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forest sangha newsletter

January     2007                  2550                      Number 78
The Forest Sangha is a world-wide Buddhist community
in the Thai Forest tradition of Ajahn Chah


 

Arrows and Clouds

 

The various offerings in this Forest Sangha Newsletter have come together with the first frost of November in crisp, wintery air, under a winterish sun in a winter-blue sky, frost raked up this morning with the spent yellow birch leaves curled below my window at Amaravati. The coming of winter, for the monastic communities here in Europe (it’s summer at Bodhinyanarama), has long signalled the time for our monasteries to put things down and prepare for the Winter Retreat, shedding spent involvements like frosty dried up leaves.

Or so we may hope. Whatever the ideal, we practise with what is, encouraged to become clearly aware of what we perceive through the six senses ‐ the five physical senses as well as the sixth: the mental, the world of emotion and thought. As Ajahn Thaniya eloquently reflects in her talk Under the Bodhi Tree, it’s through awareness of the touch of what is actually present ‐ what is here, experienced through our senses right now, and not what we want or think should be happening or believing in how things seem ‐ that an awakening is possible to our life just as it is. Yet this awakening requires support. Ajahn Thaniya uses the classical story of the Buddha’s Awakening under the Bodhi Tree to consider this, noting that the bodhisatta himself had to call upon the resources of his past cultivation in order to meet the challenge. Attacked by the Armies of Mara with their arrows of delusion and seduction, he responds by calling witness to the merit of his skilful actions ‐ summed up in the qualities called ‘perfections’, or paramis. In the face of this moral force Mara’s arrows become flowers and his armies are washed away.

The depiction of this scene in the mural at the back of the Dhamma Hall at Aruna Ratanagiri, or Harnham, provided one of the backdrops to a large gathering last October of old and new friends and supporters of that monastery, for a celebration of the 25th anniversary of its foundation as well as the annual Kathina. In his article, Triple Celebration of the Triple Gem, Ajahn Munindo reflects on the many blessings of that occasion, which was three-in-one: anniversary/Kathina; the ordination of two young men; and a meeting of the Elders’ Council (EC). “Mindfulness overcomes all things” read the souvenir bags produced for the anniversary event: he comments that if they had believed in the way things seemed to be, the monastery at Harnham would probably no longer exist. Having produced yet another beautiful Sangha calendar for 2007, this one celebrating the 15th anniversary of Luang Por Chah’s passing (a specially-sponsored edition featuring framing-quality photographs), Ajahn Munindo recalls Ajahn Chah’s counsel to create a legacy of communal harmony. Referring to Ajahn Amaro’s history of the EC in the October issue of the FSN, he observes how over the years the leaders of our community have learned to support each other. It is a process that has resulted in the current EC structure, and this is working well; it’s a structure that has emerged from living out this life together rather than from a preconceived plan or ideal.

One theme threading through this issue, then, is trust. We cannot trust the way things seem. We learn to trust in mindfulness and skilful effort, the practice of the Eightfold Path, our own goodness and that of others, to bear the fruits worth picking. Ajahn Sucitto’s piece The Dhamma of Walking touches on all this too, in describing the practice of consciously walking long and sleeping rough.

“Are the clouds wrong?” we are asked in Ajahn Thaniya’s talk. So easy to grab for the quick answer through thought ‐ overlooking the way we frame the inquiry, and what that might teach us. This is perhaps a lesson more appreciated by our monastic communities over the years as they establish themselves, moving out of the pioneering phases often fuelled by ideals, and ‘learning how to learn’ the lessons needed to move ahead ‐ when that may require abandoning the ideal for nothing more clear than simple trust in the path of practice. It being the end of another year, I invited the monasteries to offer something here by way of a little report checking-in with what’s been happening in 2006.

Finally, I know that all of us in the Sangha wish to express our great gratitude and anumodana to Chitra and Suji De Silva, long-time supporters and for the past two decades, as owners of Ashford Printers, responsible for the printing of the Forest Sangha Newsletter. Chitra and Suji have now sold the business, yet have continued to help us with the transition; and, in an inspiring act of dana they have offered to cover much of the cost of printing for these first few issues with the new company.  May they both long draw upon the goodness of these generous acts.

Bhikkhu Jayanto (Editor) 

 

 

 

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