicines. I've taken the pills. It's just a matter of enduring.' I realised that it was my own suffering, and that my parents couldn't take it away. If they could take my pain and suffering and endure it in my stead, I was sure they would, without a second thought. If they could possibly pay money, I'm sure they would pay all their money in the bank - they'd go into debt if they could find a way to relieve my suffering. For the first time in my life I realised that when you're born you're born alone; when you're sick, you're sick alone, and when you die you die alone. We're always essentially alone; for me that was an important reflection.
|Living here together as a Sangha, there is a real sense of cohesion, of family, of camaraderie, of brotherhood, a great deal of mutual kindness, consideration and respect, which makes this monastery so inspiring and uplifting to be a part of. This is a wonderful thing. But we should remember that we're all here alone together; we're together and can help each other in various ways, but at the same time we're really all alone. Our progress, lack of progress, or decline in Dhamma is our own responsibility. We should remember that Buddhas only point the way. They can't do the work for us. Even if we are fortunate to spend time with great teachers or enlightened beings, we should remember that they can't do our work for us either. This fact brings us back again and again to the reality of our aloneness.|
Our task we must undertake ourselves. This can be rather intimidating, so we should also remember that the Buddha said that we can do it. One of my favourite sayings of the Buddha is: "Monks, I teach you to abandon the unwholesome and develop the wholesome. Purify your minds. This is something that you can do. If you were incapable of abandoning the unwholesome, or developing the wholesome, or purifying your minds, then the Tathagata would not teach you to do these things." There's so much meaning in this simple teaching. He said this because of his vast wisdom, because he knew that the teaching is practical, is effective; it works, it's applicable by all of us, and it has results, it really does.