FOREST SANGHA
newsletter
July             2008                             2551                      Number     84
The Forest Sangha is a worldwide Buddhist monastic
community in the Thai forest tradition of Ajahn Chah


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Prajna at Cittaviveka

buddha

Ajahn Sucitto

On April 11th Ajahn Vimalo’s statue of Prajna Paramita (‘The Perfection of Wisdom’) was formally installed in the Dhamma Hall at Cittaviveka in a ceremony that included the male and female communities of Cittaviveka and Amaravati as well as many lay friends. It was a bright and inspiring occasion, and one that carried a sense of long-awaited completion.

To me, the installation marks the completion of the plans for the Dhamma Hall we drew up over a decade ago. But even before that, I’ve been interested in the image of Prajna. The origins of this image lie in the group of Mahayana sutras called ‘Prajna Paramita’ and which includes such well-known discourses as The Heart Sutra and The Diamond Sutra. The main theme of these discourses is that all manifestations, physical, psychological or spiritual, depend on the mutual arising of conditions and as such are ‘empty’ of independent essence. For example, ice only exists dependent on water and particular degrees of heat and pressure. Water itself depends on hydrogen and oxygen in a particular relationship. Take any of these causal conditions away and the ‘substance’ ceases to arise. Similarly ‘I’ arise dependent on physical, psychological and sociocultural conditions, each of which depend on a descending order of conditions and so on. This principle, later thoroughly expounded by Nagarjuna, is found in the Pali literature as the principle of interdependent arising. In brief nothing exists independently, but one can’t say that nothing exists either. This realization brings the mind into the poise of not clinging or pushing away: it is ‘empty’ of greed, hatred, delusion, views, fixations – and suffering.

The devotion that motivates the cultivation of wisdom is a steady and patient quality, and this has been exemplified by Ajahn Vimalo’s long-term commitment to sculpting and casting the statue. No rushed job, this: for years it was housed in a cupboard at Amaravati which I’d check occasionally while Ajahn Vimalo was away in Thailand and Sri Lanka. Occasionally I’d pass on gentle reminders to him by way of letters, but with the recognition that you can’t force the pace on such matters.

Meanwhile the Order of Siladhara was also taking shape, and as Prajna has a female form, and Cittaviveka is a mixed-sex community, the image also seemed to be one that could help place this sense of sharing at the heart of our community. As the Dhamma Hall project was sketched out as a place for meditation and teaching that was to be available to the entire community, it seemed obvious to enshrine the image there. With the Theravada image of the Buddha being that which our chanting centres around, we felt the most suitable place for a Mahayana image would be as a complement, rather than adjunct, to that. So the Hall was designed to have Prajna and the Buddha facing each other. With the Buddha in the samadhi position and the Prajna presenting the wisdom mudra; with the ‘male’ form being soft and relaxed, and the ‘female’ one being sharp and alert, in my mind they present two of the key facets of Dhamma which have to fit together in the experience of each practitioner.

Having the two images as both central but at opposite ends of the Hall also reminds us that an all-round and embracing vision is essential. Now Prajna, Wisdom, is at the entry to the Hall, as an initial reminder that all form is dependently arisen and has no intrinsic self-existence – thus form is ‘empty.’ She is also the image that a visitor will last see as they leave the Hall. Entering the Hall, one comes to a place where stillness and inner-dwelling is the norm, but on leaving one is reminded to be alert, and to not get deluded by the manifestations of the world. All form is caught in opinions, in male and female, mine and yours, old and new, and so on. And the conflict of the world is based on supporting one aspect against the other. For me the message of Prajna is that through careful discernment, ‘emptiness’ can also embrace and value each form that arises. Then, in its own time and place, each apparent thing can be part of a whole that is never seen but sensed in the peace of Dhamma-fruition.

 

Unveiling Prajna in Cittaviveka Dhamma Hall

Unveiling Prajna in Cittaviveka Dhamma Hall

 

Ajahn Sucitto and Ajahn Vimalo: offerings received and accepted on a joyous occasion

Ajahn Sucitto and Ajahn Vimalo: offerings received and accepted on a joyous occasion

 

 


 


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