April  1988   2531   Number 4 

Monastic Winter Retreat; Reflections
Magha Puja; Post Retreat Stats
Life in the Sangha's Forest; Ayya Thanissara
Mask of The Great Unknown; Ajahn Sucitto

Monastic Winter Retreat
A few reflections from one of the monks

Winter time in Britain is the natural equivalent of the Asian monsoon Vassa - the retreat Season. Things close down and wait for better weather. Following natures lead, Ajahn Sumedho has established a monastic retreat as the customary winter practice. This year Amaravati and Chithurst extended the retreat to two months, with Ajahn Sumedho using the theme of Paticcasamuppada for the Amaravati community,- and Ajahn Munindo offering reflections from the suttas to guide the practice at Chithurst. At Amaravati a resident community of about sixty received ample instruction and reflections ranging from the Sumedho Bhikkhu Psychiatric Counselling Service for depression and anxiety ("Snap out of it!! Five cents please!") to the goal of the religious path ("to be born anew, to be free from all that delusion, and the attachment to God, to doctrine, to the highest ideas, attachment to the finest values) through reminicences of his early days in America, and his life as a Samanera, to the direct teaching of Ajahn Chah: "When monks would come to Luong Por and say "It's impossible to get enlightened now. there aren't any arahants left" he would ask them: "So why did you become a monk?' To get a free meal?":"

There's too much in those 56 retreat days to fit in this space, but here are a few fragments:
If you just let go of the ignorant view of "I am"; if you can see that, and understand the way of letting go - the way of non-attachment - then the truth reveal's itself...
In the human state, we must recognise that we have to learn to be totally humble by never succeeding in anything we're doing in this meditation: by never being successful, never getting what we want - and if we do get what we want, we lose it right away. We have to be totally humble to where any form of self-view is relinquished willingly, graciously, humbly...That's why in meditation the more it comes from will power based on a self-view and on "me achieving and attaining", then of course you can only expect failure and despair . . . Even a winner in the worldly plane is still going to be a failure because if you win something you're going to lose something too. Winning and losing go together, so winning is never as wonderful as it might look . . . It's more the anticipation of winning: when you've actually won something - so what? You have a moment of elation: "I'm a winner!" - and then: Now what do I do?".

... More and more there is the letting go of the desire to develop and become anything. And as one's mind is freed from all that desire to become and get something, and attain something, then truth starts revealing itself: it's ever present, here and now. It's a matter of being able to be open and sensitive, so it is revealed. Truth is not something that is revealed from outside - it's always present, but we don't see it if we're caught up in the idea of attainments, of me having to get something.

The Buddha made this direct attack on the "me and mine". The only thing that's blocking you up is the attachment to a self-view. If you just see through that, and let go of that, then you'll understand the rest. You don't need to know all the other elaborate kinds of esoteric formulas and altruistic ideas of the human heart or anything; you don't have to go endlessly on into the complexities. If you just let go of the ignorant view of "I am"; if you can see that, and understand the way of letting go - the way of non-attachment - then the truth reveal's itself wherever you are, all the time. But until you do that, then you'll always be caught in these problems, creating problems, complications - out of ignorance conditioning habitual desires that take you to old age, death, sorrow, grief, lamentation and despair. That's all you'll get for the rest of your life!! It's a pretty boring prospect isn't it? But that's all you'll get if you insist on being attached to the illusions of a self, and to greed, hatred and delusion - all that's possible is just despair.
But you can be free from that, here and now,through this right understanding, samma ditthi; seeing things in the right way, knowing the truth, no longer deluded by the appearances or by the habits or the conditions around us.

...and then eventually having to give talks, to Thai people, in Thai, and all this self-consciousness became apparent: of the highs you'd get when you felt you'd really given a good talk, and everybody said: "Oh, that was wonderful, you're really good Sumedho, you really can give good Dhamma". And then sometimes you'd give a really stupid talk, and you'd say: "Oh, I don't ever want to give another talk again, I didn't become a monk to give talks", and then you'd want to chicken out and disappear, run away. But the idea was to keep watching all this, to notice. Luang Par Chah would always encourage me to just keep aware of the pride and conceit and the embarrassment and the selfconsciousness that I would feel. And fortunately, in Thailand the people are such that they're just grateful for a monk giving a talk, even if it's not a very good talk. So that made it quite easy actually.

One time I remember at a Kathina ceremony where we had to sit up all night, he said: "Sumedho, you have to give a talk for three hours tonight!" - and up to this time I'd only talked for half an hour, and that was a strain. Three hours! - and with Ajahn Chah I always felt if he'd said I had to do something, then I would do it.

So I sat up on the high seat and talked for three hours. And I had to sit there and watch people get up and leave, and I had to sit there and watch people just lie down on the floor and sleep in front of me! And at the end of the three hours there were a few polite old ladies still sitting there!

So that wasn't Ajahn Chah saying: "OK Sumedho, go on in and bowl them over with some really scintillating stuff, y'know, entertain them, and really sock it to 'em. the real Dhamma." It was more that what he wanted me to do, was to be able to just look at this self-consciousness- the posing, the pride, the conceit, the grumbling, the laziness, the not wanting to be bothered, the wanting to please, the wanting to entertain, the wanting to get approval and attention and so forth. All these would come up during these talks over these past yeard. I've been doing this for over fifteen years! But the meditation itself was one in which just more and more one felt a real understanding of the suffering of the self-view, and then, through that, the abiding in emptiness.

When there's emptiness, personality still operates, there is still a quality that appears through these forms . . . It doesn't mean that we're all the same like ants or bees in a hive . . . there's still the myriad differences of character and personality that can manifest but there's no delusion ... and there's no suffering.

I observe that when there's no self, when there's no attachment, then the natural way of relating to others is through metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha. These are not from a self or from avijja, not from an idea that: "I must practise metta, I must have more metta for everyone, and I should have loving kindness for all beings and should have compassion . . . and I should have mudita for other people, I should be glad at other people's successes . . . and I should be serene too!" But the brahmaviharas as an ideal for a selfish person - that's not the real practice of metta, karuna, mudita, upekkha! As the illusions of a self fall away, this is a very natural way to relate. You don't become a vacuous zombie through understanding Dhamma: you still relate to each other, ' but it's through kindness and compassion, joy and serenity rather than through greed, hatred and delusion. Greed, hatred and delusion come from the "I am".